Plan B: A Beautiful and Impactful Day

There are some days that just do not go as planned.  Tuesday was one of those days.

The day started out as expected.  I met up with our pastor and he drove us out to the community.  As we chugged along the main road alongside the community, we periodically stuck our heads and hands out the windows to wave and greet friends who were passing by.  We ground our way up the rocky hill and parked next to the church.

The training meeting was already in session.  Pastors and leaders from the northern region were reflecting on a passage from scripture and sharing personal stories of God's presence in the midst of health crises.  Through sobs and tears, one pastor recounted the recent times in which her husband was gravely ill and God intervened.  Her husband's faith astounds her.

The tables were set end to end and covered with colorful cloths.  A candle burned in the center.  Vases of pink silk flowers were surrounded by open Bibles, notebooks, water bottles and purses.  The twenty or so persons seated in white plastic chairs are being trained as health promoters in the Lutheran Church.  They attend half-day training sessions once per month.  On this day they were beginning a unit on nutrition and healthy eating.

The teaching pastor is the coordinator for health ministries for the Lutheran Church.  She suggested we sing a song to recover our energy after sharing and receiving the testimonies.  She started with a melody which was not the one which actually goes with the song she chose, so the singing was a little rough as people graciously followed her.  Then it was time for the snack:  tamales!  Each person could have one tamal with beans and one plain, served with cream and a cup of coffee.  These tamales were super delicious, made by one of the moms in the church.

The workshop continued with a focus on the plant of the month:  carambola (starfruit).  One woman has a carambola tree, so she was in charge of bringing in the seeds.  (Each month a different volunteer brings in leaves, sticks, roots, fruits or seeds of a different nutritional or medicinal plant.  This is the second year of training, so the group has gathered a good amount of knowledge about the plants which they can grow in their own communities to improve their health.)  Each of us received 3 seeds and 3 black seedling bags so that we can grow a tree for ourselves, a tree for our church and a tree to give away.

We did some reading and sharing about nutrition and the importance of breakfast.  We created a little artwork of sample meals and snacks based on foods that are good for us, balanced and available.  One by one we presented our menus, the majority with the caveat:  "If I have money, I would eat..." Everyone eats beans for breakfast and beans for dinner.

The workshop ended with lunch.  The reason I had accompanied the pastor to the workshop was because I had been invited to an event for the afternoon.  The only way I could get to the event was if he orchestrated something, which he did.  He would drive us to the nearby community which is a controlled area, but we are known there so it is not a problem to enter.  Two men of confidence would meet us and guide us into the neighboring community.  There, one would take me into the school for the event - a corn fiesta.  A girl I have known since she was a baby was competing in her beautiful princess dress made entirely from elements of corn plants.  The men of confidence would then accompany the pastor back out to a meeting.  After his meeting, the pastor would be guided back to the school so we could meet up and be guided out again.

Plan in place, Pastor went out to the car.  It would not start.  What followed was an adventure of lifting the car over a big rock, rolling the car down a steep hill, taking parts out of the car, and pondering a plan B.  Big raindrops started to fall.  I pulled out my umbrella; onlookers ran for cover.  The neighborhood mechanic helped roll the car, now with a new battery, down another hill still with no luck.  "Sister," he called out over the now pounding rain, "Go into my house!"  I went inside as a woman gathered up the chickens.  A giant bold of lightning struck next to the house with heart-pounding thunder.  "Holy ****," I said, under my breath.  The thunder was crazy.  The pastor and mechanic ducked in for shelter.  We had no choice but to wait out the storm which was now dumping buckets of rain onto the tin roof.  It was so loud that we had to shout to talk with each other.

The Box
We talked for an hour.  The men said that the storm popped up because the heat just kept increasing with no place to go.  I nodded.  It seriously had been hotter than hades all morning.  The mechanic had lived in the US for a number of years, studying as a nursing assistant and then working in healthcare.  He either was deported or came back to El Salvador years ago.  He got up and pulled out an old wooden box.  He slid the cover open to show us the contents:  an old roll of gauze, a bottle of peroxide and a disheveled stack of yellowing papers.  "When I came back from the US, the health ministry made me a first responder," he said.  He thoughtfully thumbed through the papers.  "These are the medical records from the years of the chargas plague."  He had all the records from the original families that settled in the community back in 1996 after the war.  Chargas (a parasite disease that affects the eyes of unborn babies) had left its mark on the community.  I suggested the mechanic-first responder help us out at the Mission of Healing in February.  Apparently he is also an expert in natural medicine.  Who knew?  I reached into my bag and pulled out my first aid kit.  I pulled out some bandages and gauze sponges.  Our friend carefully placed them into his wooden box, slid the lid closed and placed the box in its place, right by the door.  It's hard to be a first responder without any bandages.

"Look," said the mechanic.  "There is no problem.  The sister can sleep on the sofa and the pastor can have the hammock.  You can stay the night."  A little later, the rain let up.

A friend of the mechanic showed up.  His white car was parked nearby.  He could be our taxi driver and take us to the other community so that at least the pastor could get to his meeting.  The government official had been delayed by the rain too.  We all climbed through the mud and into the car.  It was a little tin can with stinky exhaust, a bad transmission and a back seat that I just barely fit into (along with the mechanic).  We drove at breakneck speed so we would not lose our momentum in the lakes that now covered the road.  At one point we sped across a little river and bumped so hard that we almost hit our heads on the ceiling.  "Water took out the road," said the driver.  The mechanic and I looked at each other.  No kidding.

"What do we own you?" we asked the driver.  He said we did not owe a thing.

We walked into the community center, damp and apologizing, and slid right into the content of the meeting.  The youth and young adults of the community have organized a group for themselves and are working to get legal standing.  Dance groups, rap, hip hop, folk music, visual arts, skate-boarding, singing, drama  and a drum corps are flourishing and some have won national awards.  The group wants to start a community radio station to help promote their activities, and also to make money through advertising for local businesses.  The experience of running a radio station, complete with news reports and educational programming would help build the resumes of young adults.  We met for 2 1/2 hours, much of the time learning about the process from a deputy in the National Assembly.  One young man is about to graduate from the university as an engineer.  He has all kinds of ideas of how to promote the study of math, science and technology in the community.

One of the biggest challenges for these young people is where they live.  When you live in or come from a controlled community, no matter what your level of education or your talents, there are suspicions about you.  These young people have a vision for a future which is different.  The pastor is their connection to the resources beyond their borders.  He loves them, encourages them, accompanies them and brings a measure of protection to their efforts.

One of the younger boys in the group left for a bit.  He came back and passed out plastic bags and straws to everyone in the circle.  "I'm sorry I could not find cups," he quietly said to me.  "Do you drink soda?"  I was the only female in the room.  He poured warm Coke into my bag and then filled each one around the circle.  He offered me a cookie, and then served the others. It was a beautiful gesture of hospitality.

Thanks to my patient husband, who had his own agenda for the day, we were able to get a ride back to the city.  The pastor's car stayed safely with the mechanic.  The corn fiesta probably happened, and hopefully someone took photos.  We were not struck by lightning.  We had conversations with people which otherwise would not have happened.  As we dropped the pastor off at his house, he said, "It was a very beautiful and impactful day."

Yes, yes it was.

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