Standing with Joplin

by Michelle Negron Bueno

Graphic by Priscilla McKinney

Most everyone has heard of or seen the devastation that hit Joplin, Missouri on May 22 when an F5 tornado tore through on a Sunday night, taking with it a third of the town. Two of my sisters, Elizabeth Baldwin and Priscilla McKinney, live just minutes from there in Galena, Kansas. Priscilla, who is also an ENLACE board member, has a business in Joplin proper. Everyone in their families are safe and the business building was not damaged. 

The hardest news for them has been the loss of life. For those of us listening for news from the television or radio, the numbers were astounding as they climbed from the teens to past a hundred and beyond. But for everyone near Joplin the numbers represented faces of friends and family members. For Elizabeth and Priscilla and their home church, Riverton Friends Church, it meant a volunteer and friend named Dee Ann as well as many neighbors and clients who lost a loved one.

Last Sunday, May 29, Ron, our kids and I were able to travel down to Joplin from our furlough home in Kansas City. We had the chance to attend Riverton’s Sunday morning service where people were gathering to mark what had happened just one week ago. As I looked around, I saw many people who have been a part of ministering to El Salvador and my family over the years. Some had opened their homes to us, some had sent funds and medical supplies to El Salvador, some had offered a listening ear and pastoral care as we walked through the traumas of our own natural disasters.

On this morning, Pastor Wes Davis gave a sermon that cared for those reeling from their own disaster. The sermon mourned the loss of friends and neighbors but also gave the congregation hope and encouragement as they waded into the months and years of grief and recovery that will come. (Once his wonderful sermon is available online, we’ll post a link.)

Rebuilding efforts will be the stuff of daily life for those in and surrounding Joplin for the next year and beyond. Rebuilding homes, businesses, routines is something with which we in El Salvador and at ENLACE are all too familiar. We are extending our hands toward you in prayer and support, friends and family in Joplin, just as you have done for us in hard times past.

 

Snapshot of Heaven

By Kim Frederick

After an hour of listening to the foreign praise songs in the church, everyone’s hands were sore from clapping and our legs were tired from standing. We had printed and translated the lyrics of the songs we thought the church would sing, but the spirit took them off into a beautiful time of praise and worship that went far beyond the words on our pages. For all of the youth from Willow Creek Community Church who came last week to help the Zurisadai Church build homes in San Jacinto, the church service on Sunday was their first real experience in El Salvador. When the word Alleluia finally broke through all others, I think we were all relieved that we could join in their joyful noise and cry out with them, “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia! Dios está aqui!” God is here. Later in the week, one of the team’s young leaders would recall this moment as “the clearest picture of heaven” she has ever had. “At first we couldn’t understand, but suddenly we were all singing together in one voice, just like we will be singing one day in heaven.” 

At first glance, moving dirt and bricks, mixing cement by hand, and carrying heavy water containers from the well to the worksite might not seem like heavenly activities. However, the sense of community that the youth from Illinois shared with the church members, the housing recipients, and other residents of San Jacinto was clearly a blessing from God for everyone involved. Any language or cultural barriers with which they had arrived fell away, and we all left with a new understanding of God’s unconditional love and the strong faith of His people.  

Just as they proclaimed “Alleluia!” in one voice on Sunday, the team expressed that they felt people’s joy and pain with one heart during home visits. The youth from Willow Creek brought energy, excitement, and encouragement to the Zurisadai Church and the community of San Jacinto, while receiving a clearer picture of what God has called His Church to be–a place of love, a source of a light, and a spring of hope and healing for it’s neighbors. 

If your church would like learn more about becoming one of our U.S. church partners, contact us at partner@enlaceonline.org for more information or to schedule a vision trip to El Salvador.

 

Visit our picture gallery for more photos of last week’s adventures! 

 

Safe Passage

Panamericana Highway that crosses in front of the Christian and Public schools and the New Jerusalem ChurchThe traffic accidents that occur on the highways in El Salvador cause an alarming number of injuries and deaths. In the past 10 years, five children near the New Jerusalem Church in Comecayo lost their lives while walking along the highway or trying to cross the road. The tragedy of these losses moved the church and the community to consider it a high priority to construct a pedestrian bridge across the busy road to protect the lives of more than 10,000 people that must walk through this area daily.

 

Seeing the need and grieved over senless deaths, the church asked ENLACE to help them create a strategy that addressed the problem. ENLACE provided technical assistance and church training, which resulted in forming a Pedestrian Safety Committee made up of church and community members who oversaw the project and lobbied the mayor’s office to help complete it. After a design and plan were created, the Nueva Jerusalén Church and the community provided construction materials, water, storage and tools, as well as skilled and unskilled labor. In December 2011, the mayor’s offce provided the cables and the bridge was finally complete.

Felix Orellana, ENLACE regional Church Coach, believes that along with providing safety, the bridge has created a possibility for greater unity, which lubricates the momentum of change in the community of Comecayo.

“The church and the community have definitely created new bonds of friendship which have brought greater motivation, strength, and unity to serve.”

 

The new bridge in Comecayo can be seen from many locations in the community. It stands as a memorial to those who lost their lives and a memorial to the commitment of the church to reaching out to their neighbors.

 

 

Devotional Series: The Truth Behind the Beatitudes

by Kim Frederick

In 2011, in an attempt to get back to the basics, we are diving into the beatitudes as they appear in the gospel of Matthew and the truths behind these powerful verses during our staff devotional times. A few weeks ago, Executive Director Ron Bueno shared an introduction to the series that compelled us all to be radically dependent on God.

First, it is crucial to recognize that Matthew’s introduction to these scriptures tells us the weight and importance of its content:

“And seeing the multitudes,” verse one reads, “He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.” We know that the message is important because Jesus sat. Jesus, like the Rabbis of his time, typically taught while standing or walking, unless giving an official teaching or one of great importance. 

Next, in verse two, it says, “He opened His mouth and taught them.” In Greek, this has two significant meanings. It is used as a proclamation for the most important of teachings. It is also used when someone is sharing something from their heart. 

Now that we know Jesus took the time to sit with his disciples and share something from his heart, we can look at what exactly he had to say. The first words Jesus shares are, “Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Great. But what does it mean? Do we have to be downtrodden or poor to encounter God? Can’t we be joyful and full of life? In his book, Sermon on the Mount, John Stott describes the beatitudes as one of the most widely known teachings of Jesus, but probably the least understood and least obeyed. 

In this case, the word “poor” is not only used to mean a lack of material possessions, but it also carries the connotation of a person in absolute dire need, having no possible way to care for themselves. To be poor in spirit, therefore, is to acknowledge our necessity for God. It does not mean that we must be downtrodden, but that throughout our lives we will find joy when we recognize the crucial role of the Holy Spirit and humbly cry out to God; as a helpless child cries out to his father or mother. It is when we become greatly dependent on God that He manifests His joy. As a result of our dependence we receive the fruits of this life and an eternal life that is to come.

What does this mean for ENLACE?
For ENLACE, to be poor in spirit means that we must be radically dependent on God as an organization. We believe that God’s mission is nothing less that the complete restoration of all creation, and that only God is able to achieve community transformation. Therefore: 

  • We must continue to allow God’s heart and plan to transform our own hearts and plans.
  • We must listen and obey in order to be used by God to change people’s lives and communities.
  • We must train church leaders to understand God’s heart and plan for the world.

What does this mean for you?
Too often we are surrounded by quick fixes and easy solutions which allow us to ignore our need for God. When we are in need we run to family, friends, doctors and therapists, only seeking God when all else fails. But we cannot come to know and trust God unless we seek Him first. When we are sick, grieving, or depressed, we are called to seek God and His comfort before seeking others. When we are excited, encouraged, and exploding with joy, we must give thanks to Him first. Only when we learn to call out to Him before all others will our relationship with Him grow and strengthen, bringing us a peace and joy that can’t be found anywhere else.

Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven! 

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Behind the Scenes: ENLACE’s Journey Back to the Basics

by Kim Frederick

“ENLACE’s greatest challenge concerning our 2015 plan does not involve finances, administration or leadership, nor does it concern human resources. The challenge is spiritual. The biggest challenge for us will be to keep ourselves centered on Christ and to allow Him to change, prepare, and guide us to complete our mission.” Ron Bueno, ENLACE Founder and Director

Certain that our greatest challenge is spiritual, we, as ENLACE staff, are committed to seeking a life radically dependent on God, and to live under His authority and grace. In efforts to remain focused on Him, the ENLACE staff gathers every Monday to pray together and share a time of devotion. Recently, our director, Ron Bueno has been urging us to “return to the basics.” As he pointed out, if ENLACE is going to continue to expand and reach more churches and communities in El Salvador, our greatest challenge is to keep God at the front and center of all our efforts.

Over the 18 years that ENLACE has been serving as a link for churches and communities in El Salvador, we have seen God open doors, change hearts, and bless the lives of those living in more than 50 communities. For several years, we maintained a small number of church partners, but as they are becoming Leader Churches and examples to other churches in their areas, the small spark of change has become a wildfire. In fact, we have now reached a point in which there are so many new Salvadoran churches interested in partnering with ENLACE that we had to form a waiting list of potential partners while we search for more US churches to partner with their efforts. It is amazing to see the hearts of pastors all over the country turn toward an integral mission and a desire to serve those in need!

We have learned much from our experiences over the years, and we continue place a strong emphasis on the following:

  • Confidence. We believe that God has entrusted us with a calling and has prepared us for a specific purpose.
  • Family Heritage and Tradition. God has left us a pattern of conduct, values, and principles to which we must be faithful and which we must appreciate.
  • A Call and Spiritual Gifts. Each one of us has made a vow before Christ to be one of His ambassadors.
  • The Character of a Christian Servant. We’re committed to act like people who follow God.

To focus on the above ideas, we know we must embody four key characteristics:

  1. Bravery. We must be brave enough to face challenges from God, to go to difficult places, to make tough decisions, and take necessary actions.
  2. Power. We must remember that the same power that resurrected Christ lives in us.
  3. Love. We must fall deeply in love with God so that we cease to focus only on our own interests, and instead focus on seeing and loving our neighbors.
  4. Discipline. We must have the discipline to seek God’s presence and to follow Him with with our words and our minds so that we may recognize our successes and failures in our attempts to be like Him.

We urge you to stay involved with ENLACE and to pray for us this year, as we are challenged with staying focused in the face of growth and change. We, too, will be thinking and praying for your churches and families. Thank you for your ongoing encouragement and support!  

 

“Part of the family:” Briargate’s Medical Trip to El Triunfo

by Kim Frederick

Dr. Rhonda Grigg, Pediatrician, and Michelle Zuñiga, ENLACE volunteer, in El TriunfoLeaning over to me in church on the last day of our trip, Lisa, one of the members of the medical team from Colorado, put into words what I could not. “I’m just thinking that we came here on our first day as strangers, and now here we are again, four days later, but this time we’re a part of the family.” This close connection with the people in El Triunfo came as somewhat of a surprise to Lisa, as this was her first trip to an ENLACE community in El Salvador. However, for returning team members, such as pediatrician Dr. Rhonda Grigg, the people’s generosity came less as a shock and more as a reminder that those living in poverty have much to offer.

 

“One of the biggest things for me is just, no matter how little they have, they’re always able to do something… They find something to give.” – Dr. Rhonda Grigg

 

Eye Doctor, Dr. John Rabins helps a patient in El TriunfoThe week started with a church service in which the team’s optometrist, Dr. John Rabins, shared a message about the value of giving and the gift of receiving. This message was followed by three and a half days of work and over 360 patients in the church’s makeshift clinic and pharmacy. Through the gift of glasses, eyedrops, vitamins, medicines, and diagnoses, the medical team was able to give sight, healing, and a peace of mind to many. They also gave their time, shared their skills, gave up the comforts of home, and left their families for a week in order to be an example of God’s love and healing in El Triunfo. At the end of the week, we asked them, “What gifts did the people of El Triunfo give to you?” Their answers were sincere and varied as they expressed the invaluable gifts they had received in the midst of their giving.

 

Receiving a Lesson in Gratitude:

“How little they have has very little to do with how much gratitude they have inside them. I’m finding that gratitude and the love of God has very little to do with material things.” -Dr. John Rabins

 

Receiving Love in Action:

 

“I found that love is such an active verb there. I mean, in the U.S. we often use words to tell people how we feel, rather than actions. There, coming home and having additional steps cut in the ground down toward the latrine, to me it was a huge act of love. They saw that we slipped there and, without anybody asking, the next night there were new steps there for us, and that just touched my heart so profoundly.” -Lisa Hamilton

Also, one night when it was raining and the hill was slippery with mud, “the woman at our house, she dragged me to dinner because I just couldn’t get any traction. She grabbed me by the arm, with her bare feet, and she dug in and pulled us both up there. She made sure I got onto the cement. And, you know, she didn’t have to go out into the pouring rain to do that. It was just sheer love.” -Lisa Hamilton

Receiving the Gift of Peace:

“…the little things I get stressed out about really don’t matter. These people are so content and their problems are way bigger than ours. I don’t know, it’s like their souls are at peace, and I always leave here feeling more at peace.” -Joanna Pierce

Becoming a U.S. ENLACE church partner is not only about giving, but also about receiving the precious and invaluable gifts of friendship, gratitude, love, and peace that the Salvadoran churches are eager to share. Talk to your church about partnering with ENLACE to give the gift of equipping and training, and share with the community as they receive the fruits of transformation!  

Click here to read Kim’s personal blog about her week with the Briargate team in El Triunfo. 

 

Tires and Kids and Clinics, Oh My!

by Kim Frederick

San Jacinto, a small rural community in northwestern El Salvador, was full of smiles last week as seven enthusiastic “gringos” from Vineyard Christian Church in Pataskala, Ohio trotted through the streets, greeting everyone they passed with an enthusiastic “¡Hola!” or “¡Buenas tardes!” Even with only two members able to communicate in Spanish, everyone was able to make friends and encourage San Jacinto residents. 

Vineyard Team, Pastor Mauricio, Kim and FelixThe team came to work on one of the community’s current initiatives, which was to build a retaining wall. They also helped repair a main road to prevent further erosion. They worked happily alongside the Salvadorans, literally pouring their sweat into the tires, dirt, and concrete used to construct the wall. 

“But some of the most meaningful moments had nothing to do with the wall,” explained one of the team members from Ohio. The team was able to participate in two church services during their time in the community with a local church, Zurisadai Assemblies of God. Additionally, working alongside the director of the children’s ministry and Pastor Mauricio, the team conducted a special program for over 80 children, distributed school supplies to the local school, and visited some of the area’s neediest families, praying and encouraging them. And if that were not enough, the women from Vineyard partnered an event with the women of Zurisadai. Both North American and Salvadoran women shared with each other their faith and their lives.

“This mission trip was so different than the others I have been on,” said one member.  “This trip,” he explained, “was more about relationships. It was a perfect mix of work and being with the people.”  

On their last day in San Jacinto, the Ohio team met with community leaders from surrounding hamletsPart of the team with a local member of the community to discuss the health of the community and to tour the public clinic in order to better understand the accomplishments of the community in the area of health. Each team member expressed a desire to return and to continue this strong connection. “It’s incredible, the bonds we made in just four days,” one woman expressed, “…I mean, some of them were just really hard to leave.”  

The Vineyard Christian Church of Pataskala has committed to an ongoing relationship of giving, serving, and prayer with the San Jacinto area. Their commitment allows for an ENLACE church advisor to work in the community with Pastor Maurico and his church to build their capacity to reach out to the community to transform lives and alleviate poverty.  For more information about church partnerships and becoming involved in this life-changing process, please contact us at partner@enlaceonline.org, or call Peter DeSoto, Director of Partnership Development, at 1-888-675-2314.

CLICK HERE to see a photo gallery from the trip.

Engineering Transformation: Employee Profile of Fabio Mejía

by Michelle Bueno and Margarita Campos

When you ask Fabio Mejía, an ENLACE technical assistant and soon-to-be father, why he works with ENLACE, the answer’s simple: Change. 

Change means a lot of things to a lot of people. For Fabio, two major automobile accidents early in his life changed him forever. He emerged from both unscathed and believes that God cared enough not only to save him once, but twice. As a result Fabio gave his life to serve Jesus and that decision took him down the life-long path of serving others.

Because of the change that God brought to Fabio’s life through a tragedy averted, Fabio now participates in bringing miracles to others. He studied at the Assemblies of God Bethel Bible College in San Salvador and pursued a degree in engineering. Both tracks of study converged as he began working for Samaritan’s Purse in 2002. When that ministry closed in El Salvador in 2008, Fabio applied for a job at ENLACE.  About his work at ENLACE he said, “It is a place where I can do ministry and at the same time apply my technical skills.”

Fabio working on the beginning stages of a housing initiative in Abelines.To Fabio, it’s not just change that he values–the kind of change that blesses a family once they have adequate housing, giving them shelter and security–it’s the miracles that happen when a church and its community are empowered to bless one another in a sustainable manner. In a recent interview, Fabio said, “ENLACE empowers the church to use its own ideas, resources, creativity and organizational power, giving them the chance to lead and become a real blessing to their communities. I’m so excited to know that I can contribute with a little change in the lives of many people.”  

“I have seen people in a community join with the church to work on initiatives together. People are motivated to come together even to the point of donating days away from their own jobs. This really touches me because people are not just thinking about themselves but about helping others and learning skills like how to build a house or repair a street.”

True, life-giving change can only come from a heart that has been transformed by God’s love. That’s what Fabio knows from personal experience and continues to live out in his own life and work as God engineers transformation in the lives of those in need.

A Sheltering Tree: Growing Passion Through Service

By Margarita Campos and Michelle Bueno

As a child, Nuria Reyes learned to be passionate about two things: God’s Word and her family. Through her parents’ examples, Nuria saw that a passion for God and others leads to a life of service. Their faithfulness planted a seed in her that took root and grew deeply over the years.

Nuria became involved in a variety of church ministries; Children’s Ministry, Youth Group, Sunday School, and other endeavors all sprouted from her life as a committed Christian. Eventually she pursued and received a degree in Theology, taught at The Biblical Institute for the Asamblea de Iglesias Cristianas and eventually became the Director of Education for that same denomination.

It was during her tenure as the Director of Education that she met Miguel Duran, a pastor in the San Martin area who had been collaborating with ENLACE for many years. Nuria worked with Pastor Miguel for five years and saw first-hand the impact that was being made in Las Delicias by his congregation, The Good Samaritan Church, and ENLACE. 

When Pastor Miguel told Nuria about a job opening with ENLACE that required biblical training, a passionate heart to help those in need and a desire to learn about community transformation, she knew it was for her. Nuria felt a new excitement spring up in her heart. After she was hired Nuria said,

“Working for ENLACE is more than excellent because I don’t just put into practice my studies, but I have learned about community development by serving others and living out the gospel.”

Nuria with church members in El Espino

Today Nuria walks alongside pastors, lay-leaders and whole congregations as they live the passionate journey of demonstrating God’s love. The seed that was planted in her heart from when she was a young girl, has grown into a great, sheltering tree. With a wonderful husband by her side and new baby daughter, Nuria is now passionate about three things: “I’m passionate about the Word of God, my family and my job at ENLACE.” 

“Jesus said, ‘How can I describe the kingdom of God? What story should I use to illustrate it? It is like a tiny mustard seed. Though this is one of the smallest of seeds, it grows to become one of the largest of plants, with long branches where birds can come and find shelter.”

Mark 4:30-32 NLT