|| By Michael (Max) Etter
Michael (Max) Etter, a native of St. Rose, Ill., who attends Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Mo., wrote the following reflection after spending 10 days last summer in El Salvador with Friends Across Borders, a mission immersion experience sponsored by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners.
I had mentioned to my mother many times in the past two or three years that I was very interested in missionary work outside the United States. She always told me I would not like to live in a place where the poverty is so great, but a mission trip we both took last summer drew me closer to service overseas.
The journey began one night when a friend and I were watching a soccer game and my mom dropped a brochure on my lap for a Friends Across Borders trip to El Salvador. I would finally have the chance to see what it would be like to be a Maryknoll lay missioner.
One of the many sites we visited in El Salvador was La Esperanza, a village where Maryknoll Lay Missioner Rick Dixon works. I had met Rick a few days before visiting La Esperanza and he told me about the site.
It had been established by people fleeing their country’s 12-year civil war, which ended in 1992. I was excited to see the community.
When we arrived in La Esperanza, we noticed that only the steel rails of the worn-out unused railroad tracks poked through the dirt. We used the rails as a path to walk into the village of metal shacks. The tiny homes lined each side of the tracks, each house only a couple of yards from the next.
Children and adults glanced our way to find out who the foreigners were. One of our group members brought lollipops to hand out to the children, and instantly confused faces turned to smiles when they received their gift.
When we arrived at the center where Rick works with the kids, we had a meeting with two amazing adults who live in the community. They told us about their struggles with limited resources and how they visit the sick and indigent in La Esperanza. They also told us about their efforts to train people to provide basic health care and to invite people to keep faith alive through regular formation and prayer services as a Christian base community.
During the conversation, children slowly entered the center. Rick had warned us that they are very shy, so we did our best to make them feel comfortable. Later, we got to interact with the children.
We played a version of “Go Fish,” with pictures with English words so the children could learn English. They were excited to show off their new language skills!
My mother called me over after the game to introduce me to the girl standing next to her. The girl’s name was Yeimi (Jamie). She was 16 years old and lived with her grandparents in the community.
Yeimi and I practiced our Spanish and English, though my Spanish wasn’t too good. We started out talking about our favorite colors and favorite foods. Then we talked about school. Yeimi was so interested in learning about my life. After a half hour or so of conversation, it was time for me to go.
When I returned to the retreat center where we were staying, many questions ran through my head: “Why do I live better than Yeimi?” “What gives me the right to a better life than hers?” The fact that she is only two years younger than I am enabled me to make a personal connection. I imagined myself living in her home in that poor community. What a difficult life she has and yet she seems so happy. We have stayed in touch by writing letters.
Because of the trip to El Salvador and especially because of La Esperanza, I now pray more, I say the rosary more and I appreciate what I have more. The people in El Salvador have such big hearts. Because of this experience, I know now that becoming a Maryknoll lay missioner is not only my dream but may be my calling.
Featured Image: Max Etter (purple shirt) shares laughter and lollipops with children in La Esperanza.
(Courtesy of Maryknoll Lay Missioners/El Salvador)