Honduras Semana Santa Trip  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

Last month 5 of us went with some Salvadorean Cruzada staff and 5 students, 4 from Matias and 1 from Evangelica, on a Semana Santa trip to Honduras. Semana Santa is kind of like spring break here, except it's for everyone in Central America to have off to be with family, go vacation, do things with church and for some, celebrate Jesus' death and resurrection. But we took the opportunity to go out to Honduras and take the gospel to some poor rural communities.

We took 2 12-passenger vans northeast with luggage for all 16 of us and equipment to show the Jesus film in public (3 old school projection systems with 5 cases each, probably totalling 300 pounds.) We headed out at 7:30 am and drove 9 hours through El Salvador and Honduras, with me driving the Cruzada van and Manuel driving a rented van with a lot more power. I ended up trailing pretty far behind much of the time because of significantly inferior power and tons of big hills and windy roads almost the entire way. We saw many crazy passes on the two-lane highway we were on, and drivers with little concern for their own safety or the safety of others.

We finally arrived in Honduras at 4:30 with sore butts, coming to a kind of camping area with a bunch of tents set up, and old buses set up on blocks to provide extra living space. The biggest tent had a big stage set up for music and dancing, and plenty of room for chairs. The whole thing looked like an old hippie tent revival.

We really had no idea what to expect with this whole thing, and knew that as Central American culture goes, anything we had planned could be completely thrown out the window and replaced with something new. So we were quickly told upon arrival that we would be split up into 3 teams and go to different towns for most of the rest of the trip. Manuel told us that Kristen, Joe and Brenna would go with three Matias students, Ruben, Herman and Jenny, that Jenna and I would go with 2 staff, Selegna (from Panama) and Janette, and a student from Matias, Jairo, and that Manuel would go with his son Geovanny, Rocio (a girl from Evangelica), and this lady Veronica and her son Daniel, who I had no idea how were connected to the group at all. And so the adventure continued!

Our team got into the back of a pick-up and rode to Zacapa, a little town with about 1000 people, mostly dirt roads, a town square with a park adjacent to the Catholic church -- the biggest building in town -- and streets dominated by kids, dogs and chickens all running around unrestrained. We quickly found out that we would be splitting up for sleeping and eating. The girls were in one house with one pastor, Jairo was in another, and I in another with another pastor. My house was all the way across town, and I had to take my stuff nearly a mile over there the first night, but a couple kids helped me out.

The pastor and his family had a nice house, as houses in Zacapa go, and they were very nice and hospitable. I did feel really awkward being a gringo there and being the only one, and it didn't help that they really weren't too social and didn't engage me much. I ate most of my meals alone, for whatever reason I know not, and after a couple unfortunate plates, ended up being apprehensive of what would come next. At lunch on the second day I came up to the table to find a bowl of soup which didn't appear too harmless at first, but ended up being quite the experience. Mandongo as I learned it was called, consists of plantane, potato, squash, and cow liver (tripa) and just about made me vomit. The cow liver was about as tough as a car tire except slimy, and I spent so long trying to chew one piece that I looked around for possible witnesses and spit it out into a napkin and put it in my pocket.

As for ministry, one afternoon we taught a bunch of youth in the church we were helping the 4 Spiritual Laws. One Guatemalen that was with us drilled them for an hour, just having them memorize each point and the scripture references associated with them. Then we showed the Jesus film -- kids version -- twice, once in the church and once in the town square. The second time we were feeling a lot of discouragement for showing it as we walked around town and saw a version of it playing in many homes. We wondered, has everyone seen this already? And the pastor whose church we worked at was asking us are you really showing this again? But ultimately we felt led to still do it and though it seemed like no one would show up, there ended up being over 100 people with dozens that accepted Christ!

The trip was so cool in how it allowed us to connect with students of Matias and allow them to lead out and take steps of faith. At the Jesus film in town, I went with one of our student leaders, Jairo, and he led a lady and her kids through the 4 Spiritual Laws and his testimony, with the end result of her accepting Christ with tears in her eyes. It was so cool!

On the third day, we left to go have a kind of debriefing time at the beach, where, believe it or not, we stayed at a military base! We got a big warm welcome from some soldiers that scolded us for taking pictures on the base, which is a big no-no apparently. We slept in the barracks alongside some soldiers, on hard concrete floors, and the Central Americans played loud games and sang songs all night right outside where Joe and I were trying to sleep -- it seems like they just don't value sleep like Americans do. We also were scolded for playing cards on base, which was fun too. But the coolest part of this part of the trip was hearing students tell stories from the week, how they were impacted and how they saw God move.

But I think the beach was the most memorable part of Honduras. When I heard this was a port city, I knew it wasn't a good sign, but I could have never been prepared for what I witnessed. Trash like you would never imagine, drunk people watching distasteful beach concerts, stagnant water crammed with people and even a huge shipwreck. Joe's comment was "Even if you told me to imagine the worst beach I could imagine, I never would have imagined one this bad."

The last thing we had to do to complete our grand adventure was make the little 12 hour jaunt back to El Salvador. For some reason, Central Americans feel the need to start super early for things in the morning -- probably because so much time gets wasted later on -- so we were leaving the base in our vans at 4 am. Then I drove one of the vans the ENTIRE way home. I just got in a groove, popped my iPod headphones in my ears and charged it, with a carfull of sleeping girls. Joe also did an awesome job driving with a carfull of loud Salvadoreans. All in all it was a great trip that I will remember for a long time.

Spring Break  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

We've had a really crazy last few weeks with El Salvador national elections, people coming to visit, a little team crisis which I will explain further later, and finally the spring break team from Cal Poly, SLO coming for a week from the 22nd to the 28th. There were no less than 30 people! This was way bigger than the team of 13 that I came with last year and bigger than most other spring break trips that SLO Crusade has ever sent, domestic trips included. The idea of that many people coming was a bit daunting in the wake of the things just mentioned, but it turned out to be such a blessing and boost of energy for our team.

The 30th passenger on the airpline from LA was a secret passenger, and happened to be Matt Hall, my teammate Brenna's boyfriend. He told some of the rest of us previously that he would be coming down with the spring break team to see and propose to Brenna and that we had to keep it a secret! So Trev picked him up at the airport behind everyone else that had just left in the vans, and brought him to the girls house where Brenna couldn't wait to jump on skype to talk to him when she got there. He stayed in one of the other rooms as she came in, talked to her online for a bit, and went and knocked on her door, ring in pocket. She opened it to him on a knee and asking if she would marry him, to which she could only reply "Oh.... my.... GOSH," which was followed by a pause and Matt having to ask the question again, to which she finally exclaimed, "Yes!!!" I had the pleasure of taking some engagement photos for them.

On Sunday we took the team out to Juayua where we exposed them to all kinds of exotic native foods and street shopping, then took them to a coffee plantation along La Ruta de Los Flores. I hadn't been there since our first week in El Salvador so it was great to go back. The team ordered all kinds of cake and pie and awesome fresh coffee and had fun hiking around the beautiful plantation. It was so fun seeing how new and exciting everything was to them and reminded me of how it felt for me the first month or so that I was here. It reminded me of how cool and interesting this place really is, when a lot of things have just gotten so commonplace. Trevor heard Dustin Yoder (a Crusade intern in SLO) exclaiming one day as they waked by some random tree, "This is a ficus!" I thought it was so funny how crazy they thought the driving was and how amazed they were with my ease as they held on tight as I dodged motorcycles, cars coming into my oncoming lane, and unpredictable roundabout traffic. One student asserted "Wow, you're going to get so many tickets when you get back to the states!" Again, I guess I've just gotten really used to some things here!

Hunting for food in Juayua. Get the frog!

Feeding the animals at the plantation.

I had been put in charge as our team's outreach leader to plan a campus outreach for the team to participate in, which would end in a big "fiesta" for all of us and Salvadorean students on Wednesday night. The idea that the Spirit led me to was a "Heroes" themed outreach, which originally came to mind as I thought about how funny it would be if everyone dressed up as superheroes on campus for a few days. That didn't happen, but we did make a survey that asked questions like "Who are your heroes?", "What are qualities of heroes?" and "What kinds of sacifices has your hero made? How has this affected you?" We also had two huge blank banners that we posted up in the hallways with the latter two questions for people to freely respond to by writing down their thoughts. We had the outreach from Monday to Wednesday but after one day they were completely full!

One of the discussion walls we put up. Sooo full.

Spring breakers brought so much enthusiasm to both Matias campuses (we finally got access to Campus 2!) and the Lord blessed them with so many amazing conversations and so many students He had prepared for hearing the gospel taking the next step in their faith. My team heard story after story after story of good conversations whether or not the survey was used, and they came out of those three days on campus loving Salvadorean students and really seeing a spiritual hunger and need for Jesus on both campuses.

The Wednesday night party was indeed hero themed and I dressed up as our director Layo, a costume which included khaki pants, a short sleeve button up shirt with plenty of chest hair showing and a towel stuffed into my shirt for a belly. He and his wife loved it. It was fun. It was great to do some line-dancing again with people who still got "the fever" from SLO, see students interacting with some Salvadoreans, have some great pupusas for dinner, and watch a Spiderman piñata torn limb from limb.

On Thursday we went to Victoria, our favorite town out in the boonies of El Salvador by the Honduran border to do some humanitarian work out there. I spent the day bonding with some awesome spring break guys (and one girl -- yeah Sarah Kelly!) as we painted a church building. Other students played soccer with some high schoolers (getting their butts handed to them) and others spent some quality time with some small school children. It was an awesome fun, rewarding day. On Friday we had a beach day where a bunch of people surfed, many for the first time and others sat and had fresh fruit smoothies ("frozens") by the pool. We had fun hanging out and having great conversations about the week, and even about the possiblity of some spring breakers coming back for STINT (maybe even next year!)

A school in Victoria (photo by Joe)

They left on Saturday and we took both Monday and Tuesday off of campus to recover! But it was so incredible having them here, helping to give us a big boost of energy to go back on campus and win students to Christ with passion.

(Also a school in Victoria.)

Matias Bible Study!  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

We have a Bible study for students now! We're so excited about a recent big step in our movement here, in forming a weekly co-ed Bible study for students to come to. This is the next big step for us in moving towards a cohesive community of students that strides together with Christ. We've had it 2 times now, and students of both genders have come each time to have our Salvadorean staff, Manuel and his wife Cecy, lead them through studying God's word. Both times, my reliable disciple José Valencia, came and was an enthusiastic contributor.

Today we studied Colossians 2:6-15, which part of the passage says: "When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross." José shared the experience where he went out to share the gospel with me on campus (his first time doing it on campus!) and the 4 students we talked to seemed very unsure of their salvation, saying on a scale from 1-10 that they were a 5 in how sure they were they'd go to Heaven. But he got it that we should be totally sure (a 10!), by God's grace and Jesus' triumphant victory over death, that we're saved.

We're looking forward to having more weekly Bible studies on campus, and eventually having ones that are not co-ed and able to go deeper into personal issues and spiritual topics. We hope to start a weekly meeting in the next several weeks as well, in a hope to further develop community and momentum for the movement on Matias. Please pray for these things, in addition to praying for José's continuing growth in the knowledge of Christ and development into a student leader in our movement.

Mid-Year Vacation: Costa Rica  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

Due to us being the first STINT team to go to El Salvador, things weren't really set up perfectly for our mid-year vacation and retreat, so we had to plan both of them. Our vacation was in mid-January for which we decided to go Costa Rica. That was a ton of fun, so relaxing for us and a great time to recharge before getting back into the full swing of things on campus. We stayed just outside of Jaco on the Pacific side of the country in a couple bungalows right by the beach. Lauren led the charge in finding our lodging because she was quite driven to be somewhere where surf was plentiful.

Surfer at the beach in front of our bungalows

We spent most days there laying by the pool, body-surfing in the water, or just sitting on our porch and reading. It was sooo laid back. It was also way more humid and overall more hot than El Salvador, so it left you not really wanting to move around much, which was especially good for people like me that often have a hard time stopping themselves from moving. After watching spectacular sunsets (props to God), we barbecued for dinner, which was sooo nice for us guys who hadn't had the chance to express our grill skills before then on STINT. We bonded well over grilling steak, chicken, burgers and veggies.

However, excitement was something that was not lacking on our vacation. Throughout the week we saw big floppy things flying a few feet out of the water, soon to be identified by Lauren as stingrays, right after she claimed seeing one leap a clean 10 feet out of water. Well, Trev and Brandon and I were out body-surfing one day when one really big wave came which Trev and I were awaiting to dive under; however, we were immediately deterred by the sight of maybe 8 to 10 stingrays suspended in the face of our wave like paintings on a wall. We looked at each other in complete astonishment and started swimming away from the wave though we knew this would just leave us tumbling in its white wash. We made it away fine, along with Brandon who was probably even closer to them than us but hadn't seen them.

Injuries were also part of our trip. A bunch of us were out throwing the frisbee around in the really shallow ocean water when we decided it would be fun to make some diving catches. Well, this was fun for a while, but I think I got a little too confident in the 1 foot of water's ability to break my fall, and lo and behold, I ended up with a separated shoulder. Really painful, and I've still probably got a few weeks to go before I'm fully recovered. I haven't been able to run or anything.

Beach at Manuel Antonio national park

My favorite day of the vacation was when we made it out to Manuel Antonio Park, possibly Costa Rica's most beautiful national park. We took a bus -- which we nearly missed -- for $4 and 2 hours down the coast to get there, and then we strolled through some tropical rainforest, checking out some sloths, lizards, birds and monkeys, and finally arriving at an absolutely gorgeous secluded beach. There we snorkeled, laid out and explored. So amazing. God is a good artist and maker.

Sloth chillin in the trees

First Week on the New Campus  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

After a very long and, in many ways, difficult break, we started work back on campus last Monday. It was our first day all together on Universidad Matias Delgado, and the start of a very busy week of ministry which centered around reaching the brand new freshman class. The last week of our break was a big planning week and we planned a bunch of events to get our name out there, meet new students and get the gospel to the students of Matias. We made calenders of our first month and a half to give out to students, which included a Valentine's Day event we call Amor Real -- an outreach -- an English event, which we hope to develop into an English club, a movie outing, a Super Bowl party at our house and a big pizza party and raffle the first Friday of school. All of this was aimed at bringing in students to hear about Vida Estudiantil, gathering Christian students into community, inviting non-believers into a life-transforming relationship with Jesus and being a service to students.

We had a table set up on campus with free stuff for students, our calenders, fliers for the pizza event and contact cards for students to fill out, if they were interesed in hearing more about Vida Estudiantil. We also had a big banner with our brand new Vida Estudiantil logo designed by our very own Lauren Sexton. It looks epic, which is especially important at Matias because it has a very big art department with the country's best art and design students. We spent the week meeting masses of new students, looking for freshmen especially, sharing the gospel, telling people about our vision and reason for being there, and inviting them to the huge Friday event, the climax of the week. It was so exciting to see students so excited about Vida Estudiantil and our mission on campus, and actually coming to us to hear more and asking how they can be involved.

<--Our table with students filling out cards + the old banner

The most exciting moment of the week for me was on Tuesday, the first day we had the table set up on campus, when a huge flock of freshmen communictions students came to our table en masse to fill out contact cards and meet us. One girl from the group came over and was so excited about it, then went back to her group of about 20 chicos and chicas. I went over to try to get some students to come over to the table and when I got to this group, that same girl invited me to tell all of them about Vida Estudiantil. I didn't have to say much before every last one of them came over to the table and were filling out contact cards, asking how they could help and asking about our various events. I was stoked out of my mind.

The Friday event was a huge success as well. Bean and I were in charge of food and bought 27 pizzas for the event, all of which got eaten. Passing out pizza to students who -- unlike in the states -- never get free food given to them at school, or even anywhere, was a great way to serve them and draw them to hear more about us. We raffled off a purse for the girls, a soccer ball with bag for the guys and a brand new Vida Estudiantil shirt with the new logo. The students were so excited about that part. We got to meet so many students who were excited about what we're doing, and even a handful of students who were involved with the small ministry that was here before we came. Our Panamanean staff member, Selegna, filmed the entire time with her professional camera, helping to draw even more attention, and Manuel, another staff member, MC'd with our sound system.

Bean and I passing out pizza and meeting students ------------->


Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

We had quite the adventure today. We've been wanting to get out and do some work in the community here for quite some time and we're still hoping to make community service / helping the poor part of our ministry here. So we were very excited when given the opportunity to go visit a school out in the outlying mountains of El Salvador, outside of a small town called Victoria. We didn't know exactly what we'd be doing but knew it had something to do with giving out school supplies to kids.

Well, this turned into a crazy adventure, as I've already mentioned. We had to meet at our director's cousin's church at 6am to meet to caravan out to the school. We got up and were actually all in pretty good spirits for this exciting opportunity to serve and get our hands dirty out in the countryside. After having a great Salvadorean breakfast made free for us at a restaurant owned by some friends of the people we went with, we set out to school trailing behind our Salvadorean friends hauling a truckload full of boxes with backpacks and school supplies.

The roads were intense and I was seriously doubting our Kia microbus even had a prayer. But we made it to the school and it was so fun seeing the kids so excited about getting a backpack and supplies. It was also funny to see them totally in wonder of seeing white people, which they had probably never seen in person before. Their teachers had them form lines, smallest to biggest to go through and get backpacks and they took what was given without ever complaining even some were much better than others. They were just so overjoyed by this free gift. Makes me think of something God did for us.... hmmm....

So as we were getting done, our leader tells us we have to leave quick because we still have a couple schools to hit up. Turned out they had plans to take us to 4 schools that day, which we did finally accomplish, ending somewhere around 4:30. But every kid at every school ended up with a backpack. We probably ended up passing out around 300 mochilas.

But this adventure was not complete without one of the van's in our caravan running out of gas, for which we tried syphoning some out of our van. This was unsuccessful but left one of our guides with the taste of gasoline in his mouth -- you have to suck the gas out through a hose -- eeek. And finally the day ended with us getting a flat tire while driving on the highway home. But miracoulously -- totally something set up by God -- we rolled to a stop right in front of a little tire repair shop. 30 minutes and 8 bucks later and we were back in business! It was a fun day.

The Holidays, El Sal Style  

Posted by Jeff ("Jefe") Oleson

Sorry it's been a while since my last update, but I'll fill you in briefly on our holiday season here, with more to follow soon. We had a huge influx of parents, siblings and boyfriends over the holidays which made life quite different. We celebrated a Salvadorean Christmas on the 24th (that's when they celebrate it here) by sitting on our roof and watching a massive, chaotic display of fireworks all across the city. Our whole team along with a bunch of siblings sat up there and watched the show begin at midnight and we sat with our jaws hitting the floor at the panoramic view of flashing lights and the incessant sound of popping and crashing. They celebrate the Savior's birth in style! And they also have very few safety regulations, and besides, no one ever gets in trouble for anything here, let's be honest. We played it safe with a safe with a few -- well, 100 -- sparklers of all sizes.

Christmas morning was quite different, but still fun. All the families that were there (3 of em at this point) came over in the morning and we made a big breakfast and sat around and watched those that had them open presents. It was funny being with my team and a bunch of parents and siblings, but not my own for Christmas, but it was still a good time.

My family came on the 26th, flying in early with Kristen Potter's family. We decided to rent a big 15 passenger van to cart both families around together for the week, as Kristen couldn't envision anyone in her family driving around this city with these drivers, with me as the driver. We thought we were originally just getting a 10 passenger van, but we ended up with this beast. People on the side of the road were trying to wave us down thinking it might be their bus! JK.

The first couple trips we did with it involved fully packing it out with people, so as to minimize cars we were taking. It was fun dodging the cars coming at me in my lane as they tried to pass, the stray dogs, and the buses who cut you off without thinking twice. But then it was just the two families. My family was staying at the Hilton so I decided to stay with them which made logistics much easier with us meeting and getting around. So we ended up just hanging out there a lot of the time, which was quite relaxing and made me feel like I was on vacation and not even in the same city I'd been living in for the last 4 months. So weird.

New Years was one of the most fun I've ever had as my family and the Potters celebrated together, and watched the fireworks (even crazier than before) from the Potters' hotel room on the 9th floor.
Olesons and Potters at the beach.

Luke Potter, making a sand castle.