As time passes, a person’s memory bank seems to overload and experiences that were treasured at one time are lost. For me at least, this seems to be very true. The apostle Paul writing to the people of Colossae wrote, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. Remember my chains. Grace be with you.” Co. 4:18. There seems to be a key component in remembering both for him and others: writing.
Journaling is one way of recording things. Sometimes my entries are very basic and simply list what I did during the day. Other times, they express the joy of being in fellowship with other Christians, the fun in teaching a Spanish lesson or of baking conchas for the Mexican workers. Other times they reflect an anxious spirit seeking to know God’s will. One entry states, “Oh no, another hurricane; another cancelation of a trip to the Dominican.”
I keep a guest book for visitors to write something; one missionary wrote, “Thanks for the good fellowship and hospitality.” Some are written in Spanish but say “I will always remember the happy times that we have shared together.” Another comment, “It’s always nice to be with family, now that I am alone, it’s even more special.” A migrant worker wrote, “Thank you for the support you have given to Mexicans. Thank you for teaching us the word of God.” Rereading these notes blesses me.
A blog is yet another way of writing and remembering experiences. In my blog bonitabarbara.wordpress.com (where this blog is posted) there are stories about ministry in the Dominican Republic, and S. W. Ontario. There are stories of Marleny and her infectious smile, especially the day she received a bilingual bible. There are stories of balloons used to tell bible stories and of a very special shared meal in a home in Mexico. We asked the local baker to make some unleavened bread and about 25 of us enjoyed a communion meal together.
I have one more source of written memories: it as a small book I authored called The Pensive Heart. This book contains memories of ministry in Canada, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. A young man in a supermarket greeted me and asked if I remembered him. He recalled an in-the-street vacation Bible school in Esperanza, Dominican Republic. Fifteen years had passed and I would not remember him if I had not written something in a journal.
I urge you to write, record events and cherish memories “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” Dr. Seuss
As people enter 2018, many make New Year’s resolutions; some have already broken them although we are only a few days into the year. One of my desires for this year is to develop and understand more clearly God’s timing for my life. During 2017, I came face to face with the wisdom of God’s timing as I underwent two knee replacement surgeries (which I had hoped to have as much as two or three years earlier). God chose both the time and the method of my healing. My second lesson re timing related to a desire to make a mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Twice the flights my husband and I booked to fly were cancelled by two separate hurricanes in the Dominican.
King Solomon who ruled over Israel was described as a man of great insight, wisdom and understanding. People sought him for his wisdom. In Ec. 3:1- 8, Solomon wrote that there was a time and season for everything. He mentions a time for healing: the flight times were planned to allow for adequate preparation for surgery and for healing. Solomon also wrote about a time for weeping and one for laughter. I wept when the second flight to the Dominican was cancelled. Obviously, our plans did not match with God’s perfect timing. The reference about a time to search was realized as Lloyd and I and an unplanned guest from Mexico sat each evening in our apartment, singing praise choruses in Spanish and reflecting on scripture and trying to understand God’s purpose and timing for our lives at that time.
I know I am a person who likes to have things under control, to know what is going to happen when. I wonder how many times I have missed a blessing because of this characteristic. Solomon also wrote in Ecclesiastes verse 11 of Chapter 3, “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time.” May you and I both know and appreciate the beauty of God’s timing in 2018.
Fifty years ago on a cold winter day in blustery snow country, in God’s presence Lloyd and I exchanged wedding vows. Two became as one flesh growing closer to each other during fifty years. We were blessed by two beautiful girls Karen and Vicki and have formed many special memories.
We travelled to Europe with Vicki and Karen urged her father to make his first trip to the Dominican Republic. In the 30 years that followed that trip, we have ministered together leading mission teams and working in the Dominican Republic in Mexico. Joint ministry has blessed us and drawn us closer to each other. We have made wonderful friends both here and in Mexico. While we have no grandchildren here, there are many who call us mother or father or grandpa in Mexico and the Dominican. We were padrinos at two marriages in the Dominican Republic and have the privilege of being godparents to several children. A special memory we share is the wedding of Vicki and Dave which took place on the Duc d’Orleans boat out of Sarnia. I was especially blessed to officiate that wedding. Dave and Vicki are very central to our lives and Lloyd stops by often to have coffee with Dave.
Rosario, who spent two months with us this fall, commented that Lloyd was my right hand and it is so true. During my surgeries – two total knee replacements – I come to appreciate even more Lloyd’s love shown in helping me with therapy, doing the household chores when I could not. I thank God for giving me Lloyd as a loving husband and for shaping our lives so that we could become more united each year.
We began travelling to the Dominican twice a year occasionally accompanying a team or assisting other Canadian churches to establish ministry in new locations. As an ordained pastor I was privileged to serve communion in small rural churches. (A Canadian brother in Christ blessed us and the church in Navas with a set of beautiful handcrafted communion set.)
Lloyd continued to tell balloons stories and often when I rose after his story telling he was a hard act to follow. We had a wonderful surprise and blessing when the children in one church took on the roles of Lloyd and I and built on Lloyd’s balloon story of Zacchaeus. The boy used Lloyd’s exact phrasing when a balloon broke in the middles of telling a story. Then, a young girl mimicked the way I start to preach by opening her bible and reading the passage for the message.
Our ministry changed again and mentoring and listening to pastors became a major part of our ministry. Lloyd taught the importance of accounting and documenting expenditures. When he preaches, he focuses on 3 types of giving: the tithe, an offering and a gift. We developed workshops again – this time on Christian finances and budgeting and I presented workshops on leadership development and a type of evangelism which is natural and relational. Long conversations with pastors about their frustrations and challenges were very much appreciated.
One thing has remained constant through thirty years. The reason for being on a mission experience is to enable others to hear the story of Christ’s offer of salvation.
While backyard VBS with a variety of techniques such as puppets, clowns, Veggie Tales with a Bob and a Larry in costume was a big part of the first decade of ministry teaching others to do the ministry became a focus of the second decade. Dominicans became part of each ministry team.
We offered a series of workshops for leaders including balloon workshops, activities and crafts ideas. At the request of the denomination’s leadership, we wrote Sunday School material for people of all ages and then travelled all the districts of the country with the books. These books were printed and published in the Dominican Republic and offered as resources at fantastic prices. This ministry was also one of equipping as after two years Dominicans began producing their own Sunday School material again. Another year we offered a ministry called, Tio’s store. The store had a variety of materials used for children and women’s crafts and ideas for the using the material in crafts –things like construction paper, scissors, pencils, glue and yarn, crochet hooks, ribbon etc. The store travelled to several churches in the north of the Dominican
This phase of ministry was carried out by Lloyd and I with two Dominican pastors and not by teams from Canada. The travel required longer stays in the Dominican and we often spent 2- 3 months at a time in the country. It was exciting to see others pick up ideas and do the ministry on their own.
The next blog talks about the last decade of ministry.
Our ministry to the Dominican Republic covers a thirty year span and much has changed while some things remain the same. What started out as a trip to Haiti ended up after three changes as a week spent in Esperanza working on the roof of the Esperanza Free Methodist Church located on the main street. One of the biggest tasks was the bending of reinforcing bar. The team worshipped daily with the congregation in a gazebo in the back yard of a church member. There was lots of singing, children’s time with kids on a bench at the other end of the yard. Esperanza means hope in Spanish and hope was evident and the Holy Spirit was very much present with the team.
Early in the week, the team met a small boy dressed only with a pair of shoes and was told that he belonged in the orphanage. When the team visited the orphanage, they were shocked by the conditions: no sheets or pillows, a shower area behind a sheet of tin. Thirty nine children and staff were fed for a month with $125. For a number of years members of team tried to improve conditions at the orphanage by bringing suitcases of clothing, holding a VBS program there and putting a roof on a building to serve as a dormitory, putting up hooks for clothing and rewiring to provide more light. At the orphanage, the first team met Idelsa, a singer who came to Canada a year later and recorded a tape which enabled her to become independent in her music ministry.
Many lasting relationships were made. Idelsa is now a pastor in the United States. Bolivar who worked in the office at the orphanage helped with those early services in the Esperanza church and is still serving as a pastor now in Santo Domingo. Lloyd, one of the original team members, has returned many times, working first in construction but later in children’s ministry. Getting shoes shined by young boys, sharing pop with the boys who watched the construction and handing out candy were part of the unofficial ministry. One man’s shoes changed colour during the shoe shine. As teams came to know the needs and speak Spanish, the focus was more clearly evangelistic. Vacation Bible schools took place in back yards, in the streets.
More about the progression of ministry in the next two blogs.
Front yards are being transformed with nativity scenes, snowmen and Santa Clauses. Doorways with wreaths, pine branches, lights and/or ribbons etc. invite people to enter and be part of fellowship at Christmas. Tall red candles shine out from the apartment building across the parking lot from us and our building is lit up with the words “Season’s Greetings.” Other doorways suggest a quiet elegance or a peaceful presence. People are drawn to the welcome these festive decorations suggest.
It is easy to imagine the decorated trees inside, gifts under a tree and family and friends gathered to share a feast of turkey and all the trimmings. I wonder how many homes have an advent wreath and candles and a daily reading of scripture as they approach the celebration of Christmas and Christ’s birth.
I remember a stained glass window in the church I attended as a child. Jesus, with a lamp in one hand, stands knocking at the door. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my (Jesus’) voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Will Jesus receive a warm welcome at your home this Christmas? Will you welcome him as you sit to enjoy all the treats of a Christmas meal? He came as a baby at Christmas to bring you’re the most precious gift of all – salvation. He came because God loved us beyond anything we can understand. Open the door of your heart and welcome Christ in your Christmas.