by Kim Frederick
“God created us to serve and we have the power to fulfill God’s mission because he wants people to be saved from their sins, but He also cares about their needs. He also cares if they have food to eat, that they have clothes to wear, and good health. It’s not a coincidence that we are here on earth; We are here because God has a purpose and he wants to redeem His creation. We are God's answer for our community.”
-Pastor Miguel Duran
During my time as a volunteer in El Salvador, I have had the opportunity to listen to Pastor Miguel Duran on dozens of occasions. His words are powerful and are matched by the compelling way he chooses to live his life. Although I know his story well, hearing him speak never ceases to inspire me and remind me why I am here, serving with ENLACE. His church was small and struggling, his congregation discriminated against and spit on by others in the community, yet Miguel Duran continued to seek God and continued to fight for his community and for the Good Samaritan Church. Enduring the personal loss of two children in the earthquakes of 2001, he continued to follow Jesus’ example of service. He has led his congregation down a path of growth and transformation that is having lasting effects on his community, on the region of San Martin, and on church partners in the U.S. who strive to follow his lead.
The Good Samaritan Church started in 1979 as a traditional church which believed their only mission was to preach the gospel and address the community’s spiritual needs. Believing that if Christ was truly in their hearts they would not suffer from a lack of food or clothing, they spent most of their time in church or in prayer, but did not address the population’s glaring physical needs. They kept to themselves and were rejected by community members in the predominately Catholic region. Over the years, however, Pastor Miguel discovered, through his own suffering, that God also cares about physical needs. He began preaching about reaching out to those in physical need, but felt inadequate due to his own church’s needs. After having the opportunity to rally church support to feed one family in need, the church felt empowered. It was then that he sought help and found ENLACE. With the guidance of an ENLACE church coach, he realized the key to being able to reach others was to first get to know them.
Pastor Miguel uses the story of Zacchaeus from the gospel of Luke to emphasize some of the first changes that occurred in the Good Samaritan Church. Zacchaeus, a man rejected and despised by the Jews because of his work with the Romans, is befriended and visited by Jesus despite his poor image and faults. While studying this and other scriptures with ENLACE staff, Pastor Miguel and his church were motivated to befriend community members outside of their church. They became friends with members from the local Catholic church, as well as social outcasts in the community, such as individuals with addictions to drugs or alcohol. They learned to accept others despite their social or religious differences, and they began to form strong relationships by promoting respect, harmony, love and mercy.
According to Pastor Miguel, building relationships in the community is a necessary first step to impacting those in need. “We can’t solve material and spiritual needs if we don’t know them,” he stated. New-found friendships became the best way to discuss issues effecting the community, and the best way to rally support for community meetings in which everyone could have a voice. After learning about others’ needs, church members slowly began to put others before themselves and developed hearts of service despite their own difficulties.
“We believe that the Church has a call from God...There are many institutions that serve the community, but the Church serves with a love and justice that come from God.”
-Pastor Miguel Duran
As in any church, some members still disagree with the church’s new mission and vision of service. Pastor Miguel is praying that one day the entire congregation will become aware of God’s heart for those in need so that the whole church will become involved with community initiatives. He remembers that several members left the church when its mission and vision began changing because they did not believe that the Church should address the community’s physical needs. However, he encourages other churches by sharing that many members, after seeing the work and its positive outcomes, have returned. “They join and participate, but we have to be patient,” he advises.
The Good Samaritan Church continues to bring the gospel to its community by serving them, by restoring relationships, and by creating new friendships that allow them to work together on sustainable solutions for the entire community. Since the Good Samaritan Church began working with ENLACE over 12 years ago, the church’s outreach committee has helped to lead numerous community initiatives, including road and home construction projects, clean-up and health campaigns, and the management of a local health clinic. Pastor Miguel expressed his gratitude for the way that ENLACE partners with his community, emphasizing that “ENLACE doesn’t impose its projects. ENLACE supports church and community projects.” Pastor Miguel is currently the president of a water board overseeing a water system that is designed to benefit 10,000 people and he remains a prominent leader in his community.
You can help Pastor Miguel and dozens of other pastors in El Salvador continue the work of transformation by becoming a Friend of ENLACE. Gifts of $25, $50 or $100 monthly enable church coaches to accompany committed churches to change lives in their communities. Your consistent giving will enable pastors like Miguel Duran and other leaders to overcome adversity and continue to be the facilitators of change in their communities.