Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Missionary loses home, but not hope

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — When the earth beneath him began to convulse, Matthew Eisen, a graduate of Oak Hills High School and Xavier University, reached across a bus seat to embrace a friend.

        Mr. Eisen, 29, of Delhi Township, knew that an earthquake could kill more people in an instant than any of the Third World conditions he had seen in four years' living in the Central American nation.

        After the earth's rumbling stopped, “the first thing I was thinking was that thousands of people had just died,” he said.

        “Personally, it was a shock. But, you know, life goes on,” he said. “Living in El Salvador for four years kind of conditions (you) to be prepared for things like this. This is not the first disaster that I've seen here.”

        Mr. Eisen, who arrived in the country to do missionary work and now works at a faith-based youth center, has been trying to move forward even though he lost his apartment in the 7.6 magnitude quake that killed 672 people, injured 2,500, and buried many more in a consequent landslide over the weekend.

        He has since visited Santa Tecla, where landslides buried a whole neighborhood and where Mr. Eisen “smelled death in the air.” He also has been sleeping outside and at the homes of “friends of friends” because the quake destroyed his four-story, cinder-block, concrete apartment building.

        Mr. Eisen, who survived Hurricane Mitch in 1998, has learned that three people died at the lake where he and his friend were heading when the quake struck.

        “We were in between places where people died,” he said. “It was a strange feeling.”

        He is in frequent contact with his mother, Betty Eisen, and his five siblings, and he misses them and, on occasion, Cincinnati chili. His mom likes to include the Cincinnati treat in packages that she sends to him.

        Mr. Eisen reflects once a year on whether he's ready to return to the United States. He said it could be another five or 10 years before he makes the move.

        He hopes to one day work in Over-the-Rhine, where he used to volunteer as a college student.

        Mr. Eisen arrived in El Salvador as a missionary for CRISPAZ (Christianos Por La Paz, “Christians for peace.”). The Boston-based group has several board members living in the Tristate. They are attending an annual board meeting in San Salvador next week.

        Kristen Barker, 23, of Mount Airy, is a CRISPAZ missionary who arrived in San Salvador four months ago. The Xavier University graduate was unhurt by the quake.


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