This month in homes around the globe, families are decorating and lighting their Christmas trees. In fact, "trimming the tree" is often its own ritual, one that merits a dedicated time in which family and friends gather to pile on ornaments and lights, popcorn and cranberry bunting, and thinly ribboned "icicles."
If you are partial to a real tree, you know how important it is to find one that is fresh and healthy. Dry and sparsely branched trees are not only fire hazards but aren't ideal when wanting to showcase beautiful and plentiful decorations. The best trees, the ones that can hold up throughout the holidays and into the new year, are those sturdy ones that had been deeply rooted and nourished.
This is a great metaphor for what we have seen in our work. As ENLACE approaches its 25th anniversary, we've had the privilege of being a part of something amazing. Over and over again, we've seen that once local church members take on their role as servant leaders, the before and after contrast in their communities, is breathtaking.
In a few days' time, people all over the world will commemorate two Catholic feast days, All Saints and All Souls, with exuberant parties, celebrated with special foods and dances, and quiet candlelit vigils, marked by contemplation and prayer.
The history of these days is fascinating, but having grown up in a Protestant household and community, these celebrations were not a part of my religious or cultural experience. For me, it wasn’t until November 2001 that I was able to see the power that these remembrance days could have.
Maria is a 49 year-old, single mother of five daughters. She and her family have struggled to make ends meet for as long as Maria can remember. Like most of her neighbors in Sirigual, a remote village located in the dramatic mountainscape of El Salvador, she has only a 3rd grade education and lives a subsistent life. Her family lives in a small, simple home and collects water from a nearby river for drinking and bathing, which is also where they wash their clothes.
Yay, it's September! Kids are in school, and Autumn is in the air! It's a golden time of busses and no. 2 pencils; of old fashion Pee-Chees and pumpkin lattes. What's not to love?
Hmmm... Like you, I can think of a few things not to love.
How about grouchy mornings and the dreaded lunch-box scramble; the cold and flu season that starts all too quickly; and the science projects that rely on macaroni noodles and copious amounts glue or switch boards and tiny light bulbs, all requiring a parent (and possibly two) to complete.
If you're already overwhelmed, you're not alone. There is one thing we can take off your list.
ENLACE is offering to sign off on Community Service Hours for your child. As a U.S. non-profit, we can provide you with a bonafide option.
And it's easy. Just join the Pair Your Potty campaign by Friday September 15.
Your kids can really make an impact by raising funds for a Life Saving Latrine, health education and ongoing support for a family in an impoverished community in El Salvador! Once the kids have put in the hours raising the funds, email email@example.com to sign off on the hours.
It takes just minutes to sign up as a Doodie Director and we will sign off on any corresponding service hours.
Be among the first two to respond and receive a vintage Golden (Age) Pee-Chee. Totally "Stranger Things" worthy.
Click here at PairYourPotty.org then breathe in, breathe out. One less thing on your to-do list.
Antonio and Maria Caravantes and four of their 11 children have lived in Chantusnene, El Salvador for 17 years. Like most of their neighbors, they never had enough income or expertise to build a proper toilet and instead dug pits near their home. As a result, the water table in Chantusnene had become extremely contaminated.
Did you know that you can pair your potty the way you pair your socks? Why yes! Yes, you can!
We've just kicked off the PAIR YOUR POTTYCampaign and we are hoping to raise $20,000 to provide 40 families with life-saving latrines by September 15, 2017.
Want to help? There are 2 ways:
Number 1 (see what we did there?): Donate Now
Number 2 (yep, we did it again): Become a Doodie Director to rally your friends to pair a potty together.
Here are some more numbers and why this campaign really does matter:
- 1.7 million people die each year as a result of diarrhea. Every minute 3 children under the age of 5 die from dirty water
- 40% of the population in semi - rural and rural areas of El Salvador do not have access to latrines at home
- The 2nd leading reason for medical checkups in El Salvador is treatment of parasites borne from fecal-contaminated water
- 9% of a family's household income is saved when latrines are used at home
- 40% decrease of intestinal infections when a latrine is used at home
"They 'Set Out From Their Homes' to Serve Their Friend in Trouble" International Day of Friendship (UN): July 30
July 30 is International Day of Friendship and ENLACE would like to celebrate the amazing people who have been FRIENDS, WORLD-CHANGERS and VALUED PARTNERS in the transformation work we do.
When his mother drowned during a family excursion at age 11, José and his four siblings became orphans. “I never knew my father,” said José, and so from that point on life became a fight for survival. “Our only solution was to join a gang.”
The Road to Heaven: When Good Intentions Meet Best Practices in Short-term Missions and Church-based Community Development
Once upon a time there was a member on an international short-term service team that had really enjoyed his time in El Salvador. He wanted to say goodbye with one last gesture of kindness. He decided that on his final work day, as he left the community, he would throw candy to people from the back of a truck. When the moment came, however, the treats did not bring about a happy scene; Fights erupted between children--some had caught nothing while others too much; Packs of stray dogs nipped and skirmished trying to get their share; One full bag of candy landed on the roof of a home, broke through the thatch, and knocked over a clay water pitcher that spilled on a man working at his sewing machine. Needless to say, it wasn’t quite the farewell this team member intended.
While this story is slightly embellished, it demonstrates something ENLACE has learned in almost 25 years of working with short-term service mission teams:
Unintended and negative consequences can result when
best intentions are not paired with best practices.
The number of people in the United States going on short-term mission trips is growing every year. As Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the writers of Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, report, there were 120,000 short-term missionaries who went abroad in 1989. That number increased to between two and three million by 2010, and the number has grown since. According to Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, the likelihood of a U.S. church member to go on a short-term mission trip at some point in her or his lifetime could be as high as 25%.
This virtual “tidal wave” of U.S. short-term missionaries who may or may not be effective, has led some to wonder if “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” is an apt description of this phenomenon. They wonder if teams would be more effective remaining home and sending the money they’ve raised directly to organizations on the ground. And this is a good question to ask. Every organization that works abroad with short-term mission support, should be asking it.
ENLACE has been asking this question ever since we hosted our first team back in the mid-1990s. While working with churches and organizations that work internationally can be a double-edged sword, overall the experience has not just been helpful, but it has been vital. “Our international church partners play a key role in helping our work go forward.” says ENLACE El Salvador Team Coordinator Karen Chavez. “In our case, the service teams pray for and resource community-led initiatives while also mobilizing volunteers that work alongside a regional consortium of local churches. Without their collaboration, we couldn’t do the work we do.”
ENLACE believes that facilitating service teams is one important component to fulfilling its mission and vision provided that two key “best practices” are maintained. The first involves the identification of projects and the second, the identification of beneficiaries.
Supporting Roles: Project Identification and Short-term Missions
Executive Director, Ron Bueno, founded ENLACE in 1993 and has observed that poverty is a result of broken relationships between God, self, others and the rest of creation. “The church,” says Bueno, “is the most effective tool of restoration. And it is vital that short-term teams support the local church in its efforts. Identifying projects or beneficiaries on their own or giving cash or other gifts when they come to work undermines the local church’s role and in the long-run seriously hampers sustainable poverty alleviation and other aspects of the church’s transformation work.”
ENLACE’s role is to prepare the local church to connect with its community and short-term service teams are incredibly helpful when they perform a supporting role to the priorities identified by local churches working with their communities.
Respecting the Experts: Beneficiary Identification and Short-term Missions
We believe that local churches working with their communities know best the needs of their own communities. Local leaders who are working night and day with great heart, devotion and an incredible amount of sacrifice, are the experts. ENLACE comes alongside them to help fortify their efforts and expand their capacity to serve. ENLACE relies on locally elected community committees to manage all aspects of the projects they have identified. It is these committees that identify local families in the greatest need of housing, water, latrines, eco-stoves, etc.
If a visiting team (or any outside group) identifies and/or provides funds directly to an individual or family (at the time of the visit or later after pursuing independent interaction) it often damages the efficacy of the church and community’s established committees while diverting limited resources from a community-wide, integrated approach that is meant to help the greatest number of people in need. And ultimately, it is the poorest in each community who lose.
“We don’t just want 10 families who were lucky enough to be seen at a church event to get water,” says Gersón Sánchez, ENLACE’s Church Coach Supervisor in El Salvador. “We want to fortify the church’s ability to create and manage projects, and help it to grow into a role of problem-solver within its community so that everyone gets access to water, to home gardens, to health care, to waste management now and for many years to come.”
ENLACE’s approach is committed to maximizing available resources to help the greatest number of people in need in a particular community. If short-term service teams identify their own beneficiaries, they disrupt that effort and produce grave consequences for those who are poorest.
The Road to Heaven
Having the best intentions for others is absolutely necessary to bring wholeness to the world. If we don’t care for the plight of poor, if we do not choose to be God’s hands and feet, how else will the “kingdom of heaven be close at hand” as mentioned in the gospels? But empathy without a long-term perspective is only half of the equation. When we are affected by the suffering of others, we sometimes would rather provide a quick relief--even if that act is perhaps superficial--in order to feel better ourselves. It’s like giving someone with a toothache a lollipop instead of arranging a dentist appointment.
Instead, ENLACE believes and is committed to a better way, a better road. This “road to heaven” is only paved when we walk with each other in humility and truth. We must choose to take on a supporting role as local churches work with their communities and respect the long-term and broader community vision that champions the poorest. Best practices in short-term service teams hinges on these commitments and ultimately reflect God’s love and promise of wholeness.
For more details on how to plan an effective short term serving trip, download this free resource: "How To Make a Long-Term Impact With a Short-Term Serving Trip"
Need page-turning book ideas for the summer that are both captivating and inspiring?
Sunday: See Needs as Opportunities to Serve“We’ve learned that needs in our community are opportunities given to the church to serve, and our focus should remain there until everyone’s needs are met.” - Pastor Juan Ramírez, Casa del Alfarero Church, Chantusnene
Monday: Serve the Way Jesus Did
“Our vision has opened and our capacity has increased thereby empowering us to carry the gospel in its fullest form... Jesus ministered in the same, holistic way.” - German Melgar, Fe y Amor Church, Mandinga
Tuesday: Dreaming Leads to Action Leads to Celebration
“We never thought it possible but when the dream of building classrooms for our community came true, we excitedly discovered that we could impact our community in a great way even though we are a very small congregation. Now we are already celebrating all the projects we will accomplish in the years to come!” - Wilber Diaz, Cristo Viene Misión Evangélica Aposento Alto Church, San Gerardo
Wednesday: Working Together Creates Long-term Success
“Thanks to the church and ENLACE, we now have a vision for our town that brings all of us great joy and satisfaction. Working in unity and collaboration is the only way to resolve the many problems that we all face.” - Eris Neftali Romero, Mayor of Ciudad Barrios
Thursday: Ask "What More Can We Do?"
"After we did the work that God put in our hearts, we asked the question: what else can we do? That is when God brought ENLACE to us and we were able to take the next critical steps to help our community.” - Pastor Marvin Rivas, Mahanaim Church, Caluco
Friday: Don’t Build Walls if You Want to Show God’s Love
“The main objective isn’t to create walls but to draw near to people, show them God’s love and transform their lives.” - Pastor Marco Antonio Melara, Jerusalen Church, San José El Naranjo
Saturday: Serving Others Creates Astounding Results and Self Discovery
"Our church is a testimony. The learning process with ENLACE helped us to discover ourselves as a church. And as the members took the initiative to serve the community even I was astonished at what we have been able to do.” - Pastor Jennifer Lucero de Bautista, Jehová Jireh Church, Las Cruces
María Ercilia has a physical abnormality and has struggled with walking her entire life. She can’t go anywhere without her crutches. This struggle was made more acute when, after God touching her heart, she wanted to return as a congregant to the church she had attended as a child. In her joy she wanted to go as often as it was open, but because the walk took over a half hour she could only manage twice a week. “The worst of it,” said María, “was that I had to go through a ravine that was full of water in the winter and full of rocks in the summer. With the problem I have with my foot, many times it was impossible for me to cross.”
Sometimes María would arrive at the river but realize it was too difficult to cross on her own. “The only thing I could do was wait for a sister from the church to carry me because I was afraid of falling.” And once at church, if the rains came, her return would become a problem. “Since my mother is already older [she couldn’t carry me] so the pastor had to hire a pick up truck to take us home. This was difficult because it would take more than an hour because the way was long...This discouraged [everyone].”
“Thank God that many sisters’ and brothers’ hearts were touched and through the church ENLACE was able to come to this community and see all of the needs that we have. It was with them that we proposed that they could help us build a pedestrian bridge to facilitate access of the two communities. They told us that the work would be up to everyone, not just them and that’s how the mayor’s office and everyone began to work on the project that lasted almost six months. I saw how the brothers and sisters came to work every day in the sun and with the heat. Even if it rained they were there. It was difficult...Everyone worked hard together to get the materials...When I saw the project moving forward I only thought about going to church every day, not just when it didn’t rain or when someone could help me cross, but every day I could be there early.
“When they inaugurated the footbridge I felt so happy...That day many brothers and sisters came to celebrate with us. Everyone in the community was very grateful that this enormous project had been finished. I remember the first day I tracked how long it took me to get to church. Within 15 minutes, I was already there.”
Click here to learn more about María and the churches engaged in the eastern region of El Salvador!
The saying “A woman’s work is never done” is true the world over. Perhaps this is because most women are highly connected in a variety of ways to their families and communities. The number of roles they inhabit, that of daughter, wife, mother, friend, leader--can be plentiful, rewarding...and taxing. Whether a woman has biological children or not, I think all women who “mother” (the word is in fact a verb as much as it is a noun) can relate to both the hard work and the rich bounty of wisdom that their lives give them.
One night in 1980 during the height of the Salvadoran civil war, Teresita and her family were forced to flee their home in San Vicente. She and her children settled into the hamlet of Metalio but for many years she was too afraid to leave her home. “I didn’t want to leave my house because I was afraid of everyone and didn’t know anyone.” Then a group from World Vision came to her community and began to offer trainings on caring for children. Not only did this awaken in her a desire for helping others, but it also coaxed her from her home and birthed in her a deep love for her community. Soon after, she ventured to San Salvador to get a degree in kindergarten education.
As the years went by, however, life was not easy. Like many in her community, she and her family struggled to make enough to survive and lived in health-compromising situations due to a dilapidated home and open cooking fire. Despite the challenges, she continued to serve her neighbors and faithfully attended her local Catholic Church.
It was while attending church that in 2013 she met the pastor of the Rosa de Sarón Church, a local pentecostal congregation. He and his church invited her and everyone at the Catholic church to attend a meeting to learn about a project they wanted to propose to the community. As a result she began to participate in a series of ENLACE projects beginning with a life-saving eco-stove and presently a new home.
According to Teresita, however, the projects were only a portion of the blessings that have come from the Rosa de Sarón Church and its community involvement.
“When we were working on [the eco-stove project], I was going through a very difficult time. One of my sons was imprisoned unfairly...very far from here. I would leave my house at one in the morning and when I arrived at the prison I would have to wait four hours standing up just to find out that I wasn’t able to see him. I could only deliver his things and leave. On some occasions when I arrived home I would find the brothers and sisters of the church working in my house on my stove. Throughout this whole process I felt supported by all of the community and the pastor. Even a group of North Americans who were working prayed for me...Also at that same time, my youngest daughter got sick and had to be hospitalized for several days. There were moments when I didn’t know what to do but ask God for strength. Thanks to Him, my daughter got out of the hospital and my son got out of prison free of all charges. Since then I have been committed to working much more for the community because they never left me alone and always supported me.”
When the church proposed to start a housing project that would provide new homes to the neediest families in their community, Teresita was on the top of the list. But she didn’t own any land which is a prerequisite. But according to Teresita, even this obstacle was overcome because of the strong relationships that had been built within the community. “I didn’t have my own land to be able to apply for construction,” she said, “but God touched my boss’s heart and she gave me part of her land...I feel even happier and grateful for this because [the Rosa de Sarón Church and I] haven’t been working for our own benefit but for the community...God has seen our work and without us expecting it, He sent us all enormous blessings.”
Click here to learn more about Teresita and the churches engaging in the southwest region of El Salvador!