Partnering During A Pandemic: Work and Pray, Pray and Work

There is a song in the Salvadoran hymnal entitled "En la Viña del Señor" (In the Vineyard of the Lord).  I am sure I have talked about this song in previous stories, and now I have probably created an ear worm for many of you who have worshiped in El Salvador.  It is one of our Salvadoran church pastor's favorite songs and the first one he taught his sister churches in the US.

Yo quiero trabajar por el Señor, (I want to work for the Lord)
Confiando en su palabra y en su amor, (Trusting in His Word and His love)
Quiero yo cantar y orar, (I want to sing and pray)
Y ocupado siempre estar (And always be busy)
En la viña del Señor. (In the vineyard of the Lord)

Trabajar y orar,  (Work and pray)
En la viña, en la viña del Señor; (In the vineyard, in the vineyard of the Lord)
Sí, mi anhelo es orar, (Yes, my longing is to pray)
Y ocupado siempre estar, (And always be busy)
En la viña del Señor. (In the vineyard of the Lord)

El Salvador was under very strict quarantine for 80 days.  For a pastor who is called by God and temperament to pray and work out there in the vineyard, WITH the people, these 80 days have been frustrating.  Not that he and other pastors like him are not 100% in accordance with safety guidelines in the presence of Covid-19.  The guidelines are necessary, and the church wants to set a good example for families and communities.  Yet when people are suffering, without a bit of food in the house, with damages and loss due to flooding, with grief as community members become sick or die, it's just heartbreaking for a working pastor not to be out there in the vineyard.  Maybe we sister folk feel a little bit of this heartbreak too.

Despite the lockdown, many pastors in El Salvador, just like in the US, have found ways to connect with their congregations with phone and social media groups.  In our Salvadoran church, members contribute parts of a communal worship, submitting songs, readings, prayers, etc. and the pastor moves pretty smoothly between parts of the service.  Pretty impressive for a previously not-so-tech-savvy pastor.

Last week brought a change.  El Salvador's government lifted the quarantine.  People can go out.  This happened as the number of Covid-19 cases is increasing.  

Near the tail-end of the quarantine period, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church navigated government systems and obtained some permissions to go out to help people.  This became absolutely necessary in the wake of the tropical storm and associated flooding.  Now that the quarantine is lifted, the ability for church leadership teams to go out, assess the situation in their communities first hand, and bring relief packages from the church to families in need is possible.  Public transportation is still not running, but the church offices are open for 2 short days per week, using appropriate safety precautions.

The Salvadoran Lutheran Church Emergency Committee meets weekly, and has short-term and long-term plans in place.  International sister churches are working in support of these plans, and are encouraged to stay in close communication with leaders at the local, regional and national levels.

A few nights ago, I received an "Hola amiga" via Messenger.  Pastor and I have been friends for long enough that I recognize "Hola amiga" as the bat signal for "Hey, I have some news to tell you or we need to brainstorm about this sister church thing."   We typed a few messages back and forth.  He sent me two photos of people from the community receiving cleaning kits.  "Hola amiga, I'm back in the vineyard,"

"Would you like to help me do a story for my blog?" I asked.  

"Of course."  He told me he would send me photos and some words.   

We shared back and forth about our feelings and how things are in our families.  It was Father's Day and I asked about Papa (our pastor's dad).  "He's desperate," wrote the pastor. 

I checked to make sure I understood what he meant.  Papa was feeling cooped up.  "He's like you," I said, "he needs to go walking out in the campo.  Could drive out to where there are no people for a walk in the country?"  Now that the restrictions on movement were lifted, this is possible.

Less than a minute later, I got an audio message from Papa.  He needed a a little encouragement to talk to a recording device, but it ultimately brought out some much needed laughter.  Then I got one from another family member.  I sent an audio message back.  Sometimes we forget to do the simplest things to bring each other joy.

The next evening, I received a batch of photos (more than I can include here) and some words for my blog:

I send smiles and hugs from the pastoral team, the parish committee and the people of the Lutheran Church and the community.  These are days full of the presence of the love of God.  It is a time to harvest the fruits of the Spirit of friendship and partnership as sister churches, as men and women of faith. As faithful servants we have walked for a long time, building and sharing.  The most beautiful is that today, in no matter what place we are in, we find ourselves continuing to walk together, pray together, serve together.  Because we are better together.  Love life!  We live out our faith in community.  Amen.

Yes, that is the Luther Rose that you see on the sanitizing products.
These young ladies are members of the Parish Committee (Council).

As I am putting this story together, the community is grieving the loss of a beloved member.   He died yesterday morning. No one could go to a vigil.  No one can go to the burial today.  Those pandemic restrictions are still in place.  A friend in the community got sick the same day as he did.  She can't get over the worry right now.

The pastor sent this after sending the batch of photos: 
The only law that will protect us from Covid-19, and from whatever other pandemic that will come, is the law of the love of God:  the respect and the love for the neighbor, the care for creation, the care of our loved ones, and the care of ourselves.  Amen.


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