The True Sound of Freedom - Friend of Concord, Mrs. Elsy Romero

The municipal of Chinemeca was not ignorant of possible eruptions. Nestled in the shadow of the Chinemeca Volcano and her much bigger sister the towering San Miguel, the citizens of Chinemeca were always wary of imminent volcanic eruptions; but during the year of 1981 an eruption of a different form had reached a feverish level.   War had officially erupted in El Salvador two years earlier– and that of the worst kind- civil. Beginning with an attempted coup in 1979, The El Salvadoran Civil War would span the presidencies of three U.S. Presidents (Carter, Reagan, and Bush), all whose administrations would have some degree of involvement. The war pitched the Salvadoran military against a confederacy of five insurgent groups, all vying for political power. 
By their nature, civil wars are unobvious. They are often muddied by blurred lines of political alliances and self-interests, are compounded by efforts of settling tribal disputes of previous generations, and are used to force a populous to choose unclear sides, pitching natives against their fellow countrymen who share both appearance and language. The United States was also conflicted in their support of the internecine conflict, lending financial aid and military advice to the junta military (the government’s military) because it believed the insurgents were backed by Cuban and Russian socialists and because it was fearful of a Cold War socialistic foothold in Central America, but then were horrified to uncover serious human rights violations imposed on El Salvadoran’s constituency by their supposed civil leaders. Ironic from men who represented El Salvador’s government, The Savior in English.
When the twelve-year war finally ceased in 1992 with the Chapultepec Accords, El Salvador had a displaced population of one million individuals, a staggering 18.5% of the entire population of the 8,100 square-mile country roughly the size of the State of Massachusetts, and a causality number of around 80,000 people. The war had a brutal effect on cities and rural municipalities. (After the war, it was noted that forty percent of homes were unlivable and in need of repair). In 1981, Chinemeca was caught in the crossfire between the military groups, all vying for young people to join each of their militaries, often forced conscription under the threats of death and torture. Elsy Romero, then fourteen, lived with her grandmother, a woman of modest income and a candymaker (In El Salvador a candymaker is someone who sweetens fruits by slowly drying them). She was largely raised by her grandmother because her mother was living in New York City and her father (whom she met once) was removed out of the country by his wealthy parents to avoid the family’s embarrassment of a son who fathered a child out of wedlock.
The echoes of the war were loud but by 1981 it started to get too familiar. Elsy remembers distinctly a macabre scene one day coming back from the fruit market in El Salvador, the eponymous capital of the country. “Coming back from the fruit market we saw one day the heads, just the heads of military personnel.” Elsy notes that they were positioned strategically on a wall to warn others to behave, and if they did not, they would encounter a similar fate.
Though, however distressing what we witness, war crimes do not become personal until they are personal. Shortly after this gruesome event, the Chinemeca community witnessed a grisly murder that became the breaking-point for Elsy’s grandmother. One of Elsy’s classmates was discovered dead. She had been tortured and murdered, and then discarded inhumanely on the side of the road. This was too familiar. Elsy’s grandmother feared for her own granddaughter’s life and in act of desperation paid a large sum of money ($5,000 in US dollars; in 2023, thirty-nine years later, the average Salvadoran income is only a paltry $4,700.00 in U.S. currency) to coyotes (the nickname for smugglers) to get Elsy to the peace and safety of the United States.
She traveled with her aunt, a couple of neighbors, and a Christian lady named Maria Elena she had met while flying on the airplane from El Salvador to Mexicali, the capital of Baja California, the northernmost Mexican city on the border of Mexico and the State of California. As she went through the Mexican customs, Elsy was oddly singled out from her traveling companions. A customs officer had isolated her and brought her to an empty hotel room. “He said to me,” Elsy recounts, “‘I am going to take you to a place.’ And so he took me to the hotel by myself. When we arrived at the hotel he said to me, ‘Because I am on duty, I can’t stay with you right now, but when I get off duty, I will come back tonight to check to see if you are okay.’” His plan was sinister.
All alone and abandoned in a foreign country, Elsy became worried, unsure about these strange events and what they meant for her future. Providentially, in her clothes she had secretly hid the phone number of the hotel where Maria was staying. She made a phone call to her. Maria sensed something was awry, told her to escape immediately, and to hail a cab to bring her to the other hotel where she was staying. She told Elsy that no matter what the cost was she would pay it when the taxi cab arrived. What the Holy Spirit-guided Maria sensed was that Elsy was about to be sexually trafficked and sold into prostitution. Ironically, on the flight to Mexicali her aunt had sternly warned her, ‘You stay away from that Hallelujah lady,” meaning a Christian; yet, it was that Christian lady who gave all she had to the cab driver to rescue Elsy from prostitution. Elsy heeded Maria’s advice and quickly escaped the hotel by a window. Elsy retrospectively reflects, “I didn’t know Maria when I met her on the airplane. But God has plans. God gives us angels.”
Human trafficking awareness has gotten a boon from activists and most recently from the 2023 movie The Sound of Freedom, where Jim Caviezel and a host of other star actors depict the mostly true story of Tim Ballard, a U.S. agent for the Department of Homeland Security, who quits his job to rescue trafficked children and adults in Honduras and Ecuador. If you have seen the movie, it is very uncomfortable at times, but those who have watched the movie will tell you that to raise awareness the uncomfortableness is absolutely necessary. Because, for many of us, including me, human trafficking seems so distant – something endemic to banana republics and third-world countries. What we do not realize is that victims of trafficking are all around us, even in some places that we work and live. For me, I discovered Elsy’s story at a birthday party we mutually attended.
The next day a new coyote was scheduled to meet up with Maria and Elsy, but because he believed he was being watched by Mexican government agents, he never showed up. The meeting place was a movie theatre. After a couple of hours of waiting, Elsy looked at Maria Elena and tears were flooding Maria’s eyes. “She was in tears. I didn’t understand why she was crying at that moment. I said, ‘Maria Elena, why are your crying?’ And she said, ‘I am crying for you.’ I asked her why and she said, ‘I’m worried about you. If these men come to get you, I will not be able to defend you.’” Adjacent to the movie theatre was a bar where young ladies standing outside were being sexually trafficked. Maria was crying because she was concerned that Elsy’s life would succumb also to this forced, sordid lifestyle.
But it didn’t. Shortly afterwards through a series of circumstances and the generosity of some strangers in Mexico, Elsy crossed the U.S. Border into California and made her way to New York City to be with her mother. She was finally politically free, but not truly free, or as Elsy would say in her native tongue verdadera libertad. Statistics show that most people come to church because a friend invites them. Elsy was no different. Upon acceptance of an invitation, she walked into a Christian church one Sunday in New York City in 1988, was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and came forwarded at the end of the service to accept Jesus Christ as her Savior. Her soul was now eternally liberated by the one who loved her before she was born– Jesus. She also became a U.S. Citizen in 2008, proudly memorizing all 100 pretest questions to prepare her for the Citizen Test. Elsy joined the Daycare staff of Concord Christian Daycare in 2021.
Today, some 2,000 miles distant from the corrugated tin-capped roofs and cement sidewalks of Chinemeca, Elsy daily teaches infants the Word of God and the truth that true freedom is found solely in Christ. You may think it is silly to start Biblical doctrine so early in a child’s life, but in the cacophony of antigod philosophies and worldly sentiments that noisily pervade our everyday lives, the still small voice of God is effectively expressed through Elsy’s spiritual teaching. This is the true sound of freedom - the freedom only found in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is the freedom that Elsy knows and shares daily with others.

- Jonathan Bradford