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Showing posts from March, 2013

The Litany of the Cross

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Tonight during worship, the pastor set 3 nails into a large wooden cross.  Members of the congregation were invited forward, and each one was given the opportunity to pick up a mallet and drive the nail deeper into the wood.  We could all feel the hesitation - the discomfort with acceptance of an invitation to admit guilt, to share in the crucifixion of Jesus.  One by one we went forward.  One by one, "bang, bang, bang" echoed through the sanctuary.

On a day in 1989, the bishop placed a plain white cross in front of the altar.  Members of the congregation were invited forward, and each one was given the opportunity to pick up a black marker and write a sin upon the cross.  This was an act of confession - a confession of the sins that existed in El Salvador: hunger, persecution, violence.  Later that year, the cross was seized by the military as evidence of subversion, and the cross became known as "The Subversive Cross."

The following litany is based on words writ…

Oscar Romero - A Community Remembers

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On March 24, 1996, a little group of people carrying a metal cross and palm branches marched up a dusty hillside, and a new community was born.  The hill was claimed for the church, the church was named "Heroes of the Faith" and soon the community became known as "The Heroes."

Now, each March 24th, the community honors its humble beginnings. Throughout the night on March 23rd, the women stir a giant kettle of schuco (a warm beverage made of corn, ground pumpkin or squash seeds and beans).  At 3 am the directiva president sets off fireworks.  Big speakers are set up around the church, and community leaders make inspiring speeches interspersed with musical broadcasts.  As the sky lightens in the east, the women serve up the schuco, which tastes so good in the chilly morning.  The children play with fireworks, with young mothers helping to keep the sparks under control.  After the sun rises, a big group from the  community organizes itself and rides the bus into San …

Off the Beaten Path: El Churrasco

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The owner is a big guy, super friendly.  He came out to greet us and to make sure we were comfortable.  He told us, "Everything is homemade and fresh."

It took a little while to look over the extensive menu.  Most of us decided to order soup.  While we waited for lunch to be prepared, we took in the scenery -- this is quite a dining room!  The walls are covered with eclectic paintings and decorations, from beer posters to Salvadoran tchotchke to African savanna scenes.  There are two big aquariums bubbling with clear water and tropical fish.  Two of the four walls feature big screen TV's which broadcast a series of distractingly sexy music videos.  Of most interest is the ceiling.  Painted as view into outer space, there are planets and stars and clouds.  An astronaut taking a space walk proudly holds a Salvadoran flag.  A shark swims through space with the name of the restaurant, El Churrasco, tattooed on its underbelly.  Who knew there was a place like this right in do…

Off the Beaten Path: My Final Day in the Aduanas

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At dinner on Wednesday night, I suggested to the group that Thursday might be the day I would need to get angry.  "Really?" someone said, "for me that would have been on Monday."  Pastor Conchi and I had managed to keep our focus, to support each other with patience.  Yet, I think we were both heading into Thursday with the idea that well-placed anger might earn us some justice.

We arrived at the yellow gate in Ilopango a full 20 minutes before it opened.  Conchi and I spotted a woman as she got off of the bus - one of the women who works in the customs office, behind one of the four service windows.  Conchi nodded toward me.  I , wearing my very awesome aqua scrubs and lucky Lutheran cross, casually walked over to the woman and said, "Buenos dias."  She responded, with a somewhat surprised look on her face, "You are back again?"  I gave her the 3-minute version of our story, hoping she would have mercy on us once we were seated in the white pl…

Off the Beaten Path: My Week in the Aduanas

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This story begins on a Monday, the first day of the Mission of Healing North, which took place in Nejapa.  The back-story featured frustration.  This story is a lesson in patience.

We arrived in Nejapa just after 7 am, and quickly dispersed our resources and people.  Doctors divided up among two exam areas.  Nurses set up triage stations close by.  A big kids' activity table was set up under the trees.  The dental charla (teaching chat), dental treatment area, reading glasses table and gynecology area were in one big room -- odd but true, and requiring creative curtain use.  Inside the church we set up the spiritual area (which this year included a mini-orchestra), the HIV-STD charla, the pharmacy, and the reflexology massage area.  As soon as we were set up, we gathered for the opening devotion.  It was beautiful - set up to include the 2 truckloads of patients/participants who had arrived early and were seated in their plastic chair queue.

The group dispersed - off to examine, …

Preface to My Week in the Aduanas

Once upon a time, I spent a week in the aduanas.  This is the story of how it all began.  This is not the first time I have written about an experience in the aduanas (customs offices), but it is the first time I have been specifically asked by a Salvadoran friend to write a story for my blog.  That friend is Pastor Conchi, who led the latest Aduanas Adventure.

Over the past few years, Salvadoran officials have increased the requirements or at least their enforcement of the requirements for bringing medical supplies and medications into the country.  This, in itself, is not a bad thing.  For 13 years, we have worked with the Unidad de Salud (the Salvadoran healthcare system).  We bring quality medications with expiration dates at least 9 months beyond our trip date.  We have always had letters of certification that these items are destined for free distribution to patients who need them and were received both by our US churches and by the Salvadoran Lutheran Church as donations.

Three…

We Kept Our Promise

We kept our promise.  We went back to the prison on Monday afternoon.

In preparation, we prepared one box full of prenatal vitamins.  We prepared a second box filled with an odd assortment of medications which were left from the Mission of Healing which we had held in Nejapa:  skin creams, children's acetaminophen and amoxicillin, anti-biotics for adults, some medications for diabetes -- a wide variety of items.  We prepared detailed lists, documenting each item with it's size, quantity of tablets, and cost per unit. We thought about the young pharmacist's words:  We have no medicines for children.  We're at the bottom of the list for receiving medications from the government's Unidad de Salud.

We also carefully went through the diagnosis papers for the women who had received check-ups.  We prepared a bag for each woman who needed a medication which we were not able to provide at the time of our first visit.  Each bag was documented with the woman's name, age …

Off the Beaten Path: Lots of Energy Here

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We stopped at the entrance to pay our fees.  "You are the guide, right?  Salvadoran?" they asked me.  I guess I have been to the Mayan ruins at Cihuatán enough times so they recognized me.  "Almost the guide," I grinned, "but North American."  They laughed.  Salvadorans pay $1 to get in.  We paid $3 each.  The museum (with descriptions in English and Spanish), the well-marked and secure grounds and the nice restrooms are worth it.

Our team of physicians, nurses, pharmacists and teachers had been working hard for a week, caring for people during the Mission of Healing.  A small group had stayed an extra day to learn a little bit more about Salvadoran history and culture.  Cihuatán is out in the open country, offering a fresh view of the sky and the landscape. Early in the morning, before the sun beats down hard on the dry plain, you might catch birds roosting in the trees or small animals scurrying in the dry leaves.  We were welcomed by a small group of vu…