To Everything There is a Season

My dear friends and family,

Pete Seeger once wrote a song called “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” based on Ecclesiastes 3 in the Bible. He sings, “To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven”. These are very reassuring words to hear, especially as I am coming to the end of my volunteer year in Bradford, England. There are seasons of beginnings and seasons of endings. There are times to start new journeys and times to say goodbye. I am currently wrestling with the thought that I will soon say goodbye to my English community and start a completely new phase of my life upon arrival stateside. But what gives me peace is knowing that our lives are full of ever changing seasons. Saying goodbye is just a part of living life and means that you get to say hello to something new. When I initially signed up for this program I knew there was a definite end date, but it is still crazy that is nearly here. So I will soon say goodbye to Bradford and to the many people I have met, but I leave knowing that it has been a year full of love, laughter, weeping, dancing, mourning, celebrating, and planting roots. To end, here is a beautiful arrangement of Seeger’s song performed by one of the choirs from my alma mater, Luther College.

 

“Hey Erik. Welcome home from your year abroad! How was it?” I will inevitably be asked this short three-worded question numerous times upon my arrival back home, but it is not a simple question to answer. Though I will try my best, I will no doubt be searching for words to say. How will I be able to express and share everything that I experienced during my time in Bradford? I may not be able to, and that’s ok. I will have endless stories to share and memories to think back on, but I won’t be able to explain all of the ways that I’ve grown and changed. In fact, I don’t yet know all of the ways that this year has changed me, but I look forward to sharing my experience with all of you.
With that said, I must say a massive thank you to everyone who helped make this year so special. This extends to my family and friends, to all those who generously donated money, to First Lutheran Church, Decorah Lutheran Church in Decorah, IA and Hope Lutheran Church in Bozeman, MT, to the ELCA and the YAGM program, and everyone in Bradford that made me feel right at home. I couldn’t have had this experience without you, and for that I am and will always be grateful.

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Just like that my year long journey is down to 24 hours. This has been one of the most influential experiences in my 25 years of life. I have seen amazing places, made lifelong friends and have been part of a community that will forever be home.

As always, peace and blessings,

Erik

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It’s a small world.

Hello everyone,

This past month I have continued to stay busy with all of the different aspects of my work here in Bradford.  I have nicely settled into a weekly routine that allows me to work with lots of different people, young and old.  More than ever, I feel like I am at home here and have truly connected with my community.  I have celebrated birthdays and the birth of new family members.  I have seen growth and development in the young people I work with on a daily basis in deep and profound ways.  I have supported my community and have been supported by them in a plethora of ways.  While the uncertainty of my future continues to be a source of stress and anxiety for me, I have found peace in the here and now with where I am and the people I am surrounded by.

 

With the advancements of technology in recent years, the world is seemingly getting smaller.  It also means that people from all over the world are able to communicate by a touch of a button.  A few weeks ago my youth group from church and I were able to take advantage of this when we Skyped with my former youth director and his youth group from First Lutheran Church in Decorah, Iowa.  So here we were, in England, sitting in front of a computer having a conversation with people thousands of miles away.  Now I realize that Skype is not a new thing, but nevertheless that experience amazed me.  Not only that, but it was a beneficial time for those kids who were able to share about themselves and their culture with kids from a different part of our world.

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Here’s another little story about how small our world is.  Shortly after that Skype conversation with my former youth director, one of his friends, who lives in Bradford saw a picture on Facebook that he had posted of the two youth groups.  Soon it was discovered that he is a teacher at a school just down the street from where I live.  We were able to meet up and share our stories with each other.  It turns out that he spent a summer working with my former youth director at Ewalu Camp in Iowa.  He also has plans to spend a week in my hometown in Iowa attending a Norwegian festival called Nordic Fest, an event that I grew up going to.  It’s simply amazing how you can make these small world connections wherever you go.

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To wrap up this month’s blog post, just one more “small world” story to share with you.  Just a week ago I was able to meet up with two friends I went to college with back in Pella, Iowa.  We spent about 48 hours in northwest England, in the Lake District, a stunningly beautiful corner of the world.  Throughout this year I have been blessed to explore the different parts of the country I have called home.  How amazing it was to share that experience with two close friends from back home.

 

 

 

Peace and blessings,

 

 

 

Erik

 

Family Meets Family

Hi friends and family,

 

Happy May!  It’s finally starting to get warmer here in Bradford.  It’s been a long time coming, although there is a saying here in Yorkshire that warns people about putting their winter clothes away  until June arrives, so I may yet need my warm winter coat.  As spring will eventually lead to summer, it will be just one more reminder that my time in England is coming to an end.  The days are certainly passing quickly, and the opportunities to journey with my English family are passing even quicker.

Speaking of family, this past month I was blessed to have my mom and brother visit all the way from Houston, TX and Salt Lake City, UT.  The day my mom found out I was spending a year in England she knew she was going to visit, and we were lucky enough to make it happen.  The first half of our trip was spent exploring the city of Dublin, Ireland.  Along with checking out old churches, parks, museums and castles, we also made sure to catch some traditional Irish music and dancing while eating our lamb pies and veggies.  As the rain held off, we spent an afternoon hiking along the scenic coastline catching peeks of dolphins in the Irish Sea.  Any trip to Dublin would not be complete without checking out the Guinness Storehouse and enjoying a free pint and taking in the 360 degree view of the city.  The trip to Dublin was a complete success, except for this one thing.  Unfortunately my brother came down with a violent cold that kept him resting in bed for some of the trip.  It was sad for him to come all that way and not be able to enjoy some of the events.

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The rest of our time together was spent in West Yorkshire, England.  One of the main goals I had for my family during this trip was the chance to meet my English family and to experience the same generosity and hospitality that has made me feel at home here in Bradford.  Needless to say, that goal was met and then some.  Through Sunday lunch after church to spending a day exploring York and celebrating my 25th birthday with a famous Bradford curry.  What an absolute joy to have my two families together sharing memories.

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Families come in all shapes and sizes and I have been blessed this year to have been surrounded by such caring and kind people.  They have become part of my family.  I challenge you to go out of your way to thank the people around you for what they do and for how much they care for you.

 

Peace and blessings,

Erik

Everyone in the world in is my neighbor.

Dear family and friends,

Happy April!  Wow, that seems strange to say.  It’s hard to believe that roughly a year ago I was in Chicago learning where I would spend my year abroad with the YAGM program.  I couldn’t be more thankful for this program and for the people who have made this year so amazing.  But as the old phrase goes, time truly does fly when you’re having fun!  For this month’s post, I want you to get a better idea of some of the youth I work with and some of the experiences I am having here in Bradford.  So, I have a few stories to share that will hopefully inspire you.

About two weeks ago I went on a youth retreat for the weekend about two hours north of Bradford in the Yorkshire Dales which is way out in the middle of nowhere.  It’s a beautiful area, but unfortunately rain kept us inside most of the weekend.  In attendance were youth and church leaders from churches all across Bradford who usually meet once a month.  All together there were roughly 45 people there.  Of the youth who came along, there was a group of boys from Sudan and two brothers from Tanzania who have all recently moved to England with their families.  One of my tasks that weekend was to lead a session based around the theme, “who is my neighbor?”  So, I opened up the group with that basic question and you can probably guess the response I got.  I got the typical answers of my friends, my family, the people at church and school.  But then as we were going around the circle, we got to one of the Sudanese boys.  He didn’t want to say his response, so he lifted up his paper to show me what he wrote down.  In his scribbled English he wrote, “everyone in the world is my neighbor”.  Needless to say I was taken aback by his response, in the most delighted way.  What this Sudanese boy, who is now living in a new place, with new people, and a new language was willing to share is something that we all can be reminded of.

 

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A short break from the rain during the weekend retreat.

 

Each individual on the planet has their own set of unique qualities that set them apart from everybody else.  Now, obviously lots of people share a lot of things in common.  Likewise, I’m sure we can all point out something about ourselves that is different from nearly everyone else.  That’s what makes our world so unique and beautiful.  But, far too often in today’s society, we look at differences among people as negative things.  We need to learn to see those differences as positive and valuable and opportunities to learn about someone else.  We need to learn to celebrate diversity in our communities.  So remember, everyone in the world is my neighbor.  Everyone in the world is your neighbor. 

This final story is a bit shorter, but I think just as important to share.  Let me provide you with some context first.  Through an afterschool program I spend time at each day, I work with the aforementioned Tanzanian brothers who come usually to grab some toast and kick a football (soccer ball) around.  Months ago, when they first started coming to the program, they refused to ask mine or anyone else’s names.  But one day, after we had been talking about who their favorite footballer is, the younger brother asked me where I was from, I’m assuming because he noticed my lack of British accent.  So I told him I was from America and for the next several weeks he would refer to me only as “Hey, American!”  Fast forward now to the youth weekend retreat.  For whatever reason, this boy sat down next to me and asked me my name.  To this day I still don’t know what motivated him to ask me.  But that’s not the important thing.  The important thing is that now each day at this afterschool program, the first thing I hear from him is, “Hey, Erik!” 

 

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The beautiful daffodils in full bloom in Bradford!

 

If you haven’t noticed, this year I am working mainly with young people in a variety of settings.  Each and every day I am surprised of the lessons these kids are teaching me.  Spending time with all these different kiddos has impacted me in ways that I can’t even put into words.  I am extremely thankful for the YAGM program, which has given me this amazing opportunity.  I am equally as thankful to everyone who generously donated their money to support me in my fundraising efforts for this year.  If you haven’t already and would like to donate, that money will go straight to supporting a future YAGM volunteer.  I have attached the link here. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

With love,

Erik 

http://support.elca.org/site/TR?px=1038649&fr_id=1181&pg=personal

Come Together

Happy March everyone!

For this month’s blog post I would like to share a story from this past month that is sure to put a smile on your face.  About a week ago, the schools here in Bradford were on a week-long break known as half-term.  During this week, I, along with the help of some amazing co-workers, planned and organized a “Holiday Club” at my church for local children to attend.  The club ran from Monday to Thursday and each day included music, games, activities, crafts, and learning about the theme for the week, “We Are the World”.  On one of the days we learned about serving our neighbors and serving our community.  This involved the kids baking bread and biscuits (cookies) that would be donated, and an hour long litter pick.  These service projects were met with so much joy and enthusiasm.  So much in fact that many of the kids wanted to continue the work on their own time.  It was truly an honor to put together the first “Holiday Club” for the church in nearly 30 years.

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The litter picking crew with nearly 20 bags of rubbish!

Today marks the first day of Lent, known as Ash Wednesday.  Lent is known as a time of reflection and preparation before the celebration of Easter.  Some Christians may give something up to portray Jesus’ sacrifice and deprivation in the wilderness.  Here in England there has been an initiative over recent years during Lent called “40 Days of Generosity”.  People are encouraged to do a random act of kindness each day during Lent to instill a sense of generosity in the community.  Now, I’m not suggesting there is a right way to observe Lent, nor am I suggesting that random acts of kindness should only be done during Lent.  On the contrary, I believe we should all live our daily lives with a generous heart.  But I will say that this initiative is a step in the right direction to build bridges among all kinds of people in the community.  Here’s a little clip to give you a better idea.

In case I haven’t told you before, my time here in England is absolutely flying by.  The fact that it is now March is yet another reminder of the little time I have left here.  In typical English fashion, the past month has seen more rainy days than sunny days, by far.  Unfortunately, more than once my mood has reflected the cold and rainy weather.  If you’re like me, sometimes dreary days just simply get you down and you easily forget that the rain brings life, just like the daffodils starting to bloom here in Bradford.  Almost inevitably I catch myself thinking about the future.  I think about warmer and drier days.  I start thinking about what I’ll be doing once I return home, and about how I’m going earn money again after volunteering for a year. It’s in those times when you don’t feel strong, when it’s important to come together with the people surrounding you.  Be vulnerable.  Share your worries and your concerns.  Lean on the people that care about you to care for you.  There are hundreds of questions concerning our future, but I have recently challenged myself to living in the present.  To see each day as a gift and a unique opportunity to make a small difference in my community.  So that’s what I encourage you all to do.  View today as a gift and an opportunity to make a small difference in your community.  Take time to notice something you wouldn’t usually notice. Today will be the only March 1st, 2017.  Make it special.

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Spring has sprung in Bowling Park!

Peace and blessings,

Erik

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Hi everyone!

Greetings from a neat little coffee shop in Bradford.  I have spent most of the afternoon here preparing to write this blog.  You see, I am half way done with my year of service with YAGM.  Just typing those words makes me pause and reflect.  It’s tough to believe that so much time has passed already, but at the same time encouraging that I still have so much time here, and so much to learn.  During the busyness of our lives, I believe it’s extremely valuable to take time to pause, to be still and reflect on our lives and what is going on around us, especially since we live in such shaky and uncertain times in our world’s history.  So here it goes.

Today marks the first day of February, meaning I have less than 6 months left here in England.  Time here has absolutely flown by.  I have learned a great amount of what it means to work with lots of different people, while also been challenged at the same time.  I have found myself outside of my comfort zone and have put my problem solving skills to good use.  Perhaps most importantly, however, I have made countless new friends.  These friends have been there for the good and helped me through the challenging.  I recently saw a video of a father/daughter duet singing Randy Newman’s “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story.  It will surely put a smile on your face.

What I love so much about the YAGM program is that the volunteer is called to accompany and walk beside the people in their placement.  This means experiencing everyday life together, through the good and the bad.  It means building friendships with those we encounter each day and actively learning about each other.  It means sharing smiles, handshakes, laughter, tears and hugs.  It means diving deeper into our faith through conversations, exposure to new ideas, and asking relevant questions.  In many ways, in fact, in all ways this is a fantastic model of living regardless of where you are or what you are doing.

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People of different faiths coming together to discuss youth work strategies and working together in the Leeds/Bradford area.

So, as the realization of having under 6 months left here settles in, I am motivated to continue walking alongside the good people of Bradford, England.  There’s still so much to learn and ways for me to grow.  Indeed, there is so much for all of us to learn and grow from.

As always I am extremely grateful for all of your support from back home and around the world.  As the YAGM program begins looking for next year’s volunteers, please consider supporting them any way you can.  I would love to hear from you all, so don’t be afraid to reach out!

 

With love,

Erik

2017

Happy New Year everyone!

It didn’t take me long to figure out what I was going to share for this month’s post.  As you probably know, Christmas was roughly two weeks ago followed closely by the beginning of the new year.  I would like to take this time to thank all of you who made this English Christmas so special.  Surely the words “thank you” can’t even begin to describe how thankful I am, but it’s a start.  To all of those back home and around the world who sent emails/messages/letters, I can’t thank you enough for thinking of me during the holiday season.  It sure made home feel a little bit closer!

And to everyone here in Bradford who made my first Christmas away from such a special and memorable one, words just can’t express my gratitude for all of you.  Your gifts and cards were so incredibly kind and thoughtful.  Even though I was away from home, you all made me feel right at home here.  For that I am genuinely grateful.

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Around the Christmas tree.
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Went for a nice Boxing Day walk in the Yorkshire Dales National Park with the Eskriett family.  Boxing Day is the name given to December 26th.

As it is the beginning of the new year, my time in England has quickly shrunk to roughly 7 months.  Where has the time gone?!  I will most certainly try to the best of my ability to live each day to the fullest, to continue to serve the people around me, and continue to find new ways to be challenged and to grow from those experiences.  I encourage you all to do the same.

With love,

Erik