Hot bright flames pour out from a city bus, swallowed whole by molten-orange clouds of smoke. Steel drips like candlewax onto a floor of shattered glass. Clouds of gray climb to the sky, painting the vehicle an ash-black. It looks like a volcano, erupting and spewing lava right in the middle of an El Salvadorian street.
Nelson Juarez watched behind a bush, still feeling the heat on his face. Communist guerrillas had stopped the bus he was on dead in its tracks, demanding that everyone on board get out. Their torsos were strapped with large weapons and ribbons of ammo. Nelson and the rest fearfully ran off. And then stared as the guerrillas lit the bus on fire.
The year was 1980. For over a decade, El Salvador would suffer at the hands of Communist rebels who plunged their nation into a civil war with its dictatorship government. Today, El Salvador is a republic. But war did not turn his life upside down as much as the fateful day he met a Missions Door missionary.
From Fear to Hope
As a child, Nelson reluctantly served a God of rules. It was not by choice; he was a pastor’s kid. Growing up in a traditional church in El Salvador, Nelson only knew of salvation by works. The pressure of legalism crushed him. He may have been in a church building on Sundays, but at 20 years old, Nelson was far from being a Christian.
When El Salvador entered a civil war, Nelson did what a lot of young, restless people were doing – he joined the military. The descriptions of how to kill a guerrilla made his blood run cold. He was scared. So, with maybe $50 on him, Nelson fled to Belize and for the first time in his life became homeless. Sick and living on the streets, a stranger one day approached him. He didn’t want to just give Nelson some spare change. He was a Missions Door missionary — N.T. Dellenger.
N.T. not only gave Nelson the gospel, but a place to live. Along with other young men from Guatemala and Honduras, Nelson was provided with clothes, food, and a warm bed. Nelson could barely believe it and didn’t understand why a stranger was being so kind to him. The Christians he’d grown up with were not like N.T. at all. N.T. did more than supply shelter. He discipled Nelson and brought him to church. For the first time, Nelson was introduced to the real Jesus – the God of mercy, grace, and endless unconditional love. The pressure of legalism was lifted, replaced with joy and peace. Nelson wanted everyone to know about this Jesus. So, he started evangelizing and preaching.
Kingdom Work in El Salvador
A man’s eyes shoot open as his torso is pulled from a refreshing body of water. As a former Catholic priest, he was used to conducting baptisms himself, sprinkling a few drops of water on a baby’s head as her cries echo in a stain-glassed cathedral. Nelson stands in the water with the man, clothes drenched from baptizing the new Christian.
Today, Nelson is a Missions Door missionary and the pastor of Abundance Life Baptist Church in El Salvador. He’s been working in the country for 27 years and aids new missionaries in Guatemala and Belize. He trains pastors in theology, has helped start 25 churches, and is very active in his community. A large part of his ministry is providing families with food and homeless people shelter in his church. The highest daily wage in El Salvador is around $12 a day. His ministry has built around fifty houses for the poor. The former priest he baptized preaches the gospel too now.
Nelson asks for prayer for his country. The civil war took 75,000 people and many men fled the country, leaving behind their families. Because so many have grown up without a father, drug abuse and gangs like MS-13 flourish. Pray for new pastors in churches being started in dangerous areas. Pray for soccer ministries that prevent youth from joining gangs. And pray for Nelson to continue reaching out to the lost the way his mentor did. If you’d like to support Nelson, you can do so at his page here.