In memoriam Oscar Alexander Vasquez

By Ron Bueno

_MG_5341Over the weekend we were forced to say goodbye to a great friend and colleague. On Saturday, April 16th Oscar Alexander Vasquez (Alex) died instantly in a motorcycle accident. I continue to struggle to try to understand and process his death. I met Alex when he was 14 years old. He was a youth leader in Pastor Miguel’s church El Buen Samaritano. Shortly after I met him, he shared his life story with me.

He had a very difficult childhood and adolescence. His mother died when he was young and his father was an alcoholic. He lived for periods of time in the street on his own and with other people. He shared with me that it was the love and kindness of Miguel’s church to help with funeral costs and bury his dad that really convinced him of God’s love for him. This expression of love also served as a call to service in the church. Alex served for many years as the youth leader at El Buen Samaritano church until he was called to lead his own congregation several years ago.

IMG_3416Along with pastoring, Alex was also involved as a leader of community outreach at Miguel’s church from the very beginning. His heart was always to serve others so that they might feel the unconditional love that he had felt during the time of his father’s passing. He profoundly believed that the heart of ministry is caring for those in need.

He told me on several occasions that his dream was to pastor and work for ENLACE. He worked hard to finish his high school degree and BA in Theology in order to apply to work at ENLACE. A couple of years ago he joined the ENLACE staff. He worked in one of the most remote areas of El Salvador and loved it! He was truly an inspiration to the pastors that he worked with and to our staff. He had a soft spirit and kind smile. He was always so positive and encouraging. He truly loved people and wanted them to experience the love that he felt from God daily.

IMG_9447Alex is survived by his young wife Karina, congregation, friends and colleagues.
Alex was married to Karina a couple years ago. He had been pastoring his first congregations for five years.

As our entire staff tries to process his loss, I am reminded that he finally accomplished what he strove for all of his life: to be intimately close to God, to feel His presence continuously. It was truly an honor for me to have known Alex and to have worked with him. It was a privilege to see God’s love and transformation in his life firsthand. I was so encouraged and inspired by his energy and excitement to see other people experience that transformation in their lives through the church. We will miss you dearly.

Alex, it is with great sadness that we have to say goodbye for now. But we look forward to seeing you again soon.

I ask all of you to please pray for his young wife, his congregation and for the entire ENLACE staff as we walk through these difficult and tragic moments.

 

The Story of Water in San Jacinto and the Zurisadai Church

Background

Back in 2012, in the community of San Jacinto, 40 percent (680 people) did not have access to clean water. The remaining 60 percent of the population (1,020 people) had access to water every other day for 20 minutes. And the water that was available wasn’t treated and contributed to many water-borne illnesses that especially affected children under five years of age with grave sickness and sometime death. This was the case even though the community had an abundant source of water from a nearby shallow spring. However, the water system that drew from that spring was over 35 years old and needed upgrades in order to serve the needs of local residents. Additionally, the organizational capacity of the community water board wasn’t strong enough to take on and implement a community-wide clean water plan.

The Zurisadai Church had begun to work with ENLACE and create a vision and plan to serve its community. The congregation of 170 members led by its pastor, Mauricio Alvarado, are all very poor themselves. It was possible for them to see themselves as people who need rather than people who give. But with encouragement and empowerment, this local church chose to serve.

With incredible excitement and speed, Pastor Mauricio and many church members joined the local community association and helped to make the group more representative, organized and inspired to serve. Along with many other projects such as road repairs, the construction of dozens of homes, and home gardens, they decided to take on the community’s need for clean and accessible water.

Water system project specs:

IMG_3715Between 2012-2013 the church-led community project of building a water system came into being.

The water system is a spring and tank system that distributes clean water to each household of the community. The system is comprised of two springs, three water tanks, a pumping station, and piping that distributes the water by gravity to each household. The water is pumped from the springs to a pumping station and then to water tanks where it’s tested and treated. The water flows from the tanks by gravity through a network of pipes into each household. Each house has its own connection and a meter to measure water use and pay accordingly. The very small fee for water use is then used to finance system maintenance. The improvement to the organizational capacity of the water board has enabled this last piece to maintain clean water for 4 years to all residents.

Because the local church was supported in serving its community, this water system:

  • Provides 1,700 people with access to an abundant source of clean water.

  • Provides 2,954 people with access to water to drink, clean, wash clothes, and cultivate home gardens for the next 20 years.

  • Strengthened the organizational capacity of the existing water board to manage a water system

  • Reduced infant mortality

  • Reduced diarrhea morbidity

Willow’s Involvement:

Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois supported this system both financially and by sending a serving team to San Jacinto in 2012 which helped install part of the system.

Team member Joy Bork said, “This experience really helped me see how the local church is the hope of the world. Through pairing together with ENLACE and Zurisadai, I was able to be a tangible representation of Christ’s hands and feet in the community of San Jacinto.”

A Community’s Resident’s Story:

Rosa Maria Chacón, 35, and her husband, Juan Atilio Hernandez, 40, have three children and live in San Jacinto. Rosa was born in San Jacinto and has experienced water shortages her entire life. Her father used to take them to the river to bathe and that is what she and her children used to do every day. They would begin their trek to to river every afternoon after school and it would take at least 40 minutes one way. It would take longer on the return because of the heavy load of wet laundry that had been washed. She received her household connection in April 2013. She said, “It is a joy to have abundant clean water at home. It is incredible to have enough water to wash clothes, dishes and corn and not have to take long journeys to the river to bathe and wash.”

 

 

Not Alone in the Journey: The Story of Margarita in Cocalito

At 18 years old, Margarita has a lot on her shoulders. When her grandfather died last year after contracting the Chikungunya virus (a mosquito-borne illness that creates painful joint swelling, headaches, rashes and can exacerbate other health conditions), she became the sole breadwinner for her household. Up until his death she took care of all the household duties along with her mother and daughter. When he died and she was still without a job, resourcefully she went out every day foraging for food. She picked fruit, caught fish, and grabbed anything that seemed edible along the way in order to put food on the table.

During this time, Margarita and her mother had to be gone a lot getting food and water for the family. One day when Margarita’s 14-year-old sister, María Angela was home watching Margarita’s daughter, Jocelin, they were accosted in their home by gang members. They threatened María Angela and wanted her to work for them. While they went away without getting what they wanted, Margarita remains wary of unsavory people taking advantage of their desperate situation.

The local pastor and leaders of the Aposento Alto Church first met Margarita and her family when they conducted a census of their community as part of the first step of working with ENLACE and its church and community program. They visited the family’s home and learned of their difficult story. It wasn’t until later when the pastor began to visit them over the course of a few months, that he learned that whenever the church committee came and were hospitably offered food, it was often the only food the family had for that day.

The pastor and leaders were incredibly moved by Margarita and her family and when they began their first community project of building latrines, they put Margarita’s household on the list. In the meantime, Margarita found a job. Margarita now works six days a week as a waitress, from 10am to 2am. And even though she is grateful for the work and her $150 per month, the work is demanding. And so when the materials for the latrines were delivered to the church for recipients to pick up, she didn’t have the time or money to transport the bricks and cement to her home.

When a church member and neighbor heard of her situation, she offered to help. Even though Wendy, her neighbor takes care of her husband full-time due to a kidney disease, she coordinated a way for them to work together to gather the materials. Wendy and Margarita carried 16 bags of cement and over 1000 bricks to their homes to build two latrines.

In the end, Margarita said that there was a moment when she thought she would give up. She was exhausted. That was when the service team from St. Andrews came to help build her latrine. She saw such joy from them and was so encouraged to be supported by people who came from thousands of miles away. Suddenly between the new friends from the church and new friends from abroad, she didn’t feel so alone

Today, Margarita is incredibly grateful. Not only has the latrine made her family’s life healthier and easier, she has also strong friends from the local church helping and encouraging her every day and checking in on her family. In the next year, the church hopes to implement a new home initiative and Margarita might be one of the first beneficiaries.

Not Alone in the Journey: The Story of Margarita in Cocalito

20150216_095513At 18 years old, Margarita has a lot on her shoulders. When her grandfather died last year after contracting the Chikungunya virus (a mosquito-borne illness that creates painful joint swelling, headaches, rashes and can exacerbate other health conditions), she became the sole breadwinner for her household. Up until his death she took care of all the household duties along with her mother and daughter. When he died and she was still without a job, resourcefully she went out every day foraging for food. She picked fruit, caught fish, and grabbed anything that seemed edible along the way in order to put food on the table.

During this time, Margarita and her mother had to be gone a lot getting food and water for the family. One day when Margarita’s 14-year-old sister, María Angela was home watching Margarita’s daughter, Jocelin, they were accosted in their home by gang members. They threatened María Angela and wanted her to work for them. While they went away without getting what they wanted, Margarita remains wary of unsavory people taking advantage of their desperate situation.

The local pastor and leaders of the Aposento Alto Church first met Margarita and her family when they conducted a census of their community as part of the first step of working with ENLACE and its church and community program. They visited the family’s home and learned of their difficult story. It wasn’t until later when the pastor began to visit them over the course of a few months, that he learned that whenever the church committee came and were hospitably offered food, it was often the only food the family had for that day.

The pastor and leaders were incredibly moved by Margarita and her family and when they began their first community project of building latrines, they put Margarita’s household on the list. In the meantime, Margarita found a job. Margarita now works six days a week as a waitress, from 10am to 2am. And even though she is grateful for the work and her $150 per month, the work is demanding. And so when the materials for the latrines were delivered to the church for recipients to pick up, she didn’t have the time or money to transport the bricks and cement to her home.

When a church member and neighbor heard of her situation, she offered to help. Even though Wendy, her neighbor takes care of her husband full-time due to a kidney disease, she coordinated a way for them to work together to gather the materials. Wendy and Margarita carried 16 bags of cement and over 1000 bricks to their homes to build two latrines.

In the end, Margarita said that there was a moment when she thought she would give up. She was exhausted. That was when the service team from St. Andrews came to help build her latrine. She saw such joy from them and was so encouraged to be supported by people who came from thousands of miles away. Suddenly between the new friends from the church and new friends from abroad, she didn’t feel so alone

Today, Margarita is incredibly grateful. Not only has the latrine made her family’s life healthier and easier, she has also strong friends from the local church helping and encouraging her every day and checking in on her family. In the next year, the church hopes to implement a new home initiative and Margarita might be one of the first beneficiaries.

 

One Family’s Journey Toward Sustainability in Panchimalco

Adela, her husband Leonardo and their five children (ages 4-15) have never had an easy life. Leonardo works as a gardener and is paid $6 per day. After paying for transportation, Adela is given about $4 for her to care for the needs of her family. Four of the five children attend regular school. However, their nine-year-old son, Quevin, is special needs and has to be taken by Adela to a school outside their community. Adela and Leonardo have also tried to give Quevin a quality of life that is very difficult to maintain by supporting his involvement with Special Olympics. The cost of this endeavor has made things more complicated but is extremely important to the family.

The new home that the family received with the help of the local church and community has made many aspects of life much easier. They are safer and healthier in an environment that has a proper floor, windows, electricity and front door. Their home is located in a very remote part of the community making collecting water a continued daily ordeal. Even so, the family expresses hope that since they now are connected to a group of people that are helping them, they will not be alone on their journey towards sustainability.

We used to live in a laminate house that was completely falling apart. I used to dream of having a real home and I knew that someone would help us. I’ve never lost hope.

From Grief to Renewal and Connection: The Story of Dora

Dora Santos lived in a simple home with her parents, her son (Abner Vladimir, 33) and grandson. Four years ago their window and door was broken into, and they were robbed of the few possessions they had. Her son went out to look for those responsible, and he was killed by them. Along with the terrible burden of grief, Dora became the main breadwinner for her household. Her meager income that came from selling beans, corn and tomatoes on the street was not enough but they all worked hard to manage. A year later, her father died after struggling with the effects of Alzheimer’s disease for two years.

When the church helped to renovate her home, it meant much more than strong walls, tile flooring in place of dirt and a watertight roof. It signified a renewed sense of safety and consolation. She and her family were not just safer with a new door and windows but they also became more connected with members of their local community and church. These new and strengthened relationships will continue to provide Dora and her family with an essential network of support for decades to come.

 

The renovation of my home means so much to me. I would never had been able to live with safety unless someone helped me. Mostly I am just glad my grandson now has a safe place to live”.

From Heartache to Healing: The Story of Gerzon Gómez

 

ENLACE Church Coach, Gerzon Gómez is no stranger to complete and utter heartache. When he was young and the problem of gang violence was part of his daily context, his mother was killed by a stray bullet. His father hadn’t been a part of the family and so when she died, Gerzon and his 9 siblings were left orphaned. It was a scary and uncertain time, one that Gerzon still grieves over.

However, a loving uncle took Gerzon in and provided a place of love. Uncle Orestes not only took the children under his wing, but he also paid for Gerzon to attend school and taught him about God. Gerzon responded to this by working hard and ultimately winning a scholarship from the Mayor’s Office of San Vicente to study at the prestigious Salverio Navarrete Institute.

The scholarship helped but didn’t cover everything. Instead of giving up, he got a job as an assistant bricklayer during the day and took classes at night. His effort didn’t  go unnoticed by his peers who applied for a grant for him which won him a stipend that covered basic expenses and food. Because of that, Gerzon was able to go back to school during the day and complete his studies.

After graduation, Gerzon was offered a job as a watchman and janitor at the church he attended. He hoped to continue studying at another university to get a theology degree, but  layoffs and other less-paying jobs made it impossible. When Gerzon was out of work he prayed for God’s guidance and help. Even still, nothing seemed to change.

After learning about ENLACE, Gerzon wasn’t sure what kind of ministry this was. It wasn’t like any Christian organization that he’d been a part of before. However, after a few interviews, he was surprised that an organization would be dedicated to helping churches reach out. It completely changed his point of view of the mission of the church and the calling of servant-leaders.

When he was younger, he’d always desired to help people in some way, just like his Uncle Orestes helped him. But to base the way church was done on that idea was new to him. “When I came to ENLACE, I understood that God was guiding me in this way. Unfortunately, many times one becomes selfish and wants the Lord to give and to bless…But this (job) is different…Working in Abelines has impacted me greatly. The churches aren’t looking for their own comfort…

I had only heard of missionary work, but had never had the opportunity to live it.”