By Brian Koonce
USULUTAN, El Salvador – As Leslie McMahon sat in the plane flying home from a week-long mission trip in El Salvador in March, she knew she’d be back; that the people had “stolen her heart.”
“I feel like God put me there for that short amount of time just to get me to want to come back again later,” she said. “He gave me a heart for the people. Every day since March I’ve thought about them.”
So when Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City announced another trip in September to host a backyard Bible club, she jumped at the opportunity. But while the rest of the team would be returning after a week of ministry, the 21-year-old college student wanted more.
“I felt like a week just wasn’t enough,” McMahon said. “You couldn’t build the relationships because you knew it was going to end in just a few days.”
She made a few calls and connected with a translator, Walter San Antonio. He agreed to let her stay with his family for three weeks after the Concord team left so she could minister to local churches and a nearby Christian orphanage from Sept. 2-25.
McMahon saved every penny from her job as a preschool teacher to scrape together the money for the trip. As the departure date neared, however, the costs became greater. Spending a month on the mission field would mean taking a semester away from her classes at Lincoln University – she always knew that and was OK with it – but it would also mean giving up her job.
“I understand,” she said. “They needed someone and I couldn’t be there.”
McMahon and seven others from Concord began their backyard Bible club with their partner church in San Vicente, but just as things were getting started, it was time for them to go home.
“I cried,” she said. “I wasn’t just saying goodbye to them, I was saying goodbye to the comfort of having people that I knew. It was a very different feeling.”
From that point, it was just McMahon and the opportunities her translator/host had worked out. In the mornings, she spent time with English students at a local academy where San Antonio teaches.
“They were not Christians, so it was really neat to have them sit down and ask me questions like why was I there,” she said.
In the afternoons, McMahon worked at REMAR Orphanage, a home for 45 girls ranging in age from six months to 18 years. In the evenings, she went out with San Antonio and his family to teach at missions and preaching points of Iglesia Bautista Fuerte Torre (Strong Tower Baptist Church). She also taught at a youth conference for Fuerte Torre, a church of about 150.
“In the U.S., it seems like people go to church just to be there,” she said. “But at San Vicente and Strong Tower, the people may not know what they’re going to eat the next day but they still have faith that He can provide. That’s what real faith means.”
McMahon doesn’t speak any Spanish, so every time she spoke she relied heavily on San Antonio. In the extreme heat and humidity of the afternoon, she figured out just enough to buy a Coke from a street vendor, although that didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. He opened a large bottle, poured some into a plastic baggie, stuck in a straw, gave it a few twists, and then handed it to her.
McMahon is hoping to return with Concord in December. Hopefully, she said, with a little more Spanish under her belt. The pastor of Fuerte Torre has asked her to speak at a youth conference during that time. But regardless of whether she is in El Salvador or Missouri, she said God has given her a heart for ministering to and helping children she hopes to parlay into a career. For now her plan is to pick up her studies in the spring, and trust God to be her guide
“I don’t know what all this means,” she said. “I’m still working it all out.”