A Story of Hermandad

I awaited the arrival of the group with excitement. I always enjoy accompanying the groups that come to visit the Salvadoran Lutheran Church.

I awaited the arrival of the group with excitement. I always enjoy accompanying the groups that come to visit the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. When a group comes from the United States to see a society living in entirely different conditions, it has a mind-opening, heart-gripping impact on all who see it. It makes us understand that we need to do something to better the lives of those in need. More importantly, though, we make new friends. We no longer work with those in need, we work with Norma, Carlos, Manuel, or Maricela. These friendships grow into hermandad.

"Hermandad" is a Spanish word that generally translates to "partnership", but that doesn't catch the whole sense. Instead, we can think of partnership, brotherhood, and sisterhood all mixed up in the same pupusa, a traditional Salvadoran food. In the same way that the pupusa contains beans, cheese, and ground pork all mashed together into a corn tortilla, hermandad contains different cultures, lifestyles, languages, and backgrounds all mashed together in a common faith and hope. The visit then becomes more than just a charity mission trip. It becomes the essence of Christian community. 

My own passion for mission started over six years ago on such an adventure in Nicaragua. My Disciples of Christ region of South Idaho has a historic partnership with a church called the Iglesia Misión Cristiana (Christian Mission Church), our Global Ministries partner in that country. After hearing several stories, I finally had the opportunity to visit for myself. The growth that came from that and subsequent visits eventually led me to take the position of a long-term missionary in nearby El Salvador. Through all those trips and the ones I accompany here in El Salvador, I have seen countless others commit themselves to a more serious and passionate faith as we work to bring change to a suffering world.

So I enjoy accompanying many groups from various places and churches in the United States, and often other parts of the world that come to engage in hermandad. Sometimes I get particularly excited when I know them from before my mission, like when my parents visited in April, or when representatives from Global Ministries and various Disciples of Christ regions, including South Idaho and Montana, visited in May. In the same way, a few weeks ago I anticipated the arrival of a group I knew. But I started to worry as they started running late. Most groups fly in, so I know exactly when they should arrive, but it's much more difficult to figure it out when they decide to drive. I wasn't waiting for friends from the United States. I was waiting for some of the many friends I had made in the Iglesia Misión Cristiana of Nicaragua.

When they finally did arrive, everyone was well and ready for their mission trip with the Salvadoran Lutheran Church. Two women from the Christian Mission Church made the trip, along with the Global Ministries missionaries serving in Nicaragua, a couple with their three-year-old daughter. When we think of mission trips, we often think of those who come in from the big and powerful country to use their resources to help provide for those in poor conditions in the weaker country. We must use our resources to accomplish things that the local church couldn't accomplish on its own. What can representatives of a church with so few resources hope to accomplish on its mission trip to a place with as many needs as El Salvador? It can accomplish much. They did not come to build a physical structure. They came to build hermandad.

They could only get away for a couple days, so we had a limited time for the experience. But we made good use of the time we did have. And what better use of time can we have than in worship of our God? We attended Sunday morning worship at Pastor Vilma Rodriguez' church, Ríos de Agua Viva (Rivers of Living Water), in Mejicanos near the San Salvador volcano. When we arrived, the visitors immediately commented on the church building, which had been built by funds from an international partner. The building's style impressed them. Its simple, one-room structure resembled the churches they knew from Nicaragua. So they felt comfortable and indeed felt an immediate connection to the mission of the Lutheran Church, which focuses on people rather than material things. This connection is an essential ingredient in the pupusa of hermandad. It reminds us of the truly important things that unite us even though other things might look completely different.

The worship service followed the standard Lutheran liturgy, a set order of worship that emphasizes a calm, reflective approach that involves responsive songs and silent prayer time.
This style contrasts greatly with the Iglesia Misión Cristiana's high-energy, Pentecostal worship that involves swaying as the Spirit moves and spontaneous shouts of praise. In hermandad we could recognize that even with our different styles, we worship but one God, and that God very much deserves our praise. 

Even amidst all the struggles, God gives us so much. God created the sun and the rains. God created the animals and the fruits of the earth. Today, we have so many challenges before us, like poverty and violence, that we can easily forget that creation did not end after six days. God still provides these things. We just need to remember how to claim them. Both the Iglesia Misión Cristiana and the Salvadoran Lutheran Church have agriculture projects that seek to take advantage of God's gifts. On the grounds of Fe y Esperanza (Faith and Hope) Lutheran Church, which lies in Nejapa, around the San Salvador volcano to the north, the two churches came together in dialogue about their individual projects.

As we drove the dirt road that climbs the base of the volcano, we could get a sense of nature that seldom shows up in the capital city. In this somewhat remote area, the church grounds served as a refuge for those displaced by war in the nineteen eighties. Now that the war has passed, the church has adapted the use of the expansive grounds to accommodate current needs. As economic struggles rise, access to basic needs becomes more and more difficult, and the ability for families to provide their own food becomes more and more necessary. To discuss this, we sat in the shade of a tree and each church shared. 

Both programs aim to feed families in several communities by helping them grow their own food. The Christian Mission Church in Nicaragua lends out seeds like a bank, expecting a return at the end of the harvest equal to the same number of seeds plus a certain percentage. Thus their program jump starts agricultural productivity for those without the means to do so. In a similar way, the Salvadoran program, known as the Fight Against Hunger, offers materials to get the participating families started, but participants must take part in training sessions first. An agricultural engineer trains them in techniques that use the waste of one technique for use in another as organic fertilizer or chicken feed. They also learn to include diversity in their techniques, from raising earthworms to raising tilapia fish, from growing tomatoes to growing papaya. This gives participants an opportunity for sustainable sustenance. 

The women and men who take care of this project at Fe y Esperanza showed their enthusiasm when they spoke about it, and even more excitement when we got up and saw the work in action. The representatives from Nicaragua took advantage of the tour and learned ways they could improve their own program. They even took samples of some smelly, dark fertilizer as an example.

The Salvadorans also learned and grew. They grew not just from learning from the Nicaraguans, but from seeing how their own work impacted and inspired others. Their work matters. From this encounter, we all grew in solidarity. One group did not passively receive the blessings of another, but both shared and learned from each other. Both formed a common link in common mission. We witnessed the birth of a hermandad. 

We saw further examples of hermandad during the visit. We grew in understanding how to serve those in deepest need when we visited the Casa Esperanza, which gives meals and a place to rest to those who live on the street. We saw how history can inspire us when we visited the place where Archbishop Óscar Romero was killed and the Lutheran Church's own Subversive Cross. In just two days, this hermandad got off to a good start. 

I do not know where this new partnership will head, but I do know that Pastor Santiago Rodriguez, director of the Fight Against Hunger program, expressed excitement that he might get to visit the seed bank program in Nicaragua, and that Sonia Cabezas and Claudina Lacayo, the representatives who visited this time, have made it a goal to build and maintain this relationship. I hope that many more around the world will also make that connection. May we find others so that we can help each other in our mutual goals under the guidance of our mutual Lord. When we see that God's love knows no boundaries, we can truly work together. And together, we can achieve much. But these achievements don't tell the whole story. At the end of the visit, we took time to hang around and relax. In that time, we took part in the most important aspect of hermandad...

...the pupusa!

Nick Green El Salvador

Nicholas Green serves in El Salvador as a long-term volunteer with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of El Salvador.  He supports the National Youth, with the Family and Gender Program of the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of El Salvador.  He also assists with the Communications Program.