Alonso's Violin: UMVIM Volunteer Makes Connection in El Salvador


By Randel Sink
Special to the North Georgia Advocate

Our team had just spent a week in El Salvador building a home for a local family. The rest of the group returned home. I stayed behind to work with Juan de Dios, the head of the Iglesia Metodista, the Methodist Church in El Salvador.

Casa de Juan is an unusual place. Aside from the additions to the basic house over the years, adding more rooms and bathrooms to accommodate more people, Casa de Juan is blessed with many interesting souls from the surrounding community. One was Senor Alonso. On that Tuesday evening, I scratched a bit on my fiddle to bring music into the surroundings.

Alonso was present, as he was off and on throughout most every day. He would listen intently and watch closely as I played. Several times he spoke, but I had difficulty understanding what he was saying, but from the bright expression on his face, I took it to mean that he was enjoying the music.

Alonso would even make some “air violin” movements and smile, to which I took to mean he wanted me to play again. After several such encounters, I was beginning to sense his real interest.

On Saturday, I was to leave with Juan to travel to San Salvador and spend the night prior to my departure for home on Sunday. This trip was “estimated” to take place in the late afternoon. Given this schedule, I went to the second house we were building on Saturday morning to work half day with the masons to finish the floor. I knew I had plenty of time before my departure, given that they worked only half day on Saturdays.  Little did I know what was to unfold as the day progressed!

Emily, a summer mission student from Duke Divinity School, came about 10 a.m. and said that Juan was planning to leave at noon and that I should come back to the house to get my things ready to depart. As I was waiting on Juan’s front porch, I began to play a few tunes on my violin as the foot traffic passed by.

It was not long before Alonso came up for lunch and of course was very intent on my playing. After some animated moves and gestures, I offered Alonso the fiddle and bow to try. His movements were sort of “unpolished,” but I could sense that he had been exposed to the violin sometime in the past. He apologized for his jerky movements with the bow, as this 73-year-old man played a Spanish ballad. I encouraged him to continue playing. His
movements became smoother and with each bow stroke, more harmonious and rich tones emanated from that little wooden box.

I soon learned that Alonso had not had access to a violin since he lost his in the insurrection more than 20 years ago. He had taught himself to play, to play by ear.

And play he did. After about an hour, his command of the instrument was undeniable. I later learned that he had lost his wife about a year ago and lived alone. As he played, he played from his heart. The warm expressions on his face and in his eyes showed the joy that this moment was bringing to him.

Juan’s mother, Anna, began to put words to one of the tunes he was playing. I could tell from some of the phrases that it was a love song. Alonso was reliving memories. After lunch, Juan and I departed. I left the violin with Alonso.

In a tearful embrace, Alonso’s heart was full, and so was mine.

United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

  • UMVIM is the short-term mission agency of the United Methodist Church.
  • The Southeastern Jurisdiction office in Decaturfacilitates mission trips for nearly 40,000 United Methodists each year.
  • There are more than 400 international  UMVIM projects in need of teams, and hundreds more projects within the United States.
  • For more information, and to get started building
  • your team, visit or call 404-377-7424.

This article appeared in the November 6, 2009 North Georgia Advocate. For more stories of inspiration, news, and resources, subscribe or renew at