Weekly Update
Announcements From Around the Virginia Synod
Yorktown to Ecuador:
 "A Kind Of Visit Made in Love that God Is"


"From the moment I stepped foot onto the concrete playground of the Refugio, I was embraced by a multitude of beautiful souls; the youngest being 3, the oldest 16."
 
Vicar Suzanne with two of her new friends from Ecuador
Vicar Suzanne Stierwalt recently traveled to Ecuador for the first time with a team from St. Mark Yorktown and her photos from the trip are plastered with wide smiles of local children. When she is asked about the trip, her response is usually, "My arms were not wide enough to hold all of the love that the kids had to offer."
 
During October, Vicar Suzanne Stierwalt joined Pastor Joel Neubauer, Rob and Susette Goff, and Tom Teigeler as they visited Toctiuco, Ecuador.
 
Over the past 15 years St. Mark Lutheran Church in Yorktown has been fostering a relationship with this small community. The relationship is centered in the "Refugio de los Sueños (Refuge of Dreams)" -- a community center which offers educational, nutritional, medical, dental and emotional therapeutic support to about one hundred fifty children at any given time.
 
The relationship between St Mark and the Refugio is primarily a relationship of friendship. Members of St Mark use Skype to make video calls and make frequent trips in person to visit with the children and people of Toctiuco. However, there is a financial aspect to the relationship as well.
 
Toctiuco is extremely impoverished and suffers high rates of drug use, rape, child prostitution and physical abuse. The financial support for the community provides means for local advocates to work with children and families to break longstanding cycles of egregious abuse and systemic neglect. 
 
Despite the poverty and abuse that these children have endured, their joy still remains.
 
The Refugio de los Suenos where over 150 children go to find refuge
 
"We went to Ecuador to give something to the children of the Refugio," Pastor Joel Neubauer wrote in a recent St. Mark newsletter. "We brought suitcases of underwear & socks, schools supplies & surprises for babies, children, adolescents and young adults. Yet as soon as we arrived - before sharing a single gift - their hands opened to us with hand-printed banners and hands waving in song. Immediately our hands were filled - filled with the hands of immediate friends, pulling us in to dance with them."

Pastor Joel also shared this story from their time in Ecuador:

Vicar Suzanne was sitting with two girls waiting for their father (who works at the Refugio) to take them home at the end of the day. 

It's not rare for fathers to be absent from children's lives in Toctiuco. And for children who do have fathers in their lives, it's not rare for fathers to be sources of physical and sexual abuse. But these girls have a good father, and his work at the Refugio is a rare model for young men of how to be a loving and responsible man.

Knowing how greatly loved and respected their father is -- and as a new dad to a daughter myself -- I asked: "What's the most important thing for a man like me to do for my daughter to be a man like your dad?" One of the girls -- a girl who'd been adopted into the family when her mother died -- answered immediately: "Quererla."

"Quererla" has a double meaning -- Love her & Want her.

We want to be loved and we loved to be wanted. She hadn't missed a beat. It's the only thing that matters. It's the truth we encounter far away and the truth we know at home. In a world where fathers are feared, this little girl needed me to know what makes a father good. 

For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Child, in whom I am well pleased. (Romans 8:15, St Mark 1:11)
 
From St. Mark's relationship with "the Refugio," the Yorktown congregation has also begun to make connections with the local Roman Catholic Parish and the local Lutheran congregation. These partners are especially valuable in sharing God's love with the children and neighbors in Toctiuco, especially now The Ecuadorian government permanently withdrew its financial support of the Refugio funds last June.
 
"On the one hand, this trip was focused on joy and friendship." said Pastor Joel Neubauer. "Much time was spent sitting with government officials and community leaders, looking for ways to continue the work of the Refugio among the most neglected of Ecuador's children. We were blessed by the faith and commitment of our Ecuadorean Lutheran partners to provide $2000 per month for the children's food and nutrition."
 
When the group wasn't in meetings with local partners, they were experiencing the direct impact of the Refugio de los Sueños. They colored with the children, shared stories of faith, and built friendships with laughs that crossed language barriers.
 
Children from the Refugio working on their crafts for the day
 
"Most of the children come from homes where abuse is so horrific that I cannot share, yet they come to this place of refuge that is their safe haven, if only for a few hours a day." said Vicar Suzanne Stierwalt. "It is here that they can be a child; laugh and play, receive counseling and a hot meal."
 
Oftentimes when one has a life altering experience, words just aren't able to serve justice and it seems like this Ecuadorian escapade was such a case.
 
"Words cannot begin to describe it all -- but the Word Made Flesh describes it perfectly." said Pastor Neubauer. "This was a visit made in the kind of love that God is."
Announcements
"In the Breaking of the Bread: 
Finding Christ in Full Communion"
A retreat for Lutheran and Episcopal clergy and rostered leaders
 

Renowned scholars Gordon Lathrop and Neil Alexander will serve as keynote presenters for a retreat held May 16-18, 2016, at Shrine Mont Conference Center in Orkney Springs, Virginia. "In the Breaking of the Bread: Finding Christ in Full Communion" will gather clergy and rostered leaders of Lutheran and Episcopal churches, equipping them for shared ministries of word and sacrament. 
 
Coming together in the peaceful setting of Shrine Mont, retreat participants will share in worship, fellowship, and education with one another. Bishops will lead "instructed eucharist celebrations" in Lutheran and Episcopal traditions, and national denominational representatives will be present throughout the gathering. Participants will also learn about local partnership possibilities in their home settings.
 
The registration fees, including room and board, are $160 (double occupancy room) and $190 (single occupancy). For more information and to register online, visit: www.VirginiaLutheranEpiscopal.wordpress.com. Printed registration materials will be available soon.

Lutheran Campus Ministry Retreat
All college students are invited to attend the Lutheran Campus Ministry and Friends Retreat, February 19-20, 2016, at Massanetta Springs in Harrisonburg, VA. Join college students from all across the state to connect with old friends and meet many new ones! The retreat starts Friday evening and ends Saturday after lunch. For more information and to register by February 8, please  CLICK HERE

2016 Trip to Germany
 

There will be a 9 day trip to Germany endorsed by the North Carolina Synod and co-sponsored by the Virginia Synod ACTS in 2016. Inlcudes Basic Tour & Guided Sightseeing, Roundtrip International Airfare from cities listed (Additional baggage & optional fees may apply, see fine print for details) Fuel Surcharges and Government Taxes (Subject to Change) . Admin. Fees, Entrance Fees, Gratuities & Program Fees . Daily Buffet Breakfast & Dinner . Deluxe Motorcoaches . First Class Hotels and Much, Much More!
Click here to see the full brochure with registration information. If you would like a brochure mailed to you, please email  milton@vasynod.org

AGAPE and RACHEL KURTZ in Concert in Harrisonburg
A gape and Rachel Kurtz are coming to Muhlenberg Lutheran in Harrisonburg on January 9th at 7:00pm. AGAPE and Rachel Kurtz are singers, songwriters, and speakers who will have shared their faith and talent at many of the ELCA National Youth Gatherings and churches across the country. Everyone is invited to join in on the fun! Tickets are $5 at the door and children 4 and under are free. 
Job Opportunities

All posts can also be found online at www.vasynod.org/job-opportunities. If you have job opening you would like posted, email fuller@vasynod.org. 
Job Opportunity:
Director of Ministry to Children, Youth, and Families in Moneta, VA

TRINITY ECUMENICAL PARISH in Moneta, VA seeks an energetic and enthusiastic person of integrity who is dedicated to engaging children, youth, and families in a life giving transformative faith. Click here for a list of competencies and job description and go to www.smltep.org for information on Trinity. Interested candidates should send a resume including educational training and ministry experience, a cover letter explaining your vision for children, youth and family ministry and references to  blfuzi@centurylink.net by 12/15/15.

Do You have an announcement, upcoming event or news story Idea? Send it to fuller@vasynod.org!
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