Category Archives: Stories

May the worst of times bring out our best

by Dietrich Gruen

Bridges out, roads blocked, businesses closed, basements flooded. One death.  Many water rescues by boat, helicopter, and human chains.  Untold storage items, basement appliances and family treasures soaked and lost.  Lakeside decks and docks float away.  Lakes appearing suddenly where there were none the day before.  Hundreds of flooded cars ditched in either underground parking or clogging above-ground streets.

You get the picture.  And I hope you get going and give help, as able and as need be.

No need to travel as far as New Orleans, as I and 15 “Disaster Response Teams” (DiRT) once did over 15 months in 2006-07.  To engage in flood recovery efforts today, look no further than Madison’s far west side where I live.  Also needing flood relief are Middleton, Cross Plains, Black Earth, and Mazomanie—towns just west of us.  Now the low-lying Isthmus.  Next week, the neighborhoods bordering the Baraboo and other rivers and drainage systems of south-central Wisconsin.

As your Housing Advocate and Benevolent Fund Coordinator the last five years, we are meeting the current flood-related needs.  Our DiRT Coordinator, Bill Taylor, is a modern-day Paul Revere sounding the alarm and rounding up troops of well-armed volunteers.  Volunteers show up armed with strong backs, wheelbarrows, pick-up trucks, squeegees, bags and buckets.

Survivor stories and heroic clean-up efforts multiply.  Good news travels fast. Good deeds beget more good needs. Families who “lost everything” are grateful for the collaborative efforts of church volunteers, the National Guard and civic-minded citizens to muck out, to save what’s left, or to sandbag ahead of the next rising tide.  On 24 hours’ notice, 14 people strong from the David/Rhonda Thompson small group muck out a grateful Harald Myers’ home, soon after eight feet of standing water recedes.

Annette Konicek and her husband battle water for 11+ hours unassisted; surrounded by water, they look to God to make it through; their faith grows as waters recede.  She reflects on her flood story: “I find throughout my life that the attitude you deal with things is so much more important than the actual things you go through!  Everyone goes through difficult things. If you can find a good attitude, the journey is so much easier.”

With ear to the ground and fingers online, and an office open on Mondays at High Point, I hear many such woeful tales of loss but am encouraged by just as stories of help and hope.  “It’s just stuff,” they say.  I listen and pray, as I help them with funds to recover.

The worst of times brings out the best in people.  Ancient Israel’s King David affirms as much: “God sits enthroned over the flood.  The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses people with peace” (Psalm 29:10).

Good news of help and hope is spreading among clients served through HPC—also online groups and through Barbara McKinney and Paul Skidmore, two Madison alderpersons I am networking with. Hence, a rising tide and run on the “Benevolence Bank” of those in a position to help.  For now, HPC has enough funds in our bank, under budget for the year, saving up a “rainy day” fund as it were, for such a time as this.

It’s not just about benevolent funds or bucket brigades.  Some policies and hearts may have to change, as well, in response to the flood of 2018.  Let us consider how to become better at crisis-funding, as well as long-term mentoring of people caught up in one crisis du jour after another.  When people come to church to learn a different, more excellent way forward out of their miry pit, will we steward our resources for them?  We will continue to round up helpers and stir up hope?

May this worst of floods bring out our best, now and always.

2018 Dominican Republic Team Updates

We have a team in the Dominican Republic this year painting buildings, praying for families, teaching Vacation Bible School, and leading students in small group ministries. They do all this while, most importantly, sharing the Good News of the gospel of Jesus. Pray for them, and check below throughout their trip for updates as the team invests in the Dominican Republic! Continue reading 2018 Dominican Republic Team Updates

What are moms good for?

by Dietrich Gruen

This Mother’s Day I invite you to reflect on whatever legacy your mom has passed along to you, while I do the same.  The vignettes I share will spark similar thoughts of your own mom, I hope.

Mary Gruen first celebrated Mothers’ Day as a new mom in 1950, the year she gave birth to me. That, of course, was her first legacy to me—life, but she also passed along the legacy of faith.  I came to faith in college February 27, 1971, when I experienced a “second birth” at the height of the Jesus Movement, amidst the Vietnam War protest era.  When calling home to say, “I found Christ,” my mom had a testimony of her own to share with me, then added, “I have been praying for you, for this God-moment, six years now.”  So it is my mom who preceded me and interceded for me in matters of faith.

How about you, were you raised by a mom who prayed for you every day, or are you praying that way now?

Mary Gruen also gifted me and led me into a life of serving others, sharing the love of God.  She was a throwback to that era of stay-at-home moms who were fulltime volunteers—in the school (president of the PTA), in scouts (den mother), in her church (treasurer, newsletter editor, quilter), in the neighborhood (community organizer), and in retirement (hospice volunteer). I got to see love-in-action, and grew up secure in that love and learned to find and give love to others in this world.

We all grow up learning what our parent models for us. How about you, what did you learn from the way your mom lived?  And if you are a mom, what are your kids learning from who you are?

The mothers we learn from need not be our own.  When asked, “What makes you keep on going and giving as much as you do?” Mom would always harken back to a life-changing meeting with Mother Teresa in Calcutta.  Mother Teresa, upon greeting her guests, took Mary’s hand in both of hers, saying, “I don’t want your money.  When you return home, I want you to look about you.  When you look, I want you to see.  And what you see, I want you to do something about.”

Mary Gruen did just that, adopting the poor as her life’s calling, serving in places and doing ministry eerily similar to me…. With the Lower Cape Cod Outreach—a nonprofit much like Middleton Outreach Ministry, where I served as its Executive Director (1997-2008)….  In a walk-in medical clinic and drove the elderly on appointments—much like I am doing now as a medical driver with Richwood Transport!  Mom was also a hospice volunteer, holding the hand of 25 residents as they died.  I would do the same, beginning with holding her hand at her death; six years later I entered hospice ministry myself, as a chaplain with Generations Home Care & Hospice.

Moms do not create either monsters or angels, but provide the conditions—the physical and spiritual and emotional DNA—for what God will do.  Moms of all types—midwives and grandmothers, career and stay-at-home moms, praying moms and task-master moms, nannies and nurses, school moms and den mothers—all those women God will use to shape us.  Those who bring us into the world, those who raise us in the home, in the faith, in school, on the athletic fields, who work us and pray for us—God gave us the moms (and dads!) we needed to shape us into the person we’ll become.

And we are still becoming.  God is not finished with any of us.

2016 Dominican Republic Team Updates!

We have two teams going to our partner community, El Amirante, in the Dominican Republic this summer – an adult team and a student team. Here’s what the adult team has been up to! Check back here for updates throughout the week.

Day 1 Blog about our arrival in Santo Domingo, June 25, 2016

Day 2 Blog about worship and community reception, June 26, 2016

Day 3 Blog about foot-washing, Physical Therapy, laying the proper foundation, June 27, 2016

Day 4 Blog about home visits, VBS, construction progress, concert June 28, 2016

Day 5, Blog about construction, home visits, VBS, Teen BS, June 29, 2016

Day 6 Blog about marriage proposal, baseball, library and more