Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Cara Sucia ("Dirty Face")

 Reflection #2 from El Salvador
by President Cooper-White

"We are tired of seeing our local politicians ride in on a bicycle and go out in luxury cars." The Salvadoran Lutheran pastor who expressed his impassioned sentiment was conveying the frustration of many residents along the Paz River, where floods almost every year disrupt their lives and destroy their homes and crops. Multiple attempts to bring sufficient governmental money and technical engineering expertise that will keep the river within its banks have repeatedly fallen on deaf ears of those who can fix the problem.  In short, there is yet no lasting peace between struggling campesinos in the Cara Sucia communities and those elected to be their public servants.  But there is considerable hope as a result of work by a Lutheran-led organization called ADICOS, which has organized 30 local campesino communities into a powerful advocacy contingent. In explaining his pastoral stance to us, the "second career" minister who fought as a guerilla soldier during El Salvador's civil war (and who does make pastoral calls throughout his extensive rugged rural parish by bicycle!) declared, "We can't put God to the test by expecting the Divine One to provide for us while we remain sitting on our hands."

Never sitting on their hands, the valiant Christians of El Salvador have rolled up their sleeves and are carrying out works of mercy, justice- and peace-building in every corner of this Central American nation that has suffered so much for so long.  Salvadoran parish committee structures and job descriptions are quite different from those in most U.S. churches.  At the Lutheran Church in Cara Sucia (which means literally "dirty face") there are human rights promoters and psycho-social assistance teams.  Our study tour group was led by the latter in a fascinating workshop whereby they demonstrated how to help prepare communities for crises and recovery from natural disasters.  A still-small church by statistical measures, the Lutheran Church looms large in Salvadoran society, and in our visit with the Cara Sucia pastor we learned its secret.  "We work as a team.  I am never alone.  We trust the people." It's just that simple.

Not so simple are relations between the governments of tiny El Salvador and its mighty neighbor to the north.  As our group began a meeting Monday morning with Mr. Carlos Castaneda, the Vice Minister of Foreign Relations, I asked, "On this day when our nation inaugurates our president, what key message would you wish us to carry back home." Castaneda shot back immediately, "Your president Obama was reelected by Latino voters!" Castaneda went on to speak passionately of the need for immigration reform that will ease the burdens for some 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States.  He reflected on the suffering of so many families kept separated by unnecessarily restrictive U.S. inter-American travel and visa policies.  Our group will have immediate opportunity to engage in dialogue about this and other issues with our own governmental officials during a 90-minute session at the U.S. embassy on Friday.

As we traveled back from near the  Guatemalan border in our crowded mini-van, we were unable to tune in 92.5 on the vehicle's radio.  Had we been within range we could have listened to the broadcast from Radio Arpas of an interview I had been privileged to record earlier in the day.  The announcer/interviewer asked me to share the purpose for our visit and my impressions of the current situation in El Salvador.  In my far-less-than-perfect Spanish, I was able to testify to the courageous, holistic and inspirational work of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador.  Often when asked for advice by seminarians, I tell our students to be open to surprises--to really believe that tomorrow God will take us to places we cannot imagine today.  When I began my preparation for public ministry four decades ago, I certainly could not imagine my own voice being beamed out from some 20 transmitters throughout much of the countries of El Salvador and Guatemala. 

1 comment:

Kristin Johnston Largen said...

Thanks for your reflections and the pictures. You all are in our thoughts and prayers here, and I look forward to hearing more when you return. Tell Jennifer I think it is great that she represented LTSG so well by preaching in Spanish--fabulous!
Safe travels!