We made it to El Salvador, and my heart has already broken a hundred times over. This country and these people are beautiful, but to see it — I thought I was prepared, but how could you be? There isn’t a way to brace yourself for this.
— journal entry, Aug. 3
I’m not really sure how to begin writing about the mission trip. It was kind of a miracle from the start, from kind hearts in my life contributing to cover the full $1,200 cost, to when what I thought was a medical emergency turned out to be a fluke and the doctor cleared me to travel out of the country.
I thought I had prepared myself for the difference in lifestyle, but now I think that it would have been impossible to genuinely be prepared. You can’t begin to comprehend until you’ve experienced it with your entire self, until you’ve seen it with your eyes and felt the weight and the reality of their circumstance in your heart.
One of the first things that happened, one of the few things that has remained clear in my mind, was when we toured the community the first evening we were there. Aldo, one of the locals, took the “noobs” (those who hadn’t gone last year) to see the water cisterns that were put in, and a little girl started following us — Flor. Eight years old and oh so bold with such a large heart that I wonder how it fits inside her small frame.
She stuck by Faith first, holding her hand, liberating her sunglasses, and attacking her with overly-aggressive tickles. And then she branched out, holding onto both of us, leading us through the community, pulling so hard that sometimes we stumbled over the sharp rocks and debris embedded in the dirt road. She disappeared for a few minutes when we got close to the church, and when she returned she had pink flowers in her little hands that she divided between us, running ahead as we tucked them into our braids.
I was heavily impacted by how generous and affectionate the people in El Salvador are, in spite of having so little. One woman, when we were checking on her water cistern, insisted on sending us back to the church with a bag full of fresh corn she had us pick off her plants. I know it doesn’t sound like a big deal — I can’t count how many times my dad has sent people home with produce from our gardens in the past — but if you could have seen her home, friend, you would understand that it must have been a sacrifice. And she was so willing.
I pray for a generous spirit like hers.
Hebrews 11, the faith chapter, really spoke to my heart that first morning. After breakfast and before we started our prep for VBS (which, by the way, our team rocked — we got three VBS sessions worth of crafts done in an hour), I sat down with my Bible and with my journal and a styrofoam cup of coffee that sparked yet another conviction (but that’s another story).
Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
— Hebrews 11:1.
I have faith that we are doing work here that will change lives and move hearts. That God can use the work of our hands to establish love and trust and peace, maybe not in this generation but in the future — with those who come next.
— Journal entry, Aug. 4
Can I pause to brag on our translators? Because they were incredible, body and soul. Not only did they translate any time we had questions or confusion — even if it interrupted a conversation they were having — but they helped with just about everything else, too, from preparation to clean up and handling the kids in between.
Evening. VBS was tiring, but directly after we took water filtration devices around and dear gus, that sun. It wears you out hard. I can’t imagine how tired the construction team must be from digging holes all day.
— journal entry, Aug. 4
We showed a movie that night in the space between the church and their neighbors. We had rows and rows of plastic chairs set up, seats wet with the fresh rainfall that surprised us late in the afternoon. That is another moment that plays itself over again, vibrant in my memory: as we walked between rows, drying the seats of the chairs with loosely woven blue clothes, Pastor Nate and I got into a discussion about Biblical womanhood (which is going to get its own blog post in the near future), about the intricacies of beliefs that differ between denominations, that don’t save our souls or give us a one-way ticket into heaven.
Another moment: after the morning VBS on Saturday, we took the kids down to their park, arming them all with a water pistol.
Now. First, when you think park, you think a jungle gym and wood chips and some safety regulations, right? Wrong. We’re talking an overgrown grassy field and a rusted out seesaw. But to see those kids faces as we chased them around and around, squirting each other with those tiny little water pistols before passing out PB&J sandwiches, starting out with one per kid and then giving out extras when we realized we made too many. That’s my favorite moment. It’s the one that keeps coming to mind when people from my hometown ask me what the highlight was.
Those kids, friend. Their little faces and little bodies distributing bright smiles and fierce hugs. I can’t get over how much I miss them — from the littles to the teens. The young girls grabbing my hands to spin in circles, playing rock paper scissors for forty minutes with Susie, the boys endlessly tormenting me, Flor’s persistent tickling, the group’s game of ninja outside the church wall, Nancy’s hugs, all of the full-bodied laughter.
Our tourist moment, before my phone died, when we were in the town to check out the work the construction team had done and to do some souvenir shopping.
The goodbyes left me broken. Doug looked across the circle we pulled our chairs into for the last devotions and tried to tell me that there’s always next year — and there is. But that didn’t make leaving any easier.