JEFFERSON CITY — Concord Baptist Association just had to go help its “family.” That’s why, when the call went out for Missouri Baptists to replace homes destroyed by floodwaters in El Salvador, the association’s team was the first to respond.
“For anyone here [in Missouri] who had been there,…it’s just like family. You knew you just needed to go help,” said Lynn Milberg, a member of Southridge Baptist Church, Jefferson City, who has been to the Central American nation three times on mission trips.
The association, which has worked in El Salvador since 2003, is in the third year of a three-year partnership and has concentrated its work in the San Vicente and La Paz regions. Southridge has its own partnership with Salvadoran churches.
The San Vicente region and, particularly, the town of San Vicente were hard hit by torrential rains and mudslides caused when Hurricane Ida swept across Nicaragua on Nov. 8.
The town was inundated with 25 inches of rain in 24 hours, causing a flashflood on a river within two blocks of Primera Iglesia Bautista de San Vicente (First Baptist Church). The church lost seven children and two adults in the disaster, which claimed at least 250 lives. Another 300 were confirmed missing from the town.
A home that housed the first mission the church had planted in the region was also destroyed by floodwaters. The association and Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City, had assisted in establishing the mission.
At its Dec. 15 Executive Board session, the Missouri Baptist Convention committed $35,000, enough funds to build 10 homes. The MBC, which has extended its mission partnership with El Salvador through 2011, is encouraging churches and individuals to contribute to its “Mi Casa es Su Casa” (My House is Your House) offering for the project through the missions partnership office.
During the Jan. 15-23 trip, Concord association’s team constructed the first permanent structure to be erected in the hurricane’s aftermath and the first under the MBC umbrella for Primera Iglesia Bautista members Guillermo and Sandra Maldonado and their 4-month-old son, Jefferson. They named their son for Jefferson City because of the church’s partnership with Concord church.
Salvadoran government leaders will officially dedicate the home on Feb. 9 and mark it with a plaque.
The original construction plan called for erecting temporary housing. But that changed when the MBC learned a concrete-block home could be built for only $1,000 more. Each dwelling will have two bedrooms, a living area and a kitchen area.
Concord director of missions Calvin Brown chose Mel Callahan, Kelly Myers and Milberg to go with him because of their construction expertise. Only Callahan had not already served in the Central American country. A volunteer from Tennessee joined them in country.
A Salvadoran engineer designed the structure, which meets earthquake standards, and a Salvadoran served as foreman. Several members of the church and Baptists from other parts of the country — including physician Hugo Rodriguez and national musician Mauricio Solis — helped, as well. Solis even closed his business for two days and brought his employees and family to the worksite.
Because the home was built on the side of a hill, a truck could only get within 30 yards of the site. Myers, who has been part of construction teams to El Salvador in the past, admitted this project was a little more challenging.
“I wasn’t expecting the length we would have to walk and working on the hill,” he said. The dirt would get slick and sometimes you could slide if you weren’t careful.”
After manhandling concrete blocks up the hill a few times, the construction party formed a line from the block pile to move them more quickly. Cement mortar had to be mixed by hand, as well, and moved up the line in buckets. During any lull on the job, team members would help with leveling another site just below them.
The team learned as much as their counterparts did. A carpenter and a machinist, Callahan originally didn’t intend to go. He had told wife Rose several months ago that he didn’t feel he should leave the States to minister.
“But when Calvin talked about going…I went home and told Rose that I felt like I should go because he asked for those with construction background,” Callahan said.
Describing the plumb bob Salvadorans use, he added, “It’s a partnership…. The same as they can learn from us, we can learn from them.”
The unplanned trip allowed Brown, Milberg and Myers to see some of the results from mission projects the association helped with in August — including teaching sewing, holding music seminars, and teaching puppetry and clowning skills. The San Vicente church now conducts two sewing classes each week, using machines the Missourians helped purchase, and have formed a praise band.
And they worshipped at the San Vicente church on Sunday, with Brown preaching. Four children made professions of faith, including two sisters who lost two brothers and their home to floodwaters.
The team appreciated the walk to the project site each day because it gave them an opportunity to connect with the community face to face. “I liked to walk from the church and see the church people come [to help],” Milberg said. “It was an open door for the church in the community. The community will see that they care, not just us five.”
Brown also emphasized the partnership nature of all the trips the association has made and will make. “We haven’t done anything down there that they haven’t just swarmed us with friendship,…but it’s always shoulder-to-shoulder with people,” he said. “Our goal is not to do it for them but to do it with them.”