As I begin to write this letter, I think of some Bruce Cockburn song lyrics that Trent has shared with me a few times:
Don’t the hours grow shorter as the days go by
You never get to stop and open your eyes
One day you’re waiting for the sky to fall
The next you’re dazzled by the beauty of it all.
Life feels a little like this these days. As we prepare for a new chapter in our families’ lives, life is busy but we can’t wait for that next day that we know is on the horizon.
For those of you that don’t know some (or any) of us, maybe I’ll begin with a few introductions. My name is Stuart McAllister and I have been married to my wife (and of course better half) for a little over nine years (I’ll cross my fingers that I have that right). We have four wonderful, perfect children, who never cause their parents any stress (I also have a wood-stretcher and some 100lb bags of puffed wheat for sale). Their names are Kade (7), Winnie (5), Ellis (3), and Violet (1). We currently live on a small acreage just south of Calgary complete with sheep, chickens, dogs, cats, and one goat.
Our partners on this journey are the Berstads. Trent and Kerrie-Lynn celebrated their 15th anniversary this year, and we feel so honoured to be able to celebrate this milestone in their lives with them. They have four perfect children as well: Isaiah (10), Annah (8), Benjamin (6), and Elias (4) (I just realized there’s starting to be a lot of people on this trip).
In 2006, Trent stepped off of a plane at the El Salvador airport, probably not fully realizing that this moment would change his life. After spending a week building homes and relationships with people in the San Vicente area, he came home eager to tell the stories both of heartbreak and hope that he had seen. He told of Carolina, a single mother with two babies and very little else. The team that week was able to move her out of the pile of garbage and scrap metal that she had been living under and into a sturdy and secure home for herself and her children. No longer would Carolina need to try to stay dry through six months of rain under a paper-thin tarp.
Through the prodding of Trent and our other friend Jake Fluker, I was convinced to participate in a return trip to El Salvador the following year. I too encountered the depths of poverty and despair, but I also saw some other things. I saw hope. I saw joy. I saw the love that flourishes out of us reaching a hand across geographical and cultural divides. I met a woman named Carolina that no longer feared for the health and safety of her two young children. Life is not perfect, but the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. We see that light in the smile of a single mother, or the embrace of an old widow, or the laughter of a man stepping up to look after somebody else’s kids.
We were hooked, and continued to return to these communities on an annual basis. Then in November 2009, on another trip with a group of men from Canada, our worlds got turned upside down. As we settled into our hotel for the first night of the trip, many of us stood under the awning of the hotel watching the rain pour more and more. But it often rains hard in El Salvador, right? We went to bed to the sound water hammering the roof of the hotel.
As we slept, Hurricane Ida lodged itself over the small nation of El Salvador. Water soaked mountains could no longer absorb any more moisture and began to let go causing mud slides to bury neighbourhoods. The river through San Vicente, normally a trickling creek, rose roughly 70 to 80 feet and ripped through the town, washing entire communities away. Hundreds of homes (and families) simply disappeared in the night. We awoke to ground zero of a new world around us.
The next week was spent helping in whatever little ways we could; including building homes for flooded out families, providing food and blankets to shelters, and digging out mud filled homes. I don’t think that you would find one guy on this trip that wouldn’t say that they felt honoured to be able to help in this time of immediate need. We each brought a piece of El Salvador home with us, and now we are being called back.
So what’s the plan? This is a good question and I don’t know if I have a perfect and concise answer to it. The twelve of us are planning to leave mid January and spend one month in Antigua, Guatemala. There are a number of language schools in this city and we hope to take some intensive lessons for a month, in order to brush up on our Spanish abilities. From there we will drive to San Vicente, El Salvador and either rent a home(s) in this small city or in a beautiful neighbouring town called Apastapeque. We hope to stay in El Salvador for about one year.
As we have focused largely on housing on past trips, this will probably be a continued focus (at least in the beginning). And although we will always try to address immediate need that we encounter around us, we also want to long for some more long-term, sustainable solutions to the poverty we see. Preliminary ideas include creating local building crews in order to construct multiple homes or small communities. Likewise, we hope to find opportunities to inject a few resources so that families can start small businesses. For example, if we can purchase a sewing machine, then maybe a lady can provide for her family with income from a small sewing and mending business. Overall, we want to be flexible, willing, and wise when opportunities arise.
Finally, we believe that as Christians we are called to live and proclaim the good news to the poor, to heal the broken-hearted, to declare liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to free the oppressed. We know that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and we are excited to be a part of the moments of God’s grace in El Salvador.
There is no way, that we can (or want) to take this journey without you. In many ways we see our role as translator in a broad sense of the term. We hope to be able to make a connection between needs and resources, through the networks of families and friends we have in Canada. And it is my dream that someday that connection flows between El Salvador and Canada in both directions. There are a number of ways that you can partner with us on this adventure:
1. Pray for us – We are followers of Jesus Christ and we believe in the power of prayer. As Jesus taught us to pray for the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth, we ask you to pray for this as well. We also need your prayers in terms of guidance and protection as well as words to say, hands to work, and hearts that love.
2. Give us advice and suggestions – We claim to have very little experience and expertise in the things that we are doing. We crave your words of wisdom, your ideas, and your encouragement. We feel that we are simply a small piece of a much larger team made up of our friends, families, and networks here in Canada.
3. Partner with us through your wallets – If you would like to contribute financially to this journey then we would be honored and humbled by your generosity. The simple fact is that we cannot do this alone. Andrew Browne shared this quote with me the other day. "If you want to go fast - go alone. If you want to go far - then go with other people" Over the last few months we have been left with no choice but to depend on others. This is something I (trent) need to learn. Finally, Jesus said "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" We are excited to have your hearts connected to our work in El Salvador as you give. Giving can go thru Sunwest, or EMCC. There is a link on this site to give online thru EMCC that is quite complicated, but will be much simpler in a couple of months. For now we are encouraging people to give thru sunwest by sending cheques payable to 'Sunwest' to 101 - 239 Midpark Way SE, Calgary, Alberta, T2X 1M2. Please put our names on a note inside the envelope so the accounting department knows where to allocate the funds.
4. Come and join us – We would be more than happy to have you come and visit us in El Salvador. We would love for you to experience the people and culture that has stolen our hearts. (I’m sure we could find some way to get your hands dirty as well).
5. Tell the story – It is exciting to us to see more and more people becoming involved in lives of the Salvadorian people. Much of this has happened simply through one person telling his or her story to another. We would love for you to tell others about the situation in El Salvador and how we can make big differences in the lives of families and individuals. Read our blog and share it with others, or better yet, connect with the growing number of people that have experienced these things firsthand, and hear a personal touch.