“When you look out into the world, do you see anything that breaks your heart?” she asked about 3,300 Tenth Triennial Gathering participants in the July 15 morning session.
“One of my favorite Bible verses, Micah 6:8,” said Salvatierra, an ELCA pastor, “tells believers to do justice and love mercy.
“Christians in general and particularly Lutherans and particularly Lutheran women can celebrate that we are pretty good at acts of mercy.”
Even though the world typically separates mercy and justice, she said, “biblically, mercy and justice kiss.”
Salvatierra said she believes people can go deep into mercy and end up with justice.
Real heartbreak, she said quoting a Peruvian priest, is the injustice of seeing people die before their time because they are suffering from extreme poverty or oppression.
She gave an example of a toddler suffering from pneumonia who was taken to the national children’s hospital for the poorest people. The doctor told Salvatierra, then a missionary in the Philippines, that the child was going to die because the hospital only carried penicillin and the child was allergic to it.
“I knew that at one mile away at St. Luke’s (Episcopal Hospital), we had 20 antibiotics,” she said. “I knew that if that baby died, he died unnecessarily and unjustly. He died before his time.”
What unnecessary and unjust suffering breaks your heart?
Salvatierra said an unjust suffering “currently breaking her heart” is of an El Salvadorian youth, Jose, being targeted by an international criminal gang (MS-13 or Mara) operating in his town.
After the Mara shot and killed Jose’s father in front of him for trying to protect his son, Jose (“a good Lutheran kid”) fled to the United States.
“He is one of about 160,000 kids between the ages of 12 and 17 that have come to this country over the last few years.”
In a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United States agreed in 1948 to welcome people from unjust persecution in their countries.
“These people have a right to apply for political asylum, to have their day in court,” she said. “What they don’t have is a free public defender, even if they are children.”
Of those with a lawyer, 75-80 percent are judged to be eligible for political asylum, she said. Without a lawyer, 93 percent are sent back
“Our Lutheran church in El Salvador tells us what happens to these kids who are sent back, and it’s not pretty,” Salvatierra said. “That breaks my heart.”
Moving from mercy to justice requires compassion and vision.
“What does Jesus do before he has compassion? He sees deep into the hearts of people, and he knows what’s hurting them,” she said.
“We don’t have a compassion problem in the church. We have a vision problem.”
Salvatierra said she believes if we see our fellow humans as family, we’ll be more likely to take care of them. Isaiah 58 says when we’re feeding the poor, we’re taking care of family.
She offered some ways to move from mercy to justice.
- Get involved with the ELCA’s AAMPORO (Accompanying Migrant Minors with Protection, Advocacy, Representation and Opportunities) strategy.
- Take the pledge of the Matthew 25 Movement to “protect and defend vulnerable people in the name of Jesus.”
- Pray fervently that the leaders on both sides of the political divide fear God and love God’s people.
“Part of what I love about our church is we really do have a national commitment to a seamless journey from mercy to justice, and we make resources available for that,” she said.
About 3,300 participants of Women of the ELCA, the women’s organization of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, are in Minneapolis, Minnesota, for the Tenth Triennial Gathering (July 14–16).