Now that I have been home from Central America for a week, I’ve gotten the question many times, “I know you were abroad this summer, but what exactly were you doing wherever you were?”
Usually it’s put a little more subtle than that — but I am always excited to tell about my experience!
Duke Divinity School requires two units of “field education” and this summer my placement was in Central America along with three of my good friends. After spending five weeks in language school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, we moved to Ahuachapán, El Salvador where we had the privilege of being in ministry with the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador for six weeks.
While I spent a large portion of my time in language school there as well, each day also offered me a new glimpse into the life of this young church and into the lives of its many faithful servants.
I’ve found the “five marks of mission” listed in Andrew Walls’ book Mission in the Twenty-First Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission to be a helpful way of thinking about the holistic mission of the church, so I’ve organized this post around these marks. This break down makes it look like these marks are very distinct from one another, but as you read I hope you see how fluid they are within the overarching mission of God.
1. To Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
The majority of Methodist Churches in Ahuachapán have worship services every night in addition to Sunday worship each week. During these times, the good news of the kingdom is preached to a variety of audiences – children, youth, adults, and elderly – by a variety of ministers – laity, ordained, women, men, young, and old. And every couple of weeks, many of the churches hold “vigils” on Saturday nights which usually last from 8:00pm until 5:00am – think of it as a youth lock-in, except it ’s all prayer, singing, preaching, and teaching. No lazer tag.
I had the chance to attend three different Methodist churches in the city regularly, and my last week I preached (in Spanish and English) at La Providencia – home of Pastor Angel who has the biggest smile I’ve seen in Central America.
I was also able to go on some pastoral visits where I was able to be a part of sharing God’s promises with others in difficult situations.
2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
This mark of mission centers upon growing into Christ’s likeness – a key task for any church. During my time in El Salvador, I was able to help the church engage in teaching largely through Bible school for children (after all – my Spanish was like a child’s) in cooperation with mission teams from the States and local volunteers.
However, one of the most unexpected ways that I was able to help nurture believers was by outfitting them with reading glasses so that they could finally see the Bible properly in order to read it on their own. One day we set up a clinic in my house and we were able to give out 100 pairs of reading glasses to people in the area!
Fellowship is also a strong component of growing as believers, and one of the highlights of this trip was spending time hanging out with church members and other Christians.
3. To respond to human need by loving service
The church in El Salvador is fully engaged in taking the whole gospel for the whole person to the whole world.
This was most clear to me through the church’s relationship with foreign mission teams that I participated in on a daily basis. Most of the teams have long-standing relationships with the churches and assist in responding to physical and spiritual needs by building houses for the poor, partnering with local Methodist medical clinics to provide assistance, helping fund church buildings, providing food and water to hungry and thirsty families, teaching children about Christ, and showing Christ’s love in their interactions.
These teams have not replaced the local church’s work, but rather serve as an additive to the ministry of compassion that the church supports year round through medical clinics and other avenues.
4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
While I cannot claim to know a great deal about the societal injustices in El Salvador, I witnessed and participated with the church in addressing such issues on two major fronts: housing for the poor and medical care. The church currently provides space for medical clinics – governmental and private – that enable and encourage those in their vicinity to take advantage of access to care that has been lacking in the past and is still inaccessible for many people.
The church also provides houses to families in the midst of an economy where housing costs often consume a family’s budget due to rent and loans – if they are even able to build or update an existing structure. Home ownership enables people to have a safe and clean structure in which to live. And it also allows families to have lasting economic assets in the midst of a country that has historically seen the country’s finances tied up in a small number of families.
A few days later…
5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
I witnessed this mark of mission largely through the water collection projects at some of the churches. These water collection systems harvest water for use in washing, bathing, and cooking, and began in locations that did not have access to municipal water. And beyond this, I have yet to encounter another culture that reuses so many materials rather than throwing them away.
This is just the surface of what I experienced this summer, and I look forward to talking with many of you in more detail about my time. I’m going to dedicate a future blog post to some of the major issues I’ve been reflecting on since my return.