A Final (Very Busy) Work Day in El Salvador

Today was our last work day in El Salvador.  With a 7:30 am departure from the mission house this was also our earliest day!  The first group of people we visited was a group of teenage boys at an orphanage.  These students are part of a rigorous academic program to help them catch up to other students their age.  They are completing two years of classes in one year.  We got to play games and share a devotional message with them.  Our next stop gave us the opportunity to spend some time with the residents of a home for people with special needs.  We got to visit some of the less mobile residents in their homes (small cement block dormitories that each house 7-9 residents) and sing songs together.  After that we danced, played, shared some fun bracelets and necklaces, and had ice cream and popsicles with those who were able.  They taught us much by sharing their joy and their ability to love others, even those they just met.  We also learned how Sus Hijos has been able to help the residents and staff at the home in very practical ways including providing a washer and dryer for each dormitory to replace the one aging industrial washer that had been shared by the entire facility.  The third group of people we spent time with today were the residents of a juvenile detention facility for teenage girls.  The girls were friendly and outgoing.  Some played soccer with us while others chatted and drew with several of the girls from our group.  It was a short visit but there good discussions including one of the girls from the prison telling our girls about her plans to avoid getting in trouble again.

Our meals were special treats today as well!  We had lunch at States Diner, a full service restaurant that serves American food in huge portions.  More important than the delicious food is the fact that States Diner is another ministry of Sus Hijos, offering jobs and valuable training to young men and women who would likely struggle to find jobs elsewhere.  After lunch we even made a quick stop at a potential new location for the diner, the warehouse, and the offices of Sus Hijos.  Dinner was our farewell dinner of popusas – a tasty traditional Salvadorian food.  We were able to thank the staff and volunteers who helped us have such a meaningful trip.

There are many stories that could be told (and please ask our team members when you see them) but I’ll leave you with reflections from two of our team members, both recently graduated seniors who are heading to college this fall:

“Today I learned about how influential god can be in situations where it may not seem like He is treating everyone equally. This was apparent at the center for the people with disabilities.  I saw the joy of God in everyone’s eyes even though they were in very tough situations.  Situations in which most people would want to surrender or stray away from positivity.  The people were very nice and did not have any hate in their hearts. This will help me stay positive everyday when I think about negative things or experience tough situations.”  -Thomas

“Reflecting back tonight as we end our last night here in El Salvador, I believe I can speak for everyone and say that as we head back home tomorrow we are coming back changed in some way.  Whether it is spiritually from listening to all the different children tell their stories, emotionally, or with a new perspective on everything we are fortunate to have that we may think everyone else has (like electricity in our homes).  This has definitely been an amazing experience and each day has brought us all closer to each other and to God.”
It has been very interesting seeing just how different things are here than they are in the states. For instance today at the women’s juvenile detention – the girls were full of energy, with big hearts, and amazing soccer skills.  Seeing all the kids constantly smiling this week no matter what facility we were at because of our presence was extremely heart warming and a feeling I won’t ever forget. -Sophia
Please join us in prayer as we fly home tomorrow and begin to tell the stories of what God has done in our hearts and what God is doing in El Salvador.

Beach Day

Today was a beautiful day.

We started by taking a tour of the hair salon that St. Martin’s has helped fund and support. The salon is located in a government run and Catholic Church sponsored orphanage that can house up to 150 kids at a time.

Will Scheel reminded us that service isn’t only meeting an immediate need but also providing for the development of a person as well. This salon is the embodiment of that idea. The girls that go through the salon program during their time at the orphanage receive training and a certificate allowing them to find meaningful work to provide for themselves and their families.

We then collected a group of 6 teen moms and their Tia’s (caretakers) and they joined us on the bus and we headed to the beach.

The beach house we spent the day at was a stunning, beach front home, with a sprawling lawn and a pool. We spent the first part of the day swimming and playing yard games and taking the more adventurous girls down into the ocean. After eating lunch together we split into various groups- some swimming, others painting nails or making necklaces.

It was such a sweet sight to watch these teen moms relax and enjoy themselves and to see our students connect with them. The girls left early in the afternoon, allowing us a couple of hours to enjoy the beach as a team.

After returning to the house and eating dinner, half our team headed out to feed the homeless while the other half stayed behind to prepare for tomorrow (it’s an early start and a busy final day!). Feeding the homeless has been tremendously impactful- it’s not simply because we are feeding but also because we get to hear stories of hope, loss, pain and the history of Sus Hijos and the work and people they care so deeply about.

Tomorrow we get to visit San Martin (an adult special needs facility) and a women’s detention center where we will lead a bible study. God has continued to lavish precious opportunities to love his people here- tomorrow will be hard because we will have to say good bye to a place we have all come to love.

Handing off the Keys

Today, we woke up to another beautiful day in El Salvador. Our day began with a long but exciting bus ride to Walmart where we were able to buy essentials for the family and community we built the house for yesterday. I was a part of the group that was in charge of finding supplies for the community. It was really cool to work with the translators and find out that all the community really needed were some basic plastic plates, silverware, and pots and pans. One of the most important items we got for the family was a large boiling pot. This seems very insignificant to us in the States since we have every kind of pan and bowl from nonstick to cast iron. However, to this family in El Salvador, this pot was a game changer. One of the translators describes a pot similar to the one we bought today and how it looked like it would completely fall apart after being used nearly everyday for years. After Walmart, we made it back to the house we built yesterday to get ready to put the beds, table, and rocking chair in the house. Surprisingly, the furniture arrived very late to the site, so we had to wait for a couple hours to start doing any work. Though this realization was difficult to swallow at first since we didn’t have TVs or phones to entertain ourselves, this period of time provided us with the opportunity to talk to not only the family we built the house for but other members of the community. Eventually, the furniture arrived, and we all had a good laugh as it took at least 8 of us to carry a twin sized bed but only two of the professionals to carry a full sized bed. After Lilly, Amanda, Victoria, Sophia, and Elizabeth carefully designed the interior of the house, Elizabeth dedicated the house and Thomas prayed for the family. After two long, tiring days, all our efforts were rewarded when we saw the family’s faces light up with joy as Holly, Georgia, and Kate handed over the keys to their brand new home. However, our day did not end here. Last night after dinner we had packed 36 bags of rice, pasta, oil, flour, and vitamins, and today, we were able to hand a bag out to each family in the community surrounding the house we built. Since each of us were divided into pairs with a translator, we all had amazing experiences with various members of the community. For instance, in addition to having the bags of food to donate, we had an assortment of clothes, the New Testament in Spanish, toothbrushes, shoes, plates, solar powered lights, cups, and a variety of other miscellaneous items. Ashley and Elizabeth were in a group together and they had an inspiring experience with one of the young girls they met. After introducing themselves and praying for the family, Elizabeth and Ashley went to the donation table to collect supplies for the family. One of the items they stumbled upon was a new Frozen themed backpack. They instantly thought the young girl would love it so they picked it up and took it over. A little later, Victor, the translator paired with them, asked if they had heard the girl say “mochila” meaning backpack. Neither of them had heard her and Victor explained the young girl had told him all she wanted was a new backpack. This story was just one example of the amazing experiences everyone on the team had while meeting the members of the community and all the surprising ways God worked for good throughout our day. After everyone in the community had their bag of food among other supplies, we rode back to San Salvador and had a short devotional before dinner. Tonight we had the King’s Dinner which consisted purely of hot dogs, bags of chips, and packaged cookies. At first, this meal seemed too small and almost not good enough for all the work we had done today; however, we were soon told that tonight we would be feeding the homeless and this is the same meal we would be packing up to give them. After realizing this meal will most likely be their only hot meal all week, our whole team was instantly humbled as our previous thoughts were put into perspective. We just finished packing up the hot dogs as it started raining and we are all ready to go get soaking wet while serving the homeless of San Salvador. (By Lauren Kearns).

We built a house!

Today was our second full day in El Salvador and it’s been a busy one!  We left the Mission House early this morning for a bus ride to the site of Eva and Renés new home near the town of Santa Ana.  We arrived to find a small piece of ground, where their previous home stood until yesterday.  The lot was just large enough for their new 10′ x 20′ home and very close to the road, but don’t worry – we all looked both ways and dodged all the traffic successfully!  After meeting and praying with Eva and René and their three children ages, we got to work!  The first steps required a little patience while we set the cinder block foundation and line up the corners.  Since we couldn’t all be involved in this step several of us gathered up kids from the community and colored, played, and danced with joy until we were ready to carry the floor and wall panels and put them in place.  By lunchtime all of the floors and walls were in place.  After lunch the rafters and tin roof were installed, the exterior walls were painted, and the windows and door were installed by several of the young ladies on our team.  The structure is now complete and waiting for furniture and decoration tomorrow.

This team worked hard today! Many of our team members had never been part of building a house from the ground up which made the experience even more exciting.  By tomorrow we’ll be able to welcome a family to their new home – a home that may be small by our standards – but a home that will change the life of a family!  More importantly we were able to share the love of Christ with the family and the community!

Wifi is extremely slow tonight, preventing us from uploading pictures but we’ll try to add them here or on our Facebook page later tonight – facebook.com/theislandlive.

Day one: Sunday service and an afternoon at Cisna

We were up bright and early this morning- tackling the first step in our housebuilding adventure: loading up all the pieces.

It was crazy to think that all of those different pieces would add up to a house for a family in just a few days!

After loading the truck we freshened up and headed to church. There is nothing quite like worship God with fellow believers and hearing songs in both English and Spanish at the same time. What a beautiful snapshot of what heaven must be! Our team left during the service to teach Sunday school. Two of our members were pros at story telling and brought the story of Noah’s Ark to life!

We did an art project where we made rainbows- reminding us of Gods promises.

After lunch we changed clothes and headed to Cisna. It’s a government run home for boys, ages 12-17. Here they will live until claimed by relatives or they age out. We came ready with soccer balls, frisbees, Jenga and a whole host of coloring pages. I’m thankful that this was one of our starting activities. Our students dive headfirst into play and were rewarded with smiles and instantaneous bonds- regardless of language barriers. Friendships formed with simple communication and lots of laughs.

At the end of our time there, Drew Moxley shared his testimony. He reminded us that God is always present, even in the dark times. And when we walk with Him, we don’t walk alone. Everyone was touched by his story and vulnerability.

We prayed over our new friends and boarded the bus to head back to our home for the week.

Our final activity for the day was sharing in bible study with 17/18 year olds who live in the transition homes sponsored by Sus Hijos. These homes are the answer for many kids who age out of the government homes like Cisna.

During our time tonight- Lily Short shared her story of seeking God and finding him. He was never far from her in her darkest moments! Her story was so impactful that even as I write this- she’s listening to the story of one of the girls from the transition home.

Our hearts are already expanding with what God is doing here at Sus Hijos and in our own hearts!

Tomorrow we build a house!!

HS Mission Trip to El Salvador: We Made It!!

Safe and sound! We are tucked away in the mission house eagerly getting to sleep since we jump in feet first tomorrow!

Our flights and arrival were uneventful and everyone is looking forward to tomorrow!

Tomorrow we load up all the pieces of the house for the build before heading to church- they we head to Cisna, a government run boys home before leading a bible study at one of the transition homes! It will be a full day!

Austin Day 4 – Work Hard, Play Hard

We had a beautiful, sunny morning for working at Community First! Village. The teams were once again hard at work to refurbish, refresh, and restore. After work, we enjoyed delicious burgers from the Community Food Truck. Their catering crew does a great job!

In the afternoon, half of us returned to Street Youth Ministry to continue the work of organizing their donations, while the other half spent our afternoon volunteering at the local food bank. Some of our girls got the opportunity to help pack the 1000 lunches that will be sent out tomorrow to feed children who, with school out, are living in food insecure environments. Then we all stepped into the warehouse to sort, evaluate and package boxes of food for distribution to those who need it the most.

After a hard day’s work we returned for dinner before chapel, prepared once again by Chef Shane and his team, which everyone enjoyed (especially the roasted Brussel sprouts).

We learned some new games tonight – Schmog’s Jewels, being a favorite, and of course had to have a final round of Grog (ask your student about this action packed game) before showers, packing up, and hittin’ the hay.

Tomorrow morning we’ll visit our friends at Community First! Village one last time to finalize a few projects before loading up the vans and returning home.  Remember, we’re  expecting to be home between 4 and 5 pm.  We’ll have your kids text you when we have a pretty good ETA.

We’re sad to leave Austin behind, but as we learned from our new neighbors this week, there’s no place like home! We want to thank the parents for entrusting your students to us for this journey. See you soon H-town!

Heading Home

What an incredible trip.

Today we finished our projects and had the chance to pray over the school. The administrators and teachers were there to pray with us. They thanked us with words, lunch and dessert, tears and hugs. Our students truly felt the appreciation. We made an impact- we served in the name of God. Our students definitely felt that!

We ended with a New Orleans meal at Oceana and beignets at Cafe du Monde- and maybe a stop at a hot sauce shop- before coming home to game 6 of the NBA finals. (A well earned treat since they cleaned Molly’s House like professionals)

Our students are coming home as a family. They’ve bonded and when I mentioned going home the resounding response was groans and sad wails.

We leave for home tomorrow at 9:30am- and I think we all leave a little piece of our hearts here.

Austin Day 3 – Neighbors and Friends

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Making friends out of neighbors was the theme of the day. After working hard this morning on the grounds of Community First, we spent some quality time with our neighbors there, sharing a delicious lunch cooked by one of our teams.  Students enjoyed working with Chef Shane to cook a fantastic lunch of roasted pork tenderloin, salad, and lots and lots of roasted veggies for our team and the neighbors at Community First! Village (yes – most of your kids ate their Brussels sprouts!).  It was amazing to watch 6 students and 2 adults prepare 30 pounds of pork and over 50 pounds of fresh vegetables in under two hours.  After lunch we played several rousing games of bingo with the neighbors as we got to know each other better.  Our team took turns serving as callers and spotters and some even helped a few younger players.

20190612_122006After two and half days of dedicated work, we took this evening off to form friendships of our own. We hung out at the famous Barton Springs, swimming in what I think might have been sub-zero temperatures LOL – Barton is a natural spring, so the water there is much cooler than your backyard pool, to be sure.  Then we enjoyed a leisurely dinner out, where no one had to cook or clean up!!! All the while sharing stories of our week, and getting to know each other better. After chapel tonight, we shared encouraging words to one another. All in all, another great day of caring and sharing.

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Celebrations

Today we finished several projects at Concordia Lutheran School. It felt good to see hard work pay off.

Tomorrow we set up the tutoring room and finish waxing the classrooms. Our hosts have asked us to lead an afternoon activity for the summer school kids that spend their afternoons there.

It’s bittersweet coming to the end of the week. We’ve created a family unit this week. Each person has become an important and needed member of this group.

Tonight we talked about encouraging one another. We each received a poster board with our name on it and spent 30+ minutes writing down encouragements and observations on each other’s boards. It was powerful and hopeful and encouraging. It was a stunning picture of the Holy Spirit descending upon each person, reminding them of who they are in Christ. I think it’s safe to say that those minutes accomplished an eternal bond between our students.

We also got to celebrate the birthday of one of our students. She doesn’t seek out the spotlight- ever. Getting to celebrate her and the amazing person she is was the perfect end to the day.