DANGRIGA, Belize — After 26 years serving as missionaries with Eastern Mennonite Missions (EMM), Galen and Phyllis Groff are retiring from formal ministry in July 2017. They plan to retire in Dangriga, Belize, volunteering in church development and supporting missionary work throughout the region.
Originally from Lewisburg, Pa., the Groffs began their journey with EMM as church planters in Augusta, Maine, in 1974. After a two-year term with EMM, they continued working independently with the church plant in Maine until they felt called to travel farther.
Rejoining EMM, the Groffs first moved to Guatemala in the summer of 1985 with their children Rosalyn (12), Timothy (10), and Cynthia (8). “The call to go has been with us for a long time,” they wrote.
Settling in the remote village of Fray Bartolome de las Casas, the Groffs committed themselves to developing the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church, which was begun by EMM workers 13 years prior. They immersed themselves in the language and culture of the K’ekchi’ people, one of the Maya peoples of Guatemala. Galen worked in church and community development, while Phyllis, a nurse, worked in medical ministries and women’s discipleship.
The beginning of the Groffs’ career in overseas missions brought challenges. During their first three-year term in Guatemala, they battled culture shock and illness. On one visit to Guatemala City, their car was stolen with Phyllis and Cynthia still inside. Although the Groffs lost their car and their luggage, Phyllis and Cynthia escaped unharmed.
After the three-year missions assignment, the Groffs decided to remain in Lewisburg until their children finished high school. Six years later, they returned alone to Fray Bartolome de las Casas in January 1995.
Over the next two decades, the Groffs followed the example of the missionaries who founded the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church by ministering holistically. They both contributed to public health and community development as well as church ministry. In addition to providing health care, Phyllis educated K’ekchi’ health workers. Galen inventoried medicines and, in 2000, helped organize a project to build 900 hygienic latrines through foreign aid.
“My goal has been to be a bridge connecting others to God, the ultimate healer,” Phyllis wrote in 2010.
Within the church, the Groffs worked hard to equip local church leaders and evangelists, encouraging the church toward self-leadership. Galen provided training in topics ranging from peacemaking to pastoral duties. Phyllis worked with female leadership and women’s discipleship groups.
“We had the privilege to see the sons of K’ekchi’ pastors enter into pastoral leadership. We watched these children grow up and now see them built up by God to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. What a joy!” they wrote.
In 2011, Galen and Phyllis Groff became regional representatives, giving them oversight of all Eastern Mennonite Missions’ work in the Central American region.
The Groffs finally said goodbye to their Guatemalan ministry in 2014. In their 22 years serving in Guatemala, they saw the K’ekchi’ Mennonite Church grow from 50 congregations to about 130, with over 10,000 worshipers. They continue to visit K’ekchi’ churches periodically.
In 2015, the Groffs transitioned to a mission assignment in Dangriga, Belize, working in church and leadership development among the Garifuna people. They were soon joined by their son Timothy Groff, his wife Julie, and their children TJ, Simeon, and Gabriel. Timothy and Julie are engaged in leadership development among Garifuna believers.
Galen and Phyllis take joy in seeing the next generation of Groffs begin missionary work. One of their primary reasons for retiring in Dangriga is to support the younger Groffs in their ministry efforts.
As Galen and Phyllis prepare to return to Dangriga this August after some months spent traveling in Central America and the U.S., they request prayer for attentiveness and obedience to the voice of God.
The Groffs expressed thanks to all their supporters and friends over the years. “We will continue to ask for your prayers and spiritual support because we will be continuing in God’s work as long as we live,” they wrote in a letter to supporters.