Sunday, September 16, 2018

Memories of El Salvador ... by Laurie Johnson

One of the things that stands out for me about my trip to El Salvador in 2018 was worshiping in the Cristo Rey (Christ the King) Lutheran Church.  I had gone on the mission trip in 2014 – the year that we helped to build the church.  I must say that I decided to go on that trip because I truly felt called due to Cristo Rey.  I was inspired to help build a church that had been destroyed in an earthquake so many years before so that our brothers and sisters in faith in Santa Ana would have a place to worship as well as use for a safe and loving place for the community.  

The day after we arrived in 2014, we attended worship with these brothers and sisters, and I admit that I wept throughout most of the service.  I thought Pastor Carlos must be wondering about me and my emotional state!  But I knew that I was in the place that God wanted me to be at that time.  That was a difficult and wonderful week!  The work that we were to do included some of the hardest physical labor that I had ever done.  It was also some of the most important physical labor that I had ever done.  We were preparing the ground upon which the floor of the church would be placed.  We needed to get it right!  

During the week, I was able to build relationships with other workers, some from our Good Shepherd group, some from another Habitat group, and some with local people from El Salvador.  By going on that trip, I was able to see and experience so much first hand.  I saw the commitment of the local workers.  I saw the poverty of so many.  I saw the beauty in God’s creation.  I saw the dedication of the local Habitat employees.  I had heard of all of this from groups who had gone before me, but like so many other things in life, there is nothing that can compare to experiencing these things personally.  

The original baptismal font in the old church.

Now, fast forward to the day after we arrived in El Salvador in 2018.  We are going to attend worship at Cristo Rey Church!  I was so excited!  As soon as I got off of the shuttle bus and walked toward the church, my eyes again welled up with tears.  So many memories came back to me as I walked around the grounds and inside the beautiful building.  I had heard stories of those who had been able to visit the completed church, and I had seen photos of the building, but nothing could compare to seeing it in person and worshiping there with the beautiful members of the church.

The old church building, used because the original church had been destroyed by an earthquake.

The old church.  We worshiped here in 2014.

I thought about Pastor Wilma seeing me wipe my eyes throughout the service and wondered if she (like her husband before) was curious about my tears.  It is so hard for me to describe and explain.  I simply felt so blessed to be a small part of something like this.  So many hands worked so hard together, most of whom I will never meet in this lifetime.  The Spirit was truly at work in the hearts of these people.  I am very thankful for this opportunity and the experience to return to this beautiful place, and to see some of the inspiring people that I had met before.

 The old baptismal font in the new church.

 Laurie next to the dedication plaque from January 2015.

The liturgical altar linens were donated by Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to Pastor Carlos.
Notice the familiar Good Shepherd on the center altar linen.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Assorted Adventures - El Salvador 2018

Our 2018 Habitat for Humanity build family.
Carlos and Jenifer with their children, Sofia and Melvin.

The house blessing with words by ...
... Luis and Pastor Tom.

The 2018 build group with the 2017 family and built house.
Jaquline, Josue, and Francisco are in front with Francis from Habitat.

Pastor Tom, Luis from Habitat headquarters in San Salvador, and Marilyn.  Luis joined us at the work site, as he does every year.  He visited Good Shepherd in 2016 with Briseida Cruz.

Pastor Tom accepts a gift for Good Shepherd from Dinora, the head of the Getsemani Women's 
Co-Op, for whom we raise money annually by selling coffee and jewelry.  They are always very grateful, and use the money to make microloans to entrepreneurial members.

 An unlikely convergence of Cubs fans and attire in the town of Ataco, El Salvador.  Joining Pastor Tom and Jim is a total stranger from San Diego, California, who is originally from El Salvador.

The three unshaven amigos take a break on a cool veranda in the mountain town of Ataco, El Salvador on Thursday, August 2, 2018.  Left to right: Dean Olson, Pastor Tom Hillertz, Dan Cokery.  Photo by Douglas Rivas of Habitat El Salvador.

Next to 20 bags of coffee going back to Illinois, Adriana joins Dean in the
classroom at Getsemani, the Women's Co-Op in Santa Ana.
Adriana enjoys smiling and laughing a lot, but we are never sure
what she finds so funny!  Probably us.

 Pastor Tom receives his Thank-You certificate from Justin at the end of the week.

 Tolu receives her Thank-You certificate from Jennifer at the end of the week.
Jennifer and Justin are sister and brother.

Nicki is pictured with Yenifer, the Mom of our Habitat family this year.  They are shown with the painting we made at the "Paint Like Me!" fundraiser we held at Good Shepherd in June.

Marilyn and her Thank-You certificate from Habitat.

 Lisa is joined by her coloring friend, Sofia, who will live in the house we helped build.

Justin joins Laurie to receive her Thank-You certificate from Habitat.  Laurie also traveled to El Salvador in 2014 to help build the foundation of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in Santa Ana.

Jim gets a little help from Melvin with this Thank-You certificate.

Gordon gets a little help from Melvin and one of the neighborhood boys when he receives his Thank-You certificate from Habitat for Humanity.

 Justin congratulates Dan as he gets his Habitat Thank-You certificate.
Melvin congratulates Bob on receiving his Thank-You certificate.

Dean is joined by one of the neighborhood boys and Melvin when he receives his certificate.

Memories of El Salvador 2018 … by Jim Hack

Well folks, we had another successful mission trip to El Salvador.  We had a total of eleven hard working people.

We had a number of moving experiences, but the one that got to me was arriving at Cristo Rey Lutheran Church.  When Laurie Johnson got off the Habitat bus, her expression and tears told the whole story.  She had last seen the church when she was working on the foundation in 2014.  It was a joy to see her reaction at seeing the finished church for the first time.

Over the last eight years we have gone, I cannot believe how everybody is so moved by the love shown by the El Salvador people.  The Habitat for Humanity employees are folks who cannot do enough to help us in any way they can.

We also had the pleasure to take the profit from our annual coffee sales to the ladies of the Getsemani Co-op.  It was a joy to see their happiness when they received the money, especially when they were not expecting it.

JIm and Dinora, head of the Getsemani Women's Co-Op, receives a monetary donation from sales of coffee and jewelry via Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Champaign.

Thank you to all Good Shepherd folks who supported this trip.  Please read on for more El Salvador memories.

Jim and Francis at the San Salvador Airport, July 28, 2018.


Memories of El Salvador 2018 … by Tolu Perrin-Stowe

Initially, I was actually skeptical about going on a Habitat for Humanity build trip in El Salvador.  Not for reasons of safety or a language barrier like many would think, but instead I was worried about who the trip was for.  As a person, intentions matter less to me than actual impact.  Of course, sometimes the good we mean to do doesn’t go as planned, but once we know better, we should do better.  Unfortunately, I have been involved with volunteer experiences in the past where that was not the case.  I was concerned that I was going to be engaging in the type of “volun-tourism” that does more harm than good, the type that removes the agency of the people in the local community and instead focuses on the feel-good moments for the western volunteers.  This issue is something I want to look at carefully as a part of my career work, so I didn't want to engage in unhelpful activities and add negatively to them.

Habitat employees, native El Salvadorans, both Spanish and English speakers,
Francis Padilla and Douglas Rivas, our local hosts for the week of work on our build trip.

Douglas, Francis, plus their Habitat colleagues, Flor and Kati, all from El Salvador.

Well, to my joy and constant surprise, I saw the that the El Salvadorans involved with the project were the ones spearheading it, deciding what could best benefit people and directing our efforts towards it.  Skilled, local workers were in charge and made sure our interactions were genuine and not performative or exploitative.  We learned about the history and the current affairs of the country from those who live it.  No one else controlled their narrative.  They were not censored or shy with us. They talked to us about our country and its policies and those of their own.  Everyone involved was enthusiastic, humbled, and grateful - from the volunteers, to the masons, to the Habitat employees, to the small family working with us on the small property that will eventually become their home.  

Our Habitat for Humanity build family: Carlos, Melvin, Jenifer, and Sofia.

Critiques can always be made of any system or organization, especially ones that navigate so many places that may have damaging histories involving western people and powers.  There is always more to be learned and things to be improved upon.  However, this experience felt like Habitat is one of the programs that is moving in the right direction and the fact that Good Shepherd and the people that go on this trip are a part of it is amazing.  The trip allows people from different places to connect without indulging in any savior complex and instead uses its privilege to support people in their own communities and countries with what they think is important.  

I am so grateful that I was able to learn so much about everyone on this trip. Everyone’s story was extraordinary and the love and peace I felt within the group was both healing and motivating for me.

 At the market to get food for a cooking lesson with the ladies from the Getsemani Co-Op.  The woman in the very center wearing the green apron is a total stranger, but wanted to welcome us and get her photo taken with the group.  Her attitude proved quite typical of El Salvadoran hospitality.

Memories of El Salvador 2018 … by Marilyn Dudley

I feel humbled to have been asked to speak to you on behalf of our entire mission team. 

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your gifts, your support throughout the year -- the concert, the coffee and jewelry sales, the painting class, and the silent auction and dinner.  And most especially for your prayers.
I feel blessed to have been able to return for a second time on this trip to assist in building homes for people living in inadequate housing in a beautiful part of God’s world.  

Getting to know the wonderful people of El Salvador:  Francis and Douglas and others from Habitat; Pastor Velma and the members of Cristo Rey Lutheran Church, the Getsemani Co-op women and children, the masons, the neighbors, and the host family.  We were also fortunate to reconnect with last year’s host family.  Their graciousness and hospitality are amazing.

I was blessed to have been in the company of ten other Good Shepherd members and friends who were dedicated to this mission.  I want to say thank you to them and to recognize each one of them: (in no particular order)
·       First, Jim Hack, our courageous leader, who kept track of us during travel, advised us, encouraged us, lead our devotions, cared for us, and provided band aids!
·       Nicki Kyle who kept us on task and looked after our physical well-being by watching for signs of heat stroke!
·       Gordon and Lisa Hack with their engaging smiles, hard labor and rebar tying skills.  After 2 days, Lisa earned the title of Rebar Queen!
·       Laurie Johnson with her winning smile, perseverance, calm demeanor and her ability to add things up for us!
·       Bob Clark with his strength and stamina, worked tirelessly and then worked some more, inspiring us all.
·       Dan Corkery with his persistence and encouraging words, a very enthusiastic newbie!
·       Dean Olson with his incorrigible manner, his interpreting skills, picture taking, and writing the blog for us.
·       Tolu Perrin-Stowe, a student from St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church and Campus Center with her youthful strength and vigor, her good humor, and for putting up with me as her roommate. 

·       And last but not least, Pastor Tom, who while working very hard and praying for us, was also practicing his grandfathering skills with all the children and discussing the sometimes not so serious theological questions with Douglas.  Don’t be surprised if you hear a sermon or two based on their discussions!  You can do it.

When we left Champaign, we were a group.  When we left El Salvador, we were a team.  

We learned to work as a team quickly, as our first task was to assemble a shelter which would shade us from the sun during breaks.  It took every one of us to position the four corner posts and lift the tarp to cover the top.

After we were introduced to the head mason, Miguel, and his two assistants, Nelson and Wilbert, they gave us our first construction task: moving a mountain of sand which had been dumped some 200 yards away from the building site because of soggy ground.  Everybody pitched in, shoving sand into wheel barrows, moving it across the bumpy field and dumping it near the construction site.  We did get that mountain of sand moved into place. 
I don’t have time to tell about all the work we did.  But I can tell you that everyone participated to the utmost of their ability.
Monday morning when we first arrived at the work site, I was stunned because this house was nothing but a trench outlining the walls! Quite a contrast from our house last year which was nearly ready for the roof when we arrived. 
Since it rained nearly every night, we drained the trench every morning using buckets first, and later after the rebar had been installed, using plastic water bottles for suction. 
Mixing the concrete for the foundation was an art form in itself--requiring stepping and shoveling in a circular rhythmic movement around the pile of ingredients.  Once mixed, a bucket brigade was formed to move the concrete to the mason who poured it into the foundation.
We tied endless rebar, moved hundreds of cement blocks into position, and stuffed chispa into the blocks.  Chispa is a loose concrete made with sand, cement, and small stones, and usually put inside cinder blocks.  By the time we left, the foundation was at ground level.  The head mason estimated another 6 weeks of work to complete the house. 
We all have more stories to tell, so please ask us to tell them.

On a personal level, I took a stack of Spanish language children’s books to give away.  Two neighborhood children who lived next door to the construction site, Jennifer and her brother Justin, selected books one day.  The next day they were on-site reading to each other from one of the books.  The following day, Jennifer asked me (through Francis, our Habitat host) if she could select one for her friend!  The father of the family we were building for, Carlos (who worked with us on site), selected books for both of his children, Melvin and Sofia.  The remainder of the books were given to the Co-Op women who would loan them out to the children to take home to read.  So all the books have found a new home!

We may not be able to change the whole world, but in the name of Jesus, we can make a difference in one little corner of it.  

I thank God that I was once again able to join in this mission of helping build houses for these wonderful children of God who just happen to live in El Salvador. 

Thank you again for your support!  I invite you to join the adventure.