Christmas in El Salvador

“Play is a Universal Language”

El Salvador College Mission Trip
December 18 – 23, 2013

For many of s the Christmas story is something we plan to hear and celebrate on a yearly basis, complete with mangers, caroling, gift-wrapping, packed malls, Santa, early mornings with our family, and more. This year for a small group of college students that perspective of Christmas and the Christmas story shifted and for many of us regained its focus. This past week a team of early to mid twenty year olds spent the days after finals flying to a country far from home. El Salvador, located in Central America, has an approximated population of six million people with over thirty-six percent of those serving as abandoned and orphaned children. With dangerous living conditions, Salvadorian children live in broken homes and in complete poverty.

This past week a group of students, ready to serve, got the incredible opportunity to partner with a church called Union Church that supports and runs a local San Salvador organization called “La Casa de mi Padre,” a home for restoration and hope for children and their families. La Casa houses kids from broken and unhealthy homes and works to teach them what family truly means, to work through grief and tragedy, to heal torn hearts, to teach them what hope and love truly look like, and to eventually yield a pathway for restoration in their families.
 
Every year La Casa and a local church, Union Church, organize and throw two major Christmas parties, one specifically for children housed at La Casa and their families, and the other for the local community and surrounding homes of the La Casa farm. Over the past couple of days our team has had the opportunity to help pull both of these parties off and offer support for the La Casa and Union Church staff. Among many things, we got to raise support to provide one gift per child at each party, we got to purchase and wrap food baskets to provide meals for families at La Casa and in the local community, and we got the added bonus of getting to run stations, decorate, dance, and most importantly play.

It has been pretty amazing to listen and watch as a bunch of college students participate, jump in, process, and love children with open hands and willingly throughout this trip. Over the course of a short five day period Jesus was definitely present and showed himself not only to the families in El Salvador, but to our team as well. One quote that our entire team couldn’t shake was, “Play is a universal language.” For many of us we read that quote and bypass it, but this trip gave that quote a powerful meaning and opened our hearts to things we know the Lord is trying to teach us. Most, if not all, of these kids and families spoke little to no English, and a language barrier was bound to cause a gap between them and us, but play changed that, love changed that, and Jesus changed that. You would be so surprised at how quick these families and kids were to love us, to hug us, to laugh, to smile, and to play with us in the midst of their trails and needs. It began to open our hearts to what pure joy looks like, to the simplicity of life and happiness, and started to close the gap to show us how intertwined Jesus and joy truly are. Over these past couple of days Jesus has done immeasurably more in the hearts of our team through the eyes of children, through the touch of a child’s hand, through the sound of laughter, the streets of poverty, and through the spirit of a kid.
 
Christmas is a time to celebrate the greatest gift God could have ever given us, his one and only son. A son that died on a cross to cover our sins, a miracle that came into the world to offer us hope, and a spirit that cast out all fear and that offers us the peace we need. While sitting in service at Union Church this past Sunday our team got to hear these words, “Jesus didn’t come for one, he came for all.” That idea of Christmas colliding with the joy of children in El Salvador radically changed our perspective. From watching the kids receive their gifts at the Christmas parties, to hearing them say adios on our last night, God truly began to shift our focus to celebrate Christmas in simplicity, in hope, in love, in joy, and in peace.

La Casa de mi Padre and Union Church are on a journey for restoration and Jesus is so alive in the country of El Salvador and in the hearts of the people there. Our hope leaving this trip is that God would continue to bless that community and would continue to heal families and hearts there. We hope that the Lord would continue to show himself through a childlike spirit, through the peace he offers us, and through the love he has shown us. This trip showed our team that God truly has no limits and that Jesus and Joy really are a package deal.