Thursday, October 23, 2008

A glimpse of what we've been enjoying here...

We're Back!

We finished our trip about 2 weeks ago but we hit the ground running. We moved into the house of the Metro director here in Minneapolis. He and his wife are in Arizona for some medical treatments and Christin and I are house/dog sitting!! The dog (Molly) had a rough transition that first week we got back but is doing fine now.

A brief overview of our trip:

Sept 22-24 Lansing, IA for the Upper Midwest regional Collegiate staff meetings

Sept 24-27 Lansing, MI seeing friends and attending a counseling seminar

Sept 27-30 Ann Arbor/Detroit

Sept 3-Oct 2 Mackinac Island, MI

Oct 3-6 Chicago Oct 10-12 Lansing, IA Upper Midwest Regional Collegiate Fall

Conference It was a great trip but obviously, we can't capture everything on the blog. If you'd like to hear more details about something, please let us know. Thank you for your prayers and for continuing to invest in the ministry here.

Travel Changes Everything

I recently read this on the cover of a travel magazine and it seemed to sum up our trip perfectly. It reminded me of a Mark Twain quote, "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness." Sometimes we have prejudices or stereotypes that we don't even realize until they are proven wrong. This is how we felt about several aspects of our trip, but especially Detroit. We just read an article in the newspaper called, "A Wish for Detroit." The first sentence of the article said, "Detroit has been called the most miserable city in the country, we beg to differ." I had a preconceived notion of Detroit that included words like dangerous, ghetto, concrete block, and basically the last place I'd ever want to live. After our visit, my list of adjectives are drastically different.

We arrived in Ann Arbor, MI on Sept 27, just in time to catch the last quarter of the Michigan-Wisconsin football game! This adorable little college town was a flurry of blue and gold, despite the fact that Michigan was woefully behind. Our friends and hosts for the weekend, Bob and Ronda Adgate, were able to wrangle one ticket for the game and Bob convinced the ticket master to let us catch the final 10 minutes or so of the game. We had just walked through the gate when an interception turned the game around resulting in the greatest comeback Michigan has ever had at "The Big House." This exciting game kicked off our weekend and earned us the label of "football angels."

After the exhilarating game, the Adgates gave us a tour of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan campus. The Adgates proved to be some of the most fun and gracious hosts we have ever been around. We instantly formed deep friendships with them that we know will continue for years to come.

Our time in Ann Arbor included lots of food, laughter, touring, late night talks and even a little tailgating after the Michigan game (we even met a Canadian man who insisted we come to all the Michigan games, eh!) From rooftop Italian dining to a feast of Middle Eastern food, the Adgates thoroughly spoiled us.

The next evening, we headed into Detroit for our first exposure to the inner-city. We went to a Middle Eastern neighborhood and I was surprised to learn that Detroit has over 300,000 inhabitants from the Middle East. All the restaurants and signs were in Arabic. We were there during Ramadan and once the sun went down, the town was a flurry of activity. The Adgates took us to a wonderful bakery where we had fresh baklava. I didn't even know there were that many different varieties!

As we drove farther into the heart of the city, I was shocked at how much the atmosphere changed. The Middle Eastern community was full of life and activity, but there was little life to be seen elsewhere. We drove about four blocks before I saw anyone on the sidewalk. The restaurants we drove by had a small handful of people in them. I felt like I had culture shock every time we went into or left Detroit.

Bob told us at one point Detroit had a population of over 2 million and today it's around 900,000. Political and economical challenges have driven people out of the city and into the suburbs and poor education systems and high property taxes in Detroit keep them there. When the middle and upper classes left the city, so did the banks, grocery stores and the majority of churches.

My list of adjectives for Detroit now included hopeless, lifeless, devastated and destitute.

Pioneering a Presence

Is there hope for Detroit? When we got home that night, Christin was praying for Detroit and the Lord took her to Isaiah 32:14-20.

14 The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks,
15 till the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest.
16 Justice will dwell in the desert and righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.

19 Though hail flattens the forest and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be, sowing your seed by every stream, and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

(Will you join us in praying this passage for Detroit?) The exciting news is that there are people who are sowing their seed in Detroit. Bob calls it "pioneering a presence."

We had the chance to spend the afternoon with a guy we met at the b2g conference in Seattle, Nate, who has chosen to move into inner-city Detroit. He lives with a young couple and another girl who is working in the education system. Their home is literally a light in the darkness. They are surrounded by abandoned, burned homes.

Nate is involved in many things where he is meeting and forming friendships with people. Because there are no grocery stores in the city, most people have to do their grocery shopping at convienence stores. This obviously is unhealthy and expensive. Community gardens have sprung up all over the city to provide a place where people can come be a part of something as well as reap the benefits of their time. Nate is involved with a garden that also has a beehive. I asked Nate how you would go about buying or leasing the land for the garden. He said you just go plant a garden on a vacant lot! Nate also told us that other countries have done case studies on Detroit because it is in such bad shape. Other countries, unbelievable...

Nate took us to a part of Detroit called the Heidelberg Projects. In the mid 80s, a man named Tyree Guyton began cleaning up vacant lots throughout the city and used the refuse they collected to begin public art projects. From the website: "Guyton not only transformed vacant houses and lots, he integrated the street, sidewalks, and trees into his mammoth installation and called his work, "The Heidelberg Project", after it's location on Heidelberg Street. Despite numerous awards, the city demolished parts of the Heidelberg Project installation in 1991 and again in 1999. Still, the Heidelberg Project continues to exist, evolve, and grow - providing hope and inspiration to the local community and the community of the world." (

As a result of budget cuts, all art programs were removed from the public school systems. Guyton's projects provide a place where community members of all ages can come and express themselves through art.

Later that night, we met more people who are living in the city as nurses, tutors, students, etc. We spent the evening hearing them share about their communities and their heart and passion. I was so struck by one of the guys' prayers, "Lord, everyone has given up on Detroit, but we will NOT." How exciting! Detroit has a long way to go before it becomes a fertile field again but the Lord is working there.

A Day Off!

After our time in Detroit, we drove to northern Michigan. The drive was incredible. Fall was full-fledged and indescribable for words. We stayed a night on Lake Huron in Mackinaw City and that evening drove across to the Upper Peninsula and then decided to go on to Canada! We didn't have our passports but Canada enthusiastically welcomed us! I was a little nervous about the US letting us back in but after several minutes of questions, they let us re-enter. This was Christin's first trip to Canada and we went to Sault Ste Marie. I think we were more excited about being in this city because it is a destination on our favorite game, Ticket To Ride, than being in Canada! After driving the wrong way on several one-ways and eating dinner at a sketcy pizza joint, I insisted we come back to America.

The next morning, we took the ferry over to Mackinac Island. No cars are allowed on the island and it proved to be the perfect, yet freezing, place for a day off. We stayed at a bed and breakfast (my first time) that night and ate lots of fudge! The next day, we took a carriage ride around the island and then took the ferry back. We stayed the next night with some staff friends of Bob's who live on a lake outside of Traverse City.

The next day, we drove down to Grand Rapids and spent a couple hours with a friend of mine. It was so great to see her! From Grand Rapids, we headed to Chicago...

The Windy City

We're in Chicago!
By the way, I just have to make one side note. On both our drives to and from Michigan, we saw these McDonald's called "skyways or expressways." So crazy. The McDonald's is literally in the middle of the interstate. My mom said it gives a whole new meaning to the word drive-thru.

Ok, moving on...

Chicago! Paul and Kristie Monteiro welcomed us warmly and invited us to join a "family dinner." They have a community of about 15 of their friends ranging from all ages and stages of life. Most of them live in the same neighborhood, intentionally. The group of friends shared a meal together and then shared their hearts and updates from their lives. At one time, Paul and Kristie had hosted weekly dinners but the group decided that if they wanted to focus more on outward community, they needed to meet less frequently.

We were so amazed by how quickly the group, not only welcomed us, but also reconnected with their friends after not meeting together for several months. Kristie told us that from the beginning, the group made a choice to always be real and communicate honestly with each other. The discussion we shared in that night revealed the fruit of that decision.

Another aspect of the group that amazed us was how closely knit it was when everyone was at different stages of life. There were a few young couples with kids, single young adults, young couples with no kids, and even nursing students.

We stayed with two girls we had met in Seattle, Joyce and Jen. They have a great apartment near the Monteiros, with a spare room they keep open just for guests. They obviously love to serve and host and share their city with new friends.

After a breakfast of homemade crepes and an assortment of jams, they took us on a neighborhood tour. We didn't realize that Chicago is was a neighborhood city. The girls have become involved in helping Burmese refugees. They showed us where the majority of refugees work and live. It's obvious talking to the girls how much they love the refugees and how God is blessing that. Jen got a call at her job asking if her company could help this group of refugees and she said well our company can't but my roommate and I might be able to! This decision has entranced them into the lives of these refugees. They recently received a multi-thousand dollar grant to publish materials that will be helpful for refugees coming to the city. They explained that the government has given permission for a certain number of refugees to be received in US cities. The capacity to receive the refugees is not always sufficient. The girls are also personally engaged with many refugees through tutoring and mentoring. A major part of their ministry is just befriending, loving and helping with their day-to-day needs, big and seemingly small. Joyce has connections with Loyola University and Jen is part of a non-profit tutoring program to inner-city kids. The girls’ hearts overflowed with love for their newfound friends.

That afternoon, they dropped us off downtown and of course, we hit the tourist attractions. We started with Chicago style pizza and then headed to the top of the Hancock building for a breathtaking view of the skyline and the lake. Next, we walked down Michigan Ave to Millennium Park. Our big city adventure concluded with a ride on the “L” back to the girls’ house. Christin had dinner with Eric and Jessie, two Auburn grads! They live and are a part of the community with the Monteiros. They talked about challenges and joys of their recent life after college transition.

Sunday morning, we went to church with Kristie (Paul stayed home with sick kids). The church service was focused on Jesus’ life and ministry and how we fit into that. Three individuals shared their own expression of this and what it looks like in their lives. It seemed to fit in with the continued theme of the weekend in regards to outreach and community.

We had lunch with Kristie and heard more of her background with the Navigators, her heart for 20-somethings and current involvement with b2g. The day wrapped up with extended time with Joyce and Jen in a fun, jazzy, local Chicago restaurant.

Monday morning, we toured Breaking Ground, a Nav ministry to the urban poor. Jeff Daniels took the time to share his heart and passionate for working with the poor. Breaking Ground focuses on job training and placement of inner-city youth and 20-somethings. They have found this to be the key to discipleship of this demographic of people. Breaking Ground holds classes to train people in life skills. We had the privilege of meeting Connie, whose story is unbelievable and inspiring. His life has been completely transformed through his experience and time with Breaking Ground. Because of his background, the connection, inspiration and power of the Gospel, he ministers to countless people who come through the program. Jeff’s vision and passion for Breaking Ground is a concrete expression of the Navigator calling.

Our time in Chicago reminded us of the church described in Acts 2:42-47.
After our tour of Breaking Ground, we headed back to Minneapolis, stopping in Wheaton for a quick lunch. We arrived back in Minneapolis late Monday night. The rest of that week was spent doing laundry, moving into Bruce's house and preparing for the fall conference.

From Lansing to Lansing

Well, we started our trip in Lansing, IA and it seemed like a good idea to finish it there! The Upper Midwest regional collegiate conference was held Oct 10-12 in Lansing, IA at Village Creek Bible Camp. The camp is tucked away in the trees and was the perfect place for a retreat. The region is outgrowing the facilities so they had volunteers sleep in tents and old yachts! We chose to stay with some friends an hour away. This is the group who came from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The theme of the conference (called the Weekender) was “The Word is Life.” Norm and Katie Hubbard who are serving with Navigators in Illinois, were the speaker. They were staff at Auburn when Christin was a student so it was fun for her to get to see them again!

Christin and I, along with a recent graduate, Anne, from the University of Minnesota, led a transition on preparing for the work world. There were about 40 students who attended, ranging from recent grads to juniors and seniors. We each shared our experiences during that transition period along with two staff men who shared their testimonies. We also discussed topics such as biblical view of work, calling and identity, and practical tips such as credit and budgeting. Through the use of case studies, we discussed realities that will take a different shape after college, ie community, evangelism and relationships. We gave the students a packet of resources that ranged from Bible study materials to even advice from former grads. Our hope is that these resources will be a source of help and encouragement for them when they graduate.
There were about 400 students at the conference who came from four different states, North and South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is exciting to how how the region is growing every year!

Christin and I were even judges of the “Amazing Race,” between campuses. Some of the activities included bobbing for apples, reciting Bible verses, eating sardines, wheelbarrow races and canoeing across a lake with no paddles.

Even though we were tired, it was great to reconnect with students and staff we had met at the beginning of our trip. It seemed our trip came full circle! We are excited about what God is doing in the lives of students and staff in the upper Midwest! And of course, ours as well!

Another Collegiate Experience

While we were in Lansing, MI, Bob connected us with a young couple in E. Lansing who are helping with the Navigator ministry at Michigan State University. The full-time staff has had to step away because of a serious family medical situation. This left no staff at the campus. Three young couples stepped up to keep the ministry alive. We had the wonderful opportunity to spend the evening with Nick and Emma, one of these couples. Nick works as an engineer and Emma is a grad student at MSU. They met through and were involved in the Navigators at MSU as undergrads. They moved back to E. Lansing for Emma to go to grad school and to help with the ministry. We happened to be in town on the night of their first Nav Nite. They invited us to have Middle Eastern food with them before the meeting. It was so enjoyable to talk with them and hear their passion and heart for the ministry. They are excited and encouraged about the students they have involved. When we got to Nav Nite, we understood why. The students were so great! They instantly welcomed us and asked us tons of questions and seemed genuinely excited about having us there. We spent some time getting to know them and then Nick shared from the Word. We broke up into small groups to talk about what he had shared. After this, a couple guys led some worship songs and we spent some time in prayer. We were both amazed at Nick and Emma’s vision, heart and ability to lead this ministry in the midst of being full-time workers and students. It was evident that the Lord is rising up a fruitful ministry through the work of these faithful laborers at MSU.