International Ministries

El Salvador Celebrates 189 Years of Freedom!?

September 14, 2010 Journal
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Two weeks ago headlines here in El Salvador read: $10M found in buried barrels. The money, is assumed to belong to drug traffickers.

Last week headlines read: Public transportation and businesses paralyzed due to gang outrage with new anti organized crime legislation.

This week headlines read: El Salvador celebrates 189 years of freedom. My question after the last few chaotic weeks here is: freedom from what?


Today, September 15th, we celebrate Independence Day in El Salvador. The celebration looks different from July 4th in the USA. There aren’t family BBQ’s or trips to the river, and there are very few fireworks: surprising since very LOUD fireworks are critical for other major celebration here. The big deal today is the parade. The parades are loud, colorful, and everyone in town shows up to spend a few hours watching. In each town schools spend months preparing students to march, play percussion and brass, dance, and do gymnastics in the parade. The parade route is a mile or longer, and K-12 students march, play, dance, pause, march, etc. for hours under intense sun or torrential downpours. The favorites of the parade are the “cachiporristas” or baton twirling, dancing girls. They dress up in costumes that look like cabaret dancers, complete only with a pair of high-heeled boots. This year, schools were in an uproar when the Ministry of Education tried to ban participation of the cachiporristas on the grounds that it could be considered a form of child prostitution. Schools, parents, and students demonstrated their freedom today when the cachiporristas joined the parade.

189 years of freedom from Spanish rule gives Salvadorans good reason to celebrate. But, after the discovery of $10M in a barrel I find myself beginning to ask: can you really have freedom in a country where one drug run controls enough money to pay 4,000 administrative assistants for a year? Do we really experience freedom when gangs use fear to manipulate the entire population week after week? Is freedom really about whether or not girls in high-heel boots are allowed to dance in the parade?

Scripture gives us a different concept of freedom. The Old Testament is a narrative about freedom from oppression, slavery, and captivity. Freedom is important in the identity of any nation, be it Israel or El Salvador. In the New Testament, the heart of Christ’s ministry is freedom. Christ offers people freedom from sickness, slavery, condemnation, etc. We experience freedom in Christ when we receive new life. Finally Christ offers freedom to do and be all that is good, right, just, loving.

My prayer for El Salvador is that not only are we freed from the oppressions of corruption and violence. Not only are we free to dance in parades. I pray that each person in this nation discovers freedom in Christ, a freedom that enables us to change our behavior and to begin to do what is good, right, just, and holy. To transform what laws, money, and parades will never change.

What does freedom in Christ make you want to celebrate? How does that freedom enable you to make a difference in your world?