Today is Pentecost, so I have seen many references to fire throughout the day, including “igniting the fire, kindling a fire,” and other fire-related phrases. These phrases took my mind back to last week’s visit to El Salvador’s communities as part of the Unbound Blogger Trip.
Cooking options range from primitive wood fires created from wood that must be gathered by the head of household, to limited gas-powered cooking. Fellow blogger Ali Ebright of GimmeSomeOven observed an eco-stove in action; the eco-stove diverts smoke through a chimney in order to keep it out of children’s lungs, helps the family use their limited resources more efficiently, and saves trees by decreasing wood consumption by 66%*
As a result of the challenges faced by the families served by Unbound, the process of preparing to cook and then actually cooking the family’s food can be arduous. Imagine having to scavenge outdoors for wood in order to provide for your family. Imagine wood that is soggy from the frequent rains during rainy season (May through October).
It is relatively simple for most of us in the US to prepare meals for our families (turn a dial, light the grill, give in to exhaustion and visit a drive-through). The aisles of a typical American grocery store overwhelmed me with their excess of variety and options upon my return from El Salvador. We have ease, abundance, and social programs that attempt to make sure no child goes hungry.
Some fires take a lot of planning, labor, and good fortune to light. Some are ablaze so rapidly that it’s impossible to define the moment of ignition.
Of course Pentecost isn’t about a single mom in El Salvador seeking enough dry wood to make a cookfire. But it is in attending to these small details of living that we can tangibly reflect the Holy Spirit alive in us.
These families in El Salvador who are involved in Unbound, 85% of whom are headed by single mothers, do not have lives that anyone would consider “easy.” What they do have is one another. I heard testimony after testimony of the impact Unbound had on families: children who had adequate food, students who could keep going to school instead of dropping out to work, aging adults who had the support that is so frequently nonexistent. I saw mothers’ groups holding one another accountable and managing “cooperatives” where very small (in the scheme of things) loans were granted to help them start businesses and create better lives for their children.
I have volunteered frequently at churches where priests are giving a homily about Unbound, after which parishioners are invited to review folders of children and aging people who are awaiting sponsors.
I am convinced if I could by some feat of time travel drop the entire congregation into an Unbound project in El Salvador (or any of the 20 other countries served by Unbound) for just 15 minutes, they would come away with new sparks of understanding and interest in Unbound’s work. This is not to take away from the priests’ work; it’s just different when you look these people in the eyes. Unbound is not about handouts; it is about people who have the dedication and desire to improve their lives who need resources and support to do so.
I know the $30 a month cost of sponsorship, as reasonable as it is, is prohibitive for some of you. There are other ways to give: a one-time donation to the scholarship fund, for example. If nothing else, your prayers are welcome. This is a big project serving people with big needs; prayers can most certainly help a strong program remain so.
Today’s scripture spoke of “divided tongues.” In our week in El Salvador, we didn’t all speak the same language (thank you, interpreters for your help with THAT!). But we shared a commitment to fanning the flames of community, support, and compassion that underlie each Unbound project. Flames that will forge dignity for each participant.
*Note: I gathered these facts about eco-stoves from ENLACE El Salvador. I do not know what brand of eco-stove Ali saw.
Wife of one, Mom of two, Friend of many. My pronouns are she/her/hers.