Well, first of all, I apologize for making you all wait for this post. I wanted to do it justice.
My trip to El Salvador was, in one word, amazing. It was unlike any other experience I have had in my life, and in a totally unexpected way. When I went to Mexico before, I was this baby Christian and not really going anywhere for God so much as myself, although God did still use the experience to teach me. I wanted this time to be different. I wanted to work harder, get more dirt on my hands, keep my eyes open wider, and love bigger. I prepared a lot before I went and worked a lot when I was there, but it was futile. I still got way more than I gave.
What follows is a breakdown of what we did. I was going to write a book about every little thing I experienced, but after I wrote about the first day, I realized that I would basically be duplicating my entire LENGTHY trip journal, and I didn't want to do that (for your sake, as well as mine). So, in it's most basic form, here's the rundown:
THURSDAY: After 4 canceled flights, and a major detour to L.A., we arrived in El Salvador at 6:30 a.m. very tired. We had a few hours to "refresh" and eat before heading over to the "project", which is what they call the church and classroom buildings. The church building consists of a bunch of former homes that were bought up one at a time, and walls were eventually knocked down in between to create one large space. Across the alley is a taller building with a kitchen, one toilet (IN the kitchen), and Sunday school classrooms. That second building was where construction began on a new set of bathrooms while we were there.
When we arrived, the kids popped out of a large box to see us. Then they had a wonderful little presentation about their ministries. We toured the project and heard the first of many stories of injustice that we would hear that week. The tour also included an outline of what Compassion does exactly for this specific project. We learned that kids who come learn a trade that they can use to make money, for example: making bread, welding, computer network repair, etc. It's really a neat process.
After the tour was lunch, and then a few people met their sponsored children. I got to meet mine unexpectedly - I actually thought I would not see her until later in the week. We didn't get much of a chance to talk before we headed off with Pastor Chris to go to his sponsored child's home . . .
. . . and THAT was a really neat experience. Since the one translator we had was busy, my sponsored child and I just smiled back and forth. Mostly we watched what was going on, because it was awesome!! Pastor Chris really did a fantastic job asking his sponsored child and his mom questions, and just helping them feel at ease to have these strange people in their home. Really awesome experience.
When we got back to the hotel, the President of El Salvador was at our hotel doing some sort of program in the courtyard. So military was stationed all over with machine guns. Freaky!
FRIDAY: Friday was one of our work days, and even though we were tired, I think we were all anxious to get started. I was a little too anxious I think - I started out making this gigantic mess! My paintbrush was well-used and also wet, so it leaked a lot of pink liquid as I tried to paint with white paint. I felt awful that I was making such a mess, but nothing could be done. I ended up just getting as much as I could on myself - which maybe was not the best idea, but it kept the floor cleaner!
All the food we had was really REALLY good, but for snacks on Friday they gave us two different and really special treats. In the morning we had a "pupusa", which is like the El Salvadorean national dish. It's like a tortilla with beans inside. In the afternoon many ladies from the church made us a SPREAD of really interesting food that they were obviously so proud of, and all of which tasted great to me.
Later that evening we went shopping and I learned not to be too bold with my Spanish. :) I won't put the story on here, but feel free to ask me about it!
SATURDAY: This was our fun day! We headed to a nearby beach with some of the youth from the church for a fellowship and evangelism day. I got to ride down there with some of the youth, and they are just amazing. And that sentence was a total understatement. They are so on fire for Jesus, and it shows in how gigantic their hearts are. I was impressed with them from day one - the next generation in that church will undoubtedly accomplish a lot.
When we got there we just played on the beach. A gigantic impromptu soccer game started between all the guys, and the girls played ball and Frisbee. I played baseball with some of the girls, and it was a lot of fun! During the baseball game is when I met little Paola. :) What an absolute sweetheart. Paola doesn't know it, but she completely helped me get over myself on this trip! I was feeling a little introverted, and she just helped me open up and have fun. She was like my little angel in that way.
After lunch we played some games with the youth and just showed them how we do some things with the youth at Metro. They also showed us some games that they play, and it was a really fun time. It was one of those moments where despite our various ages, everyone there was a kid at heart. I really feel that we started to come together as a group at this point. After the games, we went for a swim in a nearby pool. It was very relaxing and a great time spent with the girls.
I think at the time I underestimated the importance of this day. Having fun together gave everyone the chance to bond and get to know each other on a more personal level. I am so glad we got to do this.
SUNDAY: Sunday morning we started out going to the church and playing with some of the Sunday school kids. I got a chance to hang out in my absolute most favorite room in the whole place - the nursery. :) I played most of the time with this little girl who was about three, and she just did NOT want me to let her go. If I was sitting, she had to be on my lap. If I was standing, I had to be holding BOTH of her hands - holding just one of her hands was not enough. The girl just needed lots of love! It was both a happy and sad time.
After play time, we helped clean the church floors and the chairs. I got to sit by Paola and her mom. Lunch was YUMMY, as usual.
After lunch we got to head to a little handicraft market for a brief shopping trip. We were only there about 40 minutes or so, but it was a good place to get souvenirs and things.
Then . . . it was time for church! HOORAY! Even though we all had to dress up, I had been looking forward to this all week long. In Mexico we did not get to go to church because we traveled on Sundays, and I was sad about that, so this was fulfilling something that I had missed out on before. There's something special about worshipping with new friends around the world. :)
The service was really neat. The music and atmosphere was definitely different, but still great. We had the message translated for us, and Pastor Paul got to deliver it. He was personally very honored. There was a LOT of people that showed up, and the youth of the church gave their seats up for those who needed a place to sit. How amazing is that?
Pastor Paul gave a very "Pastor Paul type message" about love. It was very VERY good. After service we had to beat feet out of there because it is not safe for us to be in that area at night. We got to eat dinner that night at a nicer place, because they had a surprise for us . . . we got to watch part of the Super Bowl, yay! It was in Spanish, but we understood what was going on. :)
The team meeting that night was amazing, and the most touching moment of the week for me. The first thing Pastor Paul told us was that the church had given our church a love offering of forty dollars. He said that they had said "we know it's not a lot, but we want you to have it." That made me simply bawl my eyes out. I was touched beyond words. I think this was really beautiful. The rest of the meeting was touching as well. It kind of started the waterworks for me - I didn't really stop crying until Tuesday evening! . . . not joking!
MONDAY: Last day. :( We spent the morning painting the outside of the church. We actually were able to get it almost all done! :) After painting we had to say good-bye to the church and most of the members. It was SO SAD. Saying good-bye to the ladies in the kitchen was the hardest for me at that point. I love them all so much! Their hearts are huge!
I never did see my sponsored child again. I was sad that I hadn't gotten to give her the things I brought her in person, but thankful that I at least got to see her once. I ended up leaving her backpack there for her to open later.
After that we hopped on the bus to head to the mountains where we would have our formal goodbye at a retreat place. On the way up I chatted with a lady from the church who tutors my sponsored child, so that was good because I got to learn more about her and her family. The retreat was very pretty, and we ended up taking a lot of pictures there.
We had lunch and then they set up this whole surprise birthday party for Dylan, Pastor Paul, and our Compassion staff member Debbie. They went all out: hats, horns, balloons, a pinata, two cakes! It was really, really sweet, and tons of fun to watch.
Then we broke off into smaller groups to pray. Wow, that was so meaningful. I am glad we got to end the trip in prayer for each other on a personal level. From that point on I pretty much cried for the rest of the day . . . We got back together as a large group and they had a photo slide show for us, and a formal goodbye. There are no words to really describe this time and how meaningful it was. You could feel the love in the air - it was practically palpable. They told us how much we mean to them, and we shared with them some encouragement and what this trip had meant to us. Everyone was crying. I was a mess and just could not even hold myself together.
Then . . . the individual good-byes. Oh my goodness, saaaaaaaaaaaad. They told us that we were like their angels. Saying good-bye to Paola was the hardest. I think I hugged her about 50 times!!
But . . .
At dinner that night, surprise! The pastor and his whole family was there - there was Paola! :) I was happy to get to sit with her again, one last time. Her and her sisters are simply lovely - we had a good last night hanging out at dinner. :)
After dinner, one last set of good-byes, and the trip was over. :(
. . . Well mostly. I got sick on the way home, so I am still feeling El Salvador physically! Ha ha.
You know how in the move How the Grinch Stole Christmas! how the Grinch's heart grew three sizes when the Whos down in Whoville started to sing?
The best way to describe how El Salvador touched me is:
ME = GRINCH. (You may be confused by this, but somewhere my husband is likely nodding in total understanding.)
Not that I was trying to stop Christmas from coming or anything, but I DO feel like my heart grew bigger as a result of this trip. It had to in order to accommodate all the people who are in it now! These people are Metro's second church family, and they grew to mean so much to us in so little time. The delay in arriving, the sickness that followed . . . really neither of those things matter in the span of it all. In everything that happened and how much we all grew - we will be down there a lot longer than 6 days in our hearts.
This trip meant the world to me. Learning to love bigger is no small thing.
Until next time . . .