Dedication of La Resurrección & Christian Chavarría Ayala’s Ordination

On our first evening at Casa Las Magnolias, we gathered on the terrace with  the twinkling vista of San Salvador spread out below us. Our lesson was Isaiah 6:8-13, and we struggled with passages like Tell the people to be ever hearing, but never understanding… Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes…

We struggled because it seemed obvious to us that we would WANT people to see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, turn and be healed.

But at hearing the question: Why do you think you were called to come to El Salvador this year? Many of us were clear: We came to see our friend Christian Chavarría Ayala ordained.

Two days later, we squeezed into La Resurrección for the dedication of the new cathedral building, a place that began in 1982 as a school then a clinic, and the ordination of Christian and 13 other pastors.

As we sat thigh-to-thigh or stood leaning against walls or peered through the chicken wire stretched over the windows, God’s spirit was seen, heard, and felt.

We heard it in the story of the people who were kidnapped by the Death Squad, sent into exile or jail. We felt it in the presence of the Lutheran bishops as well as the Catholic archbishop. And we saw the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22) fly into the sanctuary at key moments.

The dove first appeared during the bishop’s sermon. It flew in through the door and rested in an alcove above the altar as Bishop Medardo Goméz spoke of this place, built on God and for God, for a mere $26,000 and mostly volunteer labor. Indeed, although it still needs windows and doors, a few loose ends tightened, La Resurrección is a miracle in the spirit of trust in the Lord.

During the ordination, the dove returned again as the new pastors were given their stoles, green for Pentecost, and thus accepted their yoke of responsibility. It returned as they were given their plain wooden crosses and their Bibles. It flew in again to confirm the bishop’s pronouncement: “You are now with the Lord.”

Los Consagración de Presbiteros(as)  included men and women of varying experiences and ages: Belinda Fernández, Wilber Franciso Carrillos, José David Medrano García, Margarita Moreno, Ivonn Jiménez, Ivomne Turcios de Pacheco, Cruz Calles, Christian Chavarría, Arisbé Abelina Gómez Centeno, Cinthia Fernández de Jonke, Alcides Abarca, Atilio Martínez López, Gloria de Orantes, Martina Arévalo.

Indeed, out of the ruins of the cities, the houses left deserted, the fields ruined and ravaged, and the land utterly forsaken, the Salvadoran Lutheran Church has become the holy seed that grows into the stump in the land. From the devastation of the civil war through today,  it acts as a powerful symbol of change and empowerment of people as it  continues to support the children, fight for minimum wage, and protect the waters.

And now there are 14 newly ordained pastors, each bringing his or her vision to the people.

Submitted by Karen J. Cantrell





Push Factors in Migration Re-examined

Going to El Salvador each year, the experience is never the same. I find myself focusing on different things every time. This time, as I was coming, I wondered if anything had changed amongst the factors that were forcing the people to migrate: poor economic outlook, gang activity, drought. When we arrived in the city of San Salvador this time, everything looked cleaner: less trash, no visible gang tags, new murals decorating the highway, and more high tech billboards like the ones you would see on the streets of New York although on these billboards, instead of fun facts about the city, ads to dissuade kids from joining gangs were featured prominently.

Anti-gang ad.  The caption reads: “Don’t lose your life in the gangs. It’s easy to enter, but the only way out is by death or prison.”

I wondered about the ads’ effectiveness since it seemed from my prior reading and by talking to families in El Salvador, that the kids’ choice wasn’t whether to join the gang or not, but rather succumb to the pressure or run away. I asked our drivers about the ads, and while they said that maybe the ads weren’t reaching their target audience, some change had happened in that people felt safer going to the police about the gangs, and some people were even able to get their cases resolved to their satisfaction. Also, the murder rate is down to half of what it was last year and almost a quarter of what it was in 2014. There was even a day while we were visiting in which no homicides occurred, so there is some progress on the safety front.

homicide stats

Even so, there is still a lot of work to be done considering the still appalling homicide rate.  Also, some members of an American delegation who have a sister church in one of the most gang-plagued neighborhoods in San Salvador said that the fighting between gangs for turf still affects the members of their sister church terribly.

As for the economic outlook, while coffee production is hurting due to the recent drought compounded with world-wide record low prices for coffee, we visited a cacao cooperative which did give some hope to the rural area where it was located. The cooperative was sponsored by Lutheran World Relief amongst other non profits, and currently is in its second year of production with 33 families participating in the growing, processing and marketing of the cacao products.

Cacao process and cooperative sponsors

They have a goal of including up to 1800 farmers in the coming years and have a savvy strategy of reaching out to the schools to recruit future cacao growers, processors, marketers, etc. The ambassador they send is named Carlos,

Carlos explaining that you have to turn the cacao seeds every hour as they dry.

and he was the guy who explained the whole process to us. Afterwards, it made sense when we found out that he was in charge of the educational arm as he was a very clear speaker who demonstrated all the things he was explaining. He also told jokes, which I assume were entertaining to his usual youthful audience, but my Spanish wasn’t good enough to get all of them.

The merchandise the cooperative has developed so far include, not only chocolate, but beauty products like creams, shampoos and soaps as well. The beauty products portion of operation is headed by a mother and son (who is just 17 and was in school, so he couldn’t present to us) team that have developed a marketing plan that includes scaling up and eventually reaching an international market. They already have an identifiable brand, “nexi,” and have participated in trade shows across El Salvador.

“nexi” soaps and cremes. In the upper left, you can see a plastic bag containing the cocoa butter they use in the products.

I can’t attest to the quality of the beauty products yet, although maybe some of those people who have tried them will weigh in in the comments, but the chocolate was super tasty, and the roasted cacao beans we tried have some of the most interesting and complex flavors I have ever tasted.

roasted cacao seeds

After seeing the cacao processing facility, we visited one of the farms that contributed raw cacao to the cooperative. By the time we arrived at the farm, we were all exhausted because of the heat and long drive and were feeling more than a little dehydrated. Despite all that, the farm was completely enchanting with its peaceful shade, springy ground covered in fallen leaves and various fruit trees towering over the cacao plants. Since cacao is a shade plant, the farm’s overstory contributed to the farm’s output as well by producing mangos, avocados, papayas, bananas, sapotes, and a local fruit called nancys.

Pastor Sudbrock standing next to cacao plants as tall as he is

Although the farm was not organic since they used a mix of chemical fertilizer and organic material, they may yet move in that direction as they are still in the early stages of developing the crop. We saw many examples of how the farmers were grafting different different cacao plants together in the search for the best varieties that will grow at the location.

grafting branch onto cacao plant

We also got to sample the cacao fruit straight from the pod. The taste was somewhat like a perfumy paw-paw or less acidic mango.

cacao pod with white fruit visible inside

The whole visit gave me some hope that the people will be able to make a good life for themselves and even provide an example of how the rest of us should interact with the planet, and hopefully, in a few years, we will se “nexi” products on our shelves at stores in New York. Overall, things are looking a bit more hopeful than on past visits with regard to the violence and economy, but these are only baby steps, and a lot more needs to be done to make El Salvador a place where the opportunities there outweigh the impulse towards migration.

– Laura  O’Keefe

Cacao with fruit and flowers

A Ministry of Showing Up

On our fifth day, after a delicious breakfast of canoas (fried plantains stuffed with cream and topped with strawberries, resembling little canoes), we loaded on to the bus and headed to our first stop: the piñata store. It was the day we were going to visit our sister congregation in Calderitas and we had to be prepared. The piñata store offers options beyond belief (Paw Patrol! Moana! PJ Masks!), but after much discussion, we left with one large unicorn and one soccer ball.

I was excited because although I had heard a lot about Pueblo de Dios, it was my first time visiting Calderitas. Others in our delegation were excited because it was a special day in the life of the community: they were dedicating a new building in which to worship. Previously, the congregation of 50 families had worshiped on someone’s front porch and then a cramped building that used to be a house. Now—on land that Advent had helped them to secure—the congregation had a brand-new, spacious sanctuary. Members had surprised Pastor Christian by building the church in just five months’ time, on a budget of $10,000.

The worship service was planned for 3pm on a Thursday. In a community of subsistence farmers, church can be whenever they decide. On our ride, Norma told us the story of how this congregation had come to be. A number of refugees who had lived at Fe y Esperanza had been resettled in this area, about 70 minutes from the capital, following the civil war. They repeatedly asked Bishop Gómez to start a Lutheran congregation for them there. A few early attempts failed, while others in the community built Catholic and Methodist churches. Bishop Gómez started prodding seminary student Christian Chavarría, saying he had a mission start in mind for him. Christian—busy with his studies, his art studio, and his efforts to raise money for Resurrection Lutheran Church—declined. But the people in Calderitas were persistent and the bishop was persistent and when Christian visited the community and learned that his mother—a leader in the guerilla movement during the war—had helped to build houses for the resettled refugees there, he could no longer say no.

Christian has now been pastoring the congregation for six years. Pueblo de Dios has flourished—although we were gathering in a newly-built church, it became obvious they were going to need more chairs! The new building doesn’t yet have electricity or doors, but it is a clean and lovely space, with tall windows looking out over the congregational garden where they grow watermelons, mangos, papayas, and avocados. Bishop Gómez preached on the parable of the wise and the foolish builders. “There are always important things to do,” he said, “but we have chosen the best thing—to dedicate our time to God. Whenever you come to worship, you are recharging.” Christian reminded the congregation as well: “This is your church.”

When the service concluded, we gathered for a group photo before breaking out the piñatas. Kelly had brought gifts for the children, so we happily distributed beach balls, bubble wands, and sunglasses to eager kids of all ages, their pockets filled with candy. Members of the congregation lined up for Doña Rosa’s famous bread—warm and spongy, almost more like cake. College students practiced their English with us. Then it was time to leave. We were a little disappointed: it felt like our visit was over so quickly. It felt like we hadn’t really done much.

Yet that’s what accompaniment is—it’s a ministry of showing up, a ministry of presence. We were there on this special day in the life of our brothers and sisters in Calderitas. We clumsily tried to learn about each others’ lives in a mixture of Spanish and English. We watched as nine-year old Dani retrieved a watermelon from the garden and we broke bread together…literally. We held each other in prayer. We’ll continue to hold this congregation in prayer. Advent will continue to show up each summer. And piñatas are not optional.

Submitted by Sarah Gioe

Testimony: Teresa Antonia Rivas

Teresa’s parents left her and her older brother behind in their home town when they joined the second group of armed conflict.  By the time she was 14, though, Teresa too had become a rebel.

After she was injured in the civil war, she came to the refugee camp known as Fé y Esperanza (Faith and Hope). Her mother was there, but her father had died six months earlier. He was the first elder to die there.

When she was connected with her mother, although people said, “This is your daughter,” it took time for her mother to recognize her.

This is what war does. It kills people. It separates loved ones, and it changes people in unrecognizable ways.

However, some of the beauties of Fé y Esperanza were the focus on cooperation, training, and faith. Teresa joined the youth organization, which helped clean the camp. She attended workshops where she learned to sew, make belts and hammock, and when Pastor Walter and Elias Bidas arrived, she participated in their Bible studies, listened as Elias played the guitar.

Over the 33 years of Bishop Medardo Goméz’s leadership in El Salvador, these themes have remained constant. The sense of cooperation can be seen in churches, like the one in Calderitas that was built in 5 months on a budget of $10,000. It was also evident in the number of people from the US, Germany, and Canada as well as other Central American countries who swelled the ranks at the memorials, dedications, and ordinations. Training and education is exemplified by the number of Lutheran schools and the young people attending college. And the faith of the Salvadoran people is seen in their pride and celebration.

As Pastor Sudbrock noted, “In the US, we march against something. In El Salvador, they march to celebrate.” To which, I can only conclude: “Amen!”

Submitted by Karen J. Cantrell

Condom Distribution and Health Education at La Casa de Esperanza

While preparing for our delegation visit, we received a list of needed items supporting the work of the Lutheran church in El Salvador. It was a surprise to get a request for condoms.
Pastor Emely Chavez serves as the Pastor for Youth and Pastoral Care for Indigenous Personas for the Lutheran Synod. At La Casa de Esperanza, a Lutheran safe-house, she works actively with Pastor Conchi Angel. Angel heads health prevention services and works more with adults, to improve health education and outcomes.

Pastor Emely described the multi-faceted program. They take on essential community health and social needs such as HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse, domestic violence, and unplanned parenthood. A primary step involves helping young people develop a sense of personal agency. Parenting skills, youth guidance, and reproductive health education are provided. Yearly, they hold a march to raise awareness about violence against women.
Salvadoran public health efforts provide no HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted disease education or advocacy. Pastor Emely indicated that the current process involves the distribution of 15 condoms per visit.
On the other hand, the Lutheran Church in El Salvador engages people through on-going activities that look at individuals more comprehensively. The Lutheran church is a trusted source of help. Pastor Emely distributes about 200 condoms per week. At each visit, participants receive four condoms. Our delegation brought nearly 400 for Pastors Conchi and Emely’s operations. However, we realized that it was just a drop in the bucket. Their services reach 495 youth annually.
The pastor explained that God commands us to love His creation, and all that is in it. This concept includes honoring human sexuality, for it is integral to our lives. Pastor Emely believes that the essence of her work has biblical foundations and is consistent with Lutheran theology. Tending to people, including their sexual health, is a way of caring for the life of the soul.

Submitted by Chandra Llewellyn

Hymnal for Central American Lutherans & Spanish Language Churches

How can we sing the Lord’s song  in a strange land? (Psalm 137:4)

On August 6, 2019, Bishop Medardo Gomez, along with bishops and clergy from Central America, Europe, and the United States, held a reception in San Salvador dedicating the completed hymnal for Latin American Lutherans. In November 2009, a commission of musicians, theologians, and pastors began its development.

This work offers over a quarter of a million Lutherans a worship resource that resonates with the cultures and musical traditions in Latin America.

Commission members include:

Dra. Soraya Eberle and Pastor Christian

Christian Chavarria, El Salvador

Dra. Soraya Eberle, Brazil

Eunice B. Matute, Honduras

Sergio Rios Varillo, Nicaragua

Julio Melara, Costa Rica



Dr. Soraya Eberle  is a theologian, musician, scholar, and  Coordinator of Music for Igreja Evangelica de Confissao Luterana no Brasil (ECLB). She provided significant technical assistance to this team. While reflecting on her involvement Eberle said, “The  Central American hymn book creation project was a great challenge and something very unexpected. It was also a great and deep learning experience. It was a different reality from my own, but it enchanted me. I am in love with the music and people of Central America.”

This liturgical work is seminal. There are 338 hymns, many come from Honduras, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.  In the past, worship songs in Central America were derived from  Catholicism. A key function of the commission was to modify the lyrics to align with Lutheran theology. Additionally, it provided musical notation so that the songs could be learned, sung and played universally.  The prior hymn books are just a compilation of lyrics, that congregants and musicians have been using for decades.

Of the 338 songs, 8 North American Lutheran classics were added to the book. Pastor Christian Chavarría Ayala said, “The only song many Central Americans know is “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”  By incorporating this material, it will better connect Central Americans with other Lutherans.”

Beyond locations in Central America, Himnario Luterano CICLA can be of great use. North American Lutheran congregations who worship in Spanish, such as Adviento Luterano in New York City, now have a compendium of culturally specific music.

The completion of this work is timely.  On August 7, 2019 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America declared that it will be a  sanctuary denomination.   Songs in the mother tongue of Latinx refugees may be a  source of hope and faith. These melodies may be a comfort to their souls as they seek to live in safety and peace.

The hymnal will be available during September 2019.  Contact Christian Chavarría Ayala through the El Salvadoran Synod for details on how to order.

There’s a saying that goes, “When you sing, you pray twice.”  May this work unfold a multitude blessings voice to voice, church to church, country to country.

Submitted by Chandra Llewellyn



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