Monthly Archives: March 2013

El Salvador – Beach Day

This is a few days late in coming, but I was a little busy flying home and stuff.  But I wanted to tell about a few things from our beach day.

Playa La Libertad

The beach day was pretty incredible.  I’ve been to a few beaches on the Gulf coast and a few on the west coast, but I had never seen anything like this.  Huge waves…huge…monstrous.  The first 30 minutes or so of playing in the waves was a ton of fun.  Then I started to get tired.  Then I got stupid.  

I had been body surfing the waves after they broke and been having a blast riding them in.  I had drifted out a little ways and was jumping into the breakers and having fun doing that.  Then for some reason, I decided to body surf a huge wave coming in that hadn’t broken yet.  I hit it just right and started flying in…then I started riding up the wave as it started to break.  The timing was terrible, as I hit the top of the wave (about a 8 or 9 foot wave) just as it rolled and it drove me straight down into the very shallow water in front of the wave.  I’ll probably forever remember virtually every detail of the next 45 seconds or so.  It was completely crazy.

I hit the sandy bottom with my face and chest first, but the wave slammed my feet forward and down, which caused the bottom of my feet to smack into the back of my head.  I clearly remember thinking of all those times that I watched the TV show “Wipeout” and they would freeze frame with people in that position as they wiped out.  Mercifully, my feet got sucked up as the wave passed and I flipped over a few times underwater.  I remember at that point I felt one of my leather bracelets (I had four on) slipping off my wrist and being upset about that.  I also remember thinking right after that how bad salt water tastes.  And how my nose hurt.

When I stopped flipping, I didn’t know which was up (had the “good” sense to keep my eyes closed to salvage my contacts).  I tried to swim, but my back and arms wouldn’t work right…I guess from being pretzel folded inside out.  Just when I felt my arms slap the surface, I got plowed by another wave.  This one either wasn’t as big or wasn’t as angry, but it did slam me back to the bottom (butt first), make me lose another bracelet and it blasted water up my nose at about 1000 p.s.i. I was able to recover from this one quicker and get back up to the surface pretty easily.  I coughed out a bunch of water and thought, “Hey, that looks like blood.”  Then I blew water and blood out my nose just before getting knocked down by another wave (I was just in knee deep water at this point, so it wasn’t terrible).  As I sat there, I thought, “I can’t stand up  by myself…these waves are going to kill me.

I saw David Martin standing nearby and hollered at him three times before he heard me.  When he turned to look at me, he just smiled like “Yeah, this is awesome, huh?”  Then a wave hit me and knocked back again, losing a third bracelet…that one made me mad.  I think at that point he realized that there was a problem.  He came running over and helped me stand up and get to the beach.  My back was stiff, but I was fine.  I blew out my nose again and didn’t see any more blood, so I assumed it was just the sinus blast(s) that I took in the wavy washing machine (which was NOT on the delicate cycle).  I hit the swimming pool at the club for a little while after that.  I did actually get back in the ocean a little later, but with a very different perspective of its power.

So…that’s pretty much my fun little story of the beach day.  Of course, that was nothing compared to watching about 20 kids get baptized in the ocean later that night.  There were several of the kids that I had taught in Bible class when they were 7th graders or had in my cook group on the 8th grade Wilderness Trip.  To see them go from being boys to young men pursuing Christ is so incredible.

While we were doing the baptisms, there were 7 local boys watching.  I took advantage of the situation to go talk to them about what was going on.  The conversation was something like this (translated version):

Me: Do you know what they’re doing?
Them: No idea.
Me: The kids are getting baptized.
Them: Didn’t they get baptized when they were babies?
Me: Some of them, yeah.
Them: Then why are they doing it again?
Me: What does baptism mean to you?
Them: It’s something you do when you’re a Christian.
Me: And a Christian is someone who follows Jesus, right?
Them: Yeah.
Me: Were you all baptized?
Them: Yeah.
Me: So, do you know (about) Jesus? (Using the Spanish verb that means “To know about something”)
Them: Yeah, of course. 
Me: Ok, but do you know Him? (Using the Spanish verb that means “To know someone or something personally)
Them: Umm…
Me: Do you think you need to know Him personally before you can follow Him?
Them: Umm….
Me: So, let’s talk about how you can really know Him…

It went on from there.  That was one of the highlights of the week for me, to be able to share the Gospel while sitting on the beach, while watching our kids get baptized.  Full circle, and all that.  None of the kids made a decision for Christ there on the beach.  But as we told the kids all week, our job is obedience to share the Gospel, not putting a notch in our belt as if it were us that does anything at all.  I fail way too often to even be obedient to be proud of the moments that I am…but I praise God that He is able to use me, despite my being me.  And I pray that my being me happens less and less with each time that I do step out in faith to be obedient.

 

El Salvador Ministry Day 3

Wow…God just keeps showing off.  Last night, He blew the doors off our worship time.  Then today He stretched us, He pulled us, He tested us and He gave us sweet rest for our souls.

 

We spent our entire day in San Marcos, a suburb about 35-40 minutes from downtown San Salvador. Our first stop was at a Christian School.  At first blush, it seems like an odd place for a mission trip team to go, but when you consider that we’ve had several of our Christian school kids commit their lives to Christ during this trip, it makes perfect sense for us to go there. As something very personal and meaningful to me, Lucy Sanchez spoke after the drama presentation to present the gospel and to invite students to prayer with her.  It has been so amazing to watch Lucy and Ricardo, in this return to trip to their home country that they left so many years ago. They have been such faithful and humble servants at Liberty (in maintenance and cleaning) for more than 20 years, and to see them stepping out as leaders of our kids, pouring out their hearts to see their fellow Salvadorans come to Christ…it’s just so special.

 

After we left the first site, our second site was cancelled and so we moved straight on to our third site, which was a church that took in kids whose families couldn’t afford to send them to school.  In El Salvador, like most central American countries, even public education costs money, kids have to pay for their own supplies, books, uniforms, school taxes, etc.  So the families that can’t afford it, just don’t send their kids to school.  This church, takes in those kids during the day to teach them what they can and to at least make sure that they get one decent meal. There were about 20 kids, in the 4-10 age range.  It was a great moment of just loving on the kids, playing with them, talking about God’s amazing love for them and watching them stare in wonder at our white skin.

 

One little four year old girl, named Esmeralda, said she had never seen a person with white skin, in real life.  She also said she had never seen a picture of herself, when I took a picture and showed her on my phone.  I told her after I took the picture, “Well, you are very beautiful, look at this picture.”  And she replied, “Wow…Yes, I am beautiful aren’t I?”  During the drama, an older girl (8 years old) was sitting next to her and during the crucifixion scene, Esmeralda got very upset.  The older girl, bent over and said, “It’s going to be ok…he comes back alive.”  And when he did come back alive, Esmeralda just smiled and clapped softly.  So, so sweet.

 

One of the older kids there (about 14 years old) was completely broken by the drama and just wept as the “Miracle Man” (Jesus) was crucified.  When our students went to talk to her afterward, she just immediately said, “I want that Jesus…that Jesus that saved the man and that you have in your heart, I want THAT Jesus.”

 

After we pulled ourselves away from the little kids, we went to downtown San Marcos.  We were told that we were going to a police station to perform the drama for a bunch of police officers while they were on their lunch break.  We were told that there should be about 75 or so officers there.  When we got there, there were only about 10 people total there, including only 3 uniformed officers.  All of us were a little disappointed because of the 10 people, 2 of them were pastors who had been working with the police, so really only about 8 people who were “targets” (in our minds) for evangelism.  We had prayed on the bus that God would do something big in this spot…and we disappointed a little that we were not going to get that big “result” that we were hoping for.

 

God reminded us, that perspective is important and even through our lack of proper perspective, He blew the place up.  Of those 8 non-pastors, 2 of them were new believes (like in the last 7 days).  One of them a man, that asked me to pray for his wife (who was there) that she would accept Christ as Lord of her life.  She did.  And so did all 3 of the uniformed officers, and so did several others.  I think every one that was not already a Christ follower, made the decision to day to start new life in Christ.  And the two pastors that were there already run a discipleship class at the police station and got them immediately plugged in (literally starting today).   It was a powerful, and humbling experience to see God say to us, “You’re here for me, I choose who to save, and I can do whatever I want, with you or without you.  I can do much with little, so just chill out on expectations and walk in obedience.”

 

After this amazing stop, we ate lunch at a local church.   While there, we learned that our next appointment at a school had been cancelled because the ministry of health showed up to do checkups and/or immunizations (we weren’t clear on the details of why).  So we set up to go back to the church that we had visited earlier in the day.  When we got there, there was a whole new set of kids there, and more than double the amount from earlier in the day.  While this wasn’t so much a traditional evangelism opportunity, it was so good for our souls to just get to play and love on and tickle and chase and dance with these kids.

 

On a personal note, this stop affected me as much as any other stop.  In the last minute of the drama, I was watching these amazing little 4-5 year old girls, completely rapt in the story of Jesus being played out before them.  And for the first time in the year and a half that we’ve been working towards adopting our little Honduran girl, I just thought, “I hope that someone is doing for her what we’re doing with these kids, strangers sharing Christ’s love with her.”  As soon as that thought hit, I’ll admit that I just lost control of my emotions and had to step outside of the church and find a spot alone outside.  I pray for my girl many times each day…I’ve prayed for her caregivers, that she has food to eat, that there are Godly women in her life to love and care for her, that she experiences God’s love.  But this was just different…and I don’t know that I can put words to it.  I had never seen myself on the giving end of the equation, only on the receiving end (that some day when we get her).

 

Once I somewhat recomposed myself, I went back in and translated for our kids as they talked with the kids.  One little girl asked me if I was sad and pointed at my face (apparently, after spending most of the day out and about, my face was dirty and the tears had left streaks through the dirt).  I told her, I wasn’t really sad, but just very to be there with her.  She reached up and gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear, “I’m glad you’re here, too.”  Obviously, I lost it again.  But I have no problem with that.

 

It’s so sad to think that our ministry time in El Salvador is over.  Tomorrow we go to the beach to play then we leave the day after.  After three successive Spring Break trips to central America, I can safely say that a large part of my heart is here to stay.  I’m anxiously awaiting that trip to Honduras to add a family member, but I hope to come back again some day (to Guatemala, El Salvador, or wherever) to share Christ’s love again.

El Salvador – Ministry Day Two

Today we went to Ilopango, about 30-35 minutes outside of San Salvador.  It is a town of 8000-10,000 people that has had major struggles with gang violence in the recent years.  The two main gangs in the area have agreed to a mayor-brokered ceasefire, but the smaller gangs are trying to use this temporary truce to increase their own influence.  And so, in we step in the shadow of this, and under the constant watch of gang members following us as we went from school to school to public gym to school, walking the streets.

We started at a middle school with about 150 kids, where the testimonies (of Travis and Lexie) were powerful and hit the kids right where they were.  The drama captured the attention of the kids, which is difficult to do with middle school kids.  And for the first time on the trip, I felt complete peace when I took the microphone to share the gospel after the drama.  As I had the kids close their eyes and bow their heads and pray a prayer of salvation with me, I could see God changing lives.  About 15 or 20 hands went up when I asked them to raise their hands if they sincerely prayed that prayer with me for he first time. It was so humbling to talk to the kids afterwards, to hear their stories.  As one kid said, “I’ve been waiting for you to come for this day.”

As we were just about to leave the school, another girl ran up to me and one of our girls and said, “Don’t leave yet…I wasn’t ready earlier, but now I am.  I want Jesus to my Savior, to lead my life.”  So, I got to translate as one of our students led her in prayer.  One of the coolest things is that we are working closely with Campus Crusade in Central America (Cruzada Estudiantil) and with local churches who follow up with these students, to help them in their new life as a Christ follower.  And this girl was so excited about her new life, that she wanted to someone to call her tonight.  One of our local contacts took a special interest in her and was going to follow up.

After that amazing first stop, we went to a high school down the street.  Here we ran into major spiritual warfare.  There were several students there that made decisions to follow Christ, but several that I translated conversations with just simply said no.  I still don’t really understand in my heart how someone can simply say no to the Gospel, but I know from sharing the gospel many times that it happens more than I can comprehend.  One of the guys was a gang member (from MS13) that basically said, “I’m not ready to give up the life that I have now.”  So, we go from an amazing time of response, to an amazing time of rejection of the gospel.

As we were leaving the second school, the principal came and asked me to get a couple of students and go pray for one his janitors.  When I asked what was wrong, he just said, “He’s sick…in the head, he’s sick.  He just cries and can’t stop.  For six months now.” So I grabbed three of my more spiritually mature students (Macy, Chloe and Graham) and we went up the stairs to a remote classroom.  We walked in to find a man Martin about 50 years old, just weeping.  The four of us and the three locals (translator, local contact and the principal) all just put on hands on this man and prayed.  Out loud, at the same time, just proclaiming the promises of Christ over this man’s life.  It was an absolutely amazing time and one of the most intense moments of spiritual warfare I’ve ever experienced.  I don’t have words to describe it beyond that.  But when we finished praying for him (I honestly don’t know if it was five minutes or thirty), we got to see a smile from him as he just said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

After leaving that site, we went to a public gym to eat our lunch.  After lunch we performed our drama for a group of ladies who came there today for an aerobics class.  It was just an incredible time, that ended up being the favorite stop for many of our students.  So much unplanned, incredible God-ordained fun.

Our last stop was another middle school, but several high school classes and a couple of kindergarten classes came out to see the crazy Americans.  Again, God is faithful and lives were changed.

There were so many more things that God did today, but I’m tired.  Physically and spiritually.  But praise God that He is always faithful.  Always good.  And that He uses us despite, and sometimes because of, our brokenness.

 

El Salvador – Ministry Day One

So…we were handed this sheet of paper with our plans for the day.  The only thing that worked out as planned on that paper was lunch.  God blew up our plans and gave us even better plans.  It was incredible and humbling and empowering and overwhelming and so much more.

We arrived at our first site at 8:45am for a scheduled 9:00am presentation.  We were scheduled to do the presentation three times at the same school, to 1/3 of the school each time.  When we arrived, the principals said that according to their schedule we were supposed to show up at 7:00am and that they couldn’t rearrange their schedule, so we’d have to come back the next day.

They were adamant that we could not do it that day and that we had to leave.  I grab our kids and just told them, “Get together and pray that God will open doors.”  And they did.  The conversation went from “absolutely not” to “ok, we’ll bring the entire school down here to the courtyard and you can do your presentation for the whole school” in about five minutes.  It was so cool to jump in as the kids were finishing praying to close it out by thanking God for opening that door.

After an amazing ministry time there, we left to go the school that we were scheduled to go to in the afternoon (again, to do the presentation three times).  This presentation was frustrating because the kids at the school (middle school age) were so loud and so disrespectful, but God is good.  And through all the girls screaming at our boys and the kids talking while our kids were sharing their testimonies, God was faithful and when Christ is proclaimed, amazing things happen.

After our lunch, we were set up to go back to the second school that we went to do the presentation two more times (once for their high school kids and once for the elementary kids).  However, the principal (who was a non-believer) said that we were not welcome at his school.  Through much debate on their end, and much prayer on our end, the vice principal finally allowed us to go (quietly and presumably without the knowledge of the main principal) into classrooms as small groups of 5 or 6 kids to talk to one class at a time.  For the next two hours, we were able to go in as small groups and share Christ with kids in a much more personal setting.  The Holy Spirit set the place on fire.  Lives were changed.  Family trees change.  Generations changed.

El Salvador Work Days Recap

We spent Saturday and Sunday working in two different places, doing some very hard work to help local Salvadoran villages.

 

On Saturday, we went to Ilopango where we repaired some street damage on a very steep road so that buses would be able to go up the hill to the neighborhood at the top of the hill.  The hill was about a mile long and one of the steepest roads I’ve ever seen.  We used pickaxes and shovels to break up the asphalt where it was broken, then wheeled them down in wheelbarrows to the bottom of the hill.  We then filled the holes with sand (brought up the hill in wheel barrows), used heavy tampers to pack the sand and then mixed concrete to cover the holes (again with sand brought from the bottom of the hill).  In addition to the work, its always eye opening to visit places where sewage flows out of the houses and into the streets.  It was a lot of work, but we worked closely with many of the locals, who were very appreciative (and they were surprised to see a bunch of American kids work that hard).

 

On Sunday, tired, sunburned and beat up, we went to Sonsonate to work at a small village up in the mountains.  It was one of the most amazing days of my life.  Too much share in the brief moment I have to write this, but basically we were digging a swimming pool sized hole for this “co-op” / communal living community to use as a farm to raise fish (tilapia).  The day included a lot of digging with shovels and pickaxes, cutting out roots from the pit with axes and machetes, and some of the most gracious people I’ve ever met in my life.  Aside from the work, just some of the highlights included:

–       Climbing up a coconut tree to cut down fresh coconuts for all of us, cutting them open and offering them to us with straws in them to refresh ourselves with the coconut water.  Then they cut them open with a machete and cut off a small piece of the shell to use as a spoon to eat the coconut meat.  It was incredible and re-invigorating.

–       The locals pulled down fresh mangos and oranges and bananas from the trees around their houses, too.

–       I was privileged to speak to an elderly man who is a Nahuat, one of the indigenous Mayan people to the area, who told me stories of growing up in highlands of El Salvador.  He was in his 30’s when he finally had enough contact with the “outside world” to learn Spanish, but he still spoke the Nahautl dialect fluently (which was even a big deal to the other locals, because it is a dying language).

–       After returning to our camp, I found out Ricardo Sanchez (who has worked at Liberty for 20+ years) is from the same area that we were in.  It has been such an amazing blessing to have both of the Sanchez’s with us on this trip back to their homeland, but to have had the opportunity to go serve in his home area, was just incredible and was obviously very emotional for him.

Over all the work days were the tiring, blister-producing experiences that they always are…but such an amazing opportunity to go and serve others.  And to realize that just because they have a different life than us, in many ways they are much better off with their dirt floors and simple life than we are with all the trappings of “the modern world.”

72 Hours

I’ll be about to board a plane to El Salvador in 72 hours.  This will be my third mission trip to Central America in the last three years.  It would be easy for me to enter “cruise control” and just go with the flow of the trip.  I pray that I don’t do that.  I’m praying that God makes me uncomfortable and pushes me on this trip.

Our theme of the trip this year is just simply: Respond.  There are so many ways to look at that word.  For me, for now at least, I look at like this: That the Creator of the universe has chosen me, He has given me gifts and talents, and He has called me to be His ambassador to a broken world.  So, how will I respond?

I’m not perfect, and this side of death, I never will be.  But I pray that in my screwed-up-ed-ness, people can see God’s love.  I pray that in my weakness, people will see God’s power.  And I pray that even though I’m imperfect beyond description, that I can love with God’s perfect love.

I would appreciate your prayers during March 8-15, as we are serving the people of El Salvador.  Pray that our team would respond to God’s call to obey Him in sharing His love.

Tj

 

A Stranger Here…

I chose “A Stranger Here” as the title of my blog because, I am a stranger in this world.  I don’t belong here…I may be from here, but it’s not home.  And I look forward to that day when God makes things new.  When the whole world is reborn back to what it was and I will be home.

To quote the Rich Mullins song, Land of My Sojourn:

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me

And so what I write here, will probably be for one of several reasons.  Because I don’t belong here.  Because I’m lonely for my home.  And because I sincerely wish that I could take you there with me.

Tj