Thursday, July 27, 2017

They Are the Youth

They dance.
They have friends.
They stay up late doing homework.
They text.
They work when they can.
They go to high school nearby.
They do spoken word.
They live with their parents.
They ride the bus for 3 hours to study at a university.
They are active in their churches.
They are artists.
They care for babies.
They have babies.
They stay up late doing homework.
They play the drums.
They play cell phone games.
They play soccer games.
They have friends.
They have friends who have died.
They have friends who have been killed.
They love their community.
They come home before dark.
They are afraid of their community.
There are rules in their community.
They are organized.
They are organizing in the community.
They have gifts.
They have talents.
They have goals.
They have dreams.
They love their community.
They want to live in their community.
They want to live.

The rainy season had not quite taken hold, but the afternoon skies were gray and threatening.  The young people were not deterred.  They had organized a street fair - a showcase of the abilities and talents and determination of the community's youth.  Cultural performance groups from choreographed athletic dance, to Batacuda (drumming), to hip hop, to spoken word, to ballad singing, to spray-paint art, to Andean folk music, to a rock band each performed for a very large crowd of parents, children, friends and community members.  The event was a first fruit of a newly self-organized youth organization.  This mighty little group of youth leaders made a statement, and they made it loud:  They have the right to dream and the right to go after the lives they want for themselves.  Their identity is not determined by where they live nor by the forces of violence which surround them.   They don't want to hide.  They want to live out loud.

They are the present.
They are the hope.
They are the community.
They are the energy.
They are the love.
They are the future.
They are the youth.

Little ones practicing their moves during a dance performance

Activities for the younger children


Opportunities for local vendors - I really admire this
entrepreneur's creativity

Monday, July 10, 2017

Celebrating Life Together

My friend was diagnosed with cancer.  The last months of his life passed quickly, well-blessed with trips with his family, visits with friends, and a giant circle of love and prayer support.  Today, his life will be celebrated in his church, where he served as a tireless and generous worker.

I was in El Salvador when the decision to discontinue treatment was made.  From the beginning, the pastor, church leaders and families of our sister church in El Salvador reached out to accompany my friend and his family in prayer.  They wrote messages and prayers on the Facebook page created by the family.  The hope for healing was incredibly strong, and the news that there would not be healing in this life was hard for everyone to accept.

My friend visited El Salvador one time.  In that one visit, his easy manner, his comfort in communicating with actions because he spoke no Spanish, and his gift in being with children with special needs touched the families in the community.  His teen daughter shares her dad's style, and she cooked up plans with a few Salvadoran girls for future visits.  She and her mom have visited twice since that first trip, leading the way in celebrating our big sister church quinceañera (15th anniversary) and more recently, helping to run a community Vacation Bible School.

As my friend neared the end of his earthly life, he shared with his US pastor that he would like his Salvadoran sister church to "be present" at his funeral.  We sent a message to the Salvadoran sister church community, and they made a video right away.  A young person from the community stayed up for two consecutive nights (after going to classes during the day) to put together a beautiful tribute.  She posted it on YouTube and sent the link.  My friend and his family were able to watch the video together, and later today, the video will represent the presence of the sister church at my friend's life celebration.

On the day that our friend died, I was with our sister pastor in El Salvador.  The pastor said, "I am thinking about something that happened.  The last time I was visiting in his home, our friend hugged me and said very quietly to me, 'I love you.'  We felt something together, a deep friendship.  This is not common among men.  This is the love of God, of the Spirit."

Yesterday I sat at my friend's kitchen table, to spend time with his family and to make a delivery.  Out of love, unsolicited by anyone, community members had asked the evangelist at the church for paper and envelopes, and they wrote letters of support to this dear family.  The letters were all addressed with the name of the daughter.  I pulled the stack of letters out of my bag and put them on the kitchen table.  I described how the evangelist and her two little girls had traveled 2 hours by bus to find me before I left El Salvador.  I had been surprised when they handed me the stack of letters.

We talked for a long while at the kitchen table.  At one point, some relatives asked, "What do you do in El Salvador - as a church, what do you do?  Do you build things?"

My friend's wife looked at her daughter, then at me, then at the relatives and said, "We go to be with the community."

Sometimes we do build things.  Mostly, we build relationships.  Mostly, we are family.  Today, we are crying together and celebrating the life of our dear friend.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Tips from the Translator

Communication:  In most sistering relationships, good communication is held up as a core value.  Poor communication is held up as a significant challenge.

If we natively speak English (or German, or Finish, or whatever) and our brothers and sisters natively speak Spanish, and if our only words in common are taco and sombrero, then we have an obvious communication challenge with the language itself.  Hence the occasional or persistent need for an English-Spanish translator.  Yet no matter how fluent one might be in the English and Spanish languages, without cultural context, it is almost impossible to translate effectively.

At this point, I want to give a shout out to all of the really great translators who have gone over and above expectation, digging into history and context in order to be able to translate documents and conversations for folks in sistering relationships.  The focus of this blog post is not primarily directed toward translators, but to the folks speaking and writing English words which need to be translated.  If we are in relationships as sister churches or companions in any sense across language and culture, it is our responsibility to learn some history and to build personal and collective knowledge of culture.  We should not expect to offload that responsibility onto our translators.

I do a lot of translating.  This was not always the case.  I went to El Salvador without any study of Spanish other than a couple of songs which my young son taught me from his first grade repertoire.  As visits became more frequent, it was sink or swim for me, and gracious Salvadorans patiently taught me their language while we muddled our way through meetings, told each other stories and navigated every day life together.  I am still learning!

Communication:  The recent and ongoing intercultural training events which I am helping to put together in El Salvador focus a significant amount of time on the theme of communication.  Some of the wisdom gleaned during those workshops along with my translating experiences are provoking me to start a new intermittent blog series.  Hence:  Tips from the Translator.

Todays Tips...

  1. Many sistering relationships include letter-writing between Salvadoran students and North American friends and sponsors.  Many US letters written during the months of May through August ask the Salvadoran kids, "What are you doing for summer vacation?"  While it is true that Salvadorans have vacation during the week containing August 6th in honor of Jesus Savior of the World, these months are school months for Salvadoran children.  In addition, El Salvador has two seasons:  Wet Season (called winter) from May through October and Dry Season (called summer) from November through April.  Thus, without context, a question like "What are you doing for summer vacation?" can be very confusing for Salvadorans.  Salvadoran school vacations are from mid-November through December.  (University students have a slightly different schedule, running trimesters and including vacation in July and later in December).
  2. In general, Salvadoran society is a little more formal than in the US.  Children are taught from a young age to write letters with a formal introduction.  Usually, it is considered polite to begin with something like "I hope this letter finds you well, surrounded by your family and friends."  If you are in a church setting, it is customary to begin and certainly to end by giving blessings and offering prayers for one another.  In the US, we are typically more direct get right to the point of the letter or a list of questions.  To many Salvadorans who do not have much exposure to US culture, this seems rude.  An exception to this might be in an email.  If you need to make clear communication and receive a response in a short time, a quick greeting followed by bullet points is definitely OK.
  3. Speaking of time...time in El Salvador is not necessarily linear.  Stories circle around; past mixes with present.  Urgency to be on time is not as strong (partly because it is nearly impossible to get anywhere via bus through traffic in a timely fashion).   In El Salvador it is common to hear the phrase hoy algún día.  Literally translated this means "today some day."  Depending on the context, it is used as "one day" (in the past, but without an exact date), or some day (in the future).  Meetings begin on time once everyone has arrived.  When we write and speak back and forth regarding time, it is important to verify exact dates and times if being on time is critical (such as for a visit to the US embassy or a video-call together) and to be patient with one another when our cultural understandings of time clash.
  4. When we use words such as "maybe" or "probably" in English, we generally understand these words to contain elements of uncertainty or indications that we are not making a firm commitment.  When literally translated, these words to a Salvadoran indicate a strong "yes" or "likely unless some huge act of God prevents it."  So, if a Salvadoran asks you, "Will you come visit in September?" and you answer "probably," the Salvadoran hears you saying "yes."
Hopefully these (and future) tips will help all of us, along with our translators, to improve communication across language, culture and distance.