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.