By Ben Faus
Long before coming to Duke Divinity School, I had a number of experiences that grew my heart for the Hispanic and Latino community in the United States. Several friends in my High School in Carrollton, Texas were first or second generation immigrants from Mexico. After graduating from Baylor University, I taught High School Math in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma at a school that had a student population which was over 80% Latino. Slowly, I am learning more about the challenges faced by the Latino population in the United States, and I feel called to be an ally to this community as a future Pastor.
Over the summer of 2015, Duke Divinity School gave my wife, Hannah, and I the opportunity to spend 10 weeks in El Salvador working in a church setting. Every minute of every day was a learning experience.
The most obvious learning came with our Spanish abilities. Hannah and I both studied a little bit of Spanish at Baylor, but it is one thing to study in a classroom and another thing to be immersed in a Spanish speaking culture. The persistent concentration necessary to converse all day in a different language was tiring. We were mentally exhausted at the end of every day, even on days when we did not have language school. Thankfully, our host family was patient and more than hospitable both in our language ability and our personal needs. We would not have survived without them.
In addition to language learning, we got a glimpse at what Salvadorans experience on many different levels. We saw our host family walk through their daily lives. Our Spanish teachers, who were university students studying English Education, became like friends as well. All of these people spoke with us genuinely about their own pride and difficulty with their country, their perceptions of the United States, what Church means to them and their everyday experiences.
We also saw the lives of others as we worked with the Church. Our most frequent tasks were delivering food bags to poorer communities with one-week mission groups from the United States, walking communities with Salvadoran pastors and helping with Vacation Bible Schools. In all of these varied encounters, we saw how God is at work in a country very different from our own.
In learning one among many Latin American cultures, our love for Latinos in the United States developed even more. Though life in the United States is much different, we hope that our experiences in El Salvador serve as a good starting point for being friends and allies to the Latino community in the United States. We are always praying that God will shape us in ways that will enable us to be faithful in our ministry.
Regardless of where we end up after seminary, our time in El Salvador at the least made us a bit more comfortable with being uncomfortable. We are more open when we are around people who come from a different background than our own.
We also learned what grace looks like in situations where one is unfamiliar with their surroundings and how relieving grace can be as a foreigner. We hope to display this hospitality to others, especially as witnesses of the Gospel. Though we continue to grow into such abilities, God molded and stretched us in El Salvador in ways that will undoubtedly make us better suited for work in the church in the future.
Ben Faus is a CBF Leadership Scholar at Duke University Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He is a second year M.Div. student from Carrollton, Texas.