Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Vision

I wasn't asleep.  Maybe it was the medications, I don't know.  But early in the morning I had a vision. I was lying here in my bed.  There were two angels standing just behind me, over my head.  I knew they were my guardian angels.  They were so close.  I could feel their wings just touching my shoulders.  I couldn't feel their hands, but somehow their hands were below me.  I was lifted up, like I was floating, with a white blanket, floating up out of my bed.

Pastor Norma knew that God was with her.  She shared this vision with us, knowing she would be healed, expecting to be raised up out of her bed, grateful for the comfort of God's angels.

We believed she would rise up.  We believed she would walk.  We believed she would mother her children,  accompany her husband, shepherd her congregation, and laugh with her friends.  We prayed for a miracle, and we expected one.

We do not doubt that today, as Norma's body is committed to the earth, she has experienced the prayed-for miracle.  She is healed. She has risen up out of her bed.

We wanted the guardian angels to guide Pastor Norma back into health in this world.  We wanted the vision to be a sign that the mother, wife, pastor and friend would be with us, here, now, in this time.

I believe the vision was a gift.  For Norma.  For us.

Yesterday a friend said, "God is weeping with us."  Today we weep for the loss of the mother, the wife, the pastor and the friend who will no longer walk with us for a time.   God is weeping with us.

Adios, querida Norma, hermana y amiga.  Nos vemos en los tiempos de Dios.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Más Cuentos del Abuelo - More Tales from The Grandfather

We reached the outskirts of Suchitoto and turned up the road to Cinquera.  Cinquera was our destination:  a tiny town which suffered great loss and destruction at the start of the war and which was resettled by surviving families ten years later.

"Have you ever been to Cinquera?" I asked The Grandfather.  Beautiful views of Lake Suchitlán passed by outside of our vehicle's window.  Maybe some of our delegation members took photos.  I listened to The Grandfather.

"Oh...yes," he paused, "I came up here in 1991 or '92 accompanying a group of [Salvadoran] families coming from Honduras who were re-populating their lands after seven years of exile.  They traveled from the refuge in Honduras to San Salvador, and then came to the shore of Lake Suchitlán.  We lived in this forest for 10 days because we had to transport the people to their community by boat.  We only had small wooden boats, and it took 10 days to move the people.  The most difficult part of the experience was that the children born in Honduras during the exile, some who were seven years old, did not know their own country, their own culture, their own land.  This was the time when I was doing work with the Lutheran Church."

"Is there a Lutheran Church near here?" I asked.

"No. At one time there was a hacienda near Cinquera which the Lutheran Synod was going to purchase.  It was land which the church planned to use as a resettlement area for refugees coming back from Honduras.  When I arrived at the land I saw that it was surrounded by many, many families living in little houses of cartón (cardboard).  How could we move people onto this land when it rightly belonged to the people who already lived there and who needed it more?  They were the real owners of the land, so I said we could not buy it.

"Before we could bring the people back to their land I helped to clear it.  I looked for mines.  I removed the abandoned ordinates - live and dead ones.  I coordinated with the mayor's office and the local priest.  This was the work we had to do. This was a time in which my work for the Lutheran Church touched the whole northern region, from Chaltenango to Nejapa. All this time in the work of moving the people I was accompanied by two nuns.  They said, 'Eat, Pastor, you need to eat!' but I did not eat during that time because the work was so hard and the people did not eat."

We arrived in Cinquera.  The Grandfather got out of the small bus and walked slowly along the town square.  "What change -- what a difference," he said quietly.  His eyes moved slowly from building to building, and he moved along the street as if he were moving through time.  "There was nothing here when I left.  Nothing here."

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Cuentos del Abuelo - Tales from The Grandfather

"My grandmother was a very beautiful woman.  No one could understand why she was with my grandfather.  Hehehehehe," he chuckled.  Well, these are the mysteries of love.

We were driving along the road between Aguilares and Suchitoto.  The Grandfather sat beside me as we bumped along the way.  The Grandfather's face shines as he spins his tales, remembering moments of his life as they come to mind, often repeating phrases and smiling broadly when I understand.  He talks with his hands, and sometimes gives my shoulder or arm a little whack when he wants to be sure I agree with him on the significant points of his stories.

"Grandmother was Honduran.  A tall woman with blond hair.  She traveled to the festivals in Chalatenango and there she met a short man with very dark skin.  It was unusual, a tall, beautiful woman with a short, dark man.  He was my grandfather.  They built a life together and settled over there in Suchitoto.  There are no papers, no records for the births of their children.  But they built a life and a family and had a big property.  There is a grand hill over there and they owned about one third of the land on that hill...

"La Señora was a wealthy woman.  She had what you might call a farm and she managed the hacienda and all of the workers.  All of us children learned to work on the farm.  La Señora Delfina made sure we knew where our bread came from.  In this area of Guazapa, we grew up.  A lot of this land in this area was owned by La Señora.  Well, we had our riches."

La Señora Delfina was the grandfather's mother.  He always calls her La Señora.

" are of the original fourteen families?" I gave the grandfather a little whack on the arm.

"Hahahaha, well maybe so.  The truth is that during the war, papers were lost.  There is no proof of ownership.  Many things were lost..."

"This road has many memories from the war," I said.

"Once I was riding along this road.  It was just me and a German driver.  There were military troops all around us.  We came to a place in the road which was well-flooded.  We couldn't go back, so we had to go forward.  We planed across the lake of mud, sliding and sliding and we made it to the other side.  We kept going forward to Suchitoto.  Military shooters were up on the rooftops and all around the town.  They asked us why we were in town and instructed us to turn around and go back.  We said we couldn't because of the flood.  We had to leave.  We walked for hours, carefully because the guard was all around.  Well, we survived the long walk."

Maybe this story loses a little in the typing, but imagine The Grandfather's grand gestures describing a great flood of mud on the road before us.  Picture a well-lined face looking up at remembered sharp-shooters with a finger raised as guns were raised.  Feel the little whack on the arm and hear the chuckle:  "Well, we survived the long walk."

"You should write a book," I said.

"I have thought of that," said The Grandfather.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

July 30 - A Legacy of Marching for Justice

Students worked feverishly during the final days in preparation for the march.  The wooden frame had been transformed into a paper mache military plane.  Tanks and other replica military vehicles were surrounded by students dressed in military gear.  The purpose:  giving honor to the university students who were killed in a massacre on July 30, 1975.

The students at the University of El Salvador in San Salvador retell the story which they have heard from survivors of the horrific event.  Forty years ago, university students marched to protest repressive military actions which had taken place at the national university in Santa Ana.  As the student march reached 25th Street, the military arrived with tanks and other vehicles.  Tear gas was fired into the student group, and shots were fired.  The tanks rolled over the wounded, pushing the student marchers onto an overpass where they were surrounded by military vehicles on both sides.  Students scrambled to escape, many jumping over the side of the bridge, becoming wounded from the fall.  To this day, the exact number of dead or disappeared students is unknown because the military authorities removed the bodies and cleaned the street with soap and water before allowing access to anyone.  Some say 20 or 23 students were killed.

Students from our sister church are leaders at the university.  They are proud of the work they are doing now to work for justice and bring peace to their home communities.  They are eager to share the work which they are doing and to honor the students who built a legacy of working for justice at the national university.  "Share these photos!" they said.  "Tell the story."  Here are a few of their photos from the July 30, 2015 march.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Just Look At Him Shine!

Traffic was at a standstill.  Workers could not get to their jobs.  Students could not get to their schools.  The buses were not running.  

We had a car.  We didn't really know why the traffic was so heavy because the buses along our street were actually operating.  When we got to Casa Concordia my husband dropped me off and continued on to his meetings for the day.  Pretty soon I heard the news that the buses running north of San Salvador and into the city were not running due to a strike.  Then someone heard about a couple of buses being burned and 7 or 8 drivers being killed.  Everyone was talking about the gangs.  
The story of the gang order for buses to stop transporting people in certain areas and of deadly consequences for drivers who were not complying with the gang order describes the terrible circumstances  which set the stage for another story which took place on Monday.  On a day when most people could not get to where they needed to be, one young man and his dad were determined.

Pastor Santiago was to pick me up at Concordia so that we could meet a couple of the students in the Education for Life program that we coordinate.  The students attend the national university and are very active in student leadership at the university.  Their idea was to orchestrate some kind of connection between the university and communities like theirs, which is struggling with the impact of poverty and violence.

Santiago was an hour late.  The female student had called and said she couldn't get out of the community.  The male student does not have a phone.  We decided to travel to the meeting spot at the Lutheran Clinic, in case the young man showed up.  Although no pastors were able to get to the center of San Salvador for the weekly, churchwide devotional, the young freshman and his dad had made it.  There they sat, in a clinic with no devotional, no pastors and no patients.

It had been quite an adventure for our friends.  They found one ride, then a second and then a third -- three successful hitches to get to their destination.  We talked for a while and then the three of us, Pastor Santiago, myself and the freshman headed off to the university.  Maybe we would not be able to meet with university student government and organization leaders, but at least our young friend could give us a tour and tell us about his experiences as a new freshman.

We got out of the car near the agronomy department.  "I feel so good here," the young man said.  "It's very emotional for me.  There are students here with great riches, and others who come from a humble home and a simple family like me.  Everyone is treated as equal.  There are no higher-ups in the student organizations.  Everyone has respect."  As we walked through a grove of trees, he continued.  "I have this idea to plant orange trees, and some other fruit trees.  The only fruit we have growing on campus is mango.  We could improve the environment and produce food at the same time.  Look, this is a perfect spot for orange trees."  He pointed to a dry hillside surrounding a basketball court.  "This is where our student association of architects and engineers plays basketball.  There is a lot of heat on that court.  Orange trees would provide fruit and shade."  

The freshman comes from a humble home.  He and his dad largely survive on the fruit that grows around their house.  His mom died a few years ago of tuberculosis because she could not afford to buy both food and her medication.  No one really knew how sick she was.  "One idea I have," he continued, "is to plant one tree of a different type of fruit in each person's yard.  Then, people could trade with each other to have a variety of fruits for nutrition."   This young man is an architecture major who knows a lot about trees and plants.  I think he sometimes sleeps at the university.  He talks about being under the trees at 5 o'clock in the morning.

The airplane.
The young man shows us where his classes are held, and where his student organization meets.  We connect with an older student in his 4th or 5th year and clearly he and our young man are good friends.  No discrimination when it comes to age:  the older student treated the younger as an equal.  They talked about the upcoming parade to be held on July 30th in memory of the massacre of university students which took place in 1975.  The architecture and engineering students had built a model plane which would be one of the floats in the parade.  Students would be dressed as soldiers and various pieces of military equipment would appear as floats, reminiscent of when the army surrounded and shot at unarmed students, killing 20.  The wood "bones" of the military airplane float would be fleshed out by the students in the next few days.

We eventually ended up having a meeting with a couple of student organization leaders in the engineering department.  Another meeting was set up for the next day; everyone was so enthusiastic!  Bringing students into impoverished communities to teach, to mentor kids, to do projects that fulfill the students' social service hours...the ideas kept flowing!  In the current reality, the church, with its non-partial relationship-building work in communities, could be the gateway for the university to enter into communities in order to make a positive difference.

We grabbed a bite of lunch at the university food court, and then walked our freshman friend back to his airplane.  A few more friends showed up to work.  The freshman pointed us out to his friends, and they all waved to us as we walked away, the freshman with a smile beaming from ear to ear.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Off the Beaten Path: Shaw's

One fine afternoon, my friend and I decided to check out a small coffee shop in the neighborhood where we were staying.  It seemed like there were always cars parked out front, and from our investigations walking by a few times, it looked like a nice little coffee shop.  Coffee shop:  for sure!  But beyond coffee, this place has bakery, fantastic desserts, delicious gelato, and chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!!

Folks from San Francisco, California might recognize the Shaw's name, and back in the day the chocolates were imported from San Francisco.  When the government of El Salvador passed a law regulating the importation of chocolate, the owners of the Salvadoran Shaw's had no choice but to learn how to make chocolate for themselves.  The chocolates and desserts might be described as European in style, but they are made locally at the Shaw's production kitchen.  The cacao is purchased from a Central American cooperative.

The menu at Shaw's offers breakfast, sandwiches and a variety of sweet items.  Once we discovered this place, we have especially enjoyed heading over for an afternoon coffee with dessert.  The coffee choices, which personally for me typically include chocolate, are delicious.  The atmosphere (at least at our frequented location) is relaxing and comfortable, with small cafe tables and chairs but also a couple of small sofas and a "reading room."  It is a good spot for meeting up with friends or for holding small meetings during mid-morning or afternoon when it is not crowded.  Shaw's also offers free wifi, and many of the coffee drinks come with a small piece of delicious chocolate.

Salvadorans often say that on a very hot day it is good to drink hot beverages.  I am not going to weigh on on that debate.  If you are not in the mood for an afternoon coffee, there is always gelato...

Monday, July 13, 2015

After the Ceremony

This is a continuation of the story, Beato Romero ...

We walked up the street toward San Jose de La Montaña Church, happy to have been in the throng, and happy to emerge from it.  Our mission:  to find a place to eat lunch, preferably a spot with some seating.  We made up the hill, glad to see a few sidewalk cafés opportunistically set up just beyond the church.  The delicious scent of carne asada and an empty table with a few chairs were all the encouragement we needed to hustle ourselves over to that table.  We peeked over at the grill, and the meat looked as appetizing as it smelled.  We scooted our chairs to the table to the sound of shrieks and laughter.  To our great surprise, friends from Rutilio Grande were eating lunch at the table beside us!  We jumped up and shared hugs and kisses, marveling at the coincidence.  Weeks before the Romero beatification ceremony, we had communicated with these same friends and figured it would be nearly impossible to connect with one another in the midst of the huge crowd.

We chatted with our friends, enjoyed our delicious lunch and watched as the Holy Communion distribution teams walked by.  Each team consisted of a white-robed priest carrying a white gift bag (presumably the sacrament was inside the bag), and a small team of volunteers wearing turquoise t-shirts, one of whom carried a big yellow umbrella.  Each distribution team had been pre-assigned to a designated location, and the process of bringing the sacrament to the people seemed to be taking a while.   We had seen the first teams moving out to their spots as we began our walk away from the crowd.  In fact, we passed by as an old woman held out her hands for communion, but the priest told her he was not in his spot yet so she had to wait.  That seemed a little bit wrong to us.  As we sat eating our lunch, an older priest interrupted his walk a couple of times to hand out communion to old women in aprons and some teen guys.  "He is from the older generation," the pastor who was with us said, "He gets it."   We nodded.

After lunch we decided to walk back to the center of things to see what we could see.  Barricades were still set up, but we could walk easily walk around the Salvador del Mundo monument.  The streets were littered with all kinds of trash, not surprising given the size of the crowd and overflowing garbage barrels.  Entrepreneurs carrying large bags picked water bottles and other recyclables up from the gutters and trash cans.  We ran into Bishop Gomez and his wife, and a few other familiar folks along the way.  Eventually we made our way back up the big hill via the same street we had walked hours earlier.  The vendors for the most part had packed up their Romero posters, candles and other souvenirs.  We stopped to use the portable toilets two-thirds of the way up the hill.  They were clean, which indicated to us that the crowd probably did not make it up to that point.  We stopped for ice cream and then called it a day.