From the smiles on these faces, you might think we were at a school or a playground. But on Tuesday and Thursday our team went to a state-run orphanage in San Salvador to paint, clean, wash windows, make lunch, and generally love on these children. Grace spent her time coloring and playing on the trampoline with the little girls, and Jason played basketball and soccer with some of the boys. It was amazing to me how sweet and joyful the kids seemed, even though they come from horrible circumstances. Rosa, the little girl on the right in the picture with me, was worried that I didn't have lunch as she offered me part of her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I explained that we would eat our lunch later, and then she asked me if I have brothers or sisters. It turns out she has one brother, just like me. Her brother is sixteen and has moved back home with her mom, to get a job and earn some money (not all of the kids here are totally without parents - some just aren't able or willing to care for them). She misses him and loves it when he comes to visit. But she told me that she doesn't really know her mom at all - she has never been to visit. Some of the babies we held were found abandoned, and don't have names. Many of the older girls are already mothers, even though they are 13 or 14 years old. Their families have expelled them, and they had nowhere else to go.
It was a difficult and wonderful day at the same time. Later on, when I was talking to Layo, the director of Campus Crusade for Latin America, he explained to me why it is so important for us to visit places like this, and to take the Vida Estudiantil students (about 5 went this day) with us. In El Salvador, as in many countries, there is a huge gap between the wealthiest and the poorest citizens. The students who attend Matias University come from the top 3 percent of the population, and are the children of the richest and most powerful people in the country. Most of them have lived very sheltered lives, so it is a great thing, Layo said, for them to go out and paint schools in poor villages, and to serve orphans at the state orphanage. He explained that in the future, these students will be the leaders of El Salvador in politics, the arts, business, and medicine. And he wants them to remember these days and these people. As they go out with our students, they are growing in compassion along with us, and that is a very good thing.
After the morning, we sat around the pool at the hotel and let students talk about what they had experienced. And Jamey shared a verse from the Bible - Matthew 9:36 - which says, "When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." We are growing in our compassion for people, and are seeing a country full of people who God loves.