This is the Lord's Doing

FOROs are a chance to highlight not our work, but the Lord's among us. And, as Regional Director Rev. Ted Krey cited from Psalm 118:23 in his closing remarks on Saturday, " is marvelous in our eyes." 

This weekend, five US partners, along with missionaries and local church leaders heard how
  • the church in Palmar has celebrated 32 Baptisms in the past six months; 
  • the Pueblo Nuevo congregation is rallying around 4th year seminarian Carlos's robust evangelistic plan for the community of Cienfuegos, home to a staggering percentage of Santiago's total population; 
  • over 80 children heard the Good News at Licey's three pop-up, daylong VBSs in late July; 
  • after fourteen years of arduous labor, the new Himnario Luterano will unite Spanish-speaking Lutherans on three continents; 
  • enrollment at Concordia Lutheran School is exceeding expectations; 
  • the group home "kids" are maturing into independent young adults and benefitting from new opportunities to stretch their abilities; 
  • a multi-use sports court behind Iglesia Luterana Amigos de Cristo is complete and will be dedicated in October; 
  • Iglesia Luterana Pan de Vida is bursting at the seams and eyeing the possibility of land acquisition; and
  • six new residential pastoral formation students will join Concordia the Reformer Seminary's student body for the 2022-2023 academic year, for a total of 13 representing nine countries. 
But let's begin at the beginning. Before the beginning, actually! On Thursday, as the last of our partners made their way to Santiago, the seminary students worked to set up tents for Sunday's joint opening service. 

Moving on, Friday has historically been "culture day" at DR FOROs. Much of the plan I had painstakingly laid out shifted late in the game, but I'll tuck those ideas away for the March FORO and maybe a short-term team or 2 in the meantime. The group wound up doing a cigar factory tour; I've been there, done that, and was not excited about doing it again, so I met them at our lunch spot to put in the order ahead of time - a smart move in the end. 

That afternoon, we ramped up our mission site visit game and gave partners the chance to see church planting in action in Cienfuegos. According to the 2020 census, the community is home to more than 231,000 people. From the parking lot of Liceo Cienfuegos, a school with over 800 students, it extends almost as far as the eye can see. 

Fourth year seminarian Carlos Ventura, together with his wife Berkis, has fully embraced his assignment to work toward a church plant there. Without being prompted, he conducted a community survey and plotted out, in writing, his tactics for the coming months. One of the principal inroads thus far has been the school, and the Little Piranhas volleyball academy, a league with more than 200 participants (mostly girls) that practices on the school's court. Carlos and Berkis lead a devotion before practice on Wednesdays and Fridays. On Thursdays, a more intimate group meets for Bible study, and on Saturdays, the couple visits with players' families in their homes. 

After introductions, the FORO group played a collaborative game that involved two teams each moving like a worm while trying to grab the other team's bandana "tail." Carlos's message about the body of Christ was short, sweet, and relatable to the game we'd just played, the game of volleyball, and the Christian life. 

Carlos deftly fielded questions while we watched practice for a bit and introduced us to one of the players who has expressed an interest in being baptized. 

Saturday, presentation day, can get long, but highlights like those bullet pointed above help cut through the tedium. I mostly sat in the back translating PowerPoints from Spanish to English and taking minutes, occasionally jumping in to do some [unplanned] simultaneous interpretation. 

The FORO's epic climax was yesterday morning's school/seminary opening service that saw all five congregations in the DR come together for worship and lunch. As if that weren't enough, the service also featured a Baptism and a rite of installation for the five 4th year seminarians as evangelists in their respective fieldwork congregations. 

Oh yeah, and a prayer for the local baseball team! The coach, Anibal Toribio, has long been a member of the church in Palmar, but only recently (it was news to me during Rev. Idjon Fritz's presentation on Saturday) has he begun bringing his players to hold drills on the sports court between the school/church/seminary building and the group home on Saturdays. Afterwards, they stick around for a devotion and study hall. Pictured below, the uniformed players stand as Rev. Krey intercedes for them. 

Partners and DR team leads gathered in the library for a budget review before we left Palmar. A smaller group allowed for helpful dialogue about how we on the ground 24/7/365 can best help those who visit maybe twice a year be our advocates. 

FORO programming concluded with a cookout at the Kreys' last night. Yes, I went home Saturday and baked Banana Brownies and Pineapple Pie for dessert. And now, none of the partners has even left yet and I'm already blogging?! I'm just over here trying to cram in quite a bit before Saturday, when the first of four short-term teams arrives and I'm basically checked out of normal life for the next six weeks. I'm also adding something new that I'm very excited about to my plate as of Wednesday, but I'll leave you guessing for now as to what that might be. 

Until next time (Wednesday, in this case), blessings in Christ!