Students give gifts to honor teachers from America, Collene Kelly (on left) 4th grade teacher from Ruth Murdoch Elementary School in Berrien Springs, Mich., and Evelyn Savory, principal of Ruth Murdoch Elementary.
With one of the highest crime rates in the world, El Salvador might not have been the first place some people would choose to spend their spring break. But for 152 volunteers from the Lake Union, El Salvador was the place that brought them together for service, community, and mission. The large group was organized by pastors and members from Cicero Church in Indiana and Village Church in Berrien Springs, Mich., who were joined by pastors and members from many churches across Michigan and Indiana.
Once in the country, several buses carried the volunteers two-and-a-half hours beyond the airport in San Salvador to the only Adventist boarding school in El Salvador — ECAS. Housed in a bare-bones dormitory, we lived in beautiful harmony for the next ten days while painting the school, landscaping the grounds, holding a VBS and two weeks of prayer sessions, building two churches, operating two free medical clinics, cooking and serving three meals a day to all the volunteers, and recording the journey in photos and on YouTube.
Every morning we met in the central worship room of the dormitory after breakfast, and every evening, after a hard day of work, we met again to worship God in songs, sermons and stories. The power of each presentation moves me still. Richard and Patty Upphas moved to the campus of ECAS after they saw what happens to children who are recruited or forced into gangs. They also are recruiting, but their recruits are donors who would like to get a child off the streets and into the safe environment of the 80-acre ECAS school for $155 a month. Many of the El Salvadorean pastors and Union officers come from this institution. With a population similar to Indiana, El Salvador has over 200,000 Seventh-day Adventist members! Their leaders are dreaming big, longing to build a university or at least have a satellite school from one of our other Central American colleges. Their pockets are empty, but their faith is full.
Rod Thompson, who pastors the Mt. Pleasant and Midland churches and worked on construction, told me his members raised $30,000 in five weeks to help our brothers and sisters in El Salvador. “We have something to offer them [money], but they have something to offer us, too, in the spiritual arena.”
John Lanphear, owner of a manufacturing company and member of the Otsego Church, loved interacting with the military people stationed at the construction sites and a medical clinic, soldiers we often noticed in towns and other places where people could be in danger. This was his family’s first mission trip. “I grew up poor so this has been an opportunity for my family to experience what I went through as a child,” he said. He joyfully shared his passion for prayer, even giving out prayer cards with a promise to pray for his new, armed friends for the rest of his life.
One member from the Oakwood Church in Michigan recently joined the Adventist Church during Unlock Revelation. He was part of an initial group that went to El Salvador in November to determine which sites would be chosen for development. As the group walked around one of the properties, they learned that this group did not yet have sponsorship. By faith, the locals had already cleared the land and submitted all the paperwork, not knowing how their church would be funded. When the member heard their story and saw their personal sacrifice, he recognized the Holy Spirit’s moving. “I’ll sponsor this church!” he declared, and made $10,000 available, the cost of each new small church. From there, other members, catching the inspiration, are sponsoring additional churches. One hundred seventy more churches still need to be built as the Gospel message streaks through the country, producing active new members.
Although seed money is provided from Americans, the locals are giving all they can to make these churches a reality. It's common for a church to be built by five or six people who work hard every evening after work, from 6 p.m. until past midnight, for several months in a row. The combined sacrifices of people from both countries is giving the Holy Spirit new opportunities to reorient our hearts and families to our purpose, our mission, our calling and our destiny.
If you would like to receive the newsletter the Uphas family produces, contact Patti at firstname.lastname@example.org. To hear interviews with people who attended this mission trip, check out the podcasts by Pastor Ariel Roldan, DevotionALL (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/devotionall/id1285819719?mt=2).