It’s been four days since returning from El Salvador. I’m fortunate to claim three visits to the Central American country is a year’s time. Last week, was my second trip during an Advent season. And once again, I find myself scratching my head about all that we were able to during our six days “in country”. I mentioned much about our work efforts to build a new Habitat Home during last week’s devotional. No power tools, lots of clay. Lots of mixing of gravel, sand, and cement on the ground, then shoveled into wheelbarrows and dumped into the deep long trench lines that made up the outline for the house. In many ways, our work efforts were fairly simple. Days 1 and 2…..use pick axes and shovels to move dirt out of the stringed-off outline of the home’s outer and interior walls. If you get tired or bored of that….there’s rebar assembly and construction that needs to take place. Day 3 was a celebration in the village so our work was a little more limited. But we made up for it during Days 4 and 5, mixing the concrete components to fill in the holes, secure the rebar, and top-off the trench lines with additional cement.
Sounds very simple right?
And if that was all our team experienced last week, then I’d say it was a pretty cut and dry build and this might be the shortest devotional ever.
Of course….things were not that simple.
There’s the factions between neighboring communities who’ve never had to work together towards common goals….who are now faced with that dilemma. The sharing of resources at a health clinic in one community across all the other ones….something that’s never been considered before.
There’s very high unemployment across the country and while the population sits around 6 million people, there’s estimates of another 3 million who’ve migrated to the United States for work….and send money “back home” to their families.
There’s fears that a new presidential administration in the US might force that same 3 million people back to El Salvador, putting even more of a strain where few jobs are available.
There remain concerns about gang violence, especially in the urban areas. There’s signs of spreading gang violence to the smaller villages, mostly noted by gang graffiti on abandoned homes and brick walls.
There are still mosquitos….and Zika, although those concerns seem to be decreasing. Small hope, some might say.
During the week, there are very few men in the village, since most of the work available to that gender is in the urban areas. So, many children grow up not knowing their fathers. And somewhere in all that mess, is this shying away from any men who visit the village, such as our group of mission workers. Children are quick to run up to hug the women on our team; but still quite standoff-ish from the men.
How can this be? Recognize that verse? You might know that it appears at least twice in scripture. But during our current season of Advent, it’s more relevant from the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1 where Mary questions the angel who announced the virgin’s pregnancy with the simple question of “How can this be…?”
So, as with many mission workers in villages similar to the one of our efforts last week, we found ourselves asking “why” over and over again. And for me personally, no matter how many times I go to El Salvador, I am left with those same questions.
How can this be…that God allows this to happen? Where is God in the midst of sure poverty?
The answer is that you have to look for Him.
How do I know?
God was there on the build site when we showed up with very little experience and soft, uncalloused hands, showing us how to get through the tasks that needed to be done.
God was there when we stumbled on a family we met last year….and started peeling back the onion on some pretty serious “drama” that was taking place in their home.
And God was there every day when village children would watch us working, smiling every time we made eye contact.
In the midst of poverty, and strife, and drama….God was there. Yes, while we were looking and questioning “how can this be….”, we began to realize later in the week the thoughts of “how can this not be….”.
How can this not be our call to action?
How can this not be our reason to care?
How can this not be a demonstration of sharing our abundance?
How can this not be an unyielding desire to return?
How can this not be a chance for discipleship?
On the final day, we were walking around the village, taking in a quick tour of a couple of the neighboring communities where future build efforts might take shape. Remember those kids who stayed away from the men in our group? The youngest girl from the family of a single-mom, approached me during the tour…rattling off some spanish that I of course had no idea what she was saying. Without hesitation, the girl reached up and grabbed one of my fingers, pulling me forward, still trying to point out something to me. She held my hand for at least 30 minutes, climbed up on my shoulders, and giggled more than I’ve seen her do during any of my previous visits.
Yeh…how can this not be the work of God? How can this NOT be?
Every now and then, we need to twist around some of those Biblical passages we’ve memorized. It’s in that turning upside-down of the familiarity, that we expose the needs, wants, and our calls to serve.
Let’s all pray to find the mission trips in our own personal hemispheres.
(Photo credit: Josh Richard, Myers Park Presbyterian Church)