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Showing posts from 2012

Christmas Wishes from El Salvador

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Oh how the times have changed!

The phone started ringing and the text messages started blinging a few days before Christmas.  They popped up on my phone as calls from Florida or South Carolina or Oregon so I was never sure if I should answer "hello" or "hola." 
Merry Christmas...may God bless you with a prosperous New Year...may God bless you and your family...we love you...greetings and hugs to the loved ones who surround you...we feel close to you, it doesn't seem like you are in the United States but that we are neighbors...may Baby Jesus enter anew into your hearts...
We exchanged these heartfelt greetings and talked a little bit about what we are doing, what meetings are going on at our churches, the weather.  When I mentioned the 10 inches of snow in the yard, the brisk winter breeze, the piles of coats and boots near the doors, the 4 pm sunset, my friends on the other end found these things difficult to imagine.  A cold December night in Los Heroes include…

Portrait of a Pastor

During a recent car ride, I had the opportunity to chat with one of the pastors of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  He has told me some stories in the past, so I asked him if he would tell me a little bit about his life.  I took a few notes during the bumpy ride, and that night I wrote everything I could remember in my journal.  Here is his story...
I was born and raised in Tonaca.  When the cooperatives were there, I worked with them and then was an FMLN soldier.  After the war, I was there and remember when the people came to Los Héroes*.  I was a witness to that.  They didn’t know me as a pastor, but as an FMLN leader.So, when I became a pastor I couldn’t serve there among my own people.  So I worked at Opico and Quezaltepeque, and later helped to start a mission at Nueva Esperanza in Chalate.  I have always worked with cooperatives and like that style of project.  I came to Cara Sucia after Hurricane Mitch when the Lutheran World Federation set up the radio station and emergency bu…

Jesus to the Rescue

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A long while back we had a Vacation Bible School program entitled "Jesus to the Rescue" at our church.  There was a catchy theme song with simple words, "Jesus to the rescue, Jesus to the rescue, Jesus to the rescue...R-E-S; C-U-E; Jesus wants; You and me; Grab your gear; Get on board; Serving others; Led by the Lord..."

My kids still remember this song, and clearly I do too.  Every now and then it pops into our heads, especially if we have had a little rescue-experience which was unexpected or unusually fortunate.

We were taking the circuitous route through San Salvador, attempting to avoid the heavy Friday traffic.  There were about 15 of us in the small bus, and we were pretty tired after a long week of strategic planning meetings, presentations and dynamic conversations about sustainability.  As we maneuvered onto a busy street, we suddenly heard a thunk-thunk-thunk.  We opened a window and peered out at our wheels below.  Sure enough, the right front tire was…

Safety

When we were kids,  my friends and I would play lots of games like tag, hide and seek and kick-the-can.  Sometimes we would set up complicated rules with teams and a designated "no-man's land" which was to prevent us from sneaking behind the other team's goal.  Usually the objective was to make it to home base or "safety" before getting tagged or found or pelted by snowballs.

There are two gangs in our sister church community.  MS (Mara Salvatrucha) plays tag on the walls with big blue spray-painted letters, claiming the pathways near the school and the soccer field as its territory.  M-18 is less obvious with the paint, but more obvious with their presence, owning the paths with such intimidation that community leaders have not been able to maintain the pathways and waste water and erosion have converted the concrete stairways into slippery, sludgy, smelly hazards.  Families who live in the MS section can't walk over to the 18 section.  Kids who live i…

Violence and Peace

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The streets were closed surrounding the plaza in front of the Cathedral.  Traffic was clogged at the crossroads of stoplights and barricades.  We waited to the tunes of horns honking and buses revving up their engines.  Our driver identified us - a small group of North Americans in solidarity with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church - and the police let us through.  We parked right next to the cathedral.  "What luck!" we thought.

As we emerged from the micro we could see the crowd quickly gathering.  It was beautiful - a sea of white shirts under a bright blue sky, each person wearing a gentle outline of a dove with an olive branch and the words, "Pastoral Initiative for Life and Peace."  We hardly had time to take in the scene when Pastora Gloria assigned us in pairs to her volunteers who firmly grabbed us by the arms and whisked us to our row of white plastic chairs under the shade of a canopy.  "The front row...what luck!" we thought.  We sat down and looked…

Little Travelers

So, at one point, after a near riot of children and teachers ensued, I promised myself that I would never take another Beanie Baby to El Salvador.

At another point, I reconsidered this position because a wonderful program called Armas ni de Jugetes (roughly, weapons are not toys) teaches kids to be peacemakers and offers them the opportunity to trade toy guns and toy weapons for stuffed animals, positive toys or school supplies.  Seeing a kid cuddle a Beanie Baby instead of sticking a plastic revolver into his waistband is worth the hassle of hauling these little creatures by the 50-pound-suitcase-full through airports and customs.

So, occasionally I pull a decrepit suitcase full of Beanies behind me through the aduanas, and hand it off to an amazing pastor who is dedicated to teaching kids and communities to fight violence with love, but I haven't given a lot of thought to the impact which the giving of the Beanies may have on the donors, until this past Sunday.

On Sunday, a sma…

Better than a call from North Carolina

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I walked in the door after a long solo driving trip.  The phone rang.  The caller ID indicated I was receiving a call from an unknown person in North Carolina.

"Hmmm," I thought, "Whom do I know in North Carolina?"

I expected it to be someone who had gotten my number from our synod office - someone from some ELCA church out there who had a question about sister church relationships with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  "Ugh,"  I thought.  "I am too tired to deal with this."  I picked up the phone anyway.

"Ho-la."  It caught me off guard, but I recognized Estella's sing-songy greeting right away. Not North Carolina, but El Salvador!  "Hola!" I chirped back, and as with one hand I navigated the process of taking off my coat, greeting the dog, taking out the dog, and feeding the dog, I carried on a lively conversation with Estella.

It was Estella's daughter's birthday.  This was the purpose of the call - to take a c…

The Grandma

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The Abuela was old, amazingly old, perhaps the oldest person in the community.  She had feisty hair and a feisty spirit to match.  She was in her 80's, maybe even 90's.  It was hard to tell.  Her face was well-lined from years of sun and laughter, but her memory was sharp and her personality was spunky.  Some years ago she started to carry a straight tree branch in her hand as a walking-stick.  The top was worn smooth from her grasp.  Despite her age she navigated her way up and down the rocky rutty paths in the community, her walking stick in one hand and her baseball cap in the other.

We called her The Abuela -- The Grandma.  This was out of respect.  We met The Grandma during our first visit to the community.  She came for a check-up at a small clinic which we ran inside the church.  Deb, our nurse practitioner had a special rapport with The Grandma from their first meeting.

The Abuela lived at the corn-grinding house with her son and daughter-in-law.  We would often visit t…

Pretty Blue Beads

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As we were leaving the community, Jonathan's mom hastily tied a blue beaded bracelet around my wrist.  She and her daughter had fashioned four rows of interlocking translucent blue pony beads with blue yarn - a style of knotting and beading which they had learned during recent employment workshops in the community.  The bracelet was a gift from a grateful mom, grateful because we had visited her son Jonathan every day, holding our hands over him in prayer.

Jonathan was a miracle baby.  His mom found out that she was pregnant just weeks after her oldest son was murdered.  A year ago, when he was one year old, Jonathan was baptized.  This year, as a two-year-old, Jonathan is spunky and playful and energetic.  The day before our visit, Jonathan had fallen and hit his head on the hard ground.  He had symptoms of a concussion, so his mom and dad took him to the clinic where they were told he had a skull fracture.  Keep him still. Watch him.  Come back if the swelling on his head becomes…

The Rice-a-Roni Story

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In the early days, the secret goal of any delegation member was to be assigned to Sandra's house.  Even before the days of cinder block and tile floor when the roof leaked and a riverlet channel ran across the width of the dirt floor, Sandra's house provided a much appreciated level of comfort.

Some people are just naturally neat and tidy.  Some people have a knack for creating a cheerful and welcoming space with very basic things.  Some people can turn ordinary ingredients into a gourmet dinner.  Sandra has these gifts by nature, but she has also developed these gifts in order to preserve the precarious life of her son.  Born with a serious heart condition, Sandra's son was not given good expectations for a long or active live.  He is now in high school and has aspirations of becoming a doctor.

So, as Sandra swept debris from her yard to keep the cockroaches and mice away, as Sandra carefully washed her vegetables and dishes in water which she chlorinated, and as Sandra …

The Legend of El Tabudo

After we returned from Lake Coatepeque, I wondered if there were any interesting folk stories about the lake.  It felt like one of those special places - a little bit quiet, hidden in a caldera, deep blue water, lots of fish.  Thanks to Gloria and Guillermo, I learned this story...


The legend of El Tabudo has become very popular among fishermen, residents and visitors to Lake Coatepeque and has spread so much that people tell the same legend of all lakes and lagoons of El Salvador.
It seems that the owner of a beautiful mansion located on the shores of Lake Coatepeque went for a ride in a traditional hand-made canoe.  As he came near the island he was swept away by an underground stream and carried to the realm of the goddess of fresh water, never to be seen alive again. 
A few months later he appeared to the people who were looking after his property which they had inherited. They were astonished and confused when they saw him because his knees had widened so much that looked like a …

Off the Beaten Path: A Day at Lake Coatepeque

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It was a long drive from the city out to the lake.  We crammed ourselves into a bus and an SUV. According to the advice of the group, we left San Salvador at 6:30 am.  Our first stop was a gas station where more than a few grabbed an early morning coffee and everyone used the bathroom.  Considering the women vastly outnumbered the men, the ladies decided to take over the men's room too.  It's hard to describe how funny this was - the teenage girls needed a lot of convincing that this would be OK. When a gentleman showed up he chuckled at the situation and graciously waited in line for his turn after the ladies finished up.   We were soon on our way and arrived at the ruins of San Andres too early to enter.  No problem! We decided to go to the lake first and the ruins later in the day.

Our next stop (after the gate at San Andres) was at the grocery store in El Congo where a very practical team of  women picked up the fixings for a picnic lunch of ham sandwiches and orange drink…

A Special Visit

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"I never ever thought someone would come to my house to visit my boy."  Marina started crying before she could say anything else.  It was a moment of sharing, of sitting together in the shade beside the excavations at San Andres on the last day of our visit together.

We were a mixed group of children, youth, moms and dads - five of us from the US and the other forty or so from our sister church community - representatives of the students and families who participate in the scholarship program.  All of the students in the program have economic need, and the majority are older students who seek to overcome the culture of gangs which surrounds them by completing high school and earning technical or university degrees in the hopes of achieving sustainable employment.

For one young man, the dream of employment seemed impossible.  He was born with a severe hearing impairment.  The public schools in El Salvador are not equipped to assist children with special needs, and often, chil…

Off the Beaten Path: La Neveria

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After a long hot day, the best way to revive a delegation is to head on over to La Neveria - any one in a franchise of ice cream stores which can be found throughout El Salvador.  The store in Apopa is highly convenient if you are on route from Guazapa or some northern town north of the capital.  If you are staying in San Salvador, you can often find one within walking distance of your hotel or guest house.  


Once inside, you are faced with the challenge of figuring out what to order from the big poster on the wall.  Banana split?  Ice cream shake with cookie wafers poked into the top?  Or maybe a choco-wafle triple (choco-waf-lay-trip-lay).  The easiest way to order is to divide your group into pairs, because of course, you will never enter La Neveria without finding a two for one promotion.  The servers can not imagine that you might not choose to take advantage of the promotion, so if you are on your own or in an odd-numbered group, be prepared to eat two cones or to give one away.

The Wheel Chair

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On most days my email inbox has messages from friends and acquaintances in El Salvador.  Seventeen years ago when our congregation first became connected with ministry in El Salvador, communications were exchanged once every six months via hand-carried letters as delegations traveled back and forth.

When emails first traveled to and fro, we were careful to address each other with long and formal greetings, wishing for one another the comfort of family and friends close at hand and asking God to bless our families with good health.  These greetings are still shared but often in a more condensed version, for with familiarity has also come an informal style, with a quick hello and a quick sharing of the daily prayer concerns and the small challenges or joys of everyday life.

A couple of weeks ago, I received just such an email from a pastor friend.  Subject line:  "Prayers."  Text:  "Dear brothers and sisters, may God rain down many rich blessings over you to raise up in …

Off the Beaten Path: Coffee Stories

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Sixteen of us bumpety-bumped along, shoulder to shoulder as our micro-bus traveled down the side of the volcano.  "One time, I was kidnapped for fun," I told my Salvadoran friends.  "That was how I had learned about a place on the side of the volcano where we can get some food and see some historic equipment from a coffee plantation.  It's called Cafe Miranda."


We arrived at the cafe before lunch time.  The waiter seated us on the veranda outside of the coffee museum, saying that there was more space than down below (where the nice view is), but inviting us to walk around and take photos wherever we liked.  The sounds of young people singing along with contemporary Christian songs rose up from a small building below us.  At first we thought it was a worship service, but the level of laughter and the site of kids in their gym uniforms indicated that we had stumbled upon a group of kids from a Christian school who were on a day-retreat.  

Our group was made up of S…

Precarious

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Precarious.

When asked about my first impressions in Peru, the first word to hit me was precarious.  It was difficult to describe the deeper meaning behind this word as a first impression.  Life in itself is, of course, precarious. Yet the visual images of homes perched on slippery hillsides, the challenging climbs up to and down from these homes, and the surprise of feeling an earth tremor have helped that word to stick as a first impression.

Construction in the city of Lima:  precarious.  Buildings of brick, never really finished.  Rebar sprouts from every rooftop, inviting another layer of family or another possibility to earn rent.  I am not an engineer, but these buildings do not seem stable.  The facades are deceptive, stuccoed over and painted green or purple or blue, but a peek behind shows the brick, wood, cardboard, plastic, and metal collage of apartments. When we were in the catacombs of the Franciscan monastery, the guide described the centuries-old mortar which included …

Greasy and Grubby Go to Peru

I have often written about the adventures of Greasy and Grubby in El Salvador.  There are still adventures from the past to transcribe and to share, but since Greasy moved away, the number of Salvadoran adventures has lessened.  Last week, Greasy and Grubby were together again in Lima, Peru, where Greasy's church has a sister church relationship with Luz Divina, a Lutheran congregation just north of the city.  Greasy's daughter gave me the idea to write a bit about this Peruvian experience with the occasional question:  "First impressions?"

So, here are a few first impressions...

Warmth - not the climate, but the people.  Greetings in Peru are filled with "encantada" (which is like saying, "enchanted to meet you") and a big kiss on the cheek.  Good-byes at the end of the day or at the close of an event take a very long time, as everyone gives everyone a hug and a kiss.

Hospitality - the sister churches had worked together to plan the week.  We divi…

More First Impressions

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When I think back to that first trip to El Salvador, one thing I really remember were the worship services:  lots of worship and lots of trying not to keel over from heat exhaustion during worship.  The good thing is that Lutheran liturgy is pretty predicable, so despite the lack of Spanish in my then-repertoire, I could follow along pretty well.  Language differences did cause some humorous moments did generate one of our all-time favorite worship jokes.  During his very long sermon, Bishop Gomez kept saying "Gracias a Dios" or "Thanks be to God."  Of course, we rookies heard the two words we knew in Spanish, "gracias" and "adios" or "thanks and good-bye."  One of the guys in our group (the same one who got pulled over by the police during our exit from the airport), said, "I kept hearing thanks and good-bye, and I stood up to leave, but the sermon just kept going on and on and on."
My journal entries from the time serve to …