Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tales of Greasy and Grubby - Worship in the Rain

So, the story continues.

We walked from house to house, asking to enter each little yard, and were welcomed warmly. We listened to stories, we hugged, we cried, we got into a circle, we shared the Gospel of John, we prayed. We ended each visit with an invitation to attend a special Friday evening worship service (our last evening in the community). Women and children joined us along the way, so the prayer circles grew larger and smaller, depending on who had to go to work or school or whatever...

On one of our last home visits, we met Antonio.

Our sister church community is built upon a hill, with the church sitting right in the center, on the hilltop. Down at the bottom, on the far side of the hill, sits the small house of Don Antonio. Our little team stopped at the wire gate, and asked permission to enter. Don Antonio, an older man with a great smile, graciously welcomed us into his tiny front yard. He was seated on a simple wooden bench, wearing a white baseball cap.

We gathered in a circle in the shade. Don Antonio said he was doing pretty well. He spent his days in the yard; it was hard for him to get around. One of his legs was missing. Part of his remaining foot was missing. Some of his fingers were missing. Don Antonio had diabetes. We held hands with Don Antonio, and we prayed. We hugged. His hug was as strong as his faith. I remember the feel of his whiskers up against my cheek. We invited him to the special worship service. He wasn't sure if he could make it.

When our week of visits ended, we gathered in the church for that special Friday night worship service. Driving rain pounded the roof, and turned the dirt paths in the community into streams. People usually don't go out in the rain, especially at night, for fear of slipping and falling, yet, despite the rain and the slippery conditions, people came. Lots of people came. We were amazed.

In the midst of the chaos of wet people squeezing into the small church, a quiet entrance caught our attention. The crowd parted a bit to make way for four young men who were carrying Don Antonio. The youth gently set Antonio down next to his wife. When we went over to say hello, Antonio’s wife whispered, “This is the first time in a very long time that we have been able to go to church together.

“Together we are a movement of faith and life, giving testimony to all that is possible by the mercy of God for the poor. Together as sister churches, we bring to the community the presence of the signs of the Kingdom of God that is already among us." - words of our Salvadoran pastor.

We were blessed to be with Antonio several times after this initial visit. Shortly after our first visit, Antonio was able to get a wheelchair, which made it possible for him to accompany his wife and children. Antonio now rests in the arms of the Lord.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Tales of Greasy and Grubby - Knock and the Door Shall be Opened

So, Greasy and Grubby went around knocking on doors in El Salvador. Do you remember how it began?

You might want to review the story about the birthday party, which gives a little history about this visit to our sister church community which began with a call from God to get up and go, so the two of us got up and went.

That "get up and go" vision included instructions from God which were pretty specific: Go. The two of you. Don't make a bunch of plans. Don't take a bunch of stuff with you. Go knock on doors.

That was it.

We thought about Jesus sending out his followers, two by two without an extra cloak -- it's pretty hard for us to travel with nothing. We thought that maybe taking the Word of God door to door might be a good idea, so we did pack a few hundred Spanish copies of the Gospel of John. As we were preparing for our trip, we also had a VBS (Vacation Bible School) happen at our church. Our kids had "Jesus Loves You" t-shirts with big red hearts on them, and, because these same shirts were also available in Spanish, the kids gave funds to purchase shirts to send with us for the kids in our sister church.

So, armed with the Gospel of John and love shirts, we went. And, carrying the Gospel, we knocked on doors. Well, mostly, we rattled barbed wire gates or hollered into the yards, "Hola ... con permiso?"

" ¡Pase, pase, por favor!" Come in!

One of our first visits was with a large family. The grandma seemed very old. She had a long, long story to tell. I did not understand any of it. We stood, we sat, we listened, we hugged, we cried, we hugged some more. She did not want to let go. I remember thinking, why am I here? I feel useless. I do not understand Spanish, my poor friend Greasy is struggling with hers. At the end of all those tears and hugs we made a circle, and our pastor prayed. Then, the adults were given the little Gospels as gifts of love.

Another one of our early visits was to the store lady's house. We have always called her the store lady because she runs a little tienda right near the church. She invited us in, had us sit down in the shade outside of her house. She was very distraught because her son had recently died, and was not active in the church. She gave a long explanation of her son's involvement in what were clearly bad activities, and it took us a while to get it because we did not understand the word for witchcraft. Our pastor quietly turned to us and said, "Halloween" and then we understood. Her church had not offered any hope of salvation for her son, because of his recent activities, and she was beside herself.

She had raised her son in the church. He strayed. And while lost, he died. Mom was left hopeless. Yet in those moments of despair being poured out at our feet, God put the most perfect words into my friend's mouth. She uttered a message of pure grace and comfort, like a salve on the mother's wounds.

This experience, of being given the right words at the right time happened again and again. When it happens in English, we sometimes notice it and thank God for it. When it happens in a language with which you are struggling, it's like an outrageous miracle that sends wild shivers through you when you realize what has happened. You can't help but take notice and give thanks.

Each visit ended in the same way, with a circle of prayer and sharing the Gospel of John - the Gospel of Love.

In God's mysterious way, he sent two unlikely ladies on a door-knocking mission. Why in El Salvador? Why not in our own neighborhood?

To be continued...

(Photo note: This photo was taken at the home of the large family. Most of the adults in the household could not read. The older boy took the little gospel and said he would read it out loud to his grandma.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lessons with the Kids

The first time that my kids were in El Salvador was quite an adventure - for lots of reasons. We all learn as we go, and a couple of pieces of good learning came out of that trip.

Our church has a sister church in El Salvador, and we had made a couple of trips to visit when we got the idea to do a family trip over Christmas break. Even though we were early on in our relationship, we recognized the importance of getting together as families, staying in homes, sharing traditions and just hanging out. So, that's what we did.

Kids do not need to know Spanish in order to play together. That is a lesson for the grown-ups.

Play happened. Soccer and North American football. Circle games in which our kids never did get the rules, and lots of "can you come to my house?" adventures.**

There were baptisms, confirmations and even a wedding. There was a dance, fireworks tossed on the rooftops (not by our kids - but it did fascinate them), and lots of tortillas.

Eventually, kids get tired of tortillas. So, we caved in and went to Burger King. This offered up another lesson: (no offense to Burger King) beware of burgers in El Salvador, and, never let newbies, especially children, eat anything that has been in contact with lettuce. All of my kids got sick.

And so we come to a memorable lesson from this trip. My kids were very sick. Whether it was the burgers or an accumulation of microbes, they were living in la latrina. We battled it with the usual meds, including Cipro, but were not having success. Our host mom, who has a child with a medical condition and so is very resourceful and wise said, "I know how to cure this. My son has this problem and I know what works." She filled a pot with something that smelled like red wine (a home brew of sorts), some leaves and sticks and boiled it for a bit. Then she poured a glass for each of the kids. "Drink it," she said. They scrunched their noses, gulped it down and in 10 minutes were cured. Seriously. It was like magic.

This is a lesson about trust and learning. It sticks with me like glue, and is a reminder to me to always be open to learning and to asking for help. And now, as I write this, I am thinking I should ask my friend for that recipe!

The kids have been to El Salvador a few times. It has changed their lives. But for those of you who might be serving as delegation leaders or coordinators for partnership programs, you might be interested in the policy which we developed following this first family trip experience:

+ Young people under age 18 must be accompanied by a parent
+ That parent must have traveled to El Salvador before (or have significant real-life travel experience in Latin America)
+ The young people and parents must participate in orientation sessions

**The current reality in our sister community is that children cannot roam as freely as they once did. Yet, with good information and local invitation and support, families can travel safely in El Salvador.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Off the Beaten Path - Santa Ana

Santa Ana may not seem like an "off the beaten path" kind of place, and truthfully, the center of town is probably a pretty well-known tourist destination. With Mayan archeological sites nearby, a traditional colonial town lay-out and early 1900's architecture, Santa Ana has a lot to see and discover. During the boom time, coffee profits helped to bring prosperity to the city, but life has been a little more difficult here in recent times.

Two German friends and I were invited to tour the town with a friend who lives in Santa Ana. We walked through the cathedral, strolled through the town square, and then went into the courtyard of the government buildings, where we sat and enjoyed the flowers. After chatting with a few guys from the mayor's office, we headed over to the theater. When he was young, our friend used to see movies in the 100-year-old theater, which was abandoned for a while and is now being restored to its more historic form. At the end of our tour our friend bought us each an out-dated calendar, so that we could remember the beautiful town through the calendar's photos.

I think so often we spend time working or helping or dealing with crises with our brothers and sisters in El Salvador, that there isn't time enough for our Salvadoran hosts to share with us their favorite vacation spots, the historic sites, the places in which they smile with pride. Typically, we North Americans like to go off with our delegations to see the historic sites on our own or with one or two Salvadoran guides who are "used" to us. I think it is so much more fun to go to places with local families, so that they can share their stories and we can experience and learn things together.

So, besides touring the historic sites of Santa Ana, we also got to go a little bit off the beaten path to meet the kids in the neighborhoods, to meet our friend's mom, and to learn a little bit about some projects which were started by non-Salvadoran NGO's but not completed. We had time for conversation about sustainability, time to laugh and learn together, time to smell the flowers, and time to receive a thoughtful gift that reminds us to take time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sharing Ideas I

Whenever I am in El Salvador, especially at an event which involves kids or youth, I like to collect ideas. Here are a few ideas which I collected during a recent trip to El Salvador...

In one community which we visited, the kids in an after-school program decorated the streets of the village with painted paper plates. Paper streamers were attached to the plates to create lovely wind catchers which were strung up on rows of string. Kids might have fun using strips of cloth, ribbon, or whatever else is available and might be water-resistant.

Because I hang out in a lot of Lutheran Church communities, this project caught my eye. The youth had made replicas of the Luther Rose, using heavy-duty foil (or any kind of thin metal that could be bent). The foil was placed over cardboard cut-outs of the rose and then the students used sticks to rub over the pattern and create indentations in the foil. Then, they painted the design. Punched tin and raised tin artwork is very common in many Latin American countries, and fun to replicate with kids.

Sometimes the good ideas are not hung up on string or on the walls but are actually on the kids. We were welcomed to one community with a parade, in which the kids were dressed in costumes, representing their goals for a "new El Salvador." One was dressed as a flowering tree, representing the care which children need to take of the natural resources. One represented the struggle to obtain and preserve clean water. The third was dressed as trash, something kids should not throw on the ground and should pick up.

Kids (and adults, really) from every culture like to color. In one community, the Sunday School kids color a picture each week. At the bottom of the page is the Bible memory verse. Kids glue a strip of card-stock to the top of the page, punch 2 holes, tie on a piece of yarn, and wear their pages home. The children often have a contest at the end of class to recognize who has done creative work (including adding extra things from the Bible story into the picture) and who has been able to memorize the verse from scripture. By wearing their work, the kids tend not to drop it on their walks home. The walls inside many of the homes are covered with Sunday School coloring pages. One home kept a huge stack of pages in a special place - the freezer! (no electricity).

It's always fun to share ideas across cultures and across the miles!