The Old Wooden Cross

"Do you remember the first cross we had, the old wooden one?"  Pastor Santiago gestured toward the front of the church.  I glanced across the room toward my friend, Julia.  Yes.  We remembered.

"It was painted, a little faded, a little dark." The pastor paused, "Does anyone know where it is now?"

The congregation members looked at each other, shaking their heads, shrugging their shoulders.  Someone said they thought the cross was still in the community.  Pastor Santiago looked skeptical.

This is the month of memories.  The saints. The faithful departed. The final offensive.  The Jesuit martyrs.  The Lutheran martyrs.  The Subversive Cross. 

In the context of November, Pastor Santiago was remembering an old wooden cross.  It had a story - a story which connects a congregation and a community to its origin as a group of homeless refugees.

During the civil war in El Salvador, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church opened its heart and its arms to care for refugees.  Bombing and battle displaced families.  Some sought refuge in camps in neighboring countries.  Hundreds sought refuge at Fe y Esperanza, the Lutheran refuge for internally displaced families. 

As dialog began during the late 1980's, families began to leave Fe y Esperanza:  some making their way home and some passing a few years at Lake Ilopango below San Miguel Tepezontes.  After the Peace Accords were signed in 1992, Fe y Esperanza closed, and the camp at the lake closed.  The church accompanied families with repatriation from camps outside of El Salvador and resettlement for those inside the country with no place to go.

The community now known as Los Héroes was founded as a resettlement community.  The land for the community was given to the people as part of the land reforms described in the Peace Accords.  Like many post-war settlements, the community began with no access to water, power, schools, sewerage management, or any governmental services.  In fact, more than 23 years after being settled, muddled bureaucratic processes have still kept the families from receiving legal title to their land. 

After the war, refugee families arrived in Los Héroes accompanied by the Lutheran church.  They carried pieces of Fe y Esperanza with them, literally.  From the refugee camp, they dragged pieces of corrugated metal, wood, tree trunks, bamboo to their little plot of land, along with a slightly tattered wooden cross.  They made adobe bricks and used what they brought and what they found to build their homes.  Pastor Santiago's father built the church.  He built it in the same style as the church which the refugees had built at Fe y Esperanza:  corner posts made from trees, half walls of corrugated metal, upper walls made from pieces of bamboo.  Papa Santiago left a big window opening behind the altar so the people could look out at the Guazapa volcano.  In front of the window, he hung the wooden cross - the cross which almost 25 years later, Pastor Santiago remembered.

One Sunday morning, Pastor Santiago arrived at the church to teach Sunday School.  The door had been broken, some of the walls smashed in.  This happened from time to time as the gangs asserted their controls.  As he entered the church, he noticed a pew bench had been broken and tipped to the floor.  The wooden cross had been taken down from the wall and broken into pieces. Pastor Santiago said he started to cry. The cross which had guided refugee families during times of trial during the war, the cross which the people of Los Héroes had carried up the hill to place in their new little church, the old wooden cross was broken and on the floor. 

On a Sunday in November, we remembered the old wooden cross.  Perhaps someone knows if the pieces survived.  That would be a miracle.  The community is looking for photos.  Maybe the sister churches have photos.  A generation ago, the refugees who came to Los Héroes brought little pieces of Fe y Esperanza with them, literally, little pieces of Faith and Hope.  The cross might be lost, but the faith and hope survive.

A tiny bit of the old wooden cross is visible above the banner.


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