Sponsor mom Missy Ward visited us last week. While she was here a young man that I have known for 5 years came to Esther's House needing help. Many of you who follow my blog know that when I first came to El Salvador I came through a different ministry which closed its houses down about 2 years ago. This young man lived in one of those houses. He is a true orphan and has no family to speak of. As a temporary fix when his house closed he moved into a local rehabilitation home even though he didn't fit the profile. Thankful for a place to stay and food on the table every day he made the best of his situation until that home also closed down. For the last 5 or 6 months he found himself living in a church. Little by little he became more and more frustrated with his circumstances and began to pray for direction. He asked God if He could bless him with a better life; a more independent life. This young man found his way to my office and asked if we could help. At our first meeting I advised the young man to return to the church where he was living, talk to his pastor, and pray some more. I also needed time to pray for direction. I also needed to ask God to provide for this young man. While I was discussing the situation with Missy, she made a statement that rang very true to me. While Esther's House works specifically with young mothers, Missy said "Change in this country has to begin with the men." We work hard to teach these young mothers to be godly mothers and to become independent thinkers. However, they live in a male dominated society. Missy is right. Unless we teach these young men to love and serve God and to respect the women who are along side of them nothing will change here. While Esther's House is dedicated to working with the young women and children in this country, Esther's Heart Ministry is devoted to bringing about change through this younger generation. When this young man returned to my office 3 days later he said he was sure he needed to leave his church. He said he felt God's peace. We talked to Eduardo who is one of our sponsor children (although not a child anymore as he just celebrated his 20th birthday). Eduardo welcomed Rikardo into his little room that he rents. As a ministry we had to find our nitch. People always want to know what our purpose is. Our purpose specifically is to work with young mothers and children. We don't technically have a place for Rikardo in our ministry. He is too old to join the sponsor program. He is obviously not a young mother or a child. However, God brought this young man into my life and has kept him in my life for 5 years. I know there is a reason for that. So why not help him? Why not step outside of our box. We are dedicated to making change here and while we are focused primarily in helping the children here, why not answer God's call when it comes? We often speak about the future of our ministry and we would love to one day open a home similar to Esther's House for teen boys. So far that hasn't happened. However, Oscar and I (more Oscar than me) find ourselves working with more and more young men who have been orphaned, have no family, but want to succeed in their lives. We are truly honored that God continues to entrust us with His children. We are committed, as a ministry, to help those that God brings to us.
When I first came to El Salvador I connected with a different ministry. I taught English at their various houses. That is where I met Antonia. I fell in love with Antonia immediately. Her smile can win anyone over. Antonia is mentally disabled. Sadly at her other placement no one saw potential in Antonia. While the other girls and children were brought to school every day she was left to sit in the house. I began to work with Antonia trying to teach her how to write her name and how to count. I remember countless times where the staff would ridicule me telling me I was wasting my time. One day the director called me into the office and during our meeting I asked them if I could have more time to work with Antonia. I always felt that with more time she could learn. She was hungry for it and I believe that's all someone needs. I remember the director telling me to stop wasting my time that her future was begging on the street. That was my last day at that organization and that is the day I began the fight to get custody of Antonia and her daughter Faviola. I was granted full legal and physical custody of Antonia about 7 months later. (While Faviola lives with me I have not yet been granted legal custody of her I am still fighting and waiting patiently for that) Antonia, who was used to sitting all day and staring off into another world, quickly got back into her same routine. I decided that I did not want her to sit around the house all day doing nothing so I spoke to a friend of mine who owns a small cafe. I asked her if Antonia could volunteer. I knew at least Antonia knew how to wash dishes and sweep floors. So my friend agreed. About 2 months later Antonia came home with a pay check. Over the 2 months Antonia had learned how to make tortillas (which is a big money maker here) and so she was given a promotion and started receiving pay. I was thrilled and wanted to let everyone who told her she couldn't that she could and was. Antonia didn't stop with just working a full time job. She came home one day about 3 months ago and decided she wanted to go into business for herself. She wants to save her money and buy a grill and make tortillas and sell them herself instead of working for someone else. So of course I told her absolutely. She can do whatever she wants. So she is currently in the process of saving her money to buy a grill and the supplies needed to open her own tortillaria. And if that isn't enough to accomplish in the life of a young lady who was told she wouldn't amount to anything, Antonia came home about a month ago and decided she wanted to go to school. That was a little tricky. I immediately started to home school Antonia teaching her how to hold a pencil and draw lines. She learned how to write the letter A (her goal is to write her name). I began visiting every special education school that I could find but because of her age she was not able to attend. I spoke to some regular schools to see if they would permit her to sit in a kindergarten class and again because of her age she was not allowed. Finally, our tutor heard on the radio that a well known church in the area was opening a night school, basically an adult education program. He thought it would be a good school for Esther (another young mother here) to attend. When we went to enroll Esther her teacher told us that if we knew of anyone else that they still had space available. I explained Antonia to her and asked would there be anything available to her. She said yes! She said they had another man who was mentally disabled who attended. He was 80 years old and came faithfully and even though it took him 4 years he just recently finished the first grade. So this week, at the age of 26 Antonia entered school. It is going to be a very difficult challenge for Antonia, but I know she can do it. She was crying this morning because she just can't figure out how to make V. She'll get it one day soon. She is a determined young lady. Her daughter also has a learning disability, in kindergarten she struggles. I just think what an amazing example Antonia is being to her daughter. I can't wait until the day that Antonia can finally write her name!
To those of you who follow my blog regularly I'd like to offer my apologies. I try to keep my blog updated, but I have fallen behind. I'd like to be very frank with all of you if I may. I always try to think of uplifting cute stories to put on here. Sometimes I try to be inspirational and I think for that reason I haven't been blogging as often as I'd like. In all honesty, March took its toll on me. When I hear other missionaries here talk I often think God has taken it easy on me. While I have definitely had my struggles and battles, they seem to be minor in comparison to others who serve here. Maybe for that reason March seemed incredible difficult to me. Maybe I just need to toughen up. I consider myself to be a woman of faith. I know that God is in control and that if I earnestly seek Him He will direct me and where I am wrong He will correct me. However, in March I just felt a little lost. In hind sight I don't know why. God was faithful as always. Our support was extremely low for March and I have to admit that I panicked. Right away I started adding numbers and couldn't figure out how to make ends meet. Finally after the third sleepless night I finally said "God this is your responsibility, not mine." He put food on the table for our children 3 times a day. Put gas in the car so we could get to school and back every day. He provided. He always does. We also said goodbye to Martha and Miguel. Honestly, I wasn't in agreement with Martha leaving our program. I don't feel that she is mature enough to parent Miguel on her own. However, our purpose is to train these young ladies to become independent and when they feel they are ready, they leave. I think Martha leaving came as a shock to me and I may have questioned myself as to whether or not I did everything I could to help her and teach here while she was here. I believe I did. In the end, these young ladies will make their own decisions. I just need to remain faithful and teach them as much as I can while they are here. I am also in the process of adopting Faviola. Antonia's parental rights have been taken from her because of her mental disability. I have full legal and physical custody of Antonia. Faviola is still in the legal custody of the child welfare department here while I have physical custody of her. We went to court in March. This was supposed to be the time for them to give me both physical and legal custody of Faviola so we could proceed with the adoption. However, the court decided that I need to take 6 weeks of classes to learn how to parent a child in this country and they put me on a 6 month probation. Finally, we had a bout of sickness sweep through the house starting with Anderson. Anderson got a high fever rather quickly one afternoon after playing at the park. The fever resulted in him having a seizure. We spent the day at a less than sanitary hospital and I believe that's where he, Esther and I became sick. Bronchitis, Sinusitis, Bronchial infections all plagued our house for about 10 days. As I said, in hind sight maybe things weren't so bad. Maybe because I was sick things seemed to be much worse than they really were. Maybe I am just tired of fighting uphill battles in medical, educational, and government systems that make no sense to me. At any rate, this is my blog. While I will continue to give you the cute stories of our children and the inspirational stories of helping the needy, I also believe that if I am not honest with you you can not be praying for me and this ministry in the way that we need. God bless all of you who are a par
Miguel just had his 8th birthday. I met Miguel 4 years ago when I visited El Salvador for the second time. I remember that Miguel liked to dance. He said we would be dance partners forever. Miguel lived in another house with a different ministry when I first met him. That house closed and Miguel was then placed in a govt. agency with his mother while their Judge decided what to do with them. It was then that I started the fight to have Miguel and his mother live with us at Esther's House. It was a long wait and a lot of red tape and fighting. It took 6 months before I finally got Miguel with us. The first week Miguel was here I sat down and had a talk with him. He was certainly confused by what he had just gone through and was acting out a little bit. I told him that he was the man of the house. He had a lot of responsibility in teaching the other children how to follow directions. I told him that I depended on him to help me. I saw him well up with pride as he told me he could be resposible. I remember him thinking for a few minutes and then he said to me: "If I'm the man of the house, I think I'll need a motorcycle so I can get to work and back". We call Miguel Pastor Miguel. He loves to play church. He gathers all of the children and they have church services. Miguel is always the one to preach. His sermons are always short, sweet and to the point, but very wise and powerful. I am thankful that God entrusted us with Miguel. I know that He has a grand plan for this young man's life. Miguel is currently taking guitar lessons. He wants to join the worship team at church one day. As for the dancing; you can still catch Miguel and me doing a waltz every now and again.
I have lived here, in El Salvador, for close to 4 years now. I remember when I first moved here I felt like a fish out of water. To be honest there are still days, even now, that I feel like I just don't quite get it. Something showed me how much I have changed and adapted over the last few years. It was a piece of garbage if you can believe it. When I first moved here I had taken my trash out one morning before I went to work at the orphanage. (Back in those days I was teaching English at a government orphanage) I had my trash all tied up neatly in a trash bag and set it on the curb. I went into my garage and as I backed my car out I saw that a man had torn open my bag and was digging threw my trash. I have to admit I was extremely offended and felt a bit violated. I didn't say anything to this man, but I do remember being very bothered that he would open and go through my trash. As time went on I learned that a lot of people earn their livings by going through the trash. They take out the plastics, paper, and cardboard to be sold for recycling (I know, I know...I should be doing that myself but now I can justify not recycling). I have even gotten to the point where I separate things for the people who pass by. I put my plastics in one bag and any cardboard I set out to the side. Last week my mom sent my husband and me a little bit of money to buy a pizza. A real treat for me!!! Pizza is my favorite and I almost never get to buy it. We ate our pizza and the next morning was trash pick up so we set out trash out and I set the pizza box next to our garbage. I then walked the block to Esther's House to start my day with the Girls and the children. As I was unlocking the gate I saw a man ride by on his bicycle. He had a lot of cardboard tied to him with roap. My heart welled up and I cracked a big smile. Miguel (our 7 year old) asked me what I was smiling at. I said "look, that man has my pizza hut box" I know it's a little thing. Sometimes it's the little things here that keep me going. I was glad to be able to help that man a little bit and I was happy for my own growth.
In October 2011 a team of missionaries came to visit us. During their trip we did an outreach event in Zacamil. To me it was the most chaotic event I had ever organized and honestly when we left that night I felt embarassed; as if I had failed that team, and the children of Zacamil. I do remeber towards the end of the event, with 250 yelling kids running around out of control, I looked to the center of the room and saw this young mother holding her son. I walked over to them and introduced myself. Esther, age 14 was holding her 9 month old son, Anderson. I asked her if I could hold him and she graciously handed him to me. I remember he was very tiny for being 9 months old. He was lethargic, clearly undernourished and underweight for his age. I invited Esther to visit our youth group and she gladly accepted. The next Saturday Esther showed up with her baby to our youth service. I remember she was very courageous and not shy at all. I had offered to have our sitter stay with Anderson and she was reluctant to trust anyone with him. Three weeks later, Esther came to Esther's House with a friend. Her friend asked me "What does she need to do to live with you?" I was actually shocked. I first explained that we had a strict program for girls who were serious about changing their lives around and that I wasn't sure Esther would be able to manage. I sent them on their way. The next Saturday came and again Esther was at my door, this time with her mother. I will always remember the words of her mother. She said "Ever since she met you this girl is driving me nuts. All she does is talk about God. I'm tired of listening to her. If you can offer her a home where she can follow God, then please take her." Esther went on to explain that there was no food for her son. She said there were so many children living in her house and her son was always fed last and that usually there was no food left for him. I accepted Esther and Anderson into the house that day.
At 9 months old Anderson couldn't walk, crawl, or even sit up on his own. He was seriously undernourished and had parasites. Today, he is a healthy two year old. He is walking and running around the house. He is developing at a normal level and is bi-lingual. Anderson is definitly the child who brings us all to laughter. He is a very funy little boy.
I think back to that day. I think about the event in Zacamil and how I felt like such a failure for not being able to serve th children of Zacamil with a more organized and educational experience. I think about how embarassed I was that I had planned such a mess for this visiting team of missionaries. Today I look at it that day and laugh. It was just one more lesson for me to learn. It doesn't matter how bad I am at something. If I am giving my best, God will do the work. From that event that I quickly labled a failure we were able to nuture Anderson back to health. I pray that he will never know hunger or sickness again.
"Beth, I need help". I remember the call as if it was yesterday. I have known Tatiana for close to 5 years. After being orphaned and moved from facility to facilty her whole life, at 20, she found herself living on the streets with her 4 year old daughter. She had saved my telephone number from the last time I had visited with her and called me. Tatiana was our first resident at Esther's House. I remember the first few days with just her,
Glenda, and me living in the house. Of course for me it was a Victory. All of my hard work, waiting and prayer had finally paid off. For Tatiana it was another uncomfortable situation. Not knowing if this would be her last stop she was very uncertain. I remember the first few nights she and her daughter stayed in their room with the door closed only coming out to eat. The next week came and Tatiana sat in her bedroom alone with the door opened so she could keep a close eye on Glenda as she came out to explore the house and to make herself at
home. Tatiana re-entered school and completed the 8th and 9th grades. She became involved in her church and little by little has built up her confidence and trust.
Today, Tatiana is 22 years old. She is a leader in the house; helping the other residents meet their goals. She is also a huge help to me. Tatiana is enrolled to begin her secondary education in a local institute. She will be studying business and English. Her goal is to become a secretary. Tatiana is in her worship team at church. She is also a youth leader and a Sunday School teacher. Tatiana is a bundle of confidence. She has grown into a strong, godly, woman. Tatiana has a passion to serve the homeless and has organized a blanket and sweater drive so that she could hand them out. She has also gone on several trips to help feed the homeless.
People ask me all of the time, what do I miss about the United States. The truth is, is that I miss everything. Especially my own children and grand children. However, any sacrifice that I or my family has made for me to be here becomes worth it when I see the progress and success these young ladies are making. They are not only hoping for a brighter and more secure future for their children, they are making it happen.
This was my second Thanksgiving with Esther's House. Of course here in El Salvador they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but I like to introduce the residents of Ether's House to North American traditions and cultures. I don't think they really get what all of the fuss is about. Getting up at 5:00AM to cook a turkey seemed obsured to them. However when it was finally time to eat they were thrilled to see the grand banquet set before them. Keeping with the tradition of my family, and I'm sure many families across the United States, we went around the table to say what we were each thankful for. This is what was said: Eduardo, "I am thankful for all of this" (refering to the food, his new family, and friends, people who are in his life who care about him ect..). Yaneth, "I am thanful that God provided for us for another year". Tatiana, "I am thankful for this family that God has given to me". Esther, "I am thankful for my son". Martha, "I am thankful for this family and also for Fabio. I am thankful that there are people who love me". Fabio, "I am thankful for Martha and the friends that I have found here". Me, "I am thankful for my husband". (stating the obvious one!) Oscar, "I am thakful that I have a wife who loves me and takes care of me". Anderson, "huh?" (he said that several times and then we moved on) Faviola, "My mommy". Miguel, "For Cherry Rapp". Glenda, "For my mom". Haily, "For my mom and Sherry, but the other Sherry" (referring to Sherry Ragan).. Luis, "My mom". I think it is always nice to reflect and give thanks for the things and people in our lives. It's easy in day to day life to focus more on the overwhelming negatives that seem to pop up, so it was very nice for all of us to take a day and just really focus on the goodness of God. It was nice to see His faithfulness to us over this past year. From all of us here in El Salvador to all of our family and friends in the USA we wish you a happy Thank
We recently had a team of short term missionaries vist from Victory Church, Lancaster,PA. Victory Church is a long time supporter of Esther's Heart Ministry and we are extremely thankful for them. After their trip, one missionary, Michele, wrote this about her experience:
"It was a wonderful trip indeed. I was extremely nervous, and admittedly, sad about one week prior to the trip.
It was on that Sunday before that the church prayed over our team. I was a "basketcase" the first service, and then there was a supernatural peace that overcame me during the second service. From there on out, I felt excited, hopeful, and ready to be used! Throughout the entire trip, I felt the "old me" coming back - alive in the Spirit, positive, confident, never complaining, "rolling with it," hugging and loving, and doing whatever needed to be done. It was refreshing to see myself as nothing more than a servant of God - and not worrying about the usual work, home, mother, wife, volunteer, etc. responsibilities that greet me on a daily basis here - although those are wonderful too!
I made a particularly strong bond with Miguel who is 7 years old and has the same spikey hair as my Anthony.
Miguel is a handsome, loving boy....and as soon as I saw him bouncing a deflated basketball, I knew that this was going to be a good match. I found the pump and blew the basketball up, then starting slowly teaching him the basics of dribbling, of protecting the ball, how to defend, and how to properly shoot the ball (of which we practiced against a concrete wall). Miguel was easy to teach; he listened well and picked up on the concepts immediately- probably better than any other young kids I have seen. Every day when our team would come to the home, Miguel would run to me and say "Mi-Chale, Basketball!!". I truly think that this kid will be an excellent ball player if he gets the chance to really learn and practice. I just bought him a rim and am sending it back with our missionary, Beth Thomson, when she comes to the US in the next month or two. I sure hope that thing fits in her suitcase!! Oscar, Beth's husband, will have to drill holes into the concrete wall to hang the rim. Matt at Home Depot showed me all of the special drill bits and screws that are necessary to make this project happen. Pray that this works because Miguel needs something to motivate him, something to keep him busy there at the home, and something to build his confidence. He is the oldest, he is a natural leader, and he is definitely a boy who loves God! While bonding with Miguel, I became friends with his 18 year old mother, Martha. She is a lovely, smart, energetic young lady who is building her confidence and learning to love and trust people again. She and Miguel have been through heck and back, so Esther's Home has been their only "constant" in life. They are excelling there and are finally realizing how much God loves them and how He has a beautiful future for them.
I also met a little girl named Katia and her mother and sister. Katia goes to Beth's church. She is in a wheelchair due to an operation which removed a tumor on her spine. Let me tell you something - this girl has a light that exudes from her, an infectious smile, and a beautiful spirit. I learned that she was one of the chosen sponsor
children who was looking for someone to sponsor her on a monthly basis to pay for some of her necessities. She is now one of my sponsored children, and I am honored to be a part of her life!
A few other quick things and then I will wrap it up....
-When I went to Mexico in 2007 on a missions trip and now on this trip to El Salvador, my Spanish speaking abilities were restored, and I could pretty much speak the language fluently and could understand almost everything that the people said. Now keep in mind that I never speak Spanish here and haven't studied it since high school (16 yrs ago). I consider this pretty miraculous indeed. That was awesome to be able to have that
bond with the people!
- I was getting really sick with a
stomach ache and nausea about 4 days into the trip. Anyway, while at Esther's Home, Sherry on our team prayed for us, and then immediately, a young man named Favio (who is Martha's "boyfriend") asked for permission to pray over myself and two others who were getting very sick. He prayed fervently and with great passion - all in Spanish. As he was finishing up, I felt a supernatural feeling sweep through my body, and my sickness was instantly lifted. I have heard of this kind of healing before but have never experienced. And now I can say that I
have. It was incredible!
Our team was encouraged to send a few sentences to our church explaining how the trip changed us or what we took away from it. Here is what I sent to Pam,our Lead Pastor's wife: "Going on this missions trip made me: Reprioritize my life, "reset" myself, replenish my faith in The Lord, and rededicate myself and my family. Going on the trip gave me more courage to live for God and not for this world. It gave me better direction in my life."
Thanks, Michele, for sharing your experience with us. We appreciate all that you do to help us and encourage us. Miguel loves his basketball hoop and is looking forward to playing one on
Train a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not turn from it. Proverbs 22:6. It is easy to see that children are being well cared for in the physical sense. Are they healthy? Are they growing?, Do they eat well? How do we measure if they are being well cared for spiritually? Esther's Heart ministry is not only committed helping children with their physical needs, but also with their spiritual needs. I watch the young mothers in our house closely and see that they are growing in their walk with Christ. Each one of the serves in their church. Each one leads a devotional each week in the house. I see them praying and encouraging each other. I think it is more difficult to measure spiritual growth in the children. I see them pray before they eat. I see them put together their imaginary worship band during play time. Last night, though, showed me real growth. I saw fruit in what we are doing. Oscar has been sick with a head cold and has not been helping out at Esther's House as he normally would for the past 2 days. Each day Miguel (8), Haily (5), and Glenda (7) ask where Oscar is and I explain to them he is not working because he is sick. Last night Oscar stopped by Esther's House for a minute to say hi to me as I was working late in the office. Haily approached him and asked if they could talk to him in private. The 4 of them went outside and I could hear them talking outside of my office window. The conversation went like this. Oscar, "What's up?" Haily, "We are embarassed to say this but we feel led to pray for you because you are sick" followed by a little giggle from Glenda. Oscar said, "Ok that's a good idea let's pray" Haily and Glenda took the hands of Oscar and Miguel laid his hand on Oscar's wrist. Miguel began to pray out loud followed by Glenda and Haily. It was a mighty prayer out of small children. My heart welled up with pride. No one can question whether or not these young mothers are training their children in the ways of God. Without being coached an 8 year old, 7 year old and 5 year old took it upon themselves to pray over an adult. That is real fruit!