One of the ways we have described our mission trip to El Salvador has been with the words, "walk with." Our intention on this our first trip to El Salvador is to walk with the Salvadoran people in their daily lives, and particularly to walk with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. To this end, our trip has been designed to give us a broad perspective on Salvadoran life and the ministry of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, taking us to a variety of places to meet people, to see historical sites, to gather for worship, and to hear the Salvadoran story.
Today we quite literally walked with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador. Every August 6 – during the country's August Festival – the Lutheran Church in El Salvador celebrates the anniversary of the Lutheran Episcopate in El Salvador (more on the foundation of the Lutheran Episcopate in El Salvador at the end of this post). This year is the 22nd anniversary. The celebration begins with a 3km parade/demonstration/walk through San Salvador, arriving at the bishop's church, Resurrection Lutheran. Leading this walk were several youth, carrying symbols of the church – Bible, a cross, baskets of food, and a banner, among others. Behind them were the Bishop and the clergy – visiting clergy from overseas along with a large percentage of the Salvadoran clergy – visiting delegations from overseas churches, and then thousands of youth and adults from the Lutheran Church and partner organizations. The coordinator of the event estimated that about 4000 people were in attendance.
It was truly an amazing celebration and demonostration of the church's presence and of God's work through the church in El Salvador. However, it was not too long ago that the Lutheran Church and Bishop Gomez himself were persecuted by the military regime in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of their advocacy for the poor and their opposition to the war (during the war, Bishop Gomez was "disappeared" once and went into hiding several times to avoid capture). To this day church leaders are not warmly embraced by the right-wing governent, and the church faces new challenges from drug gangs (last year two pastors were killed as they came out of worship). The church's mission is truly a lucha, a struggle, in a society wracked by poverty and crime.
In that way, then, the parade today was much less a celebratory walk – like a high school homecoming or a July 4th parade might be - but much more a walk of solidarity, akin to the civil rights marches of the 1960s. It was a march of solidarity – with North Americans, Germans, Fins, Swedes, Brasilians and others walking alonside of Salvadorans, supporting the ministry of the church in El Salvador, and telling the people of El Salvador that there is a great community of nations and churches walking with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador in its ministry and mission among the Salvadoran people. You are not alone.
The march ended at the Resurrection Church, where the bishop gave remarks and a ceremony of presentations and thanksgivings took place. The theme for this year's pilgrimage is "Give us this day our daily bread." The bishop commented that God has given the world all it needs for nutrition and sustanence, but that the human hands that administer God's creation have selfishly and sinfully created inequalities and divisions. He highlighted that the Lord's Prayer does not ask for "my" daily bread, but "our" daily bread, that the prayer and the need for sustanence is not a personal concern, but a communal, a global concern.
This was the most powerful day for me thus far. To literally walk with the people of El Salvador and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church was an experience that I will never forget. Yet marching is only a first step. Anyone can hop on a plane and participate in a parade. But I hope for me that this march becomes a symbol and a reminder of what it is I am called to do – to walk with God's people in need, to join them on their journey of faith, to participate in their struggle, to sing and pray and work for justice alongside those who most struggle for it.
This evening we will have a celebration with the Bishop and with several of the other foreign delegations. It promises to be a late evening. Tomorrow Pastor Mike returns to the United States – please keep him in your thoughts and prayers – and the remaining delegation is scheduled to visit the San Salvador volcano (and likely something else, too – we have not stuck terribly close to the original itinerary!).
Speaking of volcanoes and of things tectonic . . . last evening we experienced an earthquake. Waking (some of) us up in the middle of the night was a tremor rated 4.6 on the ritcher scale. It scared the crud out of me! Having lived on the east coast my whole life, I had never felt an earthquake before . . .
I have noticed an uptick in readers this week – thanks to all at home who are reading about our travels. Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers! We miss you!
I've been lucky enough to write each day using Pastor Mike's computer and the hotel's wireless internet connection. He and his computer leave tomorrow, so the blogging might be a bit briefer ("thank God!" you say) as I will be writing from the hotel reception desk's computer for the next few evenings.
Peace to you all.
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A brief note about the Lutheran Episcopate in El Salvador
I know some who read this blog are interested in church polity and church order and whatnot. From what I was told by a pastor here in El Salvador, the Episcopate came to El Salvador in 1986. Medardo Gomez was the Pastor President of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod, then affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. However, the Salvadoran Church was looking to become autonomous, in part because a large number of female leaders were being trained and the church wanted to ordain them as pastors (which is prohibited in the LCMS).
Additionally, the church sought to raise the profile of Pastor President Gomez by consecrating him as a bishop. This was partly for his protection, as his elevation as a bishop would make it (incrementally, anyway) more difficult for the government to persecute him (easier to persecute a Pastor President than a Bishop). With the presence of several foreign bishops, including a bishop from the Church of Sweden (a Lutheran Church that has maintained the historic episcopate) he was consecrated Bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church on August 6, 1986. Consecrating as Bishop an advocate for the poor and a critic of the military regime – an amazing act of international solidarity and a defiant demonstration of faith in the midst of a bloody civil war.
It is clear that Bishop Gomez is loved here in El Salvador. During the march several cheers of "Long live Bishop Medardo Gomez!" with loud responses of, "Viva!" were heard. He has truly been a symbol of this church's tenacity, and a shepherd, a guide, a pastor to this church. A simple anecdote tells of his dedication: last evening, at the end of a long day including two worship services (one to dedicate several trained lay leaders, another service of Ordination and Holy Communion), greeting several of the foreign delegations, and preparations for today's march (and who knows what else!), he got in our van and asked our driver to drop him off at Casa de Esperanza (House of Hope), a ministry for people with drug and alcohol addictions living on the streets of San Salvador. As he got out of the van, a man ran over to the van and hugged him, and he was greeted warmly as he passed through the shelter's doors.