Day 5 – Wednesday
Yesterday was a whirlwind! We worked hard, played hard, and our last group went on home visits.
In the morning, we all continued our work of carrying gravel, sand, and bricks down to the worksite from the road. With all of us working, we decimated a pile of sand and a pile of gravel! It is a huge accomplishment. It was so cool to see different team members encouraging one another as they passed on the trail, and also spurring each other on to keep persevering. Carrying one’s self down a narrow path is in itself a difficult task. Add on a 15-50lb bag of rock, and the hike becomes a challenge. Our students persevered – trip after trip – up and down. All while maintaining phenomenally positive attitudes, taking breaks when needed, and walking 6-8 miles throughout the day. Our group is made up of beastly muscles, quiet strength, and deep feeling.
Quinn Jackson and Tyler Brahmstadt, two of our students, wrote up the moving stories from home visits yesterday. Here are their experiences!
On February 28, Ivan’s life along with his families was changed forever. He was in a major car accident that put him in a coma for 11 days, and he suffered 12 different injuries to his brain and one to his throat. The doctors that examined him all agreed he would not make it in the coming weeks. To everyone’s surprise, he is 3 months out of the hospital. He suffered brain damage and can no longer go back to work. He lives with his sister who cares for him full time. He has two small children and a wife whom live separately that he misses so much. He tries to support them by selling piñatas, but it is not enough to pay for medical bills as well as support his family. Ivan is thankful to God for his life and has trust that God will take care of him and his family.
Fransico’s mother has had a long hard life while walking with Jesus. She has lived in Panchimalco for 30 years. She has four sons and one daughter and had to watch two of her sons pass away. All of them live together in one house. This past year, her youngest son Francisco has had a very hard time. He was charged with homicide and placed in jail for many months. When he asked the church to pray for him, they came to his aid and God showed the town the truth. When he was released, he went straight to the church and accepted Christ as his savior. Since accepting Christ he no longer drinks, and members of the town are beginning to accept him and he has found work. His mother is so thankful for all the work the church is doing for her son and had seen such a great change.
As we walk into the next house, it is a dark, cramped, one room shack. Lying on a bed to our left, we see an old woman who is shifting to look at us. We learn that her name is Paula. She will be 80 years old in December. She has lived a long, happy life with her husband and children. However, eight months ago while at work one day Paula fell and injured herself. Since then she has not been able to get out of bed. Her oldest daughter, Sonia, now lives with Paula and takes care of her mother. Paula’s family made two appointments to the doctor, but Paula insists on not going. She states that it is too costly since the family would have to pay for the doctors and the taxi, since Paula cannot walk. Now that Paula cannot work anymore, her husband sells chopped wood and Sonia washes other peoples clothing. The family is putting their faith in God for strength and healing during this rough time.
The final house we visited is the home of a single mother, Cecilia, and her three children. When we arrived Cecilia was shock since she was unaware of our visit. Instantly she started to apologize saying that she wishes she had known we were coming so she could have gotten chairs for us to sit on. After joking around about this for a few minutes, Cecilia tells us about her life and her incredible faith in God.
Before Cecilia moved to Panchimalco nine years ago she did not believe in God. While living in her old town with her kids, there was a terrible storm that lasted for ten days. The floor of her house had been washed away and she had no more food left. One day during this storm a neighbor invited Cecilia’s children to a midweek prayer. Cecilia allowed her children to go for one reason – there was free food. Soon Cecilia began to go to church with her children for the food. To Cecilia, God and church was just a way to get food until one day when she had the realization that God was so much more.
Now Cecilia is thankful to God for everything and all that He promises. She now attends church regularly with her children. Despite being very poor and living in a community with a lot of issues with gangs, she believes that God will always be there. She is hopeful for all that the future has in store for them.
Day 6 – Thursday
What a day today has been! We’ve had some really triumphant moments, super fun moments, moments of epic adventure, and some really sad moments.
Triumphant: We are finished with our project! The tilapia pond is mostly done, and we exceeded the amount of work Pastor Carlos expected us to do! Major win!
Fun: We had to stop working for a while today while the sky poured down massive loads of rain. Why did it rain? It rained because Sara did a rain dance while working in the pit.
Epic adventure: We climbed to the top of a peak called “El Puerto del Diablo” (the door of the devil), where we were able to look out and see the ocean on one side, and volcanoes on the other. It was so wonderful!
Sad: Today we said goodbye to so many new friends.
For the past two days, we have gathered for lunch at the pavilion that is owned by one of Pastor Carlos’ friends. It is a 15-minute drive away from our work site, and looks like it could be featured as a tropical getaway on the front of a magazine. While at the pavilion, a church member brought us fresh coffee that he made that was spiced with cinnamon and allspice. It was crazy good. We were also given the gift of taking a hike up to a ridge where we could look out over Panchimalco and some surrounding cities. As we were hiking, some of the local guys found some ripe oranges and picked them for us. There is nothing quite like the taste of a just-picked orange. Oddly enough, the oranges were green – but they were still ripe!
During our down time, we picked up a few games of soccer, volleyball, Frisbee, Bananagrams, and a few other shenanigans. The beauty of our team is that we can be easily self-entertaining anywhere we go! Usually, that ends up with us singing and harmonizing to some song as we walk, work, or drive. It is beautiful.
The major highlight of the day was the ceremony we had with Pan de Vida church for dedicating the tilapia pond project. Pastor Carlos shared with us about how we can be unified – all as one church – regardless of language, background, or anything else. He talked about how grateful the whole church was for the work that we came and did. It was such a world shifter when he said that he felt like they had nothing to give us – but what they did have were some tapestries woven for us by a church member. It was such a contrast of views. On the way home, we talked about how we felt like they gave us so much over the week! They served us every time we were around! From home cooked meals to pulling out chairs at home visits, to preparing anything and everything for us so we could be comfortable. Even though we didn’t communicate flawlessly with each other, there was such a power in being with one another.
It is so crazy how simply being with someone can equate to a feeling of love and connection so quickly. Many tears were shed today as we hugged our many new friends goodbye – or rather – just a “See you later.” During debrief, one student mentioned that her world was rocked when she realized that though she may not see these people again in person, she will see them in heaven – with no language barrier. We will all be together again someday, and it will be a glorious party!
After the dedication ceremony, we all headed back to the church for the ultimate in parties: Eating pupusas!!! A pupusa is a tortilla-like creation with some sort of filling – whether a meat, cheese, or beans. It is an El Salvadorian specialty. Ours were made with much love by some of the ladies from the church. They tasted like heaven!
The team has done a lot of really good work on being present with what is happening on our adventures. Debrief brings about stories of hope, deep empathy, struggle, and many questions. Through it all, God has been really, really good.
In the midst of the heavy, we’ve had some pretty epic adventures. Prepare for a list of random happenings from our group the past week:
– Rode in the back of a pickup
– Rode on top of a Toyota land cruiser
– Threw cement against walls
– Carried bags of materials up and down 50+ times
– Played Bananagrams
– Played soccer
– Made new friends
– Hiked to the top of El Puerto del Diablo
– Ate some really good fruits: Oranges, mangoes, marmon, limes, watermelon, pineapple and payaya
– Learned that El Salvadorian Cheetos are way better than Cheetos in the states
– Got up early to see sunsets
– Drew pictures
– Recorded hours of GoPro footage
– Played in the rain
– Sang songs
– Played “skeleton” in the land cruiser
– Laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe
– Had debriefs on the balcony
– Eaten ridiculous food – including steak, grilled PB&J, pupusas, broccoli soup, and eggs
These are only a few of the adventures we’ve been on – and we’re not even done yet! Friday’s adventures include driving up into the mountains to go zip lining, staying in gorgeous cabins, relaxing in hammocks, and learning more about each other’s stories.
God has been so good to us!