When I came to El Salvador to spend a summer immersed in the culture, I had not yet committed to serving in Latin American long term, nor had I developed a particular area of expertise so that I would even know HOW to serve the people here. Because of this, much of my experience in El Salvador has just been taking it in–observing needs and experiencing the culture firsthand; much of my experience in El Salvador has consisted of merely seeing and experiencing. I knew that it was possible to come to this place and still not see the reality that exists here. I made it one of my goals to keep my eyes open, no matter what things I was confronted with.
As might be expected, most of my activities have had to do with interacting with women in El Salvador. I have cooked meals with Carmen, a neighbor who spends hours of her day in a hot, dark kitchen cooking over an open fire. She laughed at me as I awkwardly patted tortillas into shape and nearly cut a finger off dicing potatoes in my hand, as she doesn’t use a cutting board. I have walked and talked with Sonya, a 13-year-old in the midst of the transition from girlhood to womanhood, already taking on responsibilities far beyond her years. Sonya’s school attendance is sporadic, as she often works in her family’s corn fields and looks after her two younger sisters in the afternoons. I have played soccer with girls who would be my peers, and marveled at their endurance. I’ve participated in a seminar on self-esteem for women in a co-op, and listened as they expressed with embarrassment that they couldn’t participate because they’d never heard of the term self-esteem before. I have watched as women in their 20s signed their names by dabbing ink on their thumb and pressing it to the paper, because they could not read or write.
Who knew that just the choice to keep one’s eyes open could become so impactful? As my heart grows heavy with the knowledge of the needs of these people, I am driven to God’s word. I find comfort and strength in the words of James, who says: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
These moments are precious opportunities to be made mature and complete in the LORD, not lacking in faith, but ready for those challenges that lay ahead. I don’t want the difficulty of the things I have witnessed to lead to fear and despair, but rather I believe with the writer of the book of James that with faith, I can persevere and even become a helpful friend to these people. Such hope believes that with the guidance of God’s word we can be a transformative people, taking an active part in building a new reality for these women and children.