Today Love & Hope Children’s Home wants to share one last post from the viewpoint of a recent visitor: Dr. David Eastman of Ohio Weslyan University (OWU). His first two posts can be found here and here. The Ohio Weslyan team was able to experience all of the facets of our ministry:
In this final post, I want to focus on a few particular experiences and then reflect on the trip overall.
On Tuesday we went out to visit the community of Platanillo, which people from Love in Hope visit on a weekly basis. It is a community of dispossessed people. They all lost their homes to natural disasters or by other means and were moved out to this location with the promise of a home and property. We drove through a small town to the end of the paved road, and then we started on a road of dirt, mud, and rock. After about 10 minutes, we arrived at this small community of dwellings. Some had brick walls and a tin roof, but most had tin sides or even scraps of fabric hanging to make the walls. Rachel told us that after 7 years of waiting, the people had just recently been given the deeds to their property. But this community was very isolated from the world around it. As we drove through the streets of dirt and rock, children recognized that the Love and Hope team was arriving, and they ran to greet Rachel and Kirsten. From all directions, I could see little clouds of dust rushing toward us, preceded by the smiling faces of children. The center of activity was the church – a pole barn open on 3 sides. Rachel greeted the children and then took us for a tour of the community. I have seen severe poverty in the inner city in the United States and Europe, but nothing prepared me for what I saw there. I had walked into the middle of a scene from one of those television commercials that appeal for aid to help starving children in other parts of the world. And there I was. The ancient Greeks believed that the guts were the center of the emotions, and I could not avoid the wrenching, twisting force in my own guts of sadness mixed with helplessness. For their part, the children had no inhibitions and greeted us warmly. One little girl walked right up and grabbed the hand of a member of our group. They walked together through the settlement, and no words were exchanged. They didn’t have to be. These children seemed so full of joy that it was almost easy to lose sight of the poverty around us. But that convenient amnesia evaporated when it came time to distribute food packets – and by food packets I mean bags of rice. People from the village had gathered and lined up for food: 1 bag for each child, 2 bags for each adult. Rachel asked me to do the distribution, and one of the local boys came to my side to help. Now my guts kicked into high gear, radiating anger at economic injustice, despair at the scope of the problem and the plight of these people, and guilt at how I, as an American, might unwittingly be contributing to the problem. I felt physically ill and disoriented, and it was all I could do to stay focused and keep counting food packets as I handed them out. A game of tag with a few of the kids (in which I fared far worse than I might have hoped) finally roused me from my state just before we got back into the vans, and then we were on our way – leaving the dust, the rocks, the children behind. And yet I cannot leave them behind. I still see their faces, their smiles, their joy, but also their need. Thankfully, the staff at Love and Hope are dedicated to loving and serving them faithfully and consistently, but there is so much more to be done. When I now look at the photos from that day, it all comes back to me. I am haunted by the insoluble discomfort that results from coming face to face with this kind of poverty. I cannot escape it, and I hope this discomfort sinks its talons deep enough into my soul that I will never forget and can never forget.
Our last day there brought more levity, thankfully. We began with a visit to two cathedrals in central San Salvador. The “Dr. Eastman Geek Alarm” was going off repeatedly, as I spent way too much of everyone’s time talking about the details of the architecture and iconography in the churches we visited. It was very, very interesting. (One team member even accused me of almost skipping at one point because I was so excited. In my defense, skipping and galloping are NOT the same thing.) They finally pried me away, and we headed out of town to Playa El Tunco, a beautiful beach on the Pacific about 20 miles from San Salvador. It’s a favorite spot for surfers, and understandably so. It was very good for the team to unwind a bit. After all, this was their spring break. We came back into San Salvador to meet the kids from the home for a party at Pizza Hut. This was amusing. Our team arrived before the bus with the kids, and a few of us waited around in the seating area, which was by the kids’ play area. There were only 4 or 5 kids going up and sliding down, and all the parents seemed relaxed. They did not know . . . that the bus was on its way. Mandy predicted that the other parents would freak out, and that they did. The kids from Love and Hope behaved perfectly well, but the sudden onslaught set off parental panic. You’d have thought a pack of hyenas had been let loose in the play area by the way some of the moms reacted. Soon enough order was restored by the arrival of the pizza, and the kids sat scattered around a number of tables with members of our team. I think many of us suddenly had the sinking feeling that we were just now getting to know the kids more, yet this was our last night there. This realization only brought into sharper focus how much we had enjoyed our time at Love and Hope with the kids and the staff.
How do I sum up my thoughts looking back on all this? There are so many stories yet to tell and to process. I still need more distance and perspective, yet I also fear distance and perspective, because they have a way of sucking us back into old patterns of toiling in fields of too little importance – fields that we deceive ourselves into thinking are profound, because we live in a society satisfied with the ephemeral. I do not want to forget what I have experienced. God, help me not to forget.
I am thankful to OWU for its support of this trip, to my OWU teammates for their great attitudes, and especially to the staff at Love and Hope for modeling hearts of compassion mixed with enough grit to keep serving, tirelessly, on behalf of the children. I admire you deeply.
Love & Hope Children’s Home would like to thank OWU for its dedication to the jobs it completed while visiting El Salvador. Their hard work was second-to-none! We felt so blessed and encouraged by them personally and look forward to enjoying their company again next year. ¡Gracias OWU!