Hear The Word of The Lord

“Hear the Word of the Lord!” Those words always snap me to attention. It seems they typically precede a warning or pending judgement. What follows should never be taken lightly.

The main source of inspiration for my posts comes from my Bible reading. There’s so much that jumps off the page at me, waiting to be wrapped in a “today’s-world” type of context. God reveals himself through the truth of His Word, making His love for us known. Stepping back, seeing ourselves through the lens of that love is a beautiful and inspiring thing.

There’s a difference, however, when we look at ourselves through the lens of God’s judgement.

This summer, I’ve been reading through books like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. It’s difficult to find encouragement in the words of these books. It’s not easy because this lens shines a hard light on so much that we’ve grown too familiar with: finding comfort in our possessions, yielding ourselves unquestioningly to corrupt authority, ignoring the oppressed, complaining and quarreling, having an inflated sense of ourselves. What is there to say about such things?

My Pastor once said, “if you’re having trouble knowing what to say, maybe the Holy Spirit is telling you to keep your mouth shut”. I love that advice. What do you do, though, if you’re flooded with everything you feel the Holy Spirit what’s to say, and are scared of how it might be received?

What if God wants you to know that it’s not OK to publicly rip into people and places with harsh criticism, filling social media with bitter, passive-aggressive complaints, quarreling and gossiping with and about others? What do you say when God is revealing the selfish pride and idolatrous materialism that is manifest when we brag about and find our identity in promotions and material possessions? How do you convey God’s frustration with a people who sell their allegiance to a political party, becoming more an instrument for their platform than for His love and mercy?

Ezekiel received great instruction when told, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!’ Do this whether they listen to you or not.” (Ezekiel 3:10-11).

All too often we read/hear God’s judgment with others in mind, not taking the time to listen for ourselves.

Listen for yourself, Pastors. Listen for yourself Worship Leaders. Listen for yourself Sunday-School Teachers. Listen for yourself Youth Workers. Don’t be so quick to assign God’s judgement to “America”. Don’t assume these messages are solely intended for those who, from your perspective, are the appropriate candidates. Listen for yourself. Hear the Word of the Lord.

El Salvador Journal: Day 9

Thursday, July 22nd 2010

Our final day in El Salvador began as all the others did, DSC06571with an early breakfast.  That was followed by our team packing their belongings and cleaning their dormitories. We assembled outside the cafeteria to load for the airport. Boarding the bus was delayed as long as possible, spending that time playing ninja and saying goodbye to those who wouldn’t accompany us to the airport.

As we waited, we were passed by a team who just arrived for their time of ministry. I think many of us were slightly jealous for what they were about to experience. If I was more aware of how much I would miss El Salvador, I would have taken a few more deep breaths and soaked in the scenery of Castillo del Rey’s beautiful lake-side campus.

roomA long ride back to the airport allowed us an opportunity to see everything we missed during our nighttime arrival. While some of the route had become familiar to us over the previous days, much of it was new.

After arriving at the airport, we unloaded and prepared for departure. Making ample use of the last moments we had with our host team, we shared goodbyes and wishes of working together again in the future.  We built strong relationships with our host team, and knew they would be missed.  They did an excellent job of making our time in El Salvador an experience we would never forget.

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I wasn’t expecting my return to America to be difficult. Entering America through customs seemed especially harsh. I’m not sure Houston’s TSA agents serve as a great welcome mat for those entering our country. We attempted to keep our group together and ready for the process. All things considered, it was a pretty smooth process.

When we arrived in Virginia, we were greeted by many friends and family. It was a huge surprise to see my wife waiting for me. I thought I had a couple more hours before we would be reunited.

The next couple of weeks was a long slow process of feeling normal in my typical roles again. While it was awesome to get back to being a daddy, and even the responsibilities of work, I felt desperate to hold on to the simple core of discovering what’s truly important in life, drawing people back into relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

I offer these posts as a monument to remind us that we’re still at work, accomplishing this “great commission”

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our ninth day in the comments below. Thank you for reading my journal of our trip to El Salvador. I hope it inspires you to be diligent in your work for the Kingdom and build monuments to those experiences.  Tell the world that God is real, and Jesus is alive.

El Salvador Journal: Day 8

Wednesday, July 21 2010

Our last day in El Salvador was spent enjoying some well-earned rest. Shortly after breakfast, we loaded up on our bus and headed for San Salvador.

marketAside from our daily visit to Texaco, our first stop was a local market where our students and leaders had the opportunity to load up on souvenirs for our families and friends. Splitting up into small groups, and after some quick and helpful tips from our hosts, we each did our best to negotiate prices for things like bracelets, drums, figurines, shirts, etc.

Our next stop was lunch and the mall. Needless to say, we couldn’t go to the mall without doing a couple of “freezes”. Escalators, stages, stairs: both shoppers and security seemed to enjoy the spectacle we made of ourselves, as a developed a small following.

The food court provided opportunities for those ready for familiar, American cuisine and others wanting one last taste of El Salvador, to find something to please their taste buds. Herbert doled out allowances for each of us museumto apply to our orders. After a quick bite, we continued to the last stop of our day of site-seeing.

We headed back in the direction of our campus to an archaeological dig. There, we saw ruins of a Mayan village that had been buried over time. While we waited for our turn to enter the museum, we passed time at a gift shop where more souvenirs were available for sale.

The museum gave a brief history of the dig and a snapshot of life before the village was lost. It also provided a stage for a “freeze”. We stopped and stared, as if mesmerized by the exhibits. When it was mayanour turn to enter the dig, we filed past the decaying structures, showing varying degrees of interest. I guess bearing witness to history isn’t everyone’s idea of a fun time. I was captivated.

As we made our way to the bus, some of our team stopped to watch locals demonstrate a game played with the tops some bought at the souvenir stand. Several of our guys used this as one last opportunity to parade themselves past a bus of young Salvadoran school girls, in opportunistic exploitation of their uncommon, “Bieberesque” looks. Please note: if the prior sentence does not seem to drip with sarcasm, you were probably one of those guys.

As the team assembled on the bus, the DSC06473reality of our coming departure settled over us. After another quick stop at the Texaco station, we were back at the campus for our last dinner in El Salvador.

We closed the night with a farewell service that was shared with a team from South Dakota. The evening began with the opportunity for our teams to give a final performance. It was fun to see the guys and girls throw themselves into their roles one last time. Afterwards, the Master’s Commission students performed a skit that gave a taste of local culture. We also received parting comments from the people we worked with during the week, and watched a video King’s Castle made for our team to remember their time in El Salvador.

After the service, we had a little time to take some pictures with our new friends, and say goodbye to those whom we would not see the next morning.

We’re a pretty sophisticated group, in case you couldn’t tell.

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If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our eighth day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

 

El Salvador Journal: Day 7

Tuesday, July 20th 2010

DSC06422Tuesday began with a return to the school which had been closed due to rain, the previous day. We were informed that we’d be conducting two programs at this location.

The first began with us setting up benches in the school’s courtyard, as the children began to come out from their classrooms. Most of the children wore a school uniform, which consisted of navy blue pants or skirts with a light blue, button-up shirt. Some of the boys wore a white t-shirt. We were told that, while most of the children elected to wear the recommended attire, it was not a requirement.

The program began with our typical opening performance of “My King Jesus”, followed by a variety of other skits and dramas. The DSC06409children, here, seemed more attentive. Like American school children, they probably preferred anything over the lessons from which they were just rescued. The teachers and other adults present also sat attentively and seemed interested in the message.

It seemed as though the entire school, which was about 35-40 kids, responded when it was time for a closing prayer. Each of the requests (salvation, healing and peace in homes) was well responded to. One was compelled to believe that lasting decisions were being made, when witnessing the earnest expressions on their faces.

Each program was hard to walk away from.  We so enjoyed our interactions with every group of kids. None-the less, there was another school we needed to visit, before we would return to this one for a later program.

While we were leaving the school, Pastor Nick and I stopped and spoke to a couple of gentlemen who were just moving their family into the neighborhood. Caesar, who spoke excellent English, inquired about the purpose of our visit. He responded to our explanation by expressing an interest in networking with Castle’s ministry in hosting visitors to his country. However sincere his intentions, we suggested that he contact a Castle church in his area. He and his dad got some contact information from Oscar.

schoolThe second school we visited this day was only a short drive from the first. This school seemed to be three or four times the size of the first, and was quite livelier. It was a rather cool venue, as kids stood in the courtyard, lined the walls and looked on from upper level windows and balconies.

During my team’s time in prayer, I talked about a certain boy who captured my attention during the opening songs. This certain young man was easy to distinguish from the rest as he stood with arms folded, wearing a dark denim jacket. He had all the appearance of a born leader. Each of the team members agreed, as he stood out to them as well. We all began to intercede for him, asking the Holy Spirit to connect the truth of the Gospel message to this young man’s heart.

As we re-entered the courtyard for a final prayer, I asked James to approach the young man and his group of friends, since none of them responded to the call for prayer. James, Pastor Nick and a small group of our guys had the awesome privilege of talking with the young man, Hosea, and leading him and his group of friends in a prayer of salvation, as they agreed to take this life-changing step.

Once our prayers were complete, we returned to our waiting bus. Taking advantage of an opportunity to thank God for all he did at this school, an impromptu celebration broke out as people beat on empty water jugs, rattled makeshift maracas, puffed on half-full water bottles and chanted cheers that were becoming familiar rallying cries at the conclusion of a program. Whether an act of praise or a group of kids simply caught in a moment, we certainly didn’t mind looking foolish for our King.

Returning to the school we visited earlier that day, we welcomed an older group of children into the familiar courtyard. This was only after the team was destroyed by Josh in a game of “Ninja”.

Our second stop at this school was similar to the first, both in terms of the children we met and our ministry to them. As with the first, most, if not all, of the children responded to calls DSC06419for prayer with earnest desires to find answers to the issues they faced.

At the conclusion of our last school session, we boarded the bus and headed for another playground. En route to our destination, we were specifically warned against taking anything of value into this neighborhood. Although this was a typical precaution, this time it was issued as a deliberate warning. Consequently, we have no photos or videos from this stop.

Upon arrival, we were not greeted by the typical large group of children. In fact, at this stop in our mission, we encountered the smallest turnout of any of our ministry locations. None-the-less, we prayed that God would speak His message of healing and restoration to those who were willing to receive.

Before this program, we tried to attract attention to the court by starting a game of soccer. Although some watched from afar, few were eager to participate. Unfortunately, our team suffered a potential setback when James injured his foot. Although his exact injury wasn’t immediately clear, we knew it was something that couldn’t just be walked off. After praying for James and taking him to the bus, we proceeded with our program.

As the time for prayed arrived, we were instructed by our hosts, to approach the few on-lookers we attracted. Few responded to calls for prayer at this location.

Members of our team approached a particular woman and communicated, the best we could, our desire to pray for her. Agreeing, she nodded. As we began to pray that the Holy Spirit would communicate truth to her heart, she began to cry.  When an interpreter arrived, we were able to ask her about any specific needs she might have. She expressed concern for her son, explaining that he was approaching an age where gangs were applying increasing pressure for him to join. She talked about her concern for his safety.

A member of our team received a word from God that He was going to provide for her a very clear and specific example of His ability to protect her and her family. Suddenly, it began to rain. Realizing we were standing beneath a thick canopy of a single tree, we began to tell her about the love and protection she could find by making Jesus her Savior.  We told her that God spoke to us about an example of His protection. We said that His example would come as clearly as the way in which we were protected from the rain under that tree. That day, our new friend quietly asked Jesus to be her Lord. As soon as we finished our prayer, the rain stopped. It seemed as if God brought that rain, just to illustrate His protection for her and her family.

In preparation for our final stop, our hosts DSC06385again warned us of the threats we faced in the next neighborhood. All of their warnings were immediately made evident as we were lead down a narrow alley to the site of our last ministry stop. Although it’s difficult to describe the depth and variety of spiritual oppression we sensed, we were certain of the source of it’s cure.

God’s presence was sensed by all of our team members, as we preformed and prayed in the crowded alley. Parent’s and grandparent’s eagerness to usher children to answer our call for prayer, testified to the desperation in which they lived. As always, we prayed confidently, knowing that God is the hope for El Salvador.

As soon as our ministry was done, our hosts quickly escorted us from a growing threat as evening began to settle over the crowded alley. Thankfully we quickly made our way several blocks to our waiting bus without incident.

DSC06394Bittersweet goodbyes were exchanged with several of our team members as we dropped some of our new friends off on our way back to the campus. Each of our hosts expressed their appreciation for the sincere love we showed the people of El Salvador. Throughout the week we were consistently thanked for coming, determined to see God’s will be accomplished.

Our students were commended for being among the rare groups of students on whom they could depend to give 100%. This earned our students the privilege of ministering in neighborhoods to which teams hadn’t been taken in several years.

As we headed home on our final day of ministry, we reconciled our desire that our ministry days not end with the knowledge that needed rest lay ahead. In all, we reveled in our confidence that God was continuing a great work in El Salvador.

Here are a few of the skits we did throughout the week, as performed on our last day of ministry.

Herbert kills me in this skit. He’s such a funny guy, and truly skilled at ministering to these kids.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our seventh day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

 

 

 

El Salvador Journal: Day 6

Monday, July 19th 2010

Our second to last day of ministry began withDSC06380 a little rain. Our first ministry stop was at a school. Although the rain had stopped, the school was already dismissed. We were told that many of the school buildings in San Salvador were old and leaked when it rained.

We packed back into the bus and drove a short distance to a nearby neighborhood. Here, the houses were crammed into tight rows along narrow alleys. Once there, the team sprang into action. It was this day that we were followed by a videographer from Castle. We performed our dances and skits while children watched on a lower and upper ledge of the alley wall.

In this neighborhood there was a small girl whose mother was concerned about a fever that she had been running for some time. We could feel her fever as we prayed for her. We listened as the DSC06388mother told us, through our interpreter, of the doctors inability to identify any cause. Although there was no immediate physical sign of her healing, we agreed and believed that one was on the way.

Stopping for lunch, our host team took us to a small shopping center to spend the little bit of time we had before our next ministry opportunity.  Obviously, we were compelled to use this as an opportunity to have some fun.

Nick passed the word that we all needed to stop in place whenever he said “freeze”. As we walked through the mall, we would freeze in various common spaces. It was hard to hold a pose as passersby laughed or simply stared in confusion. Without a great understanding of Salvadoran culture, we were often dependent on measuring the appropriateness of our antics by the responses of our host team. In all of these instances, they seemed as eager as we were to participate in the silliness.

One of our host team members, having missed Nick’s preface of the game, was caught off guard when she first saw us frozen in place. It was funny to watch her try to ask various team members what was happening as they refused to break their pose.

Our next ministry stop yielded a highlight of our trip. Similar to other stops, this site was characterized by dilapidated apartment houses, unkempt courtyards and a spirit of heaviness. On this wet day, it was especially difficult to coax kids from their presumably dry houses.

DSC06400Courtney helped get things started by participating with Oscar, in the chicken dance. Devin rounded of the opening act by attempting to repeat unknown Spanish phonetics through a mouth full of cookies.

Throughout this time of ministry, many of us noticed a young girl who cried through parts of the program. We later found out that she was suffering from pain in her legs and feet, and could not sit comfortably. This was all explained to us, when she responded to a request for prayer for infirmities.

Members of our team began to gather around her in a fervent prayer for her healing. There seemed to be a desperation among the group as we concluded our prayer and the girl was not immediately healed. Tyler Duvall was the first to say what we were all thinking, “Lets pray again.”  Although nothing seemed different about this round of prayers, the result was miraculous. When the girl was asked about the pain, she said there was none. When we asked if she could jump, she jumped. When we asked if she could run, she ran. This was all quite a contrast from the girl who could only shuffle, flat-footed to us only minutes before.  Praise God for this miracle, the proclamation it is of His glory, and the inspiration it was to our team.

We were also surprised to see the Triplets, the couple who founded Castillo del Rey, visit us at this stop on our mission.

Our next site was a familiar one.  We returned DSC06171to the last site we visited on Friday, our first day of ministry. Although the scenery was familiar, the heaviness we initially felt upon our previous arrival was not sensed. We all agreed that it seemed like God had begun a work in this neighborhood.

As with our first visit, some of our team started a game of soccer, while others played with kids on their swing set and around the perimeter of the court. Several of us were asked by the videographer who accompanied us, to give testimony of our experiences to this point.

There were many kids present as our team ministered their dances and dramas. Again, our host team of Master’s Commission students and intern demonstrated their awesome ability to speak hope and salvation to the children of El Salvador, as they gathered them in for DSC06161prayer. All-the-while, Pastor Nick, Pastor David and others spoke with several gang members at the hangout off the corner of the court. In all, five of them gave their hearts to God.

There was a definite shift in the general attitude of the team, as we concluded this day of ministry. In the earlier days of our trip, many questioned if we could maintain such a pace and withstand the heat and exhaustion, as we hurried from neighborhood to neighborhood. This night, many confessed they longed for more than just one more day of ministry. I think we all began to silently lament and wish against the knowledge that these experiences were almost past.

At dinner, Pastor Nick had a great opportunity to talk with Don Triplet about the history of Castillo del Rey and his vision for it’s future.

The team enjoyed another delicious dinner and each other’s company. This night, lasagna was on the menu. Our hosts always did an excellent job in their attempts to accommodate our sensitive palettes.

It was the end of another great day in El Salvador.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our sixth day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

El Salvador Journal: Day 5

Sunday, July 18th 2010

After breakfast, our team was treated to the spectacle of trilling competition, in the form of “Lotion Shuffling”. The object of the game was to push a small bottle of hand lotion across a table so it came to rest with a part of the bottle partially hanging off the playing surface. The event was made complete by Pastor Nick’s and James’ play-by-play and color commentary, and the skillful court maintenance of the grounds crew.

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Sunday morning’s ministry efforts began with a rewarding experience for our team. We found ourselves back at the tent church for “Big Day”. This was the weekly church service for zone one. “Big Day” was a once-a-month special service that was led by the youth.

Despite the lack of a permanent facility, the church was very cutting-edge. They incorporated much video and technology, giving updates from around the city during their program.

The youth presented a couple of dances. The Assemblies of God District Youth Director from South Dakota, gave a message through an interpreter. This was followed by a powerful closing human video by the youth of the church. It culminated in them crying out to God to bring hope to El Salvador.

As they were weeping, our ministry teams were called up to prepare for prayer. People came forward as they responded to calls for prayers for salvation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, healing and home situations. At least one person was freed from demonic possession. Again, there was a spirit of openness to receive what the Lord had for them.

The reward for our guys was to see an immediate return on their work from the previous day. The day before, we ministered freedom to the very same kids God was using at this service.

Our next ministry stop was another DSC06346community of run-down-looking apartment homes. After spending some time making balloon animals, the team performed in the mud as a morning rain trickled. There, some of our team ministered to a man selling ice cream. Others prayed with children for salvation, healing and various home situations. This process was repeated in a neighboring community, as we continued to spread the hope of Christ in El Salvador.

A couple of us got to talk to a school-age guy who studied English at a University. DSC06362His English was quite good. He was fun to talk to. We asked him his thoughts about God. We learned that he asked Jesus into his heart and was getting ready to go to a Bible study at his church. His name was Joel.

As was common in some of the communities we visited, Joel accused a couple of our guys of looking like Justin Beiber. Another lady asked one of our guys what shampoo he used. I think they enjoyed the attention.

Our last stop, on Sunday, was a pretty interesting spot. It was an elevated soccer court at a street corner. When we arrived, Pastor David negotiated our use of the court to minister to the community. The terms of the negotiation: we had to beat them at soccer. These weren’t kids, and they knew how to handle the ball. It was no small miracle that we were eventually able to beat them and use the court.

As with everyone we met, they were warm, soccer fieldhospitable and welcoming of the message we shared. There were
a couple of memorable contacts we made at this site. Pastor Nick was able to challenged one of the young guys who stood out as a leader, and share some of his testimony. Others were able to pray for a man who confessed his need to allow God to use him, but doubted any ability to change the situation around him. I believe a call was answered that night.

Since our bus was broken down a couple of streets away and the sun had already set, Pastor David had to ferry us in small groups, through a dangerous part of town to where the bus awaited with dinner. A short while later, a repair service had us back up and on our way.

Again, it was a late return to the compound after a long day of ministry.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our fifth day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

El Salvador Journal: Day 4

Saturday, July 17th 2010

DSC06274Our first stop on our second day of ministry was at the main church in zone one. This was at a site just outside the city. It’s currently housed under two large tents. The long-term plan is to build a series of buildings that will house the various aspects of ministry they conduct here. Pastor David said they’ll be building the facility for the children’s ministry first, since the children come first at Castle. This morning was for a children’s service. We greeted the kids, as they arrived. There was one little boy, Kevin, who seemed to enjoy harassing the guys on our team with this game he would play where he would run by and grab the back of their leg. The service opened with worship and a couple crowd-breaker type of activities. There was a funny little chicken skit that was lead by a kid that really caught my eye during worship. He DSC06228was on stage, manning the ipod. He really seemed to be passionate about the time we spent in worship. Our team was introduced, and we had an opportunity to share our “Supertones” dance and “Sin Box” skit. That service ended with a time of prayer for all the kids who responded. Next, we headed into the city for lunch at an Esso (Exxon) gas station that became a familiar landmark and stopping place for our team. This day, we hooked up with Giovanni and Stephanie who were workers in Castle’s youth ministry and assisted our team throughout the week. DSC06261Our next stop for ministry was a community of tall grey buildings. Our hosts told us that this was kind of like the ghetto of El Salvador. Admittedly, I couldn’t tell any difference in this and the other places we visited. As we walked through a breezeway between two of the buildings, there appeared to be a birthday or similar sort of party on the upper bridge between the two buildings. This stop didn’t draw as many kids as the day before. None-the-less, we believe needs were met and lives were changed with the message that there is hope in Christ. Thankfully, the day was DSC06266overcast and not nearly as hot as Friday. This began a trend of cooler days that would stay with us most of the time. Our last ministry stop, on Saturday, was back at the tents. This time, they were preparing for youth and jr high services. We were in the tent with the jr high students. Courtney opened with a couple of worship songs.  She was incredibly brave.  It was a pretty cold crowd at the beginning. Again, we had an opportunity to perform our “Supertones” dance and “Everything” video. Tyler Duvall shared his testimony and Pastor Nick preached. During the altar call, there was a very slow, hesitant response. Once a couple of guys and girls started to respond, more came.  There were many salvations and rededications that night and a sweet spirit of brokeness, as the Lord ministered to the hearts of these young people. DSC06282I had a chance to pray for a guy named Erin. As I was praying for him, I was overwhelmed by the desire to speak with this kid. When I asked Pastor David to help me, he said, “oh he speaks English.” Erin told me that he was a “missionary kid” and just struggling to live the life he knew he was supposed to. I feel like God used me to encourage him as I thanked him for the role he played in his parents’ ministry. I told him that people in America had extreme respect for the sacrifice he was making. I also shared that I felt God was preparing him for a when he would be able to step out from the shadows and have his own ministry. He seemed encouraged. I trust that God is doing something in his life. Back on the bus, we asked our host team if this was a typical church service for them. They said this was a particularly difficult and cold-hearted group. We immediately had a sense that God had used us to begin something special among them. On the way back to the campus, we stopped to pick DSC06315up a couple of important supplies. Our host team and our intern found out that it was Taylor’s birthday. We all wanted to do something special for her. While Taylor was distracted, we got a cake and some little things for presents. When we arrived at the campus, we took all of the items for our dinner to a small room beside the cafe. Diner was papusas and rice.  We also had ice cream cake (no forks) while Taylor unwrapped her presents. The evening was punctuated with Taylor bent over a trash can emptying the contents of her stomach. I think the fifteen swings she received before being thrown her into the pool might have had something to do with that, but no one can be sure. Steve and Nick and I joked that she had a pretty complete birthday experience without the assistance of alcohol.  It was another great day in El Salvador. Here are the highlights of Taylor’s birthday celebration, minus the barf. This is our compilation video for our second day of ministry

El Salvador Journal: Day 3

Friday, July 16th 2010

Our first day of ministry began as our training day did. We were up and at breakfast at 6:30. We probably had “salsa eggs” with beans. This was something we had several times, with the occasional DSC06051cereal mixed in. Again, breakfast was delicious.

Before we headed out, we were introduced to the final member of our ministry team. His name was Oscar. He was a Master’s Commission student from Nicaragua.

Each day, as we headed out for ministry, we stopped at a Texaco on the highway to stock up on water and whatever other little items we felt like we might want to nibble on. I got a bottle of water and a honey bun of some kind.

DSC06058Driving into the city in the daylight was a bit different from what we saw when we arrived during the night. The houses were small, concrete structures. We wound our way though San Salvador until we were good and lost. We finally stopped in what we were informed was a particularly dangerous neighborhood.

We walked down steps and past small, concrete houses to a playground, where the team quickly sat up a PA system and began drawing kids out of their homes. Two members of our team were dressed as clowns and 37901_1358440843465_6636112_nstarted making balloon animals. I quickly learned how to make a sword and handed them out to a couple of the boys. It was especially frustrating to not be able to communicate with them through the language barrier.

Since Castle adheres to a strict standard of dress, as requested by the leading missionary for El Salvador, our guys wore long pants, while our ladies wore skirts. We were also issued a couple of “Castle” t-shirts, so locals would identify us as members of the ministry. We were told this was key to our safety while ministering in the city.

Friday was probably our hottest ministry day. Some of our guys started playing basketball with some of the kids. It wasn’t long before there were a good many people hanging around, and we started our program.

However ill-prepared we might have felt for ministry after our whirlwind day of training, our host team did a miraculous job of pulling us through our first couple of songs. Even through the last day of ministry, I was reliant on positioning myself behind other team members, so I could watch and follow their lead.  I was impressed by how quickly Courtney and some of the others caught on, and how much they retained from our day of training.

For the days of ministry, our team was divided into two parts. When it came time for the more serious portion of the program, one team would go to pray while the other would stay and perform. We would alternate these roles throughout the week.

DSC06068As Herbert gave the request for kids to come and receive salvation, it was obvious that he had a gift for communicating to children. Each time we prayed, at the end of the program, we would go through a routine of praying for salvation, illnesses and problems in the home.

When the program was done, we packed up and headed out for our next destination. It was in these early moments of the trip that we began to realize the tight bond that was forming between us, our host team and our intern.

Our next stop was at the office of the “zone-one” churchDSC06082, where we met Pastor David. While there, we ate lunch and had another opportunity to upload some pictures and communicate via facebook, since we had a couple of hours before our next ministry opportunity.

Our next stop was similar to the first. Again, there was little hope of keeping our bearings, as we twisted through the city. We stopped at another small basketball/soccer court. This time we organized a game with some of the kids in the neighborhood. It was my team’s turn to pray. After the first couple of songs, we headed back to the bus. As was the plan, they called us back to the court when it was time to pray with the kids.

DSC06124Each ministry site, for me, was made memorable by the faces of those who lived in that neighborhood. Here, one of those individuals was an older lady in a green dress, who strolled by several times as my team was praying. She seemed to have been made curious by the spectacle.

Our last stop for the day was a darker site. The walk from the bus to the court was a bit longer this time, giving more opportunity to take in the smells of raw sewage, signs of gang activity and the hopeless expressions on the faces of most residents. There was a foreboding presence about this place.

Again, we picked up a game of soccer with the kids. Even the youngest of them were impressively skilled with the ball. There was a small market at the corner of the court and a place where Pastor David said the gang members would hang out. The perimeter of the court was surrounded by more concrete brick houses and a couple of swing sets.

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Our ministry time was typical. Although some of the kids were distracted by various conversations, our host team pushed forward as if all eyes were fixed on them.

This evening was highlighted by Pastor NickDSC06181 and Pastor David praying for a young gang member who accepted Jesus as his Savior.

Towards the end of our first day of ministry, we settled into a routine of wrestling away from Sarah, Meilssa and Karen (our intern and host-team members) whatever props, equipment or supplies they might try to carry back to the bus. The basic instruction was, “If they wont give you what they’re carrying, you carry them.”

DSC06187When we returned to the bus, Sarah, congratulated us on a successful first day of ministry. Pastor David also commented that our team was “one-hundred-percenters”, remarking that we would go and do whatever we were asked. This made us very proud of the guys and girls we took to El Salvador. The praise was well-deserved.

Each night, dinner was served at 6:30. I don’t know that we ever made it back on time. Like breakfast, diner was always good. Dinner after our first night of ministry was baked chicken breast. Honestly, it tasted just like home.

Everyone was more than ready to get to bed after an exhausting day. We had a great group of men and women on this trip.

We compiled a recap video from each day of ministry. This is the video from day one.

We also captured some of our student’s thoughts each day.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our third day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

El Salvador Journal: Day 2

Thursday, July 15th 2010

DSC05954It was just our first day in El Salvador, but some of us were already beginning to lose track of what day it was. The shower was cold by the time I got my turn. Walking out of our room, we were immediately taken by the beauty of our temporary home. Castillo del Rey’s campus is on the edge of a lake. Later, we learned that the lake is actually an active volcano that once blew its top, and is now filled with rain water. I don’t think any of us were expecting the place to be so beautiful.

The other big surprise was the wild horses and dogs roaming the property. It was a pretty strange feeling to walk across the campus, sometimes crossing through a small herd of horses. Some of the dogs were mangy andDSC05961 malnourished, a pretty sad sight.

Breakfast, on our first morning, was french toast. It, as all of our meals, was awesome. The cafeteria always had peanut butter and an unusual array of condiments on the table (pineapple and other atypical jellies, hot sauce, butter etc). Eating with our team was always a different experience. We had fun, and know the staff enjoyed us being there, as we were told multiple times.

After breakfast we were greeted by Jolie. She handled much of the logistics for the visiting teams. Next, we were reintroduced to Jacob. This time, he had his wife, Amanda, with him. They were the youth pastors at Castillo del Rey, and were tasked with teaching us dances and dramas.

We each attacked our practices with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some of us just aren’t gifted at “performancy” types of things. Luckily, our guys set a great tone for our trip, by throwing themselves into it. Except for a quick break for lunch, we practiced for the majority of that day.

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After practice we took a second to check out the lake and goof off a bit. We also used this as an opportunity to find the two monkeys living on the property. One was pretty good-natured while the other was a bit scared of people. Some of our group swam in the campus’ pool. The leaders made contact through facebook, and I uploaded a video or two.

After the sun went down, Jacob took us to the “prayer fortress”. The walk there was weird. He told us there were huge frogs up there. As we were walking, we came upon this little pond from which was emanating the eeriest croaking sounds. It sounded like hundreds of them were watching as we approached.This day of preparation was an excellent introduction to what to expect from the week. We were well ready for a good night’s sleep.

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Here’s a shot of us heading back towards the guy’s dorm, from the lake.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our second day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

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El Salvador Journal: Day 1

Wednesday, July 14th 2010

With an early rise, our team assembled at DSC05876church, with various friends and family members, and prepared for departure. Since our luggage was dropped off and loaded the day before, there was little we needed to do before rolling out. We prayed for God’s blessings, said some quick goodbyes and headed out.

Only stopping for a quick bite at a McDonald’s along the way, we made good time to Reagan International Airport. There, we assembled a quick video in which Pastor Nick, with some comedic relief from Tyler Duvall and a host of background personalities, reminded our friends and families to stay tuned to our Facebook page for periodic updates. Otherwise, our time in DC was passed with card games and rest.

Nothing unusual happened during our layover in Houston.  We grabbed a quick bite, monitored activity on Facebook and boarded our plane for El Salvador.

We flew around a pretty impressive thunderstorm, on our approach to the airport in San Salvador. It provided a once-in-a-lifetime view of a spectacular light show, for those seated on that side of the plane.

Our team cleared customs in San Salvador unusually fast. Our first experience with the language barrier was with the customs agents. They spoke just enough English to make it an easy process and make the majority of us wish we had either paid better attention in Spanish class or not chosen some other worthless language to meet our foreign language elective.

DSC05950Our host team was there to pick us up almost as soon as we walked out of the airport. They were very nice. Herbert, Melissa, Karen and Sarah all introduced themselves, and had sandwiches ready for us.

Not expecting much more travel, some were surprised to hear we had a two-hour drive to get to Castillo Del Rey’s main campus. Some took in the sites of the city from our bus, while others enjoyed a quick nap as we wound our way down unfamiliar roads. We finally arrived at the campus around midnight.

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It was dark and hard to get a feel for the place, when we arrived. The first member of “Castle’s” ministry team to greet us was Jacob. He gave us an idea of what to expect the next day, and directed us to our lodging for the week. After being told that breakfast is served at 6:30 sharp, we were shown to our dormitories and headed to bed. We were primed for a great week of ministry.

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Pastor Nick was lucky enough to capture a great lightning strike on video.

If you were there and remember details or any interesting stories I missed, please add your memories of our first day in the comments below. Thanks for reading and look for another post from my journal, tomorrow.

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