The Power of Story

In the past month I have had a number of experiences that have reminded me of the power of story. First, I traveled with colleagues to Mexico City for an experiential meeting. In this meeting, we used what is called in the Latin American community “participatory process” to discover new ways of working together. This process begin with each of us telling stories of our past, preferably, as we were instructed, things that no one else knew about us. There were stories told of  college pranks, family issues, trying times, unique encounters and the like. These stories gave us all an opportunity to be drawn in to the personal side of our colleagues, a side we may not see from day to day in our office cubes. It was insightful and helped me to have a better appreciation for those with whom I share a common purpose.

The second occurred, when I traveled to Allentown, PA to rendezvous with two women from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia (ELCTG). Rev. Bass and Ms. Luigiasa were visiting  a family who has supported the ministry in the Gambia for years. They were there to share with congregations and organizations the story of this relatively new church that is working to help educate the children, bring hope to the poor and empower the women of the Gambia.

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I witnessed this ministry of the ELCTG first hand when I stopped in the Gambia in October on my way home from visiting the Lutheran Church in Senegal (ELS). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Gambia began in 1999 from the efforts of a few people including Rev. Thomas. In the last 15 years he and his wife Rev. Bass have taken a vision of what is possible with God and created a community of Lutheran believers in the Gambia. They have been mentored by pastors of (ELS). With the help of the ELS, the ELCTG is now working toward inclusion in the Lutheran Communion of West Africa (LUCWA) and an official church to church companion relationship with the ELCA.

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While in the Gambia, I heard the stories of the women and saw the work they were doing to achieve economic viability. I heard the stories of the inability to pay school fees for children, from women who went out everyday to stand by the side of the road selling peanuts and other goods. They want so much to provide a better life for their children and they are willing to work harder than you and I can imagine. I heard the stories of twenty-something year old women that wanted to get an education and had gone through tremendous hardship to realize this possibility. When Rev. Bass told me she may be coming to the US, I told her if she got here, I would make my way to visit. So she got here and I went to Allentown, PA to keep my word and support this budding relationship.

In Allentown, I was privileged to hear Rev. Bass’ story and I won’t tell it here, because it is her   story to tell. What I will say is that in what she saw as the opulence of the United States of America, she became hesitant and did not want to tell her story. The people she was meeting, the women that she saw have much more than she does; they live lives with ready access to resources that are not available to most women born in the Gambia. I am sure you can see how this might make one feel.  It was as though she thought her  story made her “less than.” This made me sad.

Yet, she dared to tell me her story. As I listened what I heard was indeed powerful. Hearing this story I was drawn in, mesmerized and amazed at the strength of this beautiful black woman that seemed uneasy in these unfamiliar surroundings. I was taken aback by the strength of her faith and the witness of God’s power in her life. And that’s what I told her.

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When I told her what I thought, her eyes lit up and I could tell she was thinking of things in a new way. At least, I pray that she was and that she will continue to summon the courage that comes from God to speak out of her lived reality. I want her to tell her story, so that you can hear about the amazing things that God is doing through this woman and the community that she has helped to bring into being.

And I pray that we will all continue to listen to the stories of those we encounter so that we might be reminded that our stories are connected and these stories witness to the power of God in the world.

I am westafricabound.

The Joys of SMC

Last week I attended my very first Global Mission Summer Missionary Conference (SMC). It is the time when global personnel from all over the world are on their bi-annual home assignment stay. That means that every year half of the global personnel that are sent by the ELCA out into the world to accompany Lutheran Churches and other institutions are gathered. The SMC which takes place at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin offers fellowship, formation and fun. There were about one hundred and twenty-eight people in attendance which includes most of the Global Mission staff that work at the Lutheran Center in Chicago.thCAE8E71C

Carthage is a beautiful setting; it is right on Lake Michigan. It provides an opportunity to sit on the beach, watch the moon rise and have pleasant walks in the morning. During the conference there is time for worship and reflections. In the college chapel, worship with preaching and eucharist begins the conference and a remembrance of baptism and anointing ends the SMC. Every other day of the SMC devotions are offered as we gather for plenary.

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There is also a chance to hear engaging Lutheran Theologians. This year Rev. Dr. Carmelo Santos and Rev. Dr. Barbara Rossing talked to us about origin and destination narratives. Dr. Santos told us that as a person from Puerto Rico his history included Africans, Indians and Europeans. As he showed us a statue that represented this history, he said that parts of his origin narrative, part of his story is one of violence and oppression. This is the part that no one sees or makes explicit. Thus portions of his history, part of his origin narrative is unspoken.  So the popular story that we hear of the beautiful people on the island of Puerto Rico is an invented story. Because of this Dr. Santos let us know that stories of origin are invented and his origin narrative is broken. He also assured us that being invented does not mean these stories are not true, but if invented these stories can be re-invented. He also told us that a broken narrative can be mended.

The other meaningful part of SMC is simply being with old friends and meeting new people. I welcomed a new long-term missionary that is going to Sierra Leone, Rev. Morsal Collier. I got to hang out with Rev. Dr. James Thomas a professor from Southern Lutheran Theological Seminary. He is going on sabbatical; Dr. Thomas will be teaching for a semester at Good News Theological College and Seminary in Ghana. Other members of the West Africa team, Joe and Deb Troester who serve in the Central African Republic were also there.

Part of the job of Area Program Directors is to meet with global personnel for consultations and debriefing. During this time I had the pleasure of having conversations with global personnel serving in West Africa that I have never met: Mary Beth and Bayo Oyebade and Sarah and Dirk Stadtlander.  The Oyebades serve in Nigeria at Mashiah Foundation and the Stadtlanders have completed service in Linguere Senegal.IMG_2159

At every SMC  there is recognition and celebration at a formal banquet. This year there was recognition of Mashiah Foundation and the supporters of that ministry the Upper River Iowa Conference of the Northeastern Iowa Synod. Also, there was recognition of long-term global personnel completing service through videos and certificates. Although just getting to know the Stadtlanders, I was able to thank them for their service and tell the gathered community of their deep and abiding banquet SMC Stadtlanderlove for the people, the culture and country of Senegal.

It was an intense but good week. I look forward to many SMCs and getting to meet wonderful people who serve all over the world.

I am westafricabound.

Struggling with Malaria – Support World Malaria Day

When I first arrived in Yaounde Cameroon, Anne gave me two rapid test kits and a treatment for Malaria. I put it away and thought, “why is she giving me that?” I was taking a malaria prophylactic; I brought tons of insect repellant laced with deet and I had a mosquito net. I was fortified against mosquitos. Right? Not quite.

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Every week I took my mefloquine; Every day about four in the evening I rubbed all exposed skin with deet and at night I slept under a mosquito net. I thought I was good; I thought I was totally protected. Yet, in all my traveling I too was vulnerable to malaria.

As I flew back to Yaounde from Accra Ghana on Wednesday, I began to have a dry cough. I thought it was nothing. The next day the cough was worse; I had a headache and I started feeling a little weak. I called Anne and asked her what did she think. She told me to use the rapid test kit. I tried but it calls for you to prick your finger and draw enough blood to put in a little tube. I tried three times to prick my finger. I got a drop of blood in the tube and I got a false negative. So Anne told me, if I started feeling really bad to start taking the malaria treatment. She then called June Nelson one of the missionaries in N’Gaoundere who is a nurse. They both recommended I start the treatment. So, I did. By the second day I had chills, a slight fever and a full-blown case of Malaria

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In Cameroon the drug they sale for malaria treatment is coartem. It is sold over the counter in private pharmacies and costs about $8. The cost is much less in health centers.  It was easy for me to have a treatment, but it is not easy for most people in Central and West Africa. Children die everyday in Africa because they can’t afford 25 cent doctors fees or medicine for malaria or are so far from any clinic or hospital.

I am writing this not only because of my experience, but because  Thursday, April 25 is World Malaria Day.  I would like everyone who reads my blog to give to the ELCA Malaria Campaign.

According to the ELCA website (elca.org):world_malaria_day_2013

“A child dies from malaria every 60 seconds. . . Today we are in a special moment where we could turn this around. Working though Lutheran churches in Africa, the ELCA Malaria Campaign is uniquely positioned to provide mosquito nets, insecticides, medication, health care, education and more to help eliminate deaths from this disease—for good.”

As I travel to and from the continent of Africa. I will always have to be careful about a dry cough, headaches and flu-like symptoms. They may be malaria. If I am watchful, I will catch the symptoms and be able to take medication and get on with my life. So many children in Liberia, Nigeria and other places in subsaharan Africa don’t have the same access that I have. They need all of our help. So please help.

Thank you.

I am constantly westafricabound!

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