A Year in Review

Hey, fam!
We’re ten days into the new year, and like many I’ve taken 
some time to reflect on all that I experienced in 2018. As you guys are a vital part of what God is doing in San Salvador, I wanted to share my thoughts with you. Happy reading!

This Time Last Year...

…I was walking into a season of transition in my roles here in ministry. Coming off of a year of teaching English and promoting child sponsorship, I was tasked with a big responsibility as Missions Team Coordinator. This meant I would no longer be able to teach and would instead focus on mission teams while I continued on as Child Sponsorship Coordinator.

I met this change with mixed emotions including excitement, apprehension and a few insecurities as well. I was hoping that God would take over the process but at the same time I doubted my capability to master this new title. Learning things little by little, the Lord reminded my heart about what my head has known all along: this is His.

This life I live, this role I play, these people we serve; it’s all His. He wasn’t expecting me to be the best at something I’ve never done before (and thankfully no one else did, either). Oh how incredible it is that He equips “you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight”. (Hebrews 13:21, CSB)

I’m so grateful for all that He’s taught me through this transition and through all the familiar faces and new friends that visited us this year. And now, with nine mission teams totaling 158 missionaries under my belt, I pray that God will continue to impact the lives of so many in San Salvador through the ministry I have the privilege to be a part of. 

 

 

This Time Next Year…

…I hope to have made a greater eternal difference. My physical life here on earth is but a blip on the radar that is spiritual eternity. Reminding myself of that as I walk into 2019, I want to make the most out of the time God gives me to serve in San Salvador. I ask that He teaches me to love better, learn more and live boldly for His glory this year.

He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also
put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover
the work God has done from beginning to end.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (CSB)

Let’s give God the space to make 2019 one for the books!

Bendiciones,
Ali

Summer 2018 Wrap-Up

I’ve missed you guys! Thanks for your patience the last couple of months that I haven’t sent out an update. It’s been a busy season full of hosting mission teams so I’ve got lots to share. Grab a cup of coffee and let’s get caught up.

A Lot of Mission Teams…

Wow! God has been incredibly faithful with the short-term mission teams we have hosted. We received seven teams in ten weeks, totaling 128 individual missionaries! As Missions Coordinator for Great Commission Church, I was with each team pretty much every step of the way. From picking them up at the airport all the way to hotel check-out at the end of the week, I managed all of the logistics for these teams. This includes transportation, meals, work plans, extra activities, interpreters and hotel to name a few.

I loved seeing many familiar faces as well as meeting and making new friends from Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, Texas and Oregon. Many times over a missionary asked me at some point throughout the week, “Do you ever get a break when we’re here?”. Well, I got enough sleep! No need to worry too much about me, I took advantage of every hour in the day so that by the time we wrapped up dinner with the teams I just had a couple quick tasks to complete before recharging for the next day.

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There’s no way I could fit all of what the teams were able to do in this update, but I’ll try to give an accurate summary! My favorite project that we launched this summer is called The Esmeralda Project, in honor of a girl that was a part of our Volcano Center and sadly passed away from cancer in March 2015. If I met with you during my initial support raising phase in 2016, you may remember that I shared Esmeralda’s story with you. She deeply touched my heart on my first few trips to El Salvador and continues to be a source of motivation for me.

Through this project, we hope to build a new bed for every child in our program at the Centers. We offered bed building as an option for donations and work activities for the teams and almost every team participated! In total, we have provided 48 beds so far–including one for Briseida (above) and Emily (below).

In addition to this, teams spent their time in activities which included but not limited to:

  • Over 340 dental consults totaling $230,000 worth of procedures
  • 55 physical therapy consults 
  • Several construction projects including: installing drywall in our Dental Clinic, painting railings and stairs, expanding the waiting area at our Soyapango Medical Clinic, playground maintenance, painting two beautiful new murals and installing an irrigation system for the Volcano garden
  • A Sunday church service and two women’s meetings with special guest speakers
  • Over 150 veterinarian consults
  • Hundreds of vision tests conducted and prescription glasses provided as needed 
  • Numerous home visits, Bible-based children’s classes and clinic evangelism to share the gospel and pray with children and their families. 

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I also get asked regularly about how a blonde, blue-eyed girl from Ohio makes it living in a developing country mostly known by the outside world for its high rates of violence. The truth is, as much as God is faithful in His protection and providence, He has been equally as faithful in giving me small reminders of that same thing that nailed my heart to this ministry over four years. 

Serving with so many mission teams meant I got to spend more time than usual at our Children’s Development Centers. Normally, I visit the Centers 1-2 times a week as most of my job requires a reliable WiFi connection (which is unfortunately unavailable at either our inner city location in Soyapango or in the rural area at our Volcano Center). Since the teams worked almost exclusively at the Centers, however, I cherished the extra opportunity to catch up with some of my favorite little ones and see the teams bring some added excitement to their days.

Beyond that, I felt like God repeatedly gave me glimpses into what He’s doing in the lives of the people we serve. Every sincere “thank you” from a mother for her child’s new bed–every tear shed during prayer for someone with a hurting heart–every lightbulb moment when one of our kids finally understood that annoying math problem–every sigh of relief when someone received care for their medical ailment–this. This is His way.

Our God lives and breathes love in action, our Jesus died because His love is not just in speech or in thought. I pray that my life and our ministry would always reflect a love like that. (Romans 12:9-21).

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So that, my friends, is the Truth that brought me here and has kept me here for almost two years. I am writing this struck with gratefulness for the way I saw the gospel lived out through each of the teams that visited us this summer. I dream of the people these kids will grow up to be, knowing that their faith in Jesus will mark a profound difference in the course of their lives.

Fátima (pictured below) just celebrated her second birthday. When her older brother joined our Soyapango Center last year, she was a shy baby constantly clinging to her mother, Claudia–a single mother who struggles each day and often comes us short to fill her children’s basic needs on her own. I had the privilege of praying with Claudia last year when she accepted Jesus into her heart. Seeing the ways God has used our Center to help her and her children physically, emotionally and spiritually over the last year leaves me speechless.

Fátima will grow up hearing about Jesus and I trust that one day, when she’s ready, she will come to know him personally. She’s now a walking, talking ball of fire, stealing hearts at the Center on a daily basis (including my own, of course). There’s nothing that gives me more satisfaction than a tiny human running up to me, shouting my name and greeting me with a big hug–and Fátima’s hugs are ones I look forward to each time I go to Soyapango.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9 (NIV) 

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Below, I’ve linked a summary video for a team from Rock City Church that served here a few weeks ago. I’ve also included tons of pictures from the past months at the end of this update! If you’d like to see more video recaps from this year, you can find them on each team’s summary page HERE

…and a Little Bit of Beach Livin’

In June, I had the joy of standing beside two dear friends as they  joined their lives together in marriage! Ashley has been one of my closest gal pals since meeting at Rock City and coming to San Salvador together on a missions trip back in 2014. Mario became a quick friend for me shortly afterward. Their beach wedding was also the first wedding I’ve attended here in El Salvador! Please pray for them as they learn to love each other better each day.

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In between teams, Pastor Victor, Silvia and their kids invited me to join them to spend a day at an all-inclusive resort in El Salvador called Decameron. I had heard about this place before, and it didn’t disappoint. It was refreshing to turn off our work brains for the day and enjoy our friendship amidst the beach scenery–so much so that we forgot to take a picture together! Having the Turcios’ as my host family here has been one of the greatest blessings about living abroad.  

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I’ll be Stateside this fall!

Reliant requires their international missionaries to take a three month furlough back in the States every two years. So, it’s my turn! I’m working on exact dates but expecting to be in Ohio mid-October through December. I’ll be splitting my time between Columbus and Toledo and also hope to make a trip to Chicago and D.C./Annapolis area. Furlough gives me a chance to spend some time raising support, connect with current supporters (you guys!) and recharge by enjoying quality time with family and friends.

I’d love to catch up with you while I’m in the States and share more about what God has been doing in San Salvador! To see when works best, you can shoot me an email or message on Facebook and I’ll be sure to make it a priority. 

I still thank God daily for you and the rest of the team He has brought together to make the work I’m doing in San Salvador possible. It means more than I can express that I can count on your continuous support and focus on the mission here with all I have (Colossians 3:23). Enjoy the pictures!

THANK YOU

Bendiciones,

Ali

Prayer Requests

  • For the 230 children that are a part of our Children’s Development Centers as they round out their school year (public school in El Salvador runs from January through October). Pray that they would finish strong and that the Centers would provide any support they need. 
  • For the short-term missionaries that visited us in 2018 (160 total). Pray that their experience here would help them to grow in their personal faith and that they would encourage others to support our ministry in prayer and donations. 
  • For myself as I reflect on this missions team season and settle back into a more balanced weekly routine. 

 

 

 

 

 

Missionary FAQs // April 2018 Update

Hi, everyone! 

April was full of planning and computer work, so I thought I’d tackle some FAQs I have received a few or a hundred times from you guys and missionaries that come to serve with us. And of course, if you have any more curiosities about missionary life in El Salvador, feel free to reach out. Enjoy!


 

How did you make it to San Salvador as a missionary?

I visited San Salvador and the ministry I now work with in March 2014 with my home church, Rock City, in Columbus, Ohio. I was a new Christian and recently baptized, so I thought it would be a nice way to spend my Spring Break. I almost immediately fell in love with the children at the center and the locals we served with, and by the end of the trip I knew I wanted to come back a few months later on the next Rock City trip. In June 2014 while at the children’s center for the last day of the week, I felt God asking me to move to San Salvador and serve at the centers full-time. The process included speaking with my family and leaders, going to San Salvador for an exploratory trip, graduating college, a couple trainings and of course the monumental task of raising support. But, the Lord was faithful and in October 2016 I made the big move!

[ my first trip in 2014! ]

 

What did you parents think about you moving there?

I get this question much more often from locals here in El Salvador, which at first confused me and almost offending me, assuming people were commenting on my youth and gender, thinking that there was no way I could’ve made it without the help of my parents. I soon realized that actually this question was reflecting the cultural difference in that Latin cultures tend to place more importance on family unity. Regardless of their age, it is very rare in El Salvador for single women to move out of their parent’s home and live with roommates, etc. So, the idea of me willingly moving by myself to a developing country is surprising for many Salvadorans.
Anyway, to get back to the question! Both of my parents have been very supportive of my work here in San Salvador. Of course, they had lots of questions and were worried at first for my safety, but both trusted that I was in good hands with the locals I live with and because I am following God’s Will. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

[ Dad! Yes, that’s where I got my blue eyes! ]

 

How long do you plan to be there?

I’ve learned over the last few years that God has His own plans that often don’t match up with mine. That being said, I have no plans to return to the States or to another country within the next couple of years! As for more long-term plans, well, I think it’s too soon to tell. That is one of my favorite things about being a Reliant missionary, because we have no minimum or maximum time commitment from the beginning of our assignment and are able to sustain that because of the recurring giving model that our supporters are on (THANK YOU!). This allows me to focus on my mission here instead of worrying about choosing from the get-go what my long-term plans are.

 


 

What do you actually do on a day-to-day basis?

To be honest, this is a pretty difficult question to answer because each day really is different. I usually spend one day a week at each of our children’s center to update profiles and keep up communication with their sponsors. The other three days of the week are spent between working at home or in a coffee shop and running personal or ministry errands around town. I’m currently spending Saturday mornings teaching English and Sunday mornings with our church family.

In case you missed it, check out my recent video updatewhich details my weekly schedule out a bit more.

 


 

What are your favorite things about El Salvador?

By far my favorite thing here is working with the children at our development centers! They are what first captured my heart four years ago and they are still the ones who help to remind me of the “why” when I’m having a hard day. My hope for them is to know Jesus as their Savior and to strive for a better future knowing that God is on their side.

Some other favorites include:

  • the friends I’ve made and serve alongside at church
  • Salvadoran style breakfasts: beans, bread, fried plantains, cheese and eggs
  • Mango season: mangos literally fall off of the trees everywhere
  • the almost always sunny weather: a huge improvement from ice Ohio winters
[ love them to death! Side note: The girl immediately to my left, Yulexia, is the same little girl in pigtails in the picture above from my first trip, she has grown so much! ]


 

What are some things you don’t like about living there?
  • There isn’t a lot of racial diversity in El Salvador, so anyone who isn’t Latino sticks out and people instantly know they’re from a different country. So, my blonde hair and blue eyes win me a lot of staring and comments that I wasn’t used to in the States. Although some days this can be a little annoying, I’ve learned to accept it and not take offense.
  • Because of the violence in El Salvador, I need to be conscious of the places I go and I almost never go anywhere alone. Being an introvert that was pretty independent back in Ohio, this has been a difficult adjustment. Having people here that take good care of me and are looking out for my best interests has made this transition easier.
  • The traffic in San Salvador can be a nightmare (much worse than Columbus, no matter what you think) and rush “hour” lasts pretty much until mid-morning and another few hours in the evening. This aspect of life has increased my patience while living here.

 


 

Is it hard being away from your family?

Extremely. I had moved away from home four years before moving to El Salvador, but it is totally different simply not living with your family and living thousands of miles away. There are days I really miss being able to hang out with the people that know me the best and that I can feel completely comfortable with—in English! It’s also hard missing birthdays and other life events, but we do our best to keep up with WhatsApp, FaceTime, etc. Some days are harder than others, but knowing that my family supports the work I am doing here makes it easier to focus and enjoy the amazing moments I get to live in San Salvador.

[ my amazing momma and siblings, I miss them everyday! ]

 

Are you fluent in Spanish?

Short answer, yes! I was fortunate enough to have taken Spanish classes in high school and part of college, which helped to prepare me to learn to speak fluently while living here. I also have LOTS of practice because most of the people on our staff and our kids do not speak English, forcing me to put the effort into Spanish early on so I could do my job! But don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of words I am still learning and when I’m tired it definitely feels more difficult to speak Spanish well.

 


 

What do you miss the most from the States?

  • TARGET! But really, other than my family and friends, I miss the ease of doing and buying things quickly and efficiently. Even tasks like depositing a check can take hours in a Salvadoran bank, and I grew up going to the Drive-Thru ATM for most of my banking needs.
  • The variety of local restaurants in Columbus. I loved going out with my friends to try new places, but in San Salvador there are less reasonably-priced options.

 


 

What are some lessons you’ve learned living abroad?

I think I’ll be able to answer this question better in several years looking back on my time here, but some things stick out in my mind right away.

  • Working in ministry means there’s a ton of things that staff and volunteers do behind-the-scenes that are never seen much less acknowledged by those we serve and those around us. I’ve learned that this work requires us to be focused on doing this for God, because we would be exhausted very quickly if we did it for the approval of others! (Colossians 3:23)
  • We will never reach the place of “I’ve made it”. While raising support, I was so focused on making it here and believing that was all that I needed. I soon realized, however, that as amazing as this stage in my life has been, each transition brings its own challenges and ups and downs. All we can do is keep our hearts and minds close to His as we hope to live out His Will each day.
  • God is faithful. He has brought me to this ministry and has always provided exactly what I’ve needed while being here. He has kept me safe and has blessed the family I live and serve with.

 


 

I hope you enjoyed reading a little more about my life as a missionary, until next month!

Saludos,
Ali

 

Video Update! // February 2018

Hello! I hope February treated you well. I’ll keep this short as my real update is in the form of a video this month! Check it out at the link below. I pray that March will prove to be a good one for you!


Video Update

Click HERE to see a little about what my day-to-day looks like in El Salvador!


 

No matter how near or far you are from me, you guys are essential to my ministry work here in El Salvador. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement!

Bendiciones,
Ali


 

Prayer Requests

  • For the two mission teams visiting us in March from Total Health (March 3-10) and Rock City Church (March 11-18). Please pray for safety and smooth logistics and that God’s Will would be done through these groups and our team.
  • For our children and their families at our CDCs. Please pray for constant safety and that He would provide for their needs and help them to understand His plan for them.
  • For myself as these mission teams will be my first as Missions Coordinator. Please pray for guidance as I plan the details and for peace and patience as plans are bound to change throughout the week with the team.

So worth it.

Since I stepped off the plane in El Salvador almost a month ago, every day has brought its fair share of discoveries, new questions, and challenges-and a pretty hefty mix of emotions as well. Living in a different culture definitely has its ups and downs, but one thing is for sure-it is oh so exciting.

By far the quickest difference to notice is the language. The national language in El Salvador is Spanish, which means it’s time for me to become bilingual! Definitely easier said than done. I studied Spanish in high school and a bit in college, but textbook Spanish (traditional, European Spanish) can vary a surprising amount from Salvadoran spoken Spanish. I am naturally a little shy, and throwing my second language into the mix constantly challenges me to go outside of my comfort zone.

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[ helping the girls at our Guayabo Center with a craft ]
I’m living in a world right now where I don’t understand the punchline to most jokes, words that I know to technically translate into one thing actually mean something completely different in context, and I’m not able to express myself in the way I am used to doing back in the States. I become mentally exhausted much more quickly, and my emotions are running a little bit higher than usual. Resisting the temptation to speak English with my bilingual friends is way harder than I expected, especially because they are getting used to me speaking Spanish with them!

As much as an uphill climb as learning Spanish is, I must say I’m absolutely loving it. Each day I feel myself improving, and it’s helping to strengthen my relationships with the locals here. As I learn more Spanish, I’m learning more and more about Salvadoran culture and about how they view the world. I’m able to connect with people on a deeper level by speaking to them in their own language instead of through a translator. I’m able to take more initiative when I need something or am trying to help someone. Last week, one of our spunkiest boys at our Children’s Center in Soyapango, Saúl, turned to me as I was helping him with a craft and said with a very serious look on his face, “Ya habla muy bien.” or “You already talk really well.” I never thought I’d be so excited to get affirmation from a 5-year-old, but God has thrown many figurative high fives my way over the last few weeks! I’ve even started helping to translate for the mission teams we’ve hosted since I moved here, a concept that would have completely terrified me a year ago. It definitely isn’t easy, but each time I’m able to talk to one of our kids at the Centers about their day, or order food on my own, or understand when someone asks me to do something, I’m reminded that it is so worth it.

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[ translating a prayer between Josh and Lulu (members of a mission team) and Dora, a woman living in a local nursing home ]
How incredible is our God that created us with the ability to learn multiple languages, breaking down barriers between His people in the process. God has been revealing so much about these people through their language, and they have been teaching me so much about grace and patience as they work with me while I learn. Even though I can feel misunderstood as I make mistakes in Spanish, God is continuously misunderstood and judged by people on Earth. Despite how frustrating this has to be, He continues to love us unconditionally in His infinite grace.

I’ve been reminded recently of Moses’s experience when God told him to plead to Pharaoh on behalf of the Israelites enslaved in Egypt. Moses felt unqualified for the job, but the Lord showed Him, and all of us, that Moses’s success is not dependent on his own ability, but that of God’s.

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” 

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

Exodus 4:10-12 (NIV)

In His infinite wisdom, God intimately understands the struggles I go through, whether they be in learning Spanish or otherwise. I am comforted knowing it is not my personal struggle, but instead part of His plan to bring glory to His power and perfection while I am in El Salvador.

The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the Lord, will do for you.

Exodus 34:10b (NIV)