Friday, August 5, 2016

Preparing Our Hearts for Home

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." - Psalm 34:18

It's hard to believe that today is our last day in El Salvador.  This week has been beyond extraordinary with memories too numerous to post.  We have felt the nearness of the Lord and we've seen him save those who are crushed in spirit.  It has truly been a privilege to be HIS HANDS and HIS FEET to the people of El Salvador this week.  Today we were able to visit Isla Victoria (Victory Island) for our R&R day.  We had a wonderful time of fellowship and were able to talk abut the challenges of re-entry after serving in a third world country.  The team enjoyed the time of rest, playing in the warm ocean waters and spending precious time with our Sus Hijos missionary partners, who have nestled their ways into our hearts.

The team buses were parked on the mainland and the team loaded onto three small boats.  The blue waters, lush, tropical foliage and stilt homes and restaurants were captivating.  We cracked up when we saw the McDonalds sign on a beachside cabana restaurant.

We were also amazed to find cows grazing along the ocean waters!  They obviously enjoy the slow island life.  The team enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach and survived a tropical rain storm, with many huddled under the cabana.  Some team members actually swam during the rain and others played volleyball as the tropical waters kissed their faces.

We had the opportunity throughout the day to share how God has touched our hearts throughout this trip.  The team members are returning home tomorrow with hearts of compassion.  They have been changed by the people they have met in El Salvador and many hope to return in the future.  As we discussed the re-entry challenges, we talked about the importance of applying the lessons we've learned this week to our lives at home.  Each team member was given a scripture to memorize before the trip.  We read the scriptures aloud on the bus and shared how we'd seen God's Word come to life this week.  It was powerful to hear how each life has been impacted!  I have been so blessed to spend time with young people this week who are passionate about reaching a broken world with the compelling love, grace and mercy of our God!

Please pray for our team members as they return home and continue to process all that God has revealed to them.  Pray that they will continue to serve those who are hungry, outcast, and imprisoned for the rest of their lives!

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." - Matthew 25:35-40

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Not a Goodbye, But a See You Later!

Blog post written by Danielle Straka
Trabuco Canyon, California

This week our team had the special opportunity to finish and dedicate a home for the Hernandez family. When we arrived on Tuesday morning, we went straight to work. We spent the whole morning shoveling gravel and sand into buckets, which was used to make cement for the floor of the house. 

I was so blessed to spend time with the Hernandez children.  And I can easily say that spending time with Jonathan, Moises, Osiris and Natalia brought joy to my heart.  Little Osiris, the child I connected with the most, grabbed my hand during construction and pulled me away to play. I’m not sure how much more time we spent together that afternoon because time flies when you’re having fun. However, it's safe to say that the hours I spent loving on her were my favorite hours of the whole trip. And before we knew it, the day had ended and it was time for the Gringos to go. I gave her a hug goodbye, a little teary-eyed, and boarded the bus.

I was so excited to return the next day to pray over the family, dedicate the house and hand over the keys.  They were shocked to discover that the house had been fully furnished.  What joy!

At the end of the day we had to say goodbye again, and it was harder than I expected. Before making our final departure, I gave Osiris a hug. And after that, I asked for one more. And after that, another. Saying goodbye to someone sure is hard when you don’t know when you will be seeing them again. But then God planted a wonderful thought in my head. When we said “Adios,” it wasnt' really a goodbye, but "See you later!" The same goes for the many others we had met this past week. God sent His son to die for the people of El Salvador, and He is revealing himself to them.  So although I might not get to see all the bright faces of the Salvadorians that I met again in this lifetime, I have faith that I will get to spend eternity with them in Heaven. If the short time that I spent with these people was already so magical, I cannot begin to imagine the joy that is to come the next time I see them.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Power of Touch

Blog post written by Taylor Wasson
Foothill Ranch, California

It's amazing to comprehend the power of touch. Just a simple high five or a pat on the shoulder can impact a person so much. But it doesn't have to be physical, you can touch someone emotionally as well. You don't realize how much you crave touch until you don't have it. Many people in El Salvador aren't able to experience "touch" on a day to day basis, which breaks my heart. As a person, you may think, "No, I don't need touch, I'm not a touchy person." Trust me, everyone needs affirmation, love and touch in their life, despite what you think or feel.

Today our team had the privilege of throwing a mini "carnival" for the surrounding community near the house we were constructing.  Our team members walked around the community to invite people to the soccer field.  In the beginning the community members were hesitant to connect. By the time we were done, everyone had huge smiles on their faces, laughing and hugging. The team did an amazing job explaining the resurrection of Christ, handing out donations and making sure everyone was included in the festivities. For a portion of the time I was able to hang out with the cutest little girl.  Sadly I don't remember her name. We danced around the field, and she loved to twirl. She never let go of my hand. I don't know her situation or her story, but I hoped that I was able to touch her life physically by holding her hand and emotionally by just being with her.  My desire was to make her feel special and more importantly, feel God's presence. I will never forget my little friend from El Salvador and  the power of touch. 

Our Neighborhood Outreach

Blog post written by Brianna Doretti
Mission Viejo, California

One of the most impactful moments of the trip happened to me today. While we were in the village where we were building the home, our team was able to go to the park to set up a fun zone for the children. We had balloon animals, face paint, crafts, beads for bracelet making, and many other activities going on. It was amazing to see the kid's faces light up when they received their balloon animasl or had their faces painted.  We painted one kid with a Spiderman face and another one as a pirate.

Jenni’s son, Aidan had a chance to do a magic show during the outreach. He made a cloth disappear, poked a giant needle through a balloon without popping it, and made a coin appear in his hands.  The kids loved it.   Our outreach came at the perfect timing since today was the beginning of a national holiday.  There were many kids in the community since the schools are closed and around one-hundred people gathered to see the gringo presentation.  

When the magic show was finished, I had an opportunity to use an Evangecube to tell the life of Jesus Christ to the kids. I was nervous at first, because I had not used one in three years. However, I soon realized that God had been preparing me for this by placing me as a teacher of the four through six year olds at my church. I was overwhelmed as I became filled with the Holy Spirit and felt empowered to use the cube as a tool to minister to the children and their parents. When we asked if anyone wanted to accept Jesus Christ into their hearts, the air was filled with the sweet voices of the children praying with us. 

The Looks on Their Faces

Blog post written by Rachel Knepper (age 12)
Santa Ana, El Salvador

A few weeks ago my brother and sister started building a home for a sweet family in San Julian while serving with the His Hands His Feet Village Church team. They were blessed to be part of the team that started construction. This family had prayed for a new home for many years and God heard their prayers.

Yesterday my sister and I returned to the construction site with the His Hands His Feet Crean Lutheran High School team. I think it's cool that so many members of my family have been part of this home. We were able to pour the floor and paint the house. It was so awesome that we were all able to do a little bit to make this family's dreams come true. This morning we got to go shopping for furnishings and it was so much fun. We were able to put the furniture in the new house and decorate it. The house looked so beautiful with the powder blue paint and green door. I love the bright El Salvadorian colors on the homes! My favorite part of all wasn't the building or the shopping or decorating, it was the looks on the faces of the precious family that received the home. He had heard their prayers and that was the biggest blessing from God.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Famous in my Father's Eyes

Blog post written by Lexi Ramos
Mission Viejo, California

This week my team and I had the opportunity to visit the San Martin center for special needs adults. This is my third time serving in El Salvador so I am able to recognize many familiar faces and look forward to the joyful dance parties. 

This year as I was dancing with one of the residents, he began to point to his cheek and I realized that he wanted me to paint his face. I have never done face paint before and do not consider myself an artist in the slightest, so I was hesitant at first but agreed. As I painted a sun onto the cheek of this elderly gentleman, I soon had a crowd of people around me. The residents of the home were tapping and pulling me in every direction. I could not paint fast enough. Although my painting was sloppy, in my opinion, they loved it!  As I was painting faces it dawned on me that this must be similar to what it's like to be a celebrity. The lyrics to a song popped into my head:

"I don't need my name in lights, I am famous in my fathers eyes." 

Serving the humble people at San Martin brought me so much joy and contentment.  I don't want to be known for worldly things such as popularity or material items. I want to be known by God for serving his people.  I would rather have the admiration of the special people of El Salvador than the fame and glory of a celebrity, whose happiness can be so fleeting.   My desire is to live my life for eternal things and to strive to be famous in my Heavenly Father's eyes.  

Building a Forever Home

Blog post written by Julianne Matthews
Huntington Beach, California

"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; And by knowledge the rooms are filled with all the precious and pleasant riches." - Proverbs 24:3-4

Today we had the blessing of serving the Hernandez Family, and were they happy to see us! Their family is so full of life and they are some of the most grateful and genuine people I've come to know.  The His Hands His Feet Village Church Irvine team began construction on the home last month.  This week we have the privilege of completing and dedicating the home.  

Once we arrived at the home we exchanged introductions.  The family expressed their gratitude to our team for building them a permanent, sturdy "forever home" that will provide them with dignity. We learned that the storms last year blew the roof off their current home, a shanty made of sheet metal walls.  We were blessed to pray over them before working on the new house. After praying together, the team got right to work shoveling gravel and sand into the mixer to make concrete for the floors. Our team shoveled like crazy and soon after lunch we were able to start painting the house.  

Katy, the oldest daughter of the Hernandez family, lives in the Sus Hijos transition home for girls. She asked Sus Hijos to build a house for her family after learning about their house building ministry.  Katy was able to pick the color of the home,  a beautiful light blue. We all agreed that the color was perfect and it was a great compliment to the bright personalities of the Hernandez family:) Painting the house was a lot of work but it went by quickly and looked great! Some of us liked the color so much that we thought wearing it was even better! 

Leaving the house was difficult because we had made so many new friends and had such a wonderful time serving God's people.  The Lord has clearly used our team to bless the Hernandez family, but the family has touched us in unexplainable ways.  They will not be forgotten. We look forward to continuing our friendship with the Hernandez family and hearing about God's hand on their lives. Thank you to everyone who made Katy and her family's dreams of a forever home possible!

Monday, August 1, 2016

All He Needed Was a Friend

Blog post written by JoAnn Taylor
Mission Viejo, California

All he needed was a friend.
All he needed was a smile.
All he needed was someone’s time.

Visiting the children's special needs home is an experience unlike any other that I have ever had. There was one little boy in particular that truly touched my heart. I deeply regret that I never learned his name, but I’ll never regret playing with this "ball of energy" for hours. 

Our encounter began when the little boy called, “Bella, Bella” while waving me over from his yellow bike. After a lot of hand motions and a translator’s help, I was able to figure out that the little boy wanted me to help push his seat while he pedaled his bike.  He shouted “Otra vez” (another time!) while slowing his bike down from the last pass down the concrete path. He was the cutest little kid and he sure knew it. He understood that with simple words he could get us to do whatever he pleased, which meant that Lexi and I ran a lot, but it was more than worth it. As time passed more and more members of the Crean team joined into our games with this little boy. After lots of fun it was time to say our goodbyes and head home. We waved "adios!" and loaded the bus and as soon as we drove off I heard a commotion coming from the back of the bus. I turned around and saw the little boy riding his bike after our bus.  He was pedaling as fast as his little legs could go, and that’s when I realized that all he needed was a friend.

The Special People of El Salvador Who Stole My Heart

Blog post written by Grace Higgins
Coto de Caza, California

Today we visited two special needs orphanages. In the morning we went to the orphanage for adults, where we had a tour of the facility.  We were blessed to be able to do crafts and face painting with the residents and also hosted a super fun dance party. The residents loved dancing, singing and just being together with us. Some of them cried when we were leaving because they didn't want us to go. It was so humbling to see how the residents were so full of joy despite their circumstances and their smiles were contagious. My sister has special needs so I was especially touched to be able to spend time with these wonderful people.  

Our team enjoyed lunch at the States Diner, a restaurant started by Sus Hijos that provides employment to teens transiting out of orphanages. Then we made our way to the children's special needs orphanage. The kids were so happy and full of life, just as we observed with the adults in the morning. I have been around special needs children my whole life. It hurts my heart to think that families are unable to care for their special children in this country due to poverty and the lack of resources.  It also breaks my heart to realize that these residents are often forgotten and even discarded.  I wish that the people who consider them "worthless" or "forgetten" would spend just a few hours with them so they could see the light in their eyes that I observed today.  I will never forget my special friends in El Salvador.