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EL SALVADOR TRIP DAY 1 #2 (8 23 05)

From my journal. More from day 1 of my trip to El Salvador to observe what Compassion International is doing and how they do it:

Less than ten feet from a railroad track stands a small mound of wavy metal resembling a collapsed shed more than someone’s home. But it is a home. Santiago’s. We just toured Santiago’s Compassion International project. We visited his classroom where he’s learning how to read. He beamed with pride showing us how well he can write and giggled at how poorly we spoke his language. In fact, Santiago giggled at just about everything today.

I’m told he’s poor, his family being clothed and fed by the church Compassion partners with in his neighborhood, one of over a hundred in El Salvador. But it’s hard to believe. He looks like an ordinary eight year-old, just with an extraordinary charisma.

Santiago walked quickly with us from his Compassion project, eager to show us the way. But we took our time, our guide watching out for gang members that patrol the neighborhood. We passed a small witchcraft operation a hundred feet from Santiago’s home. The hand-pained sign draws the downtrodden to the "temple", a house concocting a brew of Catholicism and magic spells promised to smite enemies and protect anyone willing to pay. Everywhere we turn it seems like good and evil, despair and hope, live next door to each other in San Salvador. And both have growing armies of converts.

Past trash heaps. Past the same breed of "third world dog" again and again. Past shoeless children and open fields shadowed by brooding clouds. Thunder warns us from a distance.

We open the door to Santiago’s house, peeling back one five foot tall rectangle of tin with no handle, and walk across the dirt and rock floor. “Hola,” I say to his aunt and take her hand. Roberto, a local administrator from Compassion, knows this family but asks them questions for our benefit, translating into English as he converses.

“Who here takes care of you, Santiago?”

“Just my aunt.”

“Where is his mother? His father?” he asks the aunt.

“His mother is with a gang and his father is a drug dealer. They aren’t together and left Santiago when he was small. They don’t care for him.”

The families we meet here talk about cruel realities in front of children like I ask my wife to pass the salt.

“What about his grandfather?” Roberto motions towards a shadowed man across the small room buttoning his shirt and leaning hard on a pole that holds up one corner of this plastic quilted house. The grandfather I assume. He laughs to himself but doesn’t look up.

“No,” the aunt answers, “I take care of Santiago alone.”

“Who pays? Who works here?”

“Santiago does odd jobs when he can find them. I do laundry for people.”

“How much money are you able to make?”

“$4 this week. It’s been good,” she grins.

“Good. Good. Santiago, what are your dreams?”

When we stepped into his home Santiago’s demeanor immediately melted, his frame bent, his steps shuffled, his eyes drawn to the floor. The happy child at the project devolved into a slumping boy doing his best to disappear. Something tells me he isn’t safe here. He isn’t at ease here. There’s tremendous fear or embarrassment or something weighing him down under this roof. But this question about dreams resurrects him.

He smiles and looks up again.

“Come on, Santiago! Tell us your dreams!” Roberto lifts Santiago off the dirt floor and sets him on a stump. And Santiago confidently and quickly answers, “I want to be a policeman. I want to help people.”

“Bueno. Muy Bueno, Santiago,” I said. And praise pours from the other white faces who came with me. “Muy Bueno.”

“What is a good thing about your project, Santiago?” Roberto asks.

“I play with my friends. I eat. I read.”

We talk more with his aunt and his cousins, all living in this small space with few walls, one bed and rusted tin roof balanced on sticks and bent poles someone threw away once. They tell us they’re grateful for the Compassion project and say we can pray for them. Roberto asks grandfather to join our circle and we take each other’s hands.

“Will you pray for us, Shaun?” he asks me. And I agree but don’t know where to start. Words, even words to God, seem trite and inadequate in this place. And after a long pause, longer than any I may have ever taken in my life, I pray. Small words. Simple. Love. Protect. Feed. Clothe. Teach. Thank You. Roberto translates. And we all say, “Amen”, then hug one another and I look at every set of eyes trying to nail these faces to the walls of my mind. I hope they never come down and I never stop talking with God about them, asking big things with small words.


Blogger Nancy Tyler said...

Good to have some tears to start the day. Prayers for Santiago will go with me onto the subway, past the alluring boutique windows along the city streets, through my surrounding world of too much, too shallow.

Thanks for letting God use what you've seen and felt, and what you express so well.

Muy bueno, Shaun.


Blogger Magnanimity said...

Como estas? Son muy frio aqui con los agua, agua, agua!!!!

My husband and I re-evaluated our charitable giving last night after seeing your post. Thanks for stirring the water.

Thought I'd let you know that the coding in your side bar fell down...mine does that if an entry on the side bar was too long for some reason. Know you are busy right now, but thought you'd want to know.

Great blog. Thanks for sharing.

I started blogging after someone sent me yours...realized I could type less emails to friends and perhaps make more of a different with the time invested in writing.

God Bless.

Blogger Shaun Groves said...


I view my site now in Safari and Explorer just to make sure it's looking right to the majority of folks. It looks fine today. No sidebar issues for me anyway. What are you browsing with?


Blogger Kathryn said...

big prayers with small words, like a child, like it should be. that was hard to read, but such stories must be read and acted upon. you won't forget their faces or names but even if you do, we know what God won't. you must have felt strange when you came back home?

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I felt great when I came back. You'll see why later.


Blogger Nancy Tyler said...

You tease.

Blogger Drew said...

once again i am touched and challenged. How strange it must be to see all the poverty there, knowing all the prosperity that waits for you at home. Geez, I hate crying while I'm at work...

Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

Shauuuun!!! No fair teasing!! *bares teeth & growls* Did you get rid of your head cold while you were over there?

Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Turns out I'm allergic to nothing in El Salvador. I might move.


Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Blogger Mustard Packet Pelter said...

I was going to protest but I suppose if I really am your friend then I shouldn't object to you trying to be healthier...even if it does involve moving to a whole other country *sigh* "Lord, why'd You have to make him so gosh darn sarcastic?!"

Okay this has nothing to do with anything but I just thought of a really stupidish sounding bummper sticker..."When all else fails blame God."
Don't know why I wanted to share that but I did *shrug*.


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