Wednesday, February 19, 2020

McCracken's Beach Day: A day of Connection & Reflection

I’ve been trying to come up with what I should say to sum up the day and I’ve come to the conclusion that words can’t do it justice, but I’ll try. Today we traveled to the beach to get to know some kids from the orphanage and soak up some sun. I knew it would be fun, but I didn’t expect it to feel so bitter sweet. I met the sweetest 11 year old little girl named Jessica. Although Jessica and I couldn’t speak the same language, our laughs and long hugs had no barrier. We played Marco/Polo, tag, and hopped ocean waves. For a while, I thought of her as equal to me, with the same type of childhood I had after we played those games. Then, after thinking more deeply into it, I remembered how she is growing up no where near how I did. She lives in a third world country, has no parents that she can call her own, and doesn’t know what life after she turns 18 is going to look like for her. When we had to say goodbye, I held her for what probably felt like an eternity to her, but I couldn’t let go. I smiled at her with tears in my eyes and told her I loved her. That’s all that I could do, and I wanted so badly to be able to do more. ~ Emma Kate Schaaf

Today was the coveted beach day. All of us were excited to relax after a hard weeks work and get that tan we all have been wanting. We met an orphanage at the beach, and this orphanage touched me a little differently than the others have. Most of the children in this orphanage were 18 or close to it, so they were a better reflection of how our lives would be in El Salvador. I met two 18 year olds named Francisco and Alex. They knew that there was a massive language barrier in between all of us, but they didn’t seem to mind. The ability for us all to sit down and laugh and make handshakes even though I’m sure my attempts at Spanish made no sense to them. This is just a reflection of how small efforts mean so much to all of our lives. The conversations I had with them were short and my Spanish language was equivalent to a kindergartener, they still made sure to come up and hug me before they left. This was also a day for our group to sit back and reflect after becoming so close through all of our missions. I never realized how two of the people I spent the most time with this week were people I had barely talked to prior to the trip. Service is a way not only to help others, but to also make connections that will last forever. The kids from the orphanage will stay with me through the rest of my life, and the friendships I have made with kids from my school will endure after this week. It was a great way to end a magical week. ~ Morgan Guess

Monday, February 17, 2020

Sunday, A day full of fun and hard work

Today started out later than usual, which was the first blessing of the day. After a 15 minute drive in El Salvador time, which is really an hour, we arrived at San Martín—the happiest place on earth. It was truly enlightening to see how happy these special needs individuals were. Despite not having video games or air conditioning or pizza, but they still had a fantastic time. My personal highlight was playing an impromptu game of tips with two individuals and witnessing the pure euphoria of a simple game of tossing a ball. While today’s progress was not visible to the eye like building a house, it was most definitely impactful to these kids.
~ Garrett Rudolph

San Vicente de Paul is a catholic orphanage that we had the opportunity to visit. Our group set up face painting, arts and crafts, a popcorn machine, and a snow come machine. I got to play basketball with some of the children there and even eat snow cones with them. We also got the neat experience of talking to one of the nuns there about the beautiful artwork some of the kids make. (mugs, sculptures, etc.) I loved how everyone was so joyful there, and I’m so happy that we were able to spend time with the children.  ~ Macy Kate Bynum

The states diner is a restaurant that assists boys and girls in transition homes. It teaches them job responsibilities and independence. 
After six years, the diner has been blessed with a bigger building. Our group was lucky enough to assist them in their move and pray over the new building. It took a lot of team work to move all the furniture out but it was a rewarding task. 
 ~ Alli Douglas
Brooke Bowling’s reflection on the day ~

This whole trip has been incredible, however, yesterday as a whole was incredibly moving. We began the day at San Martín, a mentally challenged adult orphanage. Despite their unfortunate conditions and their life in a world that sees them as less than, they were some of the happiest people I have ever seen in my life. We spent our time there dancing, face painting, and loving on those who may have never felt love before. 
After this, we headed to San Vincente de Paul orphanage for children under 18. We held a festival of sorts filled with face painting, popcorn and snow cones, basketball games, etc. Seeing the children’s eyes light up when the walked in was something so touching. In the states something like this is for children so normalized, but for the orphans in El Salvador, this may be their first time to see anything like this. 
At the festival, I began face painting. I can’t speak spanish, so when they asked me what they wanted done, the majority of the time I couldn’t understand. Yet, when I would draw a “corazón” (heart in english), they never looked upset or ungrateful that they may not have gotten what they wanted. They always smiled at themselves when they looked in the mirror and it brought tears to my eyes. They don’t care if I can’t understand them, as long as I am sitting there spending time with them, they are more than content. This is something us Americans could practice. Being happy with what God has given us, and not continuously wanting more. 
Soon after everyone had been face painted they began to play outside, I ran out there with them to find the teen mothers outside with their babies. This specific orphanage takes in teen mothers when they are pregnant or have recently had a baby. There were so many, ranging from ages 15-17, some having two children already, all with absent fathers. Being 16 years old, this pulled at the strings in my heart. Although this is prevalent in the United States as well, I couldn’t imagine being so young raising a child alone in a country that already feels so lonely. To add, adoption is optional in the United States for young mothers. However, adoption in El Salvador is a process that takes at least eight years, making it less likely that this child will ever make it out of this poverty. I held the babies and just cried imagining the hardships the child will go through. Both of the orphanage visits yesterday truly opened my eyes to how blessed we are to live in such a free country. 
When we came home, we were able to attend a bible study with both the boys and girls transition homes ran by Sus Hijos (the foundation we are here with). Each transition home is a place for children who have no where to go when they are kicked out of the orphanage on their eighteenth birthday. Many of them are in the orphanage because of a horrible family or a lack of family, however to avoid each of these circumstances the streets are the only place to go. I fed the homeless on Friday, where I saw just how terrible the streets of El Salvador are. They are filled with gang violence, drugs, and prostitution. This is no life for a child who has just turned 18, but for many it is the only option. This is why transition homes were introduced, where they can stay for two years after they are legally an adult to
figure out what they can do to avoid this future.
At the bible study, a woman named Anna who helps run the girls home spoke in spanish, while the other woman who helps run the girls home translated it to english. This in itself was powerful. Seeing how God’s grace reaches so many different languages has been something very moving this week. She spoke of Hannah, a woman in the bible who had trouble carrying a child in a time when that was pretty much a woman’s only job. The story in first Samuel talks about how she prayed and prayed, but never conceived. Finally, she wept as she prayed to God, telling Him how she would give her child to Him to do His work. Her child was named Samuel, and he spent his life teaching God’s word. This story connects to everyone. 
Often, I catch myself praying for things that I believe can never happen, or praying for things for the wrong reasons completely. This story shows how you can pray and pray, but until you know that what you are praying for is a way to glorify God, you are praying for the wrong reasons. Overall, this trip and this specific bible study, showed me that God has no barriers. No language barriers, no geographical barriers, none at all. God can reach every color, every language, everywhere, if only we as Christians choose to go out to the world and proclaim His name.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Saturday - Day of the Child Festival

The ability to see pure joy on someone’s face is a true blessing, and it is one that I have received both today and over the course of this week. Today, our group was able to participate in the festival put on by the local church in Ahuachapan. We did things like make popcorn, paint the kids’ faces, make animal balloons and bracelets, and play other outdoor games. Though this, I saw the biggest smiles on the faces of the children in this community. However, the most impactful moment of my day came from giving donations after the festival. 

We lined up donated items on tables and the people at the event made a line stretching to the other side of the field to receive some. I was handing out T-shirts when a little girl came up to the table. I reached out and handed her the shirt, and she looked at it with wide eyes and a wide smile. She held it as if it were her most prized possession and stared at it until workers had to motion her forward. This struck a chord in me because I had never seen such strong joy and admiration come from such an object in America. It showed me just how good our awesome God truly is. It showed me the love He gives and shows us through both small objects and large ones. It gave me a true appreciation for the seemingly “big” and “small” things in our lives. 

Afterwards, we left the festival and took food bags and bibles to homes in the community. I was faced with the same joy on the faces of the families who received the food as those who came to the festival. They told us how truly thankful they were to God for providing and for us for following His will. I was reminded of this verse as a result of everything that occurred today: Romans 15:13. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” True joy comes from God alone, and this joy goes hand in hand with hope, which could also be seen among those in Ahuachapan today. God is truly working in this community. I am so thankful for His work in the lives of our group as well.
~Katie Ison

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Friday, a day of reflection and dedication...

There’s a difference between a house and a home. A house is something that everyone has but a home is something that not everyone is fortunate enough to have. It has a huge impact on who you are and how you live your life. In America homelessness is an issue that is easily overlooked due to the small amount of people who suffer with it. For others it is easy to take for granted something you do not think about often. 

The first day we arrived the first thing I noticed was how the locals used everything they could get to build their homes. I saw car parts, cardboard, and even old soda cans used to make houses. It was a lot to take in considering the only time I saw scenes like that was in documentaries and movies. This morning when I woke up the first thought in my head was how excited I was to see the faces of the two families when we handed the keys to them. 

The first family couldn’t help but smile the whole time while we furnished their new house. The second family touched everyone’s heart. The mother told me before we painted the house that she had a vision that she would one day own an orange house. Coincidentally we ended up painting the house orange. After furnishing the second house we prayed for them and she ran and grabbed her bible. Everyone was in tears as she thanked us for her new home; a place for her to learn, grow, and make memories. There is no other way I would want to spend my valentine’s day besides dedicating those beautiful homes to those two amazing families. 
Later on we headed into the mountains to go zip lining. As we headed up the mountain and looked off at the town below I started to think back to earlier that day. The sun was just nearly dipping behind the mountain tops and I realized just how much God’s good light shines upon this beautiful world and how much it affects all of us. 

~ Casper Douglas

Thursday... Construction Day!

On Thursday the team worked hard to build two homes for families in a rural mountain community. They were able to meet other families in the community as well, and for some of the students who were returning for the second time, they were able to reconnect with families they had met before!ff Below you'll find a precious story from one of the students...

"Hi! My name is Hope Hodges and I am a senior at McCracken County High School this year. It is my second time in El Salvador with McCracken and I was more than excited to get back to work in this beautiful place.Today the team built two houses, one of which happened to be right next door to one of the houses we built last year! It was pretty shocking for me to be in the same neighborhood area as last time because I was able to see how the families from last year really took care of and loved the house we built for them.Last year, I met a lady named Marline and she told me her story how her son was in prison for a crime he didn’t do and how she just wanted to see him again. Her living conditions were not good at all, but she still had faith and was so thankful. It really impacted me. I said I would pray for her and I did, all the time! Today I saw her again! I never thought I’d see her again but she immediately recognized me and gave me the largest hug. She told me her son was free that it had been sorted out and that God had answered our prayers. She said she was forever grateful and it really touched my heart.Today’s lesson: prayer is powerful. My prayers made an impact on Marline’s life and I am so happy I got to see the living proof of that today. Overall it was a wonderful day." 

On Friday the team will revisit the site to dedicate the homes and celebrate with the community!