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