Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Nigerian civil war story untold until now & my emotional reaction January 31, 2017

"The Disturbances" is told in both book and film.

The Disturbances is told in both book and film.

I NEVER EXPECTED to find myself on the verge of crying while watching a documentary about a civil war in Nigeria in 1966. But I did on Sunday afternoon as I viewed The Disturbances at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

Produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics, the film tells the stories of missionaries and their families who, caught in the middle of a civil war, helped save the lives of Igbos, a tribe victimized by genocide. Thousands upon thousands of tribal natives died, many hacked to death by machetes.

The letter calling the Rev. Paul Griebel and his family to the mission field in Nigeria.

The letter calling the Rev. Paul Griebel and his family to the African mission field.

I’ll admit, I’m not the best with history and geography and, until recently, knew nothing of this strife in Nigeria 51 years ago. But then my pastor-friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel of Redeemer, alerted me to the documentary. He was an “MK,” as missionary kids were tagged, living in Nigeria with his Lutheran Church Missouri Synod pastor father, mother and five siblings at the height of the violence. He was only eight when his family arrived from Minnesota, thus recalls little.

But plenty of others do remember the civil war and spoke openly about it for the first time in The Disturbances, the film titled after the code name the missionaries gave to the conflict. Their experiences were horrible. And memorable. Even 50 years later, their words and faces reveal the trauma of witnessing such violence.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, had gotten in Africa.

Artist Susan Griebel crafted this quilted art from fabric her mother-in-law, Margaret Griebel, acquired in Africa.

The featured missionaries (including pastors, teachers and others from many denominations) lived in and around the city of Jos, a cultural melting pot and the epicenter of the violence. They were warned, “Tomorrow there will be trouble.” The next day the phone rang followed by a three-word declaration: “It has started.”

A beautiful carving from Africa, among those the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel brought back to the U.S. from Africa.

A beautiful carving from Africa, among those the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel brought back to the U.S. from Africa.

And so the stories emerged of Igbos hiding in fields and in rafters of the church sanctuary and in a store room. Stories of Igbos escaping with the help of missionaries. Stories of missionaries hiding a body in elephant grass. Stories of murdered Igbos picked up by trash trucks and buried in mass graves. Stories of the teen children of missionaries tending the wounded inside a police compound. Stories of missionaries lighting a runway with the headlights of their cars during an evacuation effort.

As I listened, I felt my grief rising, heightened perhaps by the unsettling current events in our own country regarding refugees. I wonder what stories they might tell, what violence many have fled/desire to flee for safety in America.

Two stories in particular imprinted upon me from The Disturbances. A victim of the attacks asked a young woman tending him whether she would be his daughter. His entire family had been slaughtered. She agreed, reciting Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd…) and The Lord’s Prayer to the dying man. The woman, 50 years later, still remembers his final words. “I’m going home, my daughter.”

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria with teacher Carl Eisman in the back row. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Kirk Griebel.

And then there’s the story shared by Carl Eisman, a Lutheran teacher at Hillcrest School (a boarding school in Jos) and friend/co-worker of the Rev. Paul Griebel. After evacuating children from a hostel, the two men remained hidden there with tribal members. As an angry mob approached ELM House, Eisman hid in the shadows with a hunting knife. And, as he recounted, Rev. Griebel sat at a nearby table reading Scripture and praying. Eventually, the mob dispersed and the men emerged to find a body, one they temporarily hid in elephant grass.

My friend, the Rev. Kirk Griebel, doesn’t recall his father (or mother; both now deceased) ever talking about the violence they witnessed. He remembers only an angry mob and waiting outside a fenced police compound where the injured and dying were taken.

This close-up of Susan Griebel's Nigerian-themed art shows the dove she incorporated as

This close-up of Susan Griebel’s Nigerian-themed art shows the dove she incorporated as representing the Holy Spirit. In the film, one interviewee said the missionaries had only one resource–that of prayer.

The film explains why the missionaries didn’t speak openly about the violence, even to family and church staff back home. They felt caught without resources in the middle of a civil war. As foreigners, they thought it best to lie low. They desired, too, to protect the children, to normalize their lives. And so they remained mostly silent. Until now and the documenting of their experiences in The Disturbances.

Given the time period and their foreigner status, I understand the guarded position. Missionaries and Nigerian pastors met, though, for two days in October 1966 to discuss “the disturbances” privately. I am thankful that these long-ago missionaries and their family members have now chosen to speak publicly about their experiences. For it is through the telling of personal stories that we learn and begin to understand suffering, courage, compassion and faith in times of violence. And for those who witnessed such atrocities, talking begins the process of healing.

FYI: Upcoming screenings of The Disturbances are scheduled in Missouri and Alabama. Click here for details. The Rev. Kirk Griebel will present the film this Wednesday, February 1, at 6 p.m. at King of Kings Lutheran Church, 1701 NE 96th St. in Kansas City, Missouri.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Documentary focuses on missionaries’ life-saving roles in Nigerian civil war of 1966 January 27, 2017

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, on the left with two of his soldier buddies in Korea.

I’VE EXPERIENCED WAR. Not first hand, but through the words of my soldier father who fought on the front lines during the Korean War. And through photos he took. Through textbooks, too, and the stories of veterans and immigrants. And in memorials I’ve visited, poems I’ve read, songs I’ve heard.

"The Disturbances" is told in both book and film.

“The Disturbances” is told in both book and film.

Now I have an opportunity to learn more about a civil war—one in Nigeria in 1966—through “The Disturbances,” a feature-length documentary. The film is screening at 2 p.m. Sunday, January 29, at Redeemer Lutheran Church, 1054 Truman Avenue, Owatonna.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House) in Nigeria. Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their children, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo.

Missionary children at ELM House (Evangelical Lutheran Mission House). Missionary children lived in the hostel so they could attend boarding school in Jos, Nigeria. The Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel served as houseparents. Three of their sons, including Kirk, are pictured in this group photo. He is in the front row, third in from the right. Carl Eisman (tall man in the back) is featured prominently in the film. He taught at the boarding school.

What brings a film like this to southern Minnesota? The answer, in short, is the pastor of Redeemer, the Rev. Kirk Griebel. He moved, as a second grader, from Minnesota to Nigeria with his missionary father and family in February 1966. They stayed until June 1969, took a furlough and then returned for two more years, leaving in 1972. The Griebels and other Christian missionaries found themselves caught in the middle of violent tribal atrocities. “The Disturbances” is their story—the story of how missionaries and Nigerian pastors saved lives.

Back then, missionaries did not openly discuss the situation. Now they are, in this documentary produced by the Baptist Center for Ethics. The stories of missionaries from various denominations, including those of the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, are included.

I look forward to learning more about these brave souls who stretched their missionary skills beyond preaching, teaching, training and serving to acts of heroism that saved lives.

Kirk Griebel with his parents, the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel, on his Confirmation Day in 1972. The family left Nigeria shortly thereafter.

Kirk Griebel with his parents, the Rev. Paul and Margaret Griebel, on his Confirmation Day in 1972. The family left Nigeria shortly thereafter.

The Rev. Kirk Griebel plans to share memories of his experiences from that time in Nigeria. He was only eight years old when war erupted, but remembers a mob of men with clubs and machetes as the violence unfolded, according to a January 15 interview with “Faith of Steele.” I expect I will learn more about my pastor-friend who holds a strong interest in social issues. I surmise his experiences and observations in Nigeria helped shape his willingness to publicly tackle and participate in issues beyond simply preaching from the pulpit. War changes people.

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

Sunday’s screening is at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Owatonna. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2016.

FYI: Please consider attending this free screening of “The Disturbances.” I always appreciate opportunities like this to learn and then relate what I learn to my life.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Photos from Nigeria are courtesy of the Rev. Kirk Griebel.

 

Choosing to see black and blue March 16, 2015

IF YOU ARE PART OF A FAITH community, what is your church doing to raise awareness and help victims, survivors and families/friends of those involved in domestic violence/abuse?

Nothing? Something?

I hadn’t considered this in depth until reading an article, Aiming for AWARENESS, CARING RESPONSE—Domestic violence task force to hold spring training sessions, in the March issue of Reporter, the official newspaper of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

A snippet of the domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

Additionally, the paper includes an insert, Domestic Violence and Abuse is Everyone’s Concern—There Are No Gender Or Socioeconomic Barriers, for posting in churches.

I am pleased to see the LCMS working on this issue which has been so much in the public eye in recent months. It’s important that clergy, parish nurses and other church workers understand domestic abuse and learn how to assist by listening, by offering help, hope and referrals, and by educating parishioners.

I’ve read conflicting data on the number of women who experience domestic violence. Some sources say one in three. Others one in six. Whatever the correct number, one is one too many. (Note here that I am well aware that men are also victims. But, since the majority are women, that is the reference I am using in this post.)

Among people I am connected to, either directly or indirectly, 10 women have been/are being abused. Two of them were murdered by the men who supposedly loved them.

Last year in Minnesota, at least 23 individuals were killed due to violence from a current or former intimate partner, according to a report issued by the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. You can read that full report by clicking here.

As LCMS Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Task Force Chair Kim Schave says, “Domestic violence and abuse can happen to anyone.”

Don’t think it can’t.

And let’s remember the secondary victims—children, parents, siblings, friends… They, too, need support, encouragement and healing.

The faith-based Salvation Army South Africa’s recent campaign, WHY IS IT SO HARD TO SEE BLACK AND BLUE, utilizing a photo of that infamous black and blue striped (or gold and white striped depending on what you see) dress is brilliant. A subtext published in the Cape Times newspaper stated, “The only illusion is if you think it was her choice.”

While I still cannot see a black and blue dress, the message is absolutely clear to me. We all need to start seeing domestic abuse in all its forms. Sometimes the abuse is visible. Often it is not. Emotional abuse (lies, manipulation, controlling behavior, etc.) is even more common than physical abuse. Domestic abuse can also take the form of spiritual abuse.

We need to understand that these women are not to blame for the abuse inflicted upon them. We need to understand that they are being manipulated/controlled/brainwashed. We need to understand that “love” and mind control are powerful. We need to understand that we cannot simply swoop in and “rescue” them.

Knowledge is power.

What have you learned about domestic abuse in recent months with the spotlight shining on the issue? What are you doing with that knowledge? If you are part of a faith community, what is your church doing, if anything? Do you know a survivor of domestic abuse or someone currently in an abusive situation (no names or identifying details, please)? Let’s hear your voice and insights.

FYI: If you are in an abusive situation, contact the 24/7 National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. If you are in immediate danger, call 911.

I’d encourage you to learn more about domestic violence from a personal perspective by checking out (click here) “My Inner Chick,” a blog written by a Minnesota woman whose sister was abused and murdered by her husband. Be sure to read the comments section. This blog and the comments posted therein are powerful.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The comfortable familiarity of Freedom August 19, 2012

IF YOU’VE EVER STEPPED inside a building and felt like you’d been there before, but you haven’t, then you can relate to the story I am about to share in photos and conversation. Come on. Let’s open the door and enter Immanuel Lutheran Church, Freedom Township, rural Janesville.

Ah, the double front doors are locked. We’ll try the side door. Good, it’s open. I wonder if there’s an alarm system. I don’t want the Waseca County Sheriff showing up. Let’s go up the stairs to the main level.

Now where are the light switches? Oh, right there next to the guest register. I like that old light by the guest book. Wonder if it works? Nope. Sorry, almost anything can distract me.

Even with the lights on, it’s kind of dark in here. Maybe we should open the shades. There, that’s better.

That altar and Jesus statue look familiar. They remind me of the altar and statue in St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, the church where I grew up. And isn’t that organ a beauty?

I wonder if there’s a nice wood floor under that carpet. And what’s hiding under all those ceiling tiles?

Well, instead of standing here wondering, we better keep moving along if we’re going to get to the mission festival at Marquardt’s Grove by 10:30. I have much to see yet and photograph.

But wait a minute, what’s that over there on that post? An old thermometer. Huh, wonder how long that’s been here?

Alright, let’s head upstairs and see what’s in the balcony. It’s kind of tempting to pull that bell rope, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I’ve never given in to such temptation.

But I will move that wastebasket and stack of Vacation Bible School supplies so I can photograph that time-worn bench. Need to let a little natural light in, though, so I’ll pull up the shades. That’s better.

Oh, my goodness, look at those stars on that attendance sheet. I haven’t thought about those shiny, sticky stars in decades. I remember when my Sunday School teacher awarded stars for attendance. I thought they were the greatest thing. The memories…

Time to head down to the basement after I take a few more pictures up here. Yes, I have got a good grip on my camera. I don’t want it tumbling over the balcony railing.

Now, down to the basement we go. I need to pause here for a minute and take it all in.

Those curtains—see those curtains there—St. John’s had those in the basement, too. The curtains divided the basement into classrooms for Sunday School. I didn’t know churches still used those. I can almost hear the grating sound of those curtains closing and opening and remember how we kids had to take turns pulling the fabric closed, then open, at the end of Sunday School. Sweet memories…

Well, I better stop reminiscing because it’s after 10 a.m. and we do need to get to that worship service down the road in the cow pasture.

But, wait, I see one more thing I need to photograph…those lambs representing baptized children…

FYI: Immanuel Lutheran Church, commonly known as Freedom Church because of its location in Freedom Township, is located along Waseca County Road 3 about nine miles south of Janesville. Founded in 1874, this Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congregation has a total baptized and communicant membership of 114.

The organ in the church, interestingly enough, came from Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault where I have been a member for 30 years. When Trinity upgraded to another organ in 1911, the old organ was moved on a sled pulled by oxen some 40 miles to Freedom Church.

Freedom Church is not typically unlocked, but was open on the Sunday of my visit so members could leave food in the church basement for the mission festival potluck, according to member Joan Quiram. A big thank you to Joan for inviting me to the annual mission festival of Freedom and Wilton churches. You can read and view photos of that event by clicking here and then here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Snapped out of complacency November 23, 2011

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Globes and flags decorated tables at a missions appreciation dinner Sunday in Faribault.

YOU KNOW HOW EVERY once in awhile someone says something and you suddenly appreciate your life a whole lot more than you did only minutes earlier?

Take me on Sunday, when I spent an hour at morning worship services, another hour in bible study, 2 ½ hours at a mission gathering and another 3 ½ hours at a mission-centered appreciation dinner.

You can bet I heard enough in those eight hours to realize I have it pretty good living right her in Faribault, Minnesota, in a three-bedroom mortgage-free home with one bathroom.

Good because—

  • Even though I have an outdated kitchen with a brown sink, leaky faucet, vintage countertops and yellowing cupboards, at least I don’t cook my meals outside over an open fire and I don’t live in a yurt.
  • I don’t rely on the generosity of a missionary to supply me with two bags of rice so I have something to eat.
  • I can speak freely about, and live, my faith without fear of reprisal. Missionaries in Iran would be killed for doing so if they were caught.
  • Even though I’m unhappy with the high costs of health insurance and medical care, at least I have healthcare, unlike so many in Third World countries. Tears edged my eyes when I saw the photos and heard the story of 11-year-old Emay who died from an inoperable tumor.
  • I am blessed to have been raised by Christian parents.
  • I can read a bible that has not been censored and/or edited by the government.
  • God is my boss.

To those who spoke and sang during the “Let the People Praise!” Mission Event on Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, and to Gary Thies of Mission Central in Mapleton, Iowa, thank you for snapping me out of my complacency.

The timing couldn’t have been better, coming right before Thanksgiving.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Have you heard or seen something lately that made you more appreciative of all that you have?

FYI: Click here to learn more about Mission Central, the largest mission supporting agency in the U.S. for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Credit goes to Thies for the “God is my boss” phrase cited above. Like a company president’s portrait in a corporate boardroom, Christ’s portrait hangs in Gary’s office, above his desk.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In praise of German food and missions November 6, 2011

A 2009 Thanksgiving display at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

WITH THANKSGIVING only weeks away, it behooves us to begin expanding our stomachs in preparation for the big meal.

It also behooves us to focus our thoughts on thanksgiving and praise.

If you live anywhere near Faribault, you can accomplish both by attending two upcoming events at my church, Trinity Lutheran, at 530 Fourth Street Northwest, across from McDonalds. Trinity isn’t sponsoring the events, lest you think I’m specifically promoting my congregation here.

Rather Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School and rural Waterville-based Camp Omega are coordinating these separate Sunday worship services followed by meals.

ONE WEEK FROM TODAY, on Sunday, November 13, CVLHS is offering a German Fest of Thanks and Praise at 4 p.m. followed by a supper of traditional German foods at 4:30 p.m. Attend one or both, and I’d highly recommend both, especially if you appreciate the Mother Tongue and good great German food.

The plated portion of the authentic German meal served last year by CVLHS.

I attended this Lutheran high school’s first-ever German worship service and dinner last year and enthusiastically endorse it, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it to you here. (Click here to read a blog post from the 2010 German celebration.)

After you’ve thanked and praise, you can indulge in that ethnic meal of sauerbraten with spaetzle, sweet and sour red cabbage, bratwurst and sauerkraut, pfeffernusse and bread pudding (to die for).

And let me tell you, these Cannon Valley volunteers know how to cook.

If you want to partake in the German meal, you need to act soon. Tomorrow, Monday, November 7, is the deadline to purchase tickets, which are $13 for adults, $7 for ages 5 – 10 and free for preschoolers. Call CVLHS at (507) 685-2636.

A portion of Jesus face, photographed from a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY, November 20, I’d suggest you return to Trinity at 2 p.m. for a two-hour “Let the People Praise!” service followed by a Camp Omega-sponsored free turkey supper. Yes, you read that right—free worship service, free food.

First the worship service, which truly is two hours long and which evolves around missions: Think of it as Mission Sunday or a mission rally or something along those lines. Missionaries involved in Hispanic, Sudanese, Hmong, Liberian, Anglo and campus ministries will participate.

There’ll be singing by a Hmong choir and Liberians and, yes, even drumming and dancing. In a Lutheran church. Would you want to miss that? I didn’t think so.

I can almost guarantee that you’ll be emotionally and spiritually moved based on the music alone. I anticipate many pastors attending this service and, boy, can they sing.

After the service, Camp Omega is sponsoring that free turkey supper several blocks away at the Faribault American Legion with Gary Thies, mission development counselor for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, as the presenter. He’s traveled to 76 countries and spoken at more than 1,250 churches throughout the U.S. I’ve heard this man speak. He’s fired up for missions. He’ll address “Missionary Ministry in our Daily Lives.”

Thies will also give messages at the 5:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19, and 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, November 20, Trinity worship services.

Anyway, organizers are hoping to fill the Trinity sanctuary and the Legion. If you want to attend the free 4:30 p.m. turkey supper on November 20 at the Legion, you must RSVP to Curt at Camp Omega, (507) 685-4266. He needs a head count soon. You can’t just walk in the door on the day of the dinner and expect to get seated. It won’t happen.

So, there you go—two wonderful opportunities to prepare for Thanksgiving.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling