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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.
Seven delegates from Danville Congregational Church visited their partner community San Antonio in April 2017. After the delegates returned, the church held a Sister Parish-themed service to share the experience and the relationship with the wider church. Reverend Eric Sherlock shared the following sermon that Sunday, reflecting on the his delegation experience, the parable of the Good Samaritan, and the Archbishop Oscar Romero Prayer
So this morning, I’d like to start off with a story. In the winter of 2007 an astonishing thing happened in New York City. A construction worker named Wesley Autrey was standing on a subway platform with his two young daughters, ages 4 and 6, waiting on a train. Suddenly another man on the platform, apparently suffering from a seizure stumbled and fell off the platform and down onto the subway tracks. Just at that moment, the headlights of a rapidly approaching train appeared in the subway tunnel. Acting quickly and with no thought for himself, Wesley jumped down onto the tracks and he pressed the man into the hollowed out space between the rails and spread his own body over him to protect him as the train passed over the two of them. The train cleared Wesley by mere inches, coming close enough to leave grease marks on his hat. Almost immediately and for good reason, Wesley became a national hero. People were deeply moved by his selflessness and they marveled at his bravery. What Wesley had done was a remarkable deed of concern for another person. He had no obvious reason to help the stranger. He didn’t know the man. He had his young daughters to think about. What he did was severe risk for his own life. But a human being was in desperate need and Wesley saw it and moved with compassion, did what he could to save him. The Subway Superman, that’s what the press called him. The Harlem Hero. But the headline in one newspaper described Wesley in Biblical terms. It read, “Good Samaritan Saves Man on Subway Tracks.”
This is a remarkable story. But when you think about it to hear someone referred to as a Good Samaritan is not all that uncommon in our culture. Whether it’s a person who stops for someone stranded on the highway or someone who chases down a purse thief, we all seem to have heard of at least one story in modern day of a Good Samaritan. The parable of the Good Samaritan is certain one of the most well-known parables in the Bible. Virtually everyone knows it or at least knows what it means to be a Good Samaritan. The story was included in our Sister Parish delegation devotional and was one that accompanied us on our journey to Guatemala. Now, while on this trip, it became pretty clear to me that this was a familiar story. In fact, I’d venture to say that we might know this parable a little too well. And sometimes when you become comfortable with a story, you take it for granted. You can forget the details that make it so great to begin with. And the story can lose its punch. I think that’s what’s happened with the story. It’s lost its punch, its shock value. And I think it has lost the heart of its message. So this morning, I’d like to unpack the message that we find in this parable and see if it might relate to our Sister Parish partnership.
Often preachers like to turn this story into a moralistic tale about how we simply ought to go and help people. “Will you be a Good Samaritan today?” they ask. It becomes about how we should be polite and nice and if someone seems to be in need of help, well then, we ought to go help them. But the problem is we all already know this. Our church does a pretty good job of outreach and providing support and a friendly hand to those in need. So I’m not sure the story is simply about getting someone to be a better person and to do more good in the world. Thomas Long, a famous preacher, makes a good point. If this story were simply about being good and taking care of people, Jesus would have told the story a little differently. He would have left out all the business about the Samaritan. He would have simply said this, “A guy was lying in a ditch and three men passed him by. The first two didn’t do a thing and the third one did. Which one was the neighbor to the man in the ditch? That’s right, the third one. Be like him.” No need to say anything about the Samaritan at all and we can all go home and be happy. But Jesus didn’t tell the story that way, did he?
Just after Jesus tells the lawyer that the way to life is to love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and your neighbor as yourself, the lawyer asks Jesus another question. “But who, who is my neighbor?” It seems like the neighbor is trying to qualify the law, as if what the lawyer is really asking is, “Who isn’t my neighbor? Who don’t I have to love?” And we do that, don’t we? Sometimes we want to know the minimum amount of love we are asked to give. And so Jesus tells him a story about a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man is given no race, no religion, no regional distinction and no indication of occupation, which means he could be any of us. And on this road to Jericho, the man is stripped, beaten and left for dead. And then, by chance, along comes a priest, an expert in the law. The priest sees the half-dead man and crosses to the other side of the road. Along comes a Levite, another expert of the law, who also sees the half-dead man and then crosses to the other side of the road, leaving him there. And then, Jesus says, came a Samaritan. Now if you listen closely enough you can hear everyone’s back straighten and their jaws clench. Along comes a Samaritan, the enemy of the Jews, the hated, the unclean one. The ending of Jesus’ story is clear. The Samaritan would be the one to help, the one to truly see, to truly see the man in the ditch. And not only would he help, but he would go above and beyond the call by paying for this man’s lodging and other expenses, and even coming back to check on him. A Samaritan becomes the hero of the story. There is no way around it and yet to combine hero with Samaritan would be like mixing oil with water. They don’t go together. It shatters the Jews moral universe because suddenly that which was bad is now good. And then Jesus asks the lawyer which of the three was a neighbor. The lawyer couldn’t muster the word Samaritan out of his mouth so he resorted to, “the one who showed him mercy.” The lawyer asked a question that would build walls. Tell me who my neighbor is, define it for me, give me parameters to work with. And in response, Jesus told a story that tore down all of his walls, a story in which the enemy becomes the hero, a story in which those listening are forced to see a different landscape, a different view, a reality without walls.
So, do you know who your neighbor is? Before going on this year’s trip with the Sister Parish delegation, questions swirled in my mind. What would the people be like? Would I be able to communicate beyond language? Where would I sleep? Would I like the food? And most importantly, what would the bathroom situation be like? And then, on top of all of that, I wondered, what is the purpose for this whole Sister Parish partnership? For me, the concept of Sister Parish was unfamiliar. How in the world is this mission? How is it outreach? My definition of outreach was already pretty well defined. I went to seminary. I had already built my wall. I had already set my parameters for mission and outreach to a nice, neat box and it was informed by my limited experience. For me, mission and outreach was all about being part of a project and helping those in need. And so we do this, don’t we? We make up our mind on a topic based on our limited experience as human beings. And so we build walls and we define parameters. It took the actual experience, however, of me going on the trip for me to see a different landscape of mission, mission that is not based on some project, mission that is not based on some monetary value where we go in as these white knights from the first world with a savior complex. Sister Parish is not based on any of these well-defined parameters. Instead, it is mission grounded in relationship. The Sister Parish partnership is a relationship where we in the North, with all of our access, with all of our education, with all of our privilege might journey South not to save, not to help, but to immerse ourselves in learning. To immerse ourselves in learning. By going South, we acknowledge that our brothers and sisters might have something to teach us about life, about faith, and about relationship, and that through the experience of immersion, we might receive unexpected love and grace from people who were once strangers.
And so I wonder, can you see our brothers and sisters in San Antonio as your neighbors, as children of God whom you are called to love? Can you see the people in this room, sitting here this morning in this community as children of God and as your neighbor whom you are called to love? And then let’s take it a step further shall we. The single mother living on welfare, the handsome man driving the Tessla, the boring science teacher, the woman in the Prius with bumper stickers that prove she is a socialist or the man in the truck with decals all about Trump, guns and loving America. Can you see them? Can you really see them? Can you see them as your neighbor, as children of God? You see, I don’t think our eyesight is something easily changed, at least my eyesight about Sister Parish wasn’t easily changed, the kind of seeing Jesus asks of us can’t be easily changed with a new pair of glasses, rather it calls for a whole new set of eyes. And sometimes the only thing that can give us such a transplant is an experience, an experience of immersion where we encounter the stranger and receive unexpected love and grace.
I’d like to close this morning with one more story, a story about Jack Casey. When looking at his life, Jack had little reason to be a Good Samaritan. Casey was raised in a tough home, the child of an alcoholic father. He once said, “All my father every taught me was that I didn’t want to grow up to be like him.” But something happened to Jack when he was a child that changed his life. It changed his heart. He was having surgery one day and he was frightened. He remembers the surgical nurse standing there and compassionately reassuring him. “Don’t worry,” she said to Jack, “I’ll be here right beside you no matter what happens.” When Jack woke up again, she was true to her word and she was still there. Years later, Jack became a paramedic. One day, he was sent to the scene of a highway accident. A man was pinned upside down in his pick-up truck and as Jack was trying to get him out of the wreckage, gasoline was dripping down on the two of them. The rescuers were using power tools to cut the metal, so one spark could have caused everything to go up in flames. The driver was frightened, crying out how scared he was of dying. Jack remembered what had happened to him long ago on the operating table, how that nurse had spoken tenderly to him and stayed with him. And he said and did the same thing for the truck driver. “Look, don’t worry,” he said, “I’m right here with you, I’m going nowhere.” When he said that, he was reminded of how that nurse had said the same thing and she never left him. Days later, the rescued truck driver said to Jack, “You know, you were an idiot. The thing could have exploded and we both would have burned up.” Jack said, “I just could not leave you.”
My prayer today, my friends, is that each one of us might have an experience, an experience of encountering people who were once strangers, but now are neighbors, where we receive love and grace. Amen.
Feb 8, 2017
by Rita Nohner
Our final few hours in Tierra Nueva were spent in retreat with the SP Committee with a picnic lunch prepared by the women of TNI afterward. There were lots of tears as we said goodbye and lots of promises to hold one another in our hearts and prayers.
As we prepared to leave, we gathered in the parking lot of the TNI church, loading up the van with the lunch supplies and the majority of our Guatemalan retreat participants. Miriam and Eluvia remained with us while Martin drove the others back. We were all in good spirits, even though we knew our time together was quickly coming to an end.
There were two comments made during this time that, for me, sum up the dichotomy of a Sister Parish delegation. The joy and the sorrow. The love and the fear.
At lunchtime, Eluvia had given us each the gift of Carnival Eggs – regular egg shells that had been carefully emptied of contents, leaving a hole on one end. The shells are painted festively, filled with confetti and sealed with crepe paper over the hole. Joe was holding the bag with all the eggs and Eluvia said something that made Carrie laugh out loud. She prefaced her translation with the information that in Guatemala, the word “egg” is also a slang term for men’s testicles. What Eluvia had said to Joe was “don’t break my balls!” She was laughing her big laugh and we were all howling over the joke.
After the van arrived and we got loaded, Miriam and Eluvia stood on the concrete, looking in at us and smiling. Then Miriam asked Carrie to translate for her to give us one final message. She told us, “We know you are worried about us because of the violence we live with. But don’t worry about us. We know how to struggle. We were born for this.”
The look she gave us was so gentle and maternal. So concerned about us being worried for them. Eluvia simply nodded and smiled.
And with that, I felt my heart torn in two. Those two women, Miriam and Eluvia, are the strongest, most heroic women I know. The way they get up every day, facing extreme challenges, yet ready to take on the world, is incredibly humbling to me. I don’t know where Eluvia finds her joy. Well, I do. In her faith. That’s where she and Miriam find the strength to keep pushing on when all the odds seem stacked against them.
That’s why I was there, I guess. God is giving me the opportunity, with each visit to Guatemala, to deepen my faith. To learn perseverance. To regain perspective.
Many of us here in Minnesota and throughout our country, face great challenges in the days and years ahead. The values we cherish and the Gospel we know – one of justice and mercy and love – are ours to keep or to lose. We must persevere. We must not lose hope. We will find our strength in each other and in God.
And when our energy flags and it seems like we can’t face losing one more battle, we need only turn our eyes south to Guatemala. For 500+ years the people have fought for justice. Let us learn the art of resistance from them. Let us push on in our building of the Kingdom. God is with us and has given us each other. We are yoke mates and so the burden is made light.
The Guatemala representatives meeting was held March 4-5, 2017. See photos.
The March 2017 Guatemala Representatives Meeting was hosted for the second time by UPAVIM (United for a Better Life). UPAVIM was very excited to support the organizing efforts of the Sister Parish and facilitate the new Guatemala Directiva (advisory board) elections.
The newly elected members of the Guatemala Directiva for 2017-2018 are:
President- Luis Talaoj
Vice President- Paul Quiroz
Secretary- Victor Chun Chub
Treasurer – Concepción Mateo
Member at large – Pahola Chumil
Member at large – Irene Gil
The representatives also had the chance to learn more about and compare their own experiences with climate change.
Read more in our Guatemala Representatives Meeting Report.
Por Karin Grosscup
Delegada de Sta. Juana de Arco que visitó a Tierra Nueva II en 2017. Se puede leer más reflexiones en inglés en el sitio de Sta. Juana de Arco y ver fotos de la delegación en Flickr. Las lecturas mencionadas son del 5 de febrero de 2017: 1 Corintios 2:1-5 y Mateo 5:13-16.
Para empezar, quisiera agradecerles por su espíritu de generosidad al recibirnos, convivir con nosotros, y guiar nuestro camino. Hemos sentido su amor y protección cuando hemos compartido con sus familias y su comunidad. Es una experiencia increíble poder caminar por la calle, sentir una conexion con nuestras familias hospedadoras y hablar con miembros de su comunidad que se acercan para darnos la bienvenida.
Venimos como Pablo, en la lectura de Corintios de hoy, con debilidad y temor, con conciencia de las disparidades en el mundo y las injusticias de nuestro gobierno. Pablo llegó a Corinto para difundir la noticia de Jesús y creo que llegamos aquí para recibir el
amor de Jesús, compartiendo nuestras vidas y dejando que el poder de Dios nos toque.
Somos personas diferentes cuando salimos de su comunidad. Nos sentimos humildes por el coraje, la gracia y la dignidad de las personas que hemos conocido especialmente al llegar a comprender como las injusticias económicas afectan a las personas que queremos. Salimos con gratitud y un profundo respeto por todas y todos.
Nuestro tiempo en Guatemala ha incluido muchas visitas a los monumentos de las personas que fueron asesinadas por defender la justicia. Fuimos a Santiago Atitlán donde los mayas fueron masacrados debido a los sistemas de opresión. Vivimos en un mundo interconectado.
Lo que les sucede nos afecta y lo que pasa con nosotros les afecta tambien. Sólo podemos dar un paso a la vez. Sin embargo, cuando nos conocemos, nuestros corazones están conectados y empezamos a ver cómo nos afectamos unos a otros. Me parece que es por eso que los Evangelios siempre nos llaman a hacer la justicia. Cuando hay reciprocidad en nuestras amistades, la luz de Dios brilla. Comenzamos a ver otras posibilidades mientras comemos juntos, nos reímos juntos y lloramos juntos.
El Evangelio de hoy nos recuerda que somos la sal de la tierra. La sal da sabor a nuestra comida, así como conserva. ¿Cómo sazonamos la vida del otro? La sal de nuestras lágrimas nos une ya que sea por tristeza o por alegria. ¿Y qué es lo que estamos conservando para el futuro? Nuestro viaje a un centro de permacultura maya nos recordó lo importante que son nuestras relaciones en la creación de un mundo que prosperará. Fue una experiencia impactante ver cómo la biodiversidad de Dios es esencial para la salud de nuestra tierra. Aprendimos de la cultura maya y el cuidado de la Madre Tierra. Vimos tambien un guia para nosotros como seres humanos, para convivir juntos con la diversidad y para hacernos más fuertes. Mateo nos recuerda de esto hoy cuando dice hagan brillar su luz delante de todos. Estamos agradecidos a todas y todos en Tierra Nueva II – han fortalecido nuestras luces para que brillen con mas fuerza.
by Karin Grosscup
Delegate from St. Joan of Arc visiting Tierra Nueva II in 2017. Read more delegate reflections and see photos of the delegation. Readings referenced below are from February 5, 2017: 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 and Matthew 5:13-16.
To begin I would like to thank all of you for your generous spirit taking us into your lives and guiding our way. We have felt your love and protection as we have entered into your families and community. It is an amazing experience to walk down the street feeling connected with our host families and have members of your community coming toward us and welcoming us as well.
We came like Paul , in the reading from Corinthians today ,with weakness and fear as we are aware of the disparities in the world and the injustices in our government.. Paul came to Corinth to spread the news of Jesus and I think we came hear to receive the love of Jesus sharing our lives together and letting God’s power touch us. We are different people as we leave. We are humbled by the courage, grace and dignity of the people we have met especially in coming to understand the impact of economic injustices on people we have come to love. We leave with gratitude and a deep respect for all of you.
Our time here has included many visits to the memorials of people who have been murdered for standing up for justice as well as to Santiago Atitlan where Maya people were massacred due to systems of oppression. We live in a world that is interconnected.
What happens to you touches us and what happens with us touches you. We can only take one step at a time and yet when we meet and come to know each other, our hearts touch and we begin to see how we affect each other. It seems to me that is why we are always being called in the gospels toward justice. It is when there is mutuality in our relationships that God’s light shines through. We begin to taste such possibilities as we eat together, laugh together, and cry together.
The gospel today reminds us we are the salt of the earth. Salt seasons our food as well as preserves it. How do we season each other’s lives? The salt of our tears unites us whether from sadness or great joy. And what is it we are preserving for the future? Our trip to the IMAP reminded us how important our relationships are in creating a world that will thrive. It was a powerful experience of how God’s biodiversity is essential to the health of our earth where we learned of Maya culture and care of the earth. We couldn’t help but see a map for us as human beings as we live together with diversity and become stronger. Mathew reminds us of this today when he says to let our light shine. We are grateful to all of you that have strengthened our lights to shine.
by Nancy Wiens
I, along with seven fellow travelers, recently participated in the Open Delegation to Guatemala and El Salvador. It was a joyful and educational trip that exposed me to people and experiences that would not have been open to me in any other way. A consistent thread running through this delegation was how people came together to form what I lovingly call “pop-up” communities — generous, kind and loving folks who surrounded us from Day One and who shared their lives and their stories with us wherever we went, throughout the trip. I feel blessed to have experienced these loving encounters.
My memories include…
- Traveling with kind, hopeful and joy-filled fellow delegates.
- Experiencing delicious home-cooked meals and open conversations with the many hosts who took care of us throughout our journey.
- Being ‘in community’ with delegates and Southern representatives and exchanging stories during late-night gab sessions.
- Making music, thanks to Greg and his mandolin and all the strong and vibrant voices of our community.
- Meeting Luis’ parents in Antigua as well as Luis’ activist friend Javier Gramajo, and hearing viewpoints about how two generations have experienced conflict and activism.
- Learning and contributing during small-group planning sessions at the Southern Encounter.
- Touring a variety of Sister Parish communities (Chontala, Guarjila, Tierra Nueva Dos) including the brand-new Sister Parish community of ACOMUJERZA, and witnessing a multitude of projects and initiatives to create better lives for themselves and their children.
- Conducting a 4-station Solidarity Walk at Iximche Mayan ruins (including a Mayan ceremony by Otto), Chontola, Tierra Nueva Dos and Jon Cortina Museum in Guarjila.
- Sharing faith and personal stories at a heartfelt Sunday service led by Pastor Diego at Ruth and Nohemi.
- Learning the history of Radio Sumpul in Guarjila and being on air (interview and songs).
- Bouncing around in the open back of a pick-up truck and swimming with friends in the Sumpul River.
- Celebrating and laughing at an evening picnic and song “throw-down” (English vs. Spanish) up at mirador El Alto near Los Ranchos. What a view, and what a joyful time.
by Tom Pouliot
Nancy Wiens, the chair of the board of Sister Parish, brought a meditation to our fall board meeting in 2015. In the meditation she offered the following quote from Pope Francis:
“When God comes, he always calls us out of our house. We are visited so that we can visit others; we are encountered so as to encounter others; we receive love in order to give love.”
She also brought an article, written July 1, 2015, by Thomas J Eggleston in the Houston Catholic Worker that discussed what Pope Francis meant by a culture of encounter. A lively discussion ensued about how this related to our work and our lives in Sister Parish. At the end, Nancy suggested that we declare The Year of Encounter as the theme for Sister Parish in 2016. In addition, it was agreed that the culminating event for the year would be a Southern Encounter to be hosted in Guatemala.
Invitations went out from the northern board to the Sister Parish community in the United States to join members of the board and representatives from the Sister Parish linkages in Guatemala and El Salvador for the Southern Encounter. Four board members, Nancy Wiens, Mike Spellman, Luis Cuyun and Tom Pouliot, along with staff member David Ericson, joined Karen Hupchick, Rick Nelson, and Greg Huang-Dale (former board member) to form the delegation from the United States.
“Interpersonal encounter in the Christian sense is thus both active and relational—it occurs between two or more persons or between a person and God. An encounter between two people is a graced experience in which one realizes a strange paradox: the seemingly contradictory human situation of the utter connectedness within which we live in solidarity with each other and at the same time the wild otherness which makes us our own beings living in solitude.
As many of us had done with other delegations, we allowed ourselves to enter into the sacred space of encounter. From across many parts of Guatemala, from areas around El Salvador and from various places in the United States, we came together in Guatemala City to start our journey of encounter and walking with each other. And walk we did. Over the course of 10 days we walked in many places, with many people, in many ways.
We walked the first day with Javier who was instrumental in peaceful protests in Guatemala City that helped bring down president Otto Perez Molina in 2015. Javier shared the philosophies, the solidarity, and the spirit hopefulness that brought so many people together.
The second day, on our way to Chichicastenango and Chontalá, we stopped at the archaeological site Iximchē, where we walked with the spirits of people who walked the space for hundreds of years. Here Don Otto performed ceremony calling on the ancestors to bring health to our encounter. In this sacred place we spent time in ice breakers getting to know the people we would be spending the next days with in meetings, in prayer, at meals and in informal times.
We were welcomed at our home for a few days, Ruth y Nohemi by Pastor Diego, where we were fed and where we heard a brief history about the area. Using Ruth y Nohemi as a base, we travelled the short distance to Chontalá where we were again welcomed with introductions, with dance and song, and with food. Our walk in solidarity took us through the streets of Chontalá as we sang songs and read passages describing the joys of encounter and solidarity.
In Chontalá we also conducted the business portion of our encounter. The business of Sister Parish is to come to know each other, so while we talked some, most of us listened as we discussed the joys of Sister Parish as well as the risks and challenges involved in maintaining a healthy organization.
Informal times of the encounter were every bit as important as the more formal times. In those less formal times we worked to break down the barriers of language and culture. There were times of intense joy and times of intense pain as we talked, laughed and shared our lives.
While in Guatemala we were blessed to walk the streets of Tierra Nueva 1 & 2, and to meet the people and hear the history of those communities. We shared a wonderful meal together, sang songs and felt yet another encounter with the sacred.
Our time in Guatemala was relatively short, but the connections that were made through this encounter were life changing. These “graced experiences” allowed us to strengthen interpersonal relationships as well as the corporate relationships to the Sister Parish organization. We are blessed with committed people who will travel hours in busses to join together in this blessed encounter.
From Guatemala, the group from the United States, together with Clementina from Tierra Nueva 2, and staff members Brian Tyler (Guatemala) and Julieta Borja (El Salvador) next set off to Guarjila, El Salvador.
In Guarjila we walked through the community learning the reality of El Salvador and of Guarjila. We saw and heard the pride of new projects and of projects that have been an important part of the region for many years. Most importantly, we lived in the homes of people we came to know better and now call friends.
There were more meetings in Guarjila – more times to listen to the voices calling us to deep encounter. At the same time, there were those moments of deep spiritual calling as we toured the museum in memory of Father Jon Cortina, and there were moments of laughter and joy as we shared food, sang and played games at El Alto.
This picture of the Southern Encounter is not meant to be a travelogue or a recitation of every detail, but rather to give some feeling of what it was like to step out away from home and take a chance to be open to the living spirit. If you have been on a Sister Parish delegation at some time then you probably know the feelings of love, joy, pain and hope that was in this encounter.
Many things from this encounter, this solidarity walk of 10 days, will stay in my heart as long as I live. I will hold within me the joys and pains discussed late into the night. I will hear the musical background of Greg playing his mandolin throughout the trip. I will relive the moments of walking through Guatemala and El Salvador with people I had never met but now call beloved friends.
In the Eggleston article on encounter he says:
“The Culture of Encounter places value on mystery. To see the world through the lens of encounter is to realize the presence of God all around us and that we are connected to each other through ties both visible and invisible…The Culture of Encounter moves us to walk the journey of our lives tenderly holding each other’s hands knowing all the while that it is Christ who is our veiled and shining companion.”
This is the essence of the Southern Encounter every bit as much as it is the essence of Sister Parish.
From Christ Episcopal Church Sister Parish Commitee:
Here are some pictures of our solidarity labyrinth walk. As we walk the labyrinth towards the center, we are reminded of our search for God. As we walk back out from the center, we are reminded to bring God into our world. Don’t you agree that this is a powerful symbol of how to live our lives? Blessings and peace to all of you!
Every January at Trinity Episcopal Church (Newtown, CT) each committee contributes a summary of the previous year’s activities to the Church’s Annual Report. This summary of our first south-to-north delegation from San José La Montaña, in the department of Chalatenango, El Salvador, appeared in abbreviated form in our most recent report.
Companion Parish’s biggest project in 2016 was to bring a delegation from San José La Montaña to share with us in worship and cultural exchange. This South-to-North visit was one of our goals from the time we began this relationship at the end of 2013, and was the culmination of three years of work. We are particularly gratified that we were able to bring them because they never got the chance to travel north when they were paired with a previous church. Honoring this commitment that we made to them during our first visit to El Salvador in the spring of 2014 was a great joy.
We learned a great deal from the delegates, but the process of arranging the delegations was an education in itself. Arranging visas for the delegates required much work throughout 2016, especially coordinating letters of invitation not just from Trinity but also from Pat Llodra of the Board of Selectmen in Newtown and Senator Blumenthal’s office in Hartford. The committee invited six delegates to apply for visas but the US Embassy rejected 5 of the 6 applicants, 4 of them without explanation. Two other members of San José La Montaña’s Sister Parish committee already had visas for their family to travel and thus could fill out the delegation. So in the end we could welcome three residents of San José La Montaña plus an employee of Sister Parish, Inc., who accompanied the delegation as a translator and guide.
The delegation took place over the last 10 days of October, and activities included worship with us on two Sundays, a meeting with our Outreach Commission to compare the ministries that our two churches have undertaken, and consultation with Pastor Kathie on the place of women in the Episcopal church. They participated in one of Adult Formation’s Basics of the Faith classes to discuss with the rest of the class the question, “What is God Calling You to Do?” They shared a primer on our labyrinth and its use, after which all participants walked the labyrinth, meeting in the center to pray together. They participated in the Chapel On The Green service with the homeless in New Haven, after which they distributed food and socks. The delegates also enjoyed seeing the youth’s Great Pumpkin Challenge Halloween fundraiser for local youth to attend camp. The discussions taking place during and around those chances to worship, study, reflect, and serve gave both guests and hosts a better understanding of the formal structure and priorities of each other’s churches and helped strengthen our relationship by emphasizing its foundation in walking the path of faith together.
Delegates had also expressed an interest in meetings with social service agencies and politicians in the Danbury area. They particularly enjoyed a presentation by the Women’s Center of Greater Danbury about domestic violence, a topic which two of the delegates have worked on in El Salvador. They also visited the Danbury office of Family and Children’s Aid. They talked about local issues with Pat Llodra of Newtown, and a candidate running to represent Danbury in the state legislature.
Delegates also enjoyed a number of formal and informal cultural activities, hiking in Litchfield County, touring Manhattan, visiting the Mashantucket Pequot Museum, and a barbecue dinner and social gathering at Sue Roman’s house that many parishioners attended. The delegates also received a visit from professor José Gonzalez, a literature professor from the US Coast Guard Academy whose family emigrated from El Salvador to the US when he was a child. They discussed his family’s experience in both countries and their lives in contemporary in San José La Montaña. Dr. Gonzalez presented a book of his poetry and the delegates presented a book telling the stories of women from their region of El Salvador. Two members of the delegation had worked on that book.
San José is very committed to education and youth development, and the delegates, one of whom is a school principal, enjoyed the chance to compare their education system with ours. They visited Newtown High School, where Michelle Toby arranged for them to talk with some classes; the newly rebuilt Sandy Hook Elementary School, where principal Tim Napolitano led a tour; and Trinity’s church school classes, where the children eagerly told them what is on their minds these days.
On the final evening of the visit, we sat together over dinner and discussed how we would like our relationship to proceed in the coming year. We agreed that it should include more frequent communication, even though the internet connection in San José is not always reliable, especially during their rainy season (roughly our winter months). We have since established a group texting circle so that members of both communities can easily and quickly exchange greetings, share news, and make prayer requests. Sister Parish established a closed Facebook group for much the same purpose, and we would like to expand that so that more of the both communities can remain in touch with each other.
We also started to discuss the idea of taking on a joint project to help the youth of San José La Montaña by establishing a scholarship program to help students who make it as far as university to pay their bills. That discussion will continue in 2017.
The Companion Parish committee would like to thank everyone who helped make the delegation a success by hosting our guests in their homes, presenting or facilitating discussions, visiting with them at various activities, and generally opening our community and our hearts to them. And we would like to invite all interested parishioners to continue to stay in touch with the people of San José La Montaña through letter writing, Bible study, and other shared activities that our two committees are collaborating on for the coming year.