March 10, 2011

Downing Men Help Save Lives, Souls On Mission Trip to El Salvador

As college students all across America are heading to tropical resorts for Spring Break 2011, two members of the Downing Baptist Church were returning from a trip of a different sort.

David Barton and Taylor Mullinix were part of a 13-member medical mission trip that recently returned to northeast Missouri from El Salvador.

The group departed from the Kansas City airport, stopping in Houston, TX before flying into San Salvador, the capital city of the Central American country.

The trip got off to an auspicious start, as two of the suitcases filled with medical supplies, were confiscated by El Salvador customs agents.

"It's my understanding, the group is still making attempts to retrieve the items, but we were led to believe they likely were kept and sold by the government," Barton said.

But the Downing Baptist Church pastor said the mission group was blessed to have been able to replace the missing items.

"Taylor held a piano recital to raise money to pay for his trip," Barton said. "The free-will offering raised nearly twice what he needed to pay for his travel expenses, so the remainder of the money was used to buy medical supplies to replace those held up in customs. Otherwise, we would not have had enough medicine to finish the week."

The group purchased the added medical supplies and then departed the capital to visit a series of mountain villages located near the Guatemala border some 2 1/2 hours from the airport.

The 13 United States citizens were accompanied by a team of translators as well as a private police protection force.

"We had two PPI officers with us at all times," Barton said. "They were always on top of things and never let us out of their sight."

The police presence is necessary for foreigners.

According to the U.S. State Department, El Salvador is considered a critical-crime-threat country. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world; violent crimes, as well as petty crimes are prevalent throughout El Salvador, and U.S. citizens have been among the victims. The U.S. Embassy is aware of at least nine American citizens who were murdered in El Salvador during the last year.

"One thing that really stood out to me was that everything was built with walls around it," Barton said. Our motels all had walls with big iron gates. Even the churches had similar protection, with the gates being closed once the services began."

After several days in the mountain villages, the missionaries traveled to Chalchuapa, a city of some 32,000 residents, where they held a series of medical clinics at the local churches.

Dr. Tom Williams of the Milan/Unionville area was the lead physician on the mission trip. But the group teamed up with another physician already in the country to expand the number of treatments offered by the group. The mission trip was able to perform 546 patient visits.

"Most of the folks were seen for the very same types of medical conditions we have here," Barton said. "But without the medical missions they simply would go untreated because either the medicine is unavailable, or they just cannot afford it."

According to the pastor, most of the people that went through the clinics had daily incomes of $3 to $4.

"We treated a lot of respiratory conditions," Barton noted. He highlighted the country's custom of burning sugarcane, which was so prevalent, that every morning when the group went into the open courtyard of their motel, all of the outdoor furniture had to be wiped down to eliminate the black soot.

In addition to helping heal the bodies, the group also performed church services and over the length of the trip the group witnessed 51 individuals accept Christ before the team departed for home on February 19th.

Barton's first experience in the foreign mission field made it easy for him to understand why the team leader, Robert Harrison of Palmyra, was making his seventh trip to the country.

"I definitely would like to go again," he said. "Once you arrive, you are hooked. The people grab a hold of your heart. They are very genuine."

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