by Katie Hyde
About 1,800 miles separate Good Shepherd Parish of Shawnee from the small, rural community of El Buen Pastor, nestled in the hills of El Salvador. The two communities differ in language, size, culture and way of life. Most people in El Buen Pastor have never seen snow, while most Good Shepherd parishioners have never tasted a papusa. Most people in El Buen Pastor can’t drive a stick shift, while most Good Shepherd parishioners can’t milk a cow.
Despite these differences, anyone at Good Shepherd will tell you that the people of El Buen Pastor are anything but strangers. They’re brothers and sisters.
This June, the family celebrated 25 years of solidarity, support and love.
A dark beginning
It’s a story any eighth-grader at Good Shepherd could tell you.
El Buen Pastor community began in two refugee camps in San Salvador.
The people lived in shanties made of sticks and tarps constructed on garbage dumps or in the basements of churches. The people were in constant fear of violence from the military. They had little running water, little electricity, poor health care, little access to education.
In 1985, 18 families moved from the refugee camps to Tres Ceibas, near Apopa.
They were displaced due to the country’s 12-year civil war that killed over 75,000 Salvadorans. Everyone in Tres Ceibas — men, women and children — had lost a loved one to the war, 32 community members in total.
But the people never lost hope.
“They always told me, ‘I may not know peace and freedom, my children may not know peace and freedom, but I know that my grandchildren will experience peace and freedom,’” said Father George Seuferling, former pastor of Good Shepherd.
Father Seuferling traveled many times to El Salvador, including Good Shepherd’s first delegation to the country. He was very influential in beginning the relationship between the two communities.
Out of the darkness of war came new hope, new life and new roots. In 1987, in the midst of the war, Good Shepherd sent a delegation to the country. On Aug. 23, 1987, the community of Tres Ceibas (now El Buen Pastor) and Good Shepherd joined in a sistering relationship. Over 25 years, the two communities have walked together in solidarity. This June seven parishioners from Good Shepherd traveled to the community to celebrate that bond.
In the past 25 years, many things have changed in El Buen Pastor.
The community now has a home of its own outside of the city of Aguilares, with running water, concrete houses and electricity. The community has tripled in size, with its own governing body and strategic plan. Children in the community go to school; some even attend college.
However, the most substantial change in the community is not visible in new buildings or running water or even a new park where children are constantly playing. The people have true hope and stability again.
Good Shepherd’s financial aid has played an instrumental role in the development of El Buen Pastor. Good Shepherd annually gives $8,000 to the community, in addition to donations from an annual appeal. Over the past 25 years, these funds helped purchase land for the community, construct 17 homes and a community center, provide clean water to every home, irrigate crops, empower women through community gardens and microlending, and support 38 students through scholarships.
While financial support is very important, both communities agree the exchange of culture, love and support is what matters most.
“We are so grateful for everything you do for us,” Osmin Salinas, president of the community’s governing body, said to the seven delegates who traveled to El Buen Pastor this June. “But the most important thing for us is not the money. It is that we have been able over the past 25 years to grow in faith and solidarity with one another.”
Though at times Good Shepherd considered twinning with a different community in need, Father Seuferling believed strongly in continuing the relationship with El Buen Pastor.
“[The people of El Buen Pastor] constantly said to us that they needed us there,” he said. “The people begged us not to abandon them. I believe consistency is crucial.”
While celebrating the 25th anniversary, everyone expressed hope in continued solidarity, especially Teresa Aley, who has traveled to the country 15 times and heads the El Salvador ministry at Good Shepherd.
“This anniversary celebrates not only the past 25 years,” Aley said. “This anniversary is a celebration of the next 25 years as well.”
Community of compassion
The story of El Buen Pastor is one familiar to most parishioners of Good Shepherd. Concern and compassion for the people of El Buen Pastor have grown in Good Shepherd, in addition to financial and spiritual support.
Though roughly 120 Good Shepherd parishioners have visited El Buen Pastor over the past 25 years, more than 10,000 parishioners have heard this story and supported the sistering relationship.
“Not everyone can travel to El Salvador,” Aley said. “We need to let people know how much this means to them and the difference this makes in their lives.”
Good Shepherd students donate art supplies for the El Buen Pastor School. Fifth-grade Girl Scouts help make headbands for the young girls of the community. Parishioners donate soccer balls and vitamins to the community. Good Shepherd’s annual fundraiser includes a basket of clothes and other fabrics embroidered by women from El Buen Pastor.
And thus, even 25 years after that first delegation, Good Shepherd has kept the relationship alive, creating a community of compassion and awareness.
“Twenty five years is a long time for anything,” Aley said. “We are on our third term with a new pastor and [our relationship] is strong, if not stronger than ever. It’s the people and our connections that keep this going.”
From the Fathers
“Over the years, we considered moving [our ministry to a different community.] After all, El Buen Pastor is doing better, and many communities are worse off. But then we thought about the ripple effect. We are not just helping a little community; we are affecting the whole region.”
Father George Seuferling,
Good Shepherd pastor 1986 – 2001
“I will always treasure the gift of the living faith I experienced during my visit. The youngest to those wise with many years offered hearts of hospitality, hope in their poverty, patience with my language inability, and solidarity as we walked together the roads of El Salvador. Together, we share the loving care of our Good Shepherd.”
Father Francis Hund,
Good Shepherd pastor 2001 – 2009
“El Salvador is an experience in contrasts. War is over, while so many forms of violence remain. Saints and sinners live in a land inflamed by polarized differences. There is official peace, but not actual peace. And yet in our sister community of El Buen Pastor there is such joy, peace, and faith. My experience is that, purged by suffering, this is a community which beams joy . . . because of their faith. We look for love in the midst of plenty; they celebrate love in the midst of little. My visit there was truly inspiring!”
Father Jim Ludwikoski,
Good Shepherd pastor 2010 – present