Tales of the Grandfather: Not Just Any Pastor
It was early morning. The Grandfather sat in the passenger seat. His son drove. We headed out to the region in which The Grandfather established a new mission church. A health promoter and president of the local water board met us near the turn-off from the main road. The purpose of the journey was, for us, to learn about the process of testing the municipal water system in the area.
|On a water mission|
We walked a bit and turned down a section of newly paved road. The Grandfather gestured to the north. The road was hardly more than a muddy path. "This is the original Troncal al Norte (highway to the north)," he said. The paved section stretches through a small gathering of homes and little stores. We were told that the road stretches from Acajutla to Chalatenango. Back in the day, the road was busy with trucks and "so many" buses. Now just a few buses pass by during the whole day. It was hard to imagine that any bus could make it up and down the dirt sections of this road.
As we walked along, The Grandfather was greeted by everyone we met. This is his ancestral ground. He narrated our journey, pointed out the "roads" to this place and that. At one point he gestured to a beautiful stretch of almond trees on the hillside, "When I die," he said to his son, "you will own all of this."
|Along the road|
We came to a turn in the road, and up a steep driveway we could see the school. This sight prompted The Grandfather to tell a story.
There was a time, well it happened various times, but there was a time when the military occupied this school to use it as a barracks. The teacher and all those little children arrived, and there were the soldiers in their school. (He gasps.)The Grandfather grabs my arm to be sure I am listening.
The people sent word to me that the soldiers had taken over the school. I dressed. (He makes the motion of buttoning up his clergy collar with his hands.) I came to the school. I asked the soldiers who was in charge. I talked with him, and they packed up their bags and left. (He makes a little whistling sound and gestures with his hand up and away toward the hills.)We continue walking. The Grandfather chuckles. "This is the little school where I learned my first letters," he says.
The Grandfather is humble and animated in his telling of stories. I can imagine his long legs striding with determination up the hill to the school, taking his stand in front of the soldiers and calmly asking for who was in charge. I can picture a ragtag group of frightened children and mothers and a teacher backing up their pastor, maybe peering out from behind the nearby trees. The Grandfather has a way of narrowing his eyes generating a gaze that is absolutely serious without being angry. I imagine the commander receiving this look with some steady and deliberate words.
We concluded our water work for the day, and after visiting the little mission church returned The Grandfather to his home.
The soldiers left. What could The Grandfather have said that was so convincing? I asked to hear the story again, this time from The Grandfather's son.
Before the event at the school, Bishop Medardo and mi papá met with General Ponce. During that meeting, General Ponce gave a little card with his phone number to the Bishop and to my dad. "If you ever need anything," said the General, "call this number."
When people were in trouble, they turned to the Lutheran Church for help. The first Lutheran Church in this area was Springs in the Desert, established by my dad. He was the pastor for the entire region. He walked with the families in all of the surrounding communities, and when the families called for him, he would go.
The military arrived at the school and made it into their base for the zone. The soldiers stayed there to eat and clean their clothes and sleep. Then during the day they would go out from that base to conduct their operations. The teacher and the children came to the school, but how could they use it with the military there? So my dad went. He told the soldiers he was the Lutheran pastor for the area and that he wanted to speak with the comandante. My dad greeted the commander and pulled the little card from General Ponce out of his pocket. "You need to call this number," my dad told the commander. Apparently it was quite a phone call. The General did not want a big human rights fiasco and he told the commander to get out of the school. So, the soldiers packed up their suitcases and left.
Of course, after receiving word that the military had taken over the school, my dad called Bishop Medardo. Bishop Medardo called General Ponce. So the General knew he would be receiving the call from the commander.The son paused. "You know ... not just any pastor could have done this," he said with a wink and a grin. Then he elaborated a bit.
My dad was captured and held by the military various times. One time he was walking [in the same area where we had walked] and captured and held until really late in the night. And...my dad...early the very next morning he went out to that very same place where the very same soldiers were, sending the message, "See - I'm free."No, it's true. Not just any pastor could have done this.
The strength and faith of this older generation of Salvadoran pastors in the face of war, and the strength and faith of this current generation of Salvadoran pastors in the face of gang violence, is difficult for those of us who have never lived or served in this kind of reality to comprehend. It is wise for us, I think, to listen to their stories.