The Rooted in Hope Delegation



Rooted in Hope’s drip irrigation system at work!

We were so happy to have two awesome people from Rooted in Hope here last week! Rooted in Hope is a small-but-mighty NGO that works to provide rural communities in the developing world with environmental education, resources for reforestation, and other projects related to agriculture and water. They were in Berlín to help the communities of Casa de Zacate and Los Yánez install inexpensive, low-maintenance, high-quality drip irrigation systems.

Our collective hope is that these irrigation systems will help these communities to collectively grow and harvest vegetables (and possibly basic grains) even when it isn’t raining. The farmers of rural Berlín are incredibly vulnerable to climate change because they are entirely dependent on rain-fed agriculture to cultivate their corn and beans. These basic grains are not only the primary food source for almost all of Berlín’s families, but selling them at the market is the farmers’ only source of income. We are hoping that drip irrigation systems like the ones Rooted in Hope helped to install will help these communities to diversify what they can grow and when they are able to grow it!

Thanks to Casa de Zacate and Los Yánez for all their excellent organization and our new friends at Rooted in Hope, Katie and Zach, who made the trip all the way from Denver, Colorado. Be sure to check out their website here to learn more about what they’re doing all over the world.


The folks from Casa de Zacate prepare to assemble their two new drip-irrigation systems.


The drip kits are easy to assemble; all you have to do is connect the tubes together following some simple instructions. Even kids can participate! 


(When they aren’t having their picture taken, that is.)


After connecting the smaller tubes together, you then stake the lines into the ground so that they don’t shift around too much. This is important, given that these drip kits are designed to give water directly to the roots of each plant. This conserves lots of water!


These drip kits function via gravity–no pumps, no electricity. The smaller lines of tubes are connected to the larger principal line, which is connected to a 10-gallon tank. The tank has a valve, which can be opened and closed to turn the water on and off. Each tank has enough water in it to water plants twice a day for at least a week–it is incredibly efficient.


The community can also control the amount of water that comes out of each “dripper” by simply tightening or loosening the wire nuts at the ends. Simple, practical, highly functional, and inexpensive.


Katie explains how to play “Bingo” to the children of Casa de Zacate. It was a fun way to provide some fun environmental education!


Reina of Los Yánez waters some pepper plants with a water bottle. We’re hoping to make their dream of having a small farming co-op easier to manage–with these drip-irrigation systems, farmers will no longer have to water each plant by hand.


En Los Yánez, we installed the system on a steeper hill. It still worked just fine after we played around with it a bit!

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The Compañeros Medical Delegation


Two of our volunteers make friends with some young ladies in Casa de Zacate.

Because I spent the past two weeks in the USA, visiting churches and organizations all over Iowa, I never had the time to talk about the wonderful group of people who visited us from November 4th-11th: the Compañeros Medical Delegation. This talented group of doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and support staff worked together with Berlín-area medical personnel, the community Directivas, and the Pastoral Team to provide compassionate medical care to people in 12 different cantones and caserios, to help at least 700 patients, and to build deeper relationships between people in Berlín and people from the USA. We worked very hard. We turned no one away. But we still had time to experience joy and fun with our Salvadoran brothers and sisters! The medical aid we provided was incredibly important–but the relationships we built will last longer than any treatment we could provide.

These pictures do not provide a complete picture of what we did, but it should give you an idea of the crazy-yet-beautiful week that we had. Many thanks to all the medical/support staff, translators, community leaders, San Isidro clinic personnel, and the Pastoral Team that made this all possible. We can’t wait to have you visit us again in 2016! Many thanks to those churches and individuals who donated funds to make this delegation possible and prayed for us, too. We couldn’t have done this without all of you, either!


Patients wait to sign in for their consult in San Felipe Arriba.


Dr. Avitt, our resident chiropractor, gives Wilfredo an adjustment. So many people in Berlín suffer from back and joint pain due to their agricultural work; it was great to see them experience some relief!


The physician from the San Isidro clinic in Berlín, Dr. Hernández, gives a workshop to community members about chronic diseases.


Dr. Neu consults with Dr. Hernández regarding a patient with extremely high blood pressure. We were able to send her to a hospital to receive the help she needs, and Dr. Hernández will provide follow-up treatment. This is why it is so important to serve with local medical partners who can help impoverished patients navigate the complex public health system!


Patients wait for their consultations.



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Stuff I’ve Been Reading That You Need to Read, Too


Many people have asked why I have been blogging less this year. Most of the problem is sheer busyness: it’s hard to find time to write when you have 13 delegations visit you in a 12-month period!

But there is another reason why I have been writing less: I have been trying to read more, listen more, and learn more about issues in Central America. I have also been returning to one of my greatest joys in life: reading lots and lots of liberation theology.

So I thought, dear readers, that the least I could do was suggest some awesome things for you to read yourselves, particularly those things which have challenged and formed me deeply over the past year. I hope you learn as much from them as I have, and I’d love to have discussions about them with all of you, either in the comments section or in real life!

Articles That You Absolutely Must Read

“Two Weeks After It Sued the CIA, Data Is Stolen from the University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights,” via The Stranger

The title says it all: the University of Washington’s Center for Human rights sued the CIA two weeks ago, believing that they may be withholding information regarding several massacres that occurred during the Salvadoran Civil War. Last week, the laptop of the Center’s director was stolen under extremely suspicious circumstances. Make sure you read the original report about the origins of the lawsuit, too. 

“I asked the CIA whether it or any branch of the government had anything to do with the theft. This is an agency that assassinates people with drones,tortured prisoners, has helped to carry out bloody coup d’etats, and whose analysts were accused of hacking and stealing the data of senators who were investigating the agency just last year.”

Keep following this: it could be another Watergate. 

How Pope Francis is Reviving Radical Catholic Economics,” via The Nation

A fascinating take on how Pope Francis, and many Latin Americans, see the relationship between the global economy and Catholic theology.

So does the pope’s assault on the economic order represent continuity, or an actual break? Has the content of faith changed, or just its emphases? And how much can (or will) Francis really do? These are ever-recurring questions for papists like me. Having a pope means holding a posture of receptivity toward him—and yet the meek, not the powerful, will inherit the earth, and the poor will rule the coming kingdom. Preserved in the world’s most conservative institution is a body of radical notions about economic life: as Catholic Worker cofounder Peter Maurin put it, ‘a philosophy so old that it looks like new.'”

‘Subsidiarity’: a Papal Explainer, via America Magazine

Subsidiarity is an extremely important concept in Catholic social teaching: one that forms the basis of how Our Sister Parish (and many other Catholic-connected projects of solidarity) understands how missions, organizations, and development should work.

“To borrow a term from the Catholic convert and economist E.F. Schumacher, government under subsidiarity should be thought of in terms of “appropriate technology.” Decisions should be made at the level of those who are affected by them, as locally as possible. Politicians from faraway places, for instance, shouldn’t be rigging governments that have no representation in Congress like the District of Colombia and Puerto Rico. And, subsidiarity suggests, businesses shouldn’t be controlled by investors who neither work for nor depend on them.”

“Unfinished Houses,” via America Magazine

This is already a year old, but it is the best and simplest explanation for why Our Sister Parish centers itself on relational mission work instead of physical mission work for its American participants…and how that saves us from our cultural and classist paternalism.

“When we focus on accompaniment, we realize what our work really is. Service is fundamentally about relationship, and as such it invites us to redefine work. Yes, it involves mixing concrete or ladling soup, but it also means walking with and listening to the suffering, sharing stories and laughter, tears and prayers. Understanding service as accompaniment reminds us to whom the house really belongs, and to Whom we really belong. A mission or service trip is always a potential pilgrimage, a time to surrender ourselves totally to God and God’s poor. Our agenda, our ego, our need to achieve and accomplish—we are invited to let it all go and to meet those we hope to serve on their turf, on their terms. This kind of surrender gives us the key to a chest of heavenly treasure, in which we’ll find, among other things, an unfinished house.”

“Deforestation and Drought,” via The New York Times

Are deforestation and climate change connected? The campesinos of Berlín have long believed this to be true, and now science is backing them up:

“Many experts believe that deforestation is taking place on such a large scale, especially in South America, that it has already significantly altered the world’s climate — even though its dynamics are not well understood.”

“Hunger Drives Migration in Central America,” via TeleSur

Most people think gang violence is driving most Central American emigration. Think again: climate change-induced hunger is the biggest factor no one is talking about.

“Food insecurity was identified as the single biggest factor driving the immigration crisis in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador…”

“The Refugees At Our Door,” via The New York Times

The USA’s refugee “problem” of 2014 didn’t disappear: we are simply making the poorer, less-equipped government of Mexico confront the problem for us. This is bad news for fleeing migrants, whose human rights are being violated by Mexico’s government.

“In the past 15 months, at the request of President Obama, Mexico has carried out a ferocious crackdown on refugees fleeing violence in Central America. The United States has given Mexico tens of millions of dollars for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 to stop these migrants from reaching the United States border to claim asylum.

Essentially the United States has outsourced a refugee problem to Mexico that is similar to the refugee crisis now roiling Europe.”

The Books That You Absolutely Must Read

The Crucified God, Jürgen Moltmann

“For this theology, God and suffering are no longer contradictions, as in theism and atheism, but God’s being is in suffering and the suffering is in God’s being itself, because God is love.”

Not every day does one read a book that not only changes your conception of theology, but also your conception of God–and particularly the Trinity. This is one of those books.

The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton

“Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most.”

Merton was a Trappist monk, and this is the story of his life, his conversion to Catholicism, and his journey to the contemplative life. It reads like a Beat poem written by a saint, and it’s well worth your time for its wisdom.

Guantánamo Diary, Mohamedou Ould Slahi

“He brought ice-cold water and soaked me all over my body, with my clothes still on me. It was so awful; I kept shaking like a Parkinson’s patient. Technically I wasn’t able to talk anymore.”

Slahi has been imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay since 2002 for his supposed (read: actually nonexistent) connection to 9/11. He was subject to intense torture by his interrogators for years. His connection to the attacks had never been proven, nor has he ever been charged with any other crime.

This book serves as a reminder that we learned nothing from our experiences with the School of the Americas or anything else our government did in Central America during the Cold War: our government still uses torture as a technology of power and encourages other governments to do the same. And we remain sadly but blissfully ignorant about it until people like Slahi wake us up.

Blogs You Absolutely Must Follow

Walk the Way

A brilliant blog written by a Catholic missionary, and soon-to-be ordained deacon, who lives and serves in neighboring Honduras. He offers beautiful reflections on Monseñor Romero & other Christian martyrs, the Christian life, and living in Central America.

Tim’s El Salvador Blog

A great resource for understanding current events in El Salvador. It finds the good news where there is good news to be found–but doesn’t pull punches when it comes to reporting and explaining difficult news, either.

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The Covenant Presbyterian Church Delegation


The delegates visit the town of El Mozote, the site of a horrific massacre on the part of the Salvadoran Armed Forces during the Civil War. At least 800, and upwards of 1200, innocent men, women, and children were killed.

We just had an excellent week with four terrific delegates from Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Des Moines, IA. Many thanks to them for making the trip down here and for being so dedicated to their partner community of San Isidro. And, as always, a huge shout-out to the Pastoral Team and the people of San Isidro for making this awesome week happen!

Also, many thanks to all of you who have been praying for rain. As you can see from the pictures, it has been raining more not only in Berlín, but also elsewhere in El Salvador. But now we need the rain to stop so that the beans can dry out. If we get too much rain, the beans will be ruined, too! So please pray for a dry and sunny end to the growing season.


The delegates prepare to enter the area around the community center/Catholic church, which was decorated for their arrival. The sign, made by their Salvadoran partners, reads, “Welcome, Brothers and Sisters!”


The delegates visit the fields of one community member. They got to pick and eat sugarcane!


The San Isidro Women’s Group prepares to feed the delegates lunch.


The delegates prepare to meet with the Directiva to learn about the biggest issues affecting San Isidro, as well as all their organizational accomplishments.


The community celebrates with the delegates on their last day in town. Here, the children play parachute games with their American friends!

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Power Is Not a Four-Letter Word


Ciseri, Ecce Home, 1871. Never forget that Pilate had power–and so did Jesus. Having power is not a good thing or a bad thing. It depends on who wields that power, and how.

“Power…has become an evil word, with overtones and undertones that suggest the sinister, the unhealthy, the Machiavellian. It suggests a phantasmagoria of the nether regions. The moment the world power is mentioned it is though hell has been opened, exuding the stench of the devil’s cesspool of corruption. It evokes images of cruelty, dishonesty, selfishness, arrogance, dictatorship, and abject suffering. The word power is associated with conflict; it is unacceptable in our present Madison Avenue deodorized hygiene, where controversy is blasphemous and the value is being liked and not offending others.”

In recent weeks, many people have reminded me of something that I learned in my early days of community organizing: lots of people seem to think that power is always a bad thing, even though it isn’t.

This assumption—that power is necessarily bad, evil, or corrupt—is false. Dangerously so. You cannot have real conversations about why some people are poor and systematically oppressed without talking about power. Nor can you discuss how to help those who are poor and systematically oppressed overcome their oppression without discussing how they might build their own bases of power.

In other words, our failure to talk about power actually just gives the privileged, wealthy, and powerful of the world more power; it excuses them from confronting those systems in the world that benefit them, that give them more power and privilege—and that keep others poor, oppressed, and underprivileged. Our dismissal of power as a concept is in itself a form of oppression because it allows us to avoid discussing the ultimate root of oppression: the fact that some people in the world have more power than others over what happens in their own lives.

Not talking about power is in itself an exercise of power—an oppressive one that never benefits the powerless in their struggle for freedom, dignity, and liberation.

One of my favorite thinkers when it comes to power is Saul Alinsky. Alinsky, a community organizer who was dedicated to improving the lives of poor communities in the USA, defines power quite simply and classically as, “ability, whether physical, mental, or moral to act” (50). But he also offers this other, more detailed definition:

“Power is the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping blood and sustaining life in the body. It is the power of active citizen participation pulsing upward, providing a unified strength for a common purpose. Power is an essential life force always in operation, either changing the world or opposing change. Power, or organized energy, may be a man-killing explosive or a life-saving drug.”

Power, in other words, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is the ability to get something done—whether that thing you want to get done is morally or ethically acceptable or not. Adolf Hitler had power—and so did the President Franklin Roosevelt. The repressive, oligarchic government that governed El Salvador during the war had power—and so did Blessed Monseñor Romero. Pontius Pilate had power—and so did Jesus.

Power isn’t good or bad. It’s a tool, like fire, that can either heat or consume depending on who wields itand that works best when shared. 

So let’s not be afraid to talk about it.

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The First United Presbyterian Church of Atlantic

We had a lovely group of people here this past week from Atlantic, IA, most of whom were visiting us for the first time. We really appreciated your willingness to listen to and learn from the people, to hear about the tragic history of El Salvador (and the American government’s culpability in that tragic history). Many thanks to the communities of El Rescate and Colón for their hospitality and willingness to teach all of us!


The delegates visit El Mozote, the cite of the worst massacre to ever occur in our hemisphere. At least 1,000 innocent men, women, and children were killed by the American-trained and equipped soldiers of the Atlacatl Battalion of the Salvadoran military in 1981.


The delegates visit Colón. For most of the people in this group, it was their first visit to a rural Salvadoran community. The Directiva had a lot to teach them about Salvadoran life–both the joys and the challenges.


Some of the dried-up cornfields of Colón’s community members. Most of Berlín looks like this! Most farmers have pulled up their corn and are selling what remains of it for animal feed.


The delegates and Pastoral Team visited community homes in Colón that received water tanks from their church. These tanks help families to store clean, fresh water that they can use for drinking and cooking.


The delegates visit El Rescate, a small community that also received tanks from their church. They have no source of potable water and use the tanks to collect rainwater–when the rain actually comes! When there is no rain, they have to buy water from the city. Either way, the tanks are a huge help to families there. 


The delegates gave each child a coloring book and crayons. It was fun for them to learn a little about farming in Iowa and to have an opportunity to be creative!

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The Presbytery of Long Island Delegation

We’ve been so busy here the past couple of weeks that I haven’t had time to report on everything that’s been going on. Apologies to the wonderful delegation from the Presbytery of Long Island, who were here earlier in August for the delayed blog post! Here are some pictures from their delegation, which came to visit their partner community of Santa Cruz. Thanks to all of them for solidarizing with these people in a time of great crisis. Your presence was a huge gift. And thanks to the community of Santa Cruz and the Pastoral Team for their hard work and hospitality.


The community of Santa Cruz welcomes the delegation with lots of music and joy!


The delegation listens to the community leaders of Santa Cruz. They explained how the drought is affecting not just their crops and their economy, but every aspect of their lives. They also spoke about their hopes for the future.


A community leader shows the delegation how corn looks when it is underdeveloped due to the lack of rain.


The children of Santa Cruz listen attentively as Kristi (Mission Co-Worker with Joining Hands El Salvador) reads them a story. It was good for the kids to have a fun thing to do that also taught them about the importance of reading, storytelling, and education!


The children of Santa Cruz work on a craft activity. They had a lot of fun making these crosses!

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