Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 3

{please follow my journey through photos here!}

Goooood morning! It is 5:30am Tuesday morning here in San Salvador! Yesterday was our first day of work at the Children’s Center (CDI)! My day started off with another cloudy morning sunrise (much like the one today!), but once again, it’s better than any sunrise I’ve seen in Columbus, Ohio. Before I got to work praying, I actually did a little rooftop yoga to help center my mind and wake up my brain and body! I then spent a good amount of time journaling, praying and reviewing God’s word so that I would be ready for our house visit later that morning. I prayed in Child’s Pose and asked God to use me for Him in whatever way was necessary. I asked Him to take away any barrier I might have from speaking and simply use my words and my body to His glory.

After breakfast and a devotional from Bob (he is on this trip with his 4 kids, one of which, Jenna, is my roommate!), we got on our way to Guayabo! Along the way, the “micro-bus” I was in stopped to pick up 5 of our translators for the day. Suddenly, our van, which should safely sit about 11 people, was stuffed with SEVENTEEN people! Our translators are kids in their early 20s and most of them are in college. They are all hilarious, infinitely helpful, beautiful people. Some of them have visited the United States before, giving us something in common to talk about. In fact, although we live thousands of miles apart, we have quite a few things in common! There are 3 big things that I clicked on with each of the translators immediately: Facebook, Instagram & Twitter! I have also learned that “Selfie” in Spanish, is “Selfie!”

When we arrived at the CDI, we got a quick tour, downed some coffee, and organized into our morning groups. John, Annie and I were introduced to the woman whose home we would be visiting. Unfortunately, none of us can remember her name! We were teamed up with Andrea (Andi) as our translator. I feel as though Andi and I would be great friends if she lived in the US! I am pretty sure she is the Salvadorian Patron Saint of Selfies! We walked with this woman to her home, probably 25-30 minutes away and uphill the whole way! Whenever we came to a fork in the road, we’d ask which way, and of course she would point the direction going UP! Thank God for all my workout classes! We got tothe woman’s home and her husband was there working inside the house. Their land was actually quite nice for Guayabo! They had 5 jugs filled with water, which is important when you don’t have running city water like we do, chickens (one was even a pet and lived inside the house!), and a dog! When you peeked in the house, it was just one room for everything. Their beds we against the walls on 2 sides, the kitchen was on another side and the front door was on the 4th side.

The woman introduced us to her husband and pulled out three stools for us to sit on her front porch. Their dog was wandering the home and immediately got shooed away to make room for the visitors. We graciously accepted the seats and proceeded to have small talk to try to get to know the family and where they were with their faith. Juan has a job where he picks vegetables and carries them in giant bags on his back. Some days, the woman, although she looks frail and weak, carries just as much weight as her male counterparts. They have 5 children, 3 of which are young enough to be enrolled at the Children’s Center. We discovered that the woman seems to understand Christianity fairly well and that God’s love is a gift that we can do nothing to earn. She belongs to the Catholic Church down the hill from their home and attends weekly. Juan, on the other hand, attends church about once a month. We asked them if they had a Bible, and they brought out this old, worn, falling apart Bible. I heard once that if a Bible is falling apart, it must be owned by someone who isn’t. That might explain why the woman was able to walk nimbly up and down the steep Guayabo hills in dress shoes without the slightest of stumbles. We proceeded to go through our pre-marked verses, stopping after each one to check for understanding. Both Juan and his wife understood what we were attempting to tell them until we got to the part about not being able to earn God’s unconditional love. This is common amongst many Catholics; they believe that we can only get to Heaven by doing good works. Salvation can be earned. After many verses and discussions, John asked Juan if he was ready to accept Jesus into his heart. Juan stood silent and gazed over the horizon. We gave him a moment to collect his thoughts before John asked him what was holding him back. It was revealed to us that he felt as if he wasn’t good enough God’s love; that he hadn’t yet earned it. No matter how many verses we showed Juan and explained to him that if we believe the Bible to be true, which we do, and something is in the Bible, it must be true, he still wasn’t ready to commit. At this point, had I been alone, I would’ve quit and said, “Well, thanks for your time! I’ll check back in later!” But Annie pushed through. She told a story about her struggles with being good enough and how she worked through it to finally realize that she can’t ever be worthy of God’s love. Something in her story struck a cord with Juan and he connected with what God was trying to tell him. John asked again if he was ready to give his life to Jesus and this time he said that he was!! His first question was, “Now what??” We explained that John would recite a prayer, Andi would translate it into Spanish and Juan would repeat it in Spanish. Hearing Juan tell God that he was ready to accept his undeserved, unconditional love was a blessing like I’d never experienced before. After the prayer, we celebrated with Juan and encouraged him to get connected to other believers. Fortunately his wife is a believer and can help him with this. I hope we are able to keep updated with Juan somehow and make sure that he is able to find other believers and strengthen his faith.

On the walk back to the center, I felt frustrated because during our house visit, I really didn’t say much. I pretty much sat with John, Annie and Andi and followed along. At one point, the family dog returned and I pet the dog for a long time. At one point, her even rested his head on my lap! But I didn’t really have much to say that I felt could have helped Juan or his wife’s understanding of God’s grace. I felt useless. Like here are John and Annie, two amazing people with so much to offer, and I just sat and smiled like an awkward bump on a log. I was disappointed in myself. I was just really hoping that God was going to use me during that house visit and I don’t feel like he needed me. I suppose it’s true that sometimes we have to get out of God’s way and let Him do His thing. Sometimes that involves us and sometimes it doesn’t. While walking, I prayed that god would have another way to use me that day.

As Melissa got ready to deliver her lesson, I wandered around the children taking photos. At one point, I found two of the daughters of the family we had just visited! As Melissa and her translator were talking, these kids were rowdy! It’s truly a good thing I can’t speak Spanish because my teacher mode would have come out in full force!!! After the lessons, there was a craft the kids got to make and take home. I had fun helping the kids. They didn’t care that we had a communication barrier, they just wanted someone to pay attention to them and help them.

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Once the kids’ lesson was completed, they were allowed free time to run around and play. I went to check out the construction area where we are building a playground and completing some other tasks. Still trying to be useful for God, I picked up a shovel and began helping where I could.

Our entire group got to go to the home of Victor and Sylvia Turcios for dinner. Victor is the pastor at Iglesia Gran Comision and works very closely with the CDI. Their home was very simple and not a mansion by any means, but they worked very hard to make it welcoming for us. Dinner wasn’t quite ready when we got there, so a group of us went to the playground next door to play soccer. I didn’t play, but took photos and held cell phones instead! When we returned to the house, we were treated to a delicious meal of homemade tortilla soup, homemade jalapeño pesto dip (I tried it even though I’m a weakling when it comes to spices! It was very good, but very spicy!!!), quesadillas, pound cake and coffee.

Sylvia serving us her delicious meal!

Sylvia serving us her delicious meal!

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It was then back “home” to the hotel for our debriefing meeting and bed! All in all, I had a wonderful day and got to experience some truly incredible things. I am still working through my frustrations of not feeling useful for God, but I know that He has a place where He will use me for his glory.

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 2

Our first full day here in San Salvador was of course, AMAZING. I am realizing though, that with the incredibly full and busy days ahead of us, I may not have time to provide detailed posts every night. I can survive on 5 hours of sleep, but the way I usually write and edit…I’d only get 3 hours of sleep! SO, I will provide as much detail as possible, but I just hope that between my handful of words and bevy of photos, your curiosity about my current adventure will be satiated!

  • I woke up at 5am this morning to experience my first Salvadorian sunset. Unfortunately, it was a little cloudy from last night’s  rainstorm, but the sunrise was still more beautiful than any I’d seen in Columbus for a while! I tried to have some quiet alone time of journaling, but as soon as I’d get to writing, the sun would rise a little higher, creating the “just right” Kodak moment.

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  • Breakfast was at 6:30am. During breakfast, we went over the plan for the day, fellowshipped together and had a short time of devotion to put our heads and hearts in order for the day.
Eggs, beans, ham & cheese roll, plantains, and OF COURSE...COFFEEEEEE!!!!

Eggs, beans, ham & cheese roll, plantains, and OF COURSE…COFFEEEEEE!!!!

  • After breakfast, we left for Iglesia Gran Comisión San Salvador and the first of 3 church services we would attend and serve at throughout the day. At each service, our pastor, John Ransom was preaching! The only thing that made this slightly challenging was the fact that John was speaking with a translator. John would say a sentence or phrase and then the translator would speak in Spanish. Everyone at the church was so kind and welcoming and eager to have us there. I met hermanos Gerson (pronounced hair-son with a rolled rrrr.) and Emilio and their father, Emilio Sr. Gerson and Emilio sang in the church worship band. We sang songs in Spanish, that I could pick out a few words from. We also sang an old familiar song, How Great is Our God, but in Spanish! It was a unique experience to be able to worship with our hosts in their language and know that God not only hears us, but understands our hearts and our words.
  • We stayed at Iglesia Gran Comisión for another service, but instead of sitting in for the service, a group of us sat outside the worship hall and fellowshipped a bit. I am really enjoying getting to know the people on our trip. We are all connected in some way!
Church Worship Band at

Church Worship Band at Iglesia Gran Comision

  • By the time the 2nd service ended, it was lunchtime! We traveled to the local mall to eat in the food court. We were each given $5 to spend on food. San Salvador uses dollars like in the United States, but it goes much further down here than it does up north. Another difference is the popularity of the Sunday lunch crowd at the mall! We walked in and it was PACKED! I can’t remember the last time I saw any mall in Columbus so filled with people! Wait….Yes I can. 1998, City Center Mall was filled with teenage girls hoping to catch a glance of the popular boy group Hanson. I was one of said girls. But I digress. Apparently the thing to do with your friends and family on Sunday is go to the mall and have lunch in the food court. We were given our money and a partner and sent on our way. I was partnered with Alyssa and we TOTALLY underestimated how difficult it would be to acquire food in a Salvadorian mall food court when neither of us speak Spanish. Thank God we serendipitously chose the same line as Sarah! She was able to help us figure out exactly what we wanted!
  • After lunch, we headed to Soyapongo for church service #3. In Soyapongo, I met Mario, a guy that works with the church to run sound and helps with the children’s ministry. Mario’s English was better than some of my friends back home! I asked how old he was and he told me to guess. I hate guessing ages, but I played along and guessed 18. WRONG! 25!!! Such a babyface! I noticed that Mario was wearing a pristine pair of Nike Jordan shoes. I commented that my students back home LOVE their Jordan’s too. He said that he has to have them and has worked very, very hard to pay for THREE pairs of them! Mario does something working with computers and networking (even in his near perfect English, I had a hard time understanding exactly what he does! Ha!) and is currently studying for an exam for either a promotion or job change (again, even English didn’t help my lack of technical knowledge.). He showed me on his phone the reading he’s doing. No wonder his English is so good! He was reading words that would take me a few tries to comprehend! It was nice to talk to someone from San Salvador without struggling with a language barrier. Plus, I was truly inspired by his perseverance and hard work not only to get something he wanted but also his dedication to the church, which he has grown up in since he was a little boy. Just something about his joyfulness was magnetizing! I could have talked with him for hours! We also had a few good laughs watching the little kids interact with each other. Turns out kids are the same no matter what country you’re in!

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  • Since the third church service was so late in the afternoon, by the time it was over, it was dinnertime! Dinner was at a local restaurant, Tipicos Margoth. I had my first pupusa! A pupusa is a traditional Salvadoran dish made of a thick, handmade corn tortilla that is usually filled with a blend of the following: cheese cooked pork meat ground to a paste consistency refried beans, or queso con loroco. It was a simple, but delicious dish!
I was so hungry, I started eating before I remembered to take a picture!

I was so hungry, I started eating before I remembered to take a picture!

  • Post dinner, we had our debriefing meeting back at the hotel and figured out who would be doing what tomorrow at the children’s center. John asked if I would go with him and Annie on a house visit (i.e. evangelizing) in the morning. Of course I said I would go. Evangelizing has been my biggest anxiety in planning for this trip. I simply don’t think my story of coming to faith is all that exciting or meaningful. It’s not something that brings me to tears, and I think the ones that do are some of the most impressive stories. Heck, I can’t even identify the exact moment I was saved. I have just always known that Jesus is my Savior because I was raised in a strong Christian home. Sure, at some point I had to make the decision to follow Christ for myself, but I really can’t identify when that moment was. Yes, I have had times of trial where I have been angry with or confused by God, but I have never questioned his existence. Needless to say, I just don’t think my testimony is very strong or really even worth sharing. I am glad that I will be on my first visit with John, our pastor who obviously know what he’s doing and what to say. I will be able to learn a great deal from him and observe how he talks to people about his faith and what they believe.

Today was a long, exhausting day. I am eager and anxious to see what tomorrow brings!

Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Day 1

PHEW! It’s 8:45pm here in San Salvador (10:45pm back home in Ohio) and for some odd reason, I am not tired yet! I should mention I have been up since 3am (thanks for the wake up call, Dad…ughhh), have been on 2 flights totaling 5 hours in the air and 1 45-minute van ride. I should be exhausted! But I’m glad I’m not so I can give everyone an update!

Our first flight left from Columbus, Ohio at 5:50 am this morning and landed us in Miami, Florida. From Miami, we flew to San Salvador, El Salvador.

In case you're as clueless as I was...

In case you’re as clueless as I was…

Right in the heart of it all!!

Right in the heart of it all!!

Both flights for me were pretty uneventful. I already knew that even with the best of intentions to be productive during either of the flights, I knew I’d fall asleep eventually. So I gave in and tried to catch some extra zzz’s before the long day ahead. Flying into San Salvador was simply breathtaking. Everything was so green! I could see homes and buildings from above, but the land far outweighed the buildings.

Once we landed, we went straight to Immigration. The woman checked my passport and documentation and ask how many days I’d be staying. My Spanish is beyond lacking, but I can at least count to 10, and we’ll only be here 9 days! WOO! I know the answer to this one! So I happily blurted, “NINE!” Well, there went my first opportunity for real Spanish. She looked at me confused, “What? Oh…ok.” She was very sweet and smiled at the silly blonde girl who couldn’t even figure out how to say “NUEVE!”

After Immigration came Customs. Once again, the friendly Salvadorian laughed at my lack of Spanish and asked me to push a button right below a giant red and green traffic light looking contraption. “OH! Ok! It’s green….what’s that mean??” I was hoping for some sort of exciting prize for following directions so well! WRONG! Apparently it’s a randomizer that randomly lights up red or green. Green – you pass through into San Salvador. Red – you have to put your bag through the x-ray machine.

Everyone made it through both Immigrations and Customs without a hitch. The only slight problem was that one of our bags got lost, and both fortunately and unfortunately, it wasn’t anyone’s personal items, “just” donations for the villagers.

My new best friend and San Salvador reference, Sarah, met us outside. Sarah works as the Missions Coordinator and her husband, Jorge, is the head of college ministry. She reminded us of a few important tips (DON’T drink the water and don’t flush toilet paper!) and gave us a rundown of the rest of the afternoon and evening before escorting us to our van drivers for the week. We all piled in and began the 45-minute trek to our hotel.

Looking out the window on the drive was incredible. We saw everything from horses just chillin on the side of the road, to dogs wandering around, to graffiti, to shirtless workers enjoying an afternoon siesta.

 

Okay…the tired is starting to hit me, so I’m going to wrap up the rest of the day kinda quickly:

  • We arrived at the hotel and received our room assignments. I am rooming with 2 lovely girls, Jenna and Becca. Small world! I graduate high school with Becca’s older sister! Our room is basically 2 queen sized beds and one twin. They are very quaint, but perfect. It feels kinda like a dorm room (but we have our own bathroom!).
  • We had orientation (schedule for the week, do’s and don’t’s, cultural traditions, etc.).
  • Our first outing was to the local grocery store! I stuck close to Sarah and she showed me some delicious treats you can only get in San Salvador. I will be returning home with plantain chips, white chocolate and peanut butter candies, cream soda and Oreo Wafers! YEAH! I’ve never seen Oreo WAFERS in the US!!! I also scored some delicious pastries from the bakery. Since I will not be able to bring them home, I documented the banana puff pastry that might have been one of the greatest things I’ve ever tasted.
I'M GOIN' IN!!!

I’M GOIN’ IN!!!

I couldn't even get a picture of the entire thing before my mouth took over and I started chomping!

I couldn’t even get a picture of the entire thing before my mouth took over and I started chomping!

  • After our grocery outing, we came home (the hotel) for dinner. PIZZA!!!! A little taste of home was fantastic!
  • Our last group activity for the night was getting to know each other a little better by sharing what we are most looking forward to this week. I shared that I am simply looking forward to everything!! I’m really not sure what to expect this week, so I am excited for it all! I will be paying attention to opportunities to be stretched beyond my comfort level and open to God’s changes in my heart.
  • It had started to rain during our meeting, so after we had concluded in prayer, a few of us when to the roof (yeah, you can just go chill on the roof!). It’s covered, so we weren’t being rained on. I tried to capture some photos of the storm, but I did not have any success. I will just have to remember it. That roof is going to be home to many of my quiet times this week. In fact, I’m just crazy enough to dare to get up for the sunrise tomorrow!

Speaking of which, I am now officially tired. Please follow me here on Ending Up Here, Instagram, and Flickr for as many updates as I can muster before passing out from exhaustion each night!! Thank you so much to each and every one of you for your support through kind words, encouraging texts, and just by keeping up with me here!! Noches! (I’ve picked up that the “Buenos” isn’t necessary. 😉 )

View from the airplane as we arrived in San Salvador. Created with the iPhone app Vrsly.

View from the airplane as we arrived in San Salvador. Created with the iPhone app Vrsly.

 

Ending Up Helping :: Birthday Girl’s Choice

So I didn’t exactly write a blog a day…and for that I am honestly only mildly disappointed. I learned a lot about many local and national charities and I was able to pass this on to my students! As I mentioned earlier, I had my juniors do a project in which they were required to research one charity and interview someone involved with the organization. Some of my students took this assignment and ran with it! They chose things that meant something to them (Anxiety & Depression Association of America, Huckleberry House, Wounded Warrior, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Stonewall Columbus…I could go on!) and learned how to support these causes and why they are important. Other students…well…they just weren’t inspired. “I chose the Ronald McDonald House because I like McDonald’s.” I guess that’s a start! Oi veh…

One part of this idea that I did take VERY seriously was choosing one philanthropy to donate my own time and/or money to. And I’ve decided…

San Salvador Missions Trip with Rock City Church

Recently I have been searching for a church home. I grew up going to one Lutheran church until 9th grade, when I switched to a different Lutheran church where many of my high school peers attended. When I hit college, I pretty much stopped going to church altogether, other than when I was home on break. I tried different churches on my campus, but none of them were as good as my home church. I felt like my spirit wasn’t being fed, so I just quit trying (I don’t recommend this method, by the way). After college, I went back to that home church. A few years later, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (one branch of the Lutheran churches) voted that if a person was in a committed, monogamous homosexual relationship, they COULD be a pastor! HOLY YAY!!!!! (Literally!). Well, my home church did not feel the YAY as much as I did. They decided to put to a vote whether or not the church would stay part of the ELCA or leave (thus stating that they were against gays being able to be pastors in our church). Guess who could vote? People of a certain age that had tithed a certain number of times. Guess who couldn’t vote? Me. And most of my peers. One of my favorite memories of this time (okay, I wasn’t there for it, but I can imagine what it was like) was when my mom went to a forum to express why voting to leave the ELCA was ludicrous. As she stood up to speak, two elderly women behind her were heard whispering to each other, “Oh, that’s the woman that is friends with those gays.”

BAHAHAHA! Hell yeah she was! God, I miss her.

I digress…needless to say, it was time for me to leave my home church and find a new home. After much searching and wrestling with what’s important to me in a church, I landed in a seat at Rock City Church.  

Rock City Church is a newish church in Columbus, almost 3 years old. They don’t actually have their own building. They use movie theaters (specifically the Lennox and Regal theaters) as their worship halls. I know this sounds kinda weird, but in all actuality, it rocks. They have a full rock band that performs in front of the giant screen while the lyrics are projected behind them. The band is so loud and so rocking that the church offers earplugs for more sensitive listeners. To expand their audience, Rock City live streams the pastor’s message from the main theater in Lennox to another theater down the hall and another theater across the city at the Regal Cinema! The Regal Cinema has their own band, but they get to hear the same message from across the city. How 21st century is that??

The set is a little more elaborate now, this is from their opening day, but you get the idea!

The set is a little more elaborate now, this is from their opening day, but you get the idea!

My favorite part of church is the music. When I can close my eyes, sing along and rock out my worship to Jesus, that’s when I’m most connected. I recently learned that ONE SONG at Rock City can last as long as 15 minutes!! I had NO clue!! It certainly doesn’t feel that long! Every time I leave Rock City, I feel good! The message sticks with me through the week and actually affects my daily living.

You might have seen our pastor Chad in last month’s 614 Magazine!

I realized Rock City was worth a hard look as a possible home church when one week, I “accidentally” planted myself next to this fabulously sweet gay man (who happens to be a teacher as well!) and the next week I saw one of my college sorority sisters sitting alone before the service! Josie and I reconnected and she seemed just as interested as I was. Just like any activity that requires commitment, having a buddy definitely helps. Josie encouraged me to join her for the Rock City Connect classes, where you get to learn more about the church.

Well, one thing led to another, and I had decided that Rock City was the church for me. I don’t think I can ever be 100% sure about a church. The church changes and I change, so who knows how long this will be my home, but for now, it’s the perfect fit.

Getting Involved

Since I had finally found a new church home, I wanted to be involved and stay connected. Here’s where the charity part FINALLY comes into play! It has been 9 long years since I have left the country (Canada doesn’t count). I have been wanting to see more of the world for years, but haven’t made saving money a priority. Well, now I’m going to pay it forward AND see the world all in one swoop.

In just a few short months,  June 7th – June 15th 2014, I will be joining a short-term missions trip to San Salvador, El Salvador with people from Rock City Church and our partner church, the Great Commission Latin America. Because of generous donations, Rock City Church was able to fund and finish construction on a Child Development Center in 2013. At the center, 120 children are provided with healthy meals, medical and dental care, education, Jesus, and hope.

San Sal Promo

Our role during this trip will be to serve the community through working with the children, assisting in the health clinic and possibly some construction work. We will share the love and message of Jesus Christ and build relationships with people that are eager to share their life stories and hear why we have the hope we have.

In order for me to go on this trip, I will need some serious prayer warriors. I am learning to “Pray BIG!” God can handle my big prayers. So I am asking people to pray that I allow God to use me for His will, not my own, on this trip. I’m not sure in what way God will use me on this trip, but I hope not only to be a blessing to those I encounter, but also to be blessed by this new experience.

I must admit that I am a little nervous. I feel like this is a quick decision, even though I’ve been thinking and praying about it for almost 2 months now. I trust that this is something God wants me to do and that he will use me to His benefit. I’ve also never been to a Spanish speaking country before! So, I’m learning Spanish! I took French in high school, and I’m finding that background knowledge does help a little! I will be going on this adventure with a brand new group of people. Sure, I’m pretty good at making friends, but it’s still a little nerve racking, even for me!

So as I prepare for this trip over the next 4 months, please pray, send good karma, whatever it is you do! I am so excited for this experience and I can’t wait to tell you all about it, from planning and preparation to the actual trip!

As Jesus once said, “¡Ve!”

(I’m told that means to command someone to “GO!”)

Confession: I had to look up where El Salvador is...

Confession: I had to look up where El Salvador is…

 

Please watch the video below to see where I will be and to meet Nelson, one of the Salvadorian children benefitting from Rock City’s efforts: