A Week Later: Thankful Reflections on El Salvador

Last night I taught the Alpha message, "How Does God Guide Us?" It's a great reminder that God uses "five c-s's" (commanding scripture, common sense, compelling spirit, counsel of saints and circumstantial signs), and that God is always drawing us into relationship with him as shepherd and sheep (he knows us, wants us to listen, and wants to lead us). He's as interested in what we become (followers) as he is what we do.

Which helped me process why I went to El Salvador ten days ago with twenty pastors* from San Diego, L.A., Santa Barbara and Hawaii, and staff from Compassion International just before Thanksgiving and right in the middle of our capital campaign to build a new children's ministry center, chapel and improved parking. 
 
We visited three projects which address child poverty from infants to college students. We had lunches in two homes of salvadoreanos whose lives are being changed because their children are being loved. 

We visited Hector's family for lunch, bringing along the popular Pollo Campero fried chicken  along. Hector gets up at 4am so he can get to work as a truck driver and back in the afternoon to be with his family and contribute at church. He makes $5 a day. We met his wife, older son and teenage daughter who was sponsored and the six year old son who was not. We were surprised because we assumed he was and brought along his tutora. (I'm hoping Amy and I can sponsor the boy.) We ate our lunch, toured their three room adobe home with outdoor baño and cocina with wood burning open fire. We realized after we left that any food we didn't finish would be left for them; even the bones would be made into soup.  

We teared up listening to the stories of two college students who grew up in poverty, one with a strong single mother who was grateful to God for the education and faith her daughter received, and another whose strong father worked as a street vendor from early in the morning till late at night with her at his side from the time she was six years old. 

I ate a whopper next to a tattooed felon gang member who was doing community service at the church and is being mentored by an ex gang member who became a Christian because his daughter was so loved by the church--and she was learning to play keyboards at 10 years old in the worship band. 

I met women who were learning crafts, hairstyling and how to care for their children. I walked through the construction site of a new children's ministry center at a church who said, "We are building our children have the oldest and smaller rooms and they deserve our very best..." 

I met teenagers who learned practical skills like making liquid soap, sewing backpacks, making crafts to sell. I heard stories of God changing lives because of people all over the world contributing money and letters, and people of the local church loving in practical ways in Jesus' name.  
 
We met a pastor who said, "I am a pastor and I also work." The rest of us pastors laughed at the comment as if we are pastors, and we don't work. The point is, he's a pastor running a church and a project with 150 children and he also runs a business to make money.  These pastors are gifted, motivated, passionate and good at what they do. 

Compassion has 46,000 children in 183 projects in El Salvador; 39,000 are sponsored. $38 a month provides spiritual, emotional, intellectual, social, physical support to children whose parents make $5 a day. Each project is connected to the local church, equipped and funded by Compassion to make a difference in their community. 

Peter joined us on the trip. He grew up in an abusive family in Uganda, courageously ran away at 11, and amazingly met the president of Compassion Uganda who sent him to a Compassion boarding school for high school, where he was educated and came to know Christ. Peter now shares with churches all over the world how his life has been changed. 

I believe God gave me a message to preach yesterday that tied together thanks and giving that only came together because I went to El Salvador.  

God is as concerned about guiding us into what we become as much as what we do. Among other things, 
 

I want to be grateful, recognizing the gifts God has given to me in abundance. My family and my nine month old grandson are healthy, loved and safe.

I want to be hopeful, knowing that God can heal, restore, renew, reconcile, redeem anyone, anytime, anywhere. God is at work all around us.

I want to be generous, giving of myself personally and contributing financially to what God is doing here and there. I have so much, and yet I am so poor.

I want to be passionate, urged by God to use my gifts so that his kingdom might become a little more visible.  I love what I do and I don't want to forget that.

What a great way to enter into a week of thanks. Thank you, God.

*I have to thank Dan Chun, pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu for the invitation. For more information on Compassion and child sponsorship, visit www.compassion.com

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