By Rev. Lois Rogers-Watson
Many thanks to the Board of Higher Education and Ministry for the financial help I received toward attending the DOTAC 2015 meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil! What a rich experience it was!
Highlights of the Conference for me were several. First of all, the worship was deeply spiritual. It was well planned and executed. Our music leader was exceptionally fine and the chosen music was not only beautiful and easy to sing but it was theologically sound, in my humble opinion. Naturally, we servant leaders identified with the call to serve and to work for justice about which both the music and the liturgy spoke.
The evening worship services led by Lutherans were truly beautiful. We United Methodists could learn from the liturgies of other denominations. Our Anglican heritage speaks to me and I yearn at times for the orders of the day. In our personal devotions, my husband and I have a somewhat “order of the day” that is both challenging and satisfying.
Another highlight was the fellowship. To sit at a table with the same people for the entire conference was very special because one felt that you became a community and I appreciated each of my tablemates very much. They were diverse and yet we had so much in common. I came to love these people! Each is obviously a devoted disciple of Christ and each works in different but wonderful ways in their home communities. We only had one Portuguese person at our table and it would have enhanced our fellowship to have another but our dear sister was so lovely and I came to identify with her at a deep level.
Likewise, to interact at meal times with conference participants was special as well. Those of us who did the site visits together also had the opportunity to develop relationships through our shared experiences there.
The site visits were, indeed, a highlight. Our first site was similar but not the same as Ronald McDonald Houses in the USA. This site was more modest but certainly faith-based and that came through in several ways. Operated on a shoestring, it is providing housing for those awaiting transplants and/or checkups following transplants. The director is loving and enthusiastic about her work. The second site was the “Bread Project,” which is also exciting. Youth from distressed neighborhoods spend half a day three days a week at this project. They learn to bake and they learn computer skills. In addition, they take far-reaching field trips which expand their horizons beyond their neighborhoods and city. The staff at this site is very fine and well-skilled. They receive government funding and I pray that will continue because it is making a huge difference in the lives of these young people. While we were there a mother came to enroll her child because she has seen the results of the program in the lives of youth she knows. It, too, is faith-based and it is located in a church which gives not only space to it but also spiritual support.
The speakers were also inspiring. It happens I have not been in many situations where I needed translation and I found that to be an excellent experience. My language skills, despite some language study, are very, very poor outside the English language and I am humbled by those who are fluent in various languages beyond their native ones.
The content of the talks by these able speakers spoke to my heart. They underscored readings that I have recently done and just reaffirmed my commitment to justice activities. So many are eating bread crumbs in our world today! So many don’t even get the crumbs. We must take back the Kingdom in our churches and help our churches see that our call is to be counter-cultural. Fortunately, my current pastor gets that to some extent and I know I am looked to as the speaker for social justice. But, I need to be even a stronger voice and this conference helped equip me in that role.
It was my privilege to present a workshop on Israel and Palestine at the conference. Though attendance was light at the workshop, I pray that attendees saw the injustices of the occupation of Palestine and left with a determination to learn more and to speak out for the Palestinian people while at the same time praying for the Israeli government to change its ways.
Finally, while in the country of Brazil, friends and I took advantage of some travel after the conference. We went to Iguacu Falls, Salvador, and Rio de Janeiro. Since Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, we hardly saw a speck of it but nonetheless we learned a great deal from the various guides we had and the other people with whom we interacted. It was our privilege to meet Diana, a lovely young Methodist woman, in Salvador. All with whom we talked were discouraged by the corruption of their government and some of the stories they shared were not unlike things happening in the United States. It is time for the crumbs to become full communion in Brazil, the United States, and the world at large!
Many thanks again for helping make my pilgrimage possible. It was deeply spiritually, culturally, and socially enhancing and I thank God for it.
Rev. Rogers-Watson is a retired deacon and retired home missionary serving in East Lake United Methodist Church, Palm Harbor, Florida. She is a Stephen Minister and is involved in justice ministries on the local level and also an active advocate for ending the occupation of Palestine. She is a member of the Indiana Conference and an associate member of the Florida Conference.