Dios te bendiga,
Tony Hairston, Trip leader
In the very early hours of Sunday, Feb 16, a group of 12 representing Custer Road UMC gathered sleepy-eyed at DFW airport. We were about to embark on a journey to El Salvador as part of Custer Road’s 3rd international trip as a partner with Living Water International to drill a water well for a community that previously had no access to clean water. The journey had actually started many months earlier as individually, each of us committed to go on the trip – for some it was getting over the fear of stepping far beyond their comfort zone, for some they knew the decision meant they would be apart from their spouse and kids for a week, and for many, it was done with the knowledge that precious vacation time would be spent in a far off mission field, not on a cruise ship or laying on the beach. But all of us felt a spiritual call to go and we all answered that call.
The twelve of us landed in El Salvador shortly after noon after connecting thru Miami and stepped out into the steamy heat of a country none of us had ever visited before. We were met by Living Water in-country team members and proceeded to load into a large van (with our luggage strapped up on top!) for the drive into San Salvador, the capital city, for a quick lunch before continuing on to Santa Ana to our modest hotel (but with air conditioning – thank you Jesus!) that would be our base for the rest of the week. That evening we had a detailed planning meeting at the hotel with the local in-country Living Water staff followed by a trip to Pollo Campero in downtown Santa Ana for some grilled/fried chicken (think Church’s or Pop Eye’s but with guards armed with shotguns…. a standard site in El Salvador).
Monday morning started with singing Christian praise songs, breakfast and a devotional at the hotel with our LW hosts, a pattern that would be repeated the rest of the week. From there we loaded up our van and after a stop at a gas station (again complete with armed guards) to load up on water & ice and other drinks, we headed off towards our first glimpse of the community about 45 minutes away. What an amazing scene it was… as we drove down a bumpy dirt road, a banner hanging over the road and some balloons came into view. The community was ready & waiting for us with open arms! We exchanged handshakes, smiles and some hugs with the community members that were there to greet us – I’m sure they were wondering who these missionaries were, having travelled over 2,500 miles to help their community!
There was an emotional opening ceremony (mostly in Spanish with some of our LW friends interpreting to us on the fly) where the LW leadership spoke affirming what their mission was in El Salvador, our team was introduced and had the opportunity to share our thoughts with the community (very emotional for all of us as this had been on our hearts and minds for months) and some leaders from the community spoke as well about the importance of the well & thanking us for coming to serve with them.
After the ceremony, we walked the community with our LW hosts and some of the community leadership to see where they lived and how they get their existing water (mostly from hand dug wells that only reached the 1st contaminated aquifer). Our community was somewhat small, consisting of about 25 households, and surprisingly not many children, compared to our prior 2 LW projects. We also walked to the health clinic that served them, a far cry from the shiny hospitals and sterile facilities that we take for granted here in the US. Then we returned to the community for lunch, a meal cooked by the women of the community that they repeated every day we were there. It was not lost on us that in a country where 1/3rd of the population lives on about $2 a day, this hospitality was a precious gift to us, not coming from their excess, but rather coming from supplies normally used to meet their basic daily needs.
After lunch, we got down to business helping Marvin (our lead driller) & Guillermo (the assistant driller) begin the process of drilling down into the earth. The drilling went very smoothly on Day 1, making it thru the 1st aquifer and going beyond. We hit a 2nd larger aquifer at 80 feet and drilled to a final total of around 123 feet. We also taught our 1st hygiene lesson and told a bible story to the community that afternoon.
Over the next two days (Tues and Wed) we finished the drilling, installed the casing, filter and the gravel, flushed the well and taught several lessons on hygiene. By early evening Wednesday the 19th, the foundation around the well had been poured and was curing. During this time, we continued to grow in our relationships with the community playing some games with the children, talking to the adults & laughing with them as they got their first experience getting sprayed by the water from the well (courtesy of our lead driller Marvin!). It’s hard to describe how emotional this is for those of us fortunate to witness it – the joy of adults our age actually experiencing possibly their first time with clean water that wasn’t purchased with their hard earned money, in a plastic bottle or boiled in a pot.
On Thursday morning the well was completed by the local men of the community as we watched them install the final equipment and pump. LW lets the community do the final part of the well so that they know how to repair and maintain the pump in the years to come when LW has moved on to other communities and we have left.
We dedicated the well later that afternoon. The Custer Road team acted out the Good Samaritan story for the community to many giggles and laughs – Shakespeare it wasn’t! And then the LW Staff performed a hilarious puppet skit – it was all done in Spanish and the community really enjoyed it. The dedication ceremony ended with the community acting out & singing to us the Ray Boltz song “Thank You For Giving To the Lord”. Everyone on our team was crying and many from the community were as well. Then they filed past us hugging everyone one of us and giving their thanks to us. It was a great time, but also a deeply emotional time as we knew that most likely we would never see each other again.
Friday was our last day in country and we spent the day driving around El Salvador, getting to see and experience some of their culture, food and natural beauty of the land. We shopped at local markets, did an amazing zip line over coffee plantations, saw a volcano and actually made it to the Pacific Ocean to dip our toes in the water at a facility that was donated to LW for people & LW employees to reflect on their trip or stay while serving. Then, late in the evening we headed to the airport for our overnight flight back to DFW.
Many on the trip said it was a life changing experience for them, to see people in the midst of poverty yet who seem joyful & grateful for what the day brings. I think most of all, I’m grateful for God’s grace and mercy that allowed us to be a part of this trip and part of such a special group of people representing Custer Road UMC. We will never forget the people from Living Water and the community that we bonded with and trust that God used the experience to make us all stronger in our faith and more cognizant of how we treat those around us regardless of the situation or circumstances.
If you ever have the opportunity or feel called to serve on an international mission trip, I truly hope you take that step – the experience of being a missionary in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language and are away from the comforts of home, forces you to put your entire trust in God and live each moment in the spirit of how you were created – to love God with your whole heart, mind, soul and strength and to love others as yourself.
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