Bringing hope to El Salvador
Michelle Blievernicht, mother of four, always wanted to get involved in missions work abroad, but circumstances kept her from going beyond the states.
An opportunity arose this summer to act on her lifelong goal and participate on a mission trip to El Salvador with SOS Hope Ministries.
Blievernicht first heard about SOS Ministries in September 2016 after seeing clips of the reality show about The Duggar family taking their multiple children to El Salvador. The video stuck with Blievernicht and by mid-October 2016, she and husband, Eric, were talking about the possibilities of taking a trip.
Though missions work has been on Blievernicht's heart her whole life, the decision to go to El Salvador was not an immediate one. The couple walks together in the evening, so over the course of several weeks they discussed whether she should go or not.
“When we talked, I said somebody's got to do something for these kids, their situation is just awful,” she said. “Finally, it just occurred to me, why don't I do something?”
The timing for the trip was right. Blievernicht’s children are old enough to take on responsibilities and care of themselves for a while, and she couldn't rest when she could be doing something for people who need it.
Blievernicht has been active with Voice of the Martyrs in the states, but the work she does on those trips is more paperwork and organization. El Salvador offered a much more of a hands-on experience of going right to the people in need and working with them.
Health delayed Blievernicht's plans until July 2017, rather than in the spring as originally planned. Typically, the process of applying to work with SOS takes only two months or less. Blievernicht looked the ministry up on line, applied for a passport and started filling out paperwork to leave at the end of July and come home Aug. 3.
While the trip was a great cultural experience, and a dream becoming reality, it was also sobering.
The people of El Slavador live in extreme poverty and danger. There are many parts of the country the government will not go because the violence is too bad. Gangs run the nation. A few days after she arrived, Blievernicht, and her team, helped shelter a woman who lived in the jungle for four days while running from gang members who killed her daughter.
“This is their life,” Blievernicht says. “I get to go home to my safety and my air conditioning or heating. They're stuck.”
The violence is increasing in El Salvador. When Blievernicht's team was giving a presentation to kids in a school, the teacher told the students to remember what the missionaries told them, because someday they would not be able to come back and teach anymore, due to the violence.
The gang violence in El Salvador is not targeted against Christians only. Blievernicht explained it is mostly turf wars and people getting caught in the middle.
“They need money like everyone else, so they survive by being really big bullies,” said Blievernicht.
She added many young boys grow up and join the gangs, and the members try to recruit before their competition does. Some parents pay off the gang recruiters to leave their kids alone, which ends up funding the violence more.
“You never know when they're going to strike,” Blievernicht said. “The ladies have to be careful not to be too pretty, or a gang member will decide he wants her, then her life is in danger because some guy lusted after her. They live in constant fear.”
Even children as young as four or five years old run errands as little messengers and spies for the gangs.
“They just don't know where their next meal is coming from,” said Blievernicht, noting the children are doing what is necessary for survival.
While Blievernicht witnessed the harsh reality the people of El Salvador face, she also came home encouraged and on fire to do more.
“They have such joy for little things there,” she said, adding those she met on the trip have faith of steel.
The most powerful part of the trip for Blievernicht was watching the body of Christ come together. From the schoolteachers, to the translators, to the soldiers protecting them, to the missionaries themselves and everyone from every denomination and location worked as one to accomplish Christ's work.
“It was something God knew I needed to see,” she said. “When they saw a need, they'd just jump up and do it. They were so service oriented and such a model for me to follow.”
Blievernicht was inspired by how everyone used their individual gifts to make difficult and dangerous situations lighthearted.
“There was so much sorrow, but it was so easy for them to make people laugh,” she said.
Blievernicht is returning to El Salvador Dec. 12-19. Anyone can apply to go on a trip with SOS, but she says it's probably too late for anyone to join her on the December trip. SOS has trips in March and the summer.
“I didn't really realize what people mean when they talk about a calling before,” Blievernicht said. “I didn't really get it until I was there for a few days.”
One of her teammates on the July trip discovered international missions are not for her, but Blievernicht says her calling was only confirmed.
“I felt like I could move there, and I knew once I went it would be difficult to never go back,” she said.