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!!!
at Tuesday, February 19, 2013 |