[In April, Sister Parish board members and founders traveled to Central America for a special 25th Anniversary Delegation. This month, we’re posting reflections from delegates about that experience. This reflection is from Sister Parish President, Greg Huang-Dale, who is a member of First United Methodist Church of Decorah, Iowa. You can read other reflections from the 25th Anniversary Delegation here.]
As Vicki Schmidt described, Sister Parish is a space where God intervenes in our lives creating kairos moments of revelation. This delegation had kairos moments galore. God intervened so frequently that we began to expect the unexpected. And my revelation was that kairos moments happen whenever we allow God to lead. But these moments are not only connections to God, they are also the core of solidarity, allowing ourselves to be led by each other in the Spirit of God.
Carlos, president of the Guarjila Community Board, stood shadows of light cast across the yard from the Fr. Jon Cortina museum. We stood looking through the darkness as Carlos told me in remarkably fluent English how he has put his career and family plans on hold to be part of his community board. His board provides oversight for community services such as the clinic, the school and the community owned carpentry shop in Guarjila, El Salvador. These are places that are owned by the community, provide jobs for community members and services to those in need. These facilities also generate funds for the community, money which is invested directly back into the community to resolve the challenges of education, joblessness and violence. Then Carlos turned to me and said, “I’m really tired and I don’t get enough sleep.” At 21, Carlos has a lot on his shoulders. He told me his biggest concern is about land rights. When the people of Guarjila returned from the refugee camps in Mesa Grande, Honduras, they had no official claim to the property which they occupied. They divided the land amongst themselves but now, 30 years later, people are coming forward with legal claims to land and documentation. These claims are older than Carlos and he feels overwhelmed by the task of resolving a problem that existed before his birth.
Nico, short for Nicolas, was leading the youth band that night. He was shorter than most of the kids around him but his energy was infectious. Behind a little charango, Nico’s voice and rhythm kept the band lively. During a short break in the music he looked up and smiled at us, “Carlos, speak more English. Your English is good!” Carlos smiled back, “Nico was my English teacher,” he said, “He wants me to practice.” God broke in for a moment and shined a light on our common paths. Here I was, a lowly English teacher with a love of music listening to a young man with a heart for justice telling me that the struggle must go on in spite of our weariness. He was right. The joy of youthful song rose up from the kids band and we danced a circle in the darkness. It is not just Carlos’ struggle, nor solely Guarjila’s. It is ours together. God is guiding us together in search of a common good.
Following a Saturday filled with ideas, stories, visions and celebrations, Sunday arrived. It was time for us to thank God for our lives together, joining in worship and praise. I carried my banjo on my back to mass and sat in behind the youth band who had accompanied our dancing two nights ago. Playing with them was a highlight of the trip for me. I felt hopeful and alive with the spirit as I looked around the sanctuary and read the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi: “Donde haya duda, que yo ponga fe.” “Where there is doubt let me sow faith.” The doubt and fear that I had carried with me on this trip was fading fast in the face of tremendous faith.
Nicolas sat on the stairs in front of the pulpit so he could face the young people and their music. He quietly prompted the band before each hymn or anthem. Along with Nico’s charango, the band had two guitars, a cuatro (four-stringed guitar) a giro, other rhythm instruments and the voices of singers. From song to song the lead started with the cuatro and then the singers, then the charango — each musician was featured in turn even as they blended their talents into a symphony of sound. These young musicians were precisely the model of solidarity that Sister Parish seeks, a community of talents with a purpose; leadership that recognizes the whole as well as the individuals; and a joy that is multiplied in the act of praising God.