Here’s To Trusting God…

Hello, avid and wonderful readers!

First of all, thank you. Thank you for following us through the ups and downs, highs and lows, joys and sorrows of this past 12 (almost 13) months. It has meant a lot to know that you were out there cheering us on and supporting us in the times when we felt far away. Thank you for being with us in spirit and in prayer as we went from place to place learning and experiencing what God is doing in this world through the church.

Second, I thought I should give a little update on what has been going on since we arrived back in the States. It has been quite the whirlwind-fitting in quite well with the rest of our year. We arrived back in the Twin Cities on August 26th at 6pm and haven’t really stopped since. We’ve seen our families. We’ve planned ordinations. We’ve actually gotten ordained. We have helped organize some things back in Fond du Lac with my Mom. We have eaten a lot and been taken in by a wonderful couple in our time between abroad and Montana.

And then two weeks ago, we began the trek to our new home in Terry, Montana. We returned to Fond du Lac to pick up the U-haul and a few pieces of furniture from there. Sunday we  drove back to Minneapolis, but arrived too late to finish our loading. So Monday morning, we cleared out our storage unit, threw out our backs and loaded the rest of the truck. Monday afternoon we set off to North Dakota to spend time with our lovely pastor friends there and Tuesday evening at around 7, we were met by a welcoming committee from our churches for the unloading of the truck and crawling into bed in our new house and community. The whirlwind continues….

This may be the last post on this blog. It’s been a year. I say that without any qualifiers because there are too many. This year was a year that Will and I will remember forever. We have learned and grown so much through it all and as we now take our next steps in a new direction, we carry in our hearts love for all the people we have met and places we have been to/through. It’s been quite the experience, but we are ready for some stability.

We are ready to be in one community and to attend the same churches each week.

We are ready to start our marriage together in our own space with our own rhythm.

We are ready to speak words of hope, joy, grace, and Jesus’ love and work in this world beyond the borders of the USA.

Though we are ready for this new part of our lives, we will continue to be grateful for the life we have lived this year abroad. We will not forget the smiles, prayers, hugs, acts of kindness, love, support, housing, and numerous other things that you have all given us this year.

We leave the life of craziness and movement to begin our lives of parish pastorhood-which I suppose has a fair amount of those as well. And we carry you all in our hearts as we go and as we stay. May our relationships with you continue, even as we are further (or for some nearer) than we have been. We love you and appreciate you.

Much love, one more time, from Montana,

Katie (and Will)IMG_1110

Taize…A Little Belated

I have taken much too long in writing this about our experience at Taize…

We spent three very different weeks at Taize, an ecumenical Christian community in Burgundy, France. Our arrival was a shock to my system. I had expected something like our experience at Iona, where there were limited numbers of people, quiet, and a relaxed and open schedule.

We arrived at Taize on a warm Sunday afternoon, along with three thousand other people from around the world. It was noisy, the mood was somewhere between excited and panicked, and we were told upon arriving that we were expected to attend everything that was offered.

Soon we found out that we didn’t fit into the “normal” pilgrim categories. People over 30 are only allowed to stay for one week at a time, and are housed in a different part of the property. They eat separately from those under 30, and their general programming is separate as well, except for daily prayer. Though neither of us is 30 or over, but we are married, and married people are not put in the under-30’s housing.

We talked with four or five people in two different places and showed an email that told us we would receive a two-person tent to all of them – to generally confused looks. We finally found the right place and someone who understood the situation at the third place we went to. We were to participate in under-30 programming and meals, but live with the over-30s.

The week was good. We met three times a day for prayer services. Before breakfast, we gathered in the chapel (read: large, sprawling church) and sang Taize-style songs (repetitive chants), heard a reading, and spent time in silence. Before lunch, we gathered again for a shorter period of singing and silence. Before bed, again we came together and sang, as well as joining in silence and prayer. In addition to worship we had small groups, Bible Introduction, meals, and workshops.

Taize’s style of singing is very different than the normal singing done in churches today. We sang songs in a dozen different languages (maybe even more), and they were all very short with simple melodies. They are sung repetitively – ten, twenty, thirty or more times. The whole idea is that after a while you have the song memorized, and can pray while singing. And then when you leave the community, you still can sing the songs, with or without music. It is an amazing way to worship, especially in the Taize community where there are sometimes three or four or five or six thousand people all singing together.

The second week Katie and I spent in silence. She was in a house for women in the village of Aumegny, just north of the community, and I was just south of the community in a silence house for men. I was told at the beginning of the week that the outer silence is kept to create an inner silence. We were to not talk, motion, or gesture to people as much as possible. In our house, this was strictly kept. When encountering people outside of the house who need help or say “bonjour” as you walk along, it was ok to speak. I talked with Katie, too, away from the house – so my week was not entirely silent, but a very large portion of it was.

I was able to reflect, during that week, on the last year. I thought of the amazing numbers of people who made the year happen; my wonderful wife who stuck by my side even when things were difficult; pastors and churches who took us in; and all the pilots, drivers, flight attendants, people who fund the Fellowship, and so many people I can’t even think of. I thought about the year to come – moving to Montana, being ordained, starting out in my first call, in my first house with Katie. Sometimes it is crazy to think about how much has happened in the last year, and it was a great way to coalesce this past year of life and think toward the future one, one which will no doubt be just as full in different ways.

This was by far my favorite week. I asked one brother one day how to create this kind of peace and silence in daily life. He said that it is clearly a struggle, but that someone once told him that the key is to find something beautiful every day.

Whether it is a tree, or a sunset, or a person, conversation, a movie, a whatever – the key to finding peace in the midst of a busy world is to find and notice something beautiful every day.

Our last week was a very special week in the life of Taize. It was a completion of a three-year “Journey toward a New Solidarity”, a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the community, 100th birthday of Brother Roger, it’s founder, and 10 years since his death.

The Journey toward a New Solidarity has brought the brothers to many different places in the world, leading gatherings of young people seeking a new unity in the world and within Christianity. One of the key ideas has been how can we be people and Christians working and living together and for one another? I went to one of these gatherings back in 2013 on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

There were over 100 workshops to go to throughout the week, on topics such as he Church, the environment, social justice, music, and art. As usual there were thrice daily prayer services complete with Taize singing.

This week we spent with a host family in the town of Berze-la-Ville. The host couple is a true example of God’s love. We spent many hours that week with eight others from Taize – one from Britain, one from Poland, two from Italy, and four from Germany. It was a wonderful time – we were well taken care of, and by the end of the week, we had become family with yet more people along this journey. One of my favorite parts was hiking to the top of a high hill with Philippe and Marie, and Philippe pointing out in the distance a vineyard – a vineyard whose wine we tasted just a few hours later.

Taize is a great place, has a wonderful style of worship, and is working hard to make young people feel needed and important in the Church. All I have heard about Taize before I arrived was positive, as though it was heaven on earth. And I feel to speak the truth about that place, I must also say that it was not an easy experience to be there. It was not very accommodating for people with food allergies. For all the talk about being good stewards of the environment, there was an incredible amount of waste at meals in terms of plastic and metal packaging. And while many of the brothers we encountered (there are nearly 100) were very kind, some that we met were rude to the pilgrims who came. It is a good and inspiring place – but not perfect as had been described to me.

After Taize we spent a couple of days each in Rome, Florence, and Venice, before transiting through Milan and back to Paris for a day. We saw many fantastic sights – the Sistine Chapel, Colosseum, Trajan’s Forum, Pontivecchio, Grand Canal, Il Duomo (in Florence and Milan), St. Mark’s Cathedral, and Sacre-Coeur.

Finally we left Paris and spent the night in the Keflavik (Iceland) airport. While many flights get in late and night and the connecting ones leave the next day, there is no sleeping allowed in the airport. There are guards who come around and yell at people who are sleeping, insisting that they awaken and sit up. No lying down, and no sleeping. On top of that, there is no camping nor cooking over and open flame (not sure who tried that one in an airport…).

Finally we made it home, very tired after a long night! There are countless stories to tell – too many for this post. I would love to tell you more – please ask me whenever you have the chance.


5 Reflections in Keflavik

So the last few weeks I’ve been reflecting about this year.  Here is part of that reflection – in five categories (and one bonus category):

5 Things I’ve Missed about the US

Stores that are open late…Reliable electricity…Ability to call and talk with friends and family…Quick internet…up-to-date news.

5 Churches I’ve Loved Visiting

San Marcos, Venice, Italy…Iona Abbey Church, Iona, Scotland, UK…Garga and Gboutou congregations, Cameroon…Sacre Coeur, Paris, France…Notre-Dame, Paris, France.

5 New Foods I’ve Tried

Kudu…Bunny Chow…Cassava…Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties…and Tablet.

5 New Experiences I’ve Had

Slept in a five-start hotel courtesy of the airline…Was a foot away from a live, wild rhinoceros with no fence…Rode a motorcycle…Visited three countries in one day…Saw the vines the grapes my wine was grown on.

5 Languages I’ve Spoken


Bonus: 4 Airports I Spent Most or All of the Night…and 1 Bus

Dubai…Johannesburg…Addis Ababa…Bus from London to Glasgow…Keflavik.

And now, sitting in the final airport, the sun is finally rising at about 6:15am – around the same time it rose in the height of summer in Cameroon.  About 10 hours, now, before we board our flight back to Minneapolis!


Coming Home!

In just a couple of hours Katie and I will start our journey back to the States!  We leave tonight, bound for Iceland, where we have a long layover and arrive back in the Twin Cities tomorrow evening.

Thanks to everyone for your prayers and thoughts the last twelve months.  The last year has been an incredible adventure…but we are excited to go home!

The next step once we are home, beyond a laundry list of errands, are our ordinations!  Again, Katie’s will be Friday, September 11, 7pm at the Chapel of the Cross at Luther Seminary.  Mine will be the following day, Saturday, September 12, 11am, at the same place.  Hope to see you there!


Taize and Ordinations

Katie and I are heading to the Taize monastery later today – we’ll be there for the next few weeks.  We’ll be doing a week of regular programming, a week of service, and a week of silence.  It should be a great time.  Internet may be limited, and so may our updates on things.

So, here’s a little follow up on the last post.  We’ll be getting ordained at Luther Seminary, in Saint Paul, Minnesota.   Katie’s will be the evening (7 or 8pm) of September 11, Will’s the late morning-ish (11am, probably) of September 12.  And our friends Pierre and Susan have offered their home for a joint celebration party after Will’s on the 12th at their home near Brooklyn Park. More details on that at a later time…but it will be a good party.

What is ordination attire?  Wear red!  Red dress, tie, skirt, suspenders, cowboy boots, whatever you have!

Again, we would love for you to be there!

The lucky churches getting us?  For Katie, Terry Community Presbyterian Church and Fallon Hope American Lutheran Church.  For Will, Zion Lutheran in Glendive.  We’ll be living at the parsonage in Terry.

We’re very excited!

For now, though, we are still in Europe.  It’s time to go get packed up, catch a couple trains, then a bus, and spend some time at Taize!


Montana, Here We Come!

So, it has finally happened! Will and I have accepted the calls to be pastors in the ELCA. Our calls will be in little towns in the wonderfully beautiful state of Montana and we couldn’t be more excited to go there. The congregations are filled with wonderful people. We can already tell that through the ways they have worked with us in our times without internet and our lives on the run and through the warm welcome they gave my parents when they went out there. This will be good.

Because Will and I are both pastors and have both been called to the ministry of Word and Sacrament, we have decided that it is important to celebrate each of our ordinations as separate ceremonies instead of squishing them both into one service. Both occasions are worth celebrating. So, we will be getting ordained on the evening of September 11 and sometime in the late morning or early afternoon of September 12. Clear your calendars, we expect you all to be there! (just kidding…but you are all formally invited). This has been a long time coming (at least for me) and it would be great if any of you could be there. More information to come.

Now the next step begins. We must plan ordinations and travel plans and logistics from the status of “lives on the run”. It’s an odd experience to be living two lives, and very difficult. At times it seems as if we are in two places at once and so never reallly present in either. We are constantly thinking about our future calls- logistics, ordinations, compensation packages, moving, life as pastors, etc- and trying to make plans for all those things while simultaneously trying to be present with the congregations, people, and places that we are physically in. It’s tough and sometimes feels like we are being pulled (or torn). After doing this for almost 6 months (by the time we get back) will we know how to live one life? I can only imagine what it will be like to be a whole person again. That is one of the things I am looking forward to about life back in the States- being able to be where I am.

But for now, there are many things to be thinking about and doing as the two lives run parallel for us for another 5 weeks. We are here now, we are there then, we are over there after that, and then we are going to learn what it is to be home and have that home be a physical manifestation of a place Will and I have been dreaming of and holding only in our minds. It will be wonderful.

Much love from Paris,


Moneychangers in the Church

Katie and I were in Ireland the last few days.  We drove around the island, from Dublin to Belfast to Derry, down to Galway, to Cork, and back up to Dublin.

Our first day there, we wandered about Dublin, going to Trinity College, Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and even went on a tour learning about how beer has shaped Ireland.

This may be something that is unsurprising to people who have been to Europe before (it’s my first time)…but at both Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, there was an admission charge.  It was the same at Westminster Abbey in London – it costs £20 for an adult (about $30).  At Christ Church and St. Patrick’s, it was €6 – about $6.50.

There were two things that got me about this.  One – that you could be charged for coming into a church.  At all.  I do get that they are historical buildings and in need of maintenance…but the idea of charging people to go into a place of worship rubs me the wrong way.

Second – that the money was taken and exchanged inside the sanctuary of the church.  To enter Christ Church, you go in a set of large, wooden, double doors, and hang an immediate right through another set to enter the worship space.  Again, I realize this probably happens all over Europe – but having moneychangers in the church isn’t right to me.  If you are going to charge, there is plenty of space ouside the building, or at least the worship space, to set a ticket booth.

Third – we went to Westkerk in Amsterdam today.  It was free to enter, but in the worship space they had a bookstore with books and kitschy trinkets spilling out of a corner of the large room.  There was a coffee shop on the other side of the entrance way.  In the far corner, there was a “buy a brick to restore the church” section.

In all this, I kept thinking of Matthew 21 – here for those of you who don’t know the story: <Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’”>  

Jesus probably was angry because the moneychangers were batantly cheating the people…it’s not exactly the same thing as what I’ve experienced – but it’s what I keep coming back to.

All of these churches do welcome anyone to worship times, with no payment or donation required.  So we did go to evensong worship at Westminster Abbey.  Not only did we get to see the Abbey, we got the joy of worshipping in that space, following in the footsteps and heartbeats of so many people before us.

Moneychanging in the worship space frustrates me.  Paying to get into church upsets me.  (I am fine with a donation box – free-will style.) Partly writing this is a way for me to process it, and partly I’m writing this because I think churches are to be open spaces for people to gather, pray, worship, be renewed, and meet God amidst the busyness of our crazy world – whether they have 6 Euro or not.


From Ireland we flew to Brussels, and then bussed to Amsterdam, where we arrived yesterday – we’ll leave tomorrow.

The Clamor of Silence

Last week Katie and I were at Iona Abbey, on the small, western Scottish isle of Iona.  Amid the mighty howl of Hebridean wind arose a strangely gentle calm.  Outside the walls of the Abbey the silence came in knowing the wind was the only thing creating noise, the clean air, and the sense of relentless freedom.  Inside the walls, the calm was felt in the steadiness of hewn rock, standing strongly against the constancy of Scottish weather.
The week in itself was much different than my expectations.  I had pictured time of meditation and prayer making up most of each day.  No doubt, these happened – but not as much as I imagined.  And when they did, it was hard not to focus on the strangeness of the silence.  In Meiganga, Cameroon, it seemed there was rarely silence.  Kids climbing the mango trees, calls to prayer, thunderstorms, roosters, dogs, cars, car horns, bells, cows, sheep, people, birds – at all hours of the day and night.  It was hard not to focus on the cold, too, at Iona.  The days were long as well – when 9pm worship ended a half hour or so later, it was still light for another two hours.  There are times I think I actually needed a week to prepare for the week at the Abbey.  The differences between Cameroonian and Ionan lifestyles was striking – and the roar of life the past few months kept returning, taking many days to calm down.
There are so many things I could, and some I hope to, write a little about from Iona: drolleries, our pilgrimage, the Abbey community, Glaswegian accents, the food, the ferry strike that forced us to leave early – but there was one experience that right now comes to the top.
The moment that gave birth to the title of this post happened on Wednesday – a week ago today.  After breakfast the adults and teenagers gathered for an activity/session.  Split into groups of roughly various ages, we were given three tasks, all different.  My group – two young teenagers and myself – finished our first two tasks (smiling at 30 people, and looking at light and dark spaces in the Abbey) and set about on our third.
“Explore the Abbey using only your ears” the card read.  “What?!” the teenagers subtely cried.  I smiled, having seen and done experiences like this.  Not expecting much, I suggested we walk one of us at a time down the center aisle of the Abbey Church – from altar in front to font in back, or vice versa.  Assenting, we took turns leading each other around tourists, down and up steps, and over grave stones.
When it was my turn, I closed my eyes near the altar and was slowly led westward toward the baptismal font at the other end.  With my eyes closed, suddenly I was hit from all around with new sensations.  The floor, seemingly smooth as glass moments before, betrayed the slightly uneven nature of the stones.  The space, large and cavernous, seemed smaller as my world closed into simply where my feet were and where the next foot would fall.  The noise, light and airy, nearly unnoticeable moments before, became a clamor of activity.  The calm motions of tourists and fellow participants, listening to audio guides via headphones, reading, sitting, taking photos, and motioning silently to their neighbors something they saw, changed.  The stones muffled the noises – they were no echoes, but the rocks could not hold all the sounds, releasing some back to me as I walked.  The rustling of windbreakers, squeaking of shoes, mumbled awe of tourists, and the gentle noises of cameras focusing on some distant object flew straight to my ears.
The calm and silence of the open-eyed Abbey gave way to the clamor of the open-eared Abbey.  I was moved in that moment – it is something I have been reflecting on so far every day since.  Silent places aren’t always silent.  Calm places are often flurries of activity.  The activity, the noise, just aren’t always things that we pay attention to.  We tune them out, we push them off, in favor of things we deem more important.
As I walked the length of the Abbey church, the important things for me changed.  It wasn’t the ferns growing on the bare stone walls, nor the fading figures in the stone, nor the high vaulted ceiling.  It was the sounds, the bustle of activity, the feeling of the stones under my feet, the earnestness of life emanating from the very rocks that create the space.


We made it to London late on Thursday!

It was quite the long trip.  Here goes…

We left Meiganga on Friday, bound for N’Gaoundere, a few hours north.  Hoping to get tickets for the train to Yaounde on Sunday night, to arrive Monday morning, we went to the train station.  That train was sold out.  But there are agencies that buy up large groups of tickets – so we went to one of them.  Someone told us the owner was at prayer.  We waited.  He came back, and told us to come back the next morning (Saturday).

On Saturday we came back, but he had no tickets.  We went to another agency – they had no tickets, either, but they did have tickets for Saturday night.  We bought them, and that night took the 15 hour-ish train to Yaounde.

Staying there for three nights at the Langdji’s, the ELCA’s representatives for West and Central Africa and Madagascar, we left for the airport Wednesday morning, ready to come to Europe.  And then the day got interesting.  Arriving, we got in the ticket line, arriving at the front around 8am for our 8:45 flight.  The receptionist could not read our printed ticket, being it “too blurry”.  So she wrote us tickets while someone else took our printed pass and “checked it out”.  About ten minutes later they came back, and told us we could leave.  So we did, following the signs for “Domestic Departures”.  What we didn’t know is that there are two signs for “Domestic Departures”, pointing in opposite directions – one leading to nothing, the other to the gold we were seeking.  Naturally, we chose the former, then the latter, arriving at security around 8:30.  We proceeded through security, each having our bags gone through in front of us by one person, zipped up, then by a second person.  What did I learn from this?  Scotch tape is ok, packing tape is not.

Around 8:45 we started loading the plane, taking off about half and hour late for our half hour flight to Douala.  Landing, we got our bags, and walked out to the main part of the terminal, with no idea where to go.  A nice airport worker showed us to a small cafe in the airport, and told us he’d send someone to help us.

This person came and showed us to the check-in desk…and then hung around for the half hour it took to check in.  He was looking to earn a buck, I knew, but didn’t know how long he was going to hang around.  As we left the check-in, he took Katie’s passport so he could “make sure everything was there” or something like that.  I grabbed it back and told him off – I didn’t like the idea of someone else walking around with one of our passports.  The guy left, saying forlornly how he could tell we didn’t need his services (which, frankly, we didn’t).

We went to a second check-in desk for the airline.  Then the police clearance.  Then the passport clearance.  Then our passports were checked again about fifty feet away.  Then we were asked about how much cash we were taking out of the country – francs, dollars, euros.  Then we went through security at the gate.  Then someone went through each of our bags.  Then a second person went through each of our bags.  It was a lot of different little checkpoints!

The flight from Douala a little left late, arriving late in Addis Ababa, our connection point.  We had about five or six hours until our flight for London left, about 3am the next morning, so we settled in for a long night.

The flight was pushed to 3:30, then 4.  Around 6am we got on the plane, and were told there was a small maintenance issue they were fixing and we would soon be airborne.  At 6:40am someone got up and began yelling at the stewardess that the plane was unsafe and they couldn’t keep us on an unsafe aircraft and that the crew knew it was unsafe and were going to fly anyway and that we all wanted off the craft.  I was awoken from sleep by this, then a second person who took up the cry of the first.  And then a third.  They were afraid the plane was unsafe to fly, which I and others around us thought was ludicrous.  Why would a pilot and crew knowingly fly a plane that was unfit?

A little while later the pilot came on the intercom and said there was a software update they were doing.  The TV screens hadn’t been working, and had a screen saying “network error” on them.  It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s what was going on.

Finally around 7 we were told to disembark.  The last people off the plane?  The people who were leading the charge to leave.  These same people had been complaining about being forced to sit and not be able to walk around.  When we got off the plane, they sat down immediately and remained seated, except when they got up to spout hatred of the airline.

We boarded another plane around 8:30 or 9ish, taking off a little while later, about 6 hours after the original departure time.  The flight itself was uneventful, thankfully, and we arrived in London about 7 hours later.

We spent some time in the city on Thursday night and Friday (yesterday), including going to Evensong at Westminster Abbey.

Now we are on a bus headed for Glasgow, where we’ll catch a train, then a ferry, a bus, another ferry, and possibly another bus to arrive at the Iona Monastery on the Isle of Iona.  We’ll be there for a week – I’m super excited!!!


There Is Something in Our Ceiling

There was in Meiganga – I know it.  We’ve since left, and I can now post this because we have better internet…it’s posted as I wrote it a week ago (in the present tense).

Nearly every night, there is a scratching, clawing, running noise coming from our ceiling.  At times, even there is gentle squeaking.

Something is alive up there.

Occasionally when we hear the noises, Katie takes her “poker stick” (that is, an old curtain rod) and gently taps the wood-paneled ceiling.  It stops making noise.  There is a lot of space up there – so there’s no telling how big this creature is.

Katie thinks it’s a lizard of some sort.  I’m not totally convinced – my mind wavers from lizard (because I hope it’s nothing bigger or meaner) to something much bigger and meaner, probably with sharp teeth and a penchant for human blood.

We’ll add this creature, yet to be named, to our list of animals who have inhabited our dwellings this year.

In Durban, our home was called the same by the evil-looking but apparently harmless Tailless Whip Scorpions, the banana-loving sink-and-refrigerator-sitting Vervet Monkeys, the early wake-up call Egyptian Geese, bugs, bug-eating geckos, and four different types of ants.

In Midrand, our house was also the house for Felix, our friend Christine’s cat.  He’d come in through the open window at night, traipse from my nightstand over me to Katie, at least once stepping full on my face without waking me up.  Then there were the Grey Go-Away birds and Hadida Ibises.  They didn’t live in our house per se, but their call was so loud it sure seemed like it.  If you’re at all curious about the Go-Away birds’ name…yes, it is because they are very loud and you just want them to go away.

Here in Meiganga, it’s Ceiling-Resident-Who-Has-Yet-To-Be-Named, and crickets in the sink and shower.  The other day we found ants in the shower, too – a lot of them.  Katie thinks there are bats in the attic as well.

I’m wondering if we should make and alliance with them against scary-unknown-creature-of-untold-size-and-ferocity-who-lives-above-our-heads.