El Salvador 2024

Three members of our congregation travelled to El Salvador this past March break, to visit Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel (Emmanuel Baptist Church) in the capital city of San Salvador. This trio of Drew, John, and Tracy travelled with a larger group of United Church people. The United Church of Canada has had a more than a 30-year relationship with this special congregation. Their leader is Pastor Miguel Castro, and together with his partner Lidia and their congregants, they are making a difference in the everyday lives of Salvadorans.

These trips are called “mission awareness trips” because, although Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel is thankful for our monetary support, our relationship is a partnership where both sides learn from and appreciate each other. Those on the trip learn and grow in their understanding of other cultures and their realities and, inevitably, everyone’s faith and sense of discipleship is deepened and enriched.

John shares that it was interesting to learn more about Archbishop Oscar Romero. Romero was the voice of the poor majority population, during a time of great turmoil and civil war in the country. Romero’s outspoken advocacy for the poor led to his assassination by government forces on March 24, 1980. During this time the government forces used death squads to kidnap, kill, and control the population. All so that the social elite could stay in power. John writes that he felt called to go on this mission awareness trip, and that the confirmation of this call came when he approached the spot where Romero had fallen after being shot. “A cool breeze blew across me when I stood there, and I was overwhelmed with a feeling of pain and sorrow.”

 

While there, the group visited a mission school. The group was able to give the school 6 laptop computers and school supplies. John notes: “They are so thankful for our being in partnership with them. This was communicated to us by their saying, “Thank you for not forgetting about us.”

This trip’s special project was a waste water conservation project. Our congregation raised money for this project and donated $2,300! John reflects that it was very hot (38 degrees Celsius!) but very satisfying work. “It was why I was there,” he shares. John writes: “The tools that we used were the most basic: shovel, pickaxe, iron stave, water, and our hands. Together we dug many holes, both for fences and for a rudimentary wastewater septic system (2 large holes, 6 feet deep, 4 feet wide), in very dry conditions. Drew made these holes look small, due to his height! This helped the local mission in San Jose Guayabal-Palacios. It took us all day, about 6 to 7 hours, to complete.”

This was Tracy’s second mission awareness trip to El Salvador. A highlight for her, of course, was reconnecting with the people of Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel. She shared that it was wonderful to see the people and their work continue to thrive. She found it interesting to see how different, yet the same, the country is, given all that it has gone through politically in the last five years. She writes: “We went to missions that we hadn’t previously been able to visit due to gang issues; so that was a special treat. But the abject poverty persists, and witnessing that first-hand was difficult.”

Drew, as a youth going on a mission awareness trip for the first time, writes: “This was an incredible experience for me, one that I will never forget. It struck me that so many of the people have so little, yet they are so happy!”

El Salvador is a mountainous country, with about 35 dormant volcanoes, and it is still seismically active. The group couldn’t help but be moved, both physically and spiritually, when they experienced an earth tremor following Pastor Miguel’s farewell prayer with the group.

John writes: “I hope that together, through our faith in God and our enduring partnership with Pastor Miguel’s church, we helped enrich, insure, and promote a better future for El Salvador.”

As is written in the rural mission hall of La Puerta: “Tu, Yo, Todas y Todos Construyendo La Pas Shalom.” Which roughly translates as, “You, Me, Us Together Constructing Peace.”