“The scholarship program offered me opportunities to change my life I otherwise would not have had.”




Editor’s Note: This young man (I shall call him Antonio) is mature beyond his 23 years. Whenever we speak with our scholarship coordinator, he always mentions Antonio with joyful pride. Antonio is quick to volunteer to help this pastor in whatever capacity he can with any type of need regardless of the demands of his own classes. Having someone so reliable means a great deal in taking off some of the pressure from our scholarship coordinator, whose responsibilities have increased significantly over the past few years.

My partner and I had the privilege of meeting Antonio a few years ago and taking part in his birthday celebration with his scholarship friends. It was a time of melancholy for him. His beloved sister and hard-working father had recently left the country to find work. The intensity of his feelings suffering from a family broken beyond his control was written across his face that day. He could not hold back the tears. His friends and pastor surrounded him in support with a beautiful cake and warm hugs while singing “Happy Birthday.”

Today, four years later, we meet over a computer screen via Zoom. A friend of Antonio, fluent in English, helps with the translation. He understands and responds to much of what we say in English but relies on her for the longer, more complex questions.

From Antonio:

Salvadoran culture revolves around community. This is particularly true within the rural campesino community in which I live. People look after one another. My family of two sisters and one brother lived in my country’s capital of San Salvador until I was nine. We then moved here into a small rural campesino community and became a neighbor of my grandmother after my grandfather died.

Our community elementary school goes through the ninth grade. We must attend high school and college elsewhere, so I went to a high school in a nearby city and college in San Salvador, where I am majoring in accounting. I am in my last year and then will do a thesis. I did an internship last year as a treasurer in the local mayor’s office. I will probably try to get a job in auditing after I graduate. More job opportunities will be in San Salvador, but I’d prefer to live within my own community if I could. I’d like to help people here.

A neighbor made me aware of the scholarship program and introduced me to Pastor Cristian. Part of the conditions of accepting the scholarship is we must do community projects. I think we all enjoy them. We’ve done trash collection, filling the lake with fish, etc. The mayor is impressed with our work. We are also required to maintain good grades. The scholarship program does not cover the entire cost of any of our tuitions. My parents pay the difference in supplementing what is not covered. My dad is able to send my family money from the U.S. Pastor Cristian is now paying us every two months. We have been unable to continue doing the community projects since the pandemic. I don’t know exactly when I will graduate, since it is based on the results of my thesis, but it should be sometime in 2024.

Without the financial help of the scholarship program, I would not have been able to attend college full-time because it is too expensive for my parents. This is true for all of us students in the program. It offers us opportunities we would otherwise not have. Medicine is one of the career paths several of my peers are studying. Our country needs more people in this field, and two of my close friends are studying it. They are already doing volunteer work.

Another plus is our group has become very close and supportive of one another. We are very close friends now and share our burdens and needs with each other. I know even after I graduate we will remain in touch and continue to be close friends.

An unexpected outgrowth of the scholarship program is my spiritual growth. Pastor Cristian never pushes his faith on any of us. Being a Christian is not a prerequisite for receiving a scholarship. But as I have been around Pastor Cristian and watched how he interacts with people and helps in the community, it has made me interested in learning about the Lutheran faith. He has been such a positive role model, and last winter I asked if he would baptize me. It was a very special day to me. I was not raised in any kind of faith as a child. Now praying is a regular part of my day.

I had a rough period of time when my dad and sister left the family to migrate to the U.S. It was very emotional affecting the rest of our family. We stay in touch every day through Facetime. My sister has learned English, was married last year and now has a baby. It would be nice to visit them sometime, but I would want to do so legally by obtaining a visa.

In my free time I enjoy traveling, reading, biking, and watching movies. I learned English by reading and watching movies. I like sci-fi, fantasy, social reality, and personal growth films.

Sometimes I wish I had the chance to become an airline pilot or flight attendant, but those careers were too expensive. They are things I have dreamed about. One of life’s joys to me is exploring new places and cultures. I would love to visit Canada. I have been to other Central American countries such as Mexico, Columbia, Guatemala, and Honduras. I’d like to visit Argentina, Brazil, and Costa Rica.

My biggest fear is being alone. I value being with friends and family.

I wish the world would live in more peace and accept one another. This is the only “house” (world) we have. El Salvador is a beautiful country with kind people. Sometimes it is not viewed that way.

I want to continue to grow spiritually as a person to help other people and to help my community.

Conclusion: A campesino community is a bit like a womb. It surrounds and nurtures those living within it. It seems that Antonio recognizes that which may explain his fear of being alone after he completes his education and enters the job force taking him out into the world.

Yet, it also seems that the scholarship program has impacted his life in far more ways than he ever realized it would. Like the strong trees Antonio and his scholarship friends planted outside their new church, the small financial gift is only the seed that planted the changes within Antonio. He developed skills to share with others. He gained a strong network of lifelong friends he can trust and rely on. By observing and emulating his pastor interacting within his community, he developed a faith he had never been introduced to as a child. That faith will see him through many more difficult crises in his life.

Antonio is perhaps better equipped than he realizes to stand stalwart in the world and achieve his goals, not alone, but with anyone he chooses.

We have made a point of staying in touch with his sister in the U.S. and will certainly hope to stay in touch with Antonio also.




    Afflicted with Hope / is one of many outreach ministries at
    Saint Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA)
    30 West Main Street, PO Box 266
    New Kingstown, PA 17072

    Tax deductible donations for support of this work in El Salvador may be sent to the above address.