Service (a story from DfG in Ecuador)

This sermon was written for Third Presbyterian Church on March 26, 2023

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You who are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment but the righteous into eternal life.”

“Service cannot be done in absentia.  It necessitates our personal involvement.” Says Richard Foster, the author of Celebration of Discipline, on The Discipline of Service, page 172.  In the same chapter he says, “True service builds community.” (p. 161).  Service happens within relationships.  For Richard Foster, service is based on humility or the idea that you are not the center of the universe.  Service is giving what is actually needed, or what is requested or wanted by the person you are seeking to serve.  The one providing service does not get to decide what is best.  He also talks about the service of being served, which might be better said, being vulnerable sometimes or being a gracious guest, or allowing the service to be mutual.  The way we relate to one another determines if we are practicing service or if we are missing the mark.

Similarly, Hunter Farrell and Bala Khyllep, the authors of “Freeing the Congregational Mission” emphasize healthy relationships as the key to mission.  After reading this book with our mission committee over the last year, and attending the three workshops with the authors and other mission leaders in our presbytery, I can attest that the foundations laid in this work: companionship, humility, and co-development, are not only the keys to better mission, but also to better relationships within the church, between the church and the community, and between each individual in the system.  Hunter and Bala start the book with the history of mission that includes some unfortunate colonization, racism, and forced conversion.  They also include some more modern pit falls like selfie culture and donor care that are harmful to relationships, finances, and the image of mission in general.  And yet, their book is full of practical advice and best practices, and above all the hope that we can do better.  

Today, I want to talk about my trip to Ecuador with DfG and how during that trip I saw great examples of how to do mission work that was relationship building, allowed me to practice cultural humility, and truly felt like co-working with partners in service.  

Before going to Ecuador, I attended some zoom meetings and read a couple of books about Ecuador to prepare for what I might encounter.  Part of our planning included a google document of what Andrea, our DfG Ecuador leader, was preparing and what was still needed to complete the distributions.  Materials and components were being gathered across the United States.  There was a real sense of teamwork and community as each of us checked items off the list and contributed what we could to our common goal, getting washable menstrual pads to indigenous communities.  Andrea had already begun building relationships with the indigenous leaders.  Establishing relationships before and during the trip were a vital part of our work.  Our DfG group set up a what’s app chat group that we still communicate in occasionally.  

One of the first cultural customs I learned about and experienced in Ecuador was the welcome drink.  Ecuadorians greet visitors with a beverage and snacks no matter what time you arrive.  It is polite for visitors to drink the welcome drink which was usually an herbal cinnamon tea served warm or at room temperature and sometimes the drink was fermented.  At one of our stops in the rainforest, our guide explained that the welcome drink contained alcohol, but this indigenous group understood that not everyone is able to consume alcohol, so it was ok with them if we didn’t partake.  Our gracious host had learned about the customs of some visitors and understood why welcome drinks might be refused.  They were showing cultural humility by not forcing alcohol on their guests.  

One of DfG’s best practices is to let local leaders take the lead in distributions.  This was especially important on our Ecuador trip.  A group of mostly well-meaning white women should not fly in and act like white saviors especially in a place where colonization, forced conversion to Christianity, and some harmful US economic policies had already had negative effects on generations of people in Ecuador.  We needed to practice cultural humility; white Americans do not know what is best.  Our goal was to support Andrea’s leadership.  And Andrea was hoping to support the local indigenous leaders too.

We completed several distributions in Ecuador totaling over 650 kits.  Along with the distributions that were scheduled we also gave kits to hotel staff and other women who were part of cultural exchange excursions in the Amazon.  Andrea’s warm smile and confidence put those listening to her words at ease.  At each place we visited, Andrea was greeted warmly by the leaders.  It was clear that she had connected with them professionally and personally.  The kits were well received because she had done the groundwork to make these connections and explain exactly what they would be receiving.  

Andrea told us that most of the indigenous women already used a washable solution.  They would cut up old men’s shirts and use those as menstrual rags.  It was not ideal as there wasn’t a waterproof barrier.  They saw the DfG pads as an upscale version of their own solution and were thrilled to have them.  Many people asked for Andrea’s contact information so they could order more for family or pass her information along to others not able to attend the distribution.  During the presentations, Andrea asked indigenous leaders to hold up her posters or translate key phrases into Kichwa, their language that they are working to preserve.  Most distributions include a moment for questions.  We noticed that in one place no one asked any.  Andrea explained that the local leader had done lots of work to make sure her people understood what was going to happen before we arrived and was able to translate nearly all the presentation into Kichwa, so her people got the information they needed.  Local leaders make all the difference.  

And while I could continue to site big examples of service in this mission experience, I was also struck by how many small services were done amongst the group too.  We served one another in the sharing of practical items like: Tylenol, bug spray, hand sanitizer, and toilet paper.  And we served one another by checking in regularly, how are you feeling?  Did you get to talk to your kids? We shared stories in laughter and tears.  Never in my wildest dreams did I expect this trip to be incredible and overwhelming and empowering and validating and loving.

Near the end of our trip, we found out that Andrea’s home had been robbed.  Her power lines were cut and were taken along with her internet cables.  Thieves sell those cables and leave the home vulnerable for them to return and take what they want.  Luckily, Andrea had a neighbor keeping an eye on things that alerted the police and nothing more happened to her home.  But the expense of replacing her lines of power and communication were worrying to her.  In a matter of moments each of us chipped in what we could and together we had more than enough to restore what was lost.  No one thought twice about it; it was obvious that when someone in our community had any need, we could meet it together.  

In many ways, a short-term mission trip is like a pilgrimage.  Being in a new place with new friends creates opportunities for deep learning.  I learned a lot about Ecuador, and I learned a lot about myself, and my connection with God and neighbor.  The trip opened my heart up to see the way power and privilege play out in the world.  I experienced a group of women whom I knew only from virtual communications build bonds of compassion and care for each other.  I am forever changed because I have experienced a little taste of what the God’s realm could be among my friends in mission and service.


Life is short and there is little time to gladden the hearts of those who travel the way with us.  So be swift to love and make haste to be kind.  Go with God’s blessings and love.

Hymns: Called As Partners in Christ’s Service, O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee, and O for A World

My friends at Community 341 gave me this star word when we met for lunch. It was left over from the star words that they had distributed to their community. Star words are usually distributed in the new year to give the receivers a concept to focus on for the year or something to watch for to see what God is doing. I’m looking forward to discovering what other ways service will impact this year.

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