Tuesday, May 25, 2021

The 2020 Virtual Mission to El Salvador

 Over the course of a few months, a team from Sarnia connected with families in El Salvador through Shelter Canada.  While we have been sending teams for the last 11 years,  in 2020, as a result of COVID-19, we were not able to travel. However, Shelter Canada was able to pivot to continue their mission to share the gospel through the building of houses for every Salvadoran in need. Likewise, the SEMC was also able to pivot, recognizing that our strategy of serving our community, would not and could not be hindered by a global pandemic. 

One of the benefits of this year’s virtual El Salvador team was that it provided opportunities for people to participate, who wouldn’t otherwise be able to go.  We had several generations represented, including those whose jobs and daily responsibilities would not have “normally” provided them an opportunity to travel.  Yet for all, it was an enriching, challenging and worthwhile experience. 

Each team member or family committed to sharing God's story through Shelter with others and inviting others to support the building of a home for a family in need ($3800/house).  We give thanks for God's provision in this process as well. 

Our team consisted of: Heather Denbak, Jason Graziano, Pat and Lori Halls, Les and Julia Henderson, The Johns Family, Stephanie Melville, The Persad Family,  Emiline and Jesse Pol and the Siertsema Family.  
We each recorded videos to introduce ourselves and then connected, via ZOOM, with translators, to get to know the families and communities, to which God had called us:

Intro Videos from the SEMC


We invite you to click on the link to see photos, videos and descriptions of the 7 families with whom we connected.  While they each received homes, we all were humbled by the goodness and grace of God. 





Below are some of the comments from some of our team members: 


First of all Saturday was an amazing day, it is both amazing and hard to meet the families we are building for.  I wish we could all be there to experience everything together, but at the same time realize that could never be, as many of our team could not get the time off, or are too young to go.


So this is an amazing experience, in a different way this year.

I thought everything went so well, meeting the families. It was really awesome, to listen as our youngest team members, asked questions, and share their thoughts, with the people of El Salvador.

-       Lori Halls


Seeing their existing house was still standing we asked who would be taking it down and the response really made me think as they indicated they did not know.  They were still looking for help to take it down.   This was not said with any worry or concern.  They know there is a timeline  and they trust God and their community that help will arrive.  This is one of the things that touches me every time is their lack of concern for things that would stress me out.  I would have a plan with a schedule and tasks that must be completed each day in preparation.  I would steward the plan and as things fell behind my anxiety would grow and I would shift my plans and modify the schedule.  I would not relax and trust God and my community that things will get done and all will work out.  In short as I move through the plans of my life, I trust myself to make sure things work out and I forget to trust God.  This family lives in a far more difficult environment than I do and yet they likely have less stress in their life. 

-       Pat Halls


What a different year but not a different God.  He still works no matter what.  Lives where changed dramatically with their new homes.  The staff in El Salvador did an excellent job at showing us and keeping us informed about our families.  We felt we got to know the families in a whole new way.  The added bonus of seeing them three months later was great.  They were much more relaxed and comfortable in their situations.  They were so proud to show off their new home.  They were also very thankful to God and us for providing a secure place to live.

-       The Hendersons


Recently I learned the meaning of the word "Ebenezer." I've always wondered what I was singing about in the hymn "Come Thou Fount," but God recently made it more clear. In 1 Samuel 7, after God gives the Israelites victory over the Philistines, Samuel sets up a memorial stone named "Ebenezer" (saying, "Thus far, the Lord has helped us"). 


In a way, I think these houses in El Salvador are Ebenezers. Not just for the families who received them, but for me too. They are a physical representation of God's sovereignty, faithfulness, love, and care.


“For one family, it was a prayer they had asked for 19 years. For others, it was maybe a prayer they were too afraid to say out loud, but God still heard them….


Beyond His provision for these families, I was so moved by His love for all of us. As we passed over the keys, Bible, blessing basket, and broom, I was reminded of how the same scripture and lessons apply to my life. He hears the prayers of our Christian brothers and sisters in El Salvador (big, necessary prayers, like prayers for a safe home) and He hears my small, less necessary prayers too. What a faithful God we love.”

-       Emiline Pol


Seeing the whole process really gave me perspective and an understanding of what the house meant for them.  At first the families were reserved, more shy, and we were too.  It was very interesting to learn about them and where they work and about their families and communities.  At the key giving ceremony, we were able to pray with them and celebrate with them, what God has done and how he has shown up for them, in a huge way!  They dedicated their house to God, to be used for his glory, what a witness, and example to their kids, to see God work and answer their prayers, to provide all their needs.  Then, to see the families make the house their own, adding on rooms and a porch.  Setting up the beds and kitchen.  Everything looked so nice.  They really were so thankful and happy. God gave them Shelter, safety and showed them love, by providing for them.  It was heart gripping, when they were showing us their houses.  Seeing and hearing how God is working in them and through them.   Hearing how thankful they were, and seeing the joy in their hearts and on their faces.  It was beautiful and wonderful.  I am so glad I could share in this experience.  I realized and learned that we are all people, very similar people.  They cared for their kids so much, like I do.  They were hard workers, like I am.  They were serving God in their community, like I do.  It was really neat, to be so far away, and connect with them on a personal level, even with the language barrier.  The interpreter did an amazing job, and it was easy to talk to the people there!  I loved that.


I thought it was so cool, that we all had a part in presenting the tokens to the families.  We all had our own way of speaking, praying and sharing the meaning of the gift given to the family.  I really enjoyed that part.   I felt connected, like brother and sisters in Christ. 

-       Stephanie Melville



Having never travelled to El Salvador as part of the team, we aren't able to compare the NEXUS version to the traditional version. We are so thankful that we were able to be a part of this team this year. It was such an immense privilege to be able to be able to meet each family right in their homes and furthermore to be able to have the check-ins happen before, just after the build, and a few months after the build. We even got to hear some of the sounds of the country, like the chickens! For us, we had our children along through this process too. Even though they didn't always make it through all of our zoom calls, being part of this team has been part of our family life over these months and we all really do feel like we have new friends in El Salvador through what God has done. Our biggest takeaway has been the way each of the families continuously pointed all joy back to the Lord and praised Him for his goodness. 

-       The Johns Family



Please note, that in 2021, we will once again be unable to physically travel to El Salvador.  However we will be bringing another virtual mission team together.  If you are interested in being involved then please connect with Deve Persad (deve@sarniaemc.org) for details. 

Friday, November 29, 2019

My One Thing (kind of)

The week is over, it was filled with laughter, smiles, tears and a lot of hand gestures. At debrief we had to come up with one thing that we really liked, enjoyed, or inspired us. It could be a person, conversation, or a moment. I struggled to come up with just one thing. There were just so many fun and fulfilling moments.
 The first day we were building at the site the kids at the start were very shy and were kind of scared. We were the first team to ever build in the community so they didn’t know what was really going on. We got out colouring and stickers. I sat beside a little boy and with my amazing hand gestures I asked him if he wanted to colour. He shook his head. So I started colouring the page by myself. I could see he was fascinated by it and wanted to do it. He was just a little nervous. Fast forward about 10 minutes and there were 5 kids all colouring. They were laughing and smiling as taijah and I put stickers on them. As all good things have to come to an end the day was over. So we packed up everything and waited for the truck. The next day we pulled up into the community. Instantly the kids were smiling and laughing. That right there was what i really liked. This moment filled my heart with joy to see the kids glowing with excitement and happiness.


I Can’t

As the week has come to an end I have compiled a list of all the things I’ve been told not to do during my time in El Salvador, some people see them as big no no’s. I see them as mere suggestions (I actually do listen to and respect the actual big no no’s just putting that out there) 

I can’t drink the water from the community 
I can’t eat the food from the community 
I can’t flush my toilet paper 
I can’t say no to accepting food that I also can’t eat because it will offend someone 
I can’t climb the trees because it’s “dangerous” 
I can’t get a good wifi connection 
I can’t ask the police to hold their guns 
I can’t go to the bathroom alone 
I can’t go anywhere alone 
I can’t leave the hotel at night or in the morning unless we all are
I can’t understand people I’m working beside 
I can’t speak Spanish 
I can’t hold back tears when hearing an emotional story 
I can’t hold back laughter 
I can’t get away from the sun 
I can’t keep up with the locals on the builds at all 
I can’t not sweat through my shirts 
I can’t always find the right words to say 

So there’s a list of some things I can’t do on this trip but here’s what I can do 

I can show up 
I can wake up 5 minutes before breakfast and still beat some people there maybe not Jason but some people
I can step out of my comfort zone 
I can bless others because I have been blessed
I can encourage people 
I can pray for someone 
I can be the hands and feet of Jesus 
I can come to El Salvador and be proof that God has not forgotten these people, to pray over them and work alongside them (at a much slower pace) and build a relationship with them blessing them with a house but more importantly letting them know that there is a church family that has been supporting our team to be in the beautiful country and has been praying for them. 
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me 

I want to thank everyone who has supported me and this team, I thank you for your prayers and I ask that you continue to pray for the families we built for. If you have never been to El Salvador and have the opportunity or ability and think that you can’t go because you aren’t young enough or strong enough or whatever your reason is, I strongly encourage you to forget those reasons and go because I guarantee it will open your eyes to what you can do through our all mighty God.