Zion Online
2012 Archives
February 15th     March 15th     April 15th     May 15th     June 15th    
July 15th            August 15th             September 15th
October 15th             November 15           December 15
January 15, 2012
    Greetings to my sponsoring churches! In my last letter, I told you I'd been invited to the very first ever capping ceremony at the hospital in Padhar. Well, I got there after 12 hours of a variety of travel methods. I was very honored to be the Chief Guest and speak at the ceremony. There were 40 future nurses in the class which was about the size of my graduating class from nursing school. There were six men in this class - my class had three.
In the evening I preached at the English worship service. My sermon was about Mary and other unlikely candidates chosen by God. It was a week before Christmas so there was carol singing and I learned that carols were introduced by Saint Francis Assisi. And that carols were actually banned by some of the early Protestants but rescued by King Charles II in 1660. After some consulting, networking, meetings, and Bible studies, I did the car to train  to plane thing and went home to Vellore.
    Back in Vellore I did some Christmas shopping and got ready for the Christmas service. I actually preached one of my best sermons - it was on the John 1:1-14 text. I preached on the meaning of "the Word." The Word being the creative voice of God, Jesus in the flesh, and scripture coming to us in a living manner. The same scripture can give a different message to different people and even a different message to the same person over the course of years. I said that a literal understanding - one that says there is only one interpretation - was actually arrogant. That says, "I know what this means, and I won't allow God to say it differently."
    After the service I had brunch with friends and had my favorite - ghee roast masala dosai. After an hour and a half at home, I went to have Christmas dinner with friends Joe and Denny. Denny had a wondrous meal and the company was excellent. All in all, a great day.
    The day after the day after Christmas is the feast day of St. John the Apostle which makes it my feast day too. The Sisters from the hospice decorated my door - a tradition - and I had very special treatment at breakfast. There was singing and flowers and two cakes and even a multicolored shawl. It was very nice.
    I've been recruiting people to go to Malaysia in June and do a workshop with me. It's great to be able to do Skype phone calls with them as otherwise, international phone calls can be very expensive, and also, we can see each other as long as we both have web cams.
    I was thrilled to be asked to participate in the wedding of two very special young people on December 30th. The bride is from India and the groom from Nigeria. He's a dentist and she's a psychologist and so of course I made a pitch for both of them to volunteer! I had them chose the text from three options and preached on a text I'd never used at a wedding - Colossians
3:12-17, " clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience... Above all, clothe yourselves with love..." Minu was a lovely bride and Emeka a handsome groom.
    We had a small crowd for the New Year's Eve midnight service and I was home by 12:45 a.m. which was good because I was the one who insisted that we have a New Year's Day Sunday service. On New Year's Day I roasted the raw cashews Sister Rosemund brought me from Kerala. They were so good! I had a hard time not gobbling them all up but I wanted to bring some to the office to share.
    I met with the Project-in-Charge for a school for children with cerebral palsy and arranged with her to have the Music Therapy group come. Then I went to Mother Teresa's house and got them on board too. I realized while I was there that I should schedule the music people for just a half day at Mother Teresa and give them the afternoon off. I forget the emotional/heart impact of children with such handicaps. I know that these folks have worked with mentally and physically handicapped children, but not a 100 at a time! So I'm rethinking and  re-planning. I remember how I was first affected - some of my palliative colleagues too.
    On January 10th, I left for Mizoram which is a state in north-east India. I was there to do a workshop on palliative care, a couple of Bible studies, and a talk on Stephen Ministry. That's where I am as I write this. I appreciate your prayers - they provide me with the fuel I need to travel and work here. Please keep them coming! Peace, John

February 15th
Greetings to my sponsoring churches! When I wrote to you last time, I was in Mizoram in north eastern India, and it was cold there. It was nice sleeping under three blankets, but when I wasn't under cover, my hands and feet were pretty cold. This former Minnesotan has lost his tolerance for cold weather! I did my Bible studies and workshops there and then I was given a tour of the local hospital by the doctor who runs the HIV/AIDS Hospice and De-Addiction Unit. The hospice was very nice but they have problems getting the resources they need. The De-Addiction Unit is very sad - - a lot of young men who either inject a Darvon-like drug or drink alcohol (illegal and likely homemade). I'm hoping to find people working in the substance abuse field to visit and help this program develop and branch out into the community.

     After that, I flew to Guwahati for a meeting. I hoped it would be warmer but it wasn't. My room was a little warmer, but the bath didn't have a geyser (a kind of water heater). I had to heat my bath water with a coil which is a rod you plug in and put into the water to heat it. It didn't work very well, so my bath was warmish which is better than cold. To prepare for the meeting I needed two things. A pizza and a copy shop. The pizza was good and the copying was very slow. I had my Kindle along so I could read while feeding the copier one page at a time.
     I have been working on a distance learning course based on the End of Life Nursing Education Consortium (ELNEC) classes I have mentioned in previous letters. First, for two week in Malaysia and then I hope is to begin with a year long program with that material in 2013 and then in 2014, possibly expand the curriculum to include spirituality and social work. This is still in the planning stages and I could use a few prayers to help me see where to go with this. There would be a 10-day contact session where the students would meet and then continue their work online. We'd also want to include some kind of hospice experience other than what the students might already be involved in. We'll see what happens.
     The Palliative Care Team did a retreat and I wanted to do something special so I asked each member to bring something that symbolizes their role on the team. To illustrate, I showed a picture of a bag of cement and explained that if you thought of yourself as someone who holds the team together, you could bring a bag of cement. But I discouraged bringing anything that weighed more than ten pounds. I brought a clay tea cup because I am always saying, “I hung out with the team and had a cup of tea.” One of the doctors brought the Joker from a deck of cards. Two brought water but one also had dirt and seeds. There was also a bag and a wheel. Here's something to think about – what would you bring to your congregation to symbolize your role? We also went around the circle and as each person was spotlighted, the others said what they liked and/or admired about that person. Try that sometime. It's great!  Robert Twycross, a retired British physician and writer, and his wife also joined us. He was a pioneer of the hospice movement during the 1970s. He is a very good speaker and it was great to have him there.
     I have been working on a Tumor Board for Liberia – a group of doctors and surgeons who work with cancer and who I hope will be able to help out with cancer detection and treatment in Liberia. One surgeon offered his assistance via email and Skype and was open to doing a two to three week teaching mission in Liberia. The doctors suggested that cancer treatment would be better if we could get a cobalt machine for Liberia.  One of the radiation oncologists may be willing to spend time training a doctor and help get a program started. Now we just need to find mega-bucks for a cobalt machine!
     I spent a week in Kolkata at the yearly conference of the Indian Association of Palliative Care. Robert Twycross was the keynote speaker and the highlight of the conference.  The one reason I enjoy these gatherings is that I get to meet new people in the field and see old friends.
I will be on home assignment this summer and I hope to hear from those of you who want me to visit.  Until then, please keep me in your prayers. Peace, John 
March 15th
     Greetings to my sponsoring churches! I am finally starting to be able to map out where I will be spending the rest of 2012. My Home Assignment starts in July and I hope I can visit as many of you as possible.
    A group of 13 music therapists, joygivers and a videographer called ReSounding Joy came to visit us on their first trip to India. The welcoming program was amazing, even though it didn't quite go as planned. The musicians performed first. There were four of them and they were great. Our music therapists were thrilled and full of questions. A young classical Indian dancer performed after that and she was amazing! The team was just thrilled. Her performance ended abruptly five minutes early with a power failure, but she had already danced for 30 minutes at an incredible energy level.

    The next morning was at the Lutheran School for the Deaf and Sneha Deepam Hospice. The children and the volunteers had a wonderful time and the team fell in love with the kids! They were great with them. In the afternoon, ReSounding Joy went to the Sneha Deepam School and visited as many of the 1,600 students as they could. Then the school had a program for the team including some music, dance, skits and speeches. One of the speeches was mine. Then we had dinner on the roof of Grand Krishna. The manager opened it just for us. That was very nice. It was pretty windy so we opted for the indoor portion where we could arrange tables there into one big table. I think that everyone enjoyed it.
    ReSounding Joy performed at Mother Teresa's orphanage and home for mentally ill and mentally challenged women the next day and then I took them to Curry & Hurry for lunch. Many enjoyed a burger (no beef, just chicken or vegetarian) and fries with a diet or regular soda. Americans! So maybe you can take us out of McDonald's, but you can't take the McDonald's out of us! After lunch, they got a tour of Christian Medical Center.
    The next day was busy but a very wonderful day. The children at Anbu Illam were wonderful and the team had an amazing time with them. Lots of smiles and laughs and joy among them. There is something special about children with cerebral palsy. The 12 of them worked with 60 children - 6 with two groups of 30. They told me that the Mother Theresa orphanage was a heavy experience for many of them, but this experience was energizing.
    ReSounding Joy sang at the service we had to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Palliative Care Team, and it was awesome! The music that they provided was outstanding! I don't know even how to describe it other than inspiring and invigorating. For my sermon, I used the text from Genesis 12:1-5 - thinking that I would focus on the "blessed to be a blessing." But I ended up focusing on the word "go." You don't use the word "go" in Tamil, you say "go and come." (Saying go would be a rude command). That was the first Tamil lesson I had and it was from Isaiah, my friend JP's son, almost 10 years ago. And I have remembered that. Never say "go!" he told me. But in this passage, God says, "GO!" and not "go and come." This is the call for special missions and the call at the end of life. We are called to something that takes us away from the known and leads us to the unknown with nothing but a promise - "I will bless you, that you might be a blessing, so that all the world will be blessed through you." It was a powerful message that got very good responses.
    The next day at the Sunday Service, the group sang two numbers and led the children from the school for the deaf in two numbers. My sermon was about the Transfiguration , and I said that it was an invitation to see Jesus in a different way - to see him with our hearts. I suggested that they will marvel when they see the Taj Mahal, but that what will have changed them will be the deaf children of the Lutheran School, the women at Mother Teresa's Home, and the children with cerebral palsy at Anbu Illam. Those, they saw with their heart's eye.
    As I write this, I am on the road again. I'm in Padhar and leaving soon for Kolkata. Please keep me in your prayers and I will keep you in mine. And if you haven't responded to my emails about my home assignment, please do so! Peace, John

April 15th

     Greetings to my sponsoring churches! Last month I wrote to you from Padhar, India. The reality of leaving is surely sinking in - for me and for my colleagues. It was a sad time - thinking about the change ahead, but it was
also a time of excitement mixed with some apprehension and uncertainty, thinking about the new experiences ahead.
    After Padhar, I traveled to Kolkata and one of the things I did there was to visit the Missionaries of Charity Mother House - the original house founded by Mother Teresa. I got to meet with the Mother General - Mother Prema. They were offering a blessing for two Sisters traveling to Brazil and South Africa and they said the blessing could be for me too. Mother Prema came out for that blessing and then sat with me for some time.It was very gracious. She thanked me for my work with the Sisters and asked me to pray for her. I did and then asked for her blessing. It was very special. Here's a photo of Mother Prema with the statue of Mother Teresa.

    Back in Vellore, I had a problematic tooth pulled, had my laptop reformatted, and started packing to go to Liberia. I won't be back in India until sometime in 2013, so there was a lot of sorting and giving away to be done. The Palliative Care Team gave me a going away party and that made for a very nice evening. Great fellowship, great food, and nice sentiments from various people. I was asked what I would miss most. I will miss the relationships that I have in so many communities and groups- the team, hospice staff, church folk and the kids, Suren (my driver and handyman), Basha (drugstore owner), and the Swiss folk, Fr. Xavier and breakfast in the morning, the beggar woman outside CMC who isn't looking for my money but a smile and a wave instead, the fruit vendors that I see every day, shoe repair people, news stand. Yikes - that's a lot of missing. After people, it is food, of course. That list is long too! Put ghee roast masala dosai and rasam on the top. One of the gifts I was given was a collage of photos from my history at CMC's palliative care and it was done in the shape of the College Chapel. Another was a collection of letters and notes from various people in my life and who have touched my life. That was extremely touching and made me laugh and cry when I read them.
    The journey was basically uneventful - long - about 32 hours from Chennai to Mumbai in India to Nairobi in Kenya, to Accra in Ghana, to Monrovia. The food on the flights was good - I like Kenya Airway's food - they tend towards Indian cuisine. I found myself without a place to stay - due to a misunderstanding.  I ended up in a hotel room which was a bit expense for my budget. Then with former Methodist missionaries and eventually I was able to get a much more reasonable room at the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL) guesthouse and it has A/C and 24 hour electricity, mostly. During my stay in Liberia, I will be back and forth between Monrovia, Phebe Hospital, Curran Hospital, and other places.
    While in Monrovia, I visited the school where the students are working to earn their Masters in Nursing Education. The first class will graduate in late August and I will be there for that great occasion after my home assignment when I will be visiting many of you. I am looking forward to that graduation and those visits! One of the things I am working on during my stay in Liberia is to try establish cancer treatment in Liberia. If money becomes available, we would like to have a cobalt machine for radiation treatments in Monrovia. I have some plans for training of personnel. The saying in Liberia remains the same. "It isn't easy."
    While I'm at Phebe, I have a room in my old house. No A/C there, but there is a fan for when the power is on. I had a very warm welcome when I returned to St. Luke's on Palm Sunday. My sermon was about our palms and cloaks not being enough" I talked about the necessity of laying down ourselves and thinking beyond ourselves and being servants - as Jesus was. There were service every night of Holy Week, but the best was the Maundy Thursday service when St. Luke's Pastor Moses, the Vicar, and I washed the feet of the congregation. It was a very relaxed and very satisfying experience.
    The people of Liberia need your prayers and I do too. Please remember them and remember me. Peace, John
May 15th
Greetings to my sponsoring churches! And thank you to the churches who have sent their contributions to my travel fund for my home assignment in July and August. My travel agent - that would be me - has been making the necessary reservations.  I'm looking forward to seeing many of you.

I am still in Liberia. Last month, I didn't have the space to tell you about our Easter service at St. Luke's Lutheran. The service lasted 3 1/2 hours! But that included a procession of acolytes, three choirs, three pastors, two deacons, about twelve evangelists, a powerful sermon by Pastor Moses, the baptisms of 150 children and adults, the confirmation of a large group, and Communion. And it was very hot and very humid. But it was Easter and He is risen indeed!

I have been continuing with work on the Cancer Initiative. There are a lot of components that will need to be in place before this can work, and they all take time. Before someone can be treated, they have to be diagnosed and that takes pathologists, and Liberian doctors who want to train in that specialty. During the past  month I have met with a number of pathologists and I'm convinced that we can work it out.

My friend, Dr. Sara, arrived from India for a four week stay thanks to the ELCA Global Mission and funds from Calvary Lutheran in Solana Beach CA. Sara is recently retired and the previous head of the Ida Scudder Low Cost Effective Unit at CMC. She came Liberia to help look at community health programs, our Lutheran hospitals and the Cancer Initiative. We did some touring of Monrovia and visited the medical college and several hospitals. We visited the Missionaries of Charity. The Superior is from Kerala, India, who has been in Liberia for eight years, loves Liberia, and talks like a Liberian. Outside of Liberia, people ask her, "Sister, what language are you speaking?" They have a full house and the government wants them to take on 70 more patients with TB. One of the sisters who was from Kenya was quizzing me
on Lutherans and she was amazed that our beliefs are similar to those of Catholics.

Three pathologists flew in for a visit to assess the pathology needs and see how to help with the Cancer Initiative plan. Sara and I revisited the Catholic Hospital and went to JFK Hospital, the government facility, and had a very good meeting with Liberia's Chief Medical Officer. I think she will be helpful. The pathologists will find some possible programs to train two young doctors and until they are ready to take over, they will try to recruit volunteer or paid pathologists. That is what I hope, anyway. The pathologists were pleased with their visit and so was I. We have some options.

Sara is having a good visit too. She has seen Phebe and Curran Hospitals, worked with community health folks, and we visited the maternity hospital in Gbarnga - the nearest town to Phebe. The hospital is clean and well run but they do not have the equipment or training to deal with babies born before 32 weeks. We are hoping to do something about that. She's had tours of towns met a whole lot of people. You can read about her experiences in her blog Liberian Girl.

I got a chance to greet the newly elected Bishop of Liberia, Bishop Jensen
Seyenkulo, who went to seminary at Luther in St. Paul MN with the pastor of one of my sponsoring churches - Stephen Blenkush at Zion in Milaca MN. And the same day he was elected, my boss, James Gonia, was elected Bishop of the Rocky Mountain Synod.

Remember Martha? She is the nurse who went to dental training in India so she could do simple fillings and extractions at Phebe, and now she is getting the equipment she needs to do fillings. A new community college is being built in Gbarnga. Progress is happening but, as always in Liberia, it isn't easy. Please remember me and Dr. Sara, and all the people of Liberia in your prayers. Prayer helps change people who help change things. God's work, our hands. Peace, John
June 15th
   Greetings to my sponsoring churches! I am in Malaysia as I write this and in a couple of weeks, I will be landing in Minnesota to begin my home assignment. I left Liberia at the end of May and have been spending June in Malaysia doing workshops and classes on palliative care and end of life issues for nurses, seminarians, clergy and interested parish members.
    My last week in Liberia, I spent some time in Ganta. Getting there was a challenge as the road is full of pot holes. The dental clinic there is working out very well and the dentist, from India, has proven to be very good. He has even done some rather intricate oral surgery and has assisted with C-sections. Hey, it's just another kind of extraction and dentists are good at that! We also visited Ganta Rehab which is for leprosy and TB. It is a government hospital that hasn't gotten much attention from the government. On the positive side, there is a German Catholic doctor there and there are Catholic sisters and they are doing the best they can.
    Also in my last days at Phebe, I hosted a team from Global Health Ministries who were in Liberia to work – to install equipment and do some repair work at Phebe, Curran, Ganta, ELWA and at JFK Hospital in Monrovia. They accomplished a lot and there is still so much to do.
    I was once again packing up my worldly goods to fly off to Malaysia for a month. I stopped in Nairobi, Kenya, first and spent a few days in the guest house at Nazareth Hospital which is run by sisters from the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, whose Mother House is in Pondicherry. I have stayed there before and they have adopted me into their community. And they make great Indian food! The priest is Irish, in his late 70s, arrived on the back of a motorcycle, and is very interesting to talk to. The weather in Nairobi is quite different than the weather in Liberia and I enjoyed sleeping under several blankets at night. I had some down time to catch up on emails and work on my presentations for the workshops coming up in Malaysia. The sisters cooked for me and at dinner they talked a lot about “their children,” the abandoned babies they've received over the years. These babies went to an orphanage run by other sisters.
    Then I continued on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia where I was picked up at the airport by two women from Assunta Hospital and taken to the Lutheran Bungalow where I was to stay. After a short night's sleep, it was back to the airport to pick up two colleagues from the US, who will be doing the workshops with me. Two others from India arrived on Saturday. They got a short rest and a bath before we drove to a retreat center where we could discuss and plan how we would work and teach together during the seminars. Then it was back to Kuala Lumpur and the workshops began. We had more than 80 participants including the CEO and the Chairman of the Board of Assunta Hospital. My job was giving an introduction to Palliative Nursing and also Communication. I tried to use some humor in my presentations – it helps keep peoples’ attention. It was great to work with Shakila and Annie, from “my team” at CMC and to work with Barbara and Gay, two very experienced and talented Palliative Care nurses from the US. We were a great team!
    I met the new head of Assunta's palliative care unit and spent a morning talking with her. She took me to visit the government teaching hospital's new palliative care unit. The hospital is very clean and well run. Then it was off to the airport again and a flight to Kota Kinabalu for more workshops. I'll be there for a bit over two weeks and then back to Kuala Lumpur for more workshops before I head to the US on June 30th.
    I was asked to consult on some patients and was happy to meet and make some suggestions. One woman had been through nine cycles of chemotherapy and her husband felt her health care people had abandoned her when there was no hope of a cure. I suggested that if there was nothing more to do for her cancer, maybe it was time to concentrate on what we could do for her needs as far as pain control, emotional care, and spiritual care. With another patient, I was able to give the health care givers some tools to help deal with their patients' problems.
    I am really looking forward to my time in the US and getting to meet some of my sponsors. Until I see you, please pray for me and for all who are facing the end of their earthly lives. Peace, John
 July 15th

Greetings to my sponsoring churches! When I wrote to you last month, I was in Malaysia doing end of life workshops. My time was divided between Kuala Lumpur and Kota Kinabalu. My friend and colleague, Dr. Reena George, who heads the Palliative Care Unit at Christian Medical College, arrived to participate in the spiritual care workshops. We also consulted on a few patients and we were able to help their care-givers and the patients themselves better cope with symptoms and problems. Between us, we have 45 years of experience with palliative care, so we ought to be able to help! One of the workshops was for a group of Chinese speaking seminary students, pastors and active parish members, so we needed a translator. It's difficult enough to preach a sermon which has to be translated, but an entire workshop? It was difficult. Our first translator did a good job even though she told us that her Mandarin was a little rusty and she was not familiar with theological terminology. We wore her out after the first day, so the chaplain at the seminary stepped in and he did a great job. We had four different groups requests that we come back next year.

While in Malaysia, I had to see a dermatologist about a recurring toe problem and the doctor I saw looked like an Elvis impersonator! That's Presley, not Costello. He had the hair and the sideburns and the bit of chest showing above the partly unzipped white track-type suit. He recommended two weeks of bed rest. He is very popular – maybe he recommends two weeks of bed rest for all his dermatology patients? Throw in a little sun and sand therapy and you have a very nice little vacation!

I arrived back in the US on July 1st after flying first to Singapore and then to Minneapolis where my sister Susan picked me up at the airport and drove me to my sister Jan's home. She has an apartment that's pretty small, but we managed not to step on each others toes. It took a couple of days of afternoon naps to adjust to the 12-hour time change between Malaysia and Minnesota. My sister Melinda loaned me a big white pick-up truck to drive when I'm in Minnesota, so I didn't have to rent a car. It took a little adjusting to get used to driving the truck too – it's bigger than anything I've driven before.

My first sponsoring church visit was to Calvary Lutheran in Solana Beach, California. I was sure my suitcase was missing in action when I got there, but the problem was that I had forgotten to put the distinctly colored belt around it – the way I try to make it easier to recognize one of many generic black bags! I stayed in a beautiful home with very nice people who were in India this past year with the music therapy group, Resounding Joy. (if you'd like to read more about their visit, go to the newsletter archives for March of 2011) I preached at two services and had a presentation between the services. The people of Calvary took very good care of me and I enjoyed meeting as many of them as I could. I visited their Vacation Bible School and was very impressed! 150 kids and 150 volunteers to help make VBS a fun learning experience. I visited the Resounding Joy office and had lunch with some of the folks who were in India last year. I had a lot of good food and met a lot of really nice people.

Right this minute, I am in Colorado Springs, Colorado, visiting First Lutheran. You have undoubtedly heard about the forest fires around Colorado Springs. Right now, the fire is pretty much under control, but two people have died and 350 homes have been destroyed. Four members of First lost homes.  I'll be doing a presentation between services and meeting some members at this sponsoring church. After Colorado Springs, I'll be flying back to Minnesota and driving back to Milaca. I'll be the speaker at Zion's July WELCA meeting. And I'll be seeing my dentist and getting a haircut too. My third visit will be to Salem Lutheran in Deerwood on the 22nd, and I look forward to that. I hear they have a beautiful church.

Then I'm off to Wisconsin for a missionary gathering and Chicago for meetings and a workshop before coming back to Minnesota for two more visits. Visiting the churches who sponsor me is fun because I get to meet people who have been involved in my work with donations and prayers,  It would be great to visit every sponsoring church, but that is impossible, so I will do the best I can and hope that all of you will keep me in your prayers. You are always in mine. Peace, John

August 15

Greetings to my sponsoring churches! It has been a wonderful home leave and I have a lot of people to thank for that.   My sisters have been wonderful.  Jan has offered me a home (home base) and has been a great big sister and more than gracious host.  Good company, good food and continuing to work her cyber-secretary magic.  My sister Melinda and her husband Steve loaned me a vehicle, actually a big truck, so that I didn’t have to rent a car for the four weeks that I spent in Minnesota visiting four of my sponsoring churches there.  My sister Susan and her husband Thomas provided me a place to park and rides to and from the airport when I made my trips out to California and Colorado as well as Wisconsin and Chicago.

I also want to thank the people that opened their homes to me in California and Colorado and the congregations that warmly welcomed me to their pulpits, altars, and gave me opportunity to tell a part of the story of ministry in the Global Mission of the ELCA.  It was wonderful to meet many of you and have the opportunity to share and learn.  It was great to learn about the domestic missionaries of the church.

Part of the home leave includes the Summer Missionary Conference at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  This is, for me, a wonderful reunion with colleagues that I see every two years and the opportunity to meet and interact with new mission personnel as they prepare to begin their ministries in places like Papua New Guinea, Japan, Senegal, Kenya, and Malaysia.  It is a privilege to be at the dinner that honors mission personnel who are retiring:  a teacher in Tanzania retiring after 32 years of service, a couple in pastoral ministry with 32 years in Kenya, Tanzania and Germany.   My West Africa boss was honored as he leaves to assume the office of Bishop in the Rocky Mountain Synod.

This year I also spent a week in Chicago at the ELCA Church-wide Office.  That time included some training, a meeting with the Africa Team and some conversations about my new call within Global Mission.  There is still a lot to be developed, but I’m moving to Tanzania in early 2013.  Arusha will be my base for a new venture within Global Mission.  My assignment will be to act as International Coordinator of the Lutheran Health Care Program.  (This is a working title – subject to change.)  Global Mission is looking to help health care volunteers from the ELCA find a good match with the health care programs of our global partners.  The pilot will likely start next spring or summer with opportunities in Liberia, India and Tanzania.  After the pilot, we hope to work with some of our other church partners in Africa and Asia.

Soon, I leave for some time in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey and then, on the 28th of August, I’m off to Liberia and Tanzania.  I am grateful to God for all of you – please continue to keep me in your prayers. Peace,  John

September 15th

    Greetings to my sponsoring churches! When I wrote to you last month, I was on my way to Pennsylvania and New York. In both places, I had the chance to connect with some old friends in person or by phone, and meet some people who might like to work with the new Lutheran Health Care Program. We will be looking for health care people who might be interested in volunteering!

    I preached at Holy Spirit Lutheran Church in Turbotville, PA and after the worship service, I did a presentation on my work in Liberia and India and they fed me well. From there, I took the train to New York City and stayed with the pastor/chaplain of The Wartburg and United Lutheran Church, Mt. Vernon, NY and her husband who is an ELCA pastor in Manhattan. In Mt. Vernon, I got a chance to spent time with the members of United Lutheran and did a presentation for the staff involved with palliative care at The Wartburg.
    After that, I went to New Jersey where I stayed with a good friend from seminary who has a church there. Near Princeton, NJ, I found an Indian restaurant – Saravana Bhavan – part of the same chain as one of my favorite places in Vellore - I just had to eat there. The food was excellent, but not quite as good as the one in India, and the price was about 500% more! We visited another Indian restaurant while I was there and I got heartburn! My theory is that it has something to do with the preservatives in the spices and other ingredients.
    After packing and repacking, I was ready for the next leg of my journey – Liberia. I was only there for two weeks. I got to be at the graduation ceremony for the Masters in Nursing Education program I was part of founding. There were 15 students in that program and more than 500 more from Associate and Bachelor programs in nursing. A three and a half hour program, but lots of new nurses and that is good news for the state of medicine in Liberia.
    The rest of my time in Liberia was spent having meetings with various officials, and I spent some time at both of the Lutheran hospitals – Phebe and Curran. The roads were really bad and that made the going very slow and bumpy. I found that I had really gotten used to having electricity 24/7 and missed it a lot. I did enjoy preaching at St. Luke's Lutheran – the church I attended and often preached at while I was living there. And I was able to get things in motion for a neonatologist from India to come and visit and conduct some training for staff at both hospitals in caring for premature babies and babies who contract tetanus. Both are much too common and a major cause of infant mortality.
    I went to Curran Hospital with two techs from Phebe to help get the dental equipment installed there. My regular driver was laid up with a bout of malaria, the road to Curran was not good but doable for our four-wheel drive vehicle, and the trip took three and a half hours. They weren’t able to complete the installation – which was a disappointment. I was coming down with my first cold in a year and didn’t feel well myself. All in all, a frustrating trip!
    I had a few meetings in Monrovia and then it was time to pack up again. It looked like I was traveling for a year. Oh right – I have been, I am, and I will be! I flew to Nairobi, Kenya after paying $150 in excess luggage fees, but on the plus side, I got a whole row to myself on the flight which was very nice. My luggage almost went to India – perhaps out of habit – but the error was caught in time. From Nairobi, I took a shuttle to Arusha, Tanzania which will be my new base of operations. I will be here in Arusha for about three weeks right now, meeting people and getting the lay of the land. Then I am off for preparation and rejuvenation time in Hawaii.
    As I travel and try to prepare for my new job, I especially need your prayers. And know that you are always in mine. Peace, John

October 15

    Greetings to my sponsoring churches! When I wrote last month, I was just arriving in Arusha, Tanzania, which will be my base of operations when my new job begins in 2013. Arusha is a city of about 1.3 million people and is surrounded by a lot of famous parks and landscapes like the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley, the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorogoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Meru which is closer to the city. The majority of the population of the city is African with large minorities of Arab and Indian people, so I will certainly be able to find restaurants to take care of my need for Indian food.
    Arusha has a really nice climate. It's usually in the mid 80s during the day and then cools off to the 60s during the night. There is a time of the year when the low drops into the 40s, but that doesn't last long. And there is a rainy season when it is very – well, rainy! While I was there – it was very dry and that equals dusty.
Several days I went to devotions at the Nation Church Office. The devotions were in Kiswahili – another language I don't speak – but the singing was beautiful with very nice harmonization. I met with the General Secretary of the ELCT (Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania) and he told me a little about the history and ministry of Lutherans in Tanzania. In a nutshell, there has been a Lutheran presence in Tanzania since the 1800s. In colonial days, there were seven Lutheran churches in Tanzania (then Tanganyika and Zanzibar) sent by different mission societies - from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and America. In 1938, the churches founded a federation known as the Federation on Lutheran Churches in Tanganyika. Tanzania gained independence in 1961, and in 1963, the churches merged to become the ELCT.
      I stayed in hotels most of the time I was in Arusha, but I did look around the city to see where I might like to live once I move there. I saw a couple of places that I liked a lot but doubt they will still be available when I am ready to move in. But I got an idea of the neighborhoods that would be suitable – that is to say, neighborhoods with Indian restaurants and shops.
    I spent about three weeks in Arusha, visiting Lutheran hospitals and meeting the local staff and some of the volunteer medical people who spend time in Tanzania. I visited a nice hospital in Moshi called Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center. This hospital has been around for awhile and they do a lot of interesting stuff I'm interested in learning about. While visiting there, I met with the Medical director and he saw to it that both my pairs of sandals were mended and made as good as new in their orthopedic lab where they make artificial limbs, and braces and such. I also visited the new hospital in Arusha. I met with the head of Palliative Care and there are very good things happening in that area.
    Another place I visited was Makumira which started out as a seminary and has since branched out to offer law and music and some other subjects as well. I also met half of a missionary couple who were in the orientation group with me six years ago. If any of your youth went to the Youth Gathering in New Orleans this past summer, they would have heard their daughter Megan speak. I also visited Nkoaranga Hospital near the base of Mount Meru. It's an 80 bed hospital headed by a very nice orthopedic doctor and it has a good palliative care team. Then it was back to pack up once again.
    I took a shuttle from Arusha to Nairobi. The bus was an hour late picking me up, but we got in an hour early! I went to stay in the guest house at the convent at Nazareth Hospital where I have stayed before. The sisters are from Tamil Nadu, India, and they make wonderful masala dosai. The sisters treat me like a visiting priest and that is very good treatment indeed. A very nice priest, originally from Tamil Nadu, was also staying there for a couple of days. He'd served in Arusha for ten years and was now in rural Kenya. I enjoyed talking to him and he offered some good contacts in Arusha
    I flew from Nairobi to Zurich and from there to San Francisco and then to Honolulu where I will be until the end of the year. Even though Hawaii is a beautiful place, I still need your prayers, and I will always keep you in mine. Peace, John

November 15
   Aloha, sponsoring churches! I am writing to you from beautiful Hawaii where I will be the rest of this year. I crossed 13 time zones to get here from Arusha, Tanzania. They say it takes one day per time zone to recover from jet-lag, so I was technically entitled to 13 days of lag time! I didn't get 13 days, but I did recover nonetheless.  The folks at Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church have been doing a good job of looking after me. I have a nice place to stay and have had the loan of
cars so I can get around Honolulu. From my desk I have a beautiful view of the mountains. This can be a little distracting, but it can also be an inspiration.
    When people think of Hawaii, they think vacation.  I know from experience, that some people have to work so others can vacation.  My time here is really a time to retool and prepare for my new assignment and have a bit of a change of pace for a while. Hawaii is a wonderful place for all of that. I have been giving some presentations at Calvary, offering stories in
Missionary Moments during worship, assisting in worship leadership and preaching from time to time.  I was the pinch-preacher when Pastor Tim was coughing too much to speak. I was glad to do it - you know that I do love to preach! It has been great to visit the Lutheran and UCC clergy groups and I enjoyed spending time with old friends and making new ones.  The mission's committee at Calvary has also been hosting informal dinners with different  groups within the church and from around the island - it has been fun and tasty.
    Along with working on the concept and framework for the Lutheran Health Care Program, I'm also working on a concept paper for a master's program for pastors.  The new Lutheran Bishop of Liberia wanted to explore having a program for pastors like the one we set up for nurses. It's possible to get a bachelor's degree in Liberia, but a pastor can't go any further without leaving the country and it would be great if a master's program could be set up.
    I met with the palliative care team at Kapiolani Hospital and also talked with the people at Kokua Mau which is the hospice/palliative care/end of life organization in Hawaii about my experiences in India. While the east coast of the mainland was preparing for Hurricane Sandy, we had a tsunami scare with 6 foot waves predicted. Calvary by the Sea is, in fact, by the sea and would have taken a hit had the waves been as high as predicted, but the worst wave was more like 2 1/2 feet on Maui and the Big Island.  So the church was okay and very little damage was done elsewhere. The place I am staying is above the danger zone, so I was safe, but alarms were going off and the whole island was very tense. It made for a short night!  I also learned a lot about tsunamis.  It is breathtaking and daunting.  
    On Reformation Sunday, Pastor Tim said that if Martin Luther was going to post his 95 theses today, he'd probably be doing it on his Facebook page rather than the door of the Wittenburg Church! I said, "and I guess we would have Liked Luther!" That afternoon I watched a video on Luther and learned that the pope at the time - Pope Leo X - was never ordained a priest, yet he became a cardinal by the age of 18. He had a very lavish life style and spent all the Vatican's money in his first year as Pope. That's why he was selling indulgences at a record pace which stirred up Martin Luther's
reforming ardor!
    I have especially enjoyed being able to spend time with my good friend JP, a hospital chaplain, and his wife Lissy, who is a very good cook. So, once a week or so I get a fix of great Indian food! JP and I have been friends since we met at the seminary in Bangalore 25 years ago, but we are seldom in the same country at the same time. It's very nice to have this time when we can just get together for lunch or dinner any old time.
    Just because I am here in this Hawaiian paradise does not mean I don't need your prayers. I do need them, and I promise that in return, I will pray for all of you. Peace and aloha, John
December 15
 A Blessed Christmas and a very Happy New Year to my sponsoring churches! My time in Hawaii is rapidly coming to an end and it has been a good time of rest and work, reunions with old friends and meeting new ones, and a lot of very pleasant weather! I got to preach a few Sundays and I got to talk about my work to a wide assortment of groups. I got to spend Thanksgiving with my friend JP and his wife and sons and will be spending Christmas with them as well. And JP and I got to spend some time just being friends. I have enjoyed my time in Hawaii very much, but I am ready to get going on my new job recruiting and organizing Lutheran medical people to volunteer where and when they are most needed.

Calvary by the Sea has been a wonderful host and treated me very well with a nice place to live and loaner cars for my entire stay, I have been doing “Missionary Moments” for them at a number of services. One Sunday I told them Chitirai's story. Chitirai was young man who lost both legs in a train accident that I met in one of Mother Teresa's homes. The Christian Medical College provided him with hospital care, a surgeon donated his time, rehabilitation services were donated as were artificial limbs. Chitirai went to CMC's Rehab to recover and learn to use his new legs.  When he could walk, he went to a trade school and got a job. Since then he has married, become a father and gotten a piece of land and hopes to build a house. God inspired a great many people to help this young man overcome the consequences of a terrible accident and to have a good life.

I've had so many good experiences here. One evening, I went to the Chinese Lutheran Church for a pot luck dinner and a service. There were about 100 people there and they were very receptive during the sermon. I spent a few days at my former church on the island of Kauai` and got to stay at my old parsonage – in the guest room, of course! I preached there – the title of my sermon was “Be Alert, the World Needs More Lerts” - and I visited with a lot of the older members of Koloa Union Church. Some of the members had a party for me and all the food was vegetarian! Recalling the past was a lot of fun and a lot of laughs.

One of the best experiences I had was going back to prison. Don't worry – it was just to visit. Years ago, I worked in the South Carolina prison system, establishing a hospice program for the inmates, so I am no stranger to prison. I went to the women's prison with Ted who teaches there one day a week. The inmates were very interested in my life and my work and they had some very good questions for me. Several women shared their stories and danced a hula for me. It was nice, and they ended with a prayer circle around me. The chaplain anointed me and the others laid hands on me for prayer.

I just finished doing a presentation for the Hukilau meeting. The Hukilau Conference is the Hawaiian Conference in the Pacifica Synod. Hukilau is a way of fishing invented by the ancient Hawaiians – huki means pull and lau means leaves. A group of people would cast a net out into the ocean and then pull it back. The net was lined with large leaves of ti – an ornamental plant thought to bring good luck. Sounds like a good way of “fishing for people” to me!

Part of my preparation for my new job has been researching the churches and hospitals in Tanzania and trying to understand the connections with their companion synods in the ELCA. I've also bee looking into potential hospice programs relationships. That will help me get started once I begin my new job in January.

Next time I write, I will be in India. Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare to begin my new mission. Peace, John

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