Sunday in El Salvador was an all-day affair of visiting churches and meeting students who benefit from scholarships provided by Calvary Baptist Church‘s Shalom Fund. The fund provides tuition for about 10 university students each year. The day brought inspiration, fatigue, and a large dose of humility.
Iglesia Bautista Shalom, in the southeastern part of San Salvador, was started by Pastor Edgar Palacios some years ago. There we were greeted with balloons, streamers, happy handshakes, and several variations of “Que Dios le bendiga” (May God bless you).
A doorless sancturary and a buiding of five single classrooms sat on either of a courtyard scattered with benches. A smiling woman was busily stirring a boiling pot of carrots, potatoes, and pipian (small green squash) in a tiny open-air kitchen. In the classrooms, children sang with boisterous holiness, youth sat with open Bibles, and adults circled up to discuss the day’s lesson.
Team members from Calvary delivered donated school supples and presented a computer for the church’s tutoring program. With the aid of a healthy sound system and pre-recorded tracks, the pastor enthusiastically led periods of singing that we could join in, since the words were projected on the front wall. Five candidates were presented for Baptism, all youth or adults. The pastor introduced each one with words about his or her faith and participation in the church, then Pastor Edgar baptized them in a small baptistry built into floor. Children crowded to the front to watch as each candidate was dipped in water sprinkled with rose petals symbolic of Christ’s blood, then stood dripping while a church member read a scripture challenge to him or her.
Pastor Edgar preached the morning sermon as his daughter Amparo translated for the non-Spanish speakers among us, and though the service lasted nearly two hours, it didn’t seem overly long. Afterward, our hosts quickly converted a Sunday School room to a dining room and treated us to a luncheon of stewed chicken and vegetables with rice.
An hour’s drive east of San Salvador brought us to a wooded village where the families of two students sponsored by Calvary are helping to start a new church, Iglesia Bautista Rios de la Agua de Vida (“River of the Water of Life Baptist Church”). An open-air shelter among towering forest trees served as the sanctuary for scores of worshipers, who gathered at three in the afternoon for enthusiastic singing and fellowship.
A few yards from the shelter, we visited the home of Joel, who is using his scholarship to study clinical psychology. The house consisted of one large room with a packed dirt floor. Partitions made of paper on a light wooden frame marked a couple of bedrooms. Hammocks for sleeping stretched across the room, tucked away atop the partition. A chicken wandered about, searching for grubs or grains.
Joel and his parents expressed appreciation for the scholarship and the partnership with Calvary, and we all felt incredibly humbled as we contempleted the contrast between the comforts of our homes and Joel’s home while hearing the gratitude in his family’s voices.
Accompanied by a skeletal dog missing part of his hair, we left Joel’s home and followed a narrow path that wound between small garden plots, simple houses, banana trees and a community well. Late in the rainy season, the forested community was a riot of green punctuated with wildflowers and the sharp fronds of yucca plants.
At the end of the path, near the edge of a steep bank above a river, we came to the modest home of another student. Maria introduced her family, including a younger sister who contributes some of her earnings to help with Maria’s school expenses, trusting that Maria will return the favor after she graduates.
To reach the university in San Salvador, where she is studying architecture, Maria leaves at 4:30 a.m. for a half-hour trek to the main road, where she catches a bus to the main bus terminal in San Salvador, then another bus to school, where one of her classes begins at 6:30 a.m. Her dedication, as well as her appreciation, are apparent. Again, we are humbled.
Bringing the students with us, we loaded the bus and drove to the small town of San Juan Vonualco, and the Iglesia Bautista Luz y Verdad (Truth and Light Baptist Church), where they are members. There we met two other students and an engaging group of church members, including a lively little lady said to be 101 years old.
Worship there included a small worship band (a keyboard, drums, and a bass guitar) and more joyful singing, though our primary contribution was clapping in time. Pastor Edgar preached again, and after worship we shared local soft drinks and sandwiches made from white bread and a Salvadoran version of chicken salad made with shredded chicken, cabbage, and carrots.
The sandwich tided us over for most of the bus ride back. Along the way we stopped in Olocuelta, which is famous for making pupusas with rice flour rather than corn flour. We sampled a variety of pupusas (like fried hoecakes stuffed with shredded pork, beans, queso, and/or chopped liroco flower buds) at the Autopista Pupuseria.
We went to bed knowing that we had learned much, had a better understanding of the large contingent of Salvadoran members at Calvary, and felt even more committed to supporting the Shalom scholarships and Calvary’s partnerships in El Salvador: it was a good day.