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Berea Faculty Members Visit El Salvador

Fifteen members and friends of Union Church in Berea, KY traveled to El Salvador July 28 to August 6 on a mission to meet with Salvadorans, hear their stories, and learn how their faith continues to sustain them in their daily struggles.

15 members traveled to El Salvador

The group participated in an El Salvador Encounter, a faith-based delegation under the auspices of CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador) located in Boston, MA.

The members of the delegation include Berea College faculty members Jan Pearce (Mathematics) and Paul Smithson (Chemistry and SENS), Berea College staff Ann Butwell (Student Life) and Betty Hibler (CELTS), and Berea student Shoshanna Gross (Art major). Other members include Harriet Bromley, Amanda Chao, Joy and Tom Frazier, Rev. Kent Gilbert (pastor of Union Church), David Harl, Heather Rhodes, John Thomas, Laura Wick, and John Wright Ríos.

During the ten days in El Salvador, the group has chosen to focus on rural communities and will meet with Salvadorans to learn about economic issues, the effects of globalization, environmental challenges, popular education, small cooperatives, and Christian base communities. In addition to several days in the nation's capital of San Salvador, the delegation spent time in Berea's sister community of Valle Verde. The group also joined Habitat for Humanity International in a "Building on Faith" project in the department of Usulután. Union Church members recently committed to sponsoring a Habitat house in Madison County and the 10% of the funds raised for the Habitat house here that regularly go to Habitat International were given to the project in El Salvador.

Ann Butwell, Berea native and 1987 graduate of Berea College, will lead the group. Following her graduation from Berea College with a major in Spanish, Butwell earned a master's degree in Latin American Studies from Tulane University. Butwell and her husband, John Wright Ríos, lived in El Salvador for two years where she worked with Augsburg College’s Center for Global Education (CGE). Wright Ríos directed two parish choirs and a church theater troupe during his time there. Butwell moved on to become Co-director of EPICA (Ecumenical Program on Central America and the Caribbean), a faith-based organization in Washington, DC. She is currently on the Board of Directors of both EPICA and CRISPAZ and has worked in Berea College’s Student Life Department since 2002.

Butwell describes the El Salvador Encounter as a kind of "reverse" mission: "I hope participants will allow their lives to be touched and changed. The goal is to return with a mission to strengthen our efforts for peace and justice, not only for Salvadorans, but in our own communities and around the world."

The Union Church Mission Board began discussing a mission trip outside of the US last fall. After conducting a survey of members and friends, the decision was made in January to travel to El Salvador. During Lent in March and April, delegates and church members participated in a study of liberation theology.

For more information, contact the Union Church office at (859) 986-3725.

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