A wise priest once helped me understand what Spirit means. Spirit, he said, is all that relates beyond boundaries. Our Spirits can transcend time, place and bodily nature to relate to our God, the Great Source. Jesus said His Spirit would be with us always. At times, it seems as if the spirits of those who have died are close to us.
And, here and now, in our daily Gospel living, our Spirits can relate across the borders of culture, race, social class and place. It is the work of service, ministry, and real, messy, Gospel-living to move across borders and interact with those who are different from us.
As our Spirits relate in new environments, we learn the Truth. We gain awareness and compassion. We become more interconnected and united. We build the reign of God and become more holistically the body of Christ.
This is the continuation of the story of 11 people moving their spirits across borders and relating to difference. It’s a great adventure to live in the Spirit.
Day 3: Loving God’s Creation
We’re beginning to get sleepy from all the fun and activity and it’s a little harder to be ready on time this morning, but we still get up and enjoy another wonderful homemade breakfast served by our hosts. Afterward, we gather around our painted candles for morning prayer and reflection. We are reminded that we can rejoice, as God loves the poor:
I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.” –Psalm 69: 31, 33-34
The first place we visit is the Postville office of Northeast Iowa Helping Services. We are overwhelmed to hear how domestic violence and poverty harms people in rural areas. We learn how hard it is for victims to leave abusive situations when there are so many dual-roles in small communities. We have to think about how hard it is to run-away from violence in the country where there is no public transportation and everything is spread far apart. In the country, there may not be fears of gang-violence, but violence is still damaging lives.
The sad stories of sin sink our spirits and we struggle with learning the Truth.
After an intense start of the day, we venture out to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. We head to Effigy Mounds National Monument in the river-bluffs by the Mississippi River near Marquette, Iowa. In the woods we get to contemplate how to respond to injustice in loving ways and have fun learning about Native Americans and nature.
We enjoy a picnic and explore the museum and woods.
The views of the Mississippi River from the bluff tops are remarkable.
We still need to do something to make a difference. We go to Osborne Nature Center near Elkader. Before working we get to see some wild animals up close.
Then we help to clear an invasive species, garlic mustard, from the woods to help the natural wildlife thrive.
The next thing we do is attend Bible Study. We’re nervous and excited about joining the youth group from First Baptist Church in Elgin for their weekly meeting. After eating pizza and playing get-to-know-you games, we become comfortable with each other even though we seem different. We pray and contemplate scripture. Then we have a lot of fun playing in the dark on a trampoline with the local Iowa teens.
Back in Gunder, at evening prayer and reflection, I asked the students what the most important things were that they learned that day. One student said that he learned how important it is to stand up against violence and abuse. Another said that he learned that the woods can be a lot of fun. A third said that he learned that there are good people everywhere, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or the color of your skin.
Day 4: Broken Systems, Breaking Bread
Thursday. Our last full day in Iowa.
We’re getting weary but yet we wake up excited for another day of adventure. After breakfast, our morning reflection reminds us that it is Holy Thursday. This night, Jesus gathered with his friends and broke bread and taught about communion. We pray that we can unite through the brokenness of humanity.
Our first site today is Decorah. Decorah is interesting because it is the closest major town to Gunder. It’s 40 minutes away and where you can find the nearest McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. We are warmly welcomed to the Luther College campus with a presentation, gifts and a tour. We learn that Northeast Iowa was settled by immigrants from Norway and Germany in the 1800’s and that’s why there’s a Norwegian ELCA Lutheran college in this town.
Our excellent host at Luther, Pastor David Vasquez, has arranged for us to enjoy the college’s climbing wall and enjoy lunch in the college cafeteria.
We all feel pretty successful after the experience.
Well fed, we go to help feed the hungry. At the First Lutheran Church food pantry we help unload the truck from the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and learn how the church helps provide food and free health care to people from all over Winneshiek County.
After a break for shopping in downtown Decorah, Pastor Dave helps us reflect about everything we have experienced on our trip.
And, Pastor David grounds us in the stories of God’s people. We are reminded of Joseph in the Old Testament and how he and his brothers immigrated to Egypt. We learn about the push and pulls that have caused people to move for centuries. We hear about horrors of the Postville Immigration raid of 2008 and watch this trailer:
And, we hear how God’s law of Love tells us to work for justice:
“You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” -Exodus 23:9
The Spirit has moved people across many borders. After the presentation, we learn about the Norwegian Immigrant Experience to the United States in the 1800’s at the Vesterheim Museum.
We are learning about human struggle, but we still enjoy a break at The Whippy Dip before we go to Postville.
In Postville we hear about the horrors of the 2008 Immigration Raid right where it happened. We visit the tiny St. Bridget Catholic Church where hundreds sought refuge during the aftermath of the raid.
We see the meat-packing plant that was once called Agri-processors. In both places, Pastor Dave tells us the true stories about what his friends lived through.
Our Holy Thursday dinner happens around a giant table at the Mexican restaurant in Postville with the stories of brokenness stirring in our spirits.
Afterward, we go to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elkader for mass and hear how Jesus washed the feet of his friends, pray, break bread, sing songs and feel a little uncomfortable because we really stick out for being different.
Back in Gunder, we try to reflect on all that we learned throughout the day. One of my student says “What happened in Postville was a really big deal. Why doesn’t everyone know about it?”
We give thanks for the ways that the others in our group have blessed us throughout the week. Around a fire we are commissioned. We will return to where we came from, but we’ll keep living by the Spirit. We shall continue to relate beyond bounds.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of adventures in the Spirit.