Sharing the Living Water of the Gospel

By Rev. Lee Ann Dunlap*

The day in Rio Bravo, Mexico was hot, and we were sweltering even in the shade at the elementary school. But the mother and her little ones waited patiently in the cement courtyard for their turn to see our medical mission team that she hoped would help her family. Though not a mom myself, I could recognize the distress of the infant screaming in her arms as she tried to comfort it.  Too hot for a baby, even I knew, but what could be done? Our devotional that morning had challenged us to look for miracles, and right then I was praying for one.

Mother, children waiting in the heat

After a moment I approached the mother, and with a feeble attempt at Spanish and hand motions I asked her permission to put the baby’s blanket over its head while I soaked it using my water bottle.  I wasn’t expecting it to help much, but that’s all I could come up with.  To my great surprise the baby quieted almost instantly, turned to suckle and went to sleep.  So maybe we weren’t walking on water, but I needed no interpreter to translate the look of relief and gratitude on Mama’s face.

I turned my attention back to our work and they turned theirs back to their waiting.  But it wasn’t long before a shy, sweet-faced little girl approached me.  Her words came faster and more numerous than my brain could translate, but I caught enough to understand her plea: “tiene” and “agua”.  Do I have (or could she have) water.    We’d had an Igloo cooler of It somewhere, provided for the team at lunch, but where it was, and how much water there was, I had no clue; and we were still too busy for me to go searching.

Ok.  So in our culture it is frowned upon to drink from the cup of a total stranger, or expect a stranger to drink from your water bottle.  But it’s not like these folks carry Dixie cups with them everywhere.  Still, the day was hot, and she was thirsty, and it just wasn’t in me to deny her when there sat beside me a half-filled water bottle still chilled from the morning.  Good protocol or not, with a shrug I handed it to her and went on with the task at hand.  She promptly took it to share with her siblings, and, to my surprise, she returned minutes later to give it back.  It wasn’t empty.  Thirsty as they were, they’d left most of it for me.

“No, no”, I said, handing it back.  “Es por tu.”  Did I say that right?  I must have – she skipped away with it.

Young girl having fune with hoola-hoop in the parkThat challenge met, the flood gates opened.  One after another the children (who had earlier been rather wary of me) came forward.  “Agua?  Agua?” They asked.  Into my head popped Jesus’ words about giving a cup of cold water to “the least of these,” — and what happens to those who don’t.  But what could I do? No agua, and now not even a bottle!  Ok, Lord.  This one’s on you.  Miracle needed – or at least a good plan.

Fortunately our stream of clients had slowed to a trickle so I had some time to think.  Our team leader, Chad, was loading some things into the van when I approached.  There in back was the Igloo cooler – not water, but tea, along with a half dozen Styrofoam cups.  That would do. “Better to empty it here than haul it back,” I suggested.  He lugged it back to the courtyard for me and soon we were set to go.

As you might surmise, I now faced a new challenge.  We had more “te” and more thirsty people than we had cups. With the help of my Kindle Spanish medical dictionary, I learned the Spanish word for cup – “vaso” (think “vase” or “vessel”).   So now when the thirsty little niños approached, I coaxed them to talk to me, even though I knew what they wanted.  “Te?” they would ask, one after another.

“Si, pero necessita un vaso.  No tengo nada,” I’d reply.  (“Yes, but you need a cup; I have none”)

The day was hot and they were thirsty.  Somehow, despite my faulty grammar, they understood. They shared their cups and the tea with one another in a way I doubt many Americans would. Thirst satisfied, problem solved; I moved on to the next challenge without much thought.

It was only much later as I lay in bed that I began to fully consider what had happened that day.  How frustrated I felt that those little ones, (and the adults too for that matter) were genuinely thirsty in the mid-day heat, and I knew we had that big cooler nearly filled with what they needed; yet we had no “vasos” – no cups – with which to share the life-restoring liquid. That gap had tormented me.

Although I tried to fall asleep my thoughts returned to Jesus and the Women at the Well (John 4).  On that day it was Jesus who thirsted in the heat of the day.  It was he, the Son of God, who pleaded, “Give me a drink.”  She, a woman and a Samaritan, was also thirsty – for so much more than she knew – for “living water” – for connection with one who would love her authentically.  Jesus offered, but she did not grasp at first.

“Sir, you have no vessel with which to draw.”  Indeed he did not – no cup with which the water could be shared.  Her words evoked from me a stream of tears.  In my mind’s eye I saw again those thirsty children and the adults who waited with them in hope we could provide something – medicine, vitamins, something to ease the pain in their lives, to know someone cares.  A thousand other faces came to mind – not just Mexican children, but those in my own community and nation;  Teens on the television screen pleading for a stop to school shootings, victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking begging to be rescued,  alcoholics, and addicts desperately eyeing their next “fix.”  The faces flooded my imagination and I wept.  I wept because I know where the water can be found that will cool their thirst and heal their wounds.  I cried because I knew my ache was also his.

“Where are the “vasos?“ I asked; or he asked me, I know not which.  How can the water be shared without a cup? We in the Church know where the water can be found, so why do so many around us perish with thirst?  Where are the vessels?

I thought again of the Woman at the Well.  In the end it was she who ran to tell the village about the stranger who had changed her life.  Because of her they came to him, listened to him, and invited him to stay until they came to believe.  She, herself, became the vessel that he needed, the means of sharing Life, just as maybe that day I had been; and maybe this day, you are, too.

Who are the thirsty people around you?  We live surrounded by a multitude wasting away because no one has shared with them the Living Water of the Gospel.  Jesus is the Fountain of Living Water – those who thirst for him are many, will you be the cup he needs?

*Rev. Lee Ann Dunlap is in her 5th year serving as pastor to McConnelsville Grace, McKendree, and Pisgah UMCs in the Southern Hills District.

UMC Conferences Come Together to Offer Help – and Hope – in Puerto Rico

By Rick Wolcott*

“All of you are a gift from God because your presence here lets us know we are not alone,” Methodist Church of Puerto Rico Bishop Hector Ortiz told the 40 members of our joint mission team from the East Ohio Conference and the Western Pennsylvania Conference.

We spent the last week of June in Patillas, Puerto Rico, on the southeast coast of the island just west of where Hurricane Maria hit land in September 2017.  People there are still recovering from the physical and emotional toll left behind in the wake of the deadly hurricane.

Bishops Cynthia Moore-Koikoi (Western PA) and Tracy S. Malone (East Ohio) responded to the report Ortiz gave to the Council of Bishops in November 2017, updating them on the condition of the island territory of the United States.

“As I was sitting there, I was moved with compassion and I said immediately in that moment, ‘I must go.’  I felt that God was calling me to be part of the recovery effort in Puerto Rico,” Malone said.

“We looked at each other and immediately had a connection and both of us knew that we had to come to Puerto Rico,” Moore-Koikoi added.  “It has been a wonderful experience.  We have seen God move in so many ways!”

The two bishops invited clergy and laity to join them on the joint mission team that brought together two conferences from two different United Methodist Church jurisdictions for one cause – to help the people of Puerto Rico.

“Love.  Family.  Connection.”

Those are just a few of the responses offered by team members when asked to share one word that describes why they accepted the bishops’ invitation.

“People who are coming here can hear our story then return home and let others know that ‘there’s loving people there who need help,’” said Nidtza Ivette Padilla Martinez, volunteers coordinator for the Puerto Rico Conference.

Teams from The United Methodist Church were easily identifiable in towns across the island because of the blue shirts provided by the Puerto Rico Conference.  On the back of the shirts were these words:

Voluntario

“Haz todo el bien que puedas por todos los medios que puedas …  “ Juan Wesley

Which translates as:

Volunteer

“Do all the good you can with everything you can …  “ John Wesley

Each member of the team lived out Wesley’s call.  We were one of nearly 60 groups from The United Methodist Church that have assisted in Puerto Rico since the island opened to outside mission teams in January – and the first group that included bishops.  During the week we worked on six homes and the mission center that hosted the group.

“Caring.  Hope.  Duty.”

One bunkhouse at the mission center hosted the women while the other housed the men.  Meetings, devotions and meals were held in a large common area.   Our home-cooked meals were provided by members of the United Methodist Women of the Methodist Church of Puerto Rico.  We learned that following Hurricane Maria, the women served more than 5,000 meals to people who had nowhere to go.

UMW President Alicia Reyes told the group, “We do everything and try anything to make people comfortable.”

Pastor Isabelino Rivera Silva and Homeowner Junito
Pastor Isabelino Rivera Silva and Homeowner Junito

Ten months after the hurricane, Pastor Isabelino Rivera Silva of Iglesia Metodista Unida, where we worshipped during our stay, continues to remind the congregation that they are not alone as they work to rebuild their lives.

“If you have faith in the Lord, anything is possible because you have faith in the Lord,” he preached.

The message applies to each of us.

“Justice.  Faithfulness.  Serving.”

When asked what he would say to people reading this article, Luis Acosta, a college student from Guayama, Puerto Rico who assisted the EOC-WPC team said:

“I want you to have this amazing experience of giving hope to those who lost everything.  I encourage you to get involved – and it doesn’t have to be in Puerto Rico.  You can help out in your community, in your church, in other states.  There are many, many people in need.”

Individuals and groups interested in serving on mission teams in Puerto Rico should fill out this Google document and send an e-mail to Jason Frazer, who is the Puerto Rico volunteer coordinator on the mainland for United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.

2 of 3 detained missionaries leave Philippines

By Sam Hodges
July 5, 2018 | UMNS

Two of three United Methodist missionaries who had been detained in the Philippines have left the country, and one, Adam Shaw, has been reunited with his family in Ohio.

Tawanda Chandiwana is on the way to his home country of Zimbabwe, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries reported on July 5.

A third missionary, Miracle Osman of Malawi, is working with Filipino attorneys on paperwork, and Global Ministries officials are hopeful she’ll be allowed to leave, said Dan Curran, a spokesman for the church agency.

All three faced accusations of anti-government activities. Chandiwana had been held by authorities for weeks, while the other two had not been allowed to leave the country.

Thomas Kemper, top executive of Global Ministries, said his heart had been “full of sorrow” when he met with Chandiwana at a detention center on July 1.

“Now it is full of joy because I’ve just said goodbye to him,” Kemper said from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila.

Manila Area Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco posted on Facebook: “Another round of thanks to God and to all who supported the release of Tawanda.”

In a video released by Global Ministries, Francisco added a special thanks for the life of Chandiwana, who he said had “lived with the people.”

“That is the real essence of service. He lived with the Lumads and he served the people,” Francisco said, referring to an indigenous people of the Philippines.

Shaw reached Brunswick, Ohio, on July 4 and was reunited with his parents, the Rev. Thomas Shaw and Susan Shaw.

The father, pastor of Brunswick United Methodist Church, said the denomination’s support was “very, very important to know that Adam wasn’t alone and that we were not alone in supporting him.”

He added: “We’re happy for him but feel his sadness that he had to leave the country where God had called him.”

Adam Shaw urged people to continue to share the story of the missionaries in their churches and on social media.

“The Philippines is one of those countries where people of faith really have a voice and are listened to regardless of whether they are in the Philippines. . . .” he said. “Part of the effort in detaining us was to silence our voices and the voices of those we lift up in our work. Refusing to let the voices be silenced is a huge step that we as a church can do both through the petition and our churches.”

Global Ministries worked unsuccessfully behind the scenes then led a public campaign for the release of the three missionaries. The Council of Bishops issued a statement, and about 13,000 people signed an online petition.

Kemper described himself as “so, so thankful” for the denomination’s support.

The New York Times reported that Shaw was deported by the Philippines for having engaged in “political activities,” and another news source said the government’s Bureau of Immigration had placed all three missionaries on a blacklist because of “leftist” involvement.

But Global Ministries said the three were targeted for taking part in an international ecumenical fact-finding investigation of alleged human rights violations, including the deaths of nine indigenous people.

That mission was on the southern island of Mindanao, where President Rodrigo Duterte has declared martial law and the military has battled Islamic militants, the Times reported.

Chandiwana was arrested May 9 while attending a training seminar at the Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute. He was held on a charge related to his visa status, but also was found to be on a government watch list for suspected subversives.

Osman’s passport was confiscated as she was extending a tourist visa while waiting for her missionary visa to be approved, and Shaw had been informed that he would be deported, Global Ministries reported earlier.

Shaw was initially commissioned in 2011 as a mission intern. Lately he had been serving as an international linkages coordinator assigned to the Save Our Schools, Protect Indigenous Life Project, based in Davao City, Mindanao.

Chandiwana and Osman are Global Missions Fellows.

Kemper noted that missionaries are sent to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all parts of the world.

“That includes standing up for life where it has been threatened,” he said. “… So we will not stop sending missionaries to the Philippines, to all countries in the world, because we feel that is our calling as United Methodists.”

View video of Adam Shaw’s airport interview.

Hodges is a Dallas-based writer for United Methodist News Service. Rick Wolcott, director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference, and Gladys Mangiduyos, a communicator from the Philippines, contributed to this story. Contact them at 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org