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!