Planning Page For Our 2017 Mission Trip

The location of the village of El Pedregal (red marker), the site of our 2017 mission trip. 2017 will mark the sixteenth year our team has worked at this site.

Planning For Our 2017 Mission Trip

This page has been established as a central online site for planning information about the 2017 mission trip to the Dominican Republic sponsored by Christ Episcopal Church in Valdosta, GA. This page was last updated on September 27, 2016.

PLEASE NOTE: THE CDC HAS ISSUED A TRAVEL ALERT FOR THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC AND OTHER AREAS IN SOUTH AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN RELATED TO THE MOSQUITO-BORNE ZIKA VIRUS. FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THIS ALERT, click here.

Sign Up for Email Updates for the 2017 Trip
Click here to sign up to receive general updates about the 2017 trip (and other email messages from Christ Church, if you select that option also). Note: confirmed 2017 mission team members will be automatically added to this general update list, as well as another list for specific details about the 2017 trip.

Confirmed team members (as of September 27, 2016):

Julia Ariail (Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta GA)
Julius Ariail (Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta GA)
The Rev. Dave Johnson (Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta GA)
Paul Johnson (Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta GA)

Maximum size of team: 18 people.

Destination: the village of El Pedregal (near the city of Jarabacoa – map).

Team Leaders: Julia Ariail, (229 563-0074; juliacariail@gmail.com) and Julius Ariail, (229 563-0209; julius.ariail@gmail.com.

Dates: June 12-19, 2016. Continue reading

Sermon: “The Life that Really is Life” (September 25, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Life that Really Is Life” (1 Timothy 1:17-19)
September 25, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Back in the fall of 1995 my family and I lived in Wyoming.  A friend of mine from college named Kevin lived in Colorado Springs, and managed to score two tickets for a Denver Broncos versus the Oakland Raiders Monday Night Football game at the old Mile High Stadium.  So Steph and I loaded up our (then) two kids into our Honda Accord and headed south to Denver.

We stopped for lunch at Hardee’s in Cheyenne, and afterwards, as we were loading our fussy toddlers back into their car seats we were startled by a poor man standing behind us.  “Could you please spare a dollar or two for lunch?” he asked.  I was selfishly preoccupied about getting back on the road and irritable because, as you know, traveling with squawking toddlers is not always as fun as you might think.  “No!” I snapped at him, as I got into the car.

As we pulled out of the parking lot and headed back to the highway I felt like such a jerk—me, a minister of the gospel, acting like that to this poor man?  Really?  What a hypocrite!  So I turned the Honda around and went back to the Hardee’s parking lot, looking for the man…but I never found him.  “I’m so sorry, God,” I prayed, “please give me another chance.”

There is no getting around the central theme in today’s scripture readings—God’s command to look out for the poor.  The Old Testament prophet Amos warns “those who are at ease in Zion…those who lounge on beds of ivory…and anoint themselves with the finest oils” that because of their negligence of the poor “they shall now be the first to go into exile” (Amos 6:1a, 4-7). Continue reading

Daughters of the King Install 4 New Members

Daughters of the King Install 4 New Members
By Julia Ariail
Posted September 20, 2016

Daughters of the King at the September 18th installation. Click this image to see more photographs from this event.

Celebrating 29 years at Christ Episcopal Church, the Saint Nino Chapter of the Daughters of the King (DOK) installed Kathy Armstrong, Sandra Fletcher, Sally Honeycutt, and Dottie Pitts, on Sunday, September 18, 2016. The order was formally commissioned at Christ Church, Valdosta, on July 14, 1987. The original chapter consisted of 14 Daughters from the parish. The DOK serves Christ Church through a strong and faithful ministry of prayer.

The Christ Church Daughters of the King order currently has 48 members and meets twice a year. Patricia Bezona currently serves as president and treasurer, Julie Jackson as vice president, and Helen Tucker as secretary.

“Our sole purpose is prayer, evangelism, and service to the church accomplishing whatever Fr. Dave would have us to do,” said Pat Bezona. “We also follow the national guidelines and attend the diocesan meetings when they are held.”

On the website: <http://www.doknational.org/>, the national organization of the DOK publishes the following vision statement: Empowered by the Holy Spirit, our vision as Daughters of the King is to know Jesus Christ, to make Him known to others, and to become reflections of God’s love throughout the world.

The DOK emblem.

The Order of the Daughters of the King (DOK) is a spiritual sisterhood of women dedicated to a life of prayer, service, and evangelism. They have made a commitment to Jesus as Savior, and follow Him as Lord of their lives. They are an Order for women who are commun­icants of the Episcopal Church, churches in communion with it, or churches in the historic episcopate. Today the membership includes women in the Anglican, Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA) and Roman Catholic churches.

The Daughters of the King describe themselves as an order, not an organization. An order is a community under a religious rule; especially one requiring members to take solemn vows. They don’t just enroll as members and attend meetings; they take life-long vows to follow the Rule of Prayer and Rule of Service.

What is a rule? A rule is a pre­scribed guide for conduct or action by laws or regulations pre­scribed by the founder of a religious order for observance by its members.

The Order of the Daughters of the King was founded in 1885 by Margaret J. Franklin at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in New York City. Members of the order undertake a Rule of Life, incorporating the Rule of Prayer and Service.

The emblem of the Order is in the form of a modified Greek fleury cross inscribed in Latin, “Magnanimiter Crucem Sustine,” the watchword of the Order, meaning “With heart, mind and spirit uphold and bear the cross.” At the base of the cross are the letters “FHS”, initials that stand for the Motto of the Order: “For His Sake.”

Contact Pat Bezona about registering for the new DOK class and information on becoming a prayer partner at 229-242-8289 or pbezona@bellsouth.net.

Sermon: “God the Great Evangelist” (September 18, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“God the Great Evangelist” (1 Timothy 2:1-7)
September 18, 2016
Philip Ryan

This time of year I get incredibly homesick for the lush hills and woods of the Hudson Valley, where I am from in New York. I get especially homesick for my grandparents house an old victorian house on the Hudson River. Attached to the living room is a smaller room, more like a large closet, which has always been one of the most sacred places I know. It has a couple bookshelves, a small desk, and a chair. Next to the chair is a window overlooking my grandfather’s rose bushes and beside that is a little stand where my grandmother keeps some well worn Bibles, commentaries, and her prayer journal. I remember being very young and curious and I happened to find myself alone in that sacred closet one sunny fall afternoon. I flipped open her journal and written on the inside cover were the names of my whole family. All seven aunts and uncles and their spouses, the four cousins, and extended family and friends. My grandmother prays for everyone in the family, her friends, and women in her Bible study throughout the week. At that time my grandmother had been praying for her two sons to come to the Lord, for future grandchildren and their salvation, and many other requests. I often wondered growing up if those prayers were answered.

Paul’s encouragement to Timothy that the church should pray for “everyone” reminded me of that journal. We should pray sounds so Christian 101 not even Christian – Religion 101. Almost all religions emphasize prayer and communion with the divine. However, these aren’t instructions on how to commune with God, or request something from God, or even to be saved from some peril. Paul encourages Timothy to pray because it is evangelistic. Praying for everyone is a good thing because God our Savior desires everyone to be saved (v. 4). God is the great evangelist and he wants all people to come to the truth that Jesus Christ gave himself a ransom, he purchased our salvation Paul says in 1 Corinthians, so that we might have transformation, grace, and deliverance from our sins.

How are we to pray though? Paul simply says “pray.” Do we pray that bad things happen to someone so they are brought so low they need to cry out to God? I’ve thought that way. Do we pray to be endowed with clever words and all the answers to convince someone of the truth? I’ve done that also. No, we simply pray and remember that God saves. J. I. Packer famous Anglican theologian said, “I think that what you do is to pray in categorical terms that God will, quite simply and decisively save them: that He will open the eyes of their understanding, soften their hard hearts, renew their natures, and move their wills to receive the Savior…You entreat Him to do that very thing, and your confidence in asking rests upon the certainty that He is able to do what you ask.”

On that sunny afternoon when I looked in my grandmother’s prayer journal her chair was new. A few years ago when we went up to visit after our daughter was born, I got to spend time in that sacred space. My grandfather warned me not to sit in her chair, “If you sit in it you might break it and I don’t want to buy a new one.” Still being curious, I attempted to sit in her prayer chair. It bent funny showing which side she favored. If I leaned back too much it felt like the whole thing would flip over, and the armrests had elbow indents in them. The weight of thirty years of prayers had made their mark on that chair. Those prayers made their mark in our family as well. From that chair in upstate New York overlooking rosebushes, my grandmother prayed for heavy and hard things. I used to wonder if her prayers were answered. Those two sons I mentioned at the beginning, my uncles, they are both ministers now. I have several other aunts involved in ministry within their churches. We have twelve cousins now not four. Of the twelve, two are ministers, three are missionaries, and two more are involved in ministries with their churches. This isn’t a brag on how pious my family is. It is a boast in how great an evangelist God is and how he pursued my family through my grandmother’s prayers. A simple prayer for years and years, “God our Savior, save them.” Amen.

Sermon: “To Save You” (September 11, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“To Save You” (1 Timothy 1:15)
September 11, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

As you know, today is the fifteenth anniversary of one of the most tragic days in the history of our country: September 11, 2001, often referred to as simply 9/11.  Most of us remember where we were when we heard about or saw on television the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center.  I was in my office in South Carolina when a coworker came to my door and told me to follow him to the breakroom where there was a small black and white television that our receptionist used to watch soap operas during her lunch break every day.  Several of us stood in silence watching the heartbreaking live coverage.

Schools dismissed early that day, and I remember giving my kids extra-long hugs that night at bedtime and then watching coverage with my wife Steph into the night.  Each of you has your own story of that day—where you were, who was with you, how you felt.  Some of you knew people who perished that Tuesday morning or know people whose lives were forever changed.

The tragic events of 9/11 not only left an indelible imprint on our country, but also challenged the faith of many people.  How could God let this happen?  The late renowned author John Updike reflected this in the opening of his short story entitled “Varieties of Religious Experience”:

There is no God: the revelation came to Dan Kellogg in the instant he saw the World Trade Center South Tower fall…Dan could not quite believe the tower had vanished.  How could something so vast and intricate, an elaborately engineered upright hive teeming with people, mostly young, be dissolved by its own weight so quickly, so causally?  The laws of matter had functioned, was the answer.  The event was small beneath the calm dome of sky.  No hand of God had intervened because there was none.  God had no hands, no eyes, no heart, no anything.  Thus was Dan, a sixty-four-year-old Episcopalian…he joined at last the run of mankind in its stoic atheism (from his 2009 short story collection, My Father’s Tears, 83-84).

Yet, in the midst of that horrible day there were also extraordinary acts of self-sacrifice.

When she saw the first plane strike the first tower of the World Trade Center NYPD Officer Moira Smith was the first officer to report the terrorist attack.  A thirteen-year veteran of the NYPD, she ran into the tower, assisted in the evacuation, and is credited with saving hundreds of lives.  Moira Smith never emerged from that building, but sacrificed her life instead.  It was six months later before her remains were finally identified in the wreckage.  She was thirty-eight years old, and the only female NYPD officer to die on 9/11, her “end of watch.”

Moira was survived by her two-year-old daughter, Patricia and her husband, James, also an NYPD officer.  A few months later little Patricia, wearing a red velvet dress, accompanied her dad to Carnegie Hall, where Mayor Rudi Guiliani draped her mom’s posthumously awarded gold Medal of Honor around her neck while she held her dad’s hand.  As a teenager now Patricia wears bracelets bearing her mom’s name on both of her wrists.

And of course Moira Smith was one of many who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 to save others.

On their 2002 album The Rising Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had several songs dedicated to those most impacted by 9/11.  One song, called “Into the Fire”, is a tribute to New York’s Finest and New York’s Bravest, members of New York’s police and fire departments who, like Moira Smith, literally gave their lives in order to save others:

The sky was falling and streaked with blood
I heard you calling me
Then you disappeared into the dust
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss
But love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs
Into the fire…

You gave your love to see
In fields of red and autumn brown
You gave your love to me and lay your young body down
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need you near
But love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs
Into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
It was dark, too dark to see

You held me in the light you gave
You lay your hand on me
Then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave
Up the stairs, into the fire
Up the stairs, into the fire
I need your kiss
But love and duty called you someplace higher
Somewhere up the stairs
Into the fire

May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love bring us love

In today’s passage from his First Letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul refers to a cosmic act of self-sacrifice: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).  Later in this letter Paul continues, “(God) desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1Timothy 2:4-6).  This is a theologically loaded passage.  God “desires everyone to be saved,” Paul writes—and of course “everyone” includes you.

Paul continues, “There is one God”, which hearkens back to an Old Testament passage known as the Shema (from the Hebrew word meaning “hear”), which states, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:4, KJV).

“There is one God”—this cut against the grain of the polytheism of Old Testament times with pagan gods like Baal and Ashtoreth and Molech, and cut against the grain of the polytheism of the time of the Apostle Paul with the vast pantheon of Greek and Roman gods.  And it cuts against the grain of our time as well, our age in which religious choices are like a food court at the mall or the buffet tables at an all-you-eat restaurant: pick what you like—it’s all good, it’s all up to you.

“There is one God,” Paul writes, and then continues, “there is one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human”—or as it says in the King James Version, “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”  Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, and therefore the only qualified to serve as a mediator between a holy God and sinful human beings like you and me.  The late Anglican priest and scholar John Stott puts it this way:

And since in no other person but Jesus of Nazareth has God first become man (taking our humanity to himself) and then given himself as a ransom (taking our sin and guilt upon himself), therefore he is the only mediator.  There is no other.  No one else possesses, or has ever possessed, the necessary qualifications to mediate between God and sinners (The Message of 1 Timothy and Titus, 71).

Jesus is the “one mediator between God and humankind.”  In the Letter to the Hebrews Jesus is described as “the mediator” of the “new covenant,” a “better covenant” than the law of the Old Testament (Hebrews 8:6; 9:15; and 12:24).  This “new covenant” was established not with the shed blood from animals, but with the shed blood of Jesus, the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), who mediated this new and better covenant when he “gave himself a ransom for all.”  Why?  Because “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.”

And this means that even in the face of a tragedy like 9/11, even in the face of the current tragedies in the world or your life, you do not have to succumb to “stoic atheism,” because the good news of the gospel is that there is a God—a God who desires everyone, including you, to be saved—a God whose hands were nailed to a cross, whose eyes wept for your sin, and whose heart beat its last time for you.

Jesus’ love and duty called him someplace higher—Calvary, where Jesus gave his love to you and laid his young body down, where his tears disappeared into the dust, and afterwards his body was laid in the darkness of the grave.

Back to John Updike for a moment…in spite of his bouts with doubt, John Updike remained a believer his whole life, and during his last years regularly attended St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts.  His hope in the midst of tragedies like 9/11 rested not only in Jesus’ death, but also his resurrection, as he expressed in his poem Seven Stanzas at Easter:

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall…

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

Just like Moira Smith walked through the door of the falling World Trade Center, Jesus, who “came into the world to save sinners,” walked through the door of a fallen, and falling, world to save you, to give his life as a ransom for you, so that you could “walk through the door” of resurrection and eternal life.

Today may that faith give you faith, may that hope give you hope, may that love give you love.

Amen.

2016 Dominican Republic Mission Trip

The 2016 Dominican Republic Mission
By Julia Ariail
Posted September 8, 2016

An initial set of over 500 trip photographs from one missioner’s camera is posted online here. Photographs from other missioners’ cameras will be added to this album soon.

The 2016 mission team members in El Pedregal. Click this image to see more photographs from this trip.

The ‘Go Team’ and the ‘Home Team’ combine to make up the Christ Episcopal Church Valdosta mission to the Dominican Republic. A very successful DR Dinner and Auction held at the Cotton Corner in downtown Valdosta on April 8 raised $12,000. After a commissioning by Fr. Dave Johnson at the 10 a.m. service on May 8, the eight-member ‘Go Team’ made up of Julius and Julia Ariail, Deacon Leeann Culbreath, Phyllis Hiers, Meg Hiers, Bill Querin, Fred Richter, and Paul Stevenson left for Orlando. The commissioning also included the blessing of some gifts for the church in El Pedregal including a Spanish lectionary for the lectern and an embroidered fair linen made by Julia Ariail.

The team gathered for dinner Sunday night at an Orlando restaurant. Team leaders Julius and Julia Ariail held a team meeting at the hotel distributing the red team t-shirts and discussing the schedule. Deacon Leeann Culbreath led the team in a worship service in preparation for the upcoming trip. At 2 p.m. on Monday, May 9, the team flew to Santo Domingo on JetBlue Airlines. Karen Carroll, the DR diocesan mission team coordinator, met the group at the airport and delivered “take out” supper supplies of empanadas and cold water as we boarded the chartered bus to El Pedregal.

Padre Daniel Samuel and his wife Deacon Aurianne greeted us warmly when we arrived at the Campamento Monte de la Transfiguración in El Pedregal around 10 p.m. Monday night. The team moved into the second story of the dormitory. We gathered at 8:30 Tuesday morning for prayer in our dormitory’s common room with an altar set up by Padre Daniel and Aurianne compete with a lectern and flowers. After breakfast and a reunion with Thomasina, the cook, and Leidy, our interpreter, the team set to work on various projects. Continue reading

Sermon: “The Tower of Your Salvation” (September 4, 2016)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“The Tower of Your Salvation” (Luke 14:27-30)
September 4, 2016
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Have you ever started a home improvement project but not finished it?  Maybe at your house there is an unfinished home improvement project or two, or twelve.  A 2014 survey by the manufacturing giant Black and Decker revealed that 52% of homeowners have an unfinished improvement project, and 41% have two or more unfinished projects.  And of course, more often than not, shortly after actually finishing a home improvement project or two, you end up moving anyway!

This can happen on a larger scale too.  In 2007 construction began in Chicago on the Chicago Spire, designed to be two thousand feet tall, only to stop the next year.  In 2008 construction began in Moscow on the Russia Tower, also designed to be over two thousand feet tall, but construction stopped the same year.  In 2008 construction began in Dubai on the Nakheel Tower, designed to be over thirty-two hundred feet tall—and again, construction stopped the very next year.

And there are other projects or tasks that may be started with the best of intentions only to be left unfinished.  For some people it may be a graduate degree.  For others is may be learning a musical instrument or mastering a foreign language or improving one’s golf game.  Or it may be the next Great American Novel begun on the old laptop that is in its dusty carrying case in the attic.

And when people do finish that something—perhaps something that took years and years to finish—they may see it destroyed or dissolved. Continue reading