Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Folding to unfold

I finally found a job. It is part time but it is still a job. I am gainfully employed at J. Crew at South Coast Plaza. If you have never been there, South Coast is a world-renowned shoppers destination.  Every designer worth knowing has a boutique here and I get the lovely privilege of assisting the same demanding group of customers.
So far the job is OK. It doesn't pay enough to live on but until I find something else I at least have somewhere to go and have started making money instead of just spending it.
While at work I fold clothes. So far that is all I have done. When you work in retail you also have to "board fold" the items so that everything is perfect and beautiful.  When I was folding today I was kind of spacing out and thinking about the things that we all do on a daily basis that will only be undone.  Take for example making the bed. When you make the bed, you know that within 12 hours or so you will be undoing the work that you just did.  The same goes with washing dishes, cleaning bathrooms, filling your gas tank.
These are all things in life that we can begin to detest, or we can step back and see them as the things and moments that make up our days and more importantly our attitudes.  I could sit there and say that I hate folding and that it is a waste of my time and have a negative outlook over the whole thing, or I could suck it up, be thankful for the lesson in patience and realize that I can spend all the time while I fold, to think, to pray and to plan.
God wants a relationship with me that can be fluid, conversational and a fundamental element of my daily routine.  He also wants me to be able to say, " Hey, I have a few minutes, want to talk?"
So there is no reason to stress because as I fold, He can unfold something brand new in front of me.

Friday, September 19, 2008

This Central American life...

This is my last view of El Salvador.
These girls lived at the house where we were digging. A-dorable!
This family was the recipient of the first latrine we dug. They were very excited and overwhelmed and embarassed to have their picture taken.

My last couple of weeks in El Salvador were pretty incredible.
I went back to Abelines, this time with Daniel there, and we were able to dig a few latrines and I got the chance to re-connect with Reina and her family. I had purchased some food for her and gave it to her local church so that they could be the ones to give it.  I think that through that experience I could clearly see the vision of Enlace and the vision of what types of ministry I want to be involved in the future.  What good is it if I roll through town and give Reina a big bag of food and gifts? Sure I feel good about the interaction, and I get those warm fuzzies, but I am not empowering the local church to be effective in their own community.
Instead, it was a gift given by the church and now the relationship between Reina and her church is stronger and I am thousands of miles away.
So, the next step for me is here in California. I am on the job hunt and am also looking for a place to live. My parents are being very kind by letting me live in the living room until I find a place of my own.
It was hard to leave El Salvador but I do feel the sense of a chapter being closed for right now.  That is not to say that I will never return to Central America, or even El Salvador for that matter, but that I am exactly where God wants me right now.
I will continue to support Enlace as a ministry and I might even be able to convince some friends to go down and dig a latrine!
I will keep blogging since it is cheaper than therapy and it has also become a great way to keep in contact with so many loved ones.
I will keep you posted....

Monday, September 15, 2008

Culture shock comes in waves.

Well friends and family I have arrived home from El Salvador, onto the next chapter.
I still need to post some last pics and tell a few stories, but if you could be praying that God provides a job and a place to live, that's kind of what I am going through right now.
I know He has EVERYTHING under control and that I have none, and that works for me.
So far the things that are overwhelming are things like clean lettuce and spinach and the size of my kitchen. Every time I go in there I feel like royalty and think of the kitchens in the communities I spent so much time in. I wish I could invite Pastor Miguel and Noe over for dinner!
Keep in touch and I will continue to blog, cause it's cheaper than therapy!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Being weak and letting go

I hate having to ask for help. I don't know if it's because it shows a sign of weakness or dependency, but I don't like having to do it.
But there is something strange that happens when you are living 2,000 or more miles away from family and close friends and you are dropped into a culture where even getting to the store can be an all day event that you have to get over yourself, over your own ego, and admit that you need people.
On Friday morning I was in the community of Las Delicias working with a team that had come from West Virginia and at about 6 in the morning I woke up with severe stomach pains. I went to the bathroom and was in there for a long time. I tried to pull myself together and even got to the work site that morning, but it was pretty clear that after 20 or so minutes that there was something in my stomach that had to get out. I felt weak, hot and completely miserable.
Pastor Miguel, who is the local pastor of the Las Delicias community was at the work site with me and when he found out I was sick, he made a call to a doctor friend of his close by. The doctor wanted me to come in and see what was going on.
Pastor Miguel drove me to the clinic and made all the arrangements and in 5 minutes I was face to face with the doctor. He asked me some questions and took my temperature and told me I had a very bad bacterial infection that he believed was food borne. He gave me some medicine and told me I was to go home ( back to my apartment in San Salvador). Within hours, Margarita, a very good friend and co-worker, drove me back to my apartment.
I took the medicine I was given and fell asleep.
I am still feeling a little low as far as energy goes, but compared to how I felt on Friday morning, I am a new person!
I have found through several interactions like this that the more I am open and honest about how I feel and what I need, the more I am able to be in true community with people. If I am in pain and don't tell anyone about it, they don't have the chance to help me and share that with me. I would have never had so much time and interaction with Pastor Miguel, but because I was honest about what was going on in my life, he was able to reach out and help me.
I cry more living here in El Salvador. And it has very little to do with sadness, but more about letting go and allowing people in to my life. If someone asks me about my family, and we are in an intimate setting, I can open up and tell them how much I miss them and how hard it is at times to know that I am not there for important events or gatherings. It doesn't get easier. Jesus wants us to be open to Him, and to tell Him how we are truly feeling, but He has also created us in community so that when one of us needs encouragement, or tylenol, or some juice, or a hug, that we can be Jesus to one another.
Acts 2: 44-47
" And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and posessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people..."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time to relax, Time to think..

This past week I had a break between teams and so Tina and I, along with Matt and the Huff family went on a trip up to see some Mayan ruins in the city of Copan, Honduras.  We stayed at a great little hostel and spent time exploring the ancient city and enjoying one another's company. It was a great way to spend some free time and gave us all a chance to relax and take advantage of living and working in such a cool corner of the world. When was the last time you spent the weekend wandering through ruins?
After Copan, Tina and I left the Huffs and Matt and journeyed on to Antigua Guatemala.  Antigua is a colonial city with cobblestone streets and caf├ęs on every corner.
It is also surrounded on all sides by volcanos. Our first night there it was dark and rainy and we were forced to stay at the grossest hostel in the universe that had green mold growing on the walls. FYI-never stay at the Kafka hostel if you travel to Antigua.  Because it was so nasty, Tina ( the best travel buddy) woke up at the crack of dawn to go and find us somewhere else to stay. She came back at 8:30 with a brand new place for us to stay. It was clean, had a private bathroom and had great views of the volcano. Once we switched our lodging I was convinced that we had to stay there for at least a few days.  We got up in the mornings and just wandered around the city- shopping, relaxing and best of all, eating really good dessert!
It was also such a perfect time for me to reflect on the time I have spent here in Central America and start to think about my future here. Where do I feel like I could be most helpful? Where can I thrive? I love the sights,sounds and people of Central America so much. I want to live side by side with them, whatever that looks like.
 Tomorrow I go back to Las Delicias to work with the next team that will be here and from now until the time I leave I will not have a day off. I am with teams and doing what I love for 18 days straight! I am excited to get to connect with the teams and and this time around know what I am doing!
Please pray that God would continue to provide financially for the rest of my time here, and that He would be able to use me in any way He sees fit.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Help me help you

I am trying to get some email addresses of people that read my blog and people that I don't have addresses for. 
If you are interested, please email me at with the email you use most often and I would really appreciate it!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

No electricity, No problem

The church in Abelines

This is me digging a hole. The hole is for a latrine that we were putting in to a ladies house in the community of Pajigua which is right next to the hamlet of Abelines where I was staying this week.  It is very rural. No electricity, no running water/ indoor plumbing, no phones, no cell phone service, no wireless internet, no malls.
Yes, people do live like this still! 
This is Reina. She lives in Pajigua with her 9 children. She is the mother of 16 children, two of whom have died and 5 of whom are older and no longer live with her. She is married, but she told me that her husband comes through as he pleases and she can go a whole year without seeing him and has never been able to depend on him. Reina is living in one of the most extreme cases of poverty in her community. She struggles to provide for her children at all.
She was the recipient of the third latrine that we dug and when I got to the work site, something was telling me I should go and introduce myself to the lady of the house.
As soon as we met, she invited me inside her home. This is where she lives. It is four posts, a roof and plastic draped on the sides.
When Reina and I began to talk I noticed a little girl lying in the hammock of the main room. Her name was Heidi.Her hair was matted to her head and was wearing a filthy dress that smelled of vomit. She had dirt and snot caked onto her face and was not asleep, but was staring into the distance.
I asked Reina what was wrong with her and she told me that 40 days ago her 15 year old daughter slipped into a diabetic coma and died due to a lack of medical attention. After she died, Heidi slipped into a depression in which she refused to eat, drink, play or participate in life. She had diarrhea and would at times vomit or have dry heaves.
I didn't have much more time that day but I promised to return the next day and spend the day with her and her children.
I couldn't sleep that night and just kept thinking that some way, somehow I had to do something. I am not a doctor, or psychologist, but this little girl needed help that her mother wasn't able to give her.
The next day when we arrived at Reina's house I walked in the front door and after chatting with Reina for a while I scooped Heidi up into my arms. For a 4 year old, she fit comfortably in my arms due to malnourishment.
I sat her in my lap and pretty much forced her to drink some Gatorade.  I figured, she will like it, it tastes good and then I can get some electrolytes in her system. At first she wanted nothing to do with the stuff but she could tell I was not taking No for an answer and so after about an hour, Heidi drank 8 ounces of gatorade.
I then realized she had a very high fever.
I asked Reina if I could help in any way and maybe give Heidi a bath.
There was a water spigot outside that had clean, cold water.
I had to hold Heidi in my arms while I bathed her in cold water and a half a bar of soap I had in my bag. I got drenched and it wasn't an easy job but I just kept thinking, "Ashley, do what you know to do. That is all you can be responsible for."
After cooling her down and getting her clean I wrapped Heidi in a clean towel and held her in my arms in the sunlight and she looked up at me with those huge brown eyes and smiled. Then she breathed heavily and fell fast asleep. She slept for a good 45 minutes and when she woke up I combed her ratted hair, put it in pigtails and put her in some clean clothes. She sat in my lap all day long.
Eventually when her brothers came home from school I got her to eat half of a tortilla and a whole tomato!
I sat and talked with Reina the rest of the day about her situation and the future of her family and her children.
I tried to keep it upbeat and light and positive, but I was weeping inside. When I went to leave that day I promised I would be back within the month, which I will be and then Heidi began to cry and told her Mom that she wanted to come with me and live with me.
I can't say I didn't feel the exact same way, but I smiled and waved and silently prayed for Reina and her kids, that God would continue to send people their way that could give them just what they needed, even if that was just a bath.

This is me and Heidi.
This week has taught me so much and confirmed to me much of my sense of belonging in Central America. This is where I am supposed to be and this is what I am to be doing. I don't have all the answers and I can't save the whole world, but I can be Jesus to the people that I come into contact with and that is all He is asking of me anyway. That way I can be used and not get caught up in myself or my own abilities. I can pray with and provide comfort to those that need it the most!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

San Jose El Naranjo

This week I was in the area known as San Jose El Naranjo with a team from Seacoast Grace Church in Long Beach. They were working in the community and were building a new house for Pastor Giovanni and his family and were also building a retaining wall behind the local elementary school. We also held a medical clinic in the school for all of the students and were able to give them supplies and anti-parasite medication.
Most days my work was translation, asking the kids questions about their health and diet.
Sometimes the answers were hard to hear, let alone translate.
One little boy who was in the first grade, w
hen I asked him if they drank cows milk in his house responded, " A veces no aguanto el hambre que tengo."
I then had to turn to the nurse and say, " Sometimes I can't stand my own hunger."
That is probably one of the worst things you could hear a child say.  To survive through the rest of the day and the countless other children I had to speak with, I just said a quiet prayer and smiled at the next kid that came to sit down at our station.
If there are ever times when I feel discouraged about my time here or lonely or like I am not really contributing, those moments are what slap me in the face and tell me, " See! I am God! I work through you when you are obedient. Don't worry about your own idea of success or progress. This is why I stinkin' brought you here."
I made sure that boy got something to eat that day and that he received everything we had to give him.
But he is a reminder that all around us, there are children and adults that simply don't have food. 
It is embarassing to think of how MUCH food I have at my immediate disposal and how wasteful I am with that.
I was really touched by how great of a team we had down 
and what hard workers they were. I didn't hear any complaints during the week and most of them were smiling and laughing while the work was being done.

Yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to head out, we stopped by a little farm on the outskirts of town to visit a lady who we were told was very sick. So we went to make a house call.
I met Catalina and the first thing I said to her was, " How are we doing in here?" to which she responded, " Oh, you know, I'm just dying. But it's all up to God anyways."
The nurses and doctor examined her and prescribed her some medicine but I grabbed a plastic chair and just sat by her bed and talked with her. At one point she asked me to sing something, so I sang How Great Thou Art in Spanish. She hummed along and then afterwards we chatted about family and getting older and all that kind of stuff. She wanted to have something to remind her of me so I found a tube of chapstick. She was very pleased with the gift.
The doctor had told her that she had a bad case of colitis and told her she needed to eat more fiber. I knew that I had some oatmeal cookies in my bag so I offered her one. She ate some of it but told me after he had left the room that she didnt like the way they tasted!
I guess overall this week has taught me a little bit more about how just BEING with someone, just sharing life with them is so powerful and truly has the power to encourage their spirit.
I am trying to find out where Jesus is every day and be brave enough to just sit at his feet, to listen and to love.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I am addicted to garage sales

Pretty much wherever I am in the universe I will find garage sales.
Today was a day off for me and I went with Tina to her friends house to help her put on a garage sale
I bought:
  • a pink and grey t-shirt
  • the coolest sunglasses ever
  • books( too many to list)
  • sea creature stencils
  • a red and navy blue striped belt
  • french soaps
So it was a perfect day off. Cheap finds, a great meal and time to relax. The next team comes this weekend so I have to get my rest while I can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

bats, pesticide and the body of christ

This morning I woke up early to head over to the Enlace offices on the other side of town. Shane told me he would come with me and show me the ropes of how to get across town using the buses. At 25 cents a ride, it really is the best deal in town.  It is also the kind of thing that at first seems completely overwhelming but once you figure it out, it is brainless. So, thanks to Shane, I can get around San Salvador all by myself.
I had been invited to go with the staff today to a community and a church that Enlace has just started working with.  I wasn't really clear what the meeting was going to be about or why I needed to go but I am so glad I decided to just go.
It turns out it was a meeting at the church with some of the local ladies about starting a project to start large vegetable gardens in their homes.  It was mostly educational and a time for the committee to decide what vegetables they wanted to cultivate, how they were going to get the seedlings and what kind of chemicals they were going to use. Paco talked to them a bit about how many of the pesticides that they sell here are misused and handled improperly.
They use highly toxic pesticides for things that do not need it.
You could tell they were just soaking up the information and the way the information was shared was so loving and relatable that the whole presentation felt more like a conversation.
So, yeah, pretty much stuff like that is what makes Enlace so great and so strong. Figure out what the local church is interested in doing for themselves and help facilitate that. Don't drop a bag of money on them, a lot of times that makes it worse. 
After we got home from the community I came home ( on bus now!) and took a nap on the couch.
I was watching the news and Tina was talking to me and a bat flew over my shoulder and hit her and then flew around the living room.
Lord, if you want me to stay in this country, bats can not be a part of my daily life.  I can't handle that. Big roaches are the norm, but bats CREEP me out. 
I am homesick for everyone, but every day is something new and a new adventure.  And watching the body of christ work just as they should be just makes it worth it all.
Except the bats.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mosquito Bites and Funky Fruit

I am settled in to my apartment here in the suburb of San Salvador known as Santa Tecla.  I live with a great gal named Tina who has been here for about 8 months working for Enlace and doing a lot of the media needed for the organization.  We get along very well and it is so nice to have somebody to come home to. It makes the whole experience a lot less lonely.This week I was working with the team that came down from Vanguard. It was led by John Mark and Cristina Robeck who have been good friends of mine for quite some time. The team they brought was working in the community known as Las Delicias which is about 45 minutes away from my house.  They built mitigation walls on a hillside so that when the rains come (which they do EVERY day) the hill does not come sliding into the people's house below.
The walls were made out of used tires and packed dirt with a cement seal at the top.
It was pretty backbreaking work but the team were such good sports and didn't complain at all.
I was just trying to get a feel for what exactly I was supposed to be doing.  I was there to translate and help in general.  On Tuesday I woke up with a high fever and I took some advil hoping it would break my high temperature.  It broke about 10 am and I just laid in bed and sweat the rest of the day.
By Thursday I was back in the swing of things and was feeling like I knew what I was supposed to be doing.
Thursday was the hardest day for me though because I just felt an overwhelming sense of how difficult life is for so many of the people that we work with.  Living and working in a country 
like El Salvador challenges you to not become hardened by the poverty that is all around you but also to not be totally reactive.  That tension is always there and on some days, because I can be so sensitive, it really gets to me and I have to hold on to the Lord during those times and turn that sadness and overwhelming sense of uselessness into a time where I draw nearer to Him and to His voice and His plan for me.
This next week there is a break in teams and Tina and I are go
ing up to the Northern region of San Salvador to visit a friend of hers.  We might also head over to Honduras for a night or so.  
It will be a nice way to recharge before the next team comes a week from Monday.
Tonight Shane came over and we had tacos and sat and talked for a while.  The best part about being here so far has been the built in community that exists here because of Enlace.  I have people all around me that are ready to talk and share and just hang out. I feel so blessed to have this opportunity to serve so far and see what God has for me during this time.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wheels Up.

Well everyone, the day has finally arrived!
I am leaving for El Salvador in just a few hours and will arrive there early tomorrow morning. I am a little bit nervous but more than anything I am excited to see what God has in store for me and what I will be able to contribute to this amazing ministry.
Thank you so much for your support both financially and spiritually. I am leaving feeling supported, loved and blessed. I will try to update this blog with pictures and posts daily. Keep in touch!