El Salvador Day 08 – Meet the US State Department, Meet Bishop Gomez, and Say ‘Goodbye’

Update: The photos are here!

Today was our final fully day in El Salvador. Early tomorrow morning, and by “early tomorrow” I mean two hours after I type and post this, it’s time to wake up and head out to the airport. So here I am, keeping you informed and as briefly as I can, if you don’t mind. Oh, and still photos aren’t uploading, I’m sorry. I will do my best to add photos to the last few posts over the weekend. Also, don’t forget the contest that runs through midnight on Friday!

Our final full day in El Salvador….

‘Meet the New Boss…’

After meeting with Salvadorians and private US citizens living and working El Salvador, we finally met with officials at the US consulate, Lawrence Ruby, an educational growth officer for USAID, and Mitch Ferguson, economic counselor for the US State Department. They explained how economic growth and fair trade has been helping El Salvador, giving facts and figures based on US data of the situation. They commented on how jobs have been created, small and medium-sized businesses are receiving better aid, the GDP is rising, and that free elections are working because power is exchanging hands without war erupting again.

People from both our group and the St. Thomas group asked many tough questions, specifically about mining practices and the impending Pacific Rim court case opening on May 31 and the effects of CAFTA on real people beyond what things look like on paper. Both men gave answers which were passionate from their perspective. When it came to the workforce changing (i.e. farmers can no longer compete with corn prices from Monsanto, for example), Mitch likened it to how buggy whip makers were still skilled artisans but simply weren’t needed at the advent of the automobile. The metaphor felt apt to me though there’s a big piece of the puzzle missing for me, too. And not just me, it seemed, but our whole group.

This presentation was so different than any experience we’d had so far and it left many of us feeling conflicted. Lawrence proclaimed that, “Our mandate is to help El Salvador better be self-efficient.” And from their perspective they feel they are. And I personally believe in many ways they are. HOWEVER, and that’s a great big capitalized, underlined, italicized, bolded “however,” there is a flaw in the logic the US government is using to me. Because no matter how many international company relationships are built, no matter how many jobs are created, no matter how many small local business are receiving aid and help to become competitive in a global economy, no matter all of this progress, there are the swindled people in the shanty village. There are the men begging for handouts in Victoria. There are the young children who are disappeared years ago. There is so much strife in the countryside of El Salvador and these are the real people behind the facts and figures.

Our group managed to keep our emotions more in check than after we met with the Arena representative a few days ago and yet feelings were stirred quite a bit. We respected everyone in the group by having small side conversations throughout the day instead of launching into chaos as someone of need to process internally or in silence or simply out loud with a close friend. We learned a lot about our group dynamic from our visit to Arena and we tried to use that learning experience positively today. A few points of note: someone observed it was the one place we’ve been where we weren’t offered a beverage, where we weren’t allowed to take photos or video. We brought our passports and passed through a metal detector while over a hundred Salvadorians waited outside to have their passports worked on for international work permission. We felt so, so privileged and that did not sit well with our hearts.

All of this leaves me conflicted. What I’ve seen versus what the US State Department told me are in high contrast. I’m having what I call the “Lisa Simpson Effect.” On the TV show The Simpsons, 8-year-old Lisa is the brainiac of the family. However, she can get quite emotional, too. This conflict between wanting to be logical and think about things with one’s brain only to have the emotions in one’s heart take over is often Lisa’s conundrum and, I feel, the human dilemma. It’s how I feel right now because in their presentation much of what they said made sense to me in the logic of my mind and yet the emotion in my heart knows better.  A new question emerges for me, and it’s who decides the ethics of business? Because if the cost of doing business is even one life, isn’t that cost simply too high?

“The BISHOP!”

This afternoon we had a chance to meet Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, the priest who mentored Luis in his youth. He began by telling us, “You are all of different denominations, so feel welcome. This is an ecumenical house.” Right away, we could tell we were in for a treat. He gave us many stories, of a UCC martyr named Wayne Staynor who was killed for speaking out against South African apartheid, of how Romero and he didn’t initially see eye to eye and how they came around eventually, and tales of Luis as a young man. He said, “Many of us are still alive thanks to your solidarity and openness to being here,” and “God responds with love to the situations we are all facing.” And most important of all, he acknowledged “We are a church who says it’s not enough just to pray. We must work.” I, for one, firmly agree.

Luis told us a brief story about Bishop Gomez. When Luis was a young man, Gomez sent him and a friend to Mexico to study at a seminary. Luis had terrible shoes, like something made out of toad skin, he said, and he asked Gomez to borrow his shoes. Gomez relented, not only giving him a solid pair of shoes but also a cross to carry on his journey. These small tokens gave Luis the courage he needed to travel through Guatemala and finally to Mexico to study. Luis said, “I saw God this way.”

And then, Bishop Gomez gave us a gift. He was the first speaker who ever gave us a gift and it was certainly special. We each received a cross, as Luis did, with the “Luther Rose” emblazoned in the middle. Now we carry crosses from Bishop Gomez to see God on our journey.

Don’t You Forget About Me

We had a dinner of pupusas, tamales, and the best hot chocolate ever. Afterward, we had a refreshing worship service for the soul based around the theme “Learn Something New, Then Teach Someone” at which I got to lead us in “Pass It On” on ukulele. Finally, it was time to say ‘goodbye.’

From her experience, Chris knew we’d all be too rushed and tired at the airport to have a proper farewell and so we shared together tonight. Two questions were tossed out: what about your experience in El Salvador do you want to share and what can you say about our community? I’ll let my fellow travelers explain what they said in the comments section and briefly say my peace.

Regarding my time in El Salvador, I’m coming home with answers to questions I didn’t know existed. These answers are in the form of faces of children and elderly, of artisan hands and dirty feet, of a row of dilapidated shops on one side of the street and the biggest mall in the country on the other. I’m at once dismayed by the prospect of what it means to be enlightened, for I am. I cannot look back. I’ve had too much willful ignorance in my life and now I cannot look back. I must continue to seek the answers.

As for the community we created, I loved, loved, loved all the little moments I got to have with each and every person on the trip. The little chats, my roommates, planning worship, videotaping and blogging their feelings and emotions, everything. I didn’t feel judged and I felt listened to. I felt like I belonged. I am so grateful for this fellowship.

Final Notes and Highlights

The highlight of the day was truly sitting down and listening to each other, sharing and laughing together. Oh, and after that we sent Tim M. running down the street to Pop’s Ice Cream to ask them to stay open just a few minutes longer for us to have a final treat. They agreed and many of us went out for a tasty treat.

Tomorrow, we head home. We’re waking in the 3:00am hour, heading to the airport at 4:00am, and are scheduled to arrive in Minneapolis at approximately 4:30pm. I’ve heard we have a layover in Houston so you may hear from loved ones via cell phone at that time, pending we get through customs without too much trouble.

We have so much to share with you, our loved ones. Update: The photos are here!

-nm

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7 thoughts on “El Salvador Day 08 – Meet the US State Department, Meet Bishop Gomez, and Say ‘Goodbye’

  1. I am struck by your recognition that you cannot look back and be willfully ignorant again. During the story in Acts 9 of Saul’s conversion, scales fell from his eyes and he could see again. We welcome you home with your new eyes!

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  2. Thank you so much for the blog, Nate, so those we left at home could follow us, and so those of us who went had a great way to look back on what we experienced.

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  3. Enjoyed your blog and seeing El Salvador through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time. FYI — you might want to correct this post. Bishop Gomez’ first name is Medardo, not Ricardo. (and if you can find it — make sure and check out his book The Word Became History (English translation). It’s out of print but sometimes you can find it online at used bookstores.

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    • Thanks for the catch, Tim, I’ve updated the entry. Readers, please check out Tim’s blog; he’s visited El Salvador several times and he’s got a lot of great stuff there.

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