Tears I Shed In El Salvador

Grace Lutheran member René García's spiritual journey to El Buen Pastor Lutheran Church in Usulután, El Salvador. 

    The community of faith at El Buen Pastor Lutheran Church in Usulután, El Salvador, taught me the material things in life that we value so much do not matter. I left the United States during Spring Break dreading having to "rough it," while at the same time, I wasn't sure how I would be received. Since returning home I realized how blessed I am for what I have. and I terribly miss my Salvadoran brothers and sisters that I have come to know and love.
     New Hope Lutheran Church in Missouri City (Houston), TX has been a sister congregation with El Buen Pastor for nearly 20 years. Since 1995 they have sent delegations to El Salvador to visit. This year I was invited to be a part of the delegation.
     El Buen Pastor is located on the northern side of Usulután, a city of approximately 70,000 people in Southeastern El Salvador. The congregation meets in what was formerly a home of five rooms, two bathrooms, a garage, and a center patio. During our time in Usulután we slept on mats on the sanctuary floor and took cold showers, only the very rich in El Salvador have hot water and air conditioning.

     On the third day of our visit we participated in a field day with approximately 80 youth from Usulután and the surrounding communities which are ministered by El Buen Pastor.  This is where I met Isabel, a 34 year old male farmer who plays guitar for El Buen Pastor. During our time together at the field day we had the opportunity to get to know each other.
     The following day we traveled to Llano El Coyol, the community where Isabel lives. In this community, like others, I witnessed extreme poverty. Following worship we met with the farmers, it was then I saw Isabel in a totally different light.  He was no longer the cool 30-something guy leading the youth, but an impassioned child of God explaining to us the harsh realities of being a farmer in El Salvador.
     The last two years had been filled with agony for the farmers, thanks to hurricanes and floods, they have had nothing. All of their crops have been destroyed, yet they still have to eat. For half an hour we heard the stories of farmers who had either used money saved from former harvests or took loans to try to buy seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides with the hope of a successful crop and money to pay back the loan or put money aside for the next season and perhaps even get somewhat ahead. Since the last two years yielded no crops, many were stuck in situations where there was no money to eat.
     When the meeting was over I was numb. I felt horrible and knew that I had to say something to Isabel. I went up to him and shared with him the pain I felt, but I also expressed how surprised I was upon seeing his happiness; he always wore a smile. We concluded our brief conversation by stating the fact that we are both brothers in Christ. Being fully aware of the "macho" dynamic among men in Latin American countries, I literally asked him permission to hug him. He immediately laughed and we embraced.
     Around that same time I was called to go to the front of the church, a plaque had been installed and I was asked to translate. A wife of one of the delegation members had died from cancer a year ago.  She had left money in her will to Llano El Coyol for improvements to the church. As a result, the local community named the church in her honor. 
     I could barely get the words out, my tears began to flow. In the van on the way back to Usulután I continued weeping, I felt the presence of God. I had a feeling come over me, I realized I still had work to do in El Salvador.
     The following day we said good-bye to Usulután and traveled to San Salvador. We spent the next two days in meetings with the wife of the Salvadoran Lutheran Bishop and a gentleman from Grupo Maiz, a non-profit that focuses on social justice issues, including issues pertaining to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, who gave us an interpretation of the recent national elections, and another gentleman from a gang prevention organization who debriefed us on the gang reality in the country. We later had the opportunity to visit the University of Central America, where six Jesuit priests were assassinated in 1989, and the Divina Providencia Hospital Chapel, where Roman Catholic Bishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while celebrating Mass in 1980.
     Our final night was spent at a resort on the Pacific coast near the airport. Pastor Julio, his son, and one of the church leaders, joined us. During this time I came out to both Pastor Julio and the church leader. To my surprise I was received with open arms!!  Pastor Julio told me that there are gay people in his congregation and that this is a topic that needs to be addressed.  I was able to give him LGBT resources in Spanish which he joyously received and complimented. He stated that he would like for me to give an hour-long presentation on homosexuality when I return to El Salvador.
     To say that I was in shock would be an understatement, I would have never imagined in my wildest dreams receiving acceptance from STRAIGHT men in El Salvador!!
     The following day I got on the plane back to the US with mixed feelings. I found a niche within the El Buen Pastor community. Now I have to figure out how God wants me to use my hands to do God's work.

René García will give a presentation based on his Salvadoran experiences following worship on Sunday, June 17, in the parlor.  All are welcome!