Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Opportunity to Reflect on Hunger in Sudan

The Des Moines Presbytery’s Hunger Action Enabler Nancy Lister-Settle wants to remind you about the designated fasting time this coming weekend. The theme of this month’s global food crisis fast is war, hunger and recovery in Sudan. Join fellow Presbyterians starting after a light evening meal Friday, February 27 through communion on Sunday morning, March 1 to discern the causes and solutions to the problem of war and famine in this part of Africa.

Use this month’s materials to guide you through the fast. Read reflections by a pastor in the Presbyterian Church of Sudan and an American mission worker serving in southern Sudan. Learn how hunger is an enemy not only to the people of Sudan, but to the human race as a whole. Read interviews from members of RECONCILE, a group created to help Sudanese people cope with the trauma that results from continuous war and famine. Get prayers and worship materials to share with your congregation. Sign on to participate today.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reminder of Thursday’s Lunch & Learn session, February 19

This will be the second in our Communications Lunch & Learn series for our Presbytery members and the topic is on Christian Education and learning what curriculum is available for all ages. We’ll meet from Noon to 1 p.m., Thursday, February 19. The Presbytery’s POINT Person Sara Lamb will be giving us her picks for Vacation Bible School programs. (P.O.I.N.T. stands for Presbyterians Organized in Nurture and Teaching and is a network of Presbyterian educators who offer Christian education expertise and curriculum interpretation skills to churches in their area.)

If you are involved with your church’s Christian Education programs, a youth leader or serve on your church’s education committee, you are encouraged to attend the meeting at the Presbytery of Des Moines, 2400 86th St., Suite 20, Urbandale, IA. (We are located behind the Perkins on the corner of 86th and Hickman in the Westview business complex.)

Don’t forget to bring a brown bag lunch. A microwave and a refrigerator stocked with beverages are available for your use. Sara asks that everyone bring their favorite curriculums to share.

Mark your calendars for future lunch and learns:
  • February 19 – P.O.I.N.T. Tips and Tricks on Christian Education curriculums and VBS

  • March 19 – (Re)Visioning Your Church

  • April 16 – Web Site Writing and Optimization so Search Engines will find you

  • May 21 – Evaluating your Churches Communications Efforts

  • June 18 – Blogging 101 and Podcasting for Pastors

  • July 16 – Learn about Khadamat Sudaniya’s Ministry

  • August 20 – Social Networking Online with Youth (Facebook, MySpace and Twitter)

  • September 17 – Annual & Statistical Reports, Newsletters and E-announcements (bring samples)

  • October 15 – Public Relations 101 – How to Get Church News Noticed

  • November 19 – How to use Photographs in your Church Ministry

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Day 8 - El Salvador to Iowa

We actually made it out of bed at 4:45 a.m. and we were ready to go when Alfredo came to pick us up one last time in the dark blue microbus with Becky's Tours on the side. Alfredo is a small handsome man of small stature (pictured here with Kathy Mahler). If he was lucky, he came up to Larry's armpit... (and Larry Lepper is 6'5") But sweet? Oh my, what a nice man. He takes good care of all of Kathy Mahler's delegations and also of Kathy. And that's good to know.

The day was not too eventful... other than traveling back home to Iowa – only (lots of) miles. We went through every checkpoint – I couldn't seem to get my act together at the first security stop and had to be reminded to take my shoes off and then set off the alarm when I forgot my phone was in my pocket. The next time I did a better job. Mary (MacKenzie) got stopped at Customs to check her bag. That was after they confiscated her hot sauce that she was taking home. I guess she might have gotten it through in her checked bag, but after Blair's (Lawson) experience with the flavoring on the way down, could you imagine all of Mary's clothes smelling like hot sauce when one of those bottles broke?

Larry (Lepper) and Blair also got pulled aside to have their shoes checked after they declared that they'd been on a farm, or spending time with cattle. Larry actually got his shoes washed, but Blair didn't. I guess they didn't figure Blair had been doing as much serious cattle rustling as Larry, since Larry had on his cowboy hat and Blair didn't (don't think he has one).

It was a rude awaking to come home to 30 mph NW winds after the warm temps we'd experienced. I guess it's back to reality... huh?

But, before I close, I just want to say a few thank yous. Thanks to my Trinity United Presbyterian Church friends for planning a trip of which I could be a part. I was the last to join and they very bravely took me under their wings and showed me all I needed to know to not look too unintelligent this past week. Being the only rookie didn't prove to be too challenging with all of their help.
There was Larry Lepper, our financial guru who kept close track of all our money. He spoke much Spanish and was not afraid to jump right in and try to speak to anyone. He wanted very badly to just blend in with the natives, but at 6'5' which white hair, he wasn't too successful. He was a huge asset to the trip and this was his second. Thanks, Larry.

There was Dave Endriss, our fearless pastor. He kept a quiet profile all week and only stepped into his pastoral role when asked. Otherwise, he made us all feel his equal – just 6 Trinity folks wanting to learn all we could. Thanks for your quiet leadership and friendship to all and lots of balloon fun! Thanks, Dave.
There was Blair Lawson, long time friend and our quiet, insightful one. He always had the interesting questions. I've lost track of the number of times he's been to El Salvador. He knows much about what goes on there. He will soon be president of the Indianola Rotary Club, so was taking lots of notes for them regarding the water filter project. Thanks, Blair.

There was Denise Core, a long time friend... the organized one. This was her third trip(?), so she knew a bit about what to expect and kept me informed when need be so that I'd look halfway intelligent. Always had anything we'd forgotten to pack. Thanks, Denise.

And then there was Mary MacKenzie, also a long time friend... her second trip. She's the strong and steady one – never afraid to try anything new. She was right there every time we went anywhere in the back of the truck with the guys hanging on for dear life. But, she was there. Thanks, Mary.

And Kathy Mahler... what can you say about Kathy? What a rock of a mission co-worker! She's there. She's wherever she needs to be. She does whatever she needs to do. And she's doing it well. And I enjoyed so much being able to see her there in her own world. I'd heard all about it, but now, I've been able to experience it. Thanks, Kathy.

And to Compañeros... my deepest thanks for making this trip happen for me. I come home with new insight into the El Salvador mission. I've been there and I've seen it. Not only have I seen my Casa de Zinc brothers and sisters with my own Trinity brothers and sisters, but I've seen El Tablon and El Recreo. I was close to Virginia, San Francisco, Las Delicias, Corazol, Munosis, San Felipe (I either saw the names on signs or Kathy would say, we're now in.) I couldn't make it to all of them, but I've seen what you're doing there. I've been there. I thank you with all of my heart for allowing me this experience.

And thanks to Nancy Lister-Settle and Kim Coulter for planting the seed... two months' ago, this trip wasn't even on my radar screen.


(Pictured left to right) Milagro, Mary MacKenzie, Betty Dyer, Denise Core, Blanca, Kathy Mahler, Idalia, Larry Lepper, Otilia, Dave Endriss, Cecelia, Blair Lawson.

Day 7 - Cinquera to San Salvador

Tonight we’re back in San Salvador after a long day of playing tourist. We first visited the town of Cinquera where we listened to Don Pablo Alvarenga tell us the story of the reasons behind, beginning of , and some of the atrocities of the civil war in El Salvador that began in the late 70’s. We had a translator again – this time it was Raul – who did a wonderful job of telling us the story while Don Pablo did. We sat on the front porch of the house next to his for more than two hours and he had to cut it short for us. He could’ve talked for 5-6 hours, we were told. Horribly, he lost 5 of his sons & daughters in that war, so he’s very passionate about it and tries to get the real truth out to those who want to hear it.

Next, we had lunch on top of a hill right there in Cinquera – it was fried chicken and it was waiting for us when we trekked up there. One again, there was a beautiful view outside the building. Raul joined us, as well as our microbus driver, Alfredo, who came to pick us up this morning at the pastoral house.

And speaking of the pastoral house… we had to say good-bye this morning. It was a tough one, but I was told by Blanca (pictured here) that I was only to say “Hasta Pronto” which means, “See you soon”. So, after lots of hugs and a few tears, the pastoral team sent us off with Alfredo and Kathy on to pick up Raul. He was taking the bus to meet us in Cinquera, but was delayed, so we were picking him up somewhere along the way. I have no idea in which town that was… they’ve all run together this past week and as I mentioned before, my sense of direction was checked at the airport in Des Moines, Iowa. I’m just hoping to pick it up again when we get back.

We next went to San Salvador where we dropped of Raul and said our thanks and goodbyes to him. He was headed home back in Usulután. We went on to visit UCA (University of Central America). We went to the building where in 1989, eight people were murdered – six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter. They were activists speaking out about the atrocities of the El Salvador military and government. It was a very moving place to visit, knowing what had taken place there. There were paintings, photographs, books, a rose garden; all things that showed very graphically what a horrible situation took place there on that day in 1989.

It was very beneficial for me to be able to see and learn about such very important things in the history of El Salvador. These were very important things in shaping the country that exists now and you can see it in the choices of things hanging on the walls in the pastoral house.

We went back to the guest house, Los Pinos, in San Salvador late afternoon. We ate out down the street – walked two blocks and had a great meal of chicken, fish, iguana, and other goodies. Dessert was another block away where we had ice cream cones. Oh wait – some of us had two ice cream cones. I guess we’d been deprived for a week – most were surprised that we’d never made it to the ice cream shop in Berlin.

Our financial guy, Larry (Lepper), affectionately called by us, “Moneybags” finished up paying our bills and informed us that we did have some money left over that we were going to be able to leave in our account at the pastoral house for a further project. That’s always great news! We really appreciate Larry taking on that responsibility for us all week and making sure that we were staying within our budget.

With a 4:45 a.m. wake-up call coming, we had our last evening of reflections together and turned in by 9:30 p.m. And tomorrow it’s time to go home again.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Day 6 - School Visits

Today it was hot and sunny. Today we saw the smiles on the faces of hundreds of innocent children in their schools. We visited 3 schools in the area. We saw pure joy when they saw us coming. We heard them giggle. We sang for them and they sang for us (their song was better). We took their pictures and showed them their images on our cameras so they could giggle more.

We saw some children in uniforms and some in regular clothes. We saw some with shoes on and some without. We saw some with clean faces and some with dirty ones. We saw school yards with pigs rooting in them. We saw school yards with no playground equipment - just sticks and dirt. We saw happy teachers that were so proud of their students and their schools. And then it broke our hearts when we had to leave... because they hugged and hugged us and didn't want us to go. Some tried to leave with us. And you just wanted to scoop them all up and take them with you.

We saw where more mudslides had been and folks had relocated. We saw where one small village is going to be relocated so that they can live in concrete homes instead of the tin and stick homes where they ended up in after the mudslide. Their current homes were right along the side of the road - literally at the edge where if you stuck your hand out the pickup window too far, you'd be in someone's home space. Their doors open onto the road and the metal fences that have been put up to separate their space from the world are just more large pieces of corrugated tin that they've found somewhere - the same as the walls of their house. There is no grass here. This is the dry season and there is only dirt. Dirt - everywhere. There really is no escaping it.

This afternoon we visited El Tablon, which is Heartland Presbyterian Church's sister parish. They have made a huge contribution to this community in the El Tablon Centre school and the new El Tablon Cerna school which is to be finished in the next couple of weeks. We got to see them putting the finishing touches on that school and even got to talk to a couple of young ladies who are looking forward to that school opening very soon. There is a soccer field at that school, too, which Heartland also helped provide. Remember, though... no grass. Just dirt - and lots of it.

The roads to and from today were much the same as all the past days... more of lava rock made into a path or just more dirt. We were again traveling along the side of the mountain around and around and around... and up and down and straight up and straight down - maybe a little more so than yesterday, but honestly, they've all run together. I really don't know how Kathy (Mahler) tells them apart and how she remembers where to turn to get to which canton or which caserio or how to take someone home and on and on and on...

There was more riding in the back of the pickup - again - not me. I kept Kathy company in the truck and we had a great talk. I do miss her in Iowa and I had to make up for lost time and get caught up on some things. And today was our last lunch at the pastoral house and the ladies' great food. That was sad. We took them and Kathy out to supper this evening in Alegria - the next town in some direction (I have no sense of direction here at all). It was the six of us, Kathy, Blanca (pictured here, right), Otilia, Idalia (pictured here, left) and Cecelia. Milagro had to stay back at the house, as she had a meeting to attend. These are all names that I have been so thrilled to place with faces this week. Names that I've heard for 3 years - that have finally become people. And oh, how they've become people - people that I now know and love... my sisters in Berlin.

As we said our formal good-byes and thank-yous after supper, while still at the restaurant, with Kathy interpretting, I found myself once again speechless – yes – twice in a week. I know it's hard to believe, but it's true. Not only could I not say what I wanted to say to them because I still can't speak their language, but I just couldn't say anything. I just had to ask Kathy once again to tell them how much I appreciated getting to know them and how much I've grown to love them in the past week, but could barely get the words out.

As I was sitting here typing about 20 minutes ago, with Kathy beside me on her computer in her office, we heard a rustling and turned around to find Blanca and Cecelia standing behind us giggling. They had a sack and handed it to me, while Cecelia put a knitted polka dot hat on my head. I opened a sack to find a large, bright-colored blanket in it that they had bought for me, their "sister", as a going-away present. Again, I'm speechless...

Luckily, Kathy is leaving with us to go back to San Salvador tomorrow, so I didn't have to say good-bye to her tonight, or won't have to do that in the morning yet either. But, she put it all into perspective and I laughed so hard I started to cough (my usual routine) when she told me it would be better if I would find a place to display my new hat in the corner of my room. (obviously, not a good look.)

I've waxed poetic enough for one evening now, so must close and go wash my feet before I can put them into my bed. And on to Day 7...

– Betty

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Day 5 - Coffee Finca

It's been a Sunday to remember. We attended a 2-hour Catholic mass that actually had a wedding in the middle and we were actually able to take communion during the mass. What a shock! Kathy had told us prior to going that she knows the priest and had asked him when he first came to town how he felt about that and he told her that all were welcome.

After that we went to Sunday market and walked through the shops and people to see all that was for sale today. You see everything... absolutely everything. You see the pigs groveling in the gutters; you see the smelly fish and every other kind of food for sale; you see the clothes, shoes, pens, pencils, paper, aprons, etc. for sale; it's all right there for you. You have to experience it to believe it. When Larry Lepper fell behind by his own choice, he found out which way we'd gone by merely asking "Gringos?" And he was pointed in the right direction. Yes, we're very obvious everywhere we go. But, still, all are so welcoming. We have the opportunity to shake hands often.

We ate lunch at the pastoral house and then loaded up the truck again for a trip to the coffee finca. We went through the town of Alegria and then to Santiago where Kathy showed us the equivelant of Jordan Creek Mall. (We had seen a Valley West Mall equivelant right in Berlin after church.) The mall consists of a metal building with wall-to-wall shops of everything imagineable. The only difference is that the one similar to the Jordan Creek Mall, was bigger.

And then it was on to Stella and Vidal's coffee finca*. We traveled on more of the windy roads up in the mountains again. Straight up and on the way home - straight down, with a little winding to add some interest. At one point we stopped so that we could all see the view... we could see so far that we know that we could see Honduras, even though we were still a very long ways away. You know the routine - you're on top of the mountain and you can see forever. It was a wonderful experience and breathtaking view.

We got to see where the coffee plants are that grow our Don Justo Coffee with Dignity. The trees are just starting to bud right now and actually, it's too early for that. That's because there actually was some rain recently. Since it's the off season now, there aren't a lot of beans drying, but we still got to see how the process works and where the beans are dried. Jorge was the 30-year-old worker overseeing the process and Blanca helped him describe all of it and answer all of our questions.

Another stellar job of driving the little Toyota truck by Kathy was experienced today. As always, she had it all under control. And Blanca and Cecelia (pictured here), two members of the pastoral team, went with us on our journey today. As I've learned, they're always a joy to have around and have wonderful senses of humor. Even though they have no idea what I'm saying to them, they're good to laugh with me. (or, maybe they're laughing at me - I'm not quite sure!) Anyway, we've all become great friends.

Tonight after our evening meeting, we even got Milagro (pictured here with Kathy), Blanca, Cecelia and Wilfredo (a friend of the team) blowing up balloons and making balloon animals with our fearless balloon animal leader, Dave. We were all laughing and having a great time while the balloons were popping left and right. We did end up with a pack of dogs and a flurry of mosquitos in quite an array of colors by the time we were done. (and lots of pics to prove that they were actually doing it with us!)

I think it's bedtime now... as the fun is not over yet. We still have 3 full days ahead, so lots of rest is needed. I've seen more in the last 4 days than I have in a lifetime up until now.


*Modern Language Association (MLA): "finca." Unabridged (v 1.1). Random House, Inc. Feb. 9, 2009.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Day 4 - Casa de Zinc

It's Saturday... but it really just feels like the past 3 days and none of us have a clue what day it is! We took off before 8:30 a.m. with a truckload of food, tools, other things and various people and headed to our sister canton (community) of Casa de Zinc. They knew we were coming and we were bringing along a goodly part of the lunch that we would have there. We had Mily, our interpreter with us today. Mily is 20-ish (pictured here) and a native of El Salvador. She's a junior in college and has lived in the U.S. for a couple years of her life. She is a real gem. We all fell in love with her immediately and we could not have had a more dear person to join us today!

We had found out that there were 17 families spread out over the countryside that are considered to be part of this community, so we brought along shovels, crayons, writing tablets fruit roll-ups (one of which I'm eating at the moment), cucumber seeds and children's books in Spanish. We also had pictures printed of our group to give to each family. There were also aprons that we gave to all the women older than 12 years old. They had been made by the women of Trinity Church. More of the garden tools that we will be giving these families will be arriving as soon as possible and will get to these families when they do.

We met with the Directiva, which are the leaders of the community. They are all men and we all talked while most of the women worked on lunch, along with some of the pastoral team ladies that went with us. We sat under a plastic canopy that had been put up just for us and we sat in the molded plastic lawn chairs that our funds had purchased for them in 2008. We talked about various things – questions that we had for them and questions they had for us. We learned a lot about their community and told them some things about what goes on in Iowa. We also talked about some possible future projects of which we may be able to be of help to them.
But, one of the biggest things that we learned is how warm and welcoming these people were to us. They welcomed us with open arms. Pastor Dave Endriss made balloon animals for the kids and huge smiles would appear when they received them. They were all dressed in their best clothes and they may have been their only clothes. Before and after lunch we drove to each of the homes in the community and took pictures of each of the families after we presented our gifts to them.
They were so excited to have us visit their homes - homes which are on the dustiest of dusty roads, with dirt floors and concrete or tin walls. There's an occasional chair here or there with chickens and dogs walking in and out of the house. There's usually a hammock, too. There might be a door and there might not be. But I tell you this not to point out the extreme poverty. I tell you this to let you know that none of this phases them. They are such proud and humble people. The rare person has a pickup, but none of the ones we saw today had one. They walk everywhere they go. It's 6-7 or more miles to get to town when they do go. And those with jobs have to go there during the weekdays. Any water they have, has to be hauled to the house. Most of the houses have the water filters that we saw yesterday.
And the roads to actually get to these homes? Well... they're barely wider than the truck (remember it's a small Toyota). Part of them are dirt and part are made of the volcanic rock that is everywhere down here. There are huge ruts, holes, dips and huge everything when you're riding standing up in the back of the truck (not me, again today). The fastest that Kathy (Mahler) drove on any road was 15 mph. But, that seemed fast when we actually got that high! She did a great job - and you must remember that we're in the mountains of El Salvador... the roads were going almost straight up, almost straight down, or winding around to get to the top of the mountain, where we were more than once... and the view was spectacular! What an amazing sight that was! We were on top of the world... during the dry season of the year here... on a dirt road... visiting some of the sweetest people in the world. Kathy's knuckles were white and we were all saying our prayers every time she's ask us to! (as if we weren't already doing that!)

As we reflected tonight... what we all had seen today was a bunch of strong, kind, loving, warm, welcoming people who want us to know their story. They want us to continue this relationship, as they are so very appreciative of all that we can do for them. The handshakes, the hugs, even the kisses from the smallest of the small ones all made it worthwhile. The "thank-you" that came from a 9- or 10-year-old boy when we were ready to leave was as precious as it could be. He could not have been more proud of the fact that he knew how to say it in our language!

And the pastoral team plays a big part in all of this. They are the ones who work with these community leaders to urge them to be organized and be focused on what it is that we can do to help them. They encourage them to work together so that we will be able to work with them.

Even though we spoke through Mily, it didn't matter. We all could feel what it was that we had to say to each other. They applauded us before we left. They thanked us over and over and over again. They asked us to come back. And we promised that we would.


Friday, February 6, 2009

Day 3 - San Miguel

I'm back... it's still chilly here, again this evening. It was hot today when we drove to San Miguel. We took the Pastoral Team's pickup truck - it's a red Toyota, the pickup of choice down here. I did something that I couldn't do at home... rode in the back of the pickup all the way standing up. There's a metal railing to hold onto. It's the law that you have to have your seatbelts on in the front seat of the car or truck, but you can stand in the back of the truck. Go figure. But, we got to see the place where they make the water filters. We got a demonstration of the whole process of how they're made and how they work. It was kind of an out-of-body experience to stand back and see the following stenciled on them:

Compañeros of Central Iowa, Club Rotario, Indianola

And what a great opportunity we had to actually see the gentlemen making them.

And then we went to the hardware store to pick up the tools for our families in our sister canton, Casa de Zinc. Unfortunately, they didn't have all that we'd ordered or paid for, so we'll have to make another trip back. It was a lot like a Home Depot – very modern on both the outside and inside – a little different than all we'd been seeing prior to that time.

We traveled back to Berlin and then had lunch here at the pastoral house – another wonderful meal from the sweet ladies here that are taking care of Kathy and all of us. After lunch, we excused Dave to go take a nap, as he did not sleep well last night. The rest of us and Cecelia walked up town... and when we say walk UP town, we mean it! This is a very hilly little town, right on the side of the mountain. Everywhere we go, we go up and down and wind around on very narrow roads. Dramamine is my friend! Thanks to Karen M. for giving me the advice of taking it every day! We bought more items for our Casa de Zinc families and walked back. After another short break in the action, we crawled back in the pickup (and no, I have not been standing in the back since the way to San Miguel this morning.)

This time, we took a very long windy road down a very long ways to El Recreo - the sister parish of St. Boniface in Waukee. Yes, I got to see the wonderful church that you helped build for them, along with the museum! What a great experience that was. And I took lots of pics for others to see. (Yes, I've already taken close to 400 pictures in 3 days. Thank goodness for digital cameras!)

We thought we were going to run out of gas before we got back to Berlin because all the way down the hill the gas tank read "E", but when we started back up the hill, we had nearly a quarter tank again! Kathy was going to be upset with herself if we had run out, as it would've been a first for that. So, she and I went to get gas when we got home again.

And speaking of Kathy Mahler – today was her birthday! We knew it, so sang to her in both Spanish and English at breakfast time. Of course, she was hugely embarrassed, as she gets at times like these, as she hates to be the center of attention. But I need to tell you that she NEEDS to be at the center of attention because as a part of her first delegation as a full-time mission co-worker, I can tell you that she's doing a wonderful job! She is so good at this job because you can tell how much she loves it! It fits her like a glove. Without her, this trip would not be nearly as great or informative. And her Spanish has improved immensely.

And speaking for myself again, I didn't realize how much I missed her. I didn't properly say goodbye when she left in January, as someone came into the office and she snuck out. But, we didn't want to do it again, as it was hard enough to say goodbye in the fall of 2007 when she came down and in the winter of 2008 when she came back. As all of you know who know her, if you know her, you love her. That sounds like a song coming on... but not really. It's just the truth. And we knew that we'd be seeing each other again soon, so we didn't need to say goodbye formally... good excuse, anyway!

Well, I think that's all for now and I'm going to bed, as is everyone else now. (and yes, it's only 9:00 p.m. But it's been a long day in a lot of wind and fresh air. Looking forward to that shower tomorrow morning. :-)

– Betty

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Day 2 - San Salvador to Berlin

We are having strong winds at the moment here and it's unseasonably cool. But, it was a beautiful morning with the bluest of blue skies. We sat on the porch with coffee and the best of company. Rev. Bob Cook was also staying at the Los Pinos guest house, so we got to visit with him, also! It was great to see him in the place where he's so happy - here in El Salvador. As usual, he was arranging something for himself and for someone else who needed something and he was going to be sure that they got it and someone else heard about someone where he might be able to get it...and as usual, he lost me... But, if you know Bob, you know that he's always trying to help someone and he'll find a way to make anything and everything happen for anyone who needs it. We said our goodbyes after a refreshing fruit breakfast and left for a morning in San Salvador.

During the morning, we drove past the American Embassy, and we got a quick picture through the window of the microbus, as pics aren't allowed. We saw the place where a mudslide had happened in 2002 and Denise Core and Dave Endriss had been here right after it happened. They were able to see how it looked now, after having seen it at its very worst at that point in time. We went to the chapel where Monsignor Oscar Romero was shot and saw the modest home where he had lived before he was assassinated. We saw the war memorial and all the names and a mural where Kathy Mahler was able to give us a brief history of El Salvador. It was a very meaningful morning for all of us.

On our trip through the curvy streets of the San Salvador area, we nearly lost Blair... his stomach had had enough as were pulled into the shopping area parking lot. I won't go into details, but let's just say that we all gave him credit and thanks for his aim and Alfredo was especially pleased! There wasn't much to clean up as he literally lost his breakfast. But, he was hungry for lunch about 15 minutes later and had no problems the rest of the day!

While eating lunch we were surprised to see Bob again and Daniela and so we had to say our goodbyes all over again! It was good to see her beautiful smile that always brightens any room where she is.

We hit the small shops pretty hard nearby and got the shopping bug out of our system, as this was our one chance. Everyone was so excited to see the gringos walking from shop to shop! We bartered and changed our minds and bartered some more. But, we were done by about 1:30 p.m. and piled back into the microbus. Alfredo claimed that we'd probably not make it up any hills now, as we'd packed the microbus so full of stuff!

It was now time for us to "head home", as Kathy said. And I was excited to finally be on that route. After a couple of hours, we came to Berlin... the town that we've all heard about for years. If you've ever had a delegation come here, or ever heard anyone in the Des Moines Presbytery give a talk about El Salvador in the last decade, you've heard them talk about the Casa Pastoral in Berlin. That's where a group of wonderful human beings work and some stay while taking care of all the delegations who come to visit. It's where Kathy lives and works.

For me, well, arriving here is hard for me to put in words. In fact, when we actually sat down and met with these wonderful women and everyone had to put into words what they wanted to say to the whole group, well... I know all of you who know me will find this very hard to believe, but I had no words. I found myself literally speechless. I know that has to be extremely hard for all of you to believe, but it's the honest truth.

After hearing about this place for close to 10 years and for the past 3 years; wiring funds, sorting coffee, paying bills for flavoring, paying bills for various other things, talking to Bob on the phone and by e-mail, talking to Kathy on e-mail from here... and on and on and on... actually finding myself sitting with the people who's names I have heard about and I've talked about... well, it was so overwhelming that I found myself in a state that I'm not sure I've ever experienced.

God was in that room with all of us – I felt him so strongly – telling me to pay attention because these wonderful women who do so much every day of the year were in my presense and I should sit up and take notice. I had finally found myself in this place that I'd only heard about and it was so real... finally.

Well, I guess I should sign off now. I just really can't say any more or add anything to it. These faithful women have touched me in a way that you couldn't know unless you've actually been here. It's only Day 2 and I'm already a different person. I thank God I'm having this experience. And I look forward to the next 5 days with wonderful anticipation. I'll write more tomorrow.

– Betty

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Day 1 - Des Moines to San Salvador

I am traveling with the Trinity United Presbyterian Church delegation from Indianola - 5 of my good friends - Mary MacKenzie, Denise Core, Larry Lepper, Blair Lawson and my pastor, Rev. Dave Endriss. This is a trip of a lifetime for me... having my airfare paid by Compañeros. My continued thanks goes to all of them for giving me this opportunity.

We were about a half hour late leaving Des Moines, after having our plane de-iced (remember - it was 1 degree that morning!) and then having to wait for the batteries in the plane to reach a certain temp. Really??? I guess even big planes have problems starting in the nasty Iowa weather!

After a long afternoon in Houston and 6 hours of walks and naps, we finally headed for San Salvador. We arrived on time and went right through Customs and got our luggage with no problems. We got out to the street to hugs waiting from our Mission Co-worker to El Salvador, Kathy Mahler - a wonderful welcome! However, something smelled funny when Blair was the last to join us... it seems as though we got to be the very first ones that had problems transporting coffee flavoring to El Salvador.

Those of you waiting for more Snickeroo coffee may have to wait a little longer, as a goodly part of that bottle ended up on Blair's clothes and soaked up his suitcase! Actually, we didn't lose too much... thank heavens, but it was a smelly ride to the guest house in San Salvador. (I think our driver, Alfredo, in the dark blue micro-bus marked Becky's Tours wondered what on earth Kathy had gotten him into! At the guest house, we were welcomed warmly by someone with a great name... Beti. It was a wonderful place and after some cold adult beverages, we were off to bed after a long day.

-Betty Dyer
Des Moines Presbytery Office Manager
and a member of the Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Indianola