Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Special Needs Center for Children

Blog post written by the Dorren family
Wheaton, Illinois

Mia was particularly looking forward to helping the disabled children today. When I asked her how her time was she said she was thankful-- thankful for abilities we take for granted like walking and talking and feeding herself.  She really enjoyed face painting (see photo above).

Madeleine: Today I really realized how much I take communication for granted. I did my best to show a boy that someone cared about him and that he was not forgotten, but it was very hard. I hope that something I did or said stuck with him. As I was leaving, a team member mentioned that today was probably the best part of these kids' week or even month. It's still hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that something as small as putting stickers on a piece of paper could make this boy's month. Sometimes it really doesn't take much to put a smile on someone's face and I hope when I go home, I will be more aware of opportunities to do it more often.

Visiting the center for disabled orphans was a new experience for me (Sherri). It was obvious upon entering that the children here were well cared for. The grounds and facilities were clean and well kept. The staff were friendly. But we were there for the children, and that was where the difficulties began.  We have visited orphans for the past couple of days, but even with the language barrier, I have been able to find ways to "speak child".  I know how to give hugs, let little ones sit on my lap and ask basic questions like, "What's your name?" "How old are you?" and admire their drawings. But these children were different. They were in wheel chairs. They couldn't form words. Many couldn't even hold up their heads or make eye contact. I had no idea what to do. As I wondered how in the world I could possibly bless these little ones, the Lord began to teach me. I simply had to try.  So when I was assigned to feed Carlita, I started with the what I knew. I smiled and said "Hola", but there was no response. I was hesitant, but I stood over her chair and started to stroke her hair. She tried to find me with her eyes. The connection began. As I continued running my fingers through her hair, she seemed to try reaching out to me from her chair. I took her hand in my free one. She pulled it close. I continued stroking her hair and smiling. She smiled back. Then I began to softly sing. She continued to smile. A translator came by, "I think she likes you," she said. I thought so too. "Please tell her I like her, too," I asked.  I was thrilled. We connected. And she was happy.

The best part was when she made songs of her own. No melody. No words. But a sweet sound somewhat like the purr of a kitten. And before too long, it was time to eat (which is another story). I still feel thankful remembering my time with Carlita. I have no idea what it is to live life as she does. But I saw God use me to bring Carlita some joy and in turn, I received joy back. And I also learned that all I need to do is try. Just as God empowered me to meet Carlita where she is. He is always willing to meet us where we are. Sometimes we think we need to do something or say something "right" in order to meet with God, but He's already with us, and willing to meet us right in the middle of our limitations and everyday life. Carlita may not remember me, but I will never forget her or the blessing she is just by being herself.

Michael: Although I wasn't sure about my expectations as we drove to the home for disabled orphans today, I don't think I was prepared for what I did see.  I wasn't prepared for just "how disabled" these children were.  Most were in wheel chairs and many seemed to be oblivious to the world around them.   I was at a loss as to how to connect with them on any level as their verbal communication abilities were minimal at best.  I tried different ways to speak with them with little to no response in return.  Feeling lost and a bit discouraged I prayed that the Lord would show me how to have some impact on this child's life, if but for a brief moment.  I then wandered to the craft table, grabbed some stickers and attempted to show one child, who was alone in a corner, how to place them onto a sheet paper.  The young boy quickly made eye contact with me and gestured, in his own distinctive way that he liked the activity and wanted to do it again...and again...and again.  I was eager to oblige as God had shown me a way to make a connection with him.  As satisfying as this was, I was also struck by how limited our "connection" had to be, at least in that moment.  I was filled with deep appreciation that my own two daughters are of such able body and mind.  So thankful.

Going Door to Door

Blog post written by Lexi Ramos
Junior, Crean Lutheran High School

This afternoon we visited an impoverished community in Northern El Salvador (near the border of Guatemala).  We were humbled to bring gifts of rice, beans and Bibles.  I loved that we were able to meet both physical and spiritual needs.  I was really surprised how welcoming the people were. Everyone was extremely hospitable and they went above and beyond to invite us into their hearts and homes.  We asked each family if they had any specific prayer needs.  One woman had just had a baby girl, Andrea. I got to pray for Baby Andrea and bless their home.  It honestly felt kind of scary to "bless a home" (I'd never done that before).  But once I started praying I felt like God was giving me His words and it was a very memorable experience.   I loved that the visits were so personal and we were able to enter into homes to see how people in El Salvador live.  It was definitely one of my favorite parts of the trip so far.

A Sweet Reunion with the Hernandez Family

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Today we had the privilege of visiting Oswaldo and Irma Hernandez and their precious three boys. They are an incredible family who have earned a very special place in my heart.  In the summer of 2013 our team from The Village Church of Irvine built a concrete home for the family.  Last month our team returned (due to the generous donation of previous team members) to help with the addition of a kitchen, bathroom, living room and electricity.  To read more about our previous trips with the family, click here.  The Hernandez family has faced tremendous challenges of unemployment, poverty, and the tragic loss of their son Eric to cancer last year.  They have unbelievable faith despite the pain they have endured and are truly an inspiration to all of our teams.  It was such a blessing to present them with gifts of photos from the last trip, stuffed animals and rice and beans.

When we told the family that we would be visiting their community to deliver rice, beans and Bibles, they immediately wanted to join us.  We squeezed their family onto the bus and our hearts filled with joy as we listened to their boys singing Bible songs through the rugged streets of Ahuachapan.  Irma joined my group and was a tremendous gift as we visited and prayed for families.  "Coincidentally" Irma was able to visit a close friend who had just had a baby.  She had been trying to figure out how to travel to their home for some time and was so thrilled to be there.  Once again we were able to witness a miracle in the life of the Hernandez family as she held the baby for the first time.

Oswaldo works for Sus Hijos in the construction of concrete homes.  Please pray for the finances that are currently needed to continue building homes.  Concrete homes cost $3500.  There are currently no funds available but there are many families desperately in need of homes.  Pray that God continues to provide income for the Hernandez family and pray that waiting families are able to trust God in their current living conditions.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Basketball and Best Friends

Blog post written by Alyssa Rikimaru
Senior, Crean Lutheran High School

Today was filled with lots of physical activity and excitement.  After going to a boys orphanage, our team had the amazing opportunity to visit an all girls orphanage.  When we arrived the director told us that the girls couldn't wait to meet us and play basketball.  We were so excited!  When the younger girls first saw us, they immediately jumped out of their seats and ran to greet us.  Their reactions were so welcoming and brought smiles to our faces!

We were able to give each girl a stuffed animal with the donations that we brought.  Some team members hung out with the little girls making pictures, beaded jewelry and even giving piggy back rides.  Jenni handed out quinceanera photos and shared the videos with the girls that participated in the quinceanera two weeks ago.

I was so excited to get to play basketball with the older girls.  While many of them were hesitant to join our game in the beginning, several girls couldn't wait to play.  My team consisted of the girls from Crean and four girls from the orphanage.  While some girls were tired after the first game, there were two very athletic girls who never backed down and brought their full effort to each game.  It was so neat to see how happy they were to play with us.  They were really involved and practically controlled the court!  With each point they scored, their faces lit up as we gave them high fives.

At the end of our games we were able to share with the girls.  I introduced the Crean basketball team and Kathy, one of the missionaries, shared her testimony.  She led the girls in a powerful prayer time and many girls were emotional as they responded in prayer.

I was deeply touched when one of the girls approached Lilly, one of our translators, and asked her to gather our basketball team.  She wanted to thank us for spending time with them.  It wasn't just a quick, simple "gracias."  It was a genuine declaration of thanksgiving and appreciation.  She told us that she would pray for each of us to have blessed lives and kept expressing how much she enjoyed playing with us.   She said that we were like "best friends" to them.  After having such a great time playing basketball with the girls I couldn't have imagined that the day could go any better.   But her kind, thoughtful words were an unexpected ending to an incredible day. 

It was obvious that the girls had as much as fun as we did because it took forever to say goodbye.Our leaders had to repeatedly ask us to leave.   Three of the girls who played with us even walked me and Lisa all the way to the exit (along a different corridor).  We finally parted ways, but not until one of the girls taught Lisa to say, "Tengas un lindo dia" (which means "Have a beautiful day").  She truly made our day beautiful and we will never forget her.

A Divine Appointment

Blog post written by Stephen Keenan
Graduate, Brethren Christian High School
4th time serving in El Salvador

This morning we visited an all boys center.  As soon as we got there we took a tour of the whole property.  It's one of the biggest centers in El Salvador and can house up to 500 boys.  However, there were only about 30 boys in the center at this time.   We were told that the center may be housing hundreds of children in the future who are currently being detained at the US border.  After the tour we gathered all of the boys to start our basketball clinic.  The boys seemed to have a pretty good time although they were a little shy at first.  Most of them started off playing basketball, but being from El Salvador they gravitated toward the soccer field.

As I was playing basketball I was called over to what I discovered was a divine appointment.  One of the girls who participated in the quinceanera has recently returned to her family.  It turned out that she attends the school right next to the soccer field and one of the missionaries recognized her on her break.  I had escorted her on the night of the quinceanera (see below) and she was excited to see me.  We learned that she is having a hard time and were relieved that one of the missionary families will be able to follow up and spend time with her later this week.  She was overjoyed to see all of the pictures and videos from the quinceanera and still seemed to be glowing with excitement from the event.  She told us that she still had her dress and was "enchanted" by the entire experience.  We were amazed that God brought us together for such a divine appointment!   We never expected to run into a girl from the quinceanera at a boys' orphanage!

After the sports clinics we gathered the boys together for some testimonies.  Jenni asked me to share my testimony about growing up without a dad.  I encouraged the boys to study, work hard, trust in God and not be victimized by their pasts or current situations.  I'm not sure if what I shared sunk in with any of the boys or meant anything.  But if it affected even one person, it was well worth it.  Michael, a psychologist on our team, also spoke about dealing with trauma.  He challenged the boys to invite Jesus into their hearts as they work through their pasts and trust God for their future.

Our hearts were full as we hopped into Kurt's truck and headed to lunch.  We couldn't stop talking about the divine appointment that we had just experienced and I was humbled by the opportunity that God gave me to speak truth and hope to the boys.   

Dirty Hands

Blog post written by Maribeth Miller

I am sitting under a tin roof listening to the symphony of the rain droops on the roof. Can I say that I love being in Latin America! I am an Missionary Kid (MK) from Argentina. So I have grown up helping out with short term missions trips and LOVE every minute of it. This is the first time that I have been in El Salvador. It is a beautiful country but what has been even more meaningful is the peoples' love and passion for the Lord. Last night we had the privilege of making food and going out to serve the homeless. I have never actually fed the homeless before because it is too dangerous to do so in Argentina. I was excited and had prayed a lot that the Lord would allow me to see these people with his eyes.

The first step of this process was to make a big assembly line. I must say that they had a great system going. We prepared sandwiches and included a bag of cookies, chips, an apple, a juice box and a Bible verse. We quickly prepared around 144 meals. We then all loaded up in the back of the truck, prayed and we were off. It was so incredible to see the beautiful city at night.  The whole experience truly was amazing. We stopped at many places that Kurt (the missionary host) knew by heart.  It was almost unreal how people would "magically" appear from the dark corners at the vibration of the truck. My job for the first part was passing out hygiene products (Yes, I am a nurse and washing my hands is crucial to my existence). Little did I know that the Lord was going to teach me a big lesson tonight.

At the second stop I handed out a bag of food to a man who thanked me and I could see how his hungry belly was so thankful because his eyes sparkled in the night reflection. He then did something that I did not expect. He held out his dirty hand to me. As a nurse I knew that his hand would not be clean by any stretch of the imagination and I did not want to think of all the germs that he had. I held back my hand for a second but then the Holy Spirit came upon my heart and said "Maribeth, he is my child and I love him. Do the same." "Ok Lord" I smiled, held out my hand and said "Muchas bendiciones" (which means many blessings).

After we started again God really brought conviction to my heart.  Another heart breaking experience was to see a little girl approaching the truck.  I was not prepared to see such little children on the street.  God spoke to me and reminded me that these are his children.   He loves them and wants me to love them like real humans as well. So many times we only want to take our Christianity to our "clean,  air conditioned churches" but we are really missing out of the kingdom mentality and loving HIS forgotten people.  We often only want to touch the world with our sterile gloves with hand sanitizer clipped to our backpacks. Yet we are afraid to touch the dirt of the world. But this is what we are called to do. So, let's take off the sterile gloves and start loving our world and get our HANDS DIRTY!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

My first time visiting an orphanage

Blog post written by Lisa Yamashita
Crean Lutheran HS Graduate
Japanese exchange student

This is my first time going on a missions trip and my first time visiting an orphanage.  I didn't know what to expect as we arrived at the orphanage and was really surprised that the kids were so happy. They jumped around when they saw us, hugging us, pulling our hands and welcomed us as though we were celebrities.  In one room the kids were screaming and jumping up and down at our arrival. I felt like I had already accomplished something just watching the children rejoicing at our presence even though we just arrived.   

Our main activity this afternoon was to host a softball game.  As soon as we got to the field, Jenni sat down with pictures to give away of the girls from the quinceanera.   The girls surrounded her and were shouting, laughing and giggling as they saw their pictures in their gowns for the first time. It was almost like a mob since they were reaching, grabbing and screaming, "That's me!  That's my photo!"  I couldn't help myself asking Jenni if I could take pictures of all the girls gathering around her with smiles on their faces. 

Hanging out with the kids, I was really regretting that I did not take any Spanish classes in my high school years.  The children came to me full of smiles and spoke to me with excitement but I could neither understand nor answer them. It frustrated me so much because I felt like I wasn't helping them or answering to their needs. But they weren't frustrated at all.  The two girls on the first picture above gave little gifts of flowers to me.  I never expected anything from them.  I just thought we were the ones going to help them by doing sports and giving donations.   Of course we did those things but they gave us wonderful gifts - their smiles, joy, and perspective.  And those can never be better than material things.  Of course I was really happy to get flowers from them but the joy and hope that they gave to me and other members of the team were more important.  

During the sports activities some of the team members looked at photos and videos from the quinceanera with the teen girls, babysat their babies and even painted nails.  As you'll see below, our team members offered to paint the girls' nails but also had their nails painted.  One team member had her nails painted three times with three different colors!

We ended the day by sharing a little bit about our team, promising to return on Wednesday and singing a fun Spanish song with the kids.  One of our team members, Maribeth, grew up in a missionary family in Argentina.  She told her story of growing up as a missionary, moving to the US to become a nurse and talked about how her faith is the most important thing in her life.   The kids loved learning her Spanish song and listening to her Argentinian accent.  We can't wait to go back to the center again later this week.

As we ended our day today, I was reminded of a quote that has become more real to me on this trip:

"The most important things in life aren't things."- Anthony J. D'Angelo