We are back from El Salvador. It was a wonderful time. We were there for a week over spring break. At the end I felt privileged to have gone and done something for my Savior. It was only a small thing, really. Matthew and I helped build two bunk beds for some orphaned and abandoned girls—the mother was shot and killed in a random act of gang violence in San Salvador ten years ago and the father is an alcoholic and gone for weeks at a time. With hand tools—a brace and bit, hammer, hand saws, and screwdrivers—we built them two sets of bunk beds and carried them a mile and a half down a very steep mountain path. At first we worried that the beds would not hold up as the Salvadorian carpenter had them designed, but in the end, they seemed pretty sturdy. While building, I decided to work as though these girls were my own, and daughters of my Savior, which they are. They received the Lord a few weeks before we came and have been coming to church since. It touched my heart deeply to be able to do something for them, as little as it was. Our love and joy seemed to touch the whole community. There’s a discrimination issue that we were unaware of at first—those who are better off in the city look down on these poor village folks. So our acceptance, interest, and delight in them deeply touched them. Also, most Salvadorians are both curious and respectful of North Americans, which increases our opportunity to share the good news of our Lord.
We had no problem people on our team, everyone worked together very well and without complaint. We combined with a team from Lakeville, MN, and it added richness to the time to be able to get to know these folks. They are very dear saints and were also eager to love and give and serve. There were fifteen from Ames and fourteen from Lakeville. Lakeville also had a team in La Libertad building a house for a family that lost their home in last fall’s torrential rains and the ensuing floods.
The majority on our team, including Andrew, worked with a medical mission. Appointments were set up and several doctors screened those who came. After this we had six groups set up to share the gospel through translators. Forty six people made professions of faith through the medical mission. Then people were able to pick up free medicines, either things the doctor had prescribed, or items such as cough syrup, aspirin, cold medicines, first aid supplies, etc.
The third element of our work was helping with their elementary school. Dawn and several others on the team volunteered for this, teaching simple English to the kids. They all bonded deeply with the kids and teachers and left behind supplies for their school.
A fourth group helped to cook lunch for the school kids, working along with the women of the village, cooking over an open fire.
On the third day, Godo, our Salvadorian carpenter, who had been hired to build the bunk beds, gave his life to Christ. I believe that our respect for him, our love for one another and our joy spoke deeply to him the first couple days. When he missed the bus the third day, Jorge, one of the San Salvadorian church’s staff members, picked him up and shared the gospel with him during the hour long drive up to the village. He had become a Jehovah’s Witness a year ago, but understood and believed the gospel. We could tell that morning that he was very happy. I even heard him singing to himself while gathering his tools. He asked Jorge to write down the verses he had heard so that he could share them with his family. He even returned the day after the beds were done and, without being paid, mended a rafter in the kitchen shanty and put new sheet metal that we had purchased on top of the old, rusted-hole-filled metal.
Who knows how much our small efforts have touched people’s hearts and advanced God’s kingdom. It’s not so much what we do, but our faith that counts, as it unleashes God’s power in our lives and the lives of others.
This trip, we had less translators available and the ones we had were not as fluent as those on our 2004 trip. So Dawn and I found ourselves having to dive into speaking Spanish even with our very limited knowledge. I seemed to use my Spanish dictionary often and in most of my meager spare time. It was challenging and humbling, yet a lot of fun. I even tried to talk some with Godo on the way down the mountain, showing him pictures of my family and home. He has two children in New York City and was able to visit them a couple years ago.
On Saturday, we set up our tents again and arranged a large quantity of clothing that had been donated by the church in San Salvador. Families lined up and walked through the tents, choosing clothing items in proportion to the number of tickets they had received during the medical screening. After this and after lunch, there was a pickup soccer game (Wendhy Rehm scored a goal!), relay races for the kids, piñatas for the niños and niñas, animal balloons, and a teary farewell.
Sunday morning, six or seven of us woke up sick with diarrhea. On Friday night we had gone to the San Salvador mall food court to eat. Later we figured out that those who got sick had eaten at a booth featuring Salvadorian food. Dawn was just miserable on the flight home. On top of our sickness, we were diverted to Birmingham because of severe weather in Atlanta. After an hour stop there to refuel, we flew to Atlanta. One the plane, a stewardess advised us not to let the immigration officials know that we were sick or they might quarantine our entire group. So Dawn was trying her best to not look sick—an impossible task. After walking through the airport for a long ways, she was so nauseous that she had to sit down in the immigration line and throw up. Fortunately, I had brought along a barf bag from the plane. God provided a large pillar for her to sit against and hide behind right at that moment, and no immigration officials saw what was happening. We got through OK and were able to find some wheel chairs for Dawn and Wendy, who was also miserably sick. Even at the time we had to chuckle at our pathetic state, yet we knew that we were secure in our Lord’s care. Certainly it was an unforgettable trip.
I was also sick on the trip, though not as bad, but I got worse after returning home. I finally broke down and went to the doctor on Thursday for some antibiotics. I almost went Wednesday morning but thought I was getting better—that decision was certainly a mistake. I’m feeling much better now on Friday morning and my food is actually digesting rather than simply passing through. Dr. Bird said that 90% of travelers diarrhea is from E-Coli, which we all have in our gut anyway. It’s just that there are different strains of it throughout the world and a new strain can really wipe you out. I’ll say!
On the trip I read Psalm 60, a prayer David prayed when fighting invading Arameans.
“You have rejected us, O God, and burst forth upon us; you have been angry—now restore us!” (Psalm 60:1, NIV).
“Is it not you, O God, you who have rejected us and no longer go out with our armies? Give us aid against the enemy, for the help of man is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies. (Psalm 60:10-12, NIV)
But in the records of Samuel and Chronicles, these battles are reported without any mention of such a struggle. All that is recorded is that David won victory after victory against these enemies.
Reflecting on this made me think about the struggle of following God and advancing the kingdom. Sometimes there can be glorious victories and great surges forward with little struggle or setback. Yet typically, the kingdom is advanced little by little, with constant struggle, and with many setbacks and defeats. So, although I don’t expect that our trip to San Salvador will produce overwhelming fruit in this village and that setbacks and struggles are certain to occur there, yet we were able to do something to advance God’s kingdom and promote His honor and win at least a small victory for His cause. It’s a privilege to be involved at all and to sacrifice a bit for our Savior.