Monday, March 3, 2008

Saturday, March 1

Home Safely!!
We arrived back in Indianapolis around 11pm Saturday evening after a day of travel. The time was well spent with plenty of sharing between us while in airports and airplanes and, can you believe, even some last minute shopping.
We are thankful to God for the work He did this week and for safety. As we head back to our 'normal lives', we go back with a new perspective. Now when we sing 'all God's people' a much broader view is very real as we see the faces of:
* the economically very poor,
* those without loving earthly families,
* the physically sick,
* the gang members,
* the deaf,
* the prisoners.
And in those faces, where Jesus is in their hearts. we see the greatest of all wealth, peace, and rest.

Most call what we did this past week a mission trip, and it was. However, when we are reliant upon and resting in God, we are ALWAYS on a mission trip ordained by God.
John 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.

Thank-you for your prayers!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Friday, February 29

Thursday Thanks - We want to thank the hotel staff where we are staying. They keep a smile on their face while we come and go in bulk and drink bottle (the large kind) after bottle of water. The cook for breakfast is gracious and makes a great omlette! The guard is friendly and gracious.

Friday, February 29 - Today, no specific projects were planned for the group so it was a VERY different day than the others. Some went to the central market, others stayed around the hotel and visited/read. Two of our team members were sick from sun poisoning as we had been in this hot El Salvador sun for over three hours at the prison yesterday. We are ALWAYS on the mission field, whether in Indiana or El Salvador, whether there are specific projects planned or not. Here is one example from today.
As mentioned in an earlier blog, one of our team members and her family had been praying for a gang member and his family for about 15 months when they found out he had been murdered. On Wednesday, this team member was able to visit his past 'gang' family. Today this team member was able to meet his Mom and learn about his family! The same local gang social worker that went with the team on Wednesday was able to locate his mother and took our team member out to visit his Mom. Because of making this connection, a renewed relationship between this local gang social worker and the people of this village developed and they asked him to start coming back out to visit them (visits include Bible Studies). These are the types of connections that God can orchestrate!
Tonight at dinner all of us shared with the group how we grew this week or moments when God's hand was clearly visible. This was a humbling experience to realize that our almighty God who created the universe is willing to work through people like us for His will to be done. As we leave on that note for today, here is a Scripture from Job when God was answering Job:
Job 40:9 'Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?'
The entire glory goes to God...may he be magnified in everything we do.

On a cultural standpoint, there are a wide variety of road types, anywhere from six lane highways to dirt roads, just as we have in the United States. However, something that is very different is that on the four and six lane highways here in El Salvador there are periodically 'stands' set up to sell coconuts, food and other items. Then further down the road there may be about a mile of homes (concrete and tin). Somewhere further there will be 'billboard' type signs neatly painted on the rock advertising various products. AND, along these four and six lane highways people are walking and more people are walking and MORE people are walking. And then, they are running across the highway to the median and then across the other lanes of traffic to get to the other side. All of this while the drivers are pretty much driving with either their foot strongly on the gas pedal or the brake! Watch out! :)

Friday, February 29, 2008

Thursday, February 28

Wednesday Thanks - We want to thank our van drivers, Carlos and Fredy. Even though they only speak Spanish, we are really starting to communicate with them AND they keep smiling through getting lost, being late, extreme heat while they wait in the van for us to finish projects, etc. Fredy drove the paint team and helped paint and both of them enjoyed time playing with the kids at Exodo orphange. They both love God and it shows!

Thursday, February 28 - For the experience at the Marino Prison this morning, you are going to want to speak to a team member. It was remarkable in many ways and this blog cannot begin to do justice other than to give a brief insight. The Scripture passage to share today, now looking back at the day, is: Psalm 18: 1-3 I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
Here we are, a group of 21 Americans, walking through gate after gate, surrounded by prisoners and guards as we were escorted to the main open area of the Marino Prison, which houses 3500 prisoners. This open area is for the prisoners with the best behavior, and others who are allowed in for certain periods of the day and/or worship services. If you looked above the high walls with razor wire, the guard tower, the hillside with guards, and the concrete block cells the beauty of God's creation was visible with an incredible view of one magnificent mountain framed by a crystal blue sky. When your gaze drifted back down, however, the reality of life in a prison was evident. Prisoners, dressed in street clothes, were handwashing laundry and hanging it up or laying it beneath rocks to dry. Others were playing basketball, sitting individually, or standing in groups. At times, a prisoner would go walking through this entire open area shouting out the names of prisoners who had visitors waiting on them. Our first hour was spent visiting with the prisoners, either thru interpreters or speaking with those who knew English. As it is most unusual to have visitors inside the prison, they were reluctant initially to come up. However, it did not take long until there were groups surrounding us. Most of whom we spoke with were professing Christians being prisoners who were pastors (about 12 pastors within the prison), worship leaders, or others who had come to be there for the service. The moments became even more amazing as the worship service started. Tarps strung together created the shade for the band - complete with keyboard,drums, and guitars; worship leaders; and pastors. The rest of the prisoners and most of our group sat/stood in the sun for an over two hour worship service. We were surrounded by 500 men singing their hearts out in praise to God. When pastors or members of our group spoke, their attention was focused. Many had their own Bibles to look up the Scriptures in. One of our team members had a prisoner interpet the service for him into English. At times this prisoner added his own comments to what was being said which showed an understanding of the Scriptures and a need for a personal relationship with God. His comments included that when he had lived outside the prison walls, he looked to God without relying upon God. Inside the prison, he looks up and relies on God all the time as God is his strength. The Director of the Prison, a professing Christian, joined us in the worship service. As the service proceeded, the Director felt the Holy Spirit leading him to speak. His voice was humbling as he shared, among other things, that in Christ we are all brothers and sisters.
After this time of sharing, our team split into the paint crew, which went to Iglesia Jehova Provee Church to help paint the Sunday School area, and the rest of the team which went to the Hogar del Nino orphanage. We joined together for a celebratory worship service at Iglesia where Bridges of Hope, in addition to painting, supplied basic food supplies, clothing, and for the Sunday School area had paid for five windows and four children table/chair sets.
From a cultural standpoint, remember that El Salvador has one side bordering the Pacific Ocean so fishing provides some of the income to this country. One of the members of the Iglesia congregation owns a shrimp boat. It provides the income for about five families. Every two days, they take the shrimp and sell it. The day before we visited him, they had caught 3000 pounds of shrimp!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Wednesday, February 27

Tuesday Thanks - Our thanks goes to Dr. Martinez, the Bridges of Hope El Salvador Board Member, for his help in making connections prior to our arrival which supported the development of the projects we are doing.

Wednesday, February 27 - Our devotion this morning focused on reacting to what comes our way in a manner that displays our reliance upon God, not ourselves or others. In John 18, we are told how Peter had cut off the high priest's servant's right ear. Jesus' response in verse 11: Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?
Today we were in two separate groups. One group spent the entire day painting at Exodo orphanage where we had been yesterday. It was a privilege to be there and be able to see the joy in the kids AND the house parents. An example, the house mother of one unit had her kitchen painted and when she saw it for the first time her face lit up like the freshly painted kitchen! Understand how very dirty the walls were from living with windows almost always open so close to the equator with no air conditiong. Also, each house mother joyfully cooks for 10 - 15 people, every meal, 7 days a week in a galley-style kitchen with three small cabinets, one standard refigerator and standard stove, and one sink with limited stainless steel countertop! The kids were at school until early afternoon. When they arrived home, some wanted to help as we were painting in their living quarters and bedrooms. These kids were having such a great time, singing as they painted, that one team member described it as 'being in the middle of the Sound of Music Von Trapp family'!!! There was plenty of work for all of us to do and even our van driver, Fredy, helped all day. At the end of the day, there were two out playing soccer and basketball with the kids while the final touches were wrapped up. It was hard to drive away, as the kids were all over us and the van!
The other team of people visited a deaf school in the morning. With the help of interpreters, our team was able to communicate with them and see smiles and happiness appear on their faces as relationships were established, the love of God shared, and gifts presented. What an appropriate devotional verse we had this morning for these deaf children who each, at such a young age, already has their own life story to share.
Next, this group visited current gang members. Let us explain some of the culture here to help you understand. In El Salvador, it is very common that children are homeless at a very young age. As we drive, we can easily see kids that appear to be in this state. A gang member will approach them being very kind and invite them to come home with them. This provides the homeless child with what they understand to be a safe place with food and people to care for them...something they may not ever remember having before. Once they are within the gang, it is difficult for them to leave at any age, other than for their 'gang work', as they are very likely to be killed by a rival gang member, their own gang (because they left), or the police who want to eliminate the gangs. The gangs are growing in El Salvador and at most businesses, restaurants, malls, etc. there are security guards holding very large guns to protect against gang violence. As an example, the hotel we are in, has an armed security guard. The mall where we ate in the food court a few nights ago had an armed security guard in the food court. The grocery store we go to just down a few blocks from the hotel, has four armed security guards in it (remember, these are mostly BIG guns). Our group was able to go meet with a few of the gang members and some of the wives and children, as they were accompanied by a local social worker who goes weekly. There is so much detail to this gang member visit that it will be best to hear it first hand from the team members. God's hand was evident in this, as one of our team members, just months prior to coming to El Salvador learned from an acquaintance she has because of her work, of an American missionary who has been down here for 23 years who has a heart for gang members. Our team member and her family has been praying for a specific El Salvador gang member, prior to his death, and now for his family. The gang member had accepted Christ and was murdered when he left the gang. This missionary came along on this gang visit as she has a vision she believes God has given to her related to the gangs. She had never met two other local people that were with our group who also feel called to reach the gangs. God brought them together through this trip!
Finally, from a culture standpoint, we will share that if you have any heart problems, it is best you do not sit in the front seat of the vans! That helps describe how the El Salvadorans drive!!! :)
We ask for your continued prayer that God's will be done through each of us.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Tuesday, February 26

Monday´s Thanks - Thanks to a group of local interpreters who spent their day with us sharing the love of Christ through their bi-lingual capabilities. That was so appreciated by all of us!

Tuesday, February 26 - Ephesians 6: 10-11 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
Tuesday was fantastic as we kept this passage in our heart all day and felt His strength and saw His might. rather than ours, at work AND being fully aware that our enemy is the devil. We started by going back to Astoria for a medical clinic where Bridges of Hope supplied significant money for the medications and the manpower to prepare the medications for distribution as well as the manpower to distribute them. This is a bi-annual medical clinic put on by the local Christian Medical Society and it was held at the Astoria school. This school is 'open air'...I think the kids in Indiana would be easily distracted in these shools! The buildings are only one room wide so the classrooms have two open walls with a mesh over them, two concrete walls, and a roof. There are no hallways, you are simply either in a room or outside. School was out for the medical clinic as the doctors saw the patients in these rooms and a pharmacy was set up in one of them to fill prescriptions. The people were waiting outside where there were benches and chairs. It was packed! Parents and children (and dogs!!) were everywhere with stories to tell about why they were there. We talked with the people about their lives, shared our lives, and then as God gave opportunities we shared the gospel with them and prayed with them. There was Boris, a local teenager, who heard we were going to be there. Every turn I made he came by with more children who wanted to have their picture taken and then see it. By the end of the morning, he asked for two New Testaments. Others team members were talking specifically to one lady and her daughter and sharing why they came. By the end of the sharing, there were at least eight others also listening and when asked if they wanted to pray, they said, yes, and several from this group accepted Christ as their Saviour. As we were leaving the kids were clinging to us as many positive relationships had been developed with them. After singing with them and sharing the gospel, we prayed with them. There was a lot of joy in that circle.
All too soon we were off to new destinations where our team split up. One group went to Getsemani Church where the Pastor and congregation were waiting with a full service prepared to share with us to praise God. They were very welcoming and even had prepared songs in which we sang both Spanish and English and two of our team members went to the stage to help lead the singing. Others shared in front of the congregation a personal message of how God led them to come to El Salvador. At the end of the service, we passed out food supplies with them again being basic flour, sugar, beans, rice. We wish others could see the excitement they had to receive these very simple packages of food!
This team then was off to Exodo Orphange where they met the other team who was there all afternoon painting. Exodo is an orphange where children are sent by the court because they have either been abused in their homes or abandoned. The paint team definitely made a difference for these orphans as their home units were in very definite need of a new coat of paint. The money provided to this orphanage is sufficient only to keep the very basic operations going which consist of four camp style home units and also to keep food on the table. There is more painting to be done tomorrow and the painters are really glad to be able to do this for them!
The kids, well, when you see the pictures you will see that even with all of their abusive pasts, they have smiles on their faces now after being shown the love of God. Three sisters have been there for eight years (18, 16, and 14) and they shared a song with us. The others, well, suffice it to say they clung to us and were longing for some one on one attention which we gladly gave them! Among other gifts of sheet sets, towels, and Spanish New Testaments, we gave each child a baseball cap and their own personally sized bathing suit wrapped and labelled just for them. Still, the greatest gift we gave them was showering them with the love of Christ which will last much longer than any of the other material gifts.
From a culture standpoint, as we drive between poverty and luxury, just feet apart, and between a relatively modern city of almost two million and the villages of tin homes just outside the city, we understand clearly that we are all lost without God as our personal Saviour. The culture differences and economic status mean nothing. The real question individually is: Who am I living for? Self? God? It is one or the other.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Sunday Thanks - The team wishes to thank all of the local people who supported us yesterday in driving us to the different services, interpreting at the services, and all who welcomed us with warmth!

Monday, February 25 - We started the morning with devotions reviewing when God told Moses that He was sending him to Pharaoh. Remember Moses' reaction? How many times did Moses make an excuse as to why he should not be the one to go? And what did God say? Exodus 4:11 - Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. What a great lesson for us as we started our outreach is not to be our mouth or hands at work, it is to God at work! In that we can have peace!
So, how can we put into words the love, hugs, tears, and laughs we shared with our new El Salvadoran friends today? If only our computer here would let us import the pictures from our camera so you could see some of them, however, it does not have that type of connection. So here we go with just words.
First thing, we went to Blume Children´s Hospital where we split into teams to show Christ´s love to the patients and their parents. Our first instruction from the hospital administrator, who is a Christian and was in this same hospital with leukemia from which he has been cancer free for about 12 years, was to not cry. That was tough seeing the condition of many of the children and speaking with their parents. We passed out one toy OR 5 crayons and a coloring book to the children and the book of Romans to the parents as well as a bag of food supplies. It is so refreshing to see a child get excited about 5 crayons (yes, not 5 boxes of crayons but 5 crayons) and see them put them to use immediately (when they were not too sick to do so). We had individual prayers with families and group prayers with many families. We shared the gospel. Even through the language barrier the love of God was very present.
In the afternoon, we were in Astoria. This is a an area in El Salvador which is very poor. It was impacted by the earthquake when many of the homes here were destroyed. We went to the church where the community members were waiting for us and we had a service together. The church was a tin roof on a rough hewn frame with a dirt floor and plastic chairs set up for some while the rest stood. Many from our team shared in this service and expressed that we are brothers and sisters in Christ and came to share Christ´s love with them. These people sang and prayed with their hearts. They hugged and hugged and hugged some more. Their love radiated from them. After the service and time of sharing we passed out bags of food which contained flour, beans, sugar and a few other very basic items. We also passed out small soaps and lotions. They were soooo appreciative and once more we were reminded that anyone who has a personal relationship with God is not poor except from man´s view. When you do get to see pictures of their homes and one of the local dogs, you will have a much better understanding of their poverty level.
What did we see God do through us today? Without a question, share His love!
For those interested, this will help you understand the lack of zoning requirements mentioned yesterday. During the night, we had roosters crowing from tin homes that are directly across the street from the Comfort Inn. As we drive, it is very common to have independent 'stands' alongside the road with thatch roofs from which coconuts or other items are being sold.
Enough for today. Please pray for God to use us in mighty ways for His glory.


Yesterday Thanks - A big thank-you from the team for our two drivers, Jim and Larry, who were up and taking us to the airport at 3:30am and to Pastor Danny who came also at 3:30 am to send us on our way!!

Sunday, February 24 - Today we met many local people who love God! This morning our team attended Centro Internacional de Alabanza for a worship service. In English that means the international center of worship. It was a spirit filled service with singing, praise, and the message. This congregation has a focus on 'Hacia una fe centrada en Cristo' which means 'toward faith centered in Christ'. The message (in Spanish with an interpreter) was on faith with the foundational conclusion that we are Not able...God IS able. What a message for our team this week in El Salvador! One of the Bible verses read and spoken about was Galatians 2:20 - I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live: yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live inthe flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

Our luggage arrived safely...even an extra piece that was not ours! This allowed us to spend the afternoon sorting the supplies the team brought along for the various projects. The supplies are now labelled by project and day so when we are ready to leave, it is easy to bring the correct supplies for the day.

Sunday evening we had a Dedication and Communion Service in another local congregation where our service was lead by the Bridges of Hope International Team Leaders who are here with us this week as well as the local pastor of the congregation. This was an opportunity for each of us to continue our personal commitment of our lives to God knowing that He is the one to be at work, not us.

Our accomodations - nice. We are staying in a modern Comfort Inn with air conditioning, tv, a business center with internet connections, and a really good breakfast in the mornings. We pretty much stay at the Comfort Inn or walk together to a market very close, although a group ventured just slightly farther to get King-sized Cokes yesterday from a Burger King. When we go out, we go together in two vans with local drivers. The area around us is mixed as there do not appear to be zoning regulations here as we have in the US.

Geographically, El Salvador is in Central America and is about the size of New Jersey and has a total population of 6 million people. San Salvador, where we are at, is the largest city with approximately 1.8 million people. El Salvador had much damage from a hurricane in 1998 and an earthquake in 2000.

Our 'on the road' projects begin Monday. Thank-you for your continued prayers!