March 2021: Easter in the Andes

Editor’s Note: Each month, we mail an article with our contribution statements to the previous month’s donors. Click here to download a PDF version. We have shared this story in the past, and it is a good reminder that we can have an Easter celebration no matter where we are.

Written by Sarah Corson, SIFAT Co-founder

The truck climbed slowly up the narrow ledge of the Andean road, cutting sharply to make the hairpin curves in Bolivia. At least two dozen hitchhikers joined us in the back, crowded with the produce, furniture, chickens and other cargo. It was the Saturday before Easter in 1985. We were hoping to get to the capital in time to go to the Easter service the following morning.

This had been the longest, hardest trip ever coming up the Andes Mountains. It took us 46 hours to drive 200 miles. Every time we got stuck, everyone helped dig the truck out, although we only had one shovel. The rest of us used our hands to dig out the mud in the tracks. Five times, a tire blew out along the way. It rained, and our sleeping bags and clothes were wet. Finally, at 3 a.m., we reached a pass in the Andes some 16,000 feet high. The cold was bone-chilling. Suddenly, the truck stopped. A wheel had lost some bolts and was about to fall off. We could go no farther. One of the church leaders walked down the road in the snowstorm and found a small hut where a sheep herder lived. The man got out of bed and welcomed us. We crowded in and, grateful for a roof, lay down on the dirt floor littered with sheep dung. As usual in the area, the sheep herder had no heat for his house.  In the freezing cold, we huddled together on the floor. The sheep herder’s daughter slept with a lamb, and when he jumped up and walked among us with his warm coat of wool, he was welcomed. For a few minutes. he lay at my head, and I buried my face in his wool, thankful for the warmth.

Happy Easter!

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We’ve gotten a little behind in posting cofounder Ken Corson’s SIFAT Remembers articles from the SIFAT Journal. The following article appeared in the April Journal. You can download the SIFAT Journal on our news page.

Because of our experiences of working with the church in Cuba, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico and later in Bolivia, we were often asked to speak in churches on the subject of “missions.” In addition to telling our experiences, we were telling a part of what we essentially were and what we still are today. Our faith is what we believe in enough to act on. Some churches and people caught the vision of a holistic Gospel of faith and technology. We found that men especially were interested in things they could do with their hands for Christ.

Still there were times when faith and technology were greeted skeptically. Once while representing SIFAT in a seminary, a student looked at our display. “Faith and Technology?” he questioned. “What does technology have to do with faith?” Then he conceded, “Well, maybe….I went to Haiti, and I saw that the Gospel was not enough for Haiti. They are starving. They need food. I guess technology would be o.k. for them.”

Immediately, I knew something was wrong with his statement that the Gospel was not enough for Haiti. I responded, “Oh, the Gospel is enough for everyone in this world! It is YOUR CONCEPT of the Gospel that says it is not enough for Haiti!” God cares about every aspect of our being…our bodies, our minds, our emotions, our soul. We who minister in His name need to care about the whole person, and not just individuals, but the whole community as well. That is the integrated Gospel!

This is the fourth installment in our SIFAT Remembers column, written by cofounder Ken Corson. This article was published in our February Journal, which you can download here.

At the time I was discovering a more practical theology, one that served human needs—physical as well as spiritual. Schmaucher’s ideas, based on small scale and self-help rather than welfare, fit with my thinking. Thus before we left to work under the Bolivian Methodist Church, we went to Vermont for training in appropriate technology.

After two years of ministry in Bolivia, we returned to Alabama. Sharing stories of how we had used technology in the context of the church stimulated interest among Christians who heard us over several states. We called a meeting in our home church, Wedowee United Methodist, where we shared the great concern we felt for the hungry and suffering in our world. Those present responded by helping us create SIFAT as a Christian non-profit corporation. The founding name was Southern Institute for Appropriate Technology. However, at the first board of directors’ meeting, the founders agreed that we wanted the world to know that this was a work of faith, part of our living out our Christian commitment. So we adopted a second name also—Servants in Faith and Technology. The acronym for both names was SIFAT (See-fat). Not only did this name include faith, but also the aspect of servanthood which is a fundamental aspect of Christ’s teaching.

This is the third installment of SIFAT Remembers. Ken Corson, cofounder of SIFAT, is writing this article to remind supporters (both old and new) about how SIFAT came to be, the beginnings of SIFAT and memories through the years. This article comes from the section he has titled the character of SIFAT.

While we were in language school in Costa Rica we discovered a mission group that conducted Caravans of Good Will (Caravanas de Buena Voluntad). They organized teams of a doctor, a dentist, a literacy worker, nurse, nutritionist, an agriculturalist and a pastor. I went with them on a number of caravans down rivers and in remote villages where they were able to impact whole villages. They did not just talk about the love of God, they manifested it with their presence, their compassion, their practical caring. They also introduced the Bible and shared God’s Word in word as well as deed.

Through my high school and college years I had been exposed to a type of religion that stressed preaching, evangelism and Bible study. Education, nutrition, medical work, literacy and the like were spoken of in condescending tones as, “the social gospel.” But I came to see that God made the body as well as the spirit. The Gospel includes ministering to every aspect of our being. We call this incarnational evangelism. There is no separation of the so-called evangelical gospel from the so-called social gospel. Many of my old friends thought that I strayed from the correct path by working with people with their physical as well as spiritual needs. In 1979 when SIFAT was created, thinking of ministry in holistic ways was not so common as it is today. It is gratifying to see that there are now many other Christian groups who work holistically. This process of incorporating all aspects of the human condition as legitimate fields for ministry led to what became the SIFAT motto of “Sharing God’s Love in Practical Ways.”

This is the second installment of SIFAT Remembers by Ken Corson, cofounder of SIFAT.

After Cuba, Sarah and I went to the missionary language school in San Jose, Costa Rica. The school was a mosaic of missionaries in the last half of the 20th Century: Catholic, Protestant, Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, high church and things in between.

Varied Christian traditions that often found it hard to cooperate in other things were neighbors, friends and classmates in learning Spanish. We all learned more about God by hearing the testimonies of how He had worked in the lives of people different from us and different from each other. None of us have a monopoly on God; none of us understand perfect doctrine. As I Corinthians tells us, now in this world, we “see through a glass darkly.” We can learn from each other.

Years later when we were working in a fairly remote area in Haiti where we were some of the few Caucasians in the area, we met a Christian couple serving as missionaries up in the mountains. We enjoyed fellowship with them for a few minutes in the market. Before leaving we invited them to come visit us. We were shocked at their reply. Their denomination forbade them from associating with “The World”. In other words they did not acknowledge anyone as Christian that was not a member of their denomination. How sad, I thought. How narrow. How limiting. How do we let our light shine if it is set under a bushel?

From its earliest days, beginning in 1979, SIFAT declared that we build bridges not walls, bridges that bring people together, not walls that separate. SIFAT character is inclusive, not exclusive.