As you receive this E-news message the week after Easter, my wife Wendy and I are in Costa Rica, our NC Synod’s companion synod, visiting with church leaders of ILCO— Iglesia Luterana Costarricense. The church there is in the process of some major change in structure, including their decision that they won’t in the near term be having a bishop anymore. There are about eight Lutheran congregations in Costa Rica, and a bishop didn’t seem quite so necessary as it might in some larger church bodies.
While here, I’ll be hosted by NC native Stephen Deal, who is now an ELCA missionary to Costa Rica. Pastor Deal assists the ELCA in its accompaniment of churches throughout Central America. Martha Giron, Steve’s wife, helps the Costa Rican Lutheran Church train women in arts and crafts and sewing so they can generate income for their families.
I will visit extensively with Pastor Gilberto Mora, who heads up ILCO now as its president. My schedule includes several workshops for the pastors that I will lead on discerning our Christian vocation in the world. I will also preach at least a couple of times, and I will have the privilege (given that they don’t have a bishop) of ordaining only the second female pastor ordained by ILCO, and the first Costa Rican one. Her name is Teresa Guadamuz. I’m presenting her with a set of stoles that a retired pastor’s widow shared with the synod staff for just such an occasion in our companion synods. I will also participate in the confirmation of 5-6 young persons. All of this will be through translators. Here is irony: I studied French for 6 years, German for the same, and Latin for several years, learned Greek and Hebrew in seminary, and I really and profoundly need only one second language—Spanish!
We have several congregations who have sent groups to Costa Rica to work with ILCO, including Holy Trinity in Hickory who sent a group this past January and will send a youth group this summer, Kure Memorial in Kure Beach who will send a group this summer, and Grace in Boone. Lutheridge also hosted a pastor and his family from Costa Rica last summer.
Forgive me if there are others, but I still have much to learn about these partnerships in my new role as bishop. I do know that in Costa Rica, as in all of our ELCA Global Mission locations, we are emphasizing accompaniment of these partner churches rather than the old missional model of implying that we Americans or Western Europeans can “show them a better way.” Obviously, our way is different, but we celebrate the cultural diversity and practices and rejoice in mutual learning and support with our companion synods.
The NC Synod has an active ILCO companion committee headed by Bob Johnson of Holy Trinity, Hickory. We hope in the not-too-distant future to bring another delegation from Costa Rica to the NC Synod for a visit with us in this journey of global Lutheran accompaniment.
Bishop Timothy Smith