Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Shoeless Seminarian Is Finished Internship!

Can you believe it? Your (shoeless) seminarian has finished her internship year (and she still wanders around sans shoes)!

It was officially finished two hours ago (at midnight) and now at 2am I sit here watching my friend, Kristin, pack while I attempt to put into words what this new transition feels like! Oh, and I get to watch Kristin pack because I already finished packing!

Packing to come home to Wisconsin? Well, some of that, but not quite yet. Nope. First of all it’s time for one last crazy Elly-trip before I hop back over the pond. This time it’s off to explore Jotunheimen National Park and to scale the two highest peaks in Northern Europe. Oh, and to relax in the sauna at the hytte in between the mountains. You really have to love the way Norwegians to the outdoors!

I can’t wait! Not only to see more of Norway, but after a long period intellectual exercise, I love how it feels to be completely physically exhausted (as opposed to mentally)! This trip might be a bit much though.

It will be 9 days to do what the Norwegian Trekking Association considers a 7 day hike. But they expect 7 days with a daypack, buying all of your food along the way. Kristin and I are tenting, bringing Kaya the dog, and packing about half of our food. But at least something will be lighter on the way, as to celebrate the end of internship I chopped my hair for ‘locks of love’ earlier today (on a whim). Yup, I really do enjoy marking the major milestones or transition points in my life!

When so major an internal moment has passed, I find it hard to comprehend when there is no tangible equivalent. I feel at the moment that I have scaled so many mountains this year, grown in stamina, and toned my pastoral muscles. But none of that shows on the outside. So, instead I chop my hair and head out to scale physical mountains. Maybe that makes no sense, but somehow it makes complete sense in my head.

Then, after the mountains are scaled both mentally and physically, it will be time to come home, home to First Lutheran in Wisconsin, home to Wartburg Seminary in Iowa, home to family and friends that I have looked forward to seeing for more than a year now. Home to continue the journey and discern this call. Home to reflect on the year that has passed and the possibility of what is to come. But Norway has become ‘home’, too. Part of me is so sad to leave. I almost didn’t get through my last sermon on Sunday on account of tears.

As to what I’m feeling right now? I’m really not sure. I’ll let you know when I come down from the mountain in a couple of weeks.

The still Shoeless Seminarian

to see pictures of the End of Internship haircut, click here: Crazy things happen at the end of internship!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Called to be...

Well, the Shoeless Seminarian is back again. Well, back in Norway that is. And if you find yourselves asking, “just where was she this time?” don’t worry; you're not alone!

But this time my travels took me to Syria and Turkey. First, a week of vacation with a fellow Horizon International Intern in Syria, then off to Turkey for the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East (AICEME) Annual Pastor’s Conference. The entirety of the two weeks was amazing, but there will forever be one night that I remember.

It was about halfway through the Syrian portion of my adventure and my fellow intern and I had had the bright idea to rent a car in Damascus and check out some amazing sites in Eastern Syria that we otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to see. We had spent our morning at Palmyra, an ancient Byzantine/Greek/Roman city situated at an oasis along the caravan route, then headed out further into the desert to visit Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi and Rasafa before heading to our next stop in the city of Deir az-Zor. It looked to be an easy enough route in the guidebook, a nice and leisurely afternoon’s drive. Or not…

We spent more than four hours finding our way to Qasr al-Hayr al-Sharqi, and, although it was truly an amazing four hours, and a site well worth visiting, by the time our little rental car pulled away the day was almost over. We still weren’t sure just where we were going, but what else could we do, we were, after all, in the middle of the wilderness.

And so on we drove.

The sun sank lower. The sky turned a brilliant mix of orange and pink and purple. And then it was dark. We came to a fork in the road and tried our luck heading west. By our calculations we should have reached Rasafa long before. But there was no ancient Basilica in sight. And, for the first time, a grain of doubt crept inside of me.

Where was the site? What if we didn’t find it? Were we even going in the right direction? And, where were we going to spend the night?

Finally, we had to admit that we were just plain lost. Off to the left a dirt track split away from the road and we decided to take it, hoping to find someone who could give us directions at the other end. We pulled up to a small one-room farmhouse and the door opened, sending a pool of warm light out into the darkness. The young man of the household, Yasser, stepped out, and after he figured out where we were trying to get, he pointed out the correct direction and even drew us a map. We were about to head on our way, back out into the darkness, when Yasser said, ‘but, it’s dark out, won’t you come in for tea? You are welcome.’

That light in the darkness was too much to turn down, and it seemed only moments before we were seated on the floor with pillows propped beside us, sweet tea before us, and the grandbaby of the family on my lap. And at the end of two hours, when we were beginning to wonder if we shouldn’t be on our way, Yasser said, once more, ‘but, it’s dark out, won’t you stay until morning? You are welcome.’

We were complete strangers, and yet they opened their home to us. We were complete strangers, and yet they made us family. We were complete strangers, and yet they extended to us a welcome in the midst of the wilderness…

And in the midst of the Syrian desert, by their example, that Muslim family reminded me once more of what we are called to be in Christ: a light in the darkness and a welcome in the wilderness.

Two things that can so easily slip through the cracks when I feel worried, or stressed, or lost. And yet, two things that are interwoven into our Baptismal identity and call. Two things that I will not now so easily forget because of the generosity shown to two strangers, alone in the desert and lost in the dark.

It's finally warm enough to be a Shoeless Seminarian again!!!

ps-if you want to see pictures of the family we stayed with, or a more in-depth account of the Syria trip on the whole, check out "A Syrian Tale in Photos" below for links to albums! (Syria 3 has photos with our adopted family!)

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Syrian Tale in Photos

Wow, well, I'm back from another adventure (yes, I am actually at my internship site some of the time), and I really have to blog about Syria and Turkey sometime, but to give you a taste of my week spent in Syria I've uploaded 3 albums onto my facebook page. If you're not my facebook friend yet, here's the links to the albums–anyone can view them–and I hope you enjoy!!!


Take me to Syria 1
Take me to Syria 2
Take me to Syria 3

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"How has Ghana changed your life?"

Another slice from my newsletter life at ALC...

This was one of the questions asked by one of our council members on my very first evening back in Norway. I found that I couldn’t really answer the question. Not because Ghana hadn’t changed my life. No. But because the changes were so many and so deep that I found it difficult to put into words.

“How has Ghana changed your life?”

The place itself provoked part of the change in me. My body didn’t quite know what do in +45° weather. And, a slightly obsessive internet-checker, I suddenly found myself in a rural area where not only was the town’s single internet connection never quite certain, the power grid wasn’t either. At least once a day the fans would stop and the TV would go blank while the nearest person would proclaim ‘lights out!’ Ghana, itself, forced me to slow down and live those two weeks at a slower pace.
And Ghana continues to force me to question whether I really need to send that email or watch that show.

Then, there are the changes that the Ghanaian culture has brought to me. First and foremost, it is a culture steeped in community and hospitality. It is a culture that welcomed me into their midst and treated me as one of them, not as an outsider. But it is also a culture that challenges me to remember the privilege in which I live as a woman in my own culture. As a young girl I did not have to fight for my basic education. As a High School graduate I did not have to questions whether or not I would be able to attend University. As a wife, in some future day, I will have the right to health and wellness. And if I am widowed, those rights to health and wellness will continue to persist. These are privileges that often do not exist for women in Ghana, and yet they are privileges I often take for granted.

And then there are the people! Oh the people! I think a part of my heart will forever reside with the people in Ghana, even if I never have the opportunity to return. Their faces and stories come to mind when I least expect it, and our relationships draw me ever closer. They taught me so much about what it means to be a disciple of Christ and a member of the body of Christ we call the church. They taught me so much about trust in God. Their petition to God for ‘daily bread’ is anything but metaphorical, and yet, when they raise their voices in prayer it is most often for those who have even less. They stick with me.

Finally, our companion ministries and the call they follow have changed my life. For they are truly ministries that give of themselves, no matter the economic climate. Ministries that follow the God’s call whether that takes them deeper into their culture or fights against their culture. Ministries that reach out to those the world considers useless and damaged. Ministries that truly live out the gospel.

“How has Ghana changed your life?”

‘Without end’ might be the simple answer to the complex question. But I sincerely hope that “How has Ghana changed your life?” isn’t the only question we find ourselves asking. Because there is an equal question that I think we need to remember and ponder:

“How have we, the American Lutheran Congregation, changed the lives of countless Children of God?”

Only after my visit in, with, and amongst our companion ministries have I come to realize that the sheer magnitude of change is beyond our grasp. It may be easy to gravitate to concrete numbers: 56 orphans cared for, 600 students educated, so many books translated. But these numbers only begin to sketch the life-changing picture these ministries bring to Ghana. Because each orphan that is cared for is also taught the worth of all human life to God. Each child that is educated is also taught a commitment to sharing his or her gifts from God. And each book that is translated teaches countless adults to read while it proclaims the Word of God. The ripples continue to spread in ever-widening circles.

“How have we, the American Lutheran Congregation, changed the lives of countless Children of God?”

Sometimes, as one congregation, we may question our ability to bring about the work of God. We are too small to support all of the countless worthy projects, we cry. Should we simply give up, we may well ask. But I hope that our companion ministries relationship in Damongo, Ghana stands tall and proclaims loudly that, as a single congregation, we are invited into dynamic relationship. We are invited into a relationship that builds up faith and tears down boundaries. We are invited into a relationship that has changed, is changing, and continues to change the lives of countless children of God—both in Ghana and in Norway.

Thank you for extending this truly life-changing relationship to me.

Monday, March 30, 2009

"That's not a mouse!!!"

My fellow PK (Pastor’s Kid) last summer, on a tour of her house, pointed to her computer and proudly proclaimed, “That’s where the live!” She’s three.

One of the children that I babysit was so excited one day to show me a new story he was writing: “Come on!” he said, and hopped up into the computer chair and opened up his file on the family computer. He was eight at the time.

And me? I don’t remember ever not having a computer. From the tiny Macintosh, to the IBM 286, to the Pentium, and, eventually, through to the Mac on my lap right now, computers are as much a part of my ‘necessities’ as, well, my violin. It’s almost impossible for me to write coherently without a keyboard. And when you say ‘mouse’ my first thought isn’t of the mammalian variety.

Argue with me if you want, but for my generation and younger in the Global North, I don’t think I’m that much of an anomaly. Likely, we don’t remember that ‘first look’ at a computer. Likely, we more often react with frustration to our computers, not awe.

But while I was in Ghana I got to experience that feeling of awe for the first time in a very long time.

Computer education is just beginning to be required by the Ghanaian government. For the first time, there is curriculum being written, and schools are being faced with the need for computer labs, while perhaps a more pressing need may be that of a continuous power supply. And for two of the volunteers right now, the basics of computer education is part of their internship project for their Social Work degrees back in the Netherlands. And I got to be there for the very first ‘first look’!

Sister Fiona and Sir Mike brought with them three of the ‘One Laptop for Every Child’ computers, check them out if you’ve never come across them before here: Small and durable with both built-in wireless and a built-in handle, they’re designed as learning tools for children in developing countries.

But I digress…

Because the laptop is cool, but the look of awe on the children’s faces blew away any thought of the actual computers. It was four of the oldest children that were invited that first day; four children between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years. And they couldn’t have had more fun!

They began with the ‘Write’ icon, learning how to type lower-case and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols. “Can you type your name?” They thought it was amazing to see their names appear up on the screen!

Then onto the ‘Paint’ icon, which brought back a flood of memories for me. They did amazingly well for having never used a trackpad mouse before. One of the children drew an elephant, one a person, Pastor Abraham even gave ‘Paint’ a try. And the most awe-inspiring ‘change-of-color-with-the-click-of-a-mouse click’ trick.

Then they got to play with the ‘Record’ icon. Possibly their favorite. Why? Well, because the children all love to have their pictures taken. If they know you have a camera their eternal chant will be “Snap me! Snap me!” (the sound the camera makes when the picture is taken). Normally it requires begging, but here, now, they were able to “snap me” all on their own, with their own cameras. Even better than that, they could take videos too!

All in all, it was quite the day of discovery. The only thing the children didn’t want to learn was how to turn off the computers and to put them away. “Can’t we learn just a little bit more, please Sister?” was their plea. “Next week,” was their answer.

My goodness, how they soaked it all in, so eager to learn!

There was only one thing the children really didn’t get: why the trackpad mouse was called a mouse. I think they thought we were joking, as ridiculous as the idea was. They were giggling and laughing as they replied to our most excellent joke:

“That’s not a mouse!!!!”


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Technological Quibbles...

Most of the time technology and I get along. We have our quibbles, but se soon make up. Last week we quibbled. You can't see, but I'm actually copying this from a pen and paper copy that I scribbled out in my hotel room in Tamale.

"Internet has been patchy at best duing my adventures in Ghana. In Damongo it was out for the last 10 days. In Tamale last Thursday the first two internet cafes we visited had no internet, and the third kept freezing. And today. Today, at the end of four hours of internet I actually had five LESS blogs than when I began.

The mysterious 'memory card error' of Egypt had struck again. Or, at least, that was one card--with 200 photos, project proposals, and three unposed blogs.

Then there came the extremely frustrating 'unformatted drive' after two hours of re-writing blogs and filling out scholarship applications (but thank goodness I found those 200 photos after I got back to Norway).

Technology and I quibble at the moment."

So, I begin the long task of re-blogging my final week in Ghana. This afternoon is devoted to coffee-shop/reading/blogging time, so hopefully you'll find more blogs by the time most of you in North America wake up.

I wish you all technological peace,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fill the Bottle

I was intrigued by an empty coca-cola bottle last Thursday when I first visited the Redemption Children’s Home. It carried importance. That was obvious. When other toys were left in the sand surrounding their dorms, the coca-cola bottle never was. Always carefully set on one of the porches, close to a pillar, it was often accompanied by a a plastic baggie filled with sand and tied into a ball-shape. I had no idea what it was used for, but it was obvious that this glass bottle wasn’t simply waiting to be recycled.

Yesterday I found out just how important this coca-cola bottle was. I was wandering about, greeting the children’s ‘Good Morning Sistah!’ when I heard yelling and screaming coming from the sandy expanse before the main hall. And as I walked around the corner of the building, the plastic-ball-shaped-baggie whizzed near my head, followed swiftly by one of the girls! Trying to stay out of the way, I clambered onto the porch with the littlest children. The girl soon came tearing back, and promptly threw the ball squarely at another girl I had failed to notice. The girl jumped, avoiding the ball with a sixth sense, and as she ran, laughingly, out of the path of the onslaught, I caught sight of the glass coca-cola bottle filled part-way with sand.

Here at last was the answer to my intrigue! A game! And I sat down to watch the play unfold. It wasn’t a difficult game to follow, after watching a couple of rounds, I understood the rules.

Each round started of simply enough. The bottle, emptied of any sand from the previous round, was set in the middle of the expanse, while three children took their places. Two children took up their posts on either end of the ‘field’, while the other took up position near the glass coca-cola bottle. It was that child which carried the ‘baggie-ball’onto the field. When all positions were taken, all children readied, the child in the middle would throw the bottle toward one of the other children and then begin to fill the coca-cola bottle with sand as quickly as possible. All the while, the ‘baggie-ball’would fling through the air with the intent of catching the bottle-filling child unawares, thereby knocking them out. If not, the child at the opposite end would run to gather the ‘baggie-ball’ and try once again to knock their sister or brother from their task. The only exception was this: If the child in the middle caught the ‘baggie-ball’ instead of avoiding it, they gained the right to hurl it as far as they could, in whichever direction they chose. If the child in the middle managed to fill the coca-cola bottle with sand before being pelted by a flying ‘baggie-ball’, they earned the right to dance and scream for joy, filled coca-cola bottle in hand.

A simple enough game, yes, and yet the children never tired of playing, and I never tired of watching. Despite the sweat running down our faces, back, arms, legs... despite even that, ‘fill the bottle’never lost its charm. And I was struck by the vast difference between necessities for ‘play’between our cultures.

What percentage of toys sold in the Global North today require batteries? How many game colsoles are sold each day by competing companies? How many children’s rooms contain either a TV or computer—or both? If none of these, then how many parents scratched their heads in confusion as they attempted to assemble the ‘some assembly required’ toys that made it under the Christmas Trees this past year? Or how many board games do you simply set aside when the instructions become too complex and many?

How would we react to being given a beaten-up glass coca-cola bottle and a plastic-ball-shaped-baggie?

I, personally, am one of those electronics-junkies. I must admit that I’ve missed my laptop each and every day of my trip. The idea of walking almost one mile to log onto a computer that has only 32 MB of RAM and a 56K modem is difficult to take in. The fact that last night I walked that mile only to find that there was no internet at all, was frustrating, to say the least. And even with my laptop left at thome, there still resides in my carry-on backpack: 1 digital camera, 3 camera batteries, 4 SDHC cards, and 1 battery charger; 1 iPod and charger; and 2 cell phones and 2 chargers. Not exactly Ms. Simplicity. But the joyful afternoon I spent avoiding a ‘baggie-ball’ while attempting to fill a glass coca-cola bottle with sand seriously brought to question within me what exactly I consider essential to my happiness...

I knew enough, upon inspection, not to throw away the coca-cola bottle and ‘baggie-ball’ last Thursday. But I never would have imagined just how much fun I would have running and playing in the sand with the children of Redemption Children’s Home yesterday. The rules were simple, the objects common, but the happiness and joy that exuded from the field was unbelievable.

Just how much fun can you have with a plastic-ball-shaped-baggie and a beaten-up coca-cola bottle?

“Fill the Bottle” Instructions

1 narrow-necked bottle
1 small, softish ball
3 people (1 bottle-filler; 2 tagger-outers)
Enough sand or dirt to fill the bottle

Bottle-filler: to fill the bottle with the sand/dirt without being hit by the ball
Tagger-outers: to hit the bottle-filler with the ball before the bottle is filled
Exceptions: the bottle-filler may choose to catch the ball. If the bottle-filler is successful in catching the ball, they may throw it as far as they wish in any direction.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Market Day in Damongo

I’m trying to catch up before I forget everything, and so I post one more new post today before I head back home.

After the festivities of yesterday, we settled back into the normal ebb and flow of the Damongo week with a trip to the market this morning. First, we caught a ride across town in Abraham’s vehicle, then made the mistake of asking the children, ‘who wants to come to the market with us this morning?’ Hands shot up, feet left the ground, the begging began. Market Day is one of the great excitements of the week.

After narrowing down the field to, ‘who didn’t get to go last week?’, waiting for the children to put on their best clothes, wash their faces, and find their new shoes—already covered in dust—we set out: 4 Cobruni (foreigners), 12 children, and 1 mouse—yes, you read that right, one mouse (pictures later).

It’s a fairly long walk, and the temperature was already well above 30 degrees Celsius. I, for one, was tired even before we arrived. And even before we reached the market it was time for another shock to my system, as one of the children stopped and pointed to a house along the way, saying, ‘hey, sister, that’s your house!’ We looked at the older girl to which she was referring, and she answer, ‘yes, that was where I lived.’ And as soon as she said that, we heard a call from the opposite direction. Over the rise, out of the maze of houses, there approached a woman who, it turned out, was this young girl’s aunt. She asked how her niece was doing, and explained to us that there were simply too many children to take care of, she couldn’t feed or take care of her sister’s children as well. My heart broke.

As we carried on, we pieced together a bit more of the story. The girl’s mother was still alive, but after the death of her father, they had lost everything, as is the custom in Northern Ghana. In order to survive, her mother had needed to take a job a few hours away, and, even working, she was not able to support her children. She brought them to her sister in Damongo, and there this girl had lived for a while, but there wasn’t enough food, and so her aunt, in what I am sure she thought of as the only loving thing she could do, brought her niece to Pastor Abraham. The girl fell silent at the end of her story.

It’s a story I can’t imagine, and yet it is a story that repeats itself time and again with very little variation here. It’s a story that begs for a solution that is more than one children’s home can offer. It’s a story that Pastor Abraham and others hope to be able to change one day, but, at the same time, it’s a story that will not change over night.

It’s a story that is part of our discussions during my time here, discussions that attempt to get at the root—or at least a deeper root—of the problem. Discussions as to how the widows of this area might be empowered and equipped so that their families need not be torn apart, even though their lives have been by the death of their fathers…

But for now, Market Day, because though it may seem as if the world should stop and stand still at the telling of a story such as this, it continues to roll on without much of a bump at all. And it was soon after this that we exited the maze of houses and goats and chickens to find ourselves facing the burst of colors and sights and sounds that is Market Day.

A gathering of grass-covered wooden structures, it seems to set up on a first-come first-serve basis. There were stalls of kente cloth, rice, maize, pineapples, soccer jerseys—Ghana being most prominent—bags ice water carried upon the heads of women, ready to be taken down and sold to you for a mere 5 pesoas, shoes, sandals, chickens, goats, just about everything you could imagine. And bargaining going on as far as the eye could see. We 4 cobruni attracted some attention, but the people of Damongo are so used to seeing the influx of cobruni surrounded by Pastor Abraham’s children that they barely bat an eye. And from out of the woodwork, the children around us soon grasped food or drink or even a Ghana Cedi (dollar), slipped to them by a relative here, a relative there. It was overwhelming and so much fun to be a part of, but the children quickly tired out.

So, after a parcel of water bags had been passed about, we soon turned our feet back toward RCH, and meandered through the maze of houses once again. Market Day, at least for us, was over.

I can’t believe I’m actually caught up! See you soon!

Ghanaian Independence Day!

Wow! Well, let’s just say that I picked a good time of year to come in the way of holidays—not so much in the 40+ Celsius heat, but that’s another story.

Yesterday, 6 March 2009, was the Ghana’s 52nd Independence Day, and we all got to be part of the festivities here in Damongo. It’s actually kind of funny, because although I have crossed a continent and traversed almost 60 lateral degrees, the major festivities are quite similar to those of Syttende Mai in Norway (sorry, probably not spelled correctly). In both countries and celebrations the school children play one of the most significant roles. And Thursday was spent getting ready at the Redemption Children’s Home.

There was an air of excitement when we arrived at RCH on Thursday. School uniforms were being washed, new shoes were to be handed out, one of the older boys even heated up an old cast-iron iron in order to press his shirt to perfection. And all through the afternoon children kept disappearing, only to reappear with clean-shaven heads. Even the littlest children knew there was something afoot, and they weren’t about to be left out.

Friday morning dawned with a flurry of activity. We Sister- and Brother-Volunteers dressed in our best and ate a hurried breakfast. By the time we were done Pastor Abraham’s car had arrived with 18 of the children too young to march, most of them dressed in their pink and white gingham school uniforms of the New Life Preparatory Preschool. They were about the cutest thing you have ever seen.

Then it was off to the ‘park’, an open red-dirt field near the center of town where football matches are played. Normally it’s fairly empty, but by the time we got there around 9am it was packed! Along two sides were a crush of Ghanaians, full of excited energy; along the other two sides were rows upon rows upon rows of pristinely-uniformed school children in a blinding array of colors. We found ourselves a spot to crouch, the littlest children up front, and after a brief word from the resident dignitary, the band started to play and the children began to march. First the girls, then the boys, school after school after school. And they marched with such precision; they had been practicing all week! Round the circle to salute the dignitary, then back to their starting places to be released to the crowd. There must have been at least twenty different schools. And all of the public-school children wore their heads clean-shaven, the mystery was solved! But the heat…

Three hours in 40+ Celsius heat is more than most adults can take, let alone children as young as 2 years of age. Long before the children’s older brothers and sisters marched, most of the younger ones had fallen asleep, curled up in the dirt. And yet they were scarcely dirtier than we, and showed it much less. It was windy and dusty, the crowd pushed close, and when I can post pictures later, I will post some of the pictures of my legs simply caked in dirt. But it was amazing simply to be a part of that crowd and that celebration. Everyone was as excited as excited could be, and so proud to catch merely a glimpse of their children—their future—marching.

Peace to you all,

Friday, March 6, 2009

"Sistah, you look like my Barbie!"

I spent my first day at the Redemption Children’s Home (RCH) yesterday—one of the groups of people and projects that my congregation, the American Lutheran Congregation in Oslo, Norway (ALC) walks in companion relationship with, and a Level II Giving Opportunity through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Global Mission office. I have been looking forward to meeting the children of RCH since I had the blessing of meeting Pastor Abraham—their ‘Daddy’—last fall when he visited ALC to share with us and teach us. I’ll write more about the specifics of RCH later, but for now, just one quick story…

As I said before, I spent my first day with the children at Redemption Children’s Home yesterday. A hot, hot, hot day, beads of sweat ran down my face even while standing still in the shade, and yet the children ran and played, colored pictures and played football, ran to their ‘sisters and brothers’, my fellow volunteers Sisters Marije and Fiona and Sir Mike, and welcomed their new ‘Sister Elly’ with open arms. They truly are amazing children!

And although I spent most of that hot, hot, hot day smiling and laughing, one moment will stand out for a long time. It was mid-afternoon and one of the girls was playing with her hand-me-down Barbie doll. I wasn’t paying that much attention, until she suddenly stood before me and proclaimed, ‘Sistah, you look like my Barbie!’

I don’t think I’ve ever been compared to Barbie in my life. But, there she was, in front of me, tugging on Barbie’s hair with one hand and pulling me down onto her level with the other. She put Barbie’s hair next to mine and said, ‘See Sistah? Same!’ She put Barbie’s and my hands together and said, ‘See Sistah? Same!’ The same with Barbie’s legs, Barbie’s back, Barbie’s face… Then she pulled me even closer, her face within inches of mine, her eyes staring into mine, searching them, her face lit up and she laughed, pointing to Barbie’s eyes—‘See Sistah? Same!’

I’m still not quite sure how I feel about being a Barbie, and I’m still struggling with the fact that the only doll they have to play with is a white plastic Barbie doll… Maybe, instead of comparing myself to Barbie, I should have shown her how we, too, are the same. I’m not sure she would have believed me. I’m not sure, seeing the stark disparity between the two of us, I would have believed me either. I love the idea of ‘accompaniment’, but the actual walking alongside, that I still struggle to figure out for myself.

But, you know what? She really got a kick out of ‘Big Barbie’ and ‘Little Barbie.’ She was so proud of her discovery that she insisted that I take a picture of Barbie and her. I really tried to upload it here, but the computer just wouldn't let me. I'll post it later.

More stories later too, I promise!
The Shoeless Seminarian in Ghana

Happy 66th Anniversary Granddad and Grandmother!!!

Today is the 66th Wedding Anniversary of my Granddad and Grandmother McHan! The fact that they have been married for more than two and a half times my life so far is still mind-boggling to me. The fact that they are still completely in love with one another is even more so!

They have taught me so much over the years and always been my biggest supporters; I don’t know what I would have done without them. Their stories make up so much of my story, their love mine, their faith mine. When they had their first child they sat down and talked about what the most important things were they wanted to pass on to their children—faith topped the list. And they have continued that through three generations.

They were ‘tickled pink’ when I told them I was going to seminary, and even more-so when I told them I was moving to Norway. Whenever I go off on one of my adventures my Grandaddy always says, ‘well, we’ll hold until you get back—Lord willin’ and the cricks don’t rise.’

One of the things I miss the most being away from my family is the story-telling that surrounds the family dinner table, for sitting down around the McHan Family Dinner Table, no matter the occasion, IS an occasion. Multiply a McHan and we only get louder; put a whole room together and the sound is deafening. There is so much love around that table and sent out from that table—we all know when we are gone that we will be named and held in prayer before the rest of the McHan’s gathered ‘back your ears and dive in!’ I can’t wait to sit around that dinner table again.

Grandaddy & Grandmother, Congratulations on 66 years of Marriage today! ‘Lord willin’ and the cricks don’t rise’ I’ll see you in six months. Until then, ‘I love you a bushel and a peck, and a hug around the neck.’

Granddaughter Elizabeth
aka—Granddad’s Little Heater

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How To Spot a True Canadian

How To Spot a True Canadian

Okay, nothing really to do with Ghana, but so quintessentially ‘Canadian’ I can’t help but share it.

Somewhere in the midst of Hours 35-43 a group of 4 young women came into the canteen where I was nodding in and out of sleep. I didn’t pay much attention until I heard the word ‘timbits’ enter the conversation. Pastor Abraham noticed my sudden attention to their conversation—yes, eavesdropping, if you really want to put it that way—and asked me if it was strange to come all the way to Ghana, only to hear English being spoken. I answered that it was stranger to come all the way to Ghana only to be seated next to a group of Canadians! Bewildered, as he should have been, Pastor Abraham asked me how I knew they were Canadian.

My answer: ‘timbits!’

Perfectly clear to a Canadian, perfectly baffling to most non-Canadians: The ‘timbit’ is both the mascot and edible bit of sugary heaven that represents the ‘Tim Horton’s’ restaurant chain. It’s so ‘Canadian’ that there’s even a commercial that pretty much re-enacts my afternoon: a young Canadian man goes off to see the world with a Tim Horton’s take-away mug clipped to his backpack. Everywhere he goes he is greeted by Canadians who spot the Tim Horton’s mug and they share great adventures. As he steps off the plane at the end of his adventures he is met by his loving parents who are holding a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee.

And it may sound ridiculous, but it’s true.

So… how did I respond to the ‘timbits’ reference? As we were leaving the canteen I stopped by the table and said, “Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear, and with a ‘timbits’ reference, I have to ask, ‘where in Canada are you from?’” “You have to follow up a ‘timbits’ reference when you hear one! We’re from British Columbia,” came their answer.

You gotta love it!
Go ‘timbits’!


One of the two numbers that I learned, very early on, were the answers to questions of ‘time’ in Sunday School. Most likely in response to an annoyingly persistent line of questioning (I like to think of it as assertive), I remember a Sunday School teacher finally answering that ’40 just means a LONG time, okay?’ And from that day on I flippantly answered ‘40’ to biblical questions without giving it much thought. How many days did the rains pour down around Noah and his family: 40. For how many years did the Israelites wander in the wilderness: 40. How many days was Jesus in the wilderness, tempted by Satan: 40. How many days did Jonah spend in the belly of the whale: ? Okay, 40 isn’t always the answer (eh, Annie?). Sometimes the answer is ‘3’.

But after the last 40 hours the number ‘40’ has truly come to remind me of ‘a long time’:

Hour 1 (and 2…whoops!), 3am-4:20am, 3 March 2009: After less than 3 hours of sleep I wake up to my alarm. No part of me wants to get out of bed, but I do anyways—I’m flying to Ghana in less than 4 hours! As I never quite plan for things to take as long as they do, I’m rushing around my apartment, throwing out my trash, packing the battery charger I almost forgot, and forgetting the hand-sanitizer.

Hour 3, 5am, 3 March 2009: Well, I was late enough that I had to catch my first cab ever in Oslo, which I found out, has a minimum of 135 NOK ($20 USD on a good day), but caught the first train at 4:39am and arrived at Gardermoen airport to check in for my flight. And I meet my first surprise: Susan and her family—including the tiny baby that was baptized into our community on Sunday—are on my flight to Frankfurt! So lovely! After security we meet up and wake up over a cup of coffee.

Hours 6-9, 8-10:50am, 3 March 2009: I realize, once again, just how poor my spoken German has become as I wander and wait in the Frankfurt airport for the 4th or 5th time in the past year. I resist the electronics, and, instead, pull out “Theology is for Proclamation” and hunker down to enjoy this time of enforced stillness.

Hours 10-21, 11am GMT+1 -9pm GMT, 3 March 2009: After 3 short delays, I embark on the second leg of my journey, seated in row 33K. I read for a while, sleep a bit, and watch both ‘Australia’ and ‘The Secret Life of Bees’. Thanks I’m pretty sure to Aaron Hryciw, I find myself singing ‘Ed-ward El-gar…’ at the end of Australia, and it takes me a minute to realize that it ends on one of the movements of Elgar’s ‘Enigma Variations’—anyone happen to know which movement? I forget. Somewhere in the midst of all this I realize for the first time that, when I step off this plane, I’m going to be in Africa!!! We arrive in Accra, Ghana: 2 hours late.

Hour 22, 10pm, 3 March 2009: I cue up with the rest of the plane’s disembarking visitors and wait to show my passport, complete with Ghana visa already pasted in! I pick up my luggage, but can’t find a trolley, and remember how not-strong I am as I carry my two 40-pound bags through customs and out the doors—funny, for me, apparently 40 also stands for ‘heavy’. I spot the second most-friendly face of the day holding a up a sign that reads ‘ALC Intern’ and thankfully relinquish my bags as Eugene’s friends offer chivalrously to carry them to the waiting car.

Hours 23-26, 11pm-2:59:59, 3 March 2009: We arrive at Jim & Mabel’s house (members of my congregation in Norway) and I crash.

Hour 27, 3am, 4 March 2009: I hate my alarm even more-so this morning than I did the previous morning. But, there is a shower! As I wander out onto the porch I forget for a moment that I’m in Ghana and imagine that I’m in Guyana—the hot, humid air, palm trees, barking dogs, and crowing roosters… Then I’m back, and it’s Africa, not South America, and the taxi driver is knocking on the gate and it’s time to go.

Hours 28-31, 4am-7:15am, 4 March 2009: Thank you Eugene! I hadn’t been able to purchase my second-leg plane ticket from Norway, and Eugene had very kindly bought it for me. It’s a small propeller-driven plane, but still big enough for 4 seats across. I’m seated in 7D and sleep until the flight attendant wakes me with the offer of mango juice, mmm… I wake to find myself seated next to an American woman who is a pharmacist at the Baptist Medical Center in Northern Ghana. Having lived in Ghana for 17 years, she’s a wealth of knowledge.

Hour 31 continued, Hour 32, & Hour 33, 7:15am-8 something am, 4 March 2009: We land in Tamale and I’m almost there!!!!! I’m so excited as I load my bags on the trolley I am so pleased to have found and confidently stroll out to meet the first face I have actually met before: Pastor Abraham! I blithely turn down the taxi drivers eager to drive me the 20km into Tamale, then realized Pastor Abraham’s not quite there yet. That’s what a good book’s for—it’s day 2 and I’ve already done more reading on this trip than I have in the last 3 months altogether. After about half an hour of waiting the still-waiting taxi drivers suggest that I move to a bench in the shade, as I’m beginning to turn a hint of ‘cooked-lobster’. I call Eugene just to make sure he’s been able to talk to Pastor Abraham about my arrival and within two minutes I receive an only slightly frantic text message all the way from Norway: YOU’RE STILL AT THE AIRPORT? ARE YOU OKAY? I’m not worried about being picked up, I know Pastor Abraham is on his way, I’m just hoping that I recognize him, but figure the blond hair will give me away.

Hour 34!!!, 9am, 4 March 2009: Yay!!!!! Pastor Abraham arrives along with Ester—a ‘sister’ of the Redemption Children’s Home—and they tell the tale of their morning of car troubles. We head into Tamale to await the imminent fixing of said-car.

Hours 35-43, 10am-6 something pm, 4 March 2009: Oh my goodness, are you serious? I didn’t think it had been quite that long… We sit at a local canteen and chat, waiting for the call that the car is coming. Over the course of the day Esther, “Z” (American pronounciation), and Joanne all stop by to visit—so much fun! But by this point in time I’m exhausted. I try my best to stay awake, but end up succumbing to the exhaustion and laying my head down on the table to sleep. I’m still not sure how many times I woke from and fell back to sleep, but I do know that Pastor Abraham went out to visit a friend, came back, went out to do an errand, came back, went out to go to the bank, came back… The answer on the phone was always ‘just 30 more minutes’, but there was serious talk of us finding a place to stay the night. I spend a lot of time transfixed by the lizards running about the place and the tree above my head that is filled with sleeping bats. Oh, and it’s hot.

Hours 44-46, 7pm-9 something pm? 4 March 2009: Pastor Abraham’s brother Matt drives up in the truck and I am so thankful! We’re finally on the road to Damongo—about a 3-hour drive away, just 20km from Mole National Park (you might get better results googling that). The further we drive, the more packed the truck becomes. There were easily 10 people, along with many bags, in the bed of the truck before the end. I try to watch where we are going, but the combination of our speed, the darkness, and the goats in the middle of the road soon put a stop to that. Instead, I sleep a lovely, if bumpy, sleep.

Hour 47, 10pm, 4 March 2009: Damongo!!!!!! I can’t quite believe that we have finally arrived, but we have! Dusty and tired, I tuck in my mosquito netting and crawl into bed. I don’t care if it was only 40 hours and not 40 days or 40 years—40 is a long number.

Safe and Sound, but not Shoeless,
The Shoeless Seminarian

Sunday, February 22, 2009

... we all fall down!


Look at this, two posts in a week! Maybe I'm getting the hang of this. But, since last post was about Egypt, I figured you needed an update on the snowy, snowy north--aka Norway.

I hear that there have been record-breaking snows in the Midwest this year, I don't know about Alberta, but Oslo is having one of its snowiest winters of the last fifteen years. Wherever I go people talk about this winter like the winters of yore and I believe them!

There was no snow on Christmas, but about the middle of January the big snowfalls began. 45cm (18") here, 30cm (12") there with a couple of rare sunny days in between to offer a bit of hope and made the sidewalks even more treacherous.


Because Norwegians (yes, I'm making a broad generalization here and I know it) don't exactly tend to shovel their sidewalks clear. They may shovel a bit, or just wait for pedestrians to trample down the snow, which would be fine if the snow remained snow, but the temperature always seems to creep above freezing, and before you know it, what lies beneath that snow you're walking on is a patch of very slippery ice it!

Therefore, one regularly sees people walking about with cross-country ski poles by their sides or studs beneath their shoes. If not, one regularly sees people slipping, sliding, and falling down. I've only had one major spill so far--I landed smack on my back--but no major injuries.

The melting temperatures also make what lies above treacherous too, for you never know when the building you are walking beside might decide to drop a small avalanche of snow atop your head. There's even people whose jobs are to go up in a crane to knock down the potentially life-threatening icicles.

All I can say is, it keeps you on your toes!

But, we're almost to the point where I could strap on my cross-country skis outside my front door and ski the mile to church--this is a fabulous country!

More later (and hopefully soon!)
The not-so-shoeless one (due to the snow)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Interfaith Dialogue

Once again, sorry you get a three-peat, but life is, eh? This is my newsletter article for both my congregation here and at home. A quick story from an absolutely AMAZING trip to Cairo, Egypt to visit dear friends, see some pyramids, and learn, learn, learn!!!!!

My recent trip to Cairo was filled with more sights and sounds (and smells) than I ever thought eight days could hold. A wonderful time of both rest and rejuvenation, to recount all of the stories would take too long, but there is at least one story I would like to take the time to share with you.

I had ventured out that morning with my friends, the Johnsons (ELCA Global Mission Regional Representatives to the Middle East), to visit and explore the mosques of Islamic Cairo (another story for another time). After a long visit with Sheik Mohammed at the Al-Azhar mosque I assumed that my interfaith dialogues were done for the day and turned my attention to wandering around the Khan El—Khalili market while Peter & Michele headed back to work. Enough of an adventure all by itself—a blond woman tends to stand out in Cairo—I had forgotten that staying at the Khan by myself also meant braving the metro by myself.

Now, the metro system of Cairo is excellent and inexpensive (less than $0.20 USD), but getting onto the trains at the busy downtown stations is something akin to running opposite a herd of stampeding buffalo.

I hoped that taking the women’s car would be easier to maneuver and so upon entered the platform I looked for the universal triangular-shaped woman figure, positioned myself under it, and readied myself to fight the exiting throng. So determined was I to catch the train that I almost missed the questioning voice from behind—the fact that it was in Arabic might have had something to do with it too. But when I turned to look, I found, behind me, a young Muslim woman veiled in black, motioning toward the empty seat beside her.

I hesitated just a bit. I wasn’t quite sure about sitting down to wait for the metro. It meant giving up my prime throng-fighting spot, and it’s not like the young woman and I could communicate; my Arabic was limited to 6 words and only useful for directing cab drivers back to the Johnson’s house. But how could I refuse her welcoming invitation? And so I found myself sitting down next to her, smiling as I said ‘Shukran’ (thank you). And although her face was veiled, I knew by her eyes she was smiling back.

For a few minutes we sat in friendly silence, exchanging smiles and nods until the rumbling began. Bracing ourselves, we prepared for the ambush. But then, at the height of anticipation, my new friend was called away by another woman to the other car entrance! I was alone as the doors opened, and before I knew it, I was five and then ten feet away from the doors. It was hopeless; I was never going to make the train! I was about ready to give up when, suddenly, a gloved hand gripped mine and a sheltering arm guided me through the now-closing doors. I smiled and laughed, only to hear another voice laughing quietly with mine, and as I turned to thank my kindly shepherd, I once again found myself face-to-face with the same young woman.

I hadn’t expected her to come back. There was no reason she should have come back. But there she was, her gloved hand still gripping mine. And though we could exchange no words, the conversation went deeper than language or culture and taught me more about interfaith dialogue than my hours spent in the mosque discussing theology. Because despite the fact that my blond hair shone out amidst the sea of veils those women accepted me, welcomed me, even came back for me.

One of my seminary professors always tells us, “If you’re not willing to accept that you might be changed through interfaith dialogue, then you can’t call it dialogue”. Until that moment, I had never let my guard down enough to get it. Until that moment I had never been changed. Until that moment…