Feels Like Home
Written by Karen Moehring
You’ve heard “Everyone has a story,” and that is true at Our Saviour’s. We hear often about the welcoming and warm feeling when people enter our space. The connection to people and worship can even make it feel like home. A comforting and inspiring place that is full of stories in which we treat each other well, love one another, and come to each other’s aid, all in love like Christ Jesus.
We are starting a monthly series called, “Feels like home.” Inspiring, interesting, and impactful stories from our congregation and community. Our hope and wish are that you too will enjoy getting to know others and be inspired by their stories and faith.
Bible Live: The Bible Comes to Life
The most read book in the world is the Bible for obvious reasons. It is estimated to have sold over 40 million copies in the last 60 years. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) believes that people meet God in scripture and it encourages members, congregations and synods to dig deeper into our book of faith—the Bible. Our Saviour’s is taking an active role with Bible Live, where 2nd and 3rd graders explore Bible stories and how those ancient stories make a difference in our lives today. Students are led by junior guides who are middle and high schoolers and parents that help facilitate the activities.
“Bible Live kids find their faith becoming more personal and their relationships developing even deeper, making church a safe place of connection, support, care, and authenticity,” shared Leisha Tays, Children, Youth, and Family Innovator. The students begin Sundays in worship and leave for Bible Live following the children’s message. Parents and guardians then go after worship to see the skit of the day.
Junior Guide, Ireland Christianson described her experience, “Bible live has always helped me feel welcomed in the community, and I love being able to learn about Bible stories while having fun!” Ireland attends Oak View Middle School in Andover and is currently in 7th grade. Her favorite part of Our Saviour’s is the community.
Leisha outlined how the activity works, “Children learn about the Bible through skits. They can be an actor, director, stagehand, and more (with caring adults leading every step of the way). There’s a place for everyone!” The guides bring great energy and enthusiasm, our team includes: Tavlyn Corrigan, Ireland Christianson, Lexis Wolfgram, Tyler and Hailey Cain. “The Kids look up to the junior guides and, through leading, we are building confidence and leadership skills in our youth. They are all learning together, side by side.
Junior Guide, Hailey Cain describes her experience leading, “I really enjoy helping with the kids in Bible Live, watching it behind the scenes, then watching it all come together at the end. I mostly help kids run lines, do costumes and general questions. Bible Live has really made me more passionate about my faith to God. Mostly by showing me all these amazing kids and watching them learning and reading better. Our Saviour’s shows great devotion to kids with all the programs and opportunities.” Hailey is a 7th grader at Roosevelt Middle School in Blaine.
Bible Live lays a meaningful groundwork of Bible stories as our children continue to grow in their faith journey. The program was implemented in 2021 and currently has approximately 15 students participating each week. It allows children to be active and have a fun activity to learn Bible stories.
Immersed in Guatemala: Building a home for the poor
For over 20 years, Our Saviour’s has helped support the mission of building homes for the poor in Mexico, Guatemala, and Dominican Republic with the organization Casas por Cristo (Homes for Christ). The mission is simple: show people living in poor communities the gift of God’s love through the boost of a new home and help local pastors make community connections.
The year 2021 was a year like no other. Coming off of 2020 when no build took place due to Covid, a team of 25 people said “yes” to making the trek to Guatemala. With that large of a building team, two houses were built. The team was a special one, including eight middle and high schoolers, six who attended Woodcrest Spanish Immersion School in the Spring Lake Park District and two who attended Lakes International Academy in Forest Lake. In this program, only Spanish is spoken in almost every subject in elementary school, and gradually students start learning primarily in English by the time they reach high school. Pastor Kiri Solberg’s family traveled too, including husband Previn, and their two children, Clayton and Maren. See the Q & A below with Clayton and Maren Solberg and their friend Anja Erickson, now all high schoolers, to hear about building in Guatemala through their eyes and perspective.
What was it like building a home in Guatemala?
Clayton Solberg: “It was fun to experience a different culture by living in Guatemala for a week. We immersed ourselves in their environment. We built an entire home in three days. It felt so good to help out by building them a new solid home.
One example of something very different than our home, was you couldn’t put toilet paper in the toilet as their sewer system was unable to function with it. That took some reminders!”
Anja Erickson: “It was so cool to see how other families live. It makes me really appreciate all that we have here in America. In the place where we built the home for a young family, there were a number of families living together in a compound. They worked and played together. A real community with animals, friends, and relatives all helping each other.”
What was the family like that you built a home for?
Clayton Solberg: “They were a young family, Victor and Evelyn with a six-year-old son named Jonathan. Victor worked in farming and had an income of $40 per week to provide for his family. There were many animals walking around the compound too – dogs, cats, rabbits, cows, and chickens. The family was so nice; they were humble and very grateful for our help and their new home.”
How did the trip impact your faith?
Maren Solberg: “My hope for the family we built a house for is to know that God loves them and the house continues to serve as a reminder.”
What was your favorite part of the trip?
Clayton Solberg: “I’ve been in Spanish Immersion since kindergarten so I expected it would help with communication in Guatemala. For the first time in my life, I really enjoyed speaking Spanish. It felt so real; it wasn’t a class assignment. I started visiting with some of the kids and they were surprised that I spoke Spanish so well and could carry on a conversation with them. I told them I spoke English AND Spanish. They didn’t believe me so they started saying a few English words they knew to test me. They were impressed that I could speak both so well. I also realized, not only could I carry on a conversation with them, but could process the conversation in Spanish.”
Anja Erickson: “My favorite part was the bakery down the street from where we stayed in the city of San Raymundo. We went every day to get fresh baked bread. It was delicious. The smell of fresh baked bread lofted down the street – you couldn’t miss it.”
“One day we traveled by bus to a larger city, Antigua, where there were many historic churches and vendors selling their crafts and merchandise. The countryside was beautiful – rolling hills where farming takes place. Their crops include flowers, tomatoes, and corn.”
What else do you want to share about the trip?
Clayton Solberg: “The trip home from Guatemala turned into an adventure with our flight getting delayed in Guatemala due to a mechanical problem. Eventually we flew to Chicago, where we landed in a giant snow storm. Our flight home then got cancelled, so we spent an extra night in Chicago before having to rent vans to make our way back home the next day.”
Anja Erickson: “If you’ve ever thought about a mission trip, I would encourage you to go. I know I would go back to Guatemala in a heartbeat!”
Cedar Creek Elementary School and OSLC Partnership
Over a year ago, the outreach task force at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (OSLC) recommended a school partnership to build on the mission of reaching out with a voice of hope. Likely you’ve heard, the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Deeper still, some tribes describe the meaning, “Regardless of a child’s biological parent(s) its upbringing belongs to the community.”
Just a few miles north of church, Cedar Creek Elementary School (CCES) felt like a great fit for a partnership. OSLC already had a connection with member, Kathi Greene who is a kindergarten teacher at the school. Dave Eberhardt led OSLC’s newly formed CCES partnership team with his 40 years of school experience in schools around the state and understood the value of these community partnerships. “We’re grateful to Dave Eberhardt for taking the lead, he is our connection with Principal, Tony Alberts. Dave understands the ins and outs of what makes a healthy community partnership between a faith community and a school,” shared Pastor Maria Pederson.
This team has done their homework and have likely even earned extra credit with all they have accomplished this past school year:
- Delivered 50 backpacks of food for the North Anoka County Emergency (NACE) food shelf each week for those in need of food at home.
- Purchased winter coats, gloves/mittens, winter caps, and snow pants for children.
- Volunteers helped staff the winter and spring School Book Fairs.
- Provided bagels and cream cheese for CCES staff appreciation in March.
- Two people helped at STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics) night.
- Three volunteers helped put on the Spring Carnival.
- Gifted $200 to the CCES media center for the Spring Book Fair which enabled the school to purchase twice that amount in books for children unable to afford books.
Team members include Anne Rozek, Judy Hultman, Kathi Greene, Pastor Maria Pederson, and led by Dave Eberhardt all working in concert with Jaralyn Carda, school office professional and Tony Alberts, the CCES principal. Additional OSLC volunteers have included Betty Gabrick, Sandy Mickelson, and Sue Eberhardt. The Endowment Committee provided a grant to help fund project ideas, and the Stamping Team also made a donation.
The task force already has a plan for the coming school year to build on all they have accomplished. Ideas include help with school supplies, event volunteers helping students and teachers, involve OSLC youth to help with outdoor courtyard set-up and take down in the spring and fall, send notes of encouragement to CCES staff throughout the school year, and provide small student incentives as part of the Positive Behavior Interventions program at CCES.
Dave Eberhardt shared with a smile; “Principal Alberts says this has been the easiest partnership he’s ever been involved in.” Approximately 650 students attend CCES, some of who also attend Our Saviour’s. “When we volunteer at school, we are there to serve. We are not proselytizing or inviting people to church. We are wanting to help in our community and support kids,” said Dave.
Meet Lyla Bokelmann
Singer, dancer, and preschool student with courage and faith
For her entire life, Lyla has been strong and courageous. Through even the most challenging situations, she has always managed to find a way. Perhaps that is why she loves to sing the song, “Waymaker.” A song where the lyrics describe a God who is a light in the darkness, a miracle worker, and is healing every heart. Lyla is four years old and a student at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church Preschool (OSLC). And not that she would ever want to be defined by her condition, but Lyla has type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease.
Lyla’s mom, Rachel Bokelmann, describes, “Unlike type 2 diabetes, type 1 diabetes is 24 hours a day seven days a week and when it came to starting school, we were nervous about leaving her alone. We ended up working with Lissa Leebens, Director of OSLC Preschool, to come up with a comprehensive plan.”
“Our small class sizes aim to meet individual needs. We get to know each child’s strengths, abilities, needs, challenges, interests, temperament, and approach to learning. Lyla’s determination is special and our teaching of God’s love wraps around each of our students,” explained Lissa.
Lyla’s parents, Jeff and Rachel Bokelmann, were married at OSLC 14 years ago and have a lifelong connection to church. They have three children in all, Henry is nine, Nora is seven and together they make their home in East Bethel. Both sets of Lyla’s grandparents attend as well, Jerome and Dawn Bokelmann and John and Diane Harvey.
“Lyla was just 18 months old when she had been sick. After calling the nurse phone line, they told me to bring her straight to Children’s Hospital. We were so grateful for the angel on the phone line. Children’s Hospital diagnosed her with diabetes within an hour of arriving. She spent the next 24 hours sleeping in my arms. The next day the insulin started kicking in and she was a new child. High blood sugar clouds your mind. She started speaking full sentences in the hospital, when she barely spoke before. It was amazing! We then spent the next three days in the hospital learning how to take care of Lyla,” shared Rachel.
Lyla loves to sing, dance, play with Barbie’s, and ride on the ATV with dad. As a family they enjoy going to car shows in their 1963 Ford Fairlane wagon and hanging out with family and friends. Lyla’s favorite subjects in preschool are snack time and the sensory table. “Sometimes diabetes isn’t fun because I can go high and low. I don’t feel good when I’m low. I don’t like not being able to have snacks when my insulin is too high,” exclaimed Lyla.
“OSLC Preschool has been a blessing. They are so supportive of Lyla and her disease. “Papa” or grandpa Jerome Bokelmann, was able to help facilitate improved Wi-Fi in the preschool classroom so Lyla’s blood sugar can be monitored real time,” shared Rachel. Lyla wears a continuous glucose monitor, as her blood sugar can change rapidly. Rachel or Grandma Dawn Bokelmann typically spend the school day at church to be able to make adjustments as needed for Lyla.
Rachel finally shared, “Having a strong faith is important for our family including Lyla as she grows up. It has been comforting to have faith on this journey. We want to instill that faith in Lyla too, as she will have this condition the rest of her life.”
Meet Larry Berqual
A man with a love for music and faith
It’s the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church (OSLC) and from the dimly lit sanctuary comes a single harmonica playing the sweetest version of Silent Night you’ve heard all season. The sanctuary grows extra quiet and slowly the candlelight being shared by the worshippers down each pew brings brightness, warmth, and hope for the coming year. The musician on harmonica is Larry Berqual, self-taught soloist, former garage band member, and man with a love for music and faith. “The music allows me to connect and inspire people, it’s a gift I am able to share. This congregation is family and the entire band is a lot of fun, I look forward to it each week. I won’t give that up, it keeps me going,” shared Larry with a heartfelt tear in his eye.
Larry plays a collection of instruments including percussion in The Cornerstone Band most Sundays. Instruments include: the harmonica, guitar, didgeridoo, hand percussion, concertina, jaw harp, spoons, washboard, and just about anything else that makes music.
Larry and his wife Jan Berqual have a 50th wedding anniversary coming up. They met through a mutual friend and married six months later. Jan is no stranger at OSLC, providing leadership and volunteering in many different areas. They have three adult children, Brent, Rusty, and Kari who all live in the area. Larry and Jan adore their five grandchildren and one great granddaughter. Larry grew up in Roseville and retired in 2014 from the Mounds View School District, where he was a custodian and supervisor with a boiler license.
Larry recalls a time when his faith was tested. It was a late-season snowstorm in 1970. As his car approached a set of railroad tracks, his vehicle slid and he was thrown from the car when he was hit by an oncoming train. As a result, his lower leg needed to be amputated. Larry leans on the bible verse from Joshua 1 verse 9, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”
Not long after Larry and Jan started attending OSLC in the early 1990’s, a fundraising spaghetti dinner was organized to help pay for his prosthesis leg. Back then, this type of medical equipment was not paid for by insurance and cost thousands of dollars. “I will never forget that love and care, this church has been my saving grace,” said Larry.
Recently Larry has been going through a number of medical tests due to some new symptoms. “My body is changing and right now there are a lot of unknowns, but God has a plan. I don’t plan on giving up on anything. I don’t know what I would do without faith.”
“At church there’s always someone who understands what you’re going through. Always sympathetic, empathetic, and an open heart and mind. It’s my second home. Friends at Our Saviour’s are not like family-I consider them family,” said Larry.
It was about 25 years ago when then Music Director, Kim Fragodt suggested playing Silent Night on the harmonica. Since then, wife Jan says, “People now come to the candlelight service just to hear his rendition.”
From Larry’s perspective he describes being in the front of church playing Silent Night on Christmas Eve, “It does become very quiet in the church, the song means something different to everyone there. It is special, as the candles get lit. It’s like the hull of a ship upside down as the light spreads from the darkness and the music pulls at your heart strings.”
Meet the Bartsias Family
Three generations join OSLC and find inspiration and faith by worshipping together.
Our Saviour’s has a number of families from the area that have attended for generations. The Bartsias family (pronounced Bart-C-iss) is not one of them. Recently three generations of the Bartsias joined. “Even with the history of this congregation, everyone is so welcoming and friendly,” shared Kathy Bartsias. Kathy and her husband Jim joined in June 2022 along with their son Jay Bartsias and his wife Molly and their four children.
Kathy and Jim are retired and live in Brooklyn Park now, previously working and living in Duluth. They are the grandparents in this clan. Jim worked for Ralston-Purina and Kathy in Duluth public schools. Kathy’s faith is inspired by knowing God is always with her. “When I’ve been seeking answers, he has brought me unexplainable calm, joy, and peace while in the middle of uncertainty.”
Jay Bartsias is Kathy and Jim’s son. He is married to Molly. Jay and Molly along with their four children call Oak Grove home. “We tried to find a church close to home and felt very welcomed at Our Saviour’s. Three of our children were baptized here and have enjoyed Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. After all of the good experiences and great relationships that we and our children were forming, we knew it was time to officially become members,” said Molly Bartsias.
Together the Bartsias team enjoys professional sports, kids school activities, and family meals. The Minnesota Twins, the Minnesota Wild, and Iowa Hawkeyes are their teams. They also enjoy the NFL but are a divided household between the Packers and the Vikings! This crew does not sit still.
Jay and Molly’s favorite bible verse is Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Jay and Molly’s children are Brynn who is 11 years old, Adalyn is 10, Caydence is 6, and Brady-the only son is 4. These four are the fuel behind this family, bringing fun, energy, and the enthusiasm. The girls attend Rum River Elementary and Brady goes to pre-school. They also have a puppy and a mini doodle. Jay and Molly both work for Turck in Plymouth, a solutions for factory and process automation company, where they met over 18 years ago! Molly is a stay-at-home mom and works part time from home.
Jay and Molly share they are energized by observing others who live their faith and encourage us to be the best Christians we can be. “We are inspired by our children growing, learning, and feeling unconditional love for them. We are inspired and challenged by the sermons that allow us to question and explore more of our faith.”
The Bartsias family dove right in at Our Saviour’s, serving communion, ringing bells, and ushering. Grandma Kathy sums it up by sharing how special it is to volunteer with her granddaughters helping with altar care, “It warms your heart to all be together at Our Saviour’s,” we enjoy the friendly people, pastors, services, music-love the organ and the contemporary service.”