Stories from the mission fields are a perfect devotional for LentMissions and Outreach
The purpose of those who serve in the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church is powerful and proactive. It exists to "equip and transform people and places for God's mission."
Ardell and Gordon Graner lived out those words for decades in the mission fields of Bolivia and the Dominican Republic. However, as retirement loomed, Ardell realized he had one more mission to complete.
To illustrate the impact mission work can have, she prepared, as Ardell wrote, "… a series of reflections prepared by 47 people who share their stories in the light of the Biblical passages for this season of Lent, 2022."
It is an amazing work for a Lenten study, especially considering ongoing global events as Christians worldwide focus on Christ's sacrifice of love and his example for humankind.
The devotional comes with stories from the frontline and scripture verses to illustrate those stories, a mission action for the day, and a prayer.
"Mission has been an opportunity to go beyond theology and enter into personal relationships among peoples who have been tied to the yoke of oppression. For me, a life in mission has opened the door to relationships with people who live daily with the consequences of injustice," Gordon wrote in one of the daily devotions.
|Ardell and Gordon Graner|
"However, the great irony is the same people who suffer the grind of daily poverty also emanates the presence of God most profoundly. A second irony is that I, the missionary who seeks to untie the thongs of the yoke for others, finds that they have loosened my bonds."
That is the essence of missionary service—trusting God's voice instead of the one inside you saying this can't be done.
"My journey with God has been rich, challenging, and often included struggles. God repeatedly asked me to leave my comfort zone but always accompanied me when I fell," Jenny Graner, their daughter, said.
"Thankfully and beautifully, God's path has always been beyond my own imagination or dreams: all I had to do was to have enough faith to follow, taking one step at a time."
Kenneth Carter, who serves as the resident Bishop for Florida and the Western North Carolina conferences, said the Graners “have led an amazing life, and their story is important. This is a rich story that connects many people and is about the connection of the UMC in mission."
Rev. Dr. Cynthia D. Weems is the Superintendent of the South East District of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. She connected with the Graners in 1997 during her missionary assignment to Bolivia.
|Rev. Dr. Cynthia Weems|
"Their goal was to sell hope," she said. "That was the hope they had by serving in mission."
Rev. Weems helped produce the reflections, receiving thanks from the Graners for her "counsel and invaluable direction."
It was a work of love.
"I was with them last August in the Dominican when I took my daughter there on a mission trip," she said. "Ardell told me about the project she wanted to complete, a Lenten devotional booklet with stories from how missionaries were impacted by that experience.
"I hope people will utilize it as a daily devotion during Lent to hear the voices of those whose lives have been profoundly impacted by mission service. I think this will help us to grow in our awareness of the value of mission work in a global community."
To many people, the season of Lent is about giving up something, like chocolate or ice cream. However, it's also about receiving grace, reflecting on the love of Jesus, and sharing that love and the power with which it comes.
"Sometimes, I will say to my congregation that Lent can be the time to take something up more than giving something up," Rev. Weems said. "Take up a devotional, spend more time in prayer and service. Maybe do that thing you always promised that one day you would."
This Lenten devotional is a great place to begin that, not just for 40 days until Easter, but for the long haul as you read the accounts of the men and women who answered the call to be the hands and feet of Jesus in foreign lands.
"I had the joy of experiencing a mission immersion in 1997-99 when I served as a volunteer through the United Methodist Church in Cochabamba, Bolivia. I had recently graduated from seminary, was ordained, and yet felt that God had more to teach me outside of the library and classroom. I needed to learn with my hands, heart, eyes, and stomach," Rev. Weems wrote in the booklet.
"As the prophet Isaiah says, the Lord has continually provided for me in the parched places. The Lord has rescued my bones. The Lord has, somehow, made me to be like a watered garden, like a spring that won't run dry. This is the gift of mission in my life."
Belinda Forbes served in Global Missionary from the United States to Nicaragua. She recalled the words of 10-year-old Yarielka Sotelo, a third-grader from a small village in Matagalpal, who received classroom instruction that opened her eyes to possibilities.
"Even though my parents are poor, they want me to succeed. My dream is that even with these difficulties, I can continue forward step by step to get out of poverty and become someone important in the future and support society and my community," she said.
"I want to continue studying to be a leader and help those who need support with projects that benefit our community, like the dental clinic that is helping me with my teeth."
Molly McEntire, Mission Training and Volunteer Coordinator for the Florida Conference, saw growth and power in the faces of children she met in Kenya through the nonprofit Zoe Empowers.
She worked with orphaned children in extreme poverty. They have been abused and abandoned, but through Zoe Empowers, they are equipped to overcome that poverty within three years.
"When the pandemic began, my mind quickly went to the vulnerable people all around the world. I quickly thought of the children that I have been privileged to have a relationship within Kenya through Zoe Empowers," she said. "I thought about their well-being and if they would make it through this.
"When the world shut down, these children did not shut down; they started to serve their community and take care of the vulnerable in their community. They took care of the elderly by fetching them water, firewood, and food. They took care of other orphans. They put up handwashing stations all over their community, made masks, hand sanitizer, and soap for their community. They could have chosen to only care for themselves, but they did to others what they would have wanted to be done for themselves."
As Christians, we are all called to be missionaries—whether in a foreign field or to your neighbor across the street.
These powerful accounts, along with many others in the booklet, communicate the message the Graners had in mind when they began this project. These are real-life stories of the Church being the Church and making a difference throughout the world through service, obedience, and love.
Especially in this season of Lent, there is no higher calling.
Click here to download the complete devotional.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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