A pastors’ retreat on the theme of violence
By Ardell Graner
April 2020 | ATLANTA
After 23 years as missionaries in Bolivia, Ardell and Gordon Graner were appointed to serve in the Dominican Republic in 2013, working with the Evangelical Church in the Dominican Republic. Ardell works in pastoral education ministries with Dominican Republic team members, the Rev. Betania Figueroa and Jose Rafael Peguero (a sociologist). The team prepares Sunday school lessons, vacation Bible school, devotionals and reflections for volunteers in mission and a program called Extension Bible School. Ardell adds: “It’s an exciting curriculum because it deals with the realities of the country.”
I was asked to lead a series of three devotionals during a pastors’ retreat in which the theme was violence in the society. My goal was to encourage pastors to connect with their context in the Dominican Republic and to the power that God gives us all to respond to the issues around us. We especially wanted to focus on the reality of violence, which concerns us all.
The Latin American Bureau says: “Domestic violence is the biggest source of violence against women in the Dominican Republic.”
The latest data from the “Procuraduría Fiscal del Distrito Nacional” (the National District prosecutor, Santo Domingo) puts the number of complaints of domestic violence in the past two years at over 15,000, with this type of crime making up 23% of total offences reported in the capital alone – the single most reported offence. Of the 199 femicides last year, 46% resulted from domestic violence.
Last year’s camp curriculum for adolescent kids was also about violence, one of the most powerful curriculums I have helped to develop and teach.
Finding a workable metaphor
Gordy made me a wooden frame measuring 16 feet X 3 feet X 6 inches deep. We used two of the heavy solar oven tables to hold it.
I chose items from nature to represent the dynamics of the devotionals, such as:
Soil to represent culture, the context in which they live. They had a lot of fun with this part of the dynamic as they named historical facts, political facts, the religions on the island, the languages spoken, the different groups of people living here, the geography and environment, agriculture, and, of course, their music and food. With every example they shared they put a glass full of soil in the wooden frame.
They then filled tiny glass vials with water and placed a leaf in each one as they shared words that describe God’s character, Jesus’ actions with people and the Holy Spirit’s presence with us all.
We placed rocks and stones in the structure as they shared the issues they deal with every day. We distributed shredded garbage in the scene as they began to focus on the types of violence they all experience. They spread wilted petals to represent specific people and families they know who are suffering and struggling with violence.
We then placed each of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana (churches), little wooden blocks with painted windows, in the scene. Their crosses were made from tiny branches woven together with yarn. Different types of seeds; tiny pine cones, rice seed, pia pia seeds and cashews seeds were used to represent men, women, children and the elderly in their congregations.
An ancient prayer of love in action
After each component was added to the frame, everyone laid their hands on the scene. We prayed that we could accept who we are (identity is a strong subject in the DR), thanking God for planting us where we are, and asking for God’s insight to see our communities with new eyes.
Each one then lit a candle and made a vow of commitment to their churches and communities and placed themselves in the scene. We bowed our heads and listened to the prayer of Teresa de Avila (1515-1582):
Christ has no body but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands with which he blesses the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Ardell and Gordon Graner have served as missionaries for 30 years. Gordon Graner has plans for retirement in September 2020, while Ardell will continue serving a while longer. Ardell says she is going to use this frame concept in two other activities this year. One will be with Volunteer-in-Mission teams, as she says: “Since we are in the Dominican context, what does that mean for us who are invited to be in mission with the Dominican people and how does our relationship relate to colonialism? How do we not repeat our tendency for colonialism?”`