Normandale Stories

One Life at a Time: Changing One Life at a Time through Generosity

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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

By Salima

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