Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reflections After Leading my Fourth Team to El Salvador

Blog post written by Lindsey Warneke
Teacher and Team Leader, Crean Lutheran High School

“...Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” -1 Thessalonians 2:8

As I took a step off the plane and set foot in El Salvador for the first time three years ago, I had little expectation of what the journey would entail. I knew only a few details about the region, and this was one of the few instances in my life that I had left the comforts of my environment. Having arrived, I was eager to undertake whatever the week would bring forth. What I did not anticipate, however, was how drastically this brief experience would impact me.

In reflecting after my return from my fourth trip to the country, I am humbled to play a small role in what God is doing in Central America. Throughout these past few summers, our teams have had the opportunity to assist in centers that care for children, construct homes for families, deliver meals and distribute clothing, and pray with the missionaries who are serving in the areas we visit. In the midst of all the trials and challenges faced by many Salvadorians, I have witnessed first-hand the Holy Spirit at work through the men and women who have been called to spread the good news across this nation. Some have uprooted themselves from their places of origin, while others are committed to proclaiming the truth in their homeland. Regardless of where they are from, all are dedicated to fulfilling the Great Commission. I am grateful for every interaction I have had with each person I have met during my time in El Salvador.

To the Ackermann and Knepper families, thank you for your faithful service unto the Lord. You inspire me more than I can put into words. May God continue to richly bless your labors as you shine His light in this dark world.

Dear staff and volunteers of the Sus Hijos Foundation, you exemplify what it means to be followers of Christ, and your faith is an incredible source of encouragement for all whom you encounter. Thank you for allowing us to partner with you in advancing the Kingdom.

Jenni Ramsey and Stephanie Keenan, thank you for supporting a vision that brings hope to those who desperately need Jesus. His Hands His Feet has impacted many people and will continue to do so for years to come.

Above all, I thank God for the redemptive work of His Son’s death and resurrection and for intertwining the stories of these influential individuals with mine. I pray we continue to share not only the gospel with one another and the citizens of El Salvador but our lives as well.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Good Bye El Salvador

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

My heart is filled with many emotions as our team drives to the airport in the darkness of the morning.  It has been such a joy to bring three teams from Texas and California to serve in El Salvador this summer in partnering with "Sus Hijos" (His Children in Spanish).  I have seen God work powerfully in orphanages, villages, on the dance floor of the Crown Plaza Hotel and on the streets of San Salvador. 

Yesterday our team was blessed to visit two orphanages, where we had the opportunity to share testimonies and pray over the kids.  Many of the kids asked specific questions about the testimonies. They listened intently and it was clear that the Holy Spirit was working in their hearts.  At the first orphanage, four teens stood to commit their lives to Jesus.  Our team gathered around these young women to pray and many tears were shed.  It was a wonderful way to end our time of ministry. 

We concluded the day with our traditional pupusa dinner at a beautiful restaurant overlooking the city of San Salvador.  We enjoyed fellowship with our entire team of Sus Hijos missionaries, where we danced to live mariachi music and even celebrated my birthday. I'm incredibly grateful for this amazing group of students from Crean Lutheran High School.  They served with passion and they touched hundreds of lives this week.  This was our fourth year partnering with Crean and we look forward to serving with these student for many years to come. 

In John 10:10, Jesus told His disciples that "the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."  We have observed much destruction in El Salvador this summer.  The people of El Salvador have been oppressed by the gangs, the crushing economic challenges that cause an unending cycle of poverty and corrupt governments.  There is a very real enemy who seeks to bring death and destruction in this place. However, our God is moving mightily through His people. He is bringing abundant life to those who cry out to Him.  He hears the cries of the broken hearted.  He is near to them (Psalm 34:18).  It has been an honor to be HIS HANDS and HIS FEET to His people in El Salvador as we partner with the amazing foundation, Sus Hijos. They are doing an incredible work day after day, bringing relief and comfort where it is desperately needed.  

Thank you to everyone who supported our short-term teams this year.  We're incredibly grateful for all of the prayers, words of encouragement and financial gifts that were donated, which allowed us to send nearly sixty short-term missionaries to Central America.  Your partnership allowed us to be HIS HANDS and HIS FEET.  Muchas gracias. Good bye El Salvador.  Thank you for your warmth, your hospitality and for teaching me so much about God's never ending love.  I look forward to returning next year with another group of "Gringos," for it is a joy to worship, play and serve in this breathtaking piece of God's wondrous Earth.  

Friday, August 4, 2017

Much Needed R&R

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey
McKinney, Texas

Yesterday our team had a much needed day of R&R with our ministry partners at the beach. We did our re-entry talk on the bus ride to the beach, where we processed the amazing things that God has done in our midst. We shared scriptures on God's heart for the fatherless, the poor and the heartbroken. His Word has come to life this week as we've watched Him pour out His love in and through our team. 

The team had the opportunity to pray over our missionaries throughout the day.  We also had a heart warming time of affirmation together, where many tears were shed. I am incredibly thankful to the Lord for three amazing weeks in El Salvador this summer.  He has moved powerfully, bringing life, hope and encouragement to the wonderful people of El Salvador.  It has been such a joy to serve alongside the students of Crean Lutheran High School this week. They have been joyful, humble, sacrificial and worked extremely hard all week long.  I look forward to serving alongside Crean for many years to come! 

Yesterday we talked about how these short-term trips are a small glimpse of Heaven.  It is such a joy to serve the Lord along with brothers and sisters from different countries, cultures and backgrounds.  One day we will all gather at the throne together. "The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." - John 10:10

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Home, Sweet Home

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

Psalm 34:18 says that God is NEAR to the brokenhearted.  This week we experienced His nearness as our team completed two homes for two single moms. Both of these precious women have cried out to God in their brokenness, asking him for a permanent and safe "forever home." In God's goodness, He chose our teams to provide the answer to their prayers.  It was an indescribable joy for our teams to hand over the keys to these women yesterday and watch in tears as they entered their homes for the first time.

In the morning the team completed the final paint touches on the exterior of the homes.  We also painted two walls in the interior of each house.  A concrete slab was poured for the entry way. The furniture arrived mid morning and it was so exhilarating to furnish and decorate the house.  I felt like Joanna Gaines, doing an El Salvador style "Fixer Upper." The families observed us throughout the morning and even got involved with painting.  Their eyes said it all. They told me over and over again how excited and grateful they were for their new homes. One of the moms lived in a wooden house in the community (see below).  She described an incredible dream that God had given her in which a man told her that she would one day live in a concrete house, painted with two colors.  We were absolutely blown away by how the Lord had prepared her for this gift!

Once the house was fully painted, furnished and decorated, the entire team gathered around the property to dedicate the home.  Emotional words were shared by the Sus Hijos staff as well as both families.  I was honored to pray over the house.  The anticipation and excitement was indescribable. The team laid their hands on the families and walls to ask God for his protection.

Last night as I laid my head on my pillow before going to sleep, my heart was overjoyed at the knowledge that six women were snuggled safely in their brand new beds. Words can not describe the sense of fulfillment in my heart as I have been intimately involved in this process.  Our team members from both Lighthouse Christian Fellowship in Texas and Crean Lutheran High School in California worked tremendously for months to raise the funds for these homes.  I am incredibly proud of our teams for their passion, dedication and love for both families and for making these moms' dreams come true.  Thank you to everyone who worked so diligently to raise funds, send our team members and support all that was required for both families to finally have their forever home, sweet homes!

We completed our afternoon by delivering non-perishable foods and Bibles to the community in which we built the homes.  The teams were welcomed by warm hospitality at every house. The community members were grateful for the gifts they received and opportunities to pray together. The Salvadorians opened their hearts to our teams and those sweet moments will not be forgotten. The families were also invited to join us in the afternoon as we distributed clothing.  It was so incredible to observe the joyful faces of the grateful community members as they chose brand new clothes, which had been sent with the team from family members and friends.  What a joy it has been to make dreams come true in El Salvador this week!

Serving on the Streets of San Salvador

Blog written by Ellie DeAllen (age 16)
Irvine, California

Yesterday after a long and rewarding day of finishing up the house and distributing food and Bibles in the community, we had the amazing opportunity to pass out food to the homeless.  We piled into the blue pickup truck and headed out on the road with over two-hundred bags of food and a few bags of clothes.  As the team headed out for the third time this week, a million things were running through my head.  What kind of people was I going to see? Would I be able to communicate with them? What would happen if we ran out of food and they got angry? I was full of worry and anxiety over what was to come.  But the moment that I saw the people running at the truck shouting “comida! comida!" (food in Spanish), all my worries were replaced by the joy that radiated from them.

It was so incredible to realize how something we take for granted means the world to someone else. As we watched the people racing to the truck with smiles full of gratitude, I was struck by contrasting emotions.  It was equally saddening and satisfying to be able to help in such ways. My heart broke for the ones who were limping up to the truck. I was touched by the beaming smiles of the children who were beyond stoked to be eating that night. The act of people running to us to fulfill their needs reminded me of how we should run to God to fulfill ours.  As these people put their trust in us for the food and clothing we distributed, I was struck by how we also need to run to God for protection.  It was such a powerful experience to literally be the hands and feet of God, being able to feed, clothe, pray, and love the people that were sent to us. 

One little girl who ran to the truck lit up when she saw us coming. She was probably around four-years old, but clearly had the love and faith of someone much older.  You could just sense her joy and gratitude by the way she pointed at others who also needed food. The smile on her face as we pulled away just melted me.  It was incredibly heartbreaking yet such a reality check to understand that the homeless aren't just nameless people that you pass on the street.  They are the sons and daughters of God just like us.  They have beating hearts and were formed by our Father with a purpose.  We are all equal in His eyes, we've just been put in different circumstances and tested in different ways. I'm so thankful for this opportunity to see the world from a different perspective, in a different light, and to be able to shine the love of Christ through a simple action of handing out hotdogs and t-shirts. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Time to "Walk the Walk" - Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

Blog post written by Kathy Laws
Edgewood, Kentucky

One of the things I often tell my children (especially the one who first "made me a mom") is that true growth in any area comes from being uncomfortable. Whether it's relationships, sports, or your profession, the truly good stuff can only happen when we get out into the messy places where things feel a little scary and unknown. This is also true in the area of my relationship with God. How can I expect to become closer to him and to serve him if I remain in my safe little "bubble" saying the same prayers and doing the same things every day? Wouldn't I be a hypocrite if I don't occasionally heed my own advice to my children and "walk the walk" to get potentially uncomfortable to draw myself closer to him? 

I am currently serving with an amazing group of humans in El Salvador. While I won't bore anyone with how I ended up here, I can say that without a shadow of a doubt,  God's call to me to go on this trip was clear. I KNEW in the depths of my being I was supposed to go on this trip. I cried tears of relief when I contacted Jenni because after years of reading about past mission trips, God let me know it was time for me to go. I cried because I knew the Holy Spirit was in me and it felt like a blessed relief to follow God's urging. What I did NOT know was the depths of the impact that this trip and the people of El Salvador would have on my heart.

God's light shines radiantly in so many of the people I have met on this trip. There are volunteers I have met with Sus Hijos whose faith is palpable. They relentlessly work to serve the poorest of the poor and the broken-hearted just as Jesus did. There are teenagers who exude a love of the Lord that is awe-inspiring. Their fervor for serving and passion for a close relationship with God is a joy to encounter! One example of this was listening to a beautiful testimony from one of our young team members. This young man has dealt with undeniably difficult things in his young life which could have hardened his heart. Yet, he bravely stood in front of a church full of strangers and shared how those difficult things had lead him to Christ. I could not believe how poised and powerful his story was and knew it would impact many. Also during the service, a sweet El Salvadorian girl sitting in front of me had turned around and we'd smiled at one another multiple times. I spoke to her in my limited Spanish and she smiled and seemed to encourage my effort. During this young man's testimony, she turned around and noticed I was crying. She instinctively reached out and kindly began to rub my leg. It was a tiny moment, but spoke volumes to me about how simple it is to share the love of Christ. It was the beginning of the trip and a reminder of what we are called by God to do: to simply love one another. 

We have been very busy this week. We fed the homeless during a dark, rainy night. Some approached our bus joyfully, bowing and thanking us repeatedly for the "comida" (food). Their smiles and gratitude shocked me given their dire circumstances. We visited a boys' orphanage and special needs home. During these visits, I played soccer with boys whose hearts have been broken, and again, despite the most difficult circumstances, they appreciated our time and attention.  I had the opportunity to dance with people who were overjoyed simply because we came to spend time with them. All of this moved me deeply. 

I'd love to be able to say I bounded into each of these experiences filled with the Holy Spirit with no trepidation or uncertainty. While I've been continually inspired by those who fearlessly and fervently share Christ's love in this way, I have felt a bit unsure and unsteady at times. I have felt unworthy of the challenge of this difficult work. Yet in those moments, I have reminded myself that I don't have to be enough and that it's not about me. I trusted in God and in one instance, I found myself bonding with a young man over his infatuation with my Fitbit and all its buttons. His infectious smiles let me know he enjoyed our time together despite his inability to speak. When we entered a special needs home yesterday, I wasn't sure what I should do or how to connect with anyone.  God led me to a young boy with Down's Syndrome in a wheelchair. We danced. And we hugged.  And he laid his sweet head on my legs for a long time as if thanking me for the attention. His huge smiles made me feel God's overwhelming presence, and I felt all my discomfort rapidly fade. I didn't need to worry about not being enough for this task, I needed to surrender to God and allow myself to be "His Hands and His Feet."  

The things that I'm doing this week are small in comparison to the amazing, inspiring work many people do here in El Salvador every day. Yet my heart is full knowing I followed the plan God has for me.  Today our team helped to finish a forever home that Sus Hijos is building for two families. There was torrential rain during the day and we got drenched and filthy.  Yet standing there in the driving rain, dirty and soaked to the bone, I felt insanely grateful for my life, my God, and the Jesus loving people with whom I'm sharing this week. There may be more uncomfortable moments this week when I'm unsure of what I should do or say, but I rest in the confidence of knowing his plan for me will be made clear. In my discomfort, I pray to grow closer to Him and depend on him relentlessly to guide my way. 

Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Day 3: Building, Painting, Playing, Loving

Blog written by Paige Davenport (age 20)
Student, Point Loma Christian College, San Diego

Our day started when we boarded our team bus sitting 5 to a row, sweaty bodies that smelled like bug spray, and embarked on our 1.5 hour adventure to a little piece of Heaven. 
9:30 am: (ANTICIPATION) 
As we exited the bus and entered into the humid heat wave I was already exhausted. One by one the littles emerged from their wooden homes and immediately caught my eye. I gathered a bunch of "niñas" and we walked hand in hand down to their school park to play soccer. Somehow we managed to play for an hour straight while only saying the words "aquí" (here) and "equipo" (team). They were so full of passion, love. joy and understanding for my horrible Spanish. They brought out the child in me as we laughed hard and smiled ear to ear. 

12 pm: (IMPATIENCE) 
When our team left to eat our lunch I really didn't want to go. I wasn't sure how to communicate with the niñas that I would be back, and didn't want them to think I was leaving for good. I had put it in my mind that I would scarf down my lunch so that I could continue playing ASAP! But then...a giant rain storm decided to join us. We were stuck in our shorts and t-shirts under a shelter area waiting out the rain. 

1:30 pm: (JOY)
We finally decided to brave the rain and follow through on the job we came to do. As the rain came down harder some girls pulled me under shelter outside their homes. We huddled under some sheet metal held up by wooden poles and played there for about an hour. It didn't matter that we were freezing, that we were wet, that we couldn't understand each other, and pretty much everything I said to them ended with "muy bonita". It didn't matter that there were no toys to play with or that we were squished and standing in mud while water flooded around the house. None of that mattered. They were so full of joy and love for me and for each other. We laughed harder than you can imagine and sang a million songs in Spanish that I couldn't understand. And there was no place I would have rather been in that moment. 

2:30 pm: (SATISFIED)
My sweet 5 year old, carry-on size, little, pulled on my shirt continuously. At first I thought it was because she didn't want to get her feet wet in the pools of water we were standing in. But as I held her and she played with my braids I realized that's all she wanted. Just to be held and noticed for a moment. Five minutes quickly turned into an hour and I soon had a sleeping niña in my arms. It was some of the most precious moments ever. Words can't describe the love and peace I know we both felt in that hour. Pure contentment. I'll never forget those sweet moments that will live on.

10:30 pm: (REFLECTION)
Sometimes we don't want to go where God calls us. It seems like a lot of work and maybe not worth the outcome. Along the way we'll get worn out and want to give up. We'll become impatient and want to do things our own way. But throughout today I've been reminded of God's perfect plan. He is thoughtful and cares about every detail of our lives. Our passions are his passions are are dreams are his dreams. In the end His ways always carry greater things than I could ever comprehend or plan on my own.

"He is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine" Ephesians 3:20

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Building a "Forever Home"

Blog post written by Caden Daniels (age 15)
Irvine, California

I have felt God's presence in every place we've visited so far during the first half of our trip. Today our team saw the house that we're completing for the first time. It is a duplex, which will be shared by two single moms and their teenage daughters.  The house was started by another His Hands His Feet team from Texas in June and we have the honor of completing the home this week. My teammates were assigned jobs such as leveling out dirt, filtering sand, playing with the kids, or jumping on the loose dirt to make it compact. I had to level out the dirt on the side of the house, which was hard work. Usually these kinds of tasks are tedious and become boring very quickly, but today was different. The "boring" tasks became fun and enjoyable. I could feel the Holy Spirit working through my hands as well as my team member's hands.

After working for a while, I decided to take a break and play basketball with my new friends, Michael and Pedro. These two boys were full of energy, even after a half hour of running around the basketball court. I was drained after the first five minutes! God's love was prevalent in these young boys. I left and returned twice and each time they were still joyful, messing around on the courts. In California, specifically Orange County, kids would rather play video games than play outside, especially if it was eighty-five degrees and humid, but these boys didn't complain once about the heat and had the time of their lives. If the whole world had the mentality of these boys, the world would be a better place. 

For lunch our team ate sandwiches at the school and out of the blue, rain started to pour. The streets were made of dirt, which turned to mud very quickly. When we got back to the house we continued painting the outside walls, even in the midst of a torrential downpour.  We were so excited to be working on the house and the rain didn't bother us.  As I began to paint, I had to squeeze between the freshly painted house and a barbed wire fence. The distance from the barbed wire and the house was about two or three feet, so needless to say, it was a tight fit. Once again on a normal day I would have been anxious or annoyed but here I was happy. One of my teammates reminded me that we were painting a house where a family that has been homeless will sleep for many years to come.  It is the answer to their prayers. It hit me then how lucky all of us on the team are. Our houses may be larger and fancier than the ones that we were painting but the families that will live in the houses were so thankful. They even wanted to get their hands dirty and help. 

I felt God's overwhelming presence in that community and I'm so thankful that He created such a safe neighborhood for families who do not have homes. This community of about thirty homes is crime free and has a Christian school in the middle of the neighborhood. The church is just down the road. These safe havens do not happen by chance but because of God's plans.  He called a missionary family to purchase the land five years ago, where families have been able to move into wood homes. It is an honor for our team to build the first concrete house in the community. 

Our team was exhausted after a hard day of work.  We were also wet and filthy from working in the rain and mud.  But that didn't stop us from a fun filled shopping spree at Walmart, where we purchased household items like cups, plates, bowls, rugs, bedding, mirrors and non-perishables for the "forever homes." Many of my family members and friends donated funds for these costs so it was especially moving for me to be able to shop for these gifts.  Our team will put the furniture into the homes tomorrow and decorate the homes before presenting the keys. I look forward to decorating and presenting the house to the families and seeing their faces in the end.