Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Love Life

She was working around the house, doing the things a mom normally does while the kids are at school.  She looked up and saw a small group of people come up her short path and into the house.  One woman; three men.  She recognized one of the men.  They grabbed her and tied her up with her hands behind her back.  They began to beat her, striking her all over and punching her in the face and head.

None of the neighbors heard anything.

She lost consciousness.  She lay on the dirt floor while the one woman and three men gathered some things from her home:  a little bit of clothing, school papers, things that would burn.  They lit a fire next to her and left.

None of the neighbors smelled anything.

Three of her children came home from school.  They found their mom tied up, beaten, unconscious on the floor of her smokey house.  The fire had gone out.

This was not the welcome the mother wished to give her children at the end of the school day.  This was not something which should occur when neighbors are close by.  This was not an assault which will be investigated by the police.

This was a warning.  This was a moment of life in our sister community, a life teetering on an invisible line between rivals.  A life which in one moment breathes love and in another breathes violence.

How do we teach one another to love life?  As sister churches, we are searching for answers.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Wedding Bracelet

I have a new bracelet.  

In a few days I will break my own rule, and I will take off five bracelets, unfold the lavender tissue paper wrappings, and put on the new one.  The new bracelet is the wedding bracelet.  The wedding bracelet was made by an artisan who will benefit directly from its sale.  The wedding bracelet is beaded and sparkly and silver and has a really cool magnetic clasp.

Until this morning, I was wearing six bracelets.  My rule is that if I receive a bracelet as a gift, I wear it til it breaks.  I have found that there are two suitable occasions for breaking this rule.  One is to attend a very special event with formal clothing such as the wedding of a daughter or a son.  The second is if someone asks me about one of the bracelets and I am moved to give it to them.  This morning, I was asked about the simple, gray, plastic band printed with the words, "¡No a la violencia!  ¡Si a la vida!" I received this bracelet about a month ago from a Salvadoran pastor, and the message on the bracelet is the theme with which the church is working throughout the year as it seeks pathways for ministry which build resilience against violence and build honor for life.  My friend's enthusiasm for this theme motivated me to give her the bracelet.

Of the five which remain, three have identities which are familiar:  the aqua, orange and white yarn bracelet from a sister in Nicaragua; a purple plastic coat-hanger shaped bracelet from a special girl in our sister community; and a patriotic blue and white bangle from Bishop Gomez.

Two of the five have stories to be told.  The black plastic band has bright pink letters:  Holly's initials on one side, and her message, "Love Life!" on the other.  Holly was killed in a car accident more than a year ago.  Her custom was to say, "Love life!" with a wave and a smile as she leaving.  Holly's family and friends use the bracelets to keep this message alive, and as one way of gathering funds to support young women in our Salvadoran sister community in their high school and college education.  "Ama la Vida - Love life" are powerful words to wear on a wrist and to put into action.  I have worn pink "Love Life" bands, and white ones too, but I gave them away.  

The fifth bracelet alternates 4 tiny black beads with 1 purple crystal bead in a sparkly pattern.  It was made by the youth of a church community which sits at the end of a long, dusty, jolting roadway, on the skirt at the base of the Guazapa volcano.  The bracelet and matching earrings were presented as gifts to the North American women who were part of a delegation sharing in the celebration of the one-year anniversary of the church building.  The celebration was beautiful and the youth were beautiful, like the bracelet.  But seeing it reminds me of the woman who, during the long and bumpy ride, shared the story of her life.  She was a combatant during the war -- moving, hiding, fighting in the folds of the Guazapa volcano.  Her children were born during the war.  One arrived as bombs were falling all around her, destroying the wall next to which she was hiding.  This newborn daughter suffered injuries and as an adult continues to receive constant care from her mother.  The woman was a refugee, lived in a camp with her three children, and left them behind to return to the fighting.  This woman is a survivor, a devoted mother, a devoted worker in the church, a devoted advocate for justice.  I look at the bracelet, and I hear her voice,  remember her face, and still cannot imagine living her story.

For one day, the wedding bracelet will replace the five.  For one day, I will rejoice in the marriage of our daughter and pray over all of the young women in our sister church community and throughout El Salvador, that they may be blessed with loving relationships.  For one day, the silver sparkles will remind me of Carolina, who heard the stories of the bracelets and asked if I would write about the new one.  I promised I would.  

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Here Comes the Bride

Our daughter is getting married in just a couple of weeks.  The usual crazy long to-do list is crazier and longer, and at the end of each day there are still more things listed under "to do" than "taaa-daaaa".  (You have to sing that last word for maximum effect.)

One of the "taaaa-daaaas" for the upcoming wedding is that our sister church pastor from El Salvador is coming.  A few months ago, when our son got married, our sister pastor was unable to share that wedding celebration with us because the US government was holding his passport and visa until a background check could be completed.  That took  about three months longer than we expected.  Those three months coincided with a deluge of rain which caused loss of life, homes, livelihood and crops in El Salvador.  Our sister pastor works with his national church to coordinate relief efforts in the wake of disasters.  We were all disappointed and frustrated with the visitor visa process which prevented us from being together for the wedding, yet we also wonder about the mysterious ways in which God's timing is wiser than our own.

So...as luck would have it, we have another wedding!  (Thank you, children.)  Our daughter's wedding will be held on March 24th.  In El Salvador, of course, this is a day of pilgrimage and celebration and honor in memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero.  In our sister church community, each March 24th is recognized as the anniversary of the founding of the community, beginning at 3:00 am with fireworks and music and schuco and worship and a pilgrimage through the community.  We wondered if our sister church pastor would or could be absent from such an important time in his own community, so we hesitated a bit to ask.  He told us, "it is on his heart to come to the wedding" and so, with new visa in hand, he is coming to the wedding.

While working on the arrangements for our daughter's wedding, I have been remembering a wedding which took place eleven years ago in El Salvador.  We had been invited by the bride and groom to come, and so we did.  A few hours before the wedding, the bride's family swept out the church, and taped up palm branches, white flowers and white balloons.  The bride rented a dress, and two hours before the ceremony her mom did some quick alterations.  Just an hour before, my friend and I hopped in a micro-bus with the bride to ride into Apopa to get a wedding cake.  The bishop came to perform the ceremony, which was one part of a marathon worship which included a full communion service, baptisms and confirmations.  My friend and her husband stood up as padrinos for the young couple, at one point carefully winding a white lasso around the bride and groom as the two were joined together in marriage.  The reception included food and dancing, and a few photos of the shy young couple.

What a fantastic celebration March 24th will be...with two grand fiestas happening simultaneously.  What fun we will have together, sharing photos and stories on Facebook and when we visit together. How beautiful it is that our sister church relationship is rooted in our identity as children of God, one great family, so that our weddings, our anniversaries, our life moments are celebrated together.