The Gift of Presence
For nearly two weeks, those of us in the Saint Paul Area Synod have been blessed by the presence of ou[...]
In May 2016, eight members of Grace Lutheran Church of Apple Valley visited our partner congregation in Santa Elena 20 de Octubre, northwest of Coban near the Mexico border. This was our congregation's fifth visit but it would be special: we were there to participate in the dedication of a new church building. On our first visit in 2010, we hiked over three miles in sweltering heat to meet the people in a very small village. We found out how much we had in common, especially our shared faith in Christ, and began to hear about their dreams: health, harmony in their congregation, a permanent church building to replace a small, wooden one with dirt floors, and amplifiers for their guitars. On subsequent visits we saw improvements in the village and progress in realizing their dreams; by 2013, we could take the van into the village and the congregation had picked a site for the new church. We found out that building projects in rural Guatemala aren't done the way they are here but an agreement was reached that Grace would help the Santa Elena congregation build the church.
As our van entered the village, I was anxious to see if the new building had been painted white. It was and in the bright sun it shone like a jewel in the green jungle! Of course, there were joyful greetings and wonderful activities with the kids that afternoon. The dedication service was scheduled for the next day at 11 in the morning. When we arrived at 9, the festivities had already begun. The visiting band was already playing loud, joyful music, truly La Fiesta del Señor! Just before the service started, everyone left the church and the doors were locked. Pastoras Karen and Esther Castillo from ILAG, along with Pastor John Matthews from Grace, began the entrance liturgy that included a ribbon cutting. The doors were opened and all the people entered with joyous singing. What followed was a long and spirit-filled service with dedications, liturgies, a sermon by Pastor John, baptisms, communion, thanksgivings and more music. We spent the next day in the village visiting the school, going with Pastora Karen on home visits, and spending more time with the kids and the women. We attended the church council meeting where men expressed their thanksgiving for what we had done together and, once again, spoke of their dreams. We all gave thanks to God that, together, our congregations were both blessed by the completion of the church building. As for their other dreams, with ILAG we continue to help the people in Santa Elena with health and harmony issues. (We're thinking about guitars and amplifiers, too!)
Grace Lutheran Church
Apple Valley, Minnesota