February, 2019: Every volunteer in mission team is unique. They bring something new which we get to discover as the week unfolds. How to put that new thing into words will always be a challenge and never capture the full picture, like any photograph which only catches a momentary still shot of life.
Even when our great plans go awry, God blesses our best intentions to serve with all of our being. There are times in solar oven demonstrations that the sun is blocked by clouds and we begin to worry. In addition there are times when the multitudes we expected to attend don’t appear leaving us with a small circle of local people, and we begin to fret. In times like these we seek courage and comfort in remembering that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. It is so very small as to seem insignificant. But somehow this small seed can achieve something great in spite of its size.
A team of five Americans, namely, Carol, Lois, Wally, Jiggy, and Grace joined with our Dominican group of five, Erasme, Mario, Gertrudis, Louisa (Ardell), and Gordy. A group of 10 which at times was reduced to nine and then eight, took on a labor of love. We did solar oven demonstrations in Neyba and Tamayo, two small towns in the southwest of the Dominican Republic.
In spite of the odds against us we planted our mustard seeds in faith. God was with us and we were met with the smiles, the excitement, and the hopes of God’s children that we had the privilege to meet. We served them and they blessed us and the joy of God filled our souls. We have confidence that these mustard seeds will grow and bring life. Something new has happened as we have loved one another as Christ has loved us.
Our thanks to you who came from afar to share God’s love in action.
We are the Christian Education department: Rev. Betania is the director, Antonia, who was nominated by the national church assembly this year, is the president and myself. Jose Rafael advises us in regards to Dominican society and edits our curriculum lessons. Every year we meet with the Christian Education leaders from the local churches to share with them what we are doing, train them with new sets of curriculum and find out how we can best support them.
Last week, our meeting with the 34 leaders in attendance, started out with them drawing their local church’s vision for Christian Education, blind folded.
I think one of the most exciting parts of our meeting was that a majority of the Christian Education leaders who are selected by their local churches are young women. I could feel their passion, commitment and openness throughout the meeting.
We ask you to pray for these young women as they share their ideas and convictions with the children in their congregations.
February 1-10, 2019: a volunteer in mission team from First UMC Sartell, MN came to the Dominican Republic and they claimed to be the best team ever (wink). When we first laid eyes on them at the Punta Cana airport we thought to ourselves, ‘yes, they do look hale and hearty but the best team ever ???, we shall see about that.
This is the first volunteer team that we have welcomed at the Punta Cana airport. Hundreds and thousands of people arrive to Punta Cana daily from all over the world to vacation at some of the best beaches on this earth. The difference with the Sartell team is that they did not get on a shuttle to go to a nearby pristine beach.
Rather they got on a bus that took them miles and miles away from paradise to begin a week of intense, no frills mission in an impoverished corner of the country. It was a clear example of the Biblical call to enter by the narrow gate.
The Sartell team came to work and were not disappointed. The solar oven ministry is labor intensive and circumstances often require us to put in overtime. We had to put in long hours to the point of exhaustion and many pushed their immune systems too far and fell ill for a day or two.
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To counter such a draconian workload, the team leader, Pastor Randy, wisely encouraged us to take some time after our dinner each evening to tell jokes. The jokes were to be short, clean, and funny. All the jokes were clean, most were short, and a precious few were funny. Many jokes were about Ole and Lena. You know like the one where Ole is on his deathbed, smells fresh cookies baking and Lena tells him he cannot have one because she made them for the funeral. Yeh, that kind of joke.
And we shared lots of stories. I wanted to tell the team about the time Ardell (Louisa) entered the lutefisk toss at the Hoosterlingen Winter Games in Norway. She threw a three pound gelatinous gob of cooked lutefisk 73 feet, nine inches. Turns out it was a new world record for an ex-Lutheran woman over 60. (And she likes everyone to know that it was against the wind.) But we didn’t tell it cause we were brought up not to brag.
And speaking of records, the Sartell team built and distributed 171 solar ovens in five days. They have set the bar high for any teams that may have the fortitude to try and beat it in the future. I told them not to brag about it but imagine they probably told it to strangers on the airplane on their way home.
It is impossible to tell the Sartell story in a few paragraphs. But we must decide, were they the best team or not? Well let’s put it this way, Pastor Randy, Sy, Rick, Amanda, Amy, Peggy, Mark, Joan, Rachel, Brendan, Gene, and Chuck gave the people of the Dominican Republic their best selves and that was just right, just what God had hoped for. And God only sends the best.
We recently hosted a volunteer in mission team from the Dakotas (January 2019).
We took them to the northwest corner of the Dominican Republic to places like Villa Vasques, Guayabín, and Dajabón, which is on the Haitian border. We went to do solar oven demonstrations and to distribute ovens to the local participants.
However, a fair question we might ask even after all the hard work, ‘Was it worth it?’
Could we have done better? probably
Could we have done the work more efficiently? most likely
Should we not be expanding our horizons to get more ovens to more people? makes sense
Will our efforts have a significant impact on the environment? hmm, not sure about that
Did you get to know and enjoy one another fully through work, worship, sharing food, prayer, play, devotions, and travel?
Do you feel like this experience gave you a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven?
Do you feel like you had an encounter with God, that within the heart of God you were part of a dream that came to life?
Did you store up treasures in heaven?
Thanks to all of you for giving yourselves away, for emptying yourselves, for your service,
May you be filled with the Holy Spirit,
With justice, peace, and joy,
Christmas of 2018 brought the Graners together in the Dominican Republic: our family all in one place, Ardell and Gordy, Jenny and Robert (son-in-law), Samuel, and Hannah. We are not able to be together very often, maybe once every two years so we are especially grateful for our reunions. We decided to take a week on the north coast of the country at a remote village called Las Galeras on the northeast corner of the Samana peninsula. It is a tourist area but not very developed and never crowded, a nice place for a quiet relaxing vacation. And so it was until we went on ‘the boat ride’.
Ardell and I wanted to take our ‘kids’ to El Fronton a secluded beach on the other side of the peninsula, a nice place for a picnic lunch and some snorkeling. The journey to El Fronton is taken in a 20 foot skiff operated by a local Dominican and is about a 30 minute ride.
Our driver was Lelo, a young but seemingly experienced boat captain. We each put on our life jacket, crawled into the boat and prepared ourselves for a casual ride on a bright, sunny and breezy morning.
We soon moved beyond the calm waters of the bay and into the more serious waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. The boat began to rise and fall on 3 to 4 ft. waves and within minutes the waves were 10-15 ft. The boat would climb up each wave and then fall into the deep trough with a slam that rattled our bones. Up….SLAM…up…SLAM. We grabbed for whatever we could, the sides of the boat and the seats and eventually each other. Up…SLAM…Up…SLAM…lurch to the right…SLAM…lurch to the left…SLAM!
We were all taken by surprise and could not believe what was happening. Three young Russian women were in the boat with us and one of them was terrorized, and visibly shaking. There was nothing we could do but hold on and pray we wouldn’t capsize. And then it was over, we arrived at the beach. The Russian women immediately asked the captain if there was a way to walk back. There is a path to walk but it takes hours and is very strenuous. They decided to beseech the captain to take them back by boat right away and they were off again in 20 minutes. We stayed for our picnic lunch and quietly contemplated having to return in the same fashion as we had arrived.
Lelo had left us in the hands of Daniel, another Dominican boatman, younger and more reckless. Daniel had a new romantic interest in a young English woman that he had met a few days before. She was now with us in the boat for the return. Daniel apparently wanted to impress the young lady with his superior skills in maneuvering a small boat through the high seas. Wow! Daniel drove like he had the devil by the tail. I have wondered at times what it would be like to ride a bull in the rodeo. It cannot be too far removed from what we were about to endure. It was a feeling of terror mixed with exhilaration. The return passage was even more wild, a slam fest, a test of our bones, a flirtation with present danger.
And then as we finally passed through the gates of hell we entered the relative calm of the bay. But what does Daniel do? As a parting shot he whipped us around in a high speed circle as if to say, “I am Daniel, and don’t you forget it!”
Don’t worry Daniel, we will never forget this day. The six of us did not talk much for the rest of the afternoon as if quiet contemplation of our safety was all we had left. Thanks be to God.
No one seemed to give the critters notice since we were all so busy with the task at hand – which was writing Sunday School curriculum for all the congregations in the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana (IED) churches in the Dominican Republic. It was a very busy and exciting 2 1/2 days.
In the past these folks have four sets of six-month curriculum under their belts but we have never all met to work together, to take on the task of writing for one year. We organized into three groups of writers, took 6 blocks of themes and Bible passages and wrote a common objective for each block plus individual objectives for each lesson which are all connected to the objective for the central yearly theme.
The work was difficult. The challenge is always to contextualize their faith, traditions and customs in the midst of the Dominican reality and struggles. The groups were hugely successful and everyone felt fulfilled with the work.We were blessed to have special times for devotionals and worship to ask for God’s blessings and wisdom and to be unified in this ministry. In our opening ceremony together we asked folks to bring bottles of water from the areas where they live.
At the end of the workshop we washed each other’s feet with this same water as a sign of solidarity in our common effort to serve the IED church in this ministry of writing curriculum.
We then gave each person a little bottle of the water to take home as a reminder of the unity we share as IED curriculum writers.
There were fun times too as we participated in dynamics that tried to tie in to our challenges. Laughter always seems to bring insight and relief in the midst of stress.
These days have laid the base for this set of curriculum. All the writers are committed to continue studying, praying and writing until the completion of these materials which is projected for mid-April.
Thank you to Caleb and Julio. These two young men have drawn beautiful illustrations to be featured in the lessons.
I especially want to thank Lisa Crismore, Cathy Alexander and Lucas Endicott. Your presence, accompaniment, and support to all of us is greatly, greatly appreciated.Thank you all for your prayers and support of this ministry. Ardell
Monday, October 29, 2018, Gordon Graner writes:
We had relied on a pastoral couple to gather what was promised to be a large group of people who wanted solar ovens. However, while those who gathered were enthusiastic, many were adolescent girls and just a handful of women. With hopes somewhat deflated I asked the pastor what we could do to attract more people.
His answer was to go immediately to the radio station and broadcast a message about solar ovens and invite the masses. So we did. We drove to the radio station, hopped out of the jeep, and marched directly into the radio booth. Three men were seated at three microphones doing a live broadcast and were unfazed by our sudden presence in the room. In less than two minutes I was invited to sit at a microphone to tell our story, live. We had no appointment, paid no money, and apparently only needed the pastor there to authenticate our mission.
It was so cool. I could only laugh at what seemed both marvelous and ridiculous at the same time. When we got back to our solar oven site, I told the crew that I was just on the radio. What I wanted to say but did not say was that we should prepare ourselves for perhaps a hundred women for tomorrow’s demonstration. Inside my soul I was excited about the possibilities.
Next day the same group of women showed up, perhaps one or two more. This was far short of the 100 women I had envisioned. But we went ahead with the demonstration taking full advantage of the clear skies and hot sun. Oven temperatures went as high as 335 degrees F.
He is famous in these parts as a journalist who has put Pedernales on the map. He was very friendly to us and recorded the entire solar oven cooking scene for about 20 minutes. Why did he show up all of a sudden? Could it be he was listening to the radio the day before? Stay tuned.
On Oct. 3, 2018 I arrived back home to the Dominican Republic after a 10 week stay in the US. I was in Atlanta where I underwent two surgeries to fix my right shoulder that I had injured last May while hiking. The torn rotator cuff has been repaired and seems to be reattaching to the bone. Now it is a matter of allowing the healing to continue while at the same time doing physical therapy to recover my range of motion. I will not be able to do any heavy lifting for some months which will limit my usefulness for solar oven demonstrations. But I can accompany the teams and lend a hand (my left).
Rev. Betania and I rode the Caribea Tours bus to the Samana peninsula to share a Christian Education workshop with the IED teachers and leaders there. It was pouring rain for the whole weekend yet folks still came out and it was an amazing weekend.
I intended to share five Sunday School lessons with them so they could learn the format we are incorporating into the children’s lessons. I walked through one lesson with them from Mark 7: verses 24-30. It’s the passage of the Syrophoenician woman talking with Jesus. The lessons for children 3-6, 7-12 and the teenagers each involved a different dynamic or activity. By the time we had done all three of these dynamics, they had so many questions and comments and got so involved in the lesson that we had no more time to walk through the other four lessons. I guess this was a success in spite of the time limit. Without a doubt though, we all learned a lot.
We were then invited to attend the harvest festival at one of the country churches up the mountain in Monte Rojo (Red Mountain). You can see the Caribbean Sea on one side of the mountain and almost see the Atlantic on the other, just on the other side of a lush green valley.The service rocked, almost literally from the beginning to the end with the rhythmic choruses sung with fervor and gusto. The harvest crops decorated the whole sanctuary lying on the alter and hanging from the ceiling (ayame, platanos, guineos, ñame, yautia, ajis, yucca,batata and coconut) as a testament to the blessing of God. The topper was a drama with the ladies of the church portraying
A serious passage but homegrown drama is always good for some sidesplitting laughter.
Betania and I traveled back to the capital in Caribea Tours with joy and satisfaction in our souls.