Thank You El Salvador For Being Our Light

The twelve of us left the airport at 5:45 am last Saturday, some as acquaintances, some as friends…but we arrived back in Detroit tonight as a family, hermanos y hermanas in Christ. At times, this week was challenging, frustrating, and confusing, but ultimately it was an incredible experience, full of happiness and joy. In El Salvador one does not have to look far to find poverty and suffering, but one does not have to look nearly as far to find hope, strength, community, and love. We were welcomed with open arms by Sister Gloria, Miguel, Don Miguel, and the entire community of Las Delicias, and they showed us what it means to love unconditionally and be joyful despite the circumstances. At the beginning of the week, it was difficult to figure out why exactly we were there. We saw so much suffering and so many needs; it was overwhelming. If you have been reading this blog, you are familiar with the story of the boy and the starfish. After a few days, we realized that all we could was be like that little boy throwing starfish back into the ocean one at a time. It is easy to be consumed by our inability to solve the problems of El Salvador, and that can blind from finding the hope and love amidst the despair. We cannot do everything; we cannot solve the world’s problems. But, as in the prayer of Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something and to do it well.” This week, we could not do everything, but we could love the people of Las Delicias and build the foundation for the nurse’s office and do that well. It seems that once we realized that, we had a better understanding of what it means to love. We understood our mission. “This is what we are about. We plant the seeds that one day will grow.” And that is all we can do. Gracias El Salvador, por ser nuestra luz. Thank you El Salvador, for being our light.

-Anna J. and Kaitlin

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Let us go walking to find God.

Tomorrow morning we make the long journey back to the states. We don’t want to leave! This whole week has been a challenging, rewarding, and amazing experience.

This country and its people are an inspiration. Despite everything that it has been through (the war, lack of jobs, poverty) there is so much hope and pride. Every person that I have met are proud to be Salvadoran. Every person that I have met has welcomed me like I was their family.

The most inspirational people I have met live here, specifically the children and Don Miguel.

The children know that we will soon be gone in a week yet they open up their hearts. They love you and open themselves up to you even though they know that a week later you will be gone. If everyone could love like that the world would be such an amazing place.Their smiles are heart warming. To be able to smile, laugh, play, and love after everything that they have been through is  such a joyful thing to witness.

 

Don Miguel has also been a huge inspiration. To willingly open up your heart to 12 complete strangers and tell his life story takes a lot of courage and love. Despite everything that he saw during the way his forgiveness of the soldiers and government and love for everyone is a model to live by. It is hard to even begin to explain how wonderful this man is.

“Juntos como hermanos, miembros de una iglesia. Vamos caminando, al encuentra del Senior.”

Together as brothers and sisters, members of one church. Let us go walking to find God.

El Salvador from the plane on our way in

I have fallen in love with these people and this country. I do not want to leave! In fact if we missed our plane tomorrow afternoon I wouldn’t mind!

Good bye El Salvador. I WILL be back.

~Jacklyn

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Quick thoughts for the last day.

Here we are, it’s our last day and you always know the time will fly, however you are never prepared for the end.  For going back to the routine of life. There is always such focus, clarity, and drastic attention to God on a missions trip.  It is my prayer this morning that our group finishes the week strong, and that as we return to our daily lives we can better serve God and his people.

Here is a video of Don Miguel’s prayer at the end of the day yesterday:

Mateo Duffy

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We are prophets of a future not our own.

 

It was nice to see a physical difference in the work site today. We started to pour concrete and although it was difficult to do it was encouraging to see the results of all of our hard work.

Earlier this week I had been struggling with why I was here. It had seemed like we, in the grand scheme of things, were not making that  big of a difference. Yes a foundation for a health clinic is important. But for three days all we had dug were holes, more holes, and twisted some wire. I personally do not remember a whole lot from when I was ten years old let alone younger, what difference will our presence in these children’s’ live for a single week make.This prayer showed up as the opening day prayer and the evening reflection prayer. It is a prayer by Oscar Romero.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction
of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation
in realizing that. This enables us to do something,
and to do it very well. It may be incomplete,
but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference
between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.

After laying down some of the concrete for the foundation and having an amazing time with the kids I couldn’t help but feel like I was doing something good. I probably wont see the finished clinic or the children after this week. However I planted some seeds and watered some seeds that were planted by the volunteers before me. I can only hope that because of our work here that the people can have a better future. In the grand scheme of things, it may be small. One starfish at a time.

When we got back to the house we had the honor of watching some local El Salvadorian students dance some traditional dances. It was entertaining and also gave us a taste of the local culture. Afterwards they had dinner with us and we got to chat with some of them. It was interesting to trying to communicate with people our age when both of us only knew un poco of the other language. That being said using what spanish I knew and using lots of hand motions we were able to have a very enjoyable dinner.

Tomorrow is our last day here. Crazy that it has gone by so fast. We have a lot of work to do and I am excited to finish the foundation to the clinic. Good night!

 

~Jacklyn

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It Made A Difference To That One

Another great day…Kelly had the wonderful opportunity to visit with the community she worked with when she spent five months here a few years ago.
After our workday, we visited the University of Central America, a Jesuit university here in El Salvador. The UCA is where six Jesuits and two of their housekeepers were brutally murdered during the civil war. We visited a very special place called ” The Rose Garden”, where they all were shot and killed. It provoked sadness just from looking at it, but it also inspired hope because there were initially 8 rose bushes planted and now there are many more being planted to symbolize all the other numerous lives lost during this horrific time here in El Salvador.
Reflection lasted about two hours tonight. A lot of us are struggling with what it means for us to be here and how we are going to allow this experience to change the rest of our lives. After visiting the UCA this afternoon, we were all reflecting on what it means to suffer. After we all spoke about our “yays” and “woes” both Mr. Grabow and Kelly told this very beautiful story of the starfish in the sea. It goes like this:
One day when the tides swooshed past the shore it left the wandering starfish washed up, but all of the starfish soon died because the tide did not come back quick enough to carry them back into the sea. So there was this little boy who was there and he began throwing starfish back into the sea. While he is throwing starfish an older man comes up to him and asks “Why are you throwing these little starfish back into the sea when there are still thousands dying at similar beaches every day? What you are doing does not make any difference.” And after picking up another starfish and throwing it into the ocean the boy replied, “It matters to that one!” We must keep in mind that it does not matter if we cannot help everyone, it matters if we help one because it starts one at a time. El Salvador is one of our starfish. God Bless!

Written by Estephanie Tinsley and Mateo Duffy

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L.I.F.E.

The physical labor in El Salvador that we all signed up for has been very intense. We are using our willing hands to help build a place for a local nurse in a small village of El Salvador to see older patients.

On the first day (Monday), we moved rocks that were on and around the area of land that the facility will be built on. We also began digging a trench for the foundation of the facility. Our bodies were not use to swinging an axe or using a shovel to dig a trench; however, we managed to make it through the long day, and we drank a lot of water because the climate and temperature causes us to sweat a lot.

For myself, I find a lot of energy being with the group of people who came with me on this trip because they really want to be here, and help in the process. When one person is tired, others pick up the slack and take a load of the work, which gives the other person time to rejuvenate. We have those moments where we crack jokes, speak a little bit of Spanish, or sing songs that most of us know. I have really enjoyed myself in the process of getting to know the members of our team, and I find that in the process of serving others, I am being served by getting to know the people that I came with to El Salvador and receiving the opportunity to learn about the Salvadorian people.

What a great experience so far, and I am loving every moment of it.

L.I.F.E. (Living In Faith Everyday)

 

Adam Harris

Wednesday, May 2nd (4:30am El Salvador time)

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Good Prayer and Good Fun!!!

Today was such a great day! The drive to Las Delicias is about 35-40 minutes, and about 10 of those minutes are through the dirt roads that lead to the village.  While on those dirt roads, we came across a Salvadoran woman and her young daughter.  She needed help because her daughter had cut her leg badly, and the mother only had a scarf to cover it.  Having a few medical students in our group, they were the first to come to the rescue.  Unfortunately, the cut was too severe and probably needed stitches. We are not sure how she got to the hospital, but we are confident that Miguel and Sister Gloria made sure that she got the help she needed.  It was a very humbling experience because it made us realize how lucky we are to have access to hospitals and medical care while others have to make a decision between paying for a hospital visit or paying for food for the week.

The weather was amazing today, and we started off with a prayer with Don Miguel that totally made us smile and want to work harder. Once we returned to Las Delicias at 8am the children were so happy to see us and they recognized us from the previous days so we got to work! For the morning, six of us (Jacklyn, Mr. Grabow, Tom, Adam, Anna J., and Dr. Presbey) made puppets and played soccer with the kids and six of us (Matt, Stephanie, Kelly, Anna S., Andrew, and Kaitlin) worked on the clinic outside with Don Miguel.  The six of us had the opportunity to pray and sing with Don Miguel before we started to work, and we all agreed that it was an incredible way to start our day.  Although he was speaking in Spanish and Kelly was translating, we almost did not need it because we truly felt what he was saying.  His song was genuinely beautiful and simple.  Translated, “Give us hearts big enough to love, and give us the strength to continue the struggle.”  We are thankful for his words and the way we are inspired by him to continue to work and love.  Muchas gracias Don Miguel!

 

After eating lunch, the teams switched roles for the remainder of the day.  One thing in particular Kaitlin, Kelly, Matt, and I put on was the obstacle course outside for the kids in the afternoon. We put out both red and green cones to separate the teams and different activites for the kids to compete in until they reached the finish line. To start they had to spin around ten times until they were nice and dizzy then at the next cone was the jump rope. Not everyone could jump rope, but it was funny to watch! After the jump rope came more spinning and then bowling, needing to knock all three pins down before progressing. Once the pins were down they had to run as fast as they could, touch down and run to the finish line! To see the looks in their eyes was enough to make us smile for a thousand years.  Kaitlin and I had our teams while Kelly and Matt kept score and rooted for both the teams. They also kept order while Kaitlin and I showed our competitive sides with our teams. In the end Stephanie’s team of seven won leaving the other kids fuming with “sore loser syndrome”, but it did teach them to be team players (sort of).

~Stephanie Tinsley & Kaitlin Avery
Dinner was amazing, and we are very fortunate and grateful to have people taking very good care of us while we are here.  Dinner is always a great time for us to share our experiences from the day and build our relationships with each others.   After dinner, the designated dish washers and table setters cleaned and prepared for breakfast.  Mr. Grabow will be making scrambled eggs tomorrow morning which will be a nice follow up to the banana pancakes we had this morning.  Yum! After dinner, we had our reflection.  This is a great time for all us to think about the way our experiences are affecting us.  Our reflection tonight started with the prayer of St. Theresa.  This prayer serves as an excellent example of how we should act here and when we return home.  “Christ has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on Earth but yours…Yours are the eyes through which he looks, compassion on this world; Christ has no body now but yours.”  We are the body of Christ, and we are here to be His hands and feet.  We will keep this prayer in mind throughout the week and throughout the rest of our lives as we try to make meaning of our lives as children of God.

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We have had a wonderful time staying at this guest house run by Sr. Gloria. In the dining area, where we have been eating delicious meals including my favorite, Whisquil relleno, there is a big mural which features Oscar Romero.

From all this good food we’ve had the energy to do the work that we have been doing. The construction crew worked hard today.

The rest of us “worked” hard playing with the children of Las Delicias. The best part for me was playing twister, using my Spanish vocabulary, such as it is, to play the game: izquierda, derecho, mano, pied, roja, azul, amarillo, verde…

It was a lot of fun, but the sad statistics are that in this area, 65 percent of households are headed by a single woman, who must struggle to support her children. This is partly because, there are no jobs for the men, so they find it hard to support a family.

Sr. Gloria has been giving us a lot of background on the struggles of the Salvadorans. When CAFTA was passed, the price of coffee went down dramatically, due to competition with other countries. Also, since the US pays farmers not to grow crops, or buys their surplus, staples like corn are cheaper in the US and this undercuts the price the Salvadoran farmer can get for corn. While there were maquilas here which offered jobs, they wouldn’t employ people over 35 years of age, and, many of them have moved on to China and places where the wages are even lower. Here in El Salvador the minimum wage is $8 a day, recently raised 1 1/2 years ago from the earlier $6 a day. At this wage, people can barely afford health care. Even education is expensive. While classes are free, you have to wear shoes, and not all can afford them. You have to pay fees to sit for an exam and a host of other small fees.

The orphanage we visited yesterday, Orphanage of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, was filled with children who, while they may have still had parents, were not able to be cared for by those parents due to extreme poverty, neglect, or in some cases abuse. So the Sisters take care of the children. Jacqueline and Anna made puppets with them.

We learned a lot from Gene Palumbo, a journalist who also teaches in the Casa de la Solidaridad program affiliated with the UCA, the Jesuit university in San Salvador. He told us about the history of El Salvador leading up to the current situation. He gave an overview, starting with the 19th century when Great Britain was paying good money for indigo. That led some to covet land so they could make money on the indigo crop. They pushed indigenous people off their land. When the market for indigo died down, the demand for coffee went up, and the land-hungry businesspeople now coveted the sides of volcanoes and high area where coffee grew well – but that was where the indigenous people had moved to in order to avoid the indigo plantations. For years and years there was a cry for land reform but the government — sometimes a military dictatorship, sometimes a government that portrayed itself as democratic but one that did not allow opposition to the ruling party — always let the people down. As long as land was not reformed, many people were starving and desperate. It finally led to civil war in 1981, which went on for 11 years. During this time leading up to and during the war, the US missed many opportunities to encourage peaceful and just alternatives in El Salvador. After the war, a report authored by a Truth Commission including a Law Professor from Catholic University, members from South Africa etc., said that 75,000 people had been killed, and 85 percent of the deaths were committed by the Salvadoran military, 7 percent from the guerrillas, and 8 percent were unclear as to the cause of death. The US had heavily funded the Salvadoran military during this time. That gave us some real insight into the depth of suffering that the Salvadoran people have been through these past decades. It also gave me a feeling of responsibility to address the issue of all the harm they had suffered. There has been peace since 1992, but there is the ongoing struggle with poverty as well as the emotional and psychological wounds of the war.

We have also been learning about the Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was killed in 1980. He was a man for peace. We were able to visit his tomb in the crypt of the church, and offer our prayers there for the people of El Salvador, and that he would be a guiding light to us during our time here.

And tonight we are watching the film “Romero,” a very good film that tells his life story.

We have been lucky to have as a guide on our week’s construction a man who was close to Oscar Romero. Miguel had been a Seminarian for the years of 1977-81, and Romero had been his teacher. We prayed together at the end of the day’s work. He asked us, who will speak out for the poor?

Gail Presbey

 

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Even a smile can make a difference…

Her name is Ruth, and even though I can’t speak Spanish, I could tell I made a difference for that moment in her life.

For our last stop of the day on Sunday, we visited an orphanage in El Salvador. What a moment of anticipation and excitement it was for me because I know that when I am with children, I become a free individual who enjoys engaging in that very moment in time with them. We decided to choose what activities we would engage in with the children before we left the volunteer housing center, and my activity was sports (physical activity/basketball). As we pulled up to our destination, it was then that I began to say to myself, “Adam…you can not speak Spanish…how will you be able to engage with the children if you can’t communicate with them?”

As I remembered back to my time and experience in Brazil, I reminisced that I didn’t know the Portugese language of that country either; however I managed to learn enough, and use a combination of hand gestures to get my point across. Luckily, we have members in our group who speak Spanish, and this made many of my encounters much easier.

There was one young lady that I encountered while taking a break from playing basketball and to get some water that I noticed who had this indifferent look on her face while she was sitting at a table where children were coloring. As I was drinking my water, she would look at me with the same facial expression, and at first I didn’t know what to do. Again, I can’t speak Spanish, but I did manage to say, “Hola!”

After a few minutes passed, I decided to smile at her, and I noticed that she would turn her head to avoid me seeing her smile. When I noticed this, I turned the game into one of the world’s favorite games of “Hide and Seek”. I would take my hat and put it over my head, and remove it at times to show that I was still paying attention to her. I noticed that she really enjoyed this and that she would smile every time I would do this.

About an hour later, when I decided to return to the court, I saw that she wanted to play basketball. When she picked teams, I was playing against her and she chose our driver to be on her team with another young girl. How much fun we had playing, and she was pretty good for her age.

After our game, I gave her a high five and before we left I had many of the children to sign my hat that I brought on the trip to remember them when I returned to the housing center. But for this particular young girl named Ruth, as I was getting ready to get into the van to depart from the orphanage, I signaled to her with my hat and a marker for her to sign my hat and she would be the last one for that day to do so. She agreed to do it, and she had some words for me that I didn’t get translated so that I would understand what she said.

As I look back on that experience, the funnest part for me during those moments was making Ruth smile without knowing how to communicate her language. During that time she allowed me to enter her precious space and have fun with her, and I will never forget her smile neither everything between our game of “Hide and Seek” and leaving the orphanage for the day. I was truly blessed and privileged to meet her, and I will never forget her.

My point – Make someone smile today!!! And even if you can’t speak their language, you can make a difference in someone’s life, and in your own life.

Ruth made me smile. She made a difference in my life that I will never forget.

Adam Harris

Monday, April 30th 7:06am (El Salvador time)

 

 

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After getting some much needed rest last evening, we were woken by sister Gloria honking the most obnoxious goose horn at about 6:45.  Those who were awake were very happy to avoid the mating call alarm.  We all know what we are in for in the AM now.

We piled in the van and made our way to the cathedral for Mass.  The bishop of El Salvador presided.  It was difficult to participate (with the mass being in Spanish), however it was uplifting considering that one could go ANYWHERE in the world and still be able to participate in the Blessed Sacrament simply by understanding what is happening, and not necessarily every word that is said.

At the alter with the Bishop

After mass we went down into the crypt where Bishop Romero is buried.  If you don’t know who this man is, please look him up.  I’ll leave it at that!  We then took a jaunt over to the markets where we explored some of the treasures that the Salvadorian people sell.

We returned for lunch, then headed out to an orphanage run by the Carmelites in a village on the outskirts of San Salvador by our crafty driver Miguel.

Arts and Crafts!

There were 21 kids there and for about 4 hours we played basketball and soccer, colored, played legos, and made puppets.  The children were extremely nice and excited to play with us.  Most importantly they were happy that we were there to spend time with them and make them feel loved.

Ball so Hard University

They were sad to see us go, and goodbyes took diez minutos. We returned to the house, ate dinner, and relaxed until a professor/reporter came to share his insight and experience about the years leading up to the civil war here in El Salvador and how it impacts the culture deeply to this day (the war ended in 1992).  It was interesting to hear his take on everything because he has lived here since before the war began.  His stories sparked curiosity among the whole group.

The real work starts tomorrow.  Can’t wait!!!!  Goodnight from El Salvador :)

"Live simply so that others can simply live."

 

 

 

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