Sunday, November 21, 2010


(n) reformation: improvement (or an intended improvement) in the existing form or condition of institutions or practices etc.; intended to make a striking change for the better in social, political or religious affairs¹

Left to right: Muslim Imam Dr. Armando Bukele,
Episcopal Father Luis Serrano,
Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez

I must confess; I have never celebrated Reformation Day. I did write a paper in high school about the significance of the Reformation, but until this year I was not even aware that such a “holy day” existed. Here in El Salvador the protestant churches take this celebration seriously. And not just the Lutherans, whose church carries the name of the Father of the Reformation, Martin Luther.

Invited to a Reformation Celebration were the Baptists, the Episcopalians, the Reformed Calvinists and Presbyterian (me), hosted by the Lutherans and with a keynote address by the Imam (worship leader) of the Muslim Community in San Salvador. In his powerful and inspiring address, Dr. Bukele shed light on the Reformation from a different perspective. A process that on the outside appears to have irreparably divided the Church forever has also given way to an ecumenical movement that includes and unites people. It is not about institutions. When we make the Reformation about denominations and religious systems we miss the point.

Reformation is making a change for the better, not only in institutions but in our practice of living, not only in the religious arena, but in social and political life as well. When we challenge ourselves and each other, as sisters and brothers, to keeping striving to make a change for the better, to keep reforming, we live into the Reformation. And as Dr. Bukele so passionately shared, “a church committed to social justice, committed to love and concern for neighbor, a church of actions not just words, is a church reformed...Christian or Muslim, that church resembles God, not an institution made by man.”
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Other signs of reformation…

A lesson in permaculture in Lirios, a community outside the city of San Salvador.

Permaculture is the practice of creating agricultural and community systems based on the relationships found in natural ecologies.
Here these practices are being used to restore the soil and the underground water table. By digging ditches to channel rain water the soil retains moisture longer into the dry season, allowing trees and plants to thrive throughout the year. This not only provides a canopy of shade serving to significantly cool the immediate area, but the vegetation also “breathes” fresh, clean air into the atmosphere helping to counteract the effects of heavy air pollution in the nearby city.
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With Pastora Norma and Rev. Jeff Johnson, Chaplain
of University Lutheran Chapel, UC Berkeley at
Cordero de Dios (Lamb of God) Lutheran Church
in Soyapango, one of San Salvador's neighboring cities.
The night before Jeff and I visited Cordero de Dios Lutheran Church, where he was invited to preach and I to translate, there were 7 murders in Soyapango. We were told it was not surprising that so few people (6 adults and 7 children, 3 of whom are the pastors' daughters) had ventured out that Sunday morning to join us in worship. Only months before two of the youth of the church were shot and killed at a sports field just blocks from the church. Soyapango is well known for its high rate of gang violence, and as Pastor Norma puts it, "our young people are fighting for their futures on a daily basis."

Rather than pack up and move the church, or at very least the worship service into a more secure community, Pastors Norma and husband Rafael believe that this is exactly where God needs them the most; where God's presence is most needed. They have embraced the youth of this neighborhood and try to offer them an alternative to the dangerous yet tempting lifestyle of easy money in organized crime. A group of teenagers have started a band, and with Rafael's leadership they are practicing covers and writing their own songs. They also lead rocking praise music on Sundays that rivals any contemporary service I've ever seen!

Two of the band members will be starting university studies next year, one to become a teacher. These youth are thriving in a place where opportunites are few and far between, they have a reason to hope even amidst so much hopelessness. With just the handful of pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters that make it to the offering plate each week, this little church is making a striking change for the better; reforming its community.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Taste of Home

I went to Starbucks.

After almost two months in El Salvador I could feel myself moving out of the "honeymoon" stage and beginning to "grieve" leaving home behind. I wasn't feeling full-blown homesick...yet, so I decided a taste of home might do me some good.

I remembered seeing those familiar, green, block letters on a building near one of the hotels that had hosted a conference I attended some weeks back. I remember being shocked that Starbucks had come full circle - returning to its roots, so to speak, in the land of coffee. But today I wasn't in the mood to analyze the arrival of the first Starbucks in Central America in terms of globalization and all its implications. Today, regardless of the fact that it was pushing 90 degrees outside, I just longed to hold that warm, white cup in my hand.

I spent the 30 minute bus ride across town running through the menu in my head: what would I order? A grande caramel macchiato, tall wet cappuccino? Should I get an iced coffee, a frapuccino, or a venti iced chai? It didn't really even matter; this was much more about connecting with home than anything else. And what a connection, I mean I have been to the original store at Pike Place. Starbucks is a Seattle phenomenon gone global! Aside from the apple and the evergreen, Starbucks is about as Washington State as it gets! Now I was feeling quite proud about my cross-town excursion. At this point it was quite clear that it really wasn't about the coffee - this was about me, and wanting to go "where everybody knows your name." Everything here is new and different: tastes, smells, sounds, words. I just wanted something that felt familiar, comfortable, like what I left behind. I wanted to be somewhere I fit, somewhere I could blend in and not feel like I so obviously stand out.

The bus driver kindly dropped me off right in front of the store since the bus had emptied along the route and I was now the last passenger riding. The parking lot was packed. Well, Saturday afternoon, I thought, maybe folks are out enjoying their weekend. As I rounded the corner to the front door it appeared that the parking lot was not the only thing that was packed. There was a line out the door! I had to wait in line to go inside the Starbucks! A million thoughts ran through my mind, most of them beginning with "this would never happen at home." How absurd! There's a Starbucks on every corner at home, I could just go to the one down the street, or at home I would have the option of a walk-up or a drive-thru window. What was worse is that the young man in a green apron, who had definitely reached his quota of coffee for the day judging by his upbeat and overly pleasant demeanor, was sharing stats about the coffee, the company and its beginnings as he VERY slowly ushered the line along. I knew all that stuff, I'M FROM WASHINGTON, I AM STARBUCKS, I wanted to scream.

Twenty minutes later, a little worse for wear and now borderline homesick from the sheer frustration, it was finally my turn to order. I was wishing I had made up my mind on the bus ride, with the same menu (and the same prices) I have the same problem making a drink decision at home. After all it took to get there, I opted for a simple grande latte, no frills, no fuss. "Grande latte para Cristi," they announced, calling my name with Spanish pronunciation even before I finished paying. As I gathered my drink and a sleeve for that oh-so-familiar white cup I couldn't help but notice the clientele; entire families, little kids and adults in shiny shoes, dresses and slacks, several gentlemen in suits and ties, young women all made up and wearing heels that made my feet hurt just looking at them. In my t-shirt and jeans, hair in a messy bun and zero make-up, dirt under my fingernails from my visits to the rural communities, and a sinking feeling in my gut at the thought of spending what some earn after a 10 hour day toiling under the hot sun in the sugar cane fields on one cup of coffee, I most certainly did not fit here!

I left the store in a hurry and made my way to the bus stop recognizing that it was now getting late and I still had at least a half-hour ride home. I wondered to myself if the old adage wasn't true; can you really never go home again? I enjoyed every last drop of what, I must confess, truly was a taste of home, and I came to the conclusion that perhaps it's not that you can't go home again, it's that you can't go home the same.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Prayers for FONDAMA and Haiti

The Joining Hands community has been informed that several FONDAMA (Fondasyon Men Lan Men Ayiti/ Hand in Hand Haiti Foundation) leaders and members have fallen ill due to the cholera epidemic in Haiti. FONDAMA leaders are trying to piece together information and to arrange for the delivery of oral rehydration packets and water sanitation equipment to affected areas.

Hurricane Tomas, on a path for Haiti, weakened to a tropical storm in the early morning hours today, Monday, but is expected to regenerate into a hurricane that could cause further devastation as the country struggles to contain the cholera outbreak. Please keep FONDAMA and all Haitians in your prayers in this challenging time.

Yzméne Elias, from the rural town of
Seramo, with cabbages she grew using
the old tire system she learned in a
FONDAMA workshop.

The FONDAMA network intends to “restore the Haitian environment toward food sovereignty and sustainability.” FONDAMA wants to secure food sovereignty through the promotion of family and cooperative agriculture. An agriculture that is organic and respectful of the environment so that the rights of future generations may be protected.

Loving God, we lift up our sisters and brothers in the Joining Hands family; their struggle is our own. Give us the strength to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti and with all those who dare to "beat swords into plowshares." Empower us to take action to restore your creation, and to reclaim the just, dignified and abundant life that you desire for all people, everywhere. Amen.