Student Engagement in Climate Justice

Family Gardens in El Salvador

Dec 19, 2023

Men and women stand with banner that reads "Official Launching Ceremony of the Project, Faith in Action for Climate Justice. Monrovia, Montserrado County, Liberia 2023"
Rev. Santiago de Jesús Rodriguez Lara is a pastor and agronomist in El Salvador and a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Spanish-language Certificate in Climate Justice and Faith. Like many others in his cohort from Central America, Rev. Rodriguez has witnessed the devastating impacts of climate change first-hand. El Salvador has been devastated the last two years from major tropical storms Pilar and Julia that killed dozens of people, destroyed crops, and forced thousands to evacuate their homes.

Rev. Rodriguez helped found the Lutheran church he pastors, “Heroes of the Faith Community” 27 years ago and it was always his dream that the community would focus on ecology. When the church was founded the congregation planted fruit trees and shared medicinal plants with each other, but Rev. Rodriguez viewed his work as an agronomist and a pastor as two separate callings. He shared that the certificate program helped him see that they are both part of his ministry. For his Sacred Action Project (the final project students complete to earn their certificate), Rev. Rodriguez brought his two passions of agronomy and faith together again to help families in his parish start gardens at their homes.

He was inspired by the creation texts of Genesis, ecumenical experiences marching for environmental protections, and indigenous spirituality to work with two families in his congregation to start family gardens around their homes. His goal was to help his congregation re-connect to the founding vision of their church and local indigenous wisdom.

Through this project Rev. Rodriguez worked with Movimiento Autóctono Indígena Salvadoreño (Salvadoran Movement for Indigenous Autonomy); his synod’s Health Committee; Deacon Pastor Francisco García; and José Nelson Melgar, Coordinator of the Communal Commission for Civil Protection. Together they helped two families plant gardens around their home. They provided support with home visits, meetings with indigenous leaders to share traditional practices, and gardening supply kits which included a rake, hoe, two shovels, three plants, seeds, and a wooden sign the families can display to educate their neighbors on their garden. These families are excited to be planting these gardens and also to share what they learn with their neighbors and other families in their congregation.

In the future, Rev. Rodriguez plans to expand this program to other families in his congregation and other congregations in his synod. He dreams that their community will one day be referred to as the Garden of Eden. One outcome that brought him great joy was strengthening relationships between his community and the indigenous community. He now hopes to work with indigenous leaders to find ways to bring indigenous language into their local primary school.