Friday, May 30, 2008

Update and Reflection from El Salvador

Dear Friends,
It has been 9 months now since I returned from Liberia, how the time flies! I want to thank you all again for your support. I have compiled a 30 page report of my work in Liberia which I have delivered to each of my 9 sponsoring parishes. If you would like a copy, I can email you one.

I have been keeping busy, helping coordinate a new mission network for our diocese, finding paying work here and there, and getting ready for some short-term mission work this summer. Right now I'm working at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for six weeks, helping out with the mission orientation course for new missionaries, and staying with my good friends the Copleys. In June, I'll be presenting a workshop on Tropical Agriculture at the mission conference of the Episcopal Church, called "Everyone Everywhere 2008".

I am in the process of discerning a new mission placement, which will most likely be somewhere in Africa, beginning January of 2009. I will let you know as soon as I know where I will be going! I have begun fundraising for my mission fund again (details below), to support the two short term mission trips I will be going on this summer, leading youth to fix up houses on a Native American Reservation in Nevada and to build houses in Honduras (see blog entry below). The work that I do is not my work. It is made possible every step of the way by the financial support, emotional support, and spiritual support of those who choose to journey with me. It is our work.

I got back a few weeks ago from a trip to El Salvador. I was there visiting my sisters, who are both missionaries in El Salvador now. Amy is a priest with a church and a school, Audrey does youth leadership development through agriculture, and Amy's husband Vince has a music ministry with the diocese, and coordinates mission groups who are visiting. I was there for only 10 days, but had a wonderful time. I got to see a lot of the country that I had never seen before. And I got to do a little agriculture work of my own. I talked with an agricultural engineer about the importance of the Moringa tree, and advised him on the Moringa project he has started. I also gave a workshop with a group of women who make up an agricultural work group, on the use of Moringa. (Moringa is a tree that can be used to treat malnutrition. The leaves have protein, vitamins, minerals, and kill parasites).

I also got the chance to go to some of the pilgrimage sites in El Salvador I had not been to before. The most difficult and moving experience by far was our visit to El Mozote, the site of what is considered the worst massacre in modern Latin America. More than 1,000 unarmed men women and children were rounded up on December 11, 1981, they were separated, and all the girls age 12 and older and all the women were raped, the men were tortured, and then all of them were murdered. The youngest victim was only 3 days old. Only one woman in the whole town survived. The government soldiers who planned and implemented the massacre were armed with ammunitions provided by the U.S. and trained at the U.S. Government sponsored school "The School of the Americas" in Georgia (which is still in operation under the name "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation"). The U.S. Government claimed that reports of this massacre were propaganda, and refused to send personnel to investigate. It wasn't until 1990, when human rights groups began a project to exhume the mass graves, that the truth of this massacre was finally recognized.

We arrived in El Mozote, expecting to find a ghost town, but El Mozote is alive again. The family members of the dead, who had fled to Honduras before the massacre, had returned to rebuild. Bomb craters still litter the fields, and there are still houses that are in ruins, but there are also new houses and fresh coats of paint. There is a monument to the dead, which has the names of those whose bodies were positively identified. We were given a personal tour by a local resident. She spent a couple hours with us, showing us the places where these things took place, and telling us the story. The church, where the children had been locked up and murdered, had been burned down afterward. But the people of El Mozote built a new church. I have never seen such a church. Covering its walls are vibrant, dancing, joyful colors: colors of triumph. On one side there is a mural of the history and culture of the town. The other side of the church is dedicated to the children. It has an incredible mosaic, with children dancing and playing with suns and balloons and flowers and stars. Along the bottom of the church are the names and ages of all the children. And all around there was a garden. In the moment I saw it, it was the most beautiful garden in all the world: flowers of all different colors, roses, and benches and paths, all beautifully, lovingly tended. I wanted to sit in that garden forever. It was not joy that I felt there, for how can you feel joy when our world contains such evil. The beauty of El Mozote is in those who live, and what they have chosen to do with their grief. They have poured love over these gaping wounds. Wounds where loved ones were violently ripped away from them. They have poured love over broken, burned, and bloodstained ruins. And over mass graves they have planted gardens of love. The violence, the pain, the loss, the evil of it all cannot be washed away. But Love somehow has conquered it.

We live in a world that seems to be teetering on the edge of destruction. We are daily bombarded with the reality of increased food and fuel prices around the world, with news of conflicts, riots, disasters, and wars. And it seems that everywhere we look in the world there is injustice, oppression, hunger, and fear. Who will deliver us?

Love. It all comes down to Love. Love doesn't wash away the pain and evil of it all, but somehow Love can conquer even this.

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