Diana Cruz, former mission worker with her husband, Felipe Preciado, at La Casa Grande in Benin, poses with her students at Les Leaders (The Leaders) elementary school after an English lesson. La Casa runs the school for children at the children's home and the broader community in Allada. Photo by Felipe Preciado. ​

By Laurie Oswald Robinson
Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Note: To mark the first anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mennonite Mission Network writers sought reflections from global partners and the agency's Church Relations department. Below is the third in the series of how communities, through God's grace, are pivoting into fresh ways of doing ministry. Follow these links for the first and second reflection articles.

Alisha and Josh Garber, mission workers in Barcelona, Catalonia, decided not to let pandemic restrictions extinguish their desire for building relationships through hospitality. When indoor gatherings were unsafe, they hosted summer outdoor barbecues to deepen friendships during an isolating time.

"Sharing meals has always been a central part of our ministry," Joshua Garber wrote in a recent email. "That act of sharing, breaking bread, and engaging in a richer form of community gives a good deal of authenticity and merit to our witness."

For example, Garber described the family's growing relationship with their friends who own a local restaurant. He described how Alisha Garber established these friendships during her language classes, and they became much closer through their family outdoor gatherings this past summer.

"Between their excitement about our son, Asher, my [Josh's] kombucha, Alisha's cooking, and their experience of seeing faith manifest in hospitality and community, they are now integrating those things into their own lives," Joshua Garber wrote.

He shared how their family sings "Johnny Appleseed" as a prayer before every meal, and now, these friends excitedly join in. The prayer goes, "Oh, the Lord's been good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for giving me, the things I need, the sun, the rain and the apple seed, oh, the Lord's been good to me. …"

"We even received a photo WhatsApp message from them recently: a plate of good food and the caption 'The Lord's been good to me!' Joshua Garber continued in his email. "As with many other people who have adopted themselves into our family here, …  faith perspective has opened doors with folks who would never set foot into a church."

Asher Garber (right), enjoys trampoline fun with his adopted aunts (Vanessa and Franni), after a backyard barbecue. Photo by Joshua Garber. 

Other mission workers around the globe are also deepening relationships amid these times of isolation. For example, Diana Cruz, who, with her husband, Felipe Preciado, recently completed her term of service  at La Casa Grande in Benin, wrote how they experienced relationship-building in new and hopeful ways. (See photo above). She described how those relationships helped prevent them from being self-absorbed and falling into even deeper individualism and encouraged them to show solidarity in isolation.

"We dream of a better world and give our contribution where we find ourselves," Diana Cruz wrote. "We seek to scare away the fear that either immobilizes us or makes us violent towards the rest of the world. We are reading reality with a critical eye and paying attention to what we consume on media, which sometimes only feeds fear, paranoia, injustice, xenophobia and so many other evils."

Jae Young Lee and Karen Spicher, mission associates in Namyangju, South Korea, live and work with their four children in a community with other families at Peace Building. Karen Spicher, in a recent email, reflected on how their relationship-building has changed and developed during the pandemic.

Even though they have had to stop sharing weekday lunches together in the community, their family has grown closer to neighbors in the next-door apartment. "Most nights, our children play together, while we adults share about our day," she wrote. "These small community gatherings have brought a lot of joy to our days."

Their church, Grace and Peace Mennonite Church, has adjusted to meeting by Zoom on Sunday mornings. "Gathering for online worship and sharing has enabled Sundays to be more like a Sabbath than they were before, with more time to rest at home," Karen Spicher wrote. "Still, we miss our Sunday lunch and coffee time with church. We are working more intentionally to build a culture of peace in our home. We also look for creative ways to get out of the house on weekends and have discovered the joy of picnics in the back of our van."

 Jae Young Lee and Lomie, Lena, Aurie, and Menno connect with other members of Grace and Peace Mennonite Church in Namyangju, South Korea, through online worship. "The children still love interacting with their "aunts" "uncles" and friends by Zoom church," Karen Spicher wrote. Photo by Karen Spicher.

She described in her email how Jae Young Lee also finished writing his book, Restorative Justice: Healing Our Society, a compilation of his 20 years of work in introducing restorative justice to Korean society. And since they returned from their sabbatical months in the U.S. (March to September 2020), their children have explored new interests at home, including dancing and cooking. 

"I have been enjoying more walks with our community dog, Coco," Karen Spicher wrote. "I am grateful for the way that our lives have grown simpler and more local over the past year. I hope we can keep those gifts even after this pandemic."

Margrit Kipfer Barrón, mission worker in Bolivia, described in a recent email how the pandemic has also changed the ways members of congregations relate, both in worship and personal settings. She wrote, for example, that they could not meet in church buildings during the quarantine, so the church members were encouraged to celebrate the Sunday morning services in their homes as family services.

"We did the same here in our home," Kipfer Barrón wrote. "Although we could not meet in big groups, some of the neighbors participated in our services. In mid-July, the government allowed church services again, but maintained the restriction on transportation on the weekends." 

La Buena Semilla (The Good Seed) church that began meeting in Freddy Barrón and Margrit Kipfer Barrón's patio during quarantine enjoys a time of lunch and fellowship after what is now a monthly worship service. Photo by Betsabé Barrón. 

The pandemic prohibited Jane and Jerrell Ross Richer, mission workers in Ecuador, from returning to Ecuador in January. So they are strengthening extended family relationships, during their four months of study time in Hawaii and taking online courses in linguistics and indigenous theology that will help strengthen their relationships with the Cofán people in Ecuador when they return in 2022.

"We enjoyed Christmas with Jane's brother and family in Kauai, where Calvary Chapel, Lihue, is one of our supporting churches," Jerrell Ross Richer wrote in a recent email. "We had not previously been able to visit in person. Through the kindness of a church couple, we were provided an apartment in an ideal location to concentrate on our studies; Jordan and Teresa resumed online high school; Sierra and Naomi continue classes at Goshen College. We have also attended a historical mission church and are looking forward to visiting several native Hawaiian churches on the island."

Jerrell and Jane Ross Richer and two of their children (middle) Jordan and Teresa, enjoy time together in Hawaii. This winter while taking classes they visited Jane Ross Richer's brother. His congregation, Calvary Chapel, supports Ross Richer's Mission Network ministry in Ecuador. Photo provided.  

An articulatory phonetics course, offered through the Canadian Institute of Linguistics, includes practice in articulation in the language lab, Jerrell Ross Richer described in his email. "The course is giving us tools for hearing and pronouncing sounds in Cofán and other indigenous languages," he wrote. "In addition, we are reading and gaining new perspectives through interactions with teachers and fellow students in our Old Testament and Theology classes at the Native American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies." 






​Laurie Oswald Robinson is editor of Mennonite Mission Network.



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