Written by an ecumenical, mission oriented community from around the world.
Putting faith into action in the season of Lent & Easter
MISSION EXPERIENCES OF COMPASSION, CHALLENGE AND HOPE
Living compassionate lives in our search to know God as we journey to the cross
Lent is a time of penitence and soul searching, following Jesus to the cross and on to his crucifixion and resurrection. It is a time to take refuge from the world’s distractions in order to connect with the deeper resonance of God.
The following is a series of reflections prepared by 47 people who share their stories in the light of the Biblical passages for this season of Lent, 2022. The writers are fellow missionaries, family members, friends, clergy and lay persons, all of whom have shared their lives in service with others. We are grateful to each writer for sharing personal experiences and lessons learned, often in the midst of great pain.
These good folks have been gathered much like a flash mob, brought together for a onetime performance, a onetime action of grace for all, to surprise you with their music, like you have never heard it before.
We share our testimonies to encourage all to follow the path and passion that we see in Jesus. All of life is changing, the world and the church are changing. And God is moving. We long to walk with God and God’s people, in the midst of these changes.
God of justice, may we be aware of others and all life, especially in their pain and struggles. May we be willing and open to give and receive love, to forgive and be forgiven.
To God be the glory.
A special thanks to:
Rev. Cynthia Weems for her counsel and invaluable direction,
Steve Graner and Jenny Graner for their service of editing,
Luke Graner for designing the cover and final page,
And, Gordon Graner for always tackling the big questions.
Permission to copy and distribute this material but not for profit.
All rights to the visuals and written content remain with the individual authors.
Gordy and I would like to introduce to you our good friend, Sara Flores. Sara is part of our United Methodist family serving with the Iglesia Evangélica Metodista Unida del Ecuador (Evangelical United Methodist Church of Ecuador) as a General Board of Global Ministries missionary.
As we retire, we were asked by the General Board of Global Ministries if there are any United Methodist missionaries that we would recommend to our covenant church supporters. We wholeheartedly endorse Sara Flores as a candidate for you to consider.
We have known Sara for 32 years. We first met her when we moved to Cochabamba, Bolivia in 1989 and lived at the American Institute, a Methodist school started by missionaries in 1911. Sara’s father worked at the school. He and her mother were pillars in their local church, Emmanuel. This was the Methodist church that we attended for three years while we were living on the grounds of the American Institute. Sara was a young university student when we arrived. We came to know her as one of the wisest, kindest, and most deeply spiritual Christians we have ever met.
Sara married Dakin Cook in 2000. Together as United Methodist missionaries they served the church in Bolivia for 6 years and then the Methodist Church in Ecuador for the last 10 years. Dakin just recently retired and now supports Sara who continues to serve the Evangelical United Methodist Church in Ecuador.
Sara’s ministry is to support the work of the local Methodist churches in Ecuador:
The ministries with children and families as they organize, train leaders, and develop wholistic programs for children including Bible resources for Sunday Schools.
With Volunteer-in-mission groups who come to learn and support the church in these ministries, especially to build new churches and facilities.
The development of disaster relief teams in training local leaders in the area of health and special projects for children and their families.
Pastoral support for pastors in theological training, emotional and spiritual accompaniment and fund raising for pastors salaries.
Sara shared with me her desire for the Church in Ecuador:
“As I accompany the mission in Ecuador, my desire is that the church will become strengthened and fortified. I feel especially passionate to support the pastors and lay leaders of the new churches, the indigenous churches and the churches that are serving in communities and neighborhoods of people with few economic resources.
I am passionate about strengthening the understanding and development of the wholistic mission of the Church, I greatly desire to see new churches develop ministries that give hope and are full of life, that bring the Good News and transform the lives of the neediest families; especially involving wholistic programs for children, women, and families.”
Thank you for your consideration of Sara for your covenant support.
The sidewalks in Santo Domingo are much like an obstacle course: there are cracked and uneven segments of cement sticking up, many with tree roots coming through; garbage is piled or strewn in many parts where rats run freely; then there are the huge open drain canals at the ends of the walks which try and handle the massive amounts of rain that fall at different times of year. Besides their condition people do not respect the sidewalks, and they are often used as freeways for motorcycles and parking for cars on the narrower streets.
I am very touched when another person accompanies one of their fellow human beings through these obstacles by taking their arm or putting a hand on their back. I have seen many people accompany the blind as they cautiously face these hindrances. On one sunny morning, I got to be a support as an elderly woman reached out and took my forearm as she nervously walked, searching for stability.
As I reflect on the past 32 years of mission work in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic, I have often also searched for stability. Though I’ve always tried to look where I am going, the cultural and physical cracks of mission work have surprised me at times. It is during these heightened moments when I have come to know most God’s presence, peace, and grace.
It is also during these times when I have felt your emotional support, through your kind and thoughtful letters, notes, and cards, along with your spiritual support, through your prayers, as well as through your financial support. We are grateful for your covenant with us and for having had the opportunity to know many of you and serve together in God’s kingdom.
At the beginning of August, we were part of a 22 member Solar Oven team that went to visit three communities in the Dajabon region of the country, which shares a border with Haiti. Gordon and I accompanied Reverend Erasme on a “test run” of the solar over demonstrations that included several changes that we had developed over the past 18 months together.
We invited seven folks to come from the States to assist us, including: Rev. Cynthia Weems and her daughter Mariana, Monica Bruesewitz and her daughter Kyra, Gordy’s brother Steve, and Steve’s son and grandson, Luke and Jaxon. All of them have servant spirits, are open hearted and extremely hard working. We introduced a new component to the solar oven ministry by inviting four young people from the IED churches across the DR: Joendy, Noelia, Elia, and Abril. It was wonderful for me to be in the midst of these seven young people. They brought new eyes, new energy, new spirit, and new insight into this vibrant ministry. Together, we met with over 250 people in four days.
The Dominican team recently wrote a series of Sunday School lessons titled, “The world is in constant movement.” As the world is changing and people are in the midst of suffering and uncertainty, God has never stopped calling us to be God’s hands and feet.
We ask you to continue your vital support of mission:
Solar Ovens Partnership is a wonderful ministry that supports struggling rural families and God’s precious creation.
We also want to invite you to support Sara Flores. Sara is a missionary with GBGM in Ecuador. To find out more about Sara, I am including a page that we wrote especially for you to get to know her.
May we all know God’s blessings, grace and healing in our lives.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.