Friday, January 18, 2013

You get to see God do stuff...

Greetings on day 7 of our Rural Immersion experience. In the morning, I woke up and turned on the TV to find the CEO of Whole Foods talking about the new book he wrote entitled, “Conscious Capitalism”. The reason I bring this up is that the idea of being conscious of who you serve and working in the spirit of mission to faithfully serve the greater good was a consistent theme through out the day.

Our endeavor began by our chauffeur Pat driving what Dennis described as the “worst roads in the state of Nebraska” on our trip from Bertrand to Lexington. Lexington is a town that has experienced a boom in immigrant communities (particularly Mexican, Guatemalan, and Somalian) on account of a plant for Tyson meats creating 2,200 jobs. This has lead Lexington to find a renewal of population (moving from a town of 5,000 to now a town of apx. 12,000) but also created problems more characteristic of an inner city community in a town that was equipped for rural services.

Our first stop in Lexington was with Anna Castaneda of The Welcome Center. The Welcome Center began as a mission outreach by two congregations (one being Grace Lutheran Church who we would visit later) to help reach the immigrant community with the good news. It has since matured into a well run social ministry that accompanies immigrants through the process of moving into the desired status. If anything was apparent during the conversation, it was that Anna has forgotten more about immigration law than I could ever hope to learn. As she spoke of the complicated process of moving from immigrant to citizen, the current delays in the process, the stories of those who have been effected by the process, the tales of immigrants being taken advantage of in the process, and her sense of mission in performing her duties of helping these marginalized communities, I became convinced that her service, and others like it, would be valued in many communities.

We moved then to Lexington High School were we saw the effects of immigration at the school setting. While being forewarned by others of a school marred with gang activity and violence, what we saw was the exact opposite. The principal, Kyle Hoehner, spent over 2 hours with us walking us to each classroom, showing us each program, answering each question we had, and, like so many during our trip, expressing a sincere concern for the community he and the schools serve. With a population that was truly diverse, where 80% of the students live below the poverty line and nearly ¼ struggle with the English language, Lexington has taken significant steps to set up academic success for students who regularly are written off in the education process. I was significantly impressed with the work of Courtney who oversees the English Learned Language program. Also impressive was hearing and seeing the successes of the Endeavor Academy, which goes above and beyond to ensure that young people like Geraldo and Jesus are valued and inspired to grow and flourish academically.
After the school, we want to Grace Lutheran Church where we were graciously welcomed by Pr. Megan Marrow, Jerry, and John. Jerry is the current mission council president and a former elementary school principle while John was a security guard at the Tyson facility. They shared about the mission of their congregation in the context of the immigrants and the resulting “white flight”. They shared how they strongly feel that the kids can help integrate immigrants through their involvement in extracurricular activities. Pastor Morrow, after expressing some of the challenges of such a drastic change in the community, said one line which I feel summarizes most of what we’ve seen and what we’ve heard during this entire trip; “You get to see God do stuff because everything is bigger than you.” As our day concluded with a tour of Lexington and a drive (again on the worst roads in the state), I reflected on that statement and appreciate how this trip has reminded me of the truth in such a comment. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Today, we heard again about the importance of community, and specifically the numerous roles that everyone plays.  And I do mean rolesssss.  The fire chief is also a correctional officer.  The sheriff is also an auctioneer.  One of our hosts is a farmer, works in insurance, and coaches girls basketball.  The lists go on and on.

Our first stop, we parked our mini-tour bus in the middle of the road.  Apparently it's the custom around here.  I like it.  The next hour and a half we heard all about the newest gadgets in farming technology from one of our many outstanding host dads- Phil.  You see, in 1997, farming adapted the use of military technology and began using satellites and on board computers in their rigs.  They use soil samples to graph the chemical make-up of the fields and plan their use of fertilizers and irrigation.  Then they plant based on yields of recent years.  This saves a lot of money, ensuring that they do not over use fertilizer, water, and seed.  As Phil said, "being good stewards of the land and using our resources efficiently has never been more important."  Nor more doable it seems.

Between 10 farmers they plant and harvest 15,000 acres in a 100 mile radius of Holdrege.  Even with this new technology, however, the numbers show, "God's a better irrigator than I am" (Phil).  To finish off our time with Phil, we drove out to see some unique storage bins on the edge of a field.  While harvesting, it is more efficient to store at the field, that way they don't have to worry about trucking it away.  So they have a machine that fills these giant bags with the harvest and seals them up to await the sale.  They feel like a really stuffed beanbag and are each worth about $100,000.  The five of us would agree that it was a very interesting and eye-opening morning.

Here we are with the giant storage bags.
Next we went to a local feedlot. This family operation run a 3000 head feedlot for Angus cows, farms about 2500 acres and rents out a few homes.  They also attend their children's activities and he is a barbershop singer.  Another multiple hat wearer.  They feed the cows twice/day a mixture of hay, silage, and distillers grains.  This last ingredient is a bi-product from the production of ethanol.  After going through this process, the corn is left as a wet clump of corn meal type stuff.  It actually smells pretty good and is ok for consumption.  I wasn't hungry at the time, however.  They run a natural beef production meaning no growth hormones or antibiotics.  And fyi, there are about 1500 Big Macs in a fattened cow ready for slaughter and there is really no difference between Angus beef and other varieties.

The distillation grains- nom nom.

The feed all mixed together.  More nommies!

The cows sure think it's nommy.  Their opinion is the one that really matters.  And that front end loader is in the midst of gathering more hay for another batch of food!

We had some delicious chinese food to fuel our afternoon and our philosophical pondering.  While most of us were disappointed by our fortunes, Dennis, one of our wonderful guides, had a great one- "A different world cannot be made by indifferent people".

Next we met the sheriff, Gerri, to tour the county jail.  They have 50 beds and can add cots.  They hold both men and women making sure that they are out of sight and sound from one another.  Gerri has a great policy, he tells the inmates that as long as they respect him, he'll respect them.  The chaplain network is very strong in Holdrege.  Gerri knows he can count on the clergy to respond quickly when called.  Next, we had a tour of a Case IH dealer.  They are currently busy with changing various oils and making sure the rigs are good to go come springtime.  This is important because in farming, time is money.  If a tractor or combine goes down, they can't afford to lose precious planting or harvesting time.  (By the way, besides being fed incredibly well, we also get swag everywhere we go.  Everyone has been so generous!)

The fire chief of the volunteer rescue unit of Bertrand met us at the fire house to give us a tour.  They have 30 volunteers and take about 100 rescue calls a year and about 20 fires and 4-5 storm watches.  While it is sometimes nice to know the people they are serving, it can also be very challenging giving care to someone you care for very dearly.  I can only imagine.

As we left, they were preparing Rocky Mountain Oysters donated from a local farmer.  We're not too sad that we had to miss out on this.  We grabbed a quick dinner and are currently sitting in the new high school gym cheering on the boy's basketball team.  The girls already won!  Go Vikings!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Oh heavens, I don't even know which day of the trip we are on, so I called it, hump day; well it's Wednesday, and we are actually over half way through our trip since we leave Nebraska on Sunday.

Tom outside one of his 3 greenhouses.

As a group, we have been amazed at the size of farms in Nebraska.  When I was growing up in Neshkoro WI, a couple hundred acre farm was sizable, and here farmers have thousands of acres.  But this morning we met Tom Schwarz and his organic farm which pales in size comparison, and he jokes at all the razzing he gets as an organic farmer.

We got to taste the various crops he grows, we learned a lot about greenhouses, and I personally am amazed at what a greenhouse can withstand in regards to wind speeds.

The Traveling Five & Bishop Maas
After visiting the farm, we visited BD, which is a manufacturing plant in Holdredge NE.  We then went to have lunch with Janice Gengenbach and Bishop Brian Maas.

We then went to visit Bertrand Nursing Home, which brought back memories to where Grandma Cele lived in Wautoma, WI.  Having visited such facilities in an urban setting while looking for a facility where dad would be safe, I do find the rural/small town facilities are really family focused.  I smiled everytime staff referred to the residents as elders, which brings to mind a Native American concept.

We then had some down time at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bertrand, and headed to visit with various staff at the community school, which is school is K-12 and has attendance of approximately 260.  Each graduating class is 15-18, which is a far cry smaller than the small town of Westfield, WI where I graduated from.  Of course, we had 4 elementary schools combined to form Westfield high school.

We are now debriefing, and will soon meet with Luther League.

The biggest thing I see, which is no different than when I lived in a small town, everyone knows everyone's business; and that can be a positive and a negative.  As a leader in a small congregation,  in a small/rural community we live in the proverbial fishbowl.  The question is, how many people will join us in the fishbowl?

On the Move and in the Community

            What full and engaging day! After another restful night’s rest and breakfast consisting largely of some wonderful leftover pie, we loaded up the van to move on to the next stop in our journey, Bertrand, Nebraska. We met at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Bertrand for text study with nine pastors and rostered leaders from the surrounding communities to discuss and reflect on the readings for next Sunday’s worship service. It was a wonderful experience to engage in conversation with people of varying perspectives about how the Word might be proclaimed in today’s context, especially in the context of a rural community. I know that I left the text study with a new appreciation for what these specific texts have to offer me on a personal level as well. It was truly a joy to have the opportunity to participate in the group.
            In the afternoon, we traveled to Spirit of Grace mission church to learn about their interesting and uplifting story of community engagement and reconciliation. After the 2009 vote on the ELCA’s Sexuality Statement in with the ELCA Churchwide Assembly voted to affirm the welcome of gay and lesbian to rostered leadership within the ELCA, Bethel Lutheran Church in Holdridge took a vote whether to stay in or leave the ELCA. After much pain and disagreement, the church voted to leave the ELCA. A number of members, however, believed that the ELCA was right in their welcome of all people into full membership of the church regardless of sexual orientation and thought that the ELCA as a whole was doing a good job. Although it was very difficult to leave the church that many of them had been members of for years or their entire lives, a group broke away from Bethel and formed a new congregation. Spirit of Grace is the result of that congregational fracturing. They now meet in an old storefront and have embraced a heart of mission in the community. They provide a “furniture pantry” in which they collect donated furniture to give away to families who are in need of furniture items including beds, dressers, and bookshelves. They also have worked ecumenically with a number of the other churches in town to strengthen their ministry and to help ensure that Sunday School is available to the children of the congregation. I was really enthralled by the stories of two women who had been members of Bethel their entire lives as they described how leaving their old church and forming Spirit of Grace had been difficult and painful but also life giving and renewing. I could go on for a while with how impressed I was by their story, but all I think I will say for now is that sometimes trying and testing times are painful but they can bring about such great blessings for both those who suffered and for those around them who are affected by their renewed outpourings of love and sense of mission and call. God is good!
            Lastly, we visited the local funeral home in which the funeral director gave us a tour of the facility including taking us to the preparation room in which he explained the process of embalming. It was really interesting to hear him talk about his job as a real form of ministry for the families of the people who are left behind after a death as well as the deceased himself or herself. I left the funeral home with a new appreciation for funeral directors and a new sense of how I, as a future pastor, might be able to relate to and work with funeral directors as co-ministers. It was a really unique and thought-provoking experience. Overall, today was a really wonderful day. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Carb Overload (aka- A Eustis Goodbye)

Today marks the fourth day of our time here in Nebraska. We have experienced such loving reception from everyone here in Nebraska and this morning was no different. We started the day earlier than usual because we were invited to spend some time at the Eustis-Farnam School where Chad Schimmels showed us around and shared with us his faith story as well as the impact of the rural area on the school system. His perspective was greatly valued as he was not only the program director of the Future Farmers of America group at the school but also as he, like many we have met are staples of the community. To lose one of these individuals is felt heavily by the whole community. After the tour we were treated to lunch at the senior center where we gathered with the elders of the community and started to fit in the final pieces to our general understanding of Eustis. After that lovely meal we were then given the opportunity to talk to Pr. Mike who is the only pastor at the Lutheran Church in neighboring Cozad. He is a first-call pastor and was able to lend a unique perspective to our experience. The village pie maker came by right after to expose us to what it looks like to have a business in a small town/rural town and happily she brought along her pies and her story! The day became quickly one where we were treated to the tastes and treasures of Eustis, NE. A tour of Lone Wolf Sausage easily explained why Eustis is known as the sausage capital of Nebraska. To finish the day we had a lovely meal with our hosts Pastor Bev and Gary, Kathy and Randy Rupe and Katherine Keller where more of that lovely pie was shared.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13 in Eustis

This is Chris Buresh, due to technical difficulties, posting on Stacy's account.

Our day began with sharing fellowship with the people of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Eustis. Though the service does not begin until 10:30 am, it was amazing to see the number of people come at 9:30 to share in the fellowship time. The service made me feel right at home immediately as the first seven pews were left empty (other than the youth in confirmation). I thought of taking a picture but it would not fully represent the congregation as a large number of people came into the back or sat in the balcony. In the service, the new church council was installed and we were blessed to be part of affirming their leadership in the congregation.

Following the service led by Pr. Bev, the congregation hosted a pot-luck that was second to none. Many conversations took place that were greatly enjoyable as we grew to know the community and see the abundance of families come and take part. During this time we were blessed by the congregation with the gift of a prayer shawl as well as a pewter plate with the inscription from the church.

The afternoon was spent following a cattle drive. The way that the community came together to fulfill the necessary roles, fulfilling the necessary roles in an assuming manner, was just as impressive as seeing the heard of over 100 head moving down the highway. Children, dogs, horses, four-wheelers, and trailers supported the adults who worked to bring the heard, who would be calving soon, closer to the farm.

Following the drive, we went to the veterinary office in Cozad where the vet tech, Mary, along with her daughter, Jessica, gave us a tour and talked about their work. The sense of pride in their work as well as the family friendly atmosphere was neat to see and exciting to witness. We then returned back to St. John’s for a quick respite before our dinner.

At Three Brothers vineyard and winery where Gary and Ricky Sue Walch gave us a verbal tour of their land and operation. Of course, we had to sample the product and were thoroughly impressed with the story behind each wine. I was excited to see a salad offering of Dorothy Lynch dressing. But nothing prepared me for the most suclent prime rib sandwich which complimented brilliantly the sample of Frotenac (2009). We find ourselves now at Nature’s Rural Retreat, tired and ready for another full day tomorrow. 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

5 Tickets

Arrival in Omaha NE on 1/11/12

Five Tickets to Paradise!
ok, so it's not 1977
Leaving on a jet plane?
OK, so a jet plane to Omaha.

While we are traveling, and some of us are leaving loved ones behind, our trip is filled with excitement and wonder; at least from this traveler!

This year, 5 LSTC juniors are haeding to Nebraska to spend time with the Nebraska Synod and be fully immersed in rural life.  We spent Wednesday and Thursday with Pr. Bob Bryan and Dennis Gengenbach to discuss our upcoming trip, spend time in discussion on the carious books we've read, and talk trhough our preconceptions and expectations of rural life.

We flew out of Midway airport on Friday morning, leaving behind a gloomy rainy Chicago and landed in a mild temperatures Omaha.  When we arrived in Omaha, we were greeted by Gretchen & Brenda who are pastors in the synod.  We ate in Omaha, taking in the downtown, noticing that redevelopment had occurred at some point.

Then started the drive to Eustis, we learned that it takes 'basically a day' to drive across the state of Nebraska, 8 hours.

Once in Eustis, we met our host families at Lucky Chuck's, had a delicious dinner, then went to visit Nancy's home, which is filled with thousands of santa clauses.

Our night was capped sitting around a table, drinking local wine and sharing stories of joy, grief and desires.

And that was the first day, and it was very good.