2020 Eighth Grade Missions Trip March 11-17, 2020

Going into the 2020 missions trip I had mixed emotions. I enjoyed the time I had with the seven eighth graders on Mondays called “Missions Mondays.” This was a new approach. I enjoyed getting to know the students better and laid a foundation covering various subjects: why we do missions, prayer, hearing the voice of God and prepping them for our partnership with King’s Castle ministries (www.kingscastle.org) and the trip. The struggle I had was the size of the team – I wanted more eighth graders to go. Based on the previous thirty trips and the impact this journey had on our former students, I did not want anyone to miss out. However, the Lord showed me that I needed to focus on who was going, and not focus on those that were not going. One of the prayers I had for the team was that they would get to see and do things that no other team was able to do. Well, be careful what you ask for – God answers prayer!

The weekend before the team was leaving, the school was featured by First Assembly in all three services. There were concerns about the coronavirus (even though the country did not have one documented case yet) and questions about whether we should go. In each service, the team was prayed over by the congregation and those watching online. In every service, Pastor preached about not having fear and trusting God. The trip was on – we leave on Wednesday, March 11!

Pastor Betzer interviews the team

March 11: Going into our departure there were stories on social media about the airports, the atmosphere being crazy and people wearing masks. In Miami the airport was not bad and neither the workers nor the majority of people walking the terminal wore masks. However, once we landed in El Salvador we found out that they were not messing around – ground control workers, shop workers, customs and law enforcement – EVERYONE working at the airport had to wear a mask. They were taking every precaution. At this point, there were NO documented cases of the virus and the President of El Salvador wanted to keep it that way.

It was a smooth plane ride
A short break before we had to board the plane in Miami

We made our way through customs and met up with our new friends from King’s Castle, loaded the bus and headed to the home base in the incredible Lago Coatepeque area – a large crater lake surrounded by beautiful mountains. It was shortly after our arrival (4:00) that the first major event happened. After seeing what was happening in other countries, the President of El Salvador decided to close the airport to any incoming passenger flights. That’s right, the last missions team in El Salvador/King’s Castle was the FMCS team – can just seven eighth graders make a difference? Well, this was something that no team had ever faced on one of our missions trips.

The drive in to our new home for a week to meet Amanda and the team

Over the past eight years, the normal schedule for teams would be to use the first two days going though orientation time, lots of practicing of dances and dramas, free time and prayer. Our original plan was for us to work with a Pastor and his church to do outreach in schools, neighborhoods, assist Sunday at the main church’s Sunday School and then one final church service Sunday night. However, the President’s announcement also closed all schools in El Salvador. So our first change of schedule – and there would be many to come - is that we will work with the Pastor and go into the neighborhoods Friday.

March 12: On Thursday morning, the team had individual devotions and had a chance to choose between reading and journaling Proverbs 14 or Ephesians 6. One of the ways that you know you are in God’s will is that He will provide confirmation for you along the journey. We saw that in action in the Prayer Castle. (A place on campus where people have been praying 24/7 for 21 years) In speaking to our team, of all the bible passages the pastor could have shared with us, he chose Ephesians 6 – the same chapter that many members of our team started the day with! Many members of our team thought I had told him in advance but that never happened. We were so proud of our students on Thursday – they did such a great job in practice and really enjoyed the devotions, personal prayer and team prayer time in the Prayer Castle.

Students spent time having fun at the lake

Our incredible King’s Castle team

Erik was our team leader

Orientation with Amanda

March 13 – the first day of ministry outside the Castle…or was it????Our journal reading for the day featured Proverbs 15 or Philippians 4. Since the schools had closed, the plan was for us to connect with our Pastor, go into the neighborhoods and invite people to programs. Our team took the bus ride into San Salvador, we gathered as a team and prayed, divided up into three teams and visited homes. It is always an eye-opening experience: they live in these small spaces and yet we receive warm welcomes by so many families. My group was able to go in the homes and pray with several families. The number one request was for protection. They have a great desire to be safe. Although crime was down 60%, a new threat emerged – the coronavirus. About thirty minutes into our travels, the pastor received a call and he had been informed that the team had to come back to the Castle. No team had ever faced this on a missions trip. The President now asked for gatherings of no more than 200 people. (There was also a rumor that two priests entered the country from Italy with the virus, but that was never substantiated later). We did not know how large our gatherings would be and we did not want to take a risk with creating a situation with the government, so we went back to the base. It was frustrating and disappointing but then there was Philippians 4:12 from our devotions that morning - ”… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation…” God knows.

Viisiting homes/ praying for families
Practices in the gym
Prayer at the Castle
A beautiful place to praise & worship
Street ministry team
Praying in homes
Team meeting

Another new plan for the afternoon was a Facebook live program by King’s Castle for kids. (Castillo Kidz) Don Triplett, the head of King’s Castle Ministries, asked for our team to be included in the program. We were asked to do one of our dances and create a brand new skit that no one had ever seen before. No team had ever create a skit from scratch on a missions trip. Pastor Aaron got us started and then Patrick Pereira (alumni), the Castle team and the Lord took it from there. Our kids stepped into their parts, we practiced it many times, and we were ready to go.

Practicing a new drama

Meanwhile, because of the uncertainty in El Salvador, I had Mrs. Wheeler look into flights to leave early and head home. Unfortunately, nothing was available for all 14 of us to fly out together. I stil prayed for God to open the door.

March 14: we started the day with practice and the Facebook Live shooting in the studio. The program has had over 6100 views as of March 18, 2020 - No FMCS team had ever reached that many people with a drama! It was already one of King Castle’s highest viewed programs on their Facebook page!

Our first Facebook live shooting

Next step was to walk across the campus to do a children’s service with over 70 in attendance. We did not know it at the time, but it was the only “normal” service we would do during the mission trip. It was great to see the interaction of our students and their kids – in the audience, during the dances, passing out toys and praying up front at the end. Plus Leslie shared a craft and lesson with the children. After the service, we went to the cafeteria and helped service the children their lunch. (“The greatest among you will be a servant.”)

Sitting with the children during the service
Dances with a message
Helping kids with the craft
Cailyn helping with the craft
Toys & candy distributed at the end
Erik taking prayer requests
Serving lunch to the children
Servant leadership - cleaning the warehouse

In their free time, the students did not have their phones. Social connection Is very critical for teens (adults too). Therefore, instead of spending connecting through texting, using Instagram and Snapchat, they met at the pool and the Snack Shack and had an even better time eating, playing ping-pong and foosball! Note: they may also have set a record for the most ice cream purchased that week by a group of students!

Time at the Snack Shack

One of the greatest moments on the trip happened later that night. Miss Earp shared that Maria felt that the Lord wanted her to lead us in a couple of worship songs. Here’s how Miss Earp described it: “Apparently she asked Amanda (one of our lead staff from King’s Castle) if there was a keyboard somewhere that she could use. Amanda gave her one from her room. Back in the girl’s dorm, Maria asked me if she could look up the chords for a worship song to play. Of course, I said “yes.” She looked up the song “What A Beautiful Name It Is.” She started playing and singing and the girls and I joined in. I asked Maria if she would be willing to do some worship that night if I talked to (Mr. Mitchell) about it. She was willing but had a nervous look about her. I reassured that we would be singing along with her and that she would not be alone. So, she also chose another song to look up and practice.” After Miss Earp talked with me, Amanda had shared that one of the interns told her that God was going to do something special in in our sharing time tonight. Mrs. Earp told Maria and although Maria was still nervous, she said that God must be doing something.

Maria leading worship

After our sharing time Maria and Gabi helped lead us into worship songs. Words cannot describe how amazing that was – seeing young people step up in boldness serving the Lord is one of my greatest loves in life. It was truly something special!

March 15: This day will stick in my mind for a long time. The news of the morning was that the El Salvador President changed the maximum gathering numbers to 50 people. The Assemblies of God in El Salvador made the decision to cancel over 2000 church services across the country because church services would break the guidelines of the 50 people maximum that could meet. The consequence: if we had church we would be arrested and sent to prison. They would not be messing around there and that concerned King’s Castle. They did not want to do anything to put the ministry and our people at risk. They thought about just doing a Facebook live service without a crowd in the gym. It was some time later that a decision was made to cancel the Facebook live service. Even if they had a live program with a small group, they had concerns about the government coming to the property wondering how many were in the crowd.

We had no services to do and no street ministry we could do. What do you do now – pray! We were able to spend a couple of hours in the Prayer Castle. The idea had come earlier because some of the guys wanted to go back and pray. No team had ever done this before! It was a blessing to pray and worship rather than worry about what was going on around us. We had talked previously about going to the market to let the kids shop and then go to Pizza Hut. With the situation in the country, we thought it would be best to stay on campus. The Triplets brought Pizza Hut to us along with brownies and ice cream – a great treat for the day.

Trip to the Prayer Castle on Sunday

Meanwhile, I had contacted Mrs. Wheeler to see if she could call the airlines again to try to get us out early or maybe get us into RSW. There were rumors about the El Salvador airport closing down soon for 15 days – we would have to stay for two more weeks.

Don Triplett made a decision that we would go live again online with a kids program in their small studio that would help bring a message of hope to the children at the King’s Castle ministries around the world. NO outside team had ever done this before! We had a couple of hours to put the program together. As soon as the practice started, I had received a message from Mrs. Wheeler – WE FOUND A FLIGHT, THE LORD OPENED THE DOOR FOR US TO LEAVE MONDAY INSTEAD OF TUESDAY! PRAISE THE LORD! I told the adults but waited to tell the students until later that evening. I know they would be disappointed.

On air
Aaron and Leslie
Learning a new dance before we go live😀
Here we go!
Jesus looking on
The view from Facebook Live

As many of you saw, the program was a success. The best news that this time (as of 3/18) over 6400 people have watched the video! God is good. We are thankful for the opportunity the students and Miss Earp had to share the message of hope in Christ.

Jesus will set you free!

After dinner, we told the students they would be going home the next day. There were tears - the trip had a definite impact on their life. Unfortunately, their free day at the resort was cancelled, but it was for the best. We had to get out of the country while we could. The King’s Castle team gave us a farewell service by the lake that night with a bonfire. They are amazing people and we pray that the new friends we have made will continue to be safe and serve the Lord with boldness. We basically had to do that service in secret so that no one would report us – just unbelievable that serving the Lord would go to this level within days.

March 16: We would like to thank everyone for praying. We needed prayer that we would not be stopped on the way to the airport, that the airport would not close while we were there, and that we could still get out of the country. One of the women from South Carolina was stranded two extra days because she could not get out with her flight. Our prayers were answered - wee made it out of the country just in time! First, just hours after we left, the President closed the airport down to try to stop a plane coming in from Mexico that was suspected of having infected coronavirus people. The at midnight the next day, President did close the El Salvador airport down at midnight for two weeks – God’s timing for our team!!! As of right now, we are the last mission team King’s Castle will have visiting until it can be determined things will be safe again. The first possible reported person with a documented case of the virus was reported two days after we left. Our prayers go out to everyone that serves there – they are special people and we will miss them. I also want to thank an excellent group of adults that came on the trip. They were very talented people that God used to help in so many different ways - the Lord even knew in advance it would help to have a parent that was a nurse (Thanks, Mr. Bromwell).

Students wearing masks in the Miami airport - a sign of the times

Finally, the day that we were rescued was March 16, or 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

A verse that provides rescue for all of us!