Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 8

Day 8 - Standing in solidarity with our El Salvador brothers and sisters

This was a hard morning. We had to say good-bye to our delegation buddies. We have lived and breathed with them for the past 7 days and it’s going to be hard to be without them. After the obligatory delegation photo in front of the Pastoral House mural that appears on the front of the house, Larry Leper, Denise Core, Margaret Blair, Linda O'Connell and Betty 'Liz' Sandy were picked up at 8:30 a.m. by Alfredo in the white microbus – the same driver and vehicle that had brought us to this place.

That left us (Maurice and Betty Dyer), at the house with the pastoral team, Kathy Mahler, our fearless mission co-worker and Alisha Lundberg, who arrived the day before we did in San Salvador. Alisha is a native of Des Moines and the Westminster Presbyterian Church and has arrived down here for a 10-month stay to teach English at one of the local schools, along with the possibility of another school and private lessons. We had the privilege of having her join us for the week during all of our adventures. She was a true delight and we did so much enjoy her company and it felt like she’d been made an honorary delegation member.

No sooner had our delegation buddies left, then it was announced by Blanca that they were very sad to tell us that WE WERE GOING TO THE BEACH! They wanted us to have a relaxing day at the beach and honestly, not only did we need it, but I think they all did, too! We packed up everything needed for a day at the beach and headed to Usulutan where we just had a little farther to drive to the local beach.

It was unbelievably beautiful! We had our own little hut complete with mucho hammocks. We waded in the Pacific Ocean, got soaking wet and lounged to our heart’s content. We ordered lunch that came with giant fishies on our plates. We bought jewelry from the locals when the little girl showed up with her big eyes. We also bought from a gentleman who came with a larger variety of items.

We were home again by 5:00 p.m. and after finishing up our decorations for the Alejandria celebration on Thursday and we crashed. It had been a long day and a long week.

A big thank you goes out to the wonder members of the pastoral team here. Blanca, Cecilia, Idalia, Aminta, Balmore & Jesus.

They go so far above and beyond to make our visits great ones. What wonderful individuals they are and such dedicated ones! Who else would do the wonderful work that they do and not get paid for it?

And Kathy has outdone herself, yet once again. The relaxed way that she takes on any and all situations never ceases to amaze me. She has such a gift for doing the work that she’s doing here. We are so blessed to have her in this position representing all of us in the Des Moines Presbytery. If you have experienced her work first hand, then you already know what I mean. If you have not, ask anyone who has been on a delegation here.

Thanks to my wonderful traveling buddies for the past week: Larry Lepper, Denise Core, Margaret Blair, Linda O’Connell, Betty Sandy and the love of my life, Maurice Dyer. I can’t tell you how glad I am that he was able to come with me on this trip. I know that all of my traveling buddies, and especially Maurice, “get it.” They understand the importance of coming to El Salvador to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters here. ~Betty

Pictured above: Larry Lepper, Betty Sandy, Margaret Blair, Betty Dyer, Denise Core, Linda O'Connell and Maurice Dyer.

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 7

Day 7 – Trinity United Presbyterian Church El Salvador Delegation ,
by Larry G. Lepper

The day began with a wonderful breakfast prepared by Cecelia of the Pastoral staff. It consisted of scrambled eggs, fried plantains, beans and tortillas. Being Valentine’s Day, there was a card and small turtle toy at each place setting. They were from Betty Dyer to each of us. It was very thoughtful of Betty. The Pastoral team marched in with a gift for each of us. Each of us received candy and a small gift. It was a great breakfast.

Our schedule for the day was to visit two schools in or near Berlin. We gathered our gifts we had brought for the schools and prepared to leave. Before we could leave I went with Kathy Mahler to put gas in the truck. There are two gas stations in Berlin. The first one we visited is very close to the Pastoral House. As we pulled in the station attendant shouted “No gas!” So it was off to the other station where we purchased gas. One does not say “Fill ‘er up” but tells the attendant an exact dollar amount to put in the tank. Yes, it is full service. Kathy asked for $40 of gas. That $40 put 10.61 gallons into the tank. That’s $3.77 per gallon.

Then it was off to two schools. At the both schools we visited kindergarten, and first and second grades. Students either go in the morning or afternoon. Mornings were the younger children and afternoons older children. The first school had about 45 children in the morning and 45 in the afternoon. Kathy first introduced us with our Spanish names. Then Kathy asked each of them their name. They were a bundle of energy, just like kids everywhere. They counted 1 to 10 in Spanish and then we did also. Then they sang a song to us and we returned the favor with a simple rendition of “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands….” We then presented the teachers with gifts for the school consisting of white board markers, glue, permanent markers, jump ropes, crayons, craft supplies and coloring books. The children at the first school led us on a very short walk to their soccer field where they would play at recess. Being the dry season it was dusty and a little worn from all the little feet running over it. They were more fortunate than the second school which was right in the city and had a small paved play ground.

The second school had about 125 students. We visited both morning classes with the same procedure as the first school. Not as many school uniforms were evident in this school as the first. We assume the lack of uniforms was due to personal finances of the family.

We were struck by the dedication of teachers. They were trying to do so much with very limited resources. The children were like most random groups; some were natural leaders and others were quiet and reserved. The children were bursting with energy which we enjoyed.

After the school visits we returned to Casa Pastoral for a wonderful lunch of chicken, beans, fresh pineapple, fresh papaya, rice, onion salad and tortillas. Then it was off to the coffee finca (farm) to learn about growing, harvesting and processing coffee. Senor Evers was the coffee foreman who showed us around and explained the process. Not much was happening on the finca as the harvest was completed a couple of months ago. We saw the nursery where new coffee plants were being cultivated. Shade trees as well as cocao plants were also being raised. Some of the areas of the finca had both coffee and cocoa plants.

Coffee is grown in the shade of other trees. The larger trees protect the coffee plants from too much sun. The manager of the finca has to know the proper amount of shade required to produce the best coffee. Each coffee plant produces about 10 lbs. of coffee beans. Buds were now on the plants waiting for the rains to begin in April-May when they would bloom and produce this year’s crop. The crop can vary widely with this past year’s crop being about 3 times the previous year.

The coffee plant produces a fruit called “cherries”. Each cherry generally has 2 coffee beans although it is possible to have three. The first process is to pick the cherries, and this is done by hand. Only the ripe cherries are picked and harvest generally takes 2 pickings. The land where the coffee grows can be very steep so workers must walk around the plants to harvest the cherries. The cherries are taken to a central processing site where the hulls are removed leaving the beans. The beans are then spread on a concrete drying bed, where it takes about seven days to dry the bean for either roasting or storage. The dry beans can be stored for up to one year before roasting. We did find some cherries and put them into our mouth to taste. We chewed and did not detect a hint of coffee flavor. We also did the same with the dried coffee beans with the same results. The flavor we associate with coffee doesn’t develop until the bean is roasted.

After the finca visit we returned to the Casa Pastoral to rest before taking the pastoral team to a nice dinner in Alegria, as it is our last evening here. Alegria is located up the mountain from Berlin. Along the road up the mountain is a beautiful view of the Lempa River Valley. Several volcanoes could be seen in the distance. There were seven of us travelers plus six from La Casa Pastoral. We had all worked very hard together and shared many experiences during the week. Several toasts were made and a few tears shed as we will miss our new friends greatly. Tonight we pack for the trip home and head to the international airport in San Salvador in he morning. We have so many wonderful experiences we are anxious to share with the people of Iowa.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 6

Day 6 - Sunday at Casa de Zacate

This is the sixth day of our adventure in El Salvador, Betty "Lizbet" Sandy reporting. In case you are wondering why the unusual name, there are two "Bettys" in the El Salvador Delegation. It was confusing to call out Betty and get two responses at the same time. Since Maurice Dyer is here with his wife, Betty, I decided to use my legal given name, Elizabeth which is often "Lizbet" in El Salvador. So that's who's writing here.

Our schedule has been very full all week. We get up at 6 a.m., breakfast at 7 a.m., and today, we were on our way to the market in Berlin at 8:15 a.m. We walked the streets of Berlin about three square blocks and everything in the middle. There were stores, vendors, and farmers all selling their wares. Three-wheeled taxis were weaving in and out along with buses and large truck transports that were bringing people into the city from the villages. They have been up since dawn to cook and do chores and then walk to church and market.

At 8:40 a.m., we walked over to San Jose Catholic Church. We participated in the Mass as much as we could. We even sang two familiar songs including the chorus to the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" entitled "Gloria, Gloria, Hallelujah", and the chorus to "Amen" at a slower tempo in response to the conclusion of the Lord's Supper. It was beautiful to see the church fill up with people throughout the Mass before the Lord's Supper. It started out with about one quarter of the church filled, but by the time of the sacrament, the pews were full and totaled about 200. The service ended at about 10:45 a.m. Then we went to the market and bought a few things including pineapple which we ate at lunch.

Lunch started at Noon. We drank a fruitie drink with finely diced apples, pears, watermelon, and other fruits in water. It was delicious! We also had beef, potato and cheese casserole. The white cheese used is called "quesillo". It is delicious and lends itself to a rich but mild taste.

We regrouped and then left for Casa de Zacate. It took 45 minutes to an hour to drive seven miles over tarmac, cobblestone, and dirt roads with huge potholes and uneven ground. Riding in the back of the truck was a real challenge for us "gringos" who are not used to walking these mountains. The trip included a drop in altitude from 3,300 to 1,200 feet in seven miles.

Upon our arrival, we were met by Miguel, the President of the "Directiva" or Town Council. We were greeted and welcomed by the council. Miguel led us to the peoples' homes. They were nicely laid out in adjacent plots of land. It was rather quick and easy to reach the rest of the homes today. We met with 14 yesterday and about nine today. We also took a census on the people in each home to be able to determine who lived in each house, which children went to school and what grade they are in. We gave each family a hat for the man of the household and a homemade apron and card for the woman of the household. They were very grateful for our gifts of friendship and love.

After visiting all the homes, we again met with the Directiva and all the families. They thanked us for coming to visit them in their homes and learn about their people and customs and wants us to come again. Miguel said that we were the first group to visit them that were not a medical team. Again they thanked us and prayed God would get us home and back to our families safely.

We came home, had a delicious dinner. Then we had our devotions and then worked on decorations for a Celebration of the Completion of the Water Project and Electrification Project in Alejandria.

I'll end with a quote that I have heard Miguel and others say this week: "...these are my words, and that's all I have to say."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 5

Day 5 - The Ministry of the Poor.

I have the privilege of blogging today. My name is Maurice Dyer and I have the honor of being a member of the Trinity United Presbyterian Church delegation that has a sister parish relationship with Casa de Zinc. Even though I have been attending Trinity for 52 years this is my first trip to El Salvador. I have heard the stories and seen the pictures of previous trips by our delegations. I felt I was as prepared as I could be short of becoming fluent in Spanish.

I was not caught off guard nor by surprise by what I have seen. I was aware of the abject poverty of the people with which we were connected. The pictures and stories from previous delegations were accurate in their depictions.

Jesus spoke of the poor. His was a ministry to the poor. Sell all you have and give it to the poor he told the rich man. He spoke of women. His was a ministry to women, whether they were married, divorced, widowed, Samaritan or prostitutes. His was a ministry to women in a male dominated society.

Today, during our trip to Casa de Zinc I witnessed ministry to the poor. We met with the Directiva, sort of like a city council, to discuss progress they have made. Our delegation was party to a discussion, maybe a pep talk is a better way to define it delivered by Blanca, a member of the pastoral team. (She's pictured below with Betty.)

Blanca talked about the importance of communication, the need to support the members of the Directiva to help pay their expenses to attend meetings in Berlin, home of Casa de Pastoral, "The Pastoral House". It was decided that each of the 14 households in Casa de Zinc would pay $1 per month to help defray the costs for Directiva member.

But Blanca also talked about helping the poor because there is always someone who is worse off than they were. Each house in Casa de Zinc comes equipped with a dirt floor. Each house does not have running water. Each house does not have indoor plumbing. Each house has chickens or turkeys or cows or horses or hogs sharing the same dirt yard surrounding the house. A mangy dog or two is usually scrounging for scraps or simply lying in a depression to seek some coolness. Dust, dirt, weeds, trash and manure is all mixed into that area surrounding the house.

Chickens walk into the house were there is a wood burning stove that may or may not have a vent to the outside. Regardless the house usually has smoke filling the space. Laundry is hung outside on the barb wire fence. A dependable source of water may be miles away and must be procured daily. Yet, there is always someone worse off than they are, said Blanca.

Blanca talked about improving the life of each person in Casa de Zinc. She talked about getting out of the dust. She talked above improving the quality of life if, as brothers and sisters, they could work together as a family. Blanca spoke to the women telling them there was more they could do than simply gathering water, cooking meals, doing laundry and keeping quiet.

She knew this because she had at one time thought the only thing a woman could do was to care for the family, the laundry and prepare meals while carrying water. Today she was standing in front of the families telling them they could do better. The key to the success of this program is not so much telling people what to do but rather listening to their needs and then designing programs they can do to make improvements.

In each case people are empowered. In each case people are validated as a person, an individual. People may come to understand they have the ability to a make a difference in their lives. In this case this is ministry of the poor by women who volunteer their time. They do this ministry because they are dedicated and compassionate. In the course of their ministry they become empowered. The ministry of the poor. Remember, as Blanca says, there is always someone worse off that you.

In the United States non profit organizations sometimes fall under scrutiny for their lack of directing money to its intended purpose. The Pastoral Team watches very closely to insure contributions end up where they are supposed to. They watch for those individuals who may trying to milk the system in an attempt to get something for nothing. They watch the dynamics of the meeting of the Directiva attempting to see if anyone or any one group is attempting to run the show. They establish some expectations for the members of each community in a relationship with a congregation. This is truly mission.

As the women of the Pastoral Team conduct this work they are empowered. They gain confidence. As they gain confidence the mission of the church is enhanced. The ministry of the poor administered by women who display God's love daily in their work.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 4

Day 4 Trinity Presbyterian & Friends
by Linda O’Connell
It’s been a full day. After breakfast, we left at 8:30 a.m. to visit the canton of El Corozal to see the new church that’s being built. El Corozal is the sister parish of the Ankeny Presbyterian Church and they provided funds for the building of this church. It was a little over an hour to reach the canton in the pickup truck on roads that make the worst roads in Lucas County look like super highways.

We arrived at Corozal a little after 9:30am. The part of the church that is done is absolutely beautiful. It will be wonderful to be able to see it when it’s finished. The community even saved the bell from their old church that was destroyed during the war to put in their new church. As we walked up to it we saw several men working to spread concrete over the rocks they’d laid on the rock foundation.
They were mixing sand, cement, and water in the middle of the church, on a concrete slab where the altar will be. They put the mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow, and then take it to where they were working. We watched them work for a while and talked to them about how long it had taken them to get where they were (1 month thus far).

We discovered that there are 6 different teams of 9 men. Each team had a member of a different family so that all the families in the canton were represented in the construction of the church. All this is volunteer labor which made it particularly appropriate that they were mixing the concrete where the altar is. It truly was sacrificial work. The organization of the project was phenomenal as the boys carried water, younger men did the heavy lifting, while the older more experienced men did the paving -- teaching a trade to the next generation. The women do their part by cooking for the workers each day.

We went to visit one of the families and they insisted that we stay for lunch. It was about 10:15 a.m. when we got to their house, so they brought out hammocks and chairs for us to sit in while they cooked our dinner. The hospitality of the El Salvadorian people if amazing. They are such gracious people and so welcoming. How many people in the U.S. would invite 9 strangers into their homes? We were able to rest and relax while they prepared a delicious meal. I suspect that they had killed one of the free-range chickens that were running around in the yard.

After lunch we came back to the Pastoral House, took a quick siesta and headed out to a lagoon in Alegría. The lagoon is inside of a dormant volcano and the water in the lagoon is green. The water level is much higher than it normally is so most of the way we walked on the road that goes around the lagoon.

It was a wonderful walk. At one point we came to an area that the ladies of the Pastoral House pointed out to us. Bubbles were rising up through the water from the ground and the water was incredibly hot; so hot that you wouldn’t even want to take a bath in it. It was like a mini Yellowstone.

We came back to eat super at the Pastoral house The rest of the night was spent working on the care packages that the folks at the Indianola Trinity United Presbyterian Church have created for their sister community of Casa de Zinc. Tomorrow we will visit Casa de Zinc and deliver these packages. Then we will go to Casa De Zacate and meet the families. El Salvador is a beautiful country and I have enjoyed seeing the museums, historical sites and beauty of the country side. But I am looking forward to meeting the people and visiting in their homes.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 3

Day 3 - El Mozote Massacre
Today we traveled approximately 100 miles to the northeast to visit the village of El Mozote, where 1,070 men, women and children were massacred on Dec 11, 1981. The Salvadoran armed forces had been trained by the U.S. military. It was considered to be one of the worst atrocities in modern Latin American history. The purpose was to eliminate the rebel presence in the area, where there was a guerilla camp and training center. There was one lone survivor of the massacre. A member of the current community told the detailed story to us and Kathy interpreted. Blanca and Cecelia of the pastoral team lead a very moving memorial ceremony, as we gathered around the site where the children and babies were killed, now called the Garden of the Innocents.

From there, we traveled to Perquin to visit the war museum and leftover bunkers, bomb craters and recovered aircraft from this area that had broad popular support of the guerilla presence. The rugged landscape was thick with trees that provided cover from the military patrols. We also visited an actual guerilla encampment down the road. Many of our group went through one of the tunnels that is still there and crossed a suspension bridge, one by one. It was a very full, intense day, but so very important to learn more of the history of El Salvador and the events leading up to the Civil War and the peace agreement that was signed in 1992. We had a late lunch en route back to Berlin.

We again ended our day with a lively reflection time and devotions.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Trinity UPC Delegation & Friends - Day 2

Day 2 - Wed., Feb. 9, 2011
Today included a visit to the Parque Cuscatlan (Cuscatlan Park) in San Salvador to see the civilian war memorial naming those who lost their lives during the civil war of the 1980's. Then onto La Divina Providencia (a cancer hospital run by nuns) where Monsignor Oscar Romero lived and was martyred in 1980 while presenting the elements during communion. One of the nuns living at the Divina shared the details of Romero's life as he spoke out about poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture of the Salvadoran peoples. In part of the sister's narrative, she offered for us to stand behind the altar where Romero was standing when the hired assassin came thru the front doors of the chapel. This was a very touching experience for us. The image of Archbishop Romero is found everywhere in El Salvador, a testament to the greatness of this man.

We then travelled on across the vast city of San Salvador (2 million population) to the UCA (University of Central America) to a small museum dedicated to the memory of 6 Jesuit Priests, their housekeeper and her daughter who were executed by the soldiers in retaliation for speaking out against the human rights violations by the military.

From there, we went to lunch and visted artisan shops, beforing heading to Berlin. We got settled into our rooms and had a meeting with the Pastoral Team, exchanging greetings and discussing the week's plans. We end each evening with devotions and reflecting on the day's experiences.

Trinity UPC & Friends El Salvador Delegation - Day 1

Trinity United & Southcentral Regional Partnership Delegation - Day 1
Travelling to El Salvador from Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Indianola are Margaret Blair, Betty and Maurice Dyer, Larry Lepper and myself, Denise Core. Also, joining us are two pastors exploring a partnership between multiple Presbyterian churches and a caserio of Berlin - Rev. Betty Sandy from Clifton Heights Presbyterian Church in Des Moines and Rev. Linda O'Connell from Lucas and Chariton First Presbyterian Churches.

Where to start... at the beginning of the day when we met at the airport for our 5:55 AM flight. Our pastor, Rev. Dave Endriss was there to send us off! Flights were uneventful and we even got breakfast on the flight from Houston to San Salvador.

We were traveling the streets of San Salvador by 1:15 PM after we were retrieved at the airport by our Presbytery's Mission co-worker Kathy Mahler, Alisha Lundberg, and driver Alfredo. Alisha, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines, will be living at the Pastoral House for 10 months and teaching English in Berlin. She has a Masters of Social Work from the University of Iowa. And will be blogging about her experiences.

We dropped our luggage at the Los Pinos Guest House and change into our hot weather clothes since it was 90 + degrees (and 6 degrees below zero when we left Iowa). Our first stop was for history and scenery at Door of the Devil. A beautiful area named by the Spanish Catholics who opposed the religious practice of sacrifice rituals held in this area by the Mayan people. Then during the 1980's Civil War, the militia used it for massacres. Some of us hiked up uneven steps of stone to a high point where we could see the Pacific Ocean, Lake Ilopongo, San Vicente volcano, the village of Panchimalco and parts of the city.... through the haze. We had a wonderful treat of sipping fresh coconut milk direct from the shell, then had the shell split for us to enjoy the meat. Which is not as sweet and crisp as the ones we can get at home, but still tasty and quite refreshing!

After a short break at Los Pinos, we walked to a neighborhood restaurant El Sopo Tipico. We all had a variety of food that included pupusas, beans, rice, avocado, cheese, cilantro/tomato salsa AND a whole fish - way to go Maurice! Then we took a short walk to Pops for ice cream (in full view of Dunkin Donuts, China Wok, Burger King, and Wendy's)! It was a lovely evening for a walk and then a night's sleep with the five women in one room and one bathroom.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Spring Rummage Sale/Fall Craft Fair are Great Avenues for Fund Raisers

This idea comes from a former music director of the Ottumwa First Presbyterian Church, Gail Masinda.
In these days of tight budgets, being good stewards of our resources is more important than ever. My husband John and I are exhibiting/selling our photography at art shows (, and apparently others in the area know about us. I received an e-mail from a local church asking if we would be interested in their craft fair. They open up their facilities (could be a fellowship hall, a gym, etc.) to crafters and home businesses (Avon, Scentsy, etc.) and ‘rent’ tables at $15 for an 8 ft. table (plus the area behind the table, about 4 ft. deep). The ‘show’ runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The ladies of the church serve lunch (as a fund raiser) to the public. There will be a bake sale as well. All proceeds from the food they sell and the table rental goes towards youth and mission projects. All proceeds from goods sold by each vendor goes to that vendor. Each vendor is asked (as an option) to donate an item for door prizes.
Another area church does a similar thing, but their fund raiser is an outdoor rummage sale. 10'x10' spaces are ‘rented’ on the church grounds and each person brings whatever rummage sale type items they want to sell. Again, the proceeds from the space rental goes toward church.
In both of these examples, the person renting the space is responsible for the setup, display, and tear down of their space. The costs to the church are minimal, since overhead has to be paid whether the facilities are being used or not. Advertising of the event is done by the hosting church. Spaces are available to church members and non-members.
The church raises dollars through space rental and food sales. They gain local recognition from their advertising. People who may have never been to the church before now know where it is. Greeters can be powerful witnesses to hospitality, openness and acceptance. All of this from using resources already owned by the church. Now that’s good stewardship!