Just last month our church family took time to recognize and pray for children who have been orphaned or in the foster care system. Seeing as it's only December 5, I figure it's ok to extend it a few days. Today our team (they have all been amazing) visited Xodo - an orphanage outside of San Salvador. From the time you turn off the highway and roll past the pink concrete gate there is an incredible sense of God's protective care (read Psalm 91). All of these children are wards of the state, having been abandoned by their parents and having faced some form of neglect, physical or sexual abuse. None of these children, however, have been abandoned by their Heavenly Father.
We were given the distinct privilege of painting some rooms for Xodo - rooms in need of much repair. It was hot humid and a whole lot of fun.
More than that it was an opportunity to do something they couldn't do for themselves. After lunch all we did was "love" - we coloured with love;
we did nails with love;
we skipped role with love;
we played basketball and soccer with love
and we played with play dough with love
And we ate ice cream with love and yummy toppings.
- and a whole lot of laughter and joy.
A few incredible things that stand out to me:
- the Director remembered our team from our visit 4 years ago and thanked us for not forgetting the children.
- the fact that some of these kids remember our team from two years ago.
- the big hugs and warm smiles as we said our goodbyes.
And the incredible overwhelming sense that we had just spent time in the presence of Jesus - who today had a small brown face, big brown hopeful eyes wide welcoming arms and a playful spirit - among the least of these.
Would you join us in praying for the future of these kids and for the compassionate care they receive from a great team of leaders.
Ok, first blog. Whew. Pressure is on. Here we go...
El Salvador... wow. Where do I start? I could talk about the almost vertical mountain path to the two houses we built... Or I could mention the animals: The pigs/piglets that wandered the different communities, as if they owned the place. The chickens that proved looks are not everything, every chicken is equally delicious on the inside. (Even though there were some potential "Ugly chicken contest" winners) The Cows who lazily graze and walk about, not caring if a truck carrying two tons of weight is traveling towards it. Finally the dogs, the starving dogs that were abused and hungry, however could walk with an upturned nose away from a fallen tortilla. (Guess they don't like those). Nonetheless, I'm not going to dwell on the lives of these creatures. It's the people, the locals that show El Salvador's character. The poorest communities are sometimes the richest in their faith. With more hardships than any of us can ever imagine, these people still worship God with their whole being. Today, was the key ceremony. To start the event, the band played some Spanish worship music. The songs were incredible beautifully, especially in Spanish. However, as I looked around me I saw an old man. A man, who in his many years as an El Salvadorian, must have faced many, many hardships. Problems with his home, his family, his neighbors. Problems with farming, transportation, and safety. This man must have spent a good 60 years of his life, slaving over unfavorable farmland, and struggling to provide for his family. Although there was something that stuck out to me. It was the way he worshipped God. He had his eyes closed. A raised hand in the air. And a raspy voice that spit out the Spanish melody. He worshipped God, to the best of his ability, and that is most important. These people, are fooled into thinking that your financial status is what defines you and I think that the same can be said for a lot of people. Nonetheless, the locals are rich where it counts: In their faith, and its here that we can see how deceptively rich they really are. I belive that there is a lot to learn from them. And the strength of their faith is something to be recognized.
As we have handed the keys to each family today for their new homes, I was listening to their kind words of appreciation. I also heard them speak of their new homes as answers to long-held prayers for God to rescue them. And of this tangible recognition that God had not forgotten them. It was humbling and inspiring to play a small part in all of that.
But as awesome as this has been for these families, I can't help but think of all those other families in these tiny mountain communities that did not receive homes this week. What does their faith look like tonight? Do they believe that God HAS forgotten them? Do the nights spent pleading with God to bring relief and hope to them ring hollow? Will they find the strength to believe even if their earthly circumstances don't ever change?
I am personally challenged by this as I think of my own dark nights pleading with God for change or rescue. Can I be content if He chooses never to change my circumstance? Will I trust Him anyway?Can I learn to be content in all things?
These are tough questions that all of us wrestle with. My hope and prayer for the families in the mountains around Rio Frio is that they will hold tight to their faith and trust their God no matter what the future holds. I pray that for all of us.
We appreciate the many people who follow this blog and pray for us. Today is the "Key Ceremony" day. For those who have been here before, yes it's a day earlier.
After the last four days of working with these people in these remote villages we ask that you would pray for this occasion which happens around 11:00 EST. Please pray that the Gospel will be heard and seen clearly; that decades of mistrust would begin to crumble; that true community would begin and that hope for the future, inspired by God, would imbed itself in the hearts of those we have worked among. Pray for the widows, abandoned women and the elderly to be cared for and for the children to be protected. Pray for marriages to remain intact. And ultimately for God's Kingdom to grow as a result. Thanks for joining us in this prayer.
I'm blogging early this year! Sorry it's taken me so long. Apparently, all I need is several cups of Pepsi to finally transfer some thoughts to the blog!
Here's some of my thoughts after finishing the 10 houses this week:
- The incredible views and beautiful scenery in this country will never get old. God's creation here is breathtaking.
- Although the truck rides have been hard, trekking through the mountains of El Salvador with tools has been awesome. We've been fully spent at the end of each day, but does it ever feel good to "labour for The Lord".
- During our hike to the last house today, I was following a 65 year old man who lives in one of the first houses we built this week, at the peak of the mountain. He was incredibly spry. The resiliency of these people is amazing, this man in particular stood out to me today.
- Similar to last year, I feel like this trip reminds me how important it is to be a good father and husband. It's tough to hear the struggles of all the fatherless/husbandless families. We know this isn't just a problem for the poor in El Salvador. I was struggling this week; just craving for a story of a family this week that could provide an example of a dedicated father, breaking what seems to be the norm these days. Tonight Stan told us about one of the men that we've been working alongside this week. He has taken on the role of father and husband and provider for a widowed mother and her three daughters. What a blessing it was to hear this story! We pray that he can become an example to others of a Godly man, a leader in his community.
- I have to admit, I have really enjoyed the fact that we are working in a rural area. Most of the families we have talked to rent and farm 1 hectare plots of land, producing corn, beans, and sorghum. (And we've seen plenty of pigs, chickens, cows, and horses roaming the hills!)
- I've really enjoyed getting to know all of our team better through the week. I enjoy all the late night conversations we get to have, working through this experience with them, having a unique discussions on furthering God's work here in El Salvador.
I hope I've been coherent enough tonight to make some sense! Time to sleep!
Even though we had several unexpected challenges in the last three days we have completed the building of the 10 homes and yet the work is just beginning. These 10 houses are the actually breaking new ground as we worked in 6 remote villages that have never received homes in the past. While I am deeply moved by the love many of these people have for God even though living in extreme poverty, the sense of community spirit and caring for others outside their family appears to only be starting in these villages. There is much more needed to continue to encourage the communities to grow in God's love and we leave this work to the local Pastors that have been working with us. Let us pray for the messages that will be given tomorrow and the ongoing work of these men that this will only be the beginning of a good work in these villages.
It has been a great joy for me to again participate in mission and especially to watch these young men learn and build confidence working with these tools. On day 1 I had to try repeated times to get one of the men to take the impact driver. The next day every time he saw Tiffany pick up the driver he would immediately take it and complete the work (sorry Tiffany).
I read a phrase before I left that seemed to stick with me and I mulled it around for a while without much meaning until we got here. "Dreams inspired by God (italics are mine), driven by hope, empowered by love, change lives forever." These people have very few if any dreams and very little hope, neither of which I can do anything about, nor can I change lives, but I can love. I felt like God was telling me that these people needed us to show his love to them. I have felt strongly that these people know God loves them, but they needed something tangible. Our presence and the houses are proof to them that God has not forgotten them and does love them. I feel so privileged to be here, Thank you to all who have made it possible for me to come.
Wow, we finally finished all the houses. What a relief! Over the last three days, one thing I learned is I am definitely not cut out for this heat. It makes everything twice as hard. Today was especially hard. We had quite the hike up to the last house. I was so exhausted from going up and down large rocky hills, and over and through fences, that by time we actually got to the house I was too tired and nauseous to help build the house. Thank goodness for the rest of the team and all the villagers who were ready and willing to help out.
In the midst of all the chaos, I have found it rather difficult to stay positive. While climbing up the hill to the last house, in attempt to stay positive, I thought to myself, "well at least it's up on the way there, so it will only be down hill on the way home". But that was before I reached the top of the hill and realized the path went down and up and down again. So that meant that it would literally be 'up hill both ways'. Kind of discouraging.
So while I was sitting at the work sight watching everyone else working hard on the house, I was feeling rather bummed out. So I sent up a quick prayer asking for strength and positivity, and perhaps an alternate route back down. All in all, God answered my prayers. The truck came up an alternate route to drive us back down so we didn't have to walk, therefore conserving my strength, and delivering a positive result.
So, having experienced all that, I have learned that its best to stay positive even through the hard times, because God is going carry you through to the end.
And on a side note... Mom, next time you tell me I need to start working out, I will take you more seriously.
After what feels like more than 3 days of building, we have completed the building of 10 houses. Once again, I am humbled by the strength and willingness to learn that is shown by the people of El Salvador. On Monday, it seemed like a few of the men had never seen a drill before, let alone used one. By Wednesday they had caught on so quick that my drilling skills were easily surpassed (which isn't saying much....but they were really good).
I am very appreciative that I was able to come back here again this year, I feel that I needed to once again see how these people live in conditions that we may see as difficult, but still have such a great love for The Lord. The effort they go through to go to church on Sunday (an hour of walking up a mountain-sometimes in the dark) is very encouraging. I can't fathom living a life where I need to walk up and down mountains in extreme heat for 3 hours to do something as simple as get groceries. But to do all that because of their love for their families reminds me of the conveniences in my life and I how I cannot take them for granted- this also inspires me to be a better servant of God.
Please continue to pray for the people here. Over the years we have seen the families flourish here, this needs to continue and your prayers will make this happen.
Day one had it all... views of a beautiful country will rolling hills, mountains and a winding river, an extremely steep hike that would put many Algonquin portage to shame and PIGS.
First the pigs... in this village pigs are everywhere. The bizarre thing is that they all just wander around in little pig heard, especially the little ones..kinda like a little pig gang and at the end of the day they all just go home. They know where they live and all the villagers know whos is whos. I learned that pigs are fast, very fast, I learned they can jump, in fact I saw a very large pig leap up and over a well that was almost 3 feet high. Amazing. Oh and this applies to the cows, the horses and the chickens. Animals everywhere!
We are certainly surrounded by beauty. It's everywhere. I especially like the area we are building... the views are amazing. It's funny though, villagers don't seem to care too much. Each house has porch but no one wants their porch to face the sprawling view... it's about practicality and being close to where they cook. I guess that makes sense. Getting down to these homes was wild. As Matt posted it was straight down... wow.
Anyway, the people here are certainly coming together. Many people that are helping build had to hike up this path so it's pretty cool to see them working together. We expect this community to come together more and more as new homes are built. It's very cool to be part of something like this, something just getting off the ground in this area.
Here's a quick view from our "office window" yesterday. We built two homes in a remoter than remote village at the top of the highest peak between San Felipe and Rio Frio. There is such incredible beauty as we can look out and see the volcano, look beyond and see the ocean, look down and see the patchwork pattern of farmland in the valley below as the rio Lempa winds its way through. Spectacular. And more importantly so are the people. Hopefully tonight I'll be able to formulate some thoughts that we shared together last night in our team meeting regarding the beauty of the people and how they are reflecting the Gospel. Thanks for praying.
It feels like we've been through a week of building already - hard to believe it was just day one! It was a very difficult day for us all - physically and mentally quite challenging. There was lots of climbing and navigating a steep rocky path (my estimate is 600' vertical) and another 3 hours jostling around in the back of the cattle truck up and down and around rough mountainous roads. The "fun" of the back of the truck and beautiful landscape gets old after about the first 30 minutes of this. Putting the planned 4 houses together today in all this traversing, was extra difficult and became rushed as the day closed and we were not able to put the roofs and finishing touches on the last two homes today, but we hope to be able to do that tomorrow, first thing, before we start the other 4 new homes tomorrow. We hope they are not located in locations so incredibly difficult to get to and from as 2 of them were today.
Please pray for strength, health and safety for us all to be able to do what we will need to do tomorrow and to do it with a continued spirit of grace and without missing out on the opportunities that God has for us to connect with the people here - the "God moments". Our team is all getting along smashingly and we are amazed what we have been through and how God is providing for us. Thank you for your continued prayers for us!
While talking with one of the families whose house we were building today, they shared about what their old house was like. They said there were many holes in the house, some of which were very large. And they were thankful to God that they never had any thieves. However, often they would wake up and their horse would be inside! Their chickens also frequently came in. The family joked that it was like living in a zoo! Fortunately the new house, with no holes, that they now have will provide much more protection and the family said they will sleep better at night feeling safer. They also won't have to worry about their horse coming in anymore!
Despite the poor state of their previous house, the family was able to joke about it and embrace the humour of the situation! I think that is something we can all learn from. Being the horse lover that I am, I might find it funny the first time my horse joined me for breakfast but after a while I'd probably get tired of cleaning the manure up off the floor. But as we encounter less than ideal situations in our day to day lives, lets try not to let them get us down. Let's try to find the humour in the situation and make the most of what we have.
Tonight I am thankful for all the men I know, from my husband, to my dad, to my brothers, to so many faithful male friends within our extended church family. I am thankful for the honest and true legacy they are leaving to their wives, their children and ultimately, their communities just because they have chosen to stay. God has asked them to be faithful and they have answered that call.
Here in El Salvador, there is a generational legacy of choosing to leave. With downcast eyes, several women told us today, of being left alone. Of husbands and fathers who walked away and never returned. They told us stories of hopelessness and abandonment. It is always tough to hear.
We have a tough week ahead of us as we seek to raise these houses, but more importantly, to attempt to raise up hope and an understanding that all these people are special and worthy in God's eyes. He has not abandoned them. His love for them is faithful and true.
Well in a few minutes we will board our flight to El Salvador. Thanks so much for joining our SEMC team on this trip. Your prayer and encouragement are a vital part of what makes this possible. Despite missing our exit off the highway and despite going to the wrong terminal and despite the fact that one of us forgot to unpack their camping utensils from the backpack their son was using and one of us was pulled aside for an explosives check ( not the one you're thinking)...we've made it through security and are almost gone. Maybe this week you will read the Gospel of John, chapter 4 and enter into God's Story.
The deep emotions shared by this team today & this evening as we prayed together and said our good-byes are a result of a Great Love. Over the course of this week we have shared stories, dreams, miracles, hurts, fears, and victories. We have built friendships and relationships with people we just met for a very short time or worked with for the entire week, yet those connections are for eternity. And not one of the Canadian team members will return tomorrow unchanged. For God has done a mighty work in each of our lives, and the lives of hundreds of children & Compassion workers in this beautiful country of El Salvador.
So how do we say thank you to those who have made this trip so memorable? How do we say good-bye to little faces with tears streaming down their cheeks, arms clinging in an embrace that could last a lifetime? How do we challenge those mothers, grandmothers, fathers and other family members to keep a strong faith in God during the storms of life? How do we encourage the people who tirelessly sacrifice their lives to the service of God for the sake of these little ones and their families? My only answer: Never Let Go. Our prayers for these dearly loved people must continue as we bring them daily before the Throne of Grace to present their needs before an Almighty, Loving, Sovereign God. Prayers for employment, for roofs to not leak, for enough food to feed their families, for safety from gang violence, for freedom from the cycle of broken families and absentee fathers, for strength and resources to run programs, for workers with hearts broken for God & His children, for church leaders with integrity. And those are just the general prayers, not the specific pleas from each individual. We can never let go to the enduring Promises of God, as He proves Himself faithful day after day.
Never letting go also means we need to set apart time to really demonstrate love to our sponsored children by writing to them as often as possible. The joy of receiving a letter, in contrast to the sadness of being forgotten, is indescribable. The children need to hear we love them. They love to receive prayer requests so they can pray for us, and share their own requests more freely. And they need to be told they are special & that God has a plan for their lives. We can encourage them to become strong leaders for a better future for their families and their country.
We will never forget the blessings this trip has brought. I know, too, that we will not easily forget the lessons we've learned...those moments of epiphany where God has clearly guided our thoughts as He directs us in His path for the future. Most of all, I pray we will be bold to declare His goodness wherever we go... to share those stories of healing & redemption, power & peace with those we return to, as well as invite them to share in the joy of discovering God's deep love. Because God's love endures forever. And without a doubt, throughout each moment of this trip we saw first hand that Jesus makes all the difference.
Thank you for your prayers. We know we could not have experienced the blessings afforded us in this trip without them. And thank you to those who sacrificed so we could be your representatives in this country of beauty, pain & promise.
To close I'd like to share my favourite Spanish word, "esperanza". (I didn't know what it meant, but it is a wonderful sounding word which reminds me of a fizzy clear drink, spritzing up from a glass. Last night I finally learned its meaning: HOPE. Thank you, Lord, for bringing Hope to so many people through your Son, Jesus!
Pastor Deve said that we should all blog at least once. With the Reilly contingency taken into consideration, I am posting my blog with 7 hours to spare.
As our week in El Salvador comes to an end, I can honestly say that my life is forever changed.
We started out with a powerful church service welcoming us into El Salvador. I was overwhelmed by the love that was shared with us. Why did they love us? Simply because we are their brothers and sisters in Christ.
One of the things that spoke to my heart the most about this church is the fact that there is no shame. No shame in their worship, no shame in their praise, no shame in their prayer - but above of things - there was no shame among their congregation. This is something that so many North American churches are missing. I can't even tell you the amount of times that I was going through struggles in my life, and when I walked into the church I felt as though I had a spot light on me. I was so overwhelmed with shame. I think that we get so caught up with being "perfect" Christians, that we are not open about our struggles and our sins. The reality is that it is not our judgement that is going to change people - it's the love of Christ.
I have been thinking and praying about this encounter with God that I have been experiencing and The Lord revealed this to my heart:
We are called to live our lives reflective of God. And what is God? God is love. And perfect love casts out all fear. When our lives truly reflect the heart of God it's brings freedom, not only to us but to the people around us.
"There are some of us that have never encountered the love of God, but he wants to encounter you. He wants you to feel his amazing love and his presence - and you would know if you have encountered the love of God because you'd never be the same again." - Kim Walker
Through this entire week, I know that I have been encountering the love of God through these children, these churches and through every family that we've met. And I know, because I will never be the same again.
Here, while surrounded by the worst poverty that I've ever experienced, I've never felt closer to heaven.
My prayer for you is that you will embrace the love that God is freely pouring upon you and that you will allow it to forever change your heart.
Well after each one of us said our good byes to our amazing compassion translator team and driver I stood back and watched how awesome my God is. Not only did He bring our team together as a family but brought their team and ours and made us one. Their team as Steve said tonight were our advocates. Each and everyone played such a huge role in making this an amazing chapter in my own life. Today a young girl preached at our worship service during our last project visit. Five years old not able to read or write but the word of God over flowed out of her like a living well. God can change you, people can change you but when a child touches your heart the way some of us felt this week it will change us internally. Poverty is a scary and very sad thing when we are blessed to come from the stability North America offers. But I never in my life have had The Holy Spirit reveal himself so bluntly as He did through these children. Compassion 2014 will forever change me. I will be a better Christian, a more loving mother and wife. Forever I will share my story, will keep my memories close and be obedient to Gods word. Because even these children's stories are rewritten and we could have met the young boy or girl that will bring this country out of poverty and provide a new generation for all these precious children and their families.
So today I had the opportunity to meet our sponsor child, Carlos. It was honestly the best day of my life thus far.
As we stepped off the bus I saw one of the translators pointing us it to him and I was just so happy to see him standing there. Then they sent he kids off and the all ran right at us and hugged us. I've never seen such a beautiful event. I mean, these kids, who we have never met and barely know, are running at us with love and open arms with such joy. Although we speak different languages and live in different countries, we all worship the same God and that has just been shown through these children and their families.
I would never had thought that I would have the chance to meet him. It was the biggest blessing. We played soccer, had swimming races, jumped into the pool together and just had a great time! It was very hard to leave him when it was time to go. Both my dad and I were crying and we were all hugging. We prayed with him and his grandma and they told us about things they needed prayer for. It was so hard to hear about the struggles that they have and they illness in their family. Carlos had dressed up for the day and it's so unbelievable to think that he doesn't live in a nice home and he lives in a country that is FULL of poverty. Then I told him that I love him and God loves him and that was just the best thing to be able to tell him to his face that I love him, and not just through a letter.
So in all today, I very much felt the presence of God through Carlos. He had so much energy and he had all these questions for us and even though we couldn't always talk to each other, we connected and communicated in different ways. I really felt so much love for him today and it was the hardest thing saying good bye. But I know that he loves us just as much as we love him and we've only met once but through the love of Christ and our same faith, I now have a new brother that I am more than happy to welcome into my family.
Today I was gifted with the opportunity to spend the day with my sponsor child. When we got out of the bus, there all our kids were, waiting with signs with our names on them in bold lettering. As we stood outside the bus waiting for everyone to unload, you could feel the excitment grow by the second. Then the first name was called and the most wonderful sight was seen. The children with that name ran out across the field as their sponsor ran from the opposite direction and fell on there knees in the middle of the field to hug three beautiful children that had run as fast as they could to wrap their slim arms around her. When my name was called I saw my beautiful girl take off running with our other little boy looking for me and my family. For the first time I cried joyful tears, praising God for the wonderful gift He had given me. I hugged her with as much love as I have ever felt before as tears were running down my face. It was the first time I was able to hold my gorgeous girl in my arms and tell her I love her. This moment will forever stay in my mind and everytime I look back on it my eyes fill with happy tears that I didn't even know were there. Now whenever I have a bad day all I have to do is embrace this moment and remember that somewhere in this world there is a beautiful little girl named Yency who loves me and an amazing God that had planned this all out before I was even born. I now have a new chapter in my book to share with you all in this great journey the Lord has prepared for me.
What an amazing day getting to meet my sponsor children in real life. My one kid named Alonso was very busy! I don't even think my sisters have as much energy as him! On Wednesday I had the privilege to go to meet one of my Aunt Sandra's sponsor children Marvin at his house. Today once he noticed that I was there he asked me to go down a slide with him and that one time turned into a very big number of times. I don't think I have ever seen a bigger smile than I did that day. Bernice my grandmas sponsor child also got to come and spend the day with us. I think I will always have a picture in my head of her smiling while my mom pulled her around the pool. Our other sponsor child Yenci loved my sister Tali and spent the whole day swimming and playing with her. The hardest part of the day was saying good bye to my new best friends. I will always remember them.
I'm lost for words. As a person who rarely stops talking, this is a different feeling.
These last two days specifically have been a rollercoaster of mixed emotions. With the highs being so high that cloud nine seemed too low, and lows being so low that you feel like your heart alone weighs 100 pounds.
Yesterday, I had the blessing of meeting my sponsor child Adriana. We were welcomed into the project with such enthusiasm that I couldn't focus on anything in particular. I remember seeing Sandra with her sponser child who had a sign with her name, and I thought to myself, maybe mine's at school, maybe I'll meet her later, or maybe today is not the day that God has chosen for us to meet.
That was when I looked up and saw Erin's face through the crowd of children, and her eyes were smiling - I followed her line of sight up to the front of the church, where in the midst of an abundance of children - was my sweet Adriana. She was holding up a sign with my name on it. Most of the next 3 minutes is a blur remembered through tears. I remember thinking "that's mine, she's mine" and then those thoughts turned into me patting my chest and saying louder and louder, "she's mine, she's mine!" As I struggled to rip off my pack, my water bottle holder and even my camera came flying off my shoulders as I tried my best to get to her as fast as I could. Luckily, Cara was nice and close by so she caught my camera in the midst of it all. I have never had such happy tears in all of my life. When I hugged her I felt like the world was right, like my life at this point could be complete and I would be happy.
It took her time to warm up to me, but I am so thankful that I was able to spend all day yesterday with her because this morning when we showed up to the park for our fun day with them she ran right into my arms. The rest of today was spent hearing her sweet laughter and her high pitched little voice calling "breenaa". I pray that today will not be the last day that I see her.
God is good. God is great.
And I have been witness to that this week more than any other.
The past two days have been great. It's been hot, but honestly I love it. I love this place, the people, and all the things I am learning.
Yesterday, I helped build the houses. I drilled, and even dug a hole in the extremely hard ground. I worked alongside the women from the area which are some of the hardest working women I have ever met. They get right in there and do whatever needs to be done.
Today I helped with some building but focused more on getting to know the people. I met some around my age as well as some precious younger kids. It's amazing, as soon as you pull out some candy and elastics for bracelets you are instantly surrounded. After doing that for a little while, I went with some of the ladies on the team and some of the locals down to the river. We met some women who were doing their laundry in the river, and I went in and helped them. It's hard work but it's fun and they do it so quickly. I think they thought it was funny as we tried to do it.
The week goes by fast, but I know that the next two days are going to be exciting and I'm looking forward to see what's in store.
One of my favourite things to do is riding on the back of the truck. I love standing up on the post at the front and looking out over everything. I guess it's the perspective really, you get to see everything. I look around and see all these faces and I want to get to know all of them.
On the right is my buddy Kevin who stayed with me the whole day :)
I never told anyone this, but I had a deep rooted fear of seeing extreme poverty first hand. I had seen pictures and videos, but I feared being in the midst of it. I never feared what it was, but I did fear is what it might do to me.
Extreme poverty bothered me so much, that I felt like being in it, smelling and tasting it, would easily defeat my spirit. I think I never wanted to TRULY see and feel how the chains of poverty destroyed hope and joy.
So far in this journey, I have yet to feel defeat. I have yet to feel dismay. I have now sat in the homes of two families who barely have means to survive with basic supplies. Life here is constant work to provide basic needs that I have NEVER even had to think about, ever.
In the midst of sights that words don't do justice, I keep seeing peace, joy and love of His people. Karen Allen said 'there's no personal space here with these people'.....
A brief update considering the events of the last two days:
First, on behalf of the Shelter team of leaders, thanks to those of you who have been praying earnestly for us. We serve a Great God, who is able to lead us forward while walking with us, protecting us from behind, and watching over us. How He does it, we'll likely never know. What we do know is that we sense it, even in the midst of difficult circumstance there is Peace.
Today, we were able to go into a different community and build 4 houses!! 4 families lives are changed and 4 more opportunities to share the love of Jesus.
We were also able to start our meetings today, and while I'm sure you excited to hear all about them, I'll share this one story: Pastor Herman, from the Auditorio Cristiano Church in San Salvador, came to share the vision of their church family. He spoke from Acts 2, and the movement of the followers of Jesus into the community, region and outward into the world. It's a message that echoes the heart of Shelter and it echoes the heart of the SEMC.
It's amazing to be caught up in Our God's unfolding story!! I"m blown away every time that comes clear.
One more tidbit: I had the privilege of having a lunch meeting with Pastor Herman and Pastor Ricardo. Pastor Herman was sharing with me how he had been pastoring there for 7 years and it just recently felt as though the church family really understood and were living according to the vision. I then had the privilege to talk about the Lord's work at the SEMC, and shared a similar story...again very amazing what the Lord is doing, uniting communities, churches and leaders across thousands of miles - together for the Glory of Jesus Christ!!
This trip has been so incredibly eye opening to hear from the lives directly touched and forever changed by the efforts of the compassion organization. To hear them say Thanks be to God I am so blessed. It has been a priveledge to sit and hear their stories of how in desperation they called to God and he answered faithfully and miraculously.
But I must say I do miss the familiar faces, the ones I look forward to seeing. I keep telling myself this is a new and different trip enjoy the newness of it, but I find myself still searching and missing my friends here. With the house building projects we start as strangers but soon we are friends that get to know each other better as the week goes on. This experience the faces are different with each stop we make. Wow there are so many to pray for already and it is only Tuesday. What a neat experience to watch my kids take it all in! Taijah and Shailah I wish you could have come but all the standing and sitting still, would surely have driven you mad!
Looking very much forward to wrapping my arms and my heart around a special boy and girl on Thursday, whose faces I will see on my fridge for many years to come, Lord willing.
Love you all at home tonnes!
P.S. Amanda just in case you were wondering, I am loving the heat and missing sharing it with you:)
I just got off a FaceTime call with my friend/brother/co-minister Steve Metcalfe. He's leading the Compassion team this week and had so many exciting stories to share. It's just another reminder of the depth of love that the Lord has given to us for the people of El Salvador. What a privilege to hear about it, pray into it and celebrate with them!!
Aynsley and I also just wrapped up our debrief with our Shelter team tonight. It was more of a somber, reflective time, however, it ended in a resolve to continue what we're called to do and in united song of praise - the Doxology.
Why the somber mood: After the events of yesterday (See Aynsley's post below), we went back out to the community, prepared to build the 8 remaining houses. However, as we arrived that number had dwindled to 6. Why? The shooting we had heard yesterday, sent one man to the hospital (where he remains in serious condition). In fact, it turns out that we saw the gunman leaving on his motorcycle. The result of this activity - the families we were to build for have decided to leave the community. 6 new homes, dwindled to 3...which we built and then made a hasty exit. Later this afternoon, we sent a group of local people in, and they removed 2 of the homes we built. Everyone, but one family, has left that community.
Part of our prayer, everyday is for God to protect us from evil and for God to shine light into the darkness. We need both these powerful acts of God continually. These last two days has been a sober reminder of those realities. We are thankful that this community has been forced to face the reality of the evil that often stays hidden and that they made a choice to leave. We pray that the Lord would provide for them in the days, weeks and months to come. Please join us in that prayer.
We pray for the resolve to (re)build 9 homes over the course of the next couple of days in a different community and to be able to bless 9 families. Please join us in that prayer.
We pray that God would continue to deepen our love for Him, His purposes and the way in which He is coming against the present evil in this country. Please join us in that prayer.
We pray that God would rescue and redeem men, women and children in El Salvador, bringing them into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Please join us in that prayer.
The paradox, as Steve and I talked about is this: how could we witness lives being changed by Jesus Christ, and the resultant praise and joy, in a country where such evil and violence exists. This much we know that God is at work here and we're privileged to be a part of it; in different ways - all of which is making a tangible Kingdom difference.
This paradox of God's grace in the midst of evil leads us to doxological praise, knowing that God's purposes will prevail. Please join us in this:
Wow what an amazing day. The Lord not only showed me the love and strength He provides to us but how our obedience to Him is life changing. Today we met a thirty year old mother of three, for those of you who don't know me well I am a thirty one year old mother of three. Ana Elizabeth was her name and her testimony will forever change me. A year ago today I lost the women who raised me, who showed me compassion and unconditional love, my aunt dee. To see where God has taken me in one year is unexplainable. But today, in the strength and faith Ana showed it made the day I dreaded for a whole year I most powerful moment God has showed himself to me. Words will not describe how loved and thankful I am to have such an amazing saviour call me his own. Today I thank God for every miracle He has preformed in Anas family life. I thank Him for how faithful He is to me and I am just so excited for what is in store the next few days for our team.
Being scared is hearing gunshots at the work site. Being scared is leaving the work site early. Being scared is not knowing what will happen to those families.
Being fearless is Tomasita and Basillio as they risk their own safety for us to find answers. Being fearless is Carrie and Stuart as they raise four little children in a very scary country. Being fearless is the congregation of Rio Frio as they worship God. Being fearless is trusting that God has a plan.
We live in a scary world. I think that sometimes we forget that, or just push it over. But, we live in a real world, with scary real life problems. I'm not saying we shouldn't be scared. Being scared is a normal, human thing. But being fearless, being fearless is giving it all up to The One who gave it all.
As we go back to that work site tomorrow, we would so appreciate your prayer for our safety. We will be building all the houses tomorrow, minus two that are no longer being built.
P.S. There is more to this story, and we'll share it sometime soon...for now your prayer continues to be needed.
If you're reading this it's likely because you either have a previous connection to our relationship with the people of El Salvador or you have a connection to the people involved in this next trip/adventure/learning experience.
Let me tell you two (of many) reasons why I'm excited about what the Lord has in store for our church family this week:
1. This trip is a tangible expression not just of "giving" but of "generosity". Over the course of the last five years, people in our church family have been sponsoring children in El Salvador (and other places) through Compassion Canada. How many kids we never really knew? But each year when our work team would head down, those who remained would sponsor children, making a monthly monetary commitment to a Christ-centred care ministry. There is a team of 16 people who will have the opportunity to meet their 14 sponsored children!! More than that, there are an additional 12 children that will receive a gift box from their sponsors!! The Lord is at work moving us from being a "giving" church family to a "generous" church family. Sacrificial generosity reflects the character of God and it's humbling to see it in action. Many of the people on this trip wouldn't necessarily be able to participate in a "work team". This trip allows them to continue to feed our desire to enter into the mutually beneficial cross cultural global relationships. I look forward to learning from this team!!
2. This team is an intergenerational team. It's reflects one of the consistent themes that we have been addressing over the course of a number of years: At the SEMC we do life, together!! There are people in their teens, 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's, 60's and yes 70's part of this team...what a testimony to the way in which Our God is seeking to reveal His love for us and others. They will go through the week together, pray together, share together, experience so many new things together and have a lot of fun in the process.
I could go on and on...but let me invite you to pray consistently and earnestly for this team; they are unique people called together for a unique purpose and God will not only bring change to their lives, but will also use them to continue to change our lives to glorify Him!
Lord willing, you will hear/read a little of their experiences throughout the week in this space.
May the Lord bless you for sharing the journey with us,