One Life at a Time: Changing One Life at a Time through Generosity
We've Been Able to Soar
By Jeffrey Bissoy
My name is Jeffrey and my mother, Henriette (Angela), and I arrived at Normandale House, NLC’s transitional housing, in 2001, after previously residing at the Harriet Tubman shelter for women in South Minneapolis. Two years after crossing the Atlantic to the U.S. from Cameroon in October of 1999, things had not gone according to plan and we found ourselves on the streets. What would happen next would transform our lives forever.
At Normandale House, we were introduced to our family friends (and Normandale members), Jean and David Wikoff and Katie and Eldon Arden, who would become more than simply friends, but actual family. Growing up, and even to this day, I refer to the Wikoffs as Aunty Jean and Uncle David, and Katie and Eldon have become the grandparents I never had. Between these two great families and Kathy Peterson, the former head of Normandale House, we couldn’t have been in better hands. The Wikoffs and the Ardens would bring us to museums and various events throughout the Twin Cities, and would invite us over, or take us out for dinner. As I said they were family, and for us they were the only family we had in the U.S. When a family member is hurt and is in need, you tend to their wounds and nurse them back to health. Our adoptive family did this and much more. They weren’t content with simply helping us land back on our feet, they wanted to see us run, and run faster and further than we ever had before.
In 2003, we left Normandale House on Chicago Ave. in South Minneapolis and moved to a townhouse in Maplewood, and ultimately into our first home in Saint Paul, where mom still currently resides. My mom is currently a tenured-licensed science teacher at L’Étoile du Nord French Immersion in Saint Paul, where she inspires students to engage and fall in love with science. Since she has been at L’Étoile du Nord, her school has finished 2nd in the Saint Paul Public School district and third in the state in for MCA scores in science for 5+ years. Annually, her students compete at the Twin Cities Regional science fair, where they often win many awards for their challenging, fun, and interesting science projects.
As for me, I attended L’Étoile du Nord from 2003 till 2006 and I also participated in the regional science fair, where, with the help of Eldon, I won several awards for an aerospace project titled, “Can a Rocket Fly with Baking Soda and Vinegar?” Conclusion: It can. After the French Immersion, I attended Highland Park and Saint Pascal Baylon Catholic School for middle school, before graduating from Twin Cities Academy High School in 2012. From there, I attended Carleton College, which recently ranked as the #4 liberal arts college in the nation. After four challenging, exciting, and unforgettable years, I graduated from Carleton this past June with a Bachelors of Art in American Studies and a concentration in French and Francophone studies.
Carleton was challenging for many reasons, but I’ll be completely honest when I say that I would not have graduated from there without Normandale. I was fortunate to have had Eldon and Katie, who routinely checked up on me, making sure that I was settling in comfortably and pushing myself to my fullest capacities. However, I cannot forget my sophomore year, when my mother and I were struggling to pay my tuition, and suddenly we were blessed with a $3000 scholarship from Normandale to pay for my schooling. Again, I can’t speak enough on how blessed my mother and I have been to have Normandale in our lives.
Since graduating, I have been working as a research strategist intern for Fusion Hill, a marketing consultant firm located in Northeast Minneapolis, and I’ve also moved to Uptown with some friends from school. I’m a co-founder of a non-profit called CAYA (Coalition of African Youth in America), which expects to launch in fall of 2018. CAYA’s mission is to provide mentorship to high school students that identify as African or Afro-Caribbean and help them engage with their Pan-African identities, while pushing them to strive for academic and professional success. I often have many projects that I’m working on, but a project that I hope to commence in the near future is a sports and motivation podcast, which will combine my love for sports and my devotion to helping others in need. Two passions that would not have come about, if not for the numerous sports, arts, political, and current events discussions that Eldon and I have had over the years. It is impossible to fully emphasize the profound impact that the Normandale community has had on me, so I’d simply like to say, thank you Normandale for opening your doors to my mother and I in our time of need. Not only have we been able to run, but we’ve been able to soar, and for that we are forever grateful.
Much love and God bless always,
Jeffrey Bissoy & Henriette Ngo-Bissoy
My Favorite Place to Be... My Sanctuary
By Annika Henry
I have been going to NLC my whole life. I'm grateful for the times my parents would make me go to church because "they said so” for so many reasons…
First off, I met my best friend here in Cherub Choir. We didn't go to the same school up until high school, so church was our main connecting point. I can't imagine not being her friend, not being a dynamic duo, and not having shared countless experiences that would later become the foundation of my identity. Whether or not we're in church, Lindsay and I prefer to be addressed as "LANNIKA." I have grown with her throughout the years – like literally grown with her. We were the same height until we were 15 and I grew an inch and she did not.
The first time I started appreciating church was when I was in Confirmation, playing guitar with our former youth director, Steve. I'm actually terrified by crowds and being anywhere near the center of attention, but when I'm in church my anxiety is dulled and I feel so much better afterward. Once when I was in a hospital, I would play “Sanctuary” on my guitar every night to end the day on a positive note. My roommate, who was atheist, loved the song and she would sing along at night before we would go to bed. She didn't care that it was a religious song, it made her happy and she saw how it helped me.
Going to Youth Group every Wednesday became the highlight of my week. It's how I met Betsy Narr, probably the coolest person I know who still uses the slang term "rad." I'm not great at describing feelings, but it sort of feels like I'm Anakin Skywalker (pre-burning in lava and becoming Darth Vader) and she's Obi-Wan Kenobi. And when Maggie Jones got here I wasn't sure about my opinion of her. But then I got a fish for the Fishbowl (aka the Youth Room) and she just went with it, so I knew we were going to get along just fine. While being involved with Normandale Youth, I have also learned that I'm actually a good person that makes people happy, as well as somewhat of a leader. Score.
The Normandale Youth is the safest, warmest, and most accepting community I have ever belonged to – a community in which I actually feel like I belong. Through my worst to my best moments, this community has supported me. Quite frankly, I wouldn't be alive today without this peculiar group of individuals, showing me I'm never alone. Thinking back on the nights when I argued with my parents about not going to church, I wish I could go back and tell myself that in a few years, it would become my favorite place to be. My sanctuary.
Sharing God's Love and Healing
As a health care worker in small villages in India, I walk with people every day through their life struggles and hope to bring love and encouragement into their lives. I try to meet people where they are – both literally and figuratively – on their life journey, in their physical location, and using their own religion and language.
I meet with people on the road, in their courtyards, and in their homes. Depending on their religious background, I choose my greeting. If they are Christian, I say “Yeshusahay” meaning “Jesus bless you and keep and help you.” If they are not Christian and are from the village, I greet them with “Johar,” a local term for greeting, or many a times I say “Namaste,” a Hindi term for greeting, to greet people of the village. There are many groups of people with different language preference therefore I communicate with them in Hindi, the national language, or Sadri, a local dialect. If they are Oraon (indigenous) people, then I communicate with them in Kunrukh, the language which is their mother-tongue.
Depending on their age I address them as father, mother, brother, sister, and strike up a conversation and make myself available to them. Most of the time leads people to open up and share their life’s struggle and aspirations. When I talk to people with alcoholic problems, they always confess that they are bad people. During my conversation, I help them realize that they are not bad people – they are special people of God. I encourage them and their families to love and care for them. I always pray with them and encourage them to pray as family. These families welcome me into their lives because they see hope when I share the love of our Lord Jesus Christ with them. I want them to experience God’s love for them, just as I experience this love amidst them.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be part of God’s healing and transformation. I am also very thankful for the encouragement and support of Normandale in this ministry. In this partnership together, the love of Jesus Christ opens new possibilities for individuals and families for physical, mental, and spiritual health and wholeness. I thank friends of Normandale Lutheran Church and pray for God’s blessing upon this partnership.
It's a Feeling of God's Love, Comfort, and Acceptance
By E.W. "Swede" Muehlhausen
Over the years, I have been a member of other congregations as my family and I moved along I-94, from Fargo to Detroit, with stops at points in between. After relocating to Edina last December, I first came to Normandale Lutheran Church for a Wednesday Matins service. I welcomed the opportunity to partake in a mid-week worship service and was warmly greeted by Pastor Paul and members of the congregation. As a stranger, it gave me an immediate feeling of inclusiveness. I found this very meaningful – it felt like coming home. It was a feeling of God's love, comfort, and acceptance.
My relationship with NLC is only beginning, but it has cause me to reflect on the "then and now". The "then" goes back to the 50's and 60's. I recall a Garrison Keillor Prairie Home Companion radio program and a Lake Wobegon story. He described a group of Lutheran pastors filling a platoon boat and true to their Northern European heritage each needed 30 inches of space on every side. Even a half-inch intrusion was a violation of personal boundary as each one tried to maneuver to maintain their sacred space. I think this was true of most all of us back then and of most major denominations as well. We didn't want to move beyond our comfort zone. It was easier to be safe within our own kind than to reach out and risk.
But what happens “now”? We reach across those 30 inches and… we even hug! Through the ongoing revelation of God, his love, comfort, and acceptance, we reach out to people beyond our core group. Nowhere is it better demonstrated than in the ministries and programs at NLC. It is the love of Christ in action whether it is through community meals on Wednesday nights, or Normandale Housing Ministry, or Missions in India or Peru, or umpteen other ministries and programs of NLC. I am impressed to the point of being overwhelmed with opportunities to both give and receive in giving. I look forward to officially joining NLC at the end of this month… it feels like coming home.
The Blessing Place of NLC
By Tara Finn
Blessing Place, the toddler preschool ministry at NLC, was the ultimate blessing to our family over the last year! In November 2015, our daughter and I moved back home to Minnesota leaving my husband behind in Louisiana to wrap up a work assignment and join us at a later date. It was extremely challenging to navigate a move with a toddler and without my husband throughout the third trimester of a high risk pregnancy. I was beyond grateful for the opportunity our daughter had to spend time in such a loving and nurturing environment while I was able to unpack, attend doctor appointments, and rest.
Six days after we welcomed our son into the world I received an e-mail from Alley Ohe, a parent of another Blessing Place child. She set up a “Take Them A Meal” plan for our family. My interaction with Alley prior to the birth of our son was very limited so I was shocked to receive such a selfless gesture from her. In the following weeks, multiple mothers from the Blessing Place community showed up at our house with the most delicious meals to feed our family; seriously they were so tasty! I got to know these moms a little better in the warmth of our messy home while recovering from a cesarean surgery in stretchy pants, unwashed hair, a baby in my arms, and a toddler running around. The gracious gesture of these women created such a welcoming community for us. Not only did they feed my family, but they became familiar faces I looked forward to seeing at Blessing Place drop-off and pick-up.
The heart of the Blessing Place ministry is the Blessing Place team. To me, the Blessing Place staff represents a big warm hug! From my initial interaction with them last year to a recent mini-mom crisis, I have come to see them as a supportive and encouraging. Lisa Pettersen, the director, shares her experiences as a mother and she is a great mentor to every parent that walks through the doors of Blessing Place. Not only is this a blessing to me, but the Blessing Place staff loves all the kiddos like they are their own!
Throughout my life, I can’t recall ever seeing a “burning bush” like Moses did, but I do know that Blessing Place was a very clear answer to our family’s desperate prayers. We are so incredibly grateful for all of the wonderful teachers and the Normandale staff that make Blessing Place what it is and the community of parents we got to know. The love, support, and community shown towards our family has been the best example of Christ’s love that our family has experienced.
Blessing Place grew by more than 60% in 2016, from 44 to 72 toddler students, expanding to a third classroom on the lower level north end. Thank you for your generosity.
2016: Summer with the Spirit
2015: A Year in the Life of Normandale Lutheran Church
Stories: Be Opened to Generosity... in Scripture... in Prayer... in Community... in Sharing
A Reflection on Generosity
By Steve Clay, Normandale Member
“For it is in giving that we receive.”
― Francis of Assisi
Generosity is present in our lives in many forms. Generosity can be large, such as a recent $25 million donation to Gustavus Adolphus College by an anonymous donor. Generosity can be small, such as paying for the coffee for the person in line behind you. Sometimes we have no idea of our generosity’s impact, at least on others. Generosity, however, is equal parts giving and receiving, and the giver is impacted by an act of generosity as surely as the actual beneficiary of the gift.
Children can learn generosity from their parents, their teachers and other adults important in their lives in a hundred small ways every day. Emma Goldman said, “No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity, hidden in the soul of a child.” One of my favorite scenes at Normandale is at the baptismal font, when a small child, seeing the example of those around him/her, dips a tiny hand into the font and cups water over the head of the baby being baptized. It is a tender act inspired by the example of the others standing at the font. In this act, we all experience the ultimate generosity of God’s grace as a community, and we see the impact of witnessing the generosity and compassion of others.
For young children, generosity is modeled by their parents, both by example and direct teaching. As children in turn learn to be generous with their peers, it impacts how they form and build relationships. I first learned generosity from my parents by example, benefiting from the time they spent with me and watching them as they engaged with the world and community around them.
As children grow, they experience real generosity from their teachers. Of the many educators who played an important role in my life, the one that I want to highlight is Edwin Melichar, director of the Concert Band at Edina High School. Mr. Melichar showed true caring and compassion for his band students, and it is in his devotion to his students by dedicating his life and career to them that he showed true generosity.
Sometimes the beneficiaries of even true acts of generosity, however, really have no idea of the level of commitment from the donor. This can be particularly true with children, but generosity has a long tail, and the impact can become clear even years down the road. I look back on the evening rehearsals and performances and I marvel at the time commitment, far beyond normal school hours. At the time this just seemed typical and it became what we expected. In reality, we were learning valuable lessons about commitment to excellence and, as it turned out, the generosity of giving your time and dedicating your life to something you believe in.
When you look back and realize the time and effort that someone put into you, how can it help but have an impact? This is the multiplier effect of generosity, the ability to touch many lives, who in turn can spread this same spirit of generosity to others. Whether it is giving of yourself to your own children, in the same way that your parents gave to you, or working to build the community around you to touch many lives, the spirit of generosity has a long lasting impact in ways big and small.
Stories: It's All God's. Live Generously.
So often in our lives it's easy to forget this simple truth. Everything, yes, everything, belongs to God. It follows then that we are not owners, but stewards. Stewards entrusted with these gifts of God so we may live generously, with gratitude, and go forth to love, learn, worship, and serve others in His name. Why do we continue to give and support the mission and ministries of Normandale? Read and watch below as our Normandale community shares their thoughts on living generously.
What Does It Mean to Be a Grateful Steward?
By Jenny Bock, Normandale Member
In preparing to write about grateful stewardship, I have become aware of some of the ways in which I am a steward this week. I am a wife and mother to three children, I have an overabundance of apples waiting on the counter that should be used, I have closets to clean and boxes to bring to Goodwill, and Tom and I are talking about our annual financial pledge to Normandale. These are responsibilities, both big and small, that I have because of gifts that God has given me.
Being a grateful steward starts with acknowledging that ALL things come from God. Nothing I have been given or have worked to achieve is really mine. I am thankful for these gifts and (on a good day) joyfully accept the hard work and responsibility of caring for them. The gifts of our Creator are accompanied by a call to nurture them and to use them in service to others. Then, despite how hard I feel I have worked to deserve what I have, I need to be willing to let go and share what has temporarily been entrusted to me.
Letting go and sharing what I have invested so much energy, resource, and emotion in can be very fulfilling, but it can also be really hard. It is fun to make applesauce and give it to friends, despite all of the peeling. However, I am not quite ready to share my children with the world and am going to have a terrible sense of loss when our oldest child goes to college next year. It feels good to rid my closet of clothes I no longer need and to think someone else may appreciate them. Yet, I struggle with commitments of time and money to NLC because of my anxiety about my own future needs. I am unable to be the grateful steward I am called to be without support.
I need the love, learning, worship, and service of our Normandale community. Worshiping together keeps God’s presence close in my life. Loving and serving one another gives me the opportunity to see my gifts grow and flourish in our mission and ministries. Nurturing my faith, through learning, gives me the confidence to trust in God and to reject the anxiety that causes me to hold too tightly to that which ultimately has always belonged to God. Together, as the community of Normandale Lutheran Church, we can boldly and generously pledge our precious time, talents, and treasure to do the work of grateful stewards of God’s abundant creation.
Why I Enjoy Normandale and Why I Give
By Tom Linhares, Normandale Member
Forty three ago, Lee and I were invited to join Normandale Church by a close friend of Lee’s, Jan Ranheim and her husband Ted. Lee had known Jan since the second grade. It didn’t take us long to make a decision regarding joining Normandale. We had been discussing the idea of joining a new church closer to home. I believe that was the best decision we ever made. This was a decision that changed the direction of my life in a significant way, other than marrying Lee.
Shortly thereafter, I joined the Ushers Committee and began the first significant change in my faith journey. I soon learned that Normandale is a gathering of devoted and active members of the Body of Christ. The church is a family of Christians and became a major source of my personal growth.
The longer we were members, I became involved in other committees and enjoyed the members as a second family. Later I was voted to be a member of the Church Council and ultimately to be President of the Council. What a joyful part of a long faith journey. I was blessed immensely through the interactions and relationships with individuals on the various committees at Normandale.
Now that I have been a member for four plus decades, health issues have crept into my life and consequently I can no longer attend Normandale on a regular basis. I still faithfully support my Normandale family with monetary gifts. Thanks to my daughters, Heidi and Stacy, I am still able to attend when their schedules permit. Normandale and my family are still tied to the hip as Pastor Chuck Humphrey visits me monthly to pray, receive Communion, and simply chat.
God has blessed me abundantly with many rich memories to reflect upon knowing I have contributed to the growth of God’s Church.
My Experience at Normandale and How It Has Helped Me Grow
By Anna Henningsen, Age 9, Normandale Member
What I am involved in at NLC: Choir, serving food at Our Saviour’s Shelter, Sunday School, and AMEN events
What I like best about being involved at Normandale: Seeing the happy smiles on people’s faces at Our Saviour’s Shelter.
My favorite things to do at NLC: My favorite things to do at church are singing in choir and going to Sunday School. Also, since I am still new at Normandale (we joined last spring), I like exploring. When we first arrived at NLC I was surprised at how big it was compared to our old church. I really like the music here. When I go to choir, I pass people practicing music and singing. Then in service I recognize the different songs I heard during their rehearsals. I also enjoy being with some friends from school here at church.
Connections I have made with others: Since I joined choir in 3rd grade, many girls have helped me get around and have helped to explain things that are new to me.
What I have learned at church that has carried into school and at home: I watched a movie at a friend’s house about Moses. Afterward, somebody said it wasn’t true. People around me started to argue. I asked Pastor Paul about what to do or say to my friends who were unsure. I told him I felt uncomfortable. He said to tell them, “I will believe for you until you are ready to believe for yourself.” That told me it is hard to have faith, but the thought of my friends coming to church with me made me feel brave and happy.
My favorite thing I’ve learned or experienced with God: Even if people are treating me badly or I’m not doing well in school, God is always holding on.
What I am most thankful for at NLC: All the people who help instruct me, my friends from school that I get to see at church, and my choir director, Mrs. Oliphant.
Live Generously Moments
Live Generously Moment
Sunday, October 19, 2014, Alley and Jeff Ohe
Live Generously Moment
Sunday, October 12, 2014, Josh Howard
Live Generously Moment
Sunday, October 5, 2014, Lorraine Born
Stories: Because of your gifts
At Normandale we are able to go forth and do good works, because of your gifts. We reach those in our church family, our community, and our world, because of your gifts. We serve the smallest among us to our elders with love and compassion, because of your gifts. As followers of Jesus, as we respond with generosity to all that God has first given us. Because of your gifts, we can follow in His footsteps and touch the lives of others.
Walk with us as we tell the stories of those who have experienced God's love. Because of your gifts.
The Gift of Giving: You Never Miss What You Give Away
Through the years I have been fortunate to receive good financial advice. I treasure the long talks that my Dad and I had when I would visit him. We talked about many things including money. Several times he told me, “Lois, you never miss what you give away.”
I also received good advice from my attorney. He recommended that I give appreciated stock for my church pledge. This enables me to give more than I would if I were giving a cash gift.
My dad enjoyed life and he enjoyed giving to others to make their lives better. It feels good to give to Normandale. It is encouraging to see how our money is prudently spent for the many programs at Normandale to benefit our congregation and many outside of Normandale.
I am most grateful that God has blessed me with financial resources. However this gives me a responsibility to give to Normandale and other organizations.
I am reminded of the hymn:
“We give thee but thine own, What e’er the gift may be;
All that we have is thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from thee."
You never miss what you give away. The gift of giving. Because of your gifts, God is changing the world in Jesus' name.
A Place for Families. A Place for Children.
Lillian's Story of Strength, Healing & Wholeness
A Life Changing Summer
By Bethany Aydinalp, Normandale Youth
Over the summer I was blessed with many opportunities to not only travel to places I had never been, but to meet new people, grow stronger in my faith, and see God in others. I was able to do this because of your gifts as a congregation, and with the support you have for youth and all of our adventures. There was the choir trip to New York City, Camp Wapo, a mission trip to Austin, Texas, and even the 9th grade retreat where we helped at Normandale House. Everyone who participated was touched in their own way, which made us closer as a group, and helped us make a difference thanks to your gifts.
In the 10 days we spent as a Youth Choir traveling to different states, cities, and churches, we spread the gospel through music. Read More
NLC: A Community of Care When Suffering Comes
The phone rings, "Pastor, I need your help…I just found out that…my husband was diagnosed with…my mother only has a few days to live…my job is ending…our marriage seems to have gotten off-track…"
This is the daily, weekly and ongoing work of the church, to be available when crisis comes; providing visits in hospitals, counseling for life’s obstacles, presence when death approaches, a strong reminder that our God in Jesus Christ will not leave nor forsake you, but will be present in your times of need.
Because of your gifts, we are able to provide care in times of suffering. Because if your gifts, we bring you with us, as we reach out with comfort. Because of your gifts, we are a community of Jesus' love to one another, the power and presence of God to bring healing and hope!
Homeless. Tenant. Homeowner. I am Tina.
Stories of Faith
Normandale members share their personal stories of faith as they walk the journey of life.