How Would You Build a Bench?

Date posted: Tuesday 14 July 2015

At the end of June, seven people from Our Saviors Lutheran Church (OSLC) Circle Pines, MN, and three people from Messiah Lutheran Church in Decatur, GA, came together in Guatemala to visit OSLC's partner congregation ILA San Isidro Labrador (SIL), Nueva Guatemala, Sayaxché, Petén. This visit was OSLC's 7th visit, and for two of the three travelers from Messiah, it was their 1st visit to a rural ILAG congregation.


One of the activities we planned was assembling tables and benches for the community school, as it was a need expressed by leaders from SIL. During our travel up to the Petén, Pastor Steve Sylvester, Lead Pastor from OSLC, remembered a skit about two ways to build a bench that had been done by the OSLC planning council a few years back. The two ways are:


  1. Find, hire, and pay an expert craftsman to build a bench.
  2. Make it known that you need to build a bench and ask for volunteers to help with the project: volunteers to design the bench, gather supplies, assemble the bench, and finish the bench (being open to all volunteers: those with knowledge, skills, and/or tools and those who bring a willingness to learn)


At the end of the day, both approaches will yield a bench, but only one will also yield a community. We fully experienced the truth of this message on our trip not just in the actual act of physically building benches, but also in the way in which our combined groups became an extended community.


Prior to going, Pastor Bob Bear from Marietta, GA, drew up some plans for us; Dan Cafferty, a former delegation member from OSLC , worked on a supply list; and Pastor Terry Nordheim of Bethesda Lutheran in Inver Grove Heights, MN, inventoried the tools available at the Lutheran Center in Guatemala and tweaked some of the design and supply suggestions in accordance; the ILAG staff picked up the wood that we needed.


Once we arrived at the Lutheran Center, our delegation members along with Brayan and Israel (from ILAG) spent a day cutting, sanding, and prepping the wood. Then we headed to the community. First, we built a bench to serve as a model for the rest of the benches and the tables. Once the sample was done, the men worked together and made 6 sturdy tables and 11 more benches. More importantly they built a community made up of men from the Petén, Guatemala City, MN and GA.


Relationship and community building went beyond the construction project. It was our intention to connect with the whole SIL congregation: men, women, and children. This objective could not be met by one single group leader; it required the input of many. Melissa Moody (from GA) led a "Days for Girls" sewing project in which the older girls and women made sustainable, re-usable personal hygiene products.


During activities with the children, Juli and Sheryl from OSLC, Tegan from GA, and Valeria (Pastor Karen's daughter), taught some craft projects and games. Chase, Brady, and Charlie (our three high school youth) learned how to play "Corta el Pastel" (cut the cake) from the children in the village and they, in turn, introduced the Guatemalan children and youth to lacrosse and ultimate Frisbee.


During worship we all shared together the celebration of our shared sacraments: communion (there were three first communions) and baptism (there were five baptisms).


At the end of our time together, the tangible results of collaboration were obvious (benches, craft projects, days for girls kits) as were the intangible results (friendship, mutual respect, shared memories co-created stories, relationships, and community).


We look forward to our next visit when we can deepen our relationship and create more community memories.


Deanine Mann
Our Savior's Lutheran
Circle Pines, MN