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.