We all got a good night's rest and started out the morning with a breakfast of eggs and toast. We were split into cooking teams of two people and the teams rotated cooking breakfast and dinner plus the after meal cleanup, which worked great! We enjoyed breakfast of eggs and toast this morning, all sitting around our table.
Following breakfast, we listened to a few worship songs then Cathy had a devotional prepared for the team - she shared an awesome praise report! It was a great way to start the day. We were then picked up for our first day at Esperanza Viva - it was only a few miles from where we were staying, but took 10+ minutes through the countryside over bumpy roads. The area has a pretty dry and dusty landscape with a beautiful view of the mountains and the volcano.
We began the day with a tour of the EV grounds from Rene (a National missionary who serves at EV with his wife, Kate). We learned the history of Living Hope International and Esperanza Viva, all started because a vision from missionaries Jerry and Susy McNally, who have been in the field for 27 years. We heard a lot from Rene about the history of EV and the story of how they acquired the land is worth telling. I can’t remember all the exact details so I will give a summarized version of the events that came together to make it all happen.
Jerry & Susy, originally from Minnesota, began their missionary service in Mexico in 1985, planting churches and evangelizing in rural villages in Oaxaca. In 1994 they moved to Puebla, Mexico, and God opened the doors for them to found Esperanza Viva Youth Home. The buildings and locations they were able to use for this were quickly outgrown and not in a safe area in downtown Puebla so Jerry had a vision of having something more rural.
They started talking to farmers on the outskirts of the city to see if anyone would consider selling their land to start an orphanage. No farmers were interested and were actually offended to be asked. Long story short Jerry felt that God wanted him to personally ask 500 people that he knew to raise the money for this land he was dreaming about. Jerry and the team were able to raise about $800k for this vision. After many conversations they were able to get a farmer with 11 acres to agree to sell them the land because his children didn’t want to farm it after he died.
So they took the raised funds to a money exchange house that they had been working with for years, but it was the exact day that the DEA and Mexican Government had moved to strike Mexican Cartel activity at that same money exchange house so all money in that day was seized by the Mexican Government. Their money was as good as gone because they everything was so corrupt - Jerry was so crushed, and began calling people to let them know their donated money could be gone.
After 9 months of fighting to get it back and getting nowhere, having politicians send letters and make phone calls, a lot of prayer, faith, and some awesome details that I probably can't publicly share, out of the over $7M that was seized only the EV money of Jerry's was released. When the money was seized, the Peso was at about 8 to the 1 dollar. When the money was finally released back to them, the Peso was at 14 to the 1 dollar. So they almost doubled their money. God is so good!
They were able to buy the 11 acres of land they wanted, and the farmer had a change of heart after meeting the kids and gave them a better deal than initially negotiated. Not only that, but they now had money to start building "Phase 1" of the project, which included a tall wall around the land, dorms for the children, office area, dining tent, and school tents.
So, knowing all the history made the tour all the more meaningful - Jerry, Susy, and the faithful staff at EV prayed and worked for years for this new land and awesome space for the kids!
The dorm facilities are beautiful, with top of the line fixtures and tile all generously donated. And everything is so clean - the kids have chores and help keep it that way! They have an office, storage room, infirmary/dentist, bathrooms, and boys and girls bunks all in one large building.
Down a path from the dorms are classrooms in tents, La Vina (ministry school) classroom, a small snack shack, basketball courts/playground, and an outdoor tented dining hall.
Next, they have a large indoor kitchen (breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all cooked by the teenage girls), as well as a printing press (LHI prints all their own materials on site), laundry facilities, and workshop where the older kids can learn a trade.
Lastly, he took us to the Garden of Hope, which is a garden surrounded by a path lined with plaques of donors names - they take new children out there to show how many people love and care for them.
And they've stared construction on Phase 2, which will be dorms for short term mission groups like us, apartments for LHI Missionary families to live in, and meeting rooms for staff.
I was so impressed with how clean and organized Esperanza Viva is - just a beautiful facility that the kids are blessed to have!
After the tour we went with the teens to Nations Church (which was a 45 minute bus ride away) for their Youth Group. On the way there I saw next to Suzy, a 17 year old student. She loves music and we were able to talk about that common bond in Spanglish together. I also talked to Bridget who is a National Missionary at LHI, married to Miguel, and together they are the Nations Church youth leaders. She left Wisconsin at age 20 to become a missionary, and has been there ever since - they now have 3 kids under the age of 3!
Nations Church is a very big warehouse style building with all the Nation's flags hanging from the ceiling. We set out the chairs and started with a time of worship (in Spanish!), led by Bridget ,Miguel, and Suzy. The kids were jumping around and praising Jesus without a care in the world - so refreshing to see! They are filled with such joy! Miguel preached a small sermon then we played a game with the kids. Our team member Kelly brought a large spool of yarn and we all made a big circle where the beginner held a piece of yarn then tossed the yarn ball to someone else (our team first, then the kids) and said something nice about them. It was neat to hear the teens say deep and genuine things about one another. We then cut the web into bracelets for everyone at the end to remind them of how special they are, and how we are all connected, no matter age or nationality, by Jesus.
On the way home, I sat next to a special girl, Estrella. She didn't speak much English, but I speak enough Spanish and we were able to converse the entire ride home. I showed her my picture book and she excitedly showed me her pictures stored on her MP3 player, including ones her and her sister, friends, and High School Musical. :) She cooks in the kitchen at EV and has dreams of becoming a chef someday. She loves to draw, loves her sister, and is on fire for God.
When we got back to our casa, we walked around the campus area. There were a few stray dogs around and one especially cute Keely looking one (we named Ralph) melted my heart. I wasn't allowed to touch or pay attention to him, but I took a few pics.
We had dinner as a group and shared high/lows from the day, which will become a nightly tradition. After dinner, Vanessa was scheduled for a devo and took the time to share a Graham Cook sermon on identity - very good stuff. We were all exhausted from our first day at EV so went to bed!
**Some photos taken by me, some taken by other team members!