Monday, February 24, 2014

The New Front Door

"Just a minute...you have to go to the front door!"

The little girl disappeared behind the corner of the small house.  We could hear the key rattling around in the lock.  It took a long time to get the door open.  A few folks were impatient at the long wait in the hot sun.  "The door is new, " I explained, "and it will be a great honor for us to come in through the new front door."

In fact, the whole house was new.  For fifteen years the mother had lived in a tiny, ramshackle home made of corrugated tin and cardboard and plastic.  Every time it rained, the mother and her little girls and everything they owned got wet.  The home had been constructed on part of a tiny lot by an older man who cared for the mother and her daughters like a father would.   Because it was built on a shared lot, the home had not received any improvements over the years.  Finally, after fifteen years, possession of the property trumped the legal issues and plans were made to improve the house.  Men from the community and men from the US sister church joined together to put up a new structure right around the old house.  It was NOT an easy task!  When the US guys returned home, a solid metal structure was in place.  Now, a couple of months later, we stood at the new front door, ready to be welcomed into the finished home.

Photo taken by Tim Muth
The door opened.  The mother and her two daughters smiled wide smiles of joy and pride.  About half of our group squeezed into the living space.  It was sectioned off from the sleeping space with a curtain.  A small table was covered with a pretty cloth.  A couple of upholstered chairs and some shelves made the room feel comfy.  The hard-pack earth floor was swept clean.

"I never thought I would have a home like this," the mother said quietly.  "I never thought I would make anything of my life.  I never thought I could be anybody.  I never had a chance to go to school or to study at all.  Now I am living my life through my daughters.  I never imagined that they could study.  Thanks to the scholarship program and to their sponsors they can study and I am living a beautiful life.  I am so proud of them.  They are doing so well in their studies.  I feel proud to have this house, thanks to God and our partnership.  When my first daughter was born, the family of the father took her away from me because I was too poor to take care of her.  I never see her; she does not know who I am.  I have heard that she is a mother now, but I will never see the baby.  It's not right to have these things happen to you because you are poor.  But now I am very proud to be able to be a good mother."

Everyone was crying.  "You have always been a good mother."

The older daughter just started high school.  "I am very proud of my mother.  She works hard and we do all we can to help her.  I am very proud and thankful to be studying.  Thank you to all of you and to my sponsors, and give them a big hug from me."

It was time for the girls to do their homework.  We shared lots of good-bye hugs.  We stood in the street and looked back to see the family smiling smiles filled with pride and hope and possibility, standing in the frame of their new front door.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Mary of the Angels

She has a wound on her leg.  It is covered in white gauze, taped around the edges.  She sat in front of me on a plastic chair.

My job was to run the mesa final - the final table.  Most of the time we had a little charla or conversation as a group.  The first activity was to go over a few educational papers which we gave out to every family:  a rehydration solution recipe to help when someone has severe vomiting or diarrhea, suggestions for home remedies for constipation and stomach problems, a page about the difference between a cold and the flu, and coloring pages for kids about keeping themselves and the earth clean.  Then we went over the contents of the family kits which we had assembled for each head of household.  Basics:  toothbrushes and toothpaste, bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes, eye drops, adult acetaminophen and a few crayons.  "Do you have children or youth living in your home?"  If so, I added a second package of acetaminophen or a bottle of liquid acetaminophen - dispensed by making little marks on the dosing cup according to the weights of the children. Finally, I asked each person if he or she has any questions about any of the medications we may have given them or what the doctors may have told them.  Many did have questions, seeking clarification about the uses of pain medication or eye drops or vitamins.

About 50% of the adults who came to my table could not read.  We included a little line item on the registration form we use so that in every healing station we can adapt what we are doing based on literacy.  For each person who cannot read, I asked "Is there someone in your home who can read?"  Sometimes yes, sometimes no.  Then we went over the education pages and I drew little pictures.  I drew calendars for taking medications in the morning and at night, sometimes making little check boxes so that people with infections could more easily remember to take their antibiotics or remember if they had already taken them.  We ended each little conversation with hugs and kisses and blessings.

Near the end of the day, Pastor Martir brought Maria de los Angeles to my table.  She was limping badly, barely able to put weight on the leg with the large white dressing.  "Do you have any canes?" Pastor Martir asked.  Maria sat down in a plastic chair.

"No," I replied, "but maybe we can put something around her leg to make it more stable." We talked for a little while about her medications and the family kit.  Then the nurses found a large Ace wrap, and carefully wound it around Maria's leg.  Below the dressing, I could see that her leg was turning dark.  I thought, "a dressing and an Ace wrap are not going to be enough."  Pastor Martir knew this too.

Maria come back the next day to spend additional time in the spiritual healing station. I walked over to where she was sitting on a bench next to the curtain that divided the spiritual area from the pharmacy, the reflexology area and the mesa final.  "How are you doing today?" I asked.

"Much better," Maria said.  She started to unwind the Ace wrap, and though I told her that she did not need to show me her wound, she continued.  It was a large ulcer, weeping with no skin at all and edges that did not look like they would heal.  Poor circulation due to untreated illness turned a little injury into a horrific ulcer.  We had seen this before, more than once.

Earlier that morning, I remembered the story of Antonio.  He had received a miracle healing through prayer following his participation in a Mission of Healing.  Sitting next to Maria of the Angels, I held her hand and told her the story.  "We will pray for you," I said, "knowing God will do something, we don't know what, but something."

Please take a moment today, and tomorrow, and whenever you think of it, to say the name Maria de los Angeles - Mary of the Angels - with faith that God will somehow touch her life with a healing hand.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Children Come First

At my home church one of the core values -- in fact, the first core value -- is "Children Come First."  In a congregation which is majority children and youth, the primacy of ministry programs for young people is a given.  We also intentionally raise youth up as leaders, not only within the programs in which they participate, but also within the leadership structure of the congregation as a whole.

Over the last few hours, I have been thinking a great deal about this core value of children coming first.  Yesterday, we spent a good chunk of the day coordinating with our Salvadoran Lutheran Church team leaders for this year's Mission of Healing.  We met at Fe y Esperanza, the former refugee camp turned agricultural center, gathering in the sanctuary of the church there with church leaders, congregation members and community representatives.  We had just about completed our review of the different healing areas (spiritual, medical, reflexology, HIV education, children's play, adult craft table, etc.) when the president of one of the communities' town council raised her hand.  "What about spiritual healing for the children?" she asked.  "Today I had an experience walking behind a family of children and their mother as they were walking to school.  The children were rebellious, playing in the dirt, running around, chasing a cat and the mother was at her wit's end.  I see children who are troubled, rebelling more and more.  They need prayer - to be prayed for, prayed with and prayed over."

This might be something you would expect to hear in a room full of pastors and church workers.  What struck me as unusual was that these thoughts did not come from a pastor but from a community leader who was very sincere in her concern for children and youth in her community and her country.
What followed was quite an extensive brainstorm of ideas for an area dedicated specifically for children, where they could meditate near a candle and have their own spiritual healing experience.  Of course, children and youth will continue to be welcomed into the general spiritual healing area with or without their grown-ups just as they have always been. But in addition, pastors with gifts in working with children will test out some new ideas as a pilot project for this year.  In neighborhoods where the presence of gangs and violence impacts the lives of children so strongly, and where children are afraid or even not permitted to walk to church or or to a friend's house or even to school, adults need to create opportunities for children to play safely, to talk about their worries, to have quiet time, to pray, and to know that they come first.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”