The Call to Help the Christian Persecuted Countries of Asia

World Changers on Mission: Part 4 of 4

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Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are stepping out in faith to serve the Access Restricted Nations of Asia

Half the world’s population is located in Asia, dominated by the world religions of Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Animism. My 2 hands and 2 feet joined those of 9 other Christians to deliver encouragement and training to a spiritually dark country in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA). ARNA comprises the world’s unreached people, mainly because of the governments’ opposition to Christianity. Ethnos Asia Ministries is one catalyst for change—supporting local pastors and Christians to bring The Good News.

Don’t miss the earlier blogs of the mission team’s travels, challenges, and successes

Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air in the Persecuted Christian Countries of Asia

Christian Persecuted Countries of Asia: Update in the Region

Mission to a Christian Persecuted Country in Asia

Before our team would depart to our God-chosen county, a speaker at the EAM conference reminded us of the eagle’s story of determination and struggle to survive. If an eagle is brave enough, persistent enough, and willing to get uncomfortable enough, it can live for nearly 70 years. However, to do so it must make some hard decisions in its 40’s, requiring it to transform its body to live a second half.

By its mid-life, an eagle’s long and flexible talons become curled, so it cannot grab prey. Its beak becomes mangled, so it can’t tear and eat food. Without a functioning beak, the eagle cannot pluck out its old-aged feathers that stick to its chest and can make flying difficult. An eagle is left with two options: die or go through the painful process of renewal.

If it doesn’t transform, the eagle will not survive. When an eagle chooses to live, it flies to its nest to undergo a 150-day process by tearing out its talons and beating its beak against the rock until it’s knocked out. Eventually, a new keratin beak and talons grow back, so the eagle can then pick out its dead feathers. This is the rebirth of the eagle! Biologically this story doesn’t hold water, as a bird cannot live without food for 150 days; however, this story has circulated the internet for years based on its ability to inspire the human spirit.

I love this eagle story, because it represents so well the transformational work that EAM is undertaking in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia. Traditional ways of sharing the Gospel in religious tolerant countries don’t translate well in ARNA. EAM has to continually transform itself to make this life-long journey and catch the wind of the Holy Spirit.

Who is EAM?

Ethnos Asia Ministries’ mission is to strengthen and serve the Body of Christ in ARNA. Their visionary goals are to:

  • Mobilize the Body of Christ worldwide for ministry into ARNA
  • Provide training, Bibles, and other Christian literature to national leaders
  • Help meet the physical and material needs of Christians who are persecuted and in difficult situations

Do any of these goals tug at your heart? Can you see your passion and gifting coming to life in supporting the following goals?

  • Network with local and national churches and other Christian organizations to develop missionary partnerships
  • Leverage prayer mobilization programs [prayer conferences, monthly prayer guides, prayer net, and prayer journeys] to minister to the ARNA
  • Develop and host mission conferences, creating an opportunity to hear and respond to the voice of the persecuted Christians in Asia
  • Launch national and regional leadership training and other programs through the Church Empowerment Program (CEP)
  • Mobilize Christian business communities who have a heart for serving ARNA
  • Implement relief and development programs as a result of believers’ persecution, poverty, political unrest, calamities, famine, and illnesses

Could you see yourself involved in any of these initiatives? EAM is looking for partners. What is God putting on your heart? What do you need to say yes to?

Visit http://www.ethnosasia.org to learn how to get involved in Ethnos Asia Ministries


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Mission to a Christian Persecuted Country in Asia

World Changers on Mission: Part 3 of 4

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Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are acting as the Lord’s hands and feet in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia

As I learned from attending the Ethnos Asian Ministries (EAM) conference in Thailand, spiritual darkness is the norm in many countries in Asia, especially those identified as the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA). My mission journey continued after the conference to one of those not-to-be-identified Asian countries, further referred to as “Country”, that was suffering from severe spiritual oppression. I was blessed with the opportunity to experience what it’s like to walk among Buddhists while cloaking my Christian faith under the disguise of a tourist.

Our mission was to encourage and bring 2 days of training to Christian pastors across the Country. Luke [pseudo], the EAM Country Pastor, called in 50 pastors of the underground church from across the country to convene with our team at his church. Our team sponsored their transportation, lodging, and food for this time of connection.

When our team of 10 arrived in Country, I was impressed with its beauty and how the people welcomed its guests. We got to explore the town, settle into our hotel, and ask lots of questions about the culture.

Saturday: First Day in the Country Mission Field

On the first morning I wondered where we would be training. We drove a short distance and parked in front of a multi-level tenement. Where were we? We’re here! Where’s here? The guide pointed toward an open doorway.

We walked breathlessly up 5 flights of stairs until we reached the top-level. Piles of shoes were scattered in front of a closed door on the left. Behind the door in front of us was a bathroom. And the third door to the right was open with much food prep and conversation by women cooking in the kitchen. This enclosed area also included a bedroom, office, and more bathrooms.

The fifth floor of the building, which would normal house 2 apartments, had been converted into a church and its administration areas. We heard music coming through the door on the left and took off our shoes to enter. What would have been an apartment with several rooms was converted into one big area with a small stage of instruments and pulpit and carpets laid out for the congregation to sit.

The praise and worship on a Saturday morning had already started with the voices of 50 pastors and 20 church members. With only an estimated 12,000 Christians in this country, we felt awed to be fellow-shipping with so many at one time. We were told some pastors spoke English, but we had hired a translator, Kevin [pseudo], to ensure our messages were understood. Kevin was originally from Indian, 10 years a pastor, with a wife and son living in the United States. He was working towards a VISA so he could join his wife. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my husband for such a length of time, but these are the common stories of those with restricted freedoms.

The initial plan was team introductions, then half the team would stay to train, and the other half would tour the city. The next day the team members would reverse after the church service. After the greetings and team introductions, John [pseudo] led an ice-breaker to get the pastors interacting as many did not know one another. He asked each pastor to share (1) a personal fact, (2) a gift or passion, (3) a hope/need for the training, and (4) a hope/need for 2019. I loved hearing the cacophony of conversations in the room as the pastors opened to one another.

As everyone settled cross-legged on the floor, Andrew [pseudo] and Sarah [pseudo] delivered a combined message about fear and our identity in Christ. I briefly added how I too had an irrational fear of public speaking. Satan will always attack you where God wants to use you most for His glory. I knew I had to overcome my fear of public speaking, because God wanted to use me to help others through my training, words, and messages.

The remainder of the day was earmarked for Darin and me to share on the topics of (1) leadership, (2) marriage strengthening, (3) sharing the Gospel, and (4) spiritual warfare. Having a marriage ministry, we decided to start with relationship strengthening. Little could we have imagined that we’d be closing the day without even finishing the topic. The pastors were thirsty for this information, and Kevin couldn’t have delivered the content any better with his humor and passion.

The touring half of the team returned to the church, and we ended the day by breaking the team into men and women, so we could minister to their gender needs. I wasn’t privy to what the men did with the pastors, but the women crammed into one big bedroom with their children, and Nancy [pseudo] led a discussion about the Father’s love through the concept of love letter. The women were excited to receive their Love-Faith-Hope necklace and small gift bags. Because women are treated as second-class citizens in this culture, they are in desperate need of encouragement. It’s common for husbands to have mistresses with wives getting seconds, and we wanted to make these women feel special even if only for an hour.

The team was happily exhausted by the end of the day, because we were able to serve our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. Going into this mission, I thought “leadership” would have been the most sought after topic. Who knows, it may have been, but we never got the chance to deliver it. Marriage strengthening was definitely on their minds once the pastors got a taste of it.

We said our good-byes, grabbed dinner, shopped, and then drove back to the hotel to get a good night’s rest. As Darin and I laid in bed about to turn out the light, our room phone rang. Hello? It was our team leader. Mary [pseudo] said she’d just gotten off the phone with Pastor Luke, who’d debriefed with the pastors. All 50 pastors said they only wanted to hear more about marriage. Others team members would give up slots, if Darin and I would dive into marriage strengthening for a second day. We were there for the pastors, so yes, we would make it happened. I hung up the phone and turned to Darin, “We’ve got some brainstorming to do.” Within a short period of time, we’d developed an outline of more material we could cover.

Sunday: Second Day in the Country Mission Field

“Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory!” Excited for another day in this beautiful country, fellow-shipping with beautiful people. I just wished I could take them home to the United States, even for a brief time, so they could experience the peace of openly professing and sharing their faith. I can only imagine how wonderful the contrast must be to someone who must always suppress their beliefs.

When we returned to church the second day, the team was greeted with smiles and many more faces. A Sunday service and the message that our team was in town, drew more women, men, and children into the church. It was standing room only with about 120 people. After praise and worship, Mark [pseudo] gave a sermon about love, and then Susan [pseudo], along with the Sunday school teacher, escorted the kids to the big bedroom for an age-appropriate lesson. I knew there was a reason I packed my favorite fable, The Three Trees. Susan used the story as part of her time with the kids.

Darin and I were up on stage once again, writing on the white board while the pastors took notes. We continued with the 5 Love Languages and His Needs/Her Needs. We were surprised to learn that the local language didn’t have a word for “romantic”. In this culture there are few romantic terminologies. Sorry ladies!

We then talked about Biblical marriage, and I emphasized that Christians need to look to the Bible for God’s definition of a successful marriage and how to treat our spouse. Satan owns the earthly world and will distorted the role of man, woman, and marriage. Afterwards, the pastors wanted our notes and told us that they felt more equipped to handle married couples, who were coming to them with marriage problems.

When Pastor Luke wrapped up the day, I did appreciate his “assumptive close” as he shared that the pastors were looking forward to our return next year, so they bring their wives. We’d love to host a couples’ workshop, but unfortunately, God put a vision on our hearts for next year to bring marriage strengthening to the African nations. I would love to return to this country within the next couple of years to further invest in these folks who so enthusiastically want more.

Our goodbyes were bitter sweet. What a wonderful journey to this country to meet so many of my geographically separated brothers and sisters. I will miss them, but at the same time I know that I’ll see them again. They are family who just live half way across the world and where we don’t get to spend every Christmas and Easter together.

What Did God Show Me?

God always shows me a truth or gives me a message when I go into the mission field, and this mission was no exception. He showed me once again how thirsty the third world countries are for marriage strengthening. We had an indication of this when we went to Bogota, Columbia in July 2018 and were guest marriage speakers at the Coffee for Two church event. The EAM mission solidified that marriage message.

About 9 months ago, God also put a Marriage Vision 2020 on our hearts to take the perspectives and tools that we use for our marriage ministry to east Africa (Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania). The thirst of the pastors in this country overwhelmingly validated what we are called to do. Although Africa is in our sights for next year, we told our team leader we could return to Asia in 2021 to deliver more marriage strengthening and spend 2-3 days in 3 or 4 ARNA countries.

When you cry out to have a meaningful versus a comfortable life, God will stretch you and take you places beyond your imagination. I expect to be stretched in how to develop and unfold the marriage strengthening material into third world cultures where (1) women have a different status than men, (2) tribal affiliations create barriers, and (3) where socioeconomic caste systems create divergent lens in how to view marriage. As confident as I feel about delivering marriage strengthening to America couples, I believe I am early on the learning curve to take it to the nations.

To learn more about Ethnos Asia Ministries and their work in the ARNA field, visit www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Christian Persecuted Countries of Asia: Update in the Region

World Changers on Mission: Part 2 of 4

If you got out a world map, would you be able to place your finger on the country of Nepal? What about Bangladesh? Or what about the small country of Bhutan, which is the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined. Like most Americans, I feel geographically challenged with countries half way around the world, which explains why I also feel disconnected from what’s going on in that region. Ethnos Asia Ministries (EAM) changed my perspective through the stories told by underground Christian pastors from each of the countries in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA).

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I’ve been a Christian for almost a decade, heard accounts of Christian persecution, and attributed most of the horror stories to radical ISIS followers. What I learned was the ugliness of Christian persecution is wielded by Satan’s grip on the hearts and minds of government leaders and citizens who live in fear. At the EAM conference, stories unfolded of the struggles and successes in bringing the Gospel to the unreached tribes. My learning curve is steep, and my words limited, so in the interest of only starting the conversation, I will share a few points about each ARNA country with the hopes that your heart would be stirred by the Holy Spirit to learn more and act on God’s calling.

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Photos, names, dates, and specifics are limited to protect the identities and work of those pastors and missionaries who are acting as the Lord’s hands and feet in the Access Restricted Nations of Asia

East Asia

China: Socialist Republic—1.3 billion people—50% don’t identify with any religion

  • Christianity still growing despite the government’s control; the middle class has a strong spiritual hunger for the Lord
  • Anyone preaching the Gospel without a government license can be fined $1500 US and a property owner, where underground house church services are held, can be fined $3000 US
  • Facial recognition cameras are installed in all churches so pastors cannot leave the country

North Korea: Socialist Republic—25 million people—99% atheists

  • Rampant poverty and 80% of children are undernourished
  • Christians considered hostile elements in society with the government as the primary driver of persecution
  • Freedom of religion and its ceremonies are constitutionally guaranteed but are government restricted. Only 4 government-sanctioned churches exist and are used as a showcase for foreigners

Himalayan Region

Bhutan: Constitutional Monarchy—0.7 million people—75% Buddhist

  • Wangchuk dynasty has ruled Bhutan for over a century and only allowed its first tourists in 1974
  • Bhutanese Christians face loss of citizenship, free education, health care, employment and access to utilities. Despite harassment and beatings, groups of believers are increasing
  • Buddhism, animism, and mysticism have dominated the country since the 7th century with a non-Buddhist typically practicing Hinduism

Nepal: Parliamentary Republic—29 million people—80% Hindu

  • Over 125 languages spoken among 125 ethnic groups/castes
  • Christian population small but growing with each of the 75 districts having a church plant
  • Fastest growing Christian population in the Himalayan region
  • Religious freedom is allowed under Nepalese law, but restrictions are imposed on non-Hindu groups in which Christians can be fined and imprisoned for sharing their faith

Northeast India: Parliamentary Republic—45 million people—55% Hindu

  • Many young people are moving to mainland India for study and work
  • No opposition to spreading the Gospel but experiencing a general spiritual decline
  • The three major Christian denominations are Baptists, Catholics, and Presbyterians

Indian Subcontinent

Afghanistan: Islamic Republic—34 million people—99% Muslim

  • Widespread child marriage and serious drug problems with the country growing 90% of the world’s opium producing poppies
  • Blasphemy is punishable by death for males over 18 and girls over 16 years and conversion of Islam can be punishable by death
  • Majority of Muslim’s are Sunni (80%) and Shia (15%) with limited numbers of Christians
  • Most Afghans live in poverty with little employment, so those who fight for the Taliban do so for wages

Bangladesh: Parliamentary Republic—159 million people—90% Muslim

  • Country is quite secular although culturally the citizens observe Muslim festivals like Ramadan and take the pilgrimage to Mecca
  • The constitution permits freedom of religion but conversion, openly sharing the Gospel, and criticizing Islam is not allowed
  • Bawm tribe celebrated 100 years of Christianity in 2018

Maldives: Presidential Republic—0.3 million people—99% Muslim

  • Has one of the highest divorce rates in the world with rising crime, gang activity, child abuse, and pervasive drug use
  • While some freedoms have expanded through democracy, Islam is the official and only religion
  • Traditional belief in spirits combined with Islam leave many citizens trapped in fear and no access to the Gospel in these isolated islands
  • Visitors can bring their Bible and practice religion at home but cannot invite a Maldives citizen to join

Pakistan: Constitutional Republic—207 million people—96% Muslim

  • Most heroin-addicted country in the world
  • Has the most notorious blasphemy laws against Christians and is the center of the unevangelized world
  • Despite constitutional guarantees of religious freedom, this is the world’s most persecuted nation for Christians
  • Most women have never been to school and children are arranged to be married at 7. Wives see their husbands on their wedding night and can be returned because of their skin color

Sri Lanka: Constitutional Republic—2 million—70% Buddhist

  • Significant increases in alcoholism, suicide, violence, and rape
  • Converts from Buddhism and Hinduism suffer the most discrimination in the form of harassment, discrimination, and marginalization from family and community
  • Converting a Muslim to Christianity can invoke capital punishment

Indo-China

Cambodia: Constitutional Monarchy—16 million—97% Buddhist

  • Rapid adoption to the Western lifestyle of materialism in the city and rampant drug use
  • Freedom to worship and preach the Gospel with young people comprising 80% of the church members
  • Islam is perceived as gentle because Islamic militancy has not yet influenced Muslims in the country

Laos: Socialist Republic—7 million people—65% Buddhist

  • Run by the communist party and led by eleven people
  • Thai culture has a heavy influence because of similar language
  • Government-approved Lao National church plants numbered 100 in 2018 and hundreds more of underground churches
  • Buddhism is considered a Lao religion and Christians need government permit to celebrate any Christian festival

Myanmar: Constitutional Republic—55 million people—90% Buddhist

  • Drug production second to Afghanistan; opium and methamphetamine are widespread
  • Many churches have buildings but fail to reach out to surrounding areas
  • Rohingya, refugee community, are Muslim minority of 1 million not recognized as citizens
  • Infighting for Buddhist positions between older and young monks

Thailand: Constitutional Republic—68 million people—95% Buddhist

  • Thai, Buddhism, and nationality tightly intertwined which hinders the conversation to Christianity
  • Monks receive special status and government benefits

Vietnam: Socialist Republic—97 million people—no faith declaration

  • Persecution is not as intense as it has been in previous years
  • Buddhism is still the predominant religions along with Cao Dai and Hoa Hao

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What Now?

Pray! Across these 15 Asian countries, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Muslim are keeping their citizens in spiritual darkness by squeezing tighter around their minds, hearts, and souls. Pray for the people of these nations who live in fear and ignorance, that they may hear the Gospel and know the love of Jesus. Pray that Christians will be invited and willingly go into these countries to share the Gospel. Pray for spiritual revival and the Holy Spirit to sweep through these Asian countries. Pray that the lives of Christians will shine in contrast to the hatred and prejudice of extremists and draw people towards Christ.

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To learn more about how Ethnos Asia Ministries, their mission, vision, and goals visit www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air in the Persecuted Christian Countries of Asia

World Changers on Mission: Part 1 of 4

I belong to the tribe of America, which means I enjoy the rights of free speech and choice of religion without government interference. Having been born and raised in the United States, to a certain extent I take these freedoms for granted. Why so? I suppose because I haven’t had to personally fight for them like the Pilgrims did when they fled Europe and crossed the Atlantic hundreds of years ago to escape religious persecution.

IMG_9334AI recently attended the Ethnos Asian Ministry’s (EAM) conference in Thailand which opened by eyes to the persecution that most of the world faces with regards to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Only Thailand, a country that sits in the middle of the Access Restricted Nations of Asia (ARNA), retains a spirit of religious freedom. You may wonder how Christians suffer in neighboring countries such as Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Myanmar.

Some ARNA Christians are labelled traitors to their culture, family, and community. Persecution can range from rude comments to physical violence, property seizure, church destruction, and eviction from their homes. Arrest and imprisonment are all common retribution. Many cannot trust their own families, who are encouraged to turn them into the authorities for a reward. Many believers in Indochina have lost everything but their faith in Jesus. Would you have the strength and courage to believe and serve Jesus in the midst of this type of persecution? How uncomfortable are you willing to be for the love of Jesus?

In this multi-part series, I’ll share more about the dynamics of countries that restrict or persecute Christians, what it’s like to go into an ARNA country as a devout Christ follower, and an organization whose mission is to strengthen and serve the Body of Christ in these countries. Do not be discouraged, because even with all these challenges, the Lord of the Harvest continues to win soles.

Thailand: A Breath of Fresh Air

On my first day in Thailand, a religiously tolerant country within ARNA, I took a bike tour around the city to learn more about the culture, its religious tendencies, and celebrations. In comparison to other Asian countries, it boasts more tourism and shopping destinations with above par infrastructure and mass transportation systems. I also found the people friendly, helpful, and hardworking, which might be explained by their belief in Karma—a person’s actions in this and previous lives decide his or her fate in future existence.

Thai people, Buddhism, and their nationality are inseparable with 95% of the population claiming to be Buddhist, 4% as Muslim, and a mere 0.5% as Christian. I asked our tour guide, Wit, how the Thai would respond if another Thai claimed to be a Christian. He answered, “They would say, wow. They would be amazed, because it’s so uncommon.”

Our tour took us into a few Buddhist temples, and Wit helped us navigate through the rituals so we wouldn’t offend a Buddha. Take off your shoes, step over the threshold, bring your offerings of food and flowers to place before Buddha. Monks wearing red cloaks walked everywhere. What can monks do and not do? It depends on what religious order they belong to.

DSC02617Similar to other religions, which have denominations ranging from orthodox to liberal, monks have similar hierarchies. Some cannot touch money or women and are dependent on others for gifts of survival. Others embrace the use of cell phones and buying food as a necessity of the times. One thing is certain. Monks get special treatment by the government including free use of public transportation and special seating status equivalent to pregnant, elderly, and injured.

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Who can become a monk? Any male can become a monk. Many parents encourage their sons toward the monastery, so they can ride their son’s coat-tails into heaven. How long do monks have to serve? In recent times and with the pressure to provide for their families, some men take only 2 weeks off from work to become a monk. Although his plan was to be a monk for 3 months, Wit said he lasted only one week. It’s fashionable to be a monk at least once in your lifetime.

Our tour of the local markets overwhelmed us with food, flavors, and flowers. Flowers are shipped into the cities from the countryside to be used for offerings to Buddha and weddings. I thought of Biblical times when families brought their best sheep to the temple as a sacrifice. With Buddhism it’s less messy and more colorful. Thailand has a whole economy sustained by the growing and offering of flowers to Buddha.

Why is it difficult for me to embrace Buddhism? My tongue in cheek answer is that my memory just isn’t good enough to keep track of all the gods. Wit told us there are 37 gods. Another person told us there were millions of gods. Did Wit forget some?

I’d rather nurture my personal relationship with Jesus. It feels real, close, and loving, and I only need to keep track of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. I can manage that.

Learn more about the Access Restricted Nations of Asia by visiting Ethnos Asia Ministries (EAM) at http://www.ethnosasia.org


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She serves in the local and global mission fields and has a heart to help others be the best version of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

Are You Taking Your Faith for Granted?


♦♦ Shh! I can’t talk about it. ♦♦

What? My Christian faith Why? Because I might be beaten, homeless, or without a country How? Because it’s the law


take for grantedThat—is the truth—for many Christians in Access-Restricted Nations in Asia—commonly referred to as “ARNA”. In many countries across the world, and especially in America, we have the freedom of religious choice, its expression as long as we don’t infringe on others’ freedoms, and many legal protections. Sadly, there are several countries in Asia where Christianity is a crime, and Christians are subject to physical torture, mental harassment, and denial of school admissions, traveling abroad, bank loans, utilities, trade/business licenses, civil service promotions, and gainful employment. The government won’t issue citizenship certificates to Christians, and they are excluded from the census. In many ways, Christians in ARNA are displaced people—people without a country.

Persecution and Suffering

As a Christ follower, who loves the Lord with all my heart, I need to ask myself, “Could I withstand this level of persecution and still profess my faith to the leaders of my community and country?” It’s almost unimaginable to Americans, and I believe no Christian could ever know what  he or she would do until faced with that situation. Given that many Christians, even today, are persecuted while others enjoy asylum, have you seriously asked yourself whether you’re taking your faith for granted. There are populations who pay a heavy price for the gift of salvation and would trade shoes with those who can openly express their love of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

Mission

I have an intense curiosity to learn more about my Christian brothers and sisters living nearly 10,000 miles away and in fear of “being found out” as they continue to fulfill God’s command to go make disciples and spread the Good News. I want to know more about my Christian family—what they suffer, what they believe, how they live and remain hopeful. I have to go and give them whatever encouragement I can to not grow weary and not give up the fight.

In a few weeks I will be traveling with a team to an ARNA country. I will be packing teachings, a few goodies, and my encouragement, and I hope to bring back their stories. I wish I could share more publicly about where we will go, who we will see, and what we plan on doing, but anonymity protects our brothers and sisters.

Please pray for the team’s safety, health, and ability to make a difference in the lives of the people in ARNA

Perhaps it’s been while since you prayed, opened the Bible, or even attended church service. Don’t worried or fearful. God’s patiently waiting to hear from you and ready to celebrate—just like the father of the prodigal son.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, finances, and ministry. She coaches individuals and couples to be the best versions of themselves. You can contact Sandra at shinecrossings@gmail.com

 

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: God’s Timing Is Perfect

November 30, 2018


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Friday’s Scriptures

Ecclesiastes 3:1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens

Acts 1:7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”


IMG_8388Enrique and the boys will finish drilling the well next week. Although we hit water which would normally be enough for normal living activities such as drinking and cooking, our goal was to hit ~ 150 barrels a day to sustain the commercial fish and agricultural projects. No drilling today but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t celebrate. After breakfast we headed into the compound where the boys were sitting in white plastic chairs awaiting our team’s arrival. The podium and band were setup.

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Let’s Celebrate

The LWI and prison staff had developed a formal ceremony to celebrate all that we had done together this week. I was honored to open the ceremony in prayer. Each speaker gave thanks. Eventually, the American team were asked to line up in a single row facing the boys. As we sat looking out toward the boys, Enrique lip-synced: “Thank you for giving to the Lord.”


Songwriter: Raymond H. Boltz

I dreamed I went to heaven; You were there with me; We walked along the streets of gold; Beside the crystal sea; We heard the angels singing; Then someone called your name; You turned and saw a young man; He was smiling as he came; He said friend, you may not know me now; But then he said but wait; You used to teach my Sunday school; When I was only eight; Every week you would say a prayer; Before the class would start; One morning when you said that prayer; I asked Jesus in my heart; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am a life that was changed; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave; Then another man stood before you; And said remember the time; A missionary came to your church; His pictures made you cry; You didn’t have much money; But you gave it anyway; Jesus took the gift you gave; And that’s why I’m here today; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am a life that was changed; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave; One by one they came; As far as the eye could see; Each one somehow touched; By your generosity; Little things that you had done, sacrifices made; Unnoticed on the earth, heaven now proclaims; And I know up in heaven; That you’re not supposed to cry; But I was almost sure; There were tears in your eyes; As Jesus took your hand; And you stood before the Lord; And He said my child look around you; For great is your reward; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am a life that was changed; Thank you for giving to the Lord; I am so glad you gave.


Usually, the kids would reach out their arms when the song gets to “Thank you, for giving to the Lord” but only a handful made the gesture. I wasn’t surprised that many kept their arms by their side to maintain their “tough” crowd mentality in front of each other. I was proud of those few who follow their hearts. As Enrique closed in song, eleven boys walked out, and one stood in from of each of the team. A gold crown made of yellow construction paper was placed on our heads.

Then many of the boys formed a line and gave each one of us a hug. Some hugs were heartfelt, others superficial, and some boys didn’t approach at all. That’s okay. All we can do is plant the seed and let God do His work. It’s all in God’s timing. Father knows best.

Certificates and plaques were given out to acknowledge those who completed their Bible lesson book. As each boy was called to the front to accept his certificate, Pastor David and Norma shook their hand. I thought of PEP graduation and how thrilled the graduates were in their cap and gown, shaking hands, and in many cases receiving their first diploma.

Most of the boys who talked to the front hadn’t graduated from high school or ever received a certificate for accomplishing anything. You could tell by their faces how proud they were as we clapped. The drillers were given separate certificates for their hard work and contribution this week.

20181130_151229478_iOSCarlos’ proudly accepted his plaque, and of course, no group was to be left out. The Dillon’s Friends received a certificate for coming all the way from America to help Freedom’s Path. I loved how everyone who contributed was recognized. And Casey received a special reward—an El Salvador scene painted on wood with the drillers’ names signed on back. A prized possession by any definition.

IMG_8345The boys cheered when the Director mad the announcement that our team was gifting each boy a pair of white Crocs and a toothbrush/toothpaste [Thank you to all the people back home who contributed to the gift]. Glad we could give them a little extra on top of the well. What they didn’t know was their best gift was yet to come, a sermon delivered by Angel who is the poster child of a man brought back from the abyss by a loving Jesus.

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Last Lunch in Prison

At lunch Casey shared a beautiful story of what this mission trip signified in her promises to God. After her trip to Honduras in 2014, she committed to God that she would drill 10 wells and sponsor 1 well within 5 years. She wore 2 rings—one of titanium and the other of tungsten (two hard indestructible metals)—as symbols and a reminder of her promises. This trip, three and a half years later, fulfilled those promises. She didn’t need her rings any more and decided to leave them behind with Enrique, so he could place them above Hunter’s plaque on the well pad when it was poured next week.

I am reminded that God’s timing is perfect. I know many of us were slightly disappointed that we couldn’t finish the well this week and see the fruits of our labor. We know the well is in good hands and will be finished by Enrique and the boys. I take comfort in my belief that God has a bigger plan than we can see in the moment. Perhaps we’re not meant to finish this well, because the boys needed more time with Enrique. Perhaps more time will continue to soften their hearts to accept Jesus. Maybe they needed to feel more love next week to know that change is possible. I don’t know what God has planned, yet what I do know is that I trust God.

Last Praise and Worship

My favorite group of boys [yes, I have favorites] asked if the team would stay after lunch and have one more praise and worship service. We couldn’t say no to a request like that! So, we returned once again to the small building setup with a keyboard and rows of white plastic chairs. Luckily the whole team got to experience a service and converse with these boys.

IMG_8405Before leaving, we were asked to form a circle. Then the boys made a circle around us and started praying and laying hands on us. Afterwards, both the team and boys were hugging and crying. Many boys desperately wanted us to stay—to be a light in their days of darkness. I wish I could stay.

Robert seemed incredibly moved by his experience in his own country, which isn’t surprising for someone taking his first mission trip. For one whose been on multiple trips, I understand the emotional impact of the first-time experience. Robert learned more about the Director’s plans for Freedom’s Path and wants to return and advance the fish and agricultural projects. The prison needs an electrical pump estimated to cost $1,500 to deliver the water to the project site, and he’s interested in pulling together a team to help with the cost and construction. God calls Darin and I to take people on mission trips to break their paradigms and see how God will move them. I love hearing Robert talk about leading this initiative and learn what comes of his passion to invest himself and others in this facility and these kids.

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Transition to Home

We walked out of prison. We are alive, refreshed in spirit, hopeful, and a bit tired. After souvenir shopping in Ilobasco, we made a several hour drive to the beach hotel near the airport. I felt blessed to have a real bathroom, warm shower, and cold A/C.

These last 5 years of mission outreach have blessed me with new perspectives, knowledge, and numerous connections. I consider myself a Christian nomad, who enjoys meeting people and connecting across the globe. My Living Water Trips have been special, especially to El Salvador, and I’m sad that I won’t likely return until 2021. In 2019, Darin and I have our sights set for the Asian mission field, and if God has His way, we will be in Kenya/ Uganda/Tanzania on a Marriage Vision Tour in 2020.

There is a reason and season for everything. Ask Moses after he led the Israelites out of Egypt. One thing most of our team agreed on during our time together is that God never gives you the whole plan; he only shares it in pieces. We can’t get to far ahead of ourselves.

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Several Days Later

Success! The well is complete! Living water pours through the pump. We have the photos to prove it! Glory to God!

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Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can visit Sandra at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: Perseverance through Adversity

November 29, 2018


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Thursday’s Scripture: James 1:2-4 (NIV)

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”


How Will You Be Shaped?

Will Abel shared a morning devotional where he pulled out a handful of compressed clay from the drill site. He suggested this large clump of clay symbolized us and asked, “How will you be shaped?” How will adversity work on you and how will you respond?

Lack of a father figure has certainly shaped each boys in prison and probably contributed to their incarceration. Carlos previously mentioned that prison in El Salvador focuses on punishment only and not rehabilitation. For this reason, we were encouraged in the Freedom’s Path Program. Give them skills! Give them hope! Marcus shared his thought that Freedom’s Path may be focusing on skill development to help the boys be successful on the outside, but the real solution is a heart change. Give them skills and Jesus!

This discussion made me think of Dwayne, a Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) graduate, who shared that the transition portion of the program contributed most in keeping his life on the stairway to heaven as opposed to the highway to hell. He wanted to do right after release but was prepared to go back to his old criminal ways to survive. I believe a heart change with support that makes room for better choices is the winning formula to reduce recidivism. The good news was Dwayne got the support he needed to do better.

How Deep Is the Well?

The boys and staff were grateful for the sustainable volume of water we planned to provide with the borehole and pump. Their plan future goal is to clear the acreage at the fence line near the pump site, build tilapia ponds, and farm the land. This well will provide the sustainable volume of water needed to execute the projects that will provide work skills for the boys.

Although the team hit water at 230 ft last night, we needed to go farther to hit a large underground stream of sustainable water to support the commercial projects. Unfortunately, the drilling capacity of the rig had already been exceeded, and we needed a new rig that could go upward of 300 ft. LWI had a second rig in the shop that could handle the depth and had to get it to the site.  Ugh!

20181129_171519305_iOSThursday was mostly spent undoing and doing what we had spent the week doing [tongue twister]. The team pulled out over 200 feet of pipe and placed the second rig to continue drilling. The process wasn’t easy for several reasons. The second rig was in bad condition and needed a major overhaul. We bandaged up the rig as best we could and then re-drilled through the same hole. The second drill is never a perfect fit, so the bit hit the sides of the wall based on the drilling angle. With that said, re-drilling the same borehole is definitely easier and goes much faster than the first time.

20181129_191824873_iOSIf all went according to plan, this morning would have been the installation of the pump guts and well dedication. We would have been saying our “good-byes” and heading home with the satisfaction of a job well done. God had a different plan.

The entire team hung around the drill site drilling, watching, or talking, because the boys had their weekly visitation. No praise/worship or classes for us to lead today. Eventually the diesel tank sprung a leak near the end of day. Really? It was now obvious that the well would not be completed before we returned to the States. We called it a day. The LWI staff and boys would have to come back next week to finish it without the American team. The team was disappointed in not finishing what we set out to accomplish, but the bright side was we would come back tomorrow to celebrate with the boys.

Future Dreams

The team had a dream. A dream to bring sustainable, clean water to Freedom’s Path. What I love about mission is that we go with one dream and come back with many more. When I asked some of the team members where they thought this mission was leading them as next steps, both Audra and Casey talked about fostering kids. Audra was especially interested in emergency fostering.

20181130_151229478_iOSRoberto was able to talk with everyone due to his fluent Spanish and English. He shared how the Director and staff of Freedom’s Path invited any and all of us back without Living Water. She said that other local ministry groups come regularly, but they don’t have the impact that we’ve had with these boys in this short week. We have an open invitation to return at any time and in any capacity. I guess the prize isn’t the well and the physical water as much as it is that we moved these boys’ hearts and brought living water.

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Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: The Challenge in Prison

November 28, 2018


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Wednesday’s Scripture: Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

IMG_8277Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Whoever made that quote famous wasn’t on our mission trip. We were up at 5 am to get to the drill site early and figure out how we could go deeper. Make my coffee to go!

Drill Bit or Compressor

The drillers pulled up pipe in 10-ft section to get to the drill bit. Once the bit came out of the ground it was obvious the O-rings were torn. The compressor was fine, but we needed a new drill bit which was 3 hours away at the LWI house. Angel, Darin, and Will volunteered to meet a LWI staff member half-way to get the new bit. We have to remind ourselves that we’re not in America, where extra parts are just a few miles away. We were fortunate a second bit was less than a half day travel.

As the drillers figured out how to get the new bit to Ilobasco, Norma called me over to where she was talking with Rafael through his barred half door. As I approached, I saw him holding his Bible lesson. Rafael wanted to know what reborn meant. So I tried to describe it in simple terms—a heart change. I described who I was before and what was important to me. I then described myself after accepting Jesus and what I aspired for my life. It was a touching moment, because I don’t get to have as many of these types of conversations back home. The opportunities and receptivity don’t present themselves as much as here in prison where the boys are thirsty.

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A bit later the guard let Rafael out of his solitary room for a break, and he invited us into his quarters as we were interested in seeing his living conditions. He had a bed on one side, a sink/toilet area across the room that smelled fairly strong of urine/human waste. There was little to do in this room to pass the time. He keep strong by doing pull-ups on the metal bars that served a rafters and made hammocks that his family would sell on the outside. We could tell that he was grateful for our companionship and conversation.

Breakfast Conversation

Robert has been spending time with Rafael and learned more of his story. We knew the gangs inside these walls wanted to kill him, but we found out he’s not safe on the outside either. Prior to Rafael’s incarceration, gang members threatened his girlfriend if she didn’t bring him to a local park at a specific time so they could kill him. She told Rafael what she was asked to do, and he fled. The gang killed his girlfriend for exposing the plan, and Rafael was captured by police and sentenced for his crimes. Rafael is in a tough spot. Gangs inside and outside the prison want to kill him so he’s scared for his life despite his decision to retire from the gangs.

The currency in El Salvador is US dollars. I was curious how much people get paid for various jobs, especially the guards at the prison. Angel said the minimum wage is $300 per month. He guessed the guards got twice the minimum to compensate them for additional risk to their lives. What is the risk? More than you might guess. Apparently gangs are still prevalent in the prison—mostly the older boys—and they communicate out during visitation on Thursdays. Guards treat the boys well because if a boy tells someone he’s being mistreated, the gang outside the prison will kill the guard. Last year when I toured the adult prison, all guards wore black ski masks to hide their identity for this very reason.

IMG_8301By these stories, you can assume the gangs are running the prison, which also explains why the boys eat so well. The chef, Noe, is a great cook, and we felt we were eating well when compared to meals served on other trips. The boys were fed the same food Noe served us. I’ve eaten prison food at the Cleveland Correctional Unit, and I would be down tens of pounds if served a steady diet of American prison food. On this mission I may be taking back to the States a few extra—compliments of Noe.

More Classes

We did a team switcheroo today. Charles stayed back to support drilling and Marcus and Roberto joined the women for praise/worship/instruction. We revisited Emerson and the younger boys who were shaping up to be one of our favorite groups.  Emerson greeted us with hugs, and all the boys were in good spirits—talking, laughing, and conversing with us. It was pure joy.

20181128_172217072_iOSAfter praise and worship, Kathy told a Bible story, and then Marcus took the boys on a journey that included his testimony. Marcus’s words were so true. Prison may look different around the world, but the condition is the same, and the solution starts with examining what’s in the heart. Marcus has a gift of delivering a story, and I truly believe he needs to continue pastoring to others.

20181128_165036314_iOSWe then pushed the tables and chairs to the sides of the room and played a soccer game with 4 teams, one soccer ball, and four plastic chairs. One person from each group were on the “field” with the objective of kicking the ball between the legs of another team’s chair for the score.

We Wait

Will, Angel, and Darin left in the morning to get the new drill bit and still hadn’t returned by lunch. Some of the drillers continued to wait for the shiny new “bullet”, while the rest of the team entered the secured area to spend more time with the boys. The band was set up under the covered concrete pad and ready for praise and worship. Norma said she got chastised for being late. Yesterday we told them we would be there at 1 pm, and we didn’t arrive until 2 pm. They weren’t aware of the drilling problems, but we felt blessed that they were excited for us to come back and pour into them.

20181128_134313869_iOSMarcus once again gave his testimony. When we asked whether anyone had any questions, they became silent, tough guys. Despite their stoicism, they finished the lesson book, and then Charles and Marcus took the boys out to play basketball and soccer.

IMG_8321The “bit” crew arrived back—all hands on deck. The boys returned to help with the drilling which pressed on despite that dusk was falling fast. It was obvious we weren’t dedicating the well tomorrow. With that said, we needed to keep drilling to have a shot at a Friday well ceremony. Angel said Casey and two team members could stay behind with him and Enrique to drill into the night. Mark and Will volunteered to stay. The boys, who are usually  locked up by 5 pm, got special permission to stay out with the team. If all went well tonight, tomorrow the team will install the casing, the pump guts, and pour the pad.

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The Drillers Hit Pay Dirt

The drill team hit more water in the dark. When you add soap to get the rocks and debris up, the foam, shooting from the hole, looks as if it’s raining snow under the floodlight. What a beautiful contrast in the night sky. The boys were ecstatic to be part of this celebration and shared how wonderful it was to see the stars and night sky. It’s hard to believe but they hadn’t seen the night sky for 2 years, because they are locked up by 5 pm.

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Personal Reflection

I had more unstructured time today, and enjoyed my conversation with Mamma Peggy. She mentioned this mission trip was really inspirational. She wants to return home, find the closest youth detention center, and invest personal time with the kids. She and Charles also want to learn Spanish. As I had mentioned to Charles and Robert, if you don’t make a change within 6 weeks of returning home from mission, you’ll fall back into your normal life habits. It’s that quick. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt, and we easily fall back into our old life when we set out feet on home soil.

Photo Nov 28, 21 04 30I love this team and how engaged they are with each other and the community. I love how mission changes you. I love how Will was changed by his first trip to Honduras and his marriage was subsequently blessed. I love how Casey was changed during that same trip, which led to take her tenth LWI with us and sponsor the well in her grandson’s name. I love how Marcus and Charles just had to come on this mission, because their hearts ache for prison ministry.

Robert has been a blessing because of his knowledge of El Salvador, its culture, and language, as well as his ability to relate to the boys. He’s forged relationships with the staff and youth which will hopefully continue to impact this prison for years to come. I think we have another mission mate who will experience a paradigm shift in worldview. I wonder who else is ready to have their world rocked by stepping out on mission.

Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: Living in Prison

November 27, 2018


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Tuesday’s Scripture: Hebrews 13:3 (NLT)

“Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”


Morning Praise and Worship

The prison schools were closed until January, so the boys were available to spend time with our team all day for drilling and Bible classes. Surprisingly, we didn’t see kids playing soccer or basketball. Most just hung inside or outside their bunk buildings. My thought was that idle hands and minds are never a healthy combination, especially not in prison. Let’s get these boys busy!

DSC_8837I asked Charles, Darin, and Roberto to join Norma, Kathy, Peggy, and me to share their testimony and talk about leadership. From our limited time with the boys yesterday, I felt they really needed positive adult male interaction and conversation. Many of these boys don’t have fathers in their lives, and many are themselves absentee fathers by 16. As a leadership coach, I was prepared to lead a discussion on what it means to be a leader, but I knew my words would not have the same impact as those spoken by a man. Darin, can you help?

We were escorted through the secure gates and into a one-room building across from one of the bunk houses. The boys shared set of instruments, and the musicians setup the keyboard, drums, and a guitar. Twenty-five younger boys, ranging from 12 – 15 years old, walked into the room and gradually took seats in the plastic white chairs. As each walked in, I would intentionally lock eyes, smile, and say, “Hola.” I wanted to validate him. I see you. You do matter.

When the room was nearly full, one boy stepped to the front of the room to lead us through 3 Spanish worship songs. When I closed my eyes, it sounded like a cacophony of Christians. Although many couldn’t sing on key, they such sang with heart. God shared with me how beautiful this cacophony sounded as we praised and worshiped Him. He doesn’t care how well we perform. He only cares what’s in our heart.

He reminded me that we are a cacophony of Christians such as Catholic, Protestant, and Baptist, and He loves us all regardless of how we choose to worship Him. I thought of our diverse team, a cacophony of Christians, called the Dillon’s Friends. We are beautiful in our diversity representing age, ethnicity, and gender.

DSC_8905Charles blessed us with an a cappella rendition of Amazing Grace followed by much needed encouragement to the boys that their current circumstances did not define their future. Charles’ testimony was the proof, and Peggy followed by sharing her experience of being in emotional prison during that time when Charles was serving time. The boys needed to hear the heart-felt story from this mother/son duo and how proud Peggy was of Charles. With their arms around each other, they inspired hope.

IMG_4631Pastor David of Orphan Helpers is an influential leader for these boys. Using the soccer balls we brought, he taught us some creative games to play inside the four concrete walls.  We laughed and cheered for each other. We prayed out as a group before the team left for lunch. One of the boys, Emerson, claimed he was prophetic and wanted to pray for Darin, Charles, Peggy, and me. What a touching and special treat.

Afternoon Wellness

Back at the well site, the team hit a big rock which was limiting drilling progress. After lunch they returned to work with the boys who were now getting dirty and acting like old drilling hands, taking over much of the work of the drilling team. Many of the drillers became “supervisors”—watching the boys haul pipe and shovel mud. While the drilling continued, the teaching team went back into prison to visit with another group of older boys. We decided to repeat the winning messaging from the morning and add Darin to lead a discussion on leadership and purpose.

DSC_8874What surprised our team was the older boys’ lack of response to Charles passionate question, “Do you want life or death?” Our team all raised our hands to “we want life,” but the boys stayed silent. We knew many were Christians based on the Bible study discussion yesterday afternoon. The peer pressure to hold the line was a formidable force. Hopefully when their heads hit the pillow, they will think of their day and make a commitment. We ended the afternoon handing out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and Spanish Bibles.

 

DSC_8956We joined the drillers! Slow progress! We walked up to Angel, who was sitting and talking with Rafael. Rafael had a unique story in this prison, although I would guess, not as unique by general Salvadorian standards given the proliferation of gang membership throughout the country. He was free to roam near the team and drill site for a couple hours. Rafael lived in a room near the guardhouse that looked like solitary confinement. Most of the day, Rafael was able to look out of the vertical bars of his locked half door. We learned Rafael had a 5-year sentence, spent 1 year in the general population, and had lived 2 years in this solitary confinement.

Why solitary? Rafael was retired gang, with a RET tattoo signifying his choice to leave behind that life. He was secluded from the general population for his own protection from the gangs would wanted to kill him. We obviously didn’t yet know the whole story. Angel had been talking with Rafael for an hour and asked that we pray for him to make a decision about accepting Jesus. We prayed and then Angel asked me to share my testimony and explain who I was before and after accepting Christ. I hope that tonight as Rafael lays his head down and reflects upon his day that he will pray the prayer that will change his life.

The drilling team finally called it a day. The sun was setting, and they couldn’t penetrate the big rock. Angel and Enrique weren’t sure whether the problem was the compressor or the drill bit. New morning plan—leave the hotel at 6 am to get to drill site and figure it out. Pull out all the pipe and check the bit. Chances of completing the well and dedicating it on Thursday is at risk.

Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and financial coaching. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves.  You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her website at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: Behind the Walls of Prison

November 26, 2018


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Monday’s Scripture (Matthew 5:16, NIV)

“…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”


Preparing for Prison

Cold showers and hot coffee! The team’s up and ready to hear Marcus lead morning devotional—and oh, what a devo it was—blowing us away with his testimony, message, and rapping his song that was 7 years in the making, created out of his bondage and eventual spiritual freedom. His closing message for the team today was “Just Be.” Be present. Let God reveal how He wants to use each of us. As a serial planner, I love the idea but struggle with its application. “God help me this week,” I ask, and He answered. First step, I relinquished my normal role of mission photographer and let Roberto take take hold of the photo reins.

After breakfast at Pollo Compero [add eggs to your plate of chicken, rice, and beans], we drove to the boy’s prison, CPIS Sendero de Libertad, on the outskirts of Ilobasco. As our van passed through the guarded gates of the center [translated as Freedom’s Path], several boys, hand selected because of their good behavior, greeted us with flying flags of El Salvador and Living Water International. The center had strict rules for the team—only 2 cell phones, no photos of any staff or boys faces for their protection. Many of these boys are still gang members involved in MS 13 and Calle 18.

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Inside Prison

We felt like royalty as the center administration and community leadership had prepared a welcome ceremony in our honor. Thirty boys were invited to attend and they stared at us with stoic faces or look down and away. I held the gaze of every boy who looked my way and returned a smile. Some smiled back, and others continued to stare with inquisitive eyes that said to me, “Why are you really here?” Each of our team shared a bit about ourselves, why we were there, and what we hoped to accomplish.

Inside the prison walls were two distinct security zones. The common area was open with picnic benches for visitation, a pavilion, administration buildings, and the kitchen. Down the hill near the pavilion was the equipment to drill the well. Down the road that the continued through the property was a double gate system with barbed wire fencing and guards who determine who could cross zones. After the welcoming ceremony, we were invited to tour the entire property and escorted through the doors cut into those gate. The prison currently housed 176 boys from 12-20 years olds.

We walked through the covered recreation area, across the makeshift basketball courts/soccer goals, and into the trade workshops that included carpentry, pottery, tailoring, music, and cooking. As we walked to the back of the property where the boys were housed, there were clothes everywhere drying on lines strung between trees. Everyone does his own laundry. Many of the boys were hanging out in small groups observing us from a distance. As we walked through the barracks and asked questions, I counted the bunkbeds which seemed insufficient to sleep 176 boys. Later we found out that 2 boys sleep in one twin bed, and at one time these same facilities housed upwards of 350 youth.

20181126_172707234_iOSAs we walked out of the restricted area towards our table where Noe, the prison chef, would serve us lunch, the administrative staff pointed out the wall mural of the American Bald Eagle and the El Salvador Turquoise-browed Motmot. Some of the boys had painted this mural as a symbol of our two teams coming together for the purpose of drilling this well. The mural was named “Brotherhood”.

Drill Time

After lunch the team joined Angel and Enrique to start up the compressor and get the drill bit grinding. Several handpicked youth showed up, trying on hardhats and gloves, so they could help the drillers. They were eager to learn and probably enjoyed the break from prison routine. Kathy, Norma, Peggy, and I went back to the secured area of compound to lead praise and worship, converse with about 25 kids, and teach a Bible lesson. A handful of boys knew a few words of English and were excited to share what little they could speak. As we taught the Bible lesson, many of the kids who were initially stand-offish warmed up to us. Instead of observing from the sidelines, they joined the fun.

20181126_180629157_iOSWe drilled about 30 meters, struggling through clay, and eventually hit water but not of the quality or quantity needed. The prison had access to city water, but as the city had grown out towards the prison, water supply had become more of an issue. Not only did the prison need access to consistent water, but enough to sustain the projects they wanted to build such as the tilapia and agricultural farms. One hundred fifty-five barrel of water per day was the target supply for irrigation and fish ponds. Fenced land next to the drill area was being cleared to accommodate these projects.

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Living Third World

I didn’t know what to expect today, but I can say the day exceeded my expectations. Not only did I feel safe, I felt welcomed. Although many of the boys carefully watched from the sidelines, many were absorbing the light that our team was shining on them.

20181126_215127149_iOSWe caught dinner on the road, stopping at a restaurant where we introduced a few of our mission mates to authentic and delicious pupusas. Back at Hotel Los Hereos, we suffer through cold showers, and afterwards, several of us hung around talking about previous relationships, specifically what we learned from our first marriages. We talked until we dropped. I love mission trips and the chance to check out of the first-world and spend time with folks discussing God, real life struggles, and learnings.

Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.