Partnering During a Pandemic

We left El Salvador.  It was a planned departure, and did not take place exactly as planned, but we made it home.  We are self-quarantined, by choice, because of encountering crowded conditions during travel.  So far, so good.

If you are following the news from El Salvador, you might know that the President took very strong measures to protect the country before there was a single case of Covid-19 in the country.  If you have been to El Salvador, you can understand why he made this choice.  El Salvador is crowded - really crowded.  El Salvador's medical care system barely functions under normal circumstances.  Minimizing the impact of the virus by limiting the movement of people is the only hope. 

Before we left, we received advice:  Drink warm beverages.  Don't drink anything cold.  You need lime juice.  (Salt and lime juice are used to clean things.)  Drink tea with ginger.  Eat garlic.  And - a funny one that was meant to be funny - don't bother eating the garlic, wear a huge necklace of it around your neck so no one comes within 2 meters of you.  Then you will be safe.*

Table by the entrance to worship the day before we left

To be honest, Salvadorans were quite serious in following measures before we left, with lots of hand-washing, gloves, masks, and some limiting of group sizes.  There were emergency response team meetings held by church and non-government organization leaders.  Folks who could stayed at home.  When we left, everyone at the airport was masked, gloved, and serious.  This included most passengers.

No one wants to be sick.  Everyone wants to protect the abuelos.

In some ways, Salvadoran families live in a type of quarantine all the time.  There are lots of young people who don't go out too much.  Staying safe from threats and violence is about going to school, maybe playing soccer, and coming home.  In some ways, the Salvadoran economy is set up to cope with people getting food and everything else by delivery or carry-out. It's routine for families to have pupusas delivered, to send a kid to the corner for tortillas, and for the tomato guy, the bread lady, the fruit woman etc. to go door to door to door.  And seriously, who hasn't used a scrap of newspaper as TP in El Salvador? 

As long as they can get supply, the small vendors can keep their distance and get food and other items to the people.  But, the sweatshops are closed.  Stores and restaurants are closed. If people can't work, how will they buy food?  And there is the worry about the abuelos. 

If people can't work, how will they buy food?  And we are worried about the grandparents.  Here and there, there and here, the essential worries are the same.

We were hardly on the ground after flight number one when the messages started coming in.  Safe travels.  Hope you are OK.  Stay safe. There were a lot of messages from El Salvador.  This continued throughout the day.  When we finally made it home, we posted that we had safely arrived.  More messages, about half from El Salvador, and half from the US hit the inbox:  Glad you are at home.  God bless.

Just as technology is keeping us connected with our friends and family locally, the same technology is connecting us across national borders.  We are sending air hugs, messages of encouragement, photos, pictures of our suppers, emojis, and prayers to one another like crazy.  And it's not just me or my husband, but LOTS of people are connecting with members of their sister church. 

The day before we left El Salvador, we went to worship in our local community there.  Knowing that worship had gone to an online format (at a different time) in Milwaukee, I went LIVE on Facebook for parts of the Salvadoran worship service.  People joined in from our two Milwaukee area sister churches and from the local community itself - people who live just steps away and didn't come in person but were watching from home.  A few online participants commented about how fun it was to "go" to worship at their sister church - something they would not have done on a "normal" Sunday.

In the context of international companion or sister church relationships, one silver lining of this dark pandemic cloud is intentional electronic communication.  A great illustration of this came yesterday via a Facebook message.  Our Salvadoran pastor made a video in WhatsApp that he wanted to share with the Milwaukee Synod sister churches.  He messaged me to ask for help converting it to Facebook Live.  With a little technology clarification and a bit of iMovie magic, the video went out via social media.  The first responses were from the diaspora - Salvadorans who live all over the world but are connected to the community.  Then, there were likes, comments, comments to comments, and a conversation began.  People are navigating the language barriers as best they can to connect with people they know from long ago, met once during a trip, or have never met at all.  It's really quite a beautiful little spot of hope, encouragement and solidarity.

During this time of challenge, the blessing of being knit together in relationship with siblings in our sister churches is a source of strength, hope and love.  May God help us to encourage one another, to pray for one another, and to ask for and to offer help when needed.  May what we learn in this journey enrich our relationships going forward.  And God, please provide food for those who need it and safety for us all, especially the abuelos.

*Thank you, Julia. 


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