Inspiration and Observation

“It all began as I was leaving a funeral and walking to my car. That is when I overheard Pastor Walter Hermans mention to my husband Warren that the Greater Milwaukee Synod was hoping to offer a new Diakonia site in Racine Wisconsin and did he know of anyone who might be interested. I spun around and raised my hand high saying, “ I am! I am interested!”

I had heard about Diakonia at a Synod Assembly, but attending was not an option for me because I was the primary caregiver for my frail elderly parents who lived with me and my husband. Leaving them and driving to classes in MIlwaukee was not an option for me. But if the program were offered in Racine?…then I could attend.

So in the fall of 2008 we began the Racine location and in June 2010 I was one of 12 students to graduate from that site.

My name is Joannie Williams. I am 71 years young and have been blessed with the abundant life promised in the book of John 10:10 where Jesus says He has come “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” I am a registered nurse and also a parish nurse, having completed the Parish Nurse Preparation Program through Marquette University in 1997.

I created a parish nurse ministry at my home church, Atonement Lutheran Church which has since consolidated with Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Racine and is now Living Faith Lutheran Church. As I mentioned before my parents lived with me and my husband and when their needs became greater, I gradually reduced my hours as a parish nurse and devoted my full attention to caring for them. As a former hospice nurse I early on had made the decision that when the end of their lives approached, I would take care of them at home. They lived with us for 13 years and both died at home with me at ages 99 (father) and 100 (mother).

I never regretted the time I spent with them in those last years. And it was while I was essentially home bound with them, that I took the Diakonia courses which gave me so much life and deepened my faith.

After my mother died in 2013 I wondered where my life would take me next. What would I do with myself? I had retired from clinical nursing, but remained the parish nurse, albeit now on volunteer status. According to Parish Nurse standards the “parish” is any place in the community at large and a “parishioner” is anyone in need in the community. My parish was about to expand!

My call to homeless ministry began in earnest one day when I received a call from a social worker at our city’s largest community meal site and quasi-homeless warming center during cold winter nights. A 39 year old man who had been homeless for 22 years needed colostomy supplies and did I know where to find some?

That call began a journey which has continued to this day. Over the course of these past 5 years, I have worked with many individuals experiencing temporary homelessness, helping them access healthcare, jobs, housing, food, furniture, legal help and other resources within the greater Racine area. On the way, I have encountered the many barriers that those living on the margins of society face on a daily basis. Things like cashing a check, obtaining a picture ID, getting to medical and other appointments, finding a job.

My husband and I with a few other like-minded folks, and with the support of the county, the city and private funders, created and ran a temporary low barrier shelter from November of 2016 through March of 2017. Our efforts ultimately led to the restructuring of our city’s largest homeless shelter, HALO, to ease their entrance policies and provide shelter to many who had previously been left on the streets.

I probably fill my gas tank 2 or 3 times per week driving my people around to where they need to go. I can claim whole heartedly that my life is filled with purpose and joy because of this ministry I have found with what Jesus called “the least of these my brothers.” They are so precious and I am so blessed to have their trust and their love.

I would encourage Diakonia students and graduates to remember these 3 things:
TAKE RISKS when you answer your call to be sent out. Its better to try and fail, than to be afraid. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid for I am with you.” And Martin Luther said “sin boldly.”
TRUST GOD. Even when it seems things are not going as you hoped, remember that ultimately, no matter what happens, God’s Will will be done.
THE KINGDOM IS HERE and we are called to partner with God by loving our brothers and sisters and all of creation. Its our job. Shine your light and be the salt of the earth.

The best part of my ministry right now is that I feel like I can give hope to those whose lives are so empty of blessings. It’s truly incarnational in the sense that when a person feels hope I can see hope arise in their physical bodies. The head goes up. The shoulders push back a bit. There comes a lilt in the voice that wasn’t there before. There is a tiny spark of light that appears in the eyes. I love them so much that my heart feels great tenderness toward them and I thank God for bringing them to me.

Please pray that I may continue to have the health to be a conduit of God’s Love to the homeless.

I’ve been asked to mention one thing about myself that might surprise others. I lived in Japan for almost 9 years from age 21 to 30. I love to cook Japanese food when I have time. Also I am a back yard beekeeper.”

— Joannie

“My name is Gwen Miller and I graduated from the Diakonia program on June 18, 2016 at St. Peters Lutheran Church – Huntington Station. Next to the birth of my son, this was proudest day of my life. Twice to this visit, Diakonia representatives visited my church Our Saviour Lutheran – Jamaica and twice before I sat and listened to the table-talks not feeling adequate to take the leap. This time, the holy spirit spoke softly and said “what are you afraid of? Surrender and the Lord will address all the rest of your concerns.” Three weeks later I attended the orientation meeting. I knew this is where the Lord had been calling me to all these time.

Next page›I met these amazing people, my classmates, (featured in the photo by the brick wall), received encouragement and guidance from Roberta Detmers our Program Coordinator and obtained a wealth of knowledge about faith, worship, serve and the bible from supportive Pastors. These classmates are friends whom are still part of my life.

The curriculum was varied, easy to follow at a self-pace. I still recall the engaging conversations about worship, faith, ethic, Lutheranism and how we became “The Church.” It was the best two year investment of my life. What I gave up does not compare to the knowledge, spiritual growth, insight and confident to share my faith and step up into leadership to minister to the needs of my congregation and beyond.

Diakonia “Grow In Faith” is exactly what this program is all about. I am currently an Diaconate Intern for this is where discernment from the “Grow In Faith” Diakonia program has lead me. Wether you pursue going beyond or not does not matter. What you will gain when you “Grow In Faith” is obtain the knowledge to equip you to become the servant the Lord intended of you. Grow in Faith, the Diakonia program gives you the tools to be an effect servant to your church and others as a disciple of Christ; is that not what WE as the body of Christ are called to do?”

— Gwen Miller – Class 2016 – Queens Location – Astoria NY

“I became more connected with the Lord, strengthened my faith and developed a new spiritual direction.”

— Linda Gray

“Learned a great deal and it was a wonderful experience.”

— Marilyn Keener

“Diakonia has provided me the spiritual nourishment that I have been seeking. In return, it has helped to empower me to go forth in service to others with joy”.

— Myla Groth

“The program provided a whole new world of experiences that deepened my faith.”

— Joan Grace

“What a wonderful gift – Diakonia gave me the opportunity to share and be supported on the faith journey with an awesome group of pilgrims”

— Amy Wacker

“Diakonia gave me the tools that will help me to better serve the Church.”

— Jeff Davis

“We are all called to serve.  We are all called to bear witness to the gospel.  But it can be very challenging to discern exactly HOW to serve.  For those adults in our congregations who are engaged in a process of looking for new ways to live out their baptismal calling, one outstanding resource is the ‘Diakonia’ program.  Through a two-year course of study, prayer, and growing faith friendships, ‘Diakonia’ has led dozens of dedicated Christians to a deeper engagement with faith and life.”

— Bishop Wayne Miller, Metropolitan Chicago Synod

I think the effort teachers expend should be to try to help each person at whatever level to grow in understanding and faith.  This program is not intended to lead to licensure or rostering, although several people have used this as a first step in finding just such a vocation for themselves. It works best when each of the group (teacher and students) tries to help the others and is open to insight and help from others.

— Reverend Tom Osterfield