Hand in Hand Blog Digest

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Life-giving bread and water

Posted on December 27, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Kate Lawler and David Wunsch, who write here about Advent in Buenos Aires, are ELCA regional representatives in South America. To support them or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Our First Communion class, with David and Kate the bookends and Matthew in the middle.

Our First Communion class, with David and Kate the bookends and Matthew in the middle.

 

Even though this is our seventh Advent season in Argentina, we are still struck by how different it feels  from the Advent experiences we grew up with.  Global mission service is constantly dislodging our preconceived notions and unsettling us with new questions.  In South America, Advent comes to us in the ever longer, ever warmer days that announce that spring is turning into summer.  We are challenged to seek the meaning of Advent in symbols and sensations that are not the ones we are used to.  This year on the second Sunday of Advent we were called to reinterpret the symbols of bread and water during a morning of baptisms and First Communions (including our Matthew!) at our congregation here in Buenos Aires.  Among those receiving these sacraments were members of our community who live in an extremely marginalized neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.  Families in this community literally subsist on the refuse of the city by recycling cardboard and retrieving items from a nearby landfill.

As I witnessed the baptism and First Communion of young people who were born into a state of exclusion, the symbols of water and bread took on the meanings that these elements have in the lives of those who do not have access to clean drinking water and whose daily bread is not a certainty.  As a listened to the giggles provoked by baptismal water trickling down faces and saw the joyful anticipation of that first holy bread, I was unsettled by the questions that stirred within me.  What commitment are we making when we baptize into the Christian community members who do not have access to clean drinking water?  What do the words “the Body of Christ given for you” mean when we speak them to a person who may not eat anything else that day?

These are among the questions that accompany us during this Advent season.  While we are far from   having the answers, the image that guides our search is a baby in a manger. While our Advent journey in South America is filled with unsettling questions and symbols that call for constant reinterpretation, we give thanks for the new ways that they point us to the Christ child.  Whether you await Christ’s arrival during the long days of summer or the long nights of winter, we pray that you will join us in asking how together our Christian community can help fulfill Christ’s promise of cleansing water, wholesome bread and new life for all of humanity.

With Advent hope,
Kate Lawler and David Wunsch

 

 

Missionaries reflecting on mission service – Richard Young

Posted on October 1, 2011 by Franklin Ishida

Prior to becoming a pastor, Richard Young had a full-time private practice of obstetrics and gynecology in Nevada and traveled around the world giving seminars to OB/GYN doctors. After practicing for 14 years, he felt the call to ministry and was ordained. He immediately accepted a call to be a missionary in Guyana as a doctor and a pastor in 2001. Richard is  known for being dedicated to holistic ministry; using health care skills within the context of ministry as a witness and service of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Guyana. He completed service in 2011. 

To support any of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to www.elca.org/missionarysponsorship.

Latin American Lutherans in communion with the world

Posted on June 28, 2011 by Hand In Hand

As ELCA regional representatives in South America, Kate Lawler and David Wunsch are a bridge between the ELCA and companion churches in Argentina-Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Chile.

David talking with Pastor Emilo Aslla Flores, recently elected president of the Lutheran church in Bolivia.

David talking with Pastor Emilo Aslla Flores, recently elected president of the Lutheran church in Bolivia.

Pastors Armando Capcha of Peru and Alan Eldrid of Argentina/Uruguay.

Pastors Armando Capcha of Peru and Alan Eldrid of Argentina/Uruguay.

One of our great pleasures is introducing our “old” friends to new ones. We get to do that a lot in our work with the Lutheran church leaders in this part of South America. We would like all of you to also meet some of these terrific people pictured here. As you remember Kate and me in your prayers, please lift them up as well. Without them, our ministry would not be possible.

These photos were taken at an annual gathering of Lutheran leaders in Latin America and the Caribbean held this year in Argentina under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation communion of churches. With one exception – Brazil – these churches are very small and gain strength from coming together to discuss topics like sustainable strategies for mission, leadership development, gender justice and advocacy with others who share the same confessional identity.

A quote from Thomas Merton’s “Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” helps explain what it means to be in communion as we gather around the table of the Lord with our brothers and sisters from across the globe:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. … The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. … I suddenly saw the secret beauty in the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor knowledge can reach the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.”

Merton’s words remind us that our relationship with God cannot be complete without the other in our midst. As first responders to God’s love for us, we seek to love and see the stranger’s heart through God’s eyes. Communion with God is a gift God has given us and one we should celebrate at all times.

With peace and thanksgiving,
David

P.S. Thank you sponsoring congregations for remembering our ministry in your newsletters, the constant prayers, the cards and gifts you send to us and our kids, and for you faithful and generous financial support. Our mailbox overfloweth!

Signs of the resurrection in Suriname

Posted on May 31, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Kevin Jacobson is an ELCA missionary in Paramaribo, Suriname.

The confirmation class of 2011

The confirmation class of 2011

May 2011
A Blessed Easter Season — it continues — to you!

Shortly before Easter I read an article by Tomas Munita on The New York Times website.  He described the colorful minibuses on the streets of Paramaribo, Suriname. The minibuses have hand-painted illustrations of the heroes, outlaws, religious temples and musical subcultures of this South American city.

On that same day I was sitting on the side of the road in Paramaribo waiting for a friend.  Of course I was watching the buses go by, but this time I was paying closer attention to what was written on each one.  I saw “Give God all the glory!” “Only God can move me — oh yeah and the mountains!”  “Give God a chance.”

Because it was Holy Week, after some moments my attention turned to another question.  I asked myself, “How might these buses relate to the resurrection?”  That seemed to be a stretch but it got me thinking about Easter.  And soon my question was “What are the signs of resurrection in Suriname?”  When growing up in Wisconsin the signs of spring were the symbols of Christ’s resurrection. But what about in the tropics, in Paramaribo where every day it is hot and humid?

Resurrection — perhaps it could mean the opportunity to sit by the road and observe closely what is passing by?  Could it be that newly painted bus? Could it be the excitement in the voices of the six travelers just getting their U.S. visas to travel with me for 16 days through the Florida-Bahamas Synod and visiting missionary sponsoring congregations and the synod assembly? Could it be in the African mother who wipes off the tears of her daughter after she has just fallen on the curb? Could it be in the bright-red fire lobi, hibiscus, frangipani, inpatients, buttercups that are everywhere all the time in Suriname? Could it be in the three children that were baptized and the 10 students that were confirmed in April in the Lutheran Church? Could it be in the rhythms and singing of the “Brothers in Christ” at our worship services? Could it be in the ice cream cone that I just consumed?

Well now I may be stretching the meaning of resurrection just a little bit. However, all these things bring a smile to my face, lighten up my day and bring freshness in the air I am breathing. It is in the everyday sights, sounds, smells and, yes, tastes that I often take for granted but are the signs of the story of Christ’s resurrection in Suriname.

Thank God for them, thank God for you.

Pr. Kevin L. Jacobson
ELCA missionary to Suriname

Hand in Hand hospitality

Posted on February 18, 2010 by Hand In Hand

A missionary family: David Wunsch, Kate Lawler, Emily and Matthew

A couple of days ago our family boarded a plane from Boston to Buenos Aires and our 2.5 month home assignment came to an end.  As we now reflect on what this time back in the United States has meant to us, the image of the medieval pilgrimage comes to mind.  Medieval pilgrims usually set out toward a specific destination in light of a particular event. They traveled to be eyewitnesses of sacred events and places. They went seeking first-hand knowledge and experiences of a particular way God can “break into” human lives and transform us for God’s own purposes.  In our case, the destination has been into the heart and hearths of congregations and homes.  The event has been the celebration of our shared faith in Christ and our connection through global mission.

As with the medieval tradition of showing hospitality to pilgrims and wayfarers — who were warmed by the glowing embers of the hearths of inns and homes along the way – we were generously received in congregations and homes.  We were welcomed with potlucks replete with delicious food as we gathered around tables for joyful fellowship.  We helped complete the circles around Communion tables and joined our voices  in prayer and songs of thanksgiving and praise. We were privileged to be invited into the intimacy of many homes to swap stories over cups of tea and coffee.  

The hospitality we experienced sustained us along the way and strengthened us for our journey back to our ministry in South America. Visiting local missions and ministries energized us with a renewed sense of passion and purpose.  Like the pilgrims who returned to their ordinary lives with so many tales from afar, we return with all the richness of the life and faith stories that you have shared with us.

Tomorrow we leave for a camping retreat with the Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) volunteers who are serving in Argentina and Uruguay this year.  It will be like the crossroads where the paths of several pilgrims meet as we share tales of our travels with them and hear their stories from these months that we have been away.

In Christ, Kate and David
¡Vivamos en la sorprendente gracia de Dios!

Friday night Bible dates

Posted on May 24, 2009 by Anne Edison-Albright

I am a very fortunate fellow. I have a standing date every Friday night with Kate, my wife. The babysitter comes, the pizza goes in the oven, the kid’s video is all ready to go, quick good-bye hugs, and we are off, zooming down one of grand avenues of Buenos Aires, fighting Friday evening traffic en route to I.S.E.D.E.T, the ecumenical seminary where we take a single course, Iniciación Bíblica, or “Bible Initiation.”

The objectives of the Bible Initiation course are to read the Bible in one year, acquiring a general knowledge of Old and New Testament Books. A Friday night “Bible date” may sound dull, but when I pick up the Bible to prepare for class I can feel my heart rate go up, a butterfly or two in my stomach, and my mood improve.

These “first date” type feelings reveal that Bible dating is about growing a relationship with God. In the human-human realm, dating involves mutually exploring who that “other” is, what makes him or her tick, laugh, cry and love. Dating God is different. God already “knows” us intimately in the true Hebrew sense. What is astounding for me personally, though, is that engaging God’s message in Biblical texts is refreshing and renewing the most important relationship I will ever have: the one I have with Jesus Christ.

So, to add some excitement in your life, add regular Bible dates to you calendar. Open your Bible; read it, struggle with it, and let God breathe new life into the relationship that binds you to God´s saving grace for the world. –David Wunch

img_4633-798271David Wunch and Kate Lawler are ELCA missionaries in South America. They serve as Regional Representatives and coordinate the Young Adult in Global Mission site in Argentina.