Sunday, June 29, 2014

Texas, Part 1

Texas is the biggest state of the union (if you consider only the lower 48); it’s so hot in Texas, why would
you go in the summer?  Texans drawl and wear cowboy hats and boots.  Well, there’s a handful of generalizations and facts!  Texas is big and I am visiting airports – Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas.  I don’t have much time to visit cities and places, but am meeting many friendly, dedicated supporters of my work and the many other projects in the Central African Republic.  Temperatures have been moderate (cool for the summer) although humidity has been high – but it doesn’t matter much since we spend much of the time in (often way too cold) air conditioning.  I rarely hear a “drawl” and have seen only a few cowboy hats and boots.  I have seen MANY pick-up trucks.

I am enjoying my time.  Starting on a personal note, I have been walking – around the Heights in Houston (beginning of walking esplanades pictured), Texas Lutheran University (TLU) in Sequin, and into/around the town of Sequin.  I have to revise my image of a city.  So much of what we hold in mind is unconscious and shaped by our experiences.  Most cities I know are in the East where space is more limited and ground less flat.  A city for me has tall buildings, streets with one line in each direction plus parking or one way streets with one lane (and maybe parking).  As I found in North Dakota, cities here are spread out, buildings are a couple of stories tall, and streets are wide.  It feels less crowded and “un-city-like” to me.  I am revising my views!  (Isn’t that part of what travel is for???)  And, I had believed that cities don’t have cacti! 

I have been welcomed by various Lutheran communities.  (Here’s a picture of TLU’s statue of Martin Luther, the man who has inspired our view of salvation by grace through faith with the Bible as a yardstick.)

First, I was in Houston at Christ the King (addressing a group of adults) and Faith Lutheran (addressing the Bible camp, pre-school students at the Day School, and adults in the evening.  Then, in Sequin (at TX Lutheran University), I attended the Disciple Project, intergenerational leadership training designed and implemented in the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.   In all three places I have presented information about my work and the situation in the CAR and had great conversations with many people.  At the Disciple Project I also learned about LEAD, Living Everyday as Disciples, a year-old program that focus our life and work on Listening Up (to God), Listening In (to ourselves and our church groups) and Listening Out (to communities) as we strive to follow Christ’s example in our lives.  I attending sessions called “Following to Lead.”  About 15 of us learned about Sequin as we learned to listen to others (asking open questions to better get to interviewees to share information from their perspective).  We all designed the beginnings of a project that we will take back
to our community with the intent of listening and then serving some segment of our community. I also got to speak to the children and learned to use Wordle (see photo).
Each day the Bible study included JR telling the gospel story/text.  He is a member of the same organization of Biblical Storytellers whose training I attended in Anglophone Cameroon last year.  Small world!

I also learned some unexpected things (besides revising my view of cities!)  I heard and saw many mockingbirds.  They are the state bird of Texas (and Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi) and are very pretty with the white stripes on their wings and bodies.  They mimic the cries of other birds and are featured in songs and books.  Wikipedia says, “It also features in the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because "they don't do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don't eat up people's gardens, don't nest in corncribs, they don't do one thing but sing their hearts out for us".

These birds are protective of their nests which I saw in the form of them chasing squirrels even though they didn’t seem to be close to a tree (and therefore a nest)!  I couldn’t get a picture of these chases, but photographed as squirrel and found a picture of a flying mockingbird online…

I am writing this as I sit in the Dallas airport on my way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana via New Orleans.  (Yes, Dallas is the wrong way to get from San Antonia to New Orleans, but that’s the way flights work sometimes.)  I will get this ready and send it from LA. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rainy "Home" Visit

I am in the Pittsburgh, PA area this week – home (or at least one of them).  I spent Thurs. through Saturday at St. Vincent’s College, Latrobe at the Southwestern PA synod assembly.  This was my third assembly in three weeks.  (I can say that I am glad not to be churchwide staff who have to attend multiple assemblies every year!)  As I expected, I saw more people I knew and met many others.  My two forum sessions went well with more people in the 9 a.m. one than the other at 4 p.m. (To be expected...)  Here is a picture I took of Bishop Kusserow during a plenary session. 

It has been rainy all week.  Many days I have continued to walk most days.  Here’s an attempt to share a gorgeous cloudy sky between rains taken in Latrobe.  We even had a thunder storm one day with thunder and great lightning – reminding me of storms in Garoua Boulai.

On Sunday, I was hosted by Zion Lutheran Church in Harmony, PA.  I preached a children’s and adult sermon and shared conversation during coffee hour after the liturgy.  Pictured here is Rev. Barbara Love and me sitting at coffee hour.
I have a few more days in Pittsburgh and then back to Mechanicsburg and on to Texas next Sunday.  Travels continue!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Still Flat and Friendly, But Less Windy

On the Road Again, arriving in Mechanicsburg, PA

What a wonderful opportunity to meet people and see part of Eastern North Dakota!  I drove to Kindred and Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota.  Between Bismarck and Kindred I passed many farms and LOTS of flat land (not a surprise, really).  I went to Kindred first as the Lutheran Church there has been supporting me.  The town is small and lovely.  Many more wood houses than we see in Pennsylvania and wide roads.  (The picture was taken from my window seat on the plane from Minneapolis to Philadelphia.  The fewest clouds I have seen in a long time on a flight – and one of the bumpiest rides!  The water is Lake Michigan.) 

After sharing the liturgy with Kindred Lutheran (and preaching), three women took me to the Hjemkomst Center to see the Stave Church that is a replica of a church in Norway that was built in the 1100s.  Great to see.  An interesting point was the lepers’ window.  The pastor could give communion to lepers (and others with sever illnesses) from a place near the altar while lepers stood outside on a covered porch.  Exclusion, but also a way to limit the spread of disease. The center also has a replica of a Viking ship that was built and sailed to Norway in the early 190s. 

I also got to see the Welcome Home parade for the girls’ softball team from Kindred who won the state championship!  Go girls!  Sunday evening Kindred Lutheran welcomed some bicyclists riding for Gears for Change.  They road across the state to raise money for the homeless.  One of the riders was Pastor Sue whose church I visited two days later.

Note about homelessness in ND:  There has been some homelessness in Fargo and other areas, as there is everywhere, but the situation is getting worse.  There is an oil boom in the western part of the state because of fracking techniques that are allowing access to resources that were not easily removed before.  Because of the influx of workers in this boom, housing is very short.  Many landlords, going with supply and demand, are now raising rents exponentially so that those on limited or fixed income are being evicted.  Too many are now homeless and many have moved to Fargo.  The churches are working together to address the problem as are others in the area.  I can’t imagine being homeless in the winter when temperatures are often below zero with lots of wind.

Both Monday and Tuesday mornings I spent time at the Eastern North Dakota synod office where I met the current Bishop, Rev. William Rindy, and the Bishop-Elect, Terry Brant, and various other staff.  Tuesday afternoon, I also had the chance to visit personnel at the Northwestern Minnesota synod office including Bishop, Rev. Dr. Lawrence R. Wohlrabe.

Monday evening I stayed in the home of Nola and Ken Storm who invited the Mission Committee from Olivet Lutheran.  This church along with two others to be mentioned soon have decided to begin to support me in my work in CAR.  All three had been supporting June and Phil Nelson who finish their work in Cameroon in July.  I am sad to see the Nelsons leave, but am gratified that these churches have so quickly moved to choose a new missionary to generously support.

Tuesday evening I presented some information about my work and life in CAR to the Intergenerational Vacation Bible School at Elim Lutheran in Fargo (who will begin sponsoring me this summer).  This picture shows an another outside activity where we demonstrated that the love we receive from those around us (represented by water in paper cups) come together in ways that overflow (shown by the overflowing bowl into which each person poured his/her water while naming someone who loves him/her).  

Finally, on the way back to Bismarck to fly to Pennsylvania, I stopped in Valley City at Our Savior Lutheran Church (who will also begin to support me this summer).  I participated in the regular Wednesday Bible study sharing information about my work and the situation in CAR.  I also went with members for a coffee and continued conversation. 

Thanks to Pr. Paul Schauer’s habit of daily walks, I got into the groove, too.  I walked for 45-60 minutes each day, plus regular walking to get from place to place.  I am pleased to be moving – and balancing the wonderful meals I have been eating with all of the people I have been meeting!

I only allotted a week in North Dakota thinking I was vising three places.  I was blessed to visit seven!  It is helpful to put names to faces and places and these visits will facilitate/encourage communication in the future.

Today, I presented a forum at the Lower Susquehanna Synod Assembly entitled, "Feeding Spiritual and Earthly Hunger in the CAR."  It went well and participants had good questions.  Bishop Jim Dunlop introduced me during the first session explaining that we are even related!  His wife’s brother is my sister’s husband – got that?  As he said, that means mostly shared turkey dinners!

Another big thank you to all who are making my travels smooth and fruitful.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Windy, Flat, and Friendly

I have started visiting supporters and
what a great way to start!  I arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota Wednesday afternoon.  Pastor Paul Schauer met me at the airport and I have been staying with him.

That same evening I spoke to Sunne Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School. Since then I have been at the WND synod assembly.  I got to speak during the Gala organized to raise funds for the Central African Republic where I gave an overview of my work.  The next day I was able to speak to the whole assembly about the ELCA’s part in Humanitarian Aid to CAR.  I’ve also have various opportunities to speak to people informally.  The Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker, Area Director for Western and Central Africa, was also at the assembly and led a forum session.

This is my first visit to North Dakota.  My first impressions are that people are very friendly and welcoming.  I am pleased to meet the people who are so open to supporting missions around the world, including in the CAR.

I can also say that it is WINDY here!  I guess I should have expected it because the area is very flat and the wind comes from far away and builds up speed with few hills, mountains, etc. to slow things down.  It was particularly windy on Thursday.  The weather is also cooler than in PA (overall) and spring is several weeks being PA.  On the other hand, Thurs. the temperature was in the upper 80s.  Today, though, it is in the upper 60s. 

It is no wonder that there are now many wind towers in the area producing electricity.  I’m told that sometimes they have to turn them off because the wind gets to strong!  Imagine.

I have had some time to see sites in Washburn, Wilton, and Bismarck.  Merriweather Lewis and William Clark came through this area in the early 1800s as they mapped, explored, and collected plant and animals aided by Sakakawea and other Native Americans.  In fact the highway on the east side of the Missouri River is number 1804 and on the west side it’s 1806 to commemorate the years the Lewis and Clark passed through the area.  Much of the area looks like it did when Lewis and Clark passed through. 

Here’s a picture of the famous team with Pastor Paul included in the consultation.

This will be posted from Eastern North Dakota when I find an internet connection.  I am pleased to be able to visit this part of the state, too, but will write more about that another day.