10 months ago, I reluctantly walked into a Salvadorian high school, unsure of what to expect from Central American teenagers and convinced that whatever happened that day, my presence there was meaningless.
It was the fourth day of Rock City Church’s June mission trip to San Salvador, El Salvador. I had signed up and gone on the trip because I felt God pulling at my heart and urging me to go. I wasn’t sure why God wanted me there – I don’t speak Spanish, little kids usually annoy me (the whole point of this trip was to serve the Children’s Development Center which our church helped fundraise and build), and it was the beginning of my favorite season back home. Even so, I trusted God’s tugging and ended up in San Salvador with about 15 other missionaries.
Up to that point on the trip, I had felt pretty useless. I wasn’t needed on the construction project at the Children’s Center. Every other missionary on the trip wanted to work with the little kids, so even if I did suck it up and offer to hang out with the tiny humans, there was no need for me. And the small kitchen didn’t have space for one more clueless-in-the-kitchen “gringa.”
When the offer came to go to a local, private high school, Colegio Ceren, I refused to volunteer. I teach high school Language Arts 9 months out of the year, so being the first week of June, the last thing I wanted to do was surround myself with teenagers. But everyone else on the team already had their job and there was a desperate need for missionaries in the high school, so I agreed to go.
Our overall goal for the day at Colegio Ceren was to reach out to the students, share our stories with them and share the love of God with them through building relationships and telling them about God’s Word for us in the Bible. My job was to warm the students up to us through a hilarious game of “Conejo Gordo” (chubby bunny). The game requires participants to shove as many giant marshmallows as possible in their mouth and say the words “Conejo gordo” comprehensibility, without spitting out or swallowing the marshmallows.
I had no idea that this small activity would ignite a burst of flames in my heart for the youth of San Salvador. After a few hours with the teenagers, they had collectively stolen my heart. Even though I spoke very little Spanish and they spoke very little English, we were able to communicate and begin to connect (thank God for our amazing translators!!). I rode back to the hotel in our van with my mind swirling with visions of what my future would look like, because after that short day, I knew why God had taken me to San Salvador.
When I returned home to Ohio, I began reading news articles about all the teenagers who had left their home countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and San Salvador in hopes of a better life in the US. Most of these kids were fleeing an assured future of drug use, gang violence and poverty. But upon reaching US soil (if they were lucky enough to survive the trek), they were told they had to go back because 1) They were there illegally, 2) They were minors, and 3) They were without parents.
When I read these articles, my mind was immediately transposed back to San Salvador. I had met teenagers fighting against all odds to not become another statistic for their hopeless and purposeless generation. My heart cried out to them, needing to do more. Sure, every dollar sent there from my paycheck helps and going on mission trips gets my hands dirty and impacts lives. But I knew I needed to do MORE. I needed to be there, in the thick of it, building relationships, sharing God’s love and impacting lives.
Now, 10 months later, my heart is still yearning for San Salvador. I have gone on a total of 2 mission trips with Rock City Church and spent another 11 days in San Salvador getting a taste of what daily life is like when I’m not on a mission trip with all of my needs taken care of.
My goal is to move to San Salvador around this time next year. Ideally, I will work with the youth group of Rock City Church’s partner church, Iglesia Gran Comision San Salvador. Too many Salvadorian teenagers give in to their culture’s low expectations of them. But they are a talented, able and resourced generation capable of changing those views and impacting the world around them.
And I want to help.