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A journey to “hope”

By Sue Sprang

 

INDIA/GRAND RAPIDS – It was a journey to “hope” – a trip to India – that reminded Dawn Brackman of God’s gracious love and how it can transform people’s lives.

Brackman, an attorney and a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, was part of a mission trip to India in February, to experience “Neerekshe Trust”, a mission project in the North Eastern region of Karnataka.

“Neerekshe” means “hope” in Kannada, one of India’s officially recognized regional languages.

This woman is making “roti”, a flat bread made from a traditional stoneground wholemeal flour known as “atta”.

This woman is making “roti”, a flat bread made from a traditional stoneground wholemeal flour known as “atta”.

The trust’s mission is “to bring ‘life to the full’ to the people of Muranpur village and the surrounding districts through education and the care for the children through integrated programs for the adults and their children, and to live the words of Christ to all who have ‘ears to hear.’”

Neerekshe Trust has its roots when, in 2001, its founder, Shadrach Peter – a native of the Karnataka village of Muranpur – acted on a vision from God to help the people of his village. The project has seen steady growth, including St. Peter School for grades 1-10, Jack and Grace Hospital, an industrial training institute, and a boarding home for poor children.

Shadrach and his wife, Gladys, administer the project with humility and integrity, and as unshakable models of God’s love and grace.

“Shadrach and Gladys, their family, impressed us with their commitment to others, their overriding commitment to God,” Brackman said. “What they are doing, what they are providing, is good.”

Brackman and her co-travelers – including friend Pastor Jeff Otterman, who encouraged her to make the trip – were deeply moved by their experience. Otterman serves St. James Lutheran Church in Bell Fourche, South Dakota.

“Neerekshe – such peace for me,” wrote Brackman to her pastor, Bob Lindstrom. “Being with the children, visiting the villages… Feeling that I am exactly where God wants me…”

Meeting at the village well – not a new theme for followers of Jesus!

Meeting at the village well – not a new theme for followers of Jesus!

The group led Bible stories, singing, and prayers with the children four times a day. They were met with “bright eyes and smiles” from the children. But the adults were no less genuine in their friendship.

“In villages, we touched and talked to the people,” Brackman said. “Neerekshe’s pastor gathered the children and Jeff shared a message; then we blessed those that desired a blessing. It was very meaningful… and humbling. We tried to connect with as many adults as possible, too, with a bow, a smile, or a hand touch.”

Brackman likened the villages they visited as “hard describe” – they seemed “back in Jesus’s time” with “cows, goats, cook fires, dust…”

They were the first Americans to visit one of the villages – and Brackman was the first white woman to set foot in it.

“It gives a deeper meaning to sharing the gospel to far corners of the world,” she said, “and let the children come to me.”

At the market

At the market

Brackman found great joy in the children and in the work that the Peters are doing in Christ’s name. But, probably most profound, is that the people they met along the way, though poor and seeking healthy and sustainable life, had only two humble requests of the travelers:

“Please come back,” they asked, “and please remember us in your prayers.”

 

 

 

You can find out more about Neerekshe Trust at www.neerekshe.blogspot.com or on Facebook. A new website, www.neerekshe.org, is currently being developed.

 




Advent meets Guatemala: a vision, part 2

Aviento cumple Guatemala: un visión, parte 2

(Advent meets Guatemala: a vision, part 2)

By Sue Sprang

 

LAKE ANN/GUATEMALA – In part one of this two-part article, readers were introduced to the connection between Advent Lutheran Church in Lake Ann and San Lucas Tolliman Mission in Guatemala.

Advent members and guests have made five “vision trips” to San Lucas, most recently in February. The article introduced some of those who made this trip and their motivation.

The goal: “seeing God at work in a different part of the world and seeing more about ourselves.”

Cristy Allen, not a member of Advent, had been on mission trips, but never to Guatemala. This was the first mission trip for Advent members Norvilla Bennett and Gwenn Willson.

Beyond preparations such as passports, vaccines, etc., each woman had her own way of getting ready. Allen prepared through prayer and fasting while making practical arrangements, such as child and animal care. Bennett took an online Spanish immersion course. Willson was grateful for the group meetings to learn about the mission, Guatemala, and the impact of the country’s past violence on today.

While at San Lucas, the groups had opportunities to learn about the Guatemalan people and the mission’s work.

“We learned about the different aspects of the mission,” Allen said, “and how they help to empower the people through education, healthcare, employment co-operatives, and a women’s center.”

The group participated in a variety of tasks: sifting dirt and sand for a new playground; soccer field improvements; picking coffee beans; cleaning a playground at the women’s center; building ovens; food delivery; and more.

 

“We had cultural classes,” said Bennett, “where we made tortillas, gathered and hauled wood, did laundry. It was an eye-opening day.”

The group attended mass at the mission and had daily devotions and prayer. A tour around Lake Atitlan included pottery and weaving co-ops in San Marco; touring Antigua; and, in Santiago, the church where Father Stanley Rother* was assassinated, and the Peace Park. There was also a visit to the Hogar Miguel Mogone Home orphanage near Guatemala City.

The three women were deeply moved by the Guatemalan people:

“One of the most memorable people was Gabrielle [at the orphanage],” said Allen. “Though an older child, she wanted to be held and cuddled. I carried her through most of our visit there and she fell asleep in my arms.”

“I remember Felix, a professional clown in San Lucas,” Willson said. “He started a non-profit organization to care for newborns with cleft palates.”

“Watching Felix and his daughter, Ruth, interact [with the children] was complete joy,” Bennett added. “He and his family are the portrait of perseverance and resilience while performing service to others.”

FullSizeRender (1)

Chona, a former mission worker and survivor of the years of violence, made a deep impact.

“Her story is compelling and surreal at the same time,” said Bennett. “What stood out for me was the remarkable ability for human perseverance and resilience. Chana’s story, Felix’s story – the years of violence, no drinking water when one is surrounded by one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen… Tradition amidst a fast-paced world…”

For all three women, the “vision trip” was a lifetime experience of learning, growth in faith, and a keener awareness of God, self, and the world.

“I was impressed with the years of mission done by the Roman Catholic Diocese of New Ulm, Minnesota, in supporting the needs of the people in San Lucas for 50 years,” Willson said. “It has made a huge difference in the village, especially regarding medical care and literacy.”

“My experience shouted loud and clear that I have more work to do in the area of fully relying on God,” Bennett said. “From a global point of view, I strongly believe Guatemala provides the ultimate environment for active service. This trip ignited my interest in returning one day.”

“I felt God showing me that his will for me is the adventure of each day,” said Allen, “of loving the person in front of me – doing small things with great love. That I don’t need to figure out the next big step or plan for myself – that I just need to walk with him and trust him for the outcome.”

 

*Father Stanley Rother, an American priest who served as a missionary near Santiago, was murdered by a death squad of right wing extremists and elements of the Guatemalan army in 1981. He was one of ten priests murdered during the years of internal violence in Guatemala.



Rotary spurred to action by LWR and ERD

By Sue Sprang

 

ELK RAPIDS/HAITI – Elk Rapids may be a village tucked into Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula, but there is no lack of “reaching beyond” for the members of Calvary Lutheran and St. Paul’s Episcopal Churches and the Elk Rapids Rotary Club.

 

Inspired by Lutheran World Relief and Episcopal Relief & Development, and working with Pure Water for the World, Elk Rapids Rotarians are bring clean, safe water to Haiti. – photo courtesy preparednesspro.com

Inspired by Lutheran World Relief and Episcopal Relief & Development, and working with Pure Water for the World, Elk Rapids Rotarians are bring clean, safe water to Haiti. – photo courtesy preparednesspro.com

Although all three organizations have been involved with mission projects through Lutheran World Relief (LWR), Episcopal Relief & Development (ERD), and Good Works Projects (Rotary), it was an annual Rotary event that drew them together to bring drinkable water to Haiti.

 

“I am enthusiastic and celebrate the apparent cooperation/collaboration between the Lutheran and Episcopal Churches and the Rotary to help the people in Haiti obtain access to clean drinking water,” said Dean Branson, a member of Calvary-St. Paul’s and the Rotary, “but, in truth, these initiatives are more coincidental than planned collaborations.”

 

It began with the annual Variety Show fundraiser sponsored by the Elk Rapids Rotary. The event booklet described ERD’s and LWR’s programs. The $230 cost of the ad was paid by a few Rotarians or Friends of the Library who are also members of Calvary-St. Paul’s.

 

Rotary members were impressed with what they read about ERD and LWR – and felt called to join the effort to bring safe drinking water to Haiti. Homework was done, funds raised (including from The Rotary International Foundation and various local rotaries), Pure Water for the World (PWW) was brought on board.

 

The results?

Haiti Facts

From February – June 2014, PWW implemented a clean water and hygiene education program in Haiti’s Trianon rural area (about 1 1/2 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince). The region uses river, unprotected well, rainwater, and runoff water in canals for its primary water source. Diarrheal disease is common, particularly among children.

 

PWW’s program reached 300 homes and 1,922 people. Program elements included hygiene education, installing Biosand water filters, and training of 60 local community agents to support families in the proper use and maintenance of the filter and in ongoing safe hygiene practices.

 

“We like this water project in Haiti in part because of the way Pure Water for the World incorporates the critical elements of a successfully sustainable program that significantly reduces the incidence of waterborne disease through sanitation, education, and a bio-sand filter for each home,” said Branson.

 

“We are particularly inspired by the leveraging of the funds to accomplish these objectives,” he added. “This year we anticipate another major water project in Trianon that involves even more leveraging of funds from the Rotary National Foundation.”

 

Find out more about Pure Water for the World at www.purewaterfortheworld.org.




Advent meets Guatemala: A vision, part 1

By Sue Sprang

National Name: Republica de Guatemala Capital: Guatemala City Land Area: 41,865 sq. miles Population: approx. 14,500,000

LAKE ANN – It’s roughly 3,000 miles from Lake Ann, Michigan to San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala. But distance is no barrier for members and friends of Advent, Lake Ann.

The bond between Guatemala and Advent is strong, mostly due to regular “vision trips” to Guatemala, the most recent one in February. Although the make-up of group members fluctuates with each trip, they are always led by Pastor Justin Grimm, whose passion for Guatemala goes back to his seminary years.

During that time, Grimm took a one-month cross-cultural class to San Lucas, site of a Roman Catholic mission. Here, Grimm said, is “when I fell in love with the place, the ministry, the people.”

About three years into his ministry at Advent, Grimm put together the first of five trips.

“It was always my goal to take groups there,” Grimm said. “I have been blessed to be able to do it.”

Participants refer to their journeys as vision – not mission – trips.

“We are careful to not call it a ‘mission’ trip, “Grimm said, “simply because the word ‘mission’ carries so much baggage when we think about traveling For me, it is about seeing God at work in a different part of the world and seeing more about ourselves.

“Really, the trip is more about our growth than the work we do there. Our motivation is simply loving these people and being loved by them too. It’s really amazing.”

Founded in 1962 by the New Ulm Dioceses (Minnesota), the mission has been a source of education, health, agricultural, and other initiatives to increase the quality of life in a place of extreme beauty as well as extreme poverty.

The first initiatives were: granting of three acres of land each to 4,000 families, establishing a medical clinic, and starting a fair-price coffee project. Needless to say, San Lucas Mission has established a critical presence in San Lucas and the surrounding area.

Cristy Allen and her husband, Tim, were among those who traveled to Guatemala in February. They became acquainted with Grimm through one of Advent’s ministries, Beers and Hymns, where they heard Grimm talk about the trip.

“This trip was billed as a ‘vision’ trip,” Cristy said, “to see and learn more about God, about a new culture, and about yourself. These were all motivating factors for my decision to go.”

FullSizeRenderAdvent member Norvilla Bennett had the “Guatemala seed” planted in her when Grimm began organizing the trips. The February trip was a fulfillment of her hope of making the journey.

“I knew I would participate one day,” said Norvilla. “As I am in employment transition, this trip fit my schedule. [During this] transition, I have become more intentional with prayer, devotions, and learning to fully rely on God.

“I was also influenced by two of Justin’s sermons. One, last spring, reminded me to call the Holy Spirit into my life. In the fall, the message focused on ‘how do we let our light shine’. Both of these messages and the fact that I had some ‘free’ time on my hands provided motivation.”

Gwenn and Tim Willson, members of Advent, also joined the group.

“This was my first mission trip,” Gwenn said, “and my first trip to Guatemala. My motivation was that I wanted to see the work of the Lord in Guatemala, a country so close to the U.S.A.

 

Part 2 of this article, soon to follow, will include experiences and observations about the trip from Cristy, Norvilla, and Gwenn.