A Reflection from Travel Seminar to El Salvador
By President Michael Cooper-White
By President Michael Cooper-White
"I don't regard myself a hero. There simply comes a time when you have to consider your calling and decide what you're going to do." In fact, our primary host for this 2013 study tour in El Salvador is a hero. At the height of persecution for Lutheran and other church leaders during El Salvador's prolonged civil war two decades ago, word came that Pr. Vilma Rodriguez's and Bishop Medardo Gomez's names were atop the list of those slated for assassination by the infamous death squads. With tears in her eyes, our sister Vilma described her
<![if !vml]><![endif]>and her family's suffering during years of exile and being constantly on the run.
By the time Vilma shared her story on our second day in this small nation named for The Savior, we had already been welcomed by Bishop Gomez and his wife Abelina, herself a pastor in charge of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church's impressive youth and women's ministries. And we had been inspired by Dr. Angel Ibarra, who leads ecumenical environmental stewardship initiatives. As repression of church leaders mushroomed in the mid-1980's, Ibarra spent 8 months imprisoned until he was finally released as a result of international pressure from the highest levels of U.S. and other governments.
Seminary students and their companion faculty members are rarely granted such privilege as being in the presence of contemporary heroes of the faith. No less inspiring is the privileged opportunity of worshipping and conversing with the church's current and future heroic leaders. On Saturday we were treated to a half-day workshop with leaders of the national Lutheran youth council. In the current context of a fragile truce among the several gangs and drug warlords, wherein warfare may resume at any moment, major efforts are being launched by the youth to engage their peers in conflict-resolution and peace-building engagements.
As is the case everywhere for Christians, Sunday in Salvador is set apart for worship, fellowship and holy conversation. Today's rich menu included all three in abundant measure, plus a Sunday supper of the most famous national food fare, traditional Salvadoran "pupusas.". Memorable for our entire group of pilgrims, this third Sunday of Epiphany is unlikely to ever be forgotten by Gettysburg seminarian Jennifer Crist, who preached her first-ever sermon in Spanish. As she breathed sighs of relief and heard praise during lunch for a most commendable message on the wedding at Cana, Ms. Crist was surprised at the invitation for a repeat proclamation at the day's second service in a remote village called El Paisnal!
Thankfully, all group members are in good health, and a cohesive spirit is evident among us; this bodes well on the eve of beginning a very intense week of visits throughout the country. At left, we are pictured with members of the Salvadorant youth leadership.
Our first appointment Monday morning is with El Salvador's equivalent of the U.S. Undersecretary of State. Few groups of visitors are granted access to such high-level government officials; the fact we will discuss critical current national issues like gang violence and church-state relationships with Sr. Carlos Castaneda is further witness to the powerful and prophetic profile of the small but dynamic and growing Salvadoran Lutheran Church