Well, it’s been over four months since I’ve been to El Salvador and I still haven’t been able to totally wrap my head around the experience of this mission trip. I’ve been on mission trips to the inner city of Mobile, AL, Oaxaca, Mexico, and Brazil and I can honestly say that no trip before has affected me the way this trip did! I’ll talk about why after I tell you some highlights of the trip (this will be long but there is so much to tell and I’m leaving a lot out).
On February 26, 2012, eight people from Dahlonega United Methodist Church left for El Salvador. Of the eight, three (including myself) had never been to El Salvador before. The leader for our trip was Chris Gilhouse, who was accompanied by his wife, Robin. The other “veterans” were Lynn Pfeiffer, Chuck Treadway, and Donna McGrew. The other two “rookies” were Jim and Michael Pierce, father and son, and as far as I know no relation to me. Jim had never been on any mission trip before; Michael had participated in several youth mission trips and was our youngest team member (he graduates high school this year). Our plan – though we knew from the beginning that God could and would change it – was to finish some work started by earlier teams done on a rural church in La Magdalena. Our main “mission” was to continue building relationships by showing the love of Christ. If we accomplished nothing else, this would be enough.
Our trip down was rather uneventful. We arrived at the airport in San Salvador and were created by Pastor Mauricio, his wife, “Mama” Nellie, Francisco, the pastor at La Magdalena, and a few others from Mauricio’s church in Santa Ana, Oasis de Gracia (Oasis of Grace). Mauricio has been in ministry for 30+ years and Oasis de Gracia is the “mother church” to what he describes as a family of “Oasis” churches. The church in La Magdalena is Oasis de Luz (Oasis of Light) – the area was known as the “Mountain of Darkness” so the name is significant.
After gathering us and our luggage into a van and other vehicle, we left the airport and headed for lunch at El Pollo Campero, a prerequisite stop (and not bad) for a late lunch. We hit the road again for Santa Ana and arrived at the home of one of the Oasis de Gracia’s members. This was in a rather nice neighborhood – which would be a contrast to where we would most of the week. A group of 20+ people were there to greet us and we had a reception dinner (yes, rather soon after our “lunch”). One of the couples we that met and talked to was Oscar and Enid. They were Salvadoran but had left in 1970 to live and work in California and now are retiring and moving back to El Salvador.
After dinner, we had a brief team meeting and then went to different homes to spend the night. Jim and Michael stayed at the home where we ate, Lynn stayed with Mauricio and Nellie, Donna stayed with Oscar and Enid, Chris and Robin were with another family, and Chuck and I stayed with the family of Ernesto and Rina. It didn’t take long before sleep took over our tired bodies.
The next morning we awoke early to eat breakfast with our families and then meet the van to go to church at Oasis de Gracia. We had gotten in late the night before, so this was our first real chance to talk to Ernesto and Rina – if you call stumbling through English and Spanish “talking”. Rina speaks English much better than Chuck or I speak Spanish, and Ernesto is better at English that we are at Spanish but we managed.
When we arrived at the church, we were greeted by the children, who gave us gifts, and a line of church members from the door to our seats – I must of hugged at least 50 people before I sat down. The worship band was playing music as we entered and it felt like one of our Emmaus Walks here in North Georgia. I was more than overwhelmed with emotions.
The service was great – Chris, Jim, Chuck, and I spoke briefly. Mauricio called those who had struggles with bitterness forward to be prayer for – the team prayed for them. I was led to have our team pray for Mauricio and Meito, Mauricio’s son-in-law and the main pastor at Oasis de Gracia. I asked the people to extend their hands and join us as we prayed (with Frankie, the worship leader translating). It was powerful!
Due to time, we quickly left after the service to head to La Magdalena. A much different place from the neighborhood in Santa Ana, but a place that definitely has a piece of my heart.
The greeting at La Magdalena more than blew me away! It was funny, scary and humbling to ride the last bit into the church yard on ox carts (and hearing our national anthem being played). The warmth of the people’s greetings had me in tears. I was totally undone. The children – the beautiful children – did a song and the youth did a skit to “Thank You for Giving to the Lord”. I almost lost it again; it was hard to not go to my knees from my chair.
We all had a chance to speak – so hard with so much emotion going on. Mauricio had them pray for us – who was serving who? Roberto, the associate/youth/children pastor of La Magdalena, prayed over me – talk about a laying on of hands!
On the back wall of the church, they had put 1 Corinthians 15:58 – in English – in foam letters. This was done just for us! There were several large “posters” of verses (Hebrews 6:10, 2 Corinthians 8:3, 2 Corinthians 9:10) in English that were for us – God speaking through them to us.
After a simple lunch, we mingled with the people. They had an afternoon children’s service and meal – Michael played with their band and we tried to be of help in serving the children. Lynn and I did bubbles with the children later. I became very frustrated with not being able to speak Spanish – my goal for next time is to know Spanish.
Most of our days were filled with work on the church building for the guys and the gals did stuff with the women and children (not exactly the way they had originally planned but it all worked out – probably better than what we had planned). We had a couple of hired experts doing the electrical and the metalwork for the doors and window security bars. We funded the purchase of the windows and they were put in by some of the men of the church. It was interesting to see everyone chip in and help – even the older boys before they went to school in the afternoon (staggered schedule due to sharing of facilities in the small state-run school down the road). There were always people around – young and old.
Every night but Monday, we had some church service. Tuesday was a discipleship class at La Magdalena. I sat toward the back and just watched during this one – Jim participated in playing some music and Chuck spoke briefly before Francisco spoke. This turned into a revival service. At least seven people accepted Christ as Lord, one of our guards being one of them!
Wednesday night, we went back to Santa Ana to Oasis de Gracia. Our plans were changed as we traveled (it is a about 30-40 minutes from La Magdalena to Oasis de Gracia); Mauricio only wanted one of us to speak. I flipped through a few pages in my Bible and came across Isaiah 43:18-20 and felt that was the text for the evening. I had no idea what I was going to speak on but I had a text, so I volunteered to speak.
The service started like all the other services – music, a time of greeting (long enough to greet almost everyone there and there were a couple hundred people in attendance), announcements, a sharing of prayer concerns and praises, and the offering. When I got up to speak, I greeted the people, “Mi hermanos, mi hermanas, mi familia in Cristo” – “My brothers, my sisters, my family in Christ” – that was all of my Spanish for the evening. One of the prayer concerns lifted up was for a young boy that was going in for a test – they thought he might have leukemia. Since this reminded me so much of my nephew Robert, who was about the same age when he was diagnosed with leukemia and is now a healthy, active teenager, I thought I might encourage the boy’s father who was there. Frankie was interpreting again but as I spoke facing the father, I realized he understood English so I was speaking directly at him, pausing only so that Frankie could tell the others what I said – though I wasn’t really paying attention to anyone but the father. I told him that I understood how he must feel and told him about Robert and finished by saying that Robert is a healthy young man, and “I believe it will be so for your son”. Seeing the father’s reaction and hearing the crowd’s response, I stood there thinking, “God, You just had me prophesy a healing!” I didn’t have much time to process this and delivered the message God gave me – I honestly don’t remember what all I said that night but I know I was situated in God’s plan for that night! We closed the service with a time of prayer at the altar and we stayed the night in Santa Ana with our host families before returning to La Magdalena the next day to do more work.
Thursday, our team split up into four groups: Jim and Michael, Chris and Robin, Chuck and Lynn, and Donna and I. We went to four different Oasis churches, where the guys were going to speak (though each church did have the women share something also). I have to admit after Wednesday night, I didn’t feel that I was really up the task – I believe the message was good, but I didn’t feel as much in God’s presence as I had the night before.
Friday, we finished our work for this trip. We had planned to do a dinner for the community and so after work, we started preparations for feeding about 150 people – we had grilled chicken, roasted corn, and roasted potatoes with peppers and onions. We had introduced them to sweet tea – we’ll make good Southerners out them yet 😉 – so we had tea and sodas to drink. We had watermelon (it was summer there) and oranges for dessert.
After dinner, we had a service (I only had time to go change my shirt!). We had planned to do a foot washing and I read the John 13 passage to lead into this. The guys would do the washing of the feet and the women would pray over anyone who came forward. We had a few women come forward and a few teenage boys, mostly I think because of their relationship with Michael. One of the women came up and didn’t come to a seat, she just knelt at the altar for a long time. I reached out and prayed for her since I wasn’t doing anything at the time. She eventually moved to the chair in front of me and I washed her feet. You could literally see the lines in her face disappear as I washed and someone prayed over her. She sat there a very long time afterwards.
After a while, Mauricio started speaking and said that the people wanted to return the favor, so some women came up and washed our feet! God doesn’t play fair. I sat there saying that and laughing and crying at the same time. It was a wonderful, wonderful experience.
After a late night, we spent most of Saturday playing tourist. Sunday found us at Oasis de Gracia for both services – Chris and I spoke – and then back out to La Magdalena (which we hadn’t planned on doing) for lunch and a closing service. After many tears, hugs, and good-byes, we finally left La Magdalena for the last time (of this time).
I have said several times that this trip was the best trip that I have been on. A lot of that has to do with where I was spiritually on past trips and the focus or intent of the trip but I feel that staying out at La Magdalena and getting close to the people really made a huge difference in how this trip affected me – God really wanted to use this trip to show me things that I am still trying to understand. And he used a sweet bunch of El Salvadoran brothers and sisters as His hands and feet. What I brought to the table was nothing compared to what I received.
I am praying that God gives me the opportunity to go again. Kathy and I are planning on going next February (and this will be the first time that we will have done a trip together). We’d love to have you as a prayer partner and your support would be appreciated.