Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Love Is My Purpose

{please click HERE to see ALL my photos from San Salvador!}

Well, I think it is quite obvious that I was unable to complete a daily blog while in San Salvador. I got to the point where I was so exhausted that I would attempt to upload my photos from my camera to Flickr (which was a long, tedious process in itself with the slower-than-I’m-used-to Salvadorian Internet – but blessed to have wireless internet AT ALL!!!) and save writing for the mornings when I was refreshed and rejuvenated. Well….did you see my sunrise photos?? If you didn’t, here’s one of my favorites:

Y’don’t see that in Columbus, Ohio!!

Needless to say, my time was spent each morning taking amazing sunrise photos, not so much writing. So I gave into my photo habit and resolved to write when I returned home.

I have now been home for a little over a week. Our group arrived back home in Columbus on Sunday, June 15th. This past week has just FLOWN by! 9 days in San Salvador seemed to last weeks, but 7 days in Columbus has felt like 3 days! I am finally taking a day just to myself and spending it writing and catching up on things around the house that need attention (laundry! oi veh!).

When I last wrote, I was feeling extreme frustration at not feeling useful on the trip. Some people on our trip fell right into God’s purpose for them. On Monday, I had gone on a house visit to evangelize and felt like a weird, tall, blonde decoration. Pastor John and Annie knew just what so say and were able to relate to the people we were talking to. I just sat and pet the family dog (don’t tell USA Customs). I figured that maybe house visits just weren’t what God needed me for that week. So I volunteered for construction the next day, figuring I’ve got these amazing biceps that could be put to work ;). But seriously. I figured, I’m strong, I can build something AWESOME! Well, when I got to the construction zone, everything was already under control! They just had a few menial jobs needing done. So once again, I felt useless. I was so sure that God wanted me on this trip, but I was feeling so out of place and unproductive. I sat on the steps that the earlier construction team had already built and told them I was available whenever and wherever they needed me. Eventually, I got to help dig a trench to keep rain water from flooding the soon-to-be soccer area, but I still wasn’t feeling like trench building was God’s purpose for me. The next day, Wednesday, some of our group would be going to a local private school, Colegio Ceren, to talk with a group of high schoolers. Figuring I at least knew the “clientele,” I volunteered to go.

Here’s how our time at Ceren was spent: First, we would play some sort of icebreaker game with the kids to warm them up and get them to like us. Then, we would give them a quick lesson over the day’s topic (hope, trusting God, etc.), a person or 2 would share a testimony about how God has been good in their life and finally, one of the Salvadorian pastors would give a short, sermon type lesson. Any extra time was spent socializing with the kids.

I should note that the students were not required to come to our presentation. I am not exactly sure what they were told by teachers and administration, but some of them brought with them a paper with the words “orador motivacional” at the top, so maybe they wanted to hear some really great motivational speakers! Even though they were not required to be there, I would say that approximately 40 kids showed up that afternoon.

On Wednesday, Pastor John assigned me the task of explaining our icebreaker to the kids. The night before, our group had decided on Chubby Bunny as our game. In case you aren’t fmailiar with this game, it’s actually quite hilarious and most kids love it. The game is simple: see who can hold the most jumbo marshmallows in their mouth without chewing, swallowing, or spitting out the marshmallows AND audibly and comprehensibly speak the words “chubby bunny” (or in this case, “cornejo gordo”). Before I explained the rules to the kids, I acquired my contestants. 2 of the 4 were Stanley and Josué (more on them later). Once they were chosen (or volunteered by their “friends”), with an interpreter near by, I did my best to explain the game. Person by person, I handed out 2 marshmallows at a time. Just as our team had predicted, the game was successful in making the kids laugh and warming them up to los locos de USA!

And I thought teaching kids in English was challenging!


I think Josué was at about 4 or 5 marshmallows here!


Stanley kept chewing! No masticar!

Being silly with  Joselyn, our Chubby Bunny winner!

Being silly with Joselyn, our Chubby Bunny winner!

After our game, we got ALL the kids up and involved with a game that would act as a metaphor to our lesson. This time the game was The Human Pretzel. Kids stood in circles of about 8 people and reached across the circle so each of their hands was holding on to a different person’s hand. Once everyone was attached to 2 other people, they had to figure out how to untangle themselves without letting go. The idea for this game was that the kids would not be able to untangle themselves on their own. They would need to let go and regroup, much like we cannot untangle our problems without God. We need to let go of control and let God regroup us.

Well, of course teenagers are wily little creatures and they untangled themselves! So the message was rewritten to say Think about the relief you felt when you let go after untangling yourselves – that’s the same relief you feel when you let go of your problems and give them to God! Teaching…it’s all about improvisation!

The Human Pretzel!


I love this kid’s smile!

After this game and mini-lesson, Phil and Alyssa shared their testimonies, Pastor Victor shared a short message and then the kids were free to go. In San Salvador, students go to school year round with a few week-long breaks here and there, but they only go for half the day. In between morning and afternoon sessions, they have a kind of intramurals, where most of the guys play soccer on their cement field, the girls chat, and as a surprise to us, some sort of dance group began practicing their latino moves!It was during this time that we were able to talk to some of the kids and start to get to know them better. Honestly, on this day, I didn’t spend much time talking to the kids 1. because of the language barrier and 2. because I was more focused on getting some great photos (both of these things I will work on for my next trip!).

I wish I could get my students to be this attentive!


Apparently some kids lay with their backpacks on with the mentality of “If I can beat you while wearing my backpack, that’s so much more embarrassing for you!”




Gettin’ their afternoon groove!

Wednesday was a good day for me. I felt useful at the school and at ease talking and working with the students, even if there was a language barrier. On the way back to the hotel, Curt mentioned that he had heard the backstory of Josué, the redheaded Latino boy. For some reason, I had been drawn to that kid all day. It was something beyond the fact that he was at least 5’10” (unusually tall for a Latino!), had skin as pale as mine, bright blue eyes and naturally red hair. So I asked Curt to tell us what he had heard. I would spend the next few days talking with pastors Victor and Jorge, trying to piece together Josué’s story. Here is what I have been able to construct so far:

Josué’s father left him, an older brother, and their mother years ago. Unfortunately, it is quite common for kids to grow up in single mother homes in San Salvador. His mother died from breast cancer some time in the past few years. Josué and his brother began living with a family friend/member. Much of the city is overrun by gangs. Jorge told us that the statistic is that in the capital alone, their are 12 murders a day from gang violence. So when a gang approached Josué to join, his options were to join or be killed. Bless his heart, he didn’t want to join, so he and his brother moved. Somewhere along the line, they both got caught up in drug dealing and they both went to jail for it. Josué’s brother is still in jail, but he got out because he’s a minor. I’m not sure if Josué went directly to living on his own, but he is now living in what we would consider a very tiny studio apartment. there is a bed, a desk and a kitchen area. He gets money from a family friend/member here in the US, but it is only enough to cover school tuition and some food. Pastor Victor says that most of the time Josué does not have enough food, and even if he did have money for it, he couldn’t keep it because he can’t afford a refrigerator. I believe Victor goes to Ceren every so often to meet with students and preach the Gospel to them and on one of these trips, he met Josué. Since then, he has taken Josué under his wing and began discipling him. Once a week, they meet at the school for a lesson and Victor brings lunch.

Pastor Victor discipling Josué

Pastor Victor discipling Josué


Post-lesson praying

Post-lesson praying

I could feel God pulling my heart towards Josué, so I volunteered to spend the next 2 days, Thursday and Friday, at Ceren. I wanted to connect more, not only with Josué, but with the other students as well. Plus, many of the people on our trip knew that God wanted them back at “The Center” either working with the little kids or finishing the playground construction. I was finally beginning to find my Salvadorian purpose.

The next 2 days at Ceren were amazing. We had about an 80% return rate of students that came the day before. Other people in our group got to lead games and give testimonies. I was there simply to connect with the kids. Nate, Rock City Church’s Missions Coordinator, warned us that if we didn’t learn Spanish, we’d seriously regret it. And he was right. Thank God (literally!) that many of the students had at least a basic English vocabulary! I started to recognize a few faces each day and most of them remembered the crazy blonde girl that fed them marshmallows! I purposely tried to talk (sometimes through very small English and Spanish words, sometimes through an interpreter!) and connect with Josué.  I felt like God was telling me that our friendship wasn’t going to end anytime soon.

Another day, another hilarious icebreaker!

Another day, another hilarious icebreaker!

There weren't enough seats, so this beautiful girl listened to Jorge preach God's word through the window!

There weren’t enough seats, so this beautiful girl listened to Jorge preach God’s word through the window!

On Friday, the last day at Ceren, we separated ourselves into small groups with the kids and just talked to them about their faith (if they had one), the importance of surrounding yourself with good, likeminded friends, and just simple chit-chat. I was in a group with 8 students, including Josué, 3 other people from our group, and Geo, one of our translators in training.

{a note on Geo}

Geo is a guy that I would truly be friends with if we lived in the same place. Thursday at Ceren, we had a few hours of down time, without the students. Geo and I hadn’t really talked much before that day, but we ended up sitting and talking almost the entire time about our faiths, how we go to where we are now, and even a little bit about what we want in our future spouses (Geo wants a woman with Jesus in her heart that makes him feel like a “happy bear.” We also practiced Geo’s English. At first, I though he was trying to tell me he wanted his wife to make him feel like a happy BEER! Turns out “bear” is one of Geo’s challenging words 😉 ). At dinner Thursday night, we traded English and Spanish tongue twisters. Both were HILARIOUS! Anyways, I hope and pray that our friendship did not end when my trip did.

I have much to learn from Geo.

{ps….Geo, your secret is safe with me. I will not tell all of my readers how old you are. After all, we pinky swore on it!}

Peter Piper

Geo promised to pray very, very hard so that when I return, he will be taller than me!

Geo promised to pray very, very hard so that when I return, he will be taller than me!

{left} Geo & Me after the San Salvador vs. Rock City Church Futbol Game (in the pouring rain!) {right} This was our last time seeing each other. It was not "Adios!" but "Te veo luego!'

{left} Geo & Me after the San Salvador vs. Rock City Church Futbol Game (in the pouring rain!)
{right} This was our last time seeing each other. It was not “Adios!” but “Te veo luego!’

…back to my small group at Ceren…I asked each of the kids if they had a relationship with Jesus Christ, and surprisingly, they all did! Again, I was honestly a little disappointed that I wasn’t going to be used by God to bring someone into his love, but I was starting to realize that I had a different purpose. But, we did talk about good and bad friends and times we have had to cut people out of our lives because they were bringing us down. I explained to them that I think it’s okay, and even important, to have friends that aren’t Christians because God can use just our actions and our love towards others to show people His love. We had a great conversation. I found out that one of the girls, Karen, is pregnant, tried to get Josué a date with a cute girl for church and Geo got to practice translating for a large group. So, although no one gave their heart to Jesus in my group that day, I know God was still working.

After our small groups broke up, we got to hangout and socialize with the students for a bit. This was Friday, at the end of the day, when most students would be itching to go home. But instead, they all hung around a talked with us! It even got to the point where we were late for dinner at Pastor Victor & Sylvia’s house! These kids just wouldn’t let us leave! They had one more story to tell, one more question about  the USA to ask, or in Stanley’s case, one more beat to drop!

Stanley the Beatbox

Another day, another hilarious icebreaker!

Another day, another hilarious icebreaker!


Friday afternoon at Ceren with Josué

Friday afternoon at Ceren with Josué

We finally left and made it to dinner. Josué joined us because Victor wanted to videotape him telling his story, but I think also Victor invited him to dinner because he has become his little project 🙂 After dinner, I pulled Victor and Sarah (missions coordinator in San Salvador) aside and presented my idea to them. Through Rock City Church, people can sponsor the children of Guayabo for $45 a month. This covers the cost for them to go to the Children’s Development Center each day, which is basically daycare. They receive a meal, school lessons, Bible lessons, recreation, and medical care. In all honesty, it isn’t very difficult to find sponsors for the children; they are adorable and can’t fend for themselves. But what about the big kids? Many of them need help as well, and their expenses might even be more. If they don’t want to go to public school (few want to because of gangs), they have to pay for private school, they need supplies, some may even be living alone, and if they’ve made it through high school, few can afford college without some assistance.

So I proposed to Victor that I could sponsor Josué. On the first day of the trip, I felt a small tug at my heart that I was to sponsor a child I met on the trip. I just didn’t know it would be a BIG kid! When I learned that Josué could really use some financial support now and in his future (he wants to go to college to study medicine or public relations! Oh to be young and have so many options!), my heart knew it had space for a tall, redheaded, Latino teenager. Victor, Sarah and I discussed what this would look like. I obviously would not be supporting Josué 100% because he already has a family friend/member in the states helping him out and because he is 16, he needs to earn money on his own. My financial support will go through the Great Commission Latin America (GCLA), the same organization Rock City Church uses to sponsor the little kids. From there, my money will be specifically designated for Josué and will go to Pastor Victor and he will use it as he best sees fit for Josué’s needs at that time. In 2 years, when he graduates from high school, I can continue donating money to go towards Josué’s college fund. Then, once he is stable and on his own, he will no longer need my financial support. Through all of this, Josué and I will be able to email one another and build a friendship that spans many years and thousands of miles. I have a dream of seeing Josué graduate high school 2 years from now!

† † † † †

Saturday was our last day in San Salvador and we got to spend it relaxing and having fun together as a group. Our first stop was to the local marketplace where we could buy souvenirs for friends, family and even ourselves. I picked up a few bracelets for my girls, a beautiful painted cross for a family friend, a t-shirt and mug for myself and a machete for my dear friend Brad. Yes! A machete! We talked the man down from $15 to $10! I also picked up some locally grown and roasted coffee grounds for Amanda and myself (she’s been my local coffee connoisseur lately!). After the marketplace was the real treat – we got to not only spend the day at the beach, but spend the night at a beachfront hotel as well! This place was GORGEOUS! Our hotel room looked right out onto the pool and ocean, and to the left, if you went exploring, was a natural, salt water pool! It didn’t take but a few seconds for everyone to be in their bathing suits and in the water! And the pampering didn’t stop there! We were treated to a delicious steak and chicken lunch! In many other countries, including El Salvador, lunch is their largest meal. We showed little concern for the “Wait 15 minutes after you eat to swim” rule and launched into pool shenanigans. Unfortunately, high tide had begun, and swimming in the salt water pool would have probably killed us because of the waves crashing into it (how else do you think it got filled??). After a few hours in the pool, we took a drive 5 minutes down the road where we could walk and play on the beach during sunset. I had seen SEVEN gorgeous sunrises in San Salvador, but none of them  compared to this beach sunset. Between the beauty of the sunrises and that sunset, it is impossible for me to doubt that God exists and is a true artist.

{please click each photo for a larger view}

Our day ended with breakfast for dinner (another Salvadorian tradition) and one final debriefing meeting. We each shared what we felt was our purpose on this trip and what we would take back home to Ohio. One by one, each person shared, and I was so inspired and rejuvenated to hear their answers. It came to be my turn, and I became frustrated that it had taken me so long to find my purpose. I now know that God wanted me there to connect with all the high schoolers, but especially Josué. Dear, sweet Ali pointed out to me that perhaps I had missed it right away because it came so naturally to me. She noticed on Wednesday that I went right into Ceren, without hesitation and began talking with the kids. She, on the other hand, was anxious to speak in front of teenagers. I think Ali was right. I never thought that something that came so naturally could be my purpose. It didn’t feel “special” at first, it just felt like another day at work. But maybe that is how God shows us our spiritual gifts. The things that we love to do and can do without hesitation are the things He wants us to do for His glory. Yes, he will challenge us and push us to “flex, flex, flex” (this was our motto for the week to remind us to be flexible!) out of our comfort zone, but it’s only to make us stronger in His purpose for us.

We were all awake and on the “micro buses” (church vans) at 4am Sunday morning for one last ride with our fearless drivers Gabriel and Don Francisco. It was definitely hard for me to leave. Part of my heart was ready to be home, share my experience with my friends and family, and cuddle with Dewey, but the other part ached for the new friends I had made. Each of our translators has at least one memory that will stay in my heart forever, even if it doesn’t stay in my mind. I knew on that final ride to the airport that trip would not be my last Salvadorian adventure.

Estaré de vuelta.

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." 2 John 1:6

“And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” 2 John 1:6



2 thoughts on “Beyond My Walls, San Salvador Mission Trip: Love Is My Purpose

  1. Pingback: Beyond My Walls, An Open Letter to My Readers | Ending Up Here

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