Wallingford and Guarjila celebrate 15-year relationship

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Pentecost/Sister Parish Celebration
Wallingford United Methodist Church
May 24, 2015

2000 Delegation0017Tom:  I don’t know what happened that day – that Pentecost day we read about. Is it literally true that tongues of fire came down and that suddenly those present could speak and understand other languages?  Or is it a story of truth? I don’t know.

What I do know about are the Pentecost experiences we’ve had through our relationship with the community of Guarjila, El Salvador.  For those of you who may not be aware, we are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the first delegation from our church community to Guarjila. Just over 15 years ago, a small group of people here decided that we needed a relationship beyond the boundaries of our own country.  They chose a long-term relationship through Sister Parish because of the organization’s philosophy of establishing relationships between southern and northern communities based on mutual respect, trust and equality.

In these 15 years we’ve had 74 people travel to El Salvador in 8 delegations – 56 unique individuals.  31 of those have been young people. We’ve had folks from our community spend weeks on their own in Guarjila living, learning and teaching with our friends. We’ve also had 9 people from Guarjila come on delegations to Seattle. It isn’t very many and speaks to some of the institutional inequity in the ability to travel.  That is, perhaps a talk for another time.

How is it that we come to understand and be understood in another community with such vast differences in language, history and culture? That is where we’re going today.

The title of our time today is hermanamiento – literally sisterhood or brotherhood.  It is a term we use to describe the relationship with Guarjila.

On the plane home from the first delegation, we asked everyone to write a paragraph that summarized how they felt about the experience.  Recently we invited all those who were on the first delegation in 2000 to reflect on back that trip. Not everyone could be here today, but several people put together their thoughts to give you some understanding of what we might call our Pentecost experience.

The first up will be Mary Edwards.  Mary was on two delegations – the first in 2000 and the third in 2002.

37Mary Edwards:
April 16, 2000 – As the eleven of us from Wallingford United Methodist Church in Seattle Washington climbed out of the van, Vicky and I commented on the absurdity of what we were doing:  Hi.  We’re from North America.  We want to be your friends.  As an idea, the concept of establishing a relationship had seemed so right, but as we landed it seemed bizarre and somewhat comical.

An hour later, however, as we sat together in their concrete block church, the graciousness of the people in the directiva and the church leaders made it clear that not only was relationship possible but also that it was important for those of us in the USA, North America as well as for the people of Guarjila.  The Salvadorans began to tell their story of displacement in Honduran refugee camps after years of struggle, murder, torture, poverty and then the story of their return as a community to build a town that would be a testament to their belief in the value of every person; the commitment to basic needs of shelter, food, water, health, and education for all people; the power of faith and of love.

We told them about the money we had raised to come ($15,000) and about our questions concerning this expenditure:  should we have sent the money and stayed home?  Emphatically, they said no.  What is important is our mutual relationship, our love, our increased understanding.  I was skeptical, but as the week went on I came to believe them.  So much of what they have suffered has been caused by or exacerbated by the government to which I pay my taxes.  To take responsibility for that pain I must know them as people.  To take responsibility means not only to recognize that these people are not some sort of demons, which I suspect anyone who would take such a trip would understand already, but to recognize that I must hold my own government responsible as if it were murdering my own sisters and brothers.  Which they are.

And while the people of Guarjila could separate the government of the US from the people, I can not.

Hi.  We’re from  North America.  Now I realize.  We are your family.

That, it seems to me, is the point.  And it is a point with broad ramifications, not only for the people of Guarjila or El Salvador, or Central America or Latin America, but for the homeless and tortured and desperate on the streets of Seattle too.

DSC03765May 4, 2015 – Traveling El Salvador’s dusty roads with nothing in my hands to do or to offer, with only broken Spanish and an open and curious (and nervous) heart, changed my life.

From the people of Guarjila, I learned how tasty pupusas are; I learned that one can be overwhelmed by too many tamales; I learned that friendships cross borders, like friendships in the neighborhood, begin with listening;; I learned what my own country had done in the name of right (and in the spirit of fear); and I learned that I would live my life for justice, that I would learn from the poor, that my life’s work would be about hope.

After that trip, I returned to the U.S. and began working in schools served people living in poverty. In my last teaching years, I helped start a small school called Global Connections that served students living in poverty, many of them refugees from the world’s civil wars, including significant numbers of students from Somalia and Mexico and Central America.

I am so grateful that I did this work before my brain tumors, when I could still work in schools.

Guarjila memories are like slides from an old Kodachrome:  Young Lupe, front teeth missing, running through the season’s first rains to catch mangos and deliver them to Ann and me.  Teenage Graham, sitting on a rock with Martin in the middle of Rio Sumpul, the two talking for hours though Graham didn’t speak Spanish and Martin didn’t speak English.  Invisible children shouting, “Clarita!” from the hillsides, appearing in visible bodies at last, running to jump in Clare’s arms.  Ten year-old Mary addressing the Radio Sumpul youth as the group struggled with an ethical issue, telling them that they needed to consult the United Nations document on The Rights of the Child.  Sister Josephine in Seattle telling me that on the night of my brain surgery, the community had gathered in vigil for me.

Parting words from the directiva in response to the question, “What do we do now?” The response: “Learn about your own country.”

I remember:  Tears of joy and of sadness;  Pain and soothing kindness in connections;  Beauty and laughter in the dust.

Tom:  Ann Joyce was also on that first delegation 15 years ago and has continued to be a strong supporter of our relationship.

Ann Joy74369341-SLD-003-0026ce:
April 16, 2000 – Six year old David sat up in his bed in the room we all slept in on the last day and said “You came here.  You lived with us.  You ate with us.  You played games with us.”  We also learned from them.  We learned about joy and acceptance in a large family with few financial physical resources.  We learned about strength and determination in a community that has faced death and displacement.  We learned about passion for seeking justice in the world from people we met each day.  And we left knowing that we must find ways to walk with them in their struggle.

May 2015 – In the 15 years since, we have developed more friendships and learned more by sending delegations and hosting delegations from Guarjila.  This person to person interaction changes is in ways that other experiences can’t quite do.  I especially want to thank Tom for his diligence through the years to keep the connection and deepen relationships.

Tom:  Vicky Stifter was one of the key people in getting our relationship with Guarjila established.  She was on both the first and second delegations and is now pastor at Riverside Community Church in Hood River, Oregon.

Vicky StiDSC03246fter:
April 16, 2000 – What a gift this visit to our Sister Parish (Guarjila, El Salvador) has been!  Without a doubt, it has been one of the most moving, challenging and transforming experiences of my life, filled with laughter, tears and the overwhelming presence of God.

I give thanks to the people of Guarjila who have opened their homes and hearts to us, and I give thanks to Sister Parish for giving birth to this “hermaniento” of friendship, faith and love.

March 21, 2015  – What are we doing here?!  It had been a long journey from Seattle to Guarjila.   As we neared the village, the van was filled with weary yet excited travelers.   What would it look like?  What would it feel like?  Who would we meet?  What would we do?

Finally, the van pulled up in front of the community center.  And as the doors opened, my heart and head filled with panic.  “What are we doing here?!” I thought to myself.    Aside from our own luggage, our hands were empty.  We didn’t bring tools to build, medicine to heal, or money to contribute.  I felt out of place, exposed, ridiculous.  “What kind of a mission trip is this?” I wondered.   I longed for something concrete to give or do.  Yet my hands were empty.

I now know, of course, that empty handedness is the whole point of the journey.   Unlike traditional mission trips where WE (the privileged ones) are the givers and THEY (the poor ones) are the takers, we were invited to let go of our need for control.     By being vulnerable and extending our empty hands, we have had the opportunity to build real, human, heart-to-heart relationships.

I was honored to travel on that first delegation and help begin the life giving, transformative relationship between the people of WUMC and the people of Guarjila.    It remains one of the highlights of my adult life, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has nurtured this precious relationship during the past 15 years.

I pray that the God of love and justice might continue to bless both communities in the months and years ahead.

Tom:  Graham Foster was 14 when he went on the first delegation.  He went on two other delegations and spent 5 weeks in Guarjila after graduating from college.

Graham FDSCN3518oster:
April 16, 2000 – This was the most memorable, most intriguing and most educational trip of my life.  This was the first time I had ever been out of the United States and it was astonishing to see the slums of San Salvador and the US supported a government that so poorly mistreated it’s citizens.  I’m very happy with how our delegation was received by the people of Guarjila.  I think that our relationship with them will be exceptional because of how similar our ideas and values are.  It will be exciting to see how this relationship grows. Very much thanks to everybody that helped make this trip happen.  Providing a chance to experience something like this is great.  I feel very lucky to have been able to take advantage of this chance and go.

May 12, 2015 – It was a powerful experience to have friends and see that they don’t have the same opportunity we’re given here.  Having these trips, where they are so focused on relationships, you get this perspective that you can’t get in any other way.  We recognize how privileged we are, and for me it really drove home how important it is to not take that for granted – to treat that privilege with a lot of respect, and take advantage of that and not squander it.  We realize that others don’t have that and do what we can to make small positive change to help others reach their potential as well.

Tom:  Marie Shaw was another part of that team that laid the foundation for our relationship with Guarjila.  She was on the first delegation, the fourth delegation in 2004 and also spent several weeks in the community on her own.

2000 Delegation0015Marie Shaw:
April 10, 2000 – It is 5:30 a.m. and I am awakening to the sound of roosters crowing, hens clucking, pigs snorting and the slap, slap, slap of Francisca shaping the masa into perfect tortillas for breakfast this morning.  I feel sticky with humidity and notice dirt under my nails as I write.  I have at least two layers of mosquito repellent on since yesterday morning’s cold shower in San Salvador.  We have arrived!  We are here in Guarjila, fully present for the beginning of our second day of building a relationship with our long-awaited sister community.  I feel open.  I feel movement within, and I am deeply grateful!

March 3, 2015 – Recognizing the living Jesus in the stories of the people has been the most transforming experience for me. It is in witnessing these stories, especially from the war—feeling the grief, the loss, the fortitude, the perseverance, the solidarity, the commitment to justice—these are the stories and the feelings that gripped my heart on that first delegation and continue to today. The witness of Romero and Cortina and Grande and others who gave their lives, brought my Jesus to life. Now I can see Jesus more clearly in all the people of the world.

Tom:  Kari Olson was the director of youth and family ministries in 2000 when she went on the first delegation. She returned with the second delegation in 2001 and again with the 6th delegation in 2008.

DSC03872Kari Olson:
April 1, 2015 – Experiencing the sister parish relationship between Guarjila and Wallingford UMC has been life changing for me. From the time of preparation with the first delegation until now. That relationship has changed how I look at and experience the world around me and has helped me to see with new eyes.

Being part of the first delegation and experiencing others was an incredible gift and opened my eyes and my heart to the people of El Salvador. Witnessing the lasting effect it has had on the youth of Wallingford has been amazing. Getting to know the people, hearing their stories, and staying in their homes has helped me understand what it means to live my faith and just how much what I do in the United States impacts them and the rest of the world. The relationship has helped me to better understand and live with faith, hope, hospitality, grace, and love. I will forever be grateful.

Tom:  There are a couple other voices we’d like to share this morning. Chuck Freeman was another of the organizers of our Sister Parish relationship and was on the second delegation in 2001 and again on the 7th delegation in 2010.  He wrote this poem during the delegation in 2001.

Chuck Freeman:
The ghosts of El Salvador live in the trees
They coo softly
Watching as we move
between the monuments

Were they present through it all?
Did they cry with the wounded?
Did they hold the mothers’
hands as they heard the wind catch
in their babies’ throats?

Or were they like the rest of the world?
Just watching, clucking, and saying
Isn’t it a shame about El Salvador?

And so we arrive with our cameras,
and devour the city.
We are hungry to know.
To feel the pain
To suffer as these people have suffered

But our tears are not needed.
The people have plenty of those already.
It is our hands
It is our backs
It is our strong American voices
that have some chance of being heard.
That is what is needed now.

As for the ghosts?
They will sing as they have always done.
Just as they were singing 500 years ago
when the Spanish arrived with their
invisible weapons that could spread death
with a single touch.

And the ghosts will still sing
long after the names of the martyrs
have been ground into pure symbols
by the millstone of time.

Peace, they will sing.
Peace, peace you silly monkeys.
Will you never learn this simple tune?

Tom:  Bruce Sherman is a long-time supporter of our relationship with Guarjila and went on the most recent delegation in 2013.  At reflections one evening in San Salvador, he shared this poem after visiting the Archbishop Oscar Romero’s tomb.

Peasants on their
hands and knees
Cathedral foundations built
On their broken sweat stained backs.
Backs that pick indigo, and harvest beans that
Caffeinate the world.

The Peoples Archbishop
Lay in state among them.
The center of the people’s Mass
But now he lies trapped in
Hard Black Bronze.

Never to be freed
To walk again with his people
Waiting the Canon call
Already worshiped as a saint
By those who matter.

2000 Delegation0001Tom Pouliot:

Let me tell you the Pentecost story I bring back from El Salvador.

In April of 2000 I was fortunate enough to be part of the first delegation from this congregation to our perspective sister community, Guarjila, El Salvador.  It was an amazing visit – one that changed my life.  We heard firsthand the history of the people of Guarjila – the events leading up to the war, the flight to refugee camps in Honduras and the resettlement back to Guarjila while the war continued around them.  I honestly felt like the apostle Thomas who touched the wounds of the risen Christ and came to a stronger belief.

After the trip my mind whirled with all the sights and sounds.  I struggled to put it in some perspective and to find what God was calling me to do with all the knowledge.  Was it possible I was being called to devote my life to the people of El Salvador?  How could I do that?

So was my state of mind the next year as I prepared to go to Guarjila a second time.  This visit was to coincide with the anniversary of the death of Archbishop Romero the voice of the poor, the one who stood for and died for those without a voice.  One of our first stops in San Salvador was to the cathedral where a youth mass would occur to celebrate Romero’s life.  It sent shivers up my spine when I heard dozens of young people chanting Romero’s name as they marched into the basement of the cathedral near where the tomb of Romero sits.  The mass was beautiful in many ways, but we were also scheduled to attend a service at a Baptist church across town.  The mass, of course, started late meaning we were in a bit of a hurry to get on the road again when the mass finished.

I wanted some time though, at Romero’s tomb.  I wanted some quiet, quality time at the tomb to ask for direction – to ask God, Romero, someone where I need to be.  Quiet time in San Salvador is relative.  There are so many people around – including those begging for handouts.

As I started to pray for guidance at the tomb I felt a tug at my sleeve.  Hesitantly I turned to see an old woman, like many you see around that city.  I assumed she wanted a handout, so when she spoke I was quick to say, “lo siento, no hablo español” and turned away to pray again.  Time was short and I wanted an answer.

Soon though, there was another tug and the woman, still there, spoke to me again.  I offered a patronizing smile and quickly turned away not wanting to get caught up in something.  Once more I set about trying to get some quality prayer in and once more there was a tug at my sleeve.

2000 Delegation0020Taking a deep breath, I turned and for the first time really looked at this woman.  She was small, like most in that country and was missing many teeth.  Her clothes, though worn, were clean and neat.  She had a glowing smile as she looked at me and for the first time I listened to her words.  As I listened I understood.  She pointed to the guest book at the tomb and asked if I would put her name in the book, as she could not write.  Letter by letter she spelled her name out for me and I wrote in the book.  The glow on her face as I finished was priceless.  She took both my hands in hers and held them and said thank you.

We both went our own ways.  She off to whatever life she leads in that beautiful, but struggling country and me running to catch up with the rest of our group.

Pretty obvious isn’t it?  We are God’s hands on earth called to do God’s work.  I believe God calls us to a ministry of reconciliation.

About sisterparishinc

Building community across borders.
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