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My Salvadoran baptism

by Perry Engle

The highway connecting the Salvadoran towns of Santa Ana and Metapan runs less than a dozen feet from the front door of Pan de Vida, a BIC church in Texistepeque, El Salvador. Buses and trucks belching diesel fumes scream by as we load the back of Pastor Cesar’s mini-pickup with people needing a ride home from the evening service. It’s my second trip to this poor Central American country, and I’m doing my best to connect with the brothers and sisters who have so graciously accepted me and my traveling compadre, Mike Holland, into their midst.

“I’ll ride in back,” I tell Cesar and Mike as I hoist myself into the open bed of the truck. Not surprisingly, I’m the only one among the 15 or so passengers wearing a navy blue pinstripe suit, but it’s a beautiful night, and I can’t resist the romantic notion of seeing what it’s like to travel 40 miles on these roads in the back of a pickup going home after church.

“Just don’t tell my wife I did this,” I say, only half-joking.

I notice lightning on the horizon before I realize it’s starting to rain. Flashes backlight the Santa Ana volcano in the distance. The women and children around me begin to sing choruses in Spanish as the drizzle turns to a downpour, and a little girl buries her head in the small of my back.

It’s raining buckets by the time we arrive in Metapan, just a few miles south of the Guatemalan border. The side roads have turned into rivers, and boulders the size of coffee tables litter the way. Each dip in the road is filled with a torrent of water threatening to kill the motor as it coughs and sputters with each crossing. I try to remember the last words I said to Marta and the girls before I left home and the amount on my life insurance policy.

As the road narrows and ends, Cesar pulls over and the waterlogged riders empty out into the darkness, disappearing up muddy paths to their huts in the hills above us. “¡Dios le bendiga!”—God bless you!—we call out to each other.

And almost immediately, a wave of guilt and embarrassment washes over me for turning a journey home with these dear people into a joy-ride for a visiting bishop.

I squish into the cab for the trip home, looking very much like a navy blue, North American, pinstriped rat. My Bible is soaked all the way through to the Psalms. I feel indulgent, humbled, and blessed all at the same time. I’ll be going home in a day or so, but this is how these faithful brothers and sisters get to church multiple times a week, every week of their lives.

“This is nothing,” Pastor Cesar says with a knowing smile as I attempt to dry God’s wholy-waterlogged Word. “You should see it during the rainy season.”

This article originally appeared in the summer 2008 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle is the bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences. He also oversees Pan de Vida and Mision Cristiana Rhema, two Salvadorian BIC churches adopted into the Pacific Conference. When not riding in the back of mini-trucks, Perry rides around Ontario, Calif., with his wife, Marta, and their three daughters in their minivan.

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