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El Salvador and Global Mission

Noah Bullock at the site of a microfinance project in El Salvador

Last Sunday, Noah Bullock – a 25-year old missionary who worked with our mission team in El Salvador last year – spoke at St. Paul’s in Natick on his time in El Salvador and also on the role of global mission work. His homily can be viewed here.

I want to thank you all for the opportunity to speak to you all this morning. It is truly a privilege to be here and share with you a little about my time in El Salvador. In my opinion, El Salvador is a small country with a lot to give. I am reminded of this again in reading the parable of the mustard seed. When I hear the question, “to what can we compare the kingdom of heaven,” I cannot help but hear to voices of El Salvador’s martyrs who so often spoke of “ The kingdom of Heaven” in terms of a project to bring about a more humane world. “The project of the kingdom of heaven.” This terminology reminds us, although we may not understand the holy mystery of germination, the work of sowing and caring for the seed is ours to do. The kingdom of heaven see through this lens quickly moves from passive germination to an empowered and bold mission to reach out and create a better world in god’s image. This work, the project of the kingdom of heaven, is the mission given to the church in Pentecost.

Recently I was speaking with a very close North American friend, who I met in El Salvador about the topic of how we do mission in the church. She told me that she could identify three models of mission. The first is linked to the traditional evangelization; this is the old mission model that is about converting “them.” In the colonial period this model was practiced in the conversion of the “savages races.” The modern form of the “Them Model” is not as nearly as harsh, it is about building them schools, giving them food them, or giving them medicine. The second model is the “me” model, with its roots in pilgrimage to holy sites in search of vocation and meaning. The third model is the “Us” model ,in which, mission is something we do together in communion. It is a more complicated model because it requires more than giving and receiving, it is accompaniment, it is transforming and being transformed.

I believe El Salvador is a particular inspiring country for mission because the Salvadoran church’s struggle to define mission has been the driving force behind so much of its recent and tragic history. For centuries the Church’s mission in much of Latin America has been aligned with the interests and power of the landed elite. In the 1960’s and 1970’s however, this began to change as people questioned this mission and asked how the modern church reflected the life of Christ. From this discussion emerged a new option for the church, the preferential option for the poor. The expression of this new option reached a pinnacle in El Salvador with the ascension of Oscar Anulfo Romero to the Bishopric of San Salvador. For those who are not familiar with the name Monseñor Romero, he was man of humble roots who was appointed Arch Bishop during the political and social turmoil of the in the mid nineteen seventies. He was appointed under the presumption that he would be moderate at a time when social unrest, violence, and repression were tearing though most of Central America. After the murder of one Romero’s closest colleagues, Father Rotillio Grande, he rapidly underwent a conversion and became a powerful voice in defense of peace, human rights, and the poor. He was the voice of the voiceless. He is remembered by the people as Romero, a prophet and martyr, the patron saint of the Americas. In the Anglican Communion he is remembered as a modern martyr, and his statue stands beside Martin Luther’s above the great west door of Westminster Abbey.

Romero was very clear on mission, “The mission of the church,” he said “is to identify its self with the poor… only this way will the church find Salvation.”

Famously he said before his death, “that if the come to kill me, “My voice will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.” Indeed, today we live that resurrection, in the last two decades the call to defend human rights and eradicate poverty has received an unprecedented response, not only in El Salvador, but across the globe. In the Episcopal Church, there is new enthusiasm for this work, and even children are being taught the millennium challenge goals. It would seem that we are enjoying a new clarity about our modern Christian mission. Terms like sustainable development, public health, and primary education are on the tip of every mission committees tongue. Amidst the clarity and enthusiasm, however, there is a great deal of confusion about the church’s specific mission model. How do we seek these goals? Will this mission be about them, me, or us?

In a homily about a month before his murder, at the time when the conflict between the ruling military regime and the multitudes of social, religious, and political movements were on the brink of civil war, Romero joyfully proclaimed, “ This will be our best Lent to work for social justice and love the poor.” He offered the Christian perspective that, “ Social justice is not just a law that orders distribution, rather, and internal attitude with Christ, that in being rich we become poor to share our hearts with the poor.” Speaking to power Romero says, “I hope that this call does not harden the hearts of the oligarchs, rather that it moves them to conversion. Share what you are and what you have.”

Romero’s call to mission is not just to give to the poor in a “Them” model, rather to join them, it is about us together, accompaniment. He calls us to move beyond the charitable distribution of resources and challenges us to give ourselves to one another to become new. In our new age of poverty eradication, development, and mission, will it be possible to achieve our goals if our strategies are limited to the designation of more funding to aid the sick and the poor? Or must we go further? “ Share who you are and what you have.”

In our time as in Romero’s, this is a very dangerous proposition, because it requires us to change, and we are always fearful of change. Romero concludes the homily addressing this fear and its subsequent violence, “ Do not continue failing us with violence against those of us who are to achieve a more just distribution of power and wealth in this country.” Then he pauses and his voice changes, “I am speaking in the first person, “ he says “ because I received a warning that I am in the list of those who are going to be eliminated next week, but let it be known that nobody can kill the voice of justice now.”

A month after giving this homily a single silenced bullet pierced Romero’s heart while celebrating the Eucharist at the chapel in the hospital for terminal cancer patients where he lived. The call for justice often bears a great price. Romero preached once that persecution is something necessary for the church because the truth is always persecuted. When the church is fulfilling its true duty,” he said, “it will always be persecuted.” We are one holy, catholic, apostolic, and persecuted church. In mission let us not forget Romeros’s call. Let this be our best Pentecost to go out and share not only what we have, but also who we are. We will not be afraid to change, and we will not let our hearts harden to this call, rather, we will move to transform our hearts, our communities, and the world beyond. We will not fear that in telling the truth and acting for justice we will be persecuted because in communion together- nobody can kill the voice of justice now!

En el nombre del padre del hijo y el episirtu santo tuyo es el reino tuyo es el poder por los siglso del los siglos amen.

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