Daughters of the King: Mission Trip to Honduras

God gave me an idea and a nudge at a meeting of the Daughters of the King Province III board last year.  I should invite those present to join me on a mission to Honduras.  Carol White from the Diocese of Southern Virginia accepted the invitation followed by Joyce Frenz from my own chapter at St. John’s, Franklin.  It wasn’t long before her husband Randall, a Lutheran pastor, signed on as well.  We had a team!

I now marvel at the path we took to get to Danli, Honduras.  We were four individuals answering a call but really not sure what God was calling us to do.  We sometimes wandered off the path and I was reminded of Proverbs 3:5-6, Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

A mission trip was not new to me – I had accompanied my husband numerous times on his veterinary mission trips, but this time I would be leading a team with a very different mission.  Lord, what would you have me do?  My husband’s veterinary team was working with SAMS missionary Jeannie Loving, who just happened to be a Daughter of the King.  We communicated with her and after much correspondence, prayer, and a shared daily devotional, God guided us to a plan: a quiet day, a Bible study, and a service project.  It was a very ambitious plan that would require money for materials, interpreters, and in-country transportation for us and the participants.  We applied for and received a generous grant from the National Daughters of the King Self-Denial Fund to cover those expenses.  God gave us the plan and provided the means.  Now we had to trust Him to show us the how.

Ten months later, February 10, 2017, we finally arrived in Honduras.   The first task was to organize our service project.  Our plan was to assemble and distribute mother/baby kits to the public health clinics.  In Honduras, any woman going to the hospital or clinic to deliver her baby is required to bring with her a shirt, cap, socks, receiving blanket and two diapers for the baby and two sanitary napkins and an adult diaper for her.  Many families earn an average of only $20 a month and it can be a real hardship to procure these items.  We had brought with us more than 200 each of baby onesies, hats and pairs of socks donated by individuals in the US.  With the help of local Daughters, we packed all the required items in a 2 ½ gallon zip lock bag.  We included a card written in Spanish stating this kit was from Honduran and US Daughters of the King who were praying for the mother and baby.  These same Daughters accompanied us to the clinics to deliver the kits.  At one clinic, the doctor in charge clapped his hands and exclaimed he was so thrilled it gave him goosebumps.  He ushered us into a room where two very young women had just delivered babies.  We prayed with the new mothers and handed each of them a kit.  Priceless.

Extra baby items and cash to purchase diapers, etc. were left with the local Daughters of the King so they could continue with this project.

Meanwhile Pastor Randall met with ten women for a Bible study.   They came from four different Episcopal churches and some had ridden about an hour on a non-air-conditioned bus  to get there.  They were attentive, inquisitive and faithful in attendance.  We left extra study books for these women to lead Bible studies in their home parishes.

The main event was our Quiet Day which was attended by more than 50 women and about a dozen children.  The morning program was a series of songs and scripture readings with intervals of silent meditation.  After lunch, we opened with a guided meditation followed by a service to admit nine new Daughters of the King to the Order.  A celebration of Holy Eucharist closed out a beautiful, spirit filled day.  It was a great day in the Kingdom!

I had a vision but I never envisioned the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us.  We hope by reading this you will be inspired to step out in faith to do a mission at home or abroad.

Kathy Paulo is a member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin, PA, and has been a member of the Daughters of the King since 2005. 

Local church to host ‘blessing box’ with donations

This article first appeared in the Bradford Era on May 19, 2017. 

By KATE DAY SAGER
The Bradford Era

Era photo by Kate Day Sager

On any given Sunday, needy people stop by the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Chautauqua Place in Bradford with the hope there will be food to spare.

Consequently, when the Rev. Stacey Fussell, rector of Ascension, learned Amanda Kemick and Stacy Wallace needed a venue for their new Blessing Box, she volunteered outdoor space at the church for the project.

The Blessing Box, which was installed near the church parking lot on Mother’s Day, sits atop a pole several feet high. Inside the unlocked box are canned and boxed foods stocked by parishioners and community residents. All food items in the box are free for the taking.

Kemick, a stay-at-home mom, said she and Wallace, an attorney, came up with the Blessing Box idea last fall after viewing a post on Facebook.

“Many of our friends on Facebook expressed interest and support of the idea,” Kemick recalled. “We began with the construction of two boxes” after funding was provided by two private donors.

Kemick said they contacted Scott Oxley, carpentry teacher at Bradford Area High School, for help. When they asked Oxley if the students could construct two boxes similar to what was seen online, he agreed and asked only that materials be provided.

The first box was installed Sunday at the church by Kemick and Wallace’s husbands, Donny and Curt, respectively.

“Stacy and I both have children and it was a great experience for them to help install and put food in the first box,” Kemick said. “On the box we put, ‘Give what you can, take what you need.’ “It is our hope that anyone in need — a hungry child or a mother who doesn’t have time to get to the grocery store — can stop and take what is needed.”

She said the blessing box is not limited to food, as donations of personal hygiene items and baby products are also acceptable.

In explaining the notion behind the blessing box, Wallace said it is intended to bless all people with food and items, regardless of class.

“I know some people do not want to take something for nothing, so if you see something there you need, take it and put something else in — like a barter system,” Wallace explained.

She said the hope is the boxes will be replenished by the community. As a backup measure, one or two groups from the community will be assigned to stock the boxes, as needed.

Suggested store-bought items for the box include canned foods, dry cereal or other dry items  such as pasta and rice. Small clothing items that include new packages of underwear, socks or gloves, are also acceptable donations.

Fussell said initial food items stocked in the box, that included small canned hams, were taken. They were quickly replenished with other food, however. She said the supplies will likely be appreciated by people in the neighborhood which is close to housing projects.

“From our standpoint, it is not uncommon to have folks come by the church on a Sunday afternoon and say ‘I don’t have any food in my house,’” Fussell remarked. “Ascension doesn’t keep a stocked food pantry” and none of the other pantries are open on Sunday.

“This will help if you’re in a bind,” she continued. “It really is the hope that people will restock it.”

In making a final comment, Kemick said their greatest hope is that by next winter a local agency or private business will offer to house a blessing box inside its doors.

“Our outdoor blessing boxes will get less use in the winter due to foot traffic and the practicality of food storage, yet we could use blessings year round,” she said.

Kemick said there is another blessing box ready to be installed, but a location hasn’t been determined. She said a church or organization that can ensure the box will stay filled would be preferable. Kemick said they have plans to make additional boxes in the future.

For more information on the blessing boxes, contact Kemick or Wallace via Facebook or call Wallace at Hamlin Bank and Trust Company at 887-5555.

Something of Eternal Value

Each year, the clergy of the diocese gather in late February for a pre-Lenten retreat. It’s a time of reflection and fellowship and learning. Several years ago, our retreat focused on the mission of the Church. We had presentations from a consultant who works with non-profit agencies using business models and asked us to consider our work in those terms as well. We know the church isn’t a business in the traditional sense, but there is no reason that we can’t use tools from that world to be more effective in our work for the Kingdom.

I was particularly struck by her insistence that successful organizations have clarity of purpose and understanding of what their “product” is. In church terms, the question relates to what the purpose or goal of our evangelism is. What are we inviting people to? Are we trying to sell them on our way of worship? Are we trying to get them to join our church the same way other folks might try to get them to join the Bradford Club or Kiwanis? I’m afraid sometimes churches have engaged in evangelism with those very things in mind.

As much as I balk at the idea of “selling” in connection with faith, I realize that if we must use those terms then I wanted to be sure that we are offering something of eternal value. The purpose of our evangelism, of our inviting others to join us in our faith journey, must be no less than to invite them to have their lives transformed by a relationship with Jesus Christ.

As Episcopalians, we believe that the best place to encounter Christ is in community through worship and the sacraments. Our evangelism focuses on calling others into relationship with our church family so that they may share with us in being transformed through a relationship with Jesus. We are not perfect people – we can’t claim perfection in worship or fellowship or discipleship. If all we have to offer is ourselves then we really won’t be terribly successful. But if we remember that we are offering so much more – a priceless treasure, the very Living Water that Christ pours out on us and through us – then we indeed have a “product” that everyone we encounter longs for.

As we move through this Lent toward Easter joy, may we be ever aware of the precious gift we have to share and re-commit ourselves to boldly offering it to others – not for our own, but for Christ’s sake.

The Rev. Stacey Fussell is Rector of Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Bradford. 

Congratulations, Father Timothy!

Congratulations to Father Timothy Dyer of the Episcopal Mission of Warren County on his ordination this past Sunday, December 11th!

Photos of the ordination can be seen below, and full video of the service is available here.  God’s blessing on your ministry, Fr. Timothy.

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Giving Thanks – St. James’ Community Soup Kitchen

img_1709-478x640If you drive through Titusville on a Tuesday morning just before lunch time, you may notice how busy the corner of Main Street and Franklin Avenue is compared to the rest of town. Cars line the edge of the roadway, and people walking singly or in groups of three or four make their way down the sidewalk towards the doors of the St. James Parish Hall. Outside the hall a white sign proclaims “St. James Community Soup Kitchen Today 12 – 1 pm. All are Welcome!”

All are indeed welcome to this particularly busy ministry of St. James, as I came to find out. I spoke with Eda Scales and Noni Stanford, two of the soup kitchen coordinators, last Tuesday as they were preparing to serve over 200 people for the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Even though I arrived at 11 am, well before the usual serving hour, most of the tables in the hall were already full of people chatting and having steaming cups of coffee, enjoying each other’s company and relaxing before the beginning of the meal. Volunteers zipped back and forth, topping up glasses and making last minute preparations, but everyone I passed had enough time to smile and say hello as they went about the business of Thanksgiving dinner.
The food program at St. James has been running continuously since 2001, serving hot meals once a week to anyone who drops in. The first few dinners had perhaps a dozen people in attendance, but numbers have increased steadily to the point that on any given Tuesday there are img_1706-640x478at least a hundred people in and out of St. James’ hall, sharing a meal and fellowship (and double that for the Thanksgiving celebration).  Volunteer participation is both ecumenical and community-oriented: at least four churches in the area send helpers to aid the St. James’ crew, and they are often joined by women from the St. James House – a shelter program run by the local YWCA that is housed in the old church rectory. On the few occasions when Canon Martha Ishman is unable to attend dinners, Pastor Terry Brown of the Methodist church in Enterprise gives the blessing before the meal.

The program was given a jumpstart in its early days with a grant from the Diocese, but between donations from parishioners and support from local groups and businesses like Northwest Hardwoods, the VFW, United Way, and a partnership with the Second Harvest Food Bank, the soup kitchen ministry is now self-sufficient and able to provide hot meals and groceries for people in and around the Titusville area. It is also one of the only regularly scheduled soup kitchens in the area that doesn’t charge a fee for the meal. Eda pointed out to me that not only does the program meet financial, social, and spiritual needs for attendees in general, it is particularly valuable to people with special circumstances: the working poor, people on fixed incomes or Social Security, and others who may not qualify for assistance programs, but still find themselves in need. There are no qualifiers to participate in the food ministry, and everything is on the honor system – if someone says they have a need, they may receive.

The program also encompasses the God’s Abundance Cupboard food pantry, which began on an emergency basis whenever the church was open, and has since grown so that there are now twice-monthly scheduled pickup days where families can come and get a bag of groceries including fruit, cereal, soup, vegetables, and (thanks to a grant from Giant Eagle) two packages of frozen meat. The food pantry now gives out approximately 70 bags of groceries each pickup day.
The financial benefit of the meals and grocery donations is readily evident when you see the number of people who participate in the program. As I walked around the tables and chatted with people the social and spiritual benefits made themselves known. For many of the attendees, the soup kitchen is about much more than a hot meal – it’s an important social space, and a church outside of church. From Noni: img_1689-599x640“If you miss a week or something, they ask ‘where were you last week?’ They feel like this is their church, even if they don’t all come on Sundays.” It’s obvious that the people visiting last Tuesday felt at home. Chatter passed back and forth between people and tables with a familiarity that only comes from regular interaction. I sat down near the kitchen to chat with one young woman and her 14-month old daughter, and she mentioned that she was there because her parents came regularly. Her father was seated further down the table, and he introduced me to his wife, one of his cousins, and another relative (who was one of the volunteers, and not able to sit with them as he was working). He said how much they appreciate the church, and his wife jumped in to tell me a story about how one of the previous priests, after seeing that she had been crying at one of the meals, was able to get them help that saved them from being evicted from their home. Both volunteers and people sitting at tables stopped me as I walked around and asked if I needed a seat or a plate, and there wasn’t a single table where someone didn’t have a story or a joke to share (or a groan about the upcoming snow in the weather forecast). As Eda had said while we talked, “you see the face of God in everyone around the tables.” If the smiles on the faces of the volunteers are any indication, they receive as much joy in giving as the attendees do in receiving.

Noni walked by with a large tray filled with slices of pumpkin pie, signaling an end to the first wave of dining, and I waved goodbye and worked my way back through the tables towards the exit. Knots of people who had finished eating or were waiting for spaces to open up at the tables stood in the entry hall and outside on the sidewalk, and several folks wished me a happy holiday as I zipped up my jacket and headed down the street.

I walked out the doors of the hall that day far more uplifted in spirit than I had been prior to arriving. The weather may be getting colder and the days shorter, but God’s presence in this ministry will continue warming hearts throughout western PA’s people for hopefully many years to come.

Megin Sewak, Communications Specialist for the Diocese of Northwestern PA

God Gave the Growth – Church Planting in the Episcopal Church

God Gave the Growth: A Book Review

growthAs our diocese has embarked on its first new church plant in decades, many of us may have questions: Why do we need to plant churches when so many churches around us are failing? What would an Episcopal Church plant look like?  What would it take to help a new church succeed?

These questions, and many others, are answered in Susan Brown Snook’s book, God Gave the Growth: Church Planting in the Episcopal Church.  Susan Brown Snook is the rector of Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, Arizona, a church that she planted in 2006.  She is also a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council and a founder and steering committee member of the Acts 8 Movement.  (Disclaimer: I work with Susan on the Acts 8 Movement and am in her Doctor of Ministry cohort at Virginia Theological Seminary.)

God Gave the Growth’s first section deals with the basic issues concerning church planting, including specifics about church planting in the Episcopal Church. Two chapters provide reasons for planting new churches, including the ways that new plants can benefit existing churches.  Then the book looks at types and models of church planting, including a discussion of the need to continue doing traditional church plants.

The second section deals with factors promoting church planting success.  Here Susan addresses topics including important characteristics of church planters, discerning a new plant’s mission, the formation of a leadership team, methods of evangelistic community outreach, the launch, the formation of disciples, the worship facility, and finances and stewardship.  Susan’s final section provides wisdom and counsel for diocesan and church leaders who want to see successful new churches planted in their dioceses.  Without the vision and support of current established churches, new plants are much less likely to succeed.

While God Gave the Growth is contains needed statistics, models, principles and explanations concerning different aspects of church planting, part of the book’s strength comes from extended quotations from various Episcopal church planters.  Throughout the book, we hear elements of Susan’s own story, but we also hear stories of Episcopal church planters who have started churches in a working class area in Georgia, in a wealthy area of Los Angeles, with the homeless, with Latino communities, and in other contexts.  We also hear from Bishop Andy Doyle of Texas, whose diocese has planted numerous churches in recent years, and other Episcopal Church leaders.

Overall, God Gave the Growth is a helpful and inspirational book for anyone interested in learning more about church planting in the Episcopal church.  It is an especially important book for our Diocese at this time.

The Rev. Adam Trambley is rector at St. John’s, Sharon. 

A Different Way to Pray: Prayer Arbor at the Cathedral

When you close your eyes and think of the word “prayer,” what do you see? People kneeling, their hands folded, silently sharing their concerns with God? A congregation saying The Lord’s Prayer together on Sunday morning?  What about… ribbons?

img_0685If you walk past the front of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie this week, your eyes are bound to stray to the wood arbor out front, covered with white ribbons that flap in the autumn breeze. If your curiosity gets the better of you and you step up for a closer look, you’ll see that each ribbon is inscribed with an individual’s prayer, hundreds of prayers, written down and tied carefully to the wire framework inside the arbor itself.

AJ Noyes, the Program Associate for the Cathedral, originally presented the idea of the Prayer Arbor to the Cathedral Chapter in the spring. She was inspired by another prayer installation called “Knotted Grotto” by Meg Saligman in Philadelphia, Prayer Trees, and her own artistic leanings (she has a Bachelor’s degree in art). “My position here at the Cathedral gives me the opportunity to be creative, but I’ve wanted to do an installation piece for years,” she says.

The Chapter was very receptive to the idea, and Dean Downey suggested that the arbor be focused on the city of Erie, given the current issues with homelessness, school closings and budget deficits, and other concerns.

img_0418After AJ worked out the initial concept for the installation, Cathedral sexton Terry Bishop took on the task of building the arbor and placing it on the Cathedral lawn. The Arbor was introduced on June 26, and, that Sunday morning, the congregation was asked to add requests to the arbor during the Prayers of the People.

Since then people in and outside the church have taken advantage of the Prayer Arbor to either add prayers, or to take time to pray for the concerns already listed. The Vine youth group and their parents have added prayers, and a contingent from the Cathedral took ribbons and information to the National Night Out at Gridley Park in early August.  AJ relayed that, “Many people – especially children – took the time to write out a prayer and then we hung their ribbons on the arbor the next day.”

img_0682The goal of the Arbor, besides being a vessel for prayer, is to reach out to the community. The Cathedral emphasizes that the Arbor is open to people of all ages, conditions, and faiths, and it has drawn people from the Erie community who may not otherwise have been aware of the Episcopal Church. Some of our diocesan clergy have noted the effect of the Arbor:

 “A student of mine stopped into my office earlier this fall to say that he was walking down West 6th street, and noticed the Prayer Arbor in front of the cathedral. While he said that he wouldn’t normally have noticed anything like that or taken the time to investigate, something about the way the ribbons caught the wind caught his interest. He stepped up the stairs to the arbor level, and stepped in. He found himself compelled to read the various intentions that were tied there, and even found himself praying for the individuals who wrote them and the hopes that they had. He was surprised to find that almost fifteen minutes had passed while he was engaged in the structure and its intention. This is just one wonderful example of how the Prayer Arbor had facilitated this moment of prayer in this rather unlikely pilgrim.” – the Rev. Shawn Clerkin

img_0689“A few months ago, I was visiting a patient, someone I’d never met before, in the hospital. He asked which church I was from. When I replied the Cathedral of St. Paul across from the Court House, he said “Oh, I live a few blocks from there and walk my dog past it every day! You have that ribbon sculpture out front; what’s that about?” “It’s a Prayer Arbor! As followers of Christ, we’re called to be people of prayer, reconciliation and hope in His redeeming love right here, where we’re planted.”  I watched his face fill with awe and excitement as he exclaimed, “You mean I could go in, get a ribbon, write my prayer for the community and put it on the Arbor?! What a wonderful idea, why aren’t we all doing this?” This gentleman is a member of another denomination and church in the downtown neighborhood. And, yes, his prayer really is fluttering in the breeze on the Prayer Arbor.

 “Riding hospital elevators as I visit patients, I frequently am asked what I do and where I serve as a clergy person. In the past few months when I say “St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral, across from the Court House”, someone will usually ask about “that house thing” out in front of the church. Inevitably, there’s “wow”, “neat” & “you mean ANY one can write a prayer?” when I explain the Prayer Arbor. Sometimes, I even hear “Why aren’t we ALL doing that?” Indeed. I wonder how many of those fluttering prayers might be from someone in that elevator.”  – the Rev. Kathleen Ziegenhine

 The prayers will remain on the Prayer Arbor until November 6. There will be a Choral Evensong that evening at 5 pm at the Cathedral, at which time the ribbons will be removed and distributed to the attendees for the service, then archived. All are invited to attend.

There are many ways to pray, and many ways to share the love of God – even with something as simple as a piece of ribbon.

Megin Sewak is Communications Specialist for the Diocese of NWPA. 

‘Planting’ Hope for the Future at Buhl Day

Buhl Day (the annual Labor Day celebration held in Hermitage, PA) was a success for the diocese’s newest church plant in more ways than one.  The church’s food stand, besides being a great fundraising opportunity, brought together people from eight different congregations all over the diocese to work and reach out to the community and each other. Good food, good fun, and building relationships while helping to further the Kingdom of God – the definition of One Church at work. It was definitely a Great Day in the Kingdom!

Read on for some personal reflections on the day:

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“In the beginning of Buhl Day there is a parade that local residents are excited to attend; giving us time to prepare before the rush.  I had helped prepare for this in the two days prior, but I was getting pumped on what was to come. Eventually, after getting everything ready and seeing more people arrive to help, we got customers. The crowd did not seem as big as usual, but we had a steady amount of people buying things. It was time to roll and perform my duties, alongside others who were working diligently.

There was a fantastic amount of people there helping, so I found I could sit and actually take a break – something that I and  others that had worked at this booth on Buhl Day in the past had not experienced too often. Finally after smelling the sandwiches being prepared all morning, I enjoyed one myself.

photo-sep-05-10-47-30-amAt one point I was standing outside the booth to help direct people, and I looked at all the people inside the booth.  Seven churches and the new Episcopal church plant all gathered together for this one goal.  Everyone was at a station talking amongst themselves.  There were so many there, you could find someone to talk to.  It was good to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, and meet new ones throughout the NWPA diocese, including Canon Martha and Bishop Sean.  The feeling of “one church” was clearly evident.

As the day was winding down, we counted down things that were close to being sold out.  After the last kielbasa was sold, we shouted a loud “Amen” that caughtphoto-sep-05-10-14-43-am the attention of those nearby. Seeing the Bishop work in the different sections was such a pleasure, especially when he was a cashier talking to the customers.  We talked, laughed and maybe even sang and danced with others there feeling the energy flowing throughout the place.  To the bittersweet end where we tore down everything, I couldn’t have imagined things going too much better. I left feeling proud of all the accomplishments this day had made, and was glad that I was involved and witnessed something that wondrous.

In the amazement of how everything went, I think, as a new Episcopal church we are ready to tackle anything that comes our way. The support and thankfulness we felt with all the other people of the churches in the diocese is overwhelming. Together, I believe, that since we got through this, then we can get through many things our church will face. I, as well as others, are very hopeful for the future. ”  Laura Betz, Hermitage Church Plant


Pastor Jason Shank, Hermitage Church Plant

Gold Medal Ministry – the VBS Olympics

Creating a Vacation Bible School from scratch may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love it! It is an opportunity to flex my creative muscles and work with some pretty fantastic people. It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the idea of creating my own VBS by Pr. Joie Baker while working with the churches in Sharon and Hermitage. There has been no looking back.

In my last four summers with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Fairview, our VBS participants have been superheroes, spies, sailors, and Olympians. This being an Olympic summer, it only made sense to link this great DSC_9851world-wide tradition with stories from the Bible. Using the values of the Olympics and Paralympics – friendship, respect, equality, courage, inspiration, excellence, and determination –  each day we explored them within the stories of Ruth and Naomi, the Good Samaritan, David and Goliath, Nehemiah, and the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The themes are highlighted in a rotation of daily activities: music, science/art, storytelling/snack, and games. We keep our VBSers and volunteers busy the entire two and a half hours they are here.

It is quite amazing to see God at work in this ministry over the last few years, guiding us in steady growth. In 2013,DSC_0368 we hosted 27 children and about 13 volunteers. This summer, we hosted 55 children and had 27 volunteers! It is
hard to find the words to express the amazing community that continues to be built around this ministry. We see many of the same families, as well as meet new ones, and it is so much fun to watch the children grow from year to year.

I will be honest, as I really started thinking about VBS back in April, my biggest concern was not having enough volunteers for the number of children that I anticipated. It is all well and good to have an influx of children, but you absolutely need the adults to match it. I was overwhelmed by the response to my plea for volunteers from around our St. Stephen’s community. We had members of the church, Nursery School teachers, parents, grandparents, and teens offer to share their gifts with us for the week.  It was a comfort to know that we could handle a significant amount of kids in a fun and safe environment.

DSC_0039Volunteers are the heart of this ministry and, I believe, are the reason for our success. Ministries within the church are about lifting up and sharing the gifts that God has given us for continual building of the Kingdom, which is something that I strive to do within a VBS program. Being able to mold your program to the strengths of the volunteers is one of the benefits of creating your own program. The volunteers have just as much fun as the children who participate. And in the end, VBS is truly a team effort.

While much of our program remains the same, we are constantly evaluating it and finding ways to improve. One of the things that I am already thinking about for next summer is how to accommodate further growth. There is always something to adjust from year to year, but that is part of the fun!

Vacation Bible School is a great ministry that all churches can offer. It is a DSC_9741wonderful way to engage both the church and the wider community. It also brings a wide range of ages together to learn and share with each other about the love of Christ. As I said before, I love Vacation Bible School. It is an important and worthwhile ministry that I am always happy to talk about and share with others.

Missy Greene Christian Formation Associate at St. Stephen’s, Fairview

Wrap-Up Post from the DR Mission Team

‘I would like to see Senor Hidalgo.’ This is how my morning begins on Saturday: with an inquiry to see the customs official at the Santiago airport. I’m shown into a small office with dingy lights, one high-heeled shoe lying ominously next to the metal-framed desk. A previous misadventure with customs? I briefly contemplate what my Brooks sneaker would look like next to it, before snapping out of it. I’m never very rational or clear-headed at 3:30am.

Hidalgo appears, in his official uniform, with a ring of keys. ‘You’re here too early.’ He says, looking only briefly at the carbon form in my hands, while unlocking a door to a larger room where I glimpse the two bags that are my reason for being here. With the dim lights and the carbon paper and the suspense, I really feel like I’m in a film noir set in 1940. ‘Too early?’ I reply back, really not liking where this seems to be leading. I want the two bags of our 640 pairs of glasses to take back to America, and I want them now, not later. Who knows what the line is like at immigration? ‘You must wait,’ he says. That’s when I wish it were a movie, because then I’d be some super cool CIA person with karate skills and the ability to teach Hidalgo a real lesson. Instead, I’m a puny priest with no real arm muscles and only a passing knowledge of Spanish.

‘No. No. I’m not waiting. We are not too early; your airport website says arrive 3 hours early. I am taking the glasses. I am going to Delta. You can come with me, but I am going. Now. Right now.’ At least that is what I think I said- this is all happening in Spanish- in my most defiant tone with blazing eyes. A long pause, hands on my hips; heart beats shallow, anger pulsing behind my eyes as I try to think of my next move, but I can’t because it is 3:30am, and I’ve not had any coffee.

Then he looks at the man with him, in a regular button-down shirt, round faced and younger. A decision is made as they point me to the door and grab the cart with the glasses. I become the ringleader of a parade through the outdoor airport, complete with a giant cart holding the big black bags and two customs officials. They escort me to the Delta check-in and wait with me until I check the glasses, procuring copies of my tickets and baggage tags before giving me a stack of stapled papers they assure me I’ll need in the US, which I put away because no one in the US cares about 640 pairs of glasses, all looking like they came from 1982. Only Hidalgo cared.

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And that is probably the only ‘rational’ explanation for why our vision clinic never happened this past week. Let me be clear: no one we worked with anticipated any trouble. The company from whom we rented the equipment and bought the glasses sends teams all over the world- often to the DR- with little trouble; the American missionary in the DR, who plans our trip, works with teams that do vision clinics and has never encountered an issue. The priest at Christo Salvador also did not anticipate this problem. Over the course of the week, Father Hipolito made repeated phone calls and visits to the airport; the diocese involved their government liaison. Despite having the paperwork all finished on Wednesday, customs refused to give the glasses back. I feel quite relieved even to have received them back to take home.

The losers in this are the people of the barrio where we work. They were signed up for appointments. The last day, a little girl asked Tina about glasses; it was the worst feeling in the world to say ‘no, no glasses.’ I have sent scans of the paperwork I received back to the missionary in the DR to try and get an answer, but I remain unsure whether we will have an answer. By no means was the week a waste of time, but this was undeniably disappointing. We will do our best to figure out what went wrong and make an informed decision about next year.

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In wrapping up this blog, I would like to extend an enormous ‘thank you’ to those who kept us in your prayers and to the churches and individuals who supported us financially. Without the assistance and commitment of our sponsors, we could not have gone. The team is grateful for their support of this ‘one church’ endeavor that grows the kingdom and changes lives.

– Melinda Hall