Alone? A foreign country in the midst of a civil war.
Alone? No one to call and not knowing where to go.
Alone? Was I really alone sitting on the ground outside the airport?
No, but GOD knew that I needed to be in the tiny country of El Salvador in June of 1990.
That summer I was on a flight from St. Louis, Missouri to the Central American country of El Salvador to join three other people for a two-week mission trip. Even though the United States government was warning American citizens about the dangers of traveling to El Salvador, I was on my way.
Due to the tense situation, my missionary friends were to meet me as I got off the plane to help walk me through immigration and customs. However, they were not there as I made my way from the plane to immigration. I proceeded from immigration to pick up my luggage and noticed some Salvadoran soldiers with grenades and machine guns who would not be able to legally drive a car in the United States as they were not even 16 years old. I tried to compose myself as I picked up my luggage and I made it through customs without a problem.
But now there was a big problem! I was sitting outside the airport with no one to call and not knowing where I should go. I wasn't really alone and when I realized the LORD was with me, I cried out to HIM in prayer,"Heavenly FATHER, I know that I don't deserve for YOU to even listen to my prayer as I have not been living the way YOU desire Your children to live. But I know that YOU are listening to me as YOU brought me to El Salvador for a purpose. Please teach me and use me however YOU so desire."
About 45 minutes later, my missionary friends showed up and we were on our way. As we traveled through the war ravaged hills of El Salvador, a spiritual yet physical heaviness began to fall off me. At the same time, joy and peace began changing who I was.
Who was I before the trip to El Salvador? I was a 23-year-old Christian who had stopped reading the Bible, stopped praying, stopped going to church and stopped fellowshipping with other believers. I was in the midst of almost five years of rebellion. I had gone from having a committed relationship to JESUS to spending my days chilling out listening to music and dancing the nights away at nightclubs. That lifestyle included almost any drug you can think of without having to use a needle.
However, when my Mom told me about a lady in our church who went on a short-term mission trip every year, the HOLY SPIRIT touched what had been a dying heart. The worldly influences which I had allowed to dominate my thought process were now in a battle with the LORD who despite my sinful living, still loved and cared for me.
So, I sent out letters to family and friends only a month before I needed the funds for the trip and I was convinced that GOD wanted me to go to El Salvador when enough money came in a couple of days before the deadline. Now, a month later as the HOLY SPIRIT was changing me through my discovery of El Salvador, I didn't realize that the biggest challenge yet was just around the corner.
Would it be a tank rolling down the streets of the capital San Salvador?
Would it be an electrical tower that had been bombed and lay across the road?
Would it be a roadblock and a possible kidnapping or firing squad?
No, the challenge would be for me to spend two weeks building a playground at an orphanage in Santo Tomás, El Salvador.
Why would that be considered a challenge?
At that time of my life, I felt extremely uncomfortable around children. I didn't know how nor did I have the desire to play with them, or relate to them or talk to them. Truthfully, my tendency was to avoid them if at all possible.
I was amazed that upon arriving at the orphanage I had a desire to love those forgotten children. I tried to love them by doing several things with them such as playing soccer, helping them with homework, reading the Bible with them or singing praise and worship songs.
I became very disappointed as my attempt to love them felt dry and completely void of love. I found a solitary place and cried out to GOD, “Oh FATHER, I long to love these kids but I don’t know how. Please help me to love them and treat them as JESUS would because HE is love."
A few moments later I was once again playing soccer, helping with homework, reading the Bible and singing praise and worship songs with the children but there was the unmistakable presence of love. JESUS was loving them through me and that moment is something that I will always remember.
During this life-changing trip for me, we spent some time after the first week reflecting together on what had happened. I broke down in tears with thoughts of only having a few more days with the precious children at the orphanage.
How could these kids who the world sees as the lowest of the low mean so much to me?
Their parents had either been killed in the war or abandoned them on the streets because of a drug problem or a life of prostitution or they may have been abused and placed in the orphanage because they were wanted by no one. They basically had a couple of different clothes options and if they were fortunate, a Bible. They didn’t have all the things that a child in the United States takes for granted. Yet, they had the joy and peace that the whole world is searching for.
How is that possible?
Those wonderful children taught me what I had long ago forgotten. The HOLY SPIRIT revealed to me through them that the joy & peace we all long for is only found in a personal relationship with JESUS CHRIST.
I was humbled that those children helped me to remember that the most important thing in this world is the SAVIOR — "The Savior" which in Spanish is "El Salvador!"
So, my discovery of El Salvador was twofold. Not only did I discover a country but I also rediscovered my SAVIOR!
I love El Salvador!
"Trying to do the LORD's work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, & tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the HOLY SPIRIT, then the ministry of JESUS just flows out of you." ― Corrie ten Boom
Thanks to Author Julia Greider Durango for helping me to edit this several years ago.
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