David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

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.