New Day

“Hey what ever happened to that Mari girl? Didn’t she used to be a writer?”

In case you were curious what became of us in the last 3 months.  The El Salvador missionary family that dropped big news about moving back to Ohio and then crickets….. We have been in Ohio for 1 month and 13 days now.

We are doing a lot of adjusting. When we lived here before I was a very satisfied stay at home mom-wife.  I did writing and orphan-adoption advocacy on the side.  My world revolved around my family.

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Currently I have a half unpacked house, 2 dogs to vacuum up after, 4 kids full time in school, a husband in a very new job that he is loving, 1 photo hung on the wall and 1 den completely still unusable.

I just bought a car yesterday…. can I just say car shopping is the pits?! And way to go sales guy at Mike Bass Ford for just giving it to us straight instead of playing games with us for a week, like the other place we went to.

More than this, mentally I am processing and thinking about a lot of things.  We LOVE our people in Ohio. They have been incredible to us.  We LOVE our people in El Salvador, we miss them like crazy.

But what does Ohio life look like for Mari now?  Its really different.  If you don’t hear from me for a while its because I’m a full time student now.  I wasn’t really going to talk about that, but you might wonder why you go weeks without hearing from me… its because I am buried under a course load fit for 20 year olds without 4 kids and an hour commute.

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I am Mari. I am a woman. I’m doing the very best for myself, for my family, and God that I can.  Learning a lot about the roles of women in the world.  Getting riled up about some things, and simmering on other things.  Its a new day, and all I can do is what I have to do today, and know that God is beside me all the way, cheering me on.

For me that means school. And selling Scentsy on the side.  Because we do whatever we can for our children and families, am I right? School and family doesn’t coincide well with getting a job to help make car payments, so I will be selling Scentsy.  I promise not to bug you about it, but if you want to come along side me, and plop yourself down in my rollercoaster car, strap yourself in and take this ride with me, I would be happy to have some girl time with you and help you make a party!  I am also still passionately advocating and holding events and tables to sell products for Esperanza:Hope for Futures.  So if your group/church/school would like to help kids rise out of poverty and hopelessness to an education and opportunity, please let me know.  We were just on the Kent State campus last week, and got to share with a lot of people.

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Thats all for now, I have a test today, and better get to some studying!  Just get out there and love like crazy, people.  This world is really messed up.  So just go love like crazy.

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Do Small, Heroic Things

It is really easy to feel stuck when you see the world going to pieces around you.  I myself favor the “crawling under the covers” philosophy from time to time.  This however, is not very practical or very heroic.  We all have a little Captain America in us.   And I because I currently hail from El Salvador, I’m going to give you 5 ways you can be a little heroic, in case you are feeling stuck. Tomorrow I will share 5 simple ideas for doing small, awesome things where you are at in the United States.

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  1. Special appreciation dinner for our nutrition center staff at a restaurant at the beach.  They work LOOOOOONNNNNGGGGGG HOT hours y’all.  And most of them have never been to a nice restaurant overlooking their own beautiful coast. -$200
  2. Help with the shipping costs of tools, fortified rice and water purification packets. -$200
  3. Gather school and craft supplies if you are in the Columbus, Ohio area. Rock City church will be coming July 9th and you can donate a bag of supplies that will help stock the nutrition centers and church Sunday school classrooms. *** pencils, erasers, white board markers, construction paper, etc. Leave a comment for more information.
  4. One time donation to Esperanza to help outfit our new computer and sewing classrooms.  The U.S. Navy visited us on Saturday and donated all the 2×4’s to frame out the two rooms!!! They also helped frame it on their day off.  We love the Navy.
  5. Place an order for some of the gorgeous hand crafted items to help raise scholarship money for the kids in Esperanza.  Ask me how your group, school or church can sell our  products with all proceeds going to the kids working hard to break the cycle of poverty!

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Esperanza Items

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Enormous, Tiny Nudges

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I mentioned on Monday that I was feeling a lot of things.  I always have some emotionally difficult days following a visit to the orphanage. But coupled with a sick little girl, who’s abdomen was swollen, tragedy in the U.S., tragedy all around and generally because I’m a woman who feels deeply, all of the things, this week was rough.

But in addition to all of that, is one major thing for our family that has brought my emotional stability to a screeching halt. I’m just being real here. Its so easy to put on a smile and post a happy photo, and y’all might think I have it all together, so this post is just real. I’m not a big fan of pretense, subtext, hidden truths, however you might want to say it. I’m currently trying to practice not always wearing my heart on my sleeve and reacting a little slower to things people say.

All of that to say, we have big news.  For several months we (Alex and I) have been gently nudged by the Holy Spirit… again. This hasn’t happened since we made the huge decision to move to El Salvador.  2 1/2 years ago we jumped off that cliff into the water with smiles and anticipation.

But this time, the nudging is to move back to our passport country. Back to Ohio. Away from La Libertad.  What on Earth? That’s how I’ve been feeling, a constant state of “what on earth!”  In case you are curious, nudges come in the way of cars breaking down, losing renters, projects going REALLY well, people becoming employed, church growth, leaders stepping up.  Nudges can be whispers into the soul of bigger things on the horizon, new things. Scary things. Uncertain possibilities. Then all of those nudges build and build and build until one day, God just says “This is it. Go.”

Then I fight back and our conversation goes a little like this:

Me: But God, what about all the babies? All the kids I love like my own? What about Esperanza?

God: You mean my kids and my babies and my plans?

Me: But you made me love them. I want to save them all.

God: I already sent Jesus to do that.

Me: But…..my friends who have adopted me into their own family. I’m their white daughter. How can I leave them. What about all of the children here I can’t adopt but would in a nanosecond?

God: I have something else for you now. You did what I asked. Now its time.

Me: But….

God: Hey Jonah, just obey. I had an plan for you three years ago, don’t you think I have one now? I’ve got this. I keep the planets in the sky after all. You could not imagine what I have for you next.

Me: Touche. Ok Lord. But so many details, how are we going to go back? How will ……?

God: Tranquila hija (be still and calm daughter).

So back we go. Torn as heck. Parts of us are so excited to go back to the house we raised our babies in for 10 years, to do life with our family, to laugh with our friends. Part of us yearning and grieving to hold onto our people in El Salvador. Everything about our family has changed in the last 2 1/2 years. I said once missionary years are like dog years. For us, this feels like leaving a home of 10 years.

So please be patient with us. We may not think the same way or act the same way anymore. We may not feel things the same way anymore.  Our feelings are complicated beyond belief. We are going to struggle for a bit, and may burst into tears at weird times.. like at grocery stores.

We are leaving because God is telling us to.

We are leaving because La Libertad is awesome and they don’t need us day to day anymore.

We are leaving because its what is best for our children.

Esperanza will continue to grow, and be strong, and change lives. We have a team in place to continue on, grow and be better and better.

The church will do what they have always done; learn, grow, fight for the souls of their city. Serve God will all their hearts.

The nutrition centers will add more and more children into their safe arms, and hopefully next year Alex and I will help them plant a third center in another area of the city.

And I will continue to keep this song from Bethel on loop, because “the wind and waves still know His name.”

Nearly Wordless Monday

I’m feeling a lot of things right now. I’ll talk more about it in the weeks to come. So for right now I just want to leave you with a thought. Overcome evil with prayer. Overcome evil with action.  Overcome evil on the side of Love, the Creator, the God of Love.

Here’s two ways:

  1. Care for and pray for the fatherless. Pure, undefiled religion- JamesIMG_1800
  2. Support projects that are filled with love, changing lives. Projects like Esperanza, by donating or buying products, hand crafted by youth in El Salvador.  http://www.hopeforfutures.com (website in progress).

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Until next time 🙂 Mari

 

 

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A Day in the Life

I think there is a misconception about what its like to work as a missionary.  Maybe you wonder what in tarnation we actually do?

Do we go door to door with our Bible in hand like Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Do we snuggle little orphaned children?

Are we sitting in prayer circles?

(I’m chuckling to myself as I type this)

The beginning of our third year here looks vastly different than our first 2. Some things are the same.  But it doesn’t look like what I pictured as missionary life when I was a child, dreaming of this.  So in case you are curious too, here is a snapshot of two days.

Sunday

6 am- Alex gets up and leaves with Giovanni to drive to church and set up and practice with the band.  This means loading our t.v. in the car to act as one of the screens for the song lyrics. And drinking lots of coffee. (Mari and kids remain asleep!)

7ish am- Mari and kids get up, take care of siberian huskies, search for church clothes and shoes like every other church going family…. because I never plan ahead the night before.  They aren’t babies anymore, I’m not in charge of their clothes.

7:30 am- Susanna messages to make sure I am coming to pick up her and baby Esteban, and sometimes another friend too

8:45 am- we run out the door, rushing obviously

9:30 am- church

1 pm- usually grocery shopping.  Its really exciting and exotic right?

3 pm- hopefully a nap, usually lots of email returning, game playing, movies holed up in our room out of the heat.

8 pm- get kids in bed and ready for school like every other parent in the world

Monday

4:50 am: My saint of a husband gets up, makes the coffee, makes the lunches, gets the kids up and usually leaves without waking me up!  Which I feel zero guilt about, because I did it for 11 years.

7:30 am- we go over our day, goals, meetings, emails, whatever.  On any given day this means emails about rice shipments, donors who want to give beds, missions teams, Navy squads coming to volunteer, World Race teams, dental teams…..

9 am- go down to the church and meet with Ivo and Giovanni

9:30 am- first person stops by to say hi

10 am-  carpentry project going on, Alex leaves meeting to go assist

11 am- Alex usually is fixing a door, a wall, computers, or having a conference call;

Mari is finding a new renter and arranging with all parties involved to rent a house from 4000 miles away.

12 pm- quick lunch, sometimes the chicken stand by the prison which sells a lunch plate for $2 or $3 depending

12:30 pm- Mari might be working on CDI admin, trying to find new child sponsors, checking the monthly numbers or studying.  I am taking some classes to learn more about the complicated politics involved in developing nations and human rights.

1:30 pm- We start the drive back up the mountain to get the kids from school in San Salvador.  Usually buying a coconut on the way because it is bloody hot, man!

2:30 pm- gather our brood plus Ivo’s daughter Keyla.  Almost always stopping for a quick dinner item at the grocery store

3 pm- More emailing, brainstorming, planning, homework with kids, still hot in case you were curious.

6 pm- dinner, which by the way is about 2 hours earlier than everyone else in El Salvador eats dinner.  But we stay on U.S. time schedule with our kids in regards to meals and bedtime!

8:30 pm- field about a thousand questions from Layla who wants to essentially know the history of the world every night at bedtime.  In detail.

9 pm- Alex passes out whether Layla is still asking questions or not.  Mari is usually studying again, writing a paper or taking a test.

No day is exactly the same.  There is orphan snuggling.  There is encouraging of others.  Sometimes we meet an El Salvador Congress member.  Sometimes we have dinner with United Nations employees.  Sometimes we build on Esperanza.

And sometimes Alex just scrapes rat poo off of roofs.  We just never know what the day will hold!  You see, our days aren’t all that unusual….. except when a giant rhino beetle turns up in your shoe…….

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Update on Esperanza

Have you ever done something small, and then that small thing snowballed into something that quickly became something more than you ever dreamed possible?  Something beyond what you think you can do or handle?  You know when you are in ocean, wading up to your ankles, pleasantly letting the water wash over your feet.   Then out of absolutely no where, a giant wave hits you smack in the face and knocks you clear off your feet?  That is what underestimation feels like.

I was just reading in Isaiah today, God was speaking about his sovereignty, his power, his oneness… and he said, “I will equip you.” Simple. Powerful. Profound.

God will equip us. He said so. If I’m asking him to use me, if he calls me out on that blasted water to take a walk, well then gosh darn it, He’s gonna keep me from sinking.  Its when we try to do it on our own that we sink and flail about, searching for a dinghy.

Alex and I began Esperanza as a tiny nugget of a dream… Now it is…. on the cusp of something magnificent that can be huge for the youth and families of El Salvador.   In the days to come I’m going to share with you where the program is at, where it is going, and how you can help.  Its all about these kids.

But in the mean time, here are some gorgeous photos that will give you a tiny peek into what is going down!!View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

{Photo credit: Adore Photography}

Its about these kids. And the time they are spending with their mentors.  The mentors who’s lives are changing as they learn new skills, and become role models to the younger ones.  Its about the moms and dads earning a fair wage.   Its about the families who never dreamed college would be possible for their children.  Its about every second they spend at the community center (temporarily housed in the church) is one more second they are safe  inside with us.  Its about not letting the evil forces controlling this country steal one more person from us.

This is how God moves. He moves in the people, in their lives.  He moves in you, every time you purchase one of our goods.  Every time you write with your pen, use your bottle stopper in your wine, wear your scarf, order a bed for a child in need, this is God working for good, through you.  Since the beginning he has used average, every day people to achieve his goals!  He can use you too if you let him.

esperanzaCollageGo to www.hopeforfutures.com to donate to the program!  Or leave a comment for more information on how your group, business or church can get involved by placing an order to sell at your personal event.

 

 

 

 

Lives of El Salvador: Giovanni

Giovanni Bonilla

View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

{photo credit: Loren & Mary Beth Noyes}

The first thing that hits you when you meet Giovanni is his incredible smile. He is rarely with out it. The reason his smile is so memorable, is because few people in life wear one with the genuineness, that Giovanni does. Giovanni is a son, a husband and a father in Puerto La Libertad. He is one of the pastors of a church here fighting for the youth of the city. Giovanni is committed to reaching and ministering to as many at-risk children and teens as he can. He stands in the gap in places where no one else will. He is a loving, dedicated husband and father, director of worship, and an amazing friend.   I have the distinct honor of working with him. Here is more of his story:

M- Giovanni, what event would you say has had the biggest impact on your life?

G- Jesus. Without a doubt the day I knew that Jesus was my savior and wanted to know me. Absolutely it was Jesus.

M- How old were you?

G- I was 13 years old when someone shared with me the salvation of Jesus Christ. My whole perspective changed, the way I was thinking about my life. Because you see, I didn’t come from a loving home. It wasn’t nurturing, I didn’t receive a lot of love, hugs or kisses from my family. But when I met Jesus, I knew his amazing love for me.

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M- Can you tell me more about how your perspective changed? How was your life different with a relationship with Jesus?

G- Well, I was really depressed and thought a lot about suicide. I was not happy at all, and I would for sure be dead right now without Jesus in my life. I had a really hard time growing up. My dad committed suicide 25 days before I was born. Can you imagine? When our children are about to be born this is a time of anticipation, happiness, and excitement. So to know my dad killed himself right before I was to be born was really painful. And I grew up with this pain. I thought a lot about committing suicide. It was really hard…. To know that I wasn’t exciting to my dad…. So without Jesus, I would either be dead or with a lot of girlfriends. Probably with many kids.

M- If you could change one thing about your country what would it be?

G- That’s a hard question. I think I would change people’s attitudes about how they see God. Here many people know God is real, but their attitude is like he is a genie for when they need something.   Or like he is a fireman. They only want to call to God when there is a fire, an emergency or problem in their lives. They don’t know that God doesn’t just want us to know of him. God wants us to KNOW him, He wants to love us, for us to love him. He wants a relationship with us. On our flag of El Salvador it says, “God, Unity and Freedom.” God is first for a reason. I would like my country to know that is where He should be in our lives too.

M- What would you say is El Salvador’s greatest strength?

G- My people are hard workers. We have a saying, “El Salvadoreño se rebusca.” It basically means we do whatever it takes. Take a rock, paint the rock and sell it. Whatever it takes. It is such hard life here.  But the people are so strong and work so hard.

M-Thank you so much for being so open to sharing your story Giovanni. I hope that if someone is reading this, who maybe doesn’t know Jesus, or is depressed will find hope from what you shared.

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Everyone who has ever met Giovanni feels like they have made a friend for life, which ironically is how Giovanni also describes the way he feels about meeting Jesus. He is right, El Salvadoreños are hard workers, who do whatever it takes to care for the ones they love. Giovanni is one of those people. I’ve been blessed to call him and his wife Susanna my dear friends for many years, and am so thankful for the amazing people they are.

Giovanni is one of the reasons for this series about the Lives of El Salvador. I want you to know more than negative headlines and the murder rate here.  We want you to know the caring, loving people who are breaking negative cycles.  We want you to know them personally.  Dads and moms just like you and me, who love our children.  We aren’t such a big world after all.  We are all in this together.  Especially considering all of the hate that’s erupting all over the U.S. and the world, we need to rise up together and say we have had enough.  We need to give, to love, to experience the joy of generosity with nothing to gain.  Only then will the hate be quashed.

Leave a comment or ask how you can help Love Like Crazy and walk beside us in La Libertad.

And finally….

We want you to know that if you are depressed, feel alone, and you think your only option is suicide…. please don’t.  Find someone who knows Jesus and know there is a deeper, more lasting love than you can ever imagine. Please find someone to help you.  A counselor, a teacher, a friend.  Giovanni will testify that there is hope and joy to be found in a relationship with Jesus.

Power of Story

Lives of El Salvador: Samuel

 

 

 

 

Lives of El Salvador: Samuel

I would like to introduce you to Samuel Rivas.  He is a twenty-three year old student, working towards a degree in graphic design.  Samuel sings in the worship band at his church, volunteers to teach kids basic computer skills at the child development center, is a mentor in the church youth group and is a devoted son to his parents Maurice and Maria Elena.  He wakes up at 4 am each day to take a bus to go to the university in San Salvador.  He cares deeply about his relationship with God, his family, friends and his country.

View More: http://adorephotograph.pass.us/projecthope

[Photo Credit: Loren & Mary Beth Noyes}

M: Samuel, what is the biggest challenge you faced growing up in El Salvador?

S: “The biggest challenge growing up here is the lack of dreams people have and also there are very few people who can realize their dreams.  There are very few resources accessible to achieve them.”

M: If you could ask your president anything, what would it be?

S: “If I could say anything, hmmm… I would say that he should stop thinking of his political party, and start thinking of his country.  Start making laws, follow through on his objectives, stop forgetting them, and to stop the criminals once and for all.”

M: How do you see God working in your life?

S: “Every day God works in my life from the air that I breath, to the works of His creation.  I see Him in the care of my family, how He has never left us, and greater still how He is always  helping us and giving us strength.”

M: If you could change one thing for the kids here, what would it be?

S: I would change the education.  The education system is deficient and not good quality. I would implement lessons from the Bible in the schools and the teaching of Jesus.

I am so thankful that Samuel was willing to open up and share a snapshot of his story.  In a world that only sees news about young men getting involved in gangs, young men who’s only focus is womanizing, selfishness, and abuse, you need to know there are better men than what you have seen.  So here is a man of God who willingly and voluntarily is caring for his family, and fighting for the youth of his country.

As I mentioned in “Power of Story,” I will be posting a new story of a person every week.  So don’t miss a week, and subscribe over on the right!

 

 

Maybe Tomorrow

 

I go to an orphanage, torn in my heart whether I actually want to do it. Fighting the feeling. I procrastinate and I stall.  Maybe tomorrow. But I get in the car.

“But you’re a missionary!”  you think to yourself now.

You might even now be asking yourself, “Isn’t that what you went there to do? Stop complaining, you asked for this. You are being paid, by other people, from their salaries to do this exact job.”

I go to the orphanage and they are excited to see me. And I them.  My jaw hurts from smiling so hard.  I hold the baby with no muscle tone at 1 year close to my beating heart and never want to let her go.  That beating heart in so much pain because I know how this came to be.  Wanting nothing more in the world than to take both of them into my heart and home and love them as if I had carried and birthed them both. Her 15 year old mom looks on, as I hold her baby with all the experience 4 babies has given me.

I leave the baby house to go visit the older kids.  Kids who have endured horrors no child should, and now live in an institution. They run up and ask for Alex and my biological kids.  They smile and group hug me, even though I’m a lone visitor for the day.

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They forgive me for not visiting in so long.  Illnesses had me away for a few months, but they welcome me back.

You think, “You’ve haven’t been in months? What have you been doing? You’ve let them down like every other adult in their lives.”

I get back in my car amid 15 kids watching me leave. Again. I roll down my window and shout an “I love You!”  I shut the window and I can breath again.  Breaths coming in gasps.  I drive home to my husband and my kids.  Nothing can break the images running in my head and the pressure on my chest that remains after relinquishing her. I can still feel her heavy on my heart.

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You are probably thinking, “Why do you even bother? You will just keep hurting them by coming, and going without them. Just stop.”

 

And that voice, questioning me and my inaction, and my inability to give these kids families?  It kicks my emotional ass all night long.

It was mine all along.  The voice telling me I’m not enough.  Questioning me. All me.

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{photo credit: Samuel Rivas}

The only respite, the gracious quiet voice that comforts deep in my soul.  The voice that is not mine.

“They are mine Mari. Not yours.  Consider the lilies of the fields, and the sparrows…do I not love them infinitely more than you? Do I not weep for them with more tears?  This is not yours to fix.  They are yours to love. Feel it, and go back.”

I’m a missionary in El Salvador.  Some days I yell at the people I love, and lose my patience.  Dogs get into bathroom trashes (where all our TP goes), and food burns to pans on stove tops whose only setting is high and medium.  Floors need mopping every day, which is annoying and I let it do just that, annoy me. Some days I don’t want to go do the hard things.  Missionaries are just people.  We’re real, and fallible.  But that Father, who will never fail a single one of us, He is mine too.  And full of grace.  So I can grant myself grace.  But maybe tomorrow.

 

Power of Story

When I was a little girl my mom would sit out in the hall, with 3 bedroom doors open, her five children already tucked in, and she would open a book.  As she read to us, Mom would make the story and the characters come alive. She would do different voices, dramatize and make the ink on the page become so much more than printed letters.

I think those nights being told a story are a huge part of why I love story today.  Now I read to my kids, I read for myself, but more than this, I love to learn the stories of the people I encounter.

Humans crave story. Whether in a book, play, song, poem, movie or television, we want feel what the story is saying.  We can learn about ourselves.  We can learn about others. We can escape for a moment in time.

Being open to someone else’s story, if they let you in, is an incredible gift.  I am not a fan of superficial or casual friendships.  I want to KNOW you. Start at the beginning, first grade if necessary.  Knowing a person, and their life, takes bravery, because you will begin to care.  Caring about others outside of ourselves, outside of our bubble, is like putting on glasses for the first time!  The whole world becomes vivid, worthwhile and interesting. And you will care about it.  When you care about something, then you take action. When you care about someone, you start to love, and if the whole world started to care, and love a whole lot more???? A revolution.

With this is mind, I’m going to begin a series on stories of individuals.  Living, breathing, thinking, feeling, individuals, of El Salvador.  Its easy to just read news articles, or hear what the media wants you to hear and believe…. but that is not the real El Salvador.  I always tell people, the real story of El Salvador are the hard working, faithful people who love their country and each other.

Make sure you subscribe over there on the right side bar.  Once a week you will receive a a new story.  I will never flood your inbox.  Be brave, open yourself to someone’s story, you will be so happy you did.

12716395_10207284904514362_7976793031138941208_o{incredible photo credit: Loren Noyes}