Accompaniment and Mountains

Grief.  Anger.  Frustration.

These are not the words we would choose to have enter our sister church relationships, yet there they are, in the midst of our US sister church meetings and conversations.

Grief, anger and frustration.  You might expect a writing about violence.  Invasions.  Gun shots.  Blood flowing across tile floors and dirt paths.  Promising lives of girls and boys and now even old men senselessly lost.  Certainly grief, anger, and frustration are rightly expressed in the current context of violence in El Salvador.

But gang violence is not the subject of today's writing.  Today I write about a beloved pastor who died.  She died.  We don't even like to say it out loud:  she died.  As a bunch of brothers and sisters from a bunch of sister churches who knew and love this pastor and her family, we do not want to accept the reality that she died.

She was a mother with three children.  She died.
She was a creative, lively, leading, successful pastor.  She died.
She seemed healthy when we last saw her.  She died.
We prayed and prayed and believed she would live.  She died.
She was in charge of a bunch of stuff we have going on.  She died.
Her husband needed her love, her income, her part in the parenting team.  She died.
We tried to help with her medical care.  She died.
We thought God would save her.  She died.

It seems unjust when a young person dies, when a mother dies, or when a person dies because the medical care may have been substandard (at least, compared to what we are accustomed to).  Our feelings of anger and frustration at this seemingly unjust death are expressed in statements like, "She wouldn't have died if she had been in the US," which, of course, we cannot know to be true.  Our sense of injustice causes us to ask questions, to try to figure out what could have been done differently or what we could have done differently.  Our sense of injustice causes us to work for change, and that generally is a good thing.  Yet, especially for those of us who live in the United States with some degree of wealth and privilege, our sense of injustice can turn us into The Great Fixers.

As sister churches, I do not believe that we are called to be The Great Fixers, especially of the Salvadoran critical care health system.  As I ponder what our call might be, I am reminded of a song:

Lord, you don't have to move that mountain, but give me the strength to climb,
And Lord, don't take away my stumbling block, but lead me all around.

How do we accompany, how do we help as we move on in life as program organizers and sister churches after the death of our friend and pastor?  It feels like our Salvadoran brothers and sisters have so many mountains, so many stumbling blocks.  The reality is we cannot fix something which is not ours to fix, we cannot move the mountains, but maybe we can hold some hands as we walk around and push and pull our way up together.  Maybe we can help.

First, I think we have to remember that all people have the right to make their own decisions about their own care and to keep their conditions private.  Think about your own self and what you share with people and when you ask for advice and from whom.  We can help by listening.  We can help by praying and literally being together and holding hands.  We can help by remembering we only have a small view of the whole.  We can help when we are asked to help.

Second, it is important to understand that the Salvadoran healthcare system's strength lies in its well-care system.  The system does not serve well for people with complex diagnoses, or who need advanced procedures. That is the reality in El Salvador. So how can we help?
  • We can help by learning more about the Salvadoran Healthcare systems, listening to providers and visiting clinics near our sister churches.
  • We can help by encouraging our friends in El Salvador to get regular check-ups and to talk OPENLY with their doctors about any concerns.  Prevention and early intervention are the keystone of their system. Doctors do not seem to ask as many questions as US doctors the patient needs to come forth with all information.
  • We can help by working with local and church leaders to make sure that every Salvadoran knows how to access the care system and knows their rights
  • We can help by working with local church leaders and local clinics to set up public/private/church connections so that when difficult situations arise and patients or doctors do not have answers, teams can come together in a timely fashion to help
  • We can help by encouraging and increasing education in every aspect.  This has increasingly been the work of the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair.  Education examples include:
    • Teaching people about medications and their uses.  Salvadoran pharmacies do not watch out for drug interactions - patients are wise to ask about that.  Many people stop taking medications when they "feel better" because they do not understand that chronic medications may need to be taken for life
    • Teaching families about danger signs - Salvadoran physicians consistently tell us that by the time people come into the hospital or the clinic the situation is grave and too late to save the person's life
    • Sponsoring studies for Salvadoran medical professionals to specialize in areas lacking specialists
    • Working with Salvadoran clinics or hospitals to create a colleague relationship between US professionals and Salvadoran professionals, which could include learning exchanges and perhaps create a "second opinion" network among physicians 
As sister churches, as people who are grieving, angry and frustrated by one woman's death come too soon amidst a host of violent and unjust deaths come too soon, we are searching for the right path, the helpful path of accompaniment around and over the mountains.  May God grant us strength and wisdom so that we may walk together in faith, comfort and the promise that joy will come around the other side of the mountain.


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