Mission Team Season in San Salvador!

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Hola Hola, amigos!

I am sorry that this email is coming a little late, but July was a crazy busy month! But down here, crazy busy is a good thing because it means that Iglesia Gran Comisión (IGC) is having lots of mission teams and lots of people serving the people of San Salvador! I am loving “Mission Team Season” because it means a weekly pupusa dinner, regular trips to the beach (my favorite place on earth!) and igniting fires in people’s hearts for the country I love so much.

First and foremost, the most important thing that happened in July in my personal life is that I FINALLY received my Temporary Residency Visa!! PRAISE BREAK! God is always teaching me patience in one way or another. I received my visa only TWO days before my 90-day tourist visa expired! If I hadn’t gotten it by then, I would have had to leave the country for a few days in order to renew my tourist visa! But God is NEVER late! After approximately eight visits to the Immigration Office (no, I am NOT exaggerating!) and three trips to various lawyers and notaries, they finally approved my paperwork and issued me a one-year temporary residency visa! Next summer I will go back to Immigration and renew my visa. Hopefully the process of renewing it won’t be nearly as frustrating as getting it in the first place!

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The week before I got my visa, there was a Rock City Church team serving in La Libertad, an oceanside city about 40 minutes south of San Salvador! I convinced a few amazing friends to drive me down so I could see some familiar faces from home and get a handful of the best Rock City hugs! Nate Eckhart, the Rock City Church Beyond Our Walls (Missions) Director was leading the team, and it was especially awesome to see him this side of the border and say, “Look! God did it! Our hard work, my patience and everyone’s prayers paid off!”


The last week in July began for IGC a busy, busy mission team season! On July 23rd, we embarked upon a 5-week period of mission teams, back to back, to back! We began with a team from Bay Area Community Church (BACC) in Annapolis, Maryland. This was a special team because BACC is Sarah’s, our IGC Missions Coordinator, home church! One of the best parts of their trip happened on Saturday, Beach Day! The two team leaders, Nylca and Diek, had decided to be baptized in the ocean! Nycla and Diek are married and have been walking with Jesus for many years, but had not yet made the public declaration of their inner transformation! So Sarah and Vladi braved the Pacific high tide and baptized Nylca and Diek! Hallelujah!

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The following team was my favorite yet (yes, I know I’m biased 😉 )!! ROCK CITY CHURCH!!! Not only was this team from my home church, but 14 of the 19 team members were people I know and love! My sweet girl Olivia from Rock City Youth came for the second time, along with her dad, Doug, and younger sister, Tatum. Also returning to San Salvador for another time was Ali!!!! Ali has been support raising to move her full-time since February, and she got to have a little break in the action to visit the people and places she loves in San Salvador! It was so, SO cool to watch Ali jump right back into serving San Salvador. She remembered every child’s name, served without being asked and spoke Spanish like a local. I am beyond excited to serve alongside her soon!

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My week with Rock City was simultaneously the best week and the hardest week of my 4 months here in San Salvador. It was the best because I got to serve alongside some of my most favorite people in the world. And when you’re serving people for Christ and sharing His love, it just doesn’t feel like work. It feels like the most necessary and most joyful thing in the world.

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{the Shank family // Tatum, Olivia + Doug}

 But those past seven days were also incredibly hard, because each passing day meant another day closer to the team leaving, many of whom I do not know when I will see again.

Rock City Youth has been one of the things that I have missed most from home. I knew how Rock City Youth worked. I knew how to do it and I knew I was good at it (but always with much room to grow 😉) and I LOVED it. But I’m not there yet with my job here. I love living in San Salvador, but it’s going to take a little more time to become adjusted to life and work here.

That week was a resuscitation of my heart a little bit. I felt happy and normal to be living life together with so many people whose lives are a permanent part of my story. So thank you Rock City Church and Rock City Youth for breathing new life into my lungs and restoring my heart to its full and joyful state once more!

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Thank you to all the folks who sent care packages along with the team! Receiving gifts has been my biggest love language for years, and your gifts filled my heart with love! From coffee creamer to my favorite journaling pens to Reese’s Pieces – it was ALL AMAZING! And an extra special thank you to Lindsey for lugging the giant goody-filled suitcase from Columbus to San Sal!

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OH! I can’t forget to mention that Staci, one of the team members, decided to be baptized! Unfortunately, our beach day was canceled due to bad weather, but the sunshine came out in time for us to have a pool baptism at the hotel! GOD IS GOOD!

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Last week, Iglesia Gran Comisión hosted a team from Total Health. Total Health is an organization of doctors, nurses and people who have a heart and passion for bring affordable healthcare to people who need it the most but can afford it the least. Total Health built and maintains a health clinic at our Children’s Development Center (CDC) in Guayabo and they will be opening one around November at our CDC in Soyapango!

This was my first medical mission team, so I had no idea what to expect! The team was made up of people from all over the country! It was so cool to see people from different parts of the States come together for one common goal – to bring physical and spiritual healing to the people of San Salvador.

All but one person on the team were “returners” (people who have been to San Salvador before and are returning again), so I am excited to know that even though it might not be for awhile, I will get to see all of their faces again!

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Our church is actually beginning a weeklong break in mission teams because one of our partner churches, Wellborn Church in Texas, had to cancel their trip last minute. Team leaders, Chad and Amanda Whisenant, were going to be returning with their 18-year old son, Nolan. On Wednesday night, August 10th, Chad and Nolan were in a terrible car accident. Their car rolled over and Nolan was thrown from the car. Chad has been released from the hospital, praise God, but Nolan remains in critical condition. At this moment, the latest update I have is that Nolan was rushed into surgery this morning. I don’t have a lot of information about his condition and I don’t know Nolan, but that doesn’t matter because God hears my prayers and will answer them according to His will. Please join us in praying for this family in their time of incredible need.

An extra important prayer request

Sarah Meehan de Solorzano is a fellow missionary here from the States. She has lived and worked in San Salvador for the past nine years! She is now married and has two beautiful children. Almost two months ago, her husband Jorge hurt his back and has been bedridden since. We are asking God for complete healing, but it is looking more like God’s plan is for Jorge to have back surgery. There are many options that Sarah and Jorge are trying to weigh out. We trust that God is using this period of idleness for Jorge’s good and His glory, but we can’t help but believe that Jorge can be better used back out on the mission field. I am including here an email sent by Sarah to her supporters in the States. Please read it and let us know if you or anyone you know can offer help. Thank you for your prayers and your support!

From Sarah:

I wanted to give you an update on Jorge’s back situation.  In 2009 Jorge had an emergency back surgery for a herniated disk. He had lost feeling in his left leg and they operated on him immediately to prevent further damage. They shaved the disk and the operation was successful. This surgery was done at a government hospital because at that time Jorge did not have private health insurance. After this Jorge (and our kids now) have private health insurance however because his surgery was done before getting private insurance, anything relating to his back is not covered with the private insurance because it is considered a pre-existing condition.

Jorge has been on bed rest and disability leave for one month now with excruciating pain. He just recently got the results back from an MRI and he has 2 herniated disks. He has gone to 2 appointments with neurosurgeons and they both said he needs surgery. And needs it sooner than later. The government hospital only does the most basic surgeries which would be to shave the disk and the waiting list would have him scheduled to have this operation around October where he shouldn’t wait that long and the don’t offer the best option of putting in a bracket or some sort of device. They only do that in private hospitals as far as we know.

So right now we are investigating a ton. We are talking with doctors from Total Health that is the organization in the U.S. that works with our Centers here in El Salvador. We are getting opinions from these doctors at Total Health and looking at all the possible options. We are asking specialists here too.

So here’s how you can help:

  1. Pray for complete healing for Jorge
  2. Pray for God to open a door and show us the best option
  3. Let us know if you know specialists we can talk to to get their opinion
  4. Pray for God’s provision because right now it looks like the best option is a private hospital and this means we will have to pay all out of pocket
  5. Pray for Jorge to be encouraged- he knows and is very aware that God is in control
Thank you so much for your love, support, and prayers.
In Christ,
Sarah

Please keep in touch! It fills my heart with gladness to hear from friends and family back home!

Email: ashley.arend@gmail.com
Facebook: facebook.com/AshleyElaine85
Skype: ashleyelaine85
Mailing Address: Condado Santa Rosa, Condominio Aclaraban, Pasaje Pacún #42. Santa Tecla, El Salvador (simply stop by your local post office to purchase a Global Forever stamp, only about $1.25! Just give it about 2 weeks to arrive!)

Please Pray:

  • For Nolan Whisenant and Jorge Solorzano. We know that God CAN heal them both completely with just a touch of His hand. We are praying that He WILL.
  • For continued support as Iglesia Gran Comisión continues to raise money to build a Dental Clinic above the current Total Health Clinic. You can help by sharing this informational video with your friends and family and on social media.
  • As always, for continued Spanish Acquisition! I had to take a break from my weekly lessons because of Mission Team Season, but I will be restarting my lessons this week!
  • For my stomach to adjust swiftly to this new environment.
  • That I would be able to make the changes necessary to have a daily quiet time with the Lord and His Word.

Con todo mi amor y bendiciones,
-Ashley

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person.
Proverbs 3v27 MSG

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Live Your Mission

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Whether you’re a coffee barista or youth pastor, new to your faith or have been walking with Jesus for years, in Columbus or San Salvador, our mission as Christians is to prepare people’s hearts for the message of the Gospel. Three months ago, I was unable to see that my extra time stateside was actually a gift – a gift to live life alongside some of my favorite people in the world and help mold their hearts to look like Jesus’. Living my mission doesn’t only mean serving the people of San Salvador. Serving my mission means serving God’s people and sharing the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection wherever I am, whatever I am doing.

Salvadorans have more physical needs than the Youth of Rock City, but we all have a huge, gaping hole in our hearts that only Jesus can fill – it’s a need for the revitalizing presence of God.

My mission field is wherever my feet are planted, and these days, God has me growing and blooming with some of the most beautiful people I know.

Love is Red 2016 // God Winks

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Love is Red 2016

I look out and see black worshipping next to white, worshipping next to Mexican, next to Hispanic, next to Native American, and the only color that matters is red because that’s the blood of Jesus!

John Gray, Love is Red 2016 speaker

I realize that the normal person would probably grit their teeth and prepare for teenage drama and eye rolls when confronted with the thought of a church auditorium filled with literally thousands of middle and high school students. I, on the other hand, throw on my new Rock City Youth tee, pull out my favorite pair of Converse shoes and post to Instagram that even packing has me #RedBullexcited for the weekend.

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Wednesday Night // t-minus 14 hours and counting // @rockcityouth ➵ @lirconf

Love is Red (LIR) is a Youth and Young Adult conference in Canton, Ohio with the vision of “developing leaders and inspiring students to know God and to make Him known.” One of the greatest parts about this particular conference is that they host breakout sessions not only for students, but for leaders as well! It is purposely designed each year to run Thursday-Saturday because the organizers knew from the beginning that Youth Pastors and Leaders are at church on Sunday! This way, students get to miss a day of school and leaders can be back for church on Sunday! [side note: It is a fact that most Rock City Youth students, although glad to be out of school for a day, were actually pretty concerned about missing a day of classes! World changers, man.]

In three short days, we experienced 6 world-renown preachers and spent hours worshipping God alongside our peers, led by some of the biggest names in worship music, Elevation Worship and Jesus Culture!

Thank you Jesus / Just as I am I come / Hallelujah / Oh what amazing love
Thank you Jesus / Just as I am I come / Hallelujah / Oh what amazing love

I could spend this entire post trying to impart to you every motivational sound bite from all 6 preachers, but I have a feeling that I wouldn’t be quite as inspirational as they were in the moment. Instead, I want to highlight a few shining moments from the weekend and share with you how God spoke to me.

Two phrases that I am folding up and tucking in my heart forever from Love is Red are

If you want to see God do amazing things in your ministry, you must hold tight to obedience – Noah Nickel

and

Souls are at stake here. – John Gray

Anyone that knows me knows that I do not take kindly to hearing the word “No.” (Future husband – consider yourself warned.) Growing up, I was used to getting my way pretty much all the time and if I didn’t get my way at first, I had this INSANE power to exhaust my parents with my debate skills to the point that they would rather just give in than argue for one more minute about why, for example, taking my mom’s shiny, red convertible to the drive-in movie just wasn’t a good idea.

Well, God knows my weaknesses and He knows that I need to learn how to hear “No.” The mission field is ripe with “No.”

  • “No, I am not interested in hearing about your ‘best friend’ Jesus.”
  • “No, the church doesn’t have enough money to provide for that family’s need.”
  • “No, it’s not a good day to go to the beach today.” (Is it bad that that No is the hardest to accept? Just kidding. Really!)

Over the past 3 months, God has put me in Obedience Bootcamp. I am asking for things and God is saying “No.”

  • “No, you can’t go to San Salvador…yet.”
  • “No, you can’t live in your house OR your dad’s house.”
  • “No, you can’t be in a dating relationship right now.”

What I am learning is that God says No for a reason. He does not say No just to taunt me or be mean to me. God says No because He can see the future. He is already in the future. I know that I must be obedient to God if I want to move to San Salvador and be a part of what He is doing there.

Souls are at stake. Wow. First of all, let me say that I fully understand and believe that God does NOT need me to save a person’s soul. God may choose to use me, but He does not need me. God is in the business of soul-saving, not me. With that being said, I do not want to stand in front of Jesus on judgment day and have to say, “Father, I am sorry that I did tell ________ about you because I was busy ________ (being disobedient).” I know that there are people in this world that God wants to use me to reach. There are people that will identify with my story and finally understand that if God has mercy and forgiveness for me, He’s got it for them too. There are people that will trust me with their story and trust me when I tell them just how much Jesus loves them – enough to die on a cross in order to erase their sin from God’s memory.

Is there anything worth risking missing the opportunity to be used by God and a part of His salvation plan? Absolutely not, if it means being disobedient to a God that I trust with my life now and for the rest of my days.

Hands up / Heart open
Hands up / Heart open

Of course, Love is Red wasn’t just for me. Love is Red was for each individual person there. Love is Red was for:

  • Jin, our OSU bus driver who randomly picked our assignment for the weekend and ended up coming into the conference and rededicating his life to Jesus!

PRAISE BREAK!!!!

  • Pastor Amanda, who was picked out of an audience of thousands and told by Pastor John Gray that she would see “supernatural increase” in her house in the next 30 days!

PRAISE BREAK!!!!

  • The EIGHT Rock City Youth students who boldly walked to the stage when people called into ministry were requested down front!

PRAISE BREAK!!!!

  • The hotel room full of Rock City Middle School boys who, without being told to, prayed over their friend who felt called into ministry!

When God said No to my big, bold prayer to move to San Salvador in December 2015, He wasn’t saying No to hurt me. He was saying No to things I had planned because He knew that the things HE had planned were so much greater.

Olivia Shank’s first response to my departure delay was, “This means you get to go to Love is Red, right?!” Thank God she was right.

"Day 2 of #LIRConf is in the books and OH EM GEE - these moments are now memories that we will keep and return to often for the REST of our LIVES. God winked at Rock City Youth tonight and has given us a peek into what is to come: the best." -Pastor Amanda
“Day 2 of #LIRConf is in the books and OH EM GEE – these moments are now memories that we will keep and return to often for the REST of our LIVES. God winked at Rock City Youth tonight and has given us a peek into what is to come: the best.” -Pastor Amanda

Click HERE to catch a glimpse of our Love is Red experience and HERE to watch recordings of every worship session and every speaker!

Bloom Where You’re Planted

I think we all know at this point that three months ago, when I looked ahead to 2016, I saw myself living in San Salvador fulfilling God’s call on my life as a full-time missionary. As it turns out, God did see me doing full-time mission work in San Salvador, but He was on a different timeline than I was. Instead, God’s plan had me on the mission field here in Columbus, Ohio for a little while before sending me south.

Well…okay. Bloom where you’re planted, right? So I dug down, secured my roots and searched for the Son (see what I did there??).

Teenagers can be a very challenging group of humans to work with, let alone love. But I completely believe that God breathed air into my lungs so that I would share His love with students and help them grow into disciples who make disciples. So if I am going to be temporarily planted in Columbus, I am going to serve and lead the people for which God created me.

Our Youth Pastor Amanda recently gave me the responsibility of Leadership Coordinator. For the past few weeks I have been working to find new leaders, begin to discover their strengths and connect them into our ministry. I have been developing and implementing a plan for onboarding the people who have shown interest in Youth Ministry at Rock City Church. This new position required me to be in the church office a few days a week, so not only did I get to take on a new and challenging position, but I have been able to closely watch Pastor Amanda work and learn from her leadership. She has shared with me some of her challenges as a Youth Pastor and allowed me to brainstorm new ideas for how to get students in the door of Rock City Youth (RCY).

Rock City Youth took a break for the month of December. This was a refreshing and much-needed break for our leaders, but it caused our numbers to drop when we returned at the start of 2016. A new tactic for growth presented itself to us just a week ago – the Rock City Youth Telethon! Last Tuesday night, a handful of RCY leaders and students gathered at the offices with a list of 600+ students who had either been to Youth at least once or marked themselves as a high school student on a Sunday Connect Card. Using this list, we divvied up the names and began calling students, informing them of what Rock City Youth is if they had never heard of us, inviting them to come to the next evening’s Youth Night and encouraging our regular students to bring a friend or seven.

Needlesstosay, this experience was productive but had a few oops! There were the students that were no longer in high school – “Oh, congrats on graduating! Got any younger siblings at home?” There were the people who were only in Columbus because they were visiting family – “Oh, okay! Well, were you visiting high school friends? What’s their number??” And there was this response that I got – “Veronica? There ain’t no Veronica here! This is a pizza place!” Lo siento, amigo!

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Rock City Short North // Thank God It’s Youth Night
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Gettin’ fueled up for night of soul-replenishing worship {thanks Annie’s Mom 😘}

Wednesday, Youth Night, came and when the numbers were in, between the Instagrams, Facebook posts, Snapchats (yes, we gave into the Snapchat phenomenon), invite cards and phone calls, we saw a 20-student increase from January to February! GOD IS GOOD!

Youth night, as always, was an amazing night of worship, friendships (new and old!) and a beautiful and hilarious message from Pastor Amanda. We are blessed to be able to use Rock City’s brand new Short North campus for our Youth Nights. This gives us access to a state of the art worship experience and space for our growing population!

I was excited to not only see new student faces, but about 10 new LEADER faces! Much of my connection work is done from behind a computer, so it was a blessing to meet the people attached to the emails! I am seeing Youth Night from a new perspective these days. I was once totally consumed by the student experience, but I now look at it from a new leader point of view, and it is just as amazing. I get to watch leaders fall in love with Youth ministry and get a glimpse of why we do what we do.

Why we do what we do – well, that’s a question for a whole other blog post 😉 But the long and the short of it is that we do Youth Ministry because we live in a fallen world and our culture follows the youth. Teenagers set the tempo for what is cool, what is worth our time and money, and what gets the most time on our social media airwaves. If we can lead students to Jesus, they can lead the world to his heart. It could also be argued that teenagers are the most needing of Jesus’ love, acceptance, and affirmation, but like I said, that’s a post for another day.

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
Psalm 16v5-6

Follow the Rock City Youth fun on Instagram, Facebook, and online!

be cheerful no matter what // pray all the time // thank God no matter what happens.

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// as thunder roars, we’ll shout Your name //
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Karis, one of our new leaders @ RCY
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The Youth Office, where the magic behind the magic happens {I may have taken over Pastor Amanda’s desk for a day while she was out 😬}

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Half-Grown Humans // Over-Filled Heart

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A year ago today, I followed what could only be a nudging from God and became a @rockcityouth leader.

August 28th, 2014: Rock City Youth Goes to Hillsong
August 28th, 2014: Rock City Youth Goes to Hillsong

Since then, I have watched our kids grow from intimidated newbies to seasoned Youth veterans. I have witnessed one of my girls go from classroom troublemaker to group-chat preacher. I have learned new ways to describe a first kiss and been privy to the maturing and strengthening of what was once a father/daughter relationship at risk. I have seen the sparks of best friendships ignited. I have listened to their tangible fears, wiped away tears and whispered words of affirmation into their ears. I have screamed at God when their hearts get broken and pleaded to Him for words of wisdom when my own words seemed weak and inconsequential.

I know that I have much to learn before I move to San Salvador. What I didn’t know was that God would be using His half-grown humans to do the teaching.