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Savoring the experiences

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

The North Texas Conference exploratory contingent returned from Honduras around midnight Friday night/Saturday morning. We were travel-weary, but joyful in the events of the week.

We began processing the experiences of our visit almost as soon as we landed in Tegucigalpa on Monday: first impressions of the city, the surroundings, the people.

Our shared musings and wonderings increased as the week went on. We talked over breakfast, in the vans as we traveled from church to church, over lunch, over dinner.

We wondered about the shape our partnerships might take. We asked each other, ‘How can we be partners to Honduran Methodists without patronizing them? Without making our well-intended ‘help’ turn into hurt? What are the gifts and assets that Honduran Methodists can offer us?’

So much to ponder and discern, so much to prayerfully consider. So many takeaways.

It seems to me, however, that there is a danger in jumping to the weighing and sifting of takeaways and ‘what-ifs,’ to making plans and coming to decisions and conclusions too soon. There will be time for that in the coming weeks and months.

Today, I want to savor the experiences themselves.

In the village of Quisgualagua (‘Kees-wah-la-wah’), we visited with Pastor Jamileth, who had been a member of the Danli Central UMC.

She shared that getting to church for worship on Sundays was a challenge because of the distance between her home in Quisgualagua and the central Methodist church in Danli.

After discussions with the pastor of Danli Central, Roberto Pena (who is also the District Superintendent of the Honduran Methodist Mission), she became a church planter. Her village of around 500 now has its own Methodist congregation with her as their shepherd.

The day we visited Danli and Quisgualagua, we heard about a baked specialty called ‘rosquetes.’ When we asked what they were, Pastor Jamileth shared that two women in her congregation bake these little ‘breads’ to raise funds for the congregation, and that we would be able to taste them when we visited her church later in the afternoon.

When we arrived, there was fresh Honduran coffee, and a large basket full of rosquetes baked that morning. I purchased two packages, knowing that the proceeds would go to the ministry and well-being of this sister congregation.

The cookies made the trip back home quite well, nestled in a safe corner of my backpack.

This morning, my husband and I brewed a pot of Honduran coffee (a gift from the mission staff) and opened a package of rosquetes. More cookie-like than bread-like, the first bite was light and crisp, not too sweet, with a hint of cinnamon.

The faces of our fellow Honduran Methodists came to mind, and I offered thanks for the Spirit of God who connects us to them.

It was like having communion.


Migration

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. – Jeremiah 31.15

Migration. 

This word has been on the minds of many in our group as we’ve been doing our work in Honduras. 

Why are so many Central Americans leaving their homes – especially Hondurans – and undertaking dangerous journeys to other countries? In particular, why do so many try to make the dangerous trek to the southern border of the United States?

As Rev. Andy Lewis, Director of the Center for Missions Outreach and Assistant to the Bishop in our conference, made preparations for this exploratory trip to Honduras, he posed questions like these to the leadership of the Honduran Methodist Missional office. 

They responded by putting together a panel of knowledgeable people to share with us about their research and experiences related to the issue of Honduran migration. A Q&A followed. 

The statistics alone are staggering. Honduras has a population of approximately nine million. Of these nine million, one million live outside the country. 

Even more staggering: 85 percent of Hondurans have family members who have migrated. 

The reasons stated for this – by both the panelists and by pastors and church members with whom we spoke – are gang violence, economic stagnation and lack of employment opportunities. Government corruption adds to this crisis, as well as the effects of climate change. 

The overwhelming majority of those who decide to leave come from four departments (or provinces) who are experiencing extreme effects of climate change. Because of an extended drought, Honduras’ main crops – corn, beans and coffee – have failed in the last two growing seasons. The situation is expected to worsen. 

The demographic of those who migrate has also changed. In 2009, mostly young men migrated, in search of work and to escape gang extortion and violence. But that began to change in 2014, with young women making up 50 percent of those who left. Now the overwhelming majority of those who migrate are children and youth. These are the ones who comprise the ‘caravans.’

Over and over again, we heard stories of the disintegration of families, the rise among Hondurans of anxiety and depression, and increased incidents of suicide. 

We noticed discomfort, reticence and sadness among church members when asked if they had experienced the effects of migration. The gravity and pain of the situation was, and is, palpable. 

Some steps have been taken by our fellow Honduran Methodists to address the challenge. A Migration Task Force has been formed, and pastors seek to provide pastoral care and counsel to those who voice the possibility of migration and their families. 

Our fellow Methodists in Honduras also ask that we pray for them. We can do this. 

On our side of the border, we can explore and engage in opportunities for advocacy and witness. We can do this, too. 

We can step up, open our eyes and look around. God has work for us to do. 

Methodist women rock

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

The people called Methodist just rock. Truly.

I received further confirmation of this as a few from our group met with Honduran women Wednesday morning.

The planner of this special discussion and sharing group was Rev. Andrea Rocha Soares, a United Methodist Brazilian pastor and UMW regional missionary for Latin America.

Two of us joined Andrea as she met with women’s ministry leaders from several congregations in and near Danli, about two hours east southeast of Tegucigalpa.

We listened as these women shared:

– about what they love about being a woman, and what they love about ministry in their communities.

– about their challenges as women in ministry – both as laity and clergy. (There were two female pastors in the group.)

– heart-breaking stories of community members who have migrated away from Honduras, and about the social and economic crisis that exists in Honduras now.

 – about the hardship associated with a year and half long drought, causing food and water shortages.

As the meeting drew to a close, Pastor Andrea asked these dear women what they would like for women in the US to know. One by one, they offered these words of assurance and encouragement:

‘We are woman that are strong; entrepreneurial; who want to step up and go further.’

‘We are persistent, and we fight and serve the Lord and the people around us who are in need.’

‘We are beautiful women and hard workers.’

‘We have learned to step up and we look around to see what the needs are and that has helped us to be able to go further.’

‘Even though there are stumbling blocks and difficulties, we try.’

“And what might women in the US learn from you?” Pastor Andrea asked.

‘How to be united’ was the reply. ‘When we’re in unity, we can learn a lot together.’

Unity makes us stronger, yes. But the wisdom I received today from this fellow Honduran United Methodist is that when we are united, we can learn more together: more about Jesus Christ and how he works in and though us; more about each other; more about communities far and near, and how we can look out and around, and see where we can join with others in relationship, and thus learn more.

Jesus Christ prayed to God that his disciples ‘be one, as you and I are one.’

May it be so.

Their church

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Pastor Valarie Englert is in Honduras with Bishop Mike McKee and other clergy and lay representatives of the North Texas Conference to explore partnering opportunities with Mission Honduras. This is from their second day (Tuesday, September 10) in Honduras. 

“This congregation is located in a gang-controlled area,” began the female pastor of a United Methodist Church about 45 minutes outside of Tegucigalpa.

Several intakes of breath could be heard.

The pastor continued, “But I am not afraid. I know these kids in this gang. I taught them in school.”

A question arose from one in our group: “Do you or any of your church members pay the tax to the gang?”

“No, we pay no tax. The gang sees this church as their church,” she replied.

I’ve been pondering this since I heard the pastor say it Tuesday afternoon.

What does it mean in gospel terms to have a violent gang, practiced in extortion and murder, say that a church is their church?

My middle class US Protestant self is challenged by this. But I also wonder: for whom did Jesus bring the gospel? Just those who ‘know the ropes’ religiously speaking? Or for those who are lost, whether it be to violence or poverty?

Come to think of it, the gospel is for both those who know God (or perhaps think they do) and for those who are beyond the pale of our daily comforts and routines.

My own routine and comforts have been interrupted this week in Honduras. That’s the disruption of the gospel for you.

May we all experience the disrupting power of Jesus’ Christ good news – for us all.

A full first day

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

EDITOR’S NOTE: Senior Pastor Valarie Englert is in Honduras this week with Bishop Mike McKee and other clergy and lay representatives of the North Texas Conference to explore partnering opportunities with Mission Honduras.

What a full day it has been! Early morning travel, settling into our hotel in Tegucigalpa, and meeting our fellow Methodists at the Honduran Methodist Mission Office.

My first impressions: Tegucigalpa is beautifully situated in the highlands of Honduras at approximately 3,200 feet of elevation. The days are comfortably warm, and the nights are wonderfully cool. The surrounding hills and low mountains are beautifully green with trees and vegetation. The traffic is white-knuckle crazy (thank goodness I don’t have to drive!), and the people are warm and hospitable.

As we toured the Mission Office this evening, we learned that the main Methodist congregation in Tegucigalpa – Iglesia Metodista Unidos El Buen Pastor- also meets in the same building as the Mission office.

The congregation is in the process of constructing a new sanctuary, kitchen facilities and classrooms. Our North Texas Conference has funded a large part of the sanctuary construction through our apportionment dollars (your giving at work in another meaningful and tangible way).

As we toured the facilities, we wondered if a wedding was to take place. A white canopy was erected with small, round, decorated tables. The congregational area contained white chairs. A feast was being prepared, and a chamber ensemble began warming up.

What we discovered was that there was no wedding, but that a very special worship service was about to take place.

As we gathered to worship, the District Superintendent passed around a colorfully illustrated piece of paper among us, asking us to sign our names. As we raised our voices in singing How Great Thou Art (just as beautiful in Spanish as in English), we began the dedication of the cornerstone of the new sanctuary. The joy in the worshipping community was palpable.

And this is what made a lump rise in my throat: Pastor Carlos took that piece of paper with our names and collected it with notes from the congregation. He placed all of this in a locked ‘Time Capsule Box.’ As prayers were offered and praises sung, the box was placed into the wall of the sanctuary, and the cornerstone lifted over it. Two young men held it in place and two others drilled the screws into place.

To think that our name – lay and clergy representatives from the North Texas Annual Conference – are placed within that box of blessing for a future generation in Tecucigalpa to see is just special beyond words.

That’s the power of our Wesleyan connection, and the holy glue of the gospel.

I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.

Bound for Honduras

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

Back in May, I went with a small group from the North Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church to Brownsville, Texas on a “Courts and Ports” immersion trip, and shared with you about some of my experiences.

One of the most stunning things I noticed while at the migrant respite centers was the huge number of young families among them, most from Central America. “What are they running from?” I thought to myself. “It must be truly horrific in their country for them to pull themselves away from home and everything that’s familiar.”

A couple of months ago, Bishop Mike McKee extended an invitation to members of our annual conference to join him on an exploratory trip to Honduras. Bishop McKee has been appointed the episcopal leader for the Honduran Missional Conference. There are 23 Methodist churches there, 10 of which have partner churches in the United States; 13 do not yet have partner churches.

After conversation with some of our lay leaders and church members, I made the decision to accept the invitation. A big factor in my decision flows out of what I witnessed at the Texas border, and my lingering questions about the young Central American families I encountered.

A group of about 20 folks from our conference is joining Bishop McKee on a flight this morning to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. We will spend the week meeting with pastors and members of Honduran Methodist congregations. We will learn about their ministries and challenges, their dreams and hopes for the Honduran Methodist Church.

We will also have conversation around the issue of migration. What are the factors on the ground in Honduras that bring so many to leave and undertake such a dangerous journey to our southern border?

I am looking forward to meeting and spending time with fellow Methodists in Honduras, as well as learning more about their ministry context. I am also bold enough to think that the Methodist movement can make a difference wherever it manifests itself in the faith and actions of people who join together to make a difference for good in God’s Kingdom.

This week, I’ll be sharing with you some of my experiences and impressions. As always, I ask for and am grateful for your prayers.

The better part

I don’t read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is. I read a lot as a kid. Won a prize in second grade for reading 100 books.

I used to inhale science fiction voraciously. Robert Heinlein. Isaac Asimov. Arthur C. Clarke.

Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. The Illustrated Man.

But I no longer read as much as I should.

Not sure why that is, but I have a few theories.

For one, I grew up in an age where color TV was just past the novelty stage. I loved it! And I spent much of my discretionary time in front of the TV rather than reading.

Which leads to another theory.

I’m something of an impatient person. (Cue the eye roll!) Hence I often prefer a two-hour movie to reading the book.

I’ve also come to realize as I get older that sitting or laying still and reading a book often puts me to sleep. Probably some sort of disorder I should get checked out.

Of course, I read the sports page.

And I have a stack of books at home purchased with every intention of reading them. It just seems I never get around to it. For whatever reason, I just don’t make time.

I did listen to an audio book once on a long car trip. Tom Clancy’s Red Rabbit. (I’m a big Clancy fan, too, by the way. The Hunt for Red October is one of my all-time favorite books. And movies.)

I may pick an audio book this morning as I head out on the road to Pittsburg, Kansas for my aunt’s funeral.

Which leads to another admission. I don’t read the Bible as much as I should.

One good thing about being the Director of Communications at First United Methodist Church Garland is that I’m more or less ‘forced’ to read at least two Bible passages each week – the scripture lesson and the message text for Sunday’s worship service.

I’m reminded of my aunt – Geraldine Buford – as I read Luke 10:38-42, the lesson preceding Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “Little Icons” this coming Sunday:

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.

But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work myself? Tell her then to help me.”

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

In many ways the Martha in this story is me. Absorbed and engrossed in, preoccupied and distracted by the many things I have to do.

On the other hand my Aunt Gerry was the epitome of Mary.

She was not worried about or distracted by the things of this life. Her “one thing,” her focus on “the better part” – a deep, abiding love for Christ.

Like my Uncle Charles, who passed in 2013, Aunt Gerry was unequivocal, unwavering in her faith and her love for the Lord.

She never missed an opportunity to share the story of God’s grace with anyone who would listen, nor did she ever tire of sharing it.

Aunt Gerry and Uncle Charles loved to sing. They would strike up an old, traditional hymn at a moment’s notice.

And as my cousins, myself and many more family and friends whose lives she touched gather to celebrate her homegoing, we are secure in the knowledge that she and Uncle Charles are leading the heavenly choir.

The gift of figs

Valarie Englert, Senior Pastor

We have a fig tree in our back yard that is outdoing itself this summer – it is loaded with figs!

We pick them every day, and there are plenty to share with the birds and the squirrels; for making preserves; eating fresh; and bringing to the office for others to enjoy.

I’m pretty partial to this particular fig tree.

Several years ago, Rick and I prepared to put an addition on the back of our house. This required cutting down the fig tree to make way for the new construction. I shed tears as Rick cut it down to the ground.

Rick made other adjustments to the yard so that a pier-drilling truck could enter and do its work.

A week or two later in the wee hours of the morning, our daughter Eva appeared in the bedroom doorway. “Mom, Dad, there’s water all over the kitchen floor.”

We heard the noise before we reached the kitchen: rushing water splashing from our busted hot water heater.

As a result of that busted water heater, we decided to put the addition on hold and remodel the existing house.

As we shifted our focus and made new plans over the ensuing weeks, the roots of the fig tree began to send up shoots. And wonder of wonders! That little fig tree produced seven figs that summer.

This now big fig tree is a botanical reminder of God’s abundant grace; there is plenty for all.

Even during the winter, when the tree is bare, energy and sugars are stored in the roots, preparing for a new season of long days and warm sun, leaves and fruit.

The gift of figs never ceases to amaze me.

As one young friend reminded me, God’s abundant gifts are all around us, overflowing and ready to be shared.

When we share God’s gifts – whether they be figs or other signs of God’s love – that divine grace grows more and more in us.

There is a rippling, snowball effect: the more we allow our inner vision to “see” God’s grace around us, the more that grace takes hold in us, and the more we can be conduits of that grace.

This summer in worship, we have spent time considering the good news of God’s grace using the gifts offered to us through Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.

As an ordained minister, Fred Rogers understood his call to be that of offering unconditional love and acceptance to young children and their families.

Mister Rogers spoke frequently about “growing:” not only growing up, but growing in character, in patience, and in understanding – both of ourselves and others.

Mister Rogers reminds us that we “grow” inside and out – just as trees grow, and grass, and flowers, and birds, and mammals.

God’s grace is not only the glue that holds us all together, but it is the medium and fuel for our growth into the ever-present, overflowing abundance of our ever-loving God-in-Christ.

May we have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to accept the ever-present, abundant grace of God!

Musical diversity

Eldred Marshall Artist-in-Residence and Associate Director of Music Ministries

While planning the music for the July 7 worship services at First United Methodist Garland, I reflected on Senior Pastor Valarie Englert‘s message “The Gift of Diversity” (from our Summer Worship Series on “The Gospel According to Mister Rogers” and what that would entail, musically.

As Pastor Valarie shared, Mister Rogers did not teach “tolerance,” but rather that we embrace the different people around us – all our neighbors. In this, our lives, our expressions, our experiences would be forever enriched.

Interestingly, music does this sort of embrace far more easily than the people who create it.

Hence, I chose to highlight piano pieces that bend the genre in which they reside or thoroughly incorporate musical diversity, opening the musician and the listener to a new musical world.

For the prelude, I chose to make a personal arrangement of Richard Smallwood’s most famous gospel anthem Total Praise, with stylistic embellishments.

Even though the music is rooted in traditional Black Church musical expressions, Mr. Smallwood is a classically-trained pianist and composer who never hesitates to incorporate Western classical tradition in his compositions and improvisations.

In this respect, Mr. Smallwood and I share a common, and unique, musical language.

For the offertory at the 8:30am service, and for the first work in the 10:50am communion service, I chose to play Gershwin’s Prelude No. 2.

Gershwin felt most at home in his era’s popular musical forms: jazz, blues, rag-time, stride, etc. However, he loved classical music and strove to find ways to incorporate what he learned from that genre into his own musical language.

The piano prelude is a bluesy meditation that mixes the best of Romantic-era “absolute music” traditions of Brahms and Rachmaninoff and Tin Pan Alley.

For communion at both services, I played the Forlane movement from the piano suite Le Tombeau de Couperin.

Firstly, a forlane is a French baroque aristocratic dance, commonly performed during the time of Louis XIV. Ravel maintained traditional baroque forlane characteristics (triple meter; ABACADA+Coda form), but chose to update the musical language to his present day.

Around this time, Ravel befriended George Gershwin and became intimately familiar with American jazz. By incorporating the new music and art forms around him, Ravel embraced the “gift of diversity.”

As a result, we have an entire suite of music that is a special mix of 20th century French impressionism, early American jazz, and 16th century French dance music.

In this acceptance and appreciation of his neighbor’s music, Ravel managed to become the first French exponent of a sub genre called neoclassicism, which would take hold in Western music long after his death.

Be it Billy Ray Cyrus and Lil Nas X’s blockbuster 2019 hit song Old Country Road, or the frequent collaborations between southern gospel artists like Bill and Gloria Gaither with the late Andrae Crouch back in the 1970s and 1980s, music has always given us a living example of the fruits of diversity.

May we be inspired to follow its lead – and reap the same rewards.