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!

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Year of the Cross

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
―Matthew 16:24 (NRSV)

Nearly a year ago I arrived to El Salvador for the first time, knowing little what to expect. The Salvadoran Lutheran Church had just started its campaign for the year. Every August, in celebration of the anniversary of their independent synod, the church chooses a theme to focus their ministries for the year to come. Anticipating the 20th Anniversary of the Subversive Cross, they chose their theme from a verse in the book of Matthew, "Take your cross and follow me!" (16:24) Those who study the ways of Christ understand the weight of those words. They mean that Jesus needs a full commitment from us if we want to follow him, and the cross symbolizes the extent that commitment can possibly take. With this as the motto for the year, the Lutheran Church reminds everyone just how much God expects from us. I had come to El Salvador expecting to learn how God works in a new culture. In my first year here, I would learn about the cross and what it means in El Salvador. I have seen many difficult things since I arrived, but I have also seen how the Lutheran Church arises to take care of its people.

Many recall the floods we experienced in November, and how they caused so much destruction throughout the country. While the most impressive events occurred under the shadow of Chinchontepec in San Vicente, people from the entire country had lost family, homes, or food sources. Hurricane Ida, which had caused the floods, gave the last rains of the season, leaving very little to get through the long, hot dry season to follow. A rush of aid had come in right after news of the event broke, much of it thanks to readers of this blog. But as its memory faded, things slowed down, and people started to focus on earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, while the much less dramatic heat left many in El Salvador searching for ways to sustain their families. Neither the Salvadoran people nor the Lutheran Church, however, gave up on their people.

The church worked through an ecumenical organization called ACT, Action by Churches Together, to provide food to the most affected areas. On January 8th, I traveled with ACT to Buen Samaritano, one of many communities that received aid.

The truck full of corn, rice, beans,
and bottles of soybean oil arrives in the community.

Helpers from ACT and the community unload the truck.

They measure out the food to make sure
everyone gets their fair share.

Volunteers keep a record of everyone receiving food
so that no one gets left out.

A woman returns home with a chance to prepare a meal.

Each family finds ways to carry food back home.

ACT handed out food in several places at once, and came back to follow up in each one. On March 4th, while Buen Samaritano received its second round of support, I visited Nahualapa in Rosario, La Paz, to take part in their second round.

A truck again brings in the food.

The community jumps in to help.

They pile the floor with corn, rice, beans, and cooking oil.

A woman receives rice for her family.

Families will now enjoy meals together with less worry.

That brings a smile to everyone's face.

Sacks of food also arrive to the nearby community of Galilea.

Yet more families receive just a little more security.

Our commitment makes a difference.

Many thanks must go out to all who responded with support to ACT, the Lutheran World Federation, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)'s Week of Compassion, and the United Church of Christ's One Great Hour of Sharing, as well as anyone who has offered time and resources after the hurricanes and tropical storms we've suffered.

These actions have helped greatly, but the struggle still continues. The long-awaited rains came this year not as a blessing, but as another round of floods from Tropical Storm Agatha. For people who just want to grow their food, this news can dampen the spirit, but the call of the cross drives us forward, always working to build up.

A few weeks ago, the women of the church Manantiales del Desierto in San Jerónimo, Guazapa, shared their experiences with their partner church visiting from North Carolina. They first talked about the November flood itself. Shortly after the flood, they had drawn pictures of the that night's events on a sheet of paper, which they showed to the group. They told how they had woken up in the middle of the night to find their houses filled with more than two feet of water, how they had so little time to find their children and escape, how they followed their instinct and ran uphill, and how they watched helplessly as the water carried away everything they had.

The pastor in the visiting group, who also works as a professional counselor, emphasized the importance getting their feelings on paper right after the traumatic event. It allowed them to express their anxiety in a healthy way, and feel more comfortable talking about it now. The women explained how the pastor and the church always stood close when it came to the most important service they provided, psychosocial attention. Life sometimes leaves people feeling hopeless or causes us to give up. In these difficult times, they need hope and community as much as they need food. Pastor Gloria stayed with her people and guided them through these times. That takes a special commitment, one that continues now, and will continue right up to the cross.

Several agricultural projects had also helped with the recovery by providing needed food. But they didn't wait until they needed help to start growing. They had already begun these projects before the floods had even come. The people had already given themselves up to help each other through acts of sustainability and prevention. Commitment doesn't just respond to events. A total commitment will anticipate the needs of the people and prevent a deeper crisis.

These examples of service for those in need only show a small part of the many ways I have seen Christians in El Salvador take up their cross. We have seen a year of tragedy, but also a year of hope. The celebrations at the 20th Anniversary of the Subversive Cross and the 30th Anniversary of Archbishop Óscar Romero's death showed us that tragedy can sow the seeds of that hope. But we have also seen a church who looked ahead to start planting food, who didn't need a tragedy to get into action. We have seen a church that takes care of the whole person, and not just immediate physical needs. All of us can aspire to better the lives of those around us. We just need to take up our cross and follow Christ.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

And now for sports...

At the biweekly pastors' meeting yesterday morning, the leaders quickly pointed out the low attendance. Although several factors could account for this, including that this meeting started the cycle again after taking several weeks off, only one culprit, according to the meeting leaders, could account for the low turnout. Certainly the pastors all had something more important to attend to, namely the World Cup soccer tournament. Indeed, I myself had debated between arriving on time and waiting to see if Spain would come back to beat Switzerland. (I did decide to attend the meeting, lest you consider me a complete slacker. If you only have the updates to this website to use as your measuring stick, I can see how you'd come to that conclusion.) Whether the tournament had caused low attendance at a pastors' meeting, I don't know, but I do know that its possibilities played in everyone's minds.

Soccer fever has swept the world. Every four years, the best players from thirty-two different countries come together to compete for the sport's most coveted prize. Something about this event intoxicates even those from a country who did not qualify. El Salvador had lost its bid to the United States, Mexico, and Honduras last fall, but its people still take interest in the tournament, and many still know which teams they want to win. I had an easier choice, since the team from my homeland did make it.

I missed the game between the United States and England, though, because I spent last weekend visiting some friends in their home in the mountains of Chalatenango. As exciting as the World Cup may be, nothing beats a chance to visit a new place full of clean air, good hiking, trail running, chess playing, and dancing. The village we visited celebrated the day dedicated to its patron saint, and held a dance festival in its honor. Several members came together to show their talents with skits and dances, from traditional to modern. Afterward, they set up a DJ booth and dance lights over the local concrete basketball court. Then we danced. The youth and many adults moved to the hiphop beat, enjoying themselves. The people of this community take pride that they have no problems with violence of any kind, so we spent the evening in the carefree presence of each other, in the open air with a well-placed tarp to protect us from the rain storm lit by periodic flashes of lightning. I felt a peace in that moment, that such a close community could invite and accept me, a stranger who looked and talked differently from everyone, into their celebrations.

On Sunday we headed to a nearby town to attend the Lutheran church before returning to San Salvador. As we arrived early, we immediately launched into a discussion of the latest rounds of the World Cup and flipped on the tube to watch the current match between Ghana and Serbia. But my friends really looked forward to the upcoming game between Germany and Australia. The pastor and his wife had come from Germany as missionaries, and my friends knew they would support the team of their pastor's homeland. Seeing their enthusiasm, I asked if they would join me in support of my team, the United States of America. The unanimous response came without hesitation, "No. We can't."

"Now wait a minute, you're willing to support your pastor's team, but you can't support mine?"

One friend jumped in, "The United States has such bad policy."

I didn't need to ask any more. This friend's brother had died due in a large part to U.S. policy. Another friend had never met his father for the same reason. In fact, most people I know here have family or close friends who have died from Uncle Sam's bullets and bombs, the side effect of spreading freedom and democracy in the world. My well-educated friends also look out and see the United States still pushing its weight around in the world, taking full advantage of its military and economic might, and building walls to separate itself from the world. The World Cup may keep some pastors from attending their meeting, but it can't keep some deep-seeded feelings from overtaking the spirit of international sportsmanship.

I brought this up to another friend who met us at church. She also responded that she couldn't support a team that picks on the poor countries for its own success.

But didn't Germany pick on the whole world at one point?

But, she quickly pointed out, Germany lost, and they have since changed their ways. The United States still maintains its power. I understood what she said, and I did not deny any of these claims, nor did I ask anyone to accept them. I just asked for some help cheering on my soccer team.

As we rode home in the pastor's pickup, those in the cab had the game on the radio. A great shout of joy arose as Germany scored its first goal. Not much later, we'd found a restaurant along the highway where we all watched on a large flatscreen television as Germany cruised to a 4-0 victory over Australia. The pastor and his wife bought lunch for all, and we cheered together in a beautiful display of international fellowship. In the right context, soccer can bring people together.

On Tuesday I found myself hoping that North Korea would come back from their 2-0 deficit against Brazil, and not just because of my natural tendency to pull for the underdog. I realize that sometimes you're from the bad country, the one that causes so much trouble, and that you still need support. For I know deep down that it's just a game of soccer, that each player wants nothing more than to put the ball through the net. We can't judge them for the flag they bear.

As I watch tomorrow's game between the United States and Slovenia, with possible ridicule as I cheer on the red, white, and blue, I will remember that it's just a game. I know what is really important, dancing in the carefree presence of each other, under a rain storm lit by periodic flashes of lightning.


It's good to get out to the mountains.

Mauricio prepares for a chess battle.

I contemplate my next move. I lost.

Mauricio's sister, Ana María performs a traditional dance at the dance festival.

The community sets up the rig for the dance that evening.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Mission: Impossible?

Good morning dear reader,

Injustice has spread throughout the world. The hungry find no food, the thirsty find nothing to drink, the strangers find no welcome, the naked find no clothes, the sick find no care, and the prisoners find no one to visit them. The least of God's children have received ignorance in their struggles.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: Bring justice to God's creation. Give food to the hungry, give something to drink to the thirsty, welcome in the stranger, give clothing to the naked, take care of the sick, and visit the prisoners. Remember the least of these and join in their struggles.

This message will self destruct in 10 seconds. I apologize for any damage this may bring to your computer or office equipment. If you receive this message on a plane, please notify the flight crew immediately so they may begin proper safety procedures.


Nearly two thousand years have passed since Jesus gave this assignment (see Matthew 25:31-46). Since then, the movement founded in his name has become the world's most dominant religion. More people in every part of the globe follow Jesus and seek his guidance than at any time in history. Yet as we look around us, we see the great numbers of people still suffering. How can so many people still lack food, potable water, and personal security? As Christians, all called to mission, we wonder how we can really help. Can we make a difference in a world that only seems to fall apart, even after two thousand years of Christian presence? We see an overwhelming task before us. The mission truly feels impossible.

When I chose to accept my mission to El Salvador, I chose to join the Impossible Missions Force. Fortunately, several mission trips from the Evangelical Lutheran Church have joined me in my quest. They have heard Christ's call and traveled to El Salvador to walk in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.

One group came from a church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on a scouting mission. They sought ways they can contribute to the construction of a bridge in Usulután.

The community of Santa María built this bridge
to better connect the community.

The original project fell short.

The group, along with Engineers Without Borders,
look for ways to complete the project.

Another group came from two congregations in Northern Minnesota to build a house and a retaining wall for a community that received damages in the November floods.

The new house should resist damages from future floods.

The partners work together to move the blocks up to the site.

The more experienced workers build the walls.

The community and the mission group stand proud of their work.

The group also purchased materials to build a retaining wall
that will protect this threatened house.

A very large group came from all over Minnesota and Wisconsin on a medical mission, providing basic care and medicines to hundreds who normally lack access.

Check out my fellow missionaries' blog for more information. (I was so busy translating that I forgot to take photos.)

All the groups came with a desire to serve the least of God's children, but they also found their own needs met.

The preference to serve the poor and the outcasts lies at the heart of liberation theology, which has long found its fertile ground in Central America. El Salvador alone has given us such theologians as Rutilio Grande, Archbishop Oscar Romero, Ignacio Ellacuría, and Jon Sobrino. The bishop of the Salvadoran Lutheran Church, Medardo Gómez, has also written many books on theology, on what he calls the theology of life. He follows liberation theology, but changes how we see "the least of these". Rather than focus on liberating the poor, we ought to focus on liberating those in deepest need. This change in terminology opens the door to include each of us. We all have deep needs, whether they be financial, physical, emotional, or spiritual.

In the groups that visited us, many needed to see the abundant hope found in the most difficult areas. Many needed to understand their own place in the harsh realities of the world. Many needed to experience the importance of the mission, to bring back those experiences to their homes with a renewed force. They saw the power of Christ's command bringing justice to the least of God's children.

Though Christians have been challenged with an overwhelming assignment, we can always reach out to those in deepest need, wherever we find them. We might not know if if the mission is possible, but we can certainly choose to accept it.

How do you handle the seemingly impossible mission?

Who would you consider to be the least of God's children?

How can you reach out to the least of these?

As we enter the season of lent, we focus on Jesus' forty days of trials in the desert, found in Luke 4:1-13. In what ways has the tempter kept you from following your mission assignment?

How can you stay focused on the task?