Youth Empowerment in El Salvador: A Review of Winter Bible & Music Conference

This winter, 10 individuals from G.O.D. Intl’s Latin America team and Director of G.O.D. Int’l Gregg Garner had the privilege of serving Salvadoran youth by facilitating a Bible Conference and Music Workshop. For the last several years, the team has been developing relationships with a specific group of young people in El Salvador and actively creating opportunities for their development, specifically educationally.

To me, these young people are situated much like Nathanael--sitting under a tree, not because they are lazy, but because there is nowhere else to go. They are lacking hope that any good could come from the areas where they are from. But once they are invited to come and see what’s possible with the Lord, they respond quickly and eagerly:

John 1:45-50 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”

Attendees of the conference were invited to participate in daily worship. We believe all proper efforts for human development come with a right understanding of God, in whose image human beings are made. 

During the conference, the young people enjoyed one another’s company while they learned about how to write music and poetry, and in so doing, be able to express the hardships of life. They had so much fun together that for a little bit, they forgot their struggles. As we shared meals together, we had long discussions about the issues they face. We challenged them to start thinking about what they could do to make a change in their community. We had wonderful times in God’s Word and in prayer. Together, we dreamed about how things could be different, and then we discussed the hopes that God has for their world, and allowed his Word to direct those plans.

In one of the discussion groups, a few young people shared that they didn’t want to just be hanging out on the streets, they said, but they didn’t have any other option. They shared with us what happens when they lack opportunities for self-expression, as they found in music and poetry during the week. They struggled to feel like contributors to the well being of their area. But during the week of the conference, they felt like active contributors, not only as individuals who could write songs or poetry, but as vessels that God could use, as they learned in his Word. They were so thankful.

Rafael Reyes, who first began teaching guitar to youth in this area in 2011, helped prepare the students to record a song they wrote.. Rafa is not only a great musician, but also a great teacher. 

We offered a variety of different workshops, and I got to teach one on playing guitar. Five young men gathered close to me, four of whom I already knew, as I had taught them guitar before (in 2011). I could see that they had been practicing, and had improved a lot. They were proud of themselves. They didn’t want me to review scales and chords with them, they wanted to learn how to play a song for worship at their church. We structured the song with rhythm, chord progression, an introduction and even an outro. Then we recorded the song together! They loved every single moment we had practicing and recording it, as did I. The workshop not only taught them to play a song, it gave them the opportunity to realize they are capable of learning something valuable, that they haven't often been given the chance to try.

The young people we work with have hopes and dreams like anyone else in the world. But they live in a world that tells them that it is useless to dream. It is nearly impossible for them to find healthy outlets for their time--they don’t have instruments, or a space to gather in, or teachers to invest in them. But we are working to change all of that.

At the end of the conference, the attendees had the opportunity to share about what they had learned. It was a powerful thing to witness their mouths flowing with words of gratitude, joy and hope. I am confident in the potential each of them has to be agents of transformation in their communities. I have watched these young boys for years, situated like Nathanael--sitting under trees, with nowhere to go, unsure that anything good was possible where they live. But now they have been invited into the company of believers who are ready to see greater things, with the Lord leading them.

By Rafael Reyes