Mila’s Bible: Duane Arnold
A couple of years after we had released the single and video, “Romero”, I received a package from a Salvadoran friend, who now lives and works in Los Angeles. Inside the package was a small, well worn Bible in Spanish and a letter. My friend had come to this country in the 1980s escaping the civil war in El Salvador. Through the course of time, he naturalized, worked his way through high school, college and law school and now works as an attorney.
He is a Roman Catholic, devoted to the memory of Archbishop Oscar Romero, whom he encountered as a child, and continues to promote his message of faith, non-violence and social justice. After encountering our music and video, we became fast friends, although we have never met. Permit me to share his letter with you.
My dear brother in Christ, Duane,
I could think of no more meaningful gift than to give you this Bible. It was given to my mother in 1985 and passed on to me through her thereafter, and has been in my hands until now. It has shed much light through utter darkness, therefore I have faith that it will be a blessing to you, your wonderful wife and all whom you love.
This Bible came into our hands at a time of great darkness. It was at this time that my mother, my brother and I became homeless, because my mother was living with my alcoholic step-father and, out of desperation, she preferred to see us on the street rather than be exposed to domestic violence and danger. In retrospect, I believe that it was the right decision. Archbishop Romero said that a mother’s loving, selfless and courageous guardianship of her children is a form of martyrdom and I have come to believe that in a small way. My mother’s choices reflect it…
If you thumb through the pages of this Bible, you will find them well worn and falling apart in places. You will find that many passages have been underlined. If you were to analyze which sections have received the most wear, you would find that it is the sections that reinforce the basic faith – Jesus died for our sins, he was raised from the dead (as we will be), he was the Son of God. These are the promises that give hope in times of great fear, in circumstances of suffering, in those moments when all seems to be lost and our lives feel worthless.
This was certainly a time of great despair. In addition to the family troubles I’ve noted, this was the depths of the Salvadoran Civil War. There was a general sense of dread. Our families and friends were fleeing from the war. We were exiles, frightened and not yet legal in a foreign land. The news from home was heavy, full of gloom.
There is another connection I know that you will appreciate. The Bible was given to my mother by a woman named Maria. We called her “Mila”. Mila was married to a man named Manuel. Manuel’s mother, Matilde, to whom the Bible first belonged, was one of those killed, Bible in hand, at Oscar Romero’s funeral five years before. Later, they gave her Bible to us. I consider Matilde to be a witness of the faith. You can imagine that it took great courage, and faith, to even be willing to attend Romero’s funeral. She was one of forty-four people who died after shots were fired by the military producing a stampede.
You might be asking yourself why am I giving you this Bible rather than to keep it for myself or pass it on to my daughter given its incredible family history. There’s a multi-part answer to that. First of all, I give it to you precisely because it means a lot. I wanted to give you something special because you are special. Simple as that. Second, I don’t want to reduce this Bible to the totemistic status of a momento, or a mere keepsake. I have to consider that it is the Word of God, whose worth transcends personal property and belongs to the People of God. Note that I addressed you as “brother in Christ”, and if that word means anything, it means that you too are my family and in giving this gift to you, I am keeping it “in the family”. Third, this Bible has a history of being gifted from one family to another, so it seems very natural to pass it on, especially at this time. Fourth and finally, instead of giving my daughter a family keepsake Bible, I want to tell her one day that I had this Bible; that it meant so much to me; yet, that I chose to give it away and explain to her why we must open our hearts and express the love that is in our souls rather than be bound to material things and possessions and that is a more valuable gift than just a family heirloom!
And I know that you will appreciate it – even if it is in Spanish! It might be nice even to have a Spanish Bible! Duane, I am so glad we have you, because we need you as we need each other. I hope we can continue to blaze trails that lead many to greater Christian unity in the future.
In short, may greater things yet come to pass…
Your friend and brother in Christ,
That Bible is beside me as I write this. I think of the history it has seen, the people who have turned it’s pages, and the lives that have found comfort and nurture in it’s words. Finally, I think of Archbishop Oscar Romero on this day, the anniversary of his martyrdom.