Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Touching

In two days, ten of us will head off to El Salvador to celebrate the quinceañera of our sister church relationship.  For the majority, this will be the first time they will visit our sister church community.  There is a lot of excitement and anticipation floating through the air!

The last days of packing before a delegation trip always seem like a bit of a rush.  Today was errand day - a day to get all of the finances, paperwork and stuff ready for the trip.  At my feet, sits a great big suitcase with donated yarn and fabric and crayons spilling out beyond the zippers.  Behind me, the kitchen table holds a giant celebration card made from foam board and filled with signatures and messages from congregation members written in shades of pink and purple.  When the glitter paint is dry, the card will hopefully go into the suitcase.  What else is on the kitchen table?  Letters!  Stacks of envelopes of all sizes which contain letters and a few small gifts for children and youth.  Tonight will include a little bit of late-night translating, I think.  There is one more thing on the kitchen table - a big box of photos.  One of today's tasks was to upload almost 400 photos which I took during my last visit to our sister church and to get prints made.

There are photos of cute babies, photos of the Sunday School class, photos taken during worship, photos of families, photos of all of us together.  I took them over the course of a month, capturing daily life and daily love.

A few months ago, Javier asked me if I would take a picture of him with his mom, and "be sure to bring a copy of it" for him when I returned.  I ordered an 8 by 10 enlargement of the special photo: Javier standing close to his mom, a small smile on her face, a big smile on his.  He towers over her.  His arm is around her shoulders.
Our sister pastor wrote to us.  Javier's mother died.  Her death was sudden.  Perhaps she knew she was sick, yet as a quiet and humble person she did not go to the hospital until it was too late. It is hard to believe.  I will give this 8 by 10 photo to Javier.  I expect we will cry.

The young woman who processed my photos paused before handing me the boxes. "These photos are really touching," she said.  "Did you go on a mission trip?"  I explained that the photos were taken during the last visit we had with our sister church in El Salvador and I would be handing them out to the families later this week when we are together again.  "The faces, there is something about them.  They are just so precious and touching," she said.

We all have photos we treasure.  They touch us, in a way, when in-person hugs are not possible.

When I looked at the receipt for the photos tonight, I noticed that the young woman had written some words at the top:  "Touching photos.  Thanks for helping."




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Think Pink!

During the first week of August 1998, two churches officially became sister churches.  This year, we celebrate our fifteenth anniversary together.  How will we celebrate?  With a big pink quinceañera!

It all started with a trip last summer when a teen from our US congregation befriended a teen from our El Salvador congregation and they realized they were both turning 15 in the next year.  The idea for a joint party together this summer, complete with pink dresses and all the fanfare, was born.  The adult leaders in the mix realized this could be a fun opportunity to celebrate our sister church relationship and the quinceañera anniversary party became a real plan.

Dresses filled the Fellowship Hall
In the US, we gathered pink dresses.  Prom dresses and bridesmaid dresses, lacy and shiny, poofy and sparkly. Moms and daughters gave away dresses which had been lovingly cared for in the backs of closets.  One young girl and her mom shopped at second hand stores on a pink-dress scavenger hunt. Before we knew it, we had more than 30 pink dresses.  People also donated pastel and jewel tone maid of honor dresses. We packed the dresses into a giant suitcase and found a courier - none other than Tim of Tim's El Salvador Blog - to carry the dresses to El Salvador a month in advance of the party so that the community sewing school could alter the dresses to fit the birthday girls and their entourage.

Meanwhile, in our sister community in El Salvador, secret plans have been hatching for the big event.   When the suitcase of dresses was delivered, Tim had a some fun showing off the dresses for the Women's Ministries leaders.  (I will leave it to Tim to post those photos!)  They shared a few party details with him:  Little girls will be dressed in green, serving as hojitas (little leaves) to surround the birthday "flowers."  We also learned that 15 girls will celebrate their quinceañera birthdays at the party.

At the beginning of August, our delegation of 10 will travel from the US to El Salvador to celebrate and spend time with our sister church.  Two of the group are carrying their own pink dresses and will celebrate their birthdays with the girls in El Salvador.  Everyone is VERY excited about the upcoming fiesta!

to be continued...


Friday, July 5, 2013

Off the Beaten Path: Lima Limón and Paseo el Carmen

Night life?  We don't get out much.

Here's the thing:  when we are in El Salvador, we are typically working with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church or spending time out in communities or generally hanging out where it is better to be inside at 10 PM and not outside wandering in the cool evening air with a delegation of 25 people.  Yet, upon occasion, we have the opportunity to venture out and try something new.

My friend Deb and I met a couple of friends in Santa Tecla.  It was super easy and quick to get there via the new highway.  The cab driver dropped us off near Paseo el Carmen - a mostly-pedestrian street that is home to restaurants, cafes, small shops, bars and live music.  We went on a week night, so it was   pretty quiet and easy to meander up and down the paseo and peek into doors and study a few menus.  The restaurant area begins near the El Carmen Cathedral, an impressive structure that was built over several years beginning before the turn of the century.  The 2001 earthquakes caused serious structural damage to the church, but the steps near the wall around it provide good seating for tired children.

We took a little time to browse and make a few purchases at an artisan shop, Galeria de Tecla.  This fun place has many unique art pieces and a pretty extensive jewelry collection.  Our friends caught up with us at the shop, and together we headed to our intended destination for the evening, the "tropical bistro" Lima Limón.  Our friends know the owners so of course we had a warm and wonderful welcome.  It was clear, though, that the graciousness with which we were received is the norm for all who come.  We sat outside, enjoying the lovely evening and really excellent margaritas.  Dinner was delicious!!  Best steak we have EVER eaten in El Salvador.  The owner recommended the bananas foster, and we would recommend it too!

Part of the charm of Paseo el Carmen is that the cafes are small, and the vibe is less about mass-production and tourism and more about artisan food and drink and unique musical groups. Our friends have seen a small change in the scene as tourists have discovered their quiet paseo, and it will be interesting to see if the slower paced "artsy" culture can be preserved as more people discover and want to experience it.  What is good for business might be almost too good for business.

So, without suggesting that everyone descend upon Paseo el Carmen, I think it would be a great night-spot for a delegation.  It is safe enough that the group could split up (following the usual good rules of gringo safety), find the cafes of their choice, enjoy the food, the music and the cool evening, and then reunite for the drive back to San Salvador.  I would definitely recommend Lima Limón as a great place to relax and enjoy a delicious meal.  I can't wait to return on a weekend night!

You can find Lima Limón on Facebook!
Photo take by Deb

Photo taken by Deb

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Tales of Greasy and Grubby: Babies

Today I got peed on by Messiah.

OK, not THE Messiah, but by a little guy who is named Messiah.  Pants all wet, both his and mine.  Not a lot I could do but walk him over to his mom for a change, and walk back to my chair feeling a little bit icky.  I looked across at Greasy.  She is visiting and we decided to go to Bible Study together at the church where I work as a volunteer.  It seemed like old times.

We used to joke when we were together in El Salvador:  "Which one of us will some baby pee upon today?"  We love babies, and we love to hold babies, and the reality is that babies pee.  We even planned to wear patterned skirts on days when we knew we would be out and about visiting families, just in case.  Lots of babies in El Salvador wear cute cloth diapers with little bears or airplanes on them.  The diapers  fasten with velcro at the corners, which is much better than pins which tend to rust.  Of course, babies do not wear plastic pants - who wants to wear plastic pants when it is 90 degrees outside?  Very few babies have disposable diapers, because those are expensive and add to community garbage heaps.

Jesus said, "Let the children come to me."  We hear these words and in our mind's eyes what do we see?  Children climbing into Jesus' lap, giving him hugs, hanging onto his clothing.  Jesus loves children.  Jesus loves babies...even when they pee.




Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Marvelous Moringa

A while back, I shared the saga of the Mission of Healing medications which were caught up in an aduanas adventure.  This created quite a conundrum for the people who needed prenatal vitamins or medications to manage their pain and illnesses and frustrated our conscientious pharmacy team.  In the end, everyone received what they needed, but it did further highlight the importance of our continued search for alternative sources of nutrition and medicines.

Historically we have carried medications in multiple suitcases in order to care for patients in the most economic and effective way possible.  We have also consistently sought out sources for purchasing or acquiring medications in El Salvador.  Cost has been a prohibitive issue, partly due to a lack of generics in El Salvador.  Availability and quality are also challenging.

Yet, there are local sources of nutrition and medicine which were known to the ancients.  Many of the men and women in the countryside know the uses of plants for healing, and some of this knowledge is being captured in the various botanical gardens* and by leaders in the Lutheran Church before it is lost.  Other nutritional and medicinal plants are imported and cultivated by the Lutheran University and at the organic agricultural center Fe y Esperanza in Nejapa.  This is not a new area of work for the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, but it is being reclaimed and expanded, and the sharing of knowledge about natural medicines has become an increasingly important part of the Missions of Healing.

Introducing...marvelous moringa!  This was the feature plant for the 2013 Mission of Healing in Nejapa.  We first met the moringa plant out in the field.  A seedling grows into a tree in just a couple of months!  The leaves can be eaten like salad or dried and made into a powder for tea.  The leaves are high in vitamins C and A, and in potassium, calcium and protein.  The seeds are high in protein and can be eaten raw or ground to use like flour.  We heard testimonies from people who had good results with using moringa seeds to treat high blood sugar, digestive problems and a variety of health issues.  Mostly, though, it is valued as a high nutrition food -- very important for people who struggle with food security.  In addition, moringa seed powder can be used to remove harmful bacteria from water, creating healthier drinking water for people who live without potable water sources.

Pastor Santiago taught an ongoing workshop during the Mission of Healing days, and it was fun to see how excited he was about moringa.  People seemed really interested, and they took seeds home to plant in their own little gardens or in pots around their houses.  When I returned home, I found a web site which is dedicated to the moringa plant.  Who knew??

Well, apparently the cashier at my grocery store knew and so did several other folks with whom I shared a little bit about my encounter with moringa.  There is so much to learn about the amazing plants on this earth!  I think it's time to plant some moringa seeds in a pot near my home to see if it will grow here.  This could be a very good source of nutrition for families which struggle to find fresh and healthy produce in the urban desert where I work.

This year it was marvelous moringa...I wonder what next year's amazing plant will be!!