Thursday, June 26, 2014

Why You Support Us Here- Jane's Story

Last Summer, I distinctly remember long lazy days. I remember cobalt blue skies, the sound of lawn mowers, my kids laughing and shrieking in joy in the tree house. I remember hurried texts late in the morning from friends wanting to meet up at the splash pad. I remember late evening walks with my family and dog, and the kids darting in and out of neighbors yards to catch fire flies.

This is what childhood should be. 

I have a friend. We'll call her Jane. Because its my middle name, and she is part of me now. I can't share her name or her picture because she is in protective custody. But she did give me permission to share some of her story. Not because I want you to feel sorry for her, but because she has a faith in God that rivals any person I've ever met. And I told her that I would be honored to tell her story of trust in God.  She proves that shitty evil happens, (sorry for the language)  and you can hold onto God. You can hold onto God, He will hold on to you, and you can come out victorious on the other side. 

Josue, if you are reading this, I just want to say thank you from the very depths of my heart. And I'm so sorry.  I never thought to learn the Spanish words for the horrors that you had to translate for me yesterday. That you sat through that with me, so that Jane and I could go deeper in our relationship, it means the world to me. I hope that her faith touched you too.

Yesterday morning I was sick as a dog.  I've often noticed that on days I'm headed to meet with my special friends, my body seems to go under attack. I laid down on the cool tiles of the church office, to still the dizziness and the stomach that was not calm as it should be. I lay there and prayed. I prayed for healing just long enough so that I could get to the kids for the day. No way was I going to miss it. I had specifically told them that I would be back in one week. I was not not going to let them down. I need them to trust me, trust that I love them. I can't do that if I don't show up. Jane and a few others were waiting for me specifically. 

Jane is a beautiful spirit. She is a teenager who's face shines with inner joy. She has  incredibly long eye lashes that surround gorgeous black eyes. She loves Jesus.

I've been spending time with Jane for a while now. But yesterday, she trusted me with her story.  I held onto her, as she shared. 

Jane's father was killed while she was a small child. She was left with grandparents, a step-mom, brother, uncle and aunt.  These adults, who should have been protecting and raising this sweet, helpless, grieving child, did the unthinkable. 
Fear tactics

But one night after she crawled back to her bed, she heard a voice. A kind, unrecognizable voice. "Don't be afraid, I'm with you. You will be okay." The voice made her feel strong and brave.

Soon after Jane's uncle told her that she was going to be his wife and that they would be moving to the United States. She was not to talk or tell anyone that she was his niece. This terrified her, and she yelled for help. She yelled until a neighbor came and took her to the police. The loving voice went with her.

The police took her to her biological mom.  Where a fresh new hell awaited.  I just cannot even go on.

Jane was removed again, but took that voice with her once more.  She was taken to a safe place, where many other girls with similar stories live. In this place she discovered the source of the Voice.

I asked her how it is possible for such a young girl to cling onto and trust God after going through the suffering she had. Her response was this, "Because He stayed with me. And I know He loves Me. Because I'm safe now."

Jane bears a story that isn't even fathomable to most of us. But she refused to let go of God in her storm. She held on, and God led her through it. Now that little girl is lovingly caring for other little girls and ministering to them. She told me that she has peace now.

When Jane isn't by my side at the home, I watch her as small children run up and hug her legs. I see her sit to lunch at the end of the line, as others are served first. She is the last one to wave goodbye as our van pulls out of the gate. Her tragedy does not define her. It doesn't control her, it hasn't turned her towards bitterness, anger, despair. Her relationship with Jesus defines her. Her sweet smile, and shy eyes show who she is.

Jane's favorite time of day: Bible class. Because she can read her Bible all she wants.
Jane's favorite kind of music: Praise music to God

I hugged Jane for a long time. And as is often the case she remained by my side for the rest of the
day.  I love this girl. If I could be her mom, and change her story and experience with "moms" I would do it in an instant. I get to be mom, when I go through those gates.

So it isn't lost on me, that the reason that I can do that, the reason that I can hold the faces of those girls in my hands, and hug them like crazy, love them like crazy, is because of the people back home.  Because people sacrificially give of their paychecks, I can give real love. So thank you. A million times, thank you.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

100 Days in El Salvador

We can hardly believe that we have been here for 100 days.
100 days of life change.
100 days of language change.
100 days of peace... well almost :)
100 days of serving.

There have been a lot of moments of joy. There have been a lot of goose bump moments when I can see the progress and the very exciting, near future when little lives will be welcomed into a space just for them. Little lives that will have security, love, joy, fun, full bellies, Jesus! Tangible Jesus. I cannot wait for the grand opening of the new Child Development house!!!!

Sometimes doubt, like an evil monster creeps in. Its sneaky and quiet, and seeks our destruction.

"What are you doing here?" "Who do you think you are?" "This isn't worth it!" "You say you're serving, but what did you do today?" "Remember your old paycheck? Wasn't that nice?"

In those moments I cling to what I know to be true. Jesus did not choose his first disciples out of any seminary. He didn't pick the most talented, or the best selling authors, or even the best looking. And its no different for Alex and I.

He simply said "Say yes to me. Choose a radical new life.  I have things for you to do that I designed for you to do before the earth was even formed. I knew you, and knew that I wanted you to be in this place, to do this thing. My power is in you, to do infinitely more than you can do alone."

Me. He wanted me. He planned for me. But I had to say yes. And I have to keep saying yes. Many times.
So I do. Because I've chosen a radical faith. If it was ordinary it wouldn't be very special would it? It wouldn't be hard. So I breath out the yes, every day. And I breath in purpose.

Some days are hard. We miss our people.

But these little faces are worth it. I'm here for a purpose. There are seriously exciting things coming up. I am so excited to tell you about it in the next few days!
I am easily overwhelmed by the immense need surrounding me. Countless children, the little old lady sitting day in and day out on the curb in town, the homes with aluminum patched together to make walls.  Its overwhelming. So I let the Holy Spirit remind me every day to just do the one thing he asks, for today.

Highlights from our first 100 days:
1. Dedicated children's ministry space

2. 6 month supply of Children's vitamins

3. Opportunity to go to Honduras to meet and learn from other churches

4. Incredible partnership with deployed sailors from U.SA. Navy!!!!

5. Deepened friendships and new ones for our children

Donovan's new best friend is 17 years old :)

More about each of these in the days to come.....!!

The next couple of months are going to be very busy with many missions teams arriving that we will be working with, Grand Opening of the new CDI with brand new kids, graduation for Computer Center students and more! Please help cover us in prayer as we enter a very busy season of our time here, and for the people of El Salvador.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from David Platt:

“If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes. We would organize conventions, develop programs, and create foundations… But Jesus is so different from us. With the task of taking the gospel to the world, he wandered through the streets and byways…All He wanted was a few men who would think as He did, love as He did, see as He did, teach as He did and serve as He did. All He needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world.” 
― David PlattRadical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream

If you would like walk this path with us, there is a button up at the top! We are infinitely grateful to our financial supporters and cannot afford to say "Yes" without you. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. We cannot say it enough times. If you already are a supporter, would you consider passing along our information to someone you think would like to join us? 

Love, The Marks in El Salvador

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Room to Grow

One of our primary goals in La Libertad is to help feed and share Jesus with as many kids as we can. How does a child understand the love of a Father God if they do not understand the love of an earthly father? In many cases, for kids that are in our program, their lives are empty bellies and empty hearts. Not all cases, but most of our kids come from very painful homes.

We strive to be a place of safety, love, and to be their anchor.
Of course we want to bring as many kids into our program as we can. But as we grow and bring in more children, love more children, feed more children, that means we need more space.

There is a tremendous opportunity to rent the adjoining building to our church, that will allow for a more expanded ministry to our community. It allows us to embrace more children, and minister to their families as well.

This is a big goal! We need $330 a month in rent... that's a lot. But nothing is too big for our God. We are trusting and praying.  It is always so incredible to start with a dream, pray a lot and watch how it unfolds! We believe that Jesus is going to take our loaves and fishes, just as he did in the Bible, and multiply it, and then multiply our numbers.

The first video is from when we went out to sign up kids and the second is to show you our exciting new space!

Please join with us in praying for this building and for the little lives that will soon be joining us every day.


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Just Because

Once upon a time, I only wrote to chronicle the funny things my kids did, and to share their everyday lives with my one single reader, Grandpa. So here's to my most faithful reader, My Grandpa Maris. Whom I love dearly.

I like to call this video, "I'm running in a circle with Brando." You'll see why.

Have a great week. :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Navy + La Libertad = Awesomeness

I seriously cannot speak highly enough, of our United States Navy. I get so tired of seeing news stories that portray one man in a bad light. So what I have for you is a news story celebrating them!

What I want you see is men, who serve our country, who risk their lives, sacrifice time with their families, who serve. And then on their day off, serve some more. Are you kidding me?  People, thank a soldier/marine/sailor today. Pray for a soldier/marine/sailor today. DO something for a soldier/marine/sailor today. Go to an airport and welcome them home with banners, applause and cake. Lots of cake and balloons. Always balloons.

We were honored to have 5 amazing men from the Navy come and give their day off to us. Their day off, they spent working for the people of La Libertad..... awe-someness. 

There was a dream to have a clothing bank.  There was an empty room. There was a TON of clothes from a clothing drive in Jacksonville, FL. 

But we needed a way to store and display it all. So they came and worked alongside men from our church, incidentally, on their day off too. It was as Alex described, about 5,380 degrees. I was reduced to a puddle of thankfulness {ie:sweat} as they helped build and mount shelves with men from our church, build hanging racks,  and sort 20 bags of clothing. 

I won't tell you which one, but one of those dudes had to endure some jeering from the others for being assigned to help me with the sorting of the clothes, rather than swinging a hammer..... I feel he deserves a special medal. 

The goal? To not just give away clothing. That's too easy. And it isn't necessarily best practice. When one simply gives away all the time, a dependency is created and encouraged. This is not what we want. 

At Iglesia Gran Comision, we believe in empowering people.  We want to lift people up, encourage, provide opportunity to thrive, not just survive. So our clothing bank/flea market/resale shop will charge minimal prices. I'm talking 10 and 25 cents (There is a local thrift shop, but our demographic closer to  the church cannot afford the prices there).  What ever money is made will 100% go directly back into programs that feed, encourage, and lift people up. 

Thank you so much for all you do!!

Friday, March 14, 2014

When Introspection Isn't Pretty

In case you thought I was over here being all holy and righteous....

One would think that living here among people who struggle to survive daily, would make it easier to let go of my United States-ian comforts.
I knew coming down here that I would have no idea where and what kind of house I would be living in. I thought I had come to grips with having cold and unreliable water before I got here, not being able to drive, etc., etc., etc. {yawn, blah blah blah, poor me}.

I thought I had it well under control, until the other night, anyway. When you become blatantly aware of your own princess-like demands out of life, its a bit hard to stomach. 

I went to go wash my hair and was putting off and dreading the moment of contact with the icy water. I'm not proud of it, but I had a long inner dialogue. It went something like this: 
*Alex is a big meanie for not buying and/or fashioning me some sort of hot water creating device
*thinking of paying a hotel to just let me have one hot shower
*lamenting the way I had forced Addison and Donovan into the cold shower minutes before. Not allowing for any tantrums or talking back, as they stepped their little bodies into the cascading ice.

Shame on me!! Midway through my mini- pity party, thankfully, I slapped my own self upside the head. Which is tricky. I spent a good 31 years in the land of entitlement and overflowing creature comforts. I should have known that it would take longer than a month to let go of the old self. I'm allowing myself only a smidgen of grace here, however.

Just last week I spent time making, delivering and sharing food with people who have NO running water, no showers. People who have dirt floors, and wash their hair in a bucket (when they have water and shampoo), and are thankful for their bucket, and their water. People who share a one room house and have no beds, no fans and no air conditioning. And are thankful for their house. I was also at an orphanage, where there aren't Daddies and Mommies, to make sure the sweet children are showering, checking them for lice and then lovingly there, to brush and braid after.

I have water everyday. Thank you God for my water. 
I have a shower, and a tiled floor. Thank you God. 
I have money to buy enough shampoo AND conditioner for 4 girls' heads of hair. Thank you God.
I have a bed to sleep on, that is bug free!  Praise you GOD!!

I temporarily forgot that I moved to the tropics yes, but not to be pampered at a resort. 
I temporarily forgot that I desperately want just Jesus. More Jesus.
I temporarily forgot that I want to be the kind of person who gives it ALL up for Him.
He said "take up your cross and follow me." He did not say, "Pack your suitcase, we'll stop along the way for a fancy meal and get you tucked in early at a 5 Star Hilton. Occasionally I will ask you to tell someone about me, but you can get back into the air conditioning quickly."

(Edited)I am so ashamed that I even gave a moment of thought that I was in any way sacrificing. Sacrifice is giving up your very life, being tortured and killed for spreading the news of Jesus Christ.  Which is literally happening around the world. I am NOT sacrificing. I am comfortable beyond reason in my circumstances.

Graciously, He reminded me. Chasing a life of abundance and excess and watered down faith was so unfulfilling.  Faith just enough to get me to Heaven..... that was no life for me at all. 

Please remind me Lord that when you come for me, I want to have lived my life proclaiming your glory. I don't want to pick and choose what I do and don't like from the Bible. Its your word and its all truth. 
Faith that conforms to my way of life, is limited. Who would want a limited God?? I want YOU God.
Faith that is all about tolerance is not truth. 
Faith that takes the good, but ignores the justice, is half a faith. 

I want the God of the Bible. The one God. I want the God of Love. I want the God of Righteousness. I want the God of sacrifice. I want the God of Justice. Oh how I want and depend on the God of Forgiveness and Grace. I want the God who says the He LOVES and longs for every person on this blessed earth to receive Him as a father. Every person. Ev-uh-ree person.
I don't want a God that would pick and choose by wealth, station, power, race, lifestyle. I want the God that says He wants everyone. But lets not forget that while he wants every person, he says every person is a sinner. Every one of us. Wants us. Forgives Us. But we ALL have crap that needs cleansing. All of us.
I want the God who will forgive me just as quickly as He will forgive every other person, for every single thing. He is a God who is intolerant of sin. But he is also a God who will lovingly wait and welcome every sinner into his arms. 

That's the God I want. That's a God I can easily give up hot water for, and anything else he asks of me. That's a God who I would lay down my life for. The God who laid down his life for me. I am thankful for my water. And the God who created it.

I am here, out of the immeasurable, overflow of gratitude that I have. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Ponderings From a Newbie Missionary

There are a vast array of things that we are learning and feeling.  Much of it is still scrambled in my brain and I'm waiting for it to smooth out like the surface of a beautiful lake with no wind.

But there are some very important things I want you to know. 

1. We, {our family} as I've mentioned before we do not deserve to be on anyone's pedestal. We simply said yes. I do however want to put up on a pedestal the people who continually come around my little family to support us financially. We lept off a financial cliff when we decided to leave jobs and come here, trusting that God would catch us. And you my friends are the parachute that God provided.

This is seriously humbling. I tear up. Every. Single. Time. Every time that little email comes through that tells me someone gave. Someone gave up and sacrificed their hard earned money, so that my family can have a roof and food on our table. This is a huge impact on our lives and I want you to know that it is a huge part of being servants, like Christ. We are immeasurably thankful.  I want you to know how much your sacrifice means to us. I want you to really, really feel it, and believe it.  We can't be here on our own without you. Every time I wrap my arms around a child, or hug a hurting elderly woman and pray with her, your arms are wrapped around her too.  That in the next few months when we welcome 25 more starving children into the nutrition program, our smiles and shouts of welcome are your's too. God is using YOU every bit as much as He is using us.

2. The second thing I want you to know it that while the people we meet here are living in abject poverty, they are STRONG. They have dignity. May we never, ever, make anyone feel like we are poverty tourists. To be able to get up every day and fight for the survival of your family. To do what ever it takes, to ensure you have something to feed your child... that is strength. Day in and day out fighting for survival is something to be applauded, never pitied.

3. Thirdly, the people here who have been doing the work for years are my heroes. There is one woman in particular who has loved children who aren't hers for years. She listens to their stories of abuse, fills their bellies with food and goes to their rescue when they are sick and cannot get to a doctor. She is a rock for them in their storms.  She does this every day because she knows The Rock. She is so filled with God's love for her, that it spills out and over to children who are desperate for her, but more so, desperate for the God she tells them of.

4. Please believe me that God is real. Don't take my word for it, but seek Him out, ask him to make himself visible to you. Because I can tell you that He keeps coming through for us again and again and again. We don't deserve it, but He is waiting and waiting for us to choose him. To run through that open door into His arms. This kind of love is something you want!  Peace, that he will provide. Comfort for the hard days. Love for the painful days. Romans 3:21-24, Romans 5:1-11, Romans 6:18