This reflection was written by Laura Davison, a freshman in Journalism at Missouri University. Laura participated in a SHARE delegation this past June with her church Good Shepherd which is located in Kansas City, Kansas.
Here I am, Lord.
Here we are: Ten of us, four adults and six students, riding a bus to El Buen Pastor, a community of about 100 people in central El Salvador. As we sat there, slightly perspiring partly from apprehension and partly from the heat radiating off the sticky vinyl seat, the nervousness, excitement and French toast from breakfast mixed in our stomachs. We weren’t sure what to expect, do and say in a country in which most of us had spent less than 24 hours and where we spoke very little of the language. And how were we supposed to react when we arrived in El Buen Pastor, a place we had heard about for years but all of us, save one, had never experienced? What were we to say? What were we to offer? We felt powerless. Sure, we had been preparing since January for our stay in El Salvador. But as we passed pickup trucks with workers crammed into the bed of the truck on the way to find work for the day, mothers and children selling fruit in run down shacks on the side of the road and dirty dogs roaming the street, the reality of a country suffering from high unemployment, poverty and gang violence set in. We really were out of our element.
But before any of us could process anything we are seeing, the bus slows and pulls off the road where a crowd of people waits. Children, mothers with babies and an old man waving a red balloon stood at the gate of the community waiting to greet us. We had arrived at El Buen Pastor.
Is it I, Lord?
It’s easier to forget that El Salvador exists, especially in times when our own country is engaged in multiple armed struggles and the state of the economy is uncertain. As we were travelling to El Salvador, we all had second thoughts about coming. It would be easier to have never seen the reality that 7 million Salvadorans live every day.
There is nothing subtle about the need in El Salvador. And even though El Buen Pastor has many advantages that other rural communities do not because of the twinning with Good Shepherd, they are not exempt from this need. Too many men are unable to find enough work. Women, homosexuals and those who live in poverty continue to struggle for human rights. Gangs make neighborhoods unsafe at night. Too few students complete high school, and even fewer attend college. Every business, home and store protected with metal gates and razor wire is a blatant reminder of the desperation in El Salvador.
But the unsettling feelings, though uncomfortable, were necessary. They forced us to reevaluate what is important. And we were forced to look at ourselves and see what we wanted to change about how we treat other people.
The people of El Buen Pastor were rich is so many ways that we are poor. We have never been treated more hospitably. They were willing to give us things they didn’t even have for themselves. When there wasn’t an open pew in mass, some community members left mass and walked several blocks to get chairs so we could sit down. When the water wasn’t running for the shower and toilet in the guesthouse, they immediately began to fix the problem so we could be comfortable. In their homes, they don’t have showers and toilets. They had built the bathroom in the guesthouse so delegations could be more comfortable. It was the little things they did that showed us that we were not visitors whom they had never met before, but rather they considered us family.
I have heard you calling in the night
In addition to visiting El Buen Pastor, we visited another community near San Salvador called Las Nubes, meaning “The Clouds” in Spanish. This community of 14 houses is nestled on the side of a dormant volcano where low-lying clouds occasionally hang. This mountain is property of a television station, and unbeknownst to the company, these families have lived there for nearly fifteen years. The community at the base of the volcano, San Ramon, had even forgotten people were living here. The people live in shacks of corrugated tin that would look pitiful even in comparison to the modest homes in El Buen Pastor. By our standards, these structures would be unfit for animals. The people of Las Nubes had no electricity, and until recently, no source of water in the village. Last year, the people didn’t even have enough food to feed themselves, so they went down the volcano to ask San Ramon for help. San Ramon is also a poor community. Even so, they have helped feed the people of Las Nubes and build a pipeline to carry water up to volcano once every eight days. This was the poor giving to the desolate.
It’s impossible to see things like this and not be compelled to act.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
As we left El Buen Pastor and El Salvador, we left with new friends, new perspectives, but most importantly we no longer felt powerless.
While El Buen Pastor needs financial support that is not the only way to assist them. We learned that our time, our support and encouragement are also much-needed gifts. Solidarity is the most important resource we can give them
The people of El Buen Pastor taught us important lessons of humility, hospitality and hope. And, we, just by listening to their stories, worries and dreams, we were able to validate their lives.
I will hold your people in my heart.