February 14, 2013

Local Pastors Fostering Connection with El Salvador Churches

A local mission team consisting of Jackie Castaneda, David Barton, Joseph Hite, Brian Schuerer, Terri Monroe and Dan Hite recently returned from a trip to El Salvador.

A local mission team brought in the New Year south of the border, way south of it. Five Scotland County residents traveled to El Salvador the day after Christmas to take part in a mission trip in the village of El Amaton.

For group leaders Dan Hite and David Barton, this was not their first experience in the Central American county. Barton, the pastor at the Downing Baptist Church, visited the country two years ago on a medical mission trip. Pastor Dan Hite of the First Baptist Church of Memphis, was making his third trip to the region.

In the past, the teams had focused on meeting specific community needs, providing health care and medicine of one mission and helping to construct water purification systems in another trip. On this trip, team members were concentrating on strengthening the village's church.

"We focused on increasing the region's commitment to Christ by expanding involvement with the church," Hite said.

The team consisted of Hite and his son Joseph, and church parishioners Terri Monroe and Brian Schuerer, along with Barton and Jackie Castaneda of Wyatt, MO.

Barton stated that Wyatt was an integral part of the team's success, bringing 20 years of experience in the mission field as well as a mastery of the Spanish language.

"That is something I plan to work on, improving my Spanish, so that in future trips I will be able to communicate better," Hite said. "When you are working with a child and they want to communicate, but you have to stop and find an interpreter, the moment is lost."

Despite the language barriers, the team made significant strides in helping strengthen the El Amaton Church. The ministry traces its roots back to the early 1920s when missionaries from Guatemala crossed the border and helped found the region's first evangelical church. Over the years, three other churches have formed out of the initial mission in El Amaton.

Hite indicated that the Missouri Baptist Convention has partnered with El Salvador, and the local Baptist churches have formed a relationship with the four churches near El Amaton.

The village of approximately 500 lies in the mountains near Chalchuapa. The mission group based its stay in the western city of some 75,000 residents, traveling each day up the mountain approximately 15 miles.

"It took us about 90 minutes to get to the village each day," Barton said of the rough travel. "It was like driving down an old creek bed."

He was quick to note that the journey was well worth it and was a pint of accomplishment each day.

"I found myself looking forward to the going up and down the mountain every day," he said.

The same could be said for many of the mission's guests.

Root, a 54-year-old field worker, was just one example of the camp's attendees. Despite working all day in the coffee bean fields, she would make the three-mile walk up the mountain each night to attend the revival.

At the center of that draw for Root and many like her, was a team of six Americans, who were treated as celebrities by the area residents.

"It was very exciting for these folks to have visitors from a different country," Hite said. "Our services were very well attended as everyone was interested in meeting the visitors. These special events allowed us to share the Gospel and to bring folks together where possibly there had been walls preventing fellowship before."

The excitement surrounding the mission trip helped draw more than 100 children to a vacation Bible school offered by the team. Schuerer, Monroe and Joseph Hite facilitated the camp for the kids, as the village's soccer field became the center of activities each afternoon. Castaneda served as the song leader while Monroe was the games director. The teachers handed out 100 frisbees to the kids encouraging them to "Trust Jesus".

This little girl was one of the nearly 100 village children served by the Baptist mission team.

Pastors Hite and Barton then hosted community-wide church services each evening, focusing on themes of the New Testament such as the Family of God, the Body of Christ and the Bride of God.

On Family of God night, the mission members took family photos of the guests. They also handed out 100 Bibles. Schuerer and Joseph Hite supervised a series of skits by the children for the Body of Christ Theme. On Tuesday evening of the trip, the service included the screening of the film Courageous.

The mission group drew upon the natural connection between small, rural agricultural communities to help span the language and geographical distances between the guests and their hosts.

The village, located at the base of a volcano, focuses on coffee and sugar cane production. Residents work on small privately owned farms as well as larger plantations.

"You did not see very many vehicles," Hite said. "There was a wide range of economic conditions, with some homes having dirt floors while others had fine tile flooring. It seemed that nearly all of the money in the town was coming in from the United States, being sent back by family members who are living and working there."

El Salvador is one of the poorest nations in the Americas.

"It definitely makes you realize how good we have it here in the United States," Barton stated.

Despite some of the financial hardships, the mission team was impressed with how the nation celebrated New Year's.

"The fireworks were non-stop in Chalchuapa," Barton said. "I think every single person in town must have lit one off at midnight. I couldn't believe the amount of paper and debris in the streets the next day."

The group was equally as impressed by the New Year's Eve church service, where guests rang in the New Year offering testimonials about how God had worked in their lives in 2012.

"That is just one of the things I brought back home with me," Hite said. "A mission trip like this definitely lifts the spirits of the missionaries as well as those we were there to serve. I came back home with plenty of ideas on how we could accomplish similar goals of strengthening our churches right here."



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