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.  

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.