El Salvador Water Drilling Mission: The Challenge in Prison

November 28, 2018


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Wednesday’s Scripture: Galatians 6:9 (NIV)

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

IMG_8277Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise. Whoever made that quote famous wasn’t on our mission trip. We were up at 5 am to get to the drill site early and figure out how we could go deeper. Make my coffee to go!

Drill Bit or Compressor

The drillers pulled up pipe in 10-ft section to get to the drill bit. Once the bit came out of the ground it was obvious the O-rings were torn. The compressor was fine, but we needed a new drill bit which was 3 hours away at the LWI house. Angel, Darin, and Will volunteered to meet a LWI staff member half-way to get the new bit. We have to remind ourselves that we’re not in America, where extra parts are just a few miles away. We were fortunate a second bit was less than a half day travel.

As the drillers figured out how to get the new bit to Ilobasco, Norma called me over to where she was talking with Rafael through his barred half door. As I approached, I saw him holding his Bible lesson. Rafael wanted to know what reborn meant. So I tried to describe it in simple terms—a heart change. I described who I was before and what was important to me. I then described myself after accepting Jesus and what I aspired for my life. It was a touching moment, because I don’t get to have as many of these types of conversations back home. The opportunities and receptivity don’t present themselves as much as here in prison where the boys are thirsty.

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A bit later the guard let Rafael out of his solitary room for a break, and he invited us into his quarters as we were interested in seeing his living conditions. He had a bed on one side, a sink/toilet area across the room that smelled fairly strong of urine/human waste. There was little to do in this room to pass the time. He keep strong by doing pull-ups on the metal bars that served a rafters and made hammocks that his family would sell on the outside. We could tell that he was grateful for our companionship and conversation.

Breakfast Conversation

Robert has been spending time with Rafael and learned more of his story. We knew the gangs inside these walls wanted to kill him, but we found out he’s not safe on the outside either. Prior to Rafael’s incarceration, gang members threatened his girlfriend if she didn’t bring him to a local park at a specific time so they could kill him. She told Rafael what she was asked to do, and he fled. The gang killed his girlfriend for exposing the plan, and Rafael was captured by police and sentenced for his crimes. Rafael is in a tough spot. Gangs inside and outside the prison want to kill him so he’s scared for his life despite his decision to retire from the gangs.

The currency in El Salvador is US dollars. I was curious how much people get paid for various jobs, especially the guards at the prison. Angel said the minimum wage is $300 per month. He guessed the guards got twice the minimum to compensate them for additional risk to their lives. What is the risk? More than you might guess. Apparently gangs are still prevalent in the prison—mostly the older boys—and they communicate out during visitation on Thursdays. Guards treat the boys well because if a boy tells someone he’s being mistreated, the gang outside the prison will kill the guard. Last year when I toured the adult prison, all guards wore black ski masks to hide their identity for this very reason.

IMG_8301By these stories, you can assume the gangs are running the prison, which also explains why the boys eat so well. The chef, Noe, is a great cook, and we felt we were eating well when compared to meals served on other trips. The boys were fed the same food Noe served us. I’ve eaten prison food at the Cleveland Correctional Unit, and I would be down tens of pounds if served a steady diet of American prison food. On this mission I may be taking back to the States a few extra—compliments of Noe.

More Classes

We did a team switcheroo today. Charles stayed back to support drilling and Marcus and Roberto joined the women for praise/worship/instruction. We revisited Emerson and the younger boys who were shaping up to be one of our favorite groups.  Emerson greeted us with hugs, and all the boys were in good spirits—talking, laughing, and conversing with us. It was pure joy.

20181128_172217072_iOSAfter praise and worship, Kathy told a Bible story, and then Marcus took the boys on a journey that included his testimony. Marcus’s words were so true. Prison may look different around the world, but the condition is the same, and the solution starts with examining what’s in the heart. Marcus has a gift of delivering a story, and I truly believe he needs to continue pastoring to others.

20181128_165036314_iOSWe then pushed the tables and chairs to the sides of the room and played a soccer game with 4 teams, one soccer ball, and four plastic chairs. One person from each group were on the “field” with the objective of kicking the ball between the legs of another team’s chair for the score.

We Wait

Will, Angel, and Darin left in the morning to get the new drill bit and still hadn’t returned by lunch. Some of the drillers continued to wait for the shiny new “bullet”, while the rest of the team entered the secured area to spend more time with the boys. The band was set up under the covered concrete pad and ready for praise and worship. Norma said she got chastised for being late. Yesterday we told them we would be there at 1 pm, and we didn’t arrive until 2 pm. They weren’t aware of the drilling problems, but we felt blessed that they were excited for us to come back and pour into them.

20181128_134313869_iOSMarcus once again gave his testimony. When we asked whether anyone had any questions, they became silent, tough guys. Despite their stoicism, they finished the lesson book, and then Charles and Marcus took the boys out to play basketball and soccer.

IMG_8321The “bit” crew arrived back—all hands on deck. The boys returned to help with the drilling which pressed on despite that dusk was falling fast. It was obvious we weren’t dedicating the well tomorrow. With that said, we needed to keep drilling to have a shot at a Friday well ceremony. Angel said Casey and two team members could stay behind with him and Enrique to drill into the night. Mark and Will volunteered to stay. The boys, who are usually  locked up by 5 pm, got special permission to stay out with the team. If all went well tonight, tomorrow the team will install the casing, the pump guts, and pour the pad.

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The Drillers Hit Pay Dirt

The drill team hit more water in the dark. When you add soap to get the rocks and debris up, the foam, shooting from the hole, looks as if it’s raining snow under the floodlight. What a beautiful contrast in the night sky. The boys were ecstatic to be part of this celebration and shared how wonderful it was to see the stars and night sky. It’s hard to believe but they hadn’t seen the night sky for 2 years, because they are locked up by 5 pm.

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Personal Reflection

I had more unstructured time today, and enjoyed my conversation with Mamma Peggy. She mentioned this mission trip was really inspirational. She wants to return home, find the closest youth detention center, and invest personal time with the kids. She and Charles also want to learn Spanish. As I had mentioned to Charles and Robert, if you don’t make a change within 6 weeks of returning home from mission, you’ll fall back into your normal life habits. It’s that quick. Humans have an incredible ability to adapt, and we easily fall back into our old life when we set out feet on home soil.

Photo Nov 28, 21 04 30I love this team and how engaged they are with each other and the community. I love how mission changes you. I love how Will was changed by his first trip to Honduras and his marriage was subsequently blessed. I love how Casey was changed during that same trip, which led to take her tenth LWI with us and sponsor the well in her grandson’s name. I love how Marcus and Charles just had to come on this mission, because their hearts ache for prison ministry.

Robert has been a blessing because of his knowledge of El Salvador, its culture, and language, as well as his ability to relate to the boys. He’s forged relationships with the staff and youth which will hopefully continue to impact this prison for years to come. I think we have another mission mate who will experience a paradigm shift in worldview. I wonder who else is ready to have their world rocked by stepping out on mission.

Photos were restricted. For the safety of the staff and youth no photos of their faces are allowed on social media.


About the Author: Sandra Dillon is a professional coach with an extensive background in leadership, premarital/marriage, and finances. She coaches individuals and couples as well as designs and facilitates workshops. She has a passion to help people be the best versions of themselves. You can learn more about Sandra by visiting her at www.shinecrossingsministry.com.

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