Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prepare to be Unprepared

Dear friends,

Advent greetings from El Salvador in the name of the coming Messiah!

This is my third December in El Salvador and I still haven’t quite assimilated to a tropical holiday. Sure, lights adorn many houses, the markets and malls are bustling, and traditional straw reindeer and nativity scenes are being sold around every corner.  Yet, the hot and sunny days, the buzz of mosquitos through open windows in the evenings and the palm trees instead of pines just don’t seem to lend themselves to preparing for Christmas. As in years past, my Christmas preparations include closing up my apartment in San Salvador and getting ready to travel to my parents’ home in Washington State to spend the holidays with family. These additional arrangements always add an extra bit of excitement and stress at an already busy time of year, and as I try finish preparing to leave there are several year-end and holiday traditions to be enjoyed here.

Members(and members-in-training) of the JHES Directive Board;
Abel Gonzalez, Carmen Diaz with Josias, Edith Morales,
Silverio Morales, Doris Evangelista with Maya, & Kristi Van Nostran
Not pictured: Rev. David Alvarado and Blanca de Guardado
The Directive Board of Joining Hands El Salvador (JHES), complete with 3 new members elected at our Annual Assembly in October, held its final meeting of 2012 and holiday celebration last week. It was a blessing to reflect upon all of the work of Joining Hands communities to strengthen the food sovereignty movement in El Salvador. All shared their hopes and aspirations for the coming year as JHES continues to promote and advocate for public policy that guarantees small farmers access to land, the right to utilize native seeds and employ agro-ecological practices that contribute toward the restoration of God’s Creation.

The Reformed Calvinist Church, my church home in El Salvador, celebrated its Annual Assembly and holiday lunch yesterday with fifty adult members in attendance, and almost as many children! I was humbled and encouraged as this small denomination with extremely limited resources, but with a passion and calling to serve our marginalized and impoverished sisters and brothers in El Salvador, committed to partnering with other churches in 2013 to support the Pastoral Initiative for Peace. This ecumenical effort, in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice, is striving to unify the Church’s voice and actions in support of a peace process that began with a negotiated truce between warring gangs in El Salvador. Gang violence that contributed to an average of 14 homicides per day has dropped significantly to an average below 4 since the truce was originally negotiated in February of this year, and in the second phase of this ongoing process of peacemaking and reconciliation, weapons are being handed over and peace zones are being designated throughout San Salvador and across the country. It is in this context that our little church is living into God’s call to be agents of peace in God’s world.

With all that is going on it is nearly impossible to focus solely on Christmas and the preparing that is yet to be done. Again this year I feel as if Advent has gotten away from me; somehow I missed the voice crying out to fill the valleys and bring the mountains low, to smooth the rough roads and make the path straight for the coming of the Lord.  Still, during Advent we are also reminded how Emmanuel, God with us, came into the world as a baby born to young, first-time parents, far from home and in less than ideal accommodations – it is certain that neither Mary nor Joseph felt fully prepared for their roles in God’s Christmas story either.

As the season of preparation comes to a close I am thankful that even now God does not wait for us to be prepared. Just as God sent Jesus that first Christmas into an unjust and broken world to be our Hope and our Peace, we feel Christ manifest still today, with us even in the midst of violence, conflict and division; in the hills and valleys, on all the trails we have yet to level.  The Good News of great joy, my friends, is that Christmas came…and Christmas comes, whether or not we are prepared. May we join our voices with the choirs of angels, singing: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased!”

                              Blessings and peace,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving Day

   Off to the supermarket to pick up a couple of last minute additions to my contribution to Thanksgiving dinner, I decided to walk rather than drive in order to fully enjoy the beautiful day. The sun was out and a strong breeze made the nearly 90-degree temperature feel quite comfortable - thankful. As I walked, I thought about all that was surely taking place in the homes of my family and friends in the United States: ovens preheating, turkeys brining, pies baking, family members traveling, pets scrambling to find a solitary place among the numerous visitors or trying to avoid being stepped on, refusing to leave the kitchen, waiting for the inevitable scrap of food to hit the floor. I thought about the smiles and laughter, the nicknames and inside jokes that only family and close friends share. I thought about the cups of coffee, now taken with a splash of eggnog, as the oldest and the youngest (and some in between) find a comfy place to snooze after the meal – thankful. And, I thought about the friends with whom I would share a meal this evening, the North Americans and Salvadorans who have become like my family over the last two years in El Salvador. I thought about how amazing it is to have developed this community and what a blessing it will be to celebrate together by giving thanks.
 Entering the supermarket I half-way expected the lines and the urgency associated with obtaining last minute menu items at one of the few grocery stores open on Turkey Day in the States. I was pleasantly surprised to find the “super” no busier than any other Thursday. Usually I try to avoid the canned food and import aisles, forcing myself to cook with fresh vegetables and local ingredients. However, in honor of the holiday, I had given myself permission to seek out the fixings for my beloved green bean casserole…wherever they might be. Milk and mushroom soup mix were easy to track down, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the fact that French fried onions would have to be improvised, but to my shock and disbelief canned green beans were nowhere to be found. I chuckled to myself as I placed a bag of locally-grown ejotes (green beans) into my basket. Evidently, food sovereignty doesn’t take holidays – thankful.
 After the customary looks of confusion at check-out as I request that my groceries be loaded into the cloth sacks I bring with me rather than plastic bags, I made my way to the exit. I contemplated the additional steps that my favorite Thanksgiving dish would now require as I crossed through the parking lot and out to the street to walk the five blocks back to my house. As I passed the bus stop I was pulled out of my daydream of pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce and thrust back into reality.
 A young woman had just gotten off the the bus with her daughter in tow. As they shuffled toward the corner the woman was approached by a kid in his teens, held up with what may or may not have been a pistol in his pocket, and had her wallet and cell phone stolen. All this took place in matter of seconds, in broad daylight, at a busy intersection, and right in front of me! I was in shock; I can’t imagine what the young woman must have been feeling. Seemingly unshaken, the young mother scooped up her daughter and wrapped her in a tight embrace. Unsure of just what kind of assistance I might offer in a moment like this, I decided I had to at least ask if or how I could help. As I got closer I overheard the little girl asking her mother; Mami, ¿y ahora quĂ© hacemos? “Mommy, what do we do now?” I will never forget her reply: Damos gracias, mi amor, damos gracias. We give thanks, my love, we give thanks.
 Not because today is Thanksgiving, not because this day has been set apart that we might remind ourselves of all the blessings in our lives for which we are grateful. Today we give thanks because every day is a gift, especially if it is spent with those whom we love and care about the most. We give thanks because we trust in the hope that God is making all things new, and we give thanks for the opportunity to work with God and with one another to bring about that long-awaited day.
 This Thanksgiving I give thanks for being in the wrong place at the right time. I give thanks that a cell phone call and taxi fare helped allow this family to regain a little peace of mind. And tonight at dinner I will give thanks for yams without marshmallows knowing that the marshmallows I bought went to a better cause.

16 Be joyful always, 17 pray at all times, 18 be thankful in all circumstances. This is what God wants from you in your life in union with Christ Jesus.               1Thessalonians 5:16-18