"He gives a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair." - Isaiah 61:3
This blog post has been growing in my heart for the past three days. It is incredibly difficult to find the words to describe the immense emotions, abundant joy and miraculous transformations that we observed on the night of the quinceanera!
It has been a tremendous privilege for me to lead fourteen teams to El Salvador over the past eight years. This country has nestled its way into my heart. I have fallen in love with its people and El Salvador has become like home to me. In 2012 our team from the Village Church of Irvine was serving in a government run orphanage. My dear friend and ministry partner, Stephanie Keenan was spending time with the teenage girls. They were broken. Their dorm area feels more like a prison than a home. Stephanie was overwhelmed as many of the girls shared their grief over the fact that they had never celebrated their quinceaneras. A quinceanera is a rite of passage for a Latin American girl and it's what every little girl dreams of. A vision of a quinceanera party was planted in Stephanie's heart that day but neither of us realized the unbelievable ways in which God would provide, expand the vision and allow us to impact this nation. Our partnership with the wonderful ladies of Young Women of Vision has enabled us to create quinceanera celebrations beyond our wildest dreams and most definitely the dreams of the Salvadorian girls.
This week we were honored to host our fifth quinceanera to support our Salvadorian ministry partners, Sus Hijos, a Christian foundation that serves children living in government run centers. Suffice it to say that each year the quinceanera celebration gets better and better. This is the stuff of dreams. Truly. Most of these girls have never entered a hotel, dined in a restaurant or even celebrated their birthdays. Ever. To understand the impact of the party one must understand the background of the girls. They come from brokenness. They are vulnerable. Their stories are often too tragic to share.
Our hearts were torn apart as we learned some of the girl's stories this week. They have suffered and they often feel forgotten. They don't feel beautiful at all. And they have accepted that they will never have a quinceanera party. Our goal was to change that this week. We came to remind them that they have not been forgotten by us or their Heavenly Father, who sent us here to celebrate their lives. He loves them deeply and He knows their names. As we met the girls and spent time with them through the dress fittings, we smothered them with love. We overwhelmed them with the truth of the Gospel. He gave His life to set them free. He loves them with a never ending love. And He wants to celebrate their quinceaneras!
We had originally planned to host the gala at a restaurant in the city. However, due to unforeseen challenges, we had to move the event to The Crown Plaza Hotel. Clearly God was in every detail of the party planning. The hotel far exceeded our expectations. The staff went above and beyond to create an unforgettable evening for the girls. Many vendors gave us discounts as the flowers were ordered, the cake was purchased and people realized the purpose of the party. We hope to return to the Crown Plaza next year and look forward to making many more girl's dreams come true in the years to come!