Encuentro de las Iglesias Hermanas
ENCUENTRO DE LAS IGLESIAS HERMANAS
MEETING OF THE SISTER CHURCH PROGRAM - LUTHERAN CHURCH OF EL SALVADOR
NOV. 6 - 10, 2018
The Encuentro was well attended with about 80 people, both Salvadoran and US/European, participating. Kelly Kandler and I represented Advent.
We received much information from the church in El Salvador. Some important points:
The economy is weak and further harmed by decades of corruption in government. These issues affect the growth of gangs, which earn mission of dollars by extortion – permitted to some extent by corrupt officials. The Bishop said “We are living in a war.”
Climate change: El Salvador is subject to natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes). It is necessary to protect the environment. There is a law before the Legislature to turn over management of water systems to private industry. The church says “no to privatization.” Access to water should be a human right.
Emigration: About 1.5 million Salvadorans have emigrated, 89% to the US. They seek employment, relief from violence and insecurity, and reunion with their families.
The Church has five levels of pastors. People start out as catechists, may go on to be evangelists, then deacons. Those with the most education and experience become presbyters, which is the equivalent of an ordained pastor in the US. They can administer the sacraments. The church will ordain 16 people next August but it is not clear how many are at which level. Most presbyters serve several congregations and rely heavily on lay leaders, deacons, and evangelists.
The Endowment Fund to support salaries for pastors, managed by the ELCA Endowment Fund, contains about $700K and generates almost $20,000 in interest per year. The goal is $2M which would generate about $100K per year. (Pastors in El Salvador generally do not receive salaries, except for a small number of presbyters to whom the $20K is distributed.)
The three goals of the Lutheran Church in El Salvador are sustainability, transparency, and communications.
Church programs include:
Evangelism and Education, including training for pastors in psychotrauma therapy; providing tools for all levels of pastors since the goal is that churches not be pastor-centered; and a prophetic vision that includes ecumenical issues and gender equality. Sustainability is fostered by using volunteers and lay leaders. Training for pastors includes Biblical exegesis, hermeneutics, and Lutheran identity.
Family Pastoral Care: programs for children, young people, and adults. Young people in each micro region (there are five in the country) elect two representatives, one male and one female. At the national assembly two are elected to be national representatives: one male and one female.
Immigration: Helping people who return to get reinserted into society and prevent re-emigration. Emergency aid such as food packages to last a month, education about the risks and dangers of emigrating, helping people overcome the trauma they experienced during their migration journeys, seed money to entrepreneurs to start small businesses.
Right to Health: prevent and treat HIV, prevention training through trained health promoters, sexual health education for both boys and girls. Use of traditional and natural medicines as appropriate.
Stewardship of creation and natural disaster risk management: Humanitarian aid, personal hygiene items, psychosocial care, political advocacy. Unfortunately Salvadorans have accumulated a lot of experience in responding to disasters. Threats to underground aquifers e.g. Coca Cola draining the aquifer in Nejapa to make soda and bottled water, without compensating the community. Advocacy includes filing complaints in environmental courts. Pastors may appear as witnesses.
Communications: A video was shown which is an excellent description of the work of the church. It was recently completed and should be available on the synod’s website. It has English subtitles. The communications department also trains young people in basic journalism techniques. The goal is to have two people per congregation who can work with the media. They are trained to keep a Biblical, theological, and critical eye on the country.
Financial report: A professional outside audit was completed in 2017. The annual sister church fee of $400 was discussed; it had been debated extensively at the last Encuentro in 2015. It was decided US/ European churches should donate to their respective sister churches. The synod will receive 10% of these donations. This generates income sufficient to support the sister church office. That office will have a full-time staff person (Flor Chavez) starting in January 2019. The $400 fee was discontinued.
Kelly and I visited Pueblo de Dios/ People of God, our sister church, with Pastor Christian twice for worship services. Christian is administering an unusual scholarship program funded by a retired Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania. Unlike most scholarship programs in the Lutheran church in El Salvador, this program is open to all young people in Calderitas, whether or not they attend the Lutheran church. Recipients must attend several events per year that Christian organizes. The first event was a community cleanup to pick up trash in Calderitas. Another one on December 2 will include a cookout at the lake, and discussion/ education about sexuality: a rarely discussed topic in El Salvador. We also visited a community about 2 km. away from Calderitas: El Moreno. Christian is starting a mission there. We visited the City Hall in San Esteban Caterina (Calderitas is part of this municipality) and we met with Mayor Lillian Portillo, a member of People of God who was elected last year. Christian invited her to visit Advent, and UCC church in Ohio that supports his work.
- Norma Martin