Monday, January 31, 2011

How are you, Miguelito?

How are you, Miguelito? Are you clapping and dancing like the last time we saw you? Can you chatter away or sing a little tune? Are you eating well? Have you grown? Does your mama's heart fill with joy every time she casts a glance your way?

Oh, would be so good to hold you and to give you a squeeze, and to remind you that you are a miracle.

You came to us before your first birthday. You were too small. You could not hold up your own head. Other little ones your age could sit and pull themselves up and babble. You were too weak. The cleft in your palate made it impossible for you to keep the milk from spilling out from your nose and face. The little trickles of nourishment which made it into your tummy had kept you alive -- just barely. Your mama prayed and willed you to live, and she brought you to us hoping for a miracle.

The doctors had said you were too little and too weak for surgery. Without the surgery you would not survive. Dr. Z stroked your little head and felt you all over. You needed special food. You needed a special feeder.

We traveled to pharmacies all over the city, and bought every ounce of preemie formula that we could find. We delivered the formula and bottles to your mom.

One of our nurses had cared for babies with your condition and knew just what kind of feeder you needed. She found the special feeder and extra nipples and special cups just for you. We shipped them all the way from the United States to your mama, and sent formula inside friends' suitcases whenever they traveled to El Salvador. We heard that little by little you were growing.

One year later, your mama brought you to see us again. You cried; you laughed; you sat on the floor; you walked; you danced; you clapped your hands. You lived.

The doctors had repaired your outer lip and you could eat and drink. The doctors planned to take a little piece of bone from your leg and fashion an upper palate for you. Your mouth would soon be just right.

Your mama has not brought you back to see us. This must mean that you are doing well and we rejoice in that hope!

Thank you for touching our lives, little Miguelito. You are a survivor. You are a miracle.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: Museum of Word and Image

One of my favorite places to go with a little group of people is the Museum of Word and Image in San Salvador. It's a place where you can sit on the floor and learn about Salvadoran poetry, or see an historic photo exhibit of indigenous peoples, or learn about Radio Venceremos and events from the civil war. A few exhibits are permanent. Some come and go. The historic preservation work which occurs behind the scenes is important. The words and images are challenging. The small book store is worth a stop for anyone who wishes to dig a little deeper into the history, culture, and hearts of the Salvadoran people.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: When Good Comes from Bad

The morning dawned hot and sunny, but somewhere over the Gulf a hurricane was brewing. Instead of boarding a plane to Miami, we were routed through Los Angeles...the next day! What could we do with an extra day in El Salvador? Attend a celebration, of course.

The Casa de la Juventud, or Youth Center, in Guazapa was celebrating an anniversary and honoring the short life of a little girl named Wendy. The center was built in response to the needs of the community: for a safe place in which children and youth could sing, could dance, could play music, could express themselves through drama, could create works of art, could play sports, and could talk about the challenges of growing up in a society in which bad things sometimes happen to children.

The youth center was built in Wendy's honor. There had been other children who had been murdered, and the community had grieved deeply, but it was Wendy's murder which became the catalyst for action. Wendy's grandmother wanted her granddaughter's life to mean something, and her strength and mission became a call to action for advocacy for the rights of children in the community.

On that day of celebration, dozens of young people shared their gifts of dance and humor and spirit and life with a crowd of family, friends, community leaders and two stranded travelers. After the speeches, entertainment and refreshments, we took a few moments to talk with Wendy's grandma, who held a photograph of her granddaughter who had died on that day seven years ago. Then we paused to look at a sculpture which stands in the front yard of the center - a work of art dedicated to a program "Weapons or Toys" in which children bring in toy guns and weapons and trade them in for notebooks or stuffed animals.

A few years ago, we received this poem which was written on the 13th anniversary of Wendy's birthday...


I am the voice of a child that no longer can speak…

I am the echo that will non longer be expressed,

More now in sadness in exchange for happiness…

I am the voice that can no longer cry;

I am the tears playing in the sea, running in the sky.

I am the one for whom my mother prays at night…

I am the ghost that came to stop at this tomb.

I am the emblem of childhood that today they begin to forge…

I am the heart that one man in your society stabbed.

I am the dream of my family…

I am the memory of almost two years now…

I am the dreamer who would have celebrated 13 years…

I am the illusion of my sisters and brothers;

I am the little girl reflected in yesterday.

I am Wendy who non longer will see another sunrise or sunset.

I am the little flower in the bouquet that you gave today…

It is the garden of a child...who from heaven gives you thanks.

Wendy (May 30, 1988—August 19, 1999)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Today is the 10-year anniversary of a terrible quake which shook the earth under El Salvador. Roads were broken. Hillsides were broken. Houses were broken. Families were broken.

In the aftermath of the quakes, a seasoned pastor gathered up broken pieces of wood. He took them to his workshop, and fashioned them into a handful of crosses - simple wood crosses, each standing about eight inches tall, stained dark brown and well varnished. Simple crosses, created as symbols of resurrection from earthquakes, from brokenness, from death.

Our sister church pastor presented one of these crosses, made by his dad, to our church as gift. It sometimes sits on the altar, sometimes in the chapel, as a reminder of our partnership. Most people who see this symbol of partnership and resurrection probably do not know of its origin in the rubble of an earthquake.

Another of these crosses rests in special place in my home. Today, I took it into my hands and was reminded of the events ten years ago, of the lives lost, of the homes destroyed, of the prayers offered, of the lives saved, of the homes rebuilt, of the prayers answered.

I looked back over some of the photos from ten years ago - not photos from the earthquake, but photos taken during the eleven months that followed - photos of a four-year old boy from our sister church who came to the US for a heart procedure, photos of Salvadoran pastors participating in our synod assembly, photos of the ordination of a Salvadoran pastor serving as a missionary in our city, and photos of our family celebrating Christmas with families El Salvador. It was the year of the earthquakes and tragedies, and it was also a year of healing, laughter, sharing, celebration and resurrection.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: Complementary Rings

Greasy and Grubby are a team, complementary of one another, seeing more clearly together than apart. Circumstances have sometimes caused them to be without one another in their adventures, and that has been sometimes painful.

Grubby never knows why certain memories pop up at certain times, but in this moment she is remembering an experience which left her feeling very overwhelmed, longing for the wisdom of her friend.

It had been a long day of work with the holistic healing team of doctors, nurses, pastors and healers. Maybe we saw 300 or 400 people. The sun set and the request came from the owner of the sewing cooperative that they wanted to have a meeting. I went, and sat at the end of a long table for a conversation about broken machines and lack of local market and could I facilitate shipping to the US and a myriad of other issues which were troubling the little business. The tiredness, the late hour, the struggle with the language all left me feeling beat up. "Yes," I said repeatedly, "I will take that back to our committee. I can't give you an answer right now."

A few hours later, delegation members were tucked safely into their beds round and about the community. It was about 10:30 at night when our sister pastor came to Julia's home where I was staying. A young man, Edgar*, needed to talk with me. We have known Edgar since our first visit to our sister community, first as a quiet teen with a passion for woodworking. As an artist with a vision problem which was keeping him from creating out of wood and metal and paint what he envisioned in his mind, who worked a week of nights and days to create beautiful crosses for us to sell to earn money for a pair of special glasses. As a troubled young adult who had pressures from gang and family situations which we did not understand. As a co-manager of a little woodworking shop who traveled with us to La Palma to learn more about that style of painting and who taught classes at the homeless shelter.

That late night, Edgar wanted to speak with me, and he needed his pastor to be able to do it. Edgar had not been visible yet during our visit, and that night he seemed distant, troubled, maybe a bit under the influence of drink or something else. He was planning to sell the power tools which we had sent. He and his shop-mates had decided that their best plan for survival was to sell this equipment, to hire a coyote and to send Edgar north to the United States. There he could use his skills and send money back. There he would be safe from the gangs. The pastor said that this was Edgar's decision, and the decision of his family and his co-workers, and Edgar needed help in telling me this.

There was nothing I could really say. "You know this is dangerous, right? Are you sure? OK, we will pray for you."

I watched Edgar meander unsteadily back toward his shop. So much promise. So many hidden demons. After all this time I didn't know Edgar, really.

I walked back to Julia's house, sat down and just started shaking. Then I cried. Julia understood. When tough stuff and exhaustion meet, you need your complement to get through it.

Edgar made it to the US. He made it into custody. He was held for 3 months. He wrote us letters. We wrote him letters. An envelope from him arrived with gifts which he made for us while in prison - a woven ring with the name Greasy and a woven ring with the name Grubby. We wore those rings on strings around our necks until Edgar was sent home, where he continues to hide from demons.

*Edgar is not our friend's real name. The rings do have our real names.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Off the Beaten Path: The Quiet UCA

One of our favorite delegation spots is The UCA (Universidad Centroamericana) in San Salvador. We go there to share the story of the work of the Jesuits during the time of the civil war and take a quiet walk through the rose garden, remembering the sacrifice of the six men and two women who were assasinated. Sometimes we schedule a conversation with Father Dean Brackley or another faculty member. We visit the chapel, the museum and the bookstore. We have been there to hear lectures, to participate in pilgrimages and to meet with friends, but the last time I took a delegation to the UCA, we did none of this. The last time I visited the UCA, everything was closed - just one of those things that happens. So, we walked around the campus, and we enjoyed a different kind of experience.

Up on the hill a coolish breeze made a hot dry day feel lovely. The trees swayed gently and the sounds of traffic were muted by the chirping of birds and the occasional laughter of students. We walked up the stairs and around all of the campus buildings, noticing the angles of the different roof lines and walk-ways casting unique afternoon shadows across our path. We stopped in the outdoor commons, enjoying a little time walking on the shady paths and sitting for a bit at the round tables. Some peeked into the windows of the chapel, catching glimpses of the sobering artwork which hangs on the back wall.

During our downhill walk, we stopped to touch the different leaves and flowers and to peer through breaks in the wall. There were no players or fans at the soccer field, just us, admiring the views of the city and the volcano in the distance. A grassy hill invited a couple of us to lay down and rest for a bit, looking up at the blue, blue sky, branches and birds overhead.

For a little while, we were all in college, hanging out on campus during the quiet hours after class, enjoying nature and walking and friends.