A smile in El Salvador: member of Concord UMC in Paducah offers Jesus, aid in Central America


Claire Douthitt,right, dances with a handicapped adult in San Salvador, El Salvador. Douthitt, a member of Concord United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky, has traveled to El Salvador six times, both with her church and with Starfish Orphan Ministry. She has grown to love the people there. (Photo by Casey Northcutt Watson)

By Casey Northcutt Watson
The music pulses, blaring so loud Claire Douthitt has to scream for her dance partner to hear her over Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”
Her partner doesn’t listen. The sun is shining, the song is fast and loud and he’s in the throes of happiness. In his home, a facility for handicapped adults in San Salvador, El Salvador, dance parties are savored. This dancer is completely present in this moment—moving, dancing, grinning.
Douthitt laughs and keeps his left hand gripped in her right. She notes his exuberance. She’s seen it before during her previous trips to San Salvador. She’s met several locals through conversations about the Gospel.
“We see people who are crazy poor and are happier than people in the States who just have so much,” she says.
Douthitt, 22, is a member of Concord United Methodist Church in Paducah, Kentucky. She’s visiting El Salvador with Starfish Orphan Ministry, a Paducah-based nonprofit organization. The ministry strives to bring awareness to the plight of orphans and to adoption issues while also providing easy ways for people to serve others in need.
This is Douthitt’s sixth time visiting El Salvador. In the past, she has traveled there with her church and worked in conjunction with Starfish and a San Salvador-based nonprofit called Sus Hijos. She’s helped build houses and run special events for orphans and handicapped adults—people who don’t often get to enjoy special activities outside their rundown facilities.
This party is a treat for Douthitt’s dance partner.
As the young woman dances and visits with residents, Spanish rolls off her tongue. She laughs and jokes with the other facility residents around her. She says she has fallen in love with the people living in this small, Central American nation.
But, life in San Salvador isn’t all dance parties and happiness.
On trips with Starfish and Concord United Methodist Church, Douthitt sees crushing poverty and hears stories of gang violence. She hands bologna sandwiches and apples to children who huff glue to stave off hunger. But the Salvadorian smile—the one that flits across the faces of the hungry and the destitute—keeps her flying back. The resilience in these people attracts her.
Douthitt, and her teammates at Starfish, want to infuse that resilience with joy—the kind that comes from Christ. She believes if these people meet Jesus, He’ll help bear the hardships of living in a developing, gang-ridden nation. Salvadorians might be resilient, but they still need Christ.
“I’m not as concerned where they’re living as [whether] they know that Jesus loves them,” Douthitt says. “Do they know that he hasn’t forgotten about them?”
This desire to spread the Gospel has been growing in Douthitt for years, encouraged by her spiritual environment in Paducah. She says her  small church of roughly 250 peopl, has helped foster her love for other people and her passion to tell them about Christ’s message.
“We [at Concord United Methodist Church] have always been very mission-minded, and I wouldn’t be in El Salvador without the United Methodist Church,” she says. Then, she adds, “They have just been more supportive than I could have every imagined. They rallied around, not just the youth, but everyone who wanted to do outreach in missions. … I wouldn’t change my church family for the world.”
If God’s will follows Douthitt’s own desires, she’ll return periodically to El Salvador and eventually move somewhere overseas so she can tell even more people about their Creator.
That plan will have to wait, though. Douthitt, a recent University of Kentucky graduate, has just become a registered nurse and will soon begin work at the University of Kentucky’s Albert B. Chandler Hospital. She’ll work there for a while, and then ask God about her next steps. Those could include a missionary’s life in The United Methodist Church.
For now, all she can do is pray for this handicapped man in San Salvador—the one who can’t stop moving to “Uptown Funk.” She wants him to know whether he’s dancing to Bruno Mars or sharing a filthy bed with another resident, Jesus is standing by him. Douthitt wants him to feel enveloped, covered and swept up in Christ’s love. She wants that to be the source of his smile.