El Salvador

El Salvador

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Immeasurably More by Dave Kirkness

Key-giving Ceremony: Families receive a Bible and keys to their new home!
A week has passed since returning from El Salvador, and it has taken some time for me to absorb, process, and begin to articulate all that I saw and experienced.  
Although I had never personally been on the trip before, I have had family and friends go previously, so the experience and its objectives were quite familiar to me—or so I thought.

Through this adventure and experience, God had been teaching me about more. Now, in North America, the idea of more has not had the best effect on our society. The blind pursuit of consumerism has had detrimental effects on all facets of our culture, and exacerbated the idea of us vs. them.  But this is not the more that God has been showing me and pushing me to examine further.

This short-term trip is about building homes for families in El Salvador and, more importantly, building relationships with and showing God’s love for the marginalized. But, as God showed me over the time I was there, it is so much more than that.

All the visiting teams work in partnership with Shelter Canada and their local missionaries, Stuart and Carrie. Because of the success and impact of their ministry in the San Vincente area, they were able to assemble a local team in 2010 that includes drivers, translators, and construction labourers. That decision has allowed them to do even more impactful work. The growth has created over thirty full-time jobs, and all the materials for the homes are now locally produced in El Salvador. All the teams that go down to work with Shelter Canada in San Vicente stay at the same hotel; instead of twelve rooms, it now has over thirty.

Because of the increase of the local ministry, more homes are able to be built, which means more families are able to receive a new home before the next rainy season. A new home means better safety and health for a family, as they are now sleeping on a concrete floor instead of dirt, mud, and potentially raw sewage from overflowing outdoor toilets. Instead of forty homes a year being built, Shelter Canada now facilitates the building of over four hundred homes each year.

The Shelter Canada team works hard and shows an enthusiastic love for the people they serve.  What made perhaps the largest impact on me were the local people who showed up every day in the oppressive heat to help build. They worked.  And worked.  And worked.  Frankly, their work ethic left me both awed and embarrassed.  If I could consistently demonstrate even half the work ethic of the people I met there, how much more could I do?

On our last night in El Salvador, we shared our thoughts and takeaways from the week. One team member wondered aloud how much more we could do. As a team, we had just built a record thirty homes in less than three full days. Still, we wanted to do more.

Dave - ready to get to work
This idea of more is not about chasing it for the sake of achievement, but pursuing what God would have us do. That includes working alongside our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru; that includes working alongside our neighbours and co-workers at home.  It means actively investing in the places we are called. It is not about where we go, but what we choose to do with our time.

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes:
“Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” - Ephesians 3:20-21 (NIV)

As Pastor Andrew challenged us this past Sunday, we need to actively look for ways to be useful. God is capable of doing immeasurably more than anything we can imagine.

Here’s to the pursuit of all He has in store for us!
by Dave Kirkness

Monday, March 19, 2018

Real Love (by Kezia Wilson)

Naomi, Elias, Jefferson and Helen
receiving their home.

Wow. And just like that, it’s done.

This past week has been filled with so much joy, laughter, tears, unfortunately sickness, but most of all; love. There were so many real emotions, but unfortunately these words I’m about to write will not be able to justify them in the slightest, but I’ll do my best.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were extremely long, but rewarding days. After breakfast and morning devotionals, all 35 of us would hop on the back of the two trucks, and head out at 8am on an hour long drive into the communities that we would be building in. We had the team split into two groups, and then 2 subgroups which were our build teams. This was so we’d be able to set a new record, of 30 homes in two and a half days!! We were working from village to village that suffer from extreme poverty. Their previous homes were a small rectangle room, made of mud and sticks, without a floor. During rainy season, all of the sewage from the toilets (which are basically a pit in the ground) would all get brought to the surface. It would then get into peoples homes and into the dirt on the ground, which causes many diseases. 

To do the actual physical building of the homes was such an honor. To know that we are literally being the hands and feet of God in those moments was incredible. But what made my heart even more full, was the time spent in kids ministry. At times, it felt as though these children were ripping my heart out and stomping all over it, but in the most loving way possible. I probably played with around 200 kids over those three days and EVERY SINGLE ONE of them was so happy. And by happy I mean sooooooooo happy, and it wasn’t just because they were hanging out with white people. It was real joy. 

These children have gone through so much that they shouldn’t have gone through, but despite that, they are just filled with so much love and joy. At times it felt as though I couldn’t breath because I was being lavished in love (or maybe it was just because I was choking back tears), but whatever it was, it was because of God. 

This past week, I saw more genuine smiles from the locals in El Salvador, than I think I’ve honestly seen in the past 2 months. This is why my heart hurts so much. These people are FILLED with love, and they have absolutely nothing, except for each other and The Lord. At the key giving ceremony (Friday morning) the first thing that around 95% of the families said, was that they wanted to thank God for their new home.

Not every family that received a home were believers, but the ones that were had such a strong faith and trust in The Lord, something that astonished me, and I absolutely admired it all week.

One big happy team
I’m sure that many of you haven’t been able to fully immerse and experience poverty at its finest, so I think that not many of you realize that it could have been reversed. We could have been born in a developing country and these families we built homes for, could have been born in St.Catharines.  This is also very hard for me, and many others on the team to understand. We don’t deserve the life that The Lord has blessed us with, and over the past week this has been a struggle for many of us. We have experienced frustration, and anger because of it. But if we stay in the state of anger over this situation, it's then Satan that wins. 

It is up to us to help our brothers and sisters in Christ, and those who do not know The Lord yet. This week, I have realized how important missions are, and how important it is to give glory to God for blessing us.

I have heard so many incredible testimonies and have so many stories from this week. Although I won’t be writing them on this blog (because it’s already almost a novel, and I feel like I have so much more to say) I would love to share them. If you’re interested please ask me. Please please please. 

Lastly, I would like to share that I was able to interview two families before getting their homes, and explained what I have done to raise the money for their homes.    [Kezia made and sold bracelets as a fundraiser called "Highs and Lows Bracelets" – raising enough for a whole house!]    At the key giving ceremony I gave them each their own bracelet, and the smiles on their faces were huge. Once again, thank you everyone who supported these families in giving them a home.

Coming home and getting back to the North American reality is not going to be easy for me. I can’t ignore that my heart hurts. But I praise Jesus for giving us the opportunity to meet these families that have taught us so much, in such a short time. 

I will be back to El Salvador soon. 

Stay tuned for more updates on Highs & Lows:

"We proclaim how great you are, and tell of the wonderful things you have done." Psalm 75:1
xo Kezia Wilson

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Key Giving Celebration Day! By Ron Giesbrecht

Today is Friday and it is ‘Key Giving’ celebration day!  It was the last ride into the countryside to the community where the 30 homes had been built and to share with the families we’d come to know and love by working side by side with them.  Yesterday evening during debrief someone described the Compassion visit as Christmas Day with the opportunity to bless and share gifts, groceries and supplies with the sponsored children, their families and the Compassion Centres.  If yesterday was Christmas, today, the Key Giving Celebration was Easter!  What a celebration of God’s goodness, blessing and faithfulness!  The celebration began under several large tents set up on a soccer pitch with the Mayor of the community sharing greetings and Stuart McAllister of Shelter opening with an exhortation from 2 Chronicles.  Jenny the Shelter community liaison led everyone in several Spanish songs of praise with enthusiastic clapping!  El Salvadorians know how to celebrate!

There was an opportunity for each group of Bethany team members to share a specially selected Bible verse and a short few words of encouragement for the family they interviewed before presenting them with a key and Spanish Bible.  What a meaningful time!  The family often took the opportunity to thank God, their Canadian sisters and brothers, the community leaders and Shelter for their new house.  After the ceremony a time of prayer for the new home owners and the Canadian team was lead by Pastor Mendez.  The pastor then used the ‘Bucket of Blessing’ provided to each family as a picture of what they’d received.  He explained that the keys they received were not just physical keys to a house, rather an image of spiritual keys.  God offers us keys, the keys to his Kingdom present and eternal.  The pastor encouraged us all to open the door to God and heaven and receive the blessings he’s promised.
The broom in the Blessing Basket represented the things we all need to sweep out.  There are things in our lives we need to sweep and get rid of the dust and garbage that so easily piles up.  Things like anger, fighting, jealousy, wrong thinking.  God wants to help cleanse us spiritually because our body is a temple.  The pastor invited us to clean our physical and spiritual houses.

The Blessing Basket as a whole represented the blessings and provisions of God for each of the 30 families.  God desires to fill our mouths with good things.  God doesn’t just give a house.  He gives life.  He has control.  His greatest provision for us was his son Jesus, and the gift of salvation. 
Lastly, Pastor Mendez closed by focusing on the Spanish Bible each family received.  The Bible he emphasized was a most precious treasure.  We were encouraged to learn from the Bible because it’s a guide for life, marriage, parenting, and business.  “Your word is lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”  (Psalm 119:105). God’s Word, our Lamp is meant to guide us and keep us safe.  The pastor asked the crowd how light keeps us safe.  One lady responded, light keeps her safe from snakes.  He agreed, sin is like a snake.  It bites, and kills, but the Word of God, lights our path and helps us steer clear of sin.  What a clear and penetrating message for all of us to hear!

Then it was off to the courtyard for Piñatas.  One for the girls and one for the boys.  With great gusto the candy filled piñatas provided a great wrap up to the celebration of 30 houses for families to make into homes that would glorify God.  After a delicious lunch provided by the home owners it was a bittersweet ride out of the village back to the hotel by mid afternoon.

After a quick stop at the hotel, it was off to Amapulapa Waterpark to refresh before a tour of the market in San Vicente and dinner at the McAllister’s home.  Friday evening included a trip to the famous San Vicente clock tower and climbing over 190 steps to the top for an amazing view of the surrounding city and country.  No trip is complete without a Texaco stop for snacks with the Shelter workers and their families and tearful good byes to our dear friends and coworkers.  Debrief ends our evening trying to process and unpack the God moments and experiences of this special day and the days already experienced, anticipating with some hesitation, how to share this life changing time with those in Canada.

Ron Giesbrecht

Friday, March 16, 2018

Compassion Day by Rachel Boyd & Renee Smith

Today was an impactful day. We were able to meet personally and share memories with our compassion children. The day started off with breakfast. We had cornflakes, ham and cheese, egg salad sandwiches. We were then introduced to the translators that would be helping us throughout the day. They were very friendly and full of joy. We then had a beautiful 40 minute truck ride to the compassion center, we were greeted with open arms from our compassion children, with signs, streamers, a band, and a HUGE welcome sign. It was cool to see the smiling faces of the children lined up to parade into the compassion center.

Everyone found their seat with their children and waited for the program to begin. The children from the center sang songs in English, and we listened to a short sermon spoken by their principal. We were then split into groups then they gave us a tour of a cosmetology classroom, a normal classroom, a sewing classroom, and the principals office. After that we were given the opportunity to spend time with our children and play games with them. We then set up tables and had a chicken lunch with flan for dessert. We then gave the presents to the children, and their reactions were priceless and we cannot explain it in words. We were then sat down and shown their file which contained medical documents, report cards, compassion letters, birth certificate, and spiritual activities. After this we gave heart wrenching goodbyes to our child, their families, and everyone else who came with them.

All in all, today was a very eventful day, filled with laughter, and tears. We changed their lives just as much they changed ours. We all have plans on coming back to visit them again. As well as changing the way we view different opportunities, the difference in between a want and a need, and how we interact with people. Good day, great day, had a good time.
-Rachel and Renee   

Thursday, March 15, 2018

1, 2, 3... THIRTY! by Nicole Goodwin & Cindy Crosbie

Well, we finally made it – we built 30 houses in 2.5 days! Can you believe it? Only through God’s will was this done. We have been so blessed with incredible leadership – Canadians and El Salvadorians – that also made this all possible.

So many things to share with you about today, that a blog could not possibly describe it all. The day started with our usual trek by and oversized pick up truck – packed in like cattle – in fact we even passed a truck that had exactly that being transported! When we say we are packed in – we mean with tools (shovels, pick axes, ladders), 3 huge jugs of water, 2 large coolers, lunch container, 6 large tool boxes, back packs, huge kids ministry bag, oh, and us humans (18 of us on each truck!).  We also had the usual heated conditions (35 degrees Celsius) but something was different today. There was a great energy amongst our teams.

The first build we did was in a bit of a precarious location. They were trying to tell us we needed to walk 1km with all of our tools etc. to the site – there was no way to drive in. Well, if you know how El Salvadorians talk, you would guess that 1km may actually mean 3 km! So I(Nicole!) begged to get a little closer with the truck. Little did we know that we would be going down the narrowest of narrow, bumpiest of bumpy ‘trails’ with the truck. Thanks to Omar and his excellent driving skills we made it to a respectable distance. We had to get a hose lifted, and use someone’s driveway to turnaround, but we did it!

This couple had been living in a very small house with 14 others for the last few years. Today, they got their own home. This man was so particular about his home, he wiped the dirt off the windows and doors – he was so proud to have his own home.
The hit of the whole trip was Cindy’s polaroid camera. She pulled it out at every site to give the families pictures of their homes. The kids loved seeing themselves in print and kept returning for more. She also tried to share some candy, black licorice, she is always trying to share snacks. Let’s just say next time, she will bring the red licorice!

One story that stuck out to me today was that of a young single mother of a two year old boy – Reynaldo. I got to meet him and was responsible for this young boy while his mother was interviewing. I thought, no problem, I’m a mom, a teacher, I can handle this. Well, he had A LOT of energy! It brought back memories of when my kids were young – chasing after them – don’t touch this, don’t touch that. But watching a 2 year old in El Salvador is a whole different story – don’t lean on that fence(it’s made of sheet metal and will cut you badly), don’t go over there (you’ll fall 15ft down) – a lot more to think about! And this little guy did NOT want to sit still! Can you imagine? She is 24 years old, on her own with her boy (who also has some serious health issues) – she is exhausted! Despite her 24/7 role as mom, she also single handedly cleared her land (mind you it took her an entire month!) for us to be able to build on. I was so happy that I could provide her with 30 minutes of time to talk to 2 ladies from our team to share her story with them.

We hoped to go to Ama Pulapa Waterpark today with the community but our priority was to get all of the homes built and couldn’t quite make it in time as 30 homes in 2.5 sets a new Shelter Canada and Bethany Church record!

After getting showered up we went off to the supermarket to get some groceries for tomorrow’s Compassion Centre visit. Looking forward to what it is store!
Love ya!
Cros and Nicole

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Day 2

Tuesday March 13
The task was accomplished of building 12 homes and changing 11 families yesterday but for me and my family, our hearts have been impacted deeply by the love and kindness shown to us by these lovely people.  When I saw Naomi who we built a home for the following day I called her name across a busy work site and the smile she gave me warmed my heart. As she ran to hug me so tightly I felt a bond from her as she is my sister in the Lord and a mother of a son and daughter as I am. We share a lot but so little.   The people here have touched me more that I could have imagined as I have travelled a lot but never been into homes of people who have so little in material but so much love for life and loyalty to family.  The kids want to learn English and my husband set up an English class. It warmed my heart to see Kezia and Fred laughing with the kids of all ages.  Praise God!  Hoping you can pray for our remaining days here for our team.  

Build Day 2 - by Jeff & Brenda Suggett

Team Bethany has just finished our 2nd Build Day. Like yesterday, we managed to build 12 houses, making the total for the two days 24 houses! It’s amazing to think about the lives that we have impacted so far – when you consider the number of people that will be living in each house and the room that they have left in the houses that they left behind. We estimate that we have touched the lives of over 200 people so far.

Today was much smoother than yesterday as we all learned our roles as a team and really connected with the El Salvadoran Build Team and the local people who were helping us on the job site. We were awestruck as to how the local people really wanted to help out with tasks, particularly the hard ones like digging holes in the rocky soil that were required for the frame to go into. Some of the local people were tireless in their efforts – working in the hot sun throughout the day.

One of the highlights that Brenda, Carson, Emily and I had was interviewing a couple, Franklin and Anna Margarita with their daughter Mikela. Franklin and Anna Margarita currently live with his parents in a very small home that is very crowded. Franklin is 20 years old and Anna Margarita is 16 years old. Their daughter is 1 ½ years old. We were struck at how young they were to be starting their life together. Franklin works on a farm that is 1 ½ hours away by horse. There he grows beans and corn. Franklin told us that he makes 3$ a day and they would never be able to purchase or buy the materials to build a home like the one we built for them. We shared with them that we did this because we wanted to show the love of Jesus to them and wanted to have our hearts open to learning about the people of El Salvador and being able to participate in this project. They thanked God for the wonderful gift of a home. As we took their picture in front of their newly built home, they were so happy!

Monday, March 12, 2018

Build day of firsts

It was a day of firsts for the Bethany team!  Half of the team just got back to the hotel after the longest build day ever and it’s 8pm.  The other truck with half of our team are still on the road as I write this and we haven’t even had supper yet.  We had 6 different build teams working on houses today, with each team building 2 homes  (some in communities that had never had homes built before).   That’s a first! And in total that makes 12 homes completed in one day!  How incredible is that?

Although it’s late and we are in serious need of showers, we’re hungry and pretty much exhausted.  But when you hear the stories we heard today you will know why it is so absolutely worth it.  One of the families that received a home this afternoon was Andreas (age 70) and his wife Paula (age 55).  Their grandson, Jose (age 18), will also be living with them.  Andreas became a Christian 16 years ago when he accepted Jesus Christ into his heart.  He said his life changed completely after he knew Jesus as his Saviour.  Before that he was an alcoholic for many years and his wife and children suffered greatly because of it.  He became a changed man, and when Paula saw the difference in Andreas life, she accepted Jesus in her heart as well. 

Andreas said that there was no way he could ever afford a house, like the one we were building for him.  As a farmer all of his life, he could barely provide for his family. He knew this was God’s blessing in their lives and he couldn’t be more thankful!  Paula said that in the morning she went to another build site and saw one of the houses we were building.  She couldn’t believe how beautiful the house was!  She came home and cried that she would receive such a beautiful house this afternoon.  She had never seen a Shelter house before.

Their old house was ready to fall down, they told us.  They were worried that it would actually cave in on them.  In the rain season, they had to put buckets out for all the rain that came in their roof.  Now they couldn’t believe they would have a roof that doesn’t leak.  What incredible joy to see their happiness and thankfulness.  We praise God for what He can accomplish through us as we give of our lives for His service.

Day 1 in El Salvador

It’s always a great time reuniting with old friends in El Salvador and making new friends, as we meet so many new people and also start to bond as a team.  Bonding goes quickly when you’re riding on the back of a truck together!  It took about hour to get out to the villages to meet the families in the San Felipe and surrounding area.
What a privilege and joy to meet the 30 families we will be building homes for and working alongside all week.  It blew me away me how many young families were in the group – several with babies of only a few months old.  Almost 20 of the families had children under 5 years old.  What a great thing to see that these young families will come under a roof of their own, providing the security and shelter from the elements as they raise their children.
We also had the chance to meet the community leaders in each of the communities we will be building.  These are people who serve and make sacrifices to improve the lives of others in their community.  And the leaders are usually no better off materially than their neighbours.  One of the leaders, Marta, has served her community for 8 years and is finally receiving a home for herself and her family this week!  She has worked tirelessly to help her neighbours and has put others ahead of herself all of these years.  How great that we can be part of her joy in seeing her house go up.
There were many smiling faces today, many “holas” and much anticipation of the week to come.  As much as we are excited to get going and become friends with these families, we sensed the same anticipation on their side.  It impacted our team when one of the community leaders shared about how he had been praying for our team for months already.
At our church service this afternoon we were able to sing worship songs in Spanish and English together.  What a beautiful picture of how we serve the same God and are lead by the same Holy Spirit.  May God’s spirit be present in us and all around us as we bring the love of God to the families and communities this week.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Meeting Families

426 homes will be built this year by Shelter Canada. We are contributing 30 this week, and today we met the community leaders. Sticker number 2700 will be placed above someone's door. 2700 new homes and we are entering communities that have never been built in .  Locals,  leaders and all of us are thrilled for the work that will be done this week.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Value of a Home

If more people valued home above hoarded gold, this world would be a merrier place.
 “The Hobbit, J.R.R.Tolkien”

Flora, Elba and Julio
in front of their new home
Home became a merrier place for a young mom named Flora with her two children this past November in El Salvador.  We had the awesome privilege of building Flora a home about a third way up the volcano – inactive volcano, that is J  It was a remote location with rugged roads trying to even reach her property.  But when we got there, we found Flora and her very happy and excited children- 5 year old Elba and 3 year old Julio.

As a single mom, Flora struggled to earn enough for the $50 rent per month that she had to pay.  During harvest, she worked high up on the volcano where a local fruit grows, called Jacote.  
Build site on the volcano beside
Flora's mom's home

When it wasn’t harvest, she relied on neighbours to hire her for cleaning or laundry.  But earning just dollars per day and sometimes per week, left her destitute.  The stress built up at the end of every month as rent became due and she didn’t know how she would pay.  Her mom gave her the land on the volcano (right next to where her Mom lives) so that she could have her own home. Now that she has her own house, she can use the rent money towards other necessities of life.

There are few things more rewarding than working side by side 
with the local community to provide a family a home.

Little Elba with Julie
in her new home
The deep gratitude that the whole family showed for this new home was so genuine. Elba and Julio, as small as they were, wanted to help in any way they could.  Flora said that she knew that this was a blessing from God.  She said that her dreams have come true.  Flora’s mom gave me such a big hug that I think she straightened my back!  And as we left the site with the home completed, little Julio ran up to us and said in Spanish “Thank you for my new home!”

 “God is on the side of the broken.” 
      Quote by Andrew Mills from his sermon “Blessed are the poor in spirit”

Bethany team - 36 people
(we didn't all fit in one picture!)
And now in March we have a team of 36 people going to El Salvador to build a total of 30 homes for those who are in great need!  Praise God for the way He is providing! It’s incredible to see how many people are supporting this ministry and giving towards homes - helping to give families a new hope for their future. 
Building a total of 30 homes in
two communities

  It takes a village 
to change a village. 

So we thank the many people who are part of this village for their part in helping transform the lives of families in the villages in El Salvador.

Please pray for our team as we go and that the families receiving homes experience the love of God!  Pray for transformed lives!