Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Launch of the Book of Lutheran Identity for Youth

After more than a year of planning, writing, organizing and editing, last Thursday, February 23rd, the National Youth Ministry of the IELCO, launched their very own (and first in Latin America) book of workshops and activities to strengthen Lutheran identity. The youth held a celebration in the IELCO library to tell the story of the construction of this book, which is supported by the Lutheran World Federation, and to thank all those who helped write the book.

At the launch of the book in the IELCO library. From left to right: Liria Suárez Preciado (youth leader), Pastor Luzmarly Díaz (adviser to the National Youth Ministry), Marian Coy (coordinator of the National Youth Ministry), Pastor Atahualpa Hernández (Bishop of IELCO), and July Pinzón (communicator for the National Youth Ministry). Photo by Katie.
The book is divided into four chapters based on the Solas of the reformation (in English: Word Alone, Grace Alone, Faith Alone, and Christ Alone). Each of these four chapters contains the four components to Lutheran identity as named by the Lutheran World Federation; to be Lutheran means: to be Doctrinal, to be Political, to be Ecumenical, and to have a commitment to protecting the natural environment.

It is intended to be implemented in each of the Lutheran congregations in Colombia as part of celebration of the 500 years of the Reformation, which is happening all year. The local youth groups will work through it all year. As the first of its kind, this book will also be distributed through the Lutheran World Federation to other countries in Latin America, a very exciting achievement for the youth of Colombia. The National Youth Ministry was also informed that during the Lutheran World Federation’s global assembly this year in Namibia, two projects have been chosen to be showcased from each region of the world. This book was chosen to be one of the two to be shown from Latin America.

During the weekend (25 - 26 of February) the youth held a retreat for all local youth group leaders, to work on understanding the book and to practice using it. The retreat was also a great space to strengthen the youth ministry through building relationships across leaders from congregations very far away from each other. 

Youth leaders from around the country (with myself and Pastor Jairo Suarez) during an ice-breaker activity. The youth leaders are themselves youth, volunteering in the position. Photo by Jorge Díaz, director of communication of IELCO).

Arley Hernández (left) and Caterin Franco (right) looking over the book for the first time.
Photo by Jorge Díaz, director of communications for IELCO.
Curtis leading a workshop out of the book, as an example, for the youth leaders.
Photo by Mauricio Chala.

The youth leaders from around the country at their retreat, proudly showing their books.
Photo by Jorge Díaz, director of communications of IELCO.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Family Reunion of Sorts - ProFILE

You may remember me writing about ProFILE, the group of leaders who were in training. In both 2015 and 2016 we trained leaders from almost all the churches in Colombia. Each year the leaders completed 4 weekend-intensive-retreats learning about various aspects of leadership, Lutheranism, and service. At the end of 2016 the second group graduated. This year we have combined the groups to continue the training, and to help them all hit the ground running.

The group during their ice-breaker activity. Photo by Zulma Ojeda
This last weekend we held a retreat with the graduates from 2015 and 2016 - everyone together! It was wonderful! As the group gathered and shared stories we could see the transformation. The graduates are now exercising their leadership in their communities as well as asking how they can help in their regions AND help in other regions (the church here is made up of 4 regions).

Understanding the pillars of our faith as Lutherans, the 4 solas: Word alone, Faith Alone, Jesus Alone, and Grace Alone. If you look closely at the bottom of the photo, the binder is being sustained by four mini-pillars, the group balanced the binder using the pillars to understand the balance and importance of each of these pillars of our faith. Photo by Katie.
The kick-off retreat was to bring everyone together to discuss the plans for the year, give more tools/resources for their work, and strengthen the regions. I would say, without a doubt, mission accomplished. Zulma and I planned the retreat and invited two pastors to each lead one of the sessions (and Zulma and I led the rest). Pastor Jairo lead the session about Liturgy. Pastor Rocio, also the Vice Bishop, lead about Doctrine/Confession. They both did an excellent job!

Pastor Rocio leading her session (which also included the above activity with the pillars of faith). Photo by Katie.
The main session I led was about discovering leaders and discovering their Spiritual Gifts. I had a Spiritual Gifts inventory for the participants to each take, I was surprised to learn that of the whole group only 4 had ever taken something of the sort. The activity was very powerful and empowering as we talked about ways to discover gifts in others as well as in their congregations, and to utilize those gifts in ways that honor the needs of the church as well as the individual. 

Henry putting his stars (gifts) with the rest of the groups to show his gifts. This activity showed that together we make the church, together we are the body, and together we are stronger. Photo by Katie
Another purpose of this retreat was to bring the participants from the regions together to strengthen the regions and plan for how they will work within their regions this year.

Eastern Region: left to right - Teresa, Nancy, Belky and Maribel. (Photo by Katie)
Llanos (plains) Regions: left to right, Esmeralda, Lucila, Judith and Alba. Photo by Katie
Boyaca Region: bottom left to right, Maritza, July and Cristina, (on top the pyramid) Fenner. Photo by Katie

Central Region (this is the largest region as it includes Bogota). Photo by Katie
During the closing worship, offering time, Zulma led an activity of commitment/offering. Every participant was given a sheet where they wrote their specific commitment to leadership (what areas they commit to serving). In their right hand everyone held their financial offering, in their left hand their leadership commitments. It was a powerful time as Zulma prayed and blessed these offerings. 

Offering time and talents, while Zulma prayed. Photo by Katie

ProFILE! Photo by one of the nuns at the convent where we stayed. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Community Organizing for Peace and Justice

The St. Paul Lutheran Church in southern Bogota has been searching for ways to reconnect with its surrounding community which, in some ways, has changed drastically over the last 50 years. In discussions with Pastor Nelson and other church leadership, we decided that a congregation-based community organizing model is what they are looking for.

Pastor Nelson Celis of St. Paul Luthern Church in Southern Bogota. Photo by Katie.
While the concept of community organizing is new to the members of St. Paul Lutheran Church, they are very excited to begin a process that has the goal of revitalizing the relationships with the surrounding community as well as strengthening the church’s search for peace and justice in its community. We created a plan for the 2017 year that will involve weekly studies and monthly workshops for the community to strengthen its understanding of community organizing from theoretical, theological, and practical perspectives. These studies and workshops will go until July, when the congregation will come together and make a plan for how to move forward in connecting to the wider community.

Last Sunday, February 12, we held the first workshop after worship. With about 40 people attending the worship service, 22 stayed for the workshop (not bad for an education hour). This group of 22 was also very diverse in terms of age and gender, showing a large range of interest on the topic and the goal. After studying foundational texts and ideas about community organizing, the participants began to map out their surrounding community as well as identifying allies in terms of the search for peace and justice. We left inspired, hopeful and excited to continue studying this topic, and for St. Paul Lutheran Church to reconnect with the community. 

Some of the group that stayed to learn more about community organizing just as we were getting started. Photo by Katie.
Smaller groups mapping out their community and identifying potential partners in their work
for peace  and justice at the community level. Photo by Katie.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Regional Christian Formation Retreats

We are starting off 2017 with a visit to each of the four regions of Colombia where the Lutheran Church has congregations. The retreats are with the Sunday School teachers and the faith formation leaders in the congregations.  

Zulma and I, along with the coordinators in each region have been in charge of these retreats. We have completed three of the four retreats, with the final one this Saturday. It is a full-day retreat focusing in the morning on Baptism, how we live into our Baptismal promises and how we teach the children in the church to do the same. In the afternoon we look at our own emotions and how that affects the ways we interact and teach children. 

In Paz de Ariporo (The Llanos region)  the group always has the meetings in the kiosk outside, because closed indoors is too hot. In this photo the group was doing small group presentations. (Photo by Katie)

In Sogamoso (Boyaca Region), here I am wrapping up the section about emotions and how that affects our work with children. We used the book "7 Desires of Every Heart". I divided the group into 4 groups and gave each group a 'desire' to work through - looking at 4 places in their life: how that desire was fulfilled and not in their own childhood, and then how their are each fulfilling and not that desire in the children in their classes. In every region this has turned into delightful conversations. (Photo by Zulma Ojeda)
The other piece, as I mentioned, is looking at our Baptismal promises and how we live into that. At the end of the whole day, in an activity of closure, I have lead an activity of remembering your Baptism. In my experiences in the states, this is a normal/common activity for us, or at the very least, nothing new. That is not the case here. I gave everyone a piece of paper with summary and key points from the day, on the bottom of the paper, in big italic letter is said (in Spanish of course): Remember your Baptism, you are a beautiful child of God, in your Baptism you were sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the Cross of Christ forever. 
Above, Juliana is marking Pastor Sergio in the retreat in Bucaramanga (Eastern Region). (Photo by Katie)

Photo of the participants in the Boyaca Region, (Photo by Katie)

Participants in the retreat in the Eastern Region, (Photo by Belky Hernandez) [We forgot to take a photo of the group in the Llanos Region, and haven't had the Central Region retreat yet.]