Strangers and Angels

Ron grew up in eastern South Dakota, attending a conservative Lutheran church. He remembers in 1st grade, living with his family on the second floor of the Wisconsin Synod Church student center while his father was studying for his bachelor degree at South Dakota State.

I spent time sneaking downstairs and playing an old pump organ (the one used for church services) that was powered by a vacuum cleaner located in the basement … probably why to this day my organ playing really sucks!

When his grandparents retired from farming, they took on the job of being custodians at their church.

I fondly remember tagging along with them to “help them clean.” Grandpa mostly complained about how people messed up his church every Sunday morning!

A Bible verse he attempts to remember often is Hebrews 13: 1 -2.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

It reminds me that it is possible for good things to come from embracing people or situations that are strange or unfamiliar, and I would hope that those who find me strange or unfamiliar will eventually find something good also. Young adults give me hope. I see them being much better than my own generation at advocating for change for good and being more accepting of people that don’t fit the traditional norms.

I tend to be a skeptic about everything including religion. I didn’t enjoy the judgmental, non-accepting culture of the [conservative] church. I somehow still came away with an appreciation for Christian teachings, likely because I spent most of my time sitting in the pew silently disagreeing with much of what the pastor said!

Ron is a veterinarian, and has practiced in Buffalo since 1985, when he and his wife, Carol, were welcomed into the community by fellow veterinarians Gary (and Mary Lynn) Leff and Dave (and Sue) Wright.

The Wrights and Leffs invited Carol and me to attend Zion. Pastors Ed Blair and John Folkerds made us feel welcome and I can’t remember all the details, but somehow Carol got involved in music and we joined. A fond memory of Zion is how I didn’t feel judged when I first attended. I was also impressed by an organ that wasn’t driven by a vacuum cleaner, and the variety of great music.

Ron had always wanted to experience a different culture and Zion’s Zambia connection seemed like a great opportunity.

Our friends, the Gleasons, had gone on a past trip with Julie Swaggert, as did Dave and Sue Wright. They all came back with inspirational stories of how the Village of Hope and the School of Hope were having a positive impact on the children of the local communities. It seemed like it would be a great adventure and a possibility to learn and be of service.

It’s important for us to cultivate relationships with people and cultures that are different from our own. Living and interacting in another culture helps us to appreciate that people really have the same basic wants and needs no matter where they live and work. Specifically, I think the people of Zambia provide us with a great example of how to live faithfully and we provide them support in their faith and help fulfill their financial and educational needs.

Spending time with the children in the village was a highlight of their trip.

Each night the group from Zion would split up and go visit a house in the village. Each house had a house mom who would get a break when we arrived. There were about 10 children age 3 years to early teens in the house we visited each night. Happy, helpful, accepting, truly inspiring kids. They led us–we did not lead them–in games and song and prayer. One night when it was time for Carol and I to head back to our house, we were escorted to the gate by the kids while they sang their version of “Wishy Washy Washer Woman.” It was great. Another “favorite” about the trip was the great group of people we traveled with. Very supportive and optimistic group.

On their last trip, Ron and Carol helped facilitate a collaborative art piece for the library at the Village of Hope. They later facilitated the creation of a similar piece back a Zion.

Carol and I hope that the art piece in Trinity Hall and the one done in Zambia reflect that concept of “missions.” Each square was formed by someone that was doing something that they wanted to do, without knowing what the ultimate big art piece would be. To me this can be a symbol of our Christian faith. Take the first step, make something, do something, meet someone, or let someone meet you–let that be your square in God’s art piece.

Ron is looking forward to returning to Zambia with the next mission team in January of 2020.

Mostly I’m interested in seeing how the kids we met on the last trip are progressing. It will also be nice to go back to a familiar place and feel more confident about being more useful.

I would encourage anyone to get involved in some mission whether it is half way across the world in Zambia or right next door. All mission projects present us with the equivalent of “the stranger” in Hebrews 13 and unless we meet “the stranger” we will never meet “the angel” … the good thing that may come of it.

Ron has also served on the Call Committee for Pastor Ted, on the Personnel Committee and, as a confirmation guide for a few years. He really enjoyed a canoe trip with Roger Hessedal and some middle schoolers a few years ago. He enjoys carpentry, gardening, hiking, camping, and traveling. Carol is an early childhood teacher with Buffalo’s ECFE program. Ron and Carol have two grown children, Charlie who lives and works as a GIS specialist in Duluth, and Annie who works for Make A Wish Minnesota in St. Paul. Carol and Annie are also hoping to return to Zambia with the 2020 team.

Learn more about Mission Zambia