This morning, we visited a small church outside the city of San Juan Opico, where we met Pastor Juan Ramirez. In about three hours of time, we heard some fantastic stories, walked some beautiful paths, and learned about some great people. The purpose of our excursion was to see how one church can make an impact on a community, and to possibly prepare the way for other willow teams to visit the area!
Pastor Juan Ramirez is the leader of Templo Evangelico Asambleas de Dios: Casa de el Alfarero (Evangelic Church of God – Assemblies of God). This church has Been making a great impact in its community, and they have only been with Enlace for a year and a half. Prior to being a pastor and a Christian, Juan was a leader in the community, but was far from God. For 8 years, his wife prayed that he would come to know God. At one point, she drew two circles on the ground and prayed that her husband would come join her in the circle of knowing Christ. If he didn’t, she was planning on leaving him. Within the week, Juan came to know Christ! He even knew the exact date – January 4, 2004. By March of that year, Juan became a leader inside the church, but felt a conflict in how the church and the community work together. He separated himself from the community and dedicated itself to learning all he could about faith.
In 2006, Juan became the pastor of the church, though he wasn’t officially educated in the Bible or the rules of the Assemblies of God church. Similar to Pastor Mauricio, coming to faith ignited a willingness to learn, and Pastor Juan graduated from Bible school not long after. Yet, the controversy still remained inside of Juan as to how the relationship between the community and church worked. It wasn’t until he talked about it with another Assemblies of God church pastor that Juan saw the potential of the church in helping the community. This is how Juan became connected with Enlace. He began to re-engage with the community leaders, which was difficult due to how he earlier distanced himself.
As he started working with the leaders again, they realized that the community had fallen off of the radar with the local government. Thanks to his prior community leadership, Juan had the connections with the regional governor to be able to get projects moving again. They were able to bring electricity to the area as well as bring in large dumpsters for trash in an effort to keep the streets more sanitary. Last year, they were also able to donate 4 wheelchairs to individuals in need. Already this year, they have donated 3, and have 5 more ready to go!
Two of the biggest areas of need in the community surround water. The first is around drinking water. When pastor Juan was a community leader, he worked to bring water to the area, because everyone was getting their water out of ponds. The system has worked decently well up until the past few years, where the flaws of a non-engineer designed system have become apparent. The well that they have dug 80 meters to pump water out of has started to become contaminated with sewage. They add chlorine to the water to attempt to purify it, but it doesn’t remove all the bacteria. If they didn’t add the chlorine, they would essentially be drinking fecal contaminated water. At this point, it costs $45,000 to dig a new well further up hill, and that is an almost unthinkable amount of money in that community. Pastor Juan has been working on getting the government to give them aid, but at this point they aren’t sure when help will come.
The second water issue affects all of the area’s 5,000 residents. Dring the rainy season, many roads flood and are greatly eroded due to a lack of water removal systems. We walked to several bridges and areas where water can rise up out of the stream, and up to 3-4′ high above the road at times. This prevents travel in and out of the town. There isn’t necessarily a simple fix either. In order to solve one problem, two or three have to be fixed first. It is a domino effect requiring finances that the area doesn’t have.
Pastor Juan took us on a hike that reminded me very much of hiking the mountains in North Carolina. We went through tree filled areas, rocky terrain, narrow paths, up hills and down into small valleys. Once we reached the top, pastor told us that we had just walked the route that many people walk often just to get to church – and that was the shortcut! They are also working on finding a new and shorter path to the church that he fully isn’t affected by the fast moving floodwaters.
It was a delightful morning, a nice break from stove building, and a great learning experience. Before we left, we stopped at the pastor’s house, where several ladies had prepared our lunch for the road. My favorite older lady had a shirt on that said, “You wish you threw like a girl!” Before we left, she asked when we were coming back. There was so much joy in her face! After saying a prayer with the pastor, we loaded up into the van and headed towards San Jacinto.
The first home that our team visited was the residence of Francisco and Rosa, who will be getting married this weekend! This is a big occasion for them, as they have had to save up a lot of money to pay for the wedding. They used to live out closer to the ocean, but they moved to El Progresso in order to be closer to family and in order to qualify for a marriage license. They have two children, Mario and Jasmine.
It has been difficult for them to find jobs lately, as they work on the coffee plantations, and the recent plague rendered much of the crop useless. Usually their monthly salary is $102, but with the plague, that has tampered their income. They rent their home for $30 a month, and live off of corn, beans, and whatever fruits they can find locally.
Before the team left, they prayed with Francisco and Rosa, both of whom know Christ. They are thankful for God’s provision thus far, are believing for it to continue, and are praying that their landlord will allow them to stay in the house. After our team finished praying, Francisco prayed for them. It was a beautiful moment!
When the team arrived at the second home, they had no idea what stories were about to come their way. They met Audelia, who is the daughter of Felanine, who was out at a church meeting and was unable to meet us. Five days ago, pastor Orlando told Felanine that a team was coming to her house with a present for her. When she heard that news, she began to cry tears of happiness. Why Americans would come all the way to El Salvador to bring her a gift was beyond comprehension. The more the team talked to her daughter, the more sense Felanine’s joy made.
During the el Salvadorian civil war, Felanine’s husband and one of her sons were taken by rebels during the night. Felanine and her family spent all their money trying to find them, but eventually they had to surmise that they had been killed. Not only is Felanine a widow, but her daughter Audelia is also a widow. This family has felt a great deal of grief, which made a gift of food so much sweeter.
Felanine and Audelia attempt to make a living by selling lemons in Santa Ana. It costs only $0.50 to buy 100 lemons. They would sell the lemons locally, but there is no demand for them in El Progresso because everyone has them already. The sad part is that it costs $1.70 just to travel to Santa Ana, which means they have to sell at least 300-400 lemons to make a profit. When lemons aren’t in season, Felanine and Audelia sell corn in Santa Ana, which usually brings in about $20.
This family’s greatest need outside of financial areas is in relation to their house. Their roof has reached the end of its life, and needs replacement. Unfortunately, it will cost about $6000 to replace it (material and labor costs), and this is far too much for the family to afford. They have been in contact with the church and Enlace to see if there is anything that can be done. They also need to expand their house, as two rooms isn’t enough space to house their family. Audelia was very grateful for our team’s visit, appreciates your prayers, and wished us a great rest of our trip.
The next house the team visited was that of Juana, who is known as the happiest lady at church. The beautiful thing is that her happiness has come in spite of much suffering. Juana is 80 years old, is a widow of four years, and has diabetes and hypertension. She makes it a point to never miss a church service, and is known to all at the church as “Momma Juana.” One of her favorite activities at the church is mentoring the younger children. What a beautiful picture! She has 8 kids and 45 grandchildren that live in different areas, and she attempts to make a living off of the little they are able to give her. It is difficult for her to work due to her age.
She told the team that her joy comes from attending church and seeing how God has always been good to her, despite some tough circumstances. The only thing that keeps her from church is when her stomach and knees occasionally hurt. A big need for her is her monthly medicine bill, which God keeps providing for. Juana is not only joyful, but is a joy to all around her. Sever she goes, she is well loved and respected as one of the oldest members of the community.
The last home the team visited was that of Francisco and Maria, the first couple that team Carrot Pumpkin built a stove for. Michelle, who was on both the team and this house visit, said that it was a very happy reunion, as Maria absolutely loves using her new stove. So far, she has made tortillas and fried rice meat with much less wood than before!
While that team was touring homes, the team I was on built a stove for a man named Carlos, whose wife was away working in San Salvador. This is the first stove that I helped build that we took all the way to completion!
Over the course of three hours, we not only built a stove, but we also made friends. Carlos’ mom, Mercedes, came to greet us with a trail of little followers behind her. Mercedes was a bundle of spunk, despite her age of 87 years. When I asked her if I could take her photo, she said with a smirk, “No. I will only allow it if you leave me a copy too.” Needless to say, we got a photo with her!
Mercedes has many grand kids, one of which is studying in Indiana at present. The one we hung out with most was named Esmerelda, who was 14 and was caring for her younger sister Adriana, who is 7 months old. Esmerelda understood much more English than she let on, and even denied it. She busted her own cover when she said numbers to us in English. She loves school, and her favorite subject is math. It takes her 25 minutes to walk to school, and she walks with her friends.
It was a lot of fun working alongside this family, hearing fun stories from the kids, and getting to know Nahum, our mason better. He loves it when teams come to work with him, because it helps him feel more American. He has a wife of five years, and he lives with his mom and his sister as well. He lived in Michigan for 14 years, but he didn’t have a green card, so he was sent back to El Salvador. He and his wife live 6 blocks away from Pastor Mauricio’s church, and met at the church. We learned this week that ceramics, such as adobe bricks and concrete, can be cut with a machete. I now feel smarter.
The further we get into this trip, the quieter meals and car rides become. The team is feeling the physical impact of what we’ve been doing, but despite that, the stories of those we are interacting with give us joy to continue.
Tonight, we head out to dinner to eat, as Arturo phrased it, “Real El Salvadorian food…” Which means we are going to Burger King. Ta da!
For more photos of the day, check out the photo gallery on the next post!