Monthly Archives: March 2016

VISITING OUR COMPASSION CHILD IN TANZANIA By Christin Flucke, Final-Year MDiv Spouse

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During January term this year, my husband Daniel (final-year MDiv student) and I traveled with a group of seven people from Wartburg Seminary to Tanzania. Our goal on the trip was to witness the work God is doing there, and we spent an incredible two and a half weeks visiting a wide variety of ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) including multiple churches, primary and secondary schools, a university and a vocational training school, a rehabilitation center for people with physical and mental disabilities, a hospital, an orphanage, and even a coffee cooperative. We also experienced the tremendous beauty of God’s creation during safari tours through two different national parks, a definite highlight of the trip!

For me, the most meaningful part of the trip was getting to meet Naomi, the young girl I sponsor through Compassion International, a Christian child sponsorship organization whose mission is releasing children from poverty in Jesus’ name. After traveling almost 10 hours from where we were staying in Arusha to the capital city of Dodoma, I finally came face-to-face with this girl I’ve been sponsoring for almost seven years.

While there, we had a chance to visit the Compassion center and the church Naomi attends. I learned from the site director that I was only the second sponsor to ever make it to that site for a visit, so everyone was very excited to see us. Naomi was fairly shy and a bit overwhelmed by the whole situation, and I’m sure the fact that we didn’t speak the same language didn’t help much (though we did have a translator there to assist). That being said, she became a little more comfortable and relaxed throughout the day, and she and I were able to share a beautiful moment as we sat and looked through the collections of letters and photos we had exchanged over the years.

After our tour of the site, we walked to a local shop where our Compassion host helped me to purchase items like flour, rice, beans, and cooking oil to present as gifts for Naomi’s family. Then we had the opportunity to walk to Naomi’s home and meet her family.

Her house is very modest, consisting only of 1-2 small rooms with clay walls and a dirt floor. There is no electricity in the house and the only furniture was a few wooden stools and a mat on the floor where the family sleeps. However, we were warmly greeted by the entire family and graciously welcomed inside. Naomi lives with her parents and 3 siblings, but we also met her grandparents and multiple aunts, uncles, and cousins whom we suspect also live in the house or nearby.

 

After being introduced to everyone, I presented the gifts of food as well as a backpack I had brought along packed full of toys, school supplies, hygiene products, candy, etc. Daniel and I also received gifts from the family: a shawl and several clay cooking bowls for me and a ceremonial bow and arrow set for Daniel. We also exchanged words of thanks and prayed for one another, and of course, took lots of pictures. It was an incredible blessing to witness the work of Compassion first-hand, and it’s a day I’m sure I’ll remember and treasure forever!

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In addition to visiting Naomi and tour her Compassion site, we also happened to visit two additional Compassion sites located at ELCT churches as well as the main Compassion office in Tanzania. We witnessed again and again the work of this amazing ministry and the real difference it makes in the lives of children. We learned there are about 75,000 children in Tanzania who receive assistance from Compassion and have sponsors just like me. My family has been a supporter of Compassion for many years now, and it’s a commitment that Daniel and I knew we wanted to continue when we got married. Daniel and I have even volunteered at several Christian concerts to help find sponsors for Compassion children.

However, it’s one thing to hear the talks, watch the promotional videos, and hold the child packets, and another thing to actually get to see those faces in person, to hug the girl that you send letters and money to each month, and to meet the incredible people who make sure that money actually helps to make a real difference in the lives of those children.

Through all of these experiences we witnessed the amazing work God is doing through the Lutheran church in Tanzania. We experienced generous hospitality from so many wonderful people who are passionate about proclaiming the love and salvation of Jesus through worship, education, and service. We learned about the challenges of ministering in a nation where the average person lives on about $200 a year. We were reminded of the many things we take for granted here in the U.S such as reliable electricity, paved roads, access to affordable education and quality healthcare, and clean drinking water.

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But most of all, I was reminded of the simple yet profound truth that God is God no matter where you go. God’s church in Tanzania is not all that different from God’s church in the U.S., and while we may look different, dress or eat differently, or face different challenges in life, God is still God, and God is still good!

CONNECTING THE CONGREGATION AND THE COMMUNITY By Sarah Wicks, 1st Year Diaconal Ministry

 

Sarah Wicks is pursuing an M.A. in Social Work and an M.A. in Diaconal Ministry. She writes this article describing her joint degree work.

I’ve spent a lot of time this school year at the Almost Home shelter located at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Dubuque. In my role as a social work field placement student at Project Concern, I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the work at St. John’s and am involved with the lives of the shelter residents. St. John’s Lutheran is such a beautiful example of the powerful relationship that can exist between the worlds of social work and diaconal ministry.

One of my former social work professors told me once that, “social work is not just about understanding who the people are that we serve, but to more deeply understand what is happening in their lives and in their community that influences their lives and brings them to seek your services.” Social work is about seeing the visible and invisible social systems of power, poverty, racism, classism, and privilege at work and applying that understanding to the work we do with people. In my own understanding of diaconal ministry, I also see it as essential that we can identify and incorporate those visible and invisible systems into the work we do on behalf of congregations within the community.

St. John’s Lutheran is a powerful example of a congregation that saw those systems at play in their community and sought to build a bridge between the congregation and the people in the wider community. The shelter provides overflow beds for the Dubuque Rescue Mission and can shelter up to 12 men at a time. They offer showers, laundry services, social supports, and work with Project Concern and people like me to connect the shelter residents to rehousing programs. As someone who has training in social work and is also learning the fine art of diaconal ministry, I can speak both languages and that has been a critical resource. I understand the mission of the church and the history of downtown, urban churches that are declining in membership and have a need to fill their unused spaces.

I also understand the needs of the community, which I learn from the people I serve, and the programs in we participate. I can serve as a case manager for the shelter residents to get them back into permanent housing and connect them to supportive services. It is a really wild and exhilarating position to be in! I’m so grateful for congregations like St. John’s that have taken on this diaconal work and are doing it so well in their communities. I pray that we all continue to listen to the callings in our own lives, and to be creative in considering ways that we can continue to bridge these experiences and backgrounds with congregations and communities we will serve in the future.

NOTED! Book Review by Wendy Daiker, Final-Year MDiv Spouse

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Jacobson, Kathy J. Noted! First edition. (Mineral Point, WI: Little Creek Press. A Division of Kristin Mitchell Design, Inc., 2015), 220pp.

NOTED!  By Kathy J. Jacobson is a Christian fiction novel that brings out real life events in her characters in an intriguing way that makes it hard to set the book down. Jillian, the main character is a Christian woman who wants a personal new start, with a job, in a new location across the country. She has her strong faith in God to help her through it. The job she takes pulls her into a world where she has to trust God and be patient. The job makes her evaluate her own failed relationships and how she will let go and move forward.

I love how Jacobson made me think about famous people and how their lives are hard in ways we may not think about and how they have the same hurts we have. They are not immune to the pain we have. They turn to the same God we turn to.

This book came at a perfect time in my life as I am beginning a new adventure into a new land and will be making new friends. I learned so much from Jillian in this novel about putting yourself out there and getting involved, and about taking a leap of faith to start new friendships.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys an easy read Christian novel. It is beautifully written and hits many topics with God at the center of life.

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Kathy J. Jacobson

is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa. She has worked counseling troubled youth, has been an at-home Mom, a church youth worker and Christian education coordinator, worked in campus ministry, and for the last twelve years, has served in rural parish ministry. In addition to her work in the church, she volunteers as a hospice chaplain. Kathy resides with her husband in the beautiful “Driftless Area” of southwestern Wisconsin. They are parents of three children, all “twenty-something.” Kathy is an avid traveler, having visited forty-nine states and five continents, with most memorable trips to Papua New Guinea, the Holy Land, and Tanzania, East Africa. She enjoys music, theater, reading, biking, walking and hiking, but writing is her passion. NOTED! is her debut novel.

HOPING FOR MORE Book Review By Barbara Daiker, WTS Alum Spouse

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Thompson, Deanna A. Hoping for More: Having Cancer, Talking Faith, and Accepting Grace. (Eugene, Or: Wipf & Stock Pub, 2012), 166 pp.

Deanna Thompson called her life a “near perfect life” at age 42, as she had a caring and loving husband, two beautiful daughters, and a career teaching religion at a Minnesota university. She also had opportunities to travel and observe the beauty of God’s creation, plus the blessing of family and friends who lived in close proximity and served as a great support group for her.  Along with all of this, she enjoyed the blessing of excellent health, so excellent that she rarely needed a doctor.  In fact, at age 42 she did not have a primary-care doctor of her own.

In the summer of 2008, however, this excellent health record took a major turn-about when Deanna began suffering major lower back pain accompanied by a burning sensation in her back.  This led her to appointments with chiropractors, doctors, and specialists. Finally, with the help of an MRI, Deanna was diagnosed as having a fractured spine and needing the expertise of a spine specialist.

The MRI revealed a mysterious fluid surrounding two fractured vertebrae – a fluid which was biopsied and revealed that she had breast cancer, a cancer that had spread to her spine.  The diagnosis was Stage IV breast cancer.  Thus began months of doctor’s appointments, hospitalizations, tests, medications, and total emotional drain.

This is a powerful book which connects the fearful and painful recognition of our own mortality with the grace of God and the comforting assertion of the Apostle Paul that “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ.”

Deanna Thompson is now living in remission, knowing that each day is a gift of grace.  She is awed by the way her family and her community have rallied around her.  She looks upon her cancer as a gift because, “the experiences of grace  that I’ve been privileged to have would not have happened had I not had cancer.”

 

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Deanna A. Thompson

is a Professor of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota,
and the author of Crossing the Divide: Luther, Feminism, and the Cross. She lives with her husband and two daughters in St. Paul.

 

CONFRONTING RACISM: CONTINUING THE CONVERSATION By Derek Rosenstiel, 1st Year M.Div.

“Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body” (Col. 3:14-15, NRSV).

The Wartburg community gathered together on campus as brothers and sisters March 4th in love and fellowship for the specific purpose of participating in God’s mission (mission Dei).  Individuals entered into conversation with their own past experiences of racism and the division that it causes.  Some entered desperately seeking ways in which to participate in God’s work of reconciliation and the healing of wounds caused by racism.  People were guided by the power of the Holy Spirit to struggle together with questions of what to do about racism within our Church, our communities, and even within our own selves.

Through the teaching, sharing, and practice of some skills on how to go about carrying out a conversation surrounding the topic of racism, the night progressed quite quickly.  As I observed the group with which I shared conversation and also looked around at other groups, I felt a strong sense of passion and emotion flowing among participants.  At the end, when the entire group gathered together for a sharing of final reflections, many ideas and emotions reverberated throughout the narthex: Heartache, Hope, Determination, Acceptance, Love, Pain, Resolve… These words along with the stories and shared experiences I heard that night will stay with me forever.

My hope is that others left that night with a sense of purpose and hope for the future just as I did. A strong mix of emotions flowed through my very being but one thought stuck with me:  the conversation continues because it must.  The Church has everything to lose if it does not continue to address racism through conversation and action.  We must realize that we, as the Body of Christ, are not whole when certain voices are being ignored or silenced.  My hope is that the Holy Spirit will continue to stir within us all, not only just in the Wartburg community, but in the whole world.  Let us not be content with the state of the Church right now.  Let the Word of God continue to unsettle us when we hear it and look around us at the walls that separate us.  Let the reconciling work of Christ work in and through us all, and let us come to the fullness of glory because of it. May almighty God give us God’s own peace.

 

WALKING THE VIA DOLOROSA TO THE HOLY SEPULCHER  By Denise Rector, 2nd year MDiv

I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem for the first time during January Term, 2016. At each station of the Via Dolorosa, we sang and read scripture while the world went on around us. I tried to imagine Jesus roughly pushed out into the street, amidst yelling vendors and children playing loud games. Did everything become silent when Jesus stumbled? Or did the world’s noise just continue?

We entered several small chapels along the way. At the seventh station I sat down in the chapel with a sigh, and reached for my water bottle. No scourging, no cross, no crown of thorns, no crowd screaming for my murder, no betrayal or heartbreak,  but I was still tired. And thirsty. Lord, have mercy.

We marked the last five Stations in the courtyard behind the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It was around noon, appropriately. Three people in non-Western robes, with covered hair and dark skin, were there when we arrived. As the bell struck 12, one of the men walked around a domed structure in the courtyard three times. He and I bowed our heads to each other in greeting.

We entered the church through the Ethiopian worship space, passing by two women reading and praying. I thought of Anna, “continually in the temple praising God.” I’d never considered that people today come and sit in the church all day, just to be there.

Continually praising God.

The sites in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher were profound, overwhelming, wonderful. After I recovered from the amazement of seeing the tomb, I enjoyed watching others stream into the holy place. I needed to see myself surrounded by the communion of saints, and needed to see them all drawn to the same place I was.

I thank God for the random, blessed intersection of people at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the vendors we walked past, and the construction worker who looked at us as we sang at the First Station, and the two young Jewish boys gleefully laughing, expertly weaving in and out of our group on their way home.

IMAGES OF ICELAND by Kristi Grieder, 2nd Year MDiv

 

This poem was written while participating in a cross-cultural course to Iceland and Norway with Wartburg Theological Seminary in January 2016.

At matin, we rise for prayer
The sky is black
The cold is bitter
I walk to the chapel at Skálholt
My hands ache and long for warmth

Christ emerges from the altarpiece in blues and grays
His arms are open, embracing all who enter.
The nave echoes with chanting;
I do not hear my language
But I listen with my soul:
Give us this day, our daily bread,
And forgive us our sins.

At the pastors’ house, the bread is warm
The coffee is strong and candles glow
The walls are dressed with shiny frames and colorful canvas
Dalí and Picasso
Original and print
Art and artifact
Each revealing the stories of one’s life
And drawing me into wonder about my own.

Outside the parsonage, the wind howls
Thick walls have sheltered the family for twenty-eight winters
And the pastor hopes for twenty-eight more.
Laughter rises from the common table
And I wonder, do homes belong to people
Or do people belong to homes?

The falls at Gulfoss roar
The wind pushes me toward the cliff
I can barely keep my footing
But if I let go, it carries me
With a force that is greater than my own

I slip on sheets of ice and stumble on rocky craters
My bare heels burn on freezing sand as I run into the ocean
The path is uncertain
And the pilgrimage is not without pain.

With squinting eyes, I walk toward the altar
Yellow and orange flood the sacred space
With empty hands, I receive bread and wine
I cannot see the priest’s face
For the rays of light are too bright to bear
I cannot understand the words spoken,
But I taste the sour wine on my tongue, saying,
For you, the body of Christ, broken

At vespers, we worship in darkness
The blue lights and grand piano set the mood
As the melody of the choir soars, I sit in the pew;
I look through a long, narrow window
I can see the city lights,
And I am reminded of the parish
Beyond these walls and my sight

A baby boy is baptized
His long white gown spills over his grandfather’s arms
No one sitting in the pews knows his name
Until he is claimed as a child of God

Outside, the flag flies at half-mast
In the sanctuary, two caskets sit side by side
She died on the twenty-second
He stayed only five more days
Polka from their youth plays on the accordion
The caskets are carried to the grave
Two lives intertwined in life
Two souls dancing in death

The burial hymn of an Icelandic poet runs through the veins of the people,
And ring softly in my ears:
“Thus in Christ’s name I’m living;
Thus in Christ’s name, I’ll die…
O Grave, where is thy triumph?
O Death, where is thy sting?
‘Come thou wilt will, and welcome!’
Secure in Christ, I sing.”*

Pink and orange linger in the horizon
The sunset lasts for hours.
Steam rises from the rocky earth like a prayer
And I welcome the cold on my cheeks.

*Hallgrímur Pétursson (d. 1674), Icelandic Burial Hymn