Grace has always been a difficult concept for me to understand and truly wrap my head around. Growing up, it was one of those words that was thrown around, but never really explained, like a lot of the other words Lutheran churches seem to be named after (Hope, Peace, Faith, etc.). Now that I’m older and hopefully a tad wiser, I like to think of grace as God’s love and forgiveness that we can do nothing to earn or lose.
As someone who has experienced God’s grace, in all of its visceral and inexplicable glory, trying to help others feel God’s grace becomes less of a chore and more of a calling. Although we can strive to show others God’s grace through our actions, it is impossible to ever completely live out the kind of grace that God offers us. But just because we are honest about the impossibility of this task doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to treat others with the kind of unbridled acceptance God has shown us. I think that there is something very moving about a community taking on this task which it knows to be impossible, and I truly believe LCM is one of these communities.
However, showing God’s grace is only one half of the equation. Living in a world of property taxes, offering plates, and embezzlement scandals, I have always found it incredibly difficult to accept the gracious welcome that many religious communities offer. It seems impossible to the cynic in me that someone would be so welcoming without having some ulterior motive. If you find yourself in a similar situation, I would encourage you to power through the discomfort, and know that by accepting someone’s gracious welcome, you are sometimes doing just as much for them as they are for you.
Walter Young (LCM Servant Leader)
Being from a small town in Illinois, moving all the way to Minneapolis was a big deal. I left behind my family, my friends, and pretty much everything else that was a part of my life for so long, and started a completely new life here at the U. Out of the hundreds of thousands of students across the country who do this, I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I’m able to go home and see my family three times a year, which is still more than some people can say. My parents are also able to fly up to Minneapolis to visit me every couple months, which is an opportunity that not every out-of-state student gets.
And still, despite getting to see my family once every six weeks or so, I find myself missing them as if I haven’t seen them in years. Hearing my in-state friends talk about going home just for the weekend like it’s no big deal, or just casually meeting their parents for lunch one day still hurts a little, because I know that’s something I can’t have. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that I’m not completely without family here; it’s just not my biological family.
LCM has been a place of comfort for me since the moment I stepped on campus. I remember walking past the church on freshman move-in day and being handed a flyer with a spoon on it, advertising free soup on Tuesdays and a Freshman Bible Study on Wednesdays before Pause. When I went to my first Pause, I was immediately welcomed and introduced to everyone. As I navigated the ups and downs of freshman year and began to feel more confident and comfortable on campus and in the city, LCM became less like just a group of friends and more like another family. This community is one that I can turn to when I’m having a rough week, or missing my family back home a little more than usual. Pause is something that I look forward to every week because it’s a chance to ground myself and take a break from studying, as well as an opportunity to spend quality time with people. It’s become something like a second home for me.
To any freshman or new student: especially if you’re finding yourself missing your family a little more than you expected: you will be okay. Moving away was a hard decision, and sometimes it feels like the wrong one, but I promise it wasn’t. I hope you find some comfort in LCM, and that this wonderful community becomes a sort of substitute family for you as well.
Allison Cunningham (Sophomore Servant Leader)
It’s been almost a month since our return from Chiapas, Mexico. Now that the busyness of classes, jobs, and life are back in full swing, it feels like a perfect time to reflect back to our trip: the initial goal we set, what we learned, and how we are seeing that play out in our new community of LCM leaders.
Last fall as we were deciding where we would travel, what community we would explore, and what goal we would set, we were feeling heavy. Heavy with the recent shootings, heavy with all of the social injustice in our community and around the world, and heavy as a community of predominately white students trying to figure out our role in the midst of it all. We decided to explore a community that had experienced a history of violence, with the goal of learning how to maintain a sense of hopefulness in the midst of violence and struggle. We landed on the community of Nuevo Paraíso – a community in Chiapas that had experienced a mass shooting at the hands of the paramilitary and a history of struggle in the midst of the Zapatista movement in the 1990s. This community had quickly gone from a place of relative security, to living on the side of a highway without any land or resources to support themselves. Now after connecting with an organization called Amextra, they are making payments on their own piece of land, building their own homes and planting crops as a community.
After a filled week of spending time in Nuevo Paraíso, talking with community members, exploring Chiapas outside of Nuevo Paraíso, and trying to fully process everything we were experiencing, we were able to identify three specific things we had learned. The first was the importance of genuinely checking in with others. It was a busy and complex week, and as much as we wanted to keep going and going, we had to remember to take a step back and ask each other how we were doing – for real. The second was the importance of investing time and energy into a community. On our last morning in Nuevo Paraíso, one of the community members stated that just feeling seen by people from outside of the community was hopeful for them. Finally, we learned the importance of vulnerability, honesty, and acceptance in a group. Things do not always go as planned and life can get complex, but existing in a community that accepts brokenness and pain, and being comfortable bringing those difficult things to the table is hugely important.
We unfortunately were not able to travel to Chiapas with the entire leader team, but it has been awesome already seeing these things we learned play out amongst our community of leaders. The community this year has already embraced our LCM value of being “real”. People show up how they are, bring their true selves to the table, and genuinely ask each other how they are doing in the midst of challenges and stress. This community also holds each other up by investing time and energy to each other, and really caring for one another. It feels that LCM returners and newcomers alike feel welcomed, valued, and hopeful when students invest in one another. Finally, this community of leaders is embracing the importance of being vulnerable, honest, and accepting. Vulnerable about what they know and still have questions about, honest about their opinions, and accepting of those who think alike and those who think differently.
We recognize that the learning and processing does not stop here. We need to continue processing as a community what this all looks like for us in the context of the broader Twin Cities community and our world, but for now, are energized about the passion of each leader and growing together as a community.
Kaitlin Mork and Emily Mentz
As new and returning students come back to the U in the fall, it’s one of the most exciting times at LCM! Outreach is a significant focus at the beginning of the school year—and the student servant leaders help take the lead on these important efforts! One of the ideas we talked about at the student leader training in August was “mission specific outreach”. LCM chooses to view outreach through this lens, because if we are putting energy into this, then as a faith community we want people to really get a sense of who we are—a group of people that strives to be curious. be real. be community. Everything we do comes back to this mission. To dive deeper into this idea, we asked questions like:
How do we spread the word about who we are and what we believe?
What/who is God calling LCM to be advocates for/partners with on this campus?
How can we spread God’s love through all that we do and create a more just world?
This fall, in addition to upcoming outreach events like the Faith & Leadership Institutes, Interfaith River Cleanup, and other community service opportunities, student leaders have already put much time and energy into living out this idea of “mission specific outreach” by talking with new students and connecting and welcoming them in various ways to the LCM community. The energy and passion all these students bring is a blessing to this ministry and campus, and we are so excited to continue to welcome new faces into this space!
I first learned about Lutheran Campus Ministry from a poster on the wall in my residence hall. I went to Pause (the Wednesday night worship) once, and then again, and decided that this was a group worth being part of. I grew up going to church pretty regularly, but I came to college with a lot of questions; questions about God, question about my faith, and questions about what the next four years would hold. I found in LCM a group of individuals that is passionate and compassionate, inviting and exciting. On a whim, I signed up for Fall Retreat—a trip to Wisconsin that is full of fun relaxation and thoughtful reflection—with a bunch of people I hardly knew. Going on that trip was one of the best decisions I made last year. I met many of my closest friends at campus ministry. It was also a great way to meet upperclassmen, who have lots of great advice for college freshmen. I can’t say I’ve yet found all of the answers to my questions, but I’ve found a few of the answers, and for the unanswered ones, I’ve found a great group to keep asking with. My best advice to freshmen at the U (and colleges anywhere, for that matter) is to check out as many different student groups as possible—there’s no commitment. You’re far more likely to look back on your college years wishing you’d been more involved, than to lament that you did too much and met too many people by participating in an overabundance of student groups. I encourage you to drop by sometime and check Lutheran Campus Ministry out—you might just find the same awesome community I did.
LCM Servant Leader (sophomore)
Dear UMN freshmen (and all other new students!),
Welcome to the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities! We are SO excited to have you here on campus with us this fall…
I know college might seem like a daunting new chapter in life. There are so many new experiences to dive in to! Roommates, dining hall food, new people, new clubs, new classes, new YOU. (But you’ve been hearing this already)
It may seem like you are all alone in this at times, but the good news is: that couldn’t be further from the truth!There is such a vast variety of communities here at the U of M that are overjoyed to embrace you with open minds and hearts. And now all you get to do is pick and choose, and try a few different student orgs and groups on, until you find the right fit!
Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM) is one of the amazing communities on campus that is excited to get to know you, and I hope you consider a faith family as an opportunity to support you during this time of transition and growth.
I remember my freshman year feeling a bit overwhelmed with finding all of my classes, figuring out which groups to join, and ultimately how to function as an “adult” away from my parents and life back home. I had a whole other identity back in High School that I wasn’t sure how to carry into my new life at college.
Then, LCM came in. This community is a group of people that has shaped me into who I am today. I am proud of the person I am, partially because of the love, care, and values LCM has instilled in me.
“Pause” worship services every Wednesday night have kept me grounded in my values and faith, given me a moment to press “pause” on the chaos of daily student life, and connected me to some of the people who have grown to be the most important to me on this campus.
As an incoming senior, I am proud to say that I will continue to search for ways to, “Be curious. Be real. Be community.” (LCM’s motto!)
I invite YOU to join us for our first “pause” student worship service the first Wednesday of fall semester, Sept. 7th at 9 pm. “Pause” is held at Grace University Lutheran Church right across the street from superblock. I will be there and would love to welcome you to the University of Minnesota in person! See you at Grace!
Claire Erickson(LCM Servant Leader)
By Student Servant Leader Sam Amodeo
Every night at Miracle Ranch, where we spent the last part of our trip, I would sleep outside on a cot and look at the stars, feeling myself slowly absorb everything I had seen at the border and in the migrant home, talking with those who were next to me. Realizing how young I was and how much of my life I had left to think about what I was experiencing.
Now, a month later, I’m remembering still, and I’m coming to some more conclusions. Something that puzzled me to no end was how optimistic the migrants and deportees were. Enrique said that he enjoys learning Mexican cuisine and working here, since his chef’s education had ironically taught him every cuisine but Mexican. Juan has finally connected with his family, gotten his stuff that he wasn’t allowed to take with him back when he was deported, and plans to work in Mexico until he can move back. An under-aged migrant who had failed his attempt to cross said with enthusiasm that he will try again.
Most of the people we talked to had a smile on their face at one point, they haven’t given up on their dreams. At Miracle Ranch, the kids are happy and helpful and everyone there believes in their futures. Much much later (now, when I write this), remembering the migrants and deportees being persecuted in and kicked out of the U.S. got me thinking about the topic in church that I was assigned many weeks later to speak on during our group’s presentation: which is derived from a biblical quote: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
When is it ever righteous to persecute a whole population? Persecution IS the mistreatment of people based on race and religion, so in definition it makes sense to target whole populations. Is it righteous? I’m reminded of strict parents obsessively protecting their children from danger and corruption, as if they were a significant portion of what actually awaits them, a Tangled scenario. These people that we met have been through this, and yet, they still smile, they still believe, they still treat others with kindness.
The kingdom of heaven, as I think of it, will not be one country of one people, nor a place with boundaries; it will receive people from all populations and backgrounds, countries of them, and the community will be huge and diverse…and still heavenly. Who could DO that? The quote reads “theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and I think this goes beyond just membership, just going to heaven. We are instead referring to who receives the membership, who creates the atmosphere of mutual friendship between people of very different cultures. If that is so, I can think of no better stewards of heaven than the people who received us in Mexico, with their smiles and stories and generosity. God bless them.
Before we left, we gathered in a circle with some of the kids and Cesar. We were invited by Cesar to speak in prayer to the circle. After a couple people went, I spoke about how the experience was special and that I was so glad to have had it before graduating and entering the big boy world. I insisted that the program should continue to invite college students to come and absorb what I had, as the things in Mexico we had seen had given us perspective that I thought everyone should have. It felt good to thank Cesar and the people around me for making the trip everything it was. I hope to be able to speak of what I learned to my friends and family and remember this for the rest of my life, long enough hopefully to see walls slackened and a number of migrants and deportees welcomed back as civilians. I’ll pray for it; you should too!
Although this isn’t a typical blog post, we thought it important to share experiences from our group that went on the Alternative Spring Break Trip to San Diego & Tijuana this year. There are profound words here and we pray that all might learn from these reflections & stories! If you want to hear more, join us for pause this week, April 13th at 9pm, as this group will lead and share from their trip.
“Our overall “mission” was to form connections, to develop understanding, and to gain perspective in a time in our history, and the history of others which is extremely turbulent and frequently misunderstood. We get all of our information from the media; this time we got it ourselves.”
“I thought I was traveling to San Diego and Mexico to learn about immigration and deportation, but I ended up learning more about how love and compassion entwines humanity as one. I feel so blessed to share this opportunity with these incredible people.”
“We gave our full attention to our surroundings, to the environment of each place, to the hearts and stories of each person. We did not go there single-mindedly focused on one project and leave ignorantly satisfied. Our trip consisted of learning about anti-immigration and deportation with Enrique, discovering Mexican culture, history, and idealism through the murals of Chicano park, and hearing the stories of migrants and deportees. We are bringing that knowledge back with us, which is exactly what everyone we met asked us to do.”
“A recurring theme that I noticed throughout the trip was family. Deportees often have to leave their families when they return to Mexico. Their wives, husbands, children, and grandchildren are left behind with no way to help their loved one as they start their life over in a far off place. Once a year, on Children’s Day, a select few families have the opportunity to re-unite for a mere two minutes before they have to return to their separate lives on opposite sides of the border.”
“We went with a mindset that we weren’t going to change the world, but to learn what was broken; that we weren’t going to heal people, but to walk with them; we weren’t going to pity the stories of deported men, but to hear them, and laugh with them, too. We don’t deserve pats on the backs or a gold star, but we owe it to others to share what we learned.”