Every Tribe, Every Tongue
Born into a family of 16 children, Helen Griffin rediscovered God in her late teens, after overcoming deep struggles with doubt and dissatisfaction. The Lord brought her to El Salvador, where she worked to rescue children in distress and provide a loving family to many youngsters.
Here, she testifies to the amazing way God answers prayers, and encourages and provides for His children in His perfect time.
Tell us about your growing up years.
I grew up in Westbank, British Columbia, Canada — number 13 in a family of 16 children to our parents. We lived on a 10-acre fruit farm and had a huge vegetable garden, cows and calves, rabbits, chickens, horses, pigs (at times), cats and dogs. My parents were Christians and my dad an elder in the assembly — a role he balanced with his work as an accountant.
I was saved at the age of 19. I’d left home and was living on Vancouver Island, where I worked for a bank. I’d made a false profession when I was 14 years old, but had slowly come to realise over the years that I had nothing — only loneliness and dissatisfaction with everything.
How did you come to know the Lord?
I attended a gospel meeting one night in Port Alberni. The brother was speaking about faith and how it is like walking across a log over a deep chasm, with a river and rocks below, and putting all your faith on that log to hold you up as you cross over. I remembered thinking, I have never trusted like that.
The brother quoted Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.” At that moment, I just believed! The Lord was so gracious in opening my eyes and saving me and ridding me of the doubts that I had.
Looking back, what were the signs in your life that you had made a false profession of faith earlier?
The signs that I had made a false profession were no spiritual growth, no desire to have a relationship with God, no real lasting joy that I saw in others in my family, so many doubts, and no power over sinning.
Afterwards, it was like I was set free from my doubts and, as it says, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, I just felt like a new creature… Old things had passed away and all things had become new. I experienced joy and happiness and a desire to read my Bible and pray.
What proofs should we expect to see in our lives that indicate we have received new life in Christ?
I believe that we should be able to see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives and also a desire to have a deeper, closer relationship with Jesus and our beloved Father.
Sin has lost its power and, although we know that we do sin, we have an advocate with God the Father and His blood cleanses us from all sin daily as we confess it.
Where are you serving? How did God call you to this specific mission field?
I have always loved children, having grown up with younger brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews and babysitting since the age of 12. When I took a job at the bank, it was mainly to spend my money on my Sunday School classes, young people classes and my nieces and nephews.
One day, when I was living in New Brunswick and still working part-time for the bank, I received a call from one of my sisters. She encouraged me to contact a couple of missionaries to El Salvador — Jack and Ellen Saword — and talk to them about starting an orphanage there for the children that had been affected by the civil war that had been going on for years.
That was so hard for me to do, but I finally called them. Jack invited me to visit and stay there for three months — just to see what it’s like. After many different prayers were answered, I went to El Salvador in 1989. It was during this time that the guerillas tried to overtake the city of San Salvador where they lived and I experienced war for the first time in my life.
It was there, as the bombs were falling, that the Lord gave me a verse as my promise from Him during my daily reading: “Do all that is in thine heart; for God is with thee” (1 Chronicles 17:2).
After my stay, I went back to Westbank to live with my mom, who was a widow at the time. The elders of my assembly commended me to the work amongst the children in El Salvador and I returned there in 1991. The civil war was still going on, but a peace treaty was finally signed in 1992. The war had gone on for 12 years. Now, it is not the war that is the problem; it’s the gangs.
Tell us about the people you minister to.
Over the almost 30 years that I have been here, the Lord has brought to me 60 different children from all over El Salvador. I applied to establish a children’s home in 1993. It wasn’t until 1996 that I got official authorisation on paper. Thankfully, during this time, I was told I could take in children from the different assemblies I was associated with and from the Protection of Minors, ISNA. I was given young teens first and then little children. The most I have had at a time was 15 children. Some of them were with me for a short time; others stayed for years.
Most of these children were abandoned, mistreated and abused in all conceivable ways. Some had families involved in alcoholism and witchcraft and most lived in deep poverty. Some of the children suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome and others from schizophrenia; several were severely malnourished with huge bloated stomachs and hair like straw, while yet others had severe allergies. Some were orphans. None of them knew what a real family was like and all of them needed love — most of all, the love of God.
How is the ministry doing today?
Since 2017, my work has changed somewhat. My health and other conditions in the country led me to stop taking in young children. After much prayer, I ended up adopting 10 of these children, who are now adults and who have lived with me since they were young.
The adoptions all went through by the end of 2019. I still have eight of these young people living with me. Most of them have gone through university and are now working. All of them have made professions of faith during their teen years for which we are so thankful. Many prayers all over the world have gone up on behalf of them. The Lord has been so good to us.
You mentioned a problem with gangs in El Salvador. How have they affected your ministry?
The gangs here in El Salvador do not affect me like they have done in the past. As my ministry was a home for children and then for youth, these children were expected to go back to their biological family settings once they turned 18, as far as the Protection of Minors was concerned.
But, as all these communities where their families lived are now gang-run communities, no one goes in or out without their permission. A young man or woman returning to these communities would be immediately suspected and, if for any reason they figured you were from the opposite gang, they most likely would take your life. They wouldn’t be diligent about finding out who you belonged to either. So, going back to family members is not an option.
You would have to try and find a zone that was gang-free, of which there aren’t many. If at all there are, they usually are more expensive. I used to have Sunday School classes in what we call “Campo Blanco”, but we were forced to leave that community, as it became too dangerous to go into it every Sunday as the gangs there got stronger. Taking the young people into this area was just not an option anymore and they generally went everywhere with me.
Now, of course, because of Covid, we can no longer have classes for children. Zoom has proven to be a great facility though — if the family has a cellphone or laptop and internet.
Give us an example of a challenging situation you recently faced and what the Lord taught you from the experience.
My oldest adopted daughter, Arely, is married with two children. Her husband was put into jail unjustly more than 11 years ago. Until a year ago, she had been able to have some kind of contact with him — visiting him, taking supplies to him, phone calls, matrimonial visits, etc. But when the new president came into power, he completely stopped all communication with prisoners: no visits, phone calls, information, nothing at all.
Arely had had no communication from her husband for a year, didn’t know whether he was dead or alive… On February 8, she came to me in tears and in so much anguish, just beside herself. She didn’t know how she could go on not knowing anything at all about her husband. It has been so hard on her and her children.
So, we agreed to pray specifically for news of him. On February 12, she got a call from a man in charge of a project building some new classrooms close by, asking if she could bring lunch to the prisoners who were working under him that day. One of those prisoners was her husband! Of course, she said she would!
We bought what they asked for: 40 pieces of chicken, Coca-Cola, three plates of food for the custodians, and one hamburger for her husband! We took them to the place where they were working and, under the custodians’ watchful eyes, Arely was able to talk to her husband again. God is so good.
I learnt that day, even more, that God loves to give His children good and perfect gifts. He is so faithful to us and, although we know that, we just don’t see prayers that are answered so quickly and in such a marvelous way. It was a complete miracle. It certainly strengthened our faith yet again.
What are some personal spiritual challenges you face and what is the Lord teaching you through them?
During these Covid days of being shut in and shut down, it is easy to become intolerant of one another and to lose patience. Intolerant over saying the same thing over and over, and the kids ignoring and forgetting things, and doing as they please. Intolerant of being in the same house every day, all day! Losing patience then becomes more and more common — until God helps you to stop and think. I say this as someone who has been told by others that I am the most tolerant person they have ever met!
Think of His patience with us, of His tolerance every day of all our wicked thoughts and deeds. And yet, He loves us with an unfailing love and forgives us 70 times seven — and much more! He is so gracious with us and it behoves us to imitate Him.
For those of us who struggle with impatience, what practical things can we do to have victory in this area of our lives?
The challenges of intolerance and lack of patience: what helps me the most is trying to think of what Jesus would do. Sometimes, it is with a verse that the Lord brings to mind and, sometimes, I remind myself of the love of Jesus. That gives me a prod to deal more gently with the other person.
At times, I have had to get out of the house or just go onto the patio and stay there for a while. I know that not everyone has these ‘outs’, but it does help to take yourself out of a situation sometimes.
How can we pray for you?
Pray for these young adults that they might not be swayed by this wicked world and that they might go on for God and, some day, help others even as they have been helped.
We have applied for Canadian citizenship for the 10 young adults I’ve adopted. That is in the process still. Pray for patience for each one that they will not be discouraged, as they wait for the citizenships to come through.
Pray for guidance for future plans as to whether I will return with them to Canada if they get that chance to go.
Pray for Christian partners for these young people.
Pray for my health.
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