Today I complete three weeks in El Salvador. Just a short time ago, I was greeted by a gentleman holding an NPH sign outside of customs in the San Salvador airport, and I plunged headfirst into the world of The Foundation. I had friends and acquaintances that had told me a little bit about NPH before, but not much, and to be honest, I had come to El Salvador to learn Spanish during my summer break from the seminary—how and where that took place made little difference to me as long as I had room and board and a good teacher. NPH seemed like a good place to hole up for the summer, and with some Spanish under my belt, I thought I might even be able to help out a bit.
Yet from the moment I arrived, I was taken with the place. I was greeted by the scene of afternoon chores—hordes of boys and girls with brooms twice their height out sweeping the streets, mopping floors, and tending to other common spaces. It was the very picture of industry, with each one taking up an appointed place. Obviously, I was the most interesting thing to have come along in a while because everybody—everybody—made it a point to stop what they were doing, come up to the car, and say hello. By the time I’d finished dinner, I had hugged more kids and learned more names than I’d ever thought possible (though of course I had to start all over again after a good night’s sleep).
The funny thing about the “language barrier” is that from the first moment, I’ve experienced it as exactly the opposite with the kids who grow up here. Having come from a Catholic parish setting where stepping into a gradeschool classroom was one of the things I dreaded most, I found the transition to a predominantly child-centered environment remarkably easy. No doubt the fundamental reason for this has been the incredible generosity and self-forgetfulness of the kids, who are so eager to know and be known—but it is also the lack of ability to communicate that has shifted my interactions with them to less cerebral (and more rewarding) channels.
A perfect example of this is Jorge. Within a few minutes of my arrival, Jorge had tunneled his way through the throng of boys eager to yank on my beard and had latched onto my leg. The minute this kid showed up, I could tell he was wired. It was like Jesus in the crowd when the lady was healed when she touched the hem of his garment—only I felt the power go into me.
He fired off all sorts of questions (little more than babble to me) interspersed with fits of maniacal laughter while he pounded his head against my leg. And in the weeks since then, I’ve realized that providing for the basic needs of five hundred dependents is the work of a highly dedicated team of professionals, but raising this boy is going to be most of all a matter of love and prayer.