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.

 

 

El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: How Did We Get Here?

November 25, 2018


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Mission Scripture (John 15:5, NLT)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”


God at Work

God works in mysterious ways—ways in which this mission team could never have imagined. Let me tell you a story—a story of 11 disciples who said “yes” to a mission that forever changed their lives and also many incarcerated boys in an El Salvadoran prison. For the record, the 12th disciple, Judas, stayed home.

The seed for this unconventional water drilling trip was planted in November 2017, soon after our team returned from drilling a well at a school in El Salvador. While Darin and I served at the Cleveland Correctional Unit, many of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) staff and volunteers asked about the mission. After we shared a few highlights and answered questions, several expressed a call to go on our next Dillon’s Friends trip in 2018.

Darin and I have a tradition of organizing teams to drill wells in Honduras and El Salvador but had decided that 2017 would be our last trip for a while. We were headed to Asia and other parts of the world to see God’s hands at work. We didn’t have the heart to tell these people there wouldn’t be a Living Water International (LWI) trip in 2018, but the requests kept coming, especially from men who’d previously been incarcerated.

This was extraordinary—a nearly full team one year in advance of departure. Darin and I could only assume God was trying to tell us to go back, and we needed to be obedient and plan another trip. One of the only weeks available was the Sunday after Thanksgiving! Our annual Thanksgiving road trip would have to be pushed, and we’d give thanks by serving in El Salvador.

The mission vine sprouted, the branches grew, and some were pruned to grow in a different direction. People committed to go and then withdrew. Mark and Robert were excited to join as they couldn’t go on the 2017 mission, because their houses flooded in Hurricane Harvey. They were able to apply their trip funds quickly to our 2018 trip.

20181125_185206570_iOSI asked Carlos, the LWI El Salvador Director, if we could drill a well in another school, because it’s so much fun to spend time with hundreds of kids. Shouldn’t be a problem, and LWI found a sponsor for the well—Real Life Christian Church in Chesapeake, Virginia. We thought we were set.

Trials and Tribulations

As a serial planner and scheduler, this trip couldn’t have started and run any more smoothly, which was confirmation for me that this must be God’s plan. And then… Carlos reached out with a question, “How would you like to drill a well in a youth prison?” This one question changed everything, and I started to see a new direction for which this mission vine was reaching. Without hesitation we said, “Yes,” and soon learned that answering the call was the easy part.

20181125_195345265_iOSLWI had never drilled in a prison before—unchartered territory. A few times, we thought the prison mission wouldn’t happen. Yet at every turn, God was faithful, and we pressed on. Carlos had to get permission from LWI Headquarters to drill in a prison, find a new well sponsor, and secure sufficient safe housing for the team. We’d be too far away from the LWI house south of San Salvador to stay there. We waited for LWI Headquarters. Finally, they said, “Yes!” Casey’s other LWI team waned, and she brought her well sponsorship—dedicated to her grandson—to our team. Sponsorship—check!

Only a month before departure, Carlos sent a message that we may not be drilling in the prison, because he couldn’t find lodging. I replied, “If God wants this mission, He’ll make it happen.” And He did. Carlos found a place that could safely accommodate all of us on his very last look—Hotel Los Heroes.

The 11 Disciples

Once we were 10, and then surprisingly we became 11. After reading my last journal entry, Marcus asked to join the team at the eleventh hour after learning we were going to prison. God was putting His final touches on the team. We have such a powerful team, many of whom have been on mission before with us. You could say we are a seasoned group except for Peggy, Charles’ mom, who affectionately became known to all as Mama Peggy.

Several mission mates, including those on the in-country LWI team, have known the pain of incarceration and its effect on their families. We also have Roberto, who was born in El Salvador and has a heart for his country’s people. We are the 11 disciples, the fishers of men. I prayed this trip would be a testimony of what a team can do when they lean into Him. I prayed our branches, attached to the vine of Jesus, would bring forth the living water to pour through us and into the staff and youth in the Ilobasco detention center, otherwise known as Freedom’s Path.

Feet on the Ground

We arrived in San Salvador, fighting the crowds of families at the airport, to find the white Aqua Viva van. Angel and Enrique would be our drilling masters with Norma and Kathy leading the hygiene/teaching team. After grabbing some local cafeteria food, we drove to Cojutepeque to settle into our hotel—home base for the week. The accommodations were a bit rough with no hot water and inconsistent running water. Most had air conditioning but not all. The owner struggled to keep A/C units in working order. We heard later that our stay was a blessing, because it gave the owner income to make repairs and sustain his business.

After checking in, we walked out of the hotel to hear a sermon preached through blaring loudspeakers. The Word was in Spanish. “Damn,” I told myself, “When am I going to learn Spanish.” We walked to a local coffee shop to plan for the week and hear the guidelines. Rule number one—be flexible. We are walking unchartered territory. Afterwards, we walked a few blocks to eat at the infamous Pollo Campero after shopping for snacks, water, and supplies at the Supermercado. After our stomachs were full of chicken in some form, we returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep for tomorrow we drill.

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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 Living Water Mission: Meet the Dillon Friends Team


September 10, 2018

Dear Friends & Family,

What I love about mission trips are the surprises and interesting twists that unfold as the team prepares for mission. We’ve had some surprising team member losses and some wildly wonderful additions over these couple months, and as always, I believe God put together the perfect team to go drill a well at a youth prison in Llobasco, Cabanas, El Salvador.

I’m a big Bob Goff fan after I read, or should I say after my husband read to me all the short stories in Love Does. I just finished reading Bob’s second book, Everybody Always, which was released earlier this year. Bob’s personal stories really challenged my thinking on how much could I love like Jesus. After you read the story about Kali, the witch doctor in Uganda, we’ll talk and see whether you agree with me.

On a lighter side, Bob states that God views the world as just one big neighborhood and that Jesus never went on mission trips. He just walked among the people and was with them. I questioned what would I choose to call our adventures to El Salvador if I wanted to be more like Jesus? After some thought I decided I wanted to call them Love & Learning Journeys. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? I like the name, because it doesn’t imply one-way service or giving. We get as much from the people as we give—it’s just different stuff. Our time spent in the villages, schools, and prisons have lots of love, lots of learnings, and it’s always a journey.

I’d like to introduce you to God’s 11 helpers who are joining me on the Dillon Love & Learning Journey. They all love God and Jesus, and I look forward in seeing how Jesus shapes them in the field.

  1. Audra Abel – wife of Will; mother; grandmother to Jessie; joined Hope City Church after we invited them to a service; speaks enough Spanish to be both dangerous and helpful; fun and outgoing; taught hygiene lessons in El Salvador (2016); LuLaRoe business woman; excited to see what this talented lady does with the second half of her life
  2. Will Abel – husband to Audra; father; works with Darin at Convergint as an account sales executive; went with us to Honduras on our first LWI well trip (2015); well was dubbed Will’s well because he didn’t leave it to do pump repair; met his future daughter-in-law (Sarah) for the first time when she and Will’s son joined last year’s trip
  3. Roberto Benavides – husband to Cristy; father to 3 boys; home country is El Salvador; joined the team to drill in 2017 but Hurricane Harvey kept him home to recover from flood damage; works in security for Chevron; excited to have him finally get back to his birth country to give back
  4. Casey DeShazo – single mom; doting grandmother; first time home buyer—perhaps she’s giving up her nomadic ways; Plexus business owner; Controller at Dowley Security, caught the LWI fever (2015)—she’s been on 10 trips since we first took her on her first trip to Honduras; witty with words—have you checked her Facebook posts
  5. Darin Dillon – husband to Sandi; father to 3 girls; not a grandfather—yet; no words can describe him; you know him well
  6. Sandi Dillon – wife to Darin; mother; not ready to be a grandmother—too busy; your mission trip leader; I’ll let you describe me; you know me well enough
  7. Todd Dina – husband; father to 4 boys; one of the original Dillon Friends Team to Honduras in 2015; wished he was living in Colorado—we can be neighbors; former colleague from TPC Group; director at IHS Market; dedicated the first well the team drilled in Honduras
  8. Charles Hearne – single guy; fitness fanatic; long-time Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) friend; second LWI trip with the Dillon Friends; awesome singer; introvert who acts like an extrovert; big smile with warm heart; senior partnership manager at Gregg Partners helping non-profits get grant money
  9. Peggy Hearne – mom to Charles; nurse; part of our first mother-son team brought on a mission trip; beautiful spirit; met her at a PEP event; in our circles more well known as “Charles’ mom”
  10. Marcus Hill – God loving man; husband and father; can pray like no other; makes awesome compression sleeves; joined team last year to drill in El Salvador; part of the small team who toured and talked with the warden in El Salvadorian prison; he can’t wait to pour into the boys in the youth prison
  11. Mark Halleck – husband; father; and grandfather; ministry over-doser—don’t worry the addiction won’t kill him; known for chasing a live deer around his living in the middle of the night; part of the first team to drill in Honduras (2015); swore to Carlos Molina he would make a trip to El Salvador and he’s fulfilling his promise this year; friend and colleague in the security industry

What a diverse team of Jesus-loving people—2 couples, 1 single man, 2 single women, and 4 married guys with wives back home holding down the home front and all from different ethnic backgrounds. We can change the world when we unite for Christ! God can use anyone who is willing to just say YES.


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.