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Building Puentes: Finding home

The following is a reflection from Kendra Hernandez, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. From last week through the end of this week, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.

If I were to ask you what an outsider is, you would probably be able to tell me. If I were to ask you who feels like an outsider within a group, you might not be able to tell me quite so easily. These feelings of not belonging arise from a variety of places, whether it be a change in physical surroundings, an emotional disconnection, or blatant language barriers. Coming into these two weeks, I knew I would be an outsider in many ways. I worried about not being from the Delaware-Maryland area [ed: Kendra is from Las Cruces, New Mexico] and not knowing anyone. I worried about not knowing Spanish as much as I wanted to and that I wouldn’t be able to communicate with the people of Puerto Rico. I worried about such minuscule things that would damper my excitement and twist my expectations before even arriving.

The first week demolished these inhibiting feelings. No one knew each other and we were a group of strangers soon to become a family. We helped each other to understand the language and the culture of Puerto Rico. In the second week, we met an entirely new group of strangers who only added to this family we were building together.

At one point or another, everyone felt like an outsider in some way, even if just from being in a new place. The people of Puerto Rico shared their many stories of hardship. Their stories of devastation. Their stories of loss. Yet they showed us love and a very warm welcome. They were excited to see us and meet us and hug us. They wanted to know our names and where we were from. Most of all, they wanted us to take their stories home with us. Stories of how some went as long as nine months without electricity, or how they would wait eight hours for only 10 gallons of gas which was their “allowance” per household. Stories of how to this day, people wait 8-10 hours to receive food from the local food pantry truck. Due to Hurricane Irma hitting shortly before Maria, some did not even know Maria was coming because the news was only spread via word-of-mouth. The people of Puerto Rico were hurt and are still hurting. The process of recovery from a storm like Maria takes about 15 years and can be pushed back if another hurricane comes along in that time. For this reason, they are ecstatic to see volunteers willing to help – and more importantly, care.

When we came as outsiders to this new place full of love and hope, we found friends. We laughed together, cried together, sang together, and danced (a lot) together. We found a family. We found a home.

Building Puentes: Our experiences

The following is a reflection from Agatha So and Dave Reid, two of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. From last week through the end of this week, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.

It’s Wednesday, and a group of new and old friends are headed to El Yunque National Forest for a little rest and relaxation. The work we have been doing has been humbling – pulling and whacking weeds, painting, shoveling, power washing, carrying logs and benches, and clearing out debris from a neighbor’s home damaged by Hurricane Maria. We’ve seen the fruits of our labor, and we’re having some fun doing it.

We (Agatha and Dave) have volunteered to write this blog and wanted to include the ideas and thoughts of our crew. The idea of inclusivity has guided our work and daily activities. Over the last few days, during lunch, while serving, and during dinner, we asked members of our crew the following question:

What word or phrase best reflects or represents your experiences and thoughts about our service so far?

Some of our crew gave us a word, some a story and some talked for 10 minutes. The following themes embody our crew’s experience in Puerto Rico.

The words of our crew are bold and italicized.

Community, Connection y La Comunidad were major themes.

The crew experienced a connection with a variety of communities: our own community of volunteers, our Puerto Rican neighbors, and our hosts at the Campamento Eduardo Roig. Our work has been about embracing each of these communities.

While a few of us knew each other before coming to Puerto Rico, the majority of us arrived on the island as strangers. Our community of volunteers came from as far as New Mexico, Wisconsin, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland – and we’ve been learning more about each other through our service, sharing meals, daily devotions, and while having fun. It’s amazing how a service trip has brought this group of strangers together as friends.

For some of our crew, this was not the first time in Puerto Rico. Pastor Mark has been coming to the same camp for nearly 20 years. Some others have long-time connections with people here. For others, this is our first trip to a very hot and tropical part of the country. And through our service this week, we have begun to make connections with the local community surrounding the camp.

I will go Lord, if you need me and send me were other major themes.

Members of our crew have based their commitment to service on a strong foundation of faith. During our daily devotions, different people lead discussions, reflections, and prayers about why we are here, what it means to serve, and how that service relates to God and our personal faith. For some of us, the motivation to serve comes from the desire to make a tangible difference.

At the end of the day, we’re all spending our days sweating. Despite the climate being wicked hot, we’ve made great progress as a team, surrounded by beautiful scenery, palm trees and the coqui (frog native to Puerto Rico). We hope our contributions will be a meaningful contribution to our neighbors in Puerto Rico. Members of our crew have described these last few days as life-changing, and say they are grateful for the opportunity to recognize the privilege we have to come and serve and then leave to our air-conditioned homes.

The crew has shared that these have been some powerful days, with so much joy in such devastation. Even in the most trying times, we’ve learned from our Puerto Rican neighbors to fire up a grill and turn on some music while waiting for hours for a much-needed emergency food distribution.

We’ll close with lyrics shared with us by one of our crew members. The song is called “Vivir Mi Vida,” by singer/performer Marc Anthony:

Para limpiar las heridas [de Maria]”

English translation: “To wash away the wounds of [Hurricane] Maria.”

Building Puentes: Repairing the breach

Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:12

A year ago, Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, leaving 70,000+ homes uninhabitable and more than 3 million people without power or water. It can only be described as a catastrophe on the level of Katrina or Sandy, with the desolation and destruction those names bring to mind in wide swaths of the US mainland. In spite of the partisan bickering about the “official” death toll, there is wide agreement that it’s bad, and that the reconstruction has been slow and inadequate to the devastation experienced throughout the Caribbean, with a special eye on our siblings in Puerto Rico.

The explanations for these inadequacies of response are just as inadequate. Distance from the mainland; language barriers that are real for some and imagined for others in positions of authority; the difficulty in conveying material aid and skilled assistance to the islands; but also the not-well-hidden disdain of some who see the Caribbean, particularly Puerto Rico, as a distant cousin of the United States.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that the death of more than 4,000 people in the Caribbean can be connected to the hurricane, including over a thousand people who died for a lack of adequate health care after the hurricane was over. If this had happened on the mainland, the howling would have been intense and the response swift; but in the case of the Caribbean, there is a cacophony of crickets, and it’s increasingly more difficult to get the attention of the press or the rank and file citizenry, let alone those in government, who are sworn to protect these vulnerable citizens of the United States.

You see, I’ve seen this reality for myself. I’ve been to Puerto Rico in recent days and will return in the next month. I’ve listened to the stories of my Pastor-colleagues and friends from the islands tell the stories of their places and people, of resiliency and despair, of destruction and hope. And now that our mission teams are on the ground, accompanying a part of the family of God in the reconstruction work that will stretch on for years, they are seeing those same realities, too.

The Building Puentes initiative in partnership with the Caribbean Synod, the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod is our commitment to “building bridges” across what seems a significant breach in our country and in the church; it isn’t a rigid prescription, but a loose road-map for us to better hear the voices of our Caribbean Synod siblings and to gather our resources to respond to voiced needs, rather than perceived needs.

And when we talk about resources, we’re certainly talking about money, but we also need to be talking about spiritual and prayer resources, the time and talent resources we have to accompany one another, and our call in Christ to bear one another’s burdens. Still, those bridges cannot be built on the exchange of checks, but on a commitment to being together on a journey of recovery that doesn’t have a finish line anywhere in sight. Thus, we’re on the ground together, working alongside one another; we’re listening to one another’s stories; we’re recognizing that Christ is standing in the chasm and the chaos, bidding us be a part of repairing the breach.

As we approach the solemn anniversary of Maria’s landfall in the islands, we do so with compassion for those who are experiencing the reminder of how much they lost and a renewed commitment to share that loss as we rebuild relationships – and physical infrastructure – together. Mayor Carmen Cruz, of San Juan, said that Hurricane Maria opened Puerto Rican eyes “to our inequity – and our inequality,” thus exposing the breach that we are called to step into as we accompany often-forgotten fellow citizens, and an often-forgotten part of our church, into the future.

Building Puentes is a part of our call and our responsibility as the body of Christ, to which I invite us all, let us attend.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. –Isaiah 58:8-12

Building Puentes: Oseh Shalom

The following is a reflection from Sani Rulis de Barr, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. From last week through the end of this week, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.What does devotion mean to me … interesting question because this mission trip is right in the middle of the Jewish High Holy days – the ten days beginning with the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and ending with the Day of Atonement ( Yom Kippur) – and I am celebrating in the form of community service on my favorite island, Puerto Rico, with an amazing group of mostly Lutherans.

But why? Why here?

My mom died on August 2, 2017 and my dad this year on February 20. My parents wishes were to donate their bodies to science, no ashes to be returned, no funeral, nada! I struggled with this wish, as traditionally we bury and have a funeral or a memorial service.

So how do I find closure? Interesting question. I have struggled with this because there were too many times I got angry at my folks for their wishes, thinking, “How selfish!” But then again, it is their choice, the living will have their memories.

A little over a week ago on the Facebook group for the Highlandtown neighborhood, Pastor Mark posted about a mission trip to Puerto Rico for the synod, help was needed help from the devastation last year by Hurricane Maria. I had just early retired (9/6/18) and this post pulled at my heart. I immediately said I wanted to help and how? I called my husband who said, “Go,” and to please come back in one piece.

After Hurricane Katrina, I went down to New Orleans and Saint Bernard Parrish to help rebuild houses, listen to people’s stories and witness the destruction.

So I end this with one of my favorite Jewish prayers, Oseh Shalom:

Oseh shalom bimromav
Hu ya’aseh shalom aleinu
V’al kol Yisrael
V’imru Amen.
(from the Hebrew liturgy)

He who makes peace in high places
He will make peace for us
And for all Israel
And let us say, Amen.

Building Puentes: Puedo ayudarte?

The following is a reflection from Patrick Youells, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over this week and the next, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.

On Wednesday morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed, in a puddle of my own sweat, because we have no air conditioning. I shuffled, still half asleep, to the morning meeting room and plopped down for breakfast. This particular morning, I had no appetite. Having forgotten that I didn’t eat much the night before, I had a light breakfast of a single bowl of cereal and some coffee. It wasn’t until an hour late when we arrived at our job site that I had realized my critical mistake. I was light-headed and generally worn down. I needed to eat something. So when the opportunity arrived to leave the job site and head to the local Wal-Mart to pick up supplies, I jumped at the opportunity to escape to some food.

We arrived in the parking lot at which point I told Pastor Mark I was going to pop into the McDonald’s to grab some food and I would meet him back inside. Finally, a chance to restart my day correctly. Unfortunately, that sense of relief didn’t last long. I had not realized this was my first venture alone in a Spanish-speaking community. A thought which I had not had until I was standing in front of the counter. As I craned my head upwards struggling to figure out what a ”hamburguesa” was I heard a quiet, “Hola.” I glanced down to see a smiling young Puerto Rican women in her McDonald’s uniform in front of me. Maybe it was the panic in my eyes or maybe it was my lobster red sunburn, but she immediately giggled and said, “Puedo ayudarte?” I glanced back up at the menu and looked for the familiar numbers next to the Spanish words I couldn’t read. I looked back down at her and began counting on my hands in front of her: “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco … mero CINCO por favor!” I smiled broadly, having mastered Spanish on the spot. “Que tamaño de bebida?” she replied. I was all out of tricks. No amount of counting on my hands would save me now. I let out an audible, “Oh crap.”

What came next was the same level of patience and love I had come hoping to give to the people with whom we came to serve. She held up her hand indicating ”one moment” and walked away. Returning with three size cups she laid them out on the counter in front of me. We walked through the rest of my order playing a game of charades. Miming and using exaggerated facial expressions to convey our words. A minute later when we finished my order we high fived and smiled at one another. It was the single best interaction with a fast food worker I have ever had. And while it was neither glamorous or exciting, it displayed part of the truth of this island.

The people are warm and welcoming even when you feel like a stranger. They make every attempt to communicate, even when language is a barrier. I see a strength in their eyes and a beautiful welcoming in their smiles. And I can already see myself returning next year to continue our work and serve beside our brothers and sisters.

The work is far from over and the need is great. The ultimate truth is that the hurricane disrupted more than just what the water damaged. It interrupts the local economy and has caused a ripple effect that puts the most economically vulnerable over the edge financially. Just because the power has been turned back on doesn’t mean everyone can afford to keep the lights on. Many have already left the island seeking new economic opportunities stateside and without the support of local charities the burden of rebuilding has falls to those that remain behind.

Building Puentes: Stepping out in faith

The following is a reflection from Jordan Rhodes, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over this week and the next, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.

I cancelled going on this trip over and over in my head. Everything from my sometimes crippling social anxiety to being away from friends and family on my birthday. My love for this island in my heart overruled the worries in my head and here I am.

My leap of faith has been rewarded.  Worried about not being able to remember names? Two members of the group have the same names as my sisters. Concerns about spending my birthday? Met a bunk mate whose birthday is the day after mine. A work email checked was followed by smiles and “God bless you”s from neighbors as we worked on a local church fence. When I think I’m the only one who needs some introverted downtime, two bunkmates walk in to share the solitude.

A combination of heat, humor, and hard work has allowed us to skip the small talk I can find rather draining. Instead I’ve had conversations about our experiences growing up Lutheran or not, dog behaviorists, the importance of accessible design services, struggles and joys at work, tragic life moments and concern for loved ones in the Carolinas. And after three days, it turns out I’m spending my birthday with familia after all.

I encourage anyone who is reading this to do one thing outside your comfort zone today and watch how God rewards your faith.

Building Puentes: Finding a family

The following is a reflection from Taylor Binnix, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over this week and the next, more than 40 volunteers will work alongside Lutheran Disaster Response as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog. You can find all of the Building Puentes posts here.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. -1 John 4:7

I came to Puerto Rico seeking community with friends and neighbors from the Baltimore area.

For the next six days, these 20+ people are my family. We will live, work, and play together. We will succeed together; we will fail together. We will laugh together; we will cry together. We will annoy each other; we will enjoy each other. It’s the end of day one, and I can already see how each of us is falling into our familial roles. We didn’t know each other until 48 hours ago, but already, I am closer to these folks than to most of the people I encounter on a regular basis. Here are some of the highlights from our travel day, and day one of living, working, and playing together, succeeding, failing, laughing, crying, annoying, and enjoying each other as family:

T is the talented brother who can identify the type of a specific screw simply based on its height and sheen. He is a strategist, a maker, and a workman. He is a loving supporter of others, and an eager doer.

K is the sweet sister who loves making other people laugh. She loves deeply, gives selflessly, and is ready for anything.

P is the silly uncle who is always cracking jokes. He likes sleeping on firm pillows at night and drinking cold mountain dew in the mornings. He is thoughtful towards others, and a strong-willed contributor.

S is the aunt who is always telling great stories. With her own life experience as the best teacher, she knows her strengths and she is able to bring out the best in others.

M is the quiet cousin. She is observant and intelligent, an endless fount of knowledge. Helpful on the job site and attentive in conversation, she is sharp, quick, and kind.

G is the cousin who is compassionate towards all and relates well to everyone she encounters. She jumps in wherever she is needed to offer strength, encouragement, and support.

R is the steadfast father. He leads by example; whether delivering countless wheelbarrow loads or drying the kitchen dishes, he doesn’t take himself too seriously, and yet, he is wise beyond his years.

D is the mother who makes sure that everyone’s needs are attended. She offers a listening ear, sage advice, and a willing ride to run errands and keep everyone safe.

1 John 4:7-21 reminds us how to emulate the love that God has for us in our love for our own families. With service as our focus, connection as our priority, and an amalgamation of skillsets, these folks have shown me how to love one another as God loved us. Even in this short time, we have loved each other and continue to love each other without fear, reprehension, or judgment for our differences, and with kindness, openness, and willing hearts to learn and grow in our similarities.

I came to Puerto Rico seeking community, and I found a family.

 

Working together

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. –Ephesians 2:19-22

Like many of my fellow citizens, I watched with a certain reverence and awe as the funeral tributes unfolded this week for the late Senator John McCain. Best known for his service in the US Senate, a former presidential candidate and distinguished military veteran, I think what I was most grateful for in Senator McCain’s long public services was that “maverick” moniker, well-earned if only for his bipartisan efforts to govern in an increasingly polarized body politic.

 

Photo by rob walsh on Unsplash

 

A person of deep faith, comingled with his Episcopal upbringing and his attendance at North Phoenix (AZ) Baptist Church, in these last years, McCain was not shy about sharing his faith – but understood that he was a person of a particular faith serving with and among people of many and diverse faiths. His writing and his speaking about his faith carried a similar theme throughout his career, and often focused on prayer and the call to serve God and neighbor: “No matter where you are, no matter how difficult things are, there’s always going to be someone of your faith and your belief and your devotion to your fellow man who will pick you up and help you out and bring you through … There were times when I didn’t pray for one more day or one more hour, but I prayed for one more minute. So I have very little doubt that it was reliance on someone stronger than me that not only got me through, but got me through honorably.” (Faith of My Fathers, 1999).

Still, while there was an overwhelming bipartisanship to the tributes this last week, there were also signs of the deep divides just underneath the surface.

While Governor Doug Ducey of Arizona reminded those clamoring for the political chum of whom McCain’s senatorial successor would be that those conversations were inappropriate to the moment and would wait until after a reasonable time of mourning and remembrance, the 24 hour news cycle speculated and suggested possible candidates with their inevitable pros and cons – even as the senator’s body was lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.

While lauding the bipartisan participation of Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Joseph Liebermann, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama in the funeral tributes, the absence of President Trump, as requested by the family, only stirred the pot and created another story of division exploited by many for political purposes.

The congregations I’ve served over the last 20 years have largely been “purple” – a rich mingling of Republicans and Democrats, a few third-party folks, and not a small number of staunch Independents. Preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ was often heard as a call to justice for some, a cry for mercy to others. In the pulpit, I was often political – but, as a rule, I sought never to be partisan (though it has been pointed out to me more than once, I failed on occasion).

Still, echoing the theme of Dr. King that “11 a.m. on Sunday is the most segregated hour in America,” Dr. Bill Leonard, professor emeritus of divinity at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, amplifies that line of thought in today’s political climate: “If Sunday morning was the most segregated morning in American life, it may also be one of the most politicized hours in American life, implicitly or explicitly.” Recent research bears this out, with many American mainline Protestants admitting that they prefer to belong to churches where the congregation shares their political views. And this brings to a head the ongoing difficulty of pastors and congregations who do not align on the political spectrum and cannot find a way forward for their ministry together, difficulties that were once hot in the 60s and have been exacerbated in recent times.

Still, if there is anything to be learned in the Church from John McCain’s distinguished service to our country, it might simply be this: we need to work together, bridge divides with understanding, pray for our own hearts to be changed, and be open to serving God and neighbor, whomever that neighbor might be. A line from the hymn, This is My Father’s World, a John McCain favorite, rings in my ears this week: “That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler, yet!” Senator McCain’s intentionality in building diverse coalitions is a lasting legacy that the church would do well to follow, by faith, not in Senators and Presidents, but in God, whose will in Christ Jesus is reconciliation and whose call is peace.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. –Ephesians 2:13-22

Back to school!

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6

The school supplies are purchased. The emergency contact forms have been filled out. New clothes and sneakers have been tracked down after relentless comparison shopping. We’re still trying to get our high school junior out of “French for Beginners,” but the school year is shaping up nicely. T-minus seven days, and who’s counting?! Me! It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Don’t think me a bad father (mediocre, perhaps, but certainly not bad), but I love my kids even more when they are in school. Summer vacations are wonderful for the first few weeks, but now as August is on the cusp of giving way to September, I cannot wait for all four of them to be back into classes, book bags, afterschool activities and routine, glorious routine! I love my children, we had loads of fun together over the summer, but it’s time for them to go back. Saliese started college classes yesterday at CCBC, but it’s September 4 for David, a junior at Merganthaler Vocational Technical High School; Andrew, a sophomore at City Neighbors High School; and Joyanne, a fourth grader at City Neighbors Charter School!

I talk big, and the truth is, I will likely shed a tear or two as they start back. I will miss them being home when I arrive home at odd hours for lunch or a nap. I might even grump and grouse about being a taxi service for them as Arwyn and I renegotiate pick-up, drop-off, play dates and afterschool activities, but still, I’m doing my September happy dance.

Structure and routine will make sure that we work and play well together, and that family time is intentional and carved out from everything else. We will fall back into patterns that help my kids succeed – getting up at the same time, meals together, homework/play/chore/bedtimes are predictable. The flurry of friends meeting up with friends will start up again. Dinnertime conversations will be richer for having been apart from one another. New knowledge and discoveries will bless and enliven our life together as we make dioramas, mobiles, tri-fold boards, book reports and research projects. Our prayer lives will deepen as we trust God to watch between us when we are apart, keep us safe at school and work, and help us to live in Christ as Christ lives in us even when we inhabit overtly secular spaces.

Martin Luther, who was passionate about the intersections of faith and learning, believed in the power of education for all children and was wont to say on occasion, “When schools flourish, all flourishes.” Some may know that I went to college with some intention of becoming a music teacher; and when I dipped my big toe into that pool, I discovered that God was calling me elsewhere. I am overwhelmingly grateful for those dedicated women and men who live into this teaching vocation, and who for 180 days a year spend 6.5 hours a day encouraging and blessing our children with knowledge and skills that will shape them for their life’s work, and countless hours outside of that day preparing, grading, following-up and sharing in the extra responsibilities of cultivating the community to which they belong. I am blessed to be a coworker with teachers, students, administrators and a host of other professionals and volunteers to create a culture of curiosity and success in our children’s schools.

And I am happy, because it’s time for school. For which I pray, ecstatically, “thanks be to God!”

My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and of people. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. –Proverbs 3:1-6

Discernment and call

My name is Adam Fairchild, and I am a sophomore at the University of Maryland, College Park. My home congregation is Grace Lutheran Church in Westminster, Maryland. During the school year, I am active in the Lutheran Campus Ministry, based at Hope Lutheran Church in College Park. In my lifetime, my faith formation has been shaped by the pastors at my home congregation, my campus pastor, and by many mentors in our synod. Over the past two summers, I have had the opportunity to spend some time interning in the Delaware-Maryland Synod office. I was asked to write this blog post as a reflection on my sense of call to pastoral ministry and how it has been influenced by the experiences I have had as an intern.

When I was in high school, I began to feel a sense of call to pastoral ministry. As a part of discerning that call, I have talked with many pastors and influential people in my life. My discernment of call has also been strengthened in multiple ways through my experiences as an intern at the synod office. As an intern, I greatly enjoyed getting to witness faithful leadership in action through Bible study, chapel, and the routine work of the synod. I learned more about the collaborative ministries that are facilitated at the synodical level and about the importance of local congregations and their ministry to the larger work of the church.

This year, I interned for Julie Stecker, Assistant to the Bishop for Communications Youth + Family Ministry. In working with Julie, I had the opportunity to witness our synod’s commitment to Youth + Family Ministry and the faith formation of our synod’s youth. I see a direct connection between our synod’s commitment and support for Youth + Family ministry and the development of my own sense of call. I also saw firsthand the commitment to clear communication and transparency in our synod. Watching Julie produce the weekly E-Letter for the synod provided an interesting view of how the ministries and projects of many congregations are highlighted on a synodical level.

My experience as an intern over the past two summers has highlighted the amazing ministries within our synod. I am grateful for the many opportunities to learn more about these ministries and witness the faithful leaders of our synod in action. As I continue the discernment process, I remain thankful for the experiences I have had within our synod to explore my sense of call.