Thanksgiving Day has come and gone and as always I am late in posting a blog. 6 weeks prior to Thanksgiving, the teens in our program and I set out to do a lengthy study on prayer and fasting. We each took a turn in researching and then sharing what we had learned. Every Saturday we met and one by one shared with the others about what God had spoken to us about fasting and prayer. 5 days before Thanksgiving we began a fast which would end at our Thanksgiving feast. Because this was the first time that many of our youth were fasting we did a fruit and vegetable fast. For 5 days we ate only fresh fruit and vegetables. We included the children in this fast as well after explaining to them, simply, what is a fast and why we fast. (we modified their fasts to include milk and eggs). I have not had an opportunity yet to sit down and talk to the youth post fast to see how God spoke to them, but I would like to share with you my fasting experience.
Day one was spent mostly asking God for strength to make it through the fast. I quickly felt the onset of caffeine withdrawl. I had a tremendous headache. I asked God for health and also to allow me to be an example to the youth as I knew this would be a challenge for them. On day two I was feeling better so I got to my knees and began focussing my prayer on the purpose for my fast. I was fasting for the health of a good friend as well as for direction for this ministry. On day 3 I began to feel an overwhelming sence of peace. I felt God telling me that He is right here with me. That He would take all of the concerns that I have for this minsitry and carry them for me. I felt Him telling me that He will lead me through this if I will allow Him to be the leader. The only Word I can use to explain how I felt in that moment is peace. I just felt like everything was going to be ok. On day 4 I Heard from my friend. She told me she was starting to feel better and was trusting God to carry her through. I spent my prayer time that day praising God for His faithfulness. On day 5, which was Thanksgiving, I spent my day cooking. Traditionally after we eat we go around the table and say what we are most thankful for. So as I cooked I thought about what was I most thankful for. There are obvious things. My husband, my daughters, my 5 healthy grand children. I have a happy life. I began to reflect over the past year. Where I was a year ago to where I am today. This past year was an extremely challenging one for me. Without going into detail, I found myself questioning if I had made the right decision to move down here and start this ministry. After reflecting, again the word peace came to my mind. That is what I am most thankful for this year. Peace. I have peace that I made the right decision in moving here. I have peace that my daughters are going to be ok. I have peace in my marriage. I am thankful to God that no matter where we are in life that He stands with us. That He forever encourages us to keep moving forward, and that He carries us when we feel we can no longer walk.
I have one sister. Her name is Darla. Growing up she was everything to me. In my eyes she was the smartest, most beautiful, most popular girl who ever walked the Earth. We shared a bedroom unitl she moved out of the house at the age of 18. She was super neat, I was super messy, but I never once heard her complain. I remember many times at night when I was sad or scared that she would sing to me until I fell asleep. Some nights we would just be bored so we would make up silly stories and songs. I wanted to be just like her. Of course, as we've grown up and moved to different áreas, started families and careers of our own we are not as close as we once were, but we have a bond that I believe nothing can break.
Many people ask me what makes our ministry different than so many others that are out there. In all honesty, I don't know. However, I will say this; we teach family. We take children and young adults in who have been abandoned and orphaned; We take children and young people who have no concept of family and we give them a familiy. In our ministry, we are a family. While the kids in Esther's House and Esther's Hearts Boys' Club do not call Oscar and me mom and dad, if you ask them who their parents are in a heart beat everyone of them will tell you we are. If you ask Tatiana who her sisters are she'll tell you Esther and Antonia are. This brings me to my revalation. We were sitting in church Wednesday night. Traditionally Esther, Tatiana, Antonia, Glenda and Faviola sit in one row taking up 5 chairs. Eduardo, Ricardo, Jeremiahs, Oscar and I sit in the row behind them taking up 5 chairs. That's our family and we always sit together in church. On Wednesday as I was listening to our pastor preach, something caught my eye that warmed my heart. I noticed that the 3 older girls: Tatiana, Esther, and Antonia all had their hair done the exact same way. I don't know if you will understand the significance of this. Maybe those of you who have sisters will get it. When you are a little sister you look up to your big sister. You follow her lead and learn from her. I know that Tatiana had done her hair early that morning before she left for school. Esther saw it and copied it wanting to be like Tatiana. Later when Antonia got home from work she saw Esther's hair and did her hair the same. It's not just a hair style. It's a connection. In their hearts they are sisters. Tatiana is the big sister, Esther is the middle sister and Antonia is the baby sister. Even though Esther and Antonia have their moments of sybling rivalry, Esther is extremely protective of Antonia. Tatiana always strives to be a good example to the other two girls and keeps them in line. Our goal is to provide these children with a home, all of their basic needs, the Gospel, and an education. The fact that we have become a family along the way is just one of the added perks.
Out of all of the children that I work with, Faviola is probably dearest to my heart. I have known Faviola since she was 1 year old. I have held a lot of little babies with the work that I do at the orphanage, and naturally I fall in love with each one and want to bring each one home with me. In time that feeling passes as the babies come and go. With Faviola it was different. The first time I held her (almost 5 years ago now) I knew that God had something very special planned for us. It was a very different feeling; almost like a conviction. I knew I needed to stand by this little baby no matter what. Faviola was born with a hole in her heart and problems with her lungs. Her mother, Antonia, was told that Faviola would not live to see her first birthday. For the first 3 years of her life Faviola was in and out of the hospital. She was on every kind of medication you can think of. She had to have breathing treatments 4 times a day. She was horribly undernourished and at the age of 3 was wearing the clothing of a 1 year old. I remember when she finally learned to walk at about the age of 3 her favorite activity was to take the little children's chairs and move them one by one from one side of the living room to the other. She would do this all day. She was so happy to finally be able to use her little legs. Around the age of 3 a miracle!!! Faviola was taken to the children's hospital for an exam and the doctors discovered that her heart seemed to be normal. They reviewed her chart over and over again. They had no explanation for the recovery. No explanation for why this little girl had even lived as long as she had. Of course, those of us who know God know what the explanation is. God has a great purpose for this little girl and was not about to let Satan steal her away at such a young age! At the age of 3 the agency that Faviola lived in was closing. At that point I began the fight to have her and her mother come and live with me. Being from the United States, the child welfare department did not trust my motives for wanting this young girl with me so I was denied. I appealed and then they came back with the fact that I was single and denied me again. I appealed. They then came back to me stating that I didn't have legal residency in this country and denied me again. It was a roller coaster for me. I saw them place Faviola in a government orphanage. It broke my heart. I visited her daily. She was losing weight, she was not being fed properly, and she seemed to have constant congestion. My conviction to have this little girl live with me grew stronger so I finally went above the department of child welfare and went directly to the judge who was overseeing Faviola's case. I pleaded with her to allow me to take Faviola home with me and once again was denied. I continued to visit Faviola. I saw the threat of her and her mother being separated forever and I prayed like crazy. I had done everything that I could think to do. Finally, 6 months after I initiated the process of trying to get custody of Faviola I received a phone call from her Judge asking me to go and pick up Faviola. They were unable to find a family who would take in both her and her mother and the longer they searched the more sick Faviola became. At the age of 4 Faviola could not dress herself, feed herself or use the bathroom. She could not speak. She tantrumed worse than any 2 year old I had ever known. She was wearing the clothes of an 18 month old. Today, nearly 2 years later, Faviola is a healthy 6th year old. She does most activities that a 6 year old can do. While she suffers some mental retardation do to malnourishment when she was a baby, she is a very bright little girl with a huge smile. Faviola goes to speech therapy, occupational therapy and kindergarten. She is a hard working little girl who wants to excel in everything that she does. The day she learned to button her shirt I remember it took her about 15 minutes to do the first button. She wouldn't give up. That's how she is. When she puts her mind to something she does it. She is an inspiration and I can't wait to see how much more God will use her in her little life.
It's been a while since I've been able to blog. I have been so busy I don't know where one day ends and another begins. What I've been thinking about mostly these past few weeks is the first vision that God gave me for this country. Those of you who know me well know this already, but for those of you who have joined me in the last couple of years I will share it again. God gave me a vision where I was sitting on a grassy mountain side. As I looked down I saw hundreds if not thousands of children lined up for miles. They were waiting to be helped. As I initially reflected on the vision that God had given me I remember feeling overwhelmed. There are so many needy children. How can I possibly reach them all? As time has gone on and I have settled more and more into my ministry experience, it seems at times I become content with helping the children that we have in our ministry. However, two weeks ago I joined another ministry for a day. I wanted to see what they were doing and also wanted to see if there was a way that my ministry could help the children that they work with. The group that I went with took me into the jungle to this tiny little community. I believe it was the poorest setting that I have seen so far. It was heart breaking to me. These children, living in tin shacks no bigger than your living room. No electricity, no running water. They eagerly came to hear a Bible story and to work on crafts. I loved every minute that I got to spend with those children. On the long drive home I had time to think and reflect. I remembered that first vision that I had. I thought about how settled I have become. I work with the young mothers and children at Esther's House. We now have 35 children in our sponsor program. I also volunteer in the nursery at a government orphanage. Generally there are about 10 babies there. I have gotten into a good routine where I am able to spend time with all of our children outside of Esther's House but at the same time, the majority of my time is spent at Esther's House. While reflecting I remembered that first vision and suddenly I was no longer content. We help a lot of children every week, but it's not enough. I am only one person, and we are a very small ministry with limited resources. I understand that. But I also have faith. I know that God's plan for these children will be carried out. I am ready to move forward and do what needs to be done. There are thousands upon thousands of children who need help in this country. I am only one person, but with all of you supporting my efforts here I am part of a strong team. We will continue to grow stronger and in that strength we will continue to serve more and more children. I'm ready!!
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.
Anderson Oct. 2011 age 9 months
Anderson Jan. 2013 age 2