At a time in their lives when most couples are weighing options for retirement, Tom and Dianne Wilson gave up their jobs and made a three-year commitment to missionary work in El Salvador. Winding up a six-week visit home, they came to catch up with their friends at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Sunday and share with them an update on their mission work.

The couple lived on the Vineyard for 17 years before moving off-Island in 2007. Tom worked as town accountant in Oak Bluffs and Chilmark, and Dianne was what she called “the beloved tax assessor of Oak Bluffs” before they moved to Holden, seven years ago.

While there are no social work or humanities degrees between them, the Wilsons were inspired by their friend at St. Andrew’s, Dianne Smith, who had made mission trips to El Salvador and Kenya. They supported her while she was away, sending letters of encouragement and staying in contact throughout her journey.

The Wilsons brought some goods from El Salvador, which is roughly the size of Massachusetts. — Alison L. Mead

They eventually made their own trip to El Salvador, followed by a few more trips during which they stayed a bit longer each time. Finally, Tom and Dianne decided they would make a longer commitment to mission work through the Episcopal diocese in Western Massachusetts. They have the support of their grown children and most of their family and friends.

“Well, some are more supportive than others,” Tom said in an interview after their presentation. “Some say, ‘I don’t understand why you’re doing this.’”

“You have to go where God leads you,” Dianne explained.

Though they moved off-Island, they remain connected to their former church. St. Andrew’s has supported their efforts through donations that brought water filtration systems to the little village of El Maizal, where they live about two hours from the capital of San Salvador. Tom said El Salvador is roughly the size of Massachusetts, with a population of seven million. Their village is home to 45 families, half of which now have a home water filtering system that will not only keep them from getting sick, but will also help them economically. A family typically spends $2 for a five gallon container of clean water, sometimes spending $16 to $20 a month out of wages that are likely to be just $100 a month, Tom explained.

In addition to the ongoing need for clean water, the couple helps with agricultural projects.

“We grow corn, citrus fruits, cinnamon, peppers,” Tom said. “A machete is the main tool used and everything is done by hand.”

They are currently working with a nonprofit that drills wells, which would allow them to store water for the dry season. Because the agricultural needs consume water as well, village residents typically experience one day with water followed by another day of not using any water.

They need a pump, repairs to an old water tank and a water tower to go with the new well system. “It will take about $5,500 to $6,000 to do all of it,” Tom said. “Then everybody will have all the water they need year round and it would allow us to have a multiple harvest and to sell more produce.”

Last summer, a group of a half dozen parishioners and the Rev. Chip Seadale, pastor of St. Andrew’s, traveled to El Salvador to visit the Wilsons and observe the work they do there. They stayed in San Salvador, visiting the memorials erected after years of civil war finally ended in the early 1990s and staying a few days in El Maizal as well. The congregation is planning another trip next summer.

Despite the miles away from family, the 100 degree heat, the lack of what they formerly considered necessities and the fact that they arrived with no ability to speak Spanish, the Wilsons are happy they took on the work.

“When we got there we told the bishop there that we couldn’t speak the language,” Tom explained. “He said there are lots of people who speak the language but can’t communicate. I just need you to communicate.”

For more information on Tom and Dianne’s mission work, call St. Andrew’s at 508-627-5330.