Juan Juaez

“I Trust God and Don’t Worry.  He Will  Provide.”

A story of Juan Antonio Orellana Juarez

When I asked to speak to a fisherman in this rural fishing village, in my mind’s eye the person I had pictured was a thin, middle-aged, stooped man whose skin was leathery and deeply creased from the sun.  I thought he would be extremely shy and reluctant to talk to me, a total stranger, an American woman. . . Isn’t it fun to be wrong?

Here is the person I met –

And here were the first words out of his mouth:

“I thank you for wanting to hear part of my life and I thank God for being able to share it with you.”

This response was so disarming and humble and made me feel privileged to listen.  I immediately thought to myself, “How many people do I know who are so welcoming to a total stranger AND mention God in the first sentence of meeting them?  As the interview evolves, I find out why.

Juan,  would you describe your day as a fisherman?

Sometimes when the tide is good, I get up at 4 AM and prepare the boat and nets, get the engine ready and watch the waves.  When the time is right, the two of us get into the small boat and go!  Depending on the conditions, we may have to wait before lowering the nets.  That may mean taking a short nap or talking to our friends in another boat while we wait.  We may check for fish with a pole to see if they are in the area.  Then we try with the small net first before lowering the big nets down.  If we are fishing during the morning, we wait for 1 1/2 –2 hours.  If we go out at night, we wait for 4 hours.  We can only lower the nets twice each time we are out.  You must be very quiet once the nets are out to trap the fish.  Sometimes we catch only small fish and shrimp.  Other times we catch large fish.  There are times we catch nothing.  There are always two of us on a boat because it takes one person on each side to manage the nets.  We use different colors of nets: clear, yellow/green, black and white.  The green ones are the most durable, but the clear ones are least visible to the fish.

Have you always been a fisherman and who taught you how to fish – was it your dad?

No, my dad was a carpenter.  My first job was helping him gather wood.  I learned carpentry from him.  I was interested in fishing but my mother was scared of the waves and forbid me to go out.  I escaped and went out with my friend’s parents who were fishermen.   I saw as a child that there were many days when our family had only one tortilla to eat all day.  The fishermen had it better.  I thought if I learned to fish I could help supplement the family income.  I’ve been doing it for 20 years.

When do you fish?

It depends on the tides.  Sometimes I go out at night; other times it is early in the morning.

How far out do you go and how deep is it?

The water is 40 arms deep. We are out of sight of land.  We must be careful not to go beyond Salvadoran international waters.  { 12 miles is international limits by UN definition.}

What will happen if you go beyond that point?

Authorities could fine us because they might think we are dealing in drugs.

Is there a danger of storms coming up quickly?

Not in this area.  Generally you can look out and see what it will be like.  If the weather conditions appear bad, you just don’t go out that day.

How does your faith enter into the dangers you face at sea?  Do you pray when you are faced in danger?

I am confident that nothing will happen and trust God.  I am his servant and am confident things will be okay.

Do you carry emergency equipment with you?

 I take only the necessary things because I don’t want to add weight to the small boat.

Describe some of the dangers you encounter at sea

At night when there is no moon, there is a big danger of two boats coming together and being crushed or a large ship coming in your path.  We have no lights other than a hand-held signal.  You can also flip over.

Have you had close calls at sea?

Once my engine began sputtering and I knew I was running out of gas.  I tried to get to shore but the boat flipped over.

What kind of living does a fisherman make?

It varies from day to day.  If you own your own boat and nets, you can do much better.  I do not own my own boat or nets.  I have to depend on being hired by boat owners who need a good fisherman.  The boat owner makes an arrangement with the fisherman to pay him by the pound and type of catch he brings in.  On a good day, I could make $45.

$45 sounds like good money for a day’s catch, correct?  Yes, but that is rare and even then it must be divided with my partner on the boat and gas for the engine deducted;  on a bad day when fish don’t bite, I make nothing and still have to pay for the gasoline for the engine.  In between I may make $20 or $25. 

Do you think you will ever own your own boat?

I would like to, but I don’t have the money to buy one.

Could you go together with another fisherman to purchase a boat?

The problem is when money is involved between different people, things become complicated.  Maybe between brothers it would work, but not otherwise.

Are you allowed to keep any of the fish for your own family?

Yes, but any I keep is less I am paid for.

Do your children show an interest in fishing?

They’d like to go, but I know the dangers in fishing and I don’t want them to go until I am sure they would be safe.  The first step is they must be strong swimmers.  Right now they are able to swim, but only in calm water.  My younger children are 10 and 13.

Fishing is hard work and a young man’s occupation.  How long do you think you will be able to continue?  Somewhere somehow something will happen.  God will provide.

Have you always lived in this community?

No, I lived in another seaside community.  I was chosen by God and by that community of faith who sent me here to be a leader to evangelize to a group of 22 people and serve as their leader.  People started to lose interest and sometimes there are only 10 people.  We have daily “reunions” where we study the Bible together.

You are a pastor AND a fisherman?


Why do you fish?

I need to fish to live.  I do not get paid to lead my Christian community yet feel called to do so.

Explain what happens at a “reunion.”  I heard you use that term, but am not sure what it means.

We give elation to God, pray, study the Bible, sing praises to God.  You are invited and welcome to join us tonight at 7 PM if you would like.

This sounds similar to what we call a worship service

Do you have baptisms and Holy Communion?

We believe in adult baptism which we do at the local Lempe River.  We don’t do Holy Communion.

Describe the call you feel to serve God

I see a necessity in serving God.  I trust God.  The group I work with works together to understand the Bible.  Most of the group are older people except for myself and one other guy about my age.

Did you have exposure to religion in your childhood?

No, I am the first person in my family to believe in Christ.  Since I have become active in my faith, others in my family have begun to believe in God also.  I’ve seen a big change in my father since he has become a Christian.  He used to be a real tough guy.  Now he is more trusting and calm.  He is part of a community now.  My mother is also an evangelical.  My siblings believe but in a more private way.

{We are told that the Roman Catholic faith is more prevalent in cities; evangelicals in rural communities.}

What personal life situations that I haven’t asked you about would you like to share?

I am 32 years old, married with three children.  We live in a house along the beach owned by a woman who lives in San Salvador and visits only on weekends.  Our arrangement is that in exchange for living there, I serve as the groundskeeper, my wife cooks and cleans, and my children do odd jobs such as taking out the trash.  She is supposed to pay me $75 every 15 days, but often I need to remind her to pay me and then I am told that I live in her house and should expect nothing more.  I own nothing of my own.  My wife and I must take turns leaving the property lest it be robbed so we can never go anywhere together.  This makes it difficult to visit my parents who live 2 hours away.

My children walk up the beach to the local school.  We must pay $1 every 15 days per child.  When they get to 9th grade, they must take a bus to a school further away.  The bus fare is 25 cents each way each day per child.  This cost often makes school beyond 8th grade prohibitive to students.

I have a third grade education and asked God to help me read so I could read the Bible.  He has helped me learn.  I do not write well. 

What hopes and dreams do you have for yourself?

To serve God and to ask for a good job to provide for my family.  I’d like to see more people in my Christian community and all Christian communities and be more independent.

What hopes and dreams do you have for El Salvador?

The people of El Salvador want peace.  They don’t ask for money; only for jobs to take care of themselves; that’s all.

Have you thought of emigrating to the US?

Yes, sometimes I think I’d like to go to the US long enough to work hard to bring back enough money to buy land here for my Christian community and be more independent.

A boat Juan hopes to buy


    Afflicted with Hope / embracingelsalvador.org 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.