Billy Fly is a long-time friend of G.O.D. He has brought a number of youth to serve with us in Nashville for SLAM weeks, but this past month was his first international trip. The group, 6 adults and 6 youth from First United Methodist of Paragould, Arkansas, joined our ministry efforts in El Salvador.
The group had a few concrete objectives for the trip – host a kid’s camp for the youth in the community, complete a grey water project, and run a water line to the home of an elderly gentleman who has no immediate water access.
When I asked Billy his expectations going into what was his first international trip with our organization, he commented, “Going into the trip I had an expectation of having our eyes opened to the needs of others in another country and being open to what God would teach us in that environment about the needs of people and how to serve. And then translating that back home in our community – being better servants and better followers of Christ.”
As we continued to talk, I was glad to learn that this expectation was met and exceeded in a variety of ways.
I was interested, after having had a variety of mission experiences with our organization, what was unique about this one for Billy. “What was so unique about our time was being able to participate in a trip like this with an organization that we know. Work has been put in for many years and we got to see the progression of it and to learn more of the history of it, and what the Lord has been doing. “
“To be part of that, and not just go in for a week and serve the Lord, do good and walk away hoping for the best, thinking to ourselves, ‘I hope all goes well when we leave.’ We got to see with our own eyes the fruit that is coming from it after all the labor that has been put in. And to be able to walk away and feel good that this wonderful work is going to continue. That is a wonderful feeling.”
One of the themes running through Billy's reflection was how the facilitators of the trip took time to explain to the youth what they were doing and the purpose of it. Billy illustrated this point when he talked about their work bringing water to a local elderly man:
“We did a water line for a neighbor next to your property. His name is Noe. He does not have water. Your leaders laid out the picture for us. They talked about the value of water, access to water, how much water costs, how much a gallon of water weighs, how much it would take to carry that much water. This all helped us understand the project. Then, when we tapped the line and to be there the moment we turned on the water and to see it come out of the spicket and the look on his face, it was one of the most powerful moments of the trip. The joy and the happiness on his face was just beautiful.”
Another impactful moment of this trip was the quality time the group was able to have with our cooperatives, Antonio and Lorena. Billy reflected, “Time with Antonio and Lorena was one of the real benefits of the trip. The relationship with them, seeing their lives and seeing what they are choosing to do with their lives, and seeing the children and youth that they are ministering to and impacting was a privilege. Their value to the children and youth of that community, for its present and future cannot be underestimated.”
“It was powerful to hear their stories and how they are serving. We can continue to envision their work on the ground and how they are ministering to the different youth. Everybody loved them. I can’t imagine the trip without them.”
Whenever a group goes on an international trip to a culture very different from their own, I’m always curious what the takeaway will be. I found Billy’s response both unique and also practical, “I think one of the things that really hit our group was being challenged by the hospitality we received in that community as the minority. And then thinking through what that is like for people who come to our community and how they are treated when they don’t speak our language and their skin is a different color – the immigrant, the refugee.”
“The youth were challenged with students who come to their school and stories of how they are treated. What kind of hospitality have we given them? What is our responsibility to care for them in their vulnerability? That is a conversation that is happening on the other side of all this.”
As an organization, we are always grateful to invite other believers into our story and the work we are doing abroad. In wrapping up our conversation, Billy commented on his group’s connection to the work in which they participated, “It’s become a part of our story; we want to support them. There are people on the ground in El Salvador who are giving their lives for this. This is long-term, not short-term. And we are grateful to play a part.