Lieutenant Giovanni Romero
Lieutenant Giovanni E. Romero, corps officer at the Union City, N.J., Corps, was commissioned in 2014 as a member of the Disciples of the Cross session. He is also an accomplished photojournalist who writes about and broadcasts interviews with people who are influencing their communities for Christ.
Earlier this year, Romero and other officers from the Eastern Territory accompanied doctors from the Raymond Foundation on their 15th mission to Honduras. They provided medical assistance to the country’s most impoverished citizens. Romero shares his thoughts about returning to his homeland for the first time since becoming a Salvation Army officer.
As an embedded journalist with this medical brigade, you videotaped, photographed, and interviewed Honduran patients who were being treated for various illnesses. In doing this, what were some of the challenges you faced? When documenting something like the medical brigade, you need to be respectful when people express their physical or emotional pain. These were vulnerable people reaching out to us. For almost 15 years, I had served as a judicial interpreter. During that time, I became sensitive to a person’s right to privacy. Sometimes, journalists try to get that extra and powerful quote, or move in to videotape that wet tear rolling down a person’s hot cheek. But, I put myself in their shoes; I think, Would I want someone to take pictures or shoot video of me while I experienced pain? Would I want to tell people my story? So, when I photograph someone, I always ask for permission, and I never exploit the needs of people simply for dramatic effect. The truth is, a lot of the people we saw—even in the midst of poverty—were happy, God–loving individuals, who were grateful that we helped them.
As a child, were you aware of the poverty that was literally in your own backyard?
No. Nor did I know that some of the towns and places we visited even existed. As a child, my parents had worked for a banana production and packing company, and althought it was hard work, they made a stable and steady income. We were rather middle class compared to the people in real poverty. My wife Maria also grew up in Honduras. I remember visiting her home for the first time, located in a very rural community next to a high mountain. On our way there, I saw people living in real poverty for the first time.
Many officers who visit Honduras return impressed by the soldiers of the San Pedro Sula Corps, with whom you’ve worked. What is your take on their ministry? When I first met them, they looked so happy to see us. Their excitement made me curious. I learned that these soldiers had been helping the Raymond Foundation doctors and Eastern officers for years. The soldiers volunteered their time away from school and from work to help during the week of treatment. Every year, they looked forward to participating with the brigade. I felt happy to see young people fulfilling our mission of love, humility, and service. I grew close to them. Every night after working, we would go out for pizza, talk, say “good night,” and then wake up the next day to serve again. It was gratifying to see the Army operate this way—and in my home country.
What lessons did you learn that proved useful to your ministry in Union, N.J.?
I learned that children need our love, security, and guidance, rather than the newest and most expensive toy. In our Western society, we think that the number of toys we buy for them measures a child’s happiness. Yet in Honduras, I saw a little boy playing with one toy car that he had made himself. He made the body from a bottle and the tires from bottle caps. Nonetheless, he smiled and enjoyed his car.
I also learned how an outreach by young people brings life to the corps. We need to make this a priority, because when youth are exposed to the needs of less fortunate people, they want to know how they can help. Kids have that instinct. We must allow them to think of and implement new, creative ways to be part of the Church. Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” That was true 2,000 years ago and it’s still true today.
What would you tell Salvationists who want to serve in Honduras, but who are afraid of what they’ve heard about that country? Before I became an officer, I had traveled with my wife and children back to Honduras many times. We frequently felt like foreigners, but we never witnessed any violence or crime. There is no need to be fearful, nor to think that you cannot help. A few officers that traveled with the brigade felt apprehension about their first trip. Their fear was that they would have nothing to bring or contribute to the team. One said, “I am not a doctor, a nurse, or an interpreter.” However, after we arrived and began serving, he realized his gift. It was the ability to show genuine love and compassion for people. The supplies you bring on a trip such as this are important. But just as important is making the people you meet feel wanted and loved in difficult situations. This was a transformative experience that I will continuously cherish for the rest of my life.
interview by Hugo Bravo