Leave the Door Open

I leave the office door open.  The office is a narrow room with a slightly hidden door off of a dark outdoor corridor.  No one really thinks to knock if the door is closed, even though I have taped a foam heart on the door that says "welcome" in three languages.  It's a surprisingly quiet space.  It receives the afternoon sun, which gives it a stuffy, oven-like quality that lasts into the next morning.  The slatted windows let in just enough car exhaust and kicked up dust from the parking area to give everything in the office a slightly gray patina.

I leave the office door open.  An open door invites people in.  An open door says that the person inside has time for you.

People wonder what I do in El Salvador.  I sometimes wonder about that too.  Today was my second day back in the office.  I start each day by wiping off the desks and lighting a candle.  This could be viewed as a spiritual practice.  The candle is big and smells of citronella, so honestly it is more of a practice in mosquito abatement.  I keep a cardboard container on the desk (it was a gift) filled with pencils or candy or some little treat.  A long time ago a graceful woman at my home church taught me the value of creating welcome and having treats even in the smallest and most humble of offices.

A familiar face peered into my doorway.  "Come in!" I chimed.  After a little hug and a few seconds, I could tell my friend wanted to talk.  "Sit down," I offered.  She took the green plastic chair.  I sat down in the wiggly aluminum one next to her.  I have known this pastor for a very long time.  She was a solid companion to the Bishop and an educator in the Lutheran Church during the war years.  She has had her ups and downs and miracles and horrors with her health.  She is smart and makes her points in meetings with authority and wisdom.  Today, as she has done from time to time, she just stopped by to talk.

Two hours passed.  There were a few tears.  There were a few hugs.  And while listening intently, I  jotted down a few words in my calendar book.  A few hours later, I am left with a little collection of her words and my reflections from our morning together...

The ideas of building peace and reconciliation amidst our current reality, the goals of the IPAZ (Pastoral Initiative for Peace) are good, but at this time advocacy has become a huge challenge.  The culture of violence is pervasive.  For a time we had the truce [between the gangs] and in my opinion that was good because it created a spirit of hope among gang members that change was possible.  We believe that people can change, right?  But now with the police or security forces taking youth and beating them or killing them in whatever community they live in...where is the truth? What do we do as the church when the societal authorities which are supposed to seek the truth are perpetuating violence?  There is no truth...

There are youth who served time in prison.  They have nowhere to live.  Where can they go with tattoos on their faces?  They are the ones, as we say, who "found Jesus" or Jesus found them, right? While they were in prison.  So we started a bakery project and they bake breads.  They live in the church because they have no place to go.  They work at the bakery and they live at the church...

One man was a member of MS.  He was sent to maximum security prison and then was released.  He came to us and told us of the conditions there.  All he had was one toothbrush.  He was there for six months.  No soap, no toothpaste, nothing.  No family members are allowed to visit or bring things.  Everyone washes only with water.  Brushes teeth only with water.  No hair cuts.  No shaving.  No laundry.  They are supposed to get 2 hours of sun each day but there is no room.  There is not enough air.  Men are sick, very sick with lung infections.  Some have AIDS and even cancer but no one is treated.  It is inhumane.  As the church we plead for these men - we know they are not good people, but they are humans - and then we are accused of being aligned with the gangs.  When the man was released, the guards started beating him right outside the prison gate.  His sister was there to pick him up, and had she not been there, the guards would have killed him...

When there is no hope, no belief that people can change, then the culture of violence grows.  When there is no opportunity for education or employment, when narco-trafficking consumes a community, the culture of violence grows and the victims are the little ones, the most vulnerable in society - the little store, the little business, the people on the bus.  There was a little store run by a family.  The gang demanded a rent of $25 per week, that is $100 per month for a little store.  One time the gang sent the boy to collect the rent and the man paid as usual.  But the boy was always high on drugs.  He did not turn the money in to his boss.  The boss sent another collector but the store owner could not pay and he explained that the collector had already come.  The first collector denied receiving any money.  The gang member pulled out his gun and shot up the store.  He killed a person who was there buying something.  The man was shot and taken to the hospital and thankfully did not die.  The gang shot people, and for what?  

Gang live is an alternative lifestyle.  When there is no economic development, when there is no hope, where there is no societal movement toward reconciliation and the belief that change is possible, it is the only alternative, chosen or chosen for you...

I leave the office door open.  I help a little with communications and prepare for upcoming workshops.  Youth, Migration, Gangs, Inter-culturality, Education, Partherships - these are themes that weave themselves through the work of my day.  I sit at a desk with ants in the drawers.  The incredibly loud fan blocks out the sound of afternoon thunder.  I leave the office door open because a friend, a co-worker might want to talk.


  1. Thank you Linda. Your words are ones of hope, because the bring to light the humanity of these young men (and women), even in the midst of the horror of what they do. I lived in El Salvador years ago, worked with the Lutheran Church, married there, and visit every year. It is hard sometimes to see the hope, when dear friends are shot, where people live in fear, when every day more people flee there to come to the U.S. to meet a harsh reality here, if they make it. But the God of Life is present, many, many courageous people do not give up, and love must triumph. - Paul

    1. Amen, Paul, love must triumph! Thank you for your comments.


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