Elk River, MN was the foggy April destination for Serve #26. My subject Larry S. and I met at the Olde Main Eatery over a tasty egg breakfast and a hot cup of coffee served in an old fashioned ceramic mug. This story however, actually began a week prior when I met Larry in an auto repair shop in Elk River. Larry caught my attention when he walked in wearing a Vietnam Veteran baseball cap, a local VFW jacket, along with his warm smile.
I could see this man with a bit of silver hair and a few more years lived on this earth than myself, had served our country and had a story. His Serve story began as a patriotic call to duty in the fall of 1967 after enlisting when he was 18 and lasted until the fall of 1973. Larry served three tours of duty in Vietnam in roles that ranged from truck driver, to mechanic, to infantry during those tours. In these various roles he was a boots-on-the-ground guy doing whatever he was asked to do while in the service. Larry shared that returning from his third and final tour was the most difficult due to the protesters spitting, hurling insults, names, and actual stones at him and his “Band of Brothers” as they walked across the tarmac. These young men who went to battle a bit wet behind the ears came back seasoned warriors and deserved much more than insults and injuries when they were back stateside. I guess that is a big reason why I was drawn to photograph Larry and listen to his story about his service in Vietnam. I feel that every person who has served our country deserves respect. Just say thank you, when you see a hat, a jacket, or even a military tattoo; there are lives that were given for what you and I take for granted.
As my time with Larry was ending I asked the question; “How would you encourage the next generation?” He said ; “Join the military. We still need to have a strong military.”
In closing I want to encourage each of you to have the courage to walk up to a veteran if you see one on the street, or even start up a conversation with a relative and hear their story. Your life will be made better for it. As your moment with a veteran comes to a close, shake his or her hand, say thank you and walk away knowing your life was made just a little richer.
This is my first collaboration combining video and stills in the “Serve” series. It was an honor to team up and tell this story alongside Josh and Anna Cisewski. Take a few moments to watch the video and read the story. It might just change the day for you.
Guest post written by Anna Cisewski
Since its conception, Emerge Mothers Academy has changed the lives of over 120 single mothers and their children. By providing much-needed classes and life-changing community, Emerge is able to partner with single mothers and equip them to be confident women for their children and communities.
Becca Erickson founded Emerge with her mom, who was also a single mother. She saw a need for an organization like Emerge after her husband left her shortly after their baby was born. Suddenly alone and with very few resources and little support, Becca knew she couldn’t do it on her own. Looking back, she wishes she would have had access to the kind of support Emerge provides.
Dre Barthel and Becca met at the church they attend, Open Door. They connected and Dre learned more about Emerge; she knew she wanted to be a part of the organization.
Becca says that Dre helped open up a new facet of the organization and is able to reach people through different avenues and mediums.
The lives of hundreds of women are being changed because of the vision and passion of Becca and Dre. They serve because they see how important the strength and confidence of a mother is and they want to stand beside those women and show them what a strong mother is.
It only takes a small bit of your love and passion to change the whole world of another person. Where can you share yourself?
Learn more about Emerge Mothers Academy at emergetwincities.org
“Tell Your Story”
Written by Scott Whitman
Co-Founder WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods)
For professor Joanne Kersten, music is more than an art or vocation, it’s an instrument of hope.
Joanne is a co-founder of WOVEN (With One Voice Energizing Neighborhoods), a program she launched in 2002 with fellow North Central University professor, Larry Bach, in response to the desperate need they saw in the neighborhoods surrounding their downtown Minneapolis campus.
They saw children living under the heavy burden of poverty, abuse and neglect – children who could see no future for themselves, other than what drugs or gangs might offer.
But in the midst of the abuse and poverty, Joanne also saw potential. She asked, “What if we can help these children see something more in themselves?”
WOVEN matches college music students with neighborhood kids in a unique mentoring partnership. The children commit to meeting the attendance and conduct standards of the program, and in turn receive free weekly music lessons and one-on-one mentoring from a college student. These partnerships, which often extend for many semesters, have created a safe-haven for more than 100 neighborhood children since the program began, transforming the lives of many along the way.
Joanne says the process of learning music theory, and the practical discipline of preparing for musical performance, lays a foundation for greater literacy, personal responsibility, confidence and self-worth.
For many of the children, participating in WOVEN gave them a different view of what was possible.
“The program helps them know they can be something else. It becomes a form of drug prevention, or pregnancy prevention. They begin to want something more for themselves,” said Joanne.
“The children – and even their parents or guardians – are surrounded with positive ideas, positive people, and cannot help but be inspired by these talented and energetic college students,” said Joanne.
The benefits go both ways. The NCU students, immersing themselves in the lives of their young charges, learn what it means to serve with humility.
“Our college students come here from their own towns and schools where they were stars. They get thrown into the competitive college environment and often struggle to find their footing,” said Joanne, “By serving as teachers in WOVEN, these students begin to see themselves as contributors with something to offer. It gives them perspective, and a vision for their own future,” said Joanne.
But ultimately for Joanne, and everyone involved in WOVEN, it’s really about hope – finding it, and giving it.
“We all need the same thing, whether privileged or poor,” says Joanne. “Children can live through some pretty dark stuff. God’s made us pretty resilient. But to really grow, children need light.”
Joanne urges us to invest ourselves in shining that light: “Do whatever you can, no matter how simple, to bring people light and hope. Do it for the children.”
“Tell Your Story”
Guest post by Anna Cisewski
A lot can change in 25 years. For Joel Hanson, worship pastor at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, MN, this has never been truer. He is a much different man than the kid he was with a talent for music and a need for fame a quarter of a century ago.
In 2004, Joel became the worship leader at Open Door, but he didn’t quite feel like he fit. To him, his job was to “sing in front of a large group of people and be good at it.” But he discovered that being a worship leader went far beyond the stage and the microphone. He needed to be a pastor, a shepherd.
After three years working at Open Door, Joel’s life seemed to be unraveling. After a series of poor and hurtful choices, the church leaders sat down with him and gave him the option to resign. He left.
But the next day, something happened that surprised him and in the years to come became more significant: the lead pastor, Dave Johnson, called him to ask how he was doing. Suddenly Joel realized that what he had expected of the church simply wasn’t true. He wasn’t ostracized or rejected because he had failed. Dave told Joel that he just couldn’t imagine “not being around the fire of life” without him. So instead of abandoning Joel to the humiliation of being released from a church, he was pulled back in.
And then they hired him back. Instead of creating a safe distance, the church asked him to serve with them again. And throughout all of that, they redeemed Joel’s perception of what the church really is.
Now, almost ten years after the second time he was hired as worship pastor at Church of the Open Door, he fulfills his job very differently. Now, he views himself as a shepherd; a leader with the opportunity to partner with other people and equip them to use the profound impact that they have within the church and take it out to their communities.
Joel serves because to him, it’s not about the performance or the fame that he had when he was younger. It’s about the fact that there is a beautiful story in the hope he shares every day.
“I’d rather be known for being a normal human than have to continually prove that I’m someone else. Because God works in the ordinary and that’s the story I just can’t get away from anymore. It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, it’s always true. And to me, that’s the most beautiful part about the Good News, is that is happens everywhere.”
Twenty-five years ago, Joel thought he had to hide behind himself and his music. But now, he doesn’t carry that burden, he feels like a free man. Even in a church, where so many seem to feel the need to put on a clean face and a clean shirt to be accepted, the real and messy parts of life are what matter to Joel.
“What if we just showed up as we are, because that’s the only thing we actually can be and that’s the only place where good can actually happen.”
Have you been exhausting yourself by trying to hide? Take a note from Joel Hanson, tell your real story. You might be surprised by how healing and freeing it can be.
“Tell Your Story”
Just a short fifty mile drive southwest of the cities is the rural town of Glencoe where the subjects of Serve#18 live. Twin brothers Ben and Larry L., who grew up near the neighboring town of Silver Lake, are Army Veterans. Both brothers served stateside during the Korean War. Their story is one that I hear often from men who grew up in rural towns that dot the Minnesota countryside.
When asked about their growing up years prior to the Army, they mentioned that they were regular farmboys. They also mentioned their reason for serving was because their family members served as well and “We wanted to”. Both of these gentlemen lead productive lives in the area once their service to our country was done. Maybe when you look at someone who served our country and stop to think about it…they never really stopped serving.
I am often moved by the strength and courage the men and women who served our country display; there is often a selfless demeanor that pervades each word they speak. I find myself thankful for their bravery to serve. Take a few moments to say thank you to a vet or currently active person. There are stories out there people. Maybe you need to hear one!
“Tell Your Story”
Theo M. is an honorable young man full of ambition, with a desire and calling to change the political tide. He’s a wonderful example for a “Serve.” I have watched Theo grow from a boy into the 17 year old clear-thinking, focused, intelligent, politically conservative individual he is. Don’t let the last words stop you from reading on, because I think you will see merit in his view, and understand that he may well be someone to watch as the years go on. When I asked him a few questions it was easy to see from his excitement that his compassion for people and their needs is at the very forefront of his thoughts and desires for what his future might hold. So often, we draw a line regarding what political party we tend to align with, but it seems as though Theo desires to create change in people, not just provide more political tape to cut through.
This is a quote from Theo when asked about why he serves:
“As a Christian conservative I feel called to be compassionate and sensible. My interest in politics is driven by those values. Christ offered mercy and grace yet held us accountable. The liberal big government programs have created a cycle of poverty and a lack of adequate education, which in turn leads to generations of families being stuck in social malaise. As a compassionate conservative, I know showing mercy, grace and generosity on a personal level helps others. I know that teaching the impoverished REAL hope through accountability and conservative work ethic, while serving their true needs through personal service will give the hand up needed to introduce those in need to a thriving, successful life. It’s my goal to pursue my passion for helping through a career in economics and politics that focuses on developing conservative values in policies and programming.”
I consider it an honor to know Theo. It is refreshing to know that the youth of today like Theo have heartfelt desire for the tomorrows.