Thursday, July 31, 2014

SMC and Musings about Life in the US

Last week I was at North Central College in Naperville, IL (near Chicago) for the Summer Missionary Conference (SMC).  It has me thinking about life in the States and the joy of spending time reflecting and

reconnecting with people.

I was able to walk for at least an hour each morning I was in Naperville.  I walked through campus and to nearby streets.  I also walked along the beautiful Riverwalk trail along the river that runs through town.  (I only took my camera on the first day so I have pictures of the town, but not the Riverwalk.) 

Ever think about why towns were founded where they were?  Most often they are built close to a means of transportation – in this case a river and then railroad tracks.  There are many cities/towns close to railroad tracks!  I know that in many of the places I have visited I can hear train whistles as I did in Naperville.  Trains are still important in our country – if more for freight than passengers in many areas. 

The train I saw led to the thoughts about the expression “the wrong side of the tracks.”  Since most towns had tracks, it became the norm for rich to live on one side of town while poor lived across the train tracks on the other side of town.  The rich wanted to be in a separate neighborhood/area, but how did the rail line become the dividing line?

Near the Naperville tracks there was a curvy concrete wall which I first thought was to hide the tracks.
Maybe it does, but on the other side is also more parking.  In addition, I could see a water tower behind the wall and tracks.  So how do they get water into them??  I know that our water towers in Garoua Boulai, Cameroon and Baboua, CAR are filled with a pump run by a generator and comes from a local spring. Then gravity provides us running water – indoor plumbing!  I have seen many water towers in the US.  Do US towns do the same thing to fill the water towers? 

Many towns/neighborhoods now have community gardens, as this one pictured on North West College’s campus.  They encourage people to be closer to their food source, eat more fresh vegetables, and, hopefully, eat those with fewer chemicals/fertilizers. Great.  As I was working with my sister Monday in the community garden in which she volunteers and has her own garden, two women were there taking soil samples.  They are part of a project testing lead levels in gardens around Philadelphia.  Wow.  It never occurred to me to think about what had been on the site previously (probably houses) and the danger of lead in the soil!  They said that raised beds are better to avoid contaminants.  And, some plants, like sunflowers, take lead out of the soil – a good thing, but gardeners should be careful not to compost the stalks or they will just put the lead back into the ground.  Sunflowers also remove arsenic, zinc, chromium, copper, and manganese from the ground.  Other plants are also used for this purpose; it’s called phytoremediation.  (See for an intro to the subject.)

What is it about the US and guns?  Why is it so important for people to insist on owning handguns whose only purpose seems to be killing people?  I know that second amendment is important to many and I am not against hunting and gun ownership.  I don’t understand, however, the recent trend in some places to openly carry guns into public places – these people have a permit to carry a concealed weapon but it is not kept concealed.  The result is signs like this one on the doors of college campus and other public buildings.  (I am not mentioning the US’s other obsession with smoking that often provokes a slow, miserable death.)  We live in a world of extremes.  (Yes, I know CAR has its own problems with extremes…)

Summer Missionary Conference
Once a year about half the mission personnel from around the world meet with those from Global Mission in Chicago.  That means each of us goes every other year.  GM personnel prepare a theme that carries through sessions each day; this year it was migration.  How appropriate since the problem of thousands of unaccompanied Central American children crossing the US/Mexican border dominates much of our news recently.  Our theme, though, was much broader.  We considered the story of Joseph and his brothers – each of whom migrated to Egypt at some point (and not always willingly either) – immigrants from Europe (to colonies and the new world) – and later immigrants to Europe and the US.  Sometimes immigrants were/are welcomed, but often they were/are not.  Still, they followed the resources that they believe(d) were/are necessary for them to live.  Issues are complex.  I was glad to have time to reflect on some of them and hear others views.  (“Solving” the immigration problem was not the objective at these sessions.)

The conference also provided time to reconnect with people I met two years ago, meet new people, and discuss our work.  This also included time to meet with the Madagascar, West and Central Africa team and its leaders.  (Yes, that’s a mouthful.  I think Rev. Dr. Andrea Walker will need a new, larger business card now that she has had two countries to her portfolio!)

Thursday evening we had a reception, then dinner to honor personnel completing their service.  Wonderful tributes and excellent food. 

On Friday, the West/Central Africa team led the final worship service with commissioning of new missionaries.  We shared elements of liturgies from the countries where we work and divided speaking parts.  Jackie Griffin and I used our Biblical storytelling skills for the old and new testament lessons (Ruth 1 and Matthew 24:13-35, the road to Emmaus).  Rafael Malpica, Willie Langdji, and Chad Rimmer drummed as Dr. Abe (and others) accompanied congregational singing.  It was a moving service. 

I am now back in PA for some down time before I head back to Cameroon. 

Monday, July 21, 2014

Iowa and Minnesota

Great visit to the Mid-West!

Ron and Anne Larson have been supporting me for some time.  They live in Dows, Iowa so I went to visit yet another state I had previously only passed through!  They provided wonderful hospitality.  With Craig Russell, they arranged for me to speak at their church, First Lutheran, with representatives from other Lutheran congregations in the area.  After my talk, we enjoyed homemade vanilla ice cream with toppings, including homemade hot fudge!  What a treat. 
Des Moines

The next day Anne, Ron, and I drove around the area.  We saw farmsteads that had been in their family, land that they own, Hampton (the county seat), downtown Des Moines, and had lunch at the Waterfront, a wonderful seafood restaurant.  We saw lots of corn and soybean farms, of course, and lots of farm equipment.  I promised show some pictures of those to the Central African farmers – imagine what they could produce if they had even some small tractors!  I am not advocating 3 to 6,000-acre farms which are becoming more common in the Mid-West, but if Central African farmers could form cooperatives that shared equipment (and could afford to buy it – a huge stumbling block), image what they could produce.  Maybe when peace returns…

The Larsons arranged for me to stay in Hampton, a town about 18 miles from Dows.  Since I was there, I attended the county fair the second night I was there.  What fun to see the pigs being judged, look at other 4-H animals (cattle, goats, rabbits, chickens, sheep…) that youth raised, sample local wares (including more homemade ice cream that was being made there), and do a lot of people watching.  I did not ride any of the rides (designed mostly for kids) and decided not to attend the rodeo. 

We also had lots of good conversation about my work and our lives.  I am very pleased to have been able to go.

Next I drove to Northfield, MN to stay with Gordon and Betty Olsen in order to be able to attend network
meetings for partners and synods who work with CAR.  Present were representatives from Global Mission (Churchwide in Chicago), mission personnel from CAR/Cameroon (including me), Global Health Ministries, Lutheran Partners in Global Missions, and three synods: Western North Dakota, Eastern North Dakota, Texas/Louisiana/Gulf Coast (listed in the order that I visited them – trying not to show favoritism!)  It was a pleasure to see several people I had met earlier in my Home Assignment tour.

We were able to share a lot of information about what has been done and what is planned.  We also talked about future plans, coordination and communication with lots of time to get questions answered.  Meetings get long sometimes, but they are necessary and these were productive.

The first evening, the Olsens took me to visit St. Olaf College located in Northfield.  They did not attend there, but their children did as did Anne Larson who I had met in Iowa.  Beautiful campus.  It is part of the growing list of universities I have visited this trip:  North Dakota State, Concordia in MN, Texas Lutheran, (maybe a couple more?) and now St. Olaf.  Plus, the missionary conference this week will be at North Central College in Chicago.  Education is important at all levels.  And, tours or walks through these campuses have been relaxing.

Saturday, I was able to attend the annual picnic for those who have worked with CAR and/or Cameroon through the years.  I met one man who went as a missionary in 1938 – one in whose footsteps we all follow.  In addition to good food, various people shared updates from the area.

Chicago – arrival
After some time, I left for Chicago.  I spent the afternoon downtown, mostly at Millennium Park.  I also was impressed (again) by the public transport system that includes metro, elevated trains, buses, and the rail to the airport (that is sometimes above ground and sometimes below).  I am impressed with this system and wish more cities had them.  Yaoundé needs one too, but I won’t hold my breath on that one.  I didn’t have my camera with me, so I bought a couple of postcards so you could see a little of the area.

I am headed to the Summer Missionary Conference this afternoon.  When it is over, I am officially done my Home Assignment travels.  I will have some time with family and friend in Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Mechanicsburg/Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh).  Still some travel, but less hectic, I hope.

CAR Update
Programs and institutions continue to operate in the Evangelical Lutheran Church – CAR.  Here are some highlights:
  • All 20 schools of the Village School Program completed the school year and students took the exams.  The exam for entry into 6th grade (a national test) is to be held this week for Lutheran and Catholic school students.
  • The yearly Pastoral Retreat (usually held in December but delayed this year) was held last week in Baboua.  The theme was Reconciliation and Peace.  I hear that it went very well.
  • Baboua and Bouar continue to be calm.  There are sometimes still bandits that appear on the road between towns, however. 
  • I continue to talk to various colleagues from the church by phone every few days.  They and their families are well and work continues. In each conversation, they ask that I sent you greetings.  They appreciate your prayers and support.  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

PA - Rest and Work

So much has been happening in the past couple of weeks that I am behind in my blog entries!  And, I keep doing more things that I will write about later.  Here are some thoughts about last week.

Linn Run
I am so pleased to have been able to visit my friend Carol Jean at her house in Linn Run State Park near Ligonier, PA.  I saw in the park that Pennsylvania has won awards for their park system.  I am not surprised.  I have long been a fan of the parks and been impressed by the care and services offered.


This park, as many others, was donated by the Mellon family.  “After the Rockefellers, the Mellon family has contributed most generously to the growth of the park system.” (  In the Ligonier area Richard King Mellon donated the land.  The land had been heavily logged before the donation, so current trees and bushes are not original to the land.  However, there are now lots of Mountain Laurel (which bloomed a couple of weeks before my arrival), huge rhododendron (blooming during my visit), pine and other trees.  There are many paths blazed with paint, picnic area, cabins, and many other amenities.

Mostly I love walking through the beautiful woods.  Carol Jean and I hiked and talked for two days running and had the trails basically to ourselves – an advantage in taking a “weekend” in the middle of the week.  I did feel my calf muscles in a different way after those hills and the sometimes rocky path.  The weather was gorgeous – sunny and mild for July.  Perfect days.
We also visited Fort Ligonier which was built in the time before the US was a country.  It was important during the “French and Indian” War which was really between France and England and raged worldwide. 

What a refreshing way to unwind and get a break amidst all of my traveling and meeting people/congregations.

3 Churches
Sunday, July 13 I was liturgical leader and preacher for two PLUM (Pittsburgh Lutheran Urban Ministry, a cooperative ministry made up of eleven congregations) churches. My home congregation, East Liberty Lutheran, is part of PLUM, but this Sunday I was at Christ Lutheran in Duquesne and Trinity in Mt. Oliver.  The services went well and I was warmly welcomed.  Maybe because these churches are part of my home base, I didn’t remember to take any pictures! 

Monday, I participated in Trindle Spring Lutheran Church’s Vacation Bible School.  This church is five miles from Mom’s house in Mechanicsburg.  I ate dinner with them and then did some activities with 3 groups of children in their rotation.  Fun! 


My siblings, Mom, some other members of the family, and I gathered on Monday, July 14 to bury my father.  We had had the memorial service after his death in April, but his cremains were not yet ready at that time.  We had to juggle many calendars to get a date but were able to have the interment ceremony at Fort Indiantown Gap Cemetery with full military honors.  Dad had been a long-time member of the National Guard in addition to serving in the Army in Germany and Korea.  Sad but beautiful – again gorgeous weather.  We shared a meal with friends and family at the Farmer’s Wife Restaurant afterwards.  Duane (Dad) will be sorely missed by many; may he rest in peace. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Louisiana and Texas, Part 2

I continue to have wonderful experiences as I travel to talk about my work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in CAR and answer questions about the situation there.  (I can note that I am ready to be in one spot for longer than a couple of days, but that goes with the territory after 5 weeks of travel and presentations!)

In the past week, I visited Louisiana and Brenham and Katy, Texas.  Today I go to Lake Jackson; after liturgy there tomorrow I will be flying back to PA (from Houston).  On the road again…  I can definitely say that my knowledge of Texas and Louisiana’s geography is improving, but is still inadequate.

Charles Short picked me up at the airport in New Orleans and drove me to his home north of Baton Rouge.  I gave a temple talk, children’s sermon, and presentation (at lunch) at his church, St. Paul’s, Baton Rouge.  That Sunday afternoon he and I visited the state capital building in Baton Rouge where I was reminded of some of the state’s history, especially related to Huey Long who had the building build and where he was shot (bullet hole still visible in the marble.)  We also visited an old Episcopal church (Grace) with its cemetery and other places around Feliciana Parishes (East and West), including Cat Island which is now a Wildlife Management Area.

Baton Rouge and New Orleans are at the mouth of the Mississippi River.  Some coal barges we saw remind me of those we seen on the rivers around Pittsburgh.  In fact, some of these, no doubt, come from PA coal country – down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.  We are all connected. 

In the evening we had dinner with people from St. Paul’s at P. J. Chang’s, one of a chain of Chinese restaurants.  I had never heard of them, but will definitely keep my eyes open to eat in another one if I have the chance. 

Monday Chuck was again tour guide to show me some of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  I got to sample beignets (French donuts – similar, but not the same as the beignets in CAR/Cameroon).  I can say that New Orleans better fits my old image of cities.  It is built an area with limited space and started long ago.  Streets are narrower (than Houston and Fargo, for example) and many buildings are taller.  It is true that there is a lot of Spanish (and some French) influence in the buildings and there are horse-drawn carriages in the Quarter which exist in NYC and Philadelphia, but not many other of the cities in eastern US. 

We also met with Rev. Bonnie Parker and Kim at Gethsemane Lutheran in Chalemette (just outside of New Orleans)  This is an area that has been hard hit by flooding (from hurricanes) on several occasions. Rev. Ken Shuman from Church of the Galilean of La Place, LA was also there.  Turns out he had served as pastor in Sharpsburg (near Pittsburgh, PA) and had his church flooded there after a hurricane only to arrive in LA and have a repeat performance (by the effects of a different hurricane).  Small world. 

Back in Texas I visited Rev. Alan Kethan in Brenham.  He currently serves St. Peter’s and First Lutheran churches (but is soon moving to Columbus, TX).  I also spoke at St. Paul’s and to the deanery (area
conference) meeting. (This picture is from St. Paul’s.)  
Pastor Alan took me to see some of the Brenham area, including the Antique Rose Emporium.  Beautify roses and flowers cultivated) from old plants (some going back to the 1800s) set on gorgeous grounds.

I continue to be warmly received everywhere as I eat my way through visits!  Hospitality naturally includes delicious food and lots of it.  I may have to roll back to the plane, though.  Good thing they don’t weigh me before and after or I would be charged for the extra weight I am sure! Everyone tells me that I have also been fortunate since temperatures are running below normal and are only in the high 80s in the afternoons.  Mornings and evenings have been pleasant to be outside. 

Yesterday was the Fourth, Independence Day.  Mine was calm and restful – just what I wanted.  I spent it with the Drees family; we had grilled hamburgers and turkey burgers and saw some fireworks.  All was well! 

I hope you are all enjoying your weekend and had a great Fourth of July celebration.