This ministry with the Salvadoran people began with one cow.
In 1979 or 1980 Jack Spooner of Lutheran Social Services approached Pastor Don Seiple about contributing $500 to send a breeder cow into a poor community in El Salvador. He had contacts there to do this independently. [Don laughs saying this was during their civil war and he thought the cow would be killed!] The rationale was to improve the diet of the community, which at the time was only vegetables as well as fruit from the trees growing native to the area. That first animal eventually led to an entire herd. Now many herds of cows thrive throughout the country.
None of this ministry would have happened without Pastor Don Seiple’s initiating an interest, witness, and long-term commitment to Salvadorans who were on the verge of a 12-year civil war. Strongly identifying with the Old Testament prophet, Jeremiah, Pastor Seiple’s has a heart for the oppressed and his cause is for social justice. He was involved at the grassroots level re-settling the Ugandan refugees in Pennsylvania through Lutheran Immigration and Re-settlement in 1972 when the dictator of that country, Idi Aman, terrorized its citizens. He continued to work through that agency after the Vietnam war ended by re-settling two Vietnamese families into the St. Stephen community. The Rev. William F. Krenz writes in his book, Krenz’s Kairotic Chronicle, “Building on the Momin [Ugandan family] experience, Pastors Krenz, Don Seiple, and Pen Hoover, went to New York and compiled a complete step-by-step “How To” package for the rest of the country.”(p.140). In his section on “Other Heroes,” Rev. Krenz mentions “There were persons who saw dignity in every person . . . .Don Seiple . . . ..” (pp. 209-210)
Organized as a task force for anyone interested in supporting the Salvadoran people, a group in central PA met under the name Via Crucis operating as a 501(c) 3 non-profit. Board minutes of Nov. 18, 2001, indicate “Project Via Crucis takes its name from a 1986 letter to Lutherans in the United States by Merdardo Gomez, Lutheran Bishop of El Salvador, in which he wrote that the Salvadoran people were traveling a long via crucis, but saw us as following Jesus carrying his cross. Our logo was inspired by a plaque which hangs in the Church of the Resurrection, San Salvador, where Bishop Gomez is pastor.”
Professor Cyril Dwiggins, as well as Pastor Jean Kuebler, were late but important as organizers in that group. Tressler Social Services (now Diakon) appointed Jack Spooner to this group in its fledgeling formation in 1989. Eventually after Cyril became terminally ill and no longer able to be involved, Don Seiple accepted leadership responsibilities for the group and moved it base to St. Stephen Lutheran Church in New Kingstown. Members of the task force included people from various faiths who lived throughout central PA from as far away as Lancaster. They set goals to support the Salvadorans who were in the midst of recovery from a civil war.
Some members joined delegations to visit the country and formed relationships with individuals and sister parish communities. If their home churches chose to support the ministry, it was welcomed. If individuals within those home churches chose to support the ministry, such backing was also welcomed. It was the decision of each individual church council how to relate to the task force. Later the Via Crucis name was dropped, and its monies were donated into the St. Stephen’s scholarship fund which was most actively involved in Salvadoran ministries. Those funds were given as scholarships to students in the poorest of communities.
Because there was never any desire to compete for existing monies from other programs within the St. Stephen parish, there were no solicitations for funds or fund raising events to raise money for El Salvador. Thanks were given to those individuals who felt a call to mission and wished to contribute with a monetary donation.
Internally the task force was often referred to within the church as a “committee,” although it was never intended to be a full standing committee of the church. Members continue to be those from the church and from the community at large who feel passionately called to support the long-term needs of the Salvadoran people by using the accompaniment model of mission embraced by the ELCA. Translators, tech support staff, and individuals working in Salvadoran ministries in other area churches support this team.