Putting faith into practice

August 3-12, 2021           

A group of Christians gathered to practice solar oven mission in the Dominican Republic.  We traveled by bus to the western border to a region in and near a village called Loma de Cabrera.  This was our first solar oven outing after 17 months of Covid19 restrictions.  It felt good to get out again and continue to practice our solar oven workshops. 

            I consider mission work to be similar to a sentiment I once heard about golf that went something like this, ‘golf is an activity that can never be mastered, it can only be played.’ 

            The group of Christians that gathered were a blend of volunteers from the US and volunteers from the Dominican Republic, 22 of us in all.  The US volunteers included Minnesotans: my brother Steve, his son Luke, and Luke’s son Jaxon.  There were two long time friends from Reno, Nevada: Monica and her daughter Kyra.  And two additional long time friends from Miami: Cynthia and her daughter Mariana. 

Part of our mission was to include the participation of youth, to introduce them to solar oven mission and to guide them in evening discipleship workshops.  The US youth were complemented by Dominican youth from local churches:  3 young women from the north in Samaná , Noelia, Elia,  Abril, and Joendy from the south in San Cristobal. 

Our group also included our Solar Oven director, Rev. Erasme, our Social Action director, Rev. Maria, our sociologist friend, Jose Rafael; our driver and fellow missioner, Mario; our chief solar oven cooking expert, Gertrudis; two team cooks, Laura and Cesar, two children belonging to Erasme and Laura, Ezra and Brianna; and finally two seasoned GBGM missionaries, Gordy and Lousia (aka Ardell).

Mix us all together and put us to work practicing our solar oven mission and what do you get?  Laughter, joy, frustration, order and chaos, hard work, new friendships, peace, and abundant life in God.  We distributed 139 ovens in three locations:  Villa Anacaona on the Haitian border; Manuel Bueno, (from our base location it was only 9 miles as the crow flies but seemed like 90 miles by road); and Barrio Legión in Loma de Cabrera.  Obscure and remote places for most of us but no longer.  Now we are linked with new relationships through a tangible expression of God’s love and provision, the solar oven.

Ardell led the youth and adults each evening to explore our distinctive cultures, our identities found in God and forged in the places where we grew up.  Each one of us had a small jar of water that represented each of us as individuals.  In a moving expression of complementarity we each came to the center of the circle and poured out our jar of water into a common basin.  Each one expressed what was on their heart in this expression of our common origin in God.  We concluded by refilling our small jars with the water now united.  We sang, we prayed, and made room in our hearts for the love of our neighbors. 

Each time we return from a solar oven mission event we evaluate the whole process.  There are so many moving parts, so many unknowns along the way, and plenty of obstacles.  We try to iron out all the wrinkles and make improvements for next time.  However we know that next time there will be new challenges so we will continue to practice our faith. 

Celebrating Christian Education

I received a bottle of body lotion and a drinking cup with a huge bouquet of flowers extending from one side and the name Luisa Granner written on the other side.  These were lovingly presented to me by two educators in an expression of gratitude in our last Christian Education meeting with the Sunday School teachers. 

Reverend Betania wanted this reunion to be a happy time so we bought a huge cake and played a power point with over 750 pictures that were taken throughout 8 years of training sessions and activities in the IED churches. 

We reprinted 31 sets of curriculum 35 times and displayed all of the materials that were made as examples for the activities from different lessons.  We put out a give away table of visuals and English materials that were on hand and prepared 50 printed bags especially for this meeting all filled with supplies each church could use in their children’s classes. 

Many pictures were taken, all of the tables were emptied, cake was eaten and goodbyes were said. 

This gathering was a celebration of God’s blessings and abundance with us.  It was also an encouragement for these servants of God to continue in their ministries with the children in the Dominican Republic and a testimony of each of their faithfulness and commitment of God’s love in the world.

Graner Family Newsletter March 2021

Dear friends,

Gordon retired on September 1st, 2020 and I will be retiring the end of September this year, 2021. Our good friend said we are rounding the third base of life. Everything seems to look better when you see it from a baseball perspective.

Those first pictures from the moment we arrived in Bolivia are very telling. Jenny was five years old when we left West Fargo, North Dakota in September, 1989. It was Gordy’s birthday and we would soon celebrate our 10th year of marriage the month after we arrived in LaPaz,  Bolivia. Samuel was three years old and baby Hannah was born in Cochabamba a year and a half later. Gordy and I felt well prepared and called to leave home for another country. I had worked at two universities, including a public and private college. Gordy had done technician work at a university, gone to seminary, and worked with refugees coming from many countries around the world. Neither of us questioned God’s call in our lives, even though we were always trying to interpret it. Our children were innocent as doves, all the while brave as children can be. With God’s blessings and grace, we went.

The Bolivian opportunity was full of challenges: hearing and speaking a new language for the first time with people selling in an open-air market; trying to understand a new culture, while simultaneously trying to identify our own; experiencing new holidays we didn’t understand, and often celebrating our own holidays between the five of us. I think our biggest challenge came as we tried to discern how God called us to serve alongside our Bolivian brothers and sisters in the Iglesia Metodista en Bolivia.

The blessings involved in the midst of our challenges are too numerous to count. We started a dairy operation with eight Holstein cows, during which time we also produced Dutch cheese. We oversaw the building and establishment of an ecumenical retreat center in the Cochabamba valley. We were involved in community development in the rural area of Payacollo, which included organizing and staffing an afterschool tutoring program, a community based health program and a Montessori preschool. The Tiu Rancho Center also provided the infrastructure for our Bolivian pastor, Gustavo Loza, who prepared rural lay pastors and offered follow-up training for national seminary-educated Bolivian pastors.  

We lived in the midst of phenomenal traditions and culture: the unique and inspiring Bolivian music and dancing, the beautiful traditional clothing, the incredible food with magnificent soups and dishes that actually have their own names.

Bolivians have a resourcefulness of which we were daily in awe. The people worked so hard.  We both grew up in rural North Dakota, where it is part of our cultural pride to work hard, which means we recognize hard work when we see it.

As we waited to board the plane to leave Cochabamba, I openly wept. After 23 years, I had fallen in love with Bolivia and the people. On that uncomfortable metal airport bench, Gordy tenderly said to me, “It’s time to go.” I wasn’t sure how we could go on, yet there was God’s calling to us; quiet, peaceful, and persistent.

Many times I pondered how two people born and raised in the prairies of North Dakota, who had lived high in the Bolivian mountains at 8400 feet, could adapt to an island in the Caribbean, where the average yearly temperatures are in the 80’s, with 80 percent humidity.

We disembarked the plane in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, after having spent three months in Atlanta with a beloved friend. As we walked down the steps of the plane, I announced to Gordy that I was going to use my second name and alter it slightly by just one letter to sound Latin: Louise…a. He replied with a “What?!?!!” That change manifested the humble apprehension we had, as we clung to God’s promise to always be with us. 

 We soon discovered the Dominican people are as beautiful as they are loud and animated. We would love them as we had loved our Bolivian sisters and brothers.

We thought our Spanish was adequate, and felt confident we could manage, but it was as if we were learning a new language. Even the Dominicans say they don’t speak Spanish, only a form of it; and the speed at which they speak is… oh..so… fast. We have spent eight years trying to adapt to speaking Dominican.    Rice and beans are a daily meal. Dominican women can cook beans that are tastier than Campbell’s Pork N Beans. J   

God’s creation in the Dominican Republic is as gorgeous as it is in Bolivia, and uniquely tropical. In both countries, I have been in awe of our Creator every single day.

We have loved working with our co-workers in the Iglesia Evangélica Dominicana in Christian education and Solar Ovens. It has been a blessing although challenging, all the while exciting to serve educators, pastors, lay leaders, and community folks.  

We are eternally grateful to the Bolivian and Dominican people for receiving us in their lives, for their friendships, for sharing their worldviews with us, and for the opportunity to be together as partners-in-mission.

You, our covenant family, have been with us throughout this journey. 

Transitioning from Bolivia to the Dominican Republic was a tremendous challenge, full of uncertainties, and yet we felt your unwavering presence. 

In the past 32 years, we have been sustained by your prayers, support, and encouragement through your emails, notes, birthday and holiday cards.  Together, our covenant partnership in mission is strong and alive.

Your prayers uplifted our family and we are so grateful for them. 

Our greatest desire is that you have known God’s blessings through our relationship, and the relationships with our sisters and brothers in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. We are one family in Christ, working together for the Kingdom of God on earth.

We are in God’s hands.

We encourage you to continue to support our beloved United Methodist missionaries, who serve God alongside our brothers and sisters around the world.

We are deeply appreciative of our relationship with you.

In God’s love and mission,

Ardell & Gordon

Food Baskets to Dajabón in the time of Covid19

In August of 2020 Solar Oven Partners hosted a virtual solar oven mission which included a fundraiser for the program in the Dominican Republic.  It was decided that the money raised would be used to provide food assistance to needy families in the DR.  Our solar oven program director Pastor Erasme Figaro decided we should serve in an area that has most recently received solar ovens (prior to Covid19).

 On Monday January 18, 2021 we set out for Dajabón, a Dominican border town in the northwest.  Our plan was to contact as many solar oven recipients as possible in four rural villages near to Dajabón;  Clavellina, La Gorra, Chacuey,  and Loma de Cabrera. 

The idea was that the people who were invited would meet in their village center and we would have a brief time of fellowship and then provide each family with a food basket.  Each basket contained 10 lbs. of rice, 3 lbs. of dry beans, and 1/2 gallon of vegetable oil. 

However, Erasme did not mention the food baskets in the invitation, only that we would meet together, discuss solar ovens, and pray.  He figured that if word got out about food distribution we would be overwhelmed with crowds of people.  When we arrived at our first stop in Clavellina at the appointed hour of 8am, there was not a single soul in sight.  We waited about half an hour and one woman showed up,  then soon after 3 more.  It seems that being called to a solar oven meeting first thing on a Monday morning was not too high on anyone’s list.

We pondered our situation.  We had 150 food baskets to distribute in four villages but the response so far was disappointing.  So we talked it out with Alejandra who is a community leader and knows everyone in the area.  We considered taking the food baskets to vulnerable neighbors, those who are ill, too infirm to leave their homes, blind, and many others in need who are outside the solar oven network. Alejandra began to tell us about all her neighbors and then guided us to their homes. 

We stopped at the home of a woman who is bedridden after suffering a heart attack.  This woman’s mother lies on her deathbed in the next room, dying of cancer.  And the woman’s daughter in another bed with pancreatic cancer.  We prayed in silence in the presence of these three and left three food baskets.  We took no pictures.

We moved on to the home of an elderly man who is blind and living alone.  He lost his sight about five years ago from making charcoal.  He thanked us for the food basket and said how much it meant to him that we came to his home. 

We went to the home of another elderly woman who in turn guided us to visit her son and daughter-in-law, Natalia & Caesar who was milking one cow from their herd of four.  Their one room home was built of scrap lumber with 4 inch gaps between the boards.  Their 10 month old baby girl was asleep on the bed. Caesar had attended the solar oven workshop a year ago but was unable to afford the cost of $20.   We left them with food baskets, smiling and waving goodbye.

         

We arrived in the next village of Chacuey and pulled up to a colmado, a small kiosk with essential goods and snacks.  Connected to the colmado was a patio with a roof and open sides which is used as a church meeting area.  We met with a small group of people who had been invited and gave out about 10 food baskets. 

Erasme than asked the pastor if there were needy persons in the area that we could visit.  That seemed to open the door to the whole community.  Phone calls were made, the pastor sent messengers to notify neighbors.  The pastor’s son, about 12 years old and his younger friend were hanging around on their bicycles.  They got into action and took off on their bikes to share the good news of food baskets. 

People came steadily in twos, threes, and fours.  One man came by donkey.  He is old school, not interested in modern transportation.  The donkey may be slow but it is a companion, reliable and easy on gas. 

A basket was delivered to an elderly woman nearby. We were directed to her from another elderly woman who came to us barefooted.  She had been praying and crying because there was no food in the house.  She said this gift was right on time. 

All told we gave out 50 food baskets and could have given all we had but we had one more stop to make so we kept back 20 baskets.

Our last stop for the day was in Loma de Cabrera.  Our Dominican hostess and pastor Ester, guided us to the homes of persons in her church congregation.  We visited a few homes that seemed to be middle class so we asked Ester if she could take us to some areas with greater need.  Ester took us to some ‘hidden’ neighborhoods where we shared all the baskets we had left. 

When we went to these areas Ester seemed more animated and engaged than before.  We dropped her off at her home and returned to Dajabón. 

After

Our experience in the Dajabón area was another example to me of why we seek out the ‘least of these’.  And that is, the closer you get to persons who are forgotten and suffering, those who are vulnerable, who live ‘outside the walls’, the closer you get to the presence of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 25.

 Another Scriptural mandate is to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness (justice).  When you pair that with the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”, then it is valid and wise to look for Jesus where we know he can be found.

During the time of this pandemic our solar oven team has been meeting regularly to rethink our solar oven plans going forward.  Based on the experiences of the last five years distributing ovens throughout the Dominican Republic and based on the results of a comprehensive survey of oven recipients we are seeking an enhanced vision.

We want to improve the way we do the solar oven demonstrations, to form alliances with community groups and neighborhood leaders.  To seek out those persons most in need of a solar oven and to motivate them to use their ovens frequently for their own benefit and for the health of our environment. 

Christmas greeting from UMC missionaries, 2020

Dear friends,

We are common beings.

We live imperfect lives

while serving a perfect God.

Our lives are changed forever

by the presence of God

in the people we minister alongside of.

Together we celebrate Jesus’ birth,

God coming to us as a poor,

innocent,

vulnerable,

baby

to live amongst us

to show us how to

love and serve.

Jesus is our Christ.

And we are filled with gratitude.

We are missionaries with the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church.

We are in mission together with you, serving From Everywhere to Everywhere.

We wish you a Christmas filled with the peace and joy of Christ’s presence.

We would like to share our Christmas video with you. 

Please click here https://vimeo.com/483629620

IED takes a stand against Domestic Violence

The memorial service was a very small one.  We were all wearing masks and tried hard to distance ourselves.  Many are so afraid of the possibility of getting the virus.  They have the hardest time not greeting each other with hugs so many have reverted to fists bumps which is their way of safe minimum contact. 

Reverend Betania felt it was important that we recognize the fact that domestic violence is rising in the country due to stay at home orders and the severe economic impact of the pandemic. 

And that we as a church need to make a statement against it.

 

We hung banners, put pictures of victims on the outside office walls facing the street, hung clothes that were bloodied (with red paint) and newspaper testimonies of violence in the homes. We designed a brochure encouraging the aggressors and the victims what to do in the most desperate times and where to seek help.  We built a little cemetery with wooden crosses and a plaque to represent and honor the women and young girls who have died as victims of domestic violence.

The local news channel came and interviewed Rev. Betania and Bishop Cancu giving this IED Church statement sharing with a wider audience. 

Altagracia did a skit with young kids about the seriousness of relationships.  Because the young people were so cute and clever during the skit, Gordy and I could not help chuckling.  None of the Dominicans did however.  One woman stood in the back of the crowd, commenting, “That’s true.  That’s exactly what happens.”  The skit ended with the mom kneeling in front of her daughter and asking her forgiveness for not honoring the daughter’s wisdom in the middle of potentially dangerous relationships at home.

We ended the service with everyone, including the children, signing a document saying that we as a church, the Iglesia Evangelica Dominican stand against violence in the home. 

It was the most powerful, spiritual service I have been a part of for a long time.

There is no one like you, blessed god

Dear friends,

It’s been a while since we’ve gone on a walk together.

Once a week I like to walk to the ocean wall. There is something about looking out over the ocean.  It’s our replacement for looking out over the plains of North Dakota. It’s a reminder that there’s something bigger than us. 

Last night, Gordy and I were lamenting about life. We were, and still are, thinking about our children and missing them; we are concerned for the US and all that is happening there; and we are suffering with the Dominican people, especially our co-workers.  They have been affected physically, economically, and especially psychologically; our hearts ache for them. We all have lost the ability to predict the future, to prepare for it, and even control it. (This is not necessarily positive, I know.)  I have felt such frustration not knowing how to walk with folks. To help me, I have taken the famous saying, “one day at a time” as my guide. At one point I added, “and one person at a time”.

When you arrive at the Malecon, which is the ocean wall, there is an outdoor type gym that has a handful of exercise stations.  The middle of this area is open and small groups of people like to do stretches there, which usually also includes a type of Merengue, the typical music of the Dominican Republic. This morning, a group of about 15 women straggled in with their mask on.  They felt no hurry to begin their exercise routine with their young trainer.  They all came with chef like hats that were all a unique orange color and had a gold sequined band sewn round the brim. They fully enjoyed how they looked and decided to take a picture of themselves.  Someone then produced mangoes that were then expertly eaten, which means there was no juice running down their shirts; they enjoyed their sweet mangoes with tiny plastic cups of syrupy sweet coffee. 

It did my heart good to watch them laugh and enjoy each other’s company in the middle of such a somber time in our shared history. 

Finally, their young trainer said they needed to get to work. 

Before they began their exercises, they bowed their heads and prayed.

He then started the music on his tape player. The first song that played was a famous Latin Christian hymn: 

Tú Fidelidad.

Cuán grande es. 

Tú fidelidad incomparable es.

Nadie como Tú, bendito Dios.

Grande es tu fidelidad. 

  

Your faithfulness.   

How great it is.

Your faithfulness is incomparable.

There is no one like You, Blessed God. 

How great is your faithfulness.

I was astonished.

As I walked home, I stopped at the stop light to cross a busy street. There was an older lady standing next to me, with a cane in her hand. As the light changed from red to green,  she put her hand on my forearm. I quickly realized she was not walking steady and needed help getting off the curb. She kept her hand on my forearm and we walked very slowly across the street. I prayed she wouldn’t fall. When we reached the other side, she said, “God bless you.”

A peace ran through me. 

How great is God’s faithfulness. 

There is no one like You, Blessed God.

Graner September 2020 newsletter

Dear friends,

North Dakota, our home state, is a humble agricultural land that has quietly produced food for the world in abundance.

Gordy has written the reflection for this newsletter using North Dakota to represent the hierarchy in the world and the “great pearls” that are lost when we live with this limited vision of each other.

God’s blessings and grace are with us,

Ardell & Gordy

Visits in the midst of the Covid quarantine.

We had been quarantined and under curfew for 85 days:

Gordy and I set out with Ernesto, Rev. Cancu’s driver, with 65 bags that each contained rice, beans, pigeon peas, spaghetti noodles, sardines and salami.  We also had an additional 80# bag of rice in the back of the van.  We headed out along the ocean road.  It was surprisingly quite emotional for us to drive outside of the city after 85 days of being restricted to our neighborhood.  We drove along the ocean for a few miles and then began to zig zag into some rural communities.

We drove up behind a plantain truck at the gas station.

 

 

 

 

Our driver Ernesto grew up in an orphanage in the southwestern part of the country.  He told us stories from his childhood and we talked about the effects of the virus in the DR and about the protests in the United States.   Dominicans definitely follow the news in the north since over 1,000,000 of their family members live in New York City.    It was so touching to hear about the world from his perspective.

We arrived first in San Rafael at Pastor Carolina’s church.  There were many youth from her church there to receive the bags and help her to distribute them.  One of the young men is in seminary, training to be a pastor with her and another woman was there, a lay pastor from their mission church in nearby Samangola.

We brought the food into the church and spent some time taking a look at a new construction project in the works.

When we were ready to leave, Pastor Carolina asked about the other 80 pounds of rice (Rev. Cancu had called her.).  Ernesto had already decided that the families in another community really needed that extra rice so he and Carolina had to make a decision together.  She was so passionate about the families in her own church that she was not going to simply concede to Ernesto.  We left half of the extra rice for her to share.

We all prayed together.

We went on to three other communities where Pastor Santiago is in charge. Gordy has worked with Pastor Santiago in the past in the community of La Jagua, which is a batey community where Haitian sugar cane workers settled many generations ago. Gordy helped them expand their little church and begin a parsonage on the second floor of the church.  We also worked with Solar Ovens and Vacation Bible School in that community.  We arrived in Yaguate, which is the mother church to La Jagua, and a small group of elders were waiting for us.  They knew exactly where the food would go and were all so grateful.   All of us were with face masks and couldn’t do the customary hand shaking and hugging.  The little group immediately shared their frustrations with the restrictions of the pandemic.  They told us how much they wanted to have a service together and sing.

We all prayed together.

Yesterday & Tomorrow

Introduction:

Gordy: I have been wanting to write a post about the pandemic.

Today (May 26, 2020) is for us the 68th day of quarantine and at this stage we have lots of information about the virus and guidelines for confronting it but there is still so much uncertainty.  Uncertainty makes me uncomfortable and one way I deal with it is through humor.

I think it’s ok to smile and laugh even though the subject matter is very serious.  Because we know that at the end of the day, God is with us no matter what.

A Restaurant Called Yesterday & Tomorrow

I drove up to the restaurant called Yesterday & Tomorrow.  It was an old brick house and looked promising but there were no cars in the parking lot.  I went to the side door and knocked and the proprietor answered, “May I be of service.”

I told him I had read an advertisement in a local restaurant guide about the Yesterday & Tomorrow and was here to give it a try.  He apologized and said, “You should have come yesterday but you can always come back tomorrow.”

I said, “Well your ad said you are open every day.”

He replied, “What the ad actually says is that we are open every yesterday and every tomorrow.”

So I slyly say, “If I would have come tomorrow and since today is tomorrow’s yesterday then you should be open today.”

So he says, “Yes, that is true.  But you actually are here today and today I tell you we were open yesterday, and will be open tomorrow.”

I say, “I cannot come tomorrow so how about the day after tomorrow?”

He smiles and says, “The day after tomorrow will have a yesterday and that yesterday is tomorrow,  so tomorrow is also a yesterday and when that happens the Yesterday & Tomorrow always has a special on the hot beef sandwich.”

I am perplexed and say, “I told you I cannot come tomorrow and I obviously cannot come yesterday.  So what would you suggest?”

He tells me, “Well you could drive down the road about 10 miles and try the restaurant called  Years Ago.  My sister runs the place.

 I then ask, “Do you think Years Ago is open today?”

He laughs and says, “I can’t say for sure.  My sister used to run the best restaurant for miles around but that was years ago.”

So I drove down the road about 10 miles to find the Years Ago.  I came across a run down old house with a sign out front that was so faded I could barely read it.  I stopped and got out of my car and walked up to the aged porch where sat an old woman.  I asked her if I had found what I was looking for, a restaurant called Years Ago.

 The old woman slapped her knee and laughed, “Why, you are the third one today!  Like I told them other two fellas the Years Ago closed 40 years ago.”

Then she asked, “Why don’t you sit down here in the shade and let me explain.  Now my brother don’t like to travel so he ain’t ever been down to see me here at my place.  He don’t like to drive and is gettin’ more forgetful all the time.  In fact he rarely leaves his house.  He gets other folks to bring him what he needs.”

“Anyhow one day I was up to visit him and we got to talkin’ about the restaurant business and I told him that I was about to open my restaurant again.  But I told him it will only be open once in awhile.  So I’m gonna call my establishment the Come Back Later Steak House but I ain’t got a sign up yet.  Now I will cook only when I feel like it.  And if I don’t feel up to it I will just tell my customers to come back later or try their luck up at the Yesterday and Tomorrow.”

So I said, “I just came from the Yesterday and Tomorrow and your brother is not open today, so he sent me down here to the Years Ago.  And now you say you’ve been closed for 40 years and want to send me back up there?!!  I am bewildered!  I’m beginning to think that neither one of your restaurants is ever going to be open.”

The old lady replied, “Well sir, if you cannot wait until tomorrow or you cannot come back later then there is only one other place I can point you to.  You’ll have to drive to the next town called Hazey and find the corner of Main Avenue and Third Street I believe it is.  There you can check out the Last Chance Bar and Grill which I understand has people talking.

So I drove for an hour, found the place and parked out front.  I walked up to main door where a sign was posted that read Last Chance Bar and Grill……. Opening Soon.