Monday, June 6, 2011

Tornado aftermath...

Has it really only been two weeks? It seems hardly possible that only two weeks ago our family’s hometown was savagely shredded by an EF-5 tornado. I say hometown because although our mailing address was “Webb City”, the Joplin metro area is tightly interlinked and we feel as though we are a part of it as well. I dare not say that it has been worse living the tragedy from a couple thousand miles away, but I will say it has been a different, but also terrible experience. I feel as though I have to write about our personal experience of the tornado almost as a sort of therapy—to allow me to mentally think through the events and try to process them in some way and try to make them make sense.
The afternoon of May 22, I sat at my laptop working on something online—lesson plans or something that is now insignificant. As I clicked over to Facebook, I noticed some friends talking about storms in the area and I clicked over to see the weather and turned on the KZRG (a local talk radio station) app on my iPod so I could hear them giving the weather updates live. The storm was taking shape on my radar and I was hearing their live reports and this seemed to be more than just a normal storm. I texted my dad to let him know to be paying attention—my parents live just north of Monett and were just getting ready for church services to start in Mt. Vernon as the storm began to hit Joplin. I knew they would be in the storm’s path and I just wanted them to be alert.
Over the next seven hours I was glued to my computer and my ipod. During this time I lost my streaming from KZRG and turned to their Facebook page for updates. It was when I first saw a friend’s Facebook status that said: “trapped in basement. Top of house gone. God help us!” that I got a horrible feeling in my stomach. I prayed for my friend, and I knew things were bad. I sent a text (okay, several) to my dad in Mt. Vernon warning them that the storm was big, the tornado had touched down in Joplin and evidently had left severe damage. And, it was headed toward them.
My dad communicated to me a little later that they had warned their members of the coming storm when they dismissed services and offered the church basement for those who wanted to stay. My parents thankfully were among those who opted to stay rather than get on the highway back to Monett. The storm that passed through Joplin curved southeast after leaving town and trailed across southwest Missouri. A tiny remnant of the monster tornado passed by my parents’ house. It threw hay bales around in one neighbor’s field, took part of a roof off another neighbor’s house, left tree limbs strewn about at my parents’ home, and took out the apple tree in their backyard. Minor damage compared to Joplin, but I was relieved that they weren’t on the road in the storm or “trying to beat it home.”
The rest of the night—until the wee hours of the morning--I spent at the kitchen table with Ruth and Teresa. We listened to KZRG’s live feed of storm damage reports, watched the stream of the Weather Channel report in front of St. John’s, and read aloud our friends’ Facebook status updates as we got them. In between all this, I also continued to text my dad the information I was receiving and was able to text a few friends in Joplin. During these first few hours we, the ones living in the mountains in Central America, were strangely the ones who had access to the most information: we had high speed internet access and phone and texting availability. Our friends back home were without electricity, without internet, without cable tv, and with only limited phone and texting ability. I was able to text some of our friends who we knew were near the path of the storm and find out they were okay and was able to relay that information to others.
Ruth was the first to tell us that she’d just read on Facebook that Pizza Hut and Academy Sports are “gone.” We sat stunned at the news. Gone. Then came word of Home Depot and WalMart. And then news that one or both hospitals had taken a hit. Our beloved city was in ruins it sounded. But we were only beginning to hear of the damage. It was sometime during those first few hours we began to hear reports via text messages and Facebook of our friends’ homes that were lost to the storm and of friends who were last known to be at WalMart but whose whereabouts were now unknown. At that point it became almost too much to take. I could turn off the computer and the cell phone and shut out the ugliness that we were reading and hearing and seeing. And I contemplated it. But for whatever reason, I couldn’t. I felt somehow that having more information would help me to cope, would make it somehow all easier to manage. But it didn’t. It only added to the desperation we felt. Our friends were hurting and we were completely helpless.
Only we weren’t helpless. Our efforts to help just took a different form than what we might have wanted. Whereas we wanted to be helping our friends salvage what they could from the ruins of their homes or delivering food to those who needed it, or handing water to the rescue workers, or just hugging our friends, that was not what God had planned for us. Our job was to be messengers. Over the next seventy-two hours there were times when we were able to relay information we received via Facebook, via online news outlets, via KZRG’s online streaming, and via text messages to our family and friends who were in ground zero in Joplin. Their communication infrastructure was damaged and most still had no electricity. We were able to post Facebook messages and send emails for them. They were able to relay the necessary information to us via text messages, which were working even when internet and electricity was down. Erin and I were also able to repost lists of needs and phone numbers on the Facebook pages established in the early hours—the posts on these pages moved quickly and vital information needed reposted often in order to be easily found. As I found needs on various Facebook pages and via text messages, I could relay them to the people on the ground via text message. This system allowed some of the workers on the ground to come in contact with needs they otherwise might not have known.
Ruth and I found ourselves hungering for more information in the days that followed. We checked the local news stations, we followed several Facebook groups, and we listened to KZRG for information. We also watched as the entire Good Morning America crew showed up in our town to broadcast the national news. We cried for the devastation that we saw and for our now unrecognizable hometown. We ached to hug our friends and comfort them personally. My parents and aunt and uncle and countless friends have gone over from Monett and Mt. Vernon to help in Joplin. They have met several of our church friends and worked alongside them. They all say the same thing when they return: pictures cannot express what they are seeing there.
The people here in El Salvador have heard about the Joplin tornado and the church here has prayed for the city of Joplin. It is interesting to talk to people here about a tornado that can do so much destruction and kill so many people. Several have said to me they can’t imagine wanting to live in a place with tornadoes because they are so deadly and so destructive and frightening. This is coming from people who live in a country prone to earthquakes and volcanoes and who live in the mountains where the rainy season can bring deadly and damaging landslides.
Our church family from Mt. Hope Church of Christ in Joplin has worked tirelessly since the tornado. In the first hours after the storm they opened as a shelter and then as a distribution point and still now as a point of volunteer dispersal. I read their posts at night of their long days and hard hours and I wish I could step in and help for a few hours. Some of our friends helped the first few hours in the temporary morgue, others have helped man volunteer stations at the local university during the wee hours of the morning, others have hugged and listened to the survivor stories, and others have housed and fed out-of-state volunteers. One friend in California ordered cleaning and baby products online and had them overnighted to the church building to be there quickly and ready to distribute. Other friends have taken supplies directly to Joplin and others have sent checks or gift cards. So many people coming together to help. People’s true nature shines through in a tragedy.
Our family plans to return to the States in about five weeks. I know that our first glimpse of Joplin post-tornado will be heartbreaking and emotional. I know that I will again cry for the lives and homes lost. I know that parts of the city will be unrecognizable to us. But the spirit of Joplin is alive and well and I’m already reading of friends who are purchasing other homes and vehicles. I read of businesses who are finding new locations and continuing to serve the community and I am encouraged.
I want to encourage you to find a way to help. Not necessarily in tornado recovery—although if that is something you are able to do, that’s certainly a wonderful effort. But find a way to reach out to those around you. It’s easy to listen to that deceptive voice that tells you you’re not able to do anything—you’re too little or too old or too far away or too poor. Don’t listen. The night the tornado hit we felt helpless and far away, but God had a plan for us to help. He has a plan for you, too. Maybe it’s caring for your neighbor’s child so she can have time to go to the store. Maybe it’s taking food to a shut-in. Maybe it’s sitting and holding a friend’s hand when they need someone to sit with them. Maybe it’s putting new siding on a tornado-damaged house. Listen to Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Find a way to be His hands, and ears, and feet. Find those ‘good works’ that God has already prepared for you to do.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Importance of Water

This is a picture of the water in our kitchen sink from a few days ago:


I have no idea how many times in my life have I read or heard the story of what we call “the woman at the well” from John chapter four. But although I’ve “studied” it dozens of times, I’ve received a bit more enlightenment about it in the past few months and find it frequently in the forefront of my mind. In this passage, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman who has had five husbands and is presently living with a man to whom she is not married. He encounters her at a well and asks her for a drink. He then tells her that if she knew who He was, she would ask him for a drink of the living water which He has. He speaks to her of water that will become in one “a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

I’ve spent the last ten months in El Salvador. The small town where we live is fortunate to have a mayor that has seen to it that nearly every household has access to a “chorro” or water faucet within a short distance of the house. Most outlying areas have to rely on carrying water daily from either a natural spring, a community well, or from a river. In our town there are two different sources of water available: ANDA (a federal water source) or “el proyecto” water (treated with chlorine tablets and brought through a series of tubes from various springs). The ANDA water is of a better quality, but it comes at a monthly fee. The proyecto water is free after paying for an initial hook-up, but is known for being dirtier, more contaminated water. For our family’s stomachs, neither of these is an acceptable drinking option so we buy large bottles of water for drinking. Locals are forced to drink whichever of these is available at their house.

No matter which water source a home here has, water is only available for a limited time. Usually this means an hour or two every day or sometimes every other day. Because of this, the women plan their activities around water availability. Laundry is typically done in the morning—but only on the days when water is available. Water that is not needed at that time is kept either in barrels or in a “pila” (a concrete tank where most washing is done) so that when no new water is available, there will be water for washing and cleaning. Most homes also have various bottles or jugs filled with water for such times.

Water is precious. Without it, one cannot clean, or cook, or survive. The people here know how precious it is because they have known times without water. If one pipe breaks in the system that brings water to the community, it may take several days to repair it, depending on where the break is located. For the last few months the people who receive ANDA water have been rationing water because there is a leak in the pipes somewhere up the mountain and water is only available for about fifteen minutes a day, three or four days a week, and only with very low water pressure.

In our current home, we have a giant tank that holds 9000 liters of water. In this way, we should theoretically be able to always have plenty of water for cleaning, showering, and cooking. This water is brought into our house by a pump, operated by electricity. Therefore, when we have power outages (not at all uncommon) we have no water. And with eight people relying on this tank, it has at times become empty. On those occasions, we have to wait until a day and time when the local water source is ‘on’ in order to fill it.

Think back to the story from John chapter four of the Samaritan woman. Remember what Jesus told her? He told her that He had water that would become a well of water springing up to eternal life in someone. Those words didn’t use to have as much meaning to me as they do now. When you spend your whole life with clean water that’s as close as the kitchen sink, you don’t have an appreciation for a “well of water” and “never thirsting” do you? If you’ve never gone for days without a shower because there simply was no water, you don’t appreciate its cleansing abilities. If you’ve never carried a jug of water for a distance so that your family can have something to drink, you can’t appreciate its thirst-quenching abilities. If you’ve never had to use a strainer to get the impurities out of water before you can hand a still-cloudy glass of water to your child, you can’t appreciate the purity of a natural spring of water.

But this woman could appreciate the qualities of this water that was offered to her. She immediately asked Jesus to give her this water. I can only imagine her excitement that never again would she have to bear the weight of a jug of water as she hauled it up from the depths of the well and carried it to her house. She’d probably carried water for her family from the time she was young—this was the lot of women. And she likely had experienced times of limited water—when bathing was limited because there was only water for critical activities like drinking and cooking. This woman KNEW the value of what she was being offered. And she wanted it!

Of course, she found out that the water he was offering was not the same kind of water that she had originally imagined in her mind. She was still going to have to fetch water from the well every day, but she now had the promise of life eternal—a far better gift than she could have dreamed. She would still face times of drought in her life, when water was scarcely available, but through the tough times, she had a hope of a reward that could see her through them. And at the end of John 4, we see that she has been responsible for bringing a number of people to know Jesus. This sinful woman who found herself suddenly in the presence of Christ, the Redeemer, had become an evangelist herself.

This same water that Jesus offered to the Samaritan women is still available today. It is free of impurities. It is never-ending. It is free of charge. And it is always available to everyone. Pure drinking water is important, but of even more importance is making everyone is offered the "living water" of Jesus.

Monday, May 30, 2011

A win-win for princesses

A few weeks ago in our ladies class, we read in Titus about the responsibility of the older women to be teaching the younger women. As we began to talk about this, we discussed that "we" in the class ARE the older women and we have a responsibility to be helping and guiding the younger women and girls of the congregation. We discussed some of the ways in which we could do this but it kept coming back to the fact that we needed to be spending time with them. So I proposed that we host a special event just for the younger ladies of our congregation. The ladies loved the idea and we eventually decided we would focus on girls in grades 6 through age 21 and we divided up the responsibilities for the event and yesterday it took place.

The event was themed around the young girls being princesses because we are daughters of the "King of Kings." When the girls arrived, they each received a crown and had assistance putting it on. They were encouraged to wear nice clothing for the afternoon and some took advantage of this opportunity to wear clothing that they don't often have occasions to wear.

We played a game ("dynamica" is what it's referred to here) where the girls were divided into two teams. They were each given a few bed sheets (two white and one mauve) and there was a table piled with shared materials--ribbon, yarn, tape, paper, scissors, rubber bands, plastic flowers, etc. They were given 10 minutes to create a princess dress on one of their team members. Some of the ladies held up sheets so that the teams couldn't see each other. The girls seemed to love this activity. There was much giggling, laughing, and squeals that took place during it--always a sign of fun with young girls. Then the teams revealed their dresses to each other and the models showed off their dresses.

Ana led us in some songs and then I shared some devotional thoughts with the girls. Part of the ideas that I shared with the girls is that the "older ladies" of the congregation are here to help them if they need it. We discussed that referring to us as "older ladies" is probably not the best way to address us, but that we/they have experiences and advice that we can share on things going on in their lives. The girls got a good laugh out of us being called the "older ladies" ("ancianas" in Spanish) and we talked about how we may be older but we are also daughters of the King and fellow princesses with them. After this we had a prayer, led by Deyci, and we served cake and soda to the girls at a beautifully decorated table. The girls again shared many giggles during the time of refreshments and they each had a plastic cup and saucer with their names on them that they got to take home with them. We had 17 girls in attendance--a great turnout!

Erin walked home with one of the girls for a visit and said there were several girls and a couple of the ladies in the group as they walked and that they shared more laughs on the way home and that they talked about what a great experience it had been. One of the ladies told the girls that today was a day that they would always remember and there were more laughs shared about us being "ancianas."

It is my prayer that this event sets a precedent and builds a bridge for more such activities in the future. The ladies gain experience as leaders and hostesses and the girls enjoy a time of fun and learning and both groups get to know the other better. A win-win.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Home visits...


I think that one of my favorite parts of working here in El Salvador is making home visits. The people are always warm and welcoming, no matter how small or simple their house may be.
In February, we were able to make several home visits with Jesus and one will always be especially poignant to me. When we visited in the home of Ernestina, a sister from San Ignacio, she loved joining with us in song. Her eyes are very weak and she had a hard time reading the words but she sang out and it was obvious her heart was in her singing. She said she loved our time visiting with her and that it blessed her, but it was equally--if not more so--a blessing to our family. I was able to snap a couple of candid shots while we were with her. One of them is of her singing and the other is of her gorgeous hands holding her Bible during our devotional time with her. Both are treasures to me.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finally...

I realize it's been a long time since I've posted. Far too long. Briefly, the last two months here have been filled with some difficult times. The church here has faced Satan head-on in a battle. The church has suffered and our family has suffered. Countless prayers and tears have been shed over the situation--by us and by others. In a lot of ways, our family has been in what might be described as 'survival mode' for part of this time--during which it has been difficult to write anything without discussing the situation that was happening to the church here.

For my silence on the blog, I am sorry. There have still been good things happening here, they've just been severely overshadowed by the trials. I heard a song this morning as I was getting ready for worship that spoke some of the words my heart has been feeling. It's called "If You Want Me To" by Ginny Owens.

The pathway is broken
And the signs are unclear.
And I don't know the reason why You brought me here.
But just because You love me the way that You do
I will go through the valley
If You want me to.

CHORUS:
Now I'm not who I was
When I took my first step.
And I'm clinging to the promise
You're not through with me yet.
So if all of these trials bring me closer to You
I will go through the fire
If You want me to.

It may not be the way I would have chosen
When you lead me through a world that's not my own.
But You never said it would be easy
You only said I'll never go alone.

So when the whole world turns against me
And I'm all by myself.
And I can't hear You answer my cries for help.
I'll remember the suffering Your love put You through.
And I will go through the valley
If You want me to.

The past two months are definitely NOT the path our family would have chosen, but we believe God is still with us and is still leading us as we "go through the fire" and we know the final outcome of this world--Christians are victorious! Monte has been a great source of strength and help for Jose, the minister here, as this situation has developed. We are thankful God saw fit for them to have each other to lean on in this process. I have a lot of pictures to catch things up from the last few months and will work on getting on top of those this week. In the meantime, I would ask for you to pray fervently for the work here and for Jose and Monte as they face the trials Satan has thrown in our way. We continue to "go through the valley" but we know we are not alone. Thank you for your prayers and your continual support. God is good. God is faithful.
Love, Lori P.S. For those of you who read Monte's blog, he has given more information on the situation--you can find it on his blog.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fun little peek...

We're still adapting to having the girls here with us and they're still adapting to us. They're not really very fond of most of the foods we eat, so there's some big changes that are happening there for them. So far they don't care for pizza or chicken nuggets. They liked the brownies I made, though. They're very happy with tortillas (I buy them 5 for 25cents) and refried beans and crema (like sour cream, but WAY better) for most every meal. They're learning English words and are now saying "Please" and "Thank you" in English most of the time. We're learning new words, also, and our household's communication is in a very definite Spanglish mix of the two languages. Last night the girls were helping Ruth (Erin) wash the dishes after dinner. While in the process of this, they began working on saying their alphabet in Spanish. I walked in to find a lot of giggling going on and the girls were able to say the alphabet all the way to the letter "I". I was able to video a little bit of it and thought you might enjoy watching. The girls didn't know I was videoing but when they saw the finished video they really enjoyed it and wanted to watch it several times. :) Enjoy this little peek into our evening...
video

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Daily life...

There are some parts of daily life here that are very similar for us to life back in the States and we can easily forget that we are in a foreign country. And then there are the out-of-the-ordinary things that happen that make me smile and think how very much I will miss life here when I someday am back in the States. Last night after church we had such an event.

Last night was Wednesday night which means we have services in a member's home. Last night we met at Felicita's house. For those of you who have been here, you'll remember that her house is 98 steps down from the top of a tall hill. Our family had decided to get some pupusas from Reina after church so that our girls could enjoy a more typical meal. So after church we headed to Reina's, part of a group of about 30 people heading that direction.

Now, the fastest way to Reina's from Felicita's is not to climb back up the 98 steps (whew!) but rather to go down the few more and then cut across and down and over some very rough terrain and paths. During the day these paths are difficult. At night in the dark they're a bit more, well...challenging. But we had a large group together and the locals know the paths well and were very helpful. At one point, one of the visitors who had come last night directed the leader of our group to follow him through a "short cut" down the hill. This short cut involved actually cutting through the house of a family member. Literally. They opened a door on one side and we paraded through the house/tienda and out another door on the other side. A shortcut THROUGH a house. Priceless.

Then as we headed out of the house and down a path we came to a small bamboo bridge. I started to cross the bridge and there was a lot of yelling going on and couldn't understand it as so many were yelling at once but I was able to understand someone hollering, "Adobes!" and there were obviously adobe bricks to the side of the bridge so I assumed they meant to step on the bricks instead of the bridge. So I did. I found out the hard way (or soft/squishy way) that "adobes" can mean "Look. There are adobe bricks, completed-and-hard-baked-and-dried-in-the-sun." OR it can mean, "Look out! There are some freshly-made-and-still-wet-and-squishy adobe bricks." Last night, it meant the latter.

I found this out when my first foot was only halfway squished in, so I was able to quickly recover but I felt terrible for squishing someone's hard work. Teresa and Ruth were in front of me and said some of the locals had made the same mistake. I asked why no one hollered, "Wet bricks!" or "Cuidado!" or something and Teresa said she had but that I couldn't hear her over everyone else. I then found out later that Modesto, a local, had stepped in two bricks, with both feet, with full weight--a far bigger mistake than mine. And Jose had apologized to the owner of the bricks and asked if we needed to come back today to help him with them and he said not to worry. (Whew!)

It was one of those short journeys that fills me with memories and smiles. So very different than our journeys home in our minivan after church in the States. Strangely, just a bit sweeter and a lot more memorable, adobe-dipped shoes and all.