David and Nancy Slinde Speaking at their "Sending Service"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alambre Graduation

Last week the winds returned after a long absence. At night the cool mountain air pushes down the sides of the volcanoes into the flat lands of Usulután and San Miguel. The cool air is also very fresh. It removes the acidic exhaust from the traffic of highway 2 and the soot from sugar cane fires that burn all around us all day 5 months a year. The breeze pushes the curtains up to a 45 degree angle allowing the first breathable air of the year to fill our bedroom.

It’s Thanksgiving Day. Principal Walter and his acompañara arrived at our home at 6:15 for the ride to the mountain high school of Alambre. We rolled the windows down to enjoy the morning air. After passing a sugar cane truck pulling out of Batres we had the highway to ourselves. We asked Walter if the air is usually this fresh in the morning and he says no - today is special. It’s special because it is the graduation of the Kindergarteners and the 9th graders of Alambre. He invited us last week when we were together purchasing more school equipment. His cell phone rings; the store in Usulután tells him the 20 desks we ordered last week are ready for delivery.

We started on the highway, then on to a secondary road and the final trek on the horse path, the only trail to the community. We have been here before and dread the ride. It is 45 minutes of nonstop shaking, twisting, jostling of our bodies. We arrive green, but safe.

Walter drives to the house just above the school, the family home of Walter’s acompañara. She is 1 of 12 siblings 6 brothers and 6 sisters. Two sisters are in the final stages of dressing and grooming as they are the music leaders at today’s mass. After spending 2 hours with the family we join the community at mass. The large church is full and there are as many outside participating from the edge. The sisters and the 3 piece band are giving glory to God today with amplification.

After mass we go to the school. The computer room contains displays of student art work. There are about 40 displays in 6 categories. We are asked to choose the best. We hedge until we realize we aren’t leaving until we decide. Yikes. We select the top two and the graduation procession begins to a variety of taped classical music. The students process to the traditional Wedding March, the entry of teachers and “honored guests” is to the March of the Toreadors. It makes us laugh inside.

The children come forward as their name is called to receive their diploma containing many official names, but their name is the largest and most important. After the distribution of diplomas, we are given art work from one of the youth. Then we present the English/Spanish New Testaments donated by our financial planner to all the teachers, principal and a member of the Directiva, nine in all. They are delighted and the teacher who is the MC for today’s event gives the audience a homily on the value and importance of God’s Word for our lives. We are impressed by his openness and sincerity.

At this elevation Alambre is above the ozone layer so it’s not only hot, but the intense glare of the sun makes it difficult to see. We walk to a large rural home of adobe brick, low ceiling and no windows where lunch is being served, chicken and rice with two tortillas. We have eaten this meal 400 + times. At lunch David turns from light green to dark green and needs a time out.

Back home in Batres we say good bye to Walter and make plans for the final January purchase of more desks and more computers and computer desks for Alambre.

Many of you donated money for these purchase of desks and WB Sunrise Rotary for the computer equipment. We took pictures of some of you while at home and gave these to Walter. He is making a display of your pictures at the school. It was an honor to represent all of you at this wonderful event.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ending and beginnings

After two weeks in El Salvador, we are preparing to return home. These have been productive and busy weeks completing details remaining from our absence, building new relationships and exploring future project possibilities. Our mission is completed with much satisfaction. Our time back has been better than we expected.

Time together with the church team is more fruitful as they share their stories of the activities of the past three months. After Sunday worship in Puerto Parada, the pastoral team came to our house for coffee. We sensed much excitement as they talked about all that has happened in the past three months. Their excitement is contagious, their world has changed moving from fear to hope and those hopes generate dreams for a better future.

Pastor Julio told us that the expansion of the church in Llano el Coyol has resulted in increased attendance. Last March it was outside standing room only. The addition to the building provided room for everyone to be seated and worship together. Now it is back to overcrowding as a result of more youth joining in worship.

At last January’s youth retreat we counted 130 in attendance and know of another 30 youth not present. What an overwhelming number of young people to nurture and mentor. Salvadoran society can be very abrasive. In the church they experience different values for a better life style.

The church team also shared about the visits of three delegations to Usulután. We had looked forward to these visits to meet new partners and learn more about their history in supporting the churches of Usulután. Edwin shared that as a result of these delegations four US churches and one synod will be working together to develop a strategic long range plan for church and community support.

These newer church partners are appreciating the trust and confidence of the leadership team. It has taken us longer to earn their trust. Part of the issue is who we are. They only know sister parish relationships and that’s not what we are. We are missionaries for social justice with our focus on community development. How does that fit into their world? It didn’t at first so we have worked diligently to build trust and a sound relationship.

Reflecting on early meetings, we understand the suspicion the leadership team had towards us. After hearing stories of their past experiences, their early fear and distrust was for self protection. We have been able to break that barrier and be welcomed into their confidence. Our relationship with the church leaders has matured. They also had time to consider our previous 21 months working in mission with them. They told us how grateful they are that we spent time with them and for the results of our efforts.

We continue to partner with Oikos. Pastor Julio has decided to accept the work of Oikos in his church communities. We look forward to seeing church members in these future Oikos community development meetings. We have been praying for this Church/Oikos relationship since we arrived. We are so pleased this idea came from within. This is significant progress.

The past few weeks have provided us with another perspective on closure. Mission work does not end. We will remain open to another form of service in the future. We are confident of a new beginning.

We wish you all a blessed day for Giving Thanks. We will be at a meeting with the parents and children of the Alambre school to celebrate our partnership and the graduation of the 9th graders.

David y Nancy

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Consecrated for Return

On Reformation Sunday our Pastor consecrated us for our return to El Salvador. Pastor asked us if we as missionaries will commit to Godly promises and behaviors and we responded “Yes, with the help of God”. The first two questions our Pastor asked were familiar, but then he asked “will you look for the face of Jesus among the people you are serving?” That is a spiritually and emotionally challenging question.

We planned to stay in El Salvador for 10-14 days, but after a blizzard of emails regarding the after-effect of the storms and the pending tasks we need to complete, we will stay for three weeks. We will be purchasing desks and school supplies for Alambre and will be meeting with the directors of another school in Canton Guadalupe. We will also have first time meetings with mayors of two different communities on issues of infrastructure. Much of this activity will be in accompaniment with our partner Oikos Solidaridad.

We are attending two more local Rotary Clubs with the hope of building partnerships to address food and income security issues. These meetings will help us plan for short term mission trips in 2012 and 2013.

We have been home for 3 ½ months. We email our church partner team regularly about our medical delay, but the information does not trickle down to the congregations. We received an email from a friend who recently visited in the churches we serve. The people asked her, “where are the Americans, they left us, they have abandoned us”. It was good that we heard about this lack of communication, so we can work on restoring relationships when we return.

We fear the people will expect too much from us. We are Americans; in their eyes we have it all. Initially we plan to stay at a local hotel allowing us to assess damage to our home and clean up the 3 ½ months of dirt. We will also be aware of the presence of cockroaches, bats, spiders and other unwanted and creepy creatures.

We are alone in the east. Many in our community admire our being alone. They smile and greet us, overall cordial. But alcoholism, drugs, unattended developmental disabilities and now the recent desperation rampant throughout the country creates the need for extra caution for us.

The Executive Director of Oikos recently emailed us “The rural population is disintegrating and its social composition is gang-like due to the lack of food, income, and jobs.” With the recent rains, the situation is worse.

The need is great, the responsibility is humbling, but our God is an Awesome, All Powerful, Abundantly Grace-giving God. We pray to continue walking in His Way, His Truth and His Life. We said “yes, with the help of God, we will look for the face of Jesus among the people we are serving.” We return to fulfill that promise.

David y Nancy\

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

After the healing phase

After a road trip to test Nancy’s travel ability, we decided we are ready to return to El Salvador.

The return is similar to our initial move in 2009. Hurricanes Ida and Agatha had passed through Central America, leaving thousands homeless and many dead. We visited a community that experienced a 4 foot wall of water and mud originating from the local volcano that raced through the community. Boulders as big as a 4 story building were moved miles and settled in roads and fields. Many Salvadorans were missing and presumed to be under these boulders, making removal of the boulders a very emotional experience for the affected families.

The street in front of our house in Batres floods when we have an evening rain. With nine days of rain we have to assume our home has water damage. The River Grande is just couple of miles to the east of us. Each year families living along the river are evacuated to the public school in Batres. The Mayor has established a settlement away from the river for these families, but they will not move from their river front homes. This is all they know – this is all they have.

On a sunny day neighborhoods in Puerto Parada are under water during high tide. Recent pictures from Juan Carlos show families walking in waist deep water. Many of their homes are made from black plastic and others from palm branches. Nine days of rain will cause them to collapse and wash away, leaving no evidence of anyone living there.

During three months last year, we drove past homes in Puerto Parada that were in water for that entire time, yet the families remained in their homes in these unhealthy and unsafe conditions. We are there advocating for change within the communities and the government.

The most significant changes to the infrastructure are those we see in Oikos projects. When Oikos acquires a property, they evaluate it for the elimination of erosion and mud slides to prevent risk to the mountain poor living downhill and to make it suitable for agriculture. Oikos also improves roads and drainage in the project areas by constructing barrier walls and diversion channels.

Our project partners will take us to visit the recent destruction in the east. They want us to witness how their vulnerable country men live. They want us to take pictures and write about it in this journal. They want you to know what life is like in Central America.

David y Nancy

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nearing Completion

We have been home since mid-July. Our R & R became a medical leave in August when Nancy had surgery to remove a large growth from her abdominal wall. It was important to keep it intact during removal, requiring a large incision. A week later she had cancer surgery.

We did back-to-back surgeries to shorten the healing process for a timely return to El Salvador, but this placed much stress on Nancy’s body. She is healing, the incision scar is improving but the point of surgery is still tender. Fatigue is the biggest problem. We walk a few miles every other day and Nancy is taking yoga classes for strengthening and flexibility. A wrong movement can cause a spasm that takes a night’s sleep to heal. It will take Nancy’s body years to mend and regain its strength according to her surgeon.

A common question of many is “are you going back?” We have written before how difficult it is for healthy people to live and work in the east. Nancy’s safety and healing is the most important concern we face in our return. This may require different living arrangements and require us to finish our mission in weeks, not months as our contract also ends at the end of October. We will budget just enough time to finish the Alambre school project and begin a second school project in Canton Guadalupe. Many dear friends across the country have blessed us with donations, allowing us to purchase desks, computers and equipment for these schools.

We are struggling with some issues. Our 3 week R & R has become a 3 month separation. The emotional break has been made. We are out of their sight and minds as the emails have faded. On the other hand we are starting a relationship with another school and looking for a Rotary Club in San Miguel to partner with in 2013 and raising funds another food security project for 2012.

We never expected to end our mission on this note, but we believe God is ending the mission he started and on his terms. Our call to El Salvador was a clear message as we heard His voice in our hearts telling us to move to El Salvador. It took us two years to figure it out, but in those two years every door was opened allowing us to move closer and closer to the time we would depart. It was never more clear. Now it’s just as clear that it’s over.

In light of our current situation, we can only smile as the Lord has a different plan for us. It was our plan to return in August and here it is the beginning of October. We are both so very grateful to be home to deal with these health issues in familiar safe surroundings. We believe we are in God’s hands and in His protection. God provided the events of the last months to keep our sight on Him; we are in awe of His timing, His endless love and His protection.

Growing in faith is the goal always before us and we can witness to God’s presence so obvious to us in El Salvador. Sometimes we fear losing this closer walk with God as we return to life in the US.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


While we have had many opportunities to share with you about our projects and partners in the east in Usulután, we have not said much lately about the action in Nejapa. Today we tell you about the continuing work of our Rotary project partners in the northern zone.

The engineering students from the University of Wisconsin Engineers without Borders traveled to the Nejapa project site in August to prepare for the 2012 phase of the Rotary black water project in Nuevo Ferrocarril. Jen, Chris, Isaac, Ellie and Missy spent a week in Nejapa meeting with the community leaders, engineer Daniel R of Club Rotario and many individuals from the mayor’s office planning for the final phase of this project. This has become a powerful story of accompaniment between all the partners as this relationship has deepened during the past seven years. Our Rotary grant has been approved for the January completion of this project.

As Rotarians and missioners, we believe in accompaniment over projects. We support this crucial sustainable value as the cornerstone of relationships. We started our Rotary projects in 2005 at the La Granja/Nuevo Ferrocarril public school. We asked Daniel M of Club Rotario if he could help us in the purchase and transportation of text books for the school. He purchased the $2,000 of books and we met at a club meeting to work out the logistics. This was a topic at the club meeting and after the general meeting, a group of 7 met to discuss Club Rotario’s involvement. There was some concern and maybe fear expressed by the older members that we were “using” the club for our own purposes. We later learned they could not believe we were actually making a donation of $2,000 of text books to a poor public school. This was outside their realm of experience and thought.

When the three of us drove out to the public school and Daniel saw the familiar colors of blue and white and the public school sign, he got a large smile on his face. He pulled out his cell phone, made a call and said “we’re at the public school”. End of conversation – it’s real. Later that day he told us this was his first opportunity in his 43 years to personally help other Salvadorans.

Another Rotarian Daniel R has worked with the black water project for the past 6 years, donating thousands of hours of his time. He visits the community on a regular basis and brings along other Rotarians to introduce their lives into the lives of the members of the community.

Daniel R attended the University of Central America (UCA), a private Catholic university, during the time of conflict. His professor was one of the Jesuits assassinated by a military death squad. He is still devastated by this evil act. One would think that the rich and poor Salvadorans have so much in common from the pain of the war and that this common pain would bring them together. But it doesn’t because the social divide is so great and longstanding.

Salvadoran to Salvadoran is the accompaniment that we are celebrating. We made introductions, enabled safe entry into the community, and provided funding for a community development project. Accompaniment is listening to each other, walking and working together, learning to understand and trust each other. And they have developed this relationship of accompaniment between them. Their spirits are longing for a new way of life that overcomes the social divide.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

R & R

We have been home one month. We returned to heat that registered 105.1 on our first Sunday back. Now the nights are dropping to 60’s and in Northern Wisconsin, nights are 40’s. Fall-type weather is a relief.

The conclusion of the immigration saga at the San Salvador airport: The immigration officer at the departure point was more difficult than we expected. We were refused departure for not having our residency cards which were taken from us weeks ago at the national immigration office. After heated conversation we presented photo copies which were grudgingly accepted. Then 4 more issues prevented our departure. We addressed three of them and then the final issue, money. Having withdrawn almost our entire ATM account in Usulután, we thought we were ready for this one as well. When the officer demanded the exact amount to the penny (there is a tax on a non-residency penalty!), we had another dilemma – no coins or small bills. But another immigration officer made change for us and we were free.

Our strength is returning. Our environment in El Salvador is noisy 24 hours a day, combined with dirt and heat which is very taxing on the body and the mind. At Easter break we were just thankful to cool down. This break we’re enjoying the simple life - looking out the kitchen window, watching the birds at the feeders, smelling clean laundry fresh from the dryer, appreciating the quiet of the country setting, and our morning coffee while reading the newspapers written in English.

But we never are really free from El Salvador - we are always preparing for the return. We have given presentations to three Rotary Clubs. Nancy’s Sunrise Rotary has donated funds for five computers and computer desks at the Central School of Alambre. Generous friends have pledged and given money for additional school needs.

David’s Noon Rotary has written a grant to finish the sewer tubing project in Nuevo Ferrocarrill. When it is approved, construction will begin in January 2012.

We met with the professor of Engineers without Borders, University of Wisconsin Madison. Our partnership is now in its 6th year and we are making plans for projects into 2013. Past projects include engineering the waste water containment from La Granja and the public school and designing and constructing a bridge connecting people and tubing in La Granja to Nuevo Ferrocarrill. Now a sewage treatment project in underway in Nejapa as the system was not properly maintained and is not functional. A team from EWB is in Nejapa this summer preparing for the final phases of the project.

Another pending project is the design of a waste water treatment facility in our community of Batres. The problem is black water coming into this community polluting the local ground water and river. The EWB team is providing two sets of drawings offering the mayor choices on design. One option is a simple natural treatment, the other allows for the solids to be harvested and used for fertilizer.

David met with a local non-profit that makes modular buildings for various uses from an outhouse to a medical clinic and a three room school. Shortly after this meeting, we spoke with a nurse about a medical mission that needs a building for surgery in Honduras. We connected the need and opportunity and hope these resources come together for improving the doctors’ continuing mission to Honduras.

After 4 weeks, we hope the R & R part will begin so we can go back refreshed and refortified to complete our remaining months of mission.

David and Nancy

Friday, July 8, 2011

Computers & Jobs

We mentioned the difficulty with immigration upon our return from Easter break. We were told we could not leave El Salvador. What does that mean? The agent not only got our attention, but also motivated us into action. The following week, we traveled 90 miles to visit immigration to resolve our illegal status.

After our first visit that included more implied threats, we sent a letter to immigration asking for a five month extension to our residency. Immigration responded to Stephen, our VMM field rep that the reply was ready to be picked up at the immigration office. We again traveled the 2 hour trip to San Salvador and were given a form letter informing us we are illegal and must begin the residency process. But without instructions as to what was required. The first time we applied for residency was a trial and error process that took 5 months to complete; now our immediate concern is leaving July 14 for R&R.

Stephen and the local immigration coordinator addressed our departure issue; in fact the coordinator advised how to remain here, not get caught and leave the country on July 14. This situation must be more common than we thought. The blustering of the agents is theater. When you’re at the airport just steps from freedom, paying any fine they impose is worth the cost.

Since the trip to San Salvador is long and expensive, we try to include other stops and errands. This time we visited a Rotary project, a partnership between the Palo Alto Rotary Club and Club Rotario de San Salvador. Club Rotario de San Salvador is our project partner in Nejapa. Rotary Clubs address many humanitarian issues, but also focus on economic development. This project reconditions computers that are fully Micro-Soft licensed for schools, students, church groups and new business startups. It also provides two jobs, one is the reconditioning technician and one is the warehouse sales person.

The mountain school of Alambre has more students than computer time available and classes are six days a week. This is the only computer training offered in the region and the computer students are the 7th, 8th and 9th graders from this central school and from the local high school.

Principal Walter asked us for 5 computers and in turn we asked what direct impact these computers will have in the communities. Walter replied the students pay a monthly for this computer class. The money pays the instructors salary. With additional computers and more students, this is can become a full time secure position.

The national school curriculum here in the East does not support the purchase of computers or teachers salary for computer education. Any computers in public schools have been donated. We are currently soliciting funding for the purchase of computers.

We continue our effort to raise funds for more desks at this school so students do not have to sit on the floor or stand along the wall. We will pursue this need while we are home in July/August also.

While we should be in the early stages of wrapping up our mission, it seems we have a gift of connecting the “dots” of needs and opportunities. We will continue to use this gift as long as we can for the good of the people of El Salvador.

David y Nancy

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Alambre School

The principal of the school in Alambre contacted Oikos for help with needed equipment and supplies. The central school serves 5 surrounding communities. Oikos has no resources for school projects so they introduced us to the principal Walter. After an hour of conversation, we do not understand his specific needs but we are invited to his school for a visit. “It’s just down the road,” he says.

Down the road is a 90 minute drive east and then south towards the Pacific. We leave the paved road in a pueblo and proceed on a hilly dirt and stone path. We pass men on horse and donkey, no other vehicles. At school we are greeted by Principal Walter and the teachers. He rings the bell and all the children file out of their class rooms and into the court yard to greet us.

After introductions the children and their teachers are dismissed to their class rooms. We visit each class room. Two class rooms are void of furniture except a teacher’s desk. The children have been coached on what to ask for, but now they are too shy to speak. The teachers point out some needs, but they are also shy. We ask the children of the 7, 8, 9 grades who plans to go to high school; it’s almost unanimous that they want to go to HS. This is a new positive trend as most children dropped out of school after the 6th grade.

After visiting the classrooms we gather at the principal’s office, including the school directivia. Fredy, the principal’s son, is our translator. Walter is asking for donations of 4 computers and computer desks, windows for the computer room, a new roof, a white board, fans, 50 desks and a paved playground. The principal said his request for funds to do these things has been denied by the federal government and the mayor. We ask for a list with pricing and also his priorities.

About a week later the principal provides a list in English and Spanish. We exclude the roof bringing the total to $4,000 for desks, windows, computers and equipment, white board and fans. In sharing this story with friends at home we were able to raise $500. We ask Fredy to secure quotes to purchase desks, the first priority. We are able to order 18 desks and the factory will deliver them to the school. The desks will be available next week. We will meet the truck at the school for the presentation.

It doesn’t turn out that way. The day of delivery we meet at the store. An old white pickup is being loaded with desks and to our surprise we are asked to ride in the truck. The principal will ride in back with the desks. It’s the same route mentioned above. As the driver hits many holes and rocks, we wait for something to break. At one point the truck can’t get traction to climb the path up the hill. We jump out and by the grace of God, two young men are walking near by and push the truck up the hill. These are the only other people we meet along the remaining 30 minute ride.

Finally we reach the school. We are late, the children are gone, but a small group of boys on the side of the road point to the desks and claim one as theirs. Four teachers help unload the desks placing them in a class room.

It’s time to leave and we dread the return. We experience the same ride out as in. Finally we pass thru the last pueblo entering the paved mountain highway. When the driver hits the gas, the left side of the front end raises up, the truck shakes violently; we skid to the right stopping against the side of the mountain. The other side of the road drops hundreds of feet straight down. We are again saved by the grace of God.

One front wheel is aiming left, the other right. We are on the bad side of a blind curve. The driver gets his machete from the truck, cuts down a small tree and places it on the road. This is an indicator to others that a vehicle is stalled in the road. Vehicles pass by both up and down the mountain highway but no ones stops including the national police. We are expecting one of them to pull out a cell phone and make a call.

The driver returns the machete, places his jack under the driver side of the truck for a lift. He and the principal kick the wheels straight. The driver takes out rope and a vise grip and is under the truck. 30 minutes later he removes the jack and the rocks from under the wheels. They both board the truck and motion to us to do the same. We climb in frightened but without options.

For the next 35 minutes we ride down the mountain at 25-35 miles an hour. The steering has too much play as the truck is all over the road. We are pushing on our imaginary brakes all the way down. I wait for the repair to loosen and rehearse our escape over and over as there is no interior door handle.

The repair held. We stop at a café at the bottom of the mountain for a late lunch. We both have our foot cemented to the imaginary brake. It’s hard to disengage and walk. We made the decision not to get in the truck after lunch. We call our driver Alex from Batres to come to our rescue. That brought us relief, allowing us to eat. During lunch we tell the principal we are not returning with them. The principal is stressed, telling us we are not safe here. We think we are not safe in the truck.

The next morning it’s Aleve and coffee to address the pain in our backs and necks. They still need 32 desks for the children – we know we will make this trip again.

David y Nancy

Friday, June 17, 2011

Seedfest 2011

The first Friday in June is the celebration of Seedfest in Concepcion Batres sponsored by Oikos Solidaridad. The street next to the central plaza is closed, a “band stand” is erected and tents filled with vendors offering products and produce from the mountain communities of the states of Usulután and San Miguel.

We thought we would arrive early, but hundreds of visitors are already here. Alex of Oikos and also Mayor Walter of Batres greet us publicly over the PA system as we are acknowledged as accompanarios to the people of the communities.

We have been in accompaniment with Oikos for over a year. We have meet most of today’s vendors in their communities or their homes. We greet each with a hug and spend time to view their products. Two large tables have specialty seeds, also available is locally grown and roasted coffee, live chickens, eggs, hand-made jewelry, pickled vegetables from Chamabla, tamales, drinks, an Avon lady, and more.

We previously visited Chamabla and are anxious to taste the pickled vegetables. We purchase one quart and realize later we should have purchased more for Mothers Day gifts that are coming up. Our friends from Comus are also present with a representative from their coffee projects. We buy 10 bags for our pending return trip home in July.

We take these items to our house and return to the celebration.

Oikos has included the local schools in this year’s Seedfest. Three schools are competing in a drawing contest regarding natural resources. The pictures are on display for all to see. A group of 5 judges is selected. Benjamin calls the first name and no one comes forward. The same results for the second drawing. On the third and remaining calls, students come forward to claim their prize to much supportive cheering from their peers. In addition to the drawing contest, the students have constructed diaramas depicting risks and hazards in the local environment. The students and teacher of the neighborhood school are proud of their participation.

The five hour program is MC’d by the youth of lower Chirrion. In the communities of Piedra Azul, Oikos has installed radio transmission towers with speakers to communicate dangers and pending risks to the mountain communities. Starting a few years ago, a daily transmission included information of community interests. This transmission of information, the care for the equipment and the need for more equipment has become a youth project.

At the end of the day, Stephen of our sponsoring organization VMM and his friends Alex and Elena, all from San Salvador, join us, Benjamin of Oikos and his 9 year old grand daughter at our home for coffee, soda, beer and Oreo cookies. Benjamin is a story teller; he enjoys the new faces and tells his story of visiting Niagara Falls one January and his fear of having his ears fall off if they become frost bit.

It’s been a while since we laughed. Benjamin’s grand daughter who recently moved to San Salvador from Nevada is experiencing her grandfather’s stories for the first time. Fluent in English and Spanish she doesn’t miss any of the conversation and has a constant grin on her face. It all came to an end much too soon. Benjamin was returning to San Salvador for the weekend and offered to take our guests with him. Six people, a large dog, live chickens, and a box of school supplies left late afternoon. The time together was very familiar, like being with family and friends back home, now our global family is growing as we enjoy fellowship together.

Enjoy the day at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5TfdEX6WHI

David y Nancy

Thursday, June 2, 2011


We left the United States the week of much turbulent weather. We rocked and rolled the entire trip, from Milwaukee to within an hour of landing in El Salvador and were 3 hours late arriving at SAL. We immediately called our driver who was waiting for us.

The next turbulence we experienced was in immigration. The details are boring, but the outcome is we are currently illegal and are unable to leave the country. I guess you can only get deported to El Salvador, not from El Salvador. (This is not going to look good on my resume.)

We arrived home in Batres around midnight. The yard was ankle deep in fallen leaves. A storm passed through just a day or two earlier dropping grapefruit size avocados on the roof, making two new holes. The house was very dirty. We pulled the dust covers from our bedroom furniture and called it a day – a very long day!

The next two days we had meetings with Oikos on the Food Security project in Candalaria and San Julian. This project benefits 41 families with food and a potential income stream. Personal security is an issue, thus a visit to two of the sites took some planning. There is no security risk from the beneficiaries of the project, but the mountains are filled with all types of individuals.

We left Batres in the red jeep taking the familiar drive through San Jorge into the river bed to drive up the volcano in the quebrada towards the two work sites. Prime land is scare and expensive in El Salvador. After the Peace Accord, the government also signed a land restoration agreement, giving land taken from farmers and communities during the war back to them for their personal use. While this is an excellent provision, it also has a down-side. Two generations of campesinos were lost during the war --- those who knew the farming skills for working mountain land and those who would inherit the farms and the knowledge to produce crops and protect the land. Much damage was done to the environment both during and after the war.

Oikos has the engineers and skills to train, assist and encourage these rural farmers. With the latest wisdom in environmental care and erosion control, the mountain-sides are cultivated appropriately for the planting of corn and beans. Planting the beans on the side of the mountain prevents standing water from rotting the seeds. The sites we visited face south; with the direct exposure of the sun, the beans will mature in 7 weeks. The first crop in June will be for the family. If the first harvest is sufficient, a second crop of beans in September will be used for food and sold in the market. This is the first time they will be able to produce two harvests.

Three beneficiaries accompanied us to the sites. They are grateful that we took the time to visit with them and also for financial support for this project. We spent almost two hours at the first site, then we walked the riverbed to the second site. The canyon walls grew higher, with curious residents looking down at our passing. Marta yelled up to them, it’s ok.

At the second site the land is owned by the beneficiary family. They have land but no seeds. Last years devastating weather caused wide spread crop failure and a shortage of seeds for this years planting. Oikos included this family as participants in this Food Security Project.

After spending 4 hours viewing the project in the hot humid sun, it was time to leave. We returned to the vehicle a different route, eating freshly made tamales Marta Lydia brought with her as we walked through the forest and fields back to the jeep.

These two sites are available to view on YouTube at:

David y Nancy

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Easter Break 2011

We came to the realization during Christmas that we have missed all our major holidays for too long. We have not worshiped in a familiar setting for Thanksgiving, Christ’s birth or his Resurrection for the past 2 years. We felt spiritually empty as our worship in El Salvador is so different, leaving us desiring more. Thus we decided to take off for Spring break.

We came home for Easter worship to heal and refresh. Too fatigued to engage in many social settings, we remained at home, enjoying morning coffee in silence, reading the paper and watching the winter browns slip away replaced by the many shades of green, plus the woodland wildflowers, tulip and daffodil blooms and the emerging hosta shoots. The finches and buntings migration is under way with continuous action at our bird feeders. We have three placed for visual exposure. Nancy records the dates of the sightings in a bird book; we had visitors that have not been around since 2005.

We enjoy the additional day light of North America. In Central American the days change by only an hour between seasons. It’s typically 12 hours of dark daily. The days in West Bend continued cloudy and very cool. For us it was another welcomed relief to be free of the extreme heat we experience 24 hours a day. We are not used to the heat and now not accustomed to the cooler nights where we dive under layers of blankets while the furnace is set at 70 degrees.

April showers are common in both El Salvador and the US. While the US is approaching summer, El Salvador is approaching winter. Winter temperatures drop to day time highs of 80-90 with 100% humidity. The storms will be severe in El Salvador as they have been throughout the Midwest.

The leadership team of El Buen Pastor has written that the store is very busy. There are many customers and they are working very hard and are happy to be working. The excitement of their new success is allowing them to dream about the future. They have many new ideas for other business possibilities. Sometimes a spark can indeed get a fire going.

Family Update:

Our daughter Elizabeth joined us for a birthday celebration in one of our favorite supper clubs in the Kettle Moraine forest. Her life is full with her nursing responsibilities and life in Antigo.

We had lunch with Jeremiah who is working on his master degree at UWO. Between 3 jobs and school he is a busy young man.

The first week of May we visited our 5 year old grandson Noah and his parents Micah and Melissa in Pittsburgh. It’s a one day drive, yet again another visit that is too brief and rushed. Time with them was refreshing, a joy and a blessing as we see changes in Noah’s maturity upon each visit.

Life continues while we are gone. We have a new grandson in Georgia named Joshua Lucas, born in March to Benjamin and Billie. His sister Ali is 3 years old.

The break was refreshing, familiar worship provided healing and strengthening, greeting friends and family restored our inner soul. The green pastures, still waters and right paths of Easter break which have never been as sweet ended much too quickly.

David y Nancy

Saturday, April 30, 2011


Volunteer Missioners based in San Salvador came to Usulután to visit the work of our Project Partner Oikos Solidaridad. Food security is a priority of Oikos and a concern for most of the country. The visit began with lunch at our home; Benjamin Alas described the work of Oikos and the food security project in Chambala.

Chambala is in the volcanic mountain range. After a 45 minute drive up the side of the mountain we parked at the home of Don Miguel. We walked his yard viewing the tilapia farm and observed other yards with drying coffee cherries, squash stored in beds, and piles of onions. Don Miguel explained that the residents have no money so they established a bartering system in the community for the exchange of products.

We continued to travel by foot up the steep and slippery side of the volcanic mountain. While we struggled with our footing, a woman gracefully came down with load of sticks on her head, followed by a herd of cows returning from pasture. We moved clear of an ox cart heading down hill, full of onions and topped with kids.

Every 100 feet a very large hole has been dug along side the road. Ridges constructed across the road divert the rain water into these reservoirs. As we reached the top, the terrain leveled off and we walked large gardens that help support this community.

Onions - onions - and more onions - plus tomatoes and peppers.

The gardens feature cultivation designed to hold moisture from the winter rains for the entire growing season.

From this altitude our views are wide and far, from the volcano to the ocean. Thick black smoke rises from sugar cane fields burning far below.

The community has organized a cooperative. With a newly constructed building containing a canning kitchen, the members of the cooperative make an onion vinegar that is preserved in glass jars. (Some street merchants sell vinegar in small plastic bags – not sanitary or convenient.)

Chambala sells this seasonal product in the nearby market places. The income generated from the sale of the onion vinegar is the only source of cash for the community and is used for improvements for the life of the community and its members.

David y Nancy

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Economic Development

After many months of much hopeful activity, we are able to report on our recent economic development project. With the generous support of Ascension Lutheran of Waukesha, Our Saviors Lutheran of West Bend and the Bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod, the long awaited store is a reality. The leadership team of El Buen Pastor had a vision for a store that they shared with us. In turn we shared their vision with visiting delegations to Usulután and in our fundraising efforts at home last September.

Eight days after signing the lease, the team paints the exterior of the store. The inside is attractive and only requires rear window repairs for security.It’s in the heart of the commercial district of Batres, next to a bank and across the street from a newly built market.

The original vision was to have a store operating on April 1 in the community of San Rafael Oriente. After viewing four locations, none would be appropriate. They switched communities finding the rents in Batres are much higher than San Rafael. After struggling with the pros and cons of higher rent, they decided on Batres.

Starting the business has been time consuming. Edwin and Juan Carlos have had numerous appointments with various government agencies, attorneys, accountants. Unfortunately they have been receiving conflicting information or they are not listening effectively.

The models for business start-up in the US and in Usulután have no similarities. There is no way for us to participate in the day to day development or start-up due to substantial cultural differences. After we provided initial training sessions on organization, inventory management and marketing, we moved to the side lines.

The team has been purchasing inventory. Our involvement now is creating a data base of materials available for sale. Other suggestions for efficient operation are being considered.

The new commitment of time and skill application has been a challenge and a new awareness in their lives. This economic opportunity has become a growth experience in many ways and hopefully will spread to others in the church leadership.

David y Nancy

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Rio Grande 4

We continue in accompaniment with the residents, leaders and Oikos to bring improvement in the quality of living for those along the river. David joined Guillermo Friday morning; we drove to Santa Maria to pick up two representatives of the Sindica Intercomunal Rio Grande of San Miguel. They had traveled from San Miguel to be in solidarity with the residents of the Rio Grande living further downstream.

We pull off to the side of the road to wait for another person. When a car pulls up and a man steps out --- I say to myself, I know him. The National Assemblyman, Jorge Schafik Handal, is joining us today. He is named after his father who is a national hero to the poor of El Salvador and the leader of the guerrilla movement during the 12 year civil war. After greetings and pictures our caravan travels to the community.

We arrive at a site on the river, a mile east of the dike that was breached last winter now nearly complete with repairs. But this spot is absent a functioning dike and the flooding of this community is a just two months away.

A review of the meeting is on you tube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvI8X5X7KC4

He is given a petition from the Sindica Intercommunal Rio Grande of San Miguel asking Jorge Schafik Handal to assist these people with the flooding issues. This is read to Schafik at the meeting site in the presence of the community representatives.

He receives it with much applause from those present. He responds with a brief speech of acknowledgement.

When I speak with Jorge Handal, I tell him I am here for two years as a volunteer. I mention I will post the video of the meeting on You Tube. He replied “what’s that?”

The meeting concludes with the following action plan:
 The community will organize into work teams to fill and stack sand bags in the current void in the dike system.
 Jorge Handal will prepare a formal request to the National Assembly to build a dike in this section of the river.

While it seems meager, this is a solid beginning. We hope to follow this process and continue in this accompaniment in the successes and set backs of the residents of the Rio Grande.

David y Nancy

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


With their ancestral lands lost to the Spanish conquerors, the indigenous were at the mercy of the plantation owners and their managers. The owners allowed the indigenous to live on the land for work. They were fed and received modest wages when profits surged.

During poor times if a field worker complained he or she received the wrath of the mayor who would dispatch troops to keep the workers in line by beating, dismemberment, death, disappearance. When the indigenous told their priest of their plight, the priest told the workers their rewards were in heaven and to accept their plight.

With the collapse of the coffee prices during the depression of the 1930’s, the situation deteriorated to the point of civil war. Communism was gaining popularity around the world and El Salvador was no exception. A communist FMLN led a rebellion in the West of the country. The government troops stopped this rebellion by killing the fighters, their families, their communities; it was an ethnic cleansing, 32,000 people were slaughtered. From this point forward the documented indiscriminate killing of men and women is common knowledge and recorded in many periodicals and museums. The church remained steadfast in its position.

A new breed of priest began to take the message of the gospel to the rural people. What they heard from the people and what they witnessed caused them to rise up and question what the church had been teaching. The church was receiving complaints from the plantation owners, political powers, priests and the common man. When it was time for a new leader, Romero was appointed to be Archbishop of San Salvador. The church, political and economic powers breathed a sigh of relief: “We can control him”.

With the assassination of Father Rutilio Grande, an activist priest, Romero is transformed. His passion for the oppressed and marginalized, the rich and powerful flourished within him. He was the Archbishop of all Salvadorans. Romero preached God’s Word in application: this is how God’s people should live together. Romero was more on the order of John the Baptist. Each broke the mold by breaking out of 500 years of silence and sharing good news.

In death, Romero’s popularity and message continue. Our hearts are touched by Romero’s transformation, his courage and the continued strength of God’s voice that flowed freely from his heart during his time of persecution. Romero is contagious, study with care.

David y Nancy

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rio Grande III

Currently, some of the most stunning civic lessons in the US and in the world are playing out daily before our eyes. With the internet we are able to watch the action live from our home. Witnessing protests and conflicts reveal much human and social turmoil along with an intense desire for change.

The cost of conflict is often a loss of income, family, homes and lives. We watch it unfold via the TV or internet where the voices of victims are muted from our ears to hear. We need to use all our senses when watching the news to fully understand the impact on the protesters, victims, and the innocent.

Civic activity in El Salvador has another aspect to it: fear. Many times the vulnerable are at risk of losing any security they have, regardless of how insecure it is. They may be squatters or without an official ID card, therefore they are insignificant in the eyes of the government.

The action plan from the last meeting for the Rio Grande communities included a delegation of 10 leaders meeting with a government minister in San Salvador Monday February 28. Oikos representative Guillermo indicated that the plans for 10 leaders meeting with a government ministry were not solidified among the community leaders and they were not able to organize themselves for the meeting on Monday morning. Instead Guillermo himself met with an Assemblyman of the national government in Usulután.

To visit the Assembly, one must sign a document and register their ID number, their home location, their signature or thumb print if unable to write. By fighting for the safety of the families and homes, they could lose everything--- by the government sending in troops and machinery to remove families and destroy homes resolving the problem for the government. This is possibly why the meeting planned for Monday did not happen.

Now the community leaders are being coached in “Plan B” which is to continue organizing to be an effective presence applying pressure for risk protection along the Rio Grande and to begin now with small steps such as requesting bags and sand to make barriers for their homes and roads.

Daily the weather grows hotter and more humid. Clouds are increasingly visible as they form to the north in the mountains between El Salvador and Honduras. The locals know that this heat brings the winter rains. Talk is already about when the rains will begin.

In two weeks, another meeting is scheduled with the leaders of communities and the government. We hope to be there to witness civic action on a simpler untelevised level as residents struggle for government agreement and movement toward safety.

David y Nancy

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rio Grande II

This is the second in a series of our accompaniment with the vulnerable people of the Rio Grande San Miguel Basin.

Oikos Solidaridad held the second meeting of the 18 communities that reside along the Rio Grande San Miguel on February 21. We met in a different pueblo, a site centrally located. Approximately 37 residents attended, many new faces; many from the first meeting were absent.

Again the meeting was an hour long. Guillermo from Oikos lead the meeting and invited participants to express their comments. During the meeting Guillermo asked the leaders of the community directivas present to come forward so all could identify them, one woman and four men.

The action plan developed to send a delegation of 10 leaders to the government ministry in San Salvador Monday February 28. The group’s goal is to meet with the Ministry of Civil Protection and then invite the Minister to the area for a tour of the river basin.

With this phase of the plan presented and accepted, the meeting ended.

From the meeting site we drove deeper into the Parada communities, stopping to view a shrimp farm in Santa Rosa and getting a bag of freshly caught shrimp to cook at home. The farm was a project of the government to employ veterans after the civil war. It’s a huge area, waist deep water, next to an estuary. The tide was coming in and gushing water flowed through narrow channels bringing fresh sea water into the farm. The manager took us to his home and showed us his recent catch, a 12 foot, 500 pound crocodile that had been eating the shrimp and fish.

We couldn’t get out there fast enough! We then headed even deeper into Puerto Los Flores. With the tide coming in, it is obvious that most of Puerto Los Flores is a tidal basin. Some homes and sections of the road are above water level in this dry season, but the rest of the area is a lowland swamp. Debris and trash float on the surface; the area looks like a floating landfill.

It’s highly populated and why anyone would live or remain here is a mystery to us. We have seen homelessness, hunger, poverty, city ghettos, but we think this is the worst yet.

It’s dusk when we reach the city of Puerto Parada. It’s a little port with shops that are closed for the day, it’s getting dark, some people are milling around. The local ferry is pulling in to the port from the island in the estuary. It would be great to stop and take some pictures but Guillermo says it’s too dangerous - we have to keep moving.

We end the day with pupusas and beer in Usulután. We decided to continue in accompaniment with the leaders of Parada and will travel with them Monday to visit with the government minister. They are delighted that we will remain in accompaniment with them.

David y Nancy
To read the first of the series go to: http://oslcslinde09.blogspot.com/

Friday, February 18, 2011

Rio Grande

When we returned home Sunday evening, we discovered a new hole in our roof. A large avocado dropped from the tree and into the living room. The winter rains are two months away and we observe many repairing roofs with metal sheets, replacing the former clay-like tiles that we have.

The residents of the area of Puerto Parada are also thinking about the rainy season. There are 18 communities in the municipality of Usulután along the Rio Grande San Miguel. The river zigs and zags its way through Puerto Parada. Last year the dike of mounded earth broke during the torrential rains. We saw where the water was three feet deep in El Limon for months, leaving the communities isolated, crops destroyed and families at risk.

Oikos Solidaridad was approached to help these 18 communities become organized to be an effective voice for the people. We attended the first information session conducted by Oikos. Forty residents, men and women, from 10 of the communities attended this first meeting.

Some community leaders shared their experiences of approaching the government to express the concerns. Their efforts went nowhere because they were just a small group - a small voice. The government responds to larger contingencies, therefore they are anxious to start again by building a united coalition of Rio Grande San Miguel communities.

While many attendees were listeners, they all share the same fear and desire for safety and protection. As community leaders spoke to the issues, a chart of strategies was developed and a plan of action for the next meeting was formed. The people were urged to contact the other communities and invite them to come to participate in this formation.

The major issue is that the federal and local governments are not maintaining the river banks, thus the threat of the dikes being breached is a high risk. While repairs to the breach are being made, the dike is not yet fully repaired. A new concrete wall has been erected in one area, but it needs an earth barrier behind it. Further down the river, there are simply dirt mounds and rocks not strong enough to withstand powerful storms.

Leaving the community we stopped to walk to the river and stand on the highest part of the dike, looking down at the calm Rio Grande San Miguel as it meanders its way to the ocean. When the rains come, the river rises 80 feet and is a violent swirling mass of energy that is capable of moving mountains.

We expect to have more information for you after the next meeting. Here is a 2 minute video clip of the river and the dike at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6gVoE54QNg

David y Nancy

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Food Security and Income

Our journals typically follow a past activity. This one shares about the future, for the Lord reminds us that his people perish without plans for hope and vision for the future.

While home in September we received donations of $38,000 for four projects. We have reported on two, the continuing Rotary sanitation project and the Christmas soccer tournament.

The third project is “food security and income generation” in the micro-basin of the villages of Joya Ventura and Candelaria. The food security and income generation is funded by Our Savior’s Lutheran Church of West Bend with our project partner Oikos Solidaridad. We have chosen Oikos as our partner because they have demonstrated over 20 years of sustainable experience in community development including growing and marketing cashews, tilapia farming, radio broadcasting, and chicken-egg projects. Their agricultural projects focus on erosion control, reforestation, food security and income generation. All these projects include gender equality and participation of community youth.

Our connection to Oikos is a blessing since we want to help the marginalized and now we can, knowing the Oikos structure is tested and effective. The staff of Oikos is engineers and when they need additional technical support they hire experts. Oikos also provides a project summary at completion and a disclosure on the distribution of funds.

The residents of the micro-basin are impoverished farmers who plant crops of corn and beans in traditional methods. Oikos has a management plan for the communities to increase the yields allowing the people of the communities to live better.

The farmers are hard workers but often lack social skills to work effectively with others. They must demonstrate a willingness to participate in the project by attending leadership and individual development training. After they have completed the training they are offered two and one half acres that will provide a consistent crop for the family table and an income stream from selling produce.

We are confident this project will provide food security and income for families now and in the future. The number of direct beneficiaries of this project total 42 family heads; including their families the total of indirect beneficiaries of this project is 210 people.

The project cost is $357 per household. In turn the project will feed the family of 5 for years and will generate an income for the family exceeding $50 per year. Over the next 20 years the income stream alone equals $42,000. The families are encouraged to use a portion of this income to support their children’s education.

Oikos has many requests from other villages and communities that need projects. It becomes clear why Oikos is endeared by the communities it serves. We are extremely grateful to Our Savior’s Lutheran for funding this project to benefit the residents for generations.

David y Nancy

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rotary sanitation project

Student Engineers from the University of Wisconsin Madison (Engineers without Borders) arrived in El Salvador January 3 to continue construction of the Rotary sanitation project in the neighboring communities of La Granja and Nuevo Ferrocarril in the municipality of Nejapa.

The tubing is extended from La Granja under the new installed bridge (in background) into Nuevo Ferrocarril to connect the public school and homes along the path to the sewer system.

(Pictured) The mason is completing the first of many junction boxes.

EWB-University of Wisconsin Madison became the major partner in this project in 2005. After numerous assessment trips to La Granja, implementation began in January 2009.

The students have donated thousands of hours of pre trip planning and now they donate their interim break to work with and for the communities. They pay for their travel expenses. The mayor of Nejapa provides food, lodging and local transportation for the students.

The second week – the trench is dug from the bridge into the community. The team has checked the grade for gravity feed and is ready to lower the tubing into the trench.

In our first visit to the school in 2004, the children’s play area was covered with sewer water from the failed system, a health hazard for the whole community.

The funding from our two West Bend Rotary Clubs has provided for the purchase of supplies, construction materials and equipment rental for this community sanitation project.

This school connection phase of the project is funded by Nancy’s West Bend Sunrise Rotary.

The students have also provided several educational hygiene events to raise the awareness of good health practices for the children and all members of the family.

Engineers without Borders will continue with this project in 2011 and 2012, plus future projects of a bridge in Santa Maria (Usulutan) and a developing project with the Mayor of Conception Batres concerning a black water treatment system. They are truly dedicated and ambitious volunteers. You can follow this 2011 two week trip at http://www.ewbuw.org/taxonomy/term/13.

David y Nancy

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rolling in Christmas in Piedra Azul

Oikos Solidaridad organized a two day soccer tournament for December 23 and 24 in the community of Piedra Azul. It included 400 youth working with Oikos community programs. The tournament began with a worship service on the 23rd with the Bishop presiding. Attendance overflowed onto the church grounds for family baptisms, confirmations and first communions. After service, a small group of us had lunch together when the Bishop and his entourage started singing. There’s nothing like the voices of Lutheran pastors who love to sing. It ended and the entourage left. It was a great way to close the year.

On the day of the tournament we returned to Azul passing groups of youth walking and bicycling to the futbol field. As we got closer we met a road block of flat bed trucks and pickup trucks dropping off their youth. After parking we walked to the field noting hundreds in attendance. The field is on a beautiful highland area. We are up a thousand feet or more. From this height we can see the ocean in the distance and the volcano to our backs. It’s cooler than Batres and a gentle breeze flowed across the futbol field all day

Justin, a recent confirmand from our West Bend church, raised $800 for sports equipment for the youth of El Salvador. Justin’s confirmation project provided baseball equipment for a church community of San Geronimo in the north and uniforms, soccer balls, and prizes for this tournament. As a result, 11 new teams including over 150 additional youth were added to this year’s program.

At 4 pm we left with Enrique. We know his family and have been to his home. On the way out of Azul he pointed to his cattle grazing in the pasture; we stopped at his garden where he picked fresh jicama for us and at his home for fresh papaya.

On the way we asked Enrique what is special for Christmas Day. Sandwiches, he replies. A Salvadoran tradition,
a super sized bun stuffed with chicken salad and garden produce. We ask what else? He says after sandwiches he has cattle and fields to attend. It’s another work day for the farmers and sellers of produce in this country.

We rejoice and are glad to be part of the action and the blessing for these two days. Thank you Justin for your vision; we look forward to more opportunities for the youth in 2011.

David and Nancy