The women trickled into the yard through the chain link gate. Some were a bit timid about picking up their brushes. Some needed encouragement from their friends. A few walked right up, grabbed their plastic plate palettes, picked up their brushes and said, "I want to paint." The children needed no encouragement, but they would have to settle for crayons and coloring pages because this day was the painting day for the women. Younger and older, mothers and grandmothers were going to have a fun afternoon with a few squirts of paint, a splash of creativity, and a good amount of laughter.
We were not starting with a blank wall. The mural had mostly been painted during the previous week's Family Wellness Fair. Painting was one of more than 20 experiences at the fair. The idea behind the mural was to provide the community with a relaxing and creative experience with the hope that something beautiful might emerge on the outside wall of the church. The principal images came together: water, a woman, a rainbow, faith and hope. The original intent was to develop the mural as an adult project, but enthusiasm ran wild among the young ones, and by the end of the day flowers, butterflies, happy faces and funky little characters danced across the entire wall.
When the Wellness Fair ended, several of the church women who were busy helping at the fair had not yet had a chance to paint. Since the pastor and the women gather every Wednesday for Bible Study, we made a plan for the following week to work together on some finishing touches. On Ash Wednesday afternoon, the women trickled into the yard while the pastor prepared for worship.
We decided to paint a river throughout the mural. As the paint hit the wall, the water flowed under the soil, through the corn, around the flowers, splashing up in blue and rainbow waves. We painted for a couple of hours, then the sun sank down behind the big trees, and it was time for worship.
Not too many of the small Lutheran Churches in El Salvador have worship on Ash Wednesday, but in this community the women have asked their pastor to keep the tradition. We sang several songs. The women really sang with enthusiasm! The sermon focus was "love your neighbor" and the pastor shared a little story: I was just a little girl and I had a tortilla. A visitor came, so I sneaked into the house to hide my tortilla. My mother found me and said, "If you have something to give, you must give it." She made me share it, and I always remember that lesson. Jesus tells us to share our food, to give the drink of water, to visit those who are in prison. Jesus tells us to love each other. After another song, the pastor called each woman forward and traced a small ash cross on her forehead. Then all the children lined up to receive their crosses. We are made from the dust, and we will return to the dust. Two of the children remained up front so that we could sing "Happy Birthday" to them.
After worship, we went outside to take a look at the mural. "How beautiful that you put the river there!" said the pastor. "This zone has so much water. It flows from the springs in Quezaltepeque, under the ground in great aquifers, and we have the River San Antonio in Nejapa. The water feeds the soil and feeds the corn." Everyone nodded, and we felt a little bit proud that the pastor was so happy with the mural. We decided to take a photo to remember the day, with ashen crosses on our foreheads and the river of life and rainbows flowing around us.
Author's note: Permission was given by the community to post these photos.