Thursday, August 29, 2013

Partying Beyond Boundaries

The quinceañeara celebration processed from the church to the community center.  There are no words to describe how unbelievably hot it was in that building.  It was like being in an oven, so hot that we could hardly breathe.  Yet spirits were high and so was the volume of the music!  Everyone posed for photos with everyone, and then it was time for the special dance.  We couldn't quite catch all of the words, but the song was a traditional quinceañera song, and all the belles of the ball with their escorts took to the floor.  This dance was rehearsed!  The girls twirled from boy to boy with their big skirts swishing and swaying -- it was like watching a Disney princess movie.

After the dance a series of tables were set up end to end and covered with white cloth.  It was time for the feast of chicken and rice and tortillas.  As we finished eating, a hip hop dance group from the community performed.  The photo-taking continued for a while and then families said their farewells and headed home.

A few photos could not be taken.  Although they had been planning for months, a few mothers could not come.  Although they had looked forward to wearing fancy clothes and dancing, a few boys and girls had to stay home.  An edict from the gang bosses was issued and it prevented these families from crossing over their pathway to the area by the church -- a pathway which is an invisible boundary chopping off one section of the community from the rest, dictating who can walk where, who can play on what soccer field, who can go to what school, and now, who can and cannot go to church.

There are reasons why such an intimidation tactic might be used.  There are rules.  There are suspicions,  And bosses from outside the community don't know the history or understand the sanctity of the holy ground at the top of the hill.  Whatever the reasons, guided or misguided, the edict was issued and people were sad.

Yet the quinceañeara princesses were undeterred.  "Is it OK for us to walk down there?" they asked.  So the quinceañeara princesses hiked up their skirts and navigated their way through the barbed wire short-cut and took the party to the other side of the invisible boundary.  Not everybody could go, but we could go.  One of the mothers was home.  She invited us into her yard.  Beneath her humble tree (as she called it) we shared the fruits of her garden.  We all tasted sunsa (a sweet orange fleshy fruit which reminded us a little bit of sweet potato).  Then she made green mango with chile.  A neighbor mom came over with her son.  She had also been ordered not to walk up the hill.  We spent a good long time relaxing and enjoying the fruits until the thunder rumbled and it was time to go.

"It wasn't the same as being at the party with everyone," the moms said, "but this way we got to have you all to ourselves in our own garden." We shared lots of hugs and thank-yous, and then those of us who were allowed to do so walked back up the hill.

to be continued...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Big Day

The day for the anniversary celebration had arrived!  We arrived in the community before 7:30 AM so that our two quinceañera princesses could get their hair done by the expert fancy hair stylist in the community.  They spent a couple of hours getting their curled and sprayed up-do's and then changing into sparkly pink and poofy dresses.  All over the community, girls were donning their pink and pastel-colored dresses -- dresses which had attended proms and weddings ten, twenty or thirty years ago, dresses which had traveled to El Salvador a month before the celebration, dresses now expertly re-fashioned to turn excited teen girls into beautiful flowers.  As the girls giggled and fussed with their hair and dresses, teen boys polished their black school shoes and walked around nervously in black dress pants and white or pink button-down shirts.

Adults hovered around the church, adding finishing touches.  A few days earlier, the church had been dressed in a fresh coat of lilac paint, and the new fence around it was decorated with streamers and balloons of every color. The archway was crowned with a tiara of green palm branches. Pale pink and pale green lace curtains draped from the rafters.  The women had sewn pink covers for the altar, the pulpit and the communion elements.  Silk flowers, pink ribbons and baby blue balloons were everywhere.

Fifteen girls accompanied by fifteen boys represented the fifteen years of our partnership as sister churches.  These youth were chosen and honored as the once little ones who have grown in years and wisdom as the sister churches have grown together in love and ministry.  When the music started, the young couples walked in slowly and lined the center aisle of the church, making an archway with their arms and holding long-stem roses in the air.  Little girls dressed in bright green dresses tip-toed beneath the arch, dropping flower petals along the way.  They were the "little leaves."  Two little ones in white dresses walked behind the leaves - they were "the snow."  The maids of honor were dressed in matching yellow gowns.  Then the quinceañera princesses walked in with their escorts, carrying pretty pink bouquets.  The archway of couples then ducked under and walked forward, one by one, until everyone was seated for worship.  The princesses ended up shyly sitting in chairs at the base of the altar, facing the crowd.

The worship service was filled with special moments, with heartfelt words and the presentation of gifts.  Roses were presented one by one to the quinceañeras, fifteen roses to each, and then representatives of our two churches put their hands together to receive the roses as one bouquet, symbolizing the coming together of two congregations into one.  During the offering, youth brought gifts forward - light (a glittery hot pink pillar candle which survived the flight and the heat, education (a children's book) and hermandad/partnership (a giant hand-made anniversary card signed by kids, youth and adults from our home church).  

After worship, everyone processed down the dusty path to the community center...

to be continued...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

This is your Daily Bread

"This is your daily bread.  This is your daily bread."  There is a voice in my head, and these are the words.

Daily bread.  Give us this day our daily bread.  As people of faith, we pray this prayer every day, perhaps several times in a day.  We ask God to provide us with what we need to sustain us today -- shelter, clothing, food, and water.

As a person of privilege, I have never passed a day without having adequate shelter, clothing, food or water.  I have always been given daily bread.  Sometimes I marvel at God's creativity in providing daily bread.  I have upon occasion found myself without food, through my own fault in forgetting my lunch or not planning properly.  I work in communities where the struggle for daily bread is real, yet, in these communities, I am always fed.  Someone shares a sandwich, a piece of fruit, or a tamale.  An invitation is extended to a community meal made from reclaimed food.  "This is your daily bread."

We had been walking for a couple of hours as a part of the August 6th pilgrimage through the streets of San Salvador in honor of the 27th anniversary of the consecration of the office of bishop in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  Among the between six and ten thousand Lutherans, we stuck out a little bit in our hot pink tie-dye shirts and holding our pink and white banner.  We marched with youth and adults from our sister church community. We were all super happy to be walking together, still basking in the pink glow of the big quinceañera party we had a few days earlier to celebrate our 15 years together as sister churches.

As we approached the end of our walk on calle 5 de noviembre a man approached us, holding out his hand.  He walked back and forth in front of the banner, slowing us down a bit.  He was thin, his blue dress pants bunched up under the belt that held them up.  In his outstretched hand was part of a thin vanilla creme wafer cookie.  It was partially crushed in his warm, smudged palm.  In his other hand he clutched a small stack of cookies - the rest of the package.  His face was sincere, and he walked unsteadily from one to another of us saying, "This is your daily bread."

A Salvadoran woman and I were walking arm in arm.  She watched carefully as the man went from person to person, "This is your daily bread."

Each person kindly said, "No, gracias."

As the man approached us, my friend looked at him warmly.  "No, it's yours," she said.  We could tell he had been drinking.  He looked at me.  I wasn't sure what to do, so I followed her lead, "God put this into your hand.  It's yours," I said to him.  Even as I said it, I thought maybe I should have taken the cookie wafer offered as daily bread.  Maybe this was a gift the man was trying to give me.  It looked a lot like a wafer for Holy Communion.  Then the man was gone.

"I thought maybe he was trying to sell it," someone said later.

"I don't think so," I said.  "I think he was sharing his daily bread."

I think I should have accepted it.