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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:
Frankhauser sisters balance classical music, social justice

As Kresha and Katie Frankhauser seek to glorify God through music and action, their lives reflect their upbringing in a classical-music and social-justice-filled home.

From that home they ventured with their parents and church on missions to Mexico and Brazil, and on their own—to El Salvador, Belize and South Africa.

They marched in Martin Luther King Day marches, joined in Peace and Justice Action League events and read Sojourners magazine, which linked their faith to a social justice commitment.

With diligence, they practice their musical talents so “we can perform with excellence,” said Kresha.

As a teen, she played in the Valley Junior Orchestra.  Now she performs in operas in Spokane, Coeur d’Alene and Mendocino, Calif., and makes trips to New York City for training and auditions.  She also visits El Salvador once or twice a year, translating for trips of the Bellevue, Wash., Christian Reformed Church.

Katie, who was principal oboist of the Spokane Youth Symphony
and coached high school music students, studied a semester in Belize and spent the last two summers introducing Americans to post-apartheid South Africa.
The family, who moved to Spokane from Minnesota in 1981, connects with people around the world and seeks to live simply and peacefully. 

John and Mary, their parents, helped welcome Anuak refugees from Ethiopia settle in Spokane 15 years ago through First Presbyterian Church in Spokane.  They continue to be involved now in efforts to call attention to the December 2003 genocide of the Anuak people.
Kresha visits El Salvador each year.

Kresha Frankhauser
Kresha Frankhauser
Kresha’s connection with El Salvador began during a 1996 semester in Central America as part of her major in cross-cultural studies and sociology at Whitworth College.  She studied Spanish at Lewis and Clark High School, Spokane Falls Community College and Whitworth.  After graduating in 1997, she worked with Second Harvest and then as the youth and children’s director at a California church.

In 2000, she decided to pursue singing and studied two years under her father and his teacher, who lives in New York City. Her career has steadily grown since she began performing in  2002.

Now she travels to give performances much of the year, with Spokane as her home base.  Her family gives family concerts, which tie classical, gospel and folk music with social justice.

“We perform serious classical music without taking ourselves seriously.  We do zany things.  We will tip Dad on his side, while he’s singing, so that he ends his aria parallel to the floor,” said Kresha.

She finds that a way to balance her music and social justice is to return regularly to El Salvador.

Relationships she has formed there have drawn her back five times with the Bellevue church, which first took a team to rebuild houses after the 2001 earthquake.  She went for four days in 2002, a week in 2003 and two weeks in 2004.  Two trips are planned during 2005.

“We have visited about 10 villages where we are welcomed into homes of sticks, corn husks and corrugated aluminum.  They feed us meat-stuffed tamales.  We wealthy Americans gratefully shared that special meal with them,” she said.

The Bellevue church first started a library for 20 villages.  They added a scholarship program a year later to help children attend school through 12th grade.  Nearly 80 students are currently supported.

children painting
Kresha works with children who are painting.
Kresha described other projects:  Some villages started chicken projects to sell eggs to send other children to school.  Work is in progress to open two halfway houses to serve women suffering domestic violence.  Because the lack of jobs means families are unable to make ends meet, the church provides seed money for self-sustaining projects.

Beyond the economic help, Kresha finds the most important part of visits to be relationships.

The group spends time with children—playing soccer, singing songs, reading books, painting pictures and climbing trees.  With adults, they talk into the night, building friendships. 

“Relationships keep connections alive and keep people alive,” she said.
“Social justice is not just being in solidarity with people, but also showing people they have worth and we care about them.  There are large systems I can’t change, but I can be with them despite government corruption and tensions from conflicts.

Little Jose
Little Jose
“There’s little difference between visiting someone in El Salvador or in Spokane.  If someone feels lonely or depressed, when someone comes and connects, both leave feeling better.

Social justice is simply being with someone to listen, share stories and honor them as friends,” Kresha said.

“As North Americans, we can also use our power to improve their health, nutrition, education and citizenship,” she said.  “We provide scholarships so people will become better citizens where they are, investing in their communities, becoming critical thinkers and finding new options for their communities.

Kresha, who attended Cataldo Catholic School for one year of her schooling, identifies as both a Protestant and a Catholic.  She attends St. Aloysius Catholic Church, as well as First Presbyterian.

“Many of my Protestant friends believe we need to ‘convert’ Catholics in El Salvador, and I say that is not only pointless but also ignorant and arrogant.

Our beliefs and experiences may differ,” she said,” but in conversations about those differences, our faith strengthens us, inviting us to think of things we have not had to deal with as North Americans and Salvadorans, Protestants and Catholics.

“Building trust and relationships leads El Salvadorans to dream,” said Kresha, adding that it leads her to look at her life and opportunities in contrast to their poverty.

“I have education and opportunities that mean I can do what I put my mind to.  Their structure does not allow them that luxury,” she said.

Katie will organize volunteers in Belize
Katie leaves in January to spend the next two years working in Belize with Target Earth, a U.S. Christian environmental group, to set up a volunteer network among Belizean organizations.

Katie Frankhauser
Katie Frankhauser
She will arrange opportunities for volunteers to come for short-term work programs, housed at Jaguar Creek, a facility off the grid—using solar energy, composting toilets and water from an onsite creek.  It is a closed system except for food production, she said.

Jaguar Creek seeks to become a center connecting local environmental groups by providing an information hub as well as a common volunteer base.

Katie, who majored in environmental studies and  minored in music, spent her last semester at Western Washington University in Belize, studying at Jaguar Creek which is owned and operated by Target Earth.

Katie plays oboe, so to keep up her skills in the mold-growing jungle humidity, she will take a plastic oboe. 

Because her parents took her on mission trips, she said she grew up with world connections that have shaped her world view.  So she has sought work through which she can pursue her theological and philosophical ideals.

“I find it meaningless to work only for a paycheck.  I’m drawn more to work that engages my ideals regardless of salary attached,” Katie said.

After graduating in 2003, she worked with the South Africa Community Fund, a sister organization to Target Earth that brings several teams of Americans each year to South Africa to study peace building and reconciliation. 

While South Africa made a dramatic turn from apartheid, Katie said, life there is complex, not perfect.

Katie and South African child
Katie with South African child
Visitors study the history of South Africa, the transition to democracy and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  They participate in service-learning opportunities to immerse themselves with people and  learn how they were affected by the transition.

“In the South Africans’ recognition of the horror of apartheid lies hope.  For a positive future, people have to acknowledge what happened.  The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has tried to address people’s need to tell their truth in order to have healing and forgiveness.  It has had varying degrees of success, depending on whom you ask,” Katie said.

“Often people think resolving a conflict means ceasing violence.  I believe it means seeking truth, having the power to speak and having that voice recognized.  That’s necessary for moving forward, in contrast just to ceasing violence, moving on and forgetting the pain,” she said.  “To ‘move on’ says that what happened does not matter and that the people do not matter.

People needed a space to bring their stories to light, to acknowledge as a country the violent reality of apartheid,” she said, noting that there are varied opinions about the transition to democracy and the quality of life.

To “move on” and pretend to be friendly may mean the past continues to damage.  Katie wishes the United States did more remembering. She admires Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the sensitive way he connects faith and politics, so Christian faith raises an imperative to be engaged in the world.

“Apartheid was both enacted and overturned largely by actions of Christians,” Katie said.  “The Dutch Reformed Church provided theological affirmation for apartheid.  Many mainline denominations were instrumental in overturning it.”

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Messiah teaches peace, justice

Kresha, who has sung in “The Messiah” in Spokane, wrote the following reflections relating the oratorio to social justice.

Handel’s Messiah has become a holiday favorite for many in the western world. It prophesies the birth of the Christ child in “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” It brings the angel chorus that appears to the shepherds to life in “Glory to God!”  It draws all ends of heaven and earth together, rejoicing over the Savior’s birth in “The Hallelujah Chorus.” It tells of Jesus’ victorious triumph over death in“ Know That My Redeemer Liveth” and “O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?”
Although Handel’s Messiah is an appropriate piece for Advent and Christmas, it tells of more than just the birth and ultimate triumph of the Christ child.

Through voices of prophets and saints, it reminds listeners of Christ’s teaching of peace and justice in “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,” and invites listeners to look to heaven for the eternal healing hope and worth found is Jesus Christ: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive!”  It also promises that “we shall be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet,” and proclaims:  “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by his blood, to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing.”

Handel saves the final musical exultation of Christ’s victory for the grand, expansive “Amen” chorus, reminding us that our call to justice on this earth is indeed holy, but that our ultimate hope and rest is found is God whose name “shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father.”

By Mary Stamp, Fig Tree editor - © December 2004