In October 1984 Rev. Daniel Long, a Lutheran pastor, Paddy Lane, a Quaker activist, and Peter Hinde, a Catholic priest, presented the plan for CRISPAZ to the churches in El Salvador providing refuge to people displaced from rural areas by the war. The presence of US citizens and their advocacy in the US was seen to be important for ministry to the refugees, displaced from their communities and vulnerable to such abuse on the part of government agencies.
In March 1985 the newly chosen Board Members of CRISPAZ went on the first week-long delegation to El Salvador to study the situation. This first delegation set the pattern for future groups seeking to learn about El Salvador. They heard the message: “accompany us.”
During that first trip, they participated in events commemorating the fourth anniversary of the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero, whose testimony was a principal inspiration for CRISPAZ. They also met with Gary Cozette, who was working in the Social Secretariat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese with support from the Presbyterian Church (USA). Gary agreed to coordinate persons representing CRISPAZ who were serving full time for a period of 1-2 years (hereafter called “compañero/a” to more correctly name their focus and role). The third program, communications, was staffed by Linda and Jennifer. Dan Long created a bi-monthly “Salvanet” for English-speaking audiences.
In April a married couple, George Plage and Sonata Bohen, arrived in El Salvador to spend a year and a half in the Betania Refugee camp near Zaragoza about ten miles south of the capital. Army patrols entered the Betania camp several times to harass refugees. On one occasion, they searched the entire camp, threatening to take prisoners and wipe out the entire camp. The military would have taken more serious action if not for the presence of George and Sonata who, with leaders from the camp, challenged the army’s right to invade a project sponsored by the Archdiocese. Plage and Bohen helped the camp through difficult months in its development, at times defusing conflicts among members of the camp and preventing violence.
Over the next several years, dozens of persons were placed with refugee communities and a steady stream of delegations visited, including many church representatives and public officials. To keep a low profile in the face of the government repression, the name CRISPAZ was not used in El Salvador. The programs operated under the separate names: Christian Educational Seminars and Christian Volunteers.
CRISPAZ partners in El Salvador broadened beyond the churches to other Salvador NGOs that came into existence during the war. From the very beginning, the relation with the Jesuit University became critically important for delegation visits and staff development.
The post-war era Salvador partner organizations requested volunteers with specific skills. CRISPAZ responded and also required of volunteers a minimum commitment of 15-24 months with more intensive orientation and support for acculturation. Volunteers continued to do ‘reverse mission’ by sending newsletters to their support networks in the US and doing speaking events during home visits. Delegations called El Salvador Encounter since 1997, continue to visit and learn about Salvadoran reality. In 1998, CRISPAZ launched a Summer Immersion Program to provide an intensive 6-10 week, service-learning experience in rural Salvadoran communities.
In 2002, CRISPAZ started an email bulletin to supplement Salvanet which continues as a quarterly journal providing English-speakers with access to documents and perspectives from El Salvador. In 2008 the Board under the leadership of the Salvadoran coordinator made a renewed determination to focus on the life and testimony of Archbishop Oscar A. Romero and all the Martyrs of El Salvador as exemplary for all the Americas. For with the passing of time the memory of Romero was being lost, particularly to the youth.
30 years later CRISPAZ continues to host over 2 dozen groups a year that visit El Salvador, walking with the church of the poor and marginalized communities in a non-violent process of mutual accompaniment and human liberation continuing to promote justice in the hope that future generations can one day celebrate it.