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Holy Ground


By Jaclyn Ross, current student

It’s hard to believe, but we’ve reached our 1-month milestone. It’s strange looking back and realizing how much time has already passed. There are so many experiences big and small that have touched me, there are so many things I wish I could share.

Praxis has definitely been one of the most meaningful components of my Casa experience so far. The word “praxis” means the process of putting theory into practice; for us, praxis is how we live out the pillar of accompaniment. There is a reason we don’t use the term “service site,” there is a reason we don’t go into these communities with a list of tasks to complete. We are told from the very beginning that we are not here to serve but to learn. Our praxis communities are first our teachers: they invite us into their reality and show us what daily life is like here in El Salvador.

I’m blessed to have been placed in the community of La Javia in the pueblo of Tepecoyo. Our praxis site coordinator Angelica quite perfectly lives up to her heavenly name, being one of the kindest, quietest souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. About 13 years ago now, children were fainting in class from the long walk to school and lack of food. Angelica and her family began cooking meals for the kids out of their own home, and they’ve now grown into a well established Comedor that continues to provide home cooked meals for students between morning and afternoon classes.

Just as with any new experience, becoming comfortable and feeling at home in La Javia was a process. I recognize times when I felt uneasy about sitting and doing nothing. I constantly felt like I should be helping cook, washing dishes, speaking Spanish. I felt like I had to be doing something – anything. It took a little while for me to realize that, as I said before, this whole “serving and doing” mindset is not the reason I spend every Monday and Wednesday in La Javia. I’m here to learn.

I’ve been learning to ask questions about everything, and to not be afraid about asking people to repeat or spell new words for me. The pena or shyness I initially had around speaking Spanish is gone. I feel more comfortable practicing Spanish with these people than any other native speakers I’ve met before. I’m not embarrassed about asking Katy to repeat the name of some new vegetable we’re cooking with 6 times over, or even asking her to spell it out aloud for me so I remember it for next time (by the way it’s called guisquil, and it makes me giggle every time). I’ve started bringing a libreta or little notebook with me everywhere I go so I can write down new words as I learn them. Oftentimes during lunch, the kids will take turns writing down words and drawing pictures for me to help explain what they are.

I feel that people here are just as willing to teach and share with me as I am eager to listen and learn from them. Oftentimes I feel like a child: completely loved and constantly learning. I have a family here who is facilitating new experiences and projects for us to learn from, like Angelica setting aside a day to make pupusas with us (and having us guess what’s on the lunch menu so she can watch our excitement), or asking her very nearly deaf father to help us cut open some moro (a hard gourd-like fruit that can be used as dishware) so we can make our own little bowls. I feel like I’m part of a family.

Praxis is one of the easiest things I’ve done so far in El Salvador. Teaching these little English classes can be difficult at times for me, but I have 2 other people with me to lean back on when I need it. We almost perfectly balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We’re a team. And whether these rowdy kids like it or not, we WILL have order in our in our futbol games.

The one person here who has stolen my heart more completely than anyone else is little Ashley, Angelica’s 7-month-old granddaughter. My praxis partners and I have nicknamed her “The Princess of La Javia.” I’ve only spent two days a week for the past month with this family, and yet I have such an overwhelming love for this baby, for her mother, her aunts, her grandmother. I may be stressed out about classes or stuff going on at home, but when that baby laughs, everything is right in the world.

As I was sharing these sentiments with one of my community mates, she said that considering the small amount of time I’ve spent with these people, logically there is really no reason I should feel so much love for them. And yet I do. So perhaps it’s pointing to something that was there before I even realized it. Interestingly, her words reminded me of a quote we heard during our first few weeks here in El Salvador.

“Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Or else we may find ourselves treading on people’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was there before our arrival.” – Max Warren

As we share our stories with each other and slowly create new ones together, I find myself in what can best be described as a holy place. Somewhere we can come together and share a love that reflects something much bigger than we are. Yes, there was something in La Javia before I arrived. The warmth I feel with my Salvadoran family reflects a presence even more infinitely beautiful than baby Ashley’s laugh. I’m only just now taking the time to thank Him for it.

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