Saturday, April 19, 2014

Stories of the Cross

I often wear a cross, and I usually put a little thought into which one I choose to wear on a certain day or for a certain event.  Today is Good Friday.  Today is the day of the cross.  Today I chose to wear the one I wear most often - a simple brown wooden cross on a black string.  Papa Santiago made it and gave it to me a very long time ago.  

I keep my crosses from El Salvador in a box.  Today, before I put the box away, I pulled out a handful of larger crosses.  I put them into my bag and brought them along to family camp.  Family camp is how my home church honors Good Friday.

This afternoon we were sitting outside.  I laid the crosses out on the picnic table in the warm sunshine.  "What are these?" someone asked.  "Crosses from El Salvador," I said, "and each one has a special story."  

 The Cross of Healing - the green cross with the blue flower emerging from the center was designed to mimic the logo for the 2003 ELCA Churchwide Assembly:  For the Healing of the World.  The cross was designed by a young Salvadoran man who was struggling to find his identity - as an artist, as a user, as a woodworker, as unemployed, as visually impaired, as tempted by gangs, as a man of faith.  In the making of two thousand small green crosses, the young man was somehow touched by God.  He had turned away from God.  God used the cross to bring him back.  His life was still messy, but he felt the presence of God.  "There is a mystery in this cross that we can't explain," his pastor said.  

The Youth Group Cross - our sister church pastor had come to visit.  Standing in my kitchen he handed me a chunky wood cross with a heart cut from the center.  "The youth have their ideas," he said, smiling and shrugging a bit.  The young man who made the Cross of Healing was helping the youth group to design a cross of their own. This was a prototype.  "I love(heart) Jesus."  Above the heart was a little drawing of Archbishop Romero.  

The Earthquake Cross - at the start of 2001 El Salvador was struck by two severe earthquakes.  In the wake of the destruction, Pastor Santiago Papa had scavenged through the piles of debris and gathered wood.  He created altar crosses from larger pieces.  From the small bits he fashioned cross necklaces.  The cross resting on the picnic table had long ago loaned its string to its sister cross - a small wooden cross, also an Earthquake Cross - which I am wearing around my neck.  The Earthquake Crosses are resurrection crosses - wood once broken and splintered fashioned into something new and beautiful. 

The Jesus Cross - "I was just playing around and experimenting with different things I could do with rope," said Pastor Joel.  The figure of Jesus was fashioned from bits of thin rope, twisted to create a body and woven to create clothes stiffened and affixed with glue to a simple wooden cross.  Jesus is, depicted as a campesino, a Salvadoran farmer.  The love which went into creating this cross was apparent on Joel's face as he handed it to me.  To create the figure of Jesus, to place him on the cross - I imagine this is a profound experience.  Joel does not get paid for doing the work of a pastor.  He supports himself by making small crafts to sell.  He is passionate about both professions.

The Pink Cross - Pastor Joel and his family also made the pink crosses.  One year, following the Mission of Healing, each worker received one of these crosses.  The flames of the Spirit, hearts of love, dove of peace, forgiveness in the cross and Jesus at the center represent the stations of the Spiritual Healing area we used during the mission.  Pastor Joel accompanies people in prayer, pausing only to play his flauta recorder.  When I look at this cross, I see Joel's arm around an older lady, his head bent praying with a teenage boy and I hear his music floating in the air.  This cross reminds me of what it means to love your neighbor.

The Cross on the Green String - this is the newest cross in the box.  Papa Santiago made it.  He put one around the neck of each member of the delegation which came to celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of our sister church relationship.  We were at his home, with his whole family for a special lunch, sitting around a couple of tables which were surrounded by his woodworking equipment.  He carefully cuts each cross by hand, sands it, stains it and chooses a string for it.  "Green is my favorite color," I whispered in his ear as he put the cross over my head.  "Mine too," winked and smiled.  He is a retired pastor who cannot stay retired.  He makes crosses.  He gives crosses away.  He just started a new mission church.  

Tonight we gathered in worship to remember why the cross holds special meaning for us and followers of Jesus.

This is the kind of life you’ve been invited into, the kind of life Christ lived. He suffered everything that came his way so you would know that it could be done, and also know how to do it, step-by-step.
He never did one thing wrong,
Not once said anything amiss.
They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing. You were lost sheep with no idea who you were or where you were going. Now you’re named and kept for good by the Shepherd of your souls.
1 Peter 2:21-25 - The Message

Monday, April 14, 2014

Off the Beaten Path: Jardín Botánico La Laguna

The botanical gardens near San Salvador offer a breath of fresh air, literally.  As you drive down into the base of the caldera, you discover an ancient lake bed (hence the name La Laguna) that was gobbled up by factories looking to locate near to the volcano-cradled capital where flat land is scarce.  If you have ever wondered where Bimbo bread is produced, this is the spot.  The garden is located along the south side of the caldera wall and covers about 7 acres.  As you enter through the gate, you are greeted with a breath of fresh, moist and earthy air.  Walk a little deeper into the garden, and the factory sounds give way to quiet of the trees, the sweet songs of the birds, and the bright trickle of water.

We especially like to visit the gardens before the Missions of Healing.  In the midst of organizing and getting ready to expend large amounts of energy listening and caring, we find that a wander through the gardens helps us to relax and prepare.  The educational and scientific aspects of the garden are also attractive to the gardeners and healers among us.  Upon occasion we have been assisted by a botanist who has hi-lighted the medicinal properties of various flowers, leaves, roots and bark.  We have learned about vanilla and cinnamon, trumpet flowers and foxglove, and all kinds of tasty herbs.

The Jardín Botánico La Laguna is located in Antiguo Cuscatlán in La Libertad.  The cost to get in is $2 and your vehicle can park for free just outside the gate.  The walking path is accessible.  The little cafe in the center of the garden is a good spot to stop for a refreshment, the restrooms or a quick visit to the turtle pond.  Kids will enjoy the big playground and garden enthusiasts should visit the plant nursery.  The garden also has a web site.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Fourth Anniversary of Linda's El Salvador Blog: Time to Hug a Kid

On April 1, 2010, I started writing this blog.  When I began, I wasn't sure what the overall theme of the blog would be, so I called it "random stories" about my experiences in El Salvador as a friend, mom, church lady, and delegation leader.  Over the last four years, I have sometimes written prolifically and sometimes found it difficult to keep up with posting regularly.  Sometimes the stories have been tearfully written, other times joyfully.  Sometimes the photos have told the story.  I write when an idea hits me, or if something is happening in El Salvador which calls for prayer or attention.  Many readers have sent email messages to me asking follow-up questions, offering comments or sharing their own experiences.  Some readers have commented on the complementary nature of Tim's El Salvador Blog and Linda's El Salvador Blog, sometimes joking about potential competition between us.  We laugh about that a little bit.  He still has many more readers than I do.  (Perhaps it's time you share this blog with a friend?)

As I have been giving thought as to what I should write about today.  I cannot stop thinking about an experience I had yesterday.

The young man was walking down the busy street, alone on the sidewalk.  He walked unevenly.  One leg moved stiffly, almost dragging behind him.  His face showed a little wince with each step.  He looked my way, and our eyes locked for a minute and we both probably had the same thought, "What are you doing here?"  I kept driving, not 100% sure that this was the teen-ager who had been recently shot and survived.

He is a church kid, not as active right now as he was last summer.  He goes to school and has to work pretty hard to get average grades.  When I arrived at his house I asked his mom, "Was that your son walking over there by the gas station?"  She said it was.  She was clearly frustrated and a little embarrassed that she could not keep her son at home, that he said "had to" go to the cell phone store to get his phone fixed.  After some conversation and hugs and handing over some food for supper, I got into my car and drove back toward the busy street.  There he was, hanging out with other teens and younger kids on a front porch.  I slowed down.  I thought,  "At least he could see that someone was watching out for him."

This did not happen in El Salvador.  It could have.  Kids in El Salvador like kids in my home city want to hang out with their friends.  They want to sit on steps or curbs and test their independence.  They wish for part-time jobs, to be on sports teams, to make music, to go out on dates.  They do not wish for gangs to control their neighborhoods, to offer them drugs or money if they sell drugs. They dream of being stars or at least successful. They do not dream of being classified as "at risk."   They do not deserve to be shot.  They deserve to see that someone is watching out after them.

Many delegations return from El Salvador and create power point presentations, posters and newsletter articles which feature the beautiful faces of Salvadoran children.  Today would be a good day to ask ourselves how we are walking with these children as they play, learn and grow in faith?  How are we holding hands with their mothers when they are struggling because of poverty or violence in their neighborhoods?  How are we letting kids know that they are important, that their dreams matter, that they are more than "at risk," that the community is not whole without them, and that they have far-away friends who love them and pray for them and are watching out for them?

Hmmm...time to go hug a kid.