It's More than a Scholarship Program

When Salvadoran pastors are asked what a sister church might bring to a companion relationship, one of the most often stated responses is:  A Scholarship Program. 

I am a teacher.  I believe that investments in education are valuable and life-changing.  In my work with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, I am asked to help sort out scholarship program messes and challenges on a regular basis - both on the Salvadoran end and on the US end.  Setting up and sustaining a healthy scholarship program has its challenges.

Challenges aside, scholarship programs can dramatically change the lives of children and youth.  The best ones are holistic in nature and provide students and their families with all kinds of opportunities for learning, fellowship, community service, and spiritual growth along with the economic support for those who need it in order to be able to go to school.  The best ones help little ones and their families build the habit of good school attendance and commitment to education.  The best ones are tuned in to the culture of the community, operating with rules and practices which take into account the positive and negative impacts which financial support could bring to families living in gang-controlled areas. The best ones can be a vehicle for creating healthy and mutually supportive relationships between families in El Salvador and families in other parts of the world.

High school and university student representatives from Lutheran church communities across El Salvador recently gathered for an annual gathering of scholarship students.  It is an opportunity for students to share their experiences with one another, to encourage one another to keep on going when the going gets tough, and to celebrate the fruits which education is already bearing in their lives.  Just as this year-end gathering is taking place, pastors and leaders in El Salvador are busy putting together the final proposals for scholarship programs for the new scholastic year. 

The scholarship program which we share as sister churches is called Education for Life.  The focus and the requirements of the program have evolved over time, as the reality in our Salvadoran community has changed and as the reality in our US church has changed too.  When I received the program proposal, it came with an introduction, which I think is worthy of sharing...

May the Lord bless you and keep you, may the Lord give you the wisdom and strength to maintain and push forward the ministries that our churches are developing.  The dynamics and the times of the Lord many times do not coincide with our own, but when He sees us as tired and worried, He gives us a hand and strengthens our wills so that we do not discontinue the march, because life cannot keep us down.  We are the universal priesthood, with gifts and roles, everyone doing and building the Gospel and the law and doing the liturgical work each day from the time we get up until the time we return to our beds for the night.  We divulge the word of advice and breath, as Jesus said to Peter, “Feed my sheep.”  To the brothers, sisters and pastors, God has given another mission, which are the plans of God to strengthen our faith, our hope and love.  Jesus is always in front of us, close to each one, walking as always and for always.  His strengths are our strengths, our weaknesses are his weaknesses.  From a long distance, we pray for one another’s churches, however in spirit and heart we are united in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, who unites us and who loves us and guarantees our salvation and eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, in this way as an offering to the Lord we are presenting our plan for study for life for 2018.  With hope that we put in the Lord each day, and each year we are blessed with knowledge and maturity growing in our youth.  We want to announce that for the youth age 13 and older, during December we have initiated a technical Bible school, during the period of vacation, beginning with the last vacations of 2017 and starting up again with Holy Week vacations in 2018.  Of course, there will be other levels of participation both regional and national for our youth during the year.  (Translator’s explanation:  because of the situation of gang boundaries and student schedules, the regular youth group struggles to gather more than 12-15 students.  This new focus on Bible training during vacation times will have an expectation of 100% attendance and the team hopes for renewed energy among the youth.  This is in the spirit of what was shared when the small delegation from [the US] did focused activities with the youth in September 2017.)

May the Christmas birth of Jesus, born in our hearts and in our churches, bring peace, fellowship and sharing among brothers and sisters and families and bring a deeper spirit of will to make stronger the promises we have with Jesus in the year that comes, so that we will be always alert with oil in our lamps so that we do not miss out on the arrival of our Lord.


Amen.

This was written by the diaconal pastor in our community and I translated it.  It was accompanied by the student list with their responsible adults, grades, school names, areas of study and amount of economic support, broken down by month.  (The economic support mostly covers bus transportation, and lunches for the university students.)  The last few pages of the document describe home visits the diaconal pastor has had with students and families who have been impacted by threats or violence, and some of whom have been forced to move.  A few students have graduated.  A few have decided not to study.  A few new students have entered the program.  Many of the students families and the sponsor families have been accompanying each other for the entirety of the educational journey, and beyond.  The prayers and letters of support that travel between these families and their linked families in the US are filled with the stories of life:  words of love, encouragement, comfort, hope and faith.  

It's so much more than a scholarship program.

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