Monday, July 31, 2017

Supernatural Love

Blog post written by Lauren O'Brien (age 17)
Orange, California

I am continually amazed by how God blesses me in new ways each time I come to El Salvador.  This is my third year serving here.  Today I got to see a lot of old friends (and make some new ones, too). I personally believe that the greatest reward Christians have on earth is in finding a place in the body of Christ. Having spiritual brothers and sisters to encourage you as you grow in your faith together is so fulfilling. It reminds me that God designed us for a community-based purpose, and that is the purpose we are living out with Sus Hijos.

"Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers." (Galatians 6:10)

This morning I saw the faces of many of my Sus Hijos/translator friends for the first time in a year. Memories of fellowship from the past summer overwhelmed my spirit, and I was reminded of the beauty of God's community of believers. The high you get from being with other people who found their lives on the rock of Jesus--people that you love beyond explanation--is better than anything. Amazingly, God can miraculously create those bonds between people who have just met, and that's what I experienced at the boys' orphanage.

God breaks my heart for these boys in ways I don't quite understand. Maybe it's the fact that I can't relate to them as easily as I can with girls, or maybe because I don't always know what to say, but even the simple conversations I managed to have with them brought smiles to their faces. One boy played soccer with me while we talked about our favorite months of the year. We were both smiling and laughing and enjoying our new friendship. It's amazing how God can work through the smallest things. 

There was another boy at the center that I talked to a little bit. I watched him for a few seconds before he turned around and we accidentally made eye contact. I knew immediately that he was the same boy I had once played cards with my first time in El Salvador.  I felt a lot of emotions in that moment. I was happy he was still alive (and safe in the center), I was thankful that I was presented with the chance to  speak with him again, and of course, I was heartbroken that he was in this situation. He seemed almost completely closed off and didn't want to be a part of the group when we all sat down to listen to a team member's testimony. I could feel that there was a hole inside him that could only be filled with Jesus. The hardest moment of the day was leaving the center.

I know, however, that God has His own timing. Even though I was upset that I couldn't spend more time with the one boy, I remembered that Christians are called to love, not to convert. I pray that God will soften the hearts of the boys and heal them of everything they have struggled through, but I will do as I am called and leave the rest to Jesus. God asks us to be comforted in trusting our plans, our lives, and our hearts to the Lord. At the end of the day, I am overjoyed that I was able to go at all. Connecting with the other boys filled me with joy. Serving and sharing the hope of Jesus is the purpose I came with. Now, I can give the rest to God let him do immeasurably more than I could ever think, dream, or imagine.

"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin." (1 John 1:7)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Leaving the Ninety-Nine

Blog post written by Jamie Mathisrud
Newport Beach, California

If you read my previous post about the girl who didn't want to come to the quinceanera, you've surely been praying for her. Thank you. I believe with all my heart that God raised up an army of prayer and did what only He could do in her heart that day.  We'll call her Mary, but that's not her name...

The day of the quinceanera, Sus Hijos sent buses throughout the country to the orphanages we had visited. They brought the squeaky clean, excited and perhaps a bit anxious girls to the beautiful hotel. I had asked our team to please find me immediately when the girls arrived from Mary's orphanage so I could seek her. I had told her that I would be searching for her first on the day of the event. When I heard that she had arrived, I was halfway through giving a special girl her "colochos" (curly hairstyle) and asked her if she wouldn't mind waiting a few minutes. I then ran out of the room, and as my eyes scanned the group, almost at the very back, I spotted her. I SAW HER! My heart burst within, but God gave me the strength to play it cool and not burst into tears. Mary wouldn't want attention drawn to her. Climbing to the top of the stairs, my eyes locked with hers (except when she looked around, seemingly certain that I was headed toward someone, anyone, but her). As I reached the final step, I opened my arms and hugged her, telling her that we'd been praying for her for the past two days, as promised. I told her that I had cut her dress and had it sewn to the length she might prefer. And I quickly went back to finish the hairdo I had begun...

Soon after, I was summoned to the dressing room to help dress Mary. I presented her with the dress and she hesitatingly began to allow me to help her change. But the moment the dress reached its place, she shook her said no and quickly started to remove it. My estimation of how much shorter it needed to be was off, and it was a good 6" longer than she wanted. She removed it, and my heart sank. And then it dawned on me - perhaps the greatest life hack of all was at my disposal: duck tape! I laid the dress on the floor, folded the hem to the right length and enlisted help to make the repair. She smiled doubtfully, then put the dress on. I helped her choose from the many pieces of jewelry our supporters had donated, and watched later as she sat to have make up applied, ever so sparingly, to her face. She was stunning in her simplicity and vulnerability. She certainly didn't feel like a princess, but she had come to be celebrated and that was cause enough for me to rejoice. The one out of one-hundred orphans that had touched my heart the most had come!

Just as I finished my final hairstyle and headed to the ballroom to watch the girls be announced and escorted into the ballroom, Lilly, one of our missionary partners, rushed to find me. Her eyes said it all. Mary would not be going in. My supposed miracle hack repair job had come undone, and she was embarrassed and hiding behind the men's bathroom. At this point, I knew the enemy was relentless and doing all he could to keep her out. Fired up and Spirit filled, I told Mary to wait there. I sprinted (in my evening gown --quite the sight!) down the stairs, and back to the dressing room, where I quickly grabbed a handful of mini safety pins, and began the long, sweaty sprint back. I pulled her into the men's room, ripped off the duck tape, and began pinning the dress up. I could hear the roar of applause as each girl's name was announced. I was sweating and flustered, and as embarrassed as I am to admit this, I was sad to not get to see the faces of those ninety-nine other girls as they entered the ballroom. At last, we finished pinning the dress. Mary was satisfied, and she walked into the arms of her "chambel├ín" (escort). I watched from behind as Mary entered the party and was announced, the last of the one-hundred girls to enter the ballroom. 

I crept in from the back of the room and found my place. Tears filled my eyes and my pounding heart seemed to reverberate throughout my body. God had allowed me the privilege of loving and caring for the one, his precious princess. Watching that one victory had amazing power, and it was just a glimpse of the way God pursues us even when we are in pain and wanting to flee. Mary danced the night away and even allowed me to hug and snap photos with her throughout the night. As the evening came to an end, I handed her our gift, a Bible and other items, and watched as she sauntered away...looking more and more like the daughter of the King we believe she truly is.

"If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish." - Matthew 18:12-14

Leaving the 99

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Welcome Crean Team!

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

The team from Crean Lutheran High School in Irvine, CA has landed in El Salvador. Tonight we had the privilege of preparing meals and delivering the food to men, women and children living on the streets of San Salvador. The kids were overcome with emotions as they encountered poverty and brokenness along with deep gratitude and joy.  It's going to be an awesome week with so many opportunities to serve, learn and grow.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Quinceanera Reflections from a Missionary to El Salvador

Blog post written by Kathy Knepper
Iglesia Gracia Divina (Divine Grace Church), Santa Ana, El Salvador

I have had the joy of being part of many quinceaneras throughout my life as a Latin American woman.   This beautiful celebration of value is as significant for a Latin American woman as her own wedding day.  The party represents the moment of transition when a little girl turns into a young woman.  It's the stuff that dreams are made of for every Latin American girl and I remember dreaming of my quinceanera as a young girl growing up in El Salvador.

From the time we are little ones, we fantasize about the color of our dress, who we'll dance with and all of the festivities.  This event is an incredibly important coming of age celebration. Yesterday I had the immense privilege of being part of an unforgettable quinceanera that celebrated the life of not just one woman, but one-hundred.  The girls that were celebrated live in orphanages.  They come from difficult backgrounds and a quinceanera celebration of this grandeur is but a distant dream for them. Last night their dreams became reality.  These precious young women were showered with care and attention by a group of North American short-term missionaries who came with the express purpose of blessing their lives.  They truly made the girls' quinceanera dreams come true and it was an honor to be a part of it.

The Lord called my family to serve in El Salvador almost ten years ago.  My husband and I brought our four young children from California to El Salvador, the country of both of our families.  We have been honored to partner with His Hands His Feet for the past seven years, serving in orphanages, building homes and ministering to the homeless community together.  Being part of their quinceanera celebrations has been one of the highlights of my many years of ministry.  

My entire family has enjoyed being part of all six quinceaneras that have been organized by His Hands His Feet and Sus Hijos.  Last night my husband David had the honor of praying over all of the "chambelanes" (escorts) who ushered the young girls into the night of their dreams. When the girls were presented, I was overcome with emotion at the joyful expressions that were undeniable on every face.  The girls were welcomed, celebrated and embraced throughout the evening. Their heard a powerful messages of hope.  They received wonderful gifts of a Bible, devotional and undergarments. They enjoyed a delicious meal and cake (with nail polish decor) and danced the night away with a DJ and live music (a traditional "batucada" drum line team).  It was truly a night to remember!

It warmed my heart to see the girls giggling throughout the evening, dancing their hearts away on the brightly lit dance floor, laughing and celebrating every moment together.  The team visited each orphanage in the days preceding the event for dress fittings and shoe selections.  They heard moving stories from our team members about how Jesus had healed their hearts from the pain of their pasts. Our team told these sweet girls that they were all princesses to their Heavenly Father.  Last night their chariot arrived, they danced at the ball and transformed into princesses.   Happy Birthday, girls. We celebrate your lives!

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing.  You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy." - Psalm 30:11

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Meet Carlos

Blog post written by Aidan Ramsey (age 14)
McKinney, Texas

Let me tell you about Carlos. Carlos is the most loving, kind, caring, and emotional person you could ever meet.  Today we went to the San Martin, a special needs orphanage, which I've visited before. At the beginning of the tour, we heard this loud screaming. One of the translators told us that someone was saying, "I have no family and I have no friends." When we walked into the room, we realized it was Carlos. When Carlos saw our group he changed from crying and sadness to the biggest smile I've ever seen and his tears became happy tears. Then he said, " Ah, here is my family, and you are my friends" and followed with a song. Just after that he gave us the news that his parents had passed away,  he was an orphan and he felt lonely.

When I saw Carlos, he remembered me.  He wouldn't stop hugging me, smiling at me, and telling me how much he loved me.  He kept telling me to be careful and to stay away from bad things. I have known Carlos for three years and the first time we crossed eyes three years ago he told me how much he loved me and that he knew God loved me, even though we'd only known each other for about ten seconds. I encourage anyone out there to love the unloved and touch the broken hearted. God loves Carlos, me, and each and everyone of you with all His heart and He made you special, the way you are.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nails, Dresses and Changed Hearts

Blog post writtten by Lacey Ryan (17)
Newport Beach, CA

We had the opportunity to go to two girls' homes yesterday.  It was such a joy to help the girls find their dresses for the party in both homes.  I was able to paint the nails of one of the girls that I met in the first home.  She picked a bright red color.  I told her I loved the color and began to paint her nails. After I had painted all her fingers and her toes, she didn't wait a second before grabbing my hand. She smiled and signaled that she wanted to paint my nails.  I felt God place a thought in my head as she grabbed my hands: after the service I had shown to her, she wanted to thank me through the same service. Watching her brush each nail so carefully nearly made me cry.  Even when she got a little bit of paint on my skin, she quickly grabbed the nail polish remover to re-paint that nail.  It's so incredible to see the hearts these girls have. They have so little and yet when they are shown a service as small as a non-professional manicure, they immediately want to give back to show their gratitude.

In the second home the girl that I helped found a stunning blue dress. When I asked her if she wanted to look in the mirror, she told the translator that she only wanted my opinion. It warmed my heart to know how comfortable she felt with me. This may have been one of the first times that she had an opportunity to choose something for herself and she wanted my opinion instead of her own. If I thought she looked amazing, that was enough for her.  Wow.

This reminds me of the way we should think about our own lives. The only opinion we should truly care about is God's opinion. The great thing is, he already accepts us and loves us as we are. We don't need approval from the world to feel beautiful because we are His masterpiece and to Him we are perfect. I'm so grateful for the wonderful truths that He's showing me through this trip!

Growth in Broken Spaces

Blog post written by Jamie Mathisrud
Newport Beach, CA

Photo taken @ another orphanage

As we walked into the orphanage today, I was immediately struck by what I saw on the ground beneath me: severely cracked cement, and within every crevice, small sprouts of moss had begun to grow. Over and over again I saw this. And it was immensely significant because it reminded me of the way God works. See, we had the opportunity to meet many young women who were orphaned. And though their stories are all so different, they share one thing in common: deep, widespread, prevalent brokenness. Brokenness of heart, of relationships, of home, and of self and identity.

One girl in particular was visibly broken - you could see it in her eyes and countenance. The other girls' shrills of excitement about the quinceanera and the pretty dresses didn't resonate with her; she didn't want a dress, and didn't even want to go to the party. Nonetheless she obliged and walked in with me to look for a dress. She wanted a shorter length, black dress with no frills. At last we found one, but it was long, so we agreed to shorten it for her. But something struck her inside and her demeanor shifted. Her eyes filled with tears and I could tell she wanted to leave. I told her she was free to go...but not long after, my friend Sandra and I went to find her. She had hidden herself alone in a room at the orphanage. After a long time of trying to tell her how beautiful she is and how worthy her life is of celebration, the Spirit led me to ask her: has someone in your life told you that you should never wear a dress? She began to cry and said yes. And for this reason, she didn't want to wear one. I told her she would be the first person I would look for at the party, and that I'd have the dress ready for her to wear. I told her I'd pray for her for the next two days -  that she would believe that she is worthy, beautiful, and truly a princess in the eyes of her loving Father.

Like the cement floor, this girl is full of brokenness. And just as the moss dared to burst forth from the cracks, it struck me as evidence that God brings life and newness out of our brokenness. 

I invite you to join me in praying for this precious girl, that Jesus will bring life from her brokenness and that she will become an "oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor" (Isaiah 61:3).

Encountering God's Love in a "Poor" Community

Blog post written by Caroline Menzia (age 17)
Newport Beach, CA

I was raised in a very strong Christian family where we always gave to the poor and volunteered in less fortunate facilities. Before coming on this trip I felt like things I would see wouldn't be a surprise to me because of the way I was raised. Yesterday our team had the opportunity to deliver rice, pasta, beans and Bibles to a "poor" community, where families live without electricity or running water. The minute I stepped off the bus I knew God was putting me in this place to open my eyes to his people that needed his love. Every family that my group met welcomed us into their homes with open arms and hearts. Each person began thanking us and thanking God for what they had and what we'd given them instead of talking about all the hardships going on in their lives. Not one person we met doubted God. That was amazing to me. They knew the food came from Him.  We were just his hands and his feet.

These people have seriously nothing and yet they KNOW God will provide.  We prayed over each family and got to remind them of God's love.  He sees their needs and he remembers them. We got to pray over a newly born baby that was very sick. Even though a newborn baby's sickness can be extremely life threatening, the mother's faith did not waver whatsoever. That was truly incredible to me.  While these people are poor physically, they are incredibly rich in their faith.  I realized that they had a richness that most people around the world long for.  They were wealthy beyond words in their hearts.  After reflecting on this opportunity, I realize that God was shining brightly through all of the people we encountered.  He was showing us how much he loves all of his people all over the world.  God is so good and I'm so thankful for all that he is revealing to me this week.

Quinceanera Missions Trips - Why All The Fuss?

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey, Director, His Hands His Feet
McKinney, Texas

This week our team is preparing to celebrate our sixth quinceanera in partnership with Sus Hijos, a foundation that serves abandoned and orphaned children living in orphanages in El Salvador.  Many people throughout the years have questioned why we do these parties.  Why all the fuss?  Make up? Dresses?  Jewelry?  Is it really important?  As I reflect on these questions in the cool shade of an almond tree while my team members dote on teenage girls in a government orphanage, my heart is overflowing.  And I have a lot to say.

Why all the fuss?  Because these teenage girls deserve it.   I was visiting this same government orphanage with a team from my church in California seven years ago when the dream was born.  My close friend and ministry partner, Stephanie Keenan was spending time with teenage girls.  One by one the girls shared their heartbreaks over the fact that they would never have a quinceanera.   Stephanie looked around at our group of California girls and realized that our teams could make their dreams come true.

What is a quinceanera?  "Quinceanera" translates into "fifteenth birthday party."  It's a traditional celebration for a Latin American girl on her fifteenth birthday and the party is a rite of passage. The quinceanera represents the passage for a young girl from childhood into adulthood.  I recently learned about "quinceanera Barbies," which you can purchase in your local toy store.  Every Latin American girl dreams of her quinceanera from her earliest memories.
The girls that we serve in El Salvador come from difficult pasts.  They've experienced deep traumas. Some of the stories that I've heard have been incredibly disturbing.  A quinceanera is but a distant dream for these girls, many of whom have never celebrated their birthdays, chosen a dress or visited a restaurant or hotel.  Some have never heard the life giving words from their parents, "You're beautiful."  But God.

God in his great love sees them.  He knows their stories.  He hears their cries.  Psalm 34:18 says that God is near to the brokenhearted.  And He is here.  I have felt his nearness here in this place. That's why I keep coming back.  It's an honor for me to bring teams from the states to serve in this tiny Central American country.  This week I feel overjoyed to be leading my seventeenth team of volunteers to bring the hope of the Gospel where hope is desperately needed.  And we get to do that through a quinceanera.

His Hands His Feet is thrilled to partner with Young Women of Vision (YWOV), a Christian organization based in Orange County, California, that empowers mothers and their high school daughters to serve in their local community and internationally.   This week we're throwing our fourth quinceanera in partnership with YWOV.  These women have been preparing for the quinceanera for seven months, collecting shoes, dresses, jewelry, bras, make up, hair supplies and gifts for the girls. They brought over four-hundred dresses for the girls to choose from! This team's passion for the young women of El Salvador is contagious and I love partnering with YWOV.  There is truly no place else I would rather be this week.

This week our team has traveled throughout the country to meet the girls that we will celebrate. We've had the amazing opportunity to share our hearts, pray over them and help each girl pick her dress, bra and shoes.  On Thursday our team will gather at the Crown Plaza Hotel in San Salvador to celebrate one-hundred girls.  The girls will have their make up, nails and hair done upon their arrival. They will receive birthday gifts at the party.  It will be an unforgettable evening with men from the ministry escorting them into the gala, live music, dancing and a message of hope that can only be found in Christ.  These girls have been forgotten.  They have been rejected and disregarded.  But God has not forgotten them. He has sent His Church to bring healing into their lives.  He has chosen this team to celebrate their quinceaneras.  And He has used donors from the United States to provide the funding and items needed to make the girls' dreams come true.

So why all the fuss?  Because He sees them.  And they're worth it.

Monday, July 24, 2017

God's Princesses

Blog post written by Lindsay Mull (age 16)
Newport Beach, CA

These past two weeks have been such an incredible blessing! I had the opportunity to come to El Salvador early to serve with the Sus Hijos staff last week along with my close friend Hannah Mathisrud. It was so great to work with Sus Hijos and see how they minister daily in the orphanages apart from the teams.  Our team arrived on Saturday night and these past few days have been equally as wonderful. Yesterday we had the opportunity to go to a Christian orphanage, where we fit around 17 girls for dresses for the quinceanera. My mom and I got to help a girl who was instantly overjoyed when she walked in to the room to pick her dress. She chose one dress, tried it on, and it fit perfectly. She proceeded to spin around, looked in the mirror, and told me and my mom that she looked like Cinderella.  Hearing her excitement encouraged my heart.  This is exactly why we're here this week. Our team of mothers and daughters has been preparing for this trip for months to show these young women their worth and importance. These girls are so beautiful and special to our Father in Heaven. And it's such an honor to remind them of this truth.  As the beautiful girl that we met yesterday expressed so well, each one of these girls is one of God's princesses. 

Today we got to do something new for our annual trip. We were able to distribute bags of food, door to door, in a mountainous community in partnership with a local church.  We had the privilege of praying for many families as we gave away food and Bibles. One little girl (see photo below) had a horrible stomach ache, and we proceeded to pray for her.  We also had a wonderful discussion with her father and encouraged him to consider giving his life to Jesus.  Around thirty minutes later, we saw this same girl playing and swinging in front of her house.  She confirmed that she was feeling better with a big smile on her face. God is so good and He always listens to our needs! Please continue to pray for our team throughout the week as we prepare for the quinceanera on Thursday!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Ladies Have Landed!

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

The Young Women of Vision (YWOV) mother/daughter team has arrived in El Salvador.  After enjoying a quick pizza dinner, we jumped right into ministry, preparing meals to deliver to the homeless community.  The team headed out on the bus together and handed out almost 150 meals to men, women and children on the streets of El Salvador.  Tragically, the children in the orphanages are kicked out on their eighteenth birthdays as the government is no longer responsible for their needs. Many of the kids end up living on the streets.  Our ministry partners, Sus Hijos, has been delivering meals on the streets for many years.  There are no government services for the homeless in El Salvador, no food pantries and no food stamps.  It is always such a joy to be His hands and His feet as we provide meals in His name.

The team is already working hard organizing dresses, boys and shoes for the quinceanera, which will be held this Thursday, July 27.  We will be visiting two girls' orphanages today to invite them to the party and let them choose their dresses and shoes.  I can't wait!  Please pray for us as we travel throughout the country over the next four days to meet the girls, share the Gospel and prepare them for the party!