We just got back from an incredible trip down in El Salvador. We brought a large team of people and two dozen suitcases filled with dresses, shoes, jewelry, and makeup. Seems a bit strange, right?
A few years ago, one of our short term teams discovered something really unique about teenage girls living in Latin American orphanages. We learned that for all of the girls, one of the deepest wounds of not having a family was missing out on having a quincenera. In Latin culture, the 15th birthday for girls symbolizes a transition into womanhood, and for most girls, it is more important than their wedding.
As followers of Jesus, our aim is to meet tangible needs with love and joy, in order that we might open the doors to point them to their savior Jesus who is the only one who can truly satisfy their hearts. On previous El Salvador trips we have fed meals to people living on the streets and pointed them to Jesus, the bread of life. We have built homes for people living in the jungles and pointed them to Jesus, our ultimate shelter and protection. After many conversations with girls in the orphanages, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to heal an emotional wound and point to the Great Healer.
Two years ago, we saw this vision come to life for the first time. This summer with a new team, we had the chance to do it again. Here’s how it went:
We arrived in El Salvador with our packed suitcases of donated items, then spent the first days visiting girls orphanages and surprising the teenage girls with the news that in just a few days, we would be celebrating their quincenera. At each orphanage, we would lay everything we brought, let the girls try on clothes, pick their outfits, and watch their faces light up. We painted nails, waxed eyebrows, and made them feel like princesses for a day.
On the day of the party, we rented a fancy ballroom at a hotel and threw a giant party for 90 girls from the orphanages. Most of these girls had never had a birthday party and never been to a hotel. It was an incredible night that these girls will never forget. And most importantly, we had an amazing opportunity to introduce these girls to Jesus. What a joy it is to spend a day showing these orphan girls that they are loved, they are beautiful, and they are not forgotten. What an opportunity it is to point them to Jesus, who loves them, made them beautiful, knows them by name, and has never forgotten them.
We had the chance to preach the gospel every step of the way, from the first days we met them in the orphanages, to the night of the quincenera party as we gathered together to celebrate.
You will also see some footage at the end of the Hernandez family. This was the family who we had the privilege of building a house for last summer. They lost a son to cancer in October, and we got to visit them again, help to build a kitchen and bathroom for their house with money that was raised, and bring them video clips and framed images of their son that we took last summer. One of my favorite clips is when the family is gathered around my iPad, watching a video clip of their son laughing and talking. I filmed that video last summer, just a few months before his cancer returned and he passed away. His family had no idea that we had these videos, and it was a powerful moment to watch them together.