Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just Clicking Kids

A while back, I wrote about sticking my camera out of bus windows and just clicking to get everyday views of life in El Salvador, as it is seen from a bus.

Another fun thing to do with my camera (OK, my back-up camera) is to hand it off to the kids and to encourage them to take photos. It's always a treat to see through their eyes...

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Off the Beaten Path: Cerro de Perquin

One day, my husband and I ended up in the department of Morazan, just north of the town of Perquin. We were with a friend who had driven us from San Salvador and who had walked with us through the places and the stories which still hold sad and difficult memories from the war. Our friend, deeply affected by the experience we shared in El Mozote, suggested we go to a park on the top of a hill so that we could stand where we could feel like we could fly. We ended up on the top of Cerro de Perquin.

It was lovely. The stiff cool breeze, the smell of the pine trees, the laughter of young people who had gathered for a picnic, helped to calm our spirits. "Put your arms out, and stand on the edge - it looks like you're flying!" Our friend demonstrated. We laughed, took turns flying, and enjoyed the beautiful views of Honduras and Morazan (El Salvador).

As we walked, I noticed some ants, busily cutting leaves and carrying them off to their nest. I think it's always important to look down as well as to look up. Our friend laughed at me when I took a picture.

During the war, Perquin was at the center of the guerrilla-controlled area of the country, and the town served as the "unofficial" capital. As we walked down the hill, our friend showed us a bunker where FMLN guerrillas once took shelter.

The Museum of the Salvadoran Revolution is located in town, just south of the hill. There were several guides - each with his own room of artifacts to describe and collection of stories to share. Clothing, equipment, weapons, documents and many photos. All of the everyday tools of war are preserved here, from the very small and ordinary to the large helicopter wreckage of Colonel Monterrosa. It seemed very important to listen, even if some of the slurry Spanish was challenging to understand. They needed to tell, and we needed to listen.

Originally, we had thought about staying overnight in Perquin. But, it wasn't too late, so we decided to make the drive back to our friend's house near San Salvador and to surprise his wife. We stayed there for the night. It was good to hear our friend share his perspective on our adventures of the day. He spoke long and seriously about his own experiences during the war, and his desire to share the important lessons of that time with the children in his community.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Building a Boy

We have been walking with our sister church community for more than 12 years. We've walked together in baptism and funeral, hurricane and earthquake, wedding and birthday, teaching and learning, Bible study and worship, peace and violence. And in 12 years, children have grown up.

During his very first visit to our church in the US, our Salvadoran sister pastor spoke about the little ones. I can still picture him motioning with his hand to show the heights of two little boys, Marvin and Ernesto (name changed). These little guys were the present and the future of the community, members of one of the first families to settle in that rag-tag community of in-country war refugees back in 1996. Part of a big family, led by a little and sturdy mom.

These boys liked mischief and Sunday School and playing soccer with their friends and their pastor. Marvin liked to play bus driver. When he got to be too much for his mom to handle, a neighbor gentleman took him under his wing, and let him ride around with him as he drove in the city for his job. Marvin grew up. He stayed with his grandma and went to school. He eventually took a job as the fare-taker on a micro-bus in order to help support his family. Marvin was tragically murdered.

How does a family cope with such horrible loss and violence? How does a little brother deal with his grieving mom and sisters and brothers? with the responsibility of suddenly being the man of the family? with temptations of the streets? with lack of hope?

We have walked with Ernesto in school, out of school, in the streets, playing soccer, coaching younger soccer players, being hungry, joining a gang. It was hard to watch him - tall, too thin, avoiding us - when in our minds he was still that little one, beloved by his pastor, beloved by his sister church, prayed for by many.

Because his pastor stuck with him, so did the community.

Recently, we worked together to build a new church in the community. The work groups were organized by the women, who lead Bible studies in different parts of the neighborhood. The women invited Ernesto to work on building the church. After a couple of months, the project was finished. There was one worker who was there every single day - Ernesto.

Near the end of the project, we gathered together to celebrate and dedicate the new church. Ernesto was glad to be with us. He was smiling, laughing, working alongside his old friends. He said that he had learned how to do masonry, welding, painting, electrical work. He had job offers to do construction. He was hopeful.

We are hopeful.

We are hopeful not only for Ernesto, but for a community which struggles with violence and gang rivalries in it and around it. We are hopeful that the wisdom of the women, who called for the church to be a place of peace where all are welcome will spread into the homes and the streets. We are hopeful that our beloved little boys will have the chance to grow up.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just another bus ride

I'm not sure why bus rides stick in my head. Maybe it's because I don't typically ride a public bus in my day to day life in the US. Maybe it's because many of my Salvadoran bus rides have included a bit of adventure.

It is a wedding day. An hour before the ceremony, the bride grabs my friend Greasy and me by the hands. We run down the hillside steps to the main road to catch a micro-bus. We are off to buy the wedding cake. 15 minutes later we are there in "Mister Pan" to negotiate for a good cake. Then, big white cake in hand, we wait at the stop and flag down the bus. The ride back to the community is a little worrisome as we bump-bump our way along in a crowded micro, thinking that we are going to be really late for the wedding. With 10 minutes to spare, we are back in the community, cake in once piece, just in time for the bride to dress and have a few alterations done before the ceremony.

I am living in the community on my own. My Salvadoran friend suggests we go visit her son's family at their condominium. We hop on the bus. My friend is very selective, only a big bus and only one with a driver that she knows. This is important along a stretch of road plagued by gangs extorting tolls from bus drivers. We get to the condominium development and get the OK from the gang "guards" to walk to the family's unit. Only the kids are home, so we visit with them for a bit and then walk back out to the road to catch another bus. It's raining, but has let up enough so we that we do not get soaked while waiting. Not long after we get onto the bus, the bus driver stops short. The road in front of us has become a river. There is nothing to do but to wait until the water level goes down so that we can continue on. I ask the driver if I can take a photo, and he laughs and says "sure." After about 20 minutes, the water level goes down and we were on our way.

I'm by the side of the highway, waiting for a bus to take me from Guazapa to San Salvador. The bus stops and the driver's sidekick (the guy who collects the money) helps the old lady in front of me to make the big step up into the bus. I have a soft cast on my leg due to an injury which occurred before my trip. The sidekick picks me up under the arms and lifts me right up into the bus. What a surprise!

From bus ride preachers, to kids selling plantain chips or bags of water, to older gentlemen with machetes, to smiling school kids, to grandmas who ask me to sit on their laps, to kindly gentlemen who offer to hold my stuff, I have met some wonderfully interesting and kind folks during bus ride adventures.

Just another bus ride...sort of.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Small Wonderfuls

It was Wednesday. The pastors gathered for worship and study and conversation about current events and what the church is doing. The bishop led the group in a discussion about end times - what the Bible says versus what's out there in popular myth. He brought in Mayan beliefs, Nostradamus, Hollywood and the recent floods. The response to the floods was consuming most of the time, energy and life of the pastors and their congregations.

Within the midst of the bishop's history and intellect and theology was a very short story. "I once met a little girl with a doll, and the little girl said, 'Thank God for the earthquake, because without it, I would not have this wonderful doll.' "

Small wonderfuls are God's way of showing us that he is with us, no matter how bad it gets. What is your small wonderful today?

(Note: Linda took this photo in 2005 at a refugee center for victims of a volcano eruption.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tales of Greasy and Grubby - Serving the Meal

This week, I was reminded of a story. I have told it a few times. It's one of those stories that unfolded in slow motion, and in which the main characters, we, Greasy and Grubby, were a little bit clueless.

Our group was at the Bishop's church for worship with the pastors and a pretty good crowd. First Mondays usually bring a bigger crowd because the service includes Holy Communion. Before worship, the Bishop asked the two of us to help serve the meal. "OK," we said. Worship went along as usual, and the time came for Communion. We walked to the front, up the steps, stood by the altar. We were a little nervous, not exactly sure how we were supposed to "help." Hand washing. Words of institution. Greasy was handed the small plate of wafers, and I was given the cup. The Bishop showed us where to stand, and then he got in line to receive Communion. Greasy's hands were shaking a little bit as she dipped each wafer into the cup and served all who came forward.

After the meal, the servers passed the cup around to finish the wine. This is not the tradition in our church at home, and a look of desperation flashed between us as we realized that the two of us were expected to empty this large chalice between us. After drinking what we could, we handed it back to the Bishop who thankfully helped us out.

After the blessing we walked back to our seats. The Bishop then launched into quite a lengthy lecture, or sermon #2, or reprimand. Greasy and Grubby looked at each other, a bit confused. We caught about half of the message, clearly a strong lesson on the priesthood of all believers.

Later that afternoon, Greasy and Grubby were relaxing when a lovely older woman approached them and asked, "Are you pastors?"

"No," we answered (more of a question than an answer).

"Do you know what happened today?" the woman asked.

She went on to explain that lay people had not served the Lord's Supper as we had done that morning. The long lesson from the Bishop was a scolding, directed to the pastors in the congregation who had not come forward to receive the meal. That day, she said, we had changed the way that things were done, and, as women, we had broken down barriers and stood up for all of the women in the church. We had no idea.

We have always asked our friends in El Salvador to use us in whatever way might be needed to bring help, change or justice to a situation. We believe that this is one of the ways in which God wants us to work together - to accompany one another in learning and in advocacy.

God had a plan which he revealed to the Bishop for growing the church in a new way, and in the time that has passed since that Communion day, lay leaders and church women have come to serve during worship in many new capacities.

Looking back, we realize that we are hugely blessed to have been present in a moment of change. At that moment, we were just nervously helping as we were asked to do. We had no idea.

God is awesome.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Off the Beaten Path: Hanging Out in the Park

Recently, I was hanging out in Parque Cuscatlán, and saw a group of explorers doing a trust walk. It was great to see the young people working as a team, and to see the older ones running the activity for the younger ones. It was an afternoon of fun and group-building for the kids - something that stands out in contrast to the challenging afternoons of survival that lots of young people face.

Seeing these kids reminded me of one of my first experiences in El Salvador. We were marching through the streets of San Salvador with hundreds of people in a pilgrimage to honor the anniversary of Salvadoran Lutheran Church and to bring attention to the issue of violence against children. Boy Scouts and Explorers were helping out along the route. Their job was to keep the crowd contained on the street, which they skillfully did as they passed long boundary ropes from scout to scout. (Picture a giant inch-worm moving along each side of the crowd.) These kids were trustworthy, courteous, kind, helpful and friendly - qualities which scouts around the world try to incorporate into their lives.

Parque Cuscatlán was filled with families having fun and sharing picnics. One family had a pretty ingenious set-up with a hammock in the back of their pick-up. There was a drum group performing at one end of the park.

The reflective and more sobering aspect of the park is the memorial wall, "Monument to Memory and Truth" - a granite wall which lists the names of about 25,000 civilians who were killed or lost during the Civil War. On this particular day, I was more focused on the life and the laughter in the park, and not so much on the wall.

And, because often the wall is the focus of our delegation visits to the park, we have never thought to visit the Salarrué National Exhibit Hall, which is located under the big white staircase. The garden outside of the hall is a great place to sit and listen to the birds or to watch pick-up soccer and basketball games. It was a real treat to see the unique art installations inside, and, I have to confess, the air conditioning felt really good after a long hot walk.

Hanging out in the park on a hot afternoon. I recommend it.