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Welcome to Riverbend

We understand that visiting a church can be awkward and intimidating, but Riverbend was created for people who are intimidated by church. We invite you to give us a try! Feel free to take your time, look around and get to know us. We hope to see you soon!

El Salvador Blog

Check out the latest from our missions team in El Salvador!

Extended Family

So it was our last day at Siloe today.  As our team stood in a circle with the leaders of Siloe Church/School, it was evident that we were all part of a larger extended family.  Over the week, the 16 of us from Riverbend, (plus Deb & Andy who were already down here), had the opportunity to grow closer together.  In addition, we grew closer to the 42 staff of the church and school.

Riverbend has managed to get itself networked into the Siloe family in extraordinary ways, working closely with them to reach the kids and teach them about Christ, with hopes that they make different life choices than they would have, should they have gone to public school and been recruited into the gangs. Example: two years ago, a young 9th grader named Moises was going to graduate from Siloe's 9th grade (last grade level this school offers).  He wasn't sure whether he would continue his education or not.  However, a sponsor from Riverbend stepped up to pay his support to attend a private Christian school for two years.  Speaking with him last night I had the chance to affirm the growth we've seen in him, and he was actually talking about applying to and attending a University next year once he graduates from H.S. this year.  This is a guy who was considering dropping out of school after 9th grade, but through the grace of God working through a Riverbend family, he will graduate high school and is in the process of trying to go to college.  This story is the story of the hope that is possible through the workings of God through his people!

Looks like my own family will grow this year, as we listened to a presentation from Jake on the Por Gracia program designed to attract sponsors for the kids in the school that absolutely can't pay anything toward their education.  Pastor Javier truly wants to leave no kid behind, and this program helps raise support to make sure that doesn't happen.  Leave it to my wife to find two young children, Carlos & Jennifer, whom she fell in love with, and whom will now become a part of our family as we financially support them from Austin, but come alongside them during our trips to El Salvador to and try to build into them hope, encouragement, and different life choices than most in the poor colonia they live in will make as they grow older.  If you want to learn more about sponsoring a child at Siloe School, you can contact Jake at  It would be worth checking it out!

For those of us who have been coming down to El Salvador, the relationships just grow deeper and richer.  It's a beautiful thing to watch each of our churches, each of our leaders, making each other better.  Pastor Javier inspires me, challenges me, and helps enlarge my faith.  Hopefully in turn, I help him dream bolder and larger dreams than he has dared to believe.  Together with our teams, we watch God work through every single individual on our teams to accomplish miracles . . . I truly mean miracles.  There is no reason for the people at Siloe to have expected a church named Riverbend to come into their lives four years ago and have such an impact on them personally and on their ministry.  There is also no reason for Riverbend to have expected to have such an extended and diverse ministry in El Salvador, growing at lightning speed, doing all kinds of things that were never on our radar screen.  The only explanation is that both of our churches continually pray, seeking God's will, and He reveals it to us as we walk in faith trusting Him, and miracles occur.  If you had told Siloe church just a year ago that they would be feeding 600 people in the colonia hosting a soccer tournament with the whole community turning out, ministering to the children, the women, and the men of this poor colonia in the way that they are now, they would have said it is impossible.  Yet it happened.  If you had said two years ago, that SIloe's women would be empowered by Riverbend's women to host a two day women's conference attracting 200 women to Siloe, our women and theirs would have said that's impossible, yet it happened.  Working together, each church strengthens the other.  My favorite part is that the lessons we are learning down here in El Salvador are transferable to our missions to Reynosa Mexico, and even to Austin, and our missions leaders are in the process of trying to apply those lessons to grow our ministry locally and in Mexico as well. 

It's always hard to say good bye after such an emotional week, and to people we've grown to love so dearly.  But it wasn't "goodbye".  It was see you soon.  Already Riverbenders are planning trips back to El Salvador end of June/early July, also a big trip in October, and possibly another trip sandwiched in between.  We can't wait to get back to see the fruits of the efforts of the seeds that were planted this week, and to acknowlege and praise God for all He accomplishes through both our church families.

To those who've been praying for us, helping to financially support our trip, thank you so much.  You have no idea what a powerful role you play in the success of our mission to this small local church, it's Christian school, and the La Linea colonia located in the Soya Panga section of San Salvador.  THANK YOU!!!!!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Thursday, February 21, 2013 | 0 comments

Wed Blog #2

Today was day two of our women's conference.  After yesterday's event, we weren't sure how it could be topped, but once again God proved that He is bigger than we are.  There were another 100 women today, almost all of them different from yesterday which means that our women helped to minister to 200 women over the two days . . . that's quite a step from the 10 - 20 women they were ministering to only two years ago. WOW!

Today's group of women was very different.  Whereas yesterday most of the women who came were coming to their very first Siloe women's conference, and were strangers to our women, today the conference was directed toward the women of Siloe Church, of Siloe School, and those in the neighborhood who had been before or were part of the local women's ministry at SIloe.  So it was "old home week" for our team who has been here before - a time for renewing many friendships from past trips and conferences.

Our speaker Ana Maria Granados had worked with the Siloe women's leaders on two different topics from the day before, with these being about forgiveness and freedom in Christ.  Her own powerful testimony as well as preaching was impactful to our women as well as those attending.  The same worship leader, William Panameno was there, but as many of the women knew each other they were much less reserved, and soon the conga lines were forming to the latin based praise and worship music.  These women were dancing with joy to the Lord!  I must admit, it was quite the sight to see!

Once again, the prayer pillow project as the chosen craft project for the afternoon was a huge hit.  Kirsten, Barbara, and Carole who had helped prepare all the parts at home and brought with them did an awesome job, and I couldn't believe the creativity these women showed in their designs, and how much they just "loved" those little prayer pillows.  As a guy I have to admit I "don't get it", but these women just loved it.  That's all that counts. 

Riverbend Men grilled steak again for the women, and when ready served plates of steak, rice, salsa and tortillas.  Most of these women never get to eat more than rice and beans, perhaps on rare occasions they have chicken, so getting steak was a rare treat for them.  Even a rarer treat for them was that the men were serving them the food and drinks.  That never happens in El Salvador, so we were quite the novelty, and it was all part of affirming these women in Christ, adding value to their lives, enabling them to leave the conference filled with the knowledge that they matter to God and He loves them despite their circumstances. 

Tonight before Wed night church we sponsored a teacher and staff appreciation dinner for the 42 staff at Siloe and their families.  Buck and Carole did an amazing job of sharing their 30 years of experience as teachers and affirmed the teachers in a way that had the Principal and Pastor of the School in tears.  As Buck indicated, only a teacher knows what a teacher does, and he went on to acknowledge their challenges and affirm their roles.  It was powerful. I also had the wonderful opportunity to share the Riverbend Driskill hotel benefit dinner story with all of the staff at the school.  That the bride's wedding was cancelled last minute, and she donated the facility and party to Riverbend to use for a benefit dinner and dance to raise money for children in need.  I had the opportunity to share with Principal Juan Nunez and staff that $3,000 had been raised to support the children who attend school at Siloe, presenting him with a good portion of the money with the rest to follow shortly.  For this school of 300 children, this was a huge blessing, more than we can imagine.  On top of that, Buck presented to Juan Nunez a stack of cards, each written in Spanish affirming each teacher by name, with $25 included with each card for them to help outfit their classroom with much needed supplies.  

There's so many other smaller meetings that took place.  All I can say is that I continue to marvel at the way God is using each and every person from Riverbend on this trip in so many unique ways, and as the Pastor and leader of this trip, it is so humbling for me to watch how God is working through each of them.  I cannot possibly verbalize the powerful blessing it is to me to travel with such an incredible group of Riverbenders who are sold out to Christ, so in love with these people, willing to serve them in anyway possible, as we come alongside them to lift them up, to empower them, to help them in their mission to save this part of the world.  What a blessing and what a privilege!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | 0 comments

God, break my heart for the things that break yours!

For about a year and a half now I have been praying a prayer, "God, break my heart for the things that break yours", essentially asking God to enlarge my heart, to increase my compassion for others, to be more sensitive to those hurting around me.  Today he fulfilled that prayer and broke my heart.  Not once, not twice, but three times in a row. 

It started in the morning, when a couple whom we had planned to visit at their home that afternoon, came by the church as we found out they wouldn't be home when we went out, so they came to see us.  The husband was the referee from the soccer tournament we sponsored on Saturday.  His wife was noticeably pregnant with their 8th child.  However, we soon learned that recently they had lost their 6 year old daughter who had some type of blood disease that couldn't be cured.  They were suffering such huge grief over the loss of her, and on top of that he had recently been in an accident and lost the hearing in his right ear.  We had provided them with a large bag of food (enough to feed a family in El Salvador for a month), and asked for their prayer requests.  As we prayed for them, He prayed back, and the tears began flowing.  They were just devasted, so we spent time, trying to bring comfort to them, all of us men crying along with them.

Following lunch time, the Riverbend men divided into two teams and went out to visit select homes our missionaries had selected who were in great need, and whom they were trying to develop a better relationship with.  We walked along a very narrow pathway (about 8 feet wide) with homes built alongside both sides of the pathway.  There were three older women sitting out front, a grandmother, her daughter who according to the translator was "not right in the head" so couldn't speak, another women, and eventually a whole bunch of kids came out (grandkids, cousins & others.  Either 13 or 9 lived in the house, couldn't figure it out for sure.  We talked with the women, shared our desire that as we had been blessed we wished to be a blessing to them, and gave them two of the huge bags filled with rice, beans, sugar, soups, pasta, and cooking oil.  They were grateful as we expected.  We asked for prayer requests and if they would allow us to pray for them.  We then started praying. As we were praying they all started praying in spanish, and when we stopped praying they just kept on praying, louder and longer and more passionate.  I've no clue what they were saying, but it was incredibly moving.  As the grandmother who was the most passionate prayer warrior finished, the other women (some relative) indicated she wanted to sing a song for us.  She and the other two older women all stood, lifted their hands up and belted out a praise song in Spanish at the top of their lungs.  Again, not clue what they were singing, but it didn't matter, the tears were flowing all around (I guess we were a bunch of sissy men today).  We started out praying for us, and through their words and actions they taught us that we didn't have a clue how to pray and essentially showered us in prayerful singing.  Heart broken yet a second time for the day.

At the last of 12 homes we stopped to visit today, we were invited into the home of a grandma and grandpa who have several grandkids living with them.  No idea what happened to the parents.  The grandmother had her leg amputated at the knee and was so feeble looking and essentially confined to the couch I'm guessing.  The grandfather who spent the first half of the time barechested, went to put on his shirt as we offered to pray for them.  He asked for healing of his high blood pressure and other health issues, and for relief of pain for the grandmother.  We had asked Buck Cole to take the lead praying at this home and little did he know when he agreed to do that the condition of the folks living in the home.  It was all the strength he could muster to make it through the prayer time for them.  Again, a bunch of men with tears flowing, as we prayed for healing and mercy for these folks.  Heart broken a third time today.

Oops, make that four times.  On the way back Eliseo, one of the missionaries we sponsor in La Linea, mentioned this was where he lived.  So we stopped by to see his home.  He lives there with his father whom he supports who is an alcoholic.  He's a wondeful man when he's sober, but a real mean drunk as he apparently was last night when he got home.  Eliseo's older brother also lives with him, although he explained he leaves the house at 6:00 a.m. and returns every day at midnight, and they have no idea where he goes.  Apparently he's been deaf and mute since birth, and is severely handicapped.  Eliseo asked if we would pray to bless his home.  As I was about to pray, in walked his brother unexpectedly, into this room with 10+ men, totally bewildered about who we were or why we were there.  Of course he knows Eliseo and recognized Fran, so he was ok.  At any rate, we then prayed powerfully for healing for his brother, healing for the father from the alcoholism, and prayed that Eliseo's home would be a Holy place, where incredible ministry and miracles would take place.  I've prayed thousands of times, but I'm not sure I have ever prayed that forcefully, as the Spirit just filled us in that room during that time.  By the time I left the house my body was shaking.  So, I guess make that four times my heart was broken today.  Lesson learned . . . be careful what you pray for!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Wednesday, February 20, 2013 | 0 comments

A Humbling Experience . . .

Today was the first day of the two days of women's conferences that the women leaders of Riverbend have been planning for months with the women's ministry leaders of Siloe Church.  We had encouraged Siloe to try to attract 100 women each day.  Today was for the women of the colonia, plus women from an even poorer part of the country called Jicalapa. 

Jicalapa is a very poor village near the southwest coast of El Salvador, almost a 3 hour drive from Siloe's facility in San Salvador.  To our surprise a brightly painted truck pulled up at 9:15 in the morning with 40 women (not the 20 we were expecting), who were all crammed in to the bed of this truck, most of them standing for the 3 hour ride to get to Siloe.  Many of them carrying infants no less!  As they kept piling out of the truck, they entered the campus having never been to Siloe before.  I talked with the Pastor of the village who explained that about 20 of the women were part of his church, but the others all heard about it and were will to travel all the way to us for this women's conference.  I can't even imagine: riding in the back of a truck, standing up holding on to a railing, packed in like cattle, in the hot sun with no protection, for 3 hours EACH WAY?!!!

At the end of the conference, these women all piled back into the back of the truck (see pics on Facebook:  El Salvador/Riverbend Church).  I thought it was horrible, but I was corrected and told that these women were elated.  They had come to meet Jesus today and had experienced him and his grace throughout the day as the worship leader, the speaker, and the women's leaders from both Siloe and Riverbend loved on these women, and fed them encouragement from the Word, lifting them up and assigning great value to them.  Anyway, how these women who come from a village where there is NO water available in the summer time (they have to drive hours to find it).  There are no bathroom facilities anywhere.  It is about as rural as rural can get, and yet they are filled with inexplicable joy in the face of extreme hardships.  I was just amazed, and significantly humbled by these women.  I was also humbled by this little church Siloe Church, a church that ministers to the La Linea colonia that North Americans would consider worse then our slums, and yet the folks of this church take on a mission outside their walls to serve those even less fortunate then themselves: the folks of Jicalapa.  The economically poor serving the even poorer, but in God's economy, each of these communities experiences more joy in the face of adversary than we EVER seem to experience in our western culture.  Truly very humbling.

So today was the official "hand off".  Riverbend's women leaders have been working for three years to establish a women's ministry at Siloe Church in El Salvador.  A ministry that would exist when we aren't there.  A year ago local leaders were raised up and put in charge of the women's ministry.  Riverbend's been working to help equip them over time.  This time around, with a few suggestions, the Siloe Women's Leadership team led by Ruth and supported by Milagro, Christina, Flor, and Karla, helped to organize an unbelievable women's conference.  With the help of Pastor Javier, they found, interviewed, and brought in a world class Salvadorian speaker named Ana Maria Granados.  She is the Director of Project RUTH, an organization that ministers specifically to women, bringing them the hope of Christ and helping them to see their value in Christ.  She's a world reknowned speaker, an author, and counselor.  As I gather, her messages today were right on target for the women we were reaching.

Starting off and finishing the conference was William Panameno, a nationally known Christian artist, formerly a secular artist, but since coming to faith has become a powerful Christian worship leader.  He was amazing, and it was such a joy to watch our women and theirs worshipping together.  The Holy Spirit was moving and shaking in the room, that's for sure!  See pics on facebook el salavador/riverbend church. 

I've never seen a packed room "light up" so quickly as they did when Kirsten Jonez announced they would be making "prayer pillows" following lunch.  Kirsten and a variety of our women had prepared the materials ahead of time, and these women wasted no time sewing, stuffing, and decorating these pillows.  You would think we had given them gold bricks they were so excited!  My heart really lept when I learned that the women of Jicalapa thought they were leaving the pillows behind and when they learned no, the pillows they made were for them, they were just beside themselves.  

As the conference was taking place, the men of Riverbend put their grilling skills to good use, grilling 50 lbs of beef and pouring enough drinks for 150, to go with the lunch they served to all of the women. 

All I can say is that in one year we made the transition from a Riverbend-led and organized women's conference to a Siloe-led and organized conference.  Yes, we still spoke into it with good ideas, and helped out with crafts, gifts, leading small groups, and financial support, but it was Siloe's choice of speaker, worship leader, messages, etc., that made it so incredible. 

Tomorrow's conference while similar should feel very different as we have many of the women of the church and the school coming (another 100 different women), many of whom have been to our conferences in the past, so we will renew old friendships and hear different messages from the speaker.

As if the women's conference wasn't enough today, we had great discussions about the progress of the High School sponsorship program, and it looks like it might double in size this next year.  Our team is interviewing 15 candidates for sponsorship by Riverbend families to attend a 2 or 3 year Christian High School.  Currently we are sponsoring 14 kids, some in their first year of high school, and some in their second year.  Tonight we ended the evening with an appreciation dinner for our 14 High School students that we sponsor along with their families.  It was a great time of affirmation of the kids, vision casting the value of higher education, and affirmation of the family members too.  Very powerful and positive stuff.  Riverbend is literally creating opportunities for these young people to possibly amount to more than their parents ever could dream of for themselves and even for their children.  It's yet another great example of the vision of our church where we say we are Blessed to be a Blessing working to Make Others' Lives Better.  This program is the church living that out in full.  So great to be a part of it.

I am so proud of our team, as you all reading this blog should be.  They are walking around, being the hands and feet of Christ to all they come in contact with.  They are loving others unconditionally, they are serving by doing whatever needs to be done in the short term, but also serving for the longterm by praying for folks, using our experiences and wisdom to help strategize ways to support and empower Siloe Church and its leaders in their mission.  They say the local church is the hope of the world, and we are part of Siloe Church being the hope to this poor colonia, who has no idea what is hitting them as more and more folks from both of our churches reach out their loving arms to this community.  To God be the Glory!!!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Tuesday, February 19, 2013 | 0 comments

The Body of Christ

Today was a beautiful, living example of the Body of Christ.  With 18 Riverbenders on site at the Siloe Christian School, we divided up according to our gifts and talents to work on a variety of projects.  It was a beautiful sight to behold - check this out:

We had two of our guys, computer geeks (guess who?!!), working with the IT Director in the computer lab to hook up all of the used computers and equipment we brought down with us.

We had our recently retired librarian, Carole Cole, working with Vickie Wilkinson in the library that Riverbend helped to build and equip, meeting with the school's librarian Christina talking about best practices.  It was amazing to sit and listen to Carole and her 30 years of experience as a librarian, giving helpful tips to Christina on all kinds of different and creative ways to encourage the children to read more.  I was just blown away by how God was working through her and Vickie to turn this tiny little library into an incredible tool to help educate these children.

We had several of our women preparing the craft projects in anticipation of 200 women joining us for a  women's conference these next two days.  As of this morning we had 90+ women signed up from the community for the first day, and another 100 women signed up on the second day - women from the church and school.  This is an amazing turnout.  We have a world class speaker named Ana Maria Granados from El Salvador speaking to the women each day along with a nationally known Christian artist leading worship for the two days.  Riverbend's women with the help of translators will facilitate small group breakout discussions as well as lead craft projects, as these 200 women learn that God values them, loves them, and that there can be a hope for the future.  The Riverbend men along with Pastor Javier will be cooking and serving the lunch for the women for these two days.  Today there were women purchasing supplies, women setting the room, women preparing for the discussion groups, and even Raquel working with the teenage girls in amazing ways.  The next two days will simply be a landmark event, as Siloe's women's leaders take charge, own this event, and minister to 200 women.  If you knew the back story, you would realize that this is another one of those examples of allowing God to lead and watching incredible things unfold!

Robert, one of our team members who struggles personally with MS and as a result is sensitive to people with disabilities, has been meeting with various people throughout the day including Pastor Javier, talking about ways that Siloe can be more sensitive to and help out people with disabilities.  Already they employ two with some disability and have one child with physical disabilities, and Robert was helping the staff to understand ways of working with these people that they had never thought of.  I have little doubt more will develop here, but another example of the way that God uses us no matter what our circumstances.

A highlight of the day was touring the colonia, with bags filled with a month's supply of rice, beans, pasta, sugar, cooking oil, and soups, to hand out to various extremely poor families in the colonia.  We divided into 3 teams with approximately 5-6 of us per team, each visiting 6 homes today (we'll visit more on Wed).  We spent about 15-20 minutes with each family, introducing ourselves, sharing that we had travelled along way just to meet them and let them know that God loved them and because of that we did too, and that we were here to pass on a blessing by providing their family with this food.  It allowed Alexis, Fran and Eliseo, our three missionaries to be introduced to these families, reinforced what they were doing in the community to serve the community.  We asked for prayer requests and in many cases prayed for the family.  My team alone we were praying for husbands in jail, chldren who had been beaten to be healed, families who had been broken apart to be reunited, and much more.  Tears of joy were shed on both sides as we allowed God to work through us to bless these families.  We encouraged the women to attend our women conferences at Siloe one of the next two days, offering up child care if that helped get them there.  It was a powerful time in the neighborhood.

Others on our team travelled to the Christian High School that 15 Riverbend sponsored high school children attend to further their education after graduating from Siloe.  They were able to meet with the Vice Principal, our key contact there, to learn how the students were doing.  All are doing ok, and the school makes sure to provide extra tutoring to ensure they do ok.  Many of them are in a two year program, but some are in a three year program with more specialized studies.  We talked to the school indicating there could be as many as 15 more children we will sponsor next year who will graduate this November.  Tomorrow night we have an incredible dinner at Siloe to honor the sponsored high school students and their families, continuing to shepherd them in understanding the value of an education, and encouraging them that we have their back not only financially, but in love and prayer as well. As I right this note, Genelle is working on the program and ways that we will serve these kids and their family tomorrow night to make it a very special evening.

I am just loving watching and listening to the new folks on our team who've travelled here for the first time, and how they are experiencing the incredible love and joy that abounds wherever we turn.  It's exhilarating to work alongside these wonderful people of Siloe, helping them dream bigger, and find creative ways to reach the people for Christ in this impoverished area.  God is good, no . . . God is great!

Stay tuned for more tomorrow!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Monday, February 18, 2013 | 0 comments

Talk about a Sweet Sunday!!!

What an absolutely beautiful/ sweet Sunday it was today.  We boarded the bus at 8:00 to arrive at Siloe in time to get situated and join in the church service that started at 9:00.  It's always fascinating to hear familiar worship songs sung in Spanish, and you're trying to think of the English words while listening in Spanish - CRAZY!  Siloe had a guest worship leader in today and what an incredible voice she had.  So beautiful and so emotional.  I didn't have a clue to the words she was singing as they were all in Spanish, but they sure sounded like sweet songs to God!  As usual, Pastor Javier was an animated and passionate preacher - always a joy to experience his preaching!

Following almost a two hour church service, we all took a stroll in the colonia along the abandoned railroad tracks, to visit some of the church members homes and see where and how they lived.  We saw a home for five with one single light bulb, an old 19" Sony TV hooked up to an antenna, all dirt floors, but they had an outhouse with an actual commode adjacent to the house.  We got to see the house that the Students built last summer, very impressive structurally but the residents are struggling to understand the concept of sanitary living conditions.  We stopped and talked with many people along the walk, most friendly, a few seeing the "gringos" were anxious to beg for money.  Nothing unexpected, but a great opportunity for those that hadn't been down before to see how many of these folks really live.

A surprise was awaiting us when we returned from our hour long stroll, as they church leaders had reset the sanctuary into a beautiful dining room with specific placeholders for where each of us would sit.  Our team of 18 Riverbenders was split between 6 tables, and Siloe leaders and their families filled in the rest of each table.  What a delightful lunch we had together, followed by special presentations from each of the leaders/families in the church to each of us.  Very personal, very loving, and a very touching time for all.  So far this trip has been all about "family" - the Riverbend/Siloe family, and it is a powerful testimony to the relationships that have been built up over the past three years.  It's so easy to fall in love with these people.

We then spent several hours, the women meeting with the women leaders of Siloe, talking about their local ministry and the upcoming women's conference.  I haven't gotten the details yet as I wasn't part of that meeting, so stay tuned.  I was part of the other couple hour meeting, as many of the men met with Alexis, Fran & Eliseo, to talk about their experiences over the past 9 months since they started working as Christ for the City missionaries for La LInea.  What a powerful testimony these three guys are, and what a great example they were for the sermon I preached at the 4:00 Sunday evening service on Philippians 4:13:  I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.  They are walking examples of men totally sold out to Christ, even willing to put their lives at risk interacting with the gang members, helping to bring hope to a community that had so little hope.  

One of the fascinating things we learned was that they are in a catch 22 scenario.  They've spent 9 months establishing relationships with the key gang leaders in the community, many of whom have been put in jail the past few months.  The reason I say "catch 22", is that when these leaders get put away, new ones pop up in their place, but now these guys have to literally start all over again building the relationships.  The good news is that a great deal of the gang leaders have been captured and locked up and the community is safer than it's been.  The bad news is, they've lost several key leaders who were actually advocates for the work they are trying to do in this community.  Sounds crazy, but that's some of the interesting dynamics at play.

All three men are still feeling a powerful sense of call, even more excited and encouraged than they were when they first started, despite the daily hardships they face in trying to minister to those who don't want to be ministered to.  Fortunately, these guys have incredible intestinal fortitude as well as powerful faith, and never give up.  What an encouragement these guys are to us!

Fran who is currently 34 years old seems to be finding his niche in estabishing relationships and mentoring the "rookies" of the gangs.  These are men 14 - 27  years old, who are just joining the gangs or are new in the gangs, but haven't turned completely hard core yet.  WIth his background of running with gangs in his teens, they can't pull the wool over his head as this isn't his first rodeo, so to speak.  He's developing trust and having many confidential conversations with different guys, some even about getting out of the gangs as they turn their lives completely over to Jesus, which by the way is the only way out of the gangs, but your transformation better be real and your faith strong, as they will test it like crazy before they'll let you out of the gang!

Dinner tonight was at a Mexican restaurant - all 38 of us.  Our women continued to build their relationships with the women leaders of Siloe, and the men did the same with our three missionaries plus some of the other male leaders at Siloe. 

Tomorrow is a big prep day for the women's conference, but also a day where we'll spend the afternoon, strategically visiting specific families in the colonia whom Alexis, Fran and Eliseo want to develop relationships with but haven't been successful in that effort so far.  We'll be bringing 20+ families bags of rice, beans, cooking oil, flour, and other stuff as our "offering" to them, and will try to talk with them, pray if they're interested, hear their stories, and most importantly, introduce our missionaries to these families that enables them to return and serve them down the road.  So keep those prayers coming.  We anticipate another awesome day tomorrow!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Sunday, February 17, 2013 | 0 comments

The BIG Day!

Day Two - we all got up early, had a wonderful devotional outside in the cool morning and boarded the bus headed for Siloe.  Today is the day for the big community event.  Pastor Javier has mobilized his congregation to go outside the walls of the church into La Linea, to the newly renovated soccer (futbol as they call it) field for a giant neighborhood celebration.  We arrived at the field about 9:15, to find tons of children already gathered there.  There were so many games for them to play organized by the Siloe folks, and the kids just had a blast.  All kinds of cognitive games, plus prizes, plus pinatas.

At 11:00ish, we started the women's softball game.  This was really impressive.  Melissa, a Christ for the City missionary from Ohio and former collegiate softball player, has been teaching a team of women from Siloe and Christ for the City how to play, and I must admit they were pretty good!   Our own Buck Cole got behind the catcher to call balls & strikes, while Andy and I umpired in the field.  Melissa was the Siloe team's first pitcher and she's an awesome fastball pitcher.  I'm not sure I could hit off her!  Siloe was playing an impressive women's softball team from across town in Soya Pango, who had professional looking uniforms and were pretty intimidating.  It was a 5 inning game, and although the other team led significantly most of the game, the Siloe women came back in the bottom of the last inning to score 7 runs including a grand slam. 

As the women were playing the community started lining up for the lunch line.  It was probably a couple hundred long at one time, as Riverbenders were flipping and dressing burgers as fast as they could to feed everyone.  More than 600 burgers were cooked, and same quantities of chips and sodas were handed out, as the folks in La LInea got to experience a tailgate party complete with music being blasted through big speakers. On the ride back tonight I think I heard some of our team express they never need to see another hamburger again!

At about 1:30 the futbol tournament started.  The top four teams from the past season's 10 teams were playing, and the first match put the Siloe team against the first place team from last year.  Siloe WON!!!   They got to advance to the final round.  The second two teams played, and then the winner of the second match played the Siloe team for the 30" trophy.  Unfortunately Siloe lost by one goal, but they were very impressive!

While the matches were going on, Riverbenders when they weren't serving were cheering on the Siloe team, and spending lots of time coming alongside various people from Siloe Church, from La Linea, from Christ for the City, as well as some folks who came in from two other villages that Javier and Siloe minister across El Salvador.  It was a time or renewing old friendships, getting caught up, and making lots of new friends.  We would run into women from past women's conferences who told us how excited they were for the upcoming women's conference this next week.  We ran into high school students that Riverbend families are currently sponsoring.  We played with the children and the students various different games.  And we endured the heat - it did get to 90 degrees today without a lot of shade . . . phew! 

For the Riverbenders visiting El Salvador for the first time, they got to get a sense of how those in extreme poverty live, as we walked along the shanties built along the abandoned railroad tracks.  Most are one room, dirt floor, steel locked doors for security, some with electricity some without, most without running water or toilets in the homes.  Yes, for all they lack, it's always amazing to us how much joy they seem to be experiencing.  Who would ever think that something as simple as a soccer field and games could generate such enthusiasm, but it brings out the whole neighborhood.  It even provides sources of commerce as we learned that several of the folks who have their own vending carts actually have their biggest financial days during the days of our futbol tournaments, as they sell shaved ice, coffee, candy, and other items. 

It's surreal to think as I write this tonight, that hundreds of Riverbenders and friends are gathering at the Driskill Hotel for a benefit dinner dance to support kids.  It's a sad reason for the benefit, but an awesome end result as folks help the bride who was, try to redeem the night for good.  The beautiful trappings of the Driskill seem so distant from the folks we spent the day with today live - talk about two extremes.  Yet, God created us all, and each of us has a purpose. and tonight hundreds will turn out and raise money for VBS scholarships at Riverbend and for impoverished children at Siloe - THAT IS AWESOME!  I cannot wait to share with Pastor Javier & Principal Juan Nunez the results of the fund raiser next week when we do our Siloe School teacher appreciation dinner! 

Tomorrow will be a morning of celebration at Siloe, as we celebrate today and give God the glory for all He provides.  We have church from 9 - 11 in the morning, and then again at 4:00 in the afternoon.  In between we'll hang out with about 50 of the key church leaders and servants for lunch.  I especially look forward to time for our women with Ruth, Milagro, Christina, Flor, Karla and others talking about the future of the local women's ministry in El Salvador and dreaming of ways to continue to reach and support the women and families of the community.  I also look forward to the time others will spend with the three Salvadorian missionaries that Riverbend supports, talking about all they've learned since starting in June of last year, and dreaming together of ways for them to continue to reach and impact the people of La Linea, most who don't have any idea who Christ is. 

For those reading this blog, thanks so much for your interest, especially for your prayers, and thanks to many of you for continuing to financially support our missional efforts in El Salvador.  Last year over 60 different Riverbenders had the opportunity to travel down here, and my hope is that over the next 10 - 18 months we'll have hundreds coming on general trips, medical mission trips, creative arts & music trips, men's trip, and whatever other groups that have a desire to come alongside this church, school, and colonia to be the hands and feet of Christ.

Can't wait for the rest of the week!

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Saturday, February 16, 2013 | 0 comments

Phew . . . got through the first day!

Well it's 10:20 p.m., and we got through the first day.  Nothing like getting up at 3 something in the morning to get to the airport and fly to El Salvador.  Makes us tired when we arrived about 1:30.  Thought Pastor Javier's eyes were going to pop out of his head when he saw the amount of luggage we all had.  Packed the extra van to complete capacity with the luggage filled with computers, used clothing, baby clothing, water filtration replacement parts, softball equipment for the new women's softball tournaments, shirts, caps, Bibles . . . you name it!  Whey!

Must admit that Pollo Campero tasted mighty fine about 2:30 when we got there for lunch.  However the sweetest part of the day was driving into Siloe's grounds and seeing everyone lined up to meet us as we got off the bus.  Flor, Flor, Milagro, Ruth, Fran, Jorge, Juan, Karla, Ricardo, so many old and new friends.  It's truly like a family reunion, as everyone was so excited to give hugs and see everyone again. 

The newbies (those travelling here for the first time) got to tour the school to get the lay of the land.  Then we spent good time together just catching up.  Got to hear all about Javier's adventures in convincing the gang leaders to allow them to level the cow pasture and build the new soccer field this past month.  The men of the community, the children of the community, and even the women of the community are all ecstatic about the new field as it has become the social center for the community.  This spring with the help of Riverbenders, there will be a soccer school for boys ages 6-11, a 4-6 month long soccer tournament for men with hopefully at least 10 teams with 150 men from the community playing.  And they are launching tomorrow a new sport for the women: softball.  The women are so excited to field two teams tomorrow for a softball game, and we brought down more equipment with us for them that Melissa's mom in Ohio sent to us to bring down.

Topped it off tonight with a grand dinner with various different church and school leaders (32 of us in total), getting a chance to get caught up further and celebrate what is happening in their church.  Pastor Javier has been vision casting tomorrow's event to his congregation for the month, encouraging them to turn in big time tomorrow in the La Linea colonia for the soccer and softball tournaments we are helping their church to host, complete with tailgate party cooking enough hamburgers, along with chips and sodas to feed 600 people.  Gonna be a crazy day, but so awesome for the church to be serving this community tomorrow.  As crazy as it sounds, that means we'll be hanging out with the children, the mom's and the dads many of whom are gang members.  The colonia will field their three best teams for the tournament tomorrow and Siloe is fielding the fourth team which sounds like a pretty amazingly talented team.

So, stay tuned for tomorrow, when we bring you pics on facebook and recount how the day went.  Can't wait! 

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Friday, February 15, 2013 | 1 comments

Leaving in 16 Hours!!!

So it's 3:00 central time on Thursday the 14th.  In 16 more hours we'll be at the gate at Austin airport getting ready to board for our 7:30 flight to El Salvador (through Houston of course!).  We've got 16 Riverbenders fired up to travel together:  Norm & Barbara, John & Kirsten, Buck & Carole, Connie, Raquel, Genelle, Vickie, Robert, Dan, Karen Sue, Krista, Tracy & another John!  Please be praying for these folks as they head down there and while we're down there.

We are so excited to see our friends from Siloe Church & School, as we come alongside them for the week to help them in their mission to reach the children and families of the La Linea colonia.  We'll waste no time, as the day after we arrive we're helping to host a soccer tournament for approximately 10 teams (150 men), the first ever women's softball tournament, and we're flipping burgers and feeding 650 folks from the colonia at a tailgate party at the tournament.  All of this taking place on the new "FUTBOL" field that Riverbend helped to create out of a former cow pasture.  Should be an exciting day.

Stay tuned as we blog each day, and go to our facebook page:  EL SALVADOR RIVERBEND CHURCH to see pictures and videos that capture more of our team in action.

Posted by Norm Schoenfeld at Thursday, February 14, 2013 | 0 comments