Partnering During A Pandemic: Catching Up on Hope in the Midst of a Mess

As we in North America are emerging from summer into fall in an era of pandemic, in a season of planetary rebellion against climate change marked by epic fires and floods, in a new scholastic year in which children, parents and teachers are greatly stressed, and in a time of societal convulsion fevered by political strife, we are grateful for the faithful prayers and accompaniment of our brothers and sisters in El Salvador.  Our prayer chains are connected. Photos are sent this way and that.  Birthday greetings show up on Facebook walls. Little pieces of news about our children, our elders, and our churches travel via social media while people cannot travel at all. In our messy, messy world, this quiet, mutual accompaniment is beautiful, faithful, and encouraging.  

Beautiful, beautiful.  My heart is jumping with joy.  I feel so happy that we are a great communion of partnership.  For so many years of partnership, with all the details that we have shared in our lives, this prayer was a seal of our love, our friendship, our partnership.  I feel like during our prayer chain we are really close to each other.  There is the problem of the pandemic or of violence or whatever will be, but we have constructed lassos of friendship that keep us joyful, happy, content. We continue building our mission of living out our faith in community.  We will wait for our next prayer time together...

Pastor Santiago, at the conclusion of an online prayer chain gathering in early September.  The prayer chain meets on Wednesday and Friday evenings, via WhatsApp in Spanish and Messenger in Spanish and English.  There are about 40 participants.

It takes a bit of work on our end, here in the north, to share the words and the feelings of encouragement in our churches and communities.  Some of us who are ministry team leaders, particularly if we speak Spanish, have the opportunity to participate in prayer groups, receive emails, and share periodic video calls with our Salvadoran colleagues and friends.  While it is difficult enough in "normal" times to share stories broadly and keep our sister churches and communities connected, the current reality makes getting the stories out even more challenging.  

For the past several months, I have been writing periodic articles with the tagline "Partnering During A Pandemic."  My hope was, and is, that these stories can be helpful to those who lead accompaniment ministry programs, but also to folks who are connected a little less directly and who love and care about their friends and sister communities in El Salvador.  Previous stories during this time have included information about school, relief efforts due to COVID-19 and Tropical Storm Amanda, and ideas for staying connected over the internet.  Over the past month or so, we have received updates and photos from our Salvadoran church which have been helpful in keeping our sister churches connected.  Hopefully you are receiving similar stories and photos from your friends and partners in El Salvador, but in case you are feeling a little out of the loop, I will do a little sharing here.

School - There is a lot of variation between what schools are offering across El Salvador and what kind of internet is available to families.  The Ministry of Education has some excellent resources online, including all of the required curriculum.  Classes will remain in homes for the rest of the school year (December 2020).  We asked if it would be possible to have parents take photos of students studying at home.  Within a week, we received photos from almost every family in our Salvadoran church community.  We then shared the photos with families in our US church community.

Students continue to study online with heavy dependence on adults or older
children in the household making sure that the younger students are doing their assignments.

Most students receive live classes and assignments on their phones.

Many students have received study packets from their teachers.

A fortunate student may have a computer in the home or a computer that they can borrow.

The moms are in charge of recess, whether the kids are outside playing or not.

Covid-19 and Tropical Storm Amanda Relief Efforts - Relief efforts have come from various humanitarian agencies as well as the Salvadoran government.  The updates I have received are from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, which coordinated and distributed aid with funds and shipments from international companion synods, from sister churches, from the Lutheran World Federation and from ACT Alliance.  

The ACT Alliance put together a holistic response to Tropical Storm Amanda,
relying on leaders from the Salvadoran Lutheran Church to get aid into 55 Lutheran Church communities.

Getting aid to farmers whose crops were lost in the floods will hopefully allow
them to get another planting into the ground with the hope of staving off a severe
problem with hunger and malnutrition when the dry season comes.

ACT Alliance also provided emergency food bags to families.
While these photos are from our Salvadoran community, each of the Lutheran
Church communities received similar attention where it was needed.

In this community, the Lutheran Church was able to share fortified rice and eggs as part of a
nutrition package, and was able to give each household a cleaning kit.

 A timely shipment from Lutheran World Relief provided quilts, sewing kits,
hygiene kits and school kits to families in need.  The newborn
kit arrived just in time for the birth of a new little girl in this family. 

Through the combined relief efforts from international partnerships and ACT, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church was able to help 5575 people with large food kits in June, July and August and an additional 1300 families in September.  1200 families received cleaning kits.  3000 families received Lutheran World Relief kits.  Through an ACT agricultural fund, 255 cash payments were made to farmers who lost their crops.  ACT also supported small business owners who lost their livelihoods due to the emergencies.

Staying Connected - Beginning in August, El Salvador was to enter into a phased re-opening, following a written plan put out by the national government.  With a bit of confusion and disagreement between the different branches and different levels of government in El Salvador, the re-opening is not exactly going according to plan.  

For its part, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church is sticking to the plan.  This means that churches opened their doors for worship at the beginning of September, following all of the safety protocols recommended by the Ministry of Health. Everyone must wear a mask, chairs are placed 6 feet apart from one another, children and elders are advised to stay home, hand sanitizer is available, and surfaces are sanitized before worship. Since Salvadoran churches are very open to the outside air, they are generally considered to be safe places in which to gather. 

In-person worship has resumed in many of the Salvadoran Lutheran Churches

The connections which sister churches made with one another during the online period will hopefully remain strong.  In our specific setting, the online prayer chain will continue.  We know ministry leaders are busy, so we try to reach out to some of the young adults who are on social media to share photos and stories with us when they can.  Last Saturday, we learned, that the nursing school graduates held a little clinic in our Salvadoran church to check blood pressure and glucose levels.

I know, you are asking yourself, "Where's her mask?"  Well, even in El Salvador,
every now and then there is a slip-up.  Actually, she already had COVID-19, but...

May God encourage us as we walk together, opening our eyes and our hearts to the little signs of hope that we share with one another.


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