Thank you to Alexia, one of our coordinators at the Lighthouse Resource Center, for blogging today about her own thoughts and struggles working with our clients during the COVID-19 pandemic. She provides great insight into unique challenges faced by Salvadorans during this time.
COVID-19 has been devastating to the world on so many levels that it’s impossible to focus on just one, but clearly one of the main ones is the way in which we relate to people. The famous “social distancing” has minimized physical contact. The use of masks, face shields, disposable gowns, and gloves have clearly marked how much people prefer (or should) distance themselves from others.
The World Health Organization has created a campaign with short, but very significant phrases in order to make the world of aware of the damage caused by the pandemic, and how with very simple acts we can make a big difference. One of the phrases I have heard says: “Save humanity…simply by moving away from it.”
But if you are a Salvadoran, or know one, then you know that “simply” is not so simple. Salvadorans are quintessentially “overly familiar” with everyone. We walk down the street and with a nod of the head and a smile greet strangers with “!Buenas!” At the store, we end up practically friends with whoever is attending us, we joke with waiters in restaurants, with people we know (or have even just met) we offer a handshake, a pat on the shoulder, or the very characteristic kiss on the cheek. It is so natural for Salvadorans to be happy, attentive, kind, collaborative, and yes, even “kissy.” Even when we meet a foreigner (who is not Latino), it is just our instinct to break the ice by planting a kiss their cheek! It is not until we see their frightened expressions that we realize (sometimes), that not everyone is as “overly familiar” as us, nor do they feel quite so comfortable with sudden physical contact. For us as Salvadorans, we have to exercise intentional restraint not to shake hands, or greet someone we know with a kiss on the cheek, and we must avoid hugging those whom we haven’t seen in a week or two. Social distancing is “simply” something that does not come naturally to us.
COVID-19 has changed a lot of our identity as Salvadorans by stealing physical contact as we knew it. But it has also helped us as humans to beings to shake off our tendency to do things like “we have always done” and open ourselves to the possibility of “we have to rethink this, but how?” Maybe for now, the contact cannot be physical, but it can be through screens, apps, and new platforms that help us to connect and somehow we can still feel close.
Unfortunately for our clients in Mission To El Salvador these digital resources are not viable options because our clients don’t have access to a cell phone, a computer, the internet, and in the majority of cases they don’t even have a home from which to “connect.” Because of this, working with our clients in the “new normal” has brought a great challenge to our team since we must drastically change our approach and the way we work. In the past the literal “human touch” characterized our work with our clients, regardless of their condition. Now the challenge is preserving that human touch but changing our mentality to “how do we do this differently?”
It’s easier said than done, but yesterday I had a good reminder, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.” I Peter 4:10-11
It comforted me to know that the God who has called us has given us in advance what we need to do this, to create, to innovate, to think outside the box, yet always within the plans that He already has for this population that He has in His heart and allows us to serve. Although we as human beings have been hit hard, afflicted, and left reeling in these harsh and changing circumstances, God is still on His throne and our lives and the lives of the people we wants us to serve as our clients are still in His hand.
Help us to pray in this next few weeks that, as an MTES team, we can connect with God, with our clients, and with each other in such a way that all of the pieces that the pandemic and tropical storms have shaken will soon fall into their new places. Intercede for our actual mission in El Salvador that we would have soft hearts and teachable spirits. Pray for us as a team to understand the new instructions “from above” on how to carry this mission out. Please also pray that the strength and energy that God has already given us would enable us to offer the gift of “human touch” to all who need it.
Photo credit: Federación Madrileña de Salvamento y Socorrismo