and ramblings on everything in between
I’ve been putting off writing about my mission trip to El Salvador for a few weeks now. I think part of me needed to let it mellow, part of me didn’t know where to start, and another part of me didn’t know where I would stop once I started. I’ve attempted to describe the experience to many people, and the stories get shorter and shorter as I go. Because as people nod their head and say, “That’s cool!” I’m shaking inside and yelling, But wait – you don’t understand what just happened to me!
I’m sure all of you have gone through similar instances where something has moved you, touched you, changed you, shaped you, and try as you might, no one else gets it. Perhaps that is a piece of what makes the experience so amazing – words are never enough and your heart can never fully share it. It’s uniquely yours to hold dear.
So instead of trying to tell you everything I experienced, I’m going to share the piece that hit me the hardest.
During our first full day in El Salvador, we toured the church we partner with in Majucla, learning about all the enrichment opportunities, Christ-based programs, and life-skills trainings that are offered to children in the community through Compassion International. People poured in from every direction and every door to see us, smile at us, shake our hands, and yell out, “Dios los bendiga!” At the end of the day, we gathered in the upper level of the church, a room with 360 degree views of Majucla, wall-to-wall windows without panes letting the warm breeze blow through.
Three teenagers stood up to share their testimonies. They all spoke of the heartbreak they had experienced growing up – losing fathers and brothers to gang violence, not having enough to eat, not having the resources to get an education. They knew God promised them hope, but they didn’t feel worthy of it. They feared committing their life to God because they thought they would only disappoint Him. But as God opened up opportunities in their lives, they began to see all the ways He was transforming them. They began to understand that our God is a God of love and forgiveness. He is a God of second and third and fourth chances. And when their minds finally wrapped around who He is, their hearts opened up to let Him in.
A few nights later as one of my team members was lamenting over the fact that each time he goes to El Salvador and spends time with his sponsor child, more and more awful things are stacking up against the boy. Another team member spoke up, saying she had taken notes while the older youth were sharing their testimonies at the church. They each shared the awful things that were stacking up against them, and then all of them said, “But then God…” But then God sent this person into my life and they helped me to understand the meaning of baptism. But then God provided a job for my mother so we could eat again. But then God opened up an opportunity for me to serve at the church. She told our saddened team member that his sponsor child’s story might one day change with, “But then God sent my sponsor to El Salvador and he showed me love and compassion and helped me to stay strong in my faith.”
How many times has God prompted me to do something but I’ve balked because I didn’t care enough, I didn’t want to spend the money, I didn’t want to mess up my routine, or I didn’t want to go out of my way? How many times have I knowingly walked away from a situation where God wanted to use me to be someone else’s “But then God”?
Life can change in an instant. We don’t have to solve something as big as the food crisis in Africa to be a part of that change. We can show up on someone’s doorstep with willing hands and a smile. I know my God takes small things and multiplies them until they are bigger than our wildest dreams can fathom. I know this about Him, yet I don’t always show up to the game to let Him do it. How often I choose to stay on the sideline to see what others are going to do.
But then God sent me to El Salvador and reminded me that even though we live in a big, wide world, we’re all created by Him and because of that, no one has to be a stranger. We’re all in this together. We’re all responsible for one another. We’re all capable of being a life-changing moment for someone else, where they can turn back someday and say, “But then God…”
My dear friend, Andrea. She found me the moment I stepped off the bus each day, offering up hugs and smiles.
The chicken coop we built with love. The Salvadorians were so patient with us no matter how many nails we bent or wires we accidentally snipped. They would smile and say, “No bien,” and hand us another.
Two seconds before I started sobbing…This is my friend’s sponsor child, and as I told him how special he is to her (tears streaming down my face), he looked at me like I was a crazy person. 🙂