Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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  • Even though I have an outdated kitchen with a brown sink, leaky faucet, vintage countertops and yellowing cupboards, at least I don’t cook my meals outside over an open fire and I don’t live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


Reaching “the nations” November 21, 2011

I STILL REMEMBER the derogatory label, even after all these years. “Gooks,” he called them. I lashed back, defending the Asian families who fled their war torn countries to start new lives in America in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Didn’t your great grandparents immigrate here?” I asked, trying to control my emotions as I confronted the Faribault man who spit out the venomous word. But I knew, even as I spoke, that I could not quell his hatred.

Now, nearly 30 years later, I hear similar disparaging terms directed toward Somalis and Sudanese and, yes, Hispanics, too.

Don’t we ever learn?

These thoughts, of anything I could have considered, passed through my mind yesterday afternoon as I photographed Hmong families participating in a “Let the People Praise!” mission event at my Faribault church, Trinity Lutheran.

Deacon Johnny Vang of New Life Lutheran Church, Robbinsdale, with his wife Tina and children, Leviticus, 10, Cecilia, 7, and Christian, 4.

I could forgive the man who nearly three decades prior had spoken with such ignorance. But I could not forget.

The organizers and participants in Sunday’s mission gathering wouldn’t expect my thoughts to wander back to that previous unwelcoming American attitude toward Southeast Asians. But I am honest and this post would not be mine if I ignored that unsettling flashback.

With that historic frame of reference, I could only admire the faith and fortitude of the men and women who stood before me in the sanctuary singing in the Hmong choir, speaking of their mission outreach to Southeast Asia and in Minnesota, specifically in Robbinsdale and the east side of St. Paul.

Members of the Hmong choir wore colorful, ethnic costumes.

The congregation, including individuals from the Hmong community, sang at Sunday's mission celebration.

Churches initially embraced Cambodian and Laotian refugees in the years following the divisive and turbulent Vietnam War. I remember, during my first newspaper reporting job out of college in 1978, writing about a Southeast Asian family resettling to the small Minnesota town of Gaylord. I don’t recall details now, but the compassionate sponsorship of this family by a local church made an impression on me.

That care and love triumph over the hateful words and attitudes of the past.

It pleased me to listen to those involved in the Hmong Lutheran Ministry speak of mission trips to the Communist countries of Laos and Vietnam and to Cambodia and Thailand. The “Communist” part certainly doesn’t please me, but the Christian outreach does.

“They are hungry for the gospel and they want to be saved,” a Hmong deacon told us.

My favorite photo of the day shows the Vang children, Leviticus, Cecilia and Christian on the floor in the narthex, the church doors into the sanctuary flung wide open. This symbolizes to me the doors that are being opened to Christianity through mission work here in Minnesota and in Southeast Asia.

Later the Rev. David Seabaugh of Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Paul, home to a Liberian ministry, used nearly the same words: “The Liberian people are hungry for the gospel.”

I considered then how complacent I’ve sometimes become in my Christian faith, even in my free access to the bible, and in my personal outreach.

I needed to hear this Scripture from I Chronicles 16: 24:

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

God doesn’t care if we’re black or white or yellow, or even Lutheran for that matter, or where we live. He considers us “the nations.”

Today, just like 100 years ago when the Germans and Italians and Swedes and Norwegians and so many others immigrated to America, “the nations” are still arriving on our doorstep.

Are you welcoming them?

A sombrero rests in the side aisle prior to a musical performance by Hispanic children from the Le Sueur and Henderson areas.

Members of the Hispanic children's choir perform.

A representative of the Sudanese ministry spoke at the mission gathering. "Before, we suffer a lot," he said, calling it "God' s plan" that the Sudanese came to America and to Minnesota.

A musical performance by the Sudanese.

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


Stitches of love April 6, 2011

Handmade quilts drape across pews at St. John's United Church of Christ.

INSIDE THE LIMESTONE CHURCH, patchwork quilts drape across the backs of pews, spilling onto cushy red seat cushions.

Only hours earlier during the Sunday morning church service, worshippers settled onto the quilts handmade by St. John’s United Church of Christ members.

On a Saturday in February, members of the Women’s Guild, and a few husbands, gathered at this country church in Wheeling Township in southeastern Rice County to stuff the quilts with batting, add backings and tie together the layers with snippets of yarn.


St. John's old stone church has been in continuous use for more than 150 years. German settlers founded the congregation in 1856.

This year, according to church member and quilter Kim Keller, the quilters made 13 baby quilts and 13 big quilts.

The handmade blankets will go to graduating high school seniors—two at St. John’s this spring—and to missions, mostly local.


One of the many handmade quilts that will be given away.

As I perused the quilts, I considered the devotion of those who piece together the swatches of fabric, tie together the layers and knot the strands of yarn. These quilts represent gifts that touch the recipients physically, but, more importantly, emotionally and perhaps spiritually.

Stroke the fabric and you can almost feel the love stitched into each quilt.

That these blankets are then displayed for worshippers to see, and sit upon, adds another dimension to the project. As I photographed the quilts, as the sun streamed through the church’s restored stained glass windows, I thought of the blessings received by both the givers and the receivers. Joy that comes in selfless giving. Joy that comes in knowing someone cares enough about you and your needs to stitch a quilt.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35

The stained glass windows at St. John's were restored between 2004 - 2006 at a cost of more than $30,000.


A view from the St. John's balcony of the church interior and the quilts.

TEN MILES AWAY in Faribault, about a dozen women at my church, Trinity Lutheran, meet every Wednesday morning from September through May to finish quilts that are donated to those in need. Seamstresses sew the quilt tops at home and then bring them, along with the backings, to church where the Trinity Quilters add the batting and then tie together the layers with yarn.

For 60-plus years now, the women of Trinity have been stitching quilts. “It’s a mission project,”  says long-time quilter Betty Gudknecht. “I want to help other people. You want to do things for the Lord because you want to do it (not because you’re paid).”

With that spirit of giving and serving, the Trinity quilters make about 200 quilts annually. They donate them to places like Minnesota Teen Challenge, the Orphan Grain Train, the Red Cross, Burdens to Blessings, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Association of Missionaries and Pilots, and to others in need. Trinity’s graduating high school seniors also receive quilts.

This week the Trinity Quilters are auctioning off three quilts in a silent auction that ends mid-morning on Sunday, April 10. They need the auction money to purchase batting for their 60 x 80-inch quilts. A single roll of recently-purchased cotton batting, which will make 16 quilts, cost $90, and that was at 50 percent off.

In the past, the quilters have gotten creative, using old blankets, mattress pads and even the outsides of electric blankets, as “batting.” They still plan to use those resources, but would also like to use the softer, purchased cotton batting.

While the quilt-makers sometimes buy fabric, most often it is donated.

If you’re interested in bidding on one of the quilts at Trinity Lutheran Church—and I’m sorry, I don’t have photos of the quilts—get your bids in this week.

Cash donations are also being accepted to help the quilters purchase batting.

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


The steeple of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, Rice County, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling