So last February’s newsletter, I left off saying how I was given a new name: Beloved. People still called me a weirdo for talking about Jesus. But this time I held onto a verse from I Peter 4:14, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” That verse became my armor. And rather than just telling people about Jesus, I began listening to their stories. This is part two.
After graduating high school in 1995, I went to Concordia College in St. Paul, Minnesota to study the Bible. I loved it! I made so many friends who were excited about their faith, too. I even had an opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine during our Thanksgiving break. At that point, I knew I needed a gap year before people talked about gap years. I joined Lutheran Youth Encounter, a relational music ministry based in Minneapolis; it was life changing.
For five years I traveled throughout the US and around the world. Each year I traveled with a different group of people (usually 5-6). After a month of music, youth, and interpersonal communication training, we were off. We met so many wonderful people and saw so many wonderful things. We traveled in a van from church to church, playing concerts along the way and staying with host families. In Denmark, we danced around Christmas trees drinking glogg and singing hymns. In Kansas, I rode in a combine with my host dad where I saw some of the most amazing sunsets. India was filled with color during Holi and wrapped around those wearing saris and shalwars. We hiked the foothills of the Annapurnas in Nepal sharing Bible stories with Christians who never heard them before. I had Weaver ants in my pants when I climbed a tree to tell the story of Zacchaeus to villagers in northern Ghana. In Ecuador, I rescued a missionary from getting bitten by a poisonous snake using salad tongs and a towel. And the military coupe of Chavez in Venezuela kept us hidden inside for a few days while things settled down. It really was an incredible time in my life and those memories still occupy and inform my thoughts today. There are of course too many stories to tell but I’m sure a few will end up in a sermon or two.
After I moved on from Youth Encounter, I finished up my degree in Multi-Cultural Studies at Trinity Lutheran College in Seattle, WA. I was hoping to become a missionary in Pakistan but student debt made that rather difficult. However, when I started working at a campus ministry at the University of Washington, I realized I was in an incredible mission field. I remember sitting outside of a coffee shop, closing my eyes, and hearing over ten different languages being spoken by people walking by.
It was also in Seattle where Rachel and I got married after traveling to Ghana together. We fell in love as we rode through the jungle in the back of a pickup truck, singing songs with our Ghanaian friends to children, as we traveled from one village to another. It wasn’t long after, that we got married and had children of our own. Eleanora has become quite the artist and Lily Anna the dancer. We moved out to Ohio after Rachel’s father passed away. We wanted to be close to family and to start seminary. And now, here we are, living in a lovely old farmhouse in Canal Fulton and part of a church where we feel loved.
In the future, I’m sure I’ll write other things for St. Stephen newsletters but I wanted to share my story and I hope to hear yours. For as the apostle Paul writes in two Corinthians, “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone.” May you find grace and peace in your story.