Clergy Corner, April 21, 2017

Clergy Corner, April 21, 2017

The murder rate is 17 times the global average, earning El Salvador the unfortunate title of most violent nation in the Western Hemisphere in 2015.

Poverty is everywhere, good health care is nowhere to be found, water is a four-block walk away for many, and natural disasters — be it catastrophic earthquakes or the 23 active volcanoes — are a daily threat.

And yet, JIM HACK has noticed something remarkable about the people who live in Central America's smallest and most densely populated country.

El Salvadorans are nothing like many of the folks he encountered during his foreign travels as an export construction worker with Tiffany Industries.

"The thing that's impressed me: This is a bunch of people with nothing, but they're the happiest people you've ever seen," he says. "My past experience with international business is people have their hands out when they see an American. In El Salvador, I've never once been asked for a penny. They're ready to put their arm around you."

Hack would know. Since 2011, the highlight of the 76-year-old's calendar has been that 10-day stretch in August, when he's led a group of fellow Good Shepherd Lutheran members on a mission trip to El Salvador.

There's plenty to do between now and the next one — set for Aug. 6 — starting with a Saturday night supper and silent auction fundraiser.

The whole trip runs about $1,800 a person — the church tries to raise funds to cover at least half of everyone's expenses — and the local travel party has grown from two in 2011 (Hack and DON BLOCK) to 10 to 12 in recent years. Once they're on the ground, everything is done in concert with Habitat for Humanity, whose people know where to go — and where to avoid — in the dangerous country of 6 million-plus.

"We go down there alone," Hack says, "we probably don't survive."

By now, he knows his way around the country where he spent parts of three years helping rebuild the earthquake-ravaged Cristo Rey Lutheran Church in the city of Santa Ana. On top of all the manual labor, Good Shepherd Lutheran raised $15,000 of the $250,000 thought to be needed for the project.

When the project came in way under budget, they put the leftover $100,000 toward building modest new homes for parishioners.

That's the plan in August, as well. It's "very hard work," Hack says — "we mix concrete by hand, dig trenches with picks and shovels" — but it's about as rewarding an experience as you could ever imagine, he says.

"The people are so loving, it's unbelievable."

Go figure

A by-the-numbers look at three other area churches going above and beyond in Latin America:


Weeks until a team of five from Mahomet's Life Community Church leaves for a 10-day mission trip to Baja California, Mexico, home to the Door of Faith Orphanage (a previous trip is shown at right).

"We are going to be feeding some families who work in the trash dumps of Tijuana and we have raised money to pass out food baskets and clothes," Pastor JEFF AUGUSTINE says. "We are also renting some water trucks to deliver fresh, drinkable water to some areas with no running water."


Meadowbrook Community Church members who spent a week in February in El Salvador performing a range of good deeds — from staffing a free medical clinic to helping build roads, retaining walls and "a massive water tank to provide fresh running water to an entire community," Pastor KENT HOLLIS says. The next destination on Meadowbrook members' docket: Cambodia, where a team of 30 will spend part of June helping out at an orphanage run by Associate Pastor AARON VANDERMOLEN's parents.


Homes built in Juarez, Mexico, by 20 teams of congregants from Champaign's Faith United Methodist since former Associate Pastor BRADLEY SHUMAKER began the tradition. Fourteen do-gooders, including Pastor SHERYL PALMER, have signed up for trip No. 21, set for Oct. 15. Says Palmer: "We hope to build two more homes in one of the most dangerous and deserving cities in Mexico."

Know of a church mission trip you'd like to see spotlighted here in the coming weeks? Email Jeff D'Alessio at


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