Dual Entry #10


Our May retreat gave us the opportunity to step outside Guatemala for a while and experience another country.  Our "tour guides" for the journey were Bob and Julie Dunsmore, mission co-workers living in San Salvador, the country's capital.  We would love to say it was fun but it wasn't.  Not really.  You'll understand what we mean later.  It was really educational but also eye-opening and sometimes full of sadness.  

Bob and Julie took us to a community called Regalo De Dios (Gift of God). At first glance, the place doesn't seem like much, with the exception of an awesome view.  There are rows of tiny houses smashed together, each one probably no more than 400 square feet in total.  However, when you get the story of the place, the magic happens. 

The people in Regalo de Dios were left homeless after the earthquake of 2001 - 212 families in all.  The government gave them this land to live on, so they constructed makeshift houses of tin siding, some of which still remain on the land.  They were living in miserable conditions.  Some families had 8 people living on top of one another in a space that is smaller than many of your walk-in closets.  No floors.  No water.  No hope.

Bob with kids from Regalo de Dios

Antes (Before)

Despues (After)

Then, the Presbyterian Church decided to donate a million dollars to help make improvements.  Bob and Julie were assigned to manage the project.  In a year and a half, almost all of the new homes have been constructed.  Wells have been dug.  While the church provided the materials and a few skilled laborers, the families themselves were required to help in the construction of their homes.  

The community still lacks a water system (the government is dragging their feet), but the homes are quite pretty compared to how they were living before.  Each has two very small bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom.  The floors are made of smooth concrete brick that looks like nice red tile.  What's more, the community has built a school, which should be ready for students by the summertime.  It is a wonderfully clean, fresh building, with a field out back for playing soccer.  The people are as proud as ever.  Bob and Julie have been called to another site, but we could see the excitement in the people's faces as they took responsibility of their new community.  

We visited The Museum of the Martyrs.  It honors the 6 Jesuit priests, a housekeeper and her daughter who were killed by the army while sleeping and dragged outside for all to see the following day.  There was a room with albums that were filled with the photos of the bodies, their blood and the bullets that killed them.  Graphic is the only word to describe these scenes. 
In the same place we saw remanants of Archbishop Romero who was also martered during the war years in El Salvador along with his friend Pastor Rutilio Grande.  We went to the site of this pastor's death where there is a memorial with his picture on it that now is strewn with bullet holes, a quick reminder of how some still believe he was only harming the country with his leadership and desire to raise up the poor of El Salvador.

At some point (as you can imagine, some of the details are a blur), we visited Hacienda Colima, where we would stay for two nights.  The hacienda is a large compound that overlooks a huge farm.  In it's heyday, it was a beautiful plantation home.  Unfortunately, years of neglect have deteriorated some of its beauty.  

Welcome to Colima!

Courtyard of the Hacienda Colima

This picturesque place was the sight of a massacre in 1980.  Twenty-one unarmed people were killed that day.  The farm had been abandoned by its owner and was being turned into a cooperative so the people would have the opportunity to own the land they worked.  Before this time they acted as slave labor much like the plantations of the old south, pre-Civil War.  The government saw this effort to improve the situation of the poor w as COMMUNISM.  They came in and murdered the members of the cooperative, using weapons provided by the U.S. government and kidnapped 35 youth who were never seen again.  

Sometimes it doesn't feel so good to know the real story.

However, the sad history of this place is being overcome.  Bob and Julie came to the community of Colima in 1998 to help the community revitalize the place.  The Hacienda was a wonderful resource that had simply been forgotten due to it's history.  Seeing potential, Bob and Julie worked with community leaders to turn it into a hotel of sorts.  While there is still work to be done (our beds got soaked in a rainstorm... and Brian found a dead bat laying in his bed...) they are moving in the right direction.  Bob and Julie have given them a great start.  They also created a craft group that makes jewelry out of bread.  Yeah, bread.  

What's more, we befriended a man named Chepe, who works at the Hacienda.  He told us the story of of the massacre and how he and three other workers only survived because they hid in the chicken coop.  He tells the story as the facts happened and seems to push the emotion of it aside for the education of the visitors, us.  He also told us of it's rebuilding.   In fact, this cooperative that the government hoped to destroy has survived (only 3% of those in El Salvador are still running).   Now, Chepe works the land as a farmer and property manager, not as a slave.  He works to honor the memory of his friends who died that day in 1980.   Everyday he sits in the very room where the massacre occurred, determined to put the past in past and make a future for his people.  He is just one example of how far the people of Colima have come, and they continue to build their own community in God's kingdom.    

Finally, we had the opportunity to stay at a small bed and breakfast owned by a man named Damien.  He is a former member o f the El Salvadoran guerillas who worked to fight for the rights of the poor in his country.  Today the war is over, but he still has some harrowing stories of his time working in counterintelligence.  He left a successful career as an engineer to embrace poverty so that he could fight for the freedom and liberties of the Salvadorian people.  Both he and his wife, Carolina, were captured and tortured.  He explained that the methods were created in the US and were designed not to leave marks, so instead of beating him they deprived him of sleep for over two weeks.  He refused to eat to keep from being drugged.  He drank water from the toilet to survive.  At times it's hard to be a proud American when I hear the horrors our country helped to create.

Fortunately there are still people like Chepe, Damien and Carolina, who despite their past, embrace us as family and give us the gift of their hope and strength.  Rebuilding their lives one day at a time.