A Badge of Love in the Jungle

Outside the airport terminal, Dr. Horner was waiting to pick me up. Our destination was San Juan Opico, El Salvador. The paradise had just come through a difficult 12-year civil war. Dr. Horner was quick to explain to me about one of the hazards of El Salvador. "The unemployed men have become bandits." He then pointed out the 212 bullet holes in the vehicle in which we were riding. Dr. Horner promised that as long as I was with him, he would try to stay away from any roads where the bandits hung out.

I was in El Salvador to inspect the new "Clinica la Esparenza" facility that Project C.U.R.E. had completely furnished with medical goods and also determine how we would partner with other hospitals and clinics in the region. It was very rewarding to see all the medical goods being moved into the new clinic and being set up. All of those items were once in our warehouse in Denver.

We drove to a village called Chantusnene. It was a typical "invasion city," like I had seen in Haiti, Colombia, Peru and other places. The ragged refugees had gathered bits of cardboard, tin and wood to build crude shelters. They had no water supply, no sewer, no electricity, and no security. Dr. Horner wanted to introduce me to some of the destitute families they were trying to serve in the shanty dwellings.

There were mothers with babies balanced on their hips, and children in tattered clothes. Toothless men with worn out shoes came to meet me. Dr. Horner was especially eager for me to meet one of the families he was helping. He had just recently been able to gather some wooden posts and a few pieces of sheet metal for a roof to protect Maria's little family from the rain.

Maria and her husband and children had lived on their little farm in the mountains. One day a marauding military band came to their farm and demanded all their eggs and goat milk to feed their troops. Later they returned and demanded the chickens and goats to slaughter and eat. Once again, the terrorists returned, put a gun to the head of Maria's husband and demanded that he join their insurgency group. When he refused, the soldiers lined up the family in front of their own humble house and killed the husband in cold blood as the children watched in terror. They told Maria and the children to leave. They would return by Friday, and if they were still there, they, too, would be murdered. Maria gathered her children and fled to San Juan Opico for refuge.

By the time Dr. Horner had found the mother, her children were literally starving. She had had only a single cucumber for them to eat in the two previous days. Dr. Horner gathered food and took it to the tree where Maria was living. After about three trips of taking food to Maria, a man slipped into the space about 4:00 a.m. where Maria and her three children slept, and put a sharp knife to her throat. He told her he was taking all her food that had been brought and demanded all other food that would be delivered to her in the future. She was warned that if she mentioned what had happened to anyone or did not comply, he would return unexpectedly at night and slit the throats of her children one at a time and, last of all, kill her. He told her his family had been there longer than hers and deserved the food ... he would provide for his hungry children ... even if it meant killing hers. Horner never returned to the woman's shanty to deliver food. Rather, he had the oldest boy, who now came to the orphanage school, take small supplies of food home each day in his school backpack. 

I went with Dr. Horner to meet the brave young mother. He told her about me and about the medical clinic that would be able to give her children good health. Maria's eyes filled with tears. "Why would this man come here to help us?" She stood for a moment, overwhelmed. Then, making a sweeping hand motion toward her little family and touching each child on the head, she looked back at me and leapt toward me wrapping her small arms around me, sobbing, as she buried her face in my white shirt. I held her momentarily. As Dr. Horner and I walked away I looked down at my soaked shirt. I didn't want her tears to evaporate or disappear. I wanted to wear them as a badge of love. I prayed that somehow God would dispatch a small band of angels to care for and protect this little widow who had seen more of raw life than I would ever experience.