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Archive for June, 2012

It’s Not Funny But ……………………………………………

Colorado Springs Fire Evacuation

There is nothing funny about wildfires or being evacuated from your home.  I have friends and former members of my church who can see the fires from their kitchen windows.  Life is full of issues and tribulation but to have to evacuate because someone deliberately set a fire like this is truly an abomination.

Yet there is always a person or two that can bring a smile or a laugh even in the worst situations which is probably what we need at a time like that.  My brother is in Denver and sent me this picture from the evacuation of a housing division in Colorado Springs.

Remember these people in prayer.

Proverbs 14:13

King James Version (KJV)

13 Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth may be heaviness.

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Mary Okeyo Scholarship Travelers – they are back – Tianna Tosel

Tianna Tosel wrote the following about her experience.  She also sent a beautiful picture of her and some children, that I can’t get to download to my files.  I am hoping she sends another one and I will post a different picture here. Here are her thoughts –

Each day of the mercy experience in Kenya I had one common thought, “our Lord is so great”. We met wonderful people, heard children proclaim his word to beautiful music, marveled at his remarkable landscapes, witnessed individuals dedicating each minute of their work to the glory of God’s name, and learned of great partnerships that are growing between LC MS and ELCK.

Although there’re many hardships and obstacles Kenyans face each day, I was amazed at the strength they received from turning to God in every trouble and the thanks they give him in every joy.

This mercy experience caused me to reflect on my own life here at home and look at everything around me. It has forever impacted the way I live as a Christian. I kept a journal as I traveled throughout Kenya.   I wrote some of the most impacting things I learned along the way. I’d  like to share a few of them with you.

1.  The eyes of a child of the same all around the world they sparkle with the love of God. When a child believes in Jesus Christ as their dear Father they have the spirit and joy to spread to others.

2.   A home that is built with faith and trust in God as the foundation and is filled with thanks and praise to His Holy Name will never crumble nor fall. Throughout the mercy experience I learned that weather houses made of mud, Stone or wood; whether big or small, old or new, clean or dirty does not matter. None of these matter because as long as love is found it is a joyful home.

3.   Things will happen in Gods time. Take time to enjoy fellowship with your brothers and sisters in Christ. Truly ENJOY it.  Allow yourself to be interrupted to help others; the friendship you share the deserves the  time.

4.   The length time has no significance. Changing a life can be as quick as a smile.

5.   Words cannot express the beauty of God’s creation. I cannot begin to grasp the love He has showered on his people all around the world; here in America, in the country of Kenya,  and everywhere in between. God blesses everyone in many different ways.

As I write this reflection on my experience I realize how I could write an endless entry. The people I have met and the memories made will be forever stitched on my heart. It is wonderful to know that all around the world people have faith in the One True God. I pray that this wonderful project and the relationship between churches will remain strong and continue to provide individuals with remarkable mercy experiences. I am forever thankful to have had the opportunity to travel to Kenya. Thank you to all who made our experience possible!

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Mary Okeyo Scholarship Travelers – they are back.

Myrna Baneck handing out school supplies

I’m not sure how many school supplies were handed out on this trip – ingatherings were held at Candices’ school, at Martin Luther School, at Elbow Lake Minnesota and at other places.  Also the gift from the Concordia Gospel outreach, so what ever it was, it was a lot.  Thanks everyone.

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The Partnership with Concordia Gospel Ministry and Mary Okeyo Travelers.

They packed it around the world.  I don’t know how manyy pounds but it was a lot – I brought stuff back from an ingathering in Minnesota at Elbow Lake and Cheryl Peterson had some as well.  Candace had a bunch from her church and school.  We divvied it up among the travelers and sent some books from Concordia Gospel Ministries as well.  They were by all accounts well received.

President Baneck handing out books from Concordia Gospel Ministries – also pictured Dean Lipinski and Mike Henke –

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They are Back – the Mary Okeyo Scholarship fund travelers – Rev. Geddings

Pastor Geddings serves at Cross-Pointe Lutheran in Fargo.  I took this from his blogspot –  you can rad more there.  The picture is from Candice Bicondoa of a home visit.

One of the highlights of the trip and again something I hope I never forget throughout my pastoral career. We met some deaconesses that serve various parishes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya in order to accompany them on home visits.  In Kenya, deaconesses go through two years of training (for which they pay) and then often serve without any compensation. These are truly remarkable women who love the Lord and love the people around them with much mercy and compassion and sacrifice. They make home visits; care for orphans, widows, the sick, and the poor; they teach Sunday School; they set up the altar area for Sunday morning worship; and they probably do countless other tasks that further the work of God through the ministry of His church. On Tuesday, we made three home visits that were each extremely special and simultaneously heart-breaking and up-lifting. We walked between each home as the three were all within what we would consider a couple blocks, but there were no sidewalks or manicured yards or curbs so we had to wind our way through muddy paths, puddles, and plots of corn.
At the first house we met Pemina. She was laying on a bed in the back of the house unable to get up. her eyes were glazed over and she could only speak in whispers and yet she expended great energy to get up on an elbow and greet each of us Americans. We were struck by the amount of flies buzzing around the room and pestering Pemina who didn’t have the strength to wave them off. The deaconesses spoke with her for a while in Swahili so I don’t know the specific words they used to comfort her. I had envisioned that as a guest on the visit I would stand in the corner well out of the way in order to watch and observe the deaconesses so I was surprised when I was asked to pray for Pemina. It was truly a humbling moment to hold her frail hand and pray that God would give her strength of body and faith and to express a trust in Him that spans cultures and remains even in times of hardship.  At each of the three visits I would have the opportunity to pray for each home and family as my words were translated.


At a Home Visit

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Mary Okeyo Scholarship Travelers – they are back – Mike Henke

Where can you even start with such an amazing experience? The Kenya Mercy experience was a wonderful trip to say it shortly. As a group I know that we took away so many lessons and experiences from this opportunity. But as an individual I can say that I am still thinking over all of the things that happened while in Kenya and I am still learning from the experiences and the people even though we are no longer with the Kenyans. I am still very amazed at how great all of the people treated us while we were on our trip. They were always happy to do whatever they could for us to make us feel at home. And somehow they did manage to make us feel right at home even though we came from completely opposite sides of the world, from very different cultural backgrounds and we all stuck out like crazy. It was very moving to see how great of lengths they would go to provide us comfort and food when often times they may not have even had enough food to satisfy their own families. They were truly examples of how we should all put others before ourselves. I am also very glad that we had some time to visit the rescue centers, specifically the ones that were up and running with children. The children alone made me want to stay even longer. At one rescue center a little girl (maybe 3-4 years of age) was peeking through the door at me, and after a couple rounds of peek-a-boo and some smiles she came in and sat on my lap. She didn’t even think twice about it, and throughout the rest of our stay she was close to my side and holding my hand along the way. I don’t know how it happened but somehow this child crawled into my heart and showed me a wonderful picture of how we should love. I really did have a hard time leaving her behind because of how attached I felt to her even only after a couple short hours with her. I pray that she will be safe and stay close to her faith. A picture of this little girl should be included in this entry. Through this small child as well as the other children at the rescue centers I could now see what it meant to have faith and love like a child. These children often times had no parents, and basically only had what was provided at the rescue center, but we could still see such thankfulness and joy that would come from theirs hearts and smiles. They were a huge inspiration to me to be thankful in all situations. After seeing the running rescue centers it gets me very excited for the rescue centers that are to come in the future. We also had some time to visit with some of the Deaconesses and follow them around for some house visits. I know this was also a huge experience for many of us because we really got to see into the lives of some of these people. One lady we visited lived alone in a two room mud hut that seemed like it was only a 10ft X 10ft building. This poor woman who was well over 70 years of age had only a blanket to sleep on even though she could hardly get up off the ground by herself. She also mentioned to us that she had not eaten the day before because she had no food, so I was very glad that we brought her some. This lady (as well as many of the other Kenyans) was one of the strongest people in faith I have ever seen. In the eyes of the world she may have had nothing, but I am very convinced that in the eyes of God she had everything. I was blown away as to how she was living and how she reacted when we gave her the food we brought. She was very happy and glad for everything we brought, and she praised and thanked God for these blessings that have been laid upon her. She did not even directly thank us for the gifts at first, she went directly to thanking God for bringing us to her and for using us to help her. Listening to her say these things was something that really made me think, and also showed me more about how important it is to love and to give our lives for the glory of God. I will say that before the trip started I was very curious as to how the group would get along and how our personalities would flow, but I am very glad to say that I feel like I am very good friends with them all and I will be glad to keep in contact with them all in the future. This was an extremely shortened version of all my thoughts and experiences in Kenya, and many things are missing, but this is a little more convenient than a 3 night trilogy of stories and pictures like I had to do for my family in order to tell them about everything. In the end I think it is very safe to say that even though Project 24 and these trips are designed to help our friends in Kenya, the Kenyans have helped me and the travelers in so many more ways then what we have done for them. The things that we have seen from them and learned from them are of a value far above any material thing. I am very glad for the LCMS and ELCK partnership and continue to pray that God will continue to change our hearts and lives through our experiences with the Kenyan people. Even now I am left with many questions running through my mind such as: Why aren’t we always praising and thankful for the small things like they are? and Am I really living my life totally for God, or am I just lukewarm? Sometimes I think that in America we can get caught up in being able to provide for ourselves and take pride in what we can do for ourselves to live our American dream. Blessed are the people of Kenya who do not have the distractions of things and worldly dreams and are able to totally rely on God for all of their blessings in life. Thank you Kenya, and Thank you Yesu (God) for teaching me so many things on this trip.

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They are Back – the Mary Okeyo Scholarship fund travelers – Candice

Candice and Students




It has been less than a week since our group has returned from Kenya. In that short time, I have recounted to family and friends all that I could about my incredible experience with the people of Kenya. I’ve been asked countless times, “How was your trip?” It seems like a simple question that should have a simple answer.  I’ve found the opposite to be true. How do you describe a trip that has completely changed your perspective and outlook on life? How do you capture the emotions you felt and continue to feel?  Do the words incredible, amazing, awesome, etc… even do justice in describing the trip?

As I look through the pictures that I took in Kenya with family and friends it becomes easier to answer. As they hear the stories through the pictures it becomes clear to them why I’ve had such a hard time giving a short answer to “How was your trip?”

Before leaving for Kenya I had memorized a short verse from God’s Word to help guide me in a particular situation. Psalm 37:5 reads, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.” (NLT)  God continued to use this verse in my life as I traveled in Kenya. Our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world are living out this verse. The faith and trust they displayed was overwhelming to me at times.

We were very blessed to have Rev. David Chuchu guide us along our journey in Kenya. David is a man who commits everything he does to the Lord. He has a passion for many ministry areas in Kenya and he puts his trust in the Lord that His will would be done. It was an honor to walk alongside David and many other leaders in Kenya during our 10 day journey.

During the ten day trip our group traveled to numerous rescue centers, schools, and made home visits as well. As a Lutheran school teacher in America I found the visits to schools to be especially impactful. One day we visited a government run school which was being sponsored by the ELCK. At Chepareria Primary School they have 950+ students.  The particular day we visited the students were taking exams but the teachers assured us it was no problem to visit classrooms. For close to an hour we were able to enter classrooms and interact with the students. I visited two class 5 rooms as well as a class 6. The first thing I noticed was the number of students in each room. Both class 5 rooms had close to 80 students. I found myself thinking back to America and the small class sizes we pride ourselves on having.

In a class 6 room I was able to stop and talk with three young boys for quite a while. They were so eager to learn about America and were quick to answer my questions about their life as well. One boy wanted to know how we get milk in America. Another boy couldn’t believe the students don’t go home for lunch but rather stay at school. I asked all of them how far they travel to get to school. Most of them lived 2-3 kilometers away. When talking to the head teacher of the school she mentioned to me that some come as far as 5-6 kilometers. To put that into perspective there are about 6 miles to every 10 kilometers. Some children who live too far away to go home for lunch just stay at school during the hour the others go home. For many kids in this situation they do not get a meal until they return home much later that day.

Early in the trip we were able to go on home visits near the Othoro Rescue Center.  Our group of ten split up so that we could accompany the deaconesses to more homes. My group visited two homes that day and both were equally impactful. The first home we visited belonged to an elderly woman who needed help inside her home when we arrived.  It was a joy to be able to present to her food that would help sustain her in the coming days. As we were visiting she mentioned how thankful she was for our gifts because she had to go without food the day before.  I remember feeling complete sorrow for this woman as she told us this. Unfortunately, I’m sure this wasn’t the first time she has gone without food. All I could think of though is “How can I make that be the last day she ever goes without food?”

We also were able to see where she sleeps. She sleeps on the dirt floor with one blanket.  The woman reminded me of my own grandmother in the last days of her life. She was just as frail as the lady and had difficulty getting around. I couldn’t imagine my grandmother sleeping curled up on the dirt floor as her body ached. We asked the evangelist how much a mattress cost. He said most start at 2500 shillings. That’s about $30.We spoke with David about this need and she will be getting a mattress very soon.

I could continue with stories of people and places that have truly touched my heart. One thing that I continue to think of is the joy the people of Kenya display. Everywhere we went there were beautiful smiles. They have thankful hearts that pour out love and compassion. They do not fret or worry, but rather they call upon their Lord. I felt God’s presence everywhere we went and as I looked upon the faces of my brothers and sisters, I saw Christ’s light pouring out.

Thank you my dear brothers and sisters in Christ for capturing my heart. I look forward to the day when we will meet again.  Until then, I will continue to spread the message of God’s work in Kenya.  It is truly amazing the work the LCMS and ELCK continue to do in unity to edify God’s Church.



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Their Back – the Mary Okeyo Travelers – Here is Dean.


Dean Lipinski

The Mary Okeyo Scholarship fund Travelers returned last week.  This week the LWML of Minnesota North and North Dakota meet in convention.  I hope they support this program.

Dean writes –

Kenya is a beautiful country.  There are no other words to describe it.  Whether you are talking about the mountainous, hilly, green highlands, or the majestic beauty of the terrain and animals in the Maasai Mara, there is a sort of unmistakable feeling that takes your breath away.

But the beauty of Kenya wasn’t just skin-deep.  I was taken to a Kenyan Catholic hospital with diarrhea and vomiting, and even though the hospital wasn’t modern and maybe not the as clean as an American hospital, it had a sort of tone to it that shone past the thin layer of grime.  We visited a couple of newly opened rescue centers, and while the bunks and bedrooms that would fit four orphans were smaller than a normal college dorm that would fit two, there was a certain presence that was felt while walking the halls of the dormitories.  We also visited homes with deaconesses and even though I was too sick to attend, I was told that those mud huts had a special feeling to them that distinguished them from a home in America.

That special feeling is God.  No matter where I went in Kenya, I always felt like God was with me.  I know He was there in my hospital room.   He was there with the kids at the rescue center as we presented them with soccer balls and volleyballs (Roger, they absolutely loved the balls!). He definitely was there with the sick and elderly while my friends visited and gave first aid and food, and prayed with them.

You don’t always feel the same way in America.  Why is this?  What is different in our culture? I have been to a hospital or clinic multiple times in America and not felt the same, or visited elderly in a nursing home and not felt the same, and visited many homes and not felt the same.  Now I’m not trying to say that I never see this, because sometimes I do, but the Kenyans put so much faith into their God and we need to learn from them in those ways.  If there is anything that I will learn from this trip, I will always remember these people and their devout, unending faith to our God.   No matter if they were on their deathbed, or they were playing soccer at a Rescue Center, all thanks and praise went to God and Jesus Christ in Heaven.

As I come back from this journey, I know my country and family are blessed with so many gifts, but I now realize how much we take for granted.  The Kenyans place so much importance on faith and family.  They truly care about each other.  They may not have lots of material things, but in matters of the heart, they are truly blessed.  I went on the mission trip hoping to give of myself, but I now see that it is the lessons that I have taken away that will live with me and make me a better person.  I hope that the partnership that we have can continue, so both countries can continue to learn and benefit from each other.

Soccer Ball at Othoro

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Duluth – When Seals are on the Highway it can’t be good.


I was minding my business and listening to the radio when everyone on the station started talking about Duluth and the flooding.  It rained so hard that the seals escaped from the Zoo and were out in the streets.  That can’t be good.  I heard from friends that there were roads washed out and houses flooded and sink holes all over.  I can’t imagine what the downtown would be like with all that water coming down that hill.  The mayor declared a state of emergency.  10% of the city streets are destroyed or damaged.

Any way we have sister churches and brothers in sisters in Christ there that are probably having problems so remember them in prayer.  The ones that I am aware of are Mount Olive, Lutheran Church of Christ the King, Redeemer, and Peace in Christ in Hermantown.  If I am missing anyone let me know.

Target Store in Duluth

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Thank You

 I was intrigued by this picture of the building across from the Foshay Tower in downtown Minneapolis.  It reminded me of the famous words of St. Paul – “know we see as in a glass, darkly”.   The other translations cannot quite do it for me like the old King James.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12.  Paul of course is talking about not being able to see clearly all the stuff that happens and how God is using it to bring us an “eternal weight of glory”.  I like to think we see the body of Christ like that too.  It is as if in a mirror dimly, darkly and sometimes nastily.  I have a vision of what the body of Christ is and should be because Christ is it’s head.  Then I hear about how the body of Christ sometimes behaves when it gathers together, like at a convention and it is dark and deformed.  Some of the things that I have been told have been said at the microphones would make a pagan blush, and then we turn around and talk about “doing the Lord’s work”.  Anyway the mirror was cleaned at least for me and I caught a glimpse of what the body of Christ can be and should be this last week.

Every funeral is unique and every grieving family special in their own way. But because of the connections that Mark Kreklau had  with various boards and ministry entities in Synod and the District, and because of Kaye’s unique connection with Lutheran Women’s Missionary League  this funeral offered opportunities to see the effects of the partnerships that exist within the body of Christ. Those connections and partnerships are the reason we started this blog in the first place. It is not my responsibility to thank anyone for the family. So I  want to offer up the following thanks on my own behalf.

To Rev. Matthew Harrison the president of the LCMS for his kindness and concern up to and after Mark’s funeral. Rev. Harrison once again exhibited his pastoral heart and understanding of what the average parish pastor goes through whenever one of his parishioners passes away. His note to Kaye and the family was very comforting and timely and read by our district president Baneck. Pastor Baneck contacted me from a long trip from Nairobi while he was in London and said that he planned on attending the funeral in Grand Forks. With little sleep and a long journey ahead of him he took the time to bring greetings from the district and once again to support me in a unique pastoral situation.

Pastor Fenske at Immanuel in Grand Forks has always been a tremendous help and marvelous colleague in the ministry. I appreciate his pastoral care and willingness to help out in any and all situations. His time with the family when I could not be there was not only appreciated by the family but personally comforting to me. The associate pastor at Emmanuel Rev. Jonathan Buesher was also very helpful in preparation for the funeral, during the service itself and afterwords.

The president of the Minnesota North District Rev. Don Fondow was extremely helpful in his words of support and his understanding of the unique importance of an auxiliary like the LWML in the life of our church. Pastor Fondow’s views, advice and experience are invaluable and I urge all the pastors of the Minnesota North District to take advantage of those attributes as often as you can.

The congregations of Immanuel and Trinity in Drayton were wonderful.  Trinity hosted a fellowship lunch after the prayer service and both churches worked together on the dinner at Immanuel.  Later after the internment in Alsen, Zion in Munich also served a lunch and it was greatly appreciated.

All of the Pastors that attended were supportive and kind.  Sheila Weinlaeder was the pianist and organist and she played a lot over the two days of a celebration of a life, and I thank her too.

The mirror was cleaned for a while.  I am sure someone will fog it up with their bad breath, or try to obscure the image soon, but for now I am enjoying the view of what the body of Christ can be when we all focus on the head.


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