Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Promoting Life Holistically

Final Reflection by President Michael Cooper-White
From El Salvador Travel Seminar of Gettysburg Seminary

President Cooper-White and Bishop Medardo Gomez
"To go through life and not encounter God is a tragedy.  Our goal is to promote holistic life in this world, and to prepare for the life to come." In those words spoken during our concluding session with him, Bishop Medardo Gomez of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church summed up his personal and his church's "theology of life."  In the land of The Savior, I believe we indeed encountered God and caught frequent glimpses of the abundant life that is possible even amidst the multiple ongoing challenges confronted daily by the vast majority of the Salvadoran people. 

The specifics of the current challenges faced in El Salvador formed the basis for our 90-minute session with four staff members at the imposing U.S. Embassy in San Salvador on Friday morning.  Our conversation was delayed due to the hyper-security measures triggered when front-gate guards puzzled over a granola bar discovered in a student's backpack!  An embassy communications officer acknowledged our frustration and shared that these days he often schedules private appointments outside the embassy grounds at a local Starbuck's so that visitors can avoid the security hassles.  While by no means on an equal par, the obstacles we encountered in the process of gaining access to the turf over which is flown the flag of the United States of America gave this U.S. citizen a glimpse into what it’s like for Salvadorans who aspire to our visit or reside in our land. 

The conversation with our embassy representatives was lively and covered a broad array of subjects.  The hot topic of the moment was the State Department’s issuance of a travel warning to U.S. citizens, indicating heightened concerns for personal safety.  Explaining the action, the staff indicated our government is not convinced the gang truce, which has resulted in a significantly reduced murder rate in recent months, will last.  This unexpected action angered the Salvadorans, of course, at the very time they are seeking to boost their economy through increased tourism.  As it is, more Americans come to Gettysburg on a typical summer day than visit El Salvador in an entire year.

As we lifted off from San Salvador’s Comalapa airport and headed northward on Saturday morning, I had a profound sense of gratitude—to our valiant hosts of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, to our trip coordinator, Pr. Stephen Deal, the ELCA’s Global Mission staffer who truly embodies the mission stance of “accompaniment,” and to Prof. Erling and our students for being wonderful traveling companions and fellow pilgrims.  As I had first witnessed in two previous extended sojourns in El Salvador more than a quarter century ago during the fiercest period of the war, once again I left with no doubt that Salvadoran Christians are, in Bishop Gomez’s words, “building signs of the reign of God.”

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