Thursday, April 28, 2011


jorge & maritza
our good friend jorge villeda is the pastor of the church we work with here in san vicente. he has been facilitating our teams from canada for years and does a great job. he often shares stories of life growing up as a young boy in el salvador. his family had very little money and could only afford a house made of used tin and sticks, much like the homes many of the people we are attempting to help live in right now. he tells a story of a storm coming thru one night and a wall of the house coming down on him while he slept! he decided then as a kid that one day no matter what he did for a living, he wanted to help people move out of homes like his and into a safe place for a family to live. well for 9 years now he has been doing exactly that! as a side job to pastoring his church he coordinates teams from canada to come build homes. this year alone over 100 homes will be build under his watch.
the story.
friday night he was driving home from visiting his mother's house in a nearby town around 10:30pm and nodded off at the wheel. no one saw the accident, but by the damage to the car we think it must have rolled at least once before hitting the tree. the police drove by sometime after the accident and called for the fire department as they couldn't get him out of the car. once on sight, the fire department took 45 minutes to cut him out of the car, then brought him by ambulance to the nearest hospital by ambulance. stu and i were with most of the kids at a youth camping trip that night along with his wife (maritza) and two kids when they got the call. the pastor's son in law headed out at 2am and we followed behind with maritza and others at 6am after packing up camp. at this point we become thankful for our health care system in canada despite the long waits. for even though we wait, we get the best care in the world once with the doctor. the public health care system of el salvador on the other hand is not quite the same. 8 hours after arriving: he was lying bent out of shape on the bed, no doctor had seen him, x-rays were not completed, and they said it might be a couple days for a doctor to come in since it was semana santa (easter weekend) and it would be hard to get anyone in during that time. by that time i have no doubt infection would have set in to his life threatening injuries and they would have had no choice but to amputate.

we contacted jim nobel (who heads up missions in el salvador), and decided to get him to a private hospital in san salvador. by lunch we were meeting with an surgeon looking at x-rays of his three seriously broken bones in his legs. (femur, tibia, and hip) later that afternoon he is was in surgery for over 5 hours to put plates and pins in. back home jim sent out emails to friends of pastor jorge and within a couple days the entire hospital medical bill was paid for! i want to say a big thank you to those that gave so generously and so quickly.
6 days later he is still in the hospital with some new complications we were told this morning. they are keeping him in until monday at the earliest. prognosis: he has to stay flat for quite a while, cannot put weight on his legs for 2 months, then rehab... we hope and pray that his bones will mend well. we will keep you updated.

life is fragile. the human body is no match for steel, concrete, speed, tree trunks or any combination thereof. we are fragile beings in many respects. emotionally and physically and spiritually. we are a second away from being here no more. pastor only remembers heading home and being tired, the next thing he remembers is the hospital. in the blink of an eye - life changes.

i told the kids this morning at breakfast to make the most of today, to enjoy it b/c you never get to do it over again. you only have one chance to live today so make it good. life is fragile, and yet so precious, isn't it?


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Plant sequoias

Although I’m told that it is getting cooler here, my sweat-soaked pillow every morning tells a different story.  Rain is lurking on the horizon as we move into May.  That will be another new experience; one of the many.  But life is good, and God is good.  We have had a number of ups and downs over the past couple of weeks, but we do not lose hope or faith, and we are content in the fact that this is where we are right now, and this is where we are supposed to be.  Some days feel like not a whole lot gets accomplished, or that not many things get checked off of the to-do list, but we are being taught (and hopefully learning a little) that we need to redefine our picture of success.  I read a poem by Wendell Berry recently, and I think that a couple of lines in speak to this redefinition:
                “Ask the questions that have no answers.  Invest in the millennium.  Plant sequoias.”
I hope that we have begun to sprout some seeds for results that won’t be seen for a thousand years.  But when they do, what an impressive sight they will be.  And if we get the chance to see some glimpses of that future along the way, we will be thankful for every single one of them.
                As I stated before there have been a few ups and downs over the last couple of weeks.  I’ll start with the frustrations, as I like to receive the bad news first.  If you like the opposite please skip down to the next section entitled joys, and return to this previous section at a later date.  It will be a little like a choose-your-own-adventure.
Frustrations:   When you travel to El Salvador and you pass through customs, you will receive a nice shiny sticker in your passport in exchange for a crisp $10 bill.  This sticker lets you do whatever you want in the country (with the exception of influencing the country’s political process) for a maximum of 90 days.  After this time you can face fines (I asked if you can be deported, which would mean a free plane ticket back to Canada, but haven’t received a firm answer yet) for remaining in the country.  Those wanting to stay longer than 3 months can alleviate this problem by applying for temporary residency for a 1 year period.  We were well aware of this process before arriving, and as such had prepared all of the necessary documentation, under the guidance of the El Salvadorian consulate in Vancouver.

                When Trent and I went to San Salvador last week to formally apply, we were informed that our understanding of the documentation requirements was not exactly correct.  In fact everything that we had done in Canada over a period of at least six months was wrong and unusable here.  Also, in order to evade culpability in the situation, the Immigration department ensured us that they have no connection with the consulates in other countries, and can’t be held responsible for misinformation.
                So, after trying to pull my hair out, but not being able to due to a new haircut that week, we drove to the Canadian Embassy in San Salvador, in order to plead our case.  We learned that this is not the first time that this happened then informed us of their rates to start the process again.  With a little more pleading, we received a glimmer of hope (maybe).  The Embassy is going to have a meeting with El Salvador’s Immigration, in order to see if we can use what we have, as is.
                With only a week left on our 90 day tourist sticker, we had to return the next day to San Salvador, this time with everybody.  We were able to beg for a ninety-day extension (we were told this is a one-time offer), and now with a charge of $25 per person we each received a less-shiny extension stamp.  We can definitely stay until July 23rd, but after that...we’ll see what happens?
                Generally we have been pretty healthy over the last two months, but we have had a few clinic visits over this time.  Trent has been suffering continually with allergies to the dust and pollution in the air.  This has caused ongoing breathing and coughing problems, as well as sinus infections.  The doctor has prescribed a few different things but nothing has had a long-lasting result.  We continue to pray for relief for him, and hope that with the rain coming; maybe some of the allergens in the air will be removed.
Brian is on the left
                We also spent a bit of time this week at the clinic and hospital, but not for one of our group.  Our truck, as shown in a previous post has now been outfitted with a steel cage for hauling people.  Our kids, along with most of those in the villages view this structure as a jungle gym, and hang from the top sides and back at every opportunity.  We had a little accident as we were driving in San Antonio Caminos.  A little boy named Bryan (about 10 years old) was hanging on the outside of the cage (unbeknownst to us) as we drove down the road.  Somehow his leg got pinched between the wheel and the fender, bruising and scraping him pretty badly.  In the end nothing is broken or damaged badly, but little Bryan could use prayer for a speedy recovery.
                The final thing that I want to include in this section is the frustration that I feel as meet more people and hear more of their stories.  There is so much pain here!  We will include more detailed stories over time, but as a general statement so many people are carrying the burden of traumatic events in their lives.  In fact it becomes a bit surprising to hear a story that doesn’t contain hurt from death, abuse, war, poverty, addiction, or all of these things.  Trent and I have become quite friendly with a group of local drunks.  They spend all day and night sitting semi-conscious on a corner one block down from our house.  It’s easy to judge this group for the state that we find them in every day.  That is until you hear their stories.....  Jose lived in Houston for a good chunk of his adolescence where he was told by his mother that he would be a failure if he didn’t reject his language and culture, and become more like the white kids.  Later in life he became a father, but one of his sons was killed at age 13.  He asked us as coherently as he could, “How can I fill this hole in my heart?”.....

  Julio (aka Coolio) lost one of his best friends last week.  After returning from the funeral, just as he sat down to drown his sorrows he received a phone call that another close friend had just been murdered as well. No wonder they keep drinking.
I’m frustrated with the pain, with the darkness of the situations that people have gone through, with my inability to do more, and with myself for the times that I grumble and complain, and for when I’m not thankful.  The difference between me and Jose and Julio is not as big as I may think it is.

Joy – We have started a process of getting to know our friends in San Antonio Caminos.  We are meeting each family, house-by-house, and learning names, taking pictures, and asking them to give us pieces of their histories, as well as hopes for their community.  This has been an amazing opportunity to hear the dreams and goals of different people, as well as finally starting to attach names to faces and visualize family trees in the neighbourhood.  We are feeling welcomed and accepted in this process, and have even been invited to help with a little farming at the end of May (The majority of the community rents small sections of farmland in an area about a 1 hour walk from their homes).

                I also find joy in the fact that we are being invited by people in the community to do things simply as friends and neighbours should.  Winnie, Ellis, and Elias are in the same kindergarten class as a brother and sister named Joelito and Daniela.  The kids have quickly become good friends, and Carie and Kerrie have become friends with their mother Carmen.  Carmen works in the market selling underwear and socks at a small both, and she is very bubbly and kind.  Along with her husband Alex (who drives buses occasionally between San Vicente and San Salvador) they live with their two little children in Alex’s mother’s house about a 20 minute walk from our house.  Two weeks ago they invited us for dinner (all 12 of us!) in their small home, which is no small feat considering that Carmen earns between 2 and 3 dollars on a good day, and Alex only can get work occasionally.  After a delicious dinner we were invited to stay for a small church service in their home with 3 other couples.  To me it is such an honour to be included in the lives of others here, without agenda, but simply as friends.  As I sat there that evening I reflected on the journey that has brought me to this point.  This is not how I pictured my life 5 or even 2 years ago.  I’m joyful that somebody had a different picture for me.
                Finally, I’m joyful for the changes that we see God making in people’s lives.  If you started at the ‘good news’ section first, this will make more sense when you go back to read the previous section.  Our new friend Jose came to us for help the other day.  He told Trent and me that he was at the end of his rope.  He is physically, emotionally, and spiritually at rock-bottom.  He doesn’t want to drink any more, and knows that it is killing him.  His life needs to be mended.  The fortunate thing is that we live for the one who can truly mend us.  We invited Jose to come with us to church, and after assuring him that he could come in the clothes he was wearing, he came.  And he listened.  And he napped for a bit.  But he came, and we pray for his redemption.  The next day I saw him asleep on his usual corner, but that’s okay, I’m still joyful anyway.  We’re all taking baby steps.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sights and smells of the market, Santo’s Tio and his pepetos and Mariachi Band while doing laundry

I think that the market here is one of my favourite things. I thought I would share it with you for some fun light reading and then fill you in on what we have been up to.
Everyday we walk the kids to school and the fastest route is through the market. The people that work down this street like to make comments about the children dressed up in their uniforms. The kids like to keep their heads down and walk, but I encourage them to look up and say ‘hola’ since the comments are usually “Que linda, or que precisoso or bien gringitos.(How cute, How Precious or Nice little gringos) To which I always reply no gringos, somos Canadienses!!!” I need to make sure that they know. And they usually laugh. There is a lady at the end of the street that sells flowers and every morning it is our routine to say Buenos Dias every time we see her. She has no teeth and with the biggest smile you have ever seen she replies “Buenos Dias” right back.

Then on my way home from dropping off the kids I head right to the bread lady. There are only two ladies (that we have found so far) that sell these magnificant soft and delicious, usually still hot buns. If you don't get there by 8:15 at the latest, you miss out! Then I head towards an abundance of vegetables. There are so many fresh, inexpensive fruits and vegetables that it is almost impossible to choose. I often come back with way too many things!
Next the weird smells begin to accumulate and it's off to buy cheese and chicken. If you would have asked me before we came here if I ever would have bought chicken in the market before, I for sure would have said no!! But the chicken is fresh and delicious and we are healthy as can be!

My favorite is the cheese ladies. They sell cheese for pupusa's, and for eating solo, and the best crema around! They always let us sample their goods and make sure we know that they are getting the best they have to offer.

Anything you want you can find here in the market, if you go deep enough. From pharmacies, to grain sellers to clothes venders, dvds, drinks, feminine products, and even the molino. When Jaunita first told us that she had to take our frijoles (red kidney beans) to the molino, I had no idea what she was talking about. She said she only need $.25. And I could not for the life of me figure out what she talking about, when finally I said I would go with her. Turns out that everyone here takes their frijoles and maiz to the molino to grind for making papusas and tamales! I had to explain to Jaunita that we don't have a local molino in Canada!!

So there is a mini pictoral telling of my experience with the "Mercado" here. It is so amazing to be able to buy locally and go to the market everyday if needed. I guess you will have to come visit if you want to experience it for yourself.

Next... How are things going with what we set out to accomplish here?
I am reading a book called, When Helping Hurts; How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. I often contemplate this idea. What can we do here in the time we are here that will have lasting effects without creating more problems when we leave? This is a toughy!! Everyday in San Antonio I see need. Need that hurts my heart! I do know however that while I can hand out food one day, the next day they will have empty tummies again. Today I read in this book a quote from a founder of a successful ministry in inner-city getto in Maryland. "We decided to relocate to an inner-city neighborhood- not to change it or save it, but to be neighbors... We held tightly to the commitment of God's Shalom for Sandtown, but we had no plans or programs. Instead of imposing our own agendas, we sought to place our lives in service to the community... For over two years we weren't working to renovate houses, we were out and around in the community, "hanging out." During this time the foundational relationships were formed... Everything revolved around building community together...."
This is a profound thought for me, but kind of what we have been striving to do as well. At first, I was feeling a little like we were letting people down because we weren't getting our "projects" going as quickly as I would have originally liked. But now I feel at peace and that we are here doing what we are meant to in God's eyes and hopefully going about it the right way.

A couple of days ago we spent the afternoon in San Antonio and just hung out at Santo's uncle's place, while Stuart and Trent did repairs on some of the previously built houses, Santo pulled out the only chairs they had for Kerrie and I to sit on. The kids right away got busy fitting in. And by this I mean getting as dirty as possible, and chasing around the numerous pigs, chickens, goats and dogs.

 It always amazes me how the people that have so little always give so much. They brought out this fruit called Pepetos (I think) that Santo's Tio had to walk for 1hr each way to get, to share with us. At first I have to admit I was a little unsure... You open it up and eat the fruit around the large seeds in the middle. Then you spit out the seeds. (The whole thing just looks like a weird bug to me.) Well, Violet took a liking to this fruit and couldn't get enough! Only one problem though, she didn't want to spit out the seeds. Tio assured me that they weren't bad for you or anything, they were just really bitter. Apparently Violet has no taste buds... After she ate about 3 whole pepetos, I decided it was probably enough since it was a new food, and Violet sure enough found her way to every single person eating them and managed to get more. All in total she ate about 15 pepetos. I was the only one who payed the next day having to change her diapers, but she was fine and the people there loved trying to get her to come to them using pepetos as bait!!
 While we visit we have also been given; mangoes of all kinds, avacados, tamales, crema and huge smiles everytime we come. It really teaches me a lesson and humbles me to the core.

Another thing we did today was take 3 women and their children to do their laundry in the Apastepeque Lake. Usually they have to pay to take a bus there and back which costs a dollar each way. Considering the average wage for a day is $6, that is a fortune! Not to mention soap and bleach. This turned out to be the best day I have had here so far. We spent the entire day swimming, helping the ladies with their laundry, listening to a Mariachi band and eating freshly caught Talapia and rice. We came home burnt like crazy, but it was so worth it and exactly what I call living in community.

Click on the link below to see the Video.....


These are women who have major stories to tell, I will just share with you a little about one lady named Esmerelda. She is 19 years old and lives and cares for her 4 brothers ages 17,15,13 and 5, she also has a husband and a 2 year old son. Two years ago her step father died from diabetes, and then her Mom had a firework go off in her face and one side of her body was completely burned. Last year on April 20th her Mom was brutaly murdered 4 blocks from their house by her exhusband in a fit of jealousy. Now Esmarelda is left to care for the rest of her family. She is the sweetest girl you will ever meet and is doing an amazing job at raising her family, but our heart breaks for her and all the other sad stories that we hear everyday. All I ask is that I can continue to befriend her and give her a hand in any way possible. Today we only did half her laundry, I asked why she didn't bring the rest and she said that there was too much. Usually it takes her 5 hours just to do half. I told her next time to bring it all and Kerrie and I would help.

Anyway, I am sure that this is long enough and I will stop here. Next up a passover celebration at our house in Spanish, English and Hebrew. (Hopefully I can find Matzoh or I will be making it!) and a visit from my brother Daniel, Teresa and Nephew Seth.