Central America 2014: Stoves, Sweat and Songs of Joy

Benji BruneelCommunity News

As the 26-passenger bus approached the large blue steel door of the Pedro Pablo Castillo Government School in Nuevo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, our team of 22 had no idea what to expect, aside from high temperatures, humidity, and lots of curious looks. Humberto, the tireless leader of Sports Outreach Institute in El Salvador, must have sensed our cluelessness, so he chimed in. “Life in El Salvador is not easy, even for the children. Many of their parents work all day, and have very little time or energy left for these children. By simply showing up and being willing to play with them and give them attention, you are ministering to them.”

Once inside the school, we encountered numerous opportunities for the type of ministry that Humberto described. Every child, it seemed, was ready for a piggyback ride, a photo op, or a game of “mica” (a tag-like game which, apparently, has few rules and no discernable goal or end point). The team jumped in feet first to provide the kind of ministry that addressed the poverty of relationship that Humberto described—even if he never called it that.

About 170 miles away, a team of 20 camped in the Guatemalan community of Coyolate, an hour and a half southwest of Antigua. The rustic conditions—the girls of the team slept in tents inside the church in order to protect themselves from scorpions at night—created a backdrop for days spent addressing basic economic and health needs.

As they mixed concrete for what would become fuel-efficient stoves, Gerber—the tireless missionary from Mission Impact—gave a sense of what these stoves would mean to a poor family in the community. “These stoves use 30-40% less wood than the typical stove that would be used in these homes, which is the financial equivalent of reducing their monthly rent by 30%.” In addition, these fuel-efficient stoves come equipped with chimney systems to redirect the smoke outside, thereby drastically reducing the amount of smoke inhaled inside the multi-purpose space that often serves as kitchen, family room and sleeping area. Our team, equipped with this broadened perspective on the wide-ranging impact of their work, dug their shovels in again.

Those two brief stories don’t even begin to tell the whole tale of what happened from July 17-27, when 42 students and leaders from SBCC spent their days and nights serving the people of Central America through the ministries of Mission Impact (Guatemala) and Sports Outreach (El Salvador). Although the conditions, the specific tasks, and the basic schedules of each trip varied significantly, the goal for each group was the same: to spread the gospel message through both word and deed with those whom God brought into our path.

Though our flight didn’t depart LAX until late July, this experience did not actually begin this summer. These projects represented the culmination of a process that began with a parents meeting in September 2013. These teams trained, raised support, read, learned, and prayed for just short of a year. As a result, these trips, although marked by hard work and sweat, also served as a celebration of sorts. Yet, we labored hard to make sure that we celebrated the right things.

In the months leading up to our departure, we wanted to understand God’s heart for the nations in order to better frame our work in Central America. Not surprisingly, Psalm 67 loomed large in our thinking.  The words of that psalm express well what God desires for the world and our role in that desire.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.  Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

This psalm summarizes our hopes for this trip: that we who have been greatly blessed would respond to the One who has blessed us by seeking to bless others. The psalmist’s longing that all the nations would know the joy of salvation struck a chord within our hearts.

Even more than improved physical health, greater financial freedom, and improved relational well-being, the goal of these trips was to spread the joy of the gospel’s message of reconciliation to God through the sacrificial death of Christ. Without such a focal point, the hours of training, sacrifice, and hard work seem foolishly invested. Apart from such a focus, these trips lose their significance. Though bringing clean water and improved living conditions matters, the greater task of bringing the gospel matters infinitely more and we were privileged to be entrusted with work of infinite worth.

And though 42 people spent time out of context, a far greater number actually participated in the work of the gospel in Central America this summer, likely including you. Through your prayers, financial support, encouragement, and donation of materials, you played an invaluable role in accomplishing this work. You, in a sense, went to Central America this summer, too. It was an honor to represent you, SBCC, and the name of Christ. Thank you for your partnership in this endeavor and in the gospel.

As our teams make the transition back to life stateside, please continue to pray. Pray that we would find appropriate ways to incorporate our experiences in Central America with life here at home. Pray that we will retain our missionary mindset in the midst of familiar routines and among familiar people. Pray that God will use the experiences of 10 days in Central America to continue to shape our hearts for his service and his glory. Pray that we would pay attention to what God began in our hearts and minds while out of our comfort zones. Pray that those who heard the gospel in Guatemala and El Salvador would respond with repentance and lives dedicated to living for God’s glory.

And as we all at SBCC “return” from our experience in Central America this summer, pray that we each would continue to look for the opportunities around us to make God’s way known on earth, his saving power among all nations, so that—like us—others may experience God’s blessing and know what it means, perhaps for the first time, to truly be glad and sing for joy!