Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Story of Hermandad

I awaited the arrival of the group with excitement. I always enjoy accompanying the groups that come to visit the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. When a group comes from the United States to see a society living in entirely different conditions, it has a mind-opening, heart-gripping impact on all who see it. It makes us understand that we need to do something to better the lives of those in need. More importantly, though, we make new friends. We no longer work with those in need, we work with Norma, Carlos, Manuel, or Maricela. These friendships grow into hermandad.

"Hermandad" is a Spanish word that generally translates to "partnership", but that doesn't catch the whole sense. Instead, we can think of partnership, brotherhood, and sisterhood all mixed up in the same pupusa, a traditional Salvadoran food. In the same way that the pupusa contains beans, cheese, and ground pork all mashed together into a corn tortilla, hermandad contains different cultures, lifestyles, languages, and backgrounds all mashed together in a common faith and hope. The visit then becomes more than just a charity mission trip. It becomes the essence of Christian community.

My own passion for mission started over six years ago on such an adventure in Nicaragua. My Disciples of Christ region of South Idaho has a historic partnership with a church called the Iglesia Misión Cristiana (Christian Mission Church), our Global Ministries partner in that country. After hearing several stories, I finally had the opportunity to visit for myself. The growth that came from that and subsequent visits eventually led me to take the position of a long-term missionary in nearby El Salvador. Through all those trips and the ones I accompany here in El Salvador, I have seen countless others commit themselves to a more serious and passionate faith as we work to bring change to a suffering world.

So I enjoy accompanying many groups from various places and churches in the United States, and often other parts of the world, who come to engage in hermandad. Sometimes I get particularly excited when I know them from before my mission, like when my parents visited in April, or when representatives from Global Ministries and various Disciples of Christ regions, including South Idaho and Montana, visited in May. In the same way, a few weeks ago I anticipated the arrival of a group I knew. But I started to worry as they started running late. Most groups fly in, so I know exactly when they should arrive, but it's much more difficult to figure it out when they decide to drive. I wasn't waiting for friends from the United States. I was waiting for some of the many friends I had made in the Iglesia Misión Cristiana of Nicaragua.

When they finally did arrive, everyone was well and ready for their mission trip with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Two women from the Christian Mission Church made the trip, along with the Global Ministries missionaries serving in Nicaragua, a couple with their three-year-old daughter. When we think of mission trips, we often think of those who come in from the big and powerful country to use their resources to help provide for those in poor conditions in the weaker country. We must use our resources to accomplish things that the local church couldn't accomplish on its own. What can representatives of a church with so few resources hope to accomplish on its mission trip to a place with as many needs as El Salvador? It can accomplish much. They did not come to build a physical structure. They came to build hermandad.

They could only get away for a couple days, so we had a limited time for the experience. But we made good use of the time we did have. And what better use of time can we have than in worship of our God? We attended Sunday morning worship at Pastor Vilma Rodriguez' church, Ríos de Agua Viva (Rivers of Living Water), in Mejicanos near the San Salvador volcano. When we arrived, the visitors immediately commented on the church building, which had been built by funds from an international partner. The building's style impressed them. Its simple, one-room structure resembled the churches they knew from Nicaragua. So they felt comfortable and indeed felt an immediate connection to the mission of the Lutheran Church, which focuses on people rather than material things. This connection is an essential ingredient in the pupusa of hermandad. It reminds us of the truly important things that unite us even though other things might look completely different.

The worship service followed the standard Lutheran liturgy, a set order of worship that emphasizes a calm, reflective approach that involves responsive songs and silent prayer time.

Global Ministries missionary LauraJean Torgerson
preaches the message.

Youth from Ríos de Agua Viva sing a song
for their international guests.

This style contrasts greatly with the Iglesia Misión Cristiana's high-energy, pentecostal worship that involves swaying as the Spirit moves and spontaneous shouts of praise. In hermandad we could recognize that even with our different styles, we worship but one God, and that God very much deserves our praise.

Even amidst all the struggles, God gives us so much. God created the sun and the rains. God created the animals and the fruits of the earth. Today, we have so many challenges before us, like poverty and violence, that we can easily forget that creation did not end after six days. God still provides these things. We just need to remember how to claim them. Both the Iglesia Misión Cristiana and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have agriculture projects that seek to take advantage of God's gifts. On the grounds of Fe y Esperanza (Faith and Hope) Lutheran Church, which lies in Nejapa, around the San Salvador volcano to the north, the two churches came together in dialogue about their individual projects.

As we drove the dirt road that climbs the base of the volcano, we could get a sense of nature that seldom shows up in the capital city. In this somewhat remote area, the church grounds served as a refuge for those displaced by war in the nineteen eighties. Now that the war has passed, the church has adapted the use of the expansive grounds to accommodate current needs. As economic struggles rise, access to basic needs becomes more and more difficult, and the ability for families to provide their own food becomes more and more necessary. To discuss this, we sat in the shade of a tree and each church shared.

Both programs aim to feed families in several communities by helping them grow their own food. The Christian Mission Church in Nicaragua lends out seeds like a bank, expecting a return at the end of the harvest equal to the same number of seeds plus a certain percentage. Thus their program jump starts agricultural productivity for those without the means to do so. In a similar way, the Salvadoran program, known as the Fight Against Hunger, offers materials to get the participating families started, but participants must take part in training sessions first. An agricultural engineer trains them in techniques that use the waste of one technique for use in another as organic fertilizer or chicken feed. They also learn to include diversity in their techniques, from raising earthworms to raising tilapia fish, from growing tomatoes to growing papaya. This gives participants an opportunity for sustainable sustenance.

The women and men who take care of this project at Fe y Esperanza showed their enthusiasm when they spoke about it, and even more excitement when we got up and saw the work in action. The representatives from Nicaragua took advantage of the tour and learned ways they could improve their own program. They even took samples of some smelly, dark fertilizer as an example.

Hector Asencio of the Organic Agriculture School
elaborates on the fertilizer process
while Claudina Lacayo, Sonia Cabezas,
and missionary Tim Donaghy take notes.

Pastor Gloria de Orantes, who oversees activities
of the agricultural school, discusses the tilapia pond
with Sonia, while Rosa and Magali of the school's
Integral Committee school observe.

Pastor Santiago Rodriguez, director of the
Fight Against Hunger program, engages with
the Integral Committee in a field of
newly-sprouted plantain trees.

The Salvadorans also learned and grew. They grew not just from learning from the Nicaraguans, but from seeing how their own work impacted and inspired others. Their work matters. From this encounter, we all grew in solidarity. One group did not passively receive the blessings of another, but both shared and learned from each other. Both formed a common link in common mission. We witnessed the birth of an hermandad.

We saw further examples of hermandad during the visit. We grew in understanding how to serve those in deepest need when we visited the Casa Esperanza, which gives meals and a place to rest to those who live on the street. We saw how history can inspire us when we visited the place where Archbishop Óscar Romero was killed and the Lutheran Church's own Subversive Cross. In just two days, this hermandad got off to a good start.

I do not know where this new partnership will head, but I do know that Pastor Santiago Rodriguez, director of the Fight Against Hunger program, expressed excitement that he might get to visit the seed bank program in Nicaragua, and that Sonia Cabezas and Claudina Lacayo, the representatives who visited this time, have made it a goal to build and maintain this relationship. I hope that many more around the world will also make that connection. May we find others so that we can help each other in our mutual goals under the guidance of our mutual Lord. When we see that God's love knows no boundaries, we can truly work together. And together, we can achieve much. But these achievements don't tell the whole story. At the end of the visit, we took time to hang around and relax. In that time, we took part in the most important aspect of hermandad...

...the pupusa!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pray for El Salvador on Sunday, July 24th

Este artículo se puede leer en español abajo.


It is once again time to pray for our mission partners in El Salvador. The people of El Salvador face hard realities every day, yet our mission partners, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church and the Emmanuel Baptist Church, constantly put forth efforts to serve those who need it the most. Let us keep both these realities and these efforts in our hearts and our minds as we pray for El Salvador this Sunday. You may include this prayer in a worship service or your own personal prayer time. You will also find a stewardship moment to help reflect on our partnership. I thank everyone for your continued support of this mission, for your efforts, and most importantly, for your prayers.

(These may also be found at Global Ministries' website:

July 24, 2011
Prayers for El Salvador: Matthew 13:31-33 & 44-52

Dear Lord,

We have found a hidden treasure in El Salvador. In a country known for its violence, poverty, and struggling families, we have found a pearl of great value. We see women and men of faith who commit themselves to serve those in deepest need. We see projects to offer something greater for youth in high risk, to provide basic needs to people living on the street, and to train families to find sustenance in sustainable agriculture. We see a testament to the growth of the small seed as the Salvadoran Lutheran Church celebrates twenty-five years under the leadership of its bishop, Medardo Gómez, and in the Emmanuel Baptist Church as they walk in solidarity with the people of El Salvador.

We ask that you be with these projects of love, O Lord, that they may continue to flourish. Plant the seed in each of us, that we may grow in our commitment to serve. Help us to see this treasure more clearly, to value it so much that we would give up everything to take part in it. Unite us, O Lord, in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ,


Mission Stewardship Moment from El Salvador:

As the Lutheran Church of El Salvador prepares for the 25th Anniversary since the installation of Medardo Gómez as its bishop, Don Medardo took a break from his busy schedule to participate in the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville Tennessee. He reported on his experience at a gathering of pastors earlier this week, saying that the Disciples of Christ, as well as the United Church of Christ, represents the salvation of the United States. This is not a salvation we can find in governments or businesses, but in the manifestation of Christ on earth, Christ's church. Inspired by the Assembly, Gómez then encouraged his pastoral team to represent the salvation of El Salvador. Before I came to El Salvador two years ago, leaders at Global Ministries told me how much they were inspired by Medardo Gómez and the Lutheran Church with their leadership and commitment to justice.

This historic partnership of mutual inspiration goes back to the eighties, the height of the civil war. Global Ministries had sent a missionary to protect Gómez during this time of deep persecution for many religious leaders. Since then, our churches continue to learn from each other and grow. I feel grateful to know that as the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ support the efforts of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church equally supports our efforts back home.

Some current projects of the Lutheran Church of El Salvador include:
  • The Love and Solidarity Project (also known as the
    Casa Esperanza)
    , which provides a daily meal and a place to relax and bathe for people living on the street.
  • The Fight Against Hunger Project, which trains families in several churches to raise chickens and grow crops in organic, sustainable ways.
  • Health and Healing, which focuses on the education and prevention of HIV and AIDS, and the acceptance of those who have been infected.

Otra vez nos toca orar por nuestras hermandades de misión en El Salvador. La gente de El Salvador enfrenta realidades difíciles todos los días. Sin embargo, nuestras hermandades de misión, la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña y la Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, constantemente realizan esfuerzos para servir a los más necesitados. Guardemos estas realidades y también estos esfuerzos en nuestro corazón y nuestra mente cuando oramos para El Salvador este domingo. Pueden incluir esta oración en un culto de adoración o en tus oraciones personales. Se encontrará también una reflexión de mayordomía para ayudar a pensar en nuestra hermandad. Agradezco a todos y todas por su apoyo constante, por sus esfuerzos, y lo más importante, por sus oraciones.

Esta oración y reflexión de misión también se encuentra en inglés en la página web de Ministerios Globales:

24 de julio, 2011
Oración para El Salvador: Mateo 13:31-33, 44-52

Oh Señor,

Hemos encontrado un tesoro escondido en El Salvador. En un país conocido por su violencia, pobreza, y familias desintegradas, hemos encontrado una perla preciosa. Vemos mujeres y hombres de fe que se comprometen a servir a los y las más necesitados. Vemos proyectos para ofrecer algo más grande para jóvenes en alto riesgo, para proveer necesidades básicas para los y las que viven en la calle, y para capacitar a familias para que se sostengan con agricultura sustentable. Vemos un testimonio de cómo crece la semilla pequeña ahora que la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña celebra veinticinco años con el liderazgo de su obispo, Medardo Gómez, y en la Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, que camina en solidaridad con el pueblo de El Salvador.

Pedimos que estés con estos proyectos de amor, oh Dios, para que sigan floreciendo. Planta la semilla en cada uno y cada una, para que crezcamos en nuestro compromiso de servir. Ayúdanos a ver este tesoro más claramente, a valorarlo tanto que dejaríamos todo para ser parte de él. Únenos, oh señor, en el nombre de tu hijo Jesucristo,


Reflexión de misión y mayordomía de El Salvador:

Ahora que la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña prepara para el 25 aniversario desde la instalación de Medardo Gómez como su obispo, Don Medardo descansó un rato de su ocupado horario para participar en la Asamblea General de la Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) en Nashville, Tennessee, en los Estados Unidos. Les contó de sus experiencias en un convivio de pastores y pastoras antes en esta semana, diciendo que la iglesia Discípulos de Cristo, y también la Unida de Cristo, representan la salvación de los Estados Unidos. Esta no es una salvación que podemos encontrar en gobiernos o empresas, sino en la manifestación de Cristo en la tierra, la iglesia de Cristo. Inspirado por la Asamblea, Gómez animó a su equipo pastoral a representar la salvación de El Salvador. Antes de venir a El Salvador, líderes en Ministerios Globales me dijeron de tal manera que eran inspirados por Medardo Gómez y la Iglesia Luterana con su liderazgo y compromiso a la justicia.

Esta hermandad de inspiración mutua empezó en los años ochenta, en la plena guerra civil. Ministerios Globales había mandado a un misionero para proteger a Gómez durante este tiempo de persecución fuerte para muchos líderes religiosos. Desde este tiempo, nuestras iglesias siguen aprendiendo unas de otras y creciendo. Estoy agradecido de saber como las iglesias Discípulos de Cristo y Unida de Cristo apoyan los esfuerzos de la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña, de igual manera la Iglesia Luterana apoya nuestros esfuerzos en nuestro país.

Algunos proyectos actuales de la Iglesia Luterana de El Salvador incluyen:

  • El Proyecto de Amor y Solidaridad (también conocido como la Casa Esperanza), que provee un almuerzo diario y un lugar para relajarse y bañarse para personas que viven en la calle.
  • El Proyecto la Lucha Contra el Hambre, que capacita a familias en varias iglesias para criar gallinas y cultivar cosechas en maneras orgánicas y sustentables.
  • Salud y Sanación, que se enfoque en la educación y prevención de VIH y SIDA, y aceptación de los que tienen el virus.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

El Salvador 2010, A Look Back

The year 2010 brought many hardships to the people of El Salvador. A continued worldwide recession has kept unemployment high and production low. Violent crime has persisted despite extra measures by the government to confront it. The rainy season brought floods and scores of ruined crops, leaving families who already struggle to contend with high prices of beans and corn.

2010 has also seen many triumphs of the Spirit. Many Salvadoran volunteers came together to provide relief to those hardest hit by the previous year's hurricanes. Lutheran congregations in El Salvador united with sister churches from around the world to work together in our mission to build peace and mutual understanding. The Salvadoran Lutheran Chuch launched a campaign that says no to violence and yes to life.

As I reflect upon this past year, I see not only the major events, but also the small things, the friends I've made, the excursions to various parts of the country, the random events that spice up everyday life.

Here I offer a slight sampling of my many experiences here in El Salvador that my camera happened to capture. May 2011 bring us progress in our search for justice in a world of suffering. But may we take time to see the small moments, the everyday relationships. And may we discover in them the presence of God.

A soccer game breaks out on a camping trip
with friends in Chalatenango.

Children at the Casa Concordia confirm their commitment to Christ at a special church service.

A break in the church-building action gives workers
from First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Keokuk, Iowa,
a chance to relax with members of the Los Lobatos community
in Santa Ana.

On the 30th anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero's death,
Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gómez joins with Catholic clergy
in an ecumenical celebration of the martyr's life.

A labor march gathers below the statues of
The Divine Savior of the World (El Divino Salvador del Mundo)
and Archbishop Oscar Romero in the city of San Salvador.

A work group from Family of Christ Lutheran Church in Chanhassen,
Minnesota, helps build a church in the community Buena Vista,
near the Guasapa volcano.

A spider.

A hike from the community Rutilio Grande leads to an overlook
of the Salvadoran countryside.

Two boys fly a kite on a soccer field in Soyapango.

A crazy Global Ministries missionary (me) plays some soccer
with the kids at the Hope House (Casa Esperanza).

The family at the Casa Concordia waits for a bus
on our way to church at La Resurrección.

Maritza shows off the breakfast she has prepared:
pupusas, tortillas stuffed with beans, cheese, veggies
or just about anything you can imagine.

The view out of my room at the Casa Concordia.
I often go on runs around the Cuscutlán Stadium in the background.

The Casa Concordia family climbs a vine at their farm in Suchitoto.

I wonder just what the fumigation intends to get rid of,
since both humans and mosquitos return to the offices
shortly afterwards.

Lutheran pastors from around the country hop on a bus
for a year-end pastor's retreat in La Palma, Chalatenango.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Christmas Letter from Bishop Gómez

Medardo Gómez, bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church
Medardo Gómez, obispo de la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña

You can read this article in English below.

Una carta navideña del Obispo Gómez:


Para personas normales como tú y yo, un recién nacido, sea quien fuere, produce ternura, ver a una criaturita nos enternece, nos entusiasma, recibimos alegría y felicidad, más cuando esa criaturita es nuestra, hijo(a), nietecito (a), sobrinito(a), hermanito(a), hijo(a) de un buen amigo(a), la emoción es mucho más grande y es gran satisfacción chinearlo, tenerlos en nuestros brazos y admirarlos.

Así mayormente la expectativa es maravillosa cuando esperamos un niño, una niña, que va a nacer, un niño(a) que será nuestro, hasta nos fortalece la vida, no solo nos da alegría y felicidad, sino que nos da vida y mucha esperanza, ilumina el presente y el futuro.
Recogiendo esa experiencia de emoción y gozo, verdadera alegría y felicidad, un presente prometedor, para un futuro lleno de fe, amor, sabiduría y resistencia, así debe ser Navidad 2010.

El niño Jesús es nuestro, viene para iluminar a este mundo y quiere ser la buena noticia para todos los hombres y mujeres de buena voluntad, especialmente por los más necesitados.

El niño es el signo espiritual para que la fe sea el estandarte, la espada, la coraza, el escudo para la lucha en contra de la maldad del mundo.

Con la fe en Cristo Jesús, que en esta navidad nos da el niño Jesús, lucharemos en el 2011, en contra de la violencia, inseguridad, pobreza, injusticias, efectos del cambio climático.

Por eso y para eso, es importante chinear al niño, tomarlo en los brazos cargarle, verle a los ojos, admirarle, llenarnos de amor y ternura, sentir y vivir en la fe que Él es la Luz del mundo, la alegría y felicidad para todos, especialmente para ti y para mí.

Medardo E. Gómez, Obispo
Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña


A Christmas Letter from Bishop Gómez:


For normal people like you and me, a newborn baby, whoever it is, produces tenderness. Seeing the little creature softens us, it energizes us, it fills us with joy and happiness. And when this little creature is our son, daughter, granddaughter, grandson, niece, nephew, brother, sister, or child of a good friend, the emotion is much greater and it is deeply satisfying to cradle her, to hold her in our arms and admire her.

So the expectation is especially marvelous when we are expecting a baby to be born, a baby that will be ours. It even strengthens our lives. It doesn't just give us joy and happiness, it gives us life and so much hope. It illuminates the present and the future. Taking in this experience of emotion and delight, true joy and happiness, a promising present for a future filled with faith, love, wisdom, and resistance, this should be our Christmas, 2010.

The baby Jesus is ours. He comes to illuminate this world. He wants to be the good news for all men and women of good will, especially for those in deepest need.

The baby is a spiritual sign so that faith may be the banner, the sword, the armor, and the shield in the fight against evil in our world.

With faith in Christ Jesus, faith that this Christmas gives us baby Jesus, let us stand up in 2011. Let us stand up against violence, insecurity, poverty, injustice, and climate change.

For this we must cradle the baby, take him in our arms and care for him, look into his eyes, admire him, be filled with love and tenderness, feel and live the faith that this one is the Light of the World, the joy and happiness for all, especially for you and for me.

Medardo E. Gómez, Bishop
Salvadoran Lutheran Church

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


This is Steve.

Steve had just touched the sand for the first time and immediately pushed himself along with his little flippers looking for his new home, the great Pacific Ocean. Steve was born among hundreds of Golfina Sea Turtles before dawn on Wednesday morning. I hardly got the chance to know Steve. I really don't know whether Steve was even male. Yet I connected with him.

I woke up from my slumber in the hammocks on the beach, along with the group visiting from Eugene, Oregon, and set out to take part in the daily turtle release on the beaches of Tasajera Island. All along the coast of El Salvador, and much of the Pacific Ocean, volunteers stay up all night looking for endangered sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.

The group and I had walked along the beach the previous evening, splitting up. Half of us walked north, and the other half walked south. I walked with the unlucky half. Those who went the other way described the mother turtle they saw and her power and grace as she climbed up the beach and laid her eggs in the flat sand before returning to the sea. They then helped the volunteers, known as tortugueros, move the precious eggs to a safe place where they can keep watch, protecting them from poachers and predators. Those who went north also came across a turtle. The foul stench led us to the corpse that the tide had brought ashore. The tortuguero who accompanied us thought it probably died in an indiscriminate fishing net from a commercial boat, an example of just one of the many dangers the turtles face as they fend off extinction.

The tortugueros keep watch until the eggs hatch, and collect the newborns to release them into the ocean. Of every thousand turtles born, only one will form a mating pair that will lay new eggs years later, so the tortugueros try to protect as many as possible during this delicate time. We followed them to the release point.

They brought buckets full of the little creatures who rhythmically tapped on the plastic as they struggled to make their way forward. After brief instructions, the group picked up the turtles by their shell and set them on the damp beach. They had to touch the beach first to imprint it on their "microchip", the chief tortuguero explained.
They then began to run away from the racket of the people and toward the crashing of the waves. A wave would periodically come up over them and wash them out to sea, where they would live and grow in their dangerous new home.
The group released hundreds of turtles that calm morning, but one stood out.

Steve joined the march as one of the last and promptly commenced his journey. Waves that should have swept them away would only come in to wash Steve and a few of his buddies back up the shore, ready to try again. Eventually only Steve remained. I wanted to help, but also wanted to see him make it, so I watched, along with a few others, as Steve struggled to find his place in this new and frightening world. Every new wave that pushed him back brought more and more frustration. Steve took longer pauses as he regained his energy. Each new step merely covered the same territory. His destination seemed out of reach.
And we kept encouraging. We'd tap the sand if he steered off course, hoping to direct him away from us. We knew he could make it, no matter how hard the fight.

This trip to Tasajera Island rounded out a series of excursions that filled my latest two weeks in Central America. I accompanied the group from First Congregational United Church of Christ in Eugene as they continued to develop their partnership with the people of the island, running medical checkups at a clinic they helped construct, and joining in community activities. Previously I had traveled to Nicaragua to visit my friends at the Iglesia Misión Cristiana (Christian Mission Church), our Global Ministries partner, and to Costa Rica to stay with our partner there, the Universidad Bíblica Latinoamericana (Latin-American Bible University). These trips helped me broaden my experience and see new perspectives. I saw struggles, but I also saw faith.

In Tasajera, I saw a very peaceful community that comes together for sporting events, music, and socializing. The people of Tasajera fish for a living, but the same boats that cast nets on the sea turtles' pursuit of happiness also cast doubts on the island's economic future, leaving less for the locals.

In Nicaragua, I saw the pouring rain as I rode the bus into Managua, the capital city. I saw the tops of the buildings and houses sticking out of Lake Managua after it had reached record levels. I learned that entire neighborhoods had been evacuated as they sank under the rising lake. In Acahualinca, near First Christian Mission Church in Managua, 507 people were living in the classrooms of a nearby schoolground.

In Costa Rica, I saw a group of people who face hardship and discrimination every day. The university arranged for me to attend a midweek service at a local Lutheran congregation during my short stay. The church holds a weekly "inclusive service" that focuses on diversity with an emphasis on diversity of sexual orientations. On the bus to the church I wondered about this. Shouldn't all church services be inclusive? Do we need to attach a special name to it an single people out? After the service commenced, however, I quickly realized that I was taking part in something significant, not just for the gay men of various ages who made up the majority of the congregation that evening, but also for the women and the straight men who show their support. That evening, we all found common ground in faith.

As though at a campfire, we sat around the altar in a circle and sang hymns accompanied by an acoustic guitar. When it came time for the message, each person had the opportunity to participate by letting the scripture speak directly to us, so that we could bring our own experiences to it, whether from the point of view of a married woman, a gay man, someone struggling to find acceptance in a society that emphasizes male dominance, or anyone from any walk of life. That week we read from Luke 17: 5-10 and talked about faith. The faith I saw in everyone's testimonies amazed me. I now fully understand the importance of a special service for those who might have nowhere else to turn. We all need a space where we can find our place in this dangerous, frightening world.

I chose to participate as well, speaking from my point of view as a missionary. In my work I see such difficulties, like the excessive rains that have wiped out crops all across Central America, causing the price of basic staples like beans and corn to soar, yet I see such faith, such constant marching forward despite constant setbacks. Why can't I have faith like that? I often approach Jesus, much like the apostles did so long ago, and say, "Increase my faith," and Jesus always responds, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you." I don't need more faith. I already have the faith I need. If I put my faith into action, perhaps with the aid of others tapping on the sand to keep me on track, the things that need to happen will happen. The hardships will not overcome us.

The rest of my travels have shown me the truth in this. For I have seen people of diverse sexual orientations share in communion with the Body of Christ. I have seen the members of First Christian Mission Church in Managua find sets of clothing in appropriate sizes for each of the 507 displaced people living in the classrooms of a local school. I have seen those who live in the fishing communities of Tasajera continue their way of life while actively seeking alternative ways to supplement their income. I have seen the wave that finally uprooted Steve from the sand and planted him in the sea.

Who knows what will become of Steve? Surely he will find unceasing threats from predators, pollution, and nets. The odds certainly don't favor him. He already got off to a late start. But Steve has found the freedom of the wide blue ocean. He can feel the joy of his movement through the water, the relief of having overcome his struggles on the beach. No threat should bother Steve now. Steve has found his place, the place he needs to be.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pray for El Salvador on Sunday, September 12th

Este artículo se puede leer en español abajo.


The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ come together for our international missions. We make partnerships with local churches all around the world, with a mission to provide a Critical Presence with them through various ministries of acompañamiento (walking together side by side). Through Critical Presence, we meet God's people and creation at the point of deepest need: spiritually, physically, emotionally, and/or economically. Global Ministries is the expression of our common mission and the organization that sponsors my work here. As part of our commitment to meet God's people and creation, we offer prayers every week for a different country around the world and our partners there. I ask you to join us this week as we pray for El Salvador. You may include this prayer in a worship service or in your own personal time.

(You will also find this prayer on Global Ministries' website:

Lectionary Text and Prayers for El Salvador: Luke 15:1-10

Dear Lord,

Thank you for remembering the lost sheep. Thank you for remembering those of us who wander lost, those of us who struggle to find your presence in the world around us. Thank you, O Lord, for El Salvador.

Help us understand the culture of violence that causes many to live in fear. Help us to understand the physical violence that kills more than ten people a day. Help us understand the psychological violence that instills so much fear that bus drivers in high-risk have shut down their routes, causing even more stress on an already difficult economy. Help us understand the economic violence that places so much in the hands of so few, forcing many to flee in search of a better life, only to meet more violence.

We pray, O God, for all of us who wander lost. May those who seek a better life find welcome, not rejection, not violence. May their families left behind find the strength to continue their education and their search for jobs in ways that bring peace. May we all stand together and proclaim with the Emmanuel Baptist Church, the Lutheran Church of El Salvador, and all faiths in all the world in one united voice, "No to violence, yes to life!" Thank you, O Lord, for remembering the lost sheep.


(Prayer by Nick Green)

Global Ministries International Partners:
  • Sinodo Luterano Salavadoreno - The Salvadoran Lutheran Synod has several ministries, including health promotion, care of the environment and disaster relief, human rights, children's and youth programs, women's programs, and pastoral training for both ordained and lay leaders. They, along with its many ecumenical works and sister partnerships throughout the world unite under a single theme for this year, "No to violence, yes to life!"

  • Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel

To find out more about Global Ministries, visit the website.


La Iglesia Cristiana (Discípulos de Cristo) y la Iglesia Unida de Cristo se unen para sus misiones internacionales. Formamos hermandades con iglesias locales por todo el mundo, con una misión de proveer una Presencia Crítica con ellas por varios ministerios de acompañamiento. Por medio de Presencia Crítica, acompañamos al pueblo y la creación de Dios para servir a los más necesitados y necesitadas: por manera espirituales, físicas, sicosociales, y/o económicas. Ministerios Globales es la manifestación de nuestra misión común y es la organización que dirige mi trabajo aquí. Como parte de nuestro compromiso de acompañar al pueblo y la creación de Dios, ofrecemos oraciones cada semana para un país específico y nuestras hermandades allí. Pido unión con nosotras y nosotros esta semana para orar por El Salvador. Se puede incluir esta oración en un culto de adoración o en su tiempo personal.

(Se puede encontrar esta oración en ingles en el sitio web de Ministerios Globales:

Lectura y oración para El Salvador: Lucas 15:1-10

O Señor,

Gracias por recordar a la oveja perdida. Gracias por recordar a los y las que andamos perdidos y perdidas, a quienes nos cuesta encontrar tu presencia en el mundo que vemos. Gracias, O Señor, por El Salvador.

Ayúdanos a entender la cultura de violencia que causa que muchos y muchas vivan en el miedo. Ayúdanos a entender la violencia física que mata más de diez personas diariamente. Ayúdanos a entender la violencia psicológica que infunde el miedo hasta que los conductores de buses por el alto riesgo han cerrado sus rutas, causando aun más problemas en un sistema económico que ya es tan difícil. Ayúdanos a entender la violencia económica que pone tantos recursos en las manos de tan pocos, que impulsa que muchas personas huyan en búsqueda de una vida mejor, solo para encontrar más violencia.

Oramos, O Dios, por todos y todas los que andamos perdidos y perdidas. Que ellos y ellas que buscan una vida mejor encuentren una recepción de bienvenida, no de rechazo, no de violencia. Que sus familias que quedan encuentren la fuerza de seguir su educación y su búsqueda de trabajo en maneras que traen paz. Que todas y todos estemos juntos para proclamar con la Iglesia Bautista Emanuel, la Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña, y todas las creencias en todo el mundo en una sola voz, "¡No a la violencia, sí a la vida!" Gracias, O Señor, por recordar a la oveja perdida.


(Oración por Nick Green)

Hermandades internacionales de Ministerios Globales en El Salvador:
  • Sinodo Luterano Salavadoreno - La Iglesia Luterana Salvadoreña tiene varios ministerios que incluyen programas de salud, cuido del medio ambiente y gestión del riesgo, derechos humanos, programas para niños y jovenes, programas para mujeres, y capacitación para pastores, pastoras, y líderes laicos. La iglesia, conjunta con sus muchas obras ecuménicas y sus hermandades por todo el mundo unen bajo un solo lema para este año, "¡No a la violencia, sí a la vida!"

  • Iglesia Bautista Emmanuel

Para aprender más de Ministerios Globales, visite a su página web.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Random Film Review

As usual I arrived to the theater without a plan. I knew neither the films nor the times they played. After realizing that we had a choice between waiting an hour and a half or trying to beat the previews, my fiends and I decided to rush in and catch The Karate Kid with Jackie Chan.

In this film, a single mother from Detroit and her son get the chance to start a new life halfway across the world in Beijing. The boy, Dre Parker, struggles to adjust to the world his mother finds so intriguing, despite the fact that the culture resembles that of the U.S. in every way, at least according to what the movies tell us. Perhaps he has such a hard time for this very reason. The school he attends comes complete with school lunch bullies to contest, and cute girls to woo. This combination leads to big trouble. Fortunately, the maintenance man at his apartment complex knows kung-fu. He bargains a truce between Dre and his enemies by convincing them to settle their differences in an upcoming kung-fu tournament. The maintenance man now has to teach his new pupil kung-fu, hence The Karate Kid. Yeah, I don't understand the title either.

As I watched this movie, I couldn't help but compare Dre's new life in a strange land to my experiences here. I have never traveled to China. I don't really know anything about life there, so I will just assume that everything I see in this movie accurately represents real life, which we know Hollywood movies always do.

For those who arrive late, the film opens with Dre in a public park in Beijing challenging some old men to ping-pong. Shortly after realizing his inadequacy in this endeavor, another kid his age challenges him to talk to the cute girl sitting on a nearby park bench. This begins a fascinating exchange of dialogue, not because it revealed anything interesting about the characters, but rather because it revealed something about Hollywood's China that surprised me. Shortly after a failed attempt at speaking Chinese, Dre realizes that she already speaks his language.

For English-speakers who've traveled the world, it comes as no surprise that our hero could find a place where people speak English. But I find it wholly remarkable how everyone there speaks fluent Spanish. I would have guessed that as many people speak Spanish in China as speak Chinese in El Salvador: a few, but you'd really have to know where to look. Some will say that they really did speak English and relied on dubbing to communicate to a larger audience. Nonsense! I like to think that China sees the Spanish-speaking world as an important cultural influence, a world power with whom they need to communicate if they want to compete economically and hold prestige in their lives. Surely everyone pays attention to every move Spanish-speaking countries make. Such communication would bring honor and success to many.

Shortly after his exchange with the girl, a bully challenges Dre to a fight then executes several dishonorable moves as he submits our hero to an embarrassing defeat. This bully, it turns out, belongs to the prestigious Kung-Fu School of Evil, or something like that, who chants its motto, "No weakness, no pain, no mercy," at every meeting. This kung-fu club will cause hardship for Dre until Jackie Chan's character negotiates the tournament solution. They constantly threaten and intimidate him to the point where they endanger his physical and psychosocial wellbeing. Fortunately, he finds a way to overcome his oppressors. He finds a tradition that keeps the violent powers from drowning his hopes and his soul. The tradition shows him a better way.

Unfortunately, too many organizations throughout the world really do live by the creed, "No weakness, no pain, no mercy." Too many choose to solve problems with violence. Too many people have to face the reality of that violence every day. In The Karate Kid, we see how a group of people who push their weight around while marking their territory can disrupt the lives of everyone else. As hard as Dre had it in Hollywood's China though, he had an easy life compared to many in the world. He could leave and explore the city with friends feeling perfectly safe. His bullies only bothered him and did not come after his family members. They did not use firearms. They did not require their members to kill just to join. Too many people around the world face the reality of violence every day.

El Salvador has seen its share of violence through the years. It has a history plagued with massacres and war. Though those have passed, the violence has hardly let up. Organized gangs push their weight around and mark their territory. People who live or work where they operate have to pay a "rent" if they want to pass without physical harm. The country of El Salvador can expect ten to fifteen or more murders every day, despite the efforts of the police and armed forces. The weight of violence can break people down, and we can't just negotiate a peaceful tournament for a nice Hollywood ending. Yet the people, like Dre, need to find a way to overcome their oppressors. The people need a tradition that keeps the violent powers from drowning our hope, from drowning our souls. For this reason, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church stands together with other faiths and organizations in proclaiming, "No more violence!"

This year, the Lutheran Church of El Salvador celebrates its 24th anniversary with the theme, "No to violence, yes to life," to guide its ministries for the year. In the days leading up to the anniversary on August 6th, we held several events in honor of this goal, culminating in a march through the streets of San Salvador.

People from all across the country gather for the march.

Several congregations and organizations make banners
that reflect the theme.

"No more violence!"
"The youth ask for peace."

The march takes us through the heart of San Salvador.

Bishop Gómez, international bishops, clergy,
and many others help lead the way.

We march toward the Lutheran church La Resurrección.

We hold the church service in the street to accommodate all the people.

They display all the banners in front of the stage.

Thousands showed up to the march, giving an impressive demonstration of the values of the church. But no event impressed me more than the preceding retreats for youth and women. A visiting group invited me to the women's retreat to translate, so I had the good fortune to witness such a moving event. They invited participants to come forward to share their thoughts on this year's theme.

Many women spoke, providing some powerful testimonies. But few complained of the hardship associated with the gangs, though those experiences certainly remained on their minds. Instead they called the women to come together and each do her part in reducing the violence. Violence often begins at home, and we each have a responsibility to create an atmosphere of peace. We aim not to take down the institutions that plague us, but to build up ourselves and the communities we take part in every day. If we act violently before our children, then our children learn violence, but a house that works for peace will have children that work for peace. Whoever we are, we can take actions that proclaim louder than words, "No to violence, yes to life!"

At the youth retreat, teenagers from all over the country broke up into groups to discuss the various types of violence: psychological, emotional, cultural, and others which often lead to physical violence. They then brainstormed ways that the youth could include everyone, and commit to building a society not based on fear, but on love. Dre from The Karate Kid made a commitment to long hours of training and discipline to overcome his oppressors. In the same way, the Lutheran youth of El Salvador have made commitments that should challenge youth everywhere, that we can work together to help those around us. When we see somebody suffering, we can say, "No more violence."

Everyone can take part in a tradition that keeps the violent powers from drowning our hope. Dre found it in the ancient art of kung-fu. The Karate Kid provided a simple, fun diversion from the real world and a refreshing breather from the effects-driven films Hollywood normally puts out. But this diversion calls out to a deep-seeded human need, the need to take part in something greater, something that will help us stand up to the craziness and provide the peace we need. Jesus took part in such a tradition so many centuries ago, and he continues to call to us today. Do we have what it takes?

Wax on! Wax off!