On the anniversary of the 1992 peace accords in El Salvador, I wanted to share this video of Women of El Salvador’s War by Lyn McCracken and Theodora Simon. The film features Esperanza Ortega, one of the interviewees in Birthing God. She is the woman in yellow in the center of the photo below. http://www.cultureunplugged.com/documentary/watch-online/play/52583/Mujeres-de-la-Guerra–Historias-de-El-Salvador.
Esperanza was one of an estimated two million Salvadorans—a third of the nation’s total population—who fled their homes in terror. She recounts the Guinda del Mayo (the Flight of May, 1980), when she and her neighbors ran for days, finally hiding in thorny underbrush and capping their children’s mouths to avoid detection. “We were surrounded by the troops. They were combing the whole zone, helicopters machine-gunning from above, and we were under the chupamiel bush, praying for our lives.” She says that they had been running away from the massacre that had taken place at the Sumpul River and that they had been without food for two days. “The soldiers were so close that we could see them eating the mangos from the trees. How I longed to eat one of those mangos! We were hungry and so were our children. Instead, we covered the mouths of our babies to keep them from crying. But thanks be to God, even though in our group there were three of us who had recently given birth, our babies didn’t cry. The soldiers were close by, but they didn’t detect us.”
Esperanza explains that in that moment, God accompanied her and gave her strength. “I thought to myself, ‘This is the Spirit of God that gives strength and trust.’” She says that this moment is an example of what she calls la fe vivida—a faith that is lived. “It is confidence in your own self that God is within you. We had to trust in ourselves with that confidence. For example, there were moments when we felt we could uncover the babies’ mouths because we sensed that they wouldn’t cry. And they didn’t cry. We were not discovered.” Esperanza survived many such encounters, learning to trust the Spirit of God that was within her to guide her. “I felt this tremendous courage in my body.… This knowledge born from within gave me energy, and I felt a great confidence in my own person, that I could do what was needed.”
In another incident, Esperanza, her husband, and several others were fleeing an army incursion when her husband was hit by gunfire. “It was another experience with this lived faith, this really deep trust in myself. My husband was shot through the back, through his shoulders.” Using her hands, she shows me how the two G3 bullets exited his body. Her left hand, starkly brown against the canary yellow of her T-shirt, bursts open beneath her left breast, and her right hand splays above her right breast. “Two giant holes, here and here, and the flesh hanging out, and the blood running. And I thought to myself, ‘He’s going to die,’ because just looking at him you could see that. But a health promoter—one of our own, trained in first aid—cleaned the wounds and then covered them so that they wouldn’t get infected. It was a miracle of God! Not a single organ was touched! No infection! And we were there hiding in the mountains, in the brush, for a month! I say this because we need to have faith in our own capacities. Sometimes you think that only the doctor can heal, but no, it’s faith that heals.” The health promoter, she emphasizes, was a campesino—a subsistence farmer like herself—who had faith in his abilities to save her husband’s life.
“You have to have trust in your own self. Esta es la fe vivida. The importance of having faith is to see it concretized in your own self.”
Excerpted from Birthing God: Women’s Experiences of the Divine