From Lutheran World Information comes this story of hope in the life of one young man growing up through the years of civil war in El Salvador:
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador/GENEVA, 22 November 2007 (LWI) - Christian Chavarria was just four years old when civil war broke out in El Salvador in 1980. It lasted 12 years during which some 80,000 people died, millions were left homeless, while thousands more simply disappeared.
The 31 year-old Salvadoran remembers clearly the day a group of armed soldiers entered his home, fired shots at his brothers then aged seven and nine, and uncle, and pushed the younger boy against a wall, leaving him unconscious. He came to only to find his relatives' corpses beside him, and spent the next two days in the house until his parents rescued him. The armed men had apparently been looking for his mother, one of the principal leaders of the insurgency movement at that time.
The conflict predominantly fought between the government forces and the then revolutionary Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) coalition was infamous for its so-called death squads targeting civilians, nuns and priests among others.
Like many of their compatriots, Chavarria and the surviving family members eventually fled into neighboring Honduras, where they lived for several years. He learned informally to read and write in the refugee camp, always encouraged by his mother to take advantage of whatever opportunity arose in the difficult situation. He was a gifted artist, and she encouraged him to develop this skill.
He returned to his native country as an adolescent, and was admitted to secondary school. But by the age of 15, he had already seen two of his best friends - among thousands of young people - felled in the battles in which he was also involved as a liberation army member. His memories of the following years are marked with the harsh reality of the civil war - death, massacres, accumulated hatred and thirst for revenge.
Chavarria still wonders how he managed to escape ambushes that could have led to his death. In view of the imminent danger to his life, he embarked for Sweden as a refugee. Away from home again, the talented artist turned his energies into drawing and painting, and slowly learned to survive without weapons or hostility for the next two-and-a-half years. But he yearned to return home to a peaceful country.
In 1992 the FMLN and the right-wing government of then president Alfredo Cristiani signed the peace treaty that ended the war. Chavarria returned to his birthplace, El Salvador's capital San Salvador with one goal - to advance his education and develop his artwork.
His main focus all along has been hand-made wooden crosses, which he paints with images that raise awareness about subjects such as poverty, water, globalization and peaceful co-existence, among others. He has painted around 250,000 crosses of different sizes, which he says have traveled right around the world, including one he presented to Finnish President Tarja K. Halonen in May 2007.
The proceeds from painting and selling crosses and other handicrafts are his main source of income and financial upkeep toward his family members. But the crosses are more than a livelihood for the young member of the Salvadoran Lutheran Synod (SLS). He enjoys "making them and it is the best therapy to cope with difficult moments," he says.
At home and during visits abroad, Chavarria also conducts cross-painting workshops for young people to raise awareness especially about the needs of the poor. He recently participated in a workshop on water organized by the Women in Church and Society (WICAS) desk of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) Department for Mission and Development (DMD) near the Salvadoran capital. Standing out among other items on display was a multi-colored cross, depicting the problems associated with inaccessibility to clean water in El Salvador such as children's death from water-borne diseases.
Personal note -- my wife met Christian earlier this year. I'll probably have more about his story in a future post.