When Jesus was asked; “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it; You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:36-39)
My Pastor Steven Shoup, of St. Michael and Ss. Peter & Paul Catholic Churches in Fort Loramie, had a vision of loving our neighbors through a relationship with a sister parish outside of the United States. In 2011 Ann Bollheimer, who was director of our Outreach ministry and a board member of CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace in El Salvador), worked with the Archdiocese Mission Office for a delegation to travel to El Salvador and Honduras in search of a sister parish.
After several delegations visiting with parishes to understand the culture in Central America, it felt right to begin a sister parish relationship with the parish of San Cristobal in El Salvador.
The language barrier was a challenge to move the relationship forward at a pace we were hoping for. Through Skype meetings and exchanges of visits, it was agreed upon that learning English would benefit our interactions, open opportunities for the youth as well as to gain better employment for adults of San Cristobal.
Pulling together resources of computers, English software, and members of San Cristobal who were willing to lead the self-taught studies lead to a success story for many. To date there are more than 150 people who are learning English, and some of the adults have been able to move to better positions in their current employment or found new and better paying employment, all of which allows them and their families to have a better quality of life.
One of the original leaders, Melvin who was 17 at the time, did not know how to speak English but was committed to help he and members of his community to learn a new language. With limited English skills, in 2019 Melvin traveled to Ohio, in search of how a library would benefit in the education of his community. Melvin visited the Fort Loramie branch of the Shelby County library and gained insight of how to use digital and electronic technology to download electronic books versus the cost of buying hardback books.
Since Melvin’s visit, the leadership teams in Ohio and El Salvador have pulled together resources of community leaders, computers, tablets, finances and members of San Cristobal with construction skills to construct a library at their church. Melvin himself has since studied English at his university and is now teaching English to El Salvador’s Air Force.
When I asked Melvin, “What is most rewarding for you from learning English?” He replied, “The most beneficial part of learning English is that I am able to know and get involved in a new world, I can learn more about new cultures and most important I can have more relationships with people with different or interesting points of view.”
Our neighbors may be as close as next door or in another country. Either way we can have a relationship near and far that makes a positive difference in other’s lives.
For our sister parishes, it’s not about us doing for them, but a relationship that helps people to capitalize on their own resources to reach potentials within themselves and their community.
Answering God’s call to love him and others is like throwing a stone in a pond and watch how far it reaches out. There are no limits to who and how far we can love our neighbors, even if they don’t live next door.