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First Lutheran's inagural missions trip a success

First Lutheran Church of Brainerd is taking the commission to go to the ends of the earth quite literally. The church, located on South Eighth Street in Brainerd, sent its first missions team to Mexico in early March — an inaugural journey the church hopes to turn into an annual opportunity for its members.

The team of five — including Bill Gellert, Miranda Aulie, Lori Hall, Duane Ruona and Karen Ruona — traveled to the Oaxaca region of southern Mexico to serve along side the Mexican Association for Rural and Urban Transformation (AMEXTRA) in serving the local community.

Team members, Bill Gellert and Duane Ruona said the trip was life-changing not only for those they served but for the team members that went.

“It’s not just that you’re going down to do work,” Ruona said. “You’re getting back too.”

The church’s newly formed missions committee, led by Pastor Kristin Oltmann, began planning the inaugural trip in 2011 in an effort to further their commitment as a church to serving the global community.

“The ELCA has tried to put an emphasis on global missions,” Gellert explained. “And our church wanted to be apart of it.”

For Gellert, who works as an operations manager for Northland Fire Protection, the trip was the culmination of something he has hoped for his fellow church members for years. Gellert’s family started visiting the Oaxaca region in 1985 and Gellert has been back nearly every year since then, including a five year period of living in the region off and on as a volunteer missionary. “I’ve always been interested in missions,” Gellert said.

Gellert’s daughter, Sarah and her husband, live in Oaxaca and work full time for AMEXTRA.

Ruona said it was his wife who encouraged him to be part of the team.

“My wife, Karen, has always wanted to go,” Ruona said. “After a week I gave in.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat. It was really great. You get a real perspective in seeing what you have and what others don’t.”

Ruona and Gellert said the team served the needs of the rural communities of Oaxaca by helping educate youth on peace, teaching women about health and nutrition and helping area families build their own chicken coops.

“Everyone can pound a nail,” Gellert recalled of the manual labor, “It just takes some longer than others.”

Ruona said the buzz following the 2012 team’s return has generated a great deal of anticipation for the future.

“The church is really excited about the project,” he said. “I’d imagine next time we’ll have a group between 10-20.”

“We’re already looking forward to next year,” Gellert added.

Gellert said the church hopes to continue the trip annually and aims to use this first trip as a means of building a sustainable relationship with those served in the rural areas of Oaxaca.

SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at or 855-5879.