“We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this important announcement.” When I was a kid, it seemed like one of my favorite television series, My Three Sons or Father Knows Best, was constantly being interrupted for some kind of “important” announcement—important to someone, I suppose, but seldom to me. Still, I am interrupting my regularly scheduled Pathway column to bring this important announcement. I hope it is one that is important to you.
Next time we talk, we’ll get back to our explanation of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) vision statement. We’ll pick it up talking about the unhealthy world we live in and the spiritual healing that Jesus provides. Right now, I need to tell you about my recent trip to El Salvador.
My own purpose for this trip was, first, to see the country of El Salvador. I had not been in Central America prior to last week. At the recent MBC annual meeting, we extended our partnership with the Association of Baptists in El Salvador (ABES) and I needed to witness firsthand the ongoing Baptist work in the country. I was accompanied by—it may be more correct to say guided by – Mauricio Vargas and I also intended to fulfill all of Mauricio’s plans for me (and believe me, Mauricio Vargas can wear a good man out).
Those were my plans.
God had something else in mind.
The same week that Mauricio and I were in El Salvador there were three full Missouri mission teams in country. A team from the Cape Girardeau Baptist Association (CGBA) was led by CGBA Director of Missions (DOM) Bill Jetton. The CGBA team participated in church construction work, prayer-walking, and Vacation Bible Schools in the Sonsonate area of El Salvador. Although Mauricio and I were not able to connect with the CGBA team, we heard great reports of their work from the El Salvadorian pastors we encountered during the rest of the week.
A mission team from the Heartland Baptist Association (HBA), led by HBA DOM Jerry Palmer and his wife, Linda, was also in Sonsonate last week. The HBA team conducted Pastors’ Conferences for the El Salvadorian pastors in Sonsonate, Chalchuappa and La Frontiera. Palmer, along with Robert Shelton, pastor to the Plattsburg FBC, Ron Malott, pastor to the Lathrop FBC and David Groves, president of International Gospel Outreach (IGO), also preached in several El Salvadorian churches each evening.
A third mission team in El Salvador last week was a team from north Missouri. Led by Robert Harrison, associate pastor to the Unionville First Baptist Church, the north Missouri team represented Missouri Baptist churches from Milan, Unionville, Kirksville, Macon, Atlanta and Lancaster. This third missions team conducted medical clinics in the communities of Ahuachapan, El Coco and in two locations in Chalchuappa. The team consisted of four Missouri Baptist pastors, one doctor, five nurses and two children’s Bible teachers. El Salvadorian doctors, Hugo and Nora Rodriguez, also worked with the Missouri Baptist medical team.
More than 1,000 people were treated. 2,700 prescriptions were filled and distributed.
A total of 77 people were saved.
At the end of the week, when the medical team flew out of the San Salvador airport, they left behind the remaining medicine and money as well as one of the nurses who stayed another week to work in San Vicente with the victims of Hurricane Ida.
When we planned this trip to El Salvador, we did not know—we could not have known of the storm that was looming over that country. But Saturday night through Sunday morning (Nov. 7-8), Hurricane Ida hit El Salvador. Ida hit hard. Flooding was the biggest problem.
Here is a comparison: In 1999 Hurricane Mitch hit and devastated much of El Salvador. This week I was told that during Hurricane Mitch, El Salvador received as much rain in five days as they would normally receive in as many weeks. But earlier this month, during Hurricane Ida, El Salvador received as much rain in five hours as they received during all of Hurricane Mitch. Much of that country has been devastated and parts of El Salvador, especially the San Vicente area, have been absolutely overwhelmed by the catastrophe.
But let me make this more personal.
On Thursday (Nov. 12), accompanied by the Executive Committee of ABES, Mauricio Vargas and I went to San Vicente. Because of rock and mud slides that covered the Pan American Highway we could not get there earlier in the week—in some places piles of rocks and mud were more than eight feet deep. Our original purpose was to comfort and encourage the pastor and church that had lost nine people to the ravaging flood. We were also there to assess the damage in that city and determine how Missouri Baptists could help in the recovery. You have already helped in that, using MMO Partnership Missions and Disaster Relief funds, Mauricio Vargas and I were able to deliver $10,000 to the ABES leadership. That money is being used strictly for hurricane relief in the worst storm-damaged areas of EL Salvador. Like many of you, we had already heard the news reports and seen the pictures of the damage. We knew the destruction was far-reaching. But we needed to know the full extent.
As we turned off the Pan-American Highway, and headed down the hill to the city of San Vicente, Mauricio Vargas finished a telephone call with Pastor David Ayala of the San Vicente First Baptist Church (SVFBC). Mauricio turned to me, and he said, “They would like for you to speak at the Memorial Service.” Obviously I felt unprepared—but also, unworthy. I have not personally known the misery that the El Salvadorian people have endured. I am deeply impressed by their strong faith in the midst of the storm. Truly, they encouraged me.
As I was speaking, I watched one of the young men in the crowd become very emotional. I assumed that he was the father of one of the children who had been washed away in the river. After the service, however, I learned that actually that young man had been trying to hold onto his mother when the raging waters pulled her out of his hand. She has not been found.
The devastation in San Vicente and in other areas of El Salvador is unspeakable. While we are waiting for a full report from ABES, we are aware that at least eight of the homes that were washed away in the storm were homes that were owned/occupied by members of the SVFBC. One of the homes was the very place used as a mission point of SVFBC in the La Primavera neighborhood. We stood on the foundation of one of the destroyed homes as we conducted the Memorial Service.
Missouri Baptists could rebuild those homes. Missouri Baptists should rebuild those homes. I am convinced that God brought us to the El Salvadorian missions partnership “… for such a time as this.” Some Missouri Baptist teams may travel to El Salvador to do the physical labor on the homes. There is some government red tape that has to be cut prior to the beginning of the work—there always is. But the relief effort can begin immediately. I am praying that Missouri Baptists will give generously to rebuild those homes. It won’t take much by our standards. With every Missouri Baptist church giving less than $300, we can rebuild all the homes lost by El Salvadorian Baptists.
One of the best known and most used—perhaps abused—phrases in the Spanish language is the sentence, “Mi casa es su casa.” My house is your house. What if Missouri took on that mentality concerning the El Salvadorian Baptists who lost their homes? What if we decided to rebuild those homes as quickly as if they were our homes? I call that incarnational ministry. That’s what Jesus would do. And I am praying that you will help. Our El Salvadorian brothers/sisters would be encouraged. Our witness in that country would be strengthened. And, I am convinced, many El Salvadorians will see Jesus in us and make Him their Savior and Lord.
I hope you will help. Give me some time to gather more information. Watch and listen for further word. And please, be quick to get involved when I give you the word.