Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Time Has Come

This is an email we sent to our supporters.  I hope you will also read our March reflections in this blog.

Dear Friends in Christ

    The time has finally come.  For the last two years, Ellen and I have said we were retiring.  Because this diocese and its people are so much a part of us, we have continually postponed this date.   Though we didn´t realize it, we were subconsciously waiting for God to tell us it was time to return to Nebraska.
    Ellen and I heard a very strong call to enter the mission field.  We believed that we would hear a call when it was time for us to leave.  Though the call wasn´t as strong, we have heard a call indicating that it is time for us to return to our family in Nebraska.  However, we are not abandoning our mission work for the Episcopal Diocese of the Dominican Republic.  We will remain involved.
    In fact, the Bishop has offered us Diocesan housing when the cold winds start to blow across the Nebraska plains.  January, February, and March would seem like a good time to help in the Dominican Church.  We are still discerning how we should be involved, but we WILL be involved. 
    There are many reasons why we think the Lord is recalling us.  First of all, our family has given us 16 years in the mission field, and we believe it is now time to be with them.  Two years ago when we first announced our retirement, our funding dropped off almost immediately.  Last fall we learned our mission account was $38,000 in the red.   As of the end of December we lost part of our stipend coming from the National Church, because they also thought we were retiring.  For these two reasons, and others, we thought it was time to say good-bye.
    The Diocese of Nebraska has carried us, but Ellen and I haven´t owed money to anyone for over 20 years.  The burden of owing the diocese money was one we could not personally accept.  As a result we took money we have saved to relocate back to Nebraska, and used it to repay the diocese.
    The Lord has taken care of our every need in the mission field, and we know he will do so as we adjust to living back in Nebraska.  However, please do not stop praying for us.  We need to find a comfortable place to live in Nebraska and we need to feel content in being back home.  I know it may sound ridiculous, but we believe it will a more difficult to adjust to our Nebraska surroundings, than the cultural adjustment we made to the DR.      If you do wish to help us financially, please use this address - Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, Snow Mission, 109 No. 18th St., Omaha, Nebraska 68102   Be sure to indicate it is for SNOW Mission.
    My friends we thank you for your prayers and support.  You have made it possible for us to live an incredible life over the last 16 years in the Dominican Republic.  It has been a fantastic spiritual adventure.  As a way of saying good-bye to one adventure, and hello to the next, Ellen and I want to share with you some mission reflections on our time in the DR.  We hope to do so monthly until the end of this year.
    With each reflection we send out, we will also share memories of some of the people who made a difference in our lives during our time in the DR.  There are hundreds, in truth, but we have limited it to 25.
    We will post these reflections on this blog.  I hope you will also take the time to read some of our past reflections.  There two reflections this month in addition to this one. You can reach the blog by going to May God Bless you as he has blessed us by your support over the years.

In His Service
Bob and Ellen Snow

Friends that Influenced Our Ministry
March 2012
Every month for the rest of the year, we will share with you five individuals or groups that influenced our ministry.  There are hundreds of people who we met along the way and gave us a helping hand.  We prepared our lists separately.  In some cases, only one of us will share our reflection and some occasions we will both share.  We limited to 25 simply because it seemed like a good number.

Bishop Julio and Milagros Holguín
BOB    When Ellen and I arrived in the Dominican Republic to serve as full-time missionaries, it was only our second trip.  On our first trip, we were in the DR for two days.  This time we had committed ourselves for a minimum of four years.  We were here, because we both believed that this is where our Lord wanted us to serve.
    Now 16 years after our arrival, we can look back and clearly understand why we were called to serve in the DR.  Bishop Holguin, Milagros, and the people of this country are the reason we have stayed here 12 years longer than our original commitment.  Bishop Holguin taught us what it means to live by faith and believe that if you do your part, our Lord will do his.
    This diocese has undergone a spectacular period of growth, because of the leadership and faith of its Bishop.   When Bishop Holguin believes a worshiping community is strong enough, he will buy property and start the foundation of a church.  At first, I thought the diocese was over-extended, because we had several schools and churches under construction.  But Bishop Holguin´s faith philosophy is start building it and they will come to finish it.
Milagros with Bob
    Working in the diocesan office, we have seen a side of Bishop Holguin that few others in this diocese have an opportunity to see.  His generosity to especially the poor is a wonderful and a very special gift he gives to God´s people.  He has been incredibly kind to Ellen and me.  He has on many occasions supported clergy and lay people who are struggling with grave health problems.  He is a person who reaches out without others knowing.  
     Milagros joins him in this generosity of spirit.  She has supported her husband and his ministry but has remained in the background.  She helps when help is needed.  She is both a Mary and Martha and her gift of hospitality makes everyone entering her home feel comfortable.  
    I cannot put into words the influence they both have had on this diocese and us.  Their love and support have made our ministry here both satisfying and productive.  
ELLEN - You can’t separate the two, but I will do my best to talk about each one.  Bishop Holguin has been a very exciting person to work for.  He is a visionary.  He accepts no boundaries.  He dreams with his heart and his soul.  He is so honest.  He pushes people to do things, they don’t think they can do, but he pushes and gets what he thinks is needed.  His shoes will not be filled easily.  It has been a huge privilege for us to serve as missionaries under his tutelage.  He has always been available to help and to give aid.  He will have a special place in my heart forever.  Many people do not know all the ways he has helped people.  He carries so much responsibility,  I don’t know how he handles it, but he does.  He amazes me. 
     His soul mate, Milagros, is always at his side.  She is the hostess to top all hostesses.  I have never seen her without a smile on her face.  She handles a small dinner party of 5 as well as a dinner party of 25.  She also helps many people and projects that no one else knows about.  She and the bishop are so generous, but are always behind the scenes when it comes to letting people know how much they do.  This diocese is what it is today because of the tireless work of the two of them together.  I am so thankful to have had the privilege to work with them and get to know them personally.

Vivencia Kids
BOB - Perhaps our greatest and most lasting gift to this diocese was introducing Happenings, or Vivencia, to the young people of this diocese.  Ellen and I were Mom and Dad on the first Happenings in Nebraska.  We knew the spiritual impact Happenings had on young people in Nebraska.  One of our early goals was to introduce Happenings in the DR.  Fortunately Aldo Rincon and Miguelina Espinal, two Dominican young people, had attended Vivencia in Puerto Rico.  Our friends from Puerto Rico joined us in presenting the first Vivencia here.  After the first Vivencia, the youth took over and provided strong leadership without much adult supervision. 
    Vivencia has changed the spiritual face of this diocese.  Our youth are involved and committed.  Youth on the first few Vivencia are now adult leaders within the diocese.  The diocese will continue to benefit from the spiritual leadership qualities of these young people for years to come.

ELLEN - Bob and I were active with Happenings in the US.  When we arrived in the Dominican Republic, a young women who is now a priest, asked us to help get Happenings started in the Dominican Republic.  Of course, we said yes.  We started the program with the help of the youth and clergy leadership from Puerto Rico.  Every since then I have been one of the moms on the weekends.  I feel now like a grandmother to some of the youth that are now in the program.
    Every year we have a Vivencia weekend in August.  For the last few years, I kept saying I didn’t think I had the energy to do the weekend, but I did them.  I always feel so fulfilled with the youth.  They work hard and we worship together and pray together and it never ceases to energize my aging body and my faith.  I come back renewed and energized to tackle the problems facing me each time. 
    I have watched some of these youth mature into young adults.  They put me to shame at how hard they work on the weekend and how much they put into the weekend.  Some of them I believe will be or already are priests and other ministers of the church.  I know many of them now are serving on their vestries.  Many of them are youth leaders in their church.  I can’t tell you how much they inspire me.  They also give me hope for our church in the future.  I pray that they do not lose the fire of their enthusiasm to share the gospel with other youth outside their circle. 

Father Gonzales (left) with the Bishop
Father Daniel Gonzalez
Ellen – I remember when coming to the Dominican Republic, there was this priest with a sweet smile.  However, all the seminarians were afraid of him and even some of the people in the church.  He was known as a man who could be really tough. 
    However, he was very kind to Bob and I.  He had the patience of Job.  He was the dean of the seminary at the time and also was the Spanish pastor for Epiphany church.  For some reason, he felt sorry for Bob and I and he took us under his wing.  He was so patient with our bad Spanish.  He never spoke English, although I think he could have if he wanted to.  He was a learned man and he ruled the seminary and the church with a stern hand.  But yet there was something about him that Bob and I grew to love, and so did others in the church. 
    He was so loving to us.  He would push us when we needed to be pushed, but he was always there to talk to us and guide us. 
    As the years went by, Fr. Gonzalez developed heart problems.  He never let it get him down.  He would get sick, but he would bounce right back.   He never stopped doing what he loved.  Every morning I would see him take his morning walk.  He would always greet me and give him a special hug.
    My favorite memory of him was on Sunday mornings.  When he was not responsible for the Spanish congregation, he would go to his office and wait for us to deliver communion to him after the service in the church.  Although he was a learned man, he never made you feel beneath him.  He could look into your eyes and make you feel like he could read everything about you.  I still see his face now and then. 
    Fr. Gonzalez left this earth as he always went about God’s work, quietly and gently.  I know and hope that one of the people that will meet me in heaven will be Fr. Gonzalez.

BOB – When Ellen arrived in Santo Domingo on December7, 1995, Epiphany Church did not have a priest.  Bishop Reus, the former Bishop of Puerto Rico, had served the church until just two months prior to my arrival.  I was a new missionary, who spoke very little Spanish, and was assigned to take care of a church with both an English and Spanish congregation.  I was relieved that the Dean of the seminary would celebrate Sunday services for the Spanish congregation.  I was intimated at first at serving with the Dean of the Seminary. 
    At first, I was to reluctant to speak Spanish in the mass.  My pronunciation was terrible, my vocabulary was small, and I stumbled over words with more than three syllables.
    The second Sunday I was at Epiphany, he asked me to conduct the first part of the Spanish service.  I was prepared to read the gospel, but I was not prepared to read out loud from the prayer book.  I said I had not practiced the readings.  He agreed to do it, but told me to be prepared on the next Sunday.  From that point on, I conducted the first part of the service.
    Father Gonzalez always pushed me to do more, than I thought I could or should do.  When I stumbled over words, he didn´t say thing, even though I knew he had a reputation as a perfectionist.  Few deacons, and even fewer missionaries, have the opportunity to learn from the dean of a seminary, and a person who preached the gospel in both words and life.
    When we moved off of church property, we spent less time with Father Gonzalez.  When we returned to the DR from Nebraska in 2011, we learned that Fr. Gonzalez had died.  Now as we are about to leave the DR, I regret that I did not spend more time with him.  Fr. Gonzalez made our transition into this culture easier, but even more important he gave me an insight into Latin Spirituality.  Thank you Fr. Gonzales.

Cathedral Feeding Program
BOB - I don´t remember Mary´s last name, but I do remember when I first met her.  I was preaching at Epiphany Cathedral when Mary entered the church, shouting embarrassing phrases and walking up the center isle barefoot and dirty.  Epiphany frequently has street people enter the church, so our ushers politely asked Mary to sit down or leave the church.  She decided to sit down. 
    Mary was extremely aggressive and could be violent.  She was hungry, and there was little doubt that she needed help.  But Mary´s greatest need was that she desired someone to care about her needs and love her. 
Mary would periodically visit the church, and she discovered that we did care about her if she entered Epiphany and sat down.  Because of her  aggressive manner, people were afraid of her.  But she knew that there were people at Epiphany who really cared about her and would help.
    When we didn´t see Mary for a few months, we became concerned.  About a year after we stopped seeing her on Sundays, she entered the church and she was wearing shoes and a clean dress.  She sat down in the back row as always.  When the ushers came down the aisle with the offering, I saw her stand up and follow them.
    After the ushers presented me with the offering they stepped back.  It is then I saw Mary holding a lit candle with a picture of Jesus.  She kissed Jesus and then handed me the candle as her offering.  I left the candle on the altar and after communion put it on the credence table.  When I looked out at the congregation, I could easily tell they knew what had happened.  Several of them were wiping tears from their eyes.
    Another year passed without seeing Mary.  One Sunday Ellen came back to the sacristy and said there was someone by the front door who wanted to see me.  When I asked who it was she said you may not recognize her, but you will be happy to see her.   
    As I walked down the center aisle, I did not recognize the person who wanted to see me.   Then suddenly I did.  It was Mary.  She was at least 25 pounds heavier, and wore a clean and neatly pressed skirt and blouse.  I gave her a hug.  She told me she was staying in a Catholic home, but she just wanted to tell us how much she appreciated the church and what we did for her.
    Mary taught me many things about the culture of living on the streets.  She illustrated to us the power of Christ´s love when we demonstrate this love to other people.  We haven´t seen Mary for about two years.  But we both believe she is being taken well care of.  Maybe by the Catholic Church, but most certainly by the one who takes care of us all.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mission Questions and Answers

Earlier in the year, a woman attending a seminary asked us to respond to some questions for a class she is taking on mission.  We thought our answers were a good way to start a series of monthly blogs on our mission experiences.  Every month we will share with you 5 people or groups which influenced our mission work.  In addition, we will share some of our experiences.  If you have questions about mission that you would like us to answer.  please send them to bobsnow_2005@yahoo.comNow the questions.—

1.  What are the greatest challenges you encounter in your ministry?
BOB - In many ways, every day is a challenge.  In the first part of our ministry learning Spanish was by far the greatest challenge.  Through language you can learn more about the culture.  The first two years were especially difficult, because we did not know the culture we were called to serve.  In our third year, we began to understand this culture.  Another great challenge was determining how we could best serve the church in the DR.
ELLEN-In the beginning it was learning a foreign language and adapting to a culture that was very different from where I came from.    Now that I have been in this country for 16 years, I think my biggest challenges have been to be the bridge between North American mission teams and the Dominican people and clergy.  The two cultures are so different and sometimes North Americans want to be so generous, but they don’t understand there is a wrong and a right way to be generous. 
Another challenge that all missionaries face in a third world country, is the poverty.  You want to help everyone, but you know you can’t.  So you must decide who gets help and who doesn’t.  It is very difficult at times to work this out in your heart.  Who can I help and how much and how? 

2.  What are the greatest joys of your ministry?
ELLEN-  I think that any missionary receives great joy when you see that you have helped someone to know God.  When you see the fruits of your labors flourish and someone comes to you and says, you have helped me. 
 A personal joy to me is that I see relationships with Dominicans develop into deep trust and true affection for one another.  There is no greater joy than to realize that someone trusts you and truly cares about you. 
BOB- My greatest joy is worshiping in a poor barrio with my Dominican brothers and sisters in Christ.

3. What theology grounds your work in the particular ministry you conduct?
BOB­ ­: Matthew 25 35-45  Ellen and I heard a call to serve God´s forgotten and needy people.  We were involved in prison ministry in Nebraska for many years, which is certainly a mission field.  It proved to be a training program for foreign mission work.  Mission involves accepting and working comfortably in another culture.
ELLEN - First of all, my love of the Father is my motivation for everything I try to do.  Without that love to show me and guide me and strengthen me, I could not do anything.  I believe now, that all things are possible with God’s love.  To love God is so simple.  The world wants us to believe it is too difficult, but that simplicity, the faith of a child, is so important to loving God enough to give him yourself completely.  As I write this, I realize that is the joy of my ministry, is to love God with all my heart, and mind and soul. 

4. What surprises did you find or encounter in your work?
ELLEN - The first surprise that I found in my work is that I could work with my husband and form a real trust relationship with him.  We work as a team.  We come from very different perspectives, but we have learned to count on each other to give us a different twist on all things. 
I can’t tell you how many times I have learned that the power of prayer really, really works.  God answers prayers.  He answers big prayers and little prayers. 
On the negative side of things, I have been shocked sometimes at how insensitive people can be to one another.  I have also been shocked at North Americans that do not understand what is going on in the rest of the world from the stand point of cultural differences and just the world poverty.   I guess I will say that working in another country has opened my eyes to many things, good and bad. 
BOB - Like most missionaries, we were surprised that we have received more spiritually from those we were sent to served, than we were able to give to them.  It seems that the poorer the community, the richer the spirituality among its people. 

5. What forms of support have you received?
BOB - We have received financial, prayer, and love support.   This support comes from churches and individuals.  We have visited over 125 churches to talk about mission, not necessarily to ask them for personnel support.  However, many of our financial supporters come from the churches we visited.  We also receive a stipend from the USA National Church as appointed missionaries.
ELLEN -  Oh my goodness!!! I could go on for hours about this subject.
Not only have we received financial support of all kinds, but people have been  generous with their prayer support.  Plus many people are kind to us.  They will send us care packages of things that we couldn’t get here at first.  Just to give you a little list – chocolate chips, peanut butter, mint tea, peppermint hard candies, etc. etc.
We receive e-mails and letters and cards from many, many people, some we don’t know too well. 
    We have received support from the National Church in the years past.  The church here has been a wonderful support to us.  The Dominican Diocese is always ready to help us when something is needed.  They help us find doctors when we need it, they have helped us when our apartment was broken into and we had to have doors replaced.  They have been a wonderful support system for us. 

6. How have you been received by the receiving community or other communities you have visited?
ELLEN - The receiving community helped us by having another missionary help us get established here.  They received us with warmth and love.  However, I think they waited to see if we would stay here.  Most missionaries don’t stay for a long time.  Usually, they stay for four or five years and then move away to another location or back to the states.  I think they thought we would do the same.  However, once they knew we were staying, things began to change.
    Because our ministry takes us all over the diocese, we have been received in many communities with open arms.  I know that at first we represented North American teams, but as the relationship formed, they realized that we were here to help them. 
At first, I think communities were polite to us because they knew we were from the diocesan office, but as our relationship grew, we were received into other communities because the word had gotten around.  
BOB - We have been received extremely well.  Many of our Dominican friends, including the Bishop, say we are now part Dominican, a real compliment.

7. How have you been changed through your involvement in mission?
BOB - I cannot possibly list all the ways I have been changed through our involvement in mission.  Here are just some
·         A richer, deeper and more meaningful spiritual life.
·         More dependent on God, and less dependent upon me.
·         More laid back in dealing with life events coming my way.
·         More accepting of all God´s people, no matter skin color, smell, or mental attitude.  I love working with street people.
·         I demonstrate my love and care for people in a more personal and loving way.
·         Etc. etc. etc. etc.
ELLEN - Here is another subject that I could write a book.  I think the first and foremost thing is that my faith as a Christian has grown tremendously.  I am not afraid to offer to pray with people.  I am not afraid to talk about my relationship with Christ because I know now that it is the most important gift I can give to others. 
    My perspective on the world, on poverty, on just living has changed drastically.  I have lived a wonderful adventure with Christ for 16 years.  I no longer look at life and say how can we do this?  I look at life and say why not?  My life has been filled with so many wonderful adventures, that  anything outside of the mission field has to be anticlimactic.  I have been given the greatest gift a Christian could have been given and I am totally grateful for that gift. 
    My whole perspective on life has changed and will continue to change.  It cannot be expressed in words.  If I continue to try I will just frustrate myself and bore you. 

8. How has this affected your family/children who are either with you or geographically separate?
ELLEN - This is one of the down sides to being a missionary.  I would be dishonest to say everything was fine and is fine.  I will start with our parents.  I had just lost my father and I had to leave my mother.  But my only sibling came to me and said, “Ellen, I know God is calling you.  Go ahead, I will take care of mom.  We will be fine.”  This took a huge burden off my heart.  He is still doing what he was called to do.   My husband’s parents on the other hand, were in disbelief.  They couldn’t understand how we could leave our good jobs and family to do this. 
    My husband’s brothers had varied reactions.  Some did not want to talk about it.  One brother has supported us and ask us to visit with them all the time about our work and about Christian issues.
    Our children – We have two daughters.  One is a strong Christian, but she at one time found it hard to understand how we could leave them for this long.  However, we have a  good relationship.
    Our other daughter – In her formative years was quite a hand full.  But as she became a mother and matured, she has been the one who is more understanding about what we are doing.  She shares with us her deep faith in God and always wants to know what we are doing.  She is a single mom, she has very little to support us financially, but she will open her home to us any time and is always ready to visit with us when she can.   Her emotional support has meant a lot to us through the years. 
BOB - Our family is separated from us.  Our youngest daughter, who is divorced with two children, became less dependent upon us, or in other words grew up.  Our grandchildren would like us closer, but have a pride in what their grandparents are doing.  My Mom and Dad continually ask when we are coming home.  I think initially they thought we were crazy in giving up our jobs.  After 16 years they are accepting.  In some ways, I feel closer to my family, because when we go back we spend quality time with them.