“We say thank you to the many individuals and churches in North Dakota and South Dakota who have prayed for us and supported us over the last 32 years,” write Revs. Evelyn and Teri Erbele, who serve as Mission Interpreters with the General Board of Global Ministires of The United Methodist Church. The Erbele's connected with the Dakotas while serving in Scotland, South Dakota.
Evelyn and Teri Erbele met in 1976 while working at the Wesleyan Nursing Home in Seward, Alaska. Evelyn was a nurse, and Teri was the bookkeeper. While they were engaged, they applied to the General Board of Global Ministries and were told, “We don’t send newlyweds. We suggest you get some experience and then try again.”
So, following their wedding in 1977, the Erbeles moved to Wilmore, Kentucky, for Teri to go to seminary while Evelyn worked in Lexington hospital.
After informing the Cabinet of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference that he did not feel he had the gifts and graces for youth ministry, Teri’s first appointment, in 1980, was to be the youth pastor of First United Methodist Church in Newberg, Oregon.
After two years, the couple moved to Kuna, Idaho. Evelyn worked in the emergency room of the Nampa Hospital and achieved a Master’s Degree in Counseling from the College of Idaho. Five years later, they moved to Hermiston, Oregon.
“After 11 years of marriage, we felt we had enough experience and reapplied to the General Board of Global Ministries, and in 1989, our family was sent to Nigeria,” writes Teri Erbele.
The Eberle children were part of the journey to Nigeria. Andrew was ten and in fourth grade, and Anna was 8 in third grade. Ev assumed the position as the school nurse of Hillcrest School in Jos, Nigeria. She had a clientele of about a thousand people. Since there were few doctors available, she did everything from diagnosing to prescribing and dispensing prescriptions. Once a year, a dentist would come to treat both missionaries and Nigerians. The dentist took care to teach Ev how to pull teeth, and she even manufactured dental retainers.
Teri’s assignment was to be the Area Financial Executive, which involved receiving funds from the United States and Germany for the 19 programs of the Nigeria United Methodist Church. He audited each program to ascertain that the money was used according to the designation. Teri also managed two guest houses on the mission’s seven-acre compound, talked daily on the radio to the people “down bush,” and purchased goods to be sent on the mission airplane.
"In 1995, Global Ministries had a new position for us elsewhere in the world, but they could not tell us where. We were told to find a place to live and then wait for their call," said Teri. "We settled in Scotland, South Dakota. Two days after our arrival, the pastor of the United Methodist Church in Scotland and Tyndall, Rev. Carolyn Hansom, had a seizure caused by a brain tumor. The District Superintendent, Hank Kor, asked Teri to assume pastoral duties."
Global Ministries called that fall to inform them of their next assignment was Moscow, Russia, where Teri was to be the Area Financial Executive. In January 1996, Teri went ahead of the family to Moscow for five months. Evelyn took over the pastoral duties, became Carolyn’s hospice nurse, and mothered a sophomore son and freshman daughter. Pastor Carolyn died Easter morning in 1996.
In Russia, Erebeles watched the United Methodists grow from 12 churches to 115. Evelyn started and taught at the Moscow Bible College for Laity. Visiting professors from the various seminaries in the United Stated took turns coming to the Russia United Methodist Seminary.
Rev. Don Messer, president of Iliff Seminary, arranged for Evelyn to attend the professor classes and get the seminary credits to qualify for ordination as a deacon. After this, she had the opportunity to get a Doctorate in Ministry from Wesley Seminary in Washington, DC.
In 1999, they were assigned to Lithuania in addition to duties in Russia. In 2000, Latvia was added.
“Each month, we would fly two hours from Moscow to Vilnius and then drive to Latvia. Teri claimed it as the world’s largest three-point charge,” writes Teri.
By 2005, Evelyn served as the Eigulai United Methodist Church pastor in Lithuania, and Teri became the District Superintendent. In 2006, Evelyn transitioned to being an elder.
After spending a year in Manhattan, New York, as Mission Advocates for the Northeast Jurisdiction, the Erbeles moved in 2008 to Ketchikan, Alaska, to be co-pastors. Evelyn’s ministry focus was establishing and operating the First City Homeless Shelter.
The couple also did some pulpit supply in Unalaska and Homer. Teri traveled twice to Haiti to help with the financial accounting for United Methodist Commitee on Relief, UMCOR and United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, UMVIM.
Currently, Ev and Teri are closing house after three years of living in Lakebay, Washington. They are serving as Mission Advocates for the Western Jurisdiction until retirement on June 30.
“COVID has restricted our travels, so we have been working about 20 hours per week at the nearby Food Bank and Senior Center in addition to the multitude of Zoom meetings,” Teri said.
What advice would you give to those entering global mission ministry?
Practice the two greatest commandments at every opportunity.
One of the greatest things we have learned is God’s faithfulness. We have moved many times. Frequently, we had no idea where we would live or who we would meet. Each time God has provided the things we need. There have been periods of enormous stress such as riots in Nigeria, difficult individuals, extremely high inflation in Russia, children leaving the nest, and physical maladies. God has provided peace in the midst of the storm and provided friends who have prayed for us and walked with us.
A person can conclude that everyone is either extremely selfish or crazy between the news media and social media. Our experience has been that there is a lot of good and decent folk. We have been the recipients of more deeds of kindness than we can count from so many people.
Teri has had the privilege of baptizing people on four different continents. These sacred moments are treasured.
There are probably several memories that you have in your heart; what are a few memories that stand out or that shaped your ministry?
An elderly woman in the Bible College would take the public transportation two hours each Tuesday and Thursday evening to attend classes. In the middle of a session, she shouted, “I understand. It all makes sense. You have taught me to think.”
Paul met us outside the Ketchikan church. He was beside himself crying, “Tell me I’m not going to Hell!” He had just attended a revival meeting at a church in town, and the evangelist told him, “God hates drunkards. Drunks go to hell.”
We departed Alaska three years ago. While there, we also traveled to Unalaska, located in the Aleutian chain of islands, to offer pastoral support. Not too long ago, we received an email from Matt, the current local pastor of the Unalaska, because a fisherman had come to church. The fisherman wanted to know if Matt knew the pastors from Ketchikan. When Matt said, “Yes, the fisherman said, “I am a sober alcoholic today because Rev. Ev set me straight.”
Train travel is an essential part of Russian culture. We have crossed the 11 times zones of Eurasia by train. The time spent laughing, eating, and sleeping on trains with Russian colleagues has formed some of our fondest memories.
The first Russian we met was Slava. He was a retired engineer who supplemented his income by being a driver. For ten years, we crisscrossed the city of Moscow, which afforded the opportunity for long conversations. We shared stories and learned about each other’s families, hopes, desires, cultures, and faith. We became friends. The same thing happened in Nigeria in Lithuania, Latvia, and Alaska. Even in Washington State, by riding for two years with the truck driver for the food bank, we have found that it is only by spending time together that ministry can happen.
For two weeks in November 2019 and two weeks in February 2020, we were in Saipan with UMCOR-Early Response Teams. We were replacing a roof and windows in the home of a Muslim family. One morning, the grandfather backed his car over his two-year-old granddaughter. He was beside himself with grief, guilt, and fear for her life. For the next week, we asked about her health. Each day we asked if we could pray for him and his family. He was grateful. Three months later, we were on our second trip to Saipan. We found the grandfather to inquire about his granddaughter. He wept and said, “You remember me.” His granddaughter is doing fine. We prayed with him this time with hearts of joy.
Recently we visited a loan office to secure a loan to buy a retirement home. During the conversation, we learned about some of her struggles. We asked if we could pray. There was an emphatic “Yes! Please do.” So we did right there.
Pray at all times and without ceasing.
We live through tension and uncertainty of the COVID pandemic, a call to end racism, and the potential split of the denomination. What are your hopes and prayers during this season?
A study of the Bible and church history reveals that there are seldom times of no tension and no uncertainty: The people of Israel trapped against the Red Sea, Goliath taunting Israel for 40 days, the fall of Jerusalem, the crucifixion of Jesus, the centuries of martyrdom that has lasted to today in parts of the world. Tension and uncertainty have always been with humanity. Wars and riots are raging continuously. Pandemics have swept through since history was first recorded. Earthquakes, fires, storms, floods, accidents, and stock market crashes are going to happen. Our prayer is that eyes may be opened to see that the only reliable source of peace and confidence is our risen Lord.
The sin of racism is abhorrent. In1966, Teri witnessed Igbos being killed because of tribalism in Nigeria. It comes in many forms: blatant and subtle. Without diminishing the seriousness of racism, it is only the tip of human depravity. St. Paul wrote long lists of sins, and we know that there are others such as human trafficking, sexism, ageism, and vitriol that spews forth out of our mouths and on social media. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God who hovers over the face of the chaos of the deep will once again move, bringing hearts to confession and bringing about a new creation within us personally and within those around us.
We have been United Methodists since the denomination was created. God has used it as an instrument to bring salvation, hope, joy, peace, and love to millions. The United Methodist Church is our home where we have found spiritual and physical support.
The potential split is painful. Our prayer can be found in the communion liturgy of the United Methodist Church. “By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy church, all honor and glory is yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen.”