Thursday, July 27, 2017

They Are the Youth

They dance.
They have friends.
They stay up late doing homework.
They text.
They work when they can.
They go to high school nearby.
They do spoken word.
They live with their parents.
They ride the bus for 3 hours to study at a university.
They are active in their churches.
They are artists.
They care for babies.
They have babies.
They stay up late doing homework.
They play the drums.
They play cell phone games.
They play soccer games.
They have friends.
They have friends who have died.
They have friends who have been killed.
They love their community.
They come home before dark.
They are afraid of their community.
There are rules in their community.
They are organized.
They are organizing in the community.
They have gifts.
They have talents.
They have goals.
They have dreams.
They love their community.
They want to live in their community.
They want to live.

The rainy season had not quite taken hold, but the afternoon skies were gray and threatening.  The young people were not deterred.  They had organized a street fair - a showcase of the abilities and talents and determination of the community's youth.  Cultural performance groups from choreographed athletic dance, to Batacuda (drumming), to hip hop, to spoken word, to ballad singing, to spray-paint art, to Andean folk music, to a rock band each performed for a very large crowd of parents, children, friends and community members.  The event was a first fruit of a newly self-organized youth organization.  This mighty little group of youth leaders made a statement, and they made it loud:  They have the right to dream and the right to go after the lives they want for themselves.  Their identity is not determined by where they live nor by the forces of violence which surround them.   They don't want to hide.  They want to live out loud.

They are the present.
They are the hope.
They are the community.
They are the energy.
They are the love.
They are the future.
They are the youth.

Little ones practicing their moves during a dance performance

Activities for the younger children


Opportunities for local vendors - I really admire this
entrepreneur's creativity

Monday, July 10, 2017

Celebrating Life Together

My friend was diagnosed with cancer.  The last months of his life passed quickly, well-blessed with trips with his family, visits with friends, and a giant circle of love and prayer support.  Today, his life will be celebrated in his church, where he served as a tireless and generous worker.

I was in El Salvador when the decision to discontinue treatment was made.  From the beginning, the pastor, church leaders and families of our sister church in El Salvador reached out to accompany my friend and his family in prayer.  They wrote messages and prayers on the Facebook page created by the family.  The hope for healing was incredibly strong, and the news that there would not be healing in this life was hard for everyone to accept.

My friend visited El Salvador one time.  In that one visit, his easy manner, his comfort in communicating with actions because he spoke no Spanish, and his gift in being with children with special needs touched the families in the community.  His teen daughter shares her dad's style, and she cooked up plans with a few Salvadoran girls for future visits.  She and her mom have visited twice since that first trip, leading the way in celebrating our big sister church quinceañera (15th anniversary) and more recently, helping to run a community Vacation Bible School.

As my friend neared the end of his earthly life, he shared with his US pastor that he would like his Salvadoran sister church to "be present" at his funeral.  We sent a message to the Salvadoran sister church community, and they made a video right away.  A young person from the community stayed up for two consecutive nights (after going to classes during the day) to put together a beautiful tribute.  She posted it on YouTube and sent the link.  My friend and his family were able to watch the video together, and later today, the video will represent the presence of the sister church at my friend's life celebration.

On the day that our friend died, I was with our sister pastor in El Salvador.  The pastor said, "I am thinking about something that happened.  The last time I was visiting in his home, our friend hugged me and said very quietly to me, 'I love you.'  We felt something together, a deep friendship.  This is not common among men.  This is the love of God, of the Spirit."

Yesterday I sat at my friend's kitchen table, to spend time with his family and to make a delivery.  Out of love, unsolicited by anyone, community members had asked the evangelist at the church for paper and envelopes, and they wrote letters of support to this dear family.  The letters were all addressed with the name of the daughter.  I pulled the stack of letters out of my bag and put them on the kitchen table.  I described how the evangelist and her two little girls had traveled 2 hours by bus to find me before I left El Salvador.  I had been surprised when they handed me the stack of letters.

We talked for a long while at the kitchen table.  At one point, some relatives asked, "What do you do in El Salvador - as a church, what do you do?  Do you build things?"

My friend's wife looked at her daughter, then at me, then at the relatives and said, "We go to be with the community."

Sometimes we do build things.  Mostly, we build relationships.  Mostly, we are family.  Today, we are crying together and celebrating the life of our dear friend.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tips from the Translator

Communication:  In most sistering relationships, good communication is held up as a core value.  Poor communication is held up as a significant challenge.

If we natively speak English (or German, or Finish, or whatever) and our brothers and sisters natively speak Spanish, and if our only words in common are taco and sombrero, then we have an obvious communication challenge with the language itself.  Hence the occasional or persistent need for an English-Spanish translator.  Yet no matter how fluent one might be in the English and Spanish languages, without cultural context, it is almost impossible to translate effectively.

At this point, I want to give a shout out to all of the really great translators who have gone over and above expectation, digging into history and context in order to be able to translate documents and conversations for folks in sistering relationships.  The focus of this blog post is not primarily directed toward translators, but to the folks speaking and writing English words which need to be translated.  If we are in relationships as sister churches or companions in any sense across language and culture, it is our responsibility to learn some history and to build personal and collective knowledge of culture.  We should not expect to offload that responsibility onto our translators.

I do a lot of translating.  This was not always the case.  I went to El Salvador without any study of Spanish other than a couple of songs which my young son taught me from his first grade repertoire.  As visits became more frequent, it was sink or swim for me, and gracious Salvadorans patiently taught me their language while we muddled our way through meetings, told each other stories and navigated every day life together.  I am still learning!

Communication:  The recent and ongoing intercultural training events which I am helping to put together in El Salvador focus a significant amount of time on the theme of communication.  Some of the wisdom gleaned during those workshops along with my translating experiences are provoking me to start a new intermittent blog series.  Hence:  Tips from the Translator.

Todays Tips...

  1. Many sistering relationships include letter-writing between Salvadoran students and North American friends and sponsors.  Many US letters written during the months of May through August ask the Salvadoran kids, "What are you doing for summer vacation?"  While it is true that Salvadorans have vacation during the week containing August 6th in honor of Jesus Savior of the World, these months are school months for Salvadoran children.  In addition, El Salvador has two seasons:  Wet Season (called winter) from May through October and Dry Season (called summer) from November through April.  Thus, without context, a question like "What are you doing for summer vacation?" can be very confusing for Salvadorans.  Salvadoran school vacations are from mid-November through December.  (University students have a slightly different schedule, running trimesters and including vacation in July and later in December).
  2. In general, Salvadoran society is a little more formal than in the US.  Children are taught from a young age to write letters with a formal introduction.  Usually, it is considered polite to begin with something like "I hope this letter finds you well, surrounded by your family and friends."  If you are in a church setting, it is customary to begin and certainly to end by giving blessings and offering prayers for one another.  In the US, we are typically more direct get right to the point of the letter or a list of questions.  To many Salvadorans who do not have much exposure to US culture, this seems rude.  An exception to this might be in an email.  If you need to make clear communication and receive a response in a short time, a quick greeting followed by bullet points is definitely OK.
  3. Speaking of time...time in El Salvador is not necessarily linear.  Stories circle around; past mixes with present.  Urgency to be on time is not as strong (partly because it is nearly impossible to get anywhere via bus through traffic in a timely fashion).   In El Salvador it is common to hear the phrase hoy algún día.  Literally translated this means "today some day."  Depending on the context, it is used as "one day" (in the past, but without an exact date), or some day (in the future).  Meetings begin on time once everyone has arrived.  When we write and speak back and forth regarding time, it is important to verify exact dates and times if being on time is critical (such as for a visit to the US embassy or a video-call together) and to be patient with one another when our cultural understandings of time clash.
  4. When we use words such as "maybe" or "probably" in English, we generally understand these words to contain elements of uncertainty or indications that we are not making a firm commitment.  When literally translated, these words to a Salvadoran indicate a strong "yes" or "likely unless some huge act of God prevents it."  So, if a Salvadoran asks you, "Will you come visit in September?" and you answer "probably," the Salvadoran hears you saying "yes."
Hopefully these (and future) tips will help all of us, along with our translators, to improve communication across language, culture and distance.  

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Pasarela

Many times there is just no choice.  You just have to suck it up, be brave, make eye-contact, and cross to the middle. From there you just have to suck it in, steady your nerves, and wait for a break.  I'll confess, I am not too proud to play the "helpless gringa" card if I am caught in a particularly snarly street-crossing situation.  With a smile and a wave I can usually still stop traffic.

Sometimes, there is a better choice:  use the pasarela.

"What is a pasarela?" you ask.  Well, if you google translate this term you might call it a "runway" or "catwalk."  "Catwalk" is a pretty good description.  In El Salvador, a pasarela is the walkway which pedestrians use to get across busy streets.  Typically, pasarelas require the user to ascend 2 or 3 flights of stairs, walk across the catwalk and then descend 2 or 3 flights of stairs on the opposite side of the road.

Now, as you might imagine, climbing up a bunch of stairs in 90°F sun or 85°F pouring down rain (the two basic seasonal options in El Salvador) is not exactly on most people's list of favorite things to do before catching the bus to work or school.  In the city, when traffic is moving at a snail's pace, pedestrians forego the pasarela  and snake their way across the road, weaving between between cars and trucks and keeping watch for the darting motorcyclists.

Depending on the location, pasarela stairs can be steep, open and just plain scary.  In places where buildings, concrete walls, and bus stops surround the base of the pasarela,  ascending or descending the stairs in shadow and seclusion can feel quite unsafe.  And in some neighborhoods, finding oneself enclosed on a catwalk simply does not seem like a good idea.

Last year 577 pedestrians were killed on El Salvador streets.  Most families have a story about some family member being hit and injured or killed while crossing a busy street.  Anyone who drives or rides around El Salvador has certainly seen close calls, and has certainly wondered at the wisdom of a mom with two kids in tow running across 2 lanes of highway, climbing on top of the Jersey barriers in the middle, waiting, and then running across the other two lanes.  Pasarelas can save lives.  Especially in locations where traffic moves swiftly or erratically, where lighting is poor, and where there are no medians, pasarelas are really beneficial.

Clearly the placement of pasarelas is a challenge.  When a busy road or highway cuts through a community, and the nearest crossing point is 2 miles in either direction, there is a problem.  This is especially difficult for children who need to get to their community school which lies on the opposite side of a highway.  One choice is to pay a micro-bus to drive a child up the highway, make a u-turn at the nearest retorno, and drive back down the highway.  That costs money.  Another choice is to walk a couple of miles to the nearest crossing, and walk back a couple of miles to the school.  That is not realistic.  The common choice is to run across 2 lanes, climb the barriers, and run across the other two lanes.

In some places, pasarelas provide shelter for streetside vendors (I walk past a woman with a little pupusa stand under a very under-used pasarela on my way to the church offices each day).  During a march or demonstration, the pasarela can provide a great vantage point from which to snap a few photos of the crowd (with a caution of safety - I once saw a group of US teens hanging off of the outside "cage" of a pasarela to take photos).

August 6, 2016 Lutheran Church March
The next time you are in El Salvador, keep your camera at the ready and grab a shot of your favorite pasarela - and, when crossing streets, please be smart!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Funeral

The coffin was so small.  She was a tiny woman.  Cut flowers rested in a vase on top of the casket and in another on top of the altar:   bright white lilies and creamy calla lilies.

Death brings white flowers.

Rows of red, aqua and beige plastic chairs were set up in rows under the covered corridor along the back of the parking lot.  This is where church happens on Sunday, where pastors and community groups meet, where fiestas happen.  This is where I found a young woman sitting alone.  There had been others with her during the night, but for a little while the young woman and the body of her mother were alone.  Four white candle flames flickered in the breeze.  We hugged.  We sat.  We talked a little.

As synod workers arrived for their day, some glanced in our direction.  Others paused to give a "good morning" or a hug.  Cars parked and people began their days.

The body had arrived at about 10:30 PM.  Five or six people, including the mother's pastor, stayed until about 4 AM.

"Do you want to go take a shower?" I asked.  "Don't worry, I will stay with your mom.  She won't be alone."  In El Salvador, it is customary for family to stay with the body from the moment of death until the internment.

The mother and daughter are my friends.  The daughter is a physician, and over the early years of the Mission of Healing she saw hundreds of patients and stayed side by side with us in the community.  As she developed her own career, she helped with organization and made connections for us with other doctors.  Once, my friend and I spent a week with her studying the work of her clinic in a rural community.  Her only sibling, a sister, was killed during the civil war.

The wind picked up and the candle nearest to me sizzled.  Each of the gold, spray-painted candle holders stood about 3 feet tall near each of the four "corners" of the coffin.  A few more people came to sit, and the pastor returned.  Usually a few members of the congregation gathered at this time for a weekly Bible Study.  Many of the adult and child members of this congregation have special needs.  The change in the routine was a little difficult.  One of the men helps to take pictures for the church.  He had printed a large photo of the mother and propped it up against the vase of flowers on the coffin.  A little later, he returned to the vigil carrying a plastic bag from Dollar City.  He pulled a simple black frame from the bag, unwrapped it and put the printed photo into the frame.  He placed the photo carefully on top of the coffin, angling it just right so people would see it as they walked over from the parking lot.

Usually, a small glass window allows people to see the face of the loved one who has died.  The mother had been badly beaten and did not look like herself.  The framed photo was a beautiful gift.

The pastor led a few songs.  We said the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles' Creed.  We sang a little more.  We sat.  In the mid-afternoon the funeral home team arrived with their pick-up truck.  It was specially outfitted with what can best be described as a "little house made of glass" over the bed. The driver turned on a recording of Ave Maria.  The tailgate was opened, and one by one the four candle holders with their burnt candle nubs were loaded in, underneath the platform that would old the coffin.  The small wooden lectern was next.  The team asked for some help, and they slid the coffin into its spot, closing and latching the glass doors behind it.  The flowers were set on small ledges on either side of the glass house.

People found rides.  The daughter and I sat in the back seat of the synod's micro-bus.  "Why did they choose only those sad songs?" a pastor remarked.  I noticed that aside from myself and the daughter, all of the others in the micro were female pastors.  The mother was a strong feminist, admired and imprisoned for her work in protecting mothers and children during the war.  These faithful women took leave from their work of the day to sit, to pray, to accompany and to support a daughter in recognition, admiration and love for her mother.  The women of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have a depth of strength and solidarity, rooted in the love they have for God and one another, which is humble in style and mighty to feel.

The Bishop had donated the burial spot.  There were two men of the church buried there already, deep in the earth below where the mother would rest.  There will be room for one more above her.

We sat in folding metal chairs in a brisk, warm breeze and under the shade of a metal cabana supplied by the cemetery.  The workers stood off to the side, leaning on their shovels. A tractor with a small boom and tripod of chains pulled up and parked nearby; the lid to the concrete sarcophagus gently swung from the chains. A pastor had brought his guitar.  We sang and prayed and said the creed and then the bishop spoke a eulogy.  "As a girl she must have been quite a little princess, because as an adult she was still a beautiful princess."  He said she had been tortured and suffered, but now she was in the arms of Jesus.  We sang the song Salvadoran's sing on Mother's Day.  Neither the daughter nor I could sing at all.  The mother's burial was taking place on the anniversary of the mother's birth.  It was just too much. All of it.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  Those words are universal.  The Bishop and two pastors beside him held handfuls of dirt over the coffin and sprinkled it down, forming three dirt crosses.

"Will you say some words?" the Bishop asked the daughter.  She shook her head, no.

The cemetery administrator walked over to where the daughter and I were seated.  "When you're ready, let us know to continue."

"I can't," she whispered.  I nodded to the man.

The coffin was placed over the hole and gently lowered down with straps that were connected to a hand-cranked winch.  The squeak, squeak, squeak sound pierced the air as the coffin sunk lower and lower into the earth.  "Isn't it there yet?" whispered the pastor behind us.  We were all thinking the same thing.  The floral arrangements were dismembered and people walked over to the hole to toss the flowers onto the coffin.  A worker climbed into the hole with a bucket of cement.  He slathered the gray goop onto the edges of the concrete sarcophagus which held the coffin.  This was work which we envisioned, for we could really only see his head and hear the scrape-scrape-scrape of the trowel.  He climbed out of the hole, and the tractor lowered the lid into place.  The worker jumped back in with his cement bucket and sealed the tomb.  We sang You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore while he worked.

Two men with shovels then peeled back an astro-turf carpet, revealing a pile of dirt.  They shoveled and tamped, shoveled and tamped.  The mourners left.  The micro full of women pastors left.  The daughter stayed, accompanied by a best friend nurse, a friend from fourth grade, and me.  In El Salvador, it is customary for someone to stay beside the grave until the dirt is completely replaced.  That's the only way to make sure your loved one is really buried.   The concrete corner post-stubs that mark the boundaries of the plot were replaced as well as the two grave markers.  A third marker will be added.  The salesman left his card.

The fourth-grade friend hopped onto his motorcycle.  He and the daughter had not seen each other for 20 years, but there he was, keeping an eye on the women and making sure everything was OK.  The nurse's brother drove us back to the synod offices, in what might be one of the most harrowing car trips the daughter and I have ever had.  When we were safely deposited at the offices, we burst out laughing at just what a terrible driver that brother was!  But we were grateful for the ride.

Later that night, we went out for pupusas.  Comfort food after a long day.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Mother's Day at the Migration Table

On May 13th, our little team headed up to our sister church to meet up with the youth group and do a workshop on the theme of migration.  This is the same workshop that my husband has been leading around and about - an introduction to US Migration laws and how the laws and enforcement practices impact Salvadoran families.  The two of us spent some quality time retooling the workshop to make it a little more interactive and appropriate for youth.  We added in photos and removed some of the detailed slides.  The biggest change was the introduction of written scenarios or character stories.  We planned for youth to read these as discussion-starters which we would then follow with the informational power point slides.

We started strong, singing Caminando en la luz de Dios (our Spanish version of We are Marching in the Light of God).  Everyone was clapping and the words are easy so the youth and the moms caught on quickly.  Then we shared the story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph migrating to Egypt because of threats against Jesus' life.  We don't really think much about Jesus migrating as a baby, and really, migrating from place to place his whole life.  Our next activity was designed to for all of us to learn more about the connections we share between the US and El Salvador.  We began in a big circle, and little by little people were invited to the center:  US citizens (my husband and I started as the example), anyone with a parent in the US, siblings, aunts or uncles, cousins, friends, Facebook the end there were a big majority in the middle and very few remaining in the outer circle.

In an interactive workshop about migration, it can be very tricky to create a comfortable space for people to ask questions or to share their stories.  More than once, I heard my husband say, "Don't worry, we are not La Migra (migration police).  We learned that in this group essentially no one had any accurate information about US laws.  The group also had very little understanding of concepts such as asylum or protected status.  We also learned that reading small scenarios is very helpful, and most of the readers tried to be pretty expressive with their situations.  Here is an example scenario:

Persona con DACA:  Llegue con mis padres en los Estados Unidos en 2002 cuando era muy joven.   Solo tenía tres años cuando crucemos la frontera sin documentos.  No recuerdo a El Salvador.  Vivíamos en Los Ángeles donde asistía la escuela y ya muy pronto voy a cumplir mi bachillerato.   Mi familia vivía en miedo siempre porque no tenemos documentos, pero hace 3 años, el presidente Obama inicio un programa se llama DACA.    Ya tengo protección y puedo conseguir mi sueño de asistir la universidad de California.    Pero todavía tengo miedo que el programa termina o que mis padres son detenidos y deportados a El Salvador.

Person with DACA:  I arrived with my parents in the United States in 2002 when I was very young.  I was only 3 years old when we crossed the border without documents.  I don't remember El Salvador.  We lived in Los Angeles where I attended school and now very soon I will complete high school.  My family always lived in fear because we don't have documents, but three years ago President Obama started a program called DACA.  Now I have protection and I can complete my dream of attending the University of California.  But I am still scared that the program will be ended or that my parents will be detained and deported to El Salvador.

We then talked about who is responsible for this young person's presence in the US.  We talked about how he or she would feel.  We also talked about what it would be like if the parents were deported or if the program ended and this young person had to come back to El Salvador.

It was pretty hard to read the faces of the group, but toward the end a couple of the adults asked questions about their family members who have been in the US for a long time.  One of the young people said she really enjoyed the workshop.  She said it was very dynamic and she liked my husband's professional expertise.  She is studying to be a lawyer.  We still were not too sure about the reactions of the other youth.

You never know what seeds are planted when you lead a workshop or teach a class.

The next day, Sunday, we celebrated Mother's Day with our sister church.  (Mother's Day in El Salvador was Wednesday, May 10th.)  The pastor pointed out how beautiful it was that the US and El Salvador sister churches were celebrating mothers on the same day.  The church was decorated in pink, with balloons and streamers, hearts and flowers. After worship, the mothers were given the gift of a dramatic presentation by a group of children.  One of the youth who had been at the workshop the day before was the narrator.  This was the story, the narrator said, of a brave, single mother.  The little family - father, mother and child - were struggling financially.  One day the father had good work, and the family had food on the table.  Then he could not find work, and eventually the situation was desperate and he migrated north.  He stayed in the United States a long time, and sometimes he called home.  His little girl grew up and eventually she became a mother to her own little girl.  After many years, the father came home to his family.  It was a beautiful reunion, but he had passed so much time away, it was also very sad.

After the drama we shared cake, sandwiches and a Mickey Mouse piñata.  I congratulated the actors.  When I asked the future lawyer if she had anything to do with the project, she just smiled and looked at the narrator.  She smiled back.

You never know what seeds are planted when you lead a workshop or teach a class.

The youth group meets again in 2 weeks.  They have already planned to continue talking about migration.  The main theme is:  migration to the US is not a solution.  The reality is:  migration within El Salvador is a prevalent, and if it is life or death, migration to another country truly might be the only solution.

This is one of the visuals we used to understand the status of
different groups of Salvadorans who live in the US.  We had
to extrapolate a bit from several sources.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Return to the Migration Table: Why Migrate?

She came to the United States to study at a graduate school with a student visa.  Her husband and children remained in El Salvador.  After graduation, she got a job offer at a business which sponsored her employment visa.  Her husband also secured an employment visa and the family settled in a small city in the US.  The children were young and quickly became fluent in English.  The parents' English was already pretty good, and improved over time.  Eventually the parents applied for permanent residency.  There were times when the family resided in the US "illegally" or without current documents because their document renewal papers were stuck in a bogged-down system.  The family paid thousands of dollars to immigration lawyers to make sure they followed a correct process.  The mother became a naturalized US citizen.

This is one story of migration from El Salvador to the United States.  The pathways by which Salvadoran families establish roots in the US have been and continue to be numerous and diverse.  Since the time of the Salvadoran Civil War, Salvadorans have come by plane and by foot, seeking safety, education, work and The American Dream.  Conscription of children into military forces and threats from death squads during the war, devastating earthquakes in 1986 and 2001, Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the rise in gang culture and gang violence in the 2000's, along with economic crises along the way, are identifiable events or phenomena which have caused Salvadorans to migrate north.  Once established, family members attract other family members or friends with desires for unification or stories of success.  Families established themselves, with documents or without.

In El Salvador, just about every family has some relative living in the US.  Roughly 20% - 25% of living Salvadoran citizens live in the United States.  Salvadorans work in all different sectors of the US economy. Those without documents, find work in a variety of informal ways, and can suffer abuse by unscrupulous employers.  Salvadorans have a pretty strong reputation has hard workers, many holding down multiple jobs to earn enough to live in the US and send money home.  The river of financial support that flows from the US to El Salvador is a river of life which sustains Salvadoran families and makes money-transfer companies a healthy profit.

While economic survival or pursuit of The American Dream have historically drawn Salvadoran family members north, changes in US immigration law enforcement have diminished the desire to migrate for purely economic reasons.

I can't work because
the gangs will not let
me leave the house...
Over the last 15 years, the gangs in El Salvador have wreaked havoc in all sectors of society, but especially in poor communities.  The reasons behind their success are complex:  poverty, lack of opportunity for youth, a weak judicial system, corrupt policing, the US market for illegal drugs, organized crime.  Whatever the reasons, the reality is that threats, fear and acts of violence come in waves to small communities.  The police move to one place, and the gangs move to another.  In 2014, the level of violence and fear reached epidemic levels.  Families were forced to migrate from one community to another.  This internal migration (sometimes referred to as internal displacement or forced migration) is not well-documented with statistics.  People in the US who sponsor scholarship students in sister church communities in El Salvador might know a little bit more about internal displacement than your average US citizen, as scholarship sponsors frequently learn that their students are no longer in the church community or need to change schools or are living with relatives in parts unknown.
My mom sells but what
little she earns she has
to give to the gangs as rent...

I feel helpless because
of the impossibility of
doing something...
Four generations of the family lived in a small compound of cinderblock and laminate structures on a tiny lot in a small community outside the capital.  One adult brother had been threatened; he fled to the mountains; he came back; the family was threatened; the brother fled to the US; he was deported, and eventually he joined the gang.  The family tried to stay apart from the brother's activities. One night, a family member was dragged out of the house and murdered.  The brother became more imbedded in the gang.  One night, rival gang members broke down the door of the house and held a pistol to a teen girl and threatened young adult mothers in the home. The police came into the community and drove out the gang members, including the brother.  One night, the police pounded on the door and turned everything in the home upside down, looking for weapons.  The police threatened the family.  The family fled to an abandoned house in another community.  The police returned and burned what was left in the empty home.  The local Lutheran migration ministry team helped the family to put a roof on the abandoned house and to figure out who the owner was so they could get permission to stay there, and pay rent.

When the threats follow families from community to community, and there is no place left to hide, families make the difficult decision to send their young people north.  Witnesses to murders and victims of persecution by police make the decision to seek asylum in the US.  Family members established in the US try to help their family members who are endangered in El Salvador, sometimes working with the visa system, sometimes paying for a smuggler to bring their loved ones north, sometimes paying legal costs when their family members are in the asylum process.

The Salvadoran Lutheran Church Migration Ministry is working with the regional Migration Tables on a workshop which helps families to talk about migration issues in a safe space.  The pastor who coordinates the office of Migration Ministry wrote a book entitled Pasos y Hellas (Steps and Footprints - the Route of the Migrant.  The conversation points and illustrations in the book help families to identify the fears which exist in their communities.  The book raises up reasons for migration, discourages migration for economic reasons, describes the journey north and what it is like to be deported.  In a recent Migration Table workshop, my husband and I were trained on the use of the book, along with community leaders, pastors, police, and health workers.  We used drama to act out portions of the book, which made it very comfortable for everyone to then ask questions or share real life experiences.

In the plane they had us
chained from feet to
hands, worse than if
we were delinquents or
That which was the
American Dream before,
now is the nightmare
of Latinos...

 Illustrations and captions taken from Pasos y Hellas - La Ruta del Migrante ©2016 Sinodo Luterano Salvadoreño Pastoral del Migrante