A few weekends ago we were invited to share with a faith community in New Jersey. As we packed up the car and drove north on I-95 Saturday morning, I felt unsure about the trip. Sometimes we find ourselves traveling, speaking to a crowd, briefly meeting many smiling faces, exchanging a few emails, and then going home. In most cases, for any human being, it is difficult to make a meaningful connection in just a few hours.
But this weekend was different.
After a quick visit for lunch with Molly’s grandparents in Pennsylvania, we drove across the bridge into New Jersey and the pastor’s home where we would be staying. We were greeted with warm hugs from the pastor and his wife, hugs that made us feel known and loved by this couple we had just briefly met. About an hour after we arrived, the doorbell began to ring. Within 30 minutes, the home was filled with 20 or so people from their house church. It was about 5pm.
After brief introductions and trying to remember a slew of names, we squeezed together around a large dining room table that was packed with hot food. The atmosphere was delightful. We heard stories from all different people, and they asked us questions about ourselves. Dinner that night reminded me of Thanksgiving dinner at my grandparents home; the food, the warmth, the family-like company. As we sat around the table, people shared their stories, joked around, and created playful conversation. It was like a big family gathering.
Following dinner we moved into the living room; we situated ourselves on couches and chairs, trying to fit everyone in the circle. We sang and prayed, and then they asked us to share. Eliberto began with his story, his struggles to attend school as a young child, and his discovery of God throughout his childhood. We shared about our work in El Salvador, how it began, and the great need for peace-work in a post-war society with regular migration and a large gang presence. As we shared, people nodded their heads, as if they could feel our own pain and passion to give children an opportunity to survive and thrive. Some teared up at the emotional peaks of our story.
And then the questions began to flow. This community who we had met just a few hours before, was deeply engaged in our story. They cared about the people in El Salvador and what we could do to change the brokenness in our world. Their questions were not sugar coated; they wanted to know the truth, as if they were walking the streets with our Mision Vida y Paz (MVP) volunteers in El Salvador. They wanted to see the fear in the eyes of students, and to hear their laughter as they play at recess.
This group of people from southern New Jersey became part of Mision Vida y Paz that night. We connected with them in a way we never expected. They brought us into their community, and chose to adopt us as part of their family. When the questions died down, I glanced at the clock. It was after 9pm. But there was no rush from this new family to pack up and leave; instead, we continued sitting in our tight circle, breathing in all we had heard and shared. After a few minutes of reflection, we took some time to pray before officially ending our time together. As people stood up to stretch, conversations continued around El Salvador, peace, young people, New Jersey, family, hope. We shared and laughed and hugged as one by one people headed home for the night. Over the course of 5 hours, we became part of one another’s stories. There was deep connection; and in that connection, we found energy and power, encouraged that there is a community much greater than we can even understand who stands behind us and goes forth with us on this mission to transform our world into a family of peace.
Our sharing did not end with Saturday night’s small group. That night we sat and conversed more with the pastor’s family before heading to bed. In the morning, we spoke during Sunday school and during the worship service. After lunch, our new family invited us to fellowship around the table once more. We shared another 2 hour meal with much laughter and great conversation before driving back south down I-95. It was a weekend of deep connection.
When I think back on this weekend, I continue to feel amazed by the power of human connection. How is it that we gain a sense of family, a security within a group of people, even when we only spend a few hours together? This weekend in New Jersey reminded me that there is a mysterious power within human connection. When we connect beyond our own identities through a deeper level of connection, we unharness this mysterious power. This connection, I believe, happens when we find a common sense of values or mission, what drives us in our lives and in the world. When we make this level of connection, we find ourselves tied together by a stronger bind than each individual – we are linked by our sense of purpose and mission in the world.
Mision Vida y Paz (MVP) has also built this deep mysterious connection in El Salvador. For 4 years, we have had groups working in schools of multiple towns in El Salvador. These volunteers are basically strangers to one another. At least two times each year, we try to bring all our MVP groups together for our MVP retreat and our Gala Dinner. When we come together, I am always amazed at how quickly these people from all different walks of life connect. After just an hour or two, our volunteers from different towns are sitting together sharing a meal or working together on a small group task. When we come together the next time, 6 months later, they greet one another with big smiles and hugs, as if it were a sort of family reunion. Our community is more than a group of people all committed to a peace-building program in their schools; we are a family. We find a sense of common purpose, and that allows for deep, powerful connection. This is why we call ourselves the MVP Family.
In our last update, we shared that some of our leaders in El Salvador had expressed difficulty in keeping their coordinator roles for the 2020 school year. Today, we are happy to report that our main leader has found a way to continue working as Mision Vida y Paz’s coordinator for another year of ministry. Because of this commitment, our volunteers are now in their third week of sharing in the classrooms of Nejapa. This is a testimony to the powerful connection of the Mision Vida y Paz community in Nejapa. We are willing to do whatever it takes to keep our mission alive so that children can find hope that the way of peace is possible for their futures.
Connections like these are not easy to find or quick to make. Yet both in a small community in New Jersey and a diverse community in El Salvador, we have witnessed the power of “families” who have built strong bonds through their commitment to peace in our world. It is truly a privilege to be part of these deeply connected families, to feel their warmth over shared meals. We are honored to be able to connect with people in this way, and to receive encouragement and power from these deep connections. As we continue on our journey of increasing our support and expanding our work in El Salvador, we are excited to make more of these deep, mysterious connections, and we are hopeful that these connections will give us the power to serve courageously, give generously, and live devoted to our shared mission.
May we never underestimate the power of human connection. May we honor the values that ground our shared mission. And may we fully enjoy the warm welcome of each family that invites us to become part of their beautiful community.