Tuesday, November 16, 2010

El Salvador Saturday November 13

Our last day in El Salvador began with a simple breakfast of scrambled eggs, refried beans, toasted rolls and a tamale (most tasty with honey). Our scheduled back-of-the-truck trip to the lagoon at Allegria was nixed for the opportunity to head up to Berlin central for morning shopping, people watching and the possibility of a stop in at the Ice Cream Store… Kathy and the delegation made our way the few blocks to the square where the street vendors were recently set up. Earrings became severely picked over within a matter of minutes. The group soon left the square to tour, photograph and enjoy the sights of the store owners, vendors and architecture which is unique to the community. We were reacquainted with people we had met on a previous trip and lots of hugs and well wishes were exchanged. I bought some local CD’s to play in the car and others picked up a small variety of items for themselves and friends at home. Four of our group had decided to head back to the pastoral house and with Kathy’s permission split off from us with the understanding to go straight there… Jennifer, our Spanish speaking delegate was with them so they wouldn’t have any problems… The rest of the entourage soon headed back and thought that a quick stop in at the Ice Cream Store would be a great idea.. and who should we find but the four that had left before us… BUSTED…. Lots of laughs and giggles this morning…Back at the Pastoral House we finished packing, downloaded camera memory chips and tried to copy a CD for Kathy so she could have our pictures too. Soon lunch was ready and we had our final House meal for the trip.. my favorite… a kind of enchilada.. a flat crispy tortilla with refried beans, avocado, hardboiled egg, tomato, lettuce and cheese… very tasty and light…. Ummmm… I had three. We soon had our van transportation waiting out front (early!!!) and quickly loaded our gear, ourselves and a group of the Pastoral House and their relatives for the trip to San Salvador to experience the 21st anniversary of the martyrdom of the 6 Jesuit Priests, a housekeeper and her young daughter. The army of the government had surrounded the campus of the UCA (University of Central America) in 1989 and killed and maimed these administrators and teachers. Their deaths were a turning point in the civil war as this tragedy was the trigger that made the United States discontinue its support of the existing government and push the two factions to end hostilities. The tranquil campus, beautiful sand art paintings which covered the streets, a candle light procession behind tall swaying palm branches gave each of us the opportunity to reflect on what had happened not so long ago. Before we had the opportunity to join the procession we all shared a pupusa dinner on the grass lawn outside the Romero Museum where many items have been preserved from that terrible night when 8 innocent people died. At the end of the candlelight march a mass was held (in Spanish) at the campus soccer field. Large screens were set up so that the estimated 5000-7000 people could see the stage set up at one end of the stadium. Our team sat on the concrete or laid in the grassed area which surrounded the large group gathered. Toward the end of the mass there was kind of a group hug… people from around where were sitting started hugging each other and us and saying …”Peace Be With You”… very nice, unexpected…. As we were to head back to our overnight stay at “Casa Antigua” we said our goodbyes to the Pastoral House team (more hugs) and wound our way back to Alfredo and the van. As we were all very tired and would be getting up very early to head to the airport a quick “turn in” was in order… A beautiful day to end a wonderful week in El Salvador.

Posted by Mark McAdoo

El Salvador Friday November 12

Friday November 12, was our second “very” special day going door to door in the Canton of Corozal. We took our delegation, most of our pastoral team and even picked up extra “folks” who needed a ride to Corozal. I say “picked up” because literally when folks are riding (standing up) in the back of our sturdy truck, they hang on for dear life even though they know that Kathy’s driving skills have been honed for this precious cargo.

One thing that strikes me most about Corozal is the vast contrast between the abundant beauty of the countryside and the extreme poverty we see. I quickly stopped thinking of myself as being a middle-class person and took myself to the top of the “rich” immediately. I consider myself to be well travelled and this is, without a doubt, the most beautiful country that I’ve ever seen.

This is our second day of delivering our colorful 27 pound tubs of basic staples door to door. Door to door, by the way, is not at all what I had envisioned. Door to door in Corozal can mean up or down a steep incline of red dirt, dust or mud, depending on the day. Deep ruts and holes abound as does the people’s gracious hospitality.

One more thing about our door to door process; the Directiva (members of the leadership team in Corozal) and the Pastoral team have organized, gone out and worked before we got there to get the tubs as close to the home as they could. Some of them work as “spotters” encouraging us to head “this way or that”…children grab our hands and join our walk making us look rather like we’re The Pied Piper. All the people that we think we’re serving, are in reality serving us. They made our job look easy.

The second home we visited today surprised us by saying that a 3 day old baby was inside the (mud and stick) house sleeping with his mother. They invited us to take a look and Brenda immediately spied one of the orange blankets that we had made (by APC Bible School) and a previous delegation passed out to the families a couple of years ago. On the blanket were the words “Jesus Loves Me”. Later that day I caught sight of another one of those blankets used to cover the top of a box to help make an altar.

There is a part of me that can look into the eyes of these beautiful people and be happy and grateful to God. There is another part of me that makes me hold my breath, grit my teeth, and do anything to stop myself from weeping at the awful poverty they live in. I know that we’re delivering food, drink, and love to these people and I hear them say, time and time again, that they hope…really hope, and pray we’ll return on another trip. This is one offer I’ll not refuse.

Our delegation of 8 from APC has been very gracious to me letting me ride in the cab of the truck, rather than having to stand in the back and hold on to the railings. A young man, Alejandro, has taken Kathy’s place as our driver. Kathy tells us that he is the brother of Cecilia and has been trained by Kathy to drive us around this beautiful obstacle course that they call the road. This young driver is as earnest as they come and so very careful to keep us safe.

We finished delivering our baskets by noon and were lead back again to “David’s house” for a lunch of rib soup with vegetables, meat, and a good sized hunk of tasty cheese, fresh green beans, watermelon, grapes, and apples. Gatorade turned out to be a most healthful and reviving drink for me personally.

After our lunch, the Directiva began their meeting with us. The team of people, 14 in all, was organized, specific, thoughtful, articulate and resourceful in their conversation and suggestions for us. Jennifer, Brenda’s daughter translated for us and Kathy helped to specify when extra description was necessary. They had flow charts already mapped out, neatly drawn for us and went through their thinking in great detail. We asked questions as we went along and their answers were thoughtful, direct and complete. A detailed description of the meeting was written down and will be available to everyone who is interested.

Once the meeting concluded we were driven to the sight of our celebration with them. Our mission team at APC generously allowed us the funds to serve an early supper to all the families, leadership, and people of Corozal.

The celebration began with music, 3 stringed instruments, percussion and a keyboard. After the first song, Blanca and Balmore (of our pastoral team in Berlin) gave speeches concerning God and our walking in solidarity with our friends. Their words were carefully chosen and gratefully accepted by the men and women of Corozal. Children either sat or played quietly in respect while the meeting proceeded. Marcia spoke to the families and told them how our family church at APC appreciated and prayed for them. She told them how grateful we were for all the work and organization they had done since our last visit.

The delegation and pastoral team then announced they were ready to serve the meal and the crowd of over 200 lined up: children, then women, young men, elders, and finally their leadership to partake in an early dinner. Many families took their food home to save or give to a family member who couldn’t make the trip. The 3-day old baby was obvious at the celebration…doing quite well and still wrapped up in his orange blanket.

Music and dancing were served up after dinner and at this point it seemed as if they were the singers and we were the dancers. Either way, we shared in celebrating and felt warmly and graciously received. Blanca and the team packed up leftovers and encouraged us to “Vamos”…time to go, so as to have some daylight as we road back to our pastoral home in Berlin.

Posted by Debi Garner

Friday, November 12, 2010

El Salvador Thursday Nov 11, 2010

Today was a special day because we visited our partner community, Corozal. It takes us a little over an hour to go the 12 miles to the community. We hold on tight standing in the back of the truck as Kathy drives over cobbled roads and tries to avoid the ruts. We are traveling down the mountain from Berlin so we have a few hairpin curves along the way. At this time of the year the view is beautiful. The countryside is very green and there are many flowers in bloom. During part of the trip we were led by a bright blue butterfly.

It was very exciting to see some of the new homes as we came into Corozal. When we were here in March 2009 REDES a NGO from Luxemburg had provided the materials for new block homes for some of the families. They will provide much more protection than their old homes. The old homes are still being used especially for cooking.

We are always so happy to see each other. They gather to meet us and play music to welcome us. It is a very heartwarming time. We enjoyed singing with them and they seemed to enjoy watching us try to follow the actions of the song being sung in Spanish.

After the welcoming ceremony we began delivering baskets to each family. The families are very happy that we visit their homes and make us feel very welcome. Some had welcome signs and one had balloons decorating the door.

We took a break and had lunch at David’s home. It was a delicious lunch with chicken, rice, salad, watermelon and fresh tortillas. They are always such gracious hosts.

After lunch we continued our visits to each home. As we passed the school we heard music that gave us an extra burst of energy. Today was the last day of school and we went over to help them celebrate. Some of us enjoyed dancing with them. It is nice to recognize some of the kids we have met on previous visits.

It was a beautiful day even though it did get a little warm at times. One family had a little store and when we left their home the owner gave us each a can of peach nectar which we really enjoyed. We delivered baskets to 34 families and finished around 4:30.

We were all very tired as we climbed into the back of the truck for our ride back to Berlin. It is not nearly as dusty as it is in March but a cold bucket shower still felt great.

What a happy day to spend with our friends in Corozal. We are looking forward to another day in Corozal tomorrow.

Posted by Brenda Schumann

Thursday, November 11, 2010

El Salvador Wednesday Nov 10

We woke up at our home in Berlin with the chicken cackles and the rumble of trucks just a few feet from my head. Who knew how restful the sounds could be? Some began their day with goose pimple showers and coffee. Jennifer eventually climbed from her bunk with the story of how the dip in her bed caused her to dream she lay in a boat. Of course, her bunk became “the boat” to her roommates.

Since our driver, Alfredo, stayed the night at La Casa Pastoral, he was ready, before some of the rest of us, to drive us to Perquin bright and early. We all marvel at his driving ability. We reached the massacre site of El Mozote in good time, though we had a traffic jam of sorts. Early in our journey, a semi truck of scrap metal had over turned on one of the curves and dumped the messy load on the two lane highway. Our thoughts all turned to potential victims, as well as those charged with clean up.

El Mozote is a caseria (small rural village) in the canton of Guacamaya with the town of Meanguera. We heard an interpretation of the story related by Rufina Amaya Marquez, the only survivor. She told anyone who would listen of the systematic murders of the entire community, 85% of whom were children. Changes have taken place at the massacre site since some delegates had last been there, and some of us visited for the first time. A silhouette statue of four people stands before a wall listing every family. The guide called this the beginning of the civil war. “Here are the shadows of death,” she said.

A new church is built beside the old church. The old had been burnt down, with the men inside, during the massacre. Part of the floor, bases for two columns, and the baptismal fount still remain. On one side of the church, a mural depicting the story of the community was painted three and a half years ago. On the opposite side, in the place where the children were kept and killed, they maintain a rose garden. The church wall on that side hosts another mural as well as plaques with the names and ages of each child.

Standing at the sobering site, the pastoral team led a memorial service with hymns, the reading of Psalm 10 (so perfect for this time!) and a homily. Balmore said, “We need to keep in our minds the deaths of children, women, and men who died here so the ideals of the impoverished can transform the country.”

From there, we drove to Perquin and the Museo De La Revolution SalvadoreƱa. This site had been the “Capitol of the Revolutionaries.” Among other things, we learned the importance of the revolutionaries’ radio station to their cause. They showed us some ingenious ways they escaped the army’s attention. We also saw a hole left by a 500 lb. (U.S. supplied) bomb.

A guerilla encampment is maintained for visitors near the museum. Kathy challenged our fears by making us crawl down into a foxhole, and crossing not one, but three suspension bridges. Between the claustrophobics and the acrophobics we had fun laughing at one another.

We ate a late lunch high on a hill in Perquin at a restaurant called Perkin Linca. The staff graciously waited for us to leave before heading home themselves. For supper, we had my favorite, pupusas with bean and cheese filling followed by a trek to the ice cream store in the recently revamped square. A futball game gathered a large crowd around their ground on the basketball court beside the church.

Back to La Casa for reflection time, and a video of Rufina Amaya (El Mozote survivor) telling her own story as she walked around the village where she had returned to finish her life. We had witnessed her grave earlier in the day. Who among us would be strong enough after her awful experiences to speak of it ever again, each time bringing the horrific events to the front of her thoughts?

“[Oh, Lord you will] do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more.” Psalms 10:18

Posted by Becky McKee

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

El Salvador Tuesday, November 9, 2010

We arrived safely in San Salvador last night. Our trip from Iowa was uneventful. The 10-hour lay-over in Houston gave everyone time to relax, walk, sit in the sun and share humor and stories. Aside from our long lay-over, there were no plane delays, no lost luggage and only one person was momentary delayed by the red “Alto” stoplight as we progressed through the Custom’s process. All in all, a great travel day.

We spent our first night at the Casa Antigua guest house in San Salvador. Tuesday morning dawned with a gorgeous sunrise and we started the morning with a traditional Salvadoran breakfast of huevos (eggs), arroz (rice), frijoles (beans) and frito (fried) bananas. Mucho delicioso!

Our journey today had our delegation visiting historical sites in San Salvador. All of us piled into the Microbus and Alfredo, our driver, took us to the Divina Providencia, Parque Cuscatlan, and the the University of Central America (UCA).

The Divina Providencia is a Catholic cancer hospital. Monsignor Oscar Romero lived on these grounds and it was in the hospital’s chapel that he was assassinated while blessing the host during a special mass. We spent time in the chapel and his home, reflecting on his life’s work of addressing oppression. Though he served all, his heart was with the plight of the poor.

Back in the microbus, we then headed for the Parque Cuscatlan to view the Wall of Memory and Truth. The wall depicts the history of El Salvador and the names of those who were killed during the period of unrest and including through the war that ended in 1991.

The wall sits within a beautiful park setting. The park was busy. It was such a beautiful day to spend time in the park. Foliage is lush and green. Poinsettias (which are as large as trees here) and other flowers are blooming. The grass is green.

We climbed back into the microbus and headed for the UCA. The campus is bustling with students and many visitors. Here we spend time in the museum learning more about the role the UCA played during the Civil War and the eventual massacre of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. We will return on Saturday to participate in the March to commemorate the lives of these Jesuits.

Our last stop in San Salvador is the Artisan Market for lunch and a little shopping. It is a two hour ride to Berlin. The Pastoral Team was waiting for our arrival and greeted us warmly.

We settled in and met with the women of the Pastoral Team before dinner. Listening to Blanca, Cecilia and Otillia eloquently share their passion for their work and their devotion to God was very moving. It is an honor to be able to work with this great team.

There were many emotions today. Thankfulness, excitement, sadness, tears, humility, laughter. Tomorrow there will be more as we experience the war museum in Perquin and the memorial site at El Mozote.

Posted by,
Carla Yeager

Ankeny Presbyterian in El Salvador

Buenos dias from Berlin, El Salvador! Eight members of a delegation from Ankeny Presbyterian Church are spending the week of November 8-14, 2010 in El Salvador. Watch this blog for updates on the daily activities of our team as we watch, learn, interact, and walk with our partners on the Pastoral Team and our partner community of Corozal. Each day a different member of our delegation will share highlights of our days with you. Our days are full and are hearts and spirits get very full as well. Check back again soon!

Marcia McAdoo