Celebrating 25 Years in the Struggle to be a Community

On March 24, 1996, an organized group of homeless families marched up the hill to plant a cross, to plant a church, to plant their roots as a new community.  This action was taken just four years after the end of a 12-year civil war. The negotiated Peace Accords, signed in 1992, called on the newly formed government to facilitate Land Reform.  Community organizers, like those in the Lutheran Church, worked with refugees and homeless families, to help them find places to live.

Just enough light before sunrise to put up the sign:
Aniversario 25
 

"We came walking from Tonacatepeque. We entered by the way where the school is now, we climbed up this hill, and that cross of iron that is up there, we planted it here on this little corner, on this mound of rock. We imbedded it in concrete.  And it stood there for 12 years, because the church was a little church for 12 years, and it was made of laminate, because as long as the people lived in little houses made of laminate, the church wanted to live just as the people were living.  And 12 years later, when the people were beginning to live in their nice little houses, then we built the church..."

The first church, planted by the cross
Photo credit:  Jim Drees, March 1999

Pastor Santiago was interrupted by a big surprise!  He abandoned his speech and shouted, "¡Qué viva Los Héroes!" Long live Los Héroes!

These two are quite the pair.  They carry so many
stories of sorrow and joy in their hearts, and are
the living encyclopedia of knowledge of the history of this community.

Every anniversary in Los Héroes has a fireworks schedule. The first ones
go up no later than 5:00 AM. If you are speechifying and it's time for fireworks, 
your speech concludes with a bang.

The name "Los Héroes en la Fe" (Heroes in the Faith) was chosen as the name for the new Lutheran Church, and by default became the name of the community.  When the organizers first met, there was a discussion about what name to choose.  There were many hero names to consider, like Monseñor Oscar Romero, who were murdered during the conflict because they stood up for those who were poor, oppressed and brutalized by government forces. In the end, in order to avoid any disagreement, the leaders decided to name the church in honor of all of the heroes who stood up for love and justice. 

"We have passed through many difficulties at one time or another, but thanks be to God, we are able to have one little piece of land where we are able to be and to raise our families," shared Sonia.  She continued:

"The experience that we had when we started the community, in those times ...we had to get water from way over there, in the area where the cows walked around, right? And the water flowed along with the saliva of the cows, and that's what we carried because we didn't have water in the community. Later the water project arrived and we were able to have potable water.  Electric lights arrived.

"We give thanks to our sister churches, because they have been accompanying us as always in the process of these 25 years; they have always been present. They supported us with the houses that we built.  It was a very beautiful project that benefitted various families, right? And we also give thanks to God because they have helped us with scholarships for our students...  

Electricity arrived following advocacy
with the government and a push from
the sister churches. (1998)

Some of the first homes - getting ready for
new construction (2002)

The first well had a flywheel, and a pump was added later.
(about 2000)

"We are grateful for all the partners have done because without them, we would not be walking together as the church.   We always need each other,  Our partnership has been very beautiful for us. We also give thanks to God because we now have pavement in our community, something we were able to accomplish by way of the government. 

"Now with all that has been done, our community is really beautiful. Now it isn't the same as it was, right? And for all of this we give thanks to God on this day. Because now we have achieved all these things that we didn't have when we came to this community.

"It is very present in my mind, that very day when we arrived here in the community. Various people have said, 'No, it can't be 25 years!' but I have kept count of the years we have been here, and I was one of the first 50-something families to register to be this community.  I went to the first meetings we had over in the hacienda. Some don't believe me, but I carry my story.  When I came to Arrazola to see if I could have a little land, there were already 50 people signed up in this process They were able to sign up more people.  I remember when Yessenia had her little children, and she was among the families that arrived here walking.  Some families have left now, and some of the older people have left us, but little branches of the families remain, from those who founded our community.

"Nelson was there, Marcelino, all the people of a certain age who have been a part of this community for always. I believe that everything has been wondrous, there have been stormy times, but in all that we have lived through, and God is the force that has carried us and provided us with all we have needed," Sonia concluded.

Applause for Sonia's story from two of the brave ones who founded Los Héroes.

Next, one of the young adults was asked to speak:

"I wasn't here when the community started, as others were, but I came when maybe when I was 10 years old.  What most caught my attention when I came to the church, was that the church celebrated this anniversary of the church and of the community, and I think that is really beautiful because every year we remember. It leaves an impression: all of the trauma that the people went through over the 25 years and the accomplishments. 

"Over 25 years, the little kids are now adults, and maybe they represent the community. I hope they do, because the trauma at the beginning was very hard and difficult.  It was difficult in the beginning, and it is a pleasure to participate with you because little by little, developing, building and God willing, the next 25 years will bring us more."

One of the founders, Nelson, shared his perspective:

"We have arrived at our 25th anniversary, and here, there some of us who came in walking from the beginning, into the community. When I came here, Jesús, Marcelino were already here organizing. 

"This is a story that is very beautiful, that we have lived, because [before I came] I had no place to live. By way of the FMLN, I came to this community. In Apopa they gave me a document which stated I could form part of this community - it was a document I could present to show I had a right to come and to be here.

"We came walking, at this time, it was really hard,  because it was not easy to walk in this community in those times. when Marcelino and Jesus and I would meet at the hacienda Arrazola, we had to come one from this direction, another from the other, because we had, in our view, people who were watching us who didn't want us to come here. We were a nuisance to them. and we succeeded in meeting safely and established being a community to be able to go forward.

A founding family built their home from adobe.
(about 1997)

"Rosa Mirian walked with us, and her whole family.  Jesús would walk from that direction with 3, and Marcelino came in from that direction with 3, and Mirian, and we all walked like this, but we succeeded and made this community.

"We have to have a vision looking more forward, to walk together as brothers and sisters. As community, we need to unify ourselves more, we are not united. We are a church but we want more unity - among the youth, among the adults, in communication, to be able to have a closeness among us. We can hold events or gatherings to be able be closer with one another.

"A little while ago, it was really nice, we learned to do a home garden project. We can use this to unify us, with just a little bit of earth, we can plant a little something to help us survive. We can plant tomato, cucumber, etc. to grow a little something for the community and for ourselves. This little project of togetherness will help us...

"We always are in prayer. We learned that prayer helps. To love God and love our neighbor. In the difficult moments, we make a prayer and it does something in our body with a divine healing. And praying for others is good.  Pray for others before yourself, and the blessing falls more strongly upon us"

After the speeches, we had a little presentation of letters from the US sister churches.  The community remembers many celebrations which have been shared with a delegation from the sister churches, and looks forward to the day when we can once again have a great big party together.  

Some of the folks gathered to celebrate.

Maybe that party will come when the people finally are able to get legal title to their land.  The entities which disagreed with land reform 30 years ago have made every step of community development difficult. The speeches, thanking God for each step along the way and calling for unity and closeness, are not just nice anniversary words.  These are words which carry a lot of weight, a lot of pain, a lot of struggle, and a lot of commitment. The accompaniment of the sister churches in advocacy with local authorities, in love and friendship, in good times and bad, in development projects and in faith is part of what makes Los Héroes the community is today, and it makes the sister churches who they are too.

¡Qué viva Los Héroes!

The sun came up over the trees, just as the ceremonial part of the
celebration ended.

It is not anniversary day without chuco and pan francés!

I rarely put myself into my stories, but I just love
being at the anniversary celebrations and I 
really love this chuco recipe.




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