Stitch in Time

May 28, 2011

Yesterday (Friday) we traveled to visit Acamujeres, a women’s co-op in Zaragoza, a mid-sized town about 45 minutes from the central part of San Salvador. About 40% of El Salvadorians live below the poverty line (that means they earn less than $200 a month), with women and children being the most vulnerable and adversely affected demographic of the population. Women are especially vulnerable because their husbands and boyfriends often move to the US to find better work, effectively making them single mothers. Some men get there and are able to send some money back, but due to the difficulties of boarder crossings and anti-immigration laws many of the men do not or can not support their families. Micro-finance and small co-operatives are beginning to catch on, especially among women, as a means to provide for themselves and their children as well as offering skill sets to other women with which they might lift themselves and their families out of abject poverty and debasement.

After hearing about the co-operative’s organization and history and eating an unbelievably delicious lunch prepared for us by the women, we each received a small piece of embroidery to work on and were sent out in small groups for afternoon home visits where we finished the embroidery. I and two other classmates went with a very sweet lady named Esmerelda and her 8 year old son, Daniel, to sit on their porch, embroider, and talk. When I say porch, I mean, small cinderblock room for eating dinner and collecting rainwater because there is no plumbing. When I say talk, I mean Esmerelda talked, we listened. I don’t understand much spanish, but with the translating help of one of the students with us, Esmerelda opened not only her home but her life story to us. As I sat on her porch in the warm central- american afternoon stitching away at a flower, Esmerelda wove the story of the civil war in El Salvador around us, telling us about her family, their flight from the army, her father’s imprisonment and their eventual settlement in Zaragoza as an attempt to hide from the people pursuing her family. All the while we sat and sewed, with her interruptions, laughs, and patient corrections.

The most surprising thing about the afternoon came after she asked us what one thing we would ask God if we could meet God and ask something. After we each stumbled through something, still digesting the incredible story she wove for us, our friend who spoke the best Spanish asked her, “and what would you ask?” After all this- pain, suffering, sorrow, joy, love, hope, rebellion, overthrowing a government, an absent husband, starting a mirco-finance co-op in the middle of poverty stricken Zaragoza where the pipes carry no water but the bills continue to be collected — after all of that– her question for God was, “How do I raise my children so that they will live in the way God wants them to?”

The one question- ‘how do I raise my children so that they will live in the way God wants them to?’ seems to reflect back to so many leaders the real issue at stake in our ministry, whether lay or ordained. I succumb to the ‘leadership industry’ sometimes. Even with its overkill on hair-product, skinny jeans I will never fit into, and emphasis on mocha bars above liturgical lovin’ even I fall prey to the desire to be one of “those” leaders churning out programs and formulas that will save what we can no longer deny appears to be a dying church. But listening to Esmerelda today, I learned the one question worth asking God in the midst of chaos- whether it be capitalistic overindulgence or a civil war for the rights of the poor, “how do we raise our children, our people, so that they will live in the way God wants them to?” Maybe I can embroider that and put it over my study desk. If that’s not the fundamental question for any model of pastoral leadership, we’re probably wasting our time.

Love from El Salvador,

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