Saturday, January 7, 2017

Casson's Post

This week has been one of profound experiences. I chose to blog first on New Year's Day (if memory serves) so consequently plenty has happened since  and been blogged about many times over. The lack of original material available definitely contributed to my "bloglessness", as well as my tendency for over-analysis. I know that when I write, it won't be finished quickly. I've read that there are essentially two types of "creatives" (I, of course, am using this term absurdly loosely for myself) in the world. Cassons, who are extremely scrupulous in their process and are constantly perfecting; and Picassos, who reach their peak quickly and output creativity like the air they exhale. I am undoubtedly the former. I am a much less creative creative who spends excessively long on his creative process to produce sub-creative creations. Anyway...

I suppose a brief summary of key events is in order. On our free day we had the tenacity to climb a dormant volcano by the name of "Chichontepec", which we were told translates to "volcano of two peaks". An exhausting endeavour it was, but one worthwhile. The view from the peak (which guides stated as 2,137 meters above sea level, but the inerrant internet describes as 2,182 meters) was ... incredible? Awe-inspiring? Urine-inducing? Yes. All of the above. The day following the climb we spent a portion of the afternoon learning about the Salvadoran Civil War. I found this incredibly fascinating and I wish we had spent longer hearing about it. The entire discussion took place on one side of a bridge that had been completely annihilated with explosives in 1980 by the guerrilla left, done in order to force the government's hand in paying for repairs. But the bridge was never repaired, and all that lies between the two banks are a couple of piers that once held it. But despite my interest in these activities, they aren't what I came to El Salvador for. I, we, came here to build houses for the broken and express love and compassion to all. 

There are a few reasons that I decided to commit to this trip back in...whenever I committed to it. I've been exploring questions about my faith, my worldview, and about myself. At home I'd been feeling stagnant. Caught in routine. This trip helped to escape from that. It taught me much about myself, and much about how I perceive other people. It was healthy for me. It, at times, made me feel incapable, unintelligent, and insignificant. All of these hopefully contributing to the humility I prayed for before and during this trip. The more I think about the week, and how I feel as it comes to an end, I'm not sure I share the ambiguous feelings some of my teammates do. I think I understand why this trip has been so significant: I experienced something completely different, I was able to help people, and I learned more about humility. 
Much of my reading material for the past year or so has been Francis A. Schaeffer books, thanks to Deve. In his book "The God Who Is There" he talks about communication. Specifically, communicating our beliefs, and the message of our beliefs, to others. He states that there is no automatic or mechanical method of communicating with people in this way, because this would contradict the element of personality (unique personality to each of us) that is so philosophically important to our relationship to God, who is a personal God. But ultimately, Schaeffer says, the only universal form of communicating to the individual is in love. I would like to insert a quote from this book: 

"Love is not an easy thing; it is not just an emotional urge, but an attempt to move over and sit in the other person's place and see how his problems look to him. Love is a genuine concern for the individual." 

The reason I use this paragraph is because I think it really applies to what we did, or tried to do, this week. We expressed love for these people by being close to them, doing things not only for them but with them. We spoke to them about their lives (not without the help of translators) and told them about ours. This engaging, involved, and genuine love that was not only directed from us to them, but was reciprocated, is what I think made this memorable for me. I didn't have a cathartic experience, but I did have an experience. Something that was outside the normalities of my home life. This trip was a small step in my life of continuous learning, and although it was a small step, it was an integral one. 
I've thanked my team, our translators, our food providers, our hospitable hosts, and the families that welcomed us into their communities this week, but lastly I would like to thank you. The readers of this blog. Your support and comments don't go unnoticed, we talk about them within our team daily. I have a feeling this will be the last post on the blog for this trip (editor's note: it's won't be), so if that is the case: here is to El Salvador in 2017, here is to a life of learning, and here is to communicating with genuine love. 


Keaton's Breakfast Devotion

1 Corinthians 2:9

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

As many people who know me well may understand, I don’t like situations that I cannot plan out and control. If I can’t organize myself, and follow a pre-made plan of my own design, I can become anxious about various situations. Thus, deciding to come on this trip, wherein which things rarely go as planned, was rather out of character for me. However, as a result, I have been forced to look at things in a new way, and with a new perspective. I have been forced to follow God’s plan for me, and to let him take control, instead of trying to do everything myself.

Over the years, my mother has often said this to me (that I need to allow God to take control in my life, and not try to do everything myself), and I have been very reluctant to accept it as truth. However, coming on this trip opened my mind to the necessity of allowing God to be my vision.

In reality, I can’t control anything. I can’t reach my dreams on my own, or achieve what I want to achieve in my life without allowing God to show me what His plan is, instead of attempting to follow my own. Over the course of this trip, it has become apparent to me that God has a plan, and regardless of what I do, or what anyone else does, God’s plan will always pan out in the end–and it is truly magnificent, and far better than anything that I could imagine.


A Week to Remember

As our time in El Salvador is coming to an end I thought I would share a couple stories and some things that this trip has taught me. But first, I would like to share what it has not taught me- which is to drive. Whether it's passing a vehicle coming up to a curve, passing on the shoulder of the road, passing on a double line coming up to a hill, not stopping for stop signs, and even carrying cows in the back of a pickup truck down the road, they do it all.  I learned quickly not to take any driving tips from the drivers of El Salvador (or maybe I should).

What I have learned about being on this team is to appreciate everyone's differences. Some people might be good at building, talking to the locals, playing with the kids, or talking in front of  big crowds, but what makes a phenomenal, united team is all these things flowing cohesively together.

Personally, one of my favourite activities was playing with the local kids. Teaching them how to throw a frisbee is definitely one of the highlights of my week. The kids would also tap me on the arm, motion for me to bend down, and then whisper in my ear, something in Spanish which I could not understand. One time a little boy, named Christopher, tapped me on the arm. Expecting him to whisper something in my ear, I bent down. Instead of whispering something, he wrapped his arms around me and gave me a big hug. It was a neat experience to play with the kids, one I will never forget.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of education, not because of the individual, but because of the lack of opportunity. While we were interviewing one of the women that we built a house for she mentioned that she went to a church named Acts 4:32. Curiously, my mom asked her if she knew the verse. Her reply was what shocked me. She said, "I do not know the verse because I do not know how to read or write".

It has been one of the longest and shortest weeks of my life. It has been the longest because of all the stories, experiences, friendships, and opportunities I have been blessed to take part in. It has been the shortest because it is already finished and I will miss it more than words can describe, for this is a week that I will always remember.

There are many more stories and experiences that I would love to share with you. If you would like to hear more, I would gladly take the opportunity to talk about it.


To make sense of it all

Our trip is nearing an end, after an indescribable week. I'm not sure how to feel, as my time is wearing down: Relief, because my time in the blistering heat, putting together houses is finished for another year? Or maybe it's sadness, because the "goodbye see you tomorrow"s suddenly became "goodbye, see you next year"s. Perhaps I could be feeling a great sense of love as friends turned to family. How am I supposed to make sense of it all. I was blessed to be able to see the masterpiece that is called ElSalvador, from the heavens (2182 meters to be exact). Maybe the altitude from that Volcano view changed things for me. How am I supposed to make sense of it all. I feel overwhelmed. I was able to see the beauty of this country through the volcano that proudly stands guard. Then the memories of a war that tore this country apart reared its ugly head, through two men standing by a broken bridge. Reminiscing of the times when the two friends were once involved in a deadly war, on two different sides. This week I traveled to a country that is tortured by financial and political turmoil. The streets were littered with Broken hearts and fractured dreams, single mothers and orphans, violence and the unprotected. However, the closer you look the easier it is to see. Big dreams and happy families. The faithful and the joyful, the strong willed and righteous men. Hearts filled with love and compassion. It's so hard to make sense of everything. The ugly and the beautiful. How can so much love exist in the gang ridden streets of El Salvador? I think the easiest way to make sense of it all, is to add Jesus to the equation. Only the joy and love from God would be able to make a difference. I think that once you come to a place like this, and witness the friendships and love demonstrated by the people, only then will you be able to make sense of it all. Sometimes, you just have to stand on the mud floor of someone's dirt and stick home, to really feel the power of Jesus' presence.

We're always learning

taking a group of high school students as part of our global mission team promised to be fun and it certainly has been. There are so many moments that we wish we could share through this blog. Having had the chance to speak with each of the students, listen to their words and watch them interact I can say that there are few experiences that have been more rewarding than this. They have given up, sacrificed a week of precious vacation from school, contributed their own money and worked hard as part of this team. They though they were taking a break from learning but the learning never stops. Here's some things we've learned that you can ask the students about:

History - the civil war of El Salvador
Geography/Fitness - climbing to 7,000 ft. to the top of volcano
Foods - listening to the story of Carmen, our cook
Shop Class - learning about house construction from Basilio
Spanish - duh, everywhere, everyday
Home Ec - visit to the sewing centre
Social Studies - learning about poverty in ES
Family studies - what happens when a husband and wife remain faithful to each other and involved in their children's lives
Theology - how is God at work in people's lives

Doesn't sound like much of a break from learning? Shhh...don't tell them...but ask them...because they all have had one of the best experiences of their lives.
Here we are at the end of the week already, but Monday seems so long ago at the same time. I have wanted to blog but have had a hard time putting anything into words.

 I love the women of El Salvador they work so hard to care for those they love without the conveniences we are accustomed to. They are brave, creative, kind and really know how to give a hug. The language barrier is so frustrating, I want to know them, yet without conversation it is so difficult to do. The translators do a fantastic job but it is difficult to spread them among all of us and the building sites as well. I wonder if I am reading their thoughts correctly as we earnestly look into each others eyes, do they know how much I really respect and admire them.

It has been amazing to watch my kids experience this trip as well. Watching them experience a different culture, new mode of transportation, new foods, a new way to communicate and so many other things. Thank you to those that made that possible. It has been a week that will forever be etched in their hearts and minds.



You (the reading audience) may be thinking "waterfalls? in El Salvador?" if so then yes there were indeed some "waterfalls" here in El Salvador today. These "waterfalls" are the kind you can feel running down your cheeks as we said goodbye to our translators, driver and lunch provider. These people were part of my first experience in El Salvador and our trip would not be possible without them so it would be an understatement to call them team members, drivers, translators or even friends because they are much more than that to me. They are part of our family. So as we said goodbye today I tried to hold myself together as long as I could and as I expected I couldn't get the tears to stop rolling down my face long enough to get out a sentence, hence the title "Waterfalls". I was sad to say goodbye but I believe I will see these amazing people again someday and if not I know for a fact I will see them in heaven.  - Quinn "McAwesomeness" Jennings.