We came to El Salvador to learn about the people, the country, the culture, and to witness what God is doing in and through the Lutheran Church in El Salvador. As part of our learning, today we witnessed three defining forces in the lives of many Salvadorans: Military, Poverty, and Faith.
Military: Our day got off to a late start, as our van was blocked in the hotel’s driveway by a rather menacing military parade: everything from drum corps to commandos, from helicopter fly-overs with Uzi-toting soldiers dangling off the sides, to rural police on horseback armed with machetes, to an officer holding a boa constrictor (the symbolism that the military has a grip much like a boa constrictor wasn’t lost on me). This parade went on for at least 40 minutes, and showed off an impressive amount of hardware and firepower. The civil war might be over, but the military presence is quite pervasive. It seemed clear to me that such a demonstration of power is designed to remind the people of the government’s power.
Poverty: We visited two churches today – Cristo Rey in Santa Ana, and San Pablo in Lobato, a community outside of Santa Ana. Lobato is the kind of place where people live in small, cinder-block homes with dirt or concrete floors and corrugated metal roofs, minimal electricity, no running water, and outhouses that drain into the street. Folks wash clothing – and themselves – in the local river, and hope that during the rainy season or hurricanes their homes don’t wash away. We worshiped in the semi-protected courtyard – a roof and three walls, with one side completely open to the elements – of a facility that used to be a clinic, but the foreign agency that funded the clinic withdrew their support and the clinic shut down. The church building in which they had worshiped was destroyed in an earthquake in 2001. All that remains is the painted concrete floor where children gather to play.
Faith: At San Pablo in Lobato, we were received with amazing warmth and love. As we arrived children sang a song of greeting to us, and about 40 members of the community – spread between at least three generations – welcomed us. We shared a time of devotion, prayer and song, and also listened as leaders from San Pablo told us about their evangelical and social outreach with the community. We heard about their struggles and their joys, and through it all their faith shined through. They spoke over and over again about the love and faithfulness of God who had blessed them with so much – how this congregation, non-existent 15 years ago, was now a thriving community of faith. Significantly, this is a congregation that has raised up a large number of female church leaders, including the pastor. Ministry among women, and training women for leadership, is a core part of this church’s ministry.
This is just a sketch of what we’e seen thus far, and a very incomplete and imperfect sketch at that. Tomorrow (Sunday) we will visit the Church of the Resurrection, where the Bishop presides. While there we will likely meet members of other North American church delegations who are also here in partnership with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. We will also visit a popular city park and a mural dedicated to the memory of victims of the country’s civil war.
On a personal note, I have found myself translating much more than I had expected to. It has been fun – though a bit intimidating – to exercise those linguistic muscles again. I translate into English much better than I translate into Spanish . . . but so far I seem to be getting by alright. I was also surprised to hear that I will be preaching next Sunday in Cara Sucia – in Spanish. At least I have a week to prepare . . .
A highlight of the day was spending time with the children in Lobato. We got to taking several photos of the kids, and I asked them to say “cheese” (yes, in English) as I took a photo. I explained to them that when you say “cheese,” your face makes a smile. Well, the kids just found this to be terribly funny, and the rest of the afternoon was we walked through their community, they kept on shouting, “cheese!” While on this tour of the community many of these children, along with other members of the church, invited us into their homes. The generosity and hospitality of this community was just amazing.
We finished the day with dinner back at our hotel. We talked over dinner about ministry opportunities with the church in Lobato – potable water projects, construction of a church building, education programs, etc.. But then we also began thinking of ministry programs we could offer to the Salvadoran community back home – which is significant in size – and also what we could do with the folks within our own congregation – such as offer Spanish classes and opportunities for cross-cultural fellowship. The opportunities for shared ministry, for partnership, for truly living into our calling to be the Body of Christ are myriad. And to think that this is only the first day . . . Surely God will present us with many more visions of partnership and mutual support in coming days.
Many thanks to all who are praying for us. Please continue to keep us – Kelly, Sandy, Kimberly, Jane, Chris, Mike – in your prayers.
I hope to write again on Sunday evening. Peace to you!