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Solar-powered voyage across the Dakotas

By: David Stucke, Dakotas Conference Communications

Ovens Photo

A young visitor snaps a photo of the solar ovens in the parking lot at Open Heart UMC. Photos by Dave Stucke, Dakotas Conference Communications.

Most of us have never eaten cake baked by the sun, or seen an oven reach 300 degrees atop a folding table. But on the recent Dominican Tour Across the Dakotas, many folks experienced that for the first time, and grew in their understanding of the power of the sun and the Holy Spirit. One of the tour’s big events was an open house celebration for the new reflector fabrication shop at Open Heart UMC in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Solar Oven Partners, in ministry to the Dominican Republic, Sierra Leone, and the Navajo Reservation, have a new workshop at Open Heart UMC, and are training up trainers and volunteers to serve in mission right where they live. Opportunities are now expanded to include workshops in Raymond, Montrose, and Rapid City, South Dakota.

Marj Evans-de-Carpio

Marj Evans-de-Carpio, director of Solar Oven Partners, gave personal and inspiring witness to the impact SOP is having around the world and here in the Dakotas.

SOP Director Marj Evans-de-Carpio gave the message on Sunday morning, Sept. 26, at Open Heart UMC, including these words of insight. “One is constantly reminded of the human dependance on water in the Dominican Republic because, to be safe to drink, water has to be purchased and carried. One day we saw a little boy cup his hands under the tailpipe of the bus, and then lick his hands, ‘drinking’ drops of water condensation from the tailpipe of our bus.”

One way to alleviate this shortage of drinking water is by using a solar oven to sanitize available water for drinking and cooking. Solar ovens built in the Dakotas Conference are directly helping to heal a broken world, helping offer affordable, clean-energy, cooking resources for impoverished families.

These ovens are made of components built at the SOP workshops in the Dakotas, including the new reflector workshop at Open Heart UMC in Rapid City. Specialized equipment there helps volunteer workers turn sheet metal into the parts of the reflective box that concentrate sunlight into each oven. Teams of 4-8 people can sign up for a minimum two-day workshop. The extended time allows folks to be trained and efficient at the processes and then create the reflectors.

Adam Demo

Workshop director Adam Burnison demonstrates one of the workstations used to create solar oven reflectors during open house at Open Heart UMC.

After oven components are fabricated, they are carefully packaged and shipped to one of the mission sites, where they are received and assembled with the help of volunteers who also teach oven recipients the adapted recipes so the ovens can produce the best possible results. During the pandemic, restricted travel postponed the mission trips, but SOP is ramping up for more trips soon.

At the open house celebration in Rapid City, six fully-functional solar ovens were set up on folding tables outside the church, and in a short time had reached almost 300 degrees, cooking two cakes in each oven. Visitors enjoyed seeing the ovens close-up, watching the thermometers rise quickly on a perfectly sunny autumn day, and even eating the cakes while hearing music from a cowboy gospel band, Dakota Blend. Marj Evans-de-Carpio also connected by speakerphone with the SOP director of the Dominican Republic mission, Rev. Erasme Fígaro, who was unable to attend due to pandemic travel restrictions.

Meanwhile, in the church basement, a crew from Open Heart UMC and the Circle of Friends group were busy serving up sloppy joe sandwiches and salads in the fellowship hall. Just around the corner, workshop director Adam Burnison and other trainers were giving hands-on tours of the workshop and the various tools volunteers are using to create the reflectors. Open house guests came from other United Methodist churches in the region, from as far away as Spearfish, and even guests from other denominations in the area who had simply heard about the project.

 Group Question

A youth from the Spearfish UMC confirmation class asks a question of Adam Burnison, upper left, with a stack of finished reflectors in the foreground.

In the tours, which were attended by youth and adults of all ages, Adam and the trainers impressed upon people that you don't need any special skills ahead of time to work in the workshop. Your time here will help people in need feed themselves in an earth-friendly, sustainable way.

Marj Evans-de-Carpio offered questions to ask ourselves, not just when traveling on a mission trip, but also while volunteering near our home communities. “What image are we reflecting? Are we presenting the image of God as people thought it would look, or as Jesus showed God’s image to look? This is not a question we should ask ourselves just while on a mission trip, but one all of us should ask ourselves every moment of every day. ‘How am I reflecting God in my everyday actions and encounters with others?’”

To sign up as an individual or as a team, or just to gather information, see the Solar Ovens Partners website, or contact Rev. Michele Slott at Open Heart UMC, or call the church at 605.343.1813.


Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000