Sunday, January 15, 2017

Antonio Lives

Antonio lives.

It's a phrase that creeps into the conversation every now and then when we are remembering Missions of Healing, when we are telling stories of God's miraculous powers of healing, when we remember a beloved friend from El Paisnal.

Antonio received his miracle healing on a leg that was dead, a leg that was to be amputated, a leg that only God could heal, a leg that Antonio named his "miracle leg," a leg that lifted Antonio up out of his wheelchair and walked him to church, a leg that carried Antonio throughout his town of El Paisnal and beyond so he could testify that God is real and God heals.

Two years later, Antonio was once again in a wheelchair.   As we recognized him from a distance, we were disappointed to see that he was not walking.  Years of uncontrolled diabetes was taking his sight, and had claimed one of his feet.  We came to him with greetings and hugs, and he lit up, saying, "Look, the miracle leg still lives!"  The lost limb was not the one which God had healed, but the other.   Antonio had come to the Mission of Healing to continue the work that God gave to him, to proclaim that the miracle leg was alive.

Some time later, Antonio's body could no longer sustain his miracle leg, and he died.  As his casket traveled by pick-up through the town, people from all around El Paisnal and well beyond walked in procession.  Hundreds of people:  Lutherans, Catholics, adults, children, all those who had listened to Antonio's testimony and were transformed by it.

Again, some time later, Antonio's family invited us to come to their home for a meal.  His widow gave us a small wooden memorial with Antonio's photograph.  "God gave Antonio a special mission," she said, "and he took it very seriously.  For more than two years he gave testimony to the healing power of God.  The crowd of people at his funeral is evidence of God's work through Antonio.  Antonio lives."

A few years have passed.  Antonio's story lives on in the video he asked us to make and in the stories people share.

Back in the United States, a generous donor provides a large quantity of high quality shoes, designed specially for persons with diabetes, to our local church.  On our annual Shoe Day, people in need of shoes to protect their feet come to receive free shoes.  Many of the people suffer from diabetes.  Many live outdoors or in struggling circumstances.  At the end of our last Shoe Day, we bundled up the extra shoes.  These shoes traveled to El Salvador.

Yesterday, these shoes were placed into the hands of Antonio's pastor, in honor and memory of Antonio.  "Antonio lives," said the pastor, smiling and crying.  Antonio lives in all of the people who heard his testimony, but more than that, Antonio lives in all of the people who he helped during the war.  This is a part of Antonio's legacy, which we did not know until yesterday.  During El Salvador's civil war, Antonio worked with this pastor to file refugee papers so those in danger of being kidnapped or murdered or arrested for their work could flee to safety.  "Whenever I see one of those that we helped walking down the streets of El Paisnal, I say to myself, 'Antonio lives.'"

To have known Antonio for a short time, to have heard the story of his work during the war, to have witnessed his faithful response to God's healing and call to witness, to have eaten at his family's table and to be able to share Antonio's life and legacy with others is a true blessing.  May Antonio continue to live within those who knew him, who loved him, who have life because of him, who are transformed by his story, and who walk where he walked in shoes shared in his name.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Tales from the Grandfather: A Picture of a Boy

Paterna Fuit

"How are the little trees, Papa?"

He smiles a big, wide, smile, his eyes squinting with delight.  "They are this high," he says, gesturing with his hand about 3 feet from the ground.  "You gave me one, two, three, four, five paterna seeds, and I collected a few more and now there are nine trees.  Some day there will be a whole field of trees.  The people walk along and pick the fruit and eat it."  After all, that is how I acquired the seeds.  Out in a country field, a friend picked a paterna fruit.  I cracked open the pod and ate the white fluffy flesh, and saved the seeds.  They were already sprouting a bit when I gave them to the Grandfather.

He is a retired pastor, but in his retirement was given a large piece of land out in the countryside.  He has spent the last several years developing a small congregation there, and planting trees on the land.  He has built a "country house." That is what he calls it.  Maybe it is made of adobe.  It has a roof and walls, but he says he needs to build la banca (which could be the sleeping platform or a bench) and a place to bathe.  "I have potable water," he says, "and with the light of the sun, I have everything I need."

He loves this place in the countryside.  It is where he was born.

He tells me he is going to paint a mural.  "I already have a little drawing of it," he tells me.  "When I was 8 years old, there were two giant nance trees by the side of the path. (Nances are small, greenish yellow fruits - sometimes sweet and sometimes sour.)  One morning, at about 5:30 AM, I went out to gather the nances because it was their time and they were falling from the trees.  And what did I encounter on that morning at 5:30 or 6:00 AM, a great group of gatos de monte (wildcats), congregating below the trees and eating the nances.  With one burst from my slingshot the wildcats dispersed, and I went and gathered up all the nances.  I took them to the market and I sold them, and I got 20 centavos!!"

"This is the picture I have in my head:  a boy below the two nance trees, fighting off the gatos de monte.  This is the mural I want to paint."

"Papa, I would like to know this place," I say.

"Siii, hija," he said, "the road out there is beautiful."  And the Grandfather tells me how to get to this special place.

"I will die in this place," the Grandfather says.  "It is good for one to die in the place in which he was born."

The Grandfather wants to put a name on this place:  "Lutheran Church Center for the Arts."  The first work of art is a field full of trees.  The second will be a mural, with a picture of a boy fighting the wildcats.
A long time ago, a little boy named Brian picked some nances
from a tree in his yard.  He wanted to teach me about the
special fruits in El Salvador.  He wrote these words, and helped
me to take this photo.  Brian, wherever you are now, thank you!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Kits for Girls

The plans for the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair are well in place for February 2017.  One new teaching discussion that we will have in the coming year is entitled "Menstruation:  Myths and Facts."  As part of the teaching charla, we hope to offer the girls and women washable hygiene kits.  We are using the patterns and instructions from Days for Girls International and we invited women and women's groups to help create the kits.

The response has been tremendous!  We should have close to 500 kits for the North alone! (depending on how the January sewing events go).

Because the kits are sure to be wildly popular, we encourage continued and increased involvement!  The Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fair model takes us into different rural communities in the Northern region each year.  The Central South Fair is held in the capital city, and people are bused into a central location.  In both settings, women and girls will continue to need kits.  The kits are designed to last for 3 years, but we know that with good care, the women and girls will be able to use the pads and liners for longer than that.  The challenge is that there are literally thousands of girls and women in our sister church communities who need these kits!  With limited supply, we will focus on those who are most in need and have little or no access to traditional feminine hygiene products.

We are working in concert with our Salvadoran partners.  They are busy sewing the drawstring bags which will hold the kits.  During the upcoming Mission of Healing events, we will hold a training day on which Salvadoran women (and men!) will learn how to make the kits for themselves.  This is an important part of making this a sustainable project.

There is so much enthusiasm for this project!  And not just from menstruating girls and women.  We have received requests for the kits from older women who experience urine leakage.  This is another health issue which people do not talk about (in the US too!).  Adult protection for this problem is very expensive and not really available.  In past years, we have often stuffed suitcases full of adult disposable products, but would it not be much better to provide women with a washable option? And, of course, we now have heard from men who also are interested in having some kind of kit like this for their leakage issues.

Creating washable, sanitary products for menstruating women and girls is our primary focus.  Perhaps there will be a time when we are able to provide kits for other purposes, but for now, it is all about Days for Girls!
This is what a suitcase full of 900 pads looks like!
Learn more by visiting the Days for Girls web site.  To send kits or donations in support of the efforts of the Mission of Healing Family Wellness Fairs, please contact me via email or in the comment section.  Share your photos in the comments too!!

(In case you missed the link up top, find the original posting about this project here.)

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unexpected Christmas Images

Whenever I am in El Salvador in November, I marvel at the early abundance and diversity of Christmas decorations which adorn public spaces and homes alike.  Even in the churches, congregations deck their halls and light up the Christmas trees well before the first week of Advent.

Stores advertise their "Black Friday" or "Black Evening" sales.  This is hilarious to me since there is no Thanksgiving celebration nor actual "Black Friday" as a day off from work on which to go shopping.  Giant inflatable Santas are put out in parking lots and reindeer made from straw sit out on sidewalks.  The competition among businesses is stiff as they entice customers to spend their aguinaldo (thirteenth month pay - an early December bonus paid to workers in the formal economy).

Despite the clear commercial element to the early decorating, I think there is truly a great deal of joy which the Salvadoran people have in decorating and lighting things up in anticipation of Christmas.   It's a happy time when everyday cares can be set aside, when the worries over all of the great and serious challenges within Salvadoran society are overcome for a bit by twinkling lights and cheery tunes.

Here are just a few images which I captured this year...enjoy!!

Buy your pre-lit Christmas trees here!  Yes, culturally appropriate palm trees are
available!  And, of course, if you don't have giant poinsettia bushes (pascua) growing outside of
your home in the countryside, you can buy these hot-house potted versions.

Christmas cookies!  Gingerbread boys and girls for dessert at a little pizza place near the UCA.

Your eyes do not deceive you - this is a Christmas tree made from empty beer
bottles!  This tree can be found at the Cadejo Microbrewery in San Salvador.

Merry Christmas from the FMLN!  Their colors of red and white lend
themselves to holiday cheer.  This is the office in Tonaca.

Christmas tree in our sister church community.  The cards on the tree
were made by preschool Sunday School children in the US

Thursday, December 8, 2016

A Sea of Flowers

Day after day the green grass grows taller, little by little hiding the roadside landscape such that the San Salvador volcano appears to emerge as an island in a sea of green, and the distant hills of Guazapa seem truncated from their base.

Day by day we drive the well-worn route along the periferico - the peripheral highway that carries us from San Salvador north.  When the grass is short and the air is clear we take photos along the way, catching a quick glimpse of the San Vicente volcano in the distance or the cloud formations over Guazapa.  As the years have gone by, large factories, a trucking corral, and tightly packed rows of houses surrounded by concrete walls have invaded the landscape, yet the grass continues to thrive.

One day, unexpectedly, the grass produced blooms - big, white, feathery blooms that gleam in the sunlight.

Our pastor tells us that this valley has been planted with sugar cane for as long as he can remember, as long as his father can remember.  Before there were trucks or or factories or the highway or even the diesel power plant, this valley held water and was planted with cane.

The sun sank low as we drove back to San Salvador.  Ahead of us, the road seemed to end in a sea of white gold as the sunlight skipped along the tops of the sugar cane blooms.  "It's always like that," our pastor said, "one day there are no blooms, then suddenly the whole valley is a sea of flowers."

Monday, November 21, 2016

This is our King

As we drove down the road to Tonaca, a pick-up truck pulled out in front of us.  "Hey, it's Jesus!" my husband said, as we followed close behind.  The large statue of Jesus stood on a processional platform, with the wooden handles laid across the sides of the bed of the pick-up.  Jesus wore a golden crown and robes of white and crimson red - the traditional colors chosen for Jesus by most Roman Catholic churches for their Christ the King celebrations.  In the back of the truck, a man was practically wrestling with Jesus, as the strong wind tried to lift the statue right out of the truck.  We followed the truck all the way into our sister church community.  They turned off at the Catholic Church, and we climbed up the hill to the Lutheran Church.

Christ the King Sunday is a Lutheran tradition too.  The decorations in the Lutheran Church were already blue for the coming season of Advent.  A little Christmas tree stood in the corner with blinking lights.  The pastor welcomed everyone and made note of the celebration going on at the church down the hill, complete with fireworks, and a procession of prayer and song with a statue of Christ the King.

We sang a song - a song about our King Jesus...

You are the God of the poor,
The human God and simple,
The God that sweats in the street,
The God of the weather-beaten face.

You go with my people by the hand.
You sweat in the countryside and the city
And are standing in line over there at the camp
In order to receive your daily pay.
You eat a little bit over in the park
With Eusebio, Pancho and Juan José,
And you protest about the syrup
when they lie that it doesn't have much honey.

I have seen you in the pupuseria
that's in the community.
I have seen you selling lottery tickets,
And you are not ashamed of this role.
I have seen you in the gas station,
checking the tires on a truck
and repairing the highways
with leather gloves and overalls.

God came to hang out with regular people, with poor people, with people who were sick, with people cast aside by society, with the migrant and the widow.  Our King was born to a poor family.  Our King, the King of Kings went from place to place to be with people.  He was homeless.  The King of Kings was crucified, hanged between two criminals.  The Son of God, our King, was beaten, insulted, and crucified because he loved people, because he healed blind people and deaf people, because he cared about the widow and the outcast, and mostly because he forgave people.  The King of Kings was crucified for doing all this good.

"I would much rather hang out and be friends with this humble king of love who has a heart for the poor, than the rich and fancy kings of this world," said the pastor.  He reminded us that our mission as the church is to continue this work done by the King of Kings.  Each one of us is called to be that person that shows up to share, shows up to love our neighbor and shows up to forgive.  When something happens we cannot just sit on our butts and expect someone else to do the work.  We are the ones who have to be there and carry out this mission of love, or Jesus' church is not going to grow.

We celebrate Christ the King Sunday by recommitting ourselves to be faithful to what God's Word teaches us, that is to love God above all else, and to love each other.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Off the Beaten Path: A Fiesta to Remember in Tonaca

Siguanaba, Headless Priest
and Cipitio
The sun fell low in the sky.  At every turn we were confronted by ghosts and ghouls, devils, screaming women, and headless priests.  She was there...the Siguanaba!  Along with her pitiful little son, Cipitio. 

The legends of Tonacatepeque had come to life as they do every year for the November 1st Fiesta de la Calabiuza.  (Calabiuza is a word which is like the Spanish word calabaza which means "pumpkin" - but in the local vernacular means "skull.")  Characters from imagination and legend wandered the cobbled streets and posed for photos.  Some ran up to us, screaming and acting their roles with great enthusiasm.

As the evening light grew dim, the characters gathered around their hand-drawn carts - some with metal bases, some constructed of wood and bamboo, most with big wooden wheels. Adorned with skulls, coffins, large paper-maché characters, and carved calabiuza skulls, the carts were designed and decorated by different school and community groups.  The competition was stiff.  Who would win the award for most authentic and most frightening?

Preparing to march in the evening parade

Over the years, Salvadoran friends, especially those born and raised in Tonaca, have woven their spooky tales for us late into the night.  These legends hearken back to Nahuat ancestors.  Over the centuries, colonial culture and Christian morality have seeped into some of the stories, but the people of Tonaca proudly claim to have preserved and carried the lore of the indigenous peoples into the modern era.
The Screamer
Despite years of listening to tales, there are many stories we do not fully understand and there always seem to be new characters emerging.  After doing a little digging, I finally learned that the boy with the screaming red face is known as El Gritón (The Screamer) whose cries pierce through the silence of the night out in the countryside and in the mountains.  The tale goes something like this:

As the sun sets and the darkness rises, perhaps some brave souls will venture out beyond Calvary or will remain too late in the hills.  If you are out after dark, beware!  Without your white cadejo (dog) at your side, you will not know where to go.  The heat of the evening will be broken by a rush of cold air, and the leaves above you will rustle violently.  You will turn a corner and it will hit you - a piercing scream like none you have ever heard before!  Suddenly from behind the figure will appear, and then all of a sudden it is in front of you.  You will try to move, but it will be futile.  You will be paralyzed with fright because you have no idea how this gigantic figure was first behind you, and then ahead of you, spreading over you its cold shadow and piercing scream.  For three days you will not know who you are nor whether you are alive or dead as you lie in your bed trembling with fever and fear.  So beware...

It would not be a fiesta
without the light sabers.
Entrepreneurs of all
sorts had a good evening.
We waited in the dark for the parade to begin.  Torches on the sides of the carts were set aflame, and were pulled to and fro along the route as if they were about to crash into the crowd.  Old pieces of corrugated tin dragged along the ground behind the carts, creating an eerie thunder.  The characters screamed and lurched at the spectators.  It was magnificent.

After the parade, we held onto one another and wormed our way through the tight crowd.  "We are headed toward Calvary," Pastor Santiago said.

Calvary after dark.

"Every town has a place called Calvary," he continued.  "It is at the edge of town, and whenever there is a procession or a march, it ends at Calvary."  We passed by a big stage.  The mayor was giving out awards and loud music interspersed with announcements from the local pizza place.  We found friends selling their crafted jewelry.  It was a good night for artisans.

Just before we made it to Calvary, we found friends at the FMLN tent.  The women gave us steaming bowls of ayote (like calabaza or pumpkin) which had been cooked for hours in a sauce made from panela (solid sugar made from boiling cane juice).  Everyone who wanted a big bowl was served.  We sat in plastic chairs, eating our ayote con panela.

At about 8:30 PM we wormed our way back through the crowd.  We wandered through the park.  The statue of Cipitio and the fountain have been enlarged as part of a park beautification project.  We ran into friends from our sister church community along the way, all of whom were pretty surprised to see us.  It was a memorable night of story and fun, in the light and in the dark, with the ghosts and ghouls and families of Tonaca at the Fiesta de la Calabiuza.

A cart - much more scary in person