Costa Rica 2015 – Part 2

Prison SignTo say that prison in Costa Rica Is different from prison in Alabama would be an understatement. In Alabama all the inmates wear white. That is what distinguishes them from the officers. In Costa Rica inmates wear their own clothes including caps, bandanas and clothes of all descriptions. In Alabama jewelry (except watches) is strictly forbidden. Not so here. If you have jewelry feel free to wear it. In Alabama inmates are fed by the State. Families are not allowed to bring food into the prison. Here, families bring food once per week on a regularly scheduled day. These are but a few of the differences between the two.

Unfortunately, there are also many similarities, especially among the inmates. They are for the most part young and uneducated. There are two men we’ve gotten to know. One can read and write a little bit; the other man can do neither. Drugs and alcohol compounded by violence have a great deal to do with what brings these men to prison. The drug culture is just as much a problem here as it is in Alabama. I’ve heard these stories so many times now that I’ve lost count.

But there is one other similarity between here and Alabama; many of these men know that if they stay on their current path it will result in a dead end (perhaps literally). They know they need to change and Kairos gives them that opportunity. Only God knows whether or not genuine change will happen in their lives. That is not for us to worry about. Our task is to love as God loves and to show them that there is another way available to them in Jesus Christ. Hopefully they will take that way because it is the way to life, peace and hope that will change their lives forever.

Costa Rica 2015 – Part 1

Prison SignThe Kairos team began its work on Wednesday with a visit to APAC prison. APAC is a faith-based prison run by the Costa Rican prison system. It houses up to 96 men at one time. These are men who have made a conscious decision to change their lives.

There are specific programs to help the men achieve their goal of living successfully in society and not returning to prison. Most of the programs are conducted either by volunteers or inmates. Upon entering the prison we met a retired math teacher who comes four days per week to tutor the men in math. She taught high school math for thirty-one years and has been volunteering at the prison for eight years. Her goal is to help the men pass the math proficiency section of their exams. This will help them to receive a diploma like our GED.

We also had the opportunity to attend a worship service.Ben Sherrod, one of the members of our team spoke to the men about the importance of making good choices and focusing their lives on developing a deep relationship with Christ. Our team was able to pray with and for seven men who were ready to give their lives to Christ. We also prayed for the leaders of the small groups. Each man belongs to a small group for accountability, learning and support. These leaders have a great deal of responsibility so it was an honor to meet them and pray for them.

The Kairos weekend starts today (Thursday) and runs through Sunday. We are looking forward to a busy and blessed time.

2015 Chile Mission Update – March 23

Church at El Vergel

We live in a world where communication has become not only a necessity but a pastime, diversion and distraction. We know this is true in the USA. Anybody who has the courage to glance into the car next to them at a stop light will almost always see their neighbor looking at a phone or worse, texting. The same thing is true here in Chile. Everyone has a phone and they are constantly checking their phone. It’s amazing really. I’ve been able to text and send emails from here with very little trouble. What a world! But even as small as the world has become, thanks to all our communication devices, it is still a very big place when we want to meet face to face.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This weekend I’ve been reminded of the sacrifices our missionaries make to do the work that God calls them to. This weekend John Elmore’s first cousin Tom Ebel came to visit with John. John has been in Chile for eighteen years. This is the first time since John has been here that he has had a visit from a family member. Smart phones are great but there is no substitute for a face-to-face visit from our loved ones. John’s joy at having his cousin here was very obvious.

This morning I accompanied John as he took Tom to the airport to leave. We went to the airport in Temuco. It’s the third largest city in Chile with a population of 350,000. It’s about a two hour drive from El Vergel. All the way to the airport John and Tom were telling stories and reminiscing. As I listened I thought about how important relationships with family members are. I thought about how easy it is for me to see my loved ones face to face to tell stories and remember all the things that families do with and for one another. Most of us can experience that pretty easily. It took John eighteen years to experience the simple joy of a visit from a member of his family.

John Elmore showing us grapes grown in the farm.I’m glad I got to go with John and Tom today because it is sometimes easy to forget the sacrifices that our missionaries make. They (John included) will tell you that it is worth it in order to do the Lord’s work. And I certainly believe him when he says it. But it is a sacrifice none the less. Let us be thankful for missionaries like John Elmore who have heard God’s call to serve and said yes. Let us be thankful that they do so even when it means sacrificing many of the things that we take for granted. May God richly bless John and all missionaries who have answered the call to make God’s kingdom visible in their places of service.

2015 Chile Mission Update – March 20


Rev. Tom Duley PreachingOne of the joys of coming to El Vergel is also one of the most important reasons for doing so. That is to meet people from a different country and culture. By doing so we get to have some limited understanding of what the lives of others are like. When this occurs we gain some Insight into both how we are different from them and how we are similar them.

On our first Sunday here we attended worship at the Emmaus Methodist Church. We received a joyous welcome from the members. Everyone was greeted with a smile, a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Of course, we would welcome with handshakes all around. The sense of welcome was the same as it would be at home but the method of welcome was very different.

The worship service itself had many of the elements of worship that we employ. There was singing, praying, preaching and the reading of Scripture. These elements of worship we hold in common. However, there was no creed recited, no praying of the Lord’s Prayer, no anthem, no choir, no Gloria Patri. These elements of worship which are central to our experience of worship are not a part of their experience of worship. Yet God is worshipped in both churches.

El Vergel churchThen there are other differences that are small but interesting. For instance, when purchasing ice cream you pay and order first, then you hand your order ticket to the server who fills your order. It’s just the opposite of how we do it. Or, when you use a credit card to make a purchase you are asked whether you want to charge it all at once or break it into four separate monthly charges. That’s an option some of us might like but it isn’t available to us. Here, buses play a much bigger role in transporting people than they do at home. There are several bus companies. Intercity buses are coming and going all the time. The buses are comfortable and customer friendly. These are small differences which help us to understand that other people see the world differently. Things get done. They just get done differently.

From one culture to another; from one country to another there are small differences as well as significant differences in the way things are accomplished. But no matter where I go I am always reminded of one thing. The truth of the Christian faith is that we can be outside our own country in a foreign country and still be with family … our brothers and sisters in Christ. We leave our families and churches only to find other family members and churches in a country far away from our own. They may do things differently but in the final analysis there is much that we hold In common. To learn that truth is more than reason enough to participate on an international VIM team.

Property sign

2015 Chile Mission Update – March 18


It has happened again. It happens every time we come to El Vergel, and this time is no exception. El Vergel has absorbed our team like a sponge absorbing water. If you’ve been looking at the pictures (thanks Jan Harris!) we’ve been sending back for the Facebook page you’ve noticed it. There is much to do here, and we’ve been doing a little of all of it. We are in the process of trimming shrubs, scraping and painting window frames, and rebuilding the roof over a large bay window.

El Vergel is administered a lot like United Methodist outreach ministries such as Urban Ministry or the McCoy Adult Day Care Center at home. The ministries are United Methodist, but each ministry is responsible for raising its own funding. El Vergel is a ministry of the Methodist Church of Chile but, like at home, they must raise their own funding.  They have a number of ways to raise funds, each of which supports the work of the High School which educates students that will work primarily in the agricultural industry.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????Like our outreach ministries at home, there is often little money for basic upkeep and repair of existing facilities. Like at home, volunteers are very important when it comes to getting some of the basic upkeep and repair work  done. Much of what we do here is to help with the upkeep and repair of the facilities of El Vergel, which takes  some of the pressure off of their budget and frees up more resources for the school.

Methodists have always been educators. From the very beginning, we have given ourselves to educate children and youth because we understand the importance of an education to success in life. Our educational efforts are both spiritual (El Vergel has a chaplain who teaches Christian education classes) and practical (equipping students for life and careers). Our work here is not so much about upkeep and repair, although that is the work we do. Our work here is about helping our young Chilean brothers and sisters receive an education in both faith and life. It is work we Methodists have always done, and hopefully always will do.

~Rev. Tom Duley

2015 Chile Mission Update – March 16


The adventure began in the parking lot of the church at 2:30pm on Friday afternoon, March 13th. The team was gathered, the luggage loaded, the excitement building. Mike prayed that God’s grace would carry us through. Then, with Fred McDonald at the wheel, the van rolled out of the parking lot filled with the members of the 2015 Chile VIM team. The fact that it was Friday the 13th got mentioned but wasn’t a huge concern for team members.

Cathedral in Santiago, ChileEveryone was delighted when Delta airlines was on time in both Birmingham and Atlanta. At 10 PM Eastern time we lifted into the sky for a 9.5 hour flight to Santiago, Chile’s capital city and home to 30% of the country’s population. We arrived in Santiago at 8:30 AM local time (6:30 AM Central time). The flight at 36,000 feet was smooth and for the most part we arrived none the worse for wear. After negotiating the local bus system, we arrived at the Hotel IBIS, where we were to spend the day before catching the midnight bus to Angol, our final destination.

We spent the day resting and visiting some sights in the city before catching the overnight bus to Angol. As usual, the TurBus Supercama Superior was right on time. This bus is a Double-Decker with sleeping facilities so we had a restful trip arriving right on time at 7 AM. John Elmore, our covenant missionary partner, was there to meet us.

After settling in and having breakfast, we went to church at the Emmaus Methodist Church where we were welcomed by the congregation. Those of us who have been before renewed friendships. Those who are here for the first time made new friendships. It is hard to overstate the graciousness of the welcome that we receive each time we come. The worship service was lively and a boost to our travel weary spirits. We were all glad to have a relaxing afternoon for naps, walks and reading as we prepared to start our work on Monday morning.

Once again we have come to Chile to serve with our missionary partner John Elmore. Our task is the same as it always is no matter where we are… to serve God by doing what we can to make the Kingdom of God known in this place. It is a privilege to be a part of doing that in this place with those we have come to know as friends.

~Rev. Tom Duley

Habitat for Humanity 2014

Future Site of the Perry Home - Our 2014 Habitat Project

Future Site of the Perry Home – Our 2014 Habitat Project

In October 2014 the Bluff Park Volunteers in Mission Team built a home for LaKisha Perry and her children Cornelius and Cailyn (read more about the Perry family here). Although the church has a long history of working with Habitat for Humanity this was the first time Bluff Park UMC financed and built a home from scratch.




Costa Rica 2014 – Part 3

InPrisonAndVisitedOne thing that has struck me during this time in Costa Rica is something that strikes me every time I travel in the developing world. When I travel in the developing world I’m always reminded of how high our expectations are as residents of the U. S. We expect to have our own room. We expect to have meat at every meal if we want it. We expect that the electricity will always be on unless there is an emergency. We expect to have these and many other needs met as a natural and ongoing part of our lives and if they aren’t for some reason we feel as if we’ve been shortchanged. Most of us are blessed because our expectations are almost always fulfilled.

But having these (and our many other expectations) met doesn’t necessarily make us happy. Many people who have most if not all of their expectations met just aren’t happy. It’s been shown over and over again that material prosperity, convenience and comfort don’t automatically translate into happiness.

The expectations of people in Costa Rica are much more modest than they are for most of us. Rooms are shared. Meat is a luxury that must be stretched when it’s available. Rarely, is meat the centerpiece of the meal. Electricity is almost always available but it can go out most any time and sometimes it just does. It went out for no apparent reason for about an hour or so while we were here. But even though expectations are a good bit lower here than in the U. S. life goes on. And it goes on with faith and hope and joy.

I have learned a great deal from those whose expectations are lower than mine. One thing that I’ve learned from these friends is that I don’t need nearly as much as I think I do. I can tone down my expectations a good bit and it will be fine. I don’t need as much room or as much meat (food) or constant electricity to be happy and fulfilled.

Happiness and fulfillment come from having a deep and meaningful relationship with God and from having deep and meaningful relationships with other people. That can be done most anywhere or any time with far fewer resources than I sometimes think that I have to have. I’m learning to redirect my expectations toward maximizing my relationship with God and with others.

That is one of the wonderful gifts that I’ve received from my time in Costa Rica, Chile and the other places I’ve been privileged to visit. May God bless us all to find out what really matters rather than settling for that which looks good but turns out to be hollow and unfulfilling.

Costa Rica 2014 – Part 2

Costa Rica - Based on OCHA MapThe Kairos weekend got off to a great start on Thursday evening (May 22). Today (May 23) was the first full day of the weekend. As we’ve been spending time in the prison I’ve been noticing some things . There are definitely some differences and similarities between our prison culture and the prison culture here.

First the differences. Here the men wear their own clothes. There are no uniforms as there are in Alabama. Here men can choose how they want to wear their hair, beards, etc. There are men with long hair, short hair and mohawks. However, I haven’t seen a mullet yet. There are all sorts of beard styles as well. Here the prison is staffed at full capacity. There are corrections officers everywhere. At home our facilities are chronically understaffed. Here, the families of the inmates can bring them food. At home that is tightly restricted.

Now the similarities. The inmate population is achingly young. At the communion service on Wednesday night I was struck by just how young the inmates are. That is also true of the Kairos participants. Just like at home there are many teenagers in the prison system. Drugs and alcohol are a major factor in criminal activity here just as they are at home. There are several participants in the weekend who don’t know how to read or write. Lack of education is a major factor in criminal activity here just as it is at home.

There is one other similarity that I noticed right away. The men here respond positively to our presence in the prison. When they are shown the love of God in real, tangible ways they are very receptive to it. That reminds me once again that God’s love is the greatest power in all the world. It doesn’t matter whether that that love is shown in Costa Rica or Alabama. It doesn’t matter where it happens. It does matter greatly that it does happen. I am thankful for a church like Bluff Park UMC that prays for and looks for ways to show God’s love to the world whether that happens at home or in a country far removed from home.

Costa Rica 2014 – Part 1

Flag_of_Costa_RicaTom Duley and John Gates arrived in San Jose, Costa Rica last night, a little tired from travel but none the worse for wear. We have settled into the Hotel Franco which is a bed and breakfast in the heart of San Jose. San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica with a population of 2 million. It is a busy and bustling place. Hotel Franco is an urban version of the Hostal at El Vergel we stay in when we go to Chile.

There are eight members on the team. All of us are from Alabama. We come from Birmingham, Huntsville and Demopolis. We all have extensive experience in Kairos prison ministry. We are here to work on a Kairos team with the Costa Rican Kairos community. The Kairos weekend begins on Thursday.

We will spend the day today touring two prisons. Rev. Carlos Cunningham is the leader of the Kairos community in Costa Rica. He is also chaplain to several prisons in Costa Rica and the pastor of a small church. Through his efforts the Costa Rican government has dedicated one prison as a faith-based prison. The first prison we will visit is this faith-based prison.

The second prison we will visit is San Sebastian prison in the heart of the city. This is the prison where the Kairos weekend will be held. There are eight cell blocks in the prison. Each cell block has an inmate pastor who has been trained by Rev. Cunningham. These pastors care for the men in their cell block in much the same way that all pastors do. They teach, counsel, visit, lead worship, preach, etc. As a part of our time there today we will worship and celebrate communion led by the inmate pastor in one of the prison’s cell blocks.

It promises to be an enlightening and inspiring day.