El Salvador

El Salvador

Saturday, November 9, 2019

The One With The Finale

Today was our last day in San Vicente, and thus brought the ending of many relationships built throughout the week. It was a day to see the effects of our labour, the strength of the relationships we built, and the dedication of our teammates.

The day started the same as the others, another breakfast of eggs and a devotional given by one of our team members. Today Josh gave the devotional, and despite not knowing it was his day to share, it impacted many of our team members. We were reminded of our responsibilities having witnessed the blessings and miracles that happened this week. We have all been given so much perspective and passion in these past seven days, and Josh challenged us to consider what this will mean when we return to our lives in Canada.

As this was our last day in San Vicente, we also got to celebrate the key-giving ceremony and reconnect with the families who received houses this week. Upon arriving at the site of the ceremony it was surprising to see only a couple of families waiting for us. However, we didn’t have to wait long before familiar faces arrived from every direction, and the atmosphere was soon filled with scintillating joy and laughter as we got to see all the families again. As happy as we were to see them all again, they may have been even more happy to see us. Everywhere you looked Salvadorians were approaching us Canadians, giving gifts and hugs, and even requesting interpreters to exchange heartfelt words. We were all given the opportunity to present a family with a Bible, personalized verse, and the keys to their new home. The amount of gratitude and pure joy the families displayed reassured our mission of coming, and is why many of us continue to come back year after year. A powerful sermon and worship session reminded us that none of this would be possible without God.

Another highlight of our day was helping with the kid’s ministry that ran during part of the key-giving ceremony. Children who had received houses this week walked hand in hand to where our interpreters (and Greg) had prepared fun worship songs for them. Our translator, Miguel, then shared the story of Jesus with them, using such animated visuals that not only was every child captivated, even those who do not understand Spanish knew the good news he was sharing with them. As all the kids marched back to the ceremony in a line, there was an overwhelming sense that they were marching to a future with a roof that doesn’t leak and a steppingstone to building a relationship with Christ.

Finally, we ended our day with a trip to the clock tower with our shelter teammates and their families. Over the course of the week we built such strong relationships with them, and having their families welcome us with open arms made us feel less like a team of individuals and more like one big family. For a lot of us, saying goodbye to this new family at the end of the day was very difficult. We knew this time would eventually come, but we couldn’t be prepared for how close we had became. We all look forward to when we will return and get to see them again.

Today brought with it endings and goodbyes, but also new beginnings for 36 deserving families. As we sit here attempting to write a conclusive paragraph at the end of this amazing week, we are at a literal loss for words. God has done so much beyond what any of us could have expected.

Good week, great week, had a great time.

Renee Smith and Isabel Song. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

A Change in Perspective by Mark Ewert

How did your day start today?
Did you wake up in a soft bed under a roof that kept out the wind and rain?  When you took a few short steps to the bathroom and turned on the tap did clean, drinkable water come out?  Did you open a fridge or cupboard filled with food and select what you wanted for breakfast?  Did you hit the drive through on the way to work and grab a Tim’s coffee?  If you did, was the cost of that coffee 1/3 of a day’s wage? (1/2 a days if it was Starbucks).  Did the thought cross your mind on the way to work that your safety might be an issue?
If everything above (and more) was a daily struggle for you, if many of life’s most basic needs were often out of reach, could you sit across from someone and genuinely tell them you were so thankful for everything God had given you?  That is what I have seen every day this week.  That’s what every person on this team has seen when we have taken the time to sit and talk with the families we have been building houses for.  Yes, we have absolutely heard about their struggles when we ask, as they tearfully tell us how this new house will drastically improve their lives and open new opportunities.  It's just that they tell us with a sense of gratitude and thankfulness for what they DO have, for the relationships in their lives and for the blessings they have received.  Shouldn’t they be filled with bitterness because their lives lack the abundant material accoutrements we have in Canada?  We complain when our big screen TVs won't stream Netflix fast enough.  Shouldn’t they be complaining they don’t even have the electricity that would operate a TV?
They don’t.  And it is so, very, humbling.
Today our team went to one of the Compassion Centers where many of us met with the children we sponsor through Compassion's program.  It was the second time I would meet 10 year old Anthony and his grandmother, but it was the first time I was meeting his little sister Sugey (age 4) who we are now also sponsoring through the program.  When we entered the room where all the kids were waiting to surprise us, I initially couldn’t find them.  As I scanned through the sea of people searching, I was suddenly struck from the side as a pair of small arms wrapped around my waist in a tight hug.  I looked down to see Anthony and was then immediately embraced by his grandmother and his little sister.
Through the day we had a great mix of planned activities as well as time I could just sit with the family to talk.  I was again faced with the same attitude of gratefulness as they explained how the sponsorship was improving their access to health care, positive role models and spiritual guidance for the kids, educational benefits and hope for the future.  Being part of Compassion's program is definitely helping them, but life is still a challenge.  Still, their main question for me was that they wanted to know what they could pray about that would help me in my life.
That evening as our team sat together for our daily debrief others shared very similar stories with some of the younger team members explaining how the experience has changed the way they view priorities in life.  Sometimes people ask me why I bother getting on an airplane to go on trips like these instead of just sending money.  They don’t get it.  They need to come here to see for themselves.  We live in a country rich with blessings but it often feels like we have lost our way.
I sometimes wonder if I spent 51 weeks preparing for this trip or if this 1 week trip is preparing us for the 51 weeks back home.
by Mark Ewert

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

The One Where we Finished the Homes

Today was our last build day which was super tough for everybody because it was the last time we got to see our build team and the community members who have worked so hard the past 3 days. Our builders were yet again, amazing. They flew through the builds today and I have to say that today was the hottest day I think. Rhonda and I worked with Tío (uncle) Jose, the man we built for and his mom yesterday afternoon (I became the 18th honorary grandchild so now I call Jose, Tío). We worked so well together, I enjoyed it very much. As Jose got the hang of drilling holes into the black bars for the windows, I also started to drill holes to help get them finished quicker with Henry, it can also drain a lot out of you so I figured two was better than one. 

Our first house was for a 20 year old woman, Jocelyn and her 6 month old daughter,  Alexa. Her family lives in the home next to her but she is excited for her own home and privacy to raise her daughter in. She is also excited to have her own things and this home will give her a chance to work and provide for her daughter. Her and I have so much in common so it was really awesome to be able to sit in and meet with her and see how our lives were similar and be able to relate to her. She finished high school studying healthcare and she would like to hopefully work in a pharmacy or home. Her family is what brings her happiness, she loves spending time with them and being together. 

We began our second home before lunch again today which was incredible, we have been blessed with such dedicated and hard working people on our team. They were so involved that there wasn’t much for us to do! We had to go to them and ask them to let us do some work, which they were happy to do and they would stay with us while we worked on our projects. This home was being built for a lovely elderly couple, Maria and Antonio who have been together for 45 years. They had 10 children, 2 have passed away and 16 grandchildren. They all live very close and they get to see them almost everyday. They have waited 20 years for this home and to be safe and dry. Before we even really got into the interview they told us how happy they are we have come and they will take care of us while we were there. All they want now is more life to spend time with their children and grandchildren and to see them grow. 

If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in all the interviews is that when we ask what brings them joy and happiness, it’s their time with their families. It really puts into perspective what is truly important in life. Back home I find we look for happiness in things, money, and having more material items. If we get x it will make us happy. We have asked these families what their struggles and challenges are and some honestly can’t think of things or it’s that they wish they had more time. It blows my mind that their situations are beyond comprehension to us and we have so much mostly just handed to us but if someone were to ask our struggles, I’m sure we could name a list of things. Our issues are so minuscule in the grand scheme of things, not to say we don’t struggle nor have our own personal challenges but it’s really eye opening and makes you take a step back and really think about things and what’s really important and worth worrying and stressing over. 

It’s really crazy to me that this is day four and the connections and the relationships that have been formed have been incredible. Everyday they continue to deepen and we become closer and stronger together whether it’s within our team or if it’s with our Shelter and community team. I came here knowing two people out of 25 (not including myself) and I am fortunate enough to say that I have been building individual relationships with everyone since being here. I did not think I would come out of my shell this quickly and especially with everyone but here we are. I am learning from everybody daily, whether they know it or not. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Challenging and Rewarding Day

                Tuesday was an eventful second day of building completed with the growing of relationships, touching interviews, and challenging builds that all together brought us closer as a team. Looking back on the day and writing this after our team’s nightly debrief, I don’t think a single person on this trip will be going to bed tonight without an impactful memory to meditate on. God’s love and the good he can do in life’s hard situations were truly visible today.
                The day started off with a fitting devotional from Henry, calling us all to use our unique gifts to be the body of Christ. This devotional stuck with my build team in particular, as we were faced with two very challenging builds on small lots under El Salvador’s blazing sun. It was incredible watching my team rise to the occasion, as members took up the roles of leaders or teammates eager to learn and help wherever they could. Despite the intimidating first impressions of the build sites, there was always a sense of calm that the homes would get built and everything would work out. In the end after some creative alterations to the build plans, 12 more homes were built today, and 12 family’s lives have been made a whole lot better.
                My favourite part of trips to El Salvador are the interviews we get to do with the families we build for. It is a truly unique experience to get to sit down with these amazing people to hear their stories. On my second build I got to interview an 86 year old woman who shared her struggles of not having a house. After her home was burnt down in the civil war, and again fell in the earthquake in 2001, she has been waiting for a house for 36 years! It definitely felt like we were the answer to many years of prayer, and she was incredibly grateful. Other teams shared their day’s impactful interviews at debrief, and each one breaks your heart a bit more than the last. Stories were shared of a man who lost his leg in the civil war, of an 18 year old losing his father and having to support his family, and of teenagers (some even younger than me) married and struggling to support their children. It makes us feel incredibly grateful for the lives we have in Canada, and that God has allowed us to do something to help these deserving people. While we know the provision of housing will massively help these families, there is still an overwhelming feeling of wishing we could do more. After building relationships with the people receiving houses, it is really difficult knowing the harsh impacts poverty has on the country of El Salvador.
                One thing that stuck with me today was that every family I interviewed both attends church faithfully and has a strong connection with Christ. I am reminded of the verse Genesis 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” I know that the houses built today are just the start of what God has in store for these families, and their difficult stories were all intended for a greater purpose. Today was challenging but also rewarding in so many ways, and I am looking forward to all that is yet to come this week.

written by Isabel Song

Monday, November 4, 2019

Building Hope

Here we are, day two of our trip and it was nothing short of incredible. Today was the start of our home building and everyone was bright eyed and bushy tailed this morning, ready to go and work.
When we got to the build site, Dan led us in a moving devotional which you could tell really touched everyone and started us out in a positive light. We broke into our build teams and scattered away off to our sites where we got to see the family we were building for, our builders and the community members who came together to lend a helping hand. It was truly incredible to see everyone working together so wonderfully with such unity and passion. Everyone is so hard working and dedicated, despite the blazing sun making it difficult at times but as Arie said, it’s better than snow! As the men on our site began to dig, our translator, Patricia, came to Rhonda and I to see if we would like to help Wendy, the mother of 3 receiving a home, serve breakfast to the team! Of course we did, and it was an excellent way to begin a relationship with Wendy and even the team in such a simple way (it was also really fun).
This is my first trip, so today was my first build day ever and I am no handy-lady but lucky for me, I had a lovely team helping, teaching and motivating me. I learned some new things and then got to help teach other women on our team who also have never done something like this, learn how to do it also. I was super proud of not only myself, but them. These ladies were so happy with themselves too it was hard not to be happy for them.
We had the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with the parents as well to get to know them better and also to allow them to know us and our stories. This is the part that really got me today, since I found out I was coming on this trip at the end of August, things just never felt real. It didn’t feel real that I was coming here and going to be doing what I’m doing and so on. Obviously being here is real, but hearing their stories, seeing their faces, holding them close is what made it so real. Making such a lasting impact on a family you’ve never met before. The joy and the happiness that chokes them up or bring them to tears, only leaves you speechless and teary eyed as well. Wendy described her home as a miracle, when they went to sign up for the waitlist, she could feel it with everything in her that she would get this home. It was already hers, she declared it. Although it was a rocky path, God provided and she got her home today. I can only imagine the smiles on their faces as they lay their heads tonight knowing that they are that much more safer and secure in their new home.
This afternoon was also just as moving and enjoyable. Dolores and myself ran kids ministry with the help of Patricia and we had a great turnout! There were so many activities to be played and so much fun to have. From playing Keep Up with balloons (not letting them hit the floor) to balloon animals, bubbles and face paint, we had a lovely afternoon interacting and sharing lots of laughs and smiles with some beautiful children.
We continued our night with dinner at Stuart and Carrie’s home followed by a trip to Texaco, ending with a cold ice cream was a good way to end off the day. All in all, 12 houses were built and a magical day occured.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

So It Begins

Sunday is always an exciting day, because it is full of potential. It's the project beginning - and the beginning of all things attached: the beginning of relationships - especially as we build for the first time in a new community, and the beginning of change in the lives of new team members.

For my (Josh) team, we got to know our community members better when name tags were passed out during our first breakout activities. That might not sound revolutionary but it has already helped me to memorize the names of the people we will be working with.

Some first timers have already helped to build the replica Shelter home at Harbour estates' Great Grape Stomp, and then again for the shelter fundraising barbeque, so we anticipate the beginning of a smooth build day tomorrow - but whatever happens, happens. We'll always be flexible.

Dave has already been assigned as a build leader to the Coco Loco Brown Box team, a part of the legacy he has made here. He was extremely excited that one of the community leaders that we are building for is his sponsored compassion family! Not many sponsors take the chance to meet their families or children, let alone get to build beside them.

We had our Sunday service this evening, tucked away in a valley up on the volcano's hillside where Rhonda and Victor shared thier testimonies. The hot springs there are called "Little Hell" - maybe the heat is punishing, but the awe inspiring forces of a volcano are evidence enough of the God that first had to put them in motion.

And lastly we went to Pollo Campero, which everyone always enjoys.

As always we'll remain flexible, adaptable and teachable since we aren't here to be comfortable, but instead to be challenged and changed.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

3 reasons you should never underestimate the big impact of doing something small

Bethany November Team
I was in the van with my build team driving down the highway in El Salvador.  All the other teams had already been dropped off except the 2 build teams piled in this van together.  I imagined we must be close to the build site as our teams generally build in the same area.  But we kept going further down the highway until we were practically at the Texaco with the mango stand in front - the stand where we stop whenever we get the chance to buy mangos. Our van turned into a lane right across from the mango stand and I thought "We couldn't be building for the 'Mango Lady'.  That would be a crazy coincidence."   You see, the stands line the highway and streets, piled high with mangos, beans, rice, plantain and other fruit.  For some reason we always stop at the stand by the Texaco and we always buy mangos from the "Mango Lady".

As you may have guessed, that's exactly who we were building for.  And turns out the "Mango Lady" has a name, which is Paula.  Paula is a beautiful woman with 2 young children who owns and runs the stand, working every day from 7am to 6pm, and she gets up even earlier on days that she has to travel to buy the fruit.  It was a beautiful time working with Paula and hearing her story - even if that story was full of hardship and uncertainty.  Tears of relief came when she told us how much this home would improve her children's lives and how difficult the years have been raising them as a single mother; trying to keep her children dry in the rain storms under the plastic and scrap sheet metal that had previously been her home.

The unfortunate reality is that there are so many "Mango Ladies" in El Salvador.  Seeing the amount of poverty in El Salvador is overwhelming.  Seeing families living in such desperate conditions is heart-wrenching.   These families have children - how many of us can picture our kids getting wet in the middle of the night from a rain storm that your plastic roof can't keep out.  How can we even scratch the surface of meeting the enormous amount of needs in this country.   And where do we even start?

But I love this quote from Andy Stanley that has renewed my perspective.
"Do for one that you wish you could do for everyone."

So here are 3 reasons you should never underestimate the big impact of doing something small:

1) Don't underestimate the impact of helping one (like Paula!) - you just made a difference in that family's life. 
Paula is one person who is filled with joy because we decided to start somewhere. We hear from the families that we build homes for how they receive hope and are renewed by God's love - and these are not just stories, these are real people.  They have names, they have life and desires and passions and relationships.  They have hope that their children will have a better life and more opportunity.  Each family is helped by these homes more than we can imagine.

2) Don't underestimate the power of community. - You may only be able to give a bit but together it adds up to a lot!
We have an amazing base of supporters that give generously, each person giving what they can, and guess what??  As a result we are going to build 36 homes in this one week with our November team!  God has poured out resources and used so many people to join together to make this happen!  That should totally wow you! 

3) Don't underestimate the joy of doing your part even if you think it is a small thing.
 Our joy is multiplied when we serve together and give together, everyone doing their part.  There is incredible power in coming together as a community and reaching out to those in need, in showing love and working together to spread God's goodness.  When each person uses their gifts, does their part (however small that may seem), and contributes to the greater story, then everyone benefits.  And that brings incredible joy to each person involved!

I think there is a synergy that happens when there is an excitement and a passion for something that God is doing.  And God takes that and He multiplies it in ways that we can not fathom.  This is God's economy.

So we go with anticipation of what God will do this week as we serve Him together, as we learn from the people of El Salvador and as we bring God's good gifts of a home, of a new life, of hope for a future.  What an incredible privilege we have to represent the many people who gave for one that they wish they could do for many.  And as a result, 36 families will have a new home and will hear the gospel message of hope!

Thank you so much for your prayers and support! We plan to post updates on this blog throughout the week so stay tuned! :)

"Every day we are called to do small things with great love."  - Mother Teresa
36 Families will receive this Shelter home next week!