Saturday, April 09, 2011

Life from below - a glimpse into rural reality

Father Julio César Galdámez, who has been the associate pastor at Dulce Nombre, has had some serious health setbacks and will no longer serve in the parish. It’s a loss that the people feel deeply. The pastor, Padre Efraín Romero, has two other major responsibilities in the diocese – Caritas and the diocesan radio station – and so had to cut back a bit in the parish. He’ll be doing more now that Padre Julio has had to move and he’s asked me to do more in the parish.

This weekend I planned to attend two zone meetings. The parish is divided into three zones which have monthly meetings which representatives of the 11 sectors of the parish attend.

Friday there were about twenty-four people in El Limón for the meeting of Zone 2. Four guys came on horseback but the rest walked – or hitched a ride. (I gave several a ride when I met them on the rode.)

The El Limon church of Saint Michael with my car up front.

The meeting covered a lot of issues, some of which seemed to go on forever. But the seriousness of the people impressed me. Franklin who works on an agricultural project in the parish financed by Manos Unidas was there to talk about the project and to pressure for speedy loan repayments. He noted that one community has completely paid up its loans, but five out of the 23 villages in the projects will be dropped for any number of reasons, including lack of interest or cooperation. The project will probably get two more years funding.

For those who speak Spanish, there is a Spanish television program on the web  here - the first seventeen minutes detail the project in the Dulce Nombre Parish.

Franklin passed around a form for folks to fill out to help in an external evaluation which is being made of the project. Four people did not participate in the census because they could not read or write. Though pastoral workers, they were still illiterate.

Saturday I had planned to go out to El Zapote for the Zone 3 meeting. But I got into the truck at 7:15 am and something seemed wrong with the brakes. (And I don’t want to go out there with poor breaks – there are hills and precarious turns.) I eventually got someone to come and repair them, but one part we bought was the wrong size and so the mechanic had to go to find the right size washer. Yuk!

But it was interesting to talk with the mechanic. A young guy who spent two and a half years in Mexico. He was on the way to the US but got into an accident and had to stay in San Luís Potosí before returning to Honduras. He has very little education. His mother was killed a few years ago in San Pedro Sula during a robbery. But he’s working now in a mechanic’s workshop, learning the trade.

After the brakes were fixed I headed out to El Zapote, knowing I’d be a little late. I arrived as they were eating lunch. They had a few items on the agenda, including an economic report (including how much they were sending to the parish and my report). One young man asked for help for his sister who, because of pulmonary and larynx problems, can only whisper. She has a medical debt of about 7,000 lempiras and needs another 4,000 for medicine (about $670 in all). The group decided to give her 1,000 lempiras (about $53) of the 11,000 they had saved and promised to take up collections in the villages. The generosity of the poor.

After the meeting I went to Piedras Coloradas where we are beginning a project to help the community. We had a meeting with about 12 people attending. After a short shared reflection on the passage on the early Christian communities in the fourth chapter of Acts, I asked the community to share their successes. I had never tried this with a group here and was expecting that I’d have to drag examples out of them. However they chimed in with a list of about ten successes – from their base community to the work they are doing to try to get electricity to the town to the water project. I then asked them how they had done this and they shared about the groups that the community that had helped get many of these projects started. I was amazed, though they told me that they still had problems, such as not enough water.

I then asked them to dream about what they would want in their communities in 2015. I was again amazed –an improved school, a new roof and paint job for the church, fruit trees and vegetable gardens, a soccer team, a fish pond, better housing, and more. The most fascinating was a swimming pool and maybe even a water park! I asked them to get the kids in religious education to do the same time of dreaming as well as any other groups in the community. Next month we’ll examine them and begin to see what we can do.

I told them I came without money or projects and that we would work together for the community. I did, though, promise to bring them one of the soccer balls that the St. Thomas spring break group brought down.

I drove home tired, but reflecting on how privileged I am to be able to work with these people and to recognize what good they do and what good they can accomplish. Several of the people were illiterate. One young man had six years of school but the majority had four or less, but they had a great wisdom. I spent a few minutes talking with a 75 year old man who at first said he knew nothing. But I insisted that he had a lot of wisdom. I told he that he knew how to feed himself, growing corn and beans, but I couldn’t.

There are many who look down on these people and lament how Honduras has so many illiterate people who, these commentators seem to think, cannot be critical thinkers or good citizens because of their lack of education. I beg to differ. Formal education does not necessarily bring forth people with wisdom.

And so I returned to Santa Rosa with a deep sense of peace and I look forward to my next visit to piedras Coloradas in May. I have much to learn from them.

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Nazi Germany in 1945. There’s one quote from a 1942 Christmas letter of his that reflects my vision of life and of ministry:
“There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learnt to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled — in short, from the perspective of those who suffer....We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune.”

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