words by chris
We gingerly stepped around the muck and puddles as we could. Elderly church ladies being assisted by all, trying not to have their heels sink into mud. The rain continued to pour, heavily, for 32 hours. Yet we all made it safely to Santo Domingo and the Covenant Camp here, delayed, wet, with stories of years and floods past. This past weekend was the annual national assembly for IPEE, and Friday night, though several hours delayed we gathered in dark suits, ties, and dresses to celebrate the graduation of 130 seminary students. Promptly…at 11 PM I took my place along other representatives and dignitaries invited by the seminary here to hand out diplomas, congratulate, and encourage men and women who have studied vigorously and travelled huge distances in order to complete their certificate program in theological leadership.
It was an international affair, with representatives from Sweden and our own regional coordinators Pia and Eugenio Restrepo from the United States present to celebrate in the festivities and observe the business of the church. But though they may have travelled from Europe or North America, I think more encouraging was the amount of students who passed forward at the hearing of their name from rural communities in the Quechua speaking district and Amazon district. These students have overcome great distances, differences in learning methods and knowledge sharing norms in order to continue their preparation as leaders of the church and communities.
The following Saturday night we gathered, delayed again, to celebrate the ordination of three pastors: Aurora, Miguel, and Moises. We sang and celebrated, prayed and encouraged; these three who have already given so many decades to the work of the church dedicated by the national assembly to serve with added responsibility.
Jenny and the kids were able to get a ride Saturday morning from our friends and colleagues Erik and Kristina. They explored the camp, saw the animals, saw Moises capture an iguana stuck in the trash pit. With new rubber boots they sloshed through camp, ate an inordinate amount of ice cream and chips from the new canteen, and chatted about life with pastors’ and missionary kids. Many friends who we have not seen for 5 years shocked at the sight of our little babies who have become a little man and woman.
Though things were often delayed, as is to be expected, overall the tenor and movement of the business of the church moved forward, as always with moments of contention and difficult dialogue, but a unified voice to move forward in the mission of the church to see Ecuador experience the Kingdom of God.
For us, one of the most encouraging connections made was with a major from the National Police of Ecuador, who alongside other police officers of faith had petitioned the ministry of the interior for a new initiative. Operation 303 is now an approved national initiative which allows officers to offer families involved in a domestic violence call to ask if the family members would like the assistance of a family pastor after processing. The police have identified their ability to respond and intervene, but need the assistance to have trained counselors and pastors available to these families for continued support and healing in emotional and spiritual wounds. The pastors and lay counselors who want to serve in this area will be able to register with their local precinct and receive further training for the program. This initiative coincides with the course we will be hosting here in March. An encouraging initiative in the midst of a difficult reality for so many families throughout the world.
This year brings many transitions. We ask for your thoughts and prayers as a major change of national leadership occurs. Our friend and colleague Henry Burbano steps down from his executive role after 10 years in the vice-presidency and presidency of the church here; a great relief to him and his family as he refocuses on local ministry and counseling again. We pray for Pastor Franklin Riera and the new administrative council as they transition into their new roles and responsibilities.
On a more personal level we said goodbye to our own mission president and fellow missionary Cheryll Clark as she departs for a year in the United States. Many jokes, quick words of wisdom, and encouragement as she tried to leave everything in order before she departed Tuesday. A major round of group hugs ensued before we left camp.
We reflect back on all the people we saw, the diverse communities and cultures represented from urban port cities on the Pacific, rural farmers from the coastal highlands and the extreme altitudes of the Andes, pastors in the midst of cultural change as youth leave their traditional indigenous villages to enter the congregations of pastors in the hustle and bustle of the city. It is in this gathering together we realize how each of us, with our gifts, talents, experiences and training, offer a valuable presence in this work and community we call the Kingdom of God. I am reminded of the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and do it very well.”