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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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.