Ellison Engagement :: Durham, NC

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The first time I met Bert was on a hike at staff training for Camp Rockmont.  I instantly liked him.  As we talked on the hike, I tried to make a good impression in hopes that he would choose me to be a counselor in the “tribe” of cabins that he was director of that summer.  It must have worked because he ended up being my boss!  A few years later we both ended up committing to Duke Divinity School and decided to be roommates our first year.

Since then we have grown even closer and I’ve been able to watch each step of his and Ashley’s relationship that began that year.  I’ve loved getting to know Ashley and Bert as a couple and being present from the early days when they were merely exchanging facebook messages to riding with Bert to pick the ring up from the jewelery store.

Even though it started sprinkling as we began their engagement photo shoot, this didn’t stop it from being a great day!














The Leaves are Beginning to Fall

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Finding a way to the mountains each Fall has become a tradition for me over the last few years.  Fortunately, last weekend I was able to head to Clayton, Georgia to spend time with my friend Chase as he prepares to get married.

The Hovering Spirit


Sunset from Screamer Mountain


Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Sylva, North Carolina


I also had the opportunity to visit an official state fair for the first time in my life.  Friends, moments like this only happen once.

Come and Get It


God willing, I will one day have the privilege of serving a church that has its own concession stand at a state fair!

I often have trouble deciding if Spring or Fall is my favorite season.  However, I’ve been able to pause school at a few points in the last few weeks, and they’ve pointed me to the beauty of this time in the year. I hope you’re able to step away from your routine and see some of this beauty as well!

What was I doing in El Salvador this summer?

Now that I have been home from Central America for a week, I’ve gotten the question many times, “I know you were abroad this summer, but what exactly were you doing wherever you were?”

Usually it’s put a little more subtle than that — but I am always excited to tell about my experience!

Duke Divinity School requires two units of “field education” and this summer my placement was in Central America along with three of my good friends. After spending five weeks in language school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, we moved to Ahuachapán, El Salvador where we had the privilege of being in ministry with the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador for six weeks.

While I spent a large portion of my time in language school there as well, each day also offered me a new glimpse into the life of this young church and into the lives of its many faithful servants.

I’ve found the “five marks of mission” listed in Andrew Walls’ book  Mission in the Twenty-First Century: Exploring the Five Marks of Global Mission to be a helpful way of thinking about the holistic mission of the church, so I’ve organized this post around these marks.  This break down makes it look like these marks are very distinct from one another, but as you read I hope you see how fluid they are within the overarching mission of God.


Pasaje Concordia in Ahuachapan, El Salvador


1. To Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

The majority of Methodist Churches in Ahuachapán have worship services every night in addition to Sunday worship each week.  During these times, the good news of the kingdom is preached to a variety of audiences – children, youth, adults, and elderly – by a variety of ministers – laity, ordained, women, men, young, and old.  And every couple of weeks, many of the churches hold “vigils” on Saturday nights which usually last from 8:00pm until 5:00am – think of it as a youth lock-in, except it ’s all prayer, singing, preaching, and teaching.  No lazer tag.


Roca Eterna


I had the chance to attend three different Methodist churches in the city regularly, and my last week I preached (in Spanish and English) at La Providencia – home of Pastor Angel who has the biggest smile I’ve seen in Central America.




I was also able to go on some pastoral visits where I was able to be a part of sharing God’s promises with others in difficult situations.


2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers

This mark of mission centers upon growing into Christ’s likeness – a key task for any church.  During my time in El Salvador, I was able to help the church engage in teaching largely through Bible school for children (after all – my Spanish was like a child’s) in cooperation with mission teams from the States and local volunteers.


Jesus te ama


However, one of the most unexpected ways that I was able to help nurture believers was by outfitting them with reading glasses so that they could finally see the Bible properly in order to read it on their own.  One day we set up a clinic in my house and we were able to give out 100 pairs of reading glasses to people in the area!




Fellowship is also a strong component of growing as believers, and one of the highlights of this trip was spending time hanging out with church members and other Christians.


Despues Pupusas


3. To respond to human need by loving service

The church in El Salvador is fully engaged in taking the whole gospel for the whole person to the whole world.

This was most clear to me through the church’s relationship with foreign mission teams that I participated in on a daily basis.  Most of the teams have long-standing relationships with the churches and assist in responding to physical and spiritual needs by building houses for the poor, partnering with local Methodist medical clinics to provide assistance, helping fund church buildings, providing food and water to hungry and thirsty families, teaching children about Christ, and showing Christ’s love in their interactions.




These teams have not replaced the local church’s work, but rather serve as an additive to the ministry of compassion that the church supports year round through medical clinics and other avenues.






4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society

While I cannot claim to know a great deal about the societal injustices in El Salvador, I witnessed and participated with the church in addressing such issues on two major fronts: housing for the poor and medical care.  The church currently provides space for medical clinics – governmental and private – that enable and encourage those in their vicinity to take advantage of access to care that has been lacking in the past and is still inaccessible for many people.




The church also provides houses to families in the midst of an economy where housing costs often consume a family’s budget due to rent and loans – if they are even able to build or update an existing structure.  Home ownership enables people to have a safe and clean structure in which to live. And it also allows families to have lasting economic assets in the midst of a country that has historically seen the country’s finances tied up in a small number of families.



A few days later…



5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

I witnessed this mark of mission largely through the water collection projects at some of the churches.  These water collection systems harvest water for use in washing, bathing, and cooking, and began in locations that did not have access to municipal water.  And beyond this, I have yet to encounter another culture that reuses so many materials rather than throwing them away.


This is just the surface of what I experienced this summer, and I look forward to talking with many of you in more detail about my time. I’m going to dedicate a future blog post to some of the major issues I’ve been reflecting on since my return.


Evening Prayer


Faces of Guatemala

One of the highlights of my trip has been getting to know the people of Guatemala.  I’ve been living with a local family, hanging out with Guatemaltecos I’ve met in the city, and becoming friends for the first time with people who do not speak English.

While I do not personally know everyone in the portraits below, these faces represent a people I have come to love and a people that bear the image of God.

Juan in Parque Central

I met Juan in Parque Central in Xela, Guatemala.  He was the first person I struck up a random conversation with in Spanish.


I had the opportunity to visit this woman’s house where she and her family made blankets and other goods that were usually sold to students in language school.


I came across this man in Momostenango and he asked for his picture to be taken.  Later, I printed out the photo and sent it to him with one of his friends I knew.


A man in Salcaja, Guatemala told us about the history of making fabrics in the city and how this art has been passed down generation to generation.  Each town in the area has a unique weaving pattern.


Alma was one of my teacher’s at Sakribal.  We always had a great time speaking Spanish, laughing, learning about our cultures, and becoming friends.

Ninos en San Andres Xecul

These friends in San Andres Xecul, Guatemala were very eager to have their picture taken together in the midst of their games in the street.

El Baul

One day we traveled with our teachers to a city park called El Baul in Xela and enjoyed going down the concrete slides on plastic Coke bottles.


I happened to have my camera out when the boy on top was celebrating a victory in  his wrestling match with a friend in the street.

Cooking in Guatemala

One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to sample foods that I don’t normally eat.  At school my diet consists of cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, and something quick and easy for dinner — Panda Express being my favorite in this latter category.  Here in Guatemala, it has been a true blessing to have fresh meals cooked each day by my house mother Aldina.  The menu for the past month has consisted of combinations of:

Breakfast – Pancakes, eggs with salsa, tortillas, black beans, toasted sandwiches (ham, hotdog, tomatoes, onions, ketchup, and mayo), fruits (papaya, mango, watermelon, pineapple, plantains), corn flakes with warm milk, and mosh (similar to very milky oatmeal)

Lunch and Dinner – Carrot soufflé, rice, tortillas, cucumbers and tomatoes in vinegar, black beans, eggs, chicken (covered in onions, bell peppers, and salsa), hotdog tacos, carne asada, vegetable soup, carrots and potatoes, fried plantains, tortas (similar to hamburgers on tortillas), paches (rice, steak, and mole), green bean rellenos, and plantain envueltos.

Here is Aldina cooking my favorite food in Guatemala, fried plantains, by candle light one night when the power went:

Power Outage

Each day we have fresh tortillas that are made at a tortilleria named Los Comalitos that is only a block from my house.  Three ladies operate this business, and they go through 75 pounds of corn per day as they hand pat 2,000 tortillas.  They work from sunrise to past sunset each day. Here is one photo of Mary and Norma (18) who have both been doing this for ten years and another of me making my first tortilla!

Tortilleria: Los Comalitos

Tortilleria: Los Comalitos

At my Spanish School, Sakribal, we have weekly meals where the students and teachers cook.  The first week I cooked fried oreos (Oreos fritos) and they were a huge hit.  Since then I have watched globalization take place as three of the teachers at the school informed me that they went home and made them as breakfast items for their children. All of the kids loved them, and the teachers added a little fruit surrounding them for a little more balance!

Fried Oreos

Fried Oreos

Last week at the school we had some of the best pork I’ve had in a very long time.  We had fresh chicharrones (pigskins with a little meat on them) and carnitas which are traditionally eaten by families on weekends.



Other random food finds:
These are macadamia nuts at the Nueva Alzenaia planation.  We visited there last week and were able to see the processes they use to produce coffee, macadamia nuts, spring water, and biodisel.

Macadamia Nuts

A Chocolateria in Xela:


If you buy a glass bottle Coke, most stores will pour it in a bag for you so that they can keep the bottle and give it back to the manufacturer for refilling.

Coca Cola en una bolsa

Every Guatemalan I’ve met loves to put ketchup on top of their pizza.  I sampled this trend when I bought Dominoes for my family one night, and I can report that it tasted exactly how I expected.  It wasn’t great and it wasn’t terrible, and the whole time I asked myself why I put ketchup on top of a perfectly fine slice of pizza.

And finally, here is a picture of the family I live with and some of their friends eating Shrimp Creole that I cooked last night.

Family Dinner