A letter from Kristi Van Nostran in El Salvador
Grace and peace to you in Jesus’ name! I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying the longer and lovely days of summer. Here the Salvadoran rainy season is in full swing. I missed the first showers this year while traveling on Mission Interpretation Assignment throughout the United States, but have gotten to experience several awe-inspiring thunderstorms, and even an earthquake, since I have been back in San Salvador for this month of July. It is amazing to me how after three years in El Salvador I have come to equate these wild and unsettling natural phenomena with a sense of being en casa, at home.
I have been incredibly blessed in my travels this year to enjoy the warm hospitality of strangers-become-friends, and to be welcomed with such enthusiasm in Presbyterian congregations around the U.S. In sharing the stories of our partners in El Salvador, I am reminded of how unlikely it seems that we could receive a message of inspiration and hope in the example of communities in a country with a recent history so wrought with conflict, violence and political and social crisis. But our Crucified and Risen Lord certainly has a way of lifting up the least of these.
As you well know, the harsh, daily reality for many Salvadoran families is one of hunger and malnourishment. Numerous families are not able to consistently provide enough healthy and nutritious food for their children to grow and thrive in all the ways God intends. Having suffered a nearly 15-year civil war, devastating earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and hurricanes, international relief aid has been poured into El Salvador for decades. And while relief aid has contributed to the saving of many lives, it has also contributed to a culture of handouts and short-term projects that have not allowed or encouraged communities to truly develop sustainably and on their own terms.
Our work with the Joining Hands network, however, strives to do just that. By emphasizing accompaniment, empowerment and sustainable development, we are seeing communities be transformed from the inside out. So, when leaders from a local community approached our network soliciting a donation of animals for a hen and chicken project, rather than simply offering to buy the animals for them, we invited them to visit and learn from the experience of some of our Joining Hands partners in another community. In the village of El Tigre, Ahuachapán, they met with women who have organized themselves into cooperatives to work together to create a sustainable, healthy and local food system: one group raises laying hens and incubates eggs, another makes organic chicken feed, and another manages an organic greenhouse garden that benefits not only the 150 associates of the cooperatives but also their communities at large! Joining Hands offers them support with additional training and by facilitating connections with other communities to share this model of cooperation and community development with others.
After this eye-opening experience of listening to and learning from peers—strangers who have now become sisters in this struggle against hunger—women from the first community formed groups and began to make a plan to incubate eggs in order to raise enough chickens and hens to carry out a similar initiative to benefit their community. Joining Hands has come alongside them to support with training, to help secure a small, homemade, 60-egg incubator, and to accompany them as they grow this program and invite more local women to join in.
Not only are these women addressing the issues of hunger and malnourishment, but their efforts are strengthening the social fabric of their community as well. The local pastor has shared with us that as a result of family feuds and neighborhood grudges, previously there were women in the community who barely exchanged words and would not look each other in the eye. Now those same women are working side-by-side to transform their community, and through it all they themselves are being transformed. What a testament to God’s reconciling love and power to make all things new!
I continue to marvel at and give thanks for the many ways that God is moving in our midst in El Salvador. Thanks to your generous and continued support, the Joining Hands ministry is able to spread the message of God’s unfailing justice, grace and love, and God’s desire for fullness of life for all of God’s people. I am grateful for your prayers that help sustain me in my work, and invite your ongoing partnership in God’s mission with the people of El Salvador. ¡Muchas gracias!