Thank you Julie Benedettofor sharing this blog with us!!!
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Galatians 5:13
As I sit in our house in San Salvador, I am truly struck by this verse. There is so much about this that I like, and so much about this that is contradictory to what we have been learning. El Salvador has a history rich in culture. But this culture is soaked in tragedy, and the blood of many. However, this culture is beginning to gain the materials to build a better future. El Salvador, as a country, seems like a heart that is waiting for the proper transplant recipient. But the most important part of that, is that it is a heart.
Sometimes, I mix my metaphors, so I’m not sure if El Salvador being a heart makes sense. I’m not even sure how to share what I’ve been learning and coming to in knowledge as my experience continues in Central America. This time here in El Salvador has really been different. We spend a lot of our time together with the 16 of us from the program loaded in vans to go and listen to different people speak to us, or working on homework assignments, or really just being together. It is beautiful in a very different way than Guatemala was because we are learning so much from each other. But at the same time, it is different because the stories here are different. The people here are different. There can be no quality comparison made because comparing does no one in either country justice.
One of the most different parts of our experience here is that we are taking a liberation theology course. We spend our free time reading articles about the theology of liberation: understanding God as a liberator, someone who suffered for the people, on behalf of them, and alongside of them. The idea of Jesus as human and not above; the idea of Jesus as a new hope and martyred reminder of why these people continued forward through their literal survival of the war and loss of many that they love. This Bible verse that I included at the beginning of this entry is so intriguing to me because in this verse of Galatians, God is calling every single person in this world to be free. And with this freedom, we are to serve one another in love. This amazes me because if the Bible can tell people that they are called to be free, why were so many people here in El Salvador persecuted? Why were so many people tortured? Why were so many people hunted? Why was the government oppressing its people, forcing its indigenous people off of their land, and creating systems that only continue repression into the future? Where was God in all of this? Last weekend, I got to hear from people who experienced the war in very real and tangible ways tell me where they found God in all of these questions, in theirsurvival.
I had the honor of going to a community called Santa Maria La Esperanza and staying with a beautiful family that has helped me to soften my heart and want to share my story. They opened their home to me, but more importantly, they opened their hearts to me, and I will never be the same. I will not soon forget them. The purpose of our stay with this family was to do a “church accompaniment.” We were supposed to interview the people there about what church means to them, why they believe in the ideas of liberation theology, and why their faith is important to them. I thought to myself, “Asking these questions is going to be extremely out of place and uncomfortable. Especially in Spanish.” Little did I know that these conversations would flow naturally and these people would open up so readily. Between all the members of the family that I stayed with, they painted a picture for me of what their lives had been like during the war here in El Salvador, the effects that this really had on them, and the image of God that they now have based upon all of these experiences and the faith that they built because of them. I could share so many quotes of the things that they told me, of the picture of God that they painted for me, but really, I cannot do it justice. The things that struck me most were a few quotes and a few moments. The host mother we stayed with, when we asked her how she could possibly move on from the tragedies that happened in her life, her response was “Es la fe, nunca ha terminado.” Which roughly translates, “It’s the faith. It has never ended.” Not the answer I expected, but better than any I would have imagined her to give.
Another moment was when my host mom was talking about how she had escaped very nearly getting caught by the soldiers who were hunting her and her family during the war. She stopped, and tears welled in her eyes. Another member of our group who was also staying with me asked her why she was crying and she looked at both of us and she said, “Truly, sometimes I still wonder why it is that I survived. There were so many people that did not survive. And it is hard to remember that. Remembering them and knowing that I have the privilege of remembering.”
The last thing that I was most struck by was how welcome I was in their house. Our host mother took care of us, and our host brother practiced his English with us and played the guitar for us and taught us about his life. But after all of this feeling of welcome, the host mother said something so beautiful. After we thanked her for sharing of her life and her story with us, she said, “By sharing with you, having you in our house, you are not strangers, but you are my sisters. And even though you might not know Spanish as well as you’d like, the language of the heart is universal.”
So after all of these quotes, all of these moments, all of these speakers who have been telling us about liberation theology and poverty and tragedy, I find myself here. I find myself sitting at my computer, trying to put into words a story that is not mine, a reflection of events and emotions that I will never be able to fully understand. I feel frustrated with what I have learned of the contradiction between traditional Catholicism and popular Catholicism when what the popular church is looking at and helping with are issues that everyone in the church should care about. I feel overwhelmed by the beautifully tragic stories that the family in Santa Maria La Esperanza shared with me. I feel reminded daily of the fact that I have so much to learn and so much to strive towards. And most importantly, I am realizing that my life is something beautiful. Being alive is something beautiful. La habilidad para sobrevivir en un mundo corrupto es no cosa pequeña. Es una experiencia para apreciar y vivir auténticamente. I want to live in a way that is more appreciative, I want to live in a way that embraces the freedom that God—as liberator—has given to me. I want to humbly love as many people as I can. I want to speak that universal language of the heart and I want to find a faith that never ends, que nunca hará terminado.
Yet maybe, the most important thing that I am learning here is that we don’t have to have all of the answers. I don’t have to know exactly what it is that I am learning, and I don’t have to process everything that we do and everything that we hear immediately as it is happening. Really, we SHOULDN’T. We should give it the honor of time and process and love these stories as if they were our own. Mostly, I am learning that El Salvador has “be where your feet are” written all over it, and I am trying so hard to do just that. No matter what religion or belief you come from, it is important to remember that you, too, are called to be free.
Central America is helping to liberate me."