Every good and perfect gift

Delegates to Kenya prepare to bring gifts for global brothers and sisters

One of the things delegates think about when preparing for a trip is how to be a hospitable guest. One way they do that is by bringing gifts. Some groups will bring liturgical items — linens, refurbished chalices, even unconsecrated Communion hosts. Others bring items that are especially linked with Minnesota — sports-themed items, wild rice, fishing gear. And still others come up with unique ideas to help sustain memories of the visit long after they’ve returned home.

A universal message

Sixteen delegates will travel to the Diocese of Homa Bay, Kenya, Feb. 15 to March 1. Pictured are: back row from left, Father Peter VanderWeyst, Marvin Skwira, Bishop Donald Kettler, Sister Bea Eichten, Father Michael Wolfbauer, Helen Bettendorf, Joe Bettendorf. Middle row from left, Lorie Baron, Brianda Cediel, Rose Blesener, Deb Berg. Front row from left, Jim Baron, Dave Mertens, Father Aaron Kuhn, Elizabeth Neville and Father Oswaldo Roche.

When the office staff at St. John Parish in Foley found out that their pastor, Father Michael Wolfbauer, was part of the delegation going to the Diocese of Homa Bay, Kenya, they scrambled to come up with an idea for a gift to send along that would represent their parish community.

During the Christmas season, parishioner Rita Teff painted an ornament with a picture of the church, which will be sent along with Father Wolfbauer.

Sheila Matteson and Darlene Kieffer, who work in the parish office, were inspired to come up with another gift. Together they orchestrated the idea of creating a banner that could be displayed at Holy Spirit Osogo Church in Homa Bay where Father Wolfbauer would be staying.

After much thought and with input from other parishioners as well as Father Wolfbauer, they decided to make three horizontal banners, each reading, “We are all children of God” — one in English, one in Swahili and one in the native tribal language, Luo.

A fourth banner will have a symbol of unity with people of different nations holding hands. The Minnesotan state symbols of a loon and a lady’s slipper flower will adorn the right side of the banner and on the left will be an African bloom in an African pot. Along the bottom will be the names of the two parishes as well as the two dioceses, a heart and a Christian fish symbol.

Once the banners are completed, parishioners will be invited to pray over them before they are packed up to travel to Kenya.

Shared waters of baptism

Ann Lemke, left, and her mom, Helen Bettendorf work on the stole Helen and her husband Joe will present to Father Martin Oyugi K’Oywa at St. Linus Parish on the island of Mfang’ano. Photo by Dianne Towalski / The Visitor

In April 2014, Helen and Joseph Bettendorf hosted Nancy Kemo, one of the delegates from Homa Bay, at their home. The Bettendorfs are parishioners of St. Augustine in St. Cloud.

Their connection with Kemo and the delegation inspired them to participate in the upcoming trip to Homa Bay. Helen and her daughter, Ann Lemke, are making a stole for the priest of St. Linus Parish, Father Martin Oyugi K’Oywa, whom they will be staying with on the island of Mfang’ano in Lake Victoria.

“Bringing gifts for our hosts is important in building the relationship,” Helen Bettendorf said. “Gifting can become a kind of memory. I know that the gifts we received from Nancy are a memory for us every day.”

Lemke, who has designed various garments for priests in the St. Cloud Diocese, will be using a technique called paper piecing, placing stripes of different greens and some earth tones onto the stole.

Bettendorf said the idea for the design was inspired by the “shared waters of our baptism” so the garment will feature the Mississippi River on one side and Lake Victoria on the other in shades of blue. Along the bottom, the two will create the tower of St. Mary’s Cathedral and the outline of St. Linus Parish.

“I am really excited to get to know some of the people there,” Bettendorf said. “I enjoy listening to other people, learning what their life is like and how they celebrate our shared faith.

When the Bettendorfs return, they hope to share pictures and connect with schools and parishes to share their experience. They’ve also been showing their grandchildren where they will be going on the world map. Helen, who led faith formation at St. Augustine’s for years, has heard there is a vibrancy in the faith of the young people in Homa Bay, which intrigues her.

“One of the things I am eager to find out is how they attract and keep youth interested in faith activities,” she said. “When I see that, I want to know how and why.”

A sign of solidarity

Like the Bettendorfs, Jim and Lorie Baron, members of St. Ann Parish in Wadena, hosted a Homa Bay delegate, Thomas Boke, in April 2014. Since that time, the Barons have stayed in contact with Boke via email.

Besides their developing friendship, their parish along with St. John Parish in Bluffton, began to develop a sister parish relationship with SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Ntimaru, Kenya, where Boke is a member.

The Barons will join their pastor Father Aaron Kuhn and another parishioner, Dave Mertens, on the delegation in February, staying at the rectory at Ntimaru.

Lorie, who is part of the Wadena Area Knitters, asked the group to help make necklaces to take along as gifts for their hosts as well as other people they will encounter in Kenya.

“I knew the necklaces would be something lightweight that we could carry along with us,” she explained. “We added crosses to the necklaces because our faith is what connects us.”

Lorie says that bringing gifts isn’t necessary or expected. “We’ve been told that the gift of ourselves is enough. But we feel it is a simple, warm gesture, a sign of our solidarity with each other and a symbol of hospitality. ”

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.