One of the most interesting things you will encounter in El Salvador, like many Central American countries is the presence of armed guards. There are armed guards everywhere, there is a man with a shotgun outside the bank, one at the ice cream shop, and there’s even on at Wendy’s. These armed security guards often open the door for you which is pretty cool and they certainly provide a necessary service. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that for the safety of the business, it’s staff, and the patrons, an armed guard is essential, but it still has taken some getting used to. Having a man with a shotgun at nearly every turn in this city is just so different from what is normal to me.
In other news… last week we had a group here from New York to work at a Church in Apopa, El Salvador. In addition to some construction projects at the church, the group also ran a vacation Bible school for the kids in the town. The thing about Apopa is, well, it’s a pretty serious town. It has a heavy influence of gang violence and crime and is probably the most dangerous town we will work in. So, this is where that saying, “Ignorance is bliss” becomes applicable. The group from New York as well as myself knew a little about the increased danger in Apopa but we certainly did not know all the stories and crime that occurs so frequently there. However, Apopa was the place that God had called us to work, serve, and reach out to the children there, so that’s what our group did. Thankfully, by the grace of God, we have not had any issues of safety at all in Apopa during the 8 or so days we’ve spent out there in the last few weeks.
Normally, vacation Bible schools are held at the church or at least in the church yard… well, in Apopa, we did it in the street a few blocks away from the church. Having it in the street made all the difference. God made it rain with children at the VBS… 45-50 kids showed up on the first day. In Apopa, some of the children are in school during the morning while others are in school during the afternoon, so our group decided to hold two VBS meetings daily, one at 10 a.m. and one at 3 p.m. to be able to reach out to as many kids as possible.
The coolest thing God did in Apopa last week was the way he moved in the neighborhood around the church during the VBS. Although the vacation Bible school was directed at the children, countless numbers of adults in the neighborhood became active onlookers to what was happening. The stretch of street where we held VBS was surrounding by a number of houses and slowly, the adults that lived in those houses made their way outside to watch as well as listen to the presentation of the Gospel. There were people ranging from their teenage years to old men in their 60’s and 70’s listening to members of our group teach about Christ and all that he has to offer us in this world. Being able to see God move in the lives of kids as well as adults in the neighborhood through a simple VBS was truly a great blessing last week.
Each night our Envision Wired staff sits down with the weekly group we have down here volunteering to do a daily “debrief” session. We basically just go through some high points and low points of the day and talk about things God has been showing us. One of the best insights I received this week came out of one of those meeting from the lone high school aged student in the group from New York. When asked what God was showing him this week, he said, “I’ve learned that God is not a vending machine.” Such a simple insight really, yet one that is hardly reflected upon let alone considered when we approach God with all that is going on in our lives.
I know that personally, I am often guilty of making vending machine prayers to God. I’m convinced sometimes that I can simply go and push B3 and get everything my heart desires… it will all just pop out of its spot in the machine and then will be right there in my hand. God, in actuality is nothing like a vending machine. We can’t always see the options he has and the plans he’s made for our lives. We can’t always choose what we want for our lives or for ourselves like selecting our favorite candy bar or bag of chips at the vending machine. The thing is, if God was like a vending machine, we would always choose the sweet candy… we would never experience situations of pain and trial, thus inhibiting the opportunity to grow in faith through reliance on Christ. Why would we need to rely on him if life or God was anything like a vending machine, allowing us to choose only the good for ourselves.
Unlike a vending machine, God gives us what he wants to give us, not what we want to eat at this very moment. He supplies us with what we need when we need it. So when the Lord hands us a trial, we must not look at it as if we accidentally pushed the button for black licorice at the machine. God knows what we need, or don’t need in our lives for that matter and thankfully, because he is nothing like the vending machine we try and turn him into, we can’t always get life the way we want it… all sweet and no sour, no pain. It is in the experiences that we would choose not to go through ourselves that we grow the most. I truly believe that God uses times of difficulty, pain, and suffering to bring us back to him… to bring him closer to who and what he wants us to be, so if you feel like you choose the wrong thing from the machine, just remember, God is giving you just what you need right now.
Thanks for checking in again.