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.