By Rick Dixon, Maryknoll Lay Missioner in El Salvador and
Max Etter, FAB participant 2013 JustFaith Immersion to El Salvador
Foddered sleep the night before left Max’s eyes heavy and tired, but as he walked out of the San Salvador airport Friday morning August 2nd they became alert and attentive. A tall, lanky eighteen-year old from Illinois he arrived with his mother on the Just Faith delegation that spent the next ten days visiting El Salvador and the Maryknoll lay missioners. Quiet and reticent, he observed things without speaking much; but I had the feeling his young, double agent mind was investigating and going deeply into the mysteries of wealth, poverty, and faith. Finally, at our reflection on Tuesday evening after visiting the community of La Esperanza, he opened up and shared.
Later I asked Max if he could write about his experience in El Salvador. The following are his words.
I had mentioned to my mother many times in the past two or three years that I was very interested in missionary work outside of the United States. She always told me I would not like to live in a place where the poverty is so great, but she could not have been more wrong. One night a friend and I were watching a soccer game when she dropped a brochure on my lap for a Friend’s Across Borders trip to El Salvador endorsed by Just Faith ministries. I finally had the chance to see what it would be like to be a Maryknoll lay missioner.
One of the many sites we visited was La Esperanza where missionary Rick Dixon works. I had met Rick a few days earlier and he had talked to me about his site which was established by people fleeing the civil war, so I was very excited to see the community. Once we arrived, only the steel rails of the worn out unused railroad tracks poked through the dirt, which we used as a path to walk into a community of metal shacks and little personal space. Tiny homes lined each side of the tracks, each house only a couple yards from the next. Children and adults glanced our way to see who the foreign invaders were. One of the group members brought suckers to hand out to the children, and instantly confused faces turned to smiles when they received their gift.
When we arrived at the center where Rick meets with the kids, we had a meeting with two amazing individuals who lived in the community. They told us about the town and other facts that left either joy or hurt in my heart. We learned about their struggles with limited resources and their efforts to keep their faith alive through regular formation and prayer services as a base community. During the conversation, children slowly entered the center. Rick had warned us that they were very shy, so we did our best to make them feel comfortable. Later, we got to interact with the children. We played a version of Go Fish, but it was with pictures with English words so the children could learn English. They were excited to show off their English!
My mother called me over after the game was over and next to her stood a girl, a girl that changed my perspective about my life. Her name was Yeimi (Jamie). She was a 16 year old girl who lived with her grandparents in the community. My mother introduced us and we practiced our Spanish and English, though my Spanish was rather bad. After a half hour or so of conversation, it was time to go, and it wasn’t until I had returned to the retreat center that my eyes were opened. Many questions ran through my head, “Why do I live better than Yeimi?” “What gives me the right to a better life than her?” The fact that she was only two years younger than me allowed me to make a personal connection. I imagined myself living in her home in that squatter community. What a great person, but what a difficult life.
Now because of the trip to El Salvador and especially because of La Esperanza, I pray more, I say the rosary more, and I appreciate what I have more. The people in El Salvador have such big hearts, something that seems harder to find in the States. Because of the trip, I know now that becoming a Maryknoll lay missioner is not only my dream but my calling.