If you followed our mission trip journal, you know that each of our team members took a day to document our experiences. I was scheduled to blog on Thanksgiving Day.
This day turned out to be one of the hardest days of my life. I got a call from my stepmom that my dad passed away unexpectedly that morning. At that moment, far away from Atlanta, the people on my team stepped in to be the love of Christ that I needed at that moment. The God that we had shared with the people of El Salvador was the same God to whom I cried out. I was broken-hearted. I felt guilty that I was away when it happened. I was not sure what to do next....
Thank goodness..."The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit." - Psalm 34:18
I made the decision to come home a few days early so I could go be with my family. On the flight home, I realized that I had something in common with the people I had met in El Salvador. Whether they were children without a home, fatherless, neglected, job less, not sure what tomorrow held - God loves us just the same and He sees each tear that falls from our eyes. I don't know their stories, but I do know that we have the same God. We live in a fallen world and things will happen in our lives. It is a fact. When we start to see each other as "beloved" then we understand that we need each other. We need to share God's love with each other, even when don't speak the same language.
We need to serve each other. We need to live each day as a gift. God brought me to El Salvador to show me His love. He knew exactly what was going to happen to my dad. He wanted me to go and serve and see how His love expands to his beloved people. He wanted me to know that even when I feel like my heart is broken, He is the ultimate heart healer and life giver. He speaks the same truths to my new family in El Salvador.
Our trip was so rich. Each day was a glimpse of God's faithfulness. We hiked, we built, we sang, we ate, we laughed, we served, we prayed, we loved, we were uncomfortable, and we were humbled. I believe this is the perfect picture of the body of Christ.
Thank you for your support and prayers for what is the beginning of something big going on down at Love & Hope Children's Home and in the country of El Salvador.
- Beth Cheatham
Today is our last full day here and it has been an amazing week of Thanksgiving in the lovely nation of El Salvador. We were blessed with another gorgeous day and got to spend it at the beach with all the kids playing in the surf and having some dizzy lizzy races for some prizes. We also got to take this awesome group photo with everybody!
Shortly before they were about to head out, we had the opportunity to bless Rachel, and Love & Hope, by presenting them with donation check of $8000!! It was so cool to see the expression of surprise and excitement on her face! Our budget had them expectant of around $2,000 but due to the generosity of so many people, God blessed them in true Ephesians 3:20 style with...Immeasurably More than we could ever imagine!
It was then time to say our good-byes to all of the kids. This was by far the hardest thing that I had to do the entire week. The relationships we built with them will last forever and we’ll definitely continue to pray for them every day.
Once the kids were gone, our team headed down to the beach for one last amazing sunset. It was great to take in the magical sunset and decompress all that God had done in us and through us this week.
When you go on mission trips to places in need, you experience a much needed perspective change. God gives us a new way to experience the world and we begin to see it through a different set of lenses. In a world full of hardships, sadness, disappointments, poverty, and brokenness, we need the life changing lenses God has to offer. We often have the mindset that we are going to “help” other people in the world, when in reality our work really ends up “helping” us. There is a lesson to be learned from the simplicity of the lives that they live and the strength of their relationships. The people we met were very relational, caring, grateful, family centered, and live a “What can I do for you?” lifestyle. In contrast, we live in a prideful, ego driven, self-centered, and a “What can you do for me” type of culture. The people of El Salvador may not have much from a material perspective by USA standards, but there is a joy inside of them that is unlike anything I have ever seen. There is a definitely a lesson to be learned from that as well.
Our lives will never be the same and we are so grateful for the opportunity to serve in El Salvador. We are so lucky to have a God that invites us in to play a part in His eternal story. One of the great lessons we learned can be found in 2 Corinthians 4:18, which reads, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but, what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” I am so glad that God impressed this important thought on our hearts before we were even there. It would be easy to focus on the physical work that we did on this trip to determine the amount of impact that we had. The problem, however, is that when we focus on the things that are “seen” (or temporary) we miss experiencing God’s eternal work in the “unseen.” Nothing will ever take away the eternal impact our team has made from the relationships we built. Even the simple smiles that were exchanged with everyone we came in contact will go so much further in light of eternity than any physical work that could have been done while we were there. I have heard the saying “A picture is worth a 1000 words,” but I after this trip I am confident that a smile is worth a million words.
Until next time El Salvador!
What an amazing and eventful day! On Friday morning we enjoyed a time of worship and then discussed what it means to have hope, strength, and joy in a broken world. How could it be that the people we’ve encountered in El Salvador are so happy and friendly? By having very little in a material sense, the people here have found wealth in family, faith, and simplicity of life. God allowed us to experience firsthand that socio-economic status has no bearing on the condition of our hearts. We can recognize that true joy may be found in maintaining humility, gratitude, and hope in Christ!
After breakfast, we enjoyed another scenic ride from the Santa Tecla area of San Salvador to our beautiful beach house in an area called Costa Azul. This country is just covered with volcanoes and ridiculous vistas!
After getting settled into “Rancho Marvioli” (the name of our beach house) we were treated to an amazing lunch prepared by our housekeeper and cook, Chaba and her daughters. She served up fresh caught, fried, whole fish with rice, & a tomato/cucumber salad. It was awesome!
Next we decorated the outdoor cabana for a graduation party for our new friend, Jocelyn who will be Love & Hope’s first to graduate from high school next weekend…a special accomplishment for sure! All of the kids, Rachel and some of the staff of L&H arrived a short while later for our planned graduation party with all the fixin’s - all of the kids in tents, hamburgers and hotdogs, bon-fires, music, and lots of laughing! I’m thoroughly enjoying my interactions with these awesome kids, and seeing the warm connections that the rest of the team is making with them.
So after being trapped in an elevator on day 1, and 3 days on a construction worksite without any injuries or setbacks, we were feeling pretty confident and available to the good works God would yet accomplish through us. By mid-afternoon, most of us were out on the beach and having a blast out in the waves without a worry in the world, yet we were completely unsuspecting of the powerful undercurrent that caught us by surprise. We all experienced the scare of a lifetime as David, Melissa, and Brandon struggled to get back to the shore. Quick actions taken by Doc, Brett, Ryan, Scott and others, along with many frantic prayers, brought relief as the waves miraculously stopped for several minutes. There was a moment when I could no longer see David, my buddy of 27 years, in the water from the beach as I was retrieving a piece of drift wood to run down to him. Through heroics and the grace of God, everyone made it safely back to shore. What a scare for all of us! Following such fearful incidents, we are only affirmed in our faith and reminded that God is in total control, and we can trust Him! Then, just a few short hours later, we had the pleasure of witnessing perhaps one of the most beautiful sunsets any of us had ever seen. Contrasting the powerful undercurrent and the tranquility of the ocean at sunset, I’m reminded of how much I’m in need of God as my anchor, my guide, and my hope in this life, and that I can praise Him for His amazing works all the while.
Once we finished our dinner and celebratory cake and singing to Jocelyn, we headed back to the beach to continue the celebration with a bonfire, roasting marshmallows and a game of "Red Rover" under the stars with the kids. Between all the cards games, pool time, and the beach, all of the kids (our team included) have had a blast. We’re all really enjoying serving and loving on some really awesome kids! God is so good!
- Ward Johns
1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 states, "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you."
I read that verse in a devotional when I woke up this morning. I immediately felt so much gratitude for so many things. But what stood out to me most on this day was the thankfulness, first to God for giving me a new life through my faith in Jesus and abundantly more than I could ever ask for in my life. Second was for my family, close friends, the nine others on this trip with me, and for everybody we've spent time with here in El Salvador. Simply put, this trip has been nothing short of amazing and we' still have two more days to go!
We took this morning to spend time with the kids of a nearby impoverished community whom Love & Hope supports and visits frequently. After a soccer shootout with the boys and some serious jump rope exhibitions by the girls, we prayed with the 75 kids and then gave them sandwiches we'd made, along with chips and juice boxes. Next we got to walk through the small community and handed out bags of rice to all the adults. It was a really special time as this entire community just permeated a sense of gratitude via the smiles on all the faces as well as the numerous bible verses painted on the walls all over the place. Enjoy these images below! I'm so thankful that we got to spend time here...I wish we could have stayed all day.
Spending time in this community made me realize, so much more, how grateful I am for the over abundance that I'm given. I was certainly served up a big ole plate of PERSPECTIVE today...and it was good...so so good!
Our Thanksgiving Day was not without our own delicious turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and green beans. All prepared by Rachel, Mandy, Justin and the kids and staff at Love & Hope. We were so blessed to sit around in a circle and hear what all the kids and everybody else, including us, were most thankful for. I shared that I was so thankful that God and allowed me to connect with Love & Hope last December on a trip down here...without that divine connection our team would not have been here this week...called to do what we came here to do...and that was to love and serve others through the love and grace of the Name above all names...our savior Jesus Christ.
We're off to La Playa Costa Azul tomorrow for some fun in the sun, surf and sand with 20 kids! I can't possibly feel any more grateful than I do right now. I'll be falling asleep with a smile on my face for sure!
- Brett Gorney
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but, fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.”
- Ephesians 2:19-20
Amazement and Grace are the only words that I can use to describe the last few days spent here in the mountains working diligently on the house for Kevin and his family. Pictures will tell a story, but our time here has revealed that the Lord is good and each of us now has a place we ourselves will call home here in El Salvador. Just as the verse above states, we are now fellow citizens united with the heart of Jesus and what He is accomplishing through the lives of these incredible people. They truly are some of the most humble and loving that I have ever met and I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to come and see His light shine so brightly here.
We spent the better part of today putting the finishing touches on our portion of the surrounding structure of the home. Cinder-Block walls stacked on top of each other rising to the sky allowed us to complete each layer by being able to really see the whole project for what it is- a home for a family that will be a light for their community and every person they welcome into it moving forward.
The work will be completed in the next few weeks and we are each excited to see the finished project, but will never forget this chance to come to an unfamiliar place and leave it knowing that we are now united with our God family here in Christ Jesus.
Prayer: “Lord, thank You for these people and this place- they both are Beautiful and full of Your presence. Please continue to bless the work of Your servants here at Love & Hope and throughout El Salvador as they continue to open their doors and welcome foreigners in as family. Amen.”
- Doc Holliday
Day 5, our second full day in Berlin and on the work site, began with another outstanding traditional Salvadoran breakfast – scrambled eggs, refried beans (think fresh), caramelized plantains, bread, cheese and local coffee. Today we were able to work it out to use a more direct route to get to the work site, which involves most of us piling into the back of a 4x4 pickup and ten minutes of steep hills, tight turns and bumps with the occasional low-hanging branch to the face if you don’t stay alert. Best work commute I’ve had in a while. Ha!
This trip has been fantastic so far on so many levels. There are so many things to be thankful for and I want to stay in the spirit of this Thanksgiving week. I’m sure you’ve read of many of those in previous posts, so I will give you a small sample of a LONG list:
So, yesterday we were able to (eventually) come up with a system for laying blocks (to build the walls) that allowed most of us to be involved, and seemed to maximize our efficiency. Additionally, it allowed us to honor the detail-oriented nature of Nelson, the local contractor directing the work, to preserve the integrity of his work. Today, although a little more physically demanding due to less cloud cover (= HOT), was another very successful day. We were able to stick with the system we developed and continue to make very good progress towards completing the walls of Kevin’s new home. On a personal note, I call any day that you unintentionally wear flip flops (don’t ask) to a construction site and return home with both feet intact and undamaged a success…
It is easy to come in and want to accomplish many things (with great intentions, of course). It can also be easy to sacrifice quality for quantity. However, we are called to do our best work at all times, as we represent Christ in all we do. The beauty in the work solution we found on our first day of construction lies in 1) finding a way to be efficient AND produce quality work, 2) trusting that our best work is sufficient for Him, regardless of how we judge the measure of its quantity and 3) the peace we receive in knowing that He is glorified in our best efforts and His plans will be accomplished. That we are allowed (even invited) to be a part of His plans is such an astounding and humbling concept. This speaks to me on a personal level as I often try to balance my own detail-oriented nature with the normal demands for productivity that are placed on us by society (and in particular, work). I hope we can all realize and remember that He is always at work in and around us, and that He wants us to join Him in all that we do – to the best of our ability – in full confidence that He will use it to bring Himself glory, our ultimate purpose.
Blessed, thankful and eager for the next page…
Day 4 in El Salvador found us waking up to the cool air of mountain life, in the little city of Berlin. This place is beyond beautiful. To say that it perfectly demonstrates God’s Glory is an absolute understatement. There is such splendor in the way of vegetation, fresh air, and natural beauty all around us. Nearly the entire mountainside has some sort of crop growing – coffee, bananas, corn – and the slope on which these items are planted is dizzying. I can’t imagine how these “farms” are tended to – yet you know they are managed just the same. Our hostel, as maybe could be expected, is filled with a variety of artifacts & antiques…as well as plants, flowers, and even a lime tree. We certainly don’t want for much here. The surrounding area, though, is a site to behold. Mixed in with the natural beauty – there is extreme poverty - not everyone – but it’s hard not to notice the living conditions that are a normal part of life for so many – and I just wonder what becomes waste, from excess, in my own life.
Our day began with breakfast here at the hostel, before heading out to the build site. Having a driver to taxi us around gives us a chance to take in all of the landscape; so as we worked our way down, around, and back up the mountain, the video and still cameras were firing away. It’s kind of crazy how different the pace of life flows out here. We encountered lots of people walking, chickens, cows, and horses…to go along with the CRAZY number of wild dogs that abound in this area. The terrain varies from paved, to barely traversable. The air is some of the freshest I’ve ever breathed in my life…when it isn’t mixed with smoke from someone’s fire…which we seem to encounter somewhat frequently. There were one or two times we had to get out of the van in order to keep moving…and those were some of the best parts of our morning journey, as we got to hike up the road and see the terrain up close. As someone who admittedly LOVES coffee, I had never seen a coffee plant up close… so that, in particular, was a treat for me.
Upon getting to the work site, we met up with our contractor for the build – Nelson – and his two helpers – Christian & Juan Alberto. We didn’t take long to drop our belongings, and dive right into working. They had already built a retaining wall, and started the first few rows of cinder block. We started with digging holes, mixing concrete/mortar, and helping to move materials around. As can be expected, the work itself tended to take a back seat to connecting and building relationships. Aside from connecting with Nelson, Christian, and Juan Alberto, we had opportunity to meet the neighbors who live immediately adjacent to the home we’re building… and then, we finally got to meet the actual people for whom this project was created– Kevin and his sister, Lilly. They looked to be beside themselves. Kevin’s smile out shined the sun.
Seeing their joy brought me joy – and I had a thought: This. Doesn’t. Just. Happen.
What does it take for 10 people from major American, metropolitan cities, to raise money for the purpose of traveling to a Central American country they haven’t seen– to build a house for a family they don’t know?
It takes Jesus.
He has changed the life of each person on this trip…and He has called us to something greater than ourselves. We are exceptionally grateful to be a part of this trip. As for myself, even though I’m missing a wedding, Thanksgiving with Family, and the birthday of one very special girl – His calling has been most fulfilling. I pray it’s something that I’m allowed to continue to do – to serve Our Father in the way that He sees fit, according to His Will.
Your support to this point – however it manifested itself - is priceless. We start another day tomorrow, God willing, submitted to, and aligned with His Plan. Please continue to keep us in your prayers… they’re working!
Love & Blessings y’all,
We are three days in, and each day I wake up with more gratitude than the last. It is so beautiful to see God work through each team member spreading His love throughout this trip. Connecting with everyone, especially the children, has been such a blessing!
Today, we started the day attending La Union Church, the local English Speaking church where Love & Hope attends weekly. The church was small and very family oriented; we were welcomed as soon as we walked in the door. I looked around to see how God could use me and I saw a little boy grab a Children’s Bible off the counter and bring it over to his father. I was familiar with that specific Children’s Bible, so I walked over to Michael and his father Abraham and introduced myself, and asked Michael if I could read the Bible to him. His father excitedly grabbed me a chair to read. Just to see that boy smile as I read him the word made my day.
The message at church discussed the importance of having an attitude of gratitude. Being thankful is how you live your day, because you recognize where you came from. It just reminded me of how much I have been thanking the Lord for being chosen to be part of this mission trip, and what zeal that brings! I thought how important having an attitude of gratitude is while being on this trip, especially with the children. The children need as much love and happiness they can be around, and that is something that can’t be forced it is something that comes from within.
After Church the group headed out to the local mall where we had lunch. I ate lunch with one of the teens, Raquel, and we shared a few laughs while playing a few jokes on others. She reminded me of what it was like to be her age, finding enjoyment in just the smallest things.
The team said our temporary goodbyes to the children at Love & Hope and headed off to Berlin to Hostal La Casa Mia where we will be staying for the next three days while we are building the home for Kevin and his family. The ride to Berlin was about two and half hours, and I admired the scenery the entire time. It was amazing to see how the people live here, and although very poor, how could you not see God’s beauty in all of it. The Hostel is very beautiful- it’s like walking into a 1940’s time warp, which is so me! I could live at this Hostel! We had a chance to walk around, and experience the local eateries in the town square. I am looking forward to the start of our build tomorrow! 6:30am is an early start so I’m off to bed! Adios!
- Melissa Ciancia
Today was our first full day in the capital of San Salvador and we spent the majority of the day immersing ourselves in the culture and focusing on our purpose and connection with the people of El Salvador. We started the day with breakfast and a time of sharing to reflect what it means to be “radical” for God by staying focused on what is in front of us, being present and not looking back.
Our first stop of the day was to the El Salvador Cathedral in the heart of downtown to reflect on the heritage of the people and pay our respects to Archbishop Oscar Romero, the man most famous in El Salvador for the love of those that he fought for that are less fortunate in this county. He served only three years as the
Archbishop of El Salvador but was unfortunately assassinated in 1980 while serving the Catholic mass which was the spark that started the civil war. His legacy will live forever in the hearts of the people here for the love he demonstrated to the common person. It just goes to show that it is not about how long one serves in a community, but the impact and lasting effects that is delivered and felt by those in the local community. Our next stop of the day took us to Iglesia El Rosario to observe the artistic rendition of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection and the overall beauty of the architecture of the church.
We then made the trek up the steep mountain terrain of El Boqueron, one of the many volcanoes scattered throughout the El Salvadorian mountains. We took in the awe inspiring views that helps shape the landscape of this beautiful country. God must have known that we needed some extra exercise, because along the way we had to walk off the papusas from Friday night on two different occasions to complete our climb due to too much weight in our minivan. However, this gave us the opportunity to interact with people along the way and take things in on a more personal level.
Next we stopped by the local Wal-Mart…yep, they have one those here along with many of the usual fast food suspects that you would expect to see the in US… to pick up food and supplies for our house building excursion which starts by driving to the site tomorrow afternoon. Before that could happen though, we had to be tested. Along with a family of three, which had a young boy about four years old and pregnant mother, we got stuck in the elevator between the parking garage and store for about thirty minutes. Needless too say, we passed that bump in the road with flying colors, made some new friends along the way and of course captured some hilarious memories as well.
We then traveled back to Love and Hope Children’s Home, albeit a little late from our extended grocery shopping experience, and ate the tacos that the children and staff prepared for us and then we all went to the local park to play the game Tantarro. This game is known to many in the US as “kick-the-can” except for down here you play the game with a soccer (futbol) ball…imagine that! That was actually just what the doctor ordered for us, as it helped us to connect further with the all the children and helped us to run off our meal before bedtime. However, I’m still attempting to figure our how the “alto gringo” was volunteered to be “Tantarro” for the second half of the game…I’m sure that must have been a God thing! Nonetheless, we are very excited about what God has in store for us tomorrow as we’ll attend La Union Church with the kids and afterwards, travel to Usulutan where we’ll be helping build the home for Kevin and his family. To God be the Glory!
- Rodney Zehner
The journey has begun! Our team of 10 is safely in El Salvador and we’re already building relationships with the local people, learning more about one another and understanding how we can serve them while we’re here. After a smooth flight from Atlanta, Rachel and Mandy from the Love & Hope (L&H) leadership team picked us up at the airport. Some of the children were there to greet us as well, Irene, Cheyo and Jeremiah! Never afraid to dig right in to a new language, I busted out my Spanish phrases cheat sheet and started asking the children questions. I got more laughs from them than answers, but I'm glad I made the effort and several people on our team are helping me get the accent down! :)
We had a late lunch at our guesthouse and then the L&H team covered our itinerary for the week. While I enjoyed hearing more details about our plans, the best part was learning the background of the family we are building the house for in Usulutan. We all prayed for Kevin, Lilly and Freddie, and it was at that moment that God reminded me that when I take the focus off myself and listen to someone else’s story, a deeper understanding of my purpose is revealed. I’m excited to listen to many other stories of people we encounter so I can quickly subdue any selfishness and serve others first with a pure motive.
Our night was capped off with a great meal with the children of L&H. We had a traditional El Salvadoran dish called papusas, which are a thick corn or rice flour tortilla filled with your choice of pork, beans, cheese, squash & garlic. Very delicious! To work off the meal, we headed back to the L&H home to play soccer and other games with the kids and to learn more about them. There is already a special bond forming, and it’s always fun for me to realize that no matter where someone lives, what language they speak or who they are, every person just wants to be loved. What a privilege it is to share our Lord’s love with these children during this trip.
- Brandon Beeken
Well...we're almost there! What started as a nudge from God to continue building a relationship with Love & Hope Children's Home and has brought us to this point.
After visiting Love & Hope in December of 2013, I really felt God calling me to pour into this organization however I could. And then exactly 6 months ago to this day, Rachel Sanson, Love & Hope's founder, reached out to me and asked if I'd be willing to raise the funding needed to build a new home for one of their kids and his family. The plan would be to come down to El Salvador in November with a team to help the construction workers with building this new house for a several days as well as spend time with the kids doing some community service projects and simply sharing life with them. The challenge was accepted without hesitation.
I jumped all over the opportunity without a clue how it would all come together but simply trusting in God that He would work out all the details, fundraising, supplies, and who be on our team. Through months of planning and preparation, our team has been preparing our hearts and heads to ready ourselves for this trip. Prayers have been lifted up over the past 4 weeks for each of Love & Hopes 23 Children and their staff, as well as for each of our team members serving on this trip. The peace that God has given me in all of this has truly surpassed all understanding.
I can't tell you how humbling it feels to see all of this come together! God sends spirit-filled chills throughout my entire body whenever I sit back and think of the magnitude of what He's orchestrated in order for all of this to happen. I'm learning that when you move, He moves even greater! His blessings are far more abundant that we can ever imagine. I'm learning to just simply bring what little you have to Jesus and watch Him do immeasurably more with it. It makes me think about the little boy with the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish who was "uncounted" on the hill by the sea that day. Jesus took what little bit of food the boy had to offer, gave thanks, and blessed thousands of people with a satisfying meal. There was twelve baskets of leftovers that were gathered up so that no good gift from the Lord would go to waste. Wow! And to think that He can't or won't move in the lives of anyone who comes to Him as a humble servant? I'm blown away and can't wait to see how He'll continue to show up on this trip, in the lives of our team heading down to serve, and in the lives of the children and staff at Love & Hope Children's Home.
Full of His Love & Grace,
El Salvador - Nov 2016