December4 , 2022

    Heartbreak and Glory in El Salvador

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    By Alyssa Moreland

    Mission to El Salvador

    Last month, I went on a mission trip to El Salvador. I went with Chi Alpha, the campus ministry that I am part of at the University of North Texas, to work with a ministry there called Castillo del Rey (King’s Castle). In total, my team had 19 people; ten of us from Texas, nine from Castillo del Rey (who were referred to as our Nationals).

    Six of my ten days there were spent going into schools and neighborhoods in the Santa Ana area and putting on programs to share the Gospel with children. In those six days, we went into 16 schools, put on 21 programs, and reached 4,404 people. Of that 4,404, 1,455 accepted the Gospel and decided to follow Christ, most of them children and young teenagers.

    But so many more were left unreached, unknown, and broken.

    Welcome to El Salvador

    From the time that I entered El Salvador, I could see the desperate need there. For help, for love, for provision, for salvation. In short, I could see the desperate need for Christ. It hung heavy in the very air. It seemed both fitting and ironic that words El Salvador mean “The Savior.”

    We had a long drive from the airport to the Castillo del Rey camp. On the way, I took in the sights of what was, at once, the most beautiful and most broken place I have ever seen. There was more untouched wilderness there than I had ever imagined, and all of it was in bloom, vibrant and in technicolor shades of green, orange, purple, pink. It was stunning.

    And then we would drive through a city, and all I could see were rundown, ruined buildings, with bars on the windows and barbed wire on walls and rooftops. There were houses that I was certain were unlivable, until I saw people standing on the porch or laundry hanging from clotheslines. Many homes appeared to be made from nothing more than sheet metal and wooden posts.

    Over our ten days there, we drove in towns and villages a lot. I saw many animals wandering around; dogs mostly, but also cats and chickens and sometimes even horses or cows (though people usually tied these on the side of the road). There was garbage everywhere. It covered any part of ground not regularly walked or driven on, sometimes stray pieces, often entire bags. Just looking at the conditions of the towns broke my heart.

    Most heartbreaking, though, were the people. They looked devastated, worn down. Some carried heavy loads or sold bread, jewelry, or whatever else they could on the sidewalks. They slept on street corners in the middle of the day. As we drove down a highway, I saw a woman walking with her toddler on the edge of the pavement, cars speeding by mere feet from her child.

    The Heartbreak

    At the schools, there was more energy, but it was frantic. Chaotic. A roiling mess of shouting, laughing, fighting. The kids there ran around and up to us and away. They asked us questions, and we answered as best we could, some of us in Spanish, some through translators. Sometimes they were eager, sometimes anxious, and always both heartbreaking and heartwarming to me. They smiled at us, giggled at our attempts to speak their language (only three of us from Texas could, and I was not one of them), and looked at us like they couldn’t believe anyone would come so far for the sole purpose of reaching out to them.

    In most of the schools, we encountered mixed reactions from the kids. Some of them (usually the younger ones) met us with excitement. Others greeted us with varying degrees of suspicion. Some were eager to see the show we put on, others were uninterested. In the midst of all these different reactions, there were kids who listened carefully, waiting to see how God would show himself.

    These different kinds of kids showed up in different places. On our first day doing ministry, some of our team encountered a girl named Maria. When I saw her, something about her stood out to me, but I didn’t talk to her. She stood next to me as I prayed over the group of kids she was standing in. She looked sad. I found out later from the girls who did talk to her that she was 12 years old, came from a large family, and at the time, she hadn’t eaten in two days. They prayed over her, and then we left the school. It was devastating leaving that school. I knew that we had done all we could do for her, but it still didn’t feel like enough.

    At another school, there was an older girl who refused at first to join one of the groups for prayer. Eventually, we convinced her to come over, and as we prayed, I noticed she was crying. Because I don’t speak Spanish, I was at a loss. I went and grabbed a girl from our team, Kenya, who did speak Spanish and she translated some of what the girl said. She told us that she felt like she needed God’s presence more than ever, but she wouldn’t tell us why. She was one of the only Christians in her school, and she felt distant from God. We prayed over her and did our best to encourage her.

    The girl who broke my heart the most was a little girl named Carla. We met her when we were going out into a neighborhood gathering people for one of the programs we did in the streets. She was playing with a bunch of other kids. I noticed that there was a younger girl with her that she seemed to be watching out for. When it started to rain, Carla made sure the younger girl was under the shelter of a building before she was. When they walked, Carla either had an arm around the younger girl or constantly looked back at her. As we knocked on doors to gather more people, the pastor of the church we were working with n