Perhaps the most moving part of this cultural immersion happened for me ironically during the final car ride to the airport this morning. Trips like this have a cumulative affect, so I suppose I was sufficiently softened for this, but the impact was strong.
Yesterday I had no idea how I was going to get to the airport. Walter, who had been driving us around, took Peggy and Vonda to Usulutan yesterday. I heard them chatting about it after worship. Finally it was decided that Christian would take me to the airport in the morning. I suspect he drew the short straw, because he had to pick me up at 4:30 a.m. at the hotel so I could make a 6:30 a.m. flight.
Christian is an artesan. He made the humble wooden crozier that they gifted to our synod at the worship service yesterday. I’ll get a photo of it when I get home. I was excited to have some time to odor with him on the 45 minute ride to the airport.
Christian was born in 1975. When he was very young (4?) his family was forced to leave their village, because the army was closing in. Many of his friends and family were killed. They escaped to Honduras, where they lived until he was 11.
At that time he was given a gun and told to be part of the militia. He was a boy soldier for a year and a half. Boy soldiers, one of the great offenses of the world. Ask Pastor Emmanuel Jackson. You do what you have to do when you are eleven. You do what powerful men tell you to do. After a while, Christian abandoned it. It was the late 80’s. George Bush was president. I was a student in seminary, just starting to come to terms with things like El Salvador. Bishop Medardo Gomez came to my seminary in Columbus and spoke.
The death squads put out “hits” on people who had served in the militia. They published lists of those scheduled for execution and even sent letters to thee targets. Christian received one of these letters. Bishop Gomez and his family conferred, and it was decided Christian would have to leave the country. At the age of fifteen Christian was sent to Sweden, taken in by a Lutheran family there.
“It was very difficult. No one spoke Spanish. Only Swedish and English.” Christian enrolled in school, but after testing it was determined would have to start in the 9th grade. Even this was a stretch because in Sweden you can’t start high school unless you speak English.
“After two very difficult years it was determined I could come home,” Christian says. In El Salvador I was told I would had to start high school over again, in the 9th grade. My school credits in Sweden would not transfer. In time, an administrator forged papers to get him into upper classes. He finished high school a bit late, but he finished.
Because his family was very poor he had to work. He took on various jobs. At one point he worked as a tour guide, hosting visitors from Sweden, because of his newly aquired language skills. All this time he says he sensed God’s hand on his life.
At this time, art for him was just a hobby. It was something he enjoyed doing in his spare time.
As a result of his time in Sweden, he was invited to come back each year to participate in international youth congresses. He was asked at times to speak about his experience as a refugee and as a boy soldier. And then, one day someone saw some of his artwork – some crosses he had made. Christian was asked to make 1,000 Salvadoran crosses to be sold in Sweden. He gladly complied.
More and more requests came in. Finland and other countries showed interest. He was united o travel to other countries.
Today 95% of the art he makes goes overseas. He has me the President of Finland, the King and Queen of Sweden, the Crown Prince of Norway. His crosses hang all over Scandanavia. This son of an extremely poor family has seen the world. His mother died two years ago, but she lived to see his success.
Years ago Christian asked Bishop Gomez why they didn’t have a beautiful cathedral church. Gomez responded, “How can I have a beautiful church when people are starving?” Christian, however, could not let his vision go. He told Bishop Gomez he wanted to work for the church. He was told there was no money. Christian replied, “I don’t want to receive money. I want to give it.”
These days Christian works in the church making and selling his wares. He also writes grants for projects, bringing in support from foreign churches. He is packing money away for the church he one day envisions. It will not be opulent, but it eill be a better construction than the rickety Resurrection is now. “We will expand into the back courtyard. It will hve a basement. “Bishop Gomez and his wife want to be buried in this chr h,” Christian tells me. “It will cost $160,000. We can break ground when I have $80,000. I’m not in any hurry. This will happen in time.” I can see him smiling in the dashboard lights as we pull into the airport.
At the curb we hug goodbye. I thank him for the crozier and try to give him money for the ride. He won’t take it of course. “I hope you’ll visit us again.” I hope so too.