Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Pilgrimage to El Salvador: Day One

Folks from St. John's, St. Aidan's, and St. Gregory's, San Francisco made a pilgrimage to El Salvador Sept. 28 - Oct. 2. The following pictures and commentary offer a sense of the Spirit's work in this beautiful and tragic country. We were blessed by the generosity, warmth, and hospitality of the Anglican Church of El Salvador, its bishop, clergy, and people. Our special focus was on Mission San Lucas, San Miguel, a project of Cristosal in collaboration with the Diocese of El Salvador.

When we arrived at the airport on Thursday at about 8 a.m., we were greeted by Arcelio and William. William transported our luggage by truck, and Arce transported us by van! We got to know Arce well over the course of the trip and learn a bit of his story. When he was three years old, his father was murdered by government troops during a protest demonstration outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown San Salvador. His family fled his village, which was destroyed by the military. He has survived the subsequent destruction of homes my earthquake and volcano. He now lives in a house built through a microlending program sponsored by Episcopal Relief and Development.

We drove more than 2 hours to San Miguel, where we met the
Rev. Elizabeth Evans and her assistant, Elvira, at Mission San Lucas. Elizabeth was a lay missionary from the U.S. who was ordained a priest in the Diocese of El Salvador. After checking into our hotel for lunch and a brief siesta, our first stop was a visit to the local hospital. There we met with the director of the hospital and discussed the public health issues facing the community. Maternal and child health are of particular concern.

One of the things that Mission San Lucas has been able to provide the hospital is a mammogram machine.
While very dedicated, the hospital staff works in a spare and dirty environment with too few resources. The pastoral care and material support of Mission San Lucas is appreciated greatly.

While at the hospital, we delivered donated baby clothes to mothers whose premature babies were in intensive care. This is a major health problem in El Salvador, with nearly 20% of the 6,000 annual live births at this hospital being premature.

From the hospital we went to Mission San Lucas, where Rev. Elizabeth lives, teaches English to neighborhood children, and provides transitional housing for women released from the local prison. Some of the women also stay at Elvira's home.

The conertina wire on the walls surrounding Mission San Lucas is common, as gang violence is epidemic. Elizabeth has been attacked and stalked by gang members, probably due to her work in the women's prison. Here are a few pictures of the inside of her house.

This is the community room/chapel looking in toward the office and kitchen. The Mission is a two bedroom house with running water and electricity. It costs $200 per month to rent. A hot plate serves in lieu of a stove/oven.

Elizabeth demonstrates how the laundry is done by hand and then hung out to dry in the back courtyard of her middle class home (which also serves as an outdoor shower).

Our final stop of the day was a visit to Bertila's home. Bertila is a 65 year-old woman recently released from prison. She has no Social Security or other such support, and would be utterly destitute were it not for Mission San Lucas and the support of some of her neighbors. Her home is quite a contrast to Elizabeth's.
This is Bertila's front porch. The chair is one of the few pieces of furniture left in her home after five years in prison.

When we arrived, Bertila was not home. Although the front door looked rather quaint, don't be deceived.

There is nothing quaint about poverty. There is no running water or electricity in this home.

While we waited for Bertila, Rev. Elizabeth made sure that Mama, Bertila's mother, was ok. She was hanging out on the front porch.

When Bertila arrived, she greeted us warmly and was very touched by our visit and grateful for the little bit of food and friendship we offered.

However, Bertila was dismayed to discover that a dog had killed and was nibbling on one of her chickens. She wasn't planning on chicken for dinner, but, oh well!

Needless to say, I didn't have chicken for dinner that evening!

By the time we left Bertila's, it was dusk. Time for dinner and a good night's sleep after a red eye flight and a full day of travel and touring. And this was just day one!

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