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.