Feeding the children of El Salvador
By Ken Horn
He noticed her as students entered to begin their school
day. A beautiful, dark-haired, 6-year-old wisp of a girl who should rightly be
full of life. But she wasn’t. He saw her squat alone by the wall and put her
head in her lap.
In a moment Convoy of Hope’s Kenton Moody was crouching next
to her. “Hey, honey, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“I’m hungry,” she replied.
“Didn’t you eat anything at home?”
“There’s nobody there to give me anything.”
Maria’s parents were out working, trying to eke out a living
for the bare necessities of life … and not doing very well. This tiny child,
smaller even than her years would warrant, got up alone, dressed herself, and
came to her afternoon school session without even a morsel of food in her
How can children learn in the afternoon if they haven’t
eaten all day? Moody thought. Soon Maria was devouring every bit of a chicken
dinner, plus a dessert.
As Moody shared the story with his fellow Convoy of Hope
team members, they agreed this had to change for Maria and many other children.
Fast forward a few years. I am on a whirlwind tour of this
small Central American nation, El Salvador, where Convoy of Hope has come
alongside existing ministries to provide food and hope for those who have very
little of either.
Convoy of Hope has had an ongoing presence in El Salvador
since they responded to the need after the deadly Hurricane Mitch struck in
1998. In 2001, they stepped up their involvement, responding to the earthquakes
that struck a month apart, the first a 7.6 on the Richter scale. Three years
ago they began a feeding, nutrition and health program that is making major
breakthroughs in health and opening doors wide to the gospel.
El Salvador, a mountainous country that borders the Pacific
Ocean, is the smallest country in Central America, not quite as big as the
state of Massachusetts. It’s a mostly poor nation, but affluence can exist
right next to grinding poverty. Traveling the capital’s main highway, we find
an upscale mall on our right and a shantytown of sheet metal and wood-scrap
homes on our left.
El Salvador emerged from a devastating civil war in 1992.
Called the Land of Volcanoes, it experiences frequent earthquakes and volcanic
activity and is extremely susceptible to hurricanes … the reason Convoy of Hope
began its ministry here. This need is driven home when I’m shown a hill where
several people were buried and killed in a mudslide during an earthquake.
Densely populated, with a median age of just 22 years, El
Salvador is indeed a needy nation.
Early morning, as we are driving to San Vicente, Gloria
Ramirez, a single mother of four, is also beginning her journey. Every day she
travels by foot and bus from Tecoluca, where Convoy did a much-needed
distribution last year, to the Liceo Cristiano Rev. Juan Bueno, a school at the
edge of San Vicente. There is no work in her village, and as the sole supporter
of her family, she views the long daily trip to San Vicente as well worthwhile.
Ramirez has been blessed by both the job provided by the school and Convoy’s
Convoy of Hope’s strategic partnership with the Liceo
Cristiano school system is a model for providing physical and spiritual food to
needy children and their families. John Bueno, current director of Assemblies
of God World Missions, and his wife, Lois, came as missionaries to El Salvador
in 1961. John soon had a burden for the nation’s children. As he reached out to
the street children of El Salvador with the love of Jesus, God gave him a
vision for feeding and educating them. That burden resulted in what is today
the largest private Christian school system in the world. Its 37 schools serve
more than 16,000 students. In its 45 years of operation, more than 700,000
children have benefited. The current director, Moises Ramirez, is himself a
product of the school system — he attended from kindergarten until
Because of Bueno’s national impact, the Salvadoran
government renamed the schools in his honor following his departure.1
Convoy initially provided rice, beans and chicken protein to
three schools. Since then the program has expanded; it now feeds more than
5,000 children a hot, nutritious meal daily and assists their struggling
families with food and guidance every month. (The number of children fed daily
swells to more than 18,000 when the other targeted countries — Kenya,
Nicaragua and Haiti — are included.) The ministry tracks the physical and
mental growth of the children. Increased spiritual growth is a result of the
improved health. Water filters have already reduced disease in supported areas.
As we near San Vicente, our guide points out a sprawling
valley in front of the San Vicente volcano where the Convoy disaster response
team once erected temporary homes for displaced Salvadorans.
At the school, we meet Sister Deysi, the school’s director,
who is illustrative of the quality of the Salvadorans who minister in the
schools. She left a higher-paying job with the public schools to come here when
the school was in danger of closing. Since then, three years ago, “God has
blessed the school through Convoy of Hope,” she says — with a roof, fresh
paint, a library, new desks, fencing and more.
Some might think there is too much of an emphasis on
temporal needs, but local pastor Arturo Barraza Piche knows better. He has seen
many people come to know Christ through the school. And churches are growing
wherever Convoy of Hope’s nutrition program is functioning — because of
the love shown.
“We work with local pastors,” says Enrique Martinez, El
Salvador national director for Convoy, “giving them the resources so local
churches become the helpers to the community, not Convoy. They share Jesus with
At the home of Clara Garcia, mother of five, her 7-year-old
daughter, Hildah, proudly announces to us that she has already completed her
homework. Clara expresses her appreciation for the physical, educational and
spiritual impact on her family.
“The meals help so much,” she says.
Another San Vicente resident, Paula Chica, is anxious to
tell us that since Nurturing Hope began, she has seen her son Francisco put on
weight and grow healthy.
On our way to Las Delicias, we pass a truck packed with
sugar cane, a national staple. The sugar cane harvest is over, and haze from
the burning fields obscures portions of the roadway as trucks transport the
The Las Delicias school was founded after a severe
earthquake in 1989. Las Delicias is an example of a community where John
Bueno’s impact has extended far beyond the school. Bueno’s ministry approach,
reaching multiple needs in a community, was tailor-made for this partnership
with Convoy of Hope. Of 205 mothers of students at this school, 190 of them
volunteer at the school. This year many have lost jobs, and the feeding program
has been an important stopgap. Some families are completely destitute as they
await a distribution. Convoy has also begun providing food for the neediest in
Maira’s daughter Helen was malnourished when she began
attending the school. Maira wanted her to attend just until she became healthy.
But the sight of her thriving daughter caused Maira to reconsider and leave her
enrolled at the school permanently. She decided the teaching about God and
spiritual things, coupled with Convoy’s instructing the parents how to feed and
care for their children, were indispensible.
At every school we visit, parents clamor to share their joy
with us at having happy, healthy children who love Jesus.
Pastor Rafael greets us in Comecayo. He pastors a church of
750 and partners closely with Convoy and Liceo Cristiano.
Pastor Rafael tells me their ministry to the poor is
something that has grown recently.
“We’ve been doing small things by ourselves,” he says, “but
Convoy of Hope is the answer from God to help us do bigger things. This has
opened doors to the community that had been closed before.”
Marlena, a mother with two children at the school, says her
husband is out of work and many times there was no food in their home. With the
help of the feeding program, she says, her children are healthier and have more
energy. A refrain commonly heard is, “The children who attend the school don’t
have the problems other children have.”
The teachers have a lot to do with this. All are committed
Christians; they start every school day at 6:30 a.m. with devotions and prayer.
Rededicating the school at Achiotal
In Achiotal, a community in El Salvador’s lower, more
tropical area near the coast, the Liceo Cristiano was forced to find a new
location very quickly. This turned into a blessing as donors funded a new
location and excellent new facilities. The land was purchased through Latin
America ChildCare, the sponsoring agency for the school system, and the
building was funded through Convoy.
When the dedication service is held, people from the entire
community turn out. The alcalde (mayor) of the city attended a John Bueno
“There’s a sweetness about the students here that you don’t
see at other schools,” the mayor tells the crowd. He attributes this to “the
Spirit of God. That’s what we need more of,” he asserts.
The strategic partnership of Liceo Cristiano and Convoy of
Hope has created ripples of influence throughout every targeted community;
indeed, these ripples have traversed the entire country.
What is happening in El Salvador is a model for
compassionate Christian ministry. Hungry children and families of El Salvador
are being fed — with food for the body and the soul.
1. See the June 3, 2007, World Missions Edition of Today’s
KEN HORN is the editor
of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel and blogs at Snapshots (khorn.agblogger.org).
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