verwhelmed. Stressed. Worried. That’s how I felt as a teacher of 400 public school students in one of El Salvador’s most beautiful and dangerous cities.
I arrived in the country with plans to change the world and confidence that God could help me overcome any obstacle that got in my way. For the first six months, everything went to plan. Then things began to unravel.
The long teaching hours and the stress of dealing with my students’ problems drained my energy. At the start of each school day, I felt more and more exhausted.
I was also running out of money. My habit was to prepare breakfast and lunch at home and take them with me to work because I couldn’t afford to buy meals in the city.
One day, I forgot my meals at home and realized it only when I was about to enter the school. “God, you know I’m hungry,” I prayed. “Please provide me with something to eat.” A moment later, I heard a voice from behind me. “Miss, take this,” one of my ninth-grade students said, handing me a milkshake in a plastic bag. I was so grateful for the cool drink. I was still savoring it when another student offered me an empanada, a type of turnover with a hot, tasty filling. God didn’t provide me with just one breakfast that day. I enjoyed three. In fact, I didn’t even need to worry about buying lunch!
Later that month, my financial situation reached a crisis. I had only two dollars left. It was a Thursday, and school vacation would start the next Monday. I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to pay for bus tickets to and from school for a week, but I still felt anxious about how I would survive until my next paycheck. It didn’t help that I had 400 tests to grade for my students to close out the quarter. I was so stressed that I couldn’t concentrate.
I was lying on the couch in the teacher’s room when another teacher entered. She asked me how I was doing, and I just started crying. I knew (or I thought I knew) that the God I served was capable of anything and that He would take care of me.
I had plenty of reasons to trust Him. He had provided a beautiful, affordable place for me to live, helped me stretch my monthly income to purchase necessities, and protected me in a place surrounded by gangsters (once I almost fell over a dead body on the street). He had given me wisdom to help one student whose mother had just abandoned her and another student who told me that he had become a gangster and was selling drugs at school. Yet, in my current emergency, I wasn’t thinking about how God had provided for me in the past. I’m thankful that my forgetfulness didn’t stop God from coming to my rescue.
That teacher, with whom I had barely spoken before, hugged me, listened to me, offered me money (I didn’t accept it), and told me, “Think of me as your mom here. Next week, I’m going on vacation. I want you to come with me.”
“I can’t afford to go with you,” I replied.
“You’re coming with me, and that’s final,” she announced.
So it was that I enjoyed a much-needed two-day vacation in the beautiful mountains of El Salvador!
Part of God’s plan for helping me trust Him was to allow me to experience problems that only He could help me with. Unfortunately, I’m a slow learner. Sometimes I get scared and forget how He’s always been there for me. But He’s always faithful to me. He comforts me when I’m stressed, provides for me when I’m in need, and hugs me when I’m overwhelmed. And slowly, I’m growing to trust Him more and more.
I thought I’d gone to El Salvador to teach, but God sent me there to learn. I thought I went to change the world. Instead, God changed me!
If you’re interested in being a volunteer, visit AdventistVolunteers.org.
Watch video stories about Adventist Volunteer Service missionaries at m360.tv/avs.
To learn more about Smiles Foundation, visit en.fundacionsmiles.org.