Livin’ the Dream

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I spent almost 11 months working my butt off to make my dream of moving to San Salvador a reality. Five of those months were spent having meeting after meeting with friends, loved ones and even strangers inviting them to share in my dream and be a part of the imperative crew of people sending me to San Salvador. One of those months was spent at Missionary Training International, learning how to learn Spanish and how to adjust to a new culture (#DifferentIsntWrong). Another one of those months was spent grieving the loss of Plan A – moving to San Salvador on December 23, 2015. The following three months were spent making lemonade (“When life gives you lemons…”) and learning everything I could about Youth Ministry and being in leadership. And the last month was spent trying (and failing) not to cry when I said goodbye to my favorite people and figuring out how to fit nine years of adulthood into three, 70 lbs or less, suitcases.

This is the best I could do...
This is the best I could do…

And now Here I am, in San Salvador, literally living the dream. But this weird thing happened about a week after I got here – living the dream got HARD! I expected learning Spanish to be challenging, but it is one thing to know something will be difficult and it is a completely other thing to walk out that challenge and not give up.

I landed in San Salvador with what I would call “Kitchen Spanish.” Hola amigo! Que tal? Tengo treinta-un años! Donde estas mi pizza? But I figured what everyone told me was true – the best and fastest way to learn any language is by full immersion. And my Salvadoran friends have been super eager to assist in my full immersion program! But from Day One, that was the challenge – being fully immersed in a language I barely know. When I am one-on-one with my bilingual friends, our conversation is easy because we mostly speak in English. But add even one more person, and I feel like I’m living in my own telenovela! This is actually really beneficial though because a large part of learning a new language is simply listening.

But I can only listen for so long before trying to understand every word becomes not only exhausting but impossible. There is definitely a part of myself that has gotten lost in the language. I don’t feel like myself when I am in a group of people. I can’t share my opinion, spit out a funny one liner or contribute to the conversation topic (most likely, I have no clue what the topic of conversation actually is.)

I would guess that 98% of my life in San Salvador is spent in confusion. Just last week, I was in the car with Silvia (the wife of the family I am living with) after our work day at the Children’s Center. Just like every day, we drove to pick up her kids from school. When we got to school, she informed me that we would have to wait about an hour for her son, Victor Raul, to get tutoring. Fine! No hay problema! I can nap in the car! After about an hour, Silvia and I walked into the school to retrieve Victor. He walked back to the car with us, but we didn’t leave right away. Curious… A few minutes later, his teacher joined us in the car! Ooookaaaay….maybe they invited her over for dinner as a thank you! About 10 minutes later, we were in a neighborhood I didn’t recognize. Turns out, we were taking Victor’s teacher home because she lives only a few minutes from our house! This is just one of about 10 days that have included journeys and adventures I had no clue were about to happen!

My first chocobanano! An after-work adventure I DEFINITELY wasn't expecting!
My first chocobanano! An after-work adventure I DEFINITELY wasn’t expecting!

Not being able to participate in Spanish conversations with a group of people has also had the effect of making me feel really dumb. Thoughts run through my mind like I’m so stupid! I will never learn Spanish! Why can’t I do this?? I have a college degree AND a Master’s degree! I should be able to learn Spanish! It’s like the easiest language in the world! But possibly, and most crushing to my spirit, I feel like everyone around me thinks I’m an idiot too.

Even so, not by my own strength, but by the strength of God, every day, I wake up and tell the family “Buenos días!” During the week, I go to the Children’s Center and ask my new friend, Kevin, “Ya comes? No? Quieres huevos? Siiiii! Y cuántos tortillas? Café con azúcar??” And some days, I even help with math homework! (math AND Spanish?? Si se puede! Yes, we can!) And with God’s Holy Spirit within me, I am learning. Words that escaped my memory, no matter how many times someone told me, are finally sticking. Thanks to the patience of my friends, their willingness to speak slowly, (and hand gestures) I am understanding way more than I can speak.

Girl Talk
Girl Talk

I am also appreciating this season of listening. In the States, I am so quick to speak and slow to listen. I try really hard to empathize with what people share with me, but many times, how I can relate, and how I feel about their problem and what I am going to say next are the thoughts running through my mind as people open up their hearts to me. So perhaps God has purposely placed me in this challenge as a way to teach me to listen to understand, not to listen and respond.

I also recently found a Spanish teacher! Sarah is one of Victor Raul’s teachers at school, and she was eager to help me learn! We had our first lesson last weekend and it went really well! I am finally learning the alphabet, I learned that English “-tion” words are “-ción” words in Spanish, and I began reading the classic, El Gato con Botas (Puss in Boots)! Sarah is super friendly and willing to help however she can. Just today she messaged me reminding me she is only a text away if I have any questions “sobre español!”

My most important lesson in language learning isn’t that “perrito” is a completely different word from “pedito” (the tongue-roll on those R’s is suuuper important), or that although mostly harmless in English, “estúpido” is really pretty offensive in San Salvador. The most important thing I can learn and must remember is that God has called me to this place and He will give me the tools and abilities to bring glory to His Kingdom. He IS going to use me here. In Spanish. And you know how I know? Because Satan is working overtime to convince me He won’t.

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

Philippians 1v6 The Message

This is why I want to learn Spanish. Two days ago, two sweet girls, Lorena and Claudia, called on the name of Christ and trusted Him with their lives! And now what? These girls need someone to walk beside them as they begin to figure out just what it means to walk with Jesus. I believe God has called me to be that person someday soon.

 

This is why I want to learn Spanish. Two days ago, two sweet girls, Lorena and Claudia, called on the name of Christ and trusted Him with their lives! And now what? These girls need someone to walk beside them as they begin to figure out just what it means to walk with Jesus. I believe God has called me to be that person someday soon.

In the beginning…

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(This is an update from my first week here! There will definitely be another one coming soon! Sorry for the delay in posting!)

Hola Hola, amigos!

Well, I have been living in San Salvador for a little over a week now and think I owe you guys a little update!

First of all, and most obvious, I am alive and I have internet! PRAISE BREAK!

This past week has been a mix of work, fun and relaxation. The Turcios Family (Pastor Victor, Silvia, Silvita and Victor Raúl) has welcomed me with open arms and I am settling into my new home very nicely. This past Wednesday was Silvia’s 50th birthday (I know, right?? It’s gotta be the heat or something that keeps Salvadorans looking so young and beautiful!) ! The family and I went to dinner at a local restaurant, La Pizzeria to celebrate! We had calamari and 3 different types of pizza! After a night of laughter and sharing stories, I am already beginning to feel like part of the family!

Mi Familia


One of my biggest challenges has been and will continue to be my lack of fluency in the Spanish language. When I am with a group of friends, most of the time, I am able to generally pick up the topic, but I don’t understand enough to jump in the conversation…yet. I am listening to learn and speaking when I can. This often leads to one of two reactions: a cocked head and confused face or a fit of laughter. In Colorado, at Mission Training International, I learned that one of the perks of language learning is giving the locals a reason to laugh. So, here’s to bringing the joy!


I have had the joy of spending much of my week at the Children’s Development Center (CDI en español 😉 ) in Guayabo and one day at the newer CDI in Soyapango. The new Soyapango CDI is absolutely beautiful and barely recognizable from the single, open-air building it was the last time I saw it! There are fewer children at the Soya CDI, but one in particular has stuck in my heart since I first met him in June 2014, on my very first day ever in San Salvador. Cesar is now 12 years old, and I have had the joy of reconnecting with him each of the three times I have been to Soyapango. This week, when Cesar walked into his CDI and saw an (unforgettable??) tall, blonde girl sitting at his table, he shouted, “ASHLEY?!” What?? He remembered my name?? Man, I love these kids.

My days at the Guayabo CDI this week have literally been filled with precious moments. It has been a blessing to begin to build relationships with the sisters of Esmerelda, a sweet girl taken from us much too soon by cancer, last March 2015. Seeing that these girls have persevered through a loss too heartbreaking to conceive is pure, hard proof that God is working in the CDI.

On Friday, we had a grand day at the Guayabo CDI celebrating Silvia’s birthday with the kids! Marleni, one of the teachers, baked beautiful pink cupcakes for the morning class and got a GIANT cake for the afternoon class! We sang, laughed, and filled our bellies with delicious treats!

One morning, I was instructed to help a boy, Kevin, look through workbooks to find photos of natural disasters (volcanoes, earthquakes, flooding, etc) and assist him in finishing his poster board filled with hand drawn images and how to avoid each one. Needless to say, there was a bit of a language barrier, but sweet Kevin had patience with me, and as it turns out, I have quite a bit of information tucked away about where to live to avoid a landslide!

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This past Tuesday morning, my dear friend and co-worker, Adriana and I met with Pastor Victor to discuss our individual job responsibilities and what we will be working on together. For the time being, my job will not be focused on youth ministry, but I will begin to work with the pre-teens (middle school) in the next month or so. In the meantime, my #1 priority is helping to raise funds for the church, the Children’s Center and the Total Health Clinic. I will focus specifically on helping to raise the remaining $30,000 of $40,000 to build a dental clinic at the Guayabo CDI.

As expected, one of my other responsibilities will include managing the social media pages! There are three Facebook pages (CDI, Total Health Clinic, and Mission Teams) and one Instagram page. Along with the social media outlets, I will also work with Adriana to update the blog twice a month.

Because another part of my job includes accompanying mission teams every day when they are here, the fun starts tonight when Adriana and I travel with the van drivers to the airport to pick up my first of many mission teams! This ALSO means that when any of you Rock City folks come on a mission trip to San Salvador, yours truly will be greeting you with open arms to my new home! I am really looking forward to spending time with my Rock City family when they come down!


This week was a smooth warm-up to what my future here in San Salvador will look like, and based on what I have done and seen so far, it will be an exceptional challenge that I am more than ready and incredibly excited to jump into! The only thing missing is my girl Ali Howard. She is currently raising support with the bold prayer to move here mid-November. It will be a beautiful blessing to have her here. If you are interested in her Salvadoran ministry, please check her out at alihoward.co! Help get my bestie to San Salvador! The CDI needs her and I want her here!AliAshley

Thank you so very much for your continued prayers, financial support and outpourings of love. Each morning when I wake up in my bed with my Salvadoran family, in our Salvadoran house, I thank God that He is always and forever good and always comes through on His promises.

“Look at the nations and watch—
    and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
    that you would not believe,
    even if you were told.”
Habakkuk 1v5

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

Please Pray:

  • That my Spanish would come quickly and that I do not get frustrated when I say something silly or can’t participate in conversations as I would like to.
  • For my ability to accomplish all the responsibilities entrusted to me and for the sunshine to keep my stress at a record low!
  • For overall culture adjustments. So far, so good, but I know a moment will come when something unexpectedly drives me crazy! Prayers for patience and calmness when it does!
  • For Ali as she continues her support raising journey!
  • For all the Rock City Youth students and leaders as they raise support to head to the NYC Dream Center for a week of serving!

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

Estoy Aquí!

¡hola hola! 😎

I know many of you (ok, anyone who follows me on social media) may be surprised and even concerned that I have not posted ANY photos since moving to El Salvador last Thursday! But the truth is, I haven’t TAKEN many photos! I’ve been enjoying reconnecting with friends I have not seen in 16 months and figuring out how to live life as a Salvadoreña! But, estoy aquí! I am here! And life is great! My new family (Pastor Victor, his wife Silvia and their two children, Silvita & Victor Raul) have welcomed me with open arms as their adopted (and MUCH taller) daughter! My friends have resorted to speaking only 5% English with me, so I am learning very quickly! I have visited both the Guayabo and Soyapango Children’s Centers and been given more hugs than I can try to count! I will give a longer update later this week, but I wanted to check in and let you all know that I am safe, I am happy, and I am home. 🇸🇻

Soy Salvadoreña

February 2016 Update

Hola Hola, Amigos!

Oh my goodness! Where has February gone?! It has been a whirlwind month for me! The month of love was filled with just that – support and encouragement from the people who love me the most. It has been truly sweet!

This month wasn’t a monumental month, although there were a few memorable moments, it was more a month of maintaining. By the beginning of February, my Development Plan was in full swing. I have been more involved in Rock City Youth, I am being challenged weekly in my discipleship lessons with Pam and by mid-February, my counselor affirmed that we were accomplishing what we had set out to do! My favorite part of each week has been spending a few hours at home with my two favorite guys – Dad & Dewey! Last, but definitely not least, are my Spanish lessons! I have a long way to go before I am even close to fluent, but speaking, writing and listening in Spanish is becoming more natural.

Being able to maintain my Development Plan means being able to trust that God has me in the palm of His hand and that He has already mapped out this part of my life. Somewhere right around the middle of the month, being in Columbus no longer felt like being stuck. It began to feel comfortable and I became settled in the situation. I was no longer panicked or anxious about not knowing when I will move to San Salvador. Any obstacle that has been tossed into my path, God has removed in His perfect way. I know that I will move there soon and that whatever happens between then and now, it is all part of God’s plan and His hands are all over my life.

On January 18th, Rock City Church began their annual 21 Day Fast. Rather than giving something up this year, I chose to add something into my life. I didn’t remove anything from my life because I feel like I have been in a season of God taking things from me. He took my plans for leaving in December and He took my control over knowing and deciding when I would leave. So instead of giving up even more when I am already in a season of deprivation, I added in daily, focused prayer time. Every morning at 6am, I crawled out of bed and fell (sometimes literally!) to my knees in an hour of prayer to God. I wanted to be in conversation with God before anyone had a chance to text me, like my Instagram post, tag me on Facebook, or otherwise distract me from my Creator. Some mornings were awesome and the hour would fly by. Other mornings, I tried and failed at praying while sitting up in bed (“I’m awake! I’m listening, God. I’m herrrreee….zzz…”). The fast ended February 7th and to be honest, I was thrilled to have my extra sleep back in the morning. Although I was slightly better rested, my days were less purpose-driven. Not having my morning time with God (even the failed prayer mornings) took away the conviction of knowing that whatever happened, God’s got it under control. So I am now adding that dedicated morning prayer time back into my schedule a few times a week.


One of my favorite nights from February was an evening at Youth Pastor Amanda’s home. The Rock City Youth Core Leadership Team gathered for our monthly Family Dinner Night. We got close & comfy on the couch, shared praises of what has been going well in Youth and what needs modified. But before we got down to business, Amanda’s husband, Josh, joined us to lead us in an acoustic worship session on his guitar. It was such a precious time, sitting with some of my closest friends, giving God all our praise. After a few songs, we each shared where we were feeling weak and could use some extra prayer and we prayed over each other while Josh continued playing in the background. With our hearts out in the open, we were ready for God to make moves through us in the Youth of Columbus. We spoke truth to one another, sang each other’s praises and laughed – a lot. At one point, I stopped talking, stopped laughing, and just took it all in. I have been so very blessed to be surrounded by people who share my heart for Youth Ministry. The leaders of Rock City Youth have been my family for a year and a half. When I stopped to appreciate the moment, I realized once again just how much I am going to miss these people when I move. I completely empathize with Paul when he wrote,

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.

Philippians 1v8


February held an especially sweet memory – Ali Howard returned back home to Columbus! She spent looooong 3 weeks away visiting San Salvador and attending Reliant’s New Staff Training so that she can begin building her ministry team! Ali will be moving to San Salvador full-time to serve at the Children’s Centers in Guayabo and Soyapango. It’s kinda cool to think that she will minister to the children while they are in elementary school and then she will hand them off to me when they’re old enough for youth group! My friendship with Ali was definitely unexpected but quickly turned into one of my most treasured relationships. There hasn’t been one day since we both confessed wanting to move to San Salvador full-time that I haven’t thanked God that we are going through this process together.

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{…and yet, our friendship just works. 💜}


For over a year now, I have had the pleasure of being discipled by my mentor Pam. Two weeks ago, I began taking what she has taught me and pouring it into someone else. Many of you know of Olivia, one of the sophomore Rock City Youth girls that has permanently taken up space in my heart. Olivia loves Jesus with all of her heart and I actually got to baptize her last spring! She is now in a place of her faith journey where she wants to know all she can about God and His Word. This provided a beautiful opportunity for me to practice discipleship from the other point of view! Olivia and I are working our way through the book of Philippians, discussing how Paul’s words speak to us and what confuses us. We are also spending time simply being in awe of a God who can take a man who one was murdering Christians and the next, that same man preached the Gospel and wrote a huge chunk of the New Testament. I am really excited to see where God leads Olivia and me on this journey. I am even more excited to hear how Olivia will take what she learns from our time together and passes it on to someone else. The process of discipleship is truly neverending!

{Discipleship Devotional with Olivia}

 

 

It has taken almost three months, but I am finally resting in God’s plan and actually enjoying it! Until I move to San Salvador, I am continuing to lean into God’s sovereignty and trusting in His word when He tells me,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8v28

Thank you all for your continued support! Each and every one of you is allowing God to work through you to encourage me to persevere on. The following verse from Hebrews speaks so clearly to me in this season of my life. Because I am surrounded by a cloud of people who love and support me, I am all the more able to banish from my life the evil one’s attempts to slow me down or stop me altogether. It is with your help and your love that I am able to focus on God’s purpose for me, no matter where in the world I am.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hebrews 12v1

Please Pray:

  • For Rock City Youth as we travel to Canton, Ohio, March 3-5 for Love is Red, a Youth and Young Adult conference with the vision of “developing leaders and inspiring students to know God and to make Him known.” I got to go last year, and it is a beautiful thing to watch students from all over the country raise their arms in surrender to Jesus.
  • Friendships will be built and faiths will be strengthened. As my girl, Olivia Shank said when my departure got delayed, “Hey! This means you get to go to Love is Red, RIGHT?!” Right on, amiga!
  • Next week’s Rock City Youth Night! We will be hosting an anonymous Q&A with a panel of youth leaders!
  • For Ali as she begins building her Ministry Support Team! This season of ministry is one that requires much perseverance, but inevitably draws us closer to God. Sign-up to follow her journey here!
  • Rock City Church’s first mission trip of the year to San Salvador! Our Beyond Our Walls Director, Nate, leaves with a team of missionaries on March 5th to serve the people of San Salvador. Lives are going to be changed! Gracias Dios!
    For continued endurance and the ability to “relax and enjoy the journey in God’s presence.” (Jesus Calling)

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

Want a little sunshine in your inbox each month? WHO DOESN’T?!?

Click this link to get signed up for my monthly email updates ➳ You’ve Got Mail!

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January 2016 Update

Hola Hola, amigos!

Considering I started the month having no clue what to expect, January pleasantly surprised me! I moved into a new host family home, Rock City Youth came in like a wrecking ball, and my birthday was the highlight of everyone’s month!

January started out with a move! I am now living with Pam and Brad Boseker. Pam is my discipler (mentor). As part of my Development Plan from Rock City Church, she and I meet at on the couch once a week for a lesson on evangelism, how to study the Bible or we focus on one Bible theme. These lessons with Pam are changing how I view God, how I read the Bible and how I view myself in God’s plan. One-on-one mentor time with Pam is definitely something I would not be getting if I were in San Salvador right now, so I am appreciating that beautiful perk of being stateside! One of the greatest parts of living with my mentor is that I get daily encouragement and support for this unexpected life detour I’m currently in.

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After a month long hiatus, Rock City Youth came back in 2016 with a night of killer worship and a solid message from our Rock City Church Lead Pastor, Chad Fisher. Not only had Youth been on break for a month, but I was in Colorado for the month of November, so it had been since the end of October that I had seen my Youth comrades! Being back with the students laughing, catching up on life and praising God was just what I needed in the midst of my season of uncertainty. Turns out they weren’t so disappointed that I’m still around. 😉

View More: http://rockcityyouth.pass.us/011316

View More: http://rockcityyouth.pass.us/011316


A few weeks ago, Amanda, the Rock City Youth Pastor, and I decided that part of my uneasiness of being in Ohio was that I no longer had a schedule. Fortunately for me, Amanda is one of my more ingenious friends!

We sat down and figured that as a full-time employee of Reliant Mission, I should be working about 40 hours per week. So what am I doing with those 40 hours? My Development Plan from Rock City included:

  • Weekly counseling appointments
  • Twice a week discipleship meetings with Pam
  • Weekly Spanish lessons
  • Rock City Youth Leadership
  • Intentionally deepening my relationship with Dad before leaving the country

We scheduled out the appropriate amount of hours for each of those activities and I was left with about 13 hours to fill.

When I began serving with Rock City Youth, I was put in the position of the 9th-grade girls’ LifeGroup (small group) leader. I absolutely loved this job and it solidified my passion for youth ministry. Since then, I have been moved around a bit to fit the needs of Youth, but I have always been a LifeGroup Leader. Pastor Amanda decided that it was time to up my game and strengthen my building muscles.

girls
{a few of our 9th (now 10th!) grade girls!}

In Rock City Youth, I was a leader, spending time with the students and committing much of my schedule to connecting with them. I was now going to become a builder. I love being a LifeGroup leader, and honestly, I’m pretty good at it. But the next level, administrative stuff was where my skills were weaker. As a builder, I am building up new leaders to be able to go out and reach the students of Columbus.

I am now the Rock City Youth Leadership Coordinator! Youth is fortunate enough to be rapidly growing with students AND potential leaders. In the past, when someone has expressed interest in leadership, we’ve welcomed them aboard, background checked them and threw them in the pool! But as a growing organization, we need a more official and thorough process of onboarding new leaders. It is now my job to develop that process and implement it with oncoming leaders.

Yeah…I really had no clue how to do that, so this was going to be a challenge. I’m more of a people person – I can convince a brick wall to be my best friend! But coordinating all those friends into a well oiled Youth Leadership machine…?? I didn’t even know where to begin, but I was ready and willing to learn!

Amanda introduced me to a few of the web apps she has been using to organize her Youth Leadership Team. Using these apps, leadership requirements and my own experience as a leader, I got to work developing a process.

This has been a challenge for me because as much as I love being organized, getting organized can often be difficult for me to initiate and maintain. I also know very little about what requirements there are for a person in leadership at Rock City Church and how to accomplish those requirements. I also wanted to make sure we were developing a very clear process so that when I do move to San Salvador, whoever takes my place can simply step in and pick up where I leave off.

Amanda and I have a pretty good system worked out that includes a thorough system from a person’s initial interest to shadowing a Youth Leader Pro to placing the applicant in the best fitting leadership position.

Stepping out of my comfort zone of LifeGroup leadership and into a new, more administrative role isimperative for my future work in San Salvador. A year ago, Jorge, the Iglesia Gran Comisión Youth Director, told me that the leaders of the church had been “praying for someone to come and help with our youth ministry!” With my small group leading abilities and my leader-building skills, I will hopefully be God’s answer to that prayer. Whatever need is the greatest, I will be able to step in and begin to help.

Another immediate need is for someone to help update sponsors of the children in the Development Centers of El Guayabo and Soyapango. We are blessed to have over 200 children sponsored, but that means that there are over 200 people in the States wondering how their child is doing and how their money is helping. I am eager to jump in right away and begin connecting the sponsors to the child they help to support.


I’m spending more time in the Rock City Offices working with Amanda, still accomplishing my Development Plan, and enjoying life with my friends. It’s definitely not the ridiculously, crazy schedule I was maintaining over the summer and it’s not the blank canvas I was struggling to fill last month.

Call me Goldilocks, because this schedule is just right. (ha! I slay myself sometimes!)

OH! The greatest part of the month was my birthday! DUH! On January 21st, I solidified my position as a woman in her thirties by successfully turning 31! WOOOO!!!! As a Christmas gift, Dad and Cathy gave me some money to spoil myself with, so on my birthday, I did just that. I got a massage and a manicure, watched 2 hours of Law & Order: SVU and for the 19th year in a row, the fam went to Fujiyama Japanese Steakhouse for dinner! The following night, Dad was kind enough to host a birthday party in his home! I think the last birthday I celebrated with that many teenagers was back when I WAS a teenager! We had a selfie wall (a background for selfies – NOT a wall of selfies of me. Although that would have been clever), Chick-Fil-A chicken and the loveliest cupcakes I think I’ve ever seen! The night was filled with the people I love. It was the perfect end to a perfect birthday.

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{ahhh…the massage waiting room – complete with mimosa!}
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{my loves}
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{Dad, Cathy & I at the Selfie Wall!}
KAN
{BFFs 4EVA…somethings never change 😂}
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{sweet treats}

So. When am I leaving?

I still don’t know anything yet. And believe me, as soon as I do, the entire world will know! There will be a Facebook post, email, blog, cloud writing…believe me, you will know! But here is what I do know, to borrow a snippet from my previous blog post:

“Yet” means that I am still pursuing an answer, that what I am praying for will happen at the right time and that I still have hope. I rest in the truth that just because God is silent on the matter does not mean He does not hear me. God hears my cries and He will answer my prayer of moving to San Salvador. He just hasn’t…yet.

“Because He bends down to listen I will pray as long as I have breath.”

Psalm 116v2

Please Pray:

  • That God would continue to guide the days, weeks, and maybe even months that I am still in Ohio.
  • That people would continue to support my ministry, whether I am stateside or abroad.
  • That Rock City Youth would continue to grow! I recently discovered that “Make Out Calendars” are a thing, so it is evident to me that this generation is desperate for unending love and the only place they will find it is in the arms of their heavenly Father. This world needs youth ministry.
  • For growth in the Iglesia Gran Comisión (San Salvador church that I will be working for) Youth Program! The needs of youth are not specific to our country. The Salvadoran youth are just as desperate for love and acceptance and the church’s youth ministry is working diligently to point them towards Jesus.
  • That my Dad and I would continue to have quality time together and that through it, our relationship would continue to strengthen.

I would also love to pray for you! Please text me or call me letting me know what your prayer needs are. Rock City Church is on Day 12 of a 21 Day Fast. Rather than taking something away, I am adding something in to my life. Every morning at 6am, I am waking up before the sun for an hour of pure prayer. No devotional, no journal, not even my Bible – just me and God in the quiet stillness of the morning. It would be a privilege to include your prayers and praises in my new morning ritual.

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

Want a little sunshine in your inbox each month? WHO DOESN’T?!?

Click this link to get signed up for my monthly email updates ➳ You’ve Got Mail!

Please consider giving. You can get set up in five minutes by clicking the “Give to the Cause” button under my photo or by going to reliant.org/ashley.arend

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No Answers Yet

ashley_blog-no-answers-yetTuesday started out as a perfectly lovely day. Granted, it was 6am and I could barely actually see the day, but I knew it was going to be good. I had woken up early to join a few close friends at church for an early morning prayer meeting. Corporate prayer, people praying together, is a mighty powerful thing. It’s one thing to know the prayers that I am praying, but it is a whole other level of beautiful when someone gets down on their knees and echos my prayer. So even if it means waking up before the sun, it’s worth it to start my day in conversation with God and His people.

Another reason I wanted to begin my day by handing it over to God was because Tuesday was shaping up to be a very good, but very busy day. I needed to know that the day was God’s and He had His eyes on me. When I got back home after the prayer meeting for a few hours of Bible reading, I received a message from my friend Brittany. “Let me know when we can reschedule for!” Umm…what? Our 2:30pm coffee date had been in my calendar and confirmed for a week! I wasn’t cancelling!

“Let me know when we can reschedule for!”

“Why are we rescheduling?”

“You sent me an email canceling?”

“No? I didn’t mean to! My calendar has been acting up! But I’m still available today if you are!”
“Oh seriously!!?!?! Nuts!!! I told my cousin I could pick her up from school at 3pm because I thought you cancelled!!”
had been noticing that Sunrise, my iPhone and Mac desktop calendar app, had been on the fritz lately. My phone would have certain events scheduled while my computer had ruthlessly deleted them! #rude
I reached out to Amanda, my super cool, techy friend who introduced me to Sunrise, to see if she was having similar problems. She was, so we both began to Google their website to send Sunrise a strongly worded Tweet. Simultaneously, we stumbled across this headline of horror:

Microsoft Announces Plans to Discontinue the Popular Sunrise Calendar App

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

WHY GOD, WHY?????

DO YOU EVEN LOVE US????

Ok. Let me quickly explain why this was just devastating news – Amanda and I, and many of our friends, LOVE that app. Number 1, it’s pretty. And we’re all about the pretty. It’s easy to use. It syncs your calendars from iCloud, your Google account, Facebook, all of ’em. It allows you to quickly and easily invite people to appointments. It had an iPhone app AND a desktop app. Most calendar apps only have one or the other. It only cost a few bucks in the App Store. And dang, it was pretty!

For the time being, my Bible time had been pushed aside in favor of finding a new calendar app, because if I don’t have a working calendar, how will I even know when I have time for Bible time?!?

Amanda and I Googled. We Pinterested. We found ugly calendars from 2013. We found ovulation calendars. We found Make Out Calendars (side note: THAT is why we need Youth Ministry!). After almost 2 hours of searching and coming up empty-handed, the question remained:why

Well, isn’t that just the story of my life the past 2 months?!

“Hey Ashley! Soooo…you’re still here! Why?”

“No Answers Yet”

“Hey Ashley! It’s been 2 months, when are you headed to San Salvador?”

“No Answers Yet”

“Hey Ashley! Has anyone given you any idea, even a ballpark, of when you’ll be able to move?”

“No Answers Yet”

But that is just how God works sometimes. We pray and we pray and we pray, but God is silent. I have begged of Him, God, please! Just send me already! I’ve done everything I know to do! When is it my time? SilenceOk, God, fine. Make me wait. I will wait. But can you just tell me how long I have to wait? Please don’t leave me in this tunnel! Give me a light at the end! Silence.

So I wait in the tunnel. But what’s that noise?? Hello?? “OH HEYYYY FRIENDS! You brought me a present? I LOVE presents! It’s a flashlight…That’s actually just what I needed! Now I can see in this darkness! And a To-Do list? You know I love a project and a plan! What’s that? Oh! A cozy, little nook in the tunnel for me to live in! I guess I’ll just cuddle up here on the floor…A bed! Oh…that’s niiiice! Well, it’s still kinda dark in this tunnel, but now it’s kinda livable! Thanks guys!”

There is a big, over-arching part of my life that is uncertainty. Darkness. But God has not left me alone in that darkness. He is fighting for me. He knows what I want and He knows what I need. Obviously, I want to know when I will move to San Salvador! But do I need to know? Well, since God hasn’t told me yet, I guess I don’t. God doesn’t show us His love for us by giving in to all of our wants. Like a good Father, He shows his love for us by making sure our needs are taken care of first and then He tackles our wants. Can I trust the God of the Universe, the Creator, the One who knows all and sees all to know which of my wants are best for me? Well, when you put it that way…yes, of course. But do I also get frustrated when I cry, pray, and plead for a timeline and instead of opening the clouds, tapping me on the shoulder and yelling, “ASHLEY! Hey! Yeah! It’s me! That date you wanted to know? April 3rd! Ok, talk to you later!” God remains silent on the issue? Of course.


While I was at Missionary Training International in Colorado, I learned the importance of the word “Yet.”

  • “This culture doesn’t make sense to me…yet.”
  • “I haven’t learned how to do my new job…yet.”
  • “I don’t know how to speak Spanish…yet.”

“Hey Ashley! It’s been 2 months, when are you headed to San Salvador?” I don’t know…YET.

“Yet” means that I am still pursuing an answer, that what I am praying for will happen at the right time and that I still have hope. I rest in the truth that just because God is silent does not mean He does not hear me. God hears my cries and He will answer my prayer. He just hasn’t…yet.

Because He bends down to listen I will pray as long as I have breath

Psalm 116v2

 

This is The Day

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Today was my day. Well, today was supposed to be my day. The day everything changed. The day I left Columbus, Ohio with tears of sadness for the people I would leave behind. The day I stepped onto Salvadoran ground with tears of joy for the people God would touch through me. Today was going to be the day I changed my Facebook country of residency from The United States to El Salvador (because we all know it’s not really real until it’s on Facebook).

Today is not my day. Today, I sit in on a couch in Columbus, Ohio. Today, I long for my Salvadorans. Today, I meditate on what the apostle Paul preached and I practice walking by faith and not by sight.

Today is not my day.

One month ago today, November 23rd, I purchased a one-way plane ticket to San Salvador, El Salvador. I found the perfect ticket with the perfect departure time (so long as I didn’t mind kissing friends and family goodbye at 5am!), the perfect landing time, the perfect window seat and the perfect amount of free checked luggage. But if I am being honest with myself and with all of you, it didn’t quite feel perfect. But nevertheless, leaving at the end of December was the plan! I’d be in San Salvador for Christmas, I’d make it to the youth conference with the Salvadoran youth and I’d finally have my dream beach birthday in January! Nevermind that something felt a little off, the plan was coming together!

My plan.

Since the beginning of this journey, I pleaded with God to stop me in my tracks if moving to San Salvador to become a full-time missionary was a road not meant for me. I prayed, God, open the doors that will get me to San Salvador. But if this is not Your plan for me, shut the doors. Slam them. Lock them. Holy Spirit Super Glue them closed because (like He didn’t already know,) I will knock DOWN a door if what I want is on the other side. Father, make it hurt so that I learn my lesson. 

Proof that God hears my prayers: This hurts. I believe with my entire heart and spirit that God will get me to San Salvador. But I was on a road of my own planning and my own paving. And just as I asked, God gave me an obvious and painful detour. Telling my Salvadorans that I am not sure when I will be moving broke my heart. Explaining to supporters that my plans had been shaken up and that “this happens all the time in missions!” felt like slowly pulling off a scab each time it happened. Shouting at God in my moments of despair and frustration felt like an act I didn’t have the right to do.

I  don’t have any concrete answers yet as to why God still has me here in Ohio, but what I do have is healing. What was initially an excruciating pain is now a dull ache. The initial shock has worn off and I have settled into this new phase of my journey. The truth is, I may never know until I see God face-to-face why He has me on this particular detour.

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.’
Lamentations 3v22-24

Because I know that God loves me beyond measure, I do not let my feelings of uncertainty and frustration overtake my spirit. Of course, I have moments when I wonder if God even knows what He’s doing up there. In these moments, I must make it a practice to close my eyes, envision God’s hands tenderly cupping my face and hear Him lovingly whisper, Little girl, didn’t I tell you that if you believed, you would see my glory? And I do believe. Even when it doesn’t make sense, I believe. God’s compassion for my weak spirit will never fail. He will continue to whisper His truths to my heart and the glory of His plans will be revealed to me.

My motto this month has been “I don’t ‘Be still and wait!'” I am wonderfully made by God and He made me a planner. I love a good, solid plan. Most of my plans are set in stone because it’s pretty dang difficult to erase stone carvings. Knowing that God has purposely placed me in a season of “Be still and wait” doesn’t exactly go along with my plans. But what choice do I have other than to do as I have been told? Bitterness against the people deciding when I can go to San Salvador will only cause me regret. Dreams of what could have been only wound my heart deeper. And making my own plan, outside of God’s will, certainly is no longer an option.

Because God is all I need, I will wait on His timing.

Because God bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.†

And because He saved my soul, I will give Him all of my days.

Today is not my day.

Whatever plan for the day I come up with pales in comparison to the plan that God has already written for me. I trust that He knows my heart, knows my desires and as long as I keep my eyes on Him, whether I am seated on a plane headed to San Salvador or cuddled up on my best friend’s couch in Ohio, today is God’s day, and I will rejoice and be glad in it.


† Psalm 116v2

Calm My Storm

ashley_blog-calm-my-stormMy life is chaotic. There is not one room in my home that doesn’t look me in the eyes and berate me with a tirade of to-do list items. I am overwhelmed to the point of standstill.

In exactly 10 days, I must be completely, 100% moved out of my home. On October 25th at 6am, I fly to Colorado for 4 weeks of cultural, international missionary training. On November 1st, while I am gone, the first of my two renters moves in. I am simultaneously maniacally deciding which of my life mementos I want to keep, packing for Colorado, packing for San Salvador and attempting to continue raising support so that I can get to San Salvador and begin walking out God’s call on my life. Oh, and at 8am this morning, I had my right eye tweaked (not to be confused with twerked. Nothing ever needs twerked. Ever.) and “re-lasered” because, although it was much better, my vision wasn’t quite perfect after my Lasik procedure 2 months ago.

My life is chaotic.

I have so much to do, just a few days to do it in, and yet I find myself sitting at my borrowed table (the only item of furniture left in my home is my bed), scrolling through Facebook for minutes on end. “Netflix and chill” is not longer a reward for a day of hard work – it has become an escape from the hundreds of things needing to be done in my life. After reading status after status about people actually doing things with their days, this becomes my thought process:

Do I go through my hundreds of earrings or do I sort through my office supplies? Will I need envelopes in San Salvador? I should keep these earrings – Mom bought them for me when she went on that one trip and now she will never be able to buy me earrings ever again. I wish mom were here. This is hard. I literally can’t even right now. Just ONE episode of Friends while I basic white girl out with my coffee with pumpkin creamer and pumpkin bagel with pumpkin cream cheese. Do they even have pumpkin flavored things in San Salvador? Awwwwww this is my last season of pumpkin flavored everything! Just one more episode. CRAP! There is so much to do and I’m not doing any of it! This will never get done!

Amidst all the turbulence in my life, I have become like Jesus’ disciples in the boat during a raging storm. Water is sloshing into the boat. Waves are threatening their buoyancy. It is dark and the land has disappeared. Jesus somehow sleeps through this turmoil, and His disciples awake him and clamor,

Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?

That, my friends, is where I don’t want to find myself – crying out to Jesus, HELLLOOOOO??? Do you even care that I am drowning here??  Rooms remain unpacked, my fine things are piled up to be sold in yard sales, my memories scattered to the wind…yet I know that Jesus is here among the disarray. I know that He is using all this disorder to teach me things about my own character and His. I know that Jesus is holding my flustered cheeks in His mighty hands, and as my eyes dart from room to room, from item to item on my to-list, He patiently whispers, Hey! Hey! Look at me! and when my eyes are finally able to focus on His eyes, Jesus asks of me,

My sweet girl, why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?

I am forced to ask this of myself – why AM I afraid? Am I afraid that God won’t get me to San Salvador? Am I afraid that I won’t pack the right things? Am I afraid that if I forfeit a memento to the trash that my memory of that moment will be forfeited as well? Because my answer is yes to each of those fears and so many more, I can only have faith. Without faith that God WILL get me to San Salvador, provide me with all that I need and fill my spirit with memories of my previous life, without that faith, my ship will founder. I will give into living in fear. I must have faith.

And as if in an attempt to remind me why I have faith in Him, Jesus draws me close and calms my storm. It is in the arms of my Savior that I am able to exhale, let go, and trust in Him.

Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm.¹


¹ Mark 4v35-40

Answer.

ashley_blog-answerGod knows me so well. He knows my strengths (outgoing, determined, singing off key with abandon) and he knows my weaknesses (patience, control freak, singing off key with abandon). These past few weeks, He has been beefing up my patience muscle.

On April 2nd, 2015, I completed the final step in the arduous application process for Great Commission Ministries (GCM), the company that will be sending me as a missionary to Sal Salvador. This final step was a phone interview with Cori, a GCM employee specializing in International Missions. At the start of the conversation, Cori let me know that GCM would inform me of their hiring decision around April 20th. This was 18 days, almost three weeks later. Okay Patience. Time to show ’em what we’ve got! I told her that was fine, as long as I had time to register for the June New Employee training by the April 30th deadline.

26 days later, with patience just about parched and anxiety fully settled in, I heaved my trust onto God. He will supply me with what I need, when I need it. BUT GOD, IT’S ALMOST THE 30TH, I NEED IT NOOOOOW! WHAT ARE YOU EVEN DOING UP THERE?! My mantra became “Mustard seed of faith…I just need a tiny mustard seed of faith…”

With 48 hours to spare before the registration deadline, I received my job offer at 11:56pm on April 28th.

Guys. I’M GOING TO SAN SALVADOR!


 

San Salvador? Really? Where is that exactly? South America, right? Is it miserably hot there? Does anyone there speak English?

Why do you have to go all the way THERE to do mission work when there’s work to be done in your own backyard?

I concede that moving to San Salvador to be a full-time missionary doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. My family and friends are here. My job is here. I’ve earned the trust and precious relationships with a handful of Rock City Youth girls here. I don’t speak much Spanish. San Salvador is dangerous. And if I want to do good work for God, why do I have to leave the country to do it? Why can’t I just stay in the US and serve my own country?

Because of childlike wonder.

Because of little girl giggles.

Because of the fire and potential of a generation.

Because when God calls, you answer. As I stood on the futbol field of Colegio Ceren in June 2014, I knew God was calling me there. I have always known that I was made for more than teaching in a classroom, but I couldn’t figure out what. It was at that moment that I heard God’s gentle, but stern whisper. San Salvador Youth.  4 years of teaching and 7 years of church-hopping had led me to that place. God finally had my attention.

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It is absolutely true that there is much work to be done in the city of Columbus, my home. But just because my hometown youth need a little TLC doesn’t mean that God has called me to stay here. To some, he instructs to stay.

If you stay in this land, I will build you up and not tear you down; I will plant you and not uproot you.. {Jeremiah 42:10}

To others, He commands to get up and go.

And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” {Luke 7:14 NKJV}

I am a believer in Christ and as such, I am required to follow Him. I have spent too many years of my life not following Christ and I am done wasting my time. It is my time to rise and follow. In the words of Christine Caine, I am “the church of Jesus Christ on the earth today, the visible representation of an invisible God. I have the Holy Spirit living within me and have been commissioned to shine His love in the midst of a dark world.”

As a missionary to San Salvador, my heart beats for God’s people. I will run into the darkness and shine Christ’s light. My arms are open to the poor because Jesus tells us “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” {Matthew 25:40}

Above all, I am a Missionary to San Salvador because I am Jesus’ hands and feet here on Earth. He has entrusted me with the divine responsibility of loving and caring for His people. For the first time in my life, I know for certain that this is what God wants from me and I am living out the purpose for which He created me.

When God calls, you must answer.

I answered and I am going.

If I proclaim the Message, it’s not to get something out of it for myself.

I’m compelled to do it and doomed if I don’t!  {1 Corinthians 9:16 (MSG)}


As for when I am going, that is to be determined. I must go to 2 trainings and raise my financial support before I can go anywhere. MY bold prayer is to be there by the end of December, in time for Infinito, a Youth Conference in Honduras that the San Salvador Youth attend every year. I think that could be an amazing and powerful way to start my ministry. I realize that if that happens, it will be all God’s doing. But all things, especially those beyond my wildest imagination, are possible with God.

I Want to Help

ashley_blog-iwouldliketohelp10 months ago, I reluctantly walked into a Salvadorian high school, unsure of what to expect from Central American teenagers and convinced that whatever happened that day, my presence there was meaningless.

It was the fourth day of Rock City Church’s June mission trip to San Salvador, El Salvador. I had signed up and gone on the trip because I felt God pulling at my heart and urging me to go. I wasn’t sure why God wanted me there – I don’t speak Spanish, little kids usually annoy me (the whole point of this trip was to serve the Children’s Development Center which our church helped fundraise and build), and it was the beginning of my favorite season back home. Even so, I trusted God’s tugging and ended up in San Salvador with about 15 other missionaries.

Up to that point on the trip, I had felt pretty useless. I wasn’t needed on the construction project at the Children’s Center. Every other missionary on the trip wanted to work with the little kids, so even if I did suck it up and offer to hang out with the tiny humans, there was no need for me. And the small kitchen didn’t have space for one more clueless-in-the-kitchen “gringa.”

When the offer came to go to a local, private high school, Colegio Ceren, I refused to volunteer. I teach high school Language Arts 9 months out of the year, so being the first week of June, the last thing I wanted to do was surround myself with teenagers. But everyone else on the team already had their job and there was a desperate need for missionaries in the high school, so I agreed to go.

Our overall goal for the day at Colegio Ceren was to reach out to the students, share our stories with them and share the love of God with them through building relationships and telling them about God’s Word for us in the Bible. My job was to warm the students up to us through a hilarious game of “Conejo Gordo” (chubby bunny). The game requires participants to shove as many giant marshmallows as possible in their mouth and say the words “Conejo gordo” comprehensibility, without spitting out or swallowing the marshmallows.

I had no idea that this small activity would ignite a burst of flames in my heart for the youth of San Salvador. After a few hours with the teenagers, they had collectively stolen my heart. Even though I spoke very little Spanish and they spoke very little English, we were able to communicate and begin to connect (thank God for our amazing translators!!). I rode back to the hotel in our van with my mind swirling with visions of what my future would look like, because after that short day, I knew why God had taken me to San Salvador.

——

When I returned home to Ohio, I began reading news articles about all the teenagers who had left their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and San Salvador in hopes of a better life in the US. Most of these kids were fleeing an assured future of drug use, gang violence and poverty. But upon reaching US soil (if they were lucky enough to survive the trek), they were told they had to go back because 1) They were there illegally, 2) They were minors, and 3) They were without parents.

When I read these articles, my mind was immediately transposed back to San Salvador. I had met teenagers fighting against all odds to not become another statistic for their hopeless and purposeless generation. My heart cried out to them, needing to do more. Sure, every dollar sent there from my paycheck helps and going on mission trips gets my hands dirty and impacts lives. But I knew I needed to do MORE. I needed to be there, in the thick of it, building relationships, sharing God’s love and impacting lives.

—–

Now, 10 months later, my heart is still yearning for San Salvador. I have gone on a total of 2 mission trips with Rock City Church and spent another 11 days in San Salvador getting a taste of what daily life is like when I’m not on a mission trip with all of my needs taken care of.

My goal is to move to San Salvador around this time next year. Ideally, I will work with the youth group of Rock City Church’s partner church, Iglesia Gran Comision San Salvador. Too many Salvadorian teenagers give in to their culture’s low expectations of them. But they are a talented, able and resourced generation capable of changing those views and impacting the world around them.

And I want to help.