Saturday, August 23, 2008


Have you ever noticed how love songs on the radio could just as easily be about God as about a lover (or maybe God is your lover)? They could also just as easily be about something or some place you love, instead of someone.

There's a song out recently by Chris Daughtry called "Home." I know you've probably heard it. The chorus goes like this:

"I'm going home,
Back to the place where I belong,
And where your love has always been enough for me.
I'm not running from.
No, I think you've got me all wrong.
I don't regret this life I chose for me.
But these places and these faces are getting old,
So I'm going home."

It is difficult to adequately explain to someone who has never had the experience what it was like for me to return to the African continent this month after FIVE years away. The last time I was in Africa, I was unmarried, was living in Minnesota, and hadn't yet graduated from seminary. My grandfather was still alive, and a life in Pennsylvania with my future husband was something I hadn't yet conceived of.

The last time I was in Africa (Cameroon) was five years ago, but the last time I was in Tanzania was NINE years ago. That was the first time I was ever in Africa. That was the trip that changed everything. At that time, I was still in college. My best friend Yulia, a summer fling, and a research project I was working on were the most important things in my life at that time.

Life has changed. Nine years ago I never would have imagined that today I would be in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, married to a Cameroonian, and working for one of the largest Lutheran churches east of the Mississippi River. Like the song says, I don't regret this life I chose for me (much of the time that's true, anyways).

Yet one thing has remained constant. A little less than three weeks ago, on August 7, when those airplane doors opened and I stepped out into the cool, evening Tanzanian breeze, I knew I had come home. The smell of wood smoke and sweat and history came into my nostrils and I kissed the ground. I had come home.

I was surprised this time around by how normal it all seemed. It seems like every other time I have ever been in Africa, there has been so much wonder associated with the experience. Naturally, every time you go somewhere new, there is discovery and wonder to be had. This time, the wonder was still there, but it was more an experience of experience. I had reactions like "I've been here before," and "That doesn't surprise me." Not that I knew everything or learned nothing... I was just surprised by how un-new everything seemed to me. For example:
  1. When we arrived in Moshi, Albert, the diocese driver from my trip nine years ago, was still working at the hostel where we stayed.
  2. On our way to Lushoto our car broke down and we had to disembark in the middle of nowhere while the driver and mechanic pieced things back together.
  3. The police stopped us for vehicle inspections in hope of some extra cash.
  4. The voices of children on the side of the road singing "Wazungu" ("white people" or "foreigners") were strangely reminiscent of my time as a "Nazara" in Cameroon.
  5. Even the school where we stayed in Mlalo, the students and the teachers, reminded me in so many ways of our dear College Protestant in Ngaoundere, Cameroon.
There were many differences, too, and I would be the last person on earth to tell you that all of Africa is the same or that all Africans are the same. That is just not true! But I was amazed by how at home I felt. In many ways, it was as though I had never left. It truly was a homecoming.

This whispers to me about my future. Our future--Pierre's and mine together. Although we have returned to Lansdale, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Africa are not our past. They are not just some places we visited that we will look back at in photographs and say, "What a nice time we had," never to return again. This is not a Roman Holiday. This is our life. God is calling us onward in a direction that is ultimately pointing back across the ocean. Eventually, we hope to be home for good.

P.S. You can view photos from my trip to Tanzania by clicking here.

Friday, August 1, 2008

People Who Get It

Can I just say something?

I spent last week with an amazing bunch of young adults. Four of them were from my congregation, and six of them were from a Methodist church in Hamilton, New Jersey. We spent the week in Wyoming County, West Virginia, serving with Appalachia Service Project (ASP). We didn't all go together. Heck, we didn't even know each other before last week! But when we were placed at the same work site together, relationships were formed and magic happened.

I just want to say how easy it is sometimes to get frustrated with people who don't get it. Many Christians don't understand what it means to be Christian. They don't understand that the call to Christian life is the call to service. Day after day I constantly wonder how I am supposed to empower people to live out their Christian call to service when they think service is synonymous with "serve us."

I was really proud to be a part of our little band of four who embarked on a journey to serve in West Virginia last week. And, I was really honored to get to know the six from New Jersey. I felt like I had come home... I was really in my element, in service, hands (and just about everything else) dirty. And, I was surrounded by people who get it. Granted, we all had our moments of insanity. But I know that at the end of the day, these were ten devoted people who understand the meaning of Christian service. I needed to be reminded of what that feels like.

Thank you.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Running On...

You know, blogging can take a lot of time, which is something I haven't felt like I've had much of recently.

Part of the reason I have titled this blog "Running on..." is because sometimes I feel like that's all I do: running from here to there, working, taking care of household chores, going to the gym, keeping up with friends and family, and so on and so on. Sometimes I feel literally like I am running on "empty," but I just have to keep going because there is no other choice.

The other reason I have titled this blog "Running on..." is because it describes something I have been doing a lot more of recently; namely, running.

Let me backtrack a little bit. Last November when Trinity's pastors and I attended our annual Bishop's Convocation, we had a conversation with Tammy Devine, who (like me) is a diaconal minister, and is also a registered nurse and the ELCA Board of Pensions' Wellness Coordinator. Board of Pensions (BoP) is the church organization that provides health and pension benefits to leaders in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) like me and many other staff members at Trinity. Through that initial conversation and many after, Trinity came to be involved in BoP's new Wellspring Pilot, which is a program bringing BoP's messages of health and wholeness previously reserved only for those insured with BoP to the greater public through use in congregations, church organizations, etc.

Because of the Wellspring Pilot, Trinity's staff and congregation are becoming much more actively involved in many different areas of health and well-being. According to the Wholeness Wheel model, there are six different aspects of wholeness and wellness, all of which are integral parts of the whole person: physical well-being, emotional well-being, social and interpersonal well-being, intellectual well-being, vocational well-being, and spiritual well-being. Each of these areas of wholeness and well-being spring out of our baptism into Christ, through which we become "new creations in Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:17). Click on the Wholeness Wheel link in this paragraph to learn more information about the Wholeness Wheel and each of these areas of well-being.

Fortunately, Trinity has many very talented congregation members who are putting their heads and gifts together to help us all become more well. We are educating ourselves about being whole and well, and we are doing something about it. For example, one of our congregation members, Dr. Chris Cianci, is working with staff on a 12-week training program to help us reach our fitness and physical well-being goals, whatever they may be. Mine is to run again.

All of this is background to say that I have started running again. I ran quite a bit when I was in seminary, but then my Master's thesis hit me and I have never quite been able to pick it up again since. It is hard to remember that I ran 13 miles Easter weekend of 2004 and not want to pick up right where I left off. The truth is a no-brainer--after not running for 4 years, I can no longer run 13 miles. I was lucky when I started again if I ran one.

This is not just about physical well-being, however. It is also about all those other aspects of wholeness. My world is a busy, complicated world (much like yours is, I'm sure), where no one will take care of me if I don't do it myself. This world will abuse me as much as I let it. It is time to slow down and take back some time for myself. I need to stop running on empty, so-to-speak, and start running for myself. That includes taking time out to be physically well. That's what the running part is about. But, it also means taking care of myself in those other areas. It means saying no sometimes. It means not letting my job or my family or my chores eat away at my personal time. Sometimes it means staying home and vegging out on the couch with a bag of... potato chips? (I am more into granola these days than potato chips). Whatever. It means continuing education and personal devotional time and nurturing my relationships. It's a lot more complicated than just running. And yet, I feel like running is a good place to start. An added bonus is that I feel better physically than I have in years.

I will be running the Tex Mex 5K in North Wales on June 25th with Dr. Cianci and several other Trinity staff and congregation members. If you live in the area, come out and cheer us on! This is a great way for us to rally around people in our congregation who are living out their call to be more "wholly" stewards of themselves, and servants of God and community.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Please pray for the people of Zimbabwe as they work toward peacefully freeing themselves from a tyrannical government. I was almost a missionary there once.

And please read the post below that I just posted yesterday, if you haven't already.

Her Story: My Story


This weekend at Trinity's annual spring women's retreat our topic was Her Story: My Story. We studied biblical women and their legacy for us as 21st-century inheritors of their stories. The first night we were there we all shared about the women in our lives who have most influenced our own faith. For me, there have, of course, been many such women. My mother and grandmother are very important parts of my own faith journey. But the women I chose to talk about this weekend are Hadja, Hanizou, and Nafissatou.

These women are three very faithful Muslim women who live in central Cameroon. Nafissatou was my student when I taught English there. Her mother is Hadja, and her little sister is Hanizou. I know it may seem strange that I would name three Muslim women as important influences in my Christian faith journey, but there it is.

I have many stories that I could tell you about Nafissatou and her family. What is important to know for this story is that her mother and father took care of me, loved me, and treated me like I was their own daughter. To this day, I am Hadja's daughter, and I am sister to Nafissatou and Hanizou.

The Thanksgiving after I left Cameroon, Nafissatou's father, Sadou Daoudou (or as we called him, Baaba Sadou, or "Daddy Sadou") came in from his morning walk and fell down and died in the middle of their living room floor. He was 74 years old, and had lived a very rich and fulfilling life. He served as Minister of Defense in the Cameroonian government under President Ahmadou Ahidjo during the early years following independence. This had made him and his family very worldly people, which I think is one of the many things that so endeared us to each other.

Anyways, the summer following Baaba Sadou's death, I was back in Cameroon for a visit. Pierre and I went to visit Nafissatou and her mother and sister after church one Sunday. Hadja was still very sad over the loss of her husband. We came and sat in their living room, drinking tea and talking. When we left, Pierre forgot his small blue Gideon New Testament that he had placed on the side table. We never even remembered we had left it.

Three months later, I was standing in our kitchen in St. Paul, Minnesota, at lunch time when the phone rang. I picked up the phone and heard the familiar delay we often get on calls from Africa. "ALLO?" I heard a voice say from far away on the other end of the line. It was Nafissatou.

"Hello? Rebecca, I am calling to tell you something important," she told me.

"Is everything okay?" I was a little worried. I slumped back against the kitchen counter. It was snowing outside.

"Yes. Do you remember that Bible you and Pierre left at our house last summer when you visited us?"

I admitted to her that I did not.

"Ever since the day you left it, my mother has been reading it."

This was one of those missionary moments where your breath catches in your throat. "And?" I croaked. I wasn't quite sure I wanted to know the rest. Will these people still be the people I love if they become Christian? Part of why I love them is because of their heritage and family life that center around the practice of Islam. The selfish part of me wanted them to remain exactly the way they were.

"And, I am just calling to tell you that Muslim people love Jesus, too. We love Jesus."

I started to cry.

That is why Nafisstou and her family have had such a profound impact on my faith. I am pretty sure now that they will never become Christians, and that is OK. They don't need to. In many ways, the greatest Christian love I have ever experienced came from this close-knit family of Muslim women. Their openness to understanding my story, to having an experience with my God, and to loving me all the same has had a profound impact on how I live my life today as a Christian.

They are also a great example for me of what it truly means to be a missionary. Mission is about relationship. Hadja never would have read that Bible in the first place if we didn't have such a deep love for each other. Nafissatou never would have shared what she did with me if we hadn't already been bonded together as sisters. In so many ways, this family has ministered to me more than I could ever care for them.

Nafissatou is the reason that I have a Master's Degree in Islamic Studies. She and many of my other female students--Aissatou, Mairamou, Hadjijatou--they made me want to know more about who they are. The practices of Islam are so intimately bound up with their everyday lives that I couldn't know them without knowing about what they believe and practice. In many ways, we made an exchange... Nafissatou got that Gideon Bible, and I got a Master's thesis on Modern Women in Islam.

I wish that more Christians could show our Muslim brothers and sisters grace and godliness like Nafissatou, Hanizou, and Hadja showed (and continue to show) me. Nafissatou and her family are some of the most faithful, godly people I have ever met.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Early Easter Trivia

As we enter Holy Week, I have been thinking about how crunched this season of Lent has seemed. Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and Easter Sunday are all happening in the course of a little under 3 months! This is quite unusual. Below you will find some interesting facts about this year's early Easter. This information was researched and compiled by Eric Gombert, Trinity's Director for Music.

As you may know, Easter is always the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (which is March 20).

This dating of Easter is based on the lunar calendar that Hebrew people used to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar.

Based on the above, Easter can actually be one day earlier (March 22), but that is pretty rare. This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever see the rest of our lives! And only the most elderly of our population have ever seen it this early before (95 years old or above!). None of us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier.

Here are the facts:

The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).

The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818. So, no one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

Friday, February 29, 2008

College Culture Shock

I have thought about this for a long time, and comments I have received on my last blog, Moving On, have prompted me to write about it...

When I went away to college, I was really ready to get away. In know many young people feel this way, and others dread the day when they will finally have to make that move out of their parents' house. But I was ready. I couldn't wait.

I think the thing that surprised me so much about my Freshman year in college is how hard it was. I was ready to be away, but I had no idea exactly what that meant. I was unprepared for the culture shock of college.

I don't know what your experience during Freshman orientation was like, but at my school, we spent a lot of time talking about what was going to happen next. We talked about expectations for class. We talked about responsibility. They talked to us a lot about consequences for underage drinking, partying, sex. We saw slides of genital herpes. Honest.

We also spent a lot of time bonding, making friends, and participating in large group building activities. In all of this, however, I missed something. I didn't even know I missed it until years later when I was attending another orientation, this time as a fledgling missionary to Cameroon. What I missed at Freshman orientation, and in some way what would have been the most helpful, was a discussion about culture shock.

Cuture shock is the phenomenon that happens to you when you leave behind a place and people that you know and enter an entirely new situation that you are totally unfamiliar with. Oh, you may think you know about it... I thought I knew about Cameroon, for example. I had read about it , studied its history, been in other parts of Africa, and had even talked to other missionaries. But, I didn't know about it. How could I? I had never been there before.

That's the way it was with college. I was ready. I thought I knew about it. But I didn't because I had never been there before. I wasn't prepared for the fact that I would miss my parents (I would never tell them that!). I wasn't prepared for leaving so many of my personal belongings behind, or getting rid of them. I wasn't ready to miss my friends. Some of those friendships will never exist again; they were only for the small time and place I was in during high school. Oh, I was ready for college... except for the fact that I had no idea what that meant.

Cuture shock has some very interesting symptoms. Despite the fact that I had chosen to be there, I spent much of my first months in Cameroon mourning the world I had left behind. Much the same was true for me when I went away to college. I really wanted to be there. And yet... I was mourning my old life and busy trying to find a new one all at the same time. This led to some interesting experiences. For example...

  • What is it about Freshman year relationships? Many of the friendships I made during that time did not last beyond that year. The ones that did are the ones that I will probably always treasure the most. Those people saw me at my ugliest and still loved me. And they still love me today.
  • There must be a connection between finding yourself and throwing up after drinking WAY too much... not something I would promote, by the way.
  • Things were very strange in general. Take church, for example. I wanted to go, but not really. And, I didn't have to. My mom wasn't there to make me. She also wasn't there to make me eat well, do my laundry, or finish my homework. In fact, I could pretty much do anything I wanted, as long as it wasn't illegal or got me expelled. I did some of those things. Some I regret, and some I don't.

The reason I am sharing this is because I don't think our college students are often prepared for what it really means to go to college. Oh, most of us find our way. I turned out OK despite those things I did. And, I still remember my college years as the most fulfilling, envigorating, educational, wonderful, magical years of my life.

But I never had a name for the difficult parts of it until I went to missionary orientation. That was when someone finally told me that it was OK to be in between worlds, mourning your old one while celebrating your new one. No one had ever put a name on it before. Naming it made a huge difference in my perception of what had happened my Freshman year.

All this to say that no matter how excited we may be, going away from home isn't always easy, no matter where we go. But, that is OK. It's got a name. And, it won't last. Chances are, you are just experiencing a rough patch at the beginning of what is going to be a life-changing, incredible, memorable experience.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Moving On...

Life is full of odd little unexpected moments. In this case, it was a phone call last August from our landlord telling us that he needed to sell our condo.

Now, here we are less than two weeks from our move-out date. Packing things up after making this our home for three years. We already have a new place to live, but we will be spending a month at a way-side before finally moving into our new townhome the week after Easter. If any season of Lent has ever been a wilderness time, this one is... we are as homeless as the Israelites were while waiting for their own Promised Land.

This week as I removed books from shelves and dusted them off, I came across so much nostalgia. Old photographs of a past life, airline ticket stubs, a yellowed map, a postcard. A songbook of French hymns. A newspaper clipping I'd stuck inside a book. There are also boxes of memorabilia that came out of a closet at my parents' house: things from college, high school, middle school. My diary from seventh grade. Photographs of old boyfriends. The stub from my first paycheck EVER. A poster from a musical I was in. A handful of old coins, once a child's treasure chest. An old church bulletin from my confirmation day. A tattered Habitat for Humanity t-shirt. Why did I save all these THINGS?

I think sometimes people never move on. Almost six years later, I am still struggling with the enormity of having to move on from Africa. Something inside me tells me it may never happen. Sometimes I think God is telling me I don't have to. Maybe there are times when it is okay not to move on.

On the other hand, so many of these precious memories I have stuck in boxes and inside books are so far from where I am now. I think of one of my best friends who longs to return to our college campus, just to be there again. She and I used to walk and talk for hours in the moonlight around our small college town. She wants to walk again. But I'm not there. I haven't been there for a long time. She would be walking by herself.

When my husband moved to the United States, all of his belongings fit into two suitcases. They weren't filled with clothing, but rather books, photographs, and papers. Now as we pack our home, I am amazed at the sheer number of boxes we have to fill. How much of this stuff is really important? If we only had two suitcases to fill, what would get taken, and what would get left behind? What would we be moving on without?

Life is full of "moving on" moments. They are both scary and exciting, sad and joyful, crushing and freeing. Right now, I am in the wilderness. I don't know when that might change... a new home might do it, or it might not. I guess I'd better make sure I know what's in my suitcases....

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I haven't thought this all out yet, but if you have been paying attention at all to the primary results in New Hampshire tonight, one thing is very clear...


Candidates are targeting college campuses and 20-something voters like never before. On the democratic ticket, lines have been drawn between middle-aged women and young urban college students. The young adult vote WILL make or break the democratic nomination.

I heard an interview on "All Things Considered" on NPR yesterday that I wish I could find the transcript for. They were interviewing the people on the streets who are campaigning for these candidates. One of the Clinton campaigners was complaining that too many young adults are supporting Obama. This person said that the problem with young voters is that they vote with their hearts, and not with their heads. She said that if young adults stop to think about who will be the most experienced, long-standing, and successful candidate, then they would vote for Hillary. I got the feeling that she was basically saying that we, as young adults, don't think very much about our choices, and that our inexperience may lead to wrong decisions.

This idea that young adults are inexperienced, unmotivated, too emotional, or somehow less able to make an intelligent decision is just wrong. This election is falling on the young adult vote in many ways. Nominations will be determined because of what we think. Presidents will be elected. We are NOT the FUTURE of this country... we ARE this country. We want change, and we will follow our hearts to get it. That's not wrong! That's what great countries are made of! We wouldn't be Americans if we didn't hope for something better for ourselves and our future families. Isn't that what the American dream is all about?

My husband will be able to vote this November for the first time since becoming an American citizen. I hope that you understand what a great gift it is to be able to participate in free and fair elections, in a country where the results will be respected, and order will prevail. It is not like that in many places in the world, including the country Pierre emigrated here from.

Please, if you are not registered, GET REGISTERED. The Democrat and Republican primaries will be held in Pennsylvania on April 22. Other states are voting sooner. Find out when your state has its primary, and GO VOTE! And then go again in November to support the nominee for your party.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Summer of 1999

Or, How I Came to Africa: A Love Affair

It kind of surprised me as I looked back over almost a year of posts that I have hardly blogged at all about Africa, something which is so central to my identity and ministry. I guess as time marches on and Africa disappears farther and farther into my past, the reality of my present situation outweighs any experience I had there. Do you think the uniqueness of who I have become because of that place will eventually disappear altogether? Sometimes I ask myself that question. And, as much as sometimes I don't like being different from everyone else, I also don't want what makes me unique to disappear.

The other question I always ask myself is if I will ever make it back to Africa. I am afraid to answer that question. I am afraid the answer might be no, and I don't know if I can accept that. I don't want to always be on this side of the Atlantic looking out across it at great distance, as if it were a lover I abandoned a long, long time ago.

I was last on the African continent in July of 2003. That was a month-long visit to Cameroon, the primary purpose of which was to help my husband Pierre emigrate to the United States. Prior to that, I lived and served as a missionary in Ngaoundere, Cameroon, from August of 2000 to July of 2002.

The first time I was in Africa, though, was for a trip to Tanzania in the summer of 1999.

I would really like to be able to express to you in words how that trip changed my life; I'm just not sure if it is possible.

Have you ever had a moment in your life that was so magical and wonderful that it seemed surreal? That was the way the entire summer of 1999 was for me. The best way that I can describe that time in my life is that I fell in love; everything around me after that summer had this magical, wonderful, shimmering glow. My perspectives on the world and education and religion and what really matters all changed. Some of my problems didn't seem so important anymore. Other things seemed more important than ever.

One of my really personal memories happened after I returned from Tanzania. I was walking down Main Street in Salem, Virginia, right up the street from my college, and this girl walked by. She was talking on her cell phone. Blah, blah, blah... I don't really remember what she was talking about. What I do remember is what I thought: The whole world had been turned upside down, and it seemed like I was the only person on the planet who knew it or even gave a damn.

It seems virtually impossible for me to explain to you what it was that so shook me up, got inside me and turned me upside down and inside out. Maybe an example will suffice.

Part of what I was doing that summer at Roanoke College was writing an honors paper on the Lutheran Church in Tanzania and the process of inculturation, which is basically the phenomenon of the gospel message taking on certain attributes, symbols, and traditions of the local culture. An example of this would be illustrating Jesus as a black man in Africa or an Arab in the Middle East. Another example would be offering... in Africa, it is often less about passing the plate and more about your first fruits: grain from your harvest, a goat from your field, a live chicken. Try sitting through a worship service while two live chickens with their legs tied together flap around on top of the altar!

One of the things that I learned very quickly during my time in Tanzania (and later in Cameroon) is that a lot of the Christian theology, doctrine, and tradition that I learned in college (and later in seminary) are very entitled. What I mean is that it is very convenient to believe certain things and practice your religion in a certain way and have a sense of entitlement about it, until you go somewhere else where the same rules just don't apply. The people in my current congregation would have a cow if someone brought chickens into the sanctuary! They have enough problems if the poinsettias aren't all lined up properly or the Christ candle is in the wrong spot. They have enough problems because we have switched our communion practices to intinction. We all complain about things that don't really matter a whole lot, when you think about it (Oh, they matter to us... they just don't matter much in the grand scheme of things).

The summer of 1999 showed me that I am NOT the center of the universe.
My theology is NOT the center of the universe.
My tradition is NOT the center of the universe.
My church is NOT the center of the universe.
My GOD is the center of the universe.

God made us all so unique and beautiful. God gave us minds to think, hearts to feel, and ears to hear. God gave us a message that is so universal that it can be practiced and believed in so many different ways. The only thing that remains the same is that Jesus Christ died and rose again to save us. Whether that Jesus was black or white, whether we offer him chickens or $20 bills, whether we take communion on our knees or in passing by dipping in a cup, it doesn't really matter. The only thing that really matters is that the Christians in America and Tanzania and Cameroon and the Middle East and Costa Rica and everywhere else worship the same Jesus Christ.

What was so special about the summer of 1999? In some ways, it was realizing my own obscurity. I am so small, and the world is so big and cruel and hard. So much of what I do doesn't matter to anyone but me. It was in learning of my obscurity that I gained the greatest gift... I gained a peek into what it truly means to be a Child of God.

I am wonderfully and beautifully made.
The same God who made me also made the dusty streets of Africa.
The same God who made me also made the tall Maasai and the towering Baobab.
The same God who made me also made those chickens on that altar.
The same God who made me also made a planet where America and Tanzania can co-exist.
So different, and yet so similar. So far apart, and yet so strangely near to one another.

Our God is an awesome God.