by Pat Okker
Last month I had the wonderful opportunity to visit El Salvador as part of an ENLACE team from Missouri, and I feel fortunate to have met so many wonderful people there: people like Nuria, an absolutely courageous church coach; or Veronica, whose cooking and work are filled with an incredible passion for others; or Christian, a boy who talks fast and plans to become a pastor. As much as these people filled me with a vision of God at work—and they did—I also found God that week in some surprising places.
And the first is a cement volcano: One of our workdays focused on mixing concrete for the house we were helping to build. The foundation had already been dug—by hand—and our task was to haul and mix sand, gravel, and cement. The final step involved combining all the ingredients with water into a volcano, with everyone walking in a small circle, ending with a rush of back-breaking shoveling. It’s the kind of work that makes friends, regardless of age, ability, language, or nationality, and I know that whenever I hear the phrase “Caminando Juntos” (Walking Together), I will always remember the friends (from the U.S. and El Salvador) I made walking around those volcanoes, shovel in hand.
If the cement volcanoes reminded me of the power of working together, a simple jump rope reminded me of the equally powerful role of play. One of our group members Jan had the brilliant idea of bringing a jump rope, and it became a magnet for the local children in the afternoons. At the closing celebration, a young boy, who had what we in the U.S. would call a disability, joined in the fun of jumping rope, with much clapping (and some tears, too) from the adults. This moment was a testament to the powerful work that Pastor Santos and his church are doing in El Espino to support and care for our brothers and sisters with what they call “capacidades especiales”.
During our trip, a small group of us visited Raquel, an eleven-old girl who lives in a simple house with her family. Raquel uses a wheelchair, which makes going to school difficult. She dreams of becoming a journalist. As we were leaving, her mother said that we should wait, since she had already sent someone to town to purchase a bottle of Coca Cola to share with us. That bottle of Coke—no doubt purchased with money the family needed for other things—arrived a few minutes later. I’ve never liked cola, but that glass of soda was as sweet and nourishing as any communion juice I’ve ever been offered.
The Bible is full of images of surprising places that we find God. After a wonderful week with ENLACE in El Salvador, my own list of such images will now forever include not only the faces of Pastor Santos, Nuria, Veronica, and so many others but also a cement volcano, a jump rope, and a glass of Coke. Dios le bendiga.