“Fleece” Navidad – Mexican Christmas in Minnesota :)

Last Christmas, my favorite photo was a selfie with a 5th grader (and her class) because I was so envious of her sweater!

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Frankly, only North Americans get this shirt ūüôā ¬†Latinos don’t really wear fleece. ¬†And we often pronounce “feliz” wrong. ¬†(last week, a kindergartener wished me ‘fleas llama-bod’)

This year, I got to celebrate a multi-cultural Christmas tradition in Minneapolis, MN.

My new friends, Pastors Luisa and Patrick, lead a bi-lingual and bi-cultural church there. ¬†12 years ago, the stately St. Paul’s Swedish Lutheran Church was bankrupt and about to close their doors, mainly because the Scandinavian-American immigrants had moved out of the neighborhood.

IMG_20161217_121026.jpgBut then, the new pastors shared a new vision:  a congregation that was welcoming to the most recent immigrants in the neighborhood:  Latinos.
The Parish Hall now has bilingual art – and the congregation is bilingual as well.

La Natividad

In partnership with a local mask & puppet theatre, the church presents an interactive Posada/ Nativity play.  The participants, who purchase tickets, walk to 5 different locations to experience the Christmas journey as explained in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.  The entire event personalizes the ancient story, making it real and present.

1. Angel & Mary

First, we went to a banquet hall set up as a temporary theatre.  There, a small choir sang in English and Spanish, and an angel appeared to Mary.  Lots of dancing!

2.  Angel РJoseph

Next, we walked to an open area in a local business building, where a very cute Joseph puppet was met by an even cuter angel, which helped him dress in his hat and poncho for his long journey to Bethlehem.  The story was narrated in 2 languages.


One of my favorite quotes from this section was “A person is more than Papers” – Joseph’s response to the requirement to register in Bethlehem. ¬†The room where we were for this part of the presentation was decorated to remind us what must have been going through Joseph’s mind as he prepared to travel to Bethlehem; the same kinds of questions Immigrants have always asked.

Where will I sleep?  When will I eat?  May I be with my family?  Will I be safe?
Who will take care of me?  Where will I find clean water?  

3.  Angels РShepherds/ Magi РKing Herod

The third stop was back in the theater.  Here, adult angels made up a choir of the heavenly hosts, and adorable tiny stars woke up some grumpy, sleepy shepherds.  This part was done mainly through actions and bilingual singing.


Then, while we were in the same space, the Magi appeared to King Herod. ¬†He was livid! ¬†“Why are those undocumented travelers coming to see me?! ¬†I didn’t invite them!” He spoke in English and Spanish, mainly quotes from the Bible narrative.


4.  Posada Рin the streets

The main characteristic of “posadas” in Mexico is the traveling to houses and asking for shelter. ¬†(posada means¬†shelter in Spanish). ¬†There is a multi-verse song that they all sing, asking for shelter for Mary and Joseph, and then denying shelter to unknown, poor, dirty travelers. ¬†Finally, in the song, someone figures out that by welcoming these peasants they are welcoming Christ into their home, and the Christmas celebration can begin.

In this version, we were walking in temperatures 30 degrees below zero.  Seriously, it was dangerously cold.  But, we still walked, en masse, down a residential street.  Joseph stopped at a house decorated for the holidays, with its lights on Рit looked friendly.  But we were turned away.


We kept walking – staring at our feet in front of us – trying to listen to the Angel choir, but mainly distracted by our cold feet and the crying babies, and our numb noses.
Then, we were literally stopped in the middle of the street!


Herod was in the ¬†middle of the street, surrounded by barricades. ¬†“You can’t pass!” ¬†he shouts. ¬†“I didn’t give you permission to travel here! ¬†You don’t have papers to cross!” ¬†We stayed there for about 5 minutes, with Joseph asking politely, and the angel choir singing, and Mary freezing, and all of us looking on incredulously.


While we were being shouted at by Herod, and freezing, a group of people came from teh church carrying a banner: ¬†“Bienvenidos!” ¬†“Welcome!” ¬†The church people managed to overcome the barricades and literally tore them down to invite us into the church.

5.  Church Celebration!

When we entered the church, it was like a great pageant.  Mary & Joseph entered, the baby was born, and all the animals and shepherds and stars and magi came to celebrate.

The singing was in two languages, but it was a lot of “falalalalala” and “Alleluia” while the entire crowd sang and danced and clapped. ¬†Once Jesus was “born”, we even celebrated with a very happy live baby who was ok with being the center of attention!


Merry Christmas!  Feliz Navidad!  Jesus is born!



Merry Christmas!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to our family, friends, and blog followers! ¬†In case you weren’t following all summer ūüôā ¬†the pictures on our card were all from our adventures in Europe: ¬†Denmark Castle, Greek Parthenon, Dutch Windmill, Iceland’s crater, me in Oslo and David in Amsterdam.

David & I are loving this adventure year so much that we gave each other travel-themed presents this year:

We are thrilled to continue our Graduate Preaching Adventure in 2017.  Our plans include:

  • Mexico in January, Los Angeles in February, and Guatemala in April
  • Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya in July
  • Presenting in Tennessee and Florida

We have a few extra times to travel in the US – March, May, and June – so if you know of a great immigrant community in the US, I’m excited to hear more about it!

Hope that your 2017 brings Peace, Hope, and Joy – and just maybe, some travel, too.

Christmas = Immigration Story

As I travel around and talk with Christian groups about refugees and immigrants in the Bible, many tell me that they know the Holy Family were refugees. ¬†Matthew’s Gospel tells about an angry King Herod who wants to kill the baby Jesus, and the angel who suggest Mary & Joseph should ‘flee’ to Egypt.

Today, we’d call them illegal immigrants.

Everett Patterson created a modern version of the Bible Christmas Story:

immigration christmas.jpg

What if Christ was born here?

So many of us know that Jesus was a refugee. And we want to help. ¬†But we just don’t see ourselves in the story. ¬†I’m not a shepherd, or an angel, or a king. ¬†I’m just a townsperson. ¬†What am I supposed to do? ¬†How am I supposed to change the world? ¬†A friend of mine posted a famous quote to help us imagine ourselves in the story:

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In my case, my neighbors include resettled refugees. ¬†Michigan is welcoming thousands of refugees each year, including hundreds in ¬†my own town. ¬†For me, serving my neighbor includes serving refugees. ¬†In some states, the neighbors include undocumented immigrants. ¬†People who, just like the Holy Family, have escaped here for some reason. ¬†I welcome refugees and help undocumented immigrants get legal paperwork, because they are my neighbors, and I’ve been called to do that.

But for many North Americans, the refugees and immigrants seem to live far away. ¬†Maybe welcoming to your community seems impossible, or at least improbable. ¬†Which means, you have the opportunity to make a global difference. ¬†99% of refugees will¬†not be resettled to a developed country like the US; they’ll stay in camps and return home. ¬†We can support them by donating to groups serving them directly:

Lutheran World Federation works in the largest refugee camps in the world:  In Jordan and in Kenya, as well as dozens of others.  Donate Here

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services is the largest refugee resettlement and advocacy organization in the US.  Donate here.

No matter how we help our neighbors – prayer, welcome, donations, or advocacy – we do what we do because God has blessed us to be a blessing.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!



Furniture Update

Visit #2 – with Translation!

For those who’ve been following, you know that we delivered a sofa to a newly arrived Syrian family in Ypsilanti a few weeks ago. ¬†Last week, we went back with coffee tables and a translator!


David’s friend got to use her Arabic, and we got to spend 2 hours visiting with the new family. ¬†Turns out, the 6 & 9 year olds are enrolled in an Arabic language & culture – focused school in Ypsilanti, so they’re making great connections. ¬†Mohammed had a driver’s license in Jordan, and might be a driver here, too. ¬†We had tea and rice pudding, and the grandmother wished us very many children in the future ūüôā ¬†– a popular blessing from grandmother’s everywhere, I think!

We also discovered that two of the children have birthdays in January, and would like an Ice Cream Cake to celebrate. ¬†They also want to meet our cat! ¬†While we can’t convince the cat to join us, we’re planning to visit in January with balloons, toys, and treats. ¬†I’ll let you know how it goes!

Sofa = Friendship

Christmas came early in Ypsilanti

We started celebrating Christmas on November 29, when we acted like Santa & Mrs. Claus, delivering a much-needed present to a newly arrived family.


But, like so many other parts of our lives, this was a fun, dramatic story!

David’s family decided to pool their sibling Christmas gift exchange money this year and donate it to a refugee family. ¬†We had some leftover IKEA gift cards, and IKEA was running a huge sofa sale. ¬†Sofa – great idea! ¬†Step 1: ¬†identify need and find resources.


But then, the practicalities. We live in Ann Arbor, the sofa is in Canton, and the family who needs it is in Ypsilanti.  We have a super tiny car.

I’m imagining something like this… in the snow…

A flurry of emails and texts later, and we can borrow an SUV with a trailer… in Saline. ¬†(in other words, the sofa is 20 miles east of our house, and the trailer is 10 miles west.) We arrange a time when the family loaning the vehicle is home and david is available to drive it. ¬†Step 2: ¬†coordinate pick up.

We were so excited that the funding, the transportation, and the timing all lined up that we completely overlooked step 3:  translation.

We knock on the door, excitedly.  Pretty quickly, we realize this family speaks absolutely no English.  David manages to pull up a picture of a sofa on his phone, and I keep saying the name of the agency and the caseworker over and over.  The family excitedly invites us in for tea, which we assume means they know we were coming.  (we found out later, they just invite everyone over for tea!)

The mom tries to serve us tea, the dad tries to carry in a sofa by himself, a nine year old daughter keeps repeating the 9 English words she knows (“excuse me”, “hello”, “tea”, “my name is”), and the 6 year old boy grabs anything that looks like a tool. ¬†He is going to build this sofa all by himself.


Thanks to phone videos, David manages to explain to Mohammed (the dad) basically what’s going on, and 6-year-old Achmed is determined to build the entire sofa himself. ¬†We were so afraid when we showed up with a box that they’d be frustrated, but they seemed to adapt pretty quickly to what was happening.


Mom & grandma help me put slipcovers onto the sofa cushions. ¬†The youngest jumps on each cushion to test it. ¬†The oldest daughter is trying to interpret the IKEA directions and translate for the men (which, honestly, isn’t really helping). ¬†Grandma is asking me, with hand motions, where my own children are located. ¬†ūüôā ¬†Mom keeps serving¬†tea.


Pretty quickly, actually, we manage to set up a brand new, clean, sofa, with enough space for either 2 adults or 3 kids to watch TV.

Then, over tea, I ask – what’s up with the other two sofas in the room? ¬†(basically, why were we sent with a sofa to a house that already has sofas?) ¬†Through google translate, a few words, and hand motions, we figure out that they found those two sofas on the side of the road (or maybe through craigslist) and managed to bring them into the house. ¬†And then, a rat jumped out of it.


So, the agency didn’t know they already had a sofa, because they had managed to find one. ¬†But, despite 2 sofas in the room, all 6 family members are choosing to sit on the floor. ¬†Turns out, bringing a brand new sofa in a box was a huge blessing.

They invited us back, and we hope to go this week – with a friend to translate! ¬†They had only been here 3 weeks when we met them (arrived early November). ¬†The kids are in school, the adults are in English class, and they live in a safe neighborhood on a bus line. ¬†So, we’re hoping to be friends, and see if there’s anything else we can help them with, beyond welcoming them to our town.

More stories to come soon!