By ALICE M. SMITH
Dakin Cook has missionary service in his blood. He grew up as the child of missionary parents in New Delhi, India, and later found his calling - and his wife Sara Flores - on the mission field in another part of the world.
The two had worked in her native country of Bolivia as missionaries for the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) for a number of years when “with a heavy heart” in 2007 they agreed to a three-year stint at GBGM headquarters in New York to help oversee mission work in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It wasn’t that they thought the administrative work was unimportant, or that their 60 missionary co-workers in South America would not benefit from their service at the central mission office. It’s that working with the people is their passion.
Now their time in New York is up, and they will be returning to South America in July. Sara’s assignment hasn’t been confirmed yet, although she will continue her work with women and children. Dakin will serve as regional auditor for GBGM, an important position because when United Methodists give to mission, they want the assurance the money gets to the place it was designated for and that it’s wisely spent.
North Georgia is the home conference for Dakin and Sara. After his father, the Rev. Douglas Cook, and mother Virginia retired from the mission field in the early 1980s, they settled in Atlanta, where for 14 years he served as a chaplain to international students at Emory University.
At the time Dakin was working as a registered nurse in Tennessee, but through his parents he hooked up with a mission team from Glenn Memorial UMC going to Bolivia. He returned as a volunteer with the Evangelical Methodist Church in Bolivia from 1990-93 and then was consecrated as a GBGM missionary. He and Sara were married in 2000.
In North Georgia, Dakin and Sara have been supported by several churches: Thomson First, Athens First, Salem in Covington, Barnesville First, Glenn Memorial and Peachtree Road in Atlanta. Currently they are visiting their supporting churches before going on to their new assignments this summer.
The Evangelical Methodist Church of Bolivia, an autonomous Methodist Church like most of the Methodist churches in Latin American, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006. With 200 congregations, it is the third largest Methodist church in Latin America, following Brazil and Mexico.
Over the years, said Dakin, the Methodist Church has played a leading role in moving the ruling national government from a small wealthy elite to majority indigenous rule.
“This has been a more than 50-year process,” said Dakin. “The Methodist Church was one of the very few institutions in Bolivia that operated schools and provided medical services for the marginalized majority of the population who had no access or constitutional rights prior to 1952. The church itself has been under indigenous leadership since the 1970s.”
Some 60 to 70 percent of Bolivia’s population is indigenous, representing some 36 different nations of which the largest are the Quechua, Aymara and the Guarani.
Much of Sara’s work has been with empowering women, which is so important to a country’s overall welfare, Sara said. That’s because when women undertake to improve their educational, life and health skills, they are not just benefitting themselves but improving the lives of their families and communities.
The churches have women’s circles who meet weekly to discuss health issues and grow in their faith and knowledge of the Bible. Although some may be unable to read, they know Bible verses, hymns and even sermons from memory and are thoroughly dedicated.
“It’s a pleasure to help the women in Bolivia,” she said.
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Alice M. Smith is former editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate. Contact her at email@example.com.