Monday, December 11, 2017

A Tribute to Our Team

Over the last nine years, it's been a privilege to equip and lead short term mission teams with SEMC. In addition to adding a global reach to our church family, these trips also reflect our commitment to intergenerational teamwork. As we prepare, we talk about looking for God at work in the lives we encounter and then sharing those stories. Over the next few days, it will be my privilege to share the stories my team members have written from our most recent trip to El Salvador with Shelter Canada. Sharing these trips with young people like Quinn Jennings and Silas Allen is an honour's entertaining. They bring joy and enthusiasm to our team, they also are willing to serve and have a great awareness of the needs of others. If you're interested in being part of a team, message me, let's talk. Here's the story that Silas shared:…/the-best-gift-you-can-g…

Having been to El Salvador on several occasions, new learning often takes place through the eyes and lives of those who come for the first time. I am thankful for the people of the SEMC and their desire to be stretched beyond their comfortable norms. I am thankful for Shelter Canada for providing an opportunity for people at all ages and stages of life. In our preparations we rarely talk about "what" we will do; rather we focus on "how" we need to respond to those things that may be going on. Our goal is to help people to think in a way that honours God, trusting that their actions, will be shaped by Him for His glory. Here's a story by Christine DaCosta, a first timer, who contributed greatly to our team's efforts, especially by being a thoughtful listener to the families we met. If you're interested in being a first-timer on our next trip, send me a a message, let's do it:…/uncomfortable.html

Each team we travel with to El Salvador with Shelter Canada is different. From team to team and from year to year, the different people on the team make every trip unique and exciting because of the diverse strengths and gifts that each person brings. Some are gifted to work with kids, some know how to contribute to the building of a house. Every part matters - but there is more. This year we were reminded of the growing role that our Salvadoran brothers and sisters are taking on and how God is using it to grow our effectiveness. A great blessing for me is that most trips also include at least one person from our leadership team. This year we had two: Albert Siertsema and Scott Odolphy. An added bonus was having Theresa LS join our team. She's the Children's Ministry Director at the SEMC. God used all of their different gifts and strengths to make our team better and amazingly connected us to the bigger picture of the work that will continue in El Salvador, particularly through the local church.
Here's how Theresa describes it:…/…/some-open-doors.html
Interested in contributing or getting involved with a team? Drop me a message. Let's figure it out.

Over the years, with Shelter Canada and SEMC it has been humbling to recognize how God works in and through the lives of people who are willing to simply be available. Through their availability together we recognize that we don't bring hope, we enter into the hope that God has already put in place and work according to the rhythm in which He is already moving. As we do we discover stories about Our God, others and ourselves. Inspiring stories that are not dependent on our normal cultural comforts. Patrick Halls has been on five trips with us now. He brings a tenacious capacity to work and a tender heart for those among whom he serves. In fact he now leads a build team.  Brittany Nelson has now been on three trips with us, showing a willingness to learn, to engage with others and to use her talents to bring joy to others. 
By the way, you don't have to live near me to make this work. If you want to be part of something special that God is doing, then let's figure it out together. Get hold of me some how...

While it's always exciting and refreshing to have new people join our Shelter Canada team. However, one of best parts, for me, about these previous 9 years has been to share the journey with a few awesome people from the SEMC. Tyson (8 trips) and Leisha Jennings (7 trips), and Karen Allen (9 trips), were there when we started this and have felt God compel them to continue to serve on these teams for most of the years since. Together we have made many mistakes, had many laughs, have navigated many obstacles (literal and figurative) and continue to learn. Their compassion and capacity for what we do strengthens our teams and our effectiveness as a whole. Their love for what God is doing in El Salvador as well as at home is part of what makes them special. This isn't something they do, it's who they are and they are extending the love of Jesus in whatever place they find themselves. Therefore it was all the more humbling and amazing to see the stories that God had waiting for them this year. 
Want to be part of an amazing extended family?...let's talk...

There's only been one person who has been part of all 9 SEMC El Salvador teams, with me. For those who know Amanda Persad, you will be aware that she prefers cool temperatures, cloudy days; she wouldn't normally choose rigorous or potentially treacherous hikes or truck rides; she has food preferences, sleep preferences, and really doesn't like to feel sweat running on her skin. And yet, side by side, together, she has made a whole hearted commitment to each of our Shelter Canada teams and team members. She looks after the details that I can often neglect (as I frolic in the sun) and is continually watching over our team members, Canadians and Salvadorans alike. Philippians 2:3-4 " humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." This truth comes alive through her life and commitment to serve the Lord, as very few of her personal preferences are met in ES. 
Our family has been transformed over these last 9 years, in part, through this shared mission. When people say, I can't afford to go, or what about our kids, or it isn't comfortable, or I'm not equipped for this kind of work - I get to share the story of my wife and how God is working through her, not only with our team, but also as she helps keep every Shelter team on task throughout the year. Thanks love...
Being on a team isn't a one week venture, it can be a whole life transforming process of growing deeper in your relationship with God and others. If you want to be part of a team, let me know - I'm already praying for you, so let's just talk about it..

Thursday, December 7, 2017

It's Never Been About the Houses

Yes we build houses, but it's never been about the houses. It's always about the people that we get to meet, sit across from and share stories with. Their stories often challenge and inspire us in the circumstances of our own lives. Their stories are also shared so that we would continue to talk to God about their needs - knowing that He is aware and is providing for them. Here's a small glimpse into the lives of the people that have been impacted by our most recent visit. They will continue to be visited by our friends in the local church. Thanks for your part in the journey, we are always humbled by what takes place in these communities. May God continue to work in their lives: 

Gladys Antonia – Shelter #2483
Gladys is 41 and is a single mother.  She has 6 children ranging in age from 1 to 22.  Only two children live with her currently, Bryan Omar, age 7 and Walter Samuel, age 1.  She has three grandchildren.
Her greatest joys are that are children are healthy and have enough food.
She works as a cook in a restaurant in San Salvador.  She leaves on Sunday and travels an hour and a half to work and returns on Saturday.  She starts work at 3am each day.  During the week, she sleeps at the restaurant.  Either her sister, Melissa, or her 18 year old daughter care for her two boys while she is away working.  She did not have a home.  When she wasn’t at the restaurant, she stayed with her sister or daughter. 
She likes her community.  She is happy there and all of her family is nearby. She feels that her children are safe in that area.  She has good relationships with her neighbours.  They help one another.
Her desire is to have more time with her children.  Only God can give her the strength she needs.  It is not easy.
Gladys has been waiting for a house for 17 years.  She is so thankful!  It is like a dream come true.

Esmaria de Jesus Rivas Ruiz, Hugo Antonio and Laura Michelle – Shelter #2484
Esmaria is a single mother at 37; Hugo, her son is 17 in grade 9; daughter Michelle is 15 in grade 6. There is an older daughter, 19, who is now married and no longer lives with Esmaria.
Hugo wants to finish high school and dreams about going to university, but realizes that he will probably end up working in the fields as a farmer.
It took 7 days to prepare the land for the new house. Hugo worked 18 hours a day, by himself, chipping the hard ground and then moving all the dirt to other families. He did this so that the families wouldn’t have to buy dirt in order to level the ground for their homes. He rented a cart and oxen to move the dirt over 2 days to 4 different homes. It would have cost each family $30. He said he has no money and these 4 homes are his friends and this was something he could give them.

Sayda Palacios, Argenis Alexis Rivas, Nazly Andrea Rivas – Shelter #2485
Argenis is a farmer (beans, corn, sorghum). He is 25 years old. He does most of the cooking of the meals, which is very rare.
Sayda is 24 years old. She did one year of nursing. She cares for other children from 6pm to 6am each day.
They met at a soccer game in the village and got caught in a thunderstorm. Lightning hit the ground nearby and both of them ended up in the hospital, where they reconnected. The rest, as they say…is history…
Nazly has been sharing a room with her parents since she was born and is excited for her own room in the new house.
The new house represents a new beginning for this family, as they were renting a room for $40/month. They will now have the safety and shelter from the heavy rains.  The new house is being built beside her parents house. Her parents made their cooking area in order to fit the new house.

Maria Julia – Shelter #2486
Julia is 47 and has three children.  She says that her children are strong. Alexandra is 26 and works at a grocery store and comes home every 8 days. Frananda is 24 and works at a store in the school so was currently enjoying vacation.  She has a big, beautiful smile and was helping on the work site and was one of the community leaders. Frank is 13 and is going into grade 8.  He likes sports, particularly soccer, and hopes to be a mechanic.  Frank is the only man.  Julia called him “the boss”. 
Julia’s children see their mother as brave, an example, a good mother, a big heart.
The children’s father died last year.  He was a heavy drinker.
Julia has had six surgeries, one just recently, for a hernia. She was not able to help with any of the physical labour.
They have waited 3 years for a house.  Their previous home was made of wood and laminate and was ready to fall.  Frananda and Frank did most of the work clearing the land.  They are all staying with Julia’s sister, Blanca, next door.

They like their community.  It is safe and they can talk to everyone.
They attend church.  Julia is Christian and the children are Catholic.
A new house means safety. It is a huge blessing!

Miguel Ruiz and Crystal Lopez – Shelter #2487
Miguel and Crystal have been married for 14 years and have one son, Gustavo, age 11.  Gustavo is entering grade 6.  He was helpful on the worksite.  He likes to help his father.  He enjoys math and has always wanted to be a pilot. 
Miguel is 40 and is a farmer.  He farms corn and beans and works 6am to 12pm.  Crystal is 42 and is a stay at home mom. 
They did not have a home of their own.  They have been staying in Miguel’s brother’s house.  The brother is currently in Boston but plans to return to the house. 
They like the community.  It is quiet and Miguel has lived there his whole life.  A house is one of the things that they have desired the most.  They wanted Gustavo to have his own room.  They are thankful to the Lord.

Kelvin Orlando Cruz Hernandez, Celis Orquidea Ayala Umania, Diego Orlando Cruz Ayala – Shelter #2488
Kelvin works 2 jobs. One as a farmer and one doing construction. Before receiving this house, they were living in Kelvin’s brother’s house (he currently lives in the USA). Now they will be able to grow their family in their own home.

Rulbert Oseos and Veronica Marino – Shelter #2489
Rulbert and Veronica met when Rulbert was walking to work and Veronica was working cleaning homes.  They started as friends.  They have been partners for two years.
Rulbert and Veronica have a one year old daughter, Ashlin.  Their dreams for her are that she would grow and that she would keep God first.
Rulbert is 19 and is a famer.  He began taking care of his Grandpa’s cows at age 9.  When his Grandpa died, his land was divided among the children.  He farms his mother’s and uncle’s land.  It is a 45 minute walk to the land.  He farms corn, beans, and surgum.  He works 6am to 12pm. 
Veronica stays home but also walks to take food to Rulbert each day. She is 17 years old.
They like their community, it is quiet and safe.  They did not have a home of their own.  They were living with Rulbert’s mom and sister.  They have waited for a home for their family.  It is a gift from God.
Their dreams for the future are to wait on God and maybe have more children.

Miguel and Villma – Shelter #2490

Miguel is  32 years old. He is a farmer (corn, beans, sorghum)
Villma is 27 years old. She is a housewife and occasionally sells beauty supplies.
Villma can’t have children due to kidney disease, for which she did receive a transplant.
Miguel met Villma, when he would come to the community to visit his cousins. His care for her is evident and honourable. He is thankful for the new home as it will be beneficial for Villma’s health, protecting her from the dust and the rain.

Giovanni and Anna Ruth – Shelter #2491
Giovanni is 33 years old and works 30 minutes away by car as a security guard at a plantain farm.  He stays there and comes home once a week so was not available for the interview.
Anna Ruth is 33 years old.  She has five children, four with her first husband and one with Giovanni, a 7 year old son also named Giovanni.   In 2010, when her daughter, Karla, was 9, her husband left with the other three children (currently aged 18, 17 and 15).  They live nearby.  Her ex-husband is remarried. 
The couple were married 5 months ago.  They share the same faith and in the past year have grown in their faith, are communicating more with God and were married as a result.
Karla, now age 16, has special needs.  She is on medication (2 pills, 2 times a day) to keep her happy and stable.  Anna Ruth is Karla’s caregiver.  She assists with bathing and toileting her.  Anna Ruth has inquired about education options for her daughter but the local school will not take her.  There is a school further away but she cannot afford the transportation costs.  Giovanni has a soft heart and loves Karla.
 Anna Ruth wants her children to be healthy, happy and that she would live a long life in order to care for them.
They have many family nearby, including a brother and nephew of Anna Ruth that are mute.  Her cousin and nephew helped clear the land.  Her sister received a Shelter house two years ago. 
Their house needed to be replaced.  There were holes in the roof.  Anna Ruth dreamed of a new home.  It was difficult to wait.  She didn’t understand why others were getting a house first.  She recognized that this was God’s time for her to receive a house.
In her new house, she will feel more secure with locks on the door.  It will be clean.  The old house was made of wood and mud.  She will be able to keep snakes out.  Karla likes to play on the floor and she will be able to mop the floors. 

Juan Francisco, Villma, Clara (11), Estraia (8), Lydia (5), one on the way – Shelter #2492

Juan Francisco is a farmer. He wakes up at 3am every morning and rides his horse to his uncle’s farm where he milks 56 cows.  Sensing that he needed to provide more for his growing family, he has started working in the fields, harvesting beans, corn and sorghum.
His parents were murdered by the gangs when he was 2 years old. He is one of 6 children.
He has a hobby, horses. He loves to ride them and care for them. He owns 5 horses which he rides equally through week. He is committed to learning, challenging himself to learn something new everyday. He asked our team what our hobbies were…a first.
On the day their house getting built the girls woke up early and asked to have their very best dresses and shoes in order to meet the team that was coming to help them.
This home will help his family be secure. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

One Word

As we wrapped up year 9 in El Salvador, each team member was asked to think of a name of a person or a word that would best describe their trip. It's a way of capturing part of what God has been teaching us in a easy to remember way. It's also a way that you can engage our team members, by asking them to share the story behind the name or word they have chosen.

  • Tyson - Arjenes 
  • Leisha - hope
  • Scott - Rulbert 
  • Pat - Community
  • Silas - Hugo 
  • Christine - uncomfortable
  • Quinn - devotion
  • Karen - similarity 
  • Brittany - Gustavo 
  • Amanda - determination 
  • Deve - hospitality 
  • Albert - Pablito 
  • Theresa  - Gireli

Ask us about these names or words.
Thanks for your continued prayer, not just for us, but for the community of San Jacinto and the ten families that God has used to impact our lives. May God Bless your destiny. 


As it is my first time to El Salvador, I had some reservations.  I expected to be uncomfortable with many aspects of the trip.
I expected to be uncomfortable with the heat.  I have been grateful for shade and breezes.
I expected to be uncomfortable with building houses.  I have been grateful that I was able to contribute a small part to the homes.
I expected to be uncomfortable with sharing a room.  I have been grateful for sharing laughter and conversation with my roommates.
I expected to be uncomfortable with letting my hair go natural.  I have been grateful for compliments on my curls.
I expected to be uncomfortable with the food.  I have been grateful for meals that are quite enjoyable.
I expected to be uncomfortable with leaving my family behind.  I have been grateful for a husband who is willing to do whatever it takes for me to be here.
I expected to be uncomfortable with the cattle truck rides.  I have been grateful for many smooth roads and time to enjoy God's creation.
I expected to be uncomfortable with the Spanish language.  I have been grateful for translators.
Those who have been to El Salvador in the past would say that I have had an easy week.  It has been easy to find the good, to be grateful, despite being uncomfortable.  It has been worthwhile.  There are 10 families that received keys to their homes today.  Ten families that received Bibles today.  Ten families that heard about God's love for them.
"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong."  2 Corinthians 12:10
I expected to be uncomfortable with sharing my thoughts on this blog.  I am grateful that you are interested in what is happening with our team and in El Salvador.

Everyone Likes A Good Horse Story....Right?

On Wednesday we had our last interview for the week. We were introduced to Juan and Vilma. A couple that had three girls and another on the way. Juan was orphaned at two years of age. His parents were killed by the gangs. He didn't share details of  how his life was growing up, except that it was very difficult. He wanted to share with us that he was a very hard worker and he worked very hard to care for his wife and girls.  He wakes up at three in the morning and milks 56 cows by hand every day. He was wanting to make sure he had enough money to care for his growing family so he got another job farming. Juan also wanted us to know about his hobby. He loved to ride and train horses. He owned five, each one had been named. He wanted to make sure we knew that he treated them kindly, also that a horse could be your companion. I was a little excited to hear this, I didn't expect to hear that someone here in El Salvador had the same horse philosophy as me. It seems to me that from observation over the years, animals here are either a source of income, a useful tool or just a nuisance. So I was pleasantly surprised that he viewed his horses as a source of pleasure.

From previous trips to El Salvador, I have noticed their horses here and have had questions about their care and how it would be different from how I care for mine at home. I was able to ask him some of the questions I had been curious about. He was interested in what our hobbies were as well and asked each of us to share ours.

It was nice to see this couple not just surviving but enjoying some pleasures in life.We haven't seen much of that in the past, I don't know if that is just something unique to this couple or this village or if hope is spreading and the people here are discovering some of their passions. I like to believe the later.


Thursday's Lunch

There is much more to write about Thursday's visit to the small city of Victoria in the North East corner of El Salvador. For now, here's a view from our lunch spot, where we looked out on the Rio Lempa and across into the mountain ranges of Honduras. The breath-taking beauty is inspiring; a reminder that echoes the words of the Psalmist, "O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!...When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers..." (Psalm 8).

Friday, December 1, 2017

Young And Beautiful

While this is the name of a recent popular song it got new meaning for me this week. One of the families we were building for is a 19 year old father (Rulbert), a 17 year old mother (Veronica), and their 1 year old daughter.  Amazingly they were one of the highlights for me as they sat with smiles and gratitude describing:  How he had been working the farms since he was 9 when his grandfather had died and he had become the man of the house and how his Uncles who inherited the land had said he could use a small plot. How they had met when he visited her village and started talking while she was she was working doing laundry and cleaning homes (she would have been 14). How they had become friends, then dated, and finally become partners.  How his farm was 45min walk away so he leaves every day at 5am to work and she walks over later with her daughter to bring him lunch.   Through the entire discussion you could see and feel the Love this couple had for each other.  Then when asked about dreams for their daughter their answer was "we want her to always be happy and to put God first in her life".   That is when I realized this couple truly was Young and Beautiful.   May God bless them in their new home.