Church: Byron UMC
Submitted by: Rev. Beth Perez
By Amanda Willis
A new pastor’s desire to share her heritage with her congregation turned into a heartfelt mission project embraced by both her church and the community.
Rev. Beth Perez, who began leading Byron United Methodist Church last summer, immediately felt welcomed by members of the congregation—but she was also aware that she looked different than most of them and she wanted to share her Mexican and Spanish heritage.
“I wanted to show and teach my congregation that we all bring traditions and cultural differences, along with our faith, to our churches,” said Perez, a third-generation Hispanic American.
So she invited the church to participate in one of her family’s traditions—a “El Dia de Los Magos” celebration. El Dia de Los Magos, translated in English to “Day of the Magi,” is a Hispanic celebration of the Three Wise Men following the star to Bethlehem and arriving with their gifts for baby Jesus. The day is generally full of parades and special foods, and it ends with children placing their old shoes under their beds in hopes that the Three Wise Men would fill them with treats and gifts.
As part of the celebration, Perez asked members of the church, which averages about 85 in worship attendance, to bring new shoes to donate to the children at the Rio Bravo Children’s Home in Reynosa, Tamaulipas Mexico.
“[We wanted to] show the children at the Rio Bravo Children's Home that Los Magos had left them a gift of new shoes to be given to them through the generous hearts of the congregation of the Byron UMC . . . and to teach our children that God's love is apparent in the hearts of God's people,” Perez said.
“I personally liked the idea that we were donating brand new shoes… we wanted to share the joy of having a child open a new gift,” said Byron UMC lay leader Chris Miller.
In early January, Perez and her husband, Jesse, opened the parsonage to church guests. It was a cold Minnesota night, but the turnout was better than expected. Jesse made champurrado (a thick Mexican hot chocolate traditionally eaten with a spoon), buñuelos (a fried Mexican pastry), and many other treats. The group enjoyed fellowship and got to know one another while celebrating their support of the children’s home.
Forty-four new pairs of shoes were placed under the Perez Christmas tree that night—athletic shoes, dress shoes, little sneakers, and even a few pairs of adult shoes.
During worship the following Sunday, the children at the church brought the shoes up to the altar and Rev. Perez talked about generous and loving hearts and God using us to meet the needs of those who are less fortunate. The whole congregation blessed the shoes and prayed for every child who was about to receive a new pair.
“We also gave thanks for God's call to us to reach out beyond our familiar walls and minister to those who are in need,” Perez said. Byron UMC’s youth now want to explore other ways that the congregation can meet the needs of the Rio Bravo Children’s Home.
As the shoes were being prepared for mailing the next morning, Perez received a phone call from Stier Steel Corporation in Spring Valley, owned by her husband’s friend; the company was willing to ship and pay for the boxes to be sent to the children’s home.
But the story doesn’t end there.
When Stier Steel employees got wind of Byron UMC’s mission work, they went out during their lunch hour and purchased 20 more pairs of shoes to ship with the 44 from Byron UMC.
“What started out to be a small gift of new shoes to children in a remote place in a Mexican border town orphanage became a call to mission to the Byron UMC and a community whose heart was touched by an ancient story and a tradition of children hoping for treats from the Magi,” Perez said. “The love of God continues to touch us all!”
Amanda Willis is communications associate for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404