I was born in America, raised in America, and still live in America. I turn on the shower and hot water comes out because that’s normal. I eat cereal for breakfast because that’s what everyone else does. Garbage pickup is Friday because my neighborhood doesn’t allow trash to pile up. I’ve heard rumors of people that live in other countries where things are done differently, but I never experienced that kind of living until this past summer. I ventured to El Salvador with a mission team of 16. The experience was eye opening: not because everything is done differently but because it is possible to live somewhere other than America and be happy. Sometimes less is more.
My roommate, Tammy, and I stayed with an older couple, Juan and Marilou. They picked us up from the church in Santa Ana and drove rather dangerously to their home a couple miles away. Speed limits and stop signs are merely suggestions. We drove right into the courtyard of their home and closed the door behind us. To any American, the house would have seemed tiny, but it was the perfect size for them and their son’s family. To our surprise, the freezing showers, beans for breakfast, and cinder block walls became perfectly normal by the end of our stay. Even though we couldn’t drink the faucet water, or go outside for fear the neighbors would make a scene, Juan and Marilou made us feel right at home.
Our purpose in Santa Ana was not just to experience life in El Salvador. Our days were filled with Vacation Bible Schools where we met hundreds of young kids. Using limited Spanish, we managed to help them make crafts, play their favorite sport, fÃºtbol, and sing many crazy songs. Together with the local youth group, we shared God’s love with the children and created unforgettable friendships. Our last day in town, we visited two orphanages and left in tears. Every person we met was proof that one does not have to live in America to lead a wonderful life.
As if the people and living conditions hadn’t given us an idea of how fantastic El Salvador is, we had the opportunity to see the real culture of a Central America country. The colorful bus that picked us up from the airport was a dead giveaway of the excitement we were getting into. Then, our first full day in the country allowed us to trek down the narrow sidewalks to the plaza in Santa Ana. Every storefront was a different vibrant color, and some even had speakers set up to blare mariachi music. We couldn’t stop smiling and exclaiming, “I can’t believe this is happening!” The Catholic Cathedral was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen with it’s arched ceilings and detailed moldings. The beauty spilled over to the neighboring Teatro de Santa Ana, which was full of painted ceilings and multiple ball rooms. In the markets, we learned to barter and bought all sorts of souvenirs to bring home. Handmade bracelets are popular among the teens in El Salvador, so we made sure to stock up on those. Our last night was spent on the warm beach of San Salvador: the perfect ending to our journey.
Driving down the streets on our first day I said, “I could never live here.” But now I am sure I would go back any day and could live there just fine. God has made an amazing world, and I feel so privileged to have gotten a taste of it.
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