Over the past five years, Timberline Student Ministries teams have been partnering with Pastor Santos and the 92-member congregation of Salem Church in El Espino, El Salvador. Initially linked through an organization called ENLACE, the goal is to help local churches become agents of change within their communities. In past years, the teams from Fort Collins have worked on a giant wall to protect a school, constructed eco-stoves to reduce smoky air in homes, and dug latrines to reduce disease in communities. (You can read more about some of the past trips here: 2012, 2013, 2014)
This year, the team returned to the Mira Flores School to work alongside members of the congregation on the final section wall. When they arrived, part of the trench for the wall had been started but the young men on the team had plenty of work ahead of them to create a trench nine and a half feet deep, three feet wide, and twenty feet long. That’s a lot of dirt! The trench affectionately became known as “The Pit.” The dirt shoveled out of the trench had to then be shoveled away from the area and was moved to the adjoining field that the school is trying to level, thereby making the work on the wall a double blessing.
Meanwhile, the girls got busy tying rebar by twisting pieces of wire to hold the bent rods that connect the long metal rods that are used to strengthen concrete. Once the trench is complete and ready for a concrete foundation, the rebar will be what holds it all together and keeps it from crumbling at the first sign of stress. Of course, the team leaders found an analogy for life right there in building a strong foundation and how the unseen affects the seen in our lives.
Once at least part of the trench was deemed deep enough, the next phase was adding back in a layer of sand and then using hand-made tampers to compact the leveled sand. As one team member put it, “Tamping is basically lifting and dropping the weight over and over and over” resulting in a great core workout and bonus hand blisters.
Of course one of the highlights of working at the school was interacting and building relationships with the school children and staff. Each morning, the youth were greeted warmly by the students and some received handwritten notes with pictures expressing their appreciation and love. The work may have been hot, sticky, and dirty, but the resulting smiles and relationships were worth the ant bites, dirt stuck on every part of the body, and rusty hands. Relationships were also built in the moments of laughter, playing soccer, chasing chickens, and giving names to the local dogs that seemed to hang out around the team every day.
In addition to their labors, small groups were able to go out into the community on home visits to encourage, pray for, and give food staples to people who were ill, disabled, or recuperating. One amazing 73-year-old woman was being cared for by one of the twenty or so children she had taken into her home and cared for over her lifetime. Her legacy of being the hands and feet of Jesus inspired and blessed the team in return.
One afternoon, part of the team headed back to the church to encourage the women leaders. Together, they learned from the Book of Ruth about how we are not meant to walk through life and also talked about redemption. Each of the women received a small gift from the team containing a few toiletries wrapped in a bandana and their expressions of gratitude spoke far more than words.
Another afternoon, the team presented a children’s program at the church. Salem Church is also partnering with Compassion International to reach into their community. The older students come in the mornings to get tutoring, a meal, and learn about Jesus while the afternoons are the same for the younger children. The team was surprised to find 120 kids from ages four to ten but jumped into action with games, a skit, testimonies and songs. It was yet another opportunity to learn that they always get so much more back that what they gave to others.
On the final afternoon, the team took part in a celebration and dedication of the work project at the school. The principal expressed her thankfulness for their efforts and then both Pastor Santos from the Salem Church and Pastor Tim from the Timberline team shared their hearts. The finishing touch was when members of the local church, school staff, students, community members, and the Timberline Student Ministries team all laid hands on a part of the completed wall and prayed together, giving glory to God at a public school.
This video from Day 5 captures some of the highlights. Other videos can be seen at http://www.tsmelsalvador.org.