Friday, July 22, 2016

Aged out!

“If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up.  Bur even if He doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of a difference.  We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” -Daniel 3:18

Imagine being confined to a 15x10 room from sunrise to sunset.  You eat lunch there, you sleep there.  You do everything in there.  If you behave all day you might get to step outside of the locked door for a half hour.  Imagine waking up every day in this situation, a metaphorical jail, even though you have done nothing to deserve it. This is what the children at the orphanage we visited today, live with every day of their lives until they age out at 18 years old.  This center houses a small number of young boys and multiple teenage mothers and their babies.  Mission trips are not always easy.  Today we were able to understand just how difficult it is to live under these circumstances.  Today we had the privilege to spend all day playing and talking with the orphans living at The center

At age 18 all children “age out” of the orphanage and are set out to fend for themselves, often on the streets regardless if they have a baby or not.  Not all of teenage moms we met today became pregnant by choice.  Many were either raped, included in sex trafficking, or in prostitution.  Either way, the mother is kicked out of the orphanage at age 18 under every circumstances.  Today we met a pregnant young woman who was expectant to give birth 2-3 months after she ages out of the system.  She will be not only raising a child by herself, but she will be living on the streets, possibly even giving birth on the streets.  Can you even imagine? 

After a long day at The center, we headed home to begin preparing to feed the homeless.

The number of people living homeless on the streets is uncountable.  No matter how many sacks of food are packed, there will never be enough to feed every single hungry person.  That was the case tonight.  Herds of people surrounded the truck at the sound of “comida,” and were all so thankful to be receiving a bag of food.  However, tonight we had 25 people waiting in line for food and others still running towards the truck when we ran out of food.  

It always shocks me how thankful these people are.  We met a man who spoke surprisingly good English, and quickly learned that he was from Ohio.  He had been deported.  As I sit here and type, it is almost impossible for me to not think how that could've have been me.  For some reason God saw fit for me to be born in the United States, to have a family who loves me, and not have to worry about where my next meal will come from.  For some reason God saw fit for me to not worry about how I will manage to take care of myself and a newborn baby on the streets after aging out of the orphanage system.  I can’t help but think “why me?”.  And for the same reason, God saw fit for all these people to live on the streets in San Salvador.

We have it so good in the United States, whether we realize it or not.  Even our “worst” of days spent complaining about the wifi being out or not getting Pizza Inn for dinner pale in comparison to what the people we met today go through on a daily basis.  My challenge to you, whomever you may be, is to realize how thankful you are.  Pray for these people.  Pray for them to realize that through all, He is still good and graceful and so so loving. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Something to never forget!

Today we had the privilege of presenting a family with a key to their new home. A young widowed mother of 2 boys will not only be sleeping in a new home tonight but they will be sleeping in beds for the first time! Bunk beds, sheets, comforters, towels, kitchenware, and table & chairs were all brought into their new home this afternoon. The joy on their faces was something that I will never forget. 

They allowed us to use their church to gather and pass out clothing, flip flops, hats and treat bags to all the children. 

We were also blessed to deliver beans, sugar, rice and corn flour to 32 other families in the village. We were able to pray with them for their specific needs and give them bibles while sharing the love of God. We were able to truly be the hands and feet of God today and bless the village. But I believe we were the ones who were blessed. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Dios es Amor

There is a quote by John Bunyan that will always be one of my favorites: “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” This week while doing the things we have been doing for villages, orphanages, and families, it may seem they can never repay us. However, they have done more for me than I could ever do for them. I see strength, love, and courage in them and they bring God to a whole new light by having just a small glimpse into their daily lives.

Today we went to a village called Nahuizalco and God blessed us with an opportunity to build a house for a family of two young boys, the mother, and two grandmothers. Their father had been killed and owed money to others, and that left the mother to do everything on her own. As we prayed over this family before building the home, the grandmothers cried and thanked God for bringing us there. And I thanked Him for the same thing. Being with this family, in this village with these beautiful families and extremely happy children just brought me out of my own world and into theirs. 

Through pouring down rain, insanely heavy walls and floors, getting snatched on barbwire, and sliding around in the mud, the team pushed through with little complaining and with laughter and smiles. Men from the village that weren’t even part of the family we were building for swarmed to help carry the equipment. A translator asked, “In the states, if anyone were to see you doing something like this, would they help without you asking?” Would you stop and help and stranger in your neighborhood or city build a house if they didn't ask you? More than likely, no. And that made me think about so much. God intends for us to love each other as He loved us. To selflessly, abundantly, and unconditionally love one another.

Driving on the way back from the village today I saw a sign saying, “Dios es amor” meaning “God is love.” This beautiful country and the beautiful people in it, with so little have so much love, so much faith, and are so happy and thankful for what they do have. Because even when we don’t have anything else, we have God’s love. And that is more than enough for them. And it is more than enough for me.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Starting with love!


What do you see when you look at me?  Do you only see a mess of blonde curly hair?  Do you see a 5th grade math teacher that is 20 pounds overweight?  Do you see past the exterior, or do you only see what is at face value?  What do you see when you look at me?  This question has been swirling in my head for the past 24 hours since arriving in El Salvador.  I was not sure where this came from or even why, but after today, I know the answer.  

Today, we spent the day at two orphanages here in El Salvador.  The first orphanage, San Martin, is a center for adults with special needs.  I have heard many stories about San Martin and how it was “the happiest place on earth”.  I have sent been to Disney World, who coined that catch phrase many years ago several times, and I found it hard to believe that San Martin would be able to even compare.  Boy was I wrong.  The moment we pulled into the locked gates we were greeted by smiling faces.  The excitement that poured from these individuals was contagious.  They were all genuinely and completely overjoyed to see us and share the day with us.  We danced, we laughed, we danced, we watched a puppet show, we danced,… did I mention that we danced?  I can honestly say that I have never seen so much happiness and sheer unrelenting joy.  These men and women who had every reason to be mad at the world because of their circumstances were showing the exact opposite.  They instead were celebrating each and every minute.  However, even through all of the smiles and laughter, God still found a way to pull on my heart strings.   Upon touring the facility, we were introduced to a young man that would have no idea what an impact he would make on me.   As I walked into his home, still smiling from the cheerful greetings we had received, my heart began to literally hurt.  This young man was confined to a room that was much like a jail cell.  Because of his disability he was kept in a locked room that had bars for a door.  He sat criss cross on the concrete floor with only a mattress in the corner.  As several of us gathered around him, one of the center’s workers closed the door.  Laura began to pray over him, and I couldn't stop the tears.  I was only locked in this room for 2 minutes.  However, he was in there for a lifetime.  And while the emotion began to over flood the gates of my eyelids, I once again heard the question, “What do you see when you look at me?”

After our team left San Martin, we had an amazing lunch at The States Diner.  We then went to another orphanage, Guirola, that houses special needs children, as well as children that are HIV positive.  We were given the opportunity to just love on these kids.  We played, and colored, and danced some more.  We were able to pass out some stuffed elephants and just try to give these beautiful kids some attention.  One little boy that I spent most of my day with was confined to a wheelchair.  He was not verbal and non-communicative.  However, every time a balloon popped from the balloon animals some of our team made, the most infectious belly laugh erupted from his tiny body.  I cannot explain how much joy this brought me.  Every time he laughed, I would laugh as well.  While I sat rubbing his arms like my two girls always liked having done as little girls, his chocolate brown eyes stared into mine.  He never spoke a word or made a sound.  He only carefully gazed into my eyes.  Again I was posed the question I had been contemplating all day.  However this time it came as, “What does he see when he looks at me?”  Again my eyes began to fill with tears for the second time today.  I knew exactly why God had been asking me this question all day. 

If I was to post a picture of my sweet new friend, many of you would immediately see an orphan…a child in a wheelchair… an individual that would never be able to really do anything except exist.  However, when Carlos looked into my eyes, he saw love.  He didn't see my mess of blonde curls or my extra weight.  He didn't see a teacher or even an unfamiliar gringa.  He saw someone that only wanted to make him feel loved for just a couple of hours, someone that desperately wanted for him to see only one thing in me… the love of Jesus.  

Ephesians 1:4-5 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.  In love, he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to his will.”  It goes on to say in Eph 1:14 “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…”

You see, we are all born as orphans.  However, before any of us were even born, Christ made a deposit for us.  He put a down payment on us.  He said, “hey I think I want to adopt her”, He performed the first act of unconditional love and He stretched out his arms and died for us.  He didn't see a white man, a black man, a gringo, or a Salvadorian.  He didn't see someone with a disability in a wheelchair that would never walk, talk, or communicate.  He only showed us love.  He only saw a child that needed a Father, needed to be loved.  Without saying a word, he showed us His love by adopting us and giving his life.  

We are all so undeserving of His love.  Yet, He still gives it to us each and every day.  He still offers us His best.  However, are we reciprocating that love?  

Tonight as I sit here trying to wrap this up, I now ask myself, “What does God see when He looks at me?”  I want Him to see someone that He is proud to have as His daughter.  I want Him to see someone who gave to the least of these…someone who tried to make her life about serving Him and did her best to love others rebut reservation.  I know I am not there yet.  I have a long way to go.  However, the first place I will start is love…

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Kings Meal

"No. She's not a prostitute. She's a person - in prostitution." This ironic statement John read to us proposed perspective tonight as we ate, and later prepared "The King's Meal". After a long and busy day, nothing was more comforting than coming back to the smells of a warm dinner in the mission home. John explained to us that we were going to have the opportunity to share this same hot dinner with the homeless in San Salvador; to them it would be like receiving a king's dinner.

Arriving at the mission house around 2am Monday morning didn't seem to have an effect on the team when we woke up early this morning and headed to church. It was exciting to see two cultures so passionate about one God worshipping in the same place. Translators allowed us to understand exactly what was being said, but the faith of our el Salvadorian brothers and sisters was evident on its own without the actual words. We also had the chance to lead the children's Sunday school class. 

Shortly after, we were on the road traveling to the orphanage Nuevos Pequeños Hermanos. The children literally welcomed us with open arms; eager to be an audience to our puppet show, an opponent in the soccer game, and to get in line repeatedly to be transformed by face paint. 

"She's a person." 

As I look back on the day and have so many details to share, it would be easy to describe the people in my interactions as the world has labeled them... Orphan, homeless, prostitute. John reminded me that Jesus doesn't see it that way. We are each His individual child, so precious in his sight. The little girl who rode on my back for hours and taught me the tricks of volleyball only a four year old would know isn't merely a number in the 147 million orphans world wide to God. The Lord isn't going to forget the child walking up to take a meal from the king's meal while clutching a bottle of glue that has been killing his hunger pains. Each of these are a PERSON wonderfully made by the hands of God. How blessed are we this week to share Christ's love with each of these wonderfully made people, and experience the world from someone else's eyes!

"Are two sparrows not sold for a Penney? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your father's care. And even the very hairs of your head are numbered. So don't be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows." -Matthew 10:29-31

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The last day of our trip has arrived along with a special French toast breakfast from our wonderful chef Judy. We have seen miracles and God show up this week in incredible ways from calming anxieties and multiply materials. 
Usually our Starfish blog allows you to follow our teams by sharing what we encounter through the day. While we did have an amazing day, loving on children from a special needs orphanage at the beach, I want to share a quick thing that has touched my heart this week. 

This week Melani, a little girl that touched my heart two years ago and that I have kept in touch with, returned to an orphanage we visited on the last time we would get the chance to be at. She had changed a lot just from the last time I had seen her and I was disheartened by her rebellious and no longer innocent spirit. After hanging out with her and watching her through the day I constantly heard a little voice saying, "Love her. She's mine and so are you. Who are you to cast the first stone." The story of the adulterous woman came to mind and Jesus writing in the sand. Today at the beach I was writing in the sand with a little boy named Carlos. He wanted me to write things in the sand and after writing his name I wrote others. The first was Meloni's. I remembered the feelings I had the day before and knew this thought was not by accident. This week Christ has allowed me and taught me to love everyone. The poor, the lame, the rebellious, the wealthy, the perfectionist, the orphan, the spoiled kid next door, the goody two shoes, people, His Children. That is what Sus Hijos is about. Loving all because they are His. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

You are loved.

Beautiful one, I see you. You are loved. You are worth this. 

Today we saw God move in mighty ways. In our hearts and through our hearts. 

We began our morning in typical fashion with coffee, showers, breakfast, and quiet times.  We had a brief team meeting with our ladies and left feeling blessed and ready to begin our busy day.  Even then Satan began to challenge us and throw obstacles in our path, causing miscommunication, discontent, and confusion.  Mighty weapons against a weary team.  As we passed through the city, we anticipated seeing our friends from San Martin, a government-run home for adults with special needs. Previously this week our team took this group to The Children's Museum.  Sus Hijos affectionately refers to this home as "the happiest place on earth". 
Arriving at San Martin, we were greeted at the bus with huge smiles, high fives, and timid faces.  The team unloaded and began a tour of the facility.  Several homes housed men and women who were immobilized or otherwise could not leave, so we gathered there, sang songs, and prayed with them. 
One encounter will be etched on our hearts for some time. Many of us reacted in compassion wanting to help him feel love, some reacted in anger at the situation, while others stood in disbelief. Ernesto. I don't know what ails him or causes his deep troubles; but there he lay, shirtless and shoeless, in a fetal position, on a metal bed frame. Yes, bed frame, there was no mattress.  They keep him locked in the room because when they let him out he will eat anything he sees, even garbage.  We gathered in the small room and sang a couple of worship songs; he softened and watched us love him.  We prayed over him thanking God for the gift of music which transcends any language and any mental condition.  
Finishing our tour, our friends waited somewhat patiently as we set up for the dance party! These friends LOVE to dance! It was so fun to let loose, kick off our Baptist shoes, and shake our tail feathers for a bit. Sassy grin ;)  Andrew and Lilly shared an exciting version of Zaccaeus' encounter with Jesus.  How sweet to share about the love Jesus has for all people, no matter their physical condition or heart condition.  Jesus sees you.  He wants to do life with you. 
We began our party activities - face painting, nail painting, rummaging through stickers and band aids, and kicking soccer balls.  But, hey, most of our party guests just wanted to DANCE!  It was so fun to end the party with cookies, drinks, and treat bags.  

Following a fantastic lunch at State's Diner, we went to CIPI, a home for Teen Moms with their small children and babies, Teen Girls, and a few boys.  We were at CIPI earlier this week so we wanted to change some things up today! We felt a bit out of control as we arrived and began to set-up and make plans for how we would schedule our time there. And Wow! Our God is amazing and always in control!  We made last minute changes and began to share the Bible story with the entire population of the home.  Previously this week, each section of children was separated by lock and key.  Today during the story, the Spirit moved in the lives of some of the children and they saw Jesus as real and alive.  They saw love.  

Next the children were separated back into their particular areas and we went to meet with them at their assigned locations.  I headed to the Teen Mom area with some of the other ladies and we shared with them about how God created them (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 139:13,14), God loves them, and God has a purpose for them.  They can't control their past, but God can give them hope for their future (Jeremiah 29:11).  That hope is Jesus.  Each one drew an image of herself and included words to describe her character. We also gave them a special box filled with treats for a teen girl - toiletries and a piece of donated jewelry. As we finished with this group, one of the translators came to me and said, "there is another group I want you to come and share with, another group of teen girls". Confused, we asked if this was the group of Teen Girls we were planning to go to next.  She explained this was a third group she had discovered and no one (from our team) had been to see them at all.  While a few of us were with the Teen Moms, the others were face painting and playing with the other children.  Our time was limited and we rushed to share with this group.  
As we entered the front of the facility, the girls jumped up excitedly and squealed, giggling. The translator told them to gather at a nearby table and they ran to comply.  Their excitement was contagious and we shared the same devotion about God's love and purpose for them, but here it was different.  These girls were deeply troubled, struggling, looking for peace.  We discovered they had just recently arrived at the facility.  For whatever reason, they were here and now we were here.  The translator came to me again and said I was running out of time, I must go if I was going to share the same devotion with the group of Teen Girls, but I knew I couldn't leave this group.  They needed our time and attention. They needed love.  We sent the rest of the boxes with some team members to present to the other group of Teen Girls and stayed.  We talked, listened, encouraged, and loved.  We asked if we could pray with them and what could we pray for.  They said to pray for their health, and pray for them to be able to leave this place.  We joined hands and Kimberly prayed over these precious souls.  All of this happened in about 30 minutes.  As we began to leave, one of the girls began to speak, thanking us for coming and showing them love.  Grabbing hugs, we had to leave and meet the rest of the team at the bus.  
As we approached the bus, Andrew and Lilly, the translator, began to tell a story about the boxes.  They counted the boxes that were left in the suitcase (after giving boxes to the other 2 groups), there were 24.  They asked the Tia ("Aunt" or caretaker) how many Teen Girls were in that area, there were 25. They counted the boxes again, there were 24. Joe told the team to give the boxes out and find a girl who could wait. Lilly found a Teen Girl she knew and asked if she would wait and get a gift on Monday since there were not enough boxes.  The girl agreed.  They began to pass out the boxes. As they neared the end, there was enough boxes for all of the girls with 1 box left over! As they rejoiced and praised God for providing enough boxes for the girls who were present, a Tia brought another girl forward who had not yet received a box and she was able to receive one.  God provided the boxes and God provided the Girls! We are praising God for his mighty provision today.  He showed Himself faithful to us as a team and blessed us in a powerful way.  

Tonight we fed the homeless for the third night in a row. As they approached the vehicle, we saw many t-shirts that were passed out last night.  We saw the same faces and knew they have had at least three meals this week.  Seeing men of all ages, boys, women, even elderly women, prostitutes, and transvestites accepting food from our hands is a humbling experience.  So many faces, each with a story, each one fashioned by God's own hand, each one searching.  
I feel so blessed to play a part in showing God's love to them.  To each person we saw today, whether homeless or orphaned, intoxicated or abandoned, I pray they have experienced God's love.

Sharing God's Love...

Tonight's blog is from Alina & Becca:

      Today our first orphanage was an hour and a half away, so breakfast and the normal meeting went by fast. On our way to Marilac, an orphanage for teenage girls, we got the chance to see more of El Salvador's culture. We drove past volcanos, villages, and the rural areas of the country. 
      Once we arrived at Marilac, we learned that maximum capacity is 48 and that they currently have 7 girls. Since there was no rain, we spent the whole time outside around the basketball court. We kicked things off with a hot game of basketball, then painted finger nails, played uno, and did face paint. After a while of fun and games, we shared the gospel by telling the story of Zacchaeous and salvation necklaces. One of the girls prayed to receive Christ , YAY!
    It was a blessing to have a small group, that we could truly pour into each girl individually. God continues to show his love, for example today we had just enough dresses to give to all the girls. They also received flip flops, toiletry bags, and goodie bags. Then lunch time came. The plan was for the translators and the team to have sub sandwiches while the girls went to the cafeteria to eat lunch. Plans changed, and each girl received a whole sandwich, several bags of chips, and some soda while the team and translators each ate a half sandwich. This still left us with extras to give to the Tia's and several other workers. Through all the events that occured at this orphanage, we were able to truly see God working and providing for His children. 
      After lunch we left to go to Moraga, a Catholic home for girls. There were around 17 girls there. We painted nails and face painted. We also did the same Bible story and discussed what a relationship with Jesus looked like. We gave out shoes, tolietry bags, and goody bags to every girl! The girls enjoyed painting fingernails, espiscially painting the men's nails. This really encouraged the girls to see guys being open and caring. We had the privilege of the girls praying and singing for us. We were also honored to get to pray over them. 
      We finished the day with feeding the homeless. We gave out around 144 bags of food and new 
T-shirts and also some shoes. It was raining, yet this was not an obstacle to feeding God's children! Thank you to all who supported and allowed us to do so. Thanks for the continued prayers! Our Lord is a faithful father who continues to provide all we need! 


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Dance Parties, Pizza and Bubbles

Tonight's blog is from Kimberly & Leslie:

We started this morning with a quick team meeting and then hopped on the bus. We spent our time on the bus with a "prayer ride." It was amazing to use the places that we passed as prayer prompts; opening our eyes to realize that as we passed a bridge we may see some of the people who were sleeping there tonight as we go out to feed the people who have no homes.
Once we arrived at Guirola, we took a quick tour and then set up for a dance party with the children there. Some were confined to their wheelchairs, but that did not not stop us or them! During the dance party, some of us did face painting and tattoos and balloons. We were also able to help feed them their lunch before we left. It was so amazing to see the joy on the children's faces when they have so little as they danced and tattooed themselves and us!
(For their protection, we cannot post photos from this facility.)
For lunch, we found ourselves at Pizza Hut with about 30 people from San Martin (a home for special needs adults), where we quickly finished 20 pizzas, pitchers of soda and breadsticks! It was so fun to see how excited they were to have the rare treat of pizza and soda, which is an almost weekly occurrence at our homes! 
After lunch we had the privilege of taking them to the children's museum. They got to experience how to travel on an airplane, lie on a bed of nails, watch a video in the planetarium, play on a news station, shop in the market, enjoy the butterfly garden, gravity house and "BURBUJULANDIA!" (BubbleLand). It was so fun to hear them laugh and ooh and ahh at each different exhibit. 
Our team made a quick trip to the market to get souvenirs before we headed back to the mission house for "the King's dinner". One of our hosts at the mission house, John, explained why he calls it that saying, "When the people that are homeless hear the truck coming and see God's children bringing food to them, they feel like the King Himself has served them dinner that night". So, tonight we ate what we would be serving to them later - hot dogs, chips, an orange drink in a box and wafer cookies. In preparation for our first trip out to feed them later this evening, our other host Judy read us an excerpt from a book that made us reconsider how we view those less fortunate than us. We were looking forward to sharing God's love with these people tonight and the next 2 nights.
A common theme in our daily reflections as a team has been the attitude of gratefulness that we see from ALL of the people we have had the opportunity and honor to serve. This theme continued on our journey out tonight to feed the men and women and children without homes. Seeing them run toward us as they heard the truck arrive, some without shoes, was heartbreaking for sure, but most importantly eye opening to the provision that our King gives. Were it not for grace....