Seven churches cooperate to bring Christ to small town in El Salvador
That wasn’t always the case.
About five years ago, Ennio Arugeta, a Spanish-speaking minister in Missouri familiar with La Palma, talked to fellow church members Donnie Ellis and Ralph McClurg about the spiritual needs of the city’s 20,000 inhabitants.
Arugeta “kept telling us that there was an area of El Salvador that had no Church of Christ,” said Ellis, a member of the Monett, Mo., church. “He prodded of the Monett, Mo., church. “He prodded Ralph and me for a year before we did anything.” But after traveling to la Palma and spending two days here, Ellis said, the two “decided it was a field ready to be harvested.”
For Ellis, McClurg and fellow coordinator Doug Anders, “harvesting involves more than annual mission trips, American church members travel to La Palma every three months, conducting Bible studies, providing medical care and helping a 60-student Christian school launched in February.
Ninety-two volunteers have visited La Palma in the past three years – some multiple times. Seven American churches support the work: the Monett, Mount Vernon, Aurora, Washburn and Cassville churches in Missouri; the West Palm Beach, Fla., church; and the Goodman Oaks church in Southaven, Miss.
In 2004, the coordinators brought Jose Castilla and Jesus Hernandez, graduates of a ministry training program in the capital, San Salvador, to minister in La Plama. At the time, there was one church member in the area. The La Palma church since has experienced 78 baptisms, McClurg said.
The young church recently hosted a regional worship on a soccer field in La Palma, attended by 368 adults and hundreds of children from at least four countries.
The U.S. churches work with the Salvadoran government to provide medical services for people in the La Plama area, including lessons on dental hygiene and treatment for parasites. More than 50 volunteers, including some from El Salvador, traveled to La Palma on a recent medical campaign. Team members treated about 3,000 patients, conducted a vacation Bible School and taught Bible classes for women.
“The women had never had a Bible class just for them,” said Lori Lalli of Webb City, Mo., who made her fifth trip to el Salvador with the team. “They really listened and asked questions. God showed me that I had a work in La Palma.”
Dea Ferguson of Ozark, Mo., directs the pharmacy during medical missions.
“Back home, we compartmentalize our lives,” she said. “We have our work, our home, our church. Here, the group is really doing what first-century Christians did. We eat together, work together, fellowship together, all with a common goal. It’s a good thing.
The volunteers also see God’s impact on the lives of young Salvadorans. During a recent visit, Steve and Pat Turnbull, of Aurora, Mo., invited a 7-year-old named Jorge to join them for lunch.
Jorge, a student at the new Christian school in La Palma, jumped up from his seat and grabbed a bottle of hand sanitizer from under the restaurant’s counter. After ensuring that his hosts had washed up for lunch, he bowed his head and prayed in Spanish.
“Jorge is going to be a preacher someday,” McClurg said.