And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness. But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd. Then saith he unto his disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send forth laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:35-38)
I leisurely swung back and forth in the hammock outside our humble, temporary home in the El Salvadorean village of Guajoyo. I listened as the birds and bugs orchestrated their evening songs as the sun dipped below the horizon, bringing about vibrant hues of pink and purple shooting across the deep blue sky. The evening brought a cool breeze to gently push away the heat of the day, and the family next door was having dinner outside. Their children laughed and ran around as they munched on their tortillas while slyly peeking around the corner at the strange white girl reading in a hammock.
My pen underlined and re-underlined one sentence from the scripture Bonhoeffer was elaborating on in one of the last chapters of his book, The Cost of Discipleship. “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few. . . .” Amen, Jesus. But I couldn’t help but squint my eyes at the prior sentence, ” . . . he was moved with compassion for them, because they were distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd.” This sentence had me thinking:
Hmm… How does this slice of scripture pertain to this delegation? To the people of El Salvador? To me?
Twenty-four hours later, we were loading up the van hurriedly as we watched red flames angrily light up the horizon. We were fleeing a natural disaster in our air-conditioned passenger van as the residents of Guajoyo filled up dozens of cantaros with their precious water. The town’s directiva, their board, had gathered an army in less than a couple of hours to fight the fire threatening their livelihood. All the while, we received warm hugs and blessings as we prepared to drive back to the capitol city.
My mind was reeling, and it was difficult to string together coherent thoughts. But I did know one thing: the people of Guajoyo sure as hell didn’t remind me of scattered, hopeless sheep.
We spent our extra day in San Salvador learning about the history of the civil war of El Salvador and about the brave people who fought for peace and for the rights of the least of these. Thousands of people died in El Salvador during the war for speaking out against the inequities of the war. Five Jesuit priests were killed in their garden on the University of Central America’s campus; Four nuns were pulled over by the military, raped, killed, and buried in a ditch; Marianella García Villas, an El Salvadorean attorney who fought for human rights, was executed for presenting wretched stories of injustice to the UN.
That day in El Salvador, we learned about the strength of the human spirit. Perhaps the most inspiring and devastating chunk of history we delved into was that of Saint Oscar Romero. We visited the chapel where he was shot by an El Salvadorean military assassin as he prepared the table for the Eucharist. The night before he was killed, he held a radio show where he begged the El Salvadorean military to cease fire. He urged that ” . . . no soldier is obliged to obey an order counter to the law of God.”
Saint Romero became the archbishop of San Salvador in 1977. He was deeply beloved by the people of El Salvador, and he ministered especially to poor and marginalized populations. Whenever he could, he criticized the ruthless killings done by the military, and openly and vehemently disapproved of the United States’s support of the El Salvadorean junta. Anywhere you go in San Salvador, there is a portrait of Saint Romero hung on a wall. After learning his story, seeing these portraits everywhere began to move me to tears.
Not long before his death, Saint Romero said, “Si me matan, me levantaré de nuevo en el pueblo salvadoreño.”
If they kill me, I will rise again in the El Salvadorean people.
I see God in Saint Romero’s story.
I see God in every single person I met throughout the duration of our delegation.
God is here.
The laborers are certainly few, but the harvest is plentiful not because we, as God’s laborers, must shepherd the people of El Salvador – or really of any country other than our own. We are called by Jesus to reap the harvest of knowledge, wisdom, courage, perseverance, and LOVE the least of these have to offer.
We cannot expect to “fix” the problems El Salvador and other nations face, especially when we may be the root of the issue.
Those who expose themselves to these truths and those who are called to support and walk alongside the least of these – God’s laborers – are bound to reap plentiful harvests of lessons learned and love shared.
Thank you, reader, for following along as I reflect upon this journey. It was difficult to write this last post, but I know that my meditation on this experience will continue throughout the remainder of my life.
Blessings to you on whatever journey you are on. May you be led by God’s love.
Until next time. xo Kailen