David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Llano de Coyol

We inquire of Pastor Julio and his leadership team if they distribute food to the very poor on holidays. The answer is no. In honor of our home church Our Saviors that has a strong ministry in the fight against hunger, we offer to sponsor the purchase and distribution of food for 45 families. Pastor Julio chose the rural mission community of Llano de Coyol.

In Usulután we go to a fascinating bulk food store with 100 pound sacks of dry items every-where. People purchase 1 pound quantities or 50 and 100 pound bags of rice, beans, and flour.

The church team has assembled bags before in the ministry of disaster relief so they have a good system. For $329 we will provide 45 families with 9 meals. These items and their daily bread of tortillas will last for many days.

At the Usulután church of El Buen Pastor, we repackage the bulk items into family size quantities. We sort rice, coffee, sugar, pasta, sauce, and cooking oil into strong plastic bags.

The next day, we are in Llano de Coyol on the side of a volcano, an area rich in trees and beautiful flowers, but of extreme poverty for the people.

As each family name is read a representative comes forward to receive their bag. Old men and women, teenage girls, 8-10 year old boys claim packages. There are some smiles but mostly serious faces. Each has a picture taken with their bag; then they come together for a group photo.

We hope and pray this small Christmas blessing brings joy into their hearts, lives, families and community.

David y Nancy

David y Nancy

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

El Limon

Although the hurricane season has ended for El Salvador, the Central American countries continue to suffer the effects of the storms. Damage done to El Salvador’s infrastructure by Hurricanes Agatha and Alex are still visible. In July we visited the pueblo of El Limon in Puerto Parada with a delegation from Milwaukee. The Rio Grande San Miguel had breached the dyke flooding El Limon making entry impossible. The school and community were under 3 feet of water for months. The river has receded, the standing groundwater evaporated.

Pastor Julio and his leadership team received donations from Milwaukee area churches for distribution in this community. El Limon is a flat agriculture area where the sugar cane is nearing harvest. Both sides of the road have 8 feet high cane with beautiful white plumes that add another 2 feet of height.

On Thanksgiving Day, eight of us visited El Limon, working as two teams, each with 36 bags of 2 pairs of flip-flops and a large bag of tooth brushes. We walked the community calling into yards asking for permission to enter. We explain we are from the Lutheran church and have shoes and tooth brushes. The teams delivered to 36 homes.

The windowless homes are assembled from pieces of scrap: palm tree branches, pieces of wood and metal and black plastic.

The elderly look ancient, many are barefoot as they are throughout the county, their old weathered faces with missing teeth and their dirt encrusted feet with broken toes.

At one home a little girl is getting an afternoon bath in the yard, in another the children are watching the life of Jesus on TV. Beyond the bath and TV we see harsh rural poverty.

We move from home to home on the dirt road sharing space with ox carts carrying freshly cut sugar cane and fire wood. The ox carts look as old as the Christmas story, but they are very popular, still being made and in frequent use.

In late afternoon, the cows return home. A herd of 15 huge animals pass silently. We are watchful and stay clear of their horns which appear sharp and long enough to penetrate a concrete wall - 30,000 pounds of beef herded by 40 pound kid with a stick.

After a day of amazing accompaniment, we thank God for all the opportunities He has blessed us and with this experience that continues to keep us in awe of how much we do not know about the lives of our brothers and sisters in this world.

David y Nancy

Thursday, November 25, 2010


In previous journals we have mentioned the small projects we implemented at the public school in La Granja, the community north of San Salvador where our sister parish children attend public school K-9. Earlier this year through the gift of a friend from our church in West Bend, we donated electronic equipment as well as English/Spanish dictionaries. The electronic equipment supports a new music and cultural program for the children of this school. The school leaders suggested we return in mid November for a fiesta.

We accepted the invitation and revisited the school. The children greeted us at the gate. They were all smiles and some in traditional costume. We were seated at a long table facing two raised areas that served as performance stands. Greetings were extended by the staff and one 2nd grader offered a 3 minute greeting and welcome in excellent English on behalf of the students.

The CD player provided the amplified music for the children’s singing and dancing. They had been rehearsing for days and were excited to give their performances. Mothers in attendance were equally excited and proud of their child’s performance.

The children were not in uniform today, wearing street clothes. Many of the girls were extremely thin, especially their legs, some signs of malnutrition and possibly of disease. The picture became clear that these are children from very poor families.

And yet, as part of their hospitality, we enjoyed an abundant lunch of fried tortillas piled with sauce, beans, cucumber, egg, lettuce and a tomato slice with a side of fried yucca, topped with grated cabbage.

After the fiesta we asked about their needs for next year but today was a day of thanks and not a day for asking. Thanks giving continued with picture taking and fond goodbyes. To be back at the school was a joy in itself and we were delighted to see the previous gifts generate the music, dance and language program.

This was a day of blessing. Everyday is a day of thanks. Gracias Señor!

We would like to dedicate a journal to answer questions. Please contact us with your questions concerning any aspect of our journey, past, present or future at slindeent@aol.com .

David y Nancy

Sunday, November 14, 2010


El Salvador and Honduras share a lengthy mountainous border. High in these mountains the air is fresh and cool. All winter this air remains suspended on the mountain tops until the early November winds push it down between the crevasse of this volcanic mountain range, down into the valleys and finally across the flat lands of Usulután. It is fresh; it fills the chest and lungs with long awaited relief.

We returned to milder weather. The sting of the hot harsh winter air has been exhausting. It prevented restful sleep and caused much stress with the continued need to launder often to keep clothes and bedding clean. We are more relaxed, feel strengthened, breathing in routine breaths of fresh morning air. The body is functioning normal again.

The winds also move a lot of dirt. None of the homes are sealed, thus dirt accumulates on the floor, furniture, kitchen area. Cleaning table tops and floors twice a day is a small price to pay for the comfort that the cooler winds provide.

Hot humid winter and its rains are ending as we head into hot dry summer. The frequency of rain has diminished with the second Sunday in November the end of the rainy season, but the official end of the hurricane season is month end. David finished his four month project of patching the leaks in the roof. No leaks with the latest rains; we’ll test the patch job next winter. Summer - winter, only two seasons in Central America.

There’s a lot of evidence of seasonal change with the budding of fruit trees. Our avocado tree has buds but not as many as three years ago according to Gabriel. He said our fruit tree peaked three years with an abundant crop and hasn’t been the same since. When the avocados drop, it’s too late. They need to be picked fresh from the tree. Avocado with egg salad is a rich and tasty treat.

Birds are building a nest in the roof of the porch. The schools are closing for two months. The campesinos are waiting for the harvest of coffee and sugar cane, back breaking work that makes them old before their time. The rural boys 10 and older join their dads in the harvest of coffee or sugar cane during their school break.

Schools closing, trees budding, nest building, fresh cooler air. It’s a time of renewal. We get ideas of doing great things that we can only imagine, like back packing to the bottom of an old volcano or canoeing thru a port canal. All this fresh air brings vigor to the mind, needed rest for the body and renewal of the soul.

This transition is a surprise for us. While we are enjoying these changes, our Salvadoran friends tell us they think this time of the year is “too cold”.

David y Nancy

Friday, November 5, 2010

Where’s the Reformation?

On the way to Sunday worship we drive through the very heart of commerce in Usulután. Street vendors are selling from the edge of the pavement where large busses and trucks blow their diesel exhaust in the faces of women and children selling vegetables, CDs, clothing, and much more.

Two blocks along our route are packed with vendors selling flower arrangements. The city is beautiful with the array of colors. Two vendors have pine boughs for sale, stacked 5 feet high, offering a new fragrance of pine that we relate to Northern Wisconsin or the Black Hills.

The Salvadorans celebrate the Day of the Dead on November 2. Paint stores and flower vendors have added part-time help to accommodate all the customers preparing for the annual pilgrimage to paint and decorate the graves of the departed.

This is a busy weekend of commemorations in liturgical churches: October 31 is Reformation, November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 is All Souls Day. We are looking forward to celebrating our protestant roots in the Reformation today.

As the sermon started we listened to hear familiar words like Martin Luther, Reformation, or his foundation of “Only Grace, Only Faith, Only Scripture”.
We didn’t hear any of that.

While there are over 140 Lutheran denominations worldwide, the Lutherans of North America view the Reformation as a second Pentecost. As in the first Pentecost, the Spirit of God prevailed. Luther couldn’t be stopped by the powers of the world. He wasn’t the first and he isn’t the only reformer. But considering the place, time and invention of the printing press, Luther’s teachings influenced the hearts of men and women of Europe against incredible odds that were working for his silence. It was indeed a miracle.

This year’s remembrance of Reformation is more reflective for us. How can all believers regardless of church affiliation be a part of the “reforming” of their individual faith and belief? While our North American culture promotes Halloween with emphasis of death and fear, reformation should reveal the tremendous love of Christ. After his sacrifice on the cross, His grace prevails through the continuing outpouring of his Holy Spirit.

This is a year of reformation for us. First living in a new culture and absolutely alone in a strange place; now experiencing transformation, being aware of God’s presence like never before, in total trust for our well-being in our coming in and going out.

Blessed Reformation and Transformation to you all

David y Nancy

Monday, November 1, 2010

Formation to Implementation

Before we left for R&R, we were able to create two jobs. We connected two gifted adults from our church community with the NGO Oikos Solidaridad for the development of a web site. We hope to nurture this initial job into a possible business. First it has to be their desire, not ours.

Our first nine months represent our formation period of our mission. Now we transition to implementation. Our mission is Community Development; our two big projects with Volunteer Missionary Movement include Education and Food Security. Nancy has been working in education since arrival, teaching English to 135 students. Food Security addresses malnutrition and produces an income stream for families. A grant for our food security project is under way with the VMM office in Milwaukee. We wait for funding.

This time of waiting provides us an opportunity to develop and implement other programs that have been mentioned by our church leaders here in Usulután.

The church leaders are opening a store, providing jobs for members of the church community. Nancy and I were able to secure pledges from the US totaling $8,000 allowing for the first time purchase of inventory for cash. Two thousand dollars more will make the store a reality.

We received donations for the construction of a concrete patio at the entry of the public school in Aqua Fria. Oikos has a new relationship with this community and the Oikos programs begin with skills development for each community leader. They are well into program and this patio project will provide the emerging leaders an opportunity to test their newly acquired skills outside a training setting and into a working activity.

We received many donations of school supplies and Sunday school materials. Before we distribute these we need to develop a Sunday school program that incorporates “supplies” into the lesson plans. Current lesson plans are one hour of lecture.

Thus we return to much work, not only for us but also with our partners. There will be many meetings in the months ahead to implement these resources.

While home in West Bend, we struggled about our witness to the Salvadoran people. One purpose in being in El Salvador is for our faith to grow. Along with that, our witness should also grow as we share the good news of Jesus Christ.

During our conversation with Benjamin Alas this week, he shared that Oikos is very grateful for our volunteer work with them. They appreciate our experience, our wisdom, our values and our cultural understanding of the communities and the needs of the people.

He said “you are like John the Baptist bringing good news and hope in the wilderness. Oikos and the Slinde’s complement each other in the vision and the work for a better life for the poor. You bring blessings from God. The people of the communities remember you and ask about you, they know your hearts and your testimony of love and faith.”

We appreciate this confirmation, because we really struggled about coming back. Our heads said no but an inner presence tugged at our spirits. Go back ---- and we responded.

David y Nancy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Return

Our home church provided us an entire weekend to share about our mission. It was a good time for us to reflect on our past 10 months and our future VMM project, church programs, and how we can be intentional in our witness to our Christian faith.

We finished packing Monday afternoon to wait for the airport shuttle. We returned with many school and Sunday school supplies, thanks to the generosity of family and friends. Concerned about the additional cost and airline allowance of 8 suit cases, we hurriedly purchased the biggest suitcase available. After many adjustments, we had 2 carry-ons and 4 large suitcases. The monster came in at 49.5 pounds. We left for the airport to spend the night in the motel across the street.

Our day started Tuesday at 3:00 am. Security checked every item in our two carry-ons. Our tube of tooth paste and ivory soap bars made us suspicious characters.

As the plane left the gateway in Milwaukee, the pilot announced the plane would not steer. The runway was to the left but the plane would only turn right. It took 40 minutes to return to the gate. We deplaned and waited. After multiple announcements that contradicted the previous announcements, we were all completely confused with no idea of our fate. Two hours later we left Milwaukee for Houston. Of course we missed our connecting flight. Our US phone could not make international calls. With a 7 hour delay and friends waiting for us in San Salvador, we begged to use the Internet at the Continental President’s Club. We emailed our friends, but they were already at the airport. Later in the afternoon they called us confirming pick up at 8:30 pm. More protection and mercy for two exhausted travelers!

After waiting 7 hours we boarded and left for San Salvador. We landed at 7:30, the last plane that evening and low number of passengers; we got through immigration and customs quickly. With 6 suitcases, customs did not want to start something that could take hours. We were the last passengers at the airport when our friends arrived. They had decided we would sleep at their house in San Salvador and leave for Batres in the morning. A great decision for us since we had no energy left and just wanted to sleep.

Another early day, we got up at 5:30 and hit the road at 6. In Batres at 9:00 am. The house is still here along with all its contents. A week long wind and rain storm made it a filthy mess of dirt and leaves. After two hours of serious cleaning, it smells and looks fresh. Now we unpack and get organized.

Some can goods left for dinner and cold beer. It will do for us until we shop in the morning. We also brought with us worship CD's and familiar and loved singers. Right now Josh Groban is comforting us with beautiful gentle music. Another gift for our whole beings.

In other words, we arrived safely. We are well and once again adapting to a different environment. More updates when the action begins this coming week.

David y Nancy

Monday, October 11, 2010

From Home

We are writing this journal from our home in West Bend. When we arrived home the first week of September, the leaves were green. Now we see a medley of yellow, orange, gold, green and red. As the foliage thins, the neighbor’s barn is in view. This week we had frost, a reminder that the march to the cold and white is approaching.

Our first 15 days were spent addressing fundraising for our food security project with Oikos and funding for programs with our 4 churches in Usulután. As we shop for items to take back, we are reminded of the abundance we have in the US. Nancy and I grew up in modest environments, but compared to Salvadorans we grew up privileged. We know we are a blessed couple, this is a blessed country, and we look forward to extending the blessing to our brothers and sisters in El Salvador.

We took a break from fundraising and supply shopping to enjoy our children as they arrived to spend time with us. The grandchildren are beautiful with another on the way in April. They all returned to their homes safely to resume their busy lives.

A young confirmand from our church in West Bend has been collecting money for a sports program in Usulután. When we mentioned it to the Salvadoran church leadership they were very excited about the possibilities and suggested that David be a player on the home team. The futball field looks mile long and a half mile wide. With the 100 degree heat and humidity, it might not be the appropriate exercise at this time of life.

The professional soccer (futball) field in Usulután is beautiful with lush green grass, bleachers, and scoreboard. On game days, the street in front of the stadium is closed to traffic. Street vendors line both sides of the street selling tortillas and pupusas. Thousands of people arrive by bus. The soldiers escort the referees in; when the game ends the referees and soldiers run for the exit.

Now we “gear up” for our return. Packing a few new clothes, our bags are flush with school supplies donated by friends and family, games, and educational materials. Nancy brings more than English to the class room, engaging the students in active participation in the lesson. Some merely memorize but we want them to think. While Nancy makes the classes stimulating and thoughtful, we also want to expand their confidence by providing materials that stir their creativity and thinking skills.

We return with peace in our hearts received from the encouragement of our friends and family of faith in West Bend. We are confident that God who has begun a great work for us will bring all things through to completion.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

San Julian

Our NGO project partner in Usulután is Oikos Solidaridad whose mission is to accompany communities impoverished and vulnerable. We are working together to form projects for sustainable community development and protection.

Last Tuesday we viewed the reclamation and agriculture project proposed for the community of San Julian which is in the volcanic range of Chaparrastique. We drove to San Jorge and then entered the dirt and rock spillway system that drains the mountains of thunderous rains. The spillway is in need of drastic repair as we are 5 months into the rainy season, but it is the only means to travel in and around the entire range. The safest way to travel is on foot, for long distance by horse or for transporting supplies by ox cart. We traveled by truck and it is an understatement to say that it was rough! We drove up a long distance and then we walked straight up for another long and hot distance.

After the end of the civil war, settlers lacking any environmental awareness cut trees and plowed the soil with no regard to erosion control. The effect of 18 years of poor soil management is drastic. In other communities of this mountain range, Oikos Solidaridad has implemented reclamation projects to stop the environmental destruction and has made significant progress in improving the land for agriculture.

San Julian has 900 families living in poverty; over 4500 people would have significant impact in training, health, and nutrition. Reducing the amount of runoff would benefit 10s of thousands who live downstream (like us).

Early Wednesday morning we will on our way home. We return with items we don’t use or no longer need in order to preserve them. Because of the severe tropical conditions here in Usulután, our shoes, belts, clothing, watch, wallets, and camera have become moldy, rotten or rusty. These all need to be replaced.

Our children and grandchildren will be with us the third week of September for time at the lake. We might not swim, but we will be able to enjoy familiar smells, fresh air, the turning leaves and the unique smell of the lake.

While our bodies, hearts, and spirits will be in the states, our thoughts will continue on for El Salvador as we will work on lessons plans, project proposals, and purchasing supplies for our return. Plus we will be giving presentations, doing fund raising and happily receiving donations for our projects.

We will not have internet readily available, but our state side cell phone is 262-339-2570.

David y Nancy

Friday, August 27, 2010


Nancy is teaching ESL after worship service on Sunday afternoons in the community of Puerta Parada. Puerta Parada is about one inch above seal level. It’s either soaked or under water most of the winter. As we drive in and out of the community we see homes having up to 6 inches of water in their yards and homes. The road is a muddy mess.

Many of the children do not attend school. Their families have them work in mosquito infested swamps to harvest shell fish. Our little church in Puerta Parada named My Good Jesus is a dank, dreary structure with a leaky roof. 50% of the time services and classes are canceled due to the rain.

The Bishop announced he was coming to celebrate the anniversary of My Good Jesus. We had a fundraiser to purchase paint. The day painting was an interesting experience as the children had never painted before. At the end of the day, the children and the interior of the church were painted in bright melon. After the paint dried, a youth painted a cross with the Lutheran seal on the altar wall.

The festive day arrived and it rained. The Bishop and his pastoral team arrived in Usulután for lunch at the church of the “The Good Shepherd”. It continued to rain while we ate and the question for the two hours was “can we make it to Puerta Parada?”
3 trucks and a van headed to the coast in the heavy rain.

The church had been decorated with pink balloons and ribbons for a traditional Fiesta Rosa. Balloons, fresh flowers and fresh paint made the mood very festive.

As the Bishop announced the worship service was beginning 24 beautifully dressed children and teenagers processed in. Our first Quincinera: the boys wore black pants and vests with red shirts. The girls wore beautiful mauve dresses, the younger girls in greens, pinks and yellows. The star of the day was appropriately named Estella, dressed in an elegant pink formal with a crown and bouquet of pink flowers.

The children sparkled with rain drops in their hair and on their faces and shoulders. It was a special service with the Bishop leading attended by 5 pastors and 2 catechists. They all blessed the young lady on her 15th birthday.

When they recessed from the church, pictures were taken in the rain and they processed to a pasture where a huge tent with a floor was erected for this festive day. We experienced a celebration of extreme beauty in the midst of overwhelming poverty.

David y Nancy

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Fish, Shrimp, Stringray

Oikos Solidaridad, our partner NGO, invited us to join them in a fiesta on the beach to celebrate a major achievement on a project.
We returned to a beach where we previously had lunch. It was quiet back in March. The water was beautiful, the local buildings a mix of every building material you can imagine, including bamboo and palm branches. Children were in the water with and without suits. Fishing ships could be seen far off on the horizon. As we were leaving, the locals launched a huge 25 foot wooden boat loaded with fishing gear. This boat travels far into the ocean to join the larger fishing ships for exchanges of equipment and fresh catch.

On this night in July the atmosphere is different. Much of the beach and some buildings were destroyed by Agatha. The waves roll in brown murky water. The beach is filled with blobs of dead jelly fish.

The first of the runner boats comes on shore. A huge red bucket contains a sting ray. The entire bottom of the boat has shrimp that are scooped into buckets and carried across the beach to coolers in waiting pickup trucks. These larger fresh shrimp will be taken to the markets of San Salvador for top dollar revenue.

At dusk, another runner arrives with more shrimp and other seafood. Later we are served three different types of fish, all fresh and sweet - a meal well worth waiting for.

Traveling the roads at night brings a unique challenge. Some vehicles have no lights. Cows and dogs wander the streets and people on bicycles have no lighting or reflective gear. The mountain roads are not marked for curves and other cautions. It takes someone familiar with this route to return home safely. We arrive safe and satisfied after a joy-filled evening of food and fellowship.

David y Nancy

Monday, August 2, 2010

Seasons of life

Time off is not a part of our current vocabulary. We are working 7 days a week equipping ourselves to walk in solidarity with members of our church body in Usulután. In the midst of immersion and ESL classes, we took the opportunity and traveled to San Salvador for a 24 hour visit with friends and the family of Our Saviors Lutheran Church, West Bend, Wi.

Eight members came to El Salvador for a Habitat for Humanity build in July. Unfortunately the “build” was held at the other end of the country, making it very difficult for us to join in on the actual construction. They returned to San Salvador for a weekend of hospitality offered by the national Habitat for Humanity. We all stayed in the same hotel for two nights. The conversation, story telling and laughter reminded us of all that we miss about family, friends and community.

Late Sunday afternoon we traveled to Nejapa to worship with our sister congregation (FE), then viewed the current “fight against hunger” project. FE sits on a 15 fertile acre parcel of land. There have been 3 or 4 initiatives started at FE to fight hunger without significant impact. With new emphasis and support from the Lutheran World Federation, there is now an agricultural training center at FE. Seven women work together to learn gardening and are currently growing vegetables in a community garden.

At the end of the day we returned to the hotel for our last evening together. We were presented with a suit case of home newspapers, mail, personal care items, school supplies and sports equipment for our mission ---wonderful, thoughtful, appreciated gifts.

During the day Pastor Pam shared the news of the death of a friend, Todd Pruett. Todd received a bone marrow transplant and was receiving treatment in Washington State. A sudden infection changed everything. Todd is special to us having had him in our Sunday school classes when he was young. He would mention this on occasion, especially to his sons. It was always a joy to hear his remembrances.

Our friends left at 4:00 am Monday. If they knocked on our door to say good bye, we never woke up.
It was quiet, we were protected from the street noise with the additional comfort of air conditioning. We didn’t hear any dogs barking, ducks, chickens, or screaming roosters. (yes some roosters scream at night) No molino grinding away outside our bedroom window at 5:30 am. We enjoyed this needed break.

Time and life move on –every day holds joys, sorrows, life, death, hope and uncertainty. We are here in God’s presence to experience all of it.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another Bang

Projects, programs, possibilities, pastors, people - - - they all seem to pile up at once. After 6 months of waiting, moving and immersion, the mission began like the shot of a starter gun.

One Sunday afternoon, one of the pastors and his leadership team arrived at our gate. We had had a meeting at the church a week earlier to discuss their interests – education for Nancy and a business proposal for David were top on their list. They told us they had a meeting scheduled the next morning, Monday, with one community to determine their priorities. We received a phone call in that afternoon to learn they wanted English classes to begin TOMORROW!

One of the leaders came to our house on Tuesday afternoon to join us on the journey so we could know the bus route and arrival place. The location is in a yard under a tree along with the cows and chickens. Another great surprise was the class itself. We were told about 15 students ages 10 to 15 so the lesson was prepared with that expectation.

Actually, there were 30 students, ages 5 – 20. The first class could be viewed two ways: as a disaster or as a learning experience for the teacher and her assistant. We’ll choose the latter. Besides the heat and animals and terrified students was the incredible education range from K through 9. We all survived and we are bonding as we learn together. Another interesting component is that as I use my limited Spanish to teach them, often I get blank looks. Their leader explains “we don’t say that – our word is in Nahuat”, so we are also learning the native language.

The students came without paper or pencils, but we came with supplies. We have been purchasing supplies for the visual and writing experience. We also purchased a printer for producing ESL material. All material is custom made for each class. Think about prep time for each

We now have 4 classes that meet on Tuesday, Friday and 2 on Sunday in two different communities. We are proceeding slowly but surely. The sizes and ranges of the classes continue to astound us. We have a 21 year old who is in 4th grade, an 18 year old in first grade, and a 16 year old in 1st year of high school, a 17 year old in the 2nd year, an 18 year old in the 3rd and a 26 year old university graduate. There is also the usual mix of grades and ages. Talk about different learning systems and maturity. We are hoping that after we have a solid foundation of basics we can find time to split into more appropriate learning levels. At this time, we have about 120 students with more to come.

Time is a critical factor as now we are working with an NGO on a project for women, a business project for the church, a potential project with the mayor of Batres, and we are waiting to hear from two more zone churches about their interests. Everyday is a new experience and a new opportunity.

David y Nancy

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Immersion Part III

When we first met the Mayor, we told him we were Rotarians, community volunteers, and willing to volunteer in his community. He suggested we begin with a tour of Concepcion Batres which is a township the size of a Wisconsin County.

The center city of Concepcion Batres is on the far West border of the township; there are a total of 32 pueblos. The city roads are paved with concrete or cobble stone and a layer of cow plop on top of that. Outside the square mile of the city the roads are dirt, but in very drivable condition. The landscape is a beautiful variety of the color green that we enjoy in Wisconsin.

Heading east towards the Rio Grande, we drive through many streams of clean water. There are a number of natural springs in this area that produce these streams; we stop at one that was built into a park with swimming pool. Further into our drive, we pass through a rushing stream of highly polluted water from a neighboring community. The water contains chemicals, animal and human waste. The high level of pollution is contaminating the water table in Batres Township. The Mayor has a current water project to bring fresh water to every home, but wants to address this issue since it has broad impact in the human, animal and agricultural use of the water.

The primary crop is corn and sugar cane with many grazing cattle. 90% of the land in agriculture is owned by the people living on it. The Mayor would like the people to embrace new agriculture methods like crop diversification and rotation to increase productivity and protect the environment. His goal is to add an agricultural specialist to his staff to help the farmers implement these newer agricultural practices.

We drive through San Diego, La Pancha, Nueva Hacienda, El Guerrero, Canchilla and 9 more as we begin the drive to higher elevation to a “window” for a breath taking panorama of the terrain. The area before us is an environmental preserve. The Mayor is looking to encourage tourism by building an overlook to view this beautiful place with the hope of a restaurant to follow. The national government has a contest to promote tourism. This project will be entered in this contest.

We dead end at a place called Puerto Viejo (Old Port). This is a wilderness river area. There is no apparent access to the opposite side of the river that has the appearance of a tropical jungle. On our return we pass two men headed to Old Port who have new fishing nets they made, hand crafted paddles and a rebar anchor for their dugout. They catch fish to sell from this elevated environmental sanctuary.

Due to the frequent flooding of the major and smaller rivers, the Mayor has a project to relocate 140 families to a stable area. A family needs $1000 to apply for the “sub division”. If it’s $200 or $400 or $1000, it’s beyond their reach. The Mayor knows this but is hopeful that an NGO might help these people.

The mayor has a passion for his people. In a culture where power and leadership are often abusive, we find his sense of protection and service to his people uplifting.

David y Nancy

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Immersion Part II

Guillermo picked us up at 8 am in a lightweight Korean truck. The three of us squeeze into the front seat. We meet Victor his associate for the day and are off heading east on Hwy 2 to join with 2 men from the Mayor’s office of Jucuaran.

The truck climbs the range that is the barrier between the plains and the ocean. Agatha was just a week ago and there are tree limbs and many washouts along the roadway. The drainage systems are full of mud and men with strong backs and shovels are removing the mud, clearing them for the next rain. At 9 we arrive in the small seaside community of El Cuco.

In El Cuco we turn west, backtracking. Our drive is high in the hills that parallel the ocean coast. It takes us another hour driving on a hilly stone road at 5 miles an hour over boulders and avoiding wash outs created by Agatha. Our descent into the community is as difficult as was the ascent over this boulder filled road. Finally we are at ocean level and the road abruptly ends in an area of trees.

A small group of leaders from the directiva of Agua Fria joins us for the brief but rocky and tricky walk to the ocean. This is an historic area from the war as this beach was the site where ships with arms for the guerrilla fighters landed to unload for distribution. Now Pedro says that it is an area of forgotten people. Jose tells us how the land on both sides of the road belonged to the people of the community but after the war, the government (military and Arena) took the land located on the ocean side for private and tourist use.

The mayor elected in 2009 is FMLN, defeating the Arena party for the first time. The mayor wants to assist the community in development and has introduced them to Oikos. There are ideas to develop a part of the bay for a shrimp or tilapia farm. This will take much training and supervision so this project will not start soon. Despite being in the bay, fishing is not a nutritional activity even though it is a major source of income and food in El Cuco, just miles away.

The adults are uneducated campesinos whose lives are hard labor in fields but with no agricultural training. Knowledge and skills are very limited. Oikos has begun a project with them for development of self-esteem and current farming skills. They are teaching the workers about crop diversification for better nutrition and care of the soil. In the past, the farmers have planted only frijoles and corn, getting only one crop a year because the extreme weather variations and usually wet soil. Introducing watermelon and other produce will benefit all. There are very few fruit trees in this community; mangoes are the standard tree.

Homes were not readily visible and part of Agua Fria is accessible only via a rough foot path. Other homes are off side paths from the main street. 53 families live here with an average of 5 people in each (265 population).

The school for grades PK – 6 is on this main road and the school yard is basically mud. There is no dry area of land – everything slopes toward the building from the hills behind. 81 children attend the school – some in uniform, some without shoes, all of them dirty. Many are light skinned with brown hair. Many have finer features than the Mayan or historical appearance. Facial expressions are bland but they watch us with curiosity. There are several dominant girls and much interaction girls with girls, boys with boys.

There is a female principal with one male and 3 female teachers. Each has a combined class PK-K, 1-2, 3-4, 5-6. The classes lack text books and dictionaries. The rooms are dark – the school is dreary. Fathers have helped with roof and fence repairs and are bringing rocks for an effort to change the flow of water and mud away from entering the school.

As we spend time at the school with community leaders, we sense they are hoping we will become project partners. They need $500 for a concrete mix to improve the school yard. They need text books. If any of you Sunday school teachers or Bible study groups are looking for a mission, Aqua Fria needs your help.

David y Nancy

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Immersion Part 1

Getting started

At our last meeting with three church leaders, Volunteer Missionary Movement coordinator Danny and NGO Executive Director Benjamin, Benjamin suggested we take the time to become familiar with the area before jumping into any projects. He suggested we begin with introductions to leaders of civil society (police, mayors, schools, procurdura HR); integration into cooperatives – ngos and organizations – local, national, international; and education about the territories – soil, education, weather, people

After we moved in, we visited the police, mayor, and schools. Then we experienced tropical storm Agatha. Eight miles away from our home, flooding of the Rio Grande San Miguel forced the evacuation of 43 people of a community in the Concepcion Batres jurisdiction. They were directed by the police to a Conception Batres school, a make-shift shelter with only basic provisions for the 43 people in its care.

After visiting the shelter we went to this section of the Rio Grande to witness the actual damage to their homes, fields, crops and orchards. Some people remained in their flooded homes with 12 to 16 inches of dirty and muddy river water everywhere.

We walked around and through previously flooded fields. Fruit trees have rotten fruit hanging from their branches. The new corn crop is now infected with mold. This is a substantial economic loss to the subsistence farmers who are very poor. We continued our tour with members of the directiva. They were still checking on the status of families to determine who had left and who were still in their homes. At the home of the leader of the directiva we met a 101 year old woman who while very fragile was sharp and talkative.

A man was paddling a dug out on our side of the river across the rapid flowing water to San Felipe. The dug outs we saw are familiar to ones we have seen in museums of the Great Lakes.

We left this area to head towards the mountains. We also saw storm damage here as a huge tree blocked the dirt road. Benjamin’s associate got out of the vehicle to help Benjamin maneuver around the obstacle. The road is very rough and we bottomed out on smaller size boulders sticking out of the roadbed. After traveling for 30 minutes by SUV we stopped at a level clearing where we noticed a number of bamboo and thatch huts. Benjamin informed us that these are drying buildings for the crops at harvest time. We continued up the mountain by foot passing many 8 acre fields and pastures. Cattle and herds of cows passed us coming down the mountain. We walked for another 30 minutes, greeting herdsmen who stop to talk with Benjamin and Guillermo. The cows wait impatiently as they are headed to a fresh pasture.

Oikos has developed the side of the mountain into an agricultural area by altering the terrain to provide safe rain water drainage, building spill ways to hold back the speed of the runoff. They have also planted hundreds of trees to provide for the absorption of rain water into the soil. We don’t see any homes. The herders we pass are soiled with leathery skin and missing teeth. There are no services in their community, there is no public school, committing the children to a primitive way of life for another generation.

To be continued:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Seed-Food Fest

The first Friday in June is Seed-Food Fest in Concepcion Batres. (Not to be confused with Seafood Fest, 4800 miles away in West Bend, WI).

Seed-Food Fest is held in the central plaza of Concepcion Batres. The plaza is one square block of green space including soccer field, basketball court, bandstand, fountains and lots of benches to just sit and watch.

The festival is sponsored by Oikos and the mayor. Oikos is the German funded, locally operated agricultural NGO that has been active in developing agricultural projects with community members for over 20 years.

A stage with speakers, entertainment, dancing is a main focus of the festival. This one day event provides Oikos stakeholders the opportunity to showcase their products to area communities. Large tents cover vendors selling various plants, vegetables, coffee, honey, beans, roots and live chickens. There were different types of seeds for sale but a 50 pound bag might last longer than either of us.

Some of the vendors consist of large families, others are more formal cooperatives, and others individuals. Vendors included men and women we previously met in the various communities in the Usulután area. This was a pleasant surprise to us and them and it also provided us an opportunity to affirm our presence and commitment to be in solidarity with them. Warm greetings were exchanged and conversation followed.

Unlike Seafood Fest in West Bend, there was no beer. But often like at Seafood Fest, the rains started about 11 am and continued for the afternoon. It was a cloud burst and we walked home in knee deep water flowing rapidly in the streets holding on to each other. The weather man indicates that the rain will stop in October. Lesson learned: always have your umbrella with you – we did not!

David y Nancy

Saturday, June 5, 2010

First days

It rained the first night. The roof still leaks. We have been unpacking, repacking for two days. Most of our clothes remain in a suitcase since we have no dresser. A few items are on hangers. We planned clothing for the city, mountains and plains. When we return to the US in September we will bring the cool weather stuff home and bring back more appropriate clothing for 85-100 degrees.

Sunrise is 5:30; we wake early with noise from the corn grinder across the street. By 6 am people are in the streets and commerce is in full swing. A little later, the children are on their way to the 3 schools in the community. Delivery trucks, carts and men on bicycles are hawking their products and services.

It’s 7:45 am and getting hot - we are both sweating. We have been pushing water since we arrived in Usulután, but we use it all up by sweating. Breakfast is early, lunch is our big meal at 1:00 pm, with a lighter meal in the evening.

We do some of our toiletries at the pila in the back yard. This is the typical location of food preparation, washing dishes, washing clothes and washing humans. We are fortunate to have a shower. But with all the rain, look out for scorpions and tarantulas. Nancy was bitten.

It gets dark by 6:30 pm. The vendors shut down for the day and the streets are quiet. Most commerce comes to an abrupt stop except for a few tortilla venders and cyber cafe. I secure the gate since we are not expecting any visitors. A cucaracha flies in the front door and lands upside down on the floor, David sweeps him back outside.

We have our evening meal at 7:00. After eating, washing dishes, putting everything away, it’s after 8 and shower time. Then we lock the doors and retire for the evening to a good book or to catch up on emails and documents.

It’s very quiet. Maybe a brief dog fight and a rooster or two during the evening, but after a while we tune them out.

Rain again (it’s the season). We wake to check for more leaks and find a crab apple on the floor. In the kitchen we find fruit stems. We have bats. We’re going shopping today so we add garlic to our list.

Before we leave, we will spray the bedrooms with “Baygon” Ultra to control the cucarachas and rastreros (scorpions).

As we are writing this journal, a leaf falls to the floor from the center vent of the roof. With bats on our mind, we were startled, but just for a moment.

David y Nancy

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Drive

Highway 2 runs across El Salvador east to west. We pick it up near the airport which is south of the capital San Salvador. It’s a 2 lane road with traffic markings similar to those in North American or Europe. The road is very busy with semi-trucks, pickups, buses, cars, cattle, men on horse back and ox carts. Passing through pueblos, vendors are on the sides of the road with locally grown produce, both domestic and wild.

We pass over the first bridge that spans a major river. There are always trucks in the river bed loading gravel to make bricks at a local brick yard. Off to our left is a range of volcanoes that extend to our new home town and beyond. It can be a clear day except for the clouds that paint the volcanic mountains with ever changing imagery.

The region becomes more focused on agriculture as we proceed east. We pass giant John Deere tractors, some with attachments, also some older Ford tractors. We stop for cattle that have filled the road. We beep and they moo, continuing slowly with their cow strut to the other side.

We near Usulután and slow down for speed bumps. Vendors approach our truck with candy, fruit and locally grown cashews. These nuts (here called seeds) are unsalted with a richer taste than the ones offered by Mr. Peanut. Locally made wood furniture is offered on the side of the highway here and across the country. Some of furniture is very ornate and others are very primitive.

In Usulután the highway splits into one-way streets. Many older buildings have survived the past earthquakes. In the old center are a town square park, a cathedral, and much commerce. We see a CITI bank and at the end of town a Wendy’s and a Pizza Hut. They are packed for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are also hundreds of small cantinas.

We are still on Highway 2 heading east to Concepcion Batres. We pass large trucks filled with campesinos heading to the fields for a days work. The sugar cane whose harvest was just completed is already 6 feet tall in some fields. We pass over a bridge with the Rio Batres below, our marker that our community is just ahead and we make a right hand turn.

Children pouring out of school take over the street. We follow slowly behind. We make our final turn and follow a herd of cattle for a block. Then we are to our casa, our new home for the next 2 years.

David y Nancy

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Project Update

This writing is on Mothers Day in El Salvador (Monday May 10). Schools are closed and some businesses have the day off. As a national holiday, the pace and noise of daily life in the city is lessened. May 10 is also 6 months exactly of our time here in El Salvador.

Following is an update on projects we have been working on since we started in solidarity with the people of El Salvador.

Four years ago, the students of Holy Angels School, West Bend, WI collected $1,000 for books for the public school at La Granja. A year later, West Bend Sunrise Rotary donated another $1,000 allowing for each student in the public school to have the full range of text books for their studies in grades K thru 9. The benefit of these gifts has provided awesome results among the children, including their staying in school until graduation and some continuing to the second level, (high school) for professional development.

On Thursday we learned the text book program has become sustainable. With modest support from the government, they are able to allocate funds to replace older books or purchase a new series of texts. They could not have acquired the initial texts with their usual funding. But a hand-up (not a hand out) has allowed this school in a community outside the major city to greatly advance the education of rural children.

Five years ago, Our Saviors Lutheran Church West Bend implemented a scholarship program. On Sunday, we worshiped with our community at Fe y Esperanza. After service 14 families received scholarships for 39 children. This support has had significant impact especially with the young girls of the community who commonly drop out at the 6 grade to work, care for their siblings or have babies. This program provides the families alternatives so the children can remain in school and the youth can focus on careers.

Last week, Pastora Ana Rosa, the coordinator of the eastern region of the Lutheran Church, Danny, the local coordinator from Volunteer Missionary Movement, and the Slindes signed the agreement that binds us together into shared ministry for the next two years. What does this mean? We are missioners with Volunteer Missionary Movement (VMM) which has placed us with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church (ILS) which has placed us in the region of the east to be in solidarity with all people in this region.

Volunteer Missionary Movement focuses on relationships before projects, thus we will begin in accompaniment with three pastors having multiple communities, missions and churches. While our skills and talents focus on education and community development, we remain flexible on providing support and encouragement for issues most important in the lives of the people of the communities.

Monday, April 26, 2010


We begin joyfully today with answered prayer:

Immigration: Friday, after three previous visits to the immigration office, our documents were accepted. Without this clearance, we would need to leave every 90 days for a 3 day absence from the country. We have spent four months on the immigration process with much frustration. For two days, we focused intensively on the documents with a lawyer to be sure everything was correct. We are so very grateful for her pro bono help. We returned to the government offices with a stack of sealed, notarized, apostilled documents for each of us. Three hours later, our paper work was approved. On Monday we pick up our temporary card and our one-year residency visa should be ready in 3 months. Thanks be to God!

Mission: This approval brings us another step closer to our move from the city and to the eastern zone where our work will be concentrated. We had a planning meeting last week and another planning meeting will occur this week. We look forward to more specific responsibilities. Right now ideas are abstract but shaping nicely --- another encouragement for us. Thanks be to God!

Our Rotary projects in Nejapa: For our new readers, we are Rotarians and our Clubs along with our Club District, Rotary International and Rotary San Salvador have supported two projects in El Salvador. West Bend Noon Rotary supported a hygiene project of appropriate sewer drainage in the rural community of La Granja.

The next phase of construction with support from West Bend Sunrise Rotary is a bridge to connect the two communities of La Granja and Nuevo Ferrocarril. This will provide continuation of the hygiene project, connecting another 3 thousand residents to the sewer drainage system. It will also allow safe passage between these communities over a steep and wide ravine. You can follow the progress at http://nejapa-bridge.blogspot.com/ with project partners Engineers without Borders Madison, WI, Club Rotario San Salvador and community volunteers.

Vision: “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future.” God has been graciously guiding, blessing, teaching and forming us. We continue to seek his will and to be obedient and not get ahead of his plan. We anticipate more growth experiences that will take us deeper in faith and appreciation of his kingdom.
We continue to be awed that we are here, that we are being stretched beyond expectation and that there is so much to learn. God is faithful and that’s what keeps us

Saturday, April 17, 2010

concepcion batres

Networking has its advantages in El Salvador just like anywhere else. We met Benjamin “on- line” over a year ago. Benjamin is the Executive Director of an NGO with years of experience working with communities to improve the lives of its members through training and a well-planned approach to sustainable development. This NGO works in three specific areas: agriculture, environment and community organizing.

We asked for Benjamin’s help to find a safe community and home for us to rent. He suggested Concepcion Batres. Concepcion Batres is a lovely community with paved streets, a beautiful plaza with numerous food vendors and a recreation area.

Our needs for a home include features that complement our mission, that is, a large covered area for the members of our communities to meet and a yard for an agriculture demonstration. This is important to us since very few plant food gardens in El Salvador. We hope to generate interest in home gardening to help in the fight against hunger.

It’s a two story home (very unusual) with an open space on the second floor. The first
floor has a big kitchen, great room, 2 bedrooms and almost indoor plumbing. The house is
empty, thus we need to buy everything!

Another issue is security. The home does not have a security wall which is common practice here. To move forward, our advance rent money is helping the landlord have the wall constructed. As the wall nears completion, our move will finally be imminent.

We are 40 minutes from the ocean on very flat terrain. This area is known as the hottest of El Salvador and being close to the ocean, also the most humid. Benjamin suggested we lunch at the beach. On our drive to the ocean, we climbed a mountain passing kids holding live lizards the size of small dogs in their hand for sale (for dinner). From the top we could see the expanse of the blue Pacific Ocean.

The beach facilities are modest geared for local activity, not tourism. Homes, restaurants and shelters are made from bamboo and palm branches. It’s a weekday and we are the only visitors to the beach community. Walking on the scorching hot sand required wearing shoes but putting our feet in the warm water felt great. Our meal of fresh fried ocean fish was delicious, eaten under a palm thatched roof out of the sun.

As the tide came in, we watched local fishermen get their nets and boats ready to push off at sunset for their night time catch. Today the simple beauty of this remote community creates the feel of tranquility. Soon the people will be vulnerable to the forces of nature. Safety and security are concerns no matter where one lives. May we always be aware of those at risk.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The rains have started

Last night it rained. Trinidad, the house mother, said “its time to plant corn”. Next week begins the rainy season in Central America. It really does not rain here; it pours. The first heavy rain clears the streams of 5 months of garbage. Thousands of streams become raging rivers of swirling rapids that are loaded with paper and plastic causing the streams to back up until the pressure is too great. Then all everything breaks loose. The raging streams flow into the rivers and the rivers empty into the ocean.

This little country is not prepared for another rainy season. There are thousands of homes without roofs and many more with roofs that leak very badly. The infrastructure for the neighborhoods of San Salvador and San Vicente affected by Hurricane Ida last November have not yet been restored. These areas lost many homes and also property as landsides washed away neighborhoods and families. The city of San Vicente continues to have 4 feet of dirt in yards, streets, and pastures that will redirect this year’s flow of rain water into unsuspecting neighborhoods and streets. Thus the government and many residents anticipate more destruction of property this year.

When we arrived in November, we purchased $1,000 of roofing laminate to be distributed to church families needing roof repair or replacement. After the improvements were made, we visited the families to view their homes and roofs. Walking through their neighborhoods we were shocked by the hundreds of homes needing roofs and we don’t have any more money for this project.

When nature prevails, the April rains should be gentle allowing for the planting of corn and beans. The seeds should sprout before the heavier rains of May. However it doesn’t always happen that way. When the early rains are heavy and frequent. the seeds rot in the field and another planting is required. The second planting takes food off the table since the corn seeds were to be used for making tortillas.

There are no warehouses here of surplus food. When corn is in abundance they eat a little more and when food is scarce they are hungry. But yet God, corn, beans and rain all represent life and they remind themselves of God’s abundance by placing symbols of rain, corn and beans on their altar crosses, ever mindful that God is the source of daily life.

David y Nancy

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Oscar Romero

Rambling through the stores in San Salvador one is reminded that Easter week is also the time to visit the beach. Buy your supplies here the displays beckon. Big businesses and the government offices close for Semana Santa (Holy Week); therefore many have time to do other things.

This year, the week before Easter is the remembrance of the popular Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Arnulfo Romero. Monsignor Romero served only three years starting 1977. On March 24, 1980, as he was saying a memorial mass at the chapel of the cancer hospital where he lived, Romero was struck down by an assassin’s bullet to the heart.

Romero, named Archbishop after the retirement of Luis Chavez, seemed to be a “safe” choice since he was ultra-conservative and endorsed by the ruling hierarchy. His prophetic voice began and grew bold after the assassination of Father Rutilio Grande who was ambushed and killed on his way to the rural poor community he served.

What is this prophetic voice that leads to assassination? During this time, 2 percent of the population controlled over 90 percent of the wealth. Up to 60% of the population was landless peasants. Romero publicly pleaded with the wealthy to change the economic system that kept millions in extreme poverty. His pleading was the voice of God. His public voice and his use of scripture were unequaled at this time, calling on all 6,000,000 Salvadorans to obey Gods call for justice.

Romero used God’s word in application, not theory: this is how God’s people should live together. On March 23, 1980, he appealed to members of the Salvadoran military to not obey orders contrary to the laws of God and to stop killing their brothers and sisters. His death was already planned; the assassin had been selected. This was the deciding message for those in power to stop this voice.

In death, Romero’s popularity and message continue. These two weeks before Holy Week are full of gatherings of global delegations to celebrate the life and ministry of Romero; to hold the government responsible for the continuing social injustices; and to demand that all the perpetrators of his assassination be brought to justice.

This morning on the 30th anniversary of his death, the historic and ecumenical churches of El Salvador declared him the Saint of Central America. The Catholic Church has not yet done so, but they are in process. Romero has already been sainted by the people and his death represents all the martyrs: fellow priests, catechists, community organizers, lay people, pastors, sons and daughters, who number over 75,000.

One week ago an attempt was made on the life of the Anglican Bishop of El Salvador. The risk to those in visible church and civil leadership is still prevalent, but it does not stop the work of Truth. The words and work continue because they are the call from God for his people and his Kingdom.

David y Nancy

Resource and recommended reading: Through the Year with Oscar Romero, Daily Meditations, translated by Irene Hodgson, St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005.

Saturday, March 13, 2010



As we were reading on the corridor of Casa Concordia, a truck pulled in with a beautiful young steer in the back. We wondered why a steer would be in the heart of the city of San Salvador. The steer was unloaded, roped to a tree, and his legs were tied; he was brought down and a loud long moo expressed his final moment. A 10 inch knife was pushed into the soft spot at the base of his skull. The men lined up their simple tools of two long sharp knives and an ax.

It may seem strange to write about this in detail, but it bears comment that we live and work in a new culture where differences are becoming more striking. To ignore and not share these differences would cheat all of you from this amazing experience.

We decided to watch while it was butchered. Clarification: Nancy watched everything; David joined to watch when it looked more like meat and less like steer. The men butchering the steer worked quickly and quietly; they cut with precision indicating years of experience in this process. It all seemed very dignified with the proper respect for this gift of life and knowledge that this animal had a purpose in life and death.

The meat was being readied for the following night’s celebration for a youth choir from Switzerland performing in San Salvador. At this fiesta given by the Bishop, a barbeque pit of concrete block was built. Bamboo (a building material of the third world) was cut in 4 foot skewers for placing the chunks of meat. Carbon rocks (yes carbon rocks) were the fuel. They light fast and burn hot.

The meat was cooked and served. While we ate, the choir from Switzerland sang. After they performed, a local group of men sang and played instruments of the indigenous Mesoamerican tradition.

The men played for hours, but it got late and the fiesta needed to end. The evening was like the first balmy night of summer when you much prefer to enjoy being outside until the cool or damp of the late hour moves to closure of the day.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

La Palma

Recently we participated in a retreat with 10 more missioners working in Central America and 5 VMM leaders from the US.

Together we boarded the bus to La Palma. As the bus headed north out of town, we recognized many landmarks along the way, identifying turns towards other churches we visited with Lutheran pastors. As we left the city, the bus windows were wide open. It hasn’t rained for months, the air is stale and with a lot of dirt blowing around.

An hour out of town, our bus begins to lose energy as we climb the mountain to the artistic community of La Palma. We travel for just less than an hour more to the colonial town, high in the mountains. The air is cool and fresh, it’s a joy to breathe again. We arrive in the late afternoon as the cool wind begins to blow down the mountains. We change from shorts and short sleeves to trousers and jackets. The hotel has thick blankets available in our room.

We skip lunch to walk the community. A carnival has been set up for a large festival for this weekend. Vendors with fried foods and merchandise are everywhere. La Palma celebrates its artistic legacy with wall after wall painted in the bright “La Palma” style created by Fernando Llort. The town survives on tourism, thus there is shop after shop selling hand crafted items. There are two shops in La Palma that offer higher quality items in unique ceramic art and wooden merchandise.

The missioners gather together to share, support, and learn about each other. Together we breathe fresh air filled with the power of God, energy and hope and together we exhale our disappointments and fears. We hear again the mission of VMM and specifically our call to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Working with the poor requires a different skill set: to listen, not manipulate; to know their reality; to walk with them, accept their hospitality, hear their stories and await their invitation.

Missioners share how the gang problem is having impact on their mission. The gang influence is luring some of the youth away from programs and for others the gang violence is making it to fearful to venture out to continue in the program. Peter shares that his program for the women is having mixed results as some women will not contribute the care of the chicken, but want the money the project provides.

In light of all the set backs and disappointments with missioners programs and missions, we return from the mountain, refreshed and energized to do our work and leave the results to God.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Medical Mission

February is fleeting – and on Saturday we will complete our first 100 days. God continues to expand our borders, to bless us, and to grow us.

Last week, we participated in a medical mission from Milwaukee. Thirty volunteers including nurses, technicians, doctors, dentists, pharmacists and 5 non medical support staff attended 800 patients during a 4 day clinic. Patients served were approximately 20% men, 50% women and 30% children under age 14.

The mission also included a pharmacy and an eyewear clinic. Each member of the group brought one suitcase of clothes and one full of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. The cases of medicines were seized at customs, but with the help of an attorney, they were released before the clinic began!

We joined them for 2 days. On the first day we worked in an older building in the central city. Conditions were not the best, but the team was superb in their care of the people. The clients are the poor; they are lowly and humble people, often uneducated, and some with serious psycho-social needs. Many are referred to a local doctor and dentist for continued treatment.

After 2 days in the central city, the medical clinic moved into the northern region to serve rural communities. Here again the families are poor, the clinic conditions very basic, and the medical care excellent and lovingly given. At both locations, treatment attended the body, mind and spirit. Old men and women, mothers with their children were able to receive shoulder and neck massage and prayers for healing and peace.

While these clinics were done in very difficult conditions, the medical team is already making plans for the mission next year. This is their 10th year of service and each year is well planned and very effective. 25 Salvadorans work closely with the North American Medical Team that includes Lutherans and non Lutherans, members from greater Milwaukee, Duluth, Minnesota and Arizona. This team continues to grow as the Salvadoran experience attracts and retains volunteers.

Our hearts were touched just being with these dedicated volunteers and the people they served. It was a meaningful experience for those who have done it for many years and for the first-timers as well. We are blessed to have been included.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Let's ride the train

Join us for a ride on the local commuter train, but first a bit of history. The current railroad company is the result of a merger between two companies, one of which is the International Railways of Central American, a former subsidiary of the infamous United Fruit Company (of Banana Republic fame).
Thousands fled El Salvador during the civil war, hopping on freight trains headed out of the country. After the war, passenger traffic declined as the trains were routinely held up and passengers robbed. In October 2002, all rail transportation was suspended.
With El Salvador the most highly populated country in Central America and with a severe shortage of land, the former right-of-ways were settled by squatters.
In 2007 the rail company resumed limited service and required all squatters off their tracks. Thousands of people were forced to move. Hundreds of others merely shortened the size of their homes, allowing for passage of the train.
We arrived at the downtown San Salvador train station at 4:20 in the afternoon. At the platform we saw a modern diesel engine with two tanker cars and five antique passenger cars. We boarded and started our journey to Apopa about 20 miles away. The train traveled two blocks and made its first stop. In all we must have made 30 or 40 stops, each one about 15 seconds as people climbed on and off.
If the windows were without wire screens, we could have touched the homes, clothes lines, children playing and people walking along the tracks. The train rolled by their front doors, over their driveways, across patios and play areas. One can look into many homes, wave to the residents, see what they’re eating and what’s on the television.
As we picked up speed, the passenger cars heaved left and right and then across a ridge with a fantastic overview of the valley below. The steep hillsides are populated with homes and the country side is bright green reflecting the lush vegetation that grows wild in Central America. The Apopa train station was a 4-pole metal roofed open air structure with no amenities.
The whistle blew for 2 hours warning all that the train was coming. There are no street signals or crossing guard arms. The tanker cars wet the rail bed to prevent a cloud of dust from choking the passengers and the residents. Each passenger car has a National Police man on guard. The return trip back to San Salvador went a little faster because it was mostly downhill. Our 2 hour train ride cost 20 cents round trip. It was a great experience to see another view of the city and the country side.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Moving On

Classes ended on January 29; on January 30, we moved again. This is our 4th or 5th move since arriving in November. We are not homeless but we sure are transitional. We are happy to enter the next phase of our lives. January was an intense month of study and supplemental learning experiences.

Recent educational trips have included Cinquera, an historic pueblo that was a guerilla stronghold during the war. Now their main feature is a beautiful nature preserve on a huge mountain on which we climbed a steep and winding trail. On the way up, we crossed a river on stone pillars and further up, across a suspension bridge.

At the top was a two story observation platform from which the view of the surrounding thickly wooded mountains and valleys was awesome. Nancy made it to the summit. David stayed behind to help a woman in our group who was suffering from heat exhaustion.

That night we slept in the scenic community of Suchitoto at a Center for the Arts. The Center is a place of healing for children and youth through art and music to work through the trauma of war and destruction in their lives and families. The facility is in the process of repair after many years of abandonment. The church connected to the Center dates to 1830 and is simply a shell waiting for new life. A gallery exhibiting children’s art borders a peaceful new garden. The dormitory in which we slept was a former convent, basic but comfortable.

Main features of Suchitoto are a beautiful lake and the grand architecture of another church built in 1852. The center plaza was full of people and vendors with their merchandise. Surrounding the plaza were restaurants, cafés and B & Bs in former residences and government offices.

On the way back to San Salvador, we met with a group of rural women who are operating a community business of candle making to supplement their family incomes.

February will be a month for us to refresh our minds, bodies and spirits. We will continue to define our placement, will be working to complete our residency process, and will visit more rural communities to learn about the resources and opportunities regarding the fight against hunger.

With our 12 hour days of school work behind us, we hope to be more consistent in our journal writing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

On the lighter side

This week we want to share with you some enjoyable events and observations.

Seen on the highways (CA 1 – the Pan American, CA 2, CA 4) and the byways:

yoked oxen pulling carts with large wooden wheels and loaded with firewood, corn and other basic supplies; horses being ridden and herded, free range and herded cattle

beat up bicycles ridden by males of varied ages (unusual sightings – a man with a child about 2 years old standing on the center bar holding onto papa’s shoulders, a man with a propane gas tank strapped to the back fender and him holding onto a second on the handle bar as he steered with one hand, a family of 3 – mama on the back fender, child sitting on the middle bar and papa pedaling doggedly)

large and small buses, 3 wheeled mini-taxis, high sided cargo trucks filled with livestock or large items or bags of produce or people, pickup trucks full of stuff or people, flatbed trucks loaded with sugar cane stalks, semitrailers, farm equipment, men on motor scooters wearing German style WWII helmets, and of course cars, SUVs and minivans, and always much traffic

along the sides of the roadways – pigs, chickens, dogs; people of all ages walking, women carrying large loads in baskets on their heads, men carrying large loads on their backs or shoulders; long stretches of corn kernels spread out to dry, swept up and bagged at days end.

Seen in communities:

futbol (soccer) fields everywhere you go usually with games happening, either specific team competitions or just for fun; children running, climbing trees, playing futbol in flipflops; a teeter totter created from a sturdy branch placed in the Y of a tree stump with preschoolers having great fun, large kettles of food cooking over open fires, beautiful babies everywhere

Seen in cities:

houses freshly and brightly painted for Christmas and the new year (an annual custom for those who receive bonuses and choose to enjoy this luxury), cars with open baskets of bakery rolls or fruit on top, motor scooters delivering for Pizza Hut, Pollo Campero and KFC, more beautiful babies

Comfort cravings:

course ground pepper, oatmeal raisin cookies, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Sunday edition, a juicy rib steak from Reis’ meat department, and more . . .

Civilized Slinde progress:

Nancy “invented” solar powered hot water by putting a full gallon water bottle on our porch in the morning and . . TA-DA! . . . in the evening we have hot water. Yes, hot water. Wash with cold, rinse with hot. Now we have two gallons heating for washing and rinsing. Such luxury - life is good!