Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Better than a call from North Carolina

I walked in the door after a long solo driving trip.  The phone rang.  The caller ID indicated I was receiving a call from an unknown person in North Carolina.

"Hmmm," I thought, "Whom do I know in North Carolina?"

I expected it to be someone who had gotten my number from our synod office - someone from some ELCA church out there who had a question about sister church relationships with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  "Ugh,"  I thought.  "I am too tired to deal with this."  I picked up the phone anyway.

"Ho-la."  It caught me off guard, but I recognized Estella's sing-songy greeting right away. Not North Carolina, but El Salvador!  "Hola!" I chirped back, and as with one hand I navigated the process of taking off my coat, greeting the dog, taking out the dog, and feeding the dog, I carried on a lively conversation with Estella.

It was Estella's daughter's birthday.  This was the purpose of the call - to take a couple of moments out of the middle of an afternoon to celebrate together a little girl who was completing her second year of life.  We talked about our kids, our husbands, our churches, our communities, our Bible study groups.  The visit to the doctor for the two-year-old check-up that morning had gone well.  The plans for our upcoming visit in El Salvador were moving along on both fronts.  Three times during the conversation, Estella said, "I love you so much.  You and all the friends from our sister church.  You have made such a difference in our lives - for me and for my children.  May God bless you and keep you and watch over you.  I pray for you every day."

This was so much better than a call from North Carolina (no offense to any North Carolinian fans out there.)

Estella made me promise to call our pastor to thank her again for baptizing Estella's daughter during our last visit in El Salvador.  "Tell Pastor Jennifer that her little girl is healthy and is turning two years old today.  Tell Pastor Jennifer to remember the baptism.  Tell Pastor Jennifer that we give thanks and pray for her every day."

Thank you, Estella, for taking the time to call, for your love and your prayers.  You have made such a difference in our lives, for me and for the brothers and sisters in your sister church.  May God bless you and keep you and watch over you.  We will do our best to pray for you every day.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Grandma

The Abuela after her check-up in 2005
The Abuela was old, amazingly old, perhaps the oldest person in the community.  She had feisty hair and a feisty spirit to match.  She was in her 80's, maybe even 90's.  It was hard to tell.  Her face was well-lined from years of sun and laughter, but her memory was sharp and her personality was spunky.  Some years ago she started to carry a straight tree branch in her hand as a walking-stick.  The top was worn smooth from her grasp.  Despite her age she navigated her way up and down the rocky rutty paths in the community, her walking stick in one hand and her baseball cap in the other.

We called her The Abuela -- The Grandma.  This was out of respect.  We met The Grandma during our first visit to the community.  She came for a check-up at a small clinic which we ran inside the church.  Deb, our nurse practitioner had a special rapport with The Grandma from their first meeting.

The Abuela lived at the corn-grinding house with her son and daughter-in-law.  We would often visit to admire her beautiful flower and fruit garden or to find out how the molina business was going.  She kept a couple of pet cats.  After the earthquakes in 2001, our church helped The Abuela and her family to build a new home as part of a community housing project.  A small group of us visited the home when it was completed to give a blessing.  After the blessing, The Abuela asked Deb to bring her a ring the next time she came to visit.

Deb always treated The Grandma with great respect and care and offered her basic comforts for a difficult medical situation.  It's difficult to talk about female problems in many cultures, even with medical personnel.  This was very true in El Salvador twelve years ago and is still somewhat true today.  The Grandma broke past the barriers of embarrassment and cultural silence, revealing to Deb that she had a completely prolapsed uterus.  Preventing infection on an internal organ which has become external to the body is very difficult.  The Grandma was a role model for other women, advocating for herself, gathering the information she needed, and caring for herself in the best way possible.

The Abuela in 2012
During the next couple of years after the house blessing, we did not see The Abuela.  She wasn't home when we stopped by.  She did not attend worship when we were there.  The little clinic we offered became a more holistic healing mission and was held outside of the community, and she did not come for a check-up.  Deb carried a ring in her purse during all of this time.  Then, one day, there she was!  Deb presented The Abuela with the ring.  It was a joyful moment.

The Abuela in 2012
Dear Abuela, today we learned that you passed away.  We will remember you for your smile, your laughter, your sense of humor and your style.  We will remember you in your beautiful skirts and "sexy" blouses.  We will remember you with 2 or 3 necklaces around your neck, pretty hair clips, bracelets, rings and dangly earrings, all topped off with a baseball cap.  We will remember your frequent request for presents and the joy with which you received them.  We will remember you carefully following they hymn book and singing with gusto.  It has been a blessing to know you, to laugh with you and to learn from you.  Dear Abuela, we will remember you.