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Sacred Heart chaplain connects to Ghana

Lynn and Ghana Sisters
Sister Esther Honugah, Lynn Riggins, Sister Scholastica Yabotsi and Sister Cecilia Clare at the Convent of the Holy Names in Spokane

While Lynn Riggins works as a chaplain at Sacred Heart Medical Center, he is also a missionary connecting with a hospital in Ghana.
In February, his connection with both came together when three women in the Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Church came on Jan. 29 to Spokane from Ghana, so two could receive diagnosis and treatment for chronic ailments that limit their abilities to serve.

Sister Cecilia Clare, the mother general of the order, learned that Lynn had arranged help for another sister who came in 1992, had surgery and returned able to live a productive life.  So she wrote him about Sister Scholastica Yabotsi’s and Sister Esther Honugah’s need for more health care than they could receive in Ghana.

She turned to Lynn to recruit help from the medical community in Spokane—a neurosurgeon, internal medicine specialists, Rockwood Clinic, a lab, anesthesia services, imaging services, Sisters of the Holy Names and Sacred Heart Medical Center.
He considers the people he knows in Ghana part of his family, so recruiting help for them is natural to him.

 Lynn, who grew up in St. Aloysius parish and now is involved at St. Charles, first went to Ghana 18 years ago for a three-year term as a missionary.  He caught malaria after six weeks and returned.

“I guess God didn’t want me to stay there, but could better use me to find supplies, send them and teach people there how to use them,” he said.

Hate in homes and societies requires resilience

Jeri Shepard
Jerri Shepard

The resilience Jerri Shepard sees in some abused children, Holocaust survivors and hate victims convinces her that education can reduce hate.
As a school psychologist and then as a juvenile probation court officer in Phoenix, she encountered the effects of violence in homes—hate in familial settings manifested as child abuse. 

After doctoral studies in psychology at the University of San Francisco, she came to Gonzaga University’s psychology program and worked with the School of Education to develop a master’s degree in teaching at-risk children in response to Educational Service District #101’s mandate that teachers understand the impact of child abuse and hate.

In school, children may be marginalized because they are in special education or are from different cultures and races, she commented.  They may be bullied, ostracized and abused by peers.  That affects their ability to learn and to use opportunities open to them.

“Understanding hate is complicated,” said Jerri.  “It may start with abuse in the home—victims and victimizers—and turn into bullying in school, so it’s important for schools to have non-violence pacts.”
In addition, she believes that resilience is key.

Testimonies of people facing and overcoming hate can be powerful teaching tools, helping people change their lives, explained Jerri, who wants to help targets of hate help themselves.

Two effective teachers, who are her personal friends, are Holocaust survivors Noemi Ban of Bellingham and Eva Lassman of Spokane.  Jerri met them while she was training teachers for the Ann Frank Exhibit in 2000.  She led 10-hour workshops to teach teachers who would bring their classes to the exhibit.

Noemi and Eva had healthy childhoods, said Jerri, who believes that is important to understanding the basis for resilience. 

Muscular dystrophy camps transforms camp

Twinlo MD Camp
Camper with muscular dystrophy and his helper 'oversee' work on sloped trail.

Twinlow United Methodist camp on Spirit Lake near Rathdrum, Idaho, has embarked on a ministry to people with disabilities since the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s Camp Fun in the Sun used their facilities last summer.Children in wheelchairs were on the beach, in the water, in boats, fishing from docks, playing soccer and able to access the facilities other campers take for granted. 

“We have begun major renovations that we hope will open a new dimension of ministry by making our buildings and grounds accessible,” said Ben Moore, who is co-director of Twinlow with his wife, Claudia.

Twinlow hired an architect to design a paved trail system so that campers in wheel chairs can go between the dining and living quarters and to the lake shore.

Future designs include a woodland trail system and remodeling  buildings for ramps and other elements to make them accessible.

Last summer, volunteers and staff provided labor and finances to dig the ground, build brick retaining walls and create a gradually sloped trail to the lake. 

“It allows us to serve a new group of people, increasing the number of campers who can use the facilities,” Ben said.  In addition to helping people with disabilities, the renovations make the camp more accessible for elderly people who find it hard to go up and down hills.

Hunger, health, housing, taxes are on agenda

With health and human services generally absorbing the brunt of state budget cuts, the faith community in Washington provides educational events in Spokane, Yakima, Seattle and Olympia to educate members of congregations about issues before the state legislature.

Legislative Conference Prophets
Ann Keim, Louise Chadez, Nandagopol, and Brian  DeVries

Organizers of the Eastern Washington Legislative Conference Jan. 31 in Spokane offered resources for advocacy during the 2004 session and in long range efforts for tax reform.

Kristen Rogers, public policy associate with the Washington Association of Churches (WAC), and Paul Benz of the Lutheran Public Policy Office (LPPO), reviewed major issues and encouraged participants to contact their elected officials. 

“All faiths are concerned about healing,” said Paul, “so health care, hunger and housing are common issues we address.

“Jesus’ ministry was about healing, salvation related to the brokenness of human life, not just about after-life.  Eleven percent of people living in Washington have no health care.

“Last year when we faced balancing the budget, we cut programs that help the poor first, adding premiums for low-income families and cutting dental and mental health coverage for poor people,” Paul said.“Legislators want to know what people in their districts think, even those who agree with them,” Kristen said, giving out the  toll free number—(800) 562-6000—constituents can use to call their legislators and the governor.

Lois Canright
Lois Canright

In addition to those issues, Lois Canright of United for a Fair Economy discussed tax fairness.

“The economy is about values, the guiding principles of societies,” she said.  “The economy becomes personal when we discuss the taxes we pay to receive services for the common good.  Taxes test our sense of brotherhood and sisterhood.  As Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, they are the price we pay to be a civilized society."

How the state raises revenue can be as much a problem as its budget, Lois said, calling for  churches to apply their moral influence to develop a fairer, simpler, more equitable system.

“Budget shortfalls arise in recessions—when fewer people buy fewer things—because the state relies on sales taxes.  In addition, in boom years, Washington granted about 430 tax exemptions—$65 billion a year,” said Lois, “but there is no requirement that corporations report on whether those exemptions create jobs, as intended.”

She calls for the legislature to look at the tax structure:  Who shoulders the tax burden?  What is a fair system?  What system would be better? 

“We want a tax system that embodies values of social justice, so everyone pays a fair share. Faith calls us to care for each other,” Lois said.  “In a progressive structure, in which taxes are based on ability to pay, those with higher incomes pay a higher percentage. 

Partner model respects indigenous prople

High housing costs during the Silicon Valley boom led Partners International to move its headquarters from San Jose to Spokane.

Jon Lewis
Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis, the CEO since August, said Spokane’s mayor and churches were eager to have this international ministry with a staff of 30 and a more than $10 million budget resettle in Spokane.

Partners International will move again in June—from leased office space at 1313 N. Atlantic to a building it has purchased on North Nevada near Highway 2, where they will have a visitors center that is a window to international cultures. 

“We will display artifacts, such as a tapestry made in Guanxi, China, where PI supports clinics, boarding schools and a program that sponsors children to attend school. We will tour children through the center to teach them about the rest of the world,” Jon said. 

For the dedication, PI will host events, so people know there is a “significant international ministry headquarters” here, he said.

“Partners International, founded in 1943, was one of the first mission organizations to understand the value of the ministry and vision of non-western leaders, in contrast to sending missionaries to do things for people, to teach and provide medical care,” Jon said.  “Most indigenous people are capable and just need someone to come alongside them.”

It has partner ministries in 50 of the least Christian areas of the world, working with local people, who know the language and culture, to reach their own people for God’s kingdom.  When Jon says PI “creates communities of Christian witness,” he means it in the broad sense of building churches, assisting development projects, HIV/AIDS clinics and schools.

According to its annual report, “holistic witness takes place when Christians care for needs of others—whether the needs are spiritual or physical—providing medical care, clean water, disaster relief, educational opportunities and other compassionate assistance.” Working with 87 indigenous Christian ministries in 59 countries in North Africa/Middle East, Islamic Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, it has programs that provide food-for-work, milk for children, training for women to do and market crafts, Bible study and fellowship programs, and education in hygiene, health, nutrition and literacy.

Book Parlor extends church's outreach

As an extension of its education ministry and outreach to the neighborhood, Salem Lutheran Church opened the Lutheran Book Parlor in a house beside the church about three years ago.

Cheri Nelson
Cheri Nelson

In 2004, the 250-member congregation—25 percent of whom live in the neighborhood—is providing $24,000.  The goal is for it to be self-supporting. 

The parlor serves the church, the neighborhood and more.  It connects with Lutheran congregations in the region, providing Sunday school and vacation Bible school resources, theological books, online sales through its website linked to Amazon, an in-house lending library, used book sales and fair-trade gifts.

When the Rev. Sonja Johnson was called in March 2000, she dreamed of a book-store ministry.  She lived on the second floor of the house, at 1414. W. Broadway, which is now the book parlor.The house is one of several buildings on the block that Salem Lutheran bought to provide low-income housing for the neighborhood, including Salem Arms apartments for chronically mentally ill people.  There are 11 low-income apartments in three houses and three houses rented to families. 

Sonja’s bookstore idea grew from her dream that people in the congregation and larger Lutheran and ecumenical community would see the importance of “diving into their faith,” reading about Martin Luther, the Reformation and such traditional Lutheran theologians as Paul Tillich and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, plus contemporary theologians like Robert Capon and Douglas John Hall.

Cheri Nelson and Corey Laughary now share management responsibilities for the venture.
Cheri’s great-grandparents were charter members of Salem.  Her children were the fourth generation to graduate from North Central High School.  She taught after graduating from Eastern Washington University in 1972, and then was a stay-at-home mother.

While working as Christian education director at Messiah Lutheran, she entered the Lutheran process to be a commissioned associate in ministry.  She was commissioned in May 1987 and worked 12 years as the assistant to Bishop Bob Keller at the Eastern Washington Idaho Synod office.

When his term ended, she volunteered at church, helping with vacation Bible school and spending time with grandchildren.

“I’m always in prayer for God’s guidance in my evolving ministry,” she said. 
When Sonja retired, Cheri wanted the bookstore ministry to continue.  So she and Corey each work half-time.

Speech, theatre teacher becomes rural pastor

Tara Leininger
Tara Leininger

Tara Leininger’s teaching and theatre background contribute to her skills as pastor of the Metaline Falls Congregational United Church of Christ.

Both use her skills as a public speaker who can hold listeners’ attention.  From teaching debate and communications, she knows how to construct a speech that goes somewhere without rambling. 

From theatre, she employs diction, voice modulation, and storytelling, giving dramatic softness or loudness where it’s appropriate.

Although she has not had a class in sermon writing, she approaches it as speech writing, starting with the lectionary scriptural verses, reading commentaries, researching themes and looking at life around her. 
While she has outlines and themes for the next three months, she’s ready to drop those ideas if something in the community or world comes up.

“As a pastor, I bring all of who I am to my call as a minister,” said Tara, who is fulfilling her dream and call to be a pastor.

She and her husband, Donivan Johnson, who teaches music, moved to Metaline Falls 13 years ago when the Selkirk School hired Don as music teacher.   A year after they settled in, the district hired her as half-time teacher for the middle and high school classes in history, geography, English, speech-communications and theatre.

For a few years, they had no church home. Don was music director for Catholic parishes in Ione and Metaline Falls, and then organist for the American Lutheran church in Newport.  Tara did pulpit supply for her predecessor, the Rev. Paul Clay, and served while the church searched for an ordained interim or half-time pastor.  What she started five years ago to fill the gap led to her renewed call to ministry.  The church had a hard time finding someone who could live at the salary they offered.

Meanwhile, Tara completed the process to become a licensed lay minister with the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ.  Shenow plans to work for a master’s degree in theology—online and on a campus—to prepare for ordination.

“I can do it because Don’s salary supports us. The church pays me a half-time salary, an annuity and the parsonage,” said Tara, who continued teaching until the decline in student enrollment —from 500 to 400 students in K-12—led to her position being eliminated. 

“We see our role as the community church to be reaching out to people so they know we are here in times of need,” she said.  “Most funerals and weddings are for non-members.”

With a graying congregation, Tara spends much time visiting and caring for people, as do other pastors in the area.  Young families in town are busy, and their children are often unchurched.  Most young people leave to find jobs and for educational opportunities, she said.

“How do we speak to the graying congregation who want a church to stay as it is and also speak to the younger generations?” she wonders along with colleagues in the area.  While some churches seek to draw young people by having stages, lighting and sound systems to create a high-octane, rock-show-entertainment ambience, Tara believes a church should speak to both the graying and the young.

“I want to keep the church vital by keeping the generations in the same room,” she said.

Grants help with website  development and rural outreach

For the website, The Fig Tree received $700 from the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary’s Mini-Grant program and $250 from the Sisters of Providence.   These grants will help to maintain and expand presence on the web at

The Eastern Washington Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has granted The Fig Tree $500 for the expansion of circulation and coverage in the Inland Northwest. 

With a $750 January grant from the Inland Northwest Presbytery, The Fig Tree reached out to presbytery congregations, offering 10 or more copies to be sent by mail and communicating with congregations to encourage them to introduce it to their members. A similar approach will be used with Lutheran congregatons in the synod.

For information, call 535-1813. 

Volunteers act as God's hands and heart

Eleven volunteers work with the Cheney Outreach Center’s director, Carol Beason, to be “God’s hands and heart” to people of Cheney and the surrounding area, helping meet their basic needs.

“Often people who live in poverty live on the fringes of society and need a way to assimilate back into the community.  Our center provides services for those individuals and families,” Carol said.

“The number of people in need has increased dramatically,” she said.

In 2003, 1,750 households with  5,069 individuals sought services, up 168 households from 2002.
Those seeking help are primarily people who work, have fixed incomes, have young children, or are elderly, disabled or ill.

The outreach center is non-judgmental and non-proselytizing.  If someone requests assistance, the center tries to help.  It does not decide if they are worthy of assistance.  Everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

The center requires proof of income, residency, social security numbers and identification.
In September 1988, the Spokane Diocese Catholic Family Services, under the leadership of Benedictine Sister Emagene Warren, surveyed needs, found a lack of resources in the Cheney School District and determined there was need for a local human service agency to meet those needs.

 A core group of churches formed the Cheney Ecumenical Outreach Ministries, which opened its doors as the Cheney Outreach Center on Feb. 1, 1990.

It provides energy assistance, transportation—which includes limited auto repairs, insurance, auto registration, gas vouchers, bus passes and tokens—help with prescriptions, food, clothing, personal hygiene needs, diapers and limited rent assistance, as well as information and referral.  Energy assistance includes a program in which the center buys clients 10 business days past the disconnect day.  Clients pay their own energy bills.