Saturday, July 4, 2015

4th of July in El Salvador

Blog post by Jenni Ramsey

Sus Hijos never ceases to amaze me in the way in which they are reaching out to the people of El Salvador.  Today Sus Hijos hosted a Fourth of July celebration in a busy plaza square, located in the center of town.  The purpose of the event was to reach out to the community and face painting, nail painting, balloons, popcorn and snow cones were given away at no cost.  Bibles and gospel tracts were distributed as well.  It was awesome to see skaters and groups of young people participating in the event and hearing the gospel.

The party also included a car show and photos with famous characters, including Spiderman, Captain America and Elsa, from Frozen.  It was such a blessing to laugh and serve alongside team members and missionaries that have grown so dear to my heart.  Happy Fourth of July to my homeland, the United States of America!

Re-entry and Rest

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Yesterday the Village Church team spent their final day processing all that the Lord has done this week at a beautiful beach home.  After a short shopping spree at a souvenir market, we did our re-entry training on the bus ride and shared highlights from the week.  Each team member had been given a scripture to memorize.  The scriptures focused on God's heart for orphans and his call to take the Gospel to the broken hearted. It was powerful to hear each team member share their verse and the personal impact that it had on them this week.  We were especially touched when our youngest team member, Ryan Youd (age 10), shared his heart and quoted scripture with passion from the back of the bus. That boy can preach!

The team was blessed with a beautiful day of rest and refreshment on the sandy beaches of El Salvador, where team members journaled, prayed for one another and prayed over our translators and ministry partners.  Kurt Ackermann, the founder of Sus Hijos, shared his inspirational testimony of his faith, his call to ministry in El Salvador and the joys and struggles that his family has faced on the mission field.  The team was honored to pray over Kurt and Sus Hijos before watching the sunset over gorgeous the Pacific Ocean.

We spent the evening enjoying a traditional pupusa dinner and live mariachi music.  They were many tearful good byes as the team thanked the Sus Hijos ministry staff for an incredible week of ministry.  My heart was grieved to say good bye to Mike and Aidan but I'm so thankful that Jordan and I have the opportunity to serve for another week.  The Young Women of Vision team is already at LAX, preparing to board their flight for El Salvador.  We have seen God move in unbelievable ways as we've been preparing for the quinceanera next week.  Please pray for the Village Church team members as they experience re-entry and culture shock this week.  Pray for the Young Women of Vision team as they land tonight and prepare for a life changing week serving the "least of these" in El Salvador.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Building for the Hernandez Family

Blog post written by Geoff Youd

Geoff was moved to write a letter to the Hernandez family today and we have chosen it for a blogpost. It will be translated into Spanish and delivered to their home this week.  The Crean Lutheran High School team will be completing and dedicating the home at the end of July and I can't wait to be there to praise God along with the Hernandez family. - Jenni Ramsey

Dear Miguel,

This past week my son Ryan and I had the pleasure of contributing to the work on your house.  When our team was first introduced to your family and you told us that you were 38 years old, I instantly felt a connection because I too am 38 and have 3 children.  My wife and I have three boys, Ryan (who was with me on this trip), age 10, Eli, age 6, and Owen, age 3.

I wanted to write to you to tell you how much you impressed me as a husband and father.  Even though the language barrier and frantic work schedule kept us from having a conversation, I learned many things about you while watching you over the past two days.  The way you smiled so proudly when we were introduced to your wife and daughters showed me how deep your love is for them.  It is obvious that you are a caring man who loves and is proud of his family.  The stories told to me by Kurt and the others about your work about Casa De Mi Padre orphanage, how you've worked there faithfully for many years and how you ride the bus for several hours each day, showed me that you are a faithful man who puts the needs of others before yourself.  The way you worked tirelessly, putting up with our unskilled labor and showing us the proper ways to dig a trench, lay a foundation, or begin a block wall, showed me that you are a hardworking man who will persevere through whatever difficulties you may face in life.

You may think that the team from the United States and Sus Hijos were a blessing to you and your family, and by God's grace, I hope we were.  But you were truly a blessing to me.  As I return to California, I will take back with me the beautiful example of a father, husband, and man of God that you showed us all.  I pray that as God blesses you in your new home you will continue to bless and serve your family, those with whom you work and your community.  Thank you for inviting us into your home and for giving us the opportunity to serve you.

Sincerely,  Geoff Youd

At the end of our building project, the team had the opportunity to deliver food and Bibles to the community that surrounds the Hernandez family home.  Team members had the privilege to pray for families and were amazed by the warmth and hospitality that they received at every home.  Please pray for the Hernandez family as Sus Hijos continues to work at the homesite.  We learned that the oldest daughter, Jennifer, will turn fifteen next week and were thrilled to invite her and the entire family to attend the quinceanera that our second team is throwing next week.  I look forward to seeing this precious family all dressed up for the celebration! - Jenni

Dancing with the Stars

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

"Let them praise his name with dancing." - Psalm 149:3

One of my favorite things to do in El Salvador is to visit the San Martin special needs adults center. As our bus pulled into the facility this morning, we were greeted by residents who were grinning from ear to ear and begging to dance.  The team received a tour of the facility, where they were met with hugs, kisses and shouts of glee.   We eventually moved to the grass area where team members interacted with the residents, played soccer and danced, danced, and danced!

It's hard to describe what it feels like to experience the pure joy of dancing at San Martin.  The residents live simple lives with childlike faith.  Their disabilities range from minor to extreme, and it is comforting to know that they are well cared for in this government run facility.  Sus Hijos has supported this center in significant ways, and recently provided desperately needed new mattresses for many of the residents.  I was invited to dance with the residents over and over again and loved every moment.  The scorching ninety degree sun was intense, but I wouldn't have traded anything for those sweet moments of exuberance.  The song repertoire ranged from Michael Jackson to Spanish pop songs and line dances and the residents loved each and every one.  What a day!

One of the highlights of my day was spending time with Sandra, a precious, young woman who has experienced horrific trauma in her life.  I met Sandra three years ago and her story pierced my soul. Last year Sandra was moved to the San Martin home, where she is thriving.  Her smile is absolutely contagious.  The team from Crean Lutheran High School will be throwing a quinceanera for the special needs women on July 28 and my heart beats in anticipation of picking a gown for Carla and dancing the night away in her arms!

In the United States, people often receive recognition for their outward appearances, and the inward beauty is often overlooked.  The residents of San Martin are in no way glamorous by the world's standards.  But they are some of the most beautiful people that I have ever encountered. Their affection, gratitude and love envelopes me. They are my "Dancing with the Stars" winners and I will never forget them.  

"The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." - Psalm 34:18

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Building Their House on a Firm Foundation

Blog post by Mike Langdon

Our team set out early Tuesday morning to the beach town of La Libertad, which is about an hour outside of San Salvador. We were anxious with anticipation in meeting the Hernandez family of five (including three precious girls ages 14, 11 & 5) and building them a 20'x20' solid and secure concrete house, a new home. Their current house is a wood slat shack that has poor insulation, subject to rot in the sub-tropic environment and does not compare in stability to the concrete block construction. Our team would be building this three room home from foundation to the peak of its roof.

I did not realize the time it would take for the entire team to be invested in the digging and preparing of 1-meter deep, four-sided 'footings' of the house. Over the first four hours in 90F+ temperatures (and equal humidity), our team of 20+ motivated & unified missionaries & translators dug and removed by shovel & bucket brigade over a ton of dirt and rock from the construction site. Meanwhile, another dozen team members cut, bent, twisted and wrapped rebar with hand tools to manufacture the cages that would be placed in the bottom of the footings. Trenches deep enough and laid with meticulous detail, the foundation was ready now for the loads of mixed concrete to be wheel-barrowed and poured into the footings - the key component of any structure's solid construction if it is made to last for any duration.

Jesus himself used the analogy of the importance of a home's foundation in demonstration of of the parable of the wise and foolish builder. In Luke, chapter 6, he is quoted, "Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when the flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it."  We heard this verse used on Sunday morning at Iglesia Monte Calvario. The pastor was using it as reference to standing on the rock of God's Word in spite of the commotion and upheaval of our culture. Only through a firm foundation in Christ and the Bible will we be able to stand fast during the storms of life that will be upon us.

A few times through the hot day, I watched Mrs. Hernandez in the doorway of the wood shack, her daughters leaning on her, all intent on watching us and all the activity right outside their door. Although they were smiling and readily engaging our workers, I was wondering if ever they might be anxious about the actual job we were doing for them: would the new house be a home in which they would be proud? Did these people really care about the quality of their work? Would the walls and roof of the home contain a safe place for many years of storms and earthquakes (a pretty regular occurrence in El Salvador)?

Oh the importance of the foundation - the foundation for our life or for a small family's home. I am confident in the diligent work our team did for the Hernandez's home foundation. Let the picture of those deep concrete footings be a ready picture on how we can and should rely on Jesus and His Word for our lives.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Serving Alongside Friends

Blog post written by Jenni Ramsey

Our team this week is very dear to my heart for many reasons.  Not only do we have many returning team members and leaders from The Village Church of Irvine.  We also have two incredible families from our neighborhood in Irvine whose kids are close friends with our boys. It's been a dream come true for Jordan and Aidan to serve alongside their buddies in El Salvador this week.

In addition, our lifelong friends, Guido and Julien Hajenius, are serving with our team.  Guido's wife, Katie, is one of my best friends from college and we've supported each other through our weddings, the birth of our children and years of life and ministry.  Katie and Guido's son, Julien, is one of Aidan's best friends as well.  Guido serves with iEmpathize, an organization that seeks to eradicate child exploitation, engage the culture and empower kids.  To learn more about iEmpathize, click here.

This week Guido has been given four opportunities to present his materials on sexual exploitation, empathy and empowerment.  His presentation connects the hope of the Gospel with practical tools that empower young people to make the right choices.  Sadly, the majority of the children that we serve in El Salvador have experienced extreme trauma and abuse.  They are desperate for healing and Guido's presentation has given them incredible tools for their futures.  Mike and I have loved partnering with the Hajenius family and iEmpathize for many years and it's truly a gift to serve together in Central America.  My heart has been overflowing as I've watched the Lord use both Guido and Julien over and over again this week.

Serving the Homeless on the Streets of San Salvador

Blog post written by Sammie Evans

On Sunday evening our team had their first experience feeding the homeless.  We set up the assembly line and filled the bags with sandwiches, chips, apples, juice and cookies.  I was on this trip last year and will be spending 5 weeks in El Salvador this summer.  Feeding the homeless on the streets of San Salvador is always emotional and tonight was no different. We see many things while out feeding on the streets.  On Sunday night we saw kids sniffing glue to ease the hunger and take away the pain.  It was heart wrenching.  We also saw prostitutes, cross-dressers and many small children, including babies.  It was devastating to encounter a young, pregnant woman living on the streets as well. I thought that I would know what to expect since I've done this before, but it wasn't any less painful or heart breaking.

We handed out bags in one particular area and one man wanted to thank me personally.  He reached out to shake my hand along with a few others, so I shook it respectfully.  We have been talking every day about the power of touch in serving others.  It was hard to see such beautiful people living in such horrible living conditions. Sus Hijos feeds the homeless community regularly, but my heart just wants to keep giving them more.  

We also had the opportunity to feed the homeless on Monday. We headed to a different area, where we once again encountered broken people.  I love the fact that Sus Hijos doesn't discriminate with who they feed.  The meals are distributed to everyone who has a need, whether they are on drugs, inebriated or "ladies of the night."  Jesus touched and healed the lepers and prostitutes that came to him, so we do the same.  

One moment stood out to me while serving on the streets.  After handing a gentleman a bag of food,  I was expecting a "gracias," but received something completely different.   The man looked me in the eye and began to speak in perfect English.  He said, "Thank you, I love your country!" I was shocked.  Because I was so shocked, all I could think to say back was a simple, "Thank you."  As we drove off, he shouted, "I love your country!"  I have been so blessed to feed the "least of these" these past two nights and look forward to serving this community again on Thursday evening.