The Deacon on Sabbatical: Ministry Never Truly Stops

Date Posted: 2/27/2014

While experiencing the Caribbean culture during her recent sabbatical, Rev. Wineva Hankamer found herself helping out in many capacities at Mizpah Methodist Church.

Most leaders are compelled to make a difference regardless of their environment. One such leader, a Deacon at Wesley UMC, Beaumont in the Southeast District, gravitated to a rewarding ministry opportunity while on a tropical island sabbatical.

Wineva’s adventure actually originated several years ago when one of Wesley UMC’s mission reports caught her eye. “When I saw mention of a place called Utila, I asked the associate pastor about it, and he directed me to a lay person named Dana Timaeus,” she explains. “It seems, after being stranded on Utila during Hurricane Mitch, this avid scuba diver decided
to look around on land and he
found a Methodist Church nearby.”

According to Wineva, after making friends in the church and in the community there, Dana returned to Wesley and gathered up a mission team to return to the island to do work projects. “I was able to serve on the work team that visited Utila in June of 2013,” she adds.

“Participating on the June team created a desire to return to Utila and spend some time experiencing the island’s Caribbean culture, and exploring the Mizpah Methodist Church which was founded as a British Methodist Church and is now part of the Belize Honduras Circuit of the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas. I applied for a short term sabbatical which was granted, and my local pastor parish committee approved my plan.”

Arriving to the island in mid December 2013, Wineva was welcomed by the Pastor, Esther Hanners, who will be ordained next year at their conference in Belize. “I was allowed to occupy the Mission House, or the manse, as they called it.  The mission house has become a place for teams to stay when traveling to Utila.”

On her first Sunday there, she got a call early in the morning that the pastor’s brother had passed away during the night. Recalls Wineva, “I discovered very quickly that this congregation knows the meaning of the priesthood of all believers. They just took over and did everything they could, to allow the pastor the time she needed with her family. I found myself helping out with various things in the life of the church until the pastor could return, but the laity preached, visited, led singing, held Bible study and prayer meeting, kept the usual schedule of Sunday School and Christian Endeavor (their youth program).”

Soon, Wineva was asked to assist with the youth group, which meets on Monday nights. “As their local leader and I worked together, we formed a close bond and I hope I was helpful as her encourager, as she does a great job with the youth. Under her leadership, they performed a song and recitations before the whole conference in Roatan. They came back all excited, with a new slogan: Fully on Board, Fully Committed, Pressing on For Christ. Their new theme song is Siyahamba, done in English and Spanish with a little Zulu in there, too.”

She was also blessed to help welcome a team from Wesley at the first of this year. “The construction team that I had been on led to a medical mission which completed its work on Utila over Martin Luther King Holiday weekend,” she says. Working together, the team served almost 100 residents by performing ear, nose, throat and respiratory exams, eye tests and dental procedures.

As her return to Beaumont draws near, she considers her blessings. This blog post from her first week sums it up: “Time away from our routines presents us with opportunities to examine everything, including ourselves. As I examine another cultural style, it is easy to reflect on and refine my own style and approach to things, people, and life in general. I am not alone here, as the church has provided me with many sisters and brothers on Utila. But even though it is a different place, with its own schedule, there is time to think and reflect and enjoy things like the gentle rainfall that is happening right now. It is refreshing, calming, and serene.”

Adds Wineva, “This sabbatical time has been wonder-filled and blessing-abounded. God is still smiling on Utila and her friendly people. The members of the Mizpah Church have a great heart and
much hope. Please pray for the youth of the island, so that they will see the church as a navigational beacon.”

The role of Deacon in the United Methodist Church, and also in the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas, is to bridge the church with the community. “As I walked to and from the church, clinic, or school, people on the street would make the connection, talk to me, and say affirming things about what the Methodists are doing on Utila. I was glad to be able to participate in that and encourage the church to reach out even more. My last Sunday here was Christian Education Sunday; what a great day to end my sabbatical time.”