Seven delegates from Decorah, Iowa visited Potrerillos, El Salvador from July 7-17, 2017. Rev. John Caldwell, of First United Methodist Church of Decorah, reflects on their experiences below.
I suppose that most delegations have a theme or two that seem to run through the whole experience. Because our July 7-17 delegation to Potrerillos had three adults and four youth (well, okay, one of the youth was eighteen!), we all experienced a great deal through the eyes of young people. We also found that we related more to the young people in the community than in the last couple of delegations.
There was also a religious theme. We had asked for opportunities to worship with the community, and our itinerary delivered with four worship services in the nine days we spent in El Salvador! The first was the inaugural mass of Cardinal Gregorio Rosa Chávez in the cathedral in San Salvador. The excitement that Salvadorans felt at having one of their own as a bishop of cardinal rank was palpable! We were introduced at the Saturday evening mass at the newly renovated church in Potrerillos. On Sunday we visited the community of Arcatao and attended mass yet again (three masses in two days!). We were feeling pretty religious by then. Later in the week we got to attend an evangelical service in Potrerillos, led by a Korean missionary.
We put a lot of time with the community. We played softball with the women of the community. They graciously put our delegation on both teams instead of playing against us! We went fishing and enjoyed a fish-fry and picnic. We got to color papers with kids at the day care center. We spent a day visiting a Pacific beach. Because of dangerous riptides, swimming in the ocean was out but there was a swimming pool that many of us enjoyed.
Some of our best times were not planned: a time of singing after a shared meal, a bus ride home from the beach with young and old competing in telling jokes, late-night basketball games played by youth under street lights, and, of course, time spent with our host families talking and taking part in daily activities.
In Sister Parish we have often noted just how much can be communicated between people who do not speak each other’s language. And it’s true. But it is also true that learning—and continuing to learn—the language of our host community not only widens the possibilities for building relationships, it is also makes us more than ordinary tourists. It shows that we are serious about really understanding them and committed to being in relationship for the long run.