Thursday, November 30, 2017

"Some open doors"

Last night we were sitting and listening to the Pastor from the church in San Vicente talk about his church's mission. His favourite line was "some open doors, some walk through the doors, and together we accomplish God's plan." His point behind this saying was that we and the other Shelter teams and staff are opening doors (to know Jesus) to these families in El Salvador by building their homes and beginning to build relationships with them. When we build their home, we always let them know that their home is a gift from God who is answering their prayers. To answer their prayers, God used many people who had to be obedient and generous with their resources, to help fund and support and pray for the building of their new home. The Pastor then said the church has to walk through the doors that are being opened to reach these families and continue the relationships. He went on to explain that the church is working hard to create opportunities to meet, encourage, strengthen and provide for these families in emotional, physical and spiritual ways. He is trying to set up community missionaries in each area. Some of the communities in which we build are too far away for the people who live there to come to church in San Vicente. To have support in their own community would be amazing.

I am finding it hard to only be here for a week. I feel like there is so much more relationship building I'd like to do (sometimes it takes me a little longer to form relationships). There's so much more I'd like to give. After hearing the Pastor share how they the church here will continue to meet the needs of these families and continue to form relationships and after hearing some of the stories that were shared today (more on that in a minute) I know that my role was simply for a week. A week to bring joy and hope to these families. It is the role of the people in the church here to continue to bring joy and hope to these families as the days, weeks, months and years go by. Amazing things seem to happen after a Shelter home is received.

Today we headed out to Victoria, (about a 2 hour drive from San Vicente) a smaller city than San Vicente. It is up higher in the mountains and closer to the border of Honduras (where the view is simply eyes will never be the same after beholding such breathtaking beauty!). There are teams from Shelter that build outside of Victoria as well, and as you drive you can see Shelter homes dotting the mountainous countryside. Apparently this area outside of Victoria is a fairly poor community. A missionary couple live in Victoria and have an amazing mission there. They have many organizations supporting them as they seek to look after a variety of needs in the surrounding communities. After driving up some crazy roads on the side of more mountains we saw one of their programs come to life. Over a hundred children sitting at tables under a little shelter waiting with a plastic bowl and cup. Our missionary Pablito explained to us that some ladies from the community who have previously received Shelter homes, had come together every day to cook for the poorest children in the communities to be able to give them one hardy meal at lunch time. So every day at noon, these kids flock to this shelter where women were now taking turns preparing a lunch meal for these kids who may not otherwise eat in a day. Because these women were blessed by Shelter homes, they can now help others who are in need as well.

This seems to be a recurring theme this week. We are hearing stories from families who have been blessed by Shelter homes and are now blessing others as well. During our building days, I met a mother and her 3 year old daughter. They showed up at every build site. The mom would take a drill and help with some of the building and her daughter would play with us. Through our translator I was able to talk to the mom and ask her about herself. She told us that she had received a Shelter home last year and it had changed her family's life. So now, when other homes are being built near her community she comes out to help build as a way to say thank you and pay for her home.

Families helping families. A new home brings such hope and joy to a family. It is truly an answer to their prayers and the beginning of a new life for their family. We have seen the evidence. Thank you so much to everyone who is supporting these families by their generosity, their prayers and for allowing our team to create more "open doors". Such a blessing to be a part of these families' lives and stories even if only for one week.

Open Doors

"As soon as you get off the plane and step foot foot in El Salvador you are in our church and I am your Pastor", "if you say "Ola" to someone, you are doing the Lord's work in this country". These were a few of the opening remarks of an inspirational talk given by the local Pastor of the church we attend here in San Vicente. It was helpful to hear these words because my skills as a builder pale in comparison to the local talent.  He thanked us for coming, which is a familiar theme here, but he was thanking God and giving the glory to God which is where it belongs. 

The passion that the local church has for bringing the people of El Salvador closer to God was evident in the way he spoke. It was mentioned a few times that there are people who open doors, and there are people who go through doors. The church here believes that us Canadians open many doors for the people in El Salvador. Not just the people who come down on the trips but also those back home who are supporting these trips and praying for the people in this country. This week here is almost over and soon we will be back in Canada. The good news is that there are people in the local church who will be continuing our work with the families and the communities who received houses. They will be "going through doors" and sharing with these families the love of Jesus Christ. 

One specific prayer request was given to us and I wanted to pass that along to all those reading this blog. We need to continually pray that more community missionaries will be raised up to work with these families. As we drive on the highways towards the build sites you can see so many Shelter houses that have been built (over 2400) and more people are needed to reach out and provide support to these families. It has been very encouraging this trip that God has shown us how He has been working in the lives of the people in El Salvador who have received houses or are involved with Shelter. These people are not just getting by,many of them are thriving, they are using the gifts that God gave them to help others. I first came to El Salvador in 2013 and the work that God has done in just the 4 years that I have been involved has been incredible. 

We were left with a challenge at the end of the Pastor's message, this trip has changed us and we need to apply what God has taught us in our communities at home. We need to take these stories home with us and share with our friends, families and co-workers. 


Surprised By Joy

God continually surprises me - by now I should expect it, but no...once again I stand in AWE of his incredible love and attention to the smallest detail.

Several months ago I received a call from a dear friend. Her passion is caring for children with special needs. After raising her own children, God over many years has blessed her with 6 children - all with special needs!  God was speaking to heart again and out of obedience to him she felt called to provide a home for a family in ElSalvador.

Prior to arriving in ElSalvador we did not know the personal stories of the families that would be receiving homes.

Today, that house was built. Today....Anna, her husband, her son and her 16 year old daughter Carlita-WITH SPECIAL NEEDS received a home they had been dreaming of and praying for! Isn't it just like God to know Anna's heart, hear her prayer, realize her dream AND connect my friends passion for these children. My heart was so full to witness this unfold!

Anna's story is a story of HOPE. She began with 4 children.  Her husband left her and took 3 of the children with him because he did not want what he felt was a burden with his daughter. Anna pressed on with a prayer that God would provide for the both of them and he did! In fact, as my friend would say, "The Lord blessed her obstacles and increased her faith!"

She is motivated to care for her daughter and loves her very much. When asked what her dream for her family would be now that she has a home - it was not money or material things, instead it was that God would bless her with good health and to out live her sweet Carlita.

Above all, Anna continues to trust God and he has since blessed her with a devoted husband and loving stepfather to Carlita. As well, a spunky and super fun little boy named Giovanni.  In this new home Anna said she can't wait to mop a cement floor, one in which her daughter can sit and play without snakes entering and be clean! It is a gift from God she says...a dream come true and answer to her prayers.

If you could have seen Carlita...she is precious and radiates joy. Her smile is huge and her laugh infectious!


Seeing What Isn't There

What do you see when you look at this picture?...Go ahead, zoom in...take a moment to consider your options...
Here let me help...maybe you see a black tarp, but you can't quite see the big hole in the middle of it. (It's ok though, it's not the rainy season right now.)
You might also see a single hammock. Under the shade of the big trees on a hot El Salvador afternoon, this might be somewhat inviting.  You may also notice dishes and some clothing, and then maybe you might start to think a little further than just an afternoon siesta...
You can also see a fairly sizeable freshly cut tree stump. You can't see the tree that was felled, laying off to the right of the picture. You can't see the hundreds of machete (yes, machete) marks made over 2 straight days of determined chopping to bring the tree down.
You can see the silver glint of metal posts. You can't see that they will be assembled together to provide a new home for this family who have been living under that tarp. 8 days ago, they took down their old "house" and moved into this temporary dwelling.

You can't see this family of 5: A husband (Juan), a wife (Vilma) and three girls, plus another baby on the way. You can't see the horse off to the left which Juan mounts every morning at 3am to go to his first job - milking 56 hand. You can't see the farm where he harvests corn and beans to help provide for his family, working hard during the heat of the day. You can't see his past, orphaned at 2 years old, his parents killed by gang members. You can't see his desire to honour the Lord in his marriage, and as a father. You can't see his love and care for horses. his hobby, he says, which allows him to relax.

We know, you can't see any of this...and truly, neither can we. However we can feel the strength of God's presence as we sat across from him, looking into his hope-filled eyes, and listened to his no-excuse love for life despite the negative perceptions that our first glance provides.

"God Willing" (Primiero a Dios) was a phrase that he repeated throughout our conversation. It is a reminder that in everything God is in control, that we function, purposefully and consistently, in grateful response to His provision as we anticipate His leading for the future. That future, now includes a house: to protect his girls from predators, to shelter his family during the rainy season and to provide security from which to build a future.

Please pray for Juan and Vilma and the other families like them. Thanks for providing for them. Thanks for allowing us to be here, for just a few moments, to be inspired and challenged to see what isn't there.


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Student Becomes The Teacher

  Wow! Today has just been incredible, it's hard to even put it into words. The weather was beautiful, the scenery was beautiful, the people were beautiful. Every year that I come back to El Salvador the beauty blows me away just as it did the first time.

  Today we were building in the community of San Jacinto. Myself and Christine have found our groove on Team Verde (green), hammering circles into squares and drilling holes into the trusses that will support the roof the house. I found my rhythm fairly quickly asI remembered doing something like this the previous 2 years I was here.

  While building the first house today, for a family of three (dad, mom and son), I met a boy named Gustavo. It took me a minute to realize that he was the boy receiving the house we were building. He so desperately wanted to be a part of the building process, but could get in to her dig the holes or out together the walls. So he came over alongside me and I was able to teach him how to use the drill.  He was so excited to learn, and so passionate about being a part of building this home for his family. I was so impressed with how hard he was working and how fast he was learning. It started out with me teaching him, and by the end he was pointing out my mistakes and correcting them. And just like that the student became the teacher!

  For the rest of the day, this boy followed me around everywhere I went. He followed me every time switched tools, when I walked back and fourth between the work sites, and even sat right by my side as I played with the other kids. At first it seemed kind of funny to me, but on second thought it just reminded me that even simple gestures can leave a huge impact on someone else's life.


Monday, November 27, 2017

The Best Gift You Can Give

Stories. You hear them, you tell them. Some are amazing, some are inspiring, and some... not so much. I'm going to share a story I heard today and you can be the judge.

Hugo Antonio, he is 17 years old (the same age as I am). He lives with his mother and his younger sister. He was in the first family that we built for today. There is no father figure in this home, so Hugo has had to step up and fill this role. 

Each family that we build for has to clear and level a spot of land upon which  the house would be built. Hugo, being the man of the household, had the responsibility of doing this. The only dilemma is the land he had to prepare was not level at all, in fact, it was on the side of a hill. To level the ground, he had to dig down at least 6 ft on the one side. The top 8 inches (at the most) was dirt, the rest was rock. The community leaders told him that if the land was not ready, he would not get the house and it could be some time before he could get the opportunity to receive another house. So he hacked through the rock for 18 hours a day, for 7 days straight, with next to no breaks. All by himself.

After all of this hard work, there was a big pile of dirt and rock. He rented two bulls and a cart and loaded the dirt and rock into the cart and transported it to four other sites that houses were being built on. The other families would have had to purchase this dirt in order to level their plots of land. This took him two more 15 hour days to complete.

Before coming on this trip, I was having a conversation with my dad about coming on this trip taking a week away from school and how one of my teachers was not very supportive in that decision. After discussing this for a while, he finally said to me, "If you need to justify your decision to your teacher, tell them the best gift you can give in life is your service to others."

One of the questions we asked Hugo was: Why did you deliver all of the dirt to the other families when it was not your responsibility? His response was that he didn't have any money and with Christmas coming around the corner, he couldn't buy any gifts for his friends and their families. He knew that his friends would have to spend the little money they had on dirt to level the land for their houses. He thought he could bless them with the gift of his service by delivering the much needed dirt. 

Being the same age as Hugo, I try to put myself in his position and I wonder if I would ever do the same. Not only did he take care of his family and make sure their land was ready for their new home, he took it one step further, and blessed others with his service. Hugo's story inspires me not to just think only of myself, but to go to extra mile, take the extra step, and to serve others to the best of your  ability. 



Wow! I am writing to you from the stunningly beautiful country of El Salvador. I say "wow" because I don't think that I really thought I'd ever be here. I spent many years reading blog post after blog post of these trips to El Salvador, trying to soak up as much as I could about these trips and what they were like...hoping one day I'd be able to be on one, yet never really thinking it could happen. So many things/people/my own fears had to be figured out before this could even be possible. Yet, here I am. God made a way.

What a beautiful way it is. I must say living vicariously through the blog really doesn't do this country justice. One simply has to see it for oneself. It is stunning. Majestic skylines with volcanos looming above, giant mountainous hills covered in lush green vegetation and yellow hued corn fields all around. (Of course these sights are perceived while traveling in the back of a truck, not the most luxurious way to see the sights, but quite possibly the best way:) ) In town and even in the country, everywhere you look there is colour! I just love all the bright colours! Our translator said that people paint the houses the bright colours because they are happy colours. I agree. They even colourfully paint and decorate the grave stones of their loved ones. Their cemetery is sparkly and brightly coloured, such a contrast to our norm.

Today our team, along with a Shelter crew of builders, translators, family coordinator, driver and with a large group of community members built 4 houses. Our team split into two teams, so each team built two houses each. I had the opportunity to hear two of the new homeowners' stories. Both are single mothers with children to care for. They are women of great strength who have worked hard to do whatever is needed to care for their children.  It still amazes me the way God answers prayers. The first woman hadn't had a home of her own in seventeen years. She had been living with relatives and her children had been moving around with her. Today, God answered her prayer and her house went up. Today, she has a place for her children to call home.
The second mother, had a family in which her kids were now beginning to look out for her. Her health was requiring her to slow down now, after her many years of looking after them. The kids adore their mother and had worked hard to clear the land for their new home. Despite all they had been through, the young adult daughter's smile was simply stunning. There was just something about her smile that brought me so much joy. I also had the privilege of praying over this second family. Words just aren't made for that feeling...
I also got the role of playing with the kids today. Everyone was busy putting houses together and I was busy building lego houses with the community kids :) Watching the kids build their own creative building was really awesome. I think each of their building was a reflection of who they are. I just have to say that one little boy named Walter, built a four story lego house! It was really awesome and he placed lego construction men all around the building to show that they were building. He was quiet kid, but I could see a budding architect in him!

There is so much more I could write, so much more I could say about these first two days in El Salvador, but that would likely fill pages. So I'll simply finish with this thought. I thought coming to El Salvador would feel foreign, maybe a little frightening, maybe jolting...but instead I've found that it feels quite familiar and even welcoming. I was trying to figure out why that is, when this thought came to me. It's because God is here. It's not foreign to me because I didn't leave God's presence. He is still with me, same as when I'm in my own country. Not only is He with me, but He is here in this country as well. The evidence of His presence is all around - in the scenery, the smiles, the answered prayers, the Shelter workers, the community volunteers, the kids. God is here.


10 Families and so much more

Today is the day that we get to spend time with the 10 families that will be receiving homes this week. We'll be building in a community called San Jacinto. It's located somewhere about 15 or 20 minutes, in the hills, beyond San Felipe.

Our devotion to start the day came from Romans 15:7..."accept one another just as Christ has accepted you in order to bring praise to God." We talked about the importance of being open, taking initiative and expressing value about others, even others different than us. The reminder, from God's Word, is that God's mission is accomplished through acceptance as people are brought to into the family of God (v.9). Even better, there is a promise or blessing that "the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (v.13).

Who doesn't want to be filled with joy and peace?  Who doesn't want to overflow with hope?

So we met our families, got to know their names and a little bit about their lives. We played games, jumped rope, played frisbee and coloured some pages. They welcomed us, so warmly,  and we are learning to welcome them.

We then visited with our good friend, Basilio and his family. Again he accepted us, without knowing we were coming and we had a chance to demonstrate our acceptance of him: as different team members shared how his friendship and partnership in this ministry has blessed us over the nine years we've known each other.

We went to the church service this evening. The church has changed it's name to "Refugio y vida" (Shelter and Life). We were accepted, greeted warmly and thanked deeply for our commitment to this church family over the years. Many of the songs had english lyrics also on the screen, another demonstration of acceptance.

We ended the evening with the Sunday night tradition of Pollo Campero, the fried chicken place that makes every trip worthwhile, where we gladly accepted our three pieces of fried chicken and papas fritas!!

A late night huddle to recap the day and the recognition that the real work of building homes and accepting one another begins tomorrow (Monday). May God give us joy and peace and hope as we enter into these relationships that He has prepared for us!

Thanks for your interest and prayer!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ready for year nine

Well we made it to our hotel in El Salvador!
We left Sarnia on time.
We stopped at the Woodstock On Route for a little refresher.
We made it to the airport with no traffic delays or misdirections (it's happened before...more than once).
Our flight left on time and arrived early...and it was smooth!!
All our baggage arrived as well!!
We made it to the hotel without delay.
We've unpacked and begun to settle into our rooms.
And we've also taken some time to reflect on God's provision and protection.

Matthew 9:36-38 are the theme verses that I shared with the team tonight.
In a world of suffering - Jesus enters, sees and responds, not just with words but also with compassionate care.

Thanks to all those who pray for us, uniting with God's heart for this team.
Thanks to all who have helped provide and there many, so many of you.
Thanks to our church family for supporting and commissioning us in God's service.
Thanks to our family members and friends who take care of our 'regular' duties at home to make this possible.
Thanks to our families who sacrifice this time away from us to make this possible.

May the Lord bless all of us through this journey!!