Speaker talks about faith and service in El Salvador


The University hosted Francisco Mena Urgate, the executive director of Christians for Peace (CRISPAZ) in El Salvador Sept. 19 as part of USPB’s Mission & Identity event series.
Between 1980 and 1981, more than 2,000 Salvadorian civilians were killed during the Salvadorian Civil War, Mena said. This spurred three Americans – one Quaker activist, one Lutheran pastor and one Catholic priest – to present the idea of CRISPAZ to various churches in El Salvador. CRISPAZ was officially created soon after.
CRISPAZ is a faith-based organization created to assist marginalized El Salvadorians by making lasting connections between America and the churches.
By 1985, American volunteers traveled to El Salvador to work as human shields for the Salvadorians in danger.
“Our first delegation actually came to El Salvador in 1985 – it was called Witness for Peace. We wanted people to witness what was really going on, sit down and meet with the people and bring these stories back to the United States,” Mena said.
Mena also discussed the courage of the early volunteers.
“The first groups, I think, were something remarkable. They knew they were going down there to be used as human shields, and they went into communities knowing that. There is kind of a privilege that exists – being a U.S. citizen really gives you privileges. These people used their U.S citizenship as currency to protect live in El Salvador,” Mena said.
Hundreds of Americans volunteered for the Witness for Peace program, and by 1992, the war ended.
“We were able to reach an agreement and end the war; however, conditions for the marginalized in El Salvador have not changed very much. Poverty and the generalization of these people are still present, especially in the rural communities,” Mena said.
One-third of Salvadorians live on $1 per day, so some of these families live on $30 per month.
Every day, 300-400 Salvadorians leave El Salvador. Many people think it is a pull to America, but it is a push from the Central American nightmare,” Mena said.
Still, Mena went on to say that El Salvadorians are named the third happiest people in the world, despite their socioeconomic disadvantages.
“A saying in El Salvador that is used very often is ‘la lucha.’ This is the movement and struggle of the people, and the spirit of Latin America, doing what has was to be done on a daily basis, and always staying positive,” Mena said. “CRISPAZ has accompanied this dynamic movement that has been present throughout our time in El Salvador.”
Mena ended the lecture by calling the audience members to listen to God and step outside of their boundaries.
“Who is God calling me to be, how is God calling us to act? He is more present and working where some of us won’t go. We need to step out of our comfort zones,” Mena said.
For more information on CRISPAZ, visit www.crispaz.org.

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