Friday, October 24, 2014

Return to InstaFriday!

Its been a long time since I posted a simple, care free blog post. To take the time to remember the little, happy, peaceful moments that needed to be snagged (on instagram) is so important. I think this is my first InstaFriday from El Salvador. Man  life was different when I first started joining in on Jeannett's idea! I'm marijmarks if you want to follow along on our adventures. Plus, Jeannett reminded us all this week that we don't have to have a perfectly crafted blog and/or post to be relevant. Plus my Grandpa has been missing the regular stuff.
Last week was a whole lot of recovering from chikungunya for Izzy, a nasty bronchitis for Addison, and the usual stomach things for the rest of us. So it feels good to take a look back at some happy. Plus I got to see my  "Jane" at the orphanage yesterday. Which is always good.



We got a HUGE shipment of spanish books from my sister's Kindergarten class in Minnesota. The students each added a Spanish version of a book to their Scholastic Book orders and blessed our Nutrition and Development Center kids immensely!!! Kids in the U.S. + Kids in El Salvador = Awesome.  Now they have books to read for the fist time ever. I'm serious. First ever. There are no libraries and no books stores. None.


Banana Smiles :)


Hello gorgeous. 


I love our movie nights. I love "God's Not Dead" in Spanish. I love how excited they get about free popcorn. Sharing Jesus. Its the why in all of this craziness.


Because El Salvador. That's how we roll here... with little blond heads out the moon roof and little boy tushy in my face....
Except only when we are stuck for an hour behind a parade. He thought he was pretty awesome. And didn't draw a bit of attention..... in case you were wondering, his little blond self is ALWAYS drawing attention. Its hard to miss an uber white kid, who is always in the middle of some sort of Star Wars/Avengers/Ninja Turtle battle.



And then he was tackled by some guys from our World Race team, his sister and some friends. Which is Donovan's love language. And in case you were curious, there were 10 people in this 6 person SUV. 

Have a wonderful weekend!


Friday, October 3, 2014

Beautiful Moments

My kids are having what can only be described as a wildly crazy, adventurous, hot, sweaty, hard, sad, once in a lifetime experiences.
We knew when we started out that this time, how ever long, here in El Salvador would be something that would stay with them for a life time. But we didn't quite realize how much their world would be shook.  Their world view had been shattered, and a new one, a better one, wider one, grander, has replaced it.  Children in the United States grow up in such a bubble. I am so thankful that my kids have this opportunity to have their eyes really, truly opened.  I think their hearts have grown 3 sizes, they understand poverty like never before. They have an understanding and willing hearts to sacrifice of themselves, serve and give to others.

So this post is devoted to my kids. You've seen my perspective, so now you get to share in some of the experiences that have popped up in between doing ministry. Please do not go away from reading this thinking that we are on some sort of long term vacation. Because we ABSOLUTELY 100% are not! When you all sacrifice of your paychecks to give us support money to do ministry, it goes 100% to doing just that. 

Tomorrow's post will show you some of the fruits of our work, but this one is about the little blessings that have popped up for our kids. Because they gave up a lot moving from the U.S., God has proven himself faithful to my kids. 

When you live in a place that is home to ancient civilizations, that is near the equator, you naturally have access to all kinds of new adventures in the down time! Every once in a while I take a step back and marvel that they are having these crazy awesome experiences!!


We had to leave the country to renew our visas, and it coincided with my cousin's wedding at the YWAM base in Belize. My littlest daughter and son literally spent 3 days playing with sand. No buckets, toys etc. Just sand. Sand.



What can only be described as a middle of nowhere-jungle/swamp hotel-opening scene in a horror film where idiot family wanders deep into the jungle in search of a hotel.... where everyone watching is yelling "STOP! How can you be so dumb! Go back!!!!!!!"

Spoiler alert- it turned out okay and we did not disappear forever in Guatamala like I feared would happen if we went down the above pictured bridge. I will tell you the story someday.




We were on our way back from Belize when we happened upon this particular life event. And in so doing, discovered that there was a for real castle near by. It was build by Spanish conquistadors, in order to fend off pirates who might want to steal the gold that they were stealing from the Mayans!  How cool is that?! Well, probably more cool for us than for the Mayans.


I also learned something important about myself.... apparently I have a thing for doorways and windows...





Then there was that time we went on a hike with only 3 water bottles because it was billed as a 3 km hike to a beautiful waterfall.....


6 hours, and a police escort later we emerged from our "relaxing" hike to a local La Libertad waterfall, a little dazed and confused.


There have been armadillos...


Volcano hikes... minus police ....


Magnificent Colonial time cathedrals and Mayan ruins, watching giant waves crash, times with friends, swimming and finding blue and purple coral reefs, but none of that holds a candle to yesterday.



Visiting the home of two of our girls. Nothing holds a candle to seeing my children in that setting. Overlooking the stark, destitute house of this family.  The distended bellies didn't matter to them, the bare feet or the naked little ones. They ran and played, and  rode a bike, held hands, held on laps.... just loved.



We have tears. And hard days. Sometimes we want to come running back to the U.S. Some days my kids want their old lives back. So do I. But this is the great big  "Why" of it all. Its so my kids can be Jesus with skin on. So I can hug a mom and become friends, like you do when you share a moment in your home. So we could look past everything they didn't have and just see them. So that Alex could chat with a man fighting for the survival of his family.  That's the why.
These beautiful moments.












Thursday, August 14, 2014

We All Need Some Good News

****The media is inundated with terrible news right now. Its unrelenting. If you are weary, this news is for you.*****
 
You guys! If you could just see everything that is going on here through my eyes! Warning, this post will be filled with absurd amounts of exclamation points.

Three little girls who have trouble with attachment because of home lives, now run to us, call us by name (which is huge) and make sure that they will see us tomorrow!!!

Pastor Ivo's wife Marielos is now working with us!! She is a natural teacher, and her love for these children is something to behold! This is a huge answer to prayer.


Yesterday and today over 100 people will/have received medical care from a Total Health team visiting!!

Very soon we are going to open up a second computer school at a different location to reach a new group of people!

In September we will be welcoming into our nutrition program another 10 children!!! Children who right this very minute go to bed every night hungry, who are malnourished, distended bellies.... and then in October another 10, and in November, another 10!!! 

In 10 days 2,000 fortified food packets will arrive!!!!!! 2,000! Free! Because of the generosity of A Child's Hope International and friends who donated shipping costs to Florida.  And The United States Navy who will then ship to us for FREE, we will be able to minister to and feed not only the children in our center, but their families as well!!!!  In addition we will be able to bless the other members of our community with much needed food and vitamins.  This is huge!!! Hundreds of people being fed, can you even grasp it?!!!!

Thanks to the very kind teachers and friends of my sister in Minnesota we will soon have over 50 paperback books to read to the children, and to teach with. In the U.S. literacy, libraries, story times and book stores are almost considered a human right. Here in La Libertad, there are very few books in stores (other than school books), no library, and no bookstores.  The books that are here, are way out of the price range of anyone that we serve.  A friend from the Navy donated a couple of bean bag chairs, and as soon as the rehab on the CDI kitchen is done our little reading nook will be opened up to the kids!!!!

On August 30th we will have a movie night for the whole community. We will hand out invitations to the community, no one will be left out. We are going to serve popcorn and refreshments and project "God's Not Dead" onto our screen!!!  This is going to kick off regular movie nights for our community and sharing of Jesus. He is everything. He is surely Alive. 

You guys, I turned on my Yahoo news page today and its was streams and streams and streams of bad, really bad, worse and horribly devastating. Its tempting to think that God has turned his back on mankind. But if we look carefully, we can see that mankind is in fact the one that did the turning. The promise of Heaven to those who put their lives in Jesus' hand is as real as you and me. One day, all of this tragedy will be at an end, and He will return.  People are dying for this truth. 

But He didn't leave us. He is here, and he is at work through millions of people fighting evil with good in the name of Jesus. This is all we can do. We must make a choice to not turn a blind eye. To not continue about our rich, egocentric, entertainment lives, but to reach out and help. If we say the world is ugly, and evil, it is because we have allowed it. We have a choice to make each and every day, a choice to follow Jesus and to do good, because he did the ultimate good for us. 

God is surely alive. And He is at work my friends. I see it every day. The story of Central America is not made up of the picketers you see on your news feed. Its is not all gangs, and poverty, and people sneaking over the border. Here in El Salvador, the local church is fighting every day to raise up the people, so that they can change their country. A friend I met this Summer described it like this. "We must all be the tide. Because the tide can raise up a fleet of ships in the harbor." If we educate, feed, and above all, teach the gift of God, the people will change their country.

Be the tide. It takes sacrifice, yes.  But it is so, so worth it. Not everyone can move to El Salvador, but you can sponsor us to do the work here.  You can advise. You can share with your church, and bring a team for a week. You can sponsor the salary of a second pastor to bring on staff. We are so incredibly thankful to be here. And that is only possible with you guys. 

For more information on how you can be involved, email me at marilee.marks@gmail.com

Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Letter to My Grammie

Dear Grammie,
I'm laying here, in what feels like the other side of the world. It may as well be. And you lay in a hospital bed fighting colon cancer, pneumonia, heart attack.... I'm comforted to know that you are surrounded by your children. I'm struggling to not be near you. But do you know what? I feel you.  I'm lying under the quilt that you made for my high school graduation. I look down and see the hundreds of individual pieces that your arthritic hands carefully sewed together. You remembered a picture that I loved as a child, and saved up that image in your head all those years, waiting for my graduation.  Then months ahead of time, you spent countless hours choosing and arranging all the different fabrics.  You told me that Grandpa was your advise council. He would help you decide where to put each color.  Then you wrapped it up carefully, and flew with it to me, to celebrate with us. 


 

We took you to Niagara Falls, and I will never forget your face as you beheld it. You remarked at how when you see that kind of beauty you see how much God loved us, to give us this amazing creation. 

I love you Grammie, for so many reasons. Tho we have spent too many years apart, your legacy of love is felt as if we live together. 

I want the world to know that you are a fighter, a survivor, a mother, a wife, a grandmother, a great grandmother. The early years in your first, abusive marriage could have broken you. You could have turned to bitterness and hate. And few would have blamed you. It was a hard life, and you were sometimes hard. But you had to survive didn't you. For your kids. No one is ever perfect. But that isn't a requirement to love. 

We cherish you. We cherish the memories of camping trips, crafts, fishing, the never forgotten birthday cards, picking goose berries, chasing your ducks, your sugar drawer that you would "accidentally" drop strawberries into!  While I didn't cherish them at the time, I am thankful for the clothes you made me when we couldn't afford any. Even the Precious Moments applique sweatsuits, with the puff paint.... I cherish the baby blankets that you sewed for each of your great grandchildren. My kids love them until they fall into tatters.The way you held my babies, your great grand babies. Such love and pride in your eyes.

But those things are not your greatest legacy Grammie. Your five children are. Who all know their Savior. Your 60 years of service to your church are your legacy. And all of the lives you touched there in that vast span of time. Your 5 children, 20 grandchildren and your 43 great grandchildren are your legacy. All being raised to follow God. 

As we were passing through Guatemala the other day, we were temporarily waylaid at a jungle hotel. I kept taking pictures of every tropical flower. And I was laughing heartily on the inside, shook my head in the sunlight and sighed. Because I'm more like you than you know. I don't know how many thousands of slides and photos you have of the flowers of Oregon, but I'm starting my own collection to rival yours. Someday my children will tease me about it too.  We love flowers Grammie. We love God fiercely and will not compromise on that. We love our children.  I am so proud to be yours. Time and God softened you into the woman that now lies in a hospital bed, hundreds who love you dearly.

                                      


If anyone deserves to be in the presence of Jesus, forgiven, redeemed and loved, it is you. Not because you have paid the cost, Jesus did that for you. But you hold on to Him. When the world fights to steal your heart for 80 years, you hold on. When the world whispers promises of earthly pleasures, that are fleeting, you hold on. When the world turns time and again, and tries to twist His words, you hold on.  You hold on to the promise of a future, eternity indescribable. You hold on to the love of Jesus, so deep, so vast, so faithful. This world steals health, loved ones, and tries to steal our souls. But you hold on. Soon you will be with your parents, with a fresh, strong body, you will get to hold my child before I do. You will be with your other grand children and greats that went on ahead. And they will rejoice to have you. And yet......

I'm not ready for you to go yet, I want you to continue to fight, to get strong again. I hope you have a lot of years left, to continue to lead and serve. Fight Grammie, because you have lessons and love yet to give to this world.  

I remember a year or two ago, when I taught you about ring tones on cell phones, sitting on Dad's sofa together. And your face lit up when I told you that you can have any song in the world you want, when your phone rings. And so without hesitation you said you wanted "How Great Thou Art." If I could only be with you, I would hold your hand and sing it for you. I think it would help clear some of the fog that is trapping you right now. 


We love you dearly Grammie. All of us. Your vast family. Sewn together by you, like the quilt that covers me. Piece by piece, held together by our love for you, and yours for us. And the common thread that you made sure to use, the love of a Heavenly Father.


May we be worthy of you.


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. 
Torture
Rape
Molestation
Fear tactics
Strangulation
Beatings

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