A group from Calvary Baptist Church went on a mission trip to El Salvador recently.  It wasn’t your typical Baptist mission trip, as we quickly found out while chatting with folks from Liberty Baptist University who were also on a mission trip, traveling on our plane to San Salvador, too. 

The Liberty group talked animatedly about saving souls and baptizing people.  When we told them we were going to meet with students and government officials, visit slums and learn about economic inequalities and our part in making them happen, our Liberty friends were puzzled. 

“You mean you’re NOT on a church trip, then?” they asked.

But we were. 

This trip was part of an ongoing partnership with the country of El Salvador, led largely by Calvary’s associate pastor, Rev. Edgar Palacios.  Palacios, a native of El Salvador, was one of the founders of the National Debate for Peace in El Salvador.  In the country’s efforts to rebuild since the devastating civil war has ended, Pastor Edgar has been a force in brokering partnerships like Calvary’s.

On this mission trip, we toured sites important in remembering the war, like the site of the brutal murder of six Jesuit priests in San Salvador.  We met with government officials, including El Salvador’s vice president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén.  We had conversations with economics professors and doctors, priests and community organizers, all of whom told inspiring stories about a people piecing their society back together, little bit by little bit.

As part of this Baptist mission trip, we also met 10 students who receive scholarships from the Shalom Scholarship Fund, a scholarship begun as the Girl Scout project of a young Calvary member over 10 years ago.  The program has grown since it began, adopted by the whole congregation as a partnership effort with several churches in El Salvador.  The amazing students we met are studying in high school and beyond, preparing for careers in architecture, teaching, psychology, music, and more.

After touring horrific war sites, spending reflective moments at Archbishop Oscar Romero’s grave, crowding into the one-room home of a family of 10, meeting the Shalom Scholarship students helped put everything in perspective.  As they talked animatedly about their hopes and dreams, we learned that they felt optimistic about the future of their war-torn country.  They detailed plans for helping their villages build infrastructure, for beginning projects to stimulate economic growth, for improving the health of the children of their country.

Perhaps this was not a traditional mission trip, in the genre understood by the Liberty students on our plane.  But the lessons of faith were so powerful, none of us returned unchanged.  Our mission trip experience showed us tremendous, often insurmountable, problems faced by the people of El Salvador.

But we also saw hope.  We saw it in the enthusiastic engagement of the students we met.  We heard hope in stories of cottage industry businesses and therapeutic music programs and community empowerment efforts.  We felt it as we met children who approached these American strangers to practice saying hello in English, all with eyes twinkling conspiratorially. 

From the mud ruts of Salvadoran villages to the classrooms of universities, our mission trip introduced us to an incredible people who will not give in to hatred and fear that threatened to destroy them.  Instead, one by one and little by little, they are building something beautiful all over again.

And isn’t this the essence of a life of faith?

We went on a mission trip to El Salvador.  It seems that the people of that beautiful country instead ministered to us.  They reminded us that there is always hope, and that together we can build a world that reflects God’s best hopes for us all.

The Rev. Amy Butler is Senior Pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

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