Sunday, December 20, 2009

¡Feliz Navidad!

Following the Christmas service today at the congregation La Concordia in San Salvador, the youth and children presented a Christmas pageant filled with color, dancing, and music. Let us remember our brothers and sisters in El Salvador and in all the world during this joyous season.

Actors portray José, María, and the baby Jesús.

The shepherds come to visit.

The shepherds dance to celebrate the newborn king.

The wise men come from afar bearing gifts.

The Little Drummer Boy brings what gift he has.

After the pageant the children have a fiesta with piñatas.

Everyone gets a chance to take a swing.

Fun and candy are had by all.

Have a merry Christmas everyone!

I will be at Central Christian Church in Pocatello on Sunday, December 27th, for a special presentation on my mission in El Salvador. Please join me if you're interested in learning more.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


On Sunday I headed to church expecting Advent services. The night before, I had attended a 6-hour vigil that one congregation held for Advent, the start of the church year. During this four-week period, we look for the places in our lives that could use God's presence. That way we will know how how much we need God's gift of the baby Jesus. This community at the church Ríos de Agua Viva identified the need for God in the midst of the terrible violence, the extreme poverty, and the challenging struggles in family life. They identified the need to build a safe, just, and dignified community. We know that God will provide for our needs, just as God provided a baby to save us.

The churches I attended on Sunday did not focus on Advent, but broke from the church calendar for special occasions. Yet the promise of God's coming prevailed in these services.

At the church La Resurrección we had the novenario for a young man from Apopa. In the tradition started by the Catholic church in El Salvador, after a burial, people have a period of mourning for nine days. Each day they hold a devotional to recognize the life of the fallen and to give comfort and hope to family and friends. A full funeral service called the novenario comes on the ninth day. On this day, we remembered twenty-one year old Juan Carlos Durán Serrano, who died at the hand of gang violence. Gang members broke into his house and emptied their pistols into his body. The Salvadoran people face this reality every day, but that doesn't make a funeral for the victim any easier.

Pastor Abelina Gómez preached that morning from the lectionary texts, including Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus speaks of the end of the age. All things that have a beginning must have an end. This includes creation, civilizations, and each individual life. Doña Abelina noted how Juan Carlos had lived a life according to faith, a life dedicated to his family and to good works. We can take consolation in knowing that God has given him rest from this world, but we cannot deny the horrors of the violence that caused this tragedy.

Jesus speaks to us about these horrors we face, for even though people "will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world," Jesus tells us to "stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near." (v. 26, 28 NRSV) All things that have a beginning must have an end. This includes violence.

If we just look for the signs of God's reign, we will see this truth. We must recognize that violence does not come from God. The destitution remaining after massive flooding does not come from God. A system that encourages the powerful to take advantage of those in deepest need does not come from God. These things come from the failure of all humankind. So we need to ask forgiveness from God for our failures. As a society, we need to ask forgiveness for allowing people to live in substandard housing in areas with a high risk of natural disasters. We need to ask forgiveness for our greedy lifestyles that only serve to pollute the earth and exacerbate the destructive forces of nature. We need to ask forgiveness for the system of violence that murdered Juan Carlos. Society should have been alert. As Jesus says, "Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place". (v. 36)

My brief summary of her sermon fails to convey the full sense of power that Pastor Gómez brought to the congregation through her gentle voice. At first, it seems odd that she would have the victims of a crime ask for forgiveness. Can we really place any blame on them? Certainly not. But this act reveals the hope that the situation will change, that we recognize just where we need God's presence in our lives as we anticipate God's gift in the baby Jesus.

Pastor Abelina, who preached as a guest at La Resurrección, serves as the regular pastor at Fe y Esperanza, a church in nearby Nejapa. We headed there next, but Pastor Gómez had little to do, for the youth had decided that they would lead the service. They had also decided to hold a special service, but for a different reason. They had wanted to educate the congregation about HIV and AIDS for World AIDS Day, which was coming up on December 1st.

HIV and AIDS pose a great threat to El Salvador and Latin American cultures. Too often people see those infected as less than human, and shun anyone with the virus. They do not understand that no one can pass the virus by shaking hands or even kissing. They have been told that HIV only infects prostitutes and bad people. They worry that associating with anyone infected would make them bad or possibly infect them as well. So most people will refuse to get checked for HIV. No one can shun them if no one knows about it. They also won't use protection because they fear that people will think that they have AIDS and engage in the activities of the bad people. So those with HIV have to live separate lives, as their own family will often reject them. They can lose their jobs, even though it's against Salvadoran law. Furthermore, they can't afford the medicines and treatment that would help them to stay healthy and to live a more normal life.

The youth at Fe y Esperanza sought to educate the congregation about the reality of HIV and AIDS. If we know how the virus is transmitted, we can protect ourselves by avoiding those situations and having access to protection should the need arise. Furthermore, we can lean how to include those with HIV. The youth sought to teach us that we have nothing to fear and everything to gain by working together, regardless of anything that makes us different. The affirmation that brought us to communion time shows us that commitment.

"We are all God's Creatures.

We have the right to have rights.

Possibly some of us live with HIV and have every right to have access to essential medicines.

We are all God's Creatures.

We are the sexual worker, the drug user, the person with the transgender or transsexual identity, the person with the lesbian, gay, or bisexual orientation, and we all know that we are accepted by God.

We are possibly the single mother who lives with HIV and has every right to adequate treatment.

We are all God's Creatures.

We are the stigmatized, discriminated, and exploited who have the right to healthy food and an adequate health system.

We are the people in vulnerable situations and we have the right to receive a dignified care from all human beings.

We are all God's Creatures.

We can raise our heads with dignity and walk the paths of justice."

(Affirmation by Lisandro Orlov)

The youth of Fe y Esperanza inspired me. They wanted to make this taboo subject known, to educate the people, and to help make things better. The have stood up where no one else would. They identified a place where we need God's presence, a need that helps us look forward to God's gift in the baby Jesus.

Even though the church services I attended changed from the standard Advent service, they both managed to convey everything that Advent means. Oh God, we welcome your coming.

What places in your life can you identify a need for God's presence?

What places in your community can you identify a need for God's presence?

What places in society can you identify a need for God's presence?

Pick a lectionary text for Sunday (flip a coin twice if you need to): Malachi 3:1-4, Philippians 1:3-11, Luke 1:68-79, or Luke 3:1-6. How does this text help you prepare for the changes that will come with God's gift?

I welcome your comments.

Monday, November 16, 2009


What a role the rain plays in peoples' lives!

For starters, rain affects schedules.

On Saturday, November 7th, I hopped in a van and headed to San Antonio Grande for a youth camp. We had already postponed this camp once due to a forecast of rain, and we were running out of weekends to hold it. So when we woke up to rain, we threw in our bags and headed out. We would hold this camp come hell or high water.

The rain caused us to arrive late to the small rural community, so the camp leaders immediately had a meeting to change the schedule. We decided to have a devotional, some games, a short hike, and then head back the same day. This light rain hadn't let up for three days now, and even though it hadn't turned into the heavy downpours we were used to, we knew that it could make things very difficult if it did. Even though it cut our camp very short, I'm glad we made this decision. For El Salvador would receive both hell and high water.

The vans full of youth from the south-central region of the Lutheran church emptied into the school grounds where we had planned on staying. After finalizing the schedule, we began our devotional.

We gather under the roof of the school for our activities.

For our devotional, we read from Matthew 19:16-26. As Jesus teaches, a young man approaches Jesus and asks what he needs for eternal life. Upon learning that the man had kept all the important commandments, Jesus says, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (v. 21 NRSV) The man leaves, grieving, and Jesus makes it clear how "it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." (v. 24) After opening it up to discussion, the youth felt challenged to live up to Jesus' call to give more to the "poor". Many of these youth consider themselves to be poor, but nonetheless realize that Jesus isn't just talking to Wall Street executives. This makes me wonder, just who are the poor?

After a few activities, we then headed on our walk to the Lempa, El Salvador's biggest river.

Elmer of the church Fe y Esperanza and the Youth Council
leads the way on our trek to the river.

We didn't get the chance to swim in the river. But if we had, we wouldn't have gotten any more wet. On the way there, it had started to rain. Hard.

We hide under a tree to try to keep dry. That failed.

The river still runs high and muddy.

Rain affects our physical state.

The rain continued through our return trip and into the night. I marveled at its power that night on the porch of the Casa Concordia. The rain may have soaked through me that day, but I didn't realize just how much damage occurred all across the country. That took a while to soak in.

I saw some bits on the news. We talked about it on the way to church. We prayed about it at church, the few that could show up that day. I started to get a better grasp on just how much El Salvador hurt from the weekend's storms. And I got a better idea when we drove to a community affected by the floods.

We headed out to Apopa, north of San Salvador, to a poor neighborhood built on a dirt outcropping near the river. The road into the neighborhood sloped downward and turned into mud right at the high-water mark, where we also saw several parts of houses that had been collected from below.

Bishop Medardo Gómez speaks with residents
as he walks down to see the damage.

And from there we headed down.

Bishop Gómez knows the father of a Lutheran pastor.
The floods, here just a few feet deep,
took out the wall to his house.

These houses lost their roofs and pretty much everything inside.

This house also suffered severe damage.

Not much of this house remains at all.

We survey a house that has been completely washed away.

Cristian, a friend of one of the victims,
shows us the change in the river.

The water had been above the trash on the cliffs
just the night before.

Cristian's friend's house also received some damage.

The water level nearly reached the roof.

Cristian points out the water level inside Aldo's house.
Fortunately, nothing other than the electronics
was permanently damaged here.

Aldo's church, La Resurrección, brings food and water
to help his family and the neighborhood.

The relief should help them get by for a while.

The rain can change the way people live.

News poured in from around the country. The damage was astounding. Over 150 dead, hundreds more missing, and tens of thousands who have lost everything. Delegations who had come early for the International Partner Encounter changed their plans to better understand these events.

On Tuesday, November 10th, I went with Bishop Medardo Gómez and the delegation from Finland to Verapaz, one of the most affect areas. Verapaz sits in the shadow of Chichontepec, a magnificent volcano in San Vicente.

We walk forward, led by a local Lutheran pastor and his family.

We survey some of the leftover mud from the flood.

Some residents try to dig their house free.

Farther up the road we encounter a new kind of damage.

The bishop from Finland views the damage of the landslide.

Just a few days before, this was a neighborhood full of houses.

The rains brought these boulders down from the Volcano.

Huge chunks of the mountain broke away and came to the village.

A member of the Lutheran Church shares his story with us.

We head down the road, crossing what was once a house.

Here we can see the road, and the walls and foundation of a house.

The floods still take their toll farther down.

People collect the things they can.

The damage stuns us all.

Bishop Medardo Gómez comforts a woman who lost everything.

We all felt shaken by this experience. How can this happen? So many people have lost everything in the floods. The destruction came in a night, but will take years to repair. Where is God? As Bishop Gómez often says, in these times, when we see more suffering than we can bear, how much more will we see hope. It has been over a week since this tragedy, but the pain continues. The victims need relief. We have seen an inundation of horrors, but we have seen an outpouring of compassion. Who are the poor? Those who live day to day struggling to feed their families have risen to give aid, clothing, water, and comfort to their neighbors. So I ask to all who read this, where is God? Will we take Jesus' challenge to sell all and give to the poor, or will we simply grieve and walk away?

The rain affects our call to mission.

Stay tuned to this website and to to find out how you can help. After all, "for God all things are possible." (Mt 19:26)

Friday, October 2, 2009

News from the Moon

This just in.....

The dust remains undisturbed yet again. The craters remain ever-calm as the rocks retain their form. Reporters at the Sea of Tranquility have confirmed that it has lived up to its name. Our pollsters have calculated that the level of uncertainty hovers right at 0%.

We have no reports of violence. Unemployment has reached an all-time low. We have no instability, no corruption, no gangs, no drugs, no exploitation, no oppression, no fear, no dengue, no swine flu, no death. Everything remains as it was. The dust remains undisturbed yet again.

And news from around the Solar System...

Our nearest neighbor is over 238,800 miles away. We report that Honduras has deteriorated into chaos, leaving its people with complete uncertainty about their government and their way of life, but it's too far away and too remote to cause us any concern. We report that global climate change continues to threaten the entire population, but we've done a pretty good job at keeping our atmospheric emissions to 0%, of anything, and have nothing to fear.

And speaking of atmosphere, here's the weather...

It looks like sunny skies for the next few days, followed by fourteen days of darkness. Temperatures will stay right around 220°F with a 0% percent chance of precipitation. We have no rain. We have no lightning. We have no clouds. We have no atmosphere. We cannot appreciate the movement of the wind, the torrential waters, the magnificent displays of light. The dust remains undisturbed yet again.

And now our special report...

Many of you have heard about these missionaries that wander around Earth, searching for God's presence in the midst of the suffering. You may have heard how they work with global missions partners such as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of El Salvador, who seek justice in all areas of people's lives. You may have heard how these partners labor constantly for human rights, stewardship of the environment, health for all, and worldwide witness through education, ecumenicism, and inclusion of all God's children.

We know that many of you have felt compelled by these stories of hope. Fortunately for us, we don't need mission. We don't need to worry ourselves about things so far away. We don't need to offer ourselves for others while we have our own worries here. We don't need to feel the power of the storms. We don't need the saving power of Jesus Christ. We don't need this lunacy.

Thank you and good night...


I live in the guest house of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, situated right next to the central offices. The house itself is a work of the church. It houses several college students from outside the city, acting as a more affordable dorm. Its kitchen serves lunch to all the workers and guests at the central offices. It also houses those who work in the kitchen and their children. The house, called Casa Concordia, also serves as a home base for work trips from sister churches abroad and refugees who can find no other place to stay.

I have developed a jovial relationship with my friends at the Casa Concordia. When I wander around aimlessly, as I often do, we say that my body may be in El Salvador, but my mind is on the moon. My friends have begun to greet me by asking about the latest news from the moon. My answers soon grew trite as nothing really changed. It's still dry. It's still dusty.

I noticed how this life on the moon contrasted with the life I actually felt, especially as I would sit on the house's porch to enjoy the many night storms we experience. I enjoy watching the downpour from underneath the safe cover of the awning. I enjoy the gentle breeze and the mist that makes it through to me.

I have had the opportunity to visit several places in El Salvador and talk with several people about their experiences. The Salvadoran people have some tough struggles. Also, I have felt deep concern for the people of Honduras, our next door neighbor. They live in a time of total uncertainty right now. Before all this surfaced I had planned to attend an ecumenical gathering of young adults in Honduras starting today, but we have canceled these plans because we don't want to take the chances. Fortunately, El Salvador continues to struggle at the same pace, with uncertainty but at least with stability.

How does this "News from the Moon" compare to your own life right now?

In what ways do you feel like the lunar beings (lunatics?) watching the broadcast, apart from any of the suffering on planet earth?

In what ways do you feel like the earthlings, ignored by those living in peace?

One of our Lectionary texts this week is Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12. How does this compare to our news from the moon?

As I did some minimal research on the moon for this blog, I discovered that the lunar surface does receive some wake up calls from meteors fairly frequently. How would a meteor impact affect tomorrow's "News from the Moon"? Could we use a wake up call of our own?

Nick hangs out with some friends on the porch at the Casa Concordia:

Home sweet home.

Marisol takes a break with one of her friends from the University.

Jorge, the P.E. major, actually does some homework.

A visitor from the moon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pray for El Salvador

Sorry I haven't updated in a while.  My most recent task has been writing the Global Ministries prayer for El Salvador.  Every week we pray for a different partner around the world, and this week we pray for El Salvador and the Evangelical Lutheran Church here.

Check it out:

As always, I welcome your comments and discussion.

Random photo:

The Salvadoran Synod celebrates its 37th Anniversary
in the congregation La Resurrección

Here's another:

Bishop Medardo Gómez gives the offering meditation
during the church service.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Bloggin' time!

Last Monday I had the opportunity to attend a forum evaluating the first hundred days of the new president of El Salvador.  What had the first left-leaning president in the country's history accomplished in his first three months in office?  The many people gathered in that hotel conference room all wanted to know what he'd done to confront the problems of the society.  What had he done to help those who struggled with unemployment, ill health, poor education, violence, and gangs?  After a series of lengthy, detailed presentations, the forum came to the striking conclusion that not enough can happen to make any sort of judgment in a mere three months.

In my travels and conversations, I have had the chance to see and hear some of the struggle, but not a whole lot.  I have had the chance to see the countryside, to talk with the people, and to learn and grow with the people of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of El Salvador.  After all this, I have come to the striking conclusion that I cannot make a proper evaluation of my mission here in a mere four weeks.

My friends, I welcome you to my blog.  In this place I hope to provide you with a lens into my activities here with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.  I would like you to meet my new friends, and see the places I see.  I would like you to become a part of the mission that called me here, a mission greater than businesses, greater than gangs, and greater than governments.  For God calls us all to mission, and God's love knows no borders.

What exactly is that mission?  After four weeks, I still seek to understand it fully.  I came here to work with the youth of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, but also to communicate with my friends, my family, my home church, and to any who feel the call for a greater justice.  I hope that this blog will help provide that communication.

What can I tell you after four weeks?  Last Monday, I visited a forum that concluded that changes take time.  That was Monday.  On Thursday, I attended a function launching President Mauricio Funes' greatest achievement so far in office, the Economic and Social Council.  Rafael Menjívar, a pastor in the Lutheran church and a memeber of the new council, says he hopes that this bipartisan council will bring all voices to the table to create the dialogue necessary to pave the way forward.  He hopes that this dialogue will help to solve the crisis and begin to bring people up from the spiraling injustice.  In a similar fashion, I did not come to achieve any goal, but to open a dialogue that might help us all to understand each other better.

What does mission mean to you?

How can we search for God's call to mission?

How can we work to help others when we can't see the fruits of our labors for some time?

One of our Lectionary texts this week is from James 2:1-17.  In what ways does this text shed light on our understanding of mission?

What hopes do you have for me and my mission in El Salvador?  What do you hope to find in this blog?

I invite any questions, comments, or prayers you might have.  I thank you for all your support.  Stay tuned.  If you're lucky, you might get some pictures!