Suchitoto is a small town that sits about an hour outside of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador. If you were to ask any Salvadoran, they would likely advise you to steer clear of it. They would instead suggest visiting one of the larger, more touristy cities. Substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, high levels of unemployment, a broken education system--these are just a few systemic issues that plague Suchitoto.
The youth of Suchitoto and the surrounding area are exposed to these systemic issues at an early age. By the time they reach adolescence, many have resigned to the inevitability of a lifetime of poverty. When I sat down with team leader, Matthew Parker, and team member, Lavy Fernandez, to discuss the recent youth Bible conference that they helped facilitate, they expressed both the challenges in working with the youth, and how their team is working to overcome them.
In December 2014, we hosted our first Bible youth conference in Suchitoto. Since that time, we have hosted conferences every year. In Luke 10:2, Jesus says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. So pray to Lord of the harvest that he would send laborers into his harvest.” We believe that the harvest in El Salvador is plentiful. We see the potential that exists on the other side of a young person who defies the spirit of hopelessness in their society and instead, chooses to partner with God in bringing his kingdom on earth.
Last weekend, 28 eager young people showed up to our conference. Unlike previous conferences in which we taught the basics of how to worship and study the Word, the youth were ready to engage the presence of God from the beginning. As soon as the first worship song began, the youth immediately began raising their hands to the Lord - a powerful image of their surrender to God and desire to be near to Him.
Out of the 28 youth, we set aside an extra night and day to spend with a smaller core group of students who we have been working with over the last two years. During this time, we gave these students a deeper understanding of our organization’s goals and objectives for El Salvador. Consequently, we invited them to participate to a greater degree with our organization. All of the students responded with a resounding, “Yes!”
One of the youth told us that he could have never dreamed of an opportunity like this. Another youth expressed that prior to hearing our message that God wanted to use him in the world, the only people who wanted to use him were recruiting members of gangs. He confided that before, “I was bad person. But now I know what it’s like to be a good person.” He credits the Lord using our ministry to save him from a lifetime of drugs and violence. These are just a few of the many stories of transformation taking place in the youth in El Salvador.
In faith, we believe that Suchitoto will not always be marked by pain and poverty. With the Lord’s help, Suchitoto is already beginning to change. Seeds of hope are being planted into minds and hearts of young people. They are learning that their futures are not predetermined by the place or circumstance of their birth. They have been given the opportunity to dream with God and recognize their part in making those dreams a reality. These young people are truly becoming laborers for the harvest in El Salvador - and we are privileged to participate in that process.