From August 29-September 9, six representatives from Potrerillos, Chalatenango, El Salvador visited their sister church in Decorah, Iowa. The following delegation reflection was written by Rev. John Caldwell of First United Methodist Church.
Five years ago when I was first appointed as the pastor of First United Methodist Church one of the things that I was curious about was Sister Parish. I wanted to know more about this program in which at no little expense people were sent back and forth to El Salvador and nothing was built, painted or repaired. I had never heard of a mission program that seemed to accomplish so little. And yet I could see that the commitment to it here was both deep and broadly shared.
Well, I learned! I have participated in two North to South delegations. I have seen and experienced what it is to have a relationship with people far away, people whose lives are quite different from ours, and who (as a community) live at a far different economic level than we do (again, as a community). Sister Parish is unique in my experience as a “mission” organization whose purpose is to build ties of solidarity through friendship.
It is important to us in so many ways, mostly because it makes real for us what would otherwise remain only abstract. When, for example, thousands of children come from El Salvador to the United States, we know that there is another side to this story, one that touches people we know personally, and so it touches us as well. When our nation adopts trade policies that are supposed to make our lives easier or better, we can’t help but ask, “How does this affect our friends from Potrerillos?”
These exchanges expand our connection to a world much wider than the one we normally live in. This is true for our Salvadoran friends, too. They are able to experience our open hearts and hospitality. They are able to see that our comparative wealth does not mean that our lives are without struggle. They witness us trying to make sure that the hungry of our own community have enough to eat, that those who still fall through the cracks of our medical (non-)system get the care they need, and that our land is protected from companies that see it only terms of the wealth that they can extract. These are struggles that both communities share.
During their visit I heard from them often that they are glad to be able to see past the difficulties forced on them by American policies to our hearts and they are able to call us not only friends, but family.
I confess that I have to aspire to live up to their esteem for us.
Thank you to all who helped make it possible: the hosts who opened their homes and lives, the people who planned each of the activities, those who acted as drivers, and those who attended the activities and made our guests feel welcomed. Thank you to all who have made direct financial contributions to make it possible, to those who have organized and run Sister Parish fund raisers, and not least of all, to those of you who have battled mosquitoes and heat to support the Música Dulce concerts over the years. Thank you.
We will certainly remember last month’s visit from our friends from El Salvador as one of the highlights of this year in the life of First United Methodist Church.