One day, a young pastor and I decided to sit together and eat lunch and chat. We know each other from time spent together at big church events and during Missions of Healing. I asked her to tell me about the ministry in her community. She shared a beautiful story with me, and afterwards sent me some photographs. Since we were eating lunch, I did not take notes, but it is the kind of story that makes an impression, and so with or without notes, it got pasted into my memory.
The church is in a small town in the mountain range that runs along El Salvador's southern coast. The hills around the town are steep, some shaded green with coffee bushes clustered beneath large shade trees. A patchwork of terraced milpas dot the landscape, alternating brown or green depending on the growing season. To plant their milpas, farmers tie ropes around their waists and repel down from the top of the hill, poking holes into the soil with pointed sticks and dropping two or three corn seeds into each hole. This is the traditional way to plant, and on the steep hills it is the only way to plant.
I asked the pastor if people come down from the higher hills to come to church, and she began to tell this story.
Yes, they do, but it is a long, long walk. There are a group of families who live up in the hills, well hidden. They say they live in Las Champas because their homes are "champas" - small corrugated tin homes. They don't have a legal right to live where they do, but where can they go? They have no place to go, so they built their little champas and that is where they live. They do not have water, they have to walk a long way to a river to get water. They do not have light, nothing. The only way to get there is to walk through the fields, there is not even a road. It is so difficult to get there that the church in the town decided to start a mission up in Las Champas. So one Sunday each month, I walk up there. No, I don't go alone, there are people from the church who accompany me.
There are about 65 or 75 children who live up there. They have never been to school. No one goes to school. How would they go? There is no way to get to a school. They live half-way between our town and the next. We are working with the local municipality to advocate for a little school in the community.
In the weeks before Christmas we wanted to do something for the children. There are no resources up there, nothing. Well, our church leaders met and they said, "We don't have any resources either." Yes, that is true, but I told them that they probably know people who do have resources. Maybe they shop at a little store and that owner has some income. Maybe they know people in the town who have little businesses or things they can share. We made a plan.
We wrote a letter, and it was quite formal with the letterhead of the church. The letter explained that we wanted to have a Christmas party for the families in Las Champas. We needed food, gifts, whatever we could get to make the day special for the families. I signed the letter and so did the council leader, on behalf of all the church. We made copies and the people of the church took the copied letters to the different business and neighbors in town. The people were afraid to deliver the letters because they were embarrassed to ask for things, but our plan was not to ask. We did not give any speeches. We just went from place to place and presented the letter. "We are from the Lutheran Church and we would like to leave this letter with you," we said. Nothing more. That was maybe at the beginning of December.
We wanted to follow up with the businesses and the neighbors - to give them a little something from our church. Well, I didn't really have anything so I made something from an old soda can and put sand in it and a candle. This is what we decided to give out to those who had received the letters. We worked on making those little candle gifts. Then, just before Christmas Eve, we took what we made to the places where we had delivered the letters. "We are from the Lutheran Church," we said, "and we are bringing the light of Christ to you." We did not ask for anything. The business owners and neighbors remembered the letters. "Oh," they said, "you brought that letter. When is the Christmas event? What time do you need it? How much do you need? Where should we bring it?" Some clothes, some food, some treats - we received everything we needed. On Christmas we walked up to Las Champas, and we had a beautiful celebration.
With a little bit of strategy, God provided.
|Thanksgiving for the Christmas gifts|
|Celebrating in Las Champitas|