“The longest journey of any person is the journey inward.” – Dag Hammarskjold
Nine days ago my life looked quite different. On my recent trip to El Salvador, the language of the Spirit intersected with the language of humanity and I am not the same.
With the last drops of tryptophan still clinging to our thankful souls, our motley tribe of twelve hugged teary children and kissed steadfast spouses good-bye; promising Mom’s rare disappearance would be over before they knew it. “Not to worry,” we breathed sweetly onto wet cheeks. In just one week’s time families would be reunited on home soil and all would be right with the world. Doors clicked shut, dad’s drove away, and with suitcases and handbags a plenty we stepped through the sliding glass doors.
The hum of anticipation buzzed about the airport as our merry band of twelve individuals descended on the unsuspecting agents at the United ticket counter. Checked luggage was weighed and reweighed. Arranged and rearranged. Heavy boots traveled from one bag to the next. Ziplocs full of donations for people in an El Salvadoran village, still unknown to us, found homes among a myriad of different people’s socks and underwear until the combined weight was more equally distributed.
As we waited to board the plane, conversations lilted across the waiting area. Ten women reminisced about recent Thanksgiving dinners, reminding each other of children’s names and ages and spouses occupations. We giggled nervously over our packing list – hoping we hadn’t forgotten various hair care products or feminine hygiene essentials. Not to worry we reassured each other. What’s mine is yours! (**Side note: These promises were fulfilled in just one day’s time when five bags did not arrive in San Salvador along with the other seven.) No doubt the two lone men representing the opposite gender began to wonder what they had just gotten themselves into.
On November 30th, we set out on a mission trip with Living Water International to dig a well. Our team of twelve naturally divided into two subgroups. Drillers and teachers. Some would dig and some would teach local women and children about proper hygiene and how to keep their water source clean.
We set out to help a community find clean water; a basic human need we basically take for granted.
On December 2nd, we arrived in a community seemingly stuck in time. Lean to’s with corrugated tin roofs “protected” families from the elements. Open air flames functioned as everyday stoves. We found a community of people bathing in, washing in and drinking from a river contaminated with sewage, trash and parasites. To relieve their bowels the local latrine would suffice, if not, folks used the river itself, inadvertently perpetuating a vicious cycle.
No sooner did our feet step out of the van, we were greeted with enormous smiles and engaging hugs. Red and white balloons peppered the trees just outside the white concrete community center signaling the anticipation of our arrival. Stunted Spanish began to emerge as our team connected with local women and children. Once inside we nervously seated ourselves in a circle of plastic chairs for introductions and instructions.
With passion and gratefulness in his heart, Alcalde Municipal (Mayor), Dario Guadron, addressed the team. He described the dire contamination of their water source and graciously thanked each of us for coming, “Due to the level of poverty in which we live we rely on people like you to come help us. Without outside assistance, there is no hope of clean water.”
At that moment, heaven’s strategy pierced my heart.
Could it be our mission was more expansive than just bringing clean water? I was humbled to think our very presence among the people might be a key to unlocking a door that leads to hope.
A hope running deeper than any well. A beacon signaling there is no us and them. Only we.
“What’s mine is yours…”
I confessed my vast shortsightedness and asked the Lord to help me look beyond the well. I asked Him to help me see His heart for these people. Little did I know I would find His heart for me as well.
Before I left home, a sweet friend of mine had petitioned the Lord on my behalf and wrote down anointed words of encouragement for me to read each day of the trip. That Tuesday, like every day, I looked forward to seeing what nugget the Lord had in store. These are the words I found: “I want you to speak a language of LOVE today. I want you to listen more with your spirit than with your natural ears… Look intently upon God’s ‘target’ for you today. See what he/she REALLY needs instead of what they ask.”
No truer prophetic words could have been uttered for me that day. The Lord provided not only one, but two sweet conversations.
On one hand, my heart connected with a young woman in her early twenties who has a deep love of the Lord and a heart for orphans. And, not just in general terms, but for those specifically in Africa! As she asked me about the details of our family’s adoption, I felt the language of the Spirit begin to fill in the gaps. Her questions hovered around details of abandonment and attachment. However, I believe her heart wanted validation and encouragement for the call on her life that, by all accounts, seems utterly loco! Could she, a young single woman from El Salvador, be invited into a grand adventure half way around the world, when the needs of her own people were hitting her squarely between the eyes? Yes, darling. Yes. Follow the beat of His drum.
That same afternoon, as we packed up coloring books and jump ropes after playing at length with some of the local kiddos, I felt the touch of a Mom who was quite possibly younger than her weathered face conveyed. Together we ambled down the dirt path to see what progress had been made on the well. My friends were still hard at work, so Sarai and I took the opportunity to rest a bit in the shade. I began to ask her about her own story. Raised by grandparents due to her own parents setting off to a neighboring country to find work, she was only able to complete the fourth grade. Her gaze drifted sheepishly to the ground as she confessed she didn’t know how to read very well and keeping the books for her tortilla vending business was near impossible. Her husband left her for another woman, leaving her to raise her two beautiful daughters alone. She wakes each morning at 3:00 a.m. to start the tortilla making process. Then, at around 11:00 a.m. her 10-year-old daughter sets out to market to try to sell tortillas at 5 cents/piece. The earnings never seem to equal the mounting cost of properly feeding/clothing her daughters.
Once again, the Spirit illumined my line of communication. “Is it hard being a single Mom? Doing it all alone?,” I asked. It was as if this one question was the needle that pierced the tears ducts of her heart. Her eyes no longer darted away. They connected with mine and welled with the answer. In a neighborhood where everyone’s lives looked similar to hers, had anyone ever thought to ask her that redundant question? No matter. I believe in that moment, the Lord wanted her to know that He sees her faithfulness. He sees her heart and it is good. She is not forgotten. She is beautiful and she is loved.
“Ministry is not what you do, it’s who you are. Once you find that out, then everything you do in life has the potential and the capacity to be ministry to the King…”
— Eric Johnson, Pastor Bethel Church, Redding, CA (from his sermon podcast dated 12/1/13)
What started out as the digging of a well turned into tilling the soil of a more personal nature.
The trajectory of this dig has changed and I am well…