Tuesday, April 16, 2024


When asked if I wanted to join the Sarnia ShelterHelps team in April, I didn't have to think twice. It was an immediate yes! Had I known of team member Tim's soon-to-be-famous expression of "Ya Baby!", that would have been an even better answer! This would be my 6th trip down to El Salvador to participate in building homes for the most impoverished in a community not far from our central base of San Vicente. 

Having had the privilege of being on a couple of previous trips with the Team Leader Pastor Deve Persad, one to the IJM Field Office in Manila, Philippines, and the other to the annual Leaders Week in El Salvador, it made my decision even easier, as I am inspired by his passion for the people of El Salvador and the thoughtful, heartfelt way he speaks words of truth and faith.

I could go on and on about the 'many magical moments' experienced over the week working alongside the 12 families who were receiving homes, as well as with an amazing group of Salvadorian construction workers, translators, drivers, and various other ShelterHelps staff. 'They' say it takes a village and this village is strong and very supportive of one another, humbly giving all the glory to Almighty God. 

I said I could go on and on and I can, butI won't, because I want to talk about the one word Leader Deve challenged us with coming up with for the week. My word was 'grateful'. This is always my word. Deve asked me to explain why I chose that word. To know me is to know I think too much and feel too deep. I wouldn't say I'm a cry-baby, but my heart makes my eyes leak. I cried with this word. 'Grateful' was (and is) my word for these reasons...
  • I'm grateful to be blessed with just enough resources to be able to financially swing a trip to El Salvador. 
  • I'm grateful that my husband understands my need to 'go and do' where my heart is leading me; in this case El Salvador again. 
  • I'm grateful for how the Sarnia team welcomed a stranger (me) into their midst. 
  • I'm grateful to once again see old friends I had made in San Vicente during my first year down to build homes and catch up with how they and their families are doing. 
  • Most importantly, I'm (so) grateful to meet, hear stories from, and work alongside the families who are receiving a house. In one week, deep connections are made irrespective of language and culture differences. Showing God's love to each other with conversations through the help of a translator, a handshake, a high-five, or a hug is what matters most. 
  • I'm (so) grateful knowing that their lives will be changed for the better and that the dreams they voice for their futures and for their children's futures are fueled with hope. 
  • I'm grateful to see the smiles grow, the tears of joy flow, the excitement in their eyes, and the relief shown of a weight being lifted off their shoulders. You can see and feel their new postures - straighter, lighter, especially from the mothers, as they gaze at their new house. No longer do they need to worry about the rain coming in, the house collapsing, the rain making the floor a mud slick, the lack of security from an unlocked improvised door. They can now rest and relax from those stresses as the rainy season begins. 
  • I'm grateful for being reminded time and time again that God is so good and that He is the ultimate provider of everything we need. 
  • I'm grateful to again be humbled by the fact that one can (seemingly) have so little, and yet have so much in terms of faith, trust, and hope. 
  • I'm grateful to share in the mutual understanding that we are all connected by our belief and faith in God and can share God's word together. 
  • I'm grateful to come home with a deeper understanding of what it means to love thy neighbor, and to have been loved on by the people of El Salvador. 

Deb Firth

Saturday, April 13, 2024

One Word

At the end of each trip every team member is asked to give one word that summarizes all that they’ve seen, heard and experienced over the past 8 days. 

These words help to respond to those who ask about our trip. The words provide an answer and can allow for deeper conversation depending on the interest of those asking. Some people will be interested in more and others won’t and that’s ok. The other purpose of the word is it provides a “front line” through which to share some of our experiences while also continuing to process all that God has brought into our lives. 

Thanks for your prayer and encouragement to us throughout this trip. Please continue to talk to Jesus as we make our way back home and re-enter our regular daily schedules. 

At the market with Jose and Johan on our last day

Here are our words:

Grateful - Deb

Forever - Karen

Building - Tim

Rewarding - Pete

Enough - Rose

Joy - Pat

Connections - Julia

Gracious-strength - Amanda

Fortunate - Paul

Inspired - Deve

Building Hope

“A light is lit in order to give light. A candle is not lit to be put under a bushel, said Christ. It is lit and put up high in order to give light. That is what a true community is like. A community is a group of men and women who have found the truth in Christ and in his gospel, and who follow the truth and join together to follow it more strongly."

These are words spoken by Archbishop Oscar Romero, in October 1978. He would be assassinated, 18 months later, amid the brutality of the civil war in El Salvador. The reason for his elimination was that his teachings was inspiring a greater number of followers, to confront the divisiveness of the times with patience, perseverance, great hope for their country, and demonstrations of love, even for those who were causing people to turn on one another. 

His writings have been part of my preparation for my last few trips to El Salvador. It has been humbling to recognize that some of the places where words like these have been spoken some 50 years previous, homes are being built by Shelter. Our teams have walked into those dusty communities where the echoes of hope still ring in the hearts of the people. And when they see their homes rise up from the rubble of what they have previously known, through the shared labour of their family and community, and a handful of well intended North Americans, these words of Oscar Romero come to life: "In the group, each one finds that the brother or sister is a source of strength and that in moments of weakness they help one another and, by loving one another and believing, they give light and example."

This is one of the old paths that God has laid, and which these efforts are following.  It is a great privilege to be able to look back with these communities and give these words new life and see the hope re-ignited in their wide eyes and readied spirits! 

This week 12 families were immersed in a surge of renewed hope that raised up higher than the roof tops of their long awaited home, and even higher than the mountain peaks that surrounds them. Safety for their families, security for their few belongings, shelter from the rainy season. The provision of a home is an act of justice that reflects and furthers God's purpose for each one in a community. We can feel their enthusiasm, relief and anticipation...and we wish you could too...it's palpable and inspiring to be among them. 

Of course, Oscar Romero's words were a reflection on the words of Jesus as He spoke to a large crowd of diverse people on a mountainside: "You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden...in the same way let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father who is in Heaven."

Therefore, as we band together on Shelter Teams, and join with our ES staff, and now the WGM Fabricators and Construction Workers, with the recipient families, there is this sense that those promises of hope, for which this country has long awaited, are within reach. Not because of our efforts, rather because of our God who has been preparing them and us for this time. Shelter has a big goal to build their 10,000 home by 2027. However it is not the goal or the productivity that will get us there. It will be the earnest desire to see men and women, boys and girls hear and respond to the clear demonstration of the good news of Jesus Christ.