By the Rev. Miguel A. Hernandez
It has been already a year since El Seminario Episcopal Anglicano of El Salvador was born. Who would have thought that my incursion into theological education would bring me to teach seminary-level classes in El Salvador? It would have never crossed my mind, but it became a reality.
Well, this past December 2017, Leonor Molina-Hernandez, my wife, and I traveled to El Salvador to witness the conclusion of the first year of classes at El Seminario. After concluding my last class for the semester in San Salvador, we had a special ceremony in which the seminarians, the teachers as well as the administration were recognized for their labor of love. At the celebration, we had the opportunity to share with an Anglican Youth Group from Guatemala who were traveling throughout Central America, and El Salvador was their first stop before Christmas as they visited Anglican Churches in every country. After the celebration, we visited a popular tourist place named Los Planes de Renderos where we enjoyed some delicious pupusas (staffed tortillas) while being serenated with mariachi music. Food with music is the right thing to do in a Salvadoran gathering. It sounds like a sacrament, and it is!
There were six students, consisting of four women and two men, who completed the first two ciclos (semesters) for the first year of classes. I had the opportunity to teach Old Testament (Hebrew Bible), and New Testament in Spanish. The classes were offered via Facebook. At first, it was a challenge to get the technology to work, and afterwards, we were able to have the end-to-end video classes with minor issues. I would say that the desire to learn is one of the most observable characteristics of the students. For any on-line courses, the support of the Seminary is crucial, and I can say that the persons assisting with the technology and the materials were the best a teacher can ask for. Where there is a will there is away, indeed!
This was a mission trip that also included visiting other places like El Maizal in Sonsonate. I was invited to address the clergy at the Diocese of El Salvador with the theme: the Leadership of Jesus. This is an important topic since we tend to forget that Jesus’ message was to serve those in our communities. As part of the talk, we had the opportunity to delve into the New Testament passages in which Jesus talk about “who is greater among you” (Luke 9:46), and we also talk about what was expected of those of us who call ourselves Christians (Mark 8:34-38). These are difficult texts for those who want to climb the ladder of success in the church, or in any other organization, to achieve a position of power and prestige. We need to read those texts regularly so that we can be the church of Christ (of love), and not the church of the empire (of power).
During the presentation, we had the opportunity to dialogue about the current situation in El Salvador, and how to bring change in a society that is broken as a result of injustice and unmet expectations from the political parties that have had a detrimental effect on the poor due to unemployment, lack of educational opportunities, scarcity of drinking water in some places, and most of all for the constant migration of young people to the USA looking for opportunities that they cannot find in El Salvador. The challenges are great, and the church must be prayerfully involved in accompanying those in need to overcome some basic human needs. Recently, we have heard of the sad news of the cancellation of the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Salvadorans by the Trump administration. This issue by itself will compound the suffering of the people in El Salvador and in the USA.
Another mission opportunity took place as we visited the Anglican Episcopal communities of El Carmen and San Juan de Letrán in Usulután. These two communities are located in a remote and hard-to-get place in the country side were one have to wait for hours after a storm in order to cross a river since there is no bridge. Life is hard in this area. One of the residents was explaining to me how these communities were established after El Salvador Peace Accords were signed in México in 1992. He said, “we came here with our things, and we slept under the trees. There was nothing here. We had just grass and trees, and we opened the way to start the community.” I thought about the images in the foundation of Macondo depicted in the magical novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Now, these two communities enjoy a local clinic that a doctor visits regularly, a school that offers classes up to the third grade, and running water that the church has secured using Cuban technology. In these communities, a group of six women and a man are learning to saw so that they can improve their chances of getting a job, and perhaps in the future to start a cooperative where they can employ themselves when the harvest of corn and other vegetables have concluded.
These are some of the opportunities that the seminarians at El Seminario Episcopal Anglicano of El Salvador will have as they become involved in their communities around the country. The field is ripe! The question is always: are you willing to respond to the call?
The Rev. Miguel A. Hernandez is the Priest-in-Charge at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in West Orange, NJ. He is an Adjunct Faculty at the Newark School of Theology, General Theological Seminary, and El Seminario Episcopal Anglicano of El Salvador. Rev. Hernandez is completing his Doctor of Ministry degree at New York Theological Seminary.