Jesus Gets Dirty


Journal Entry from December 9, 2014     Paris, France

As I exited the metro station and saw Notre Dame towering the taxis below, tears welled up in my eyes.  It was more beautiful than I imagined it would be – and as my gaze locked with the cathedral, I crossed streets and the Seine – eyes fixed – like a sailor following a lighthouse signal.

I had read The Hunchback of Notre Dame many times as a teenager and had seen the silent films as well as the watered-down Disney version of Victor Hugo’s tale.

Notre Dame was an enigma in my literary life – a beacon of Gothic architecture extending toward heaven yet often forgetting the commoners on earth and the messiness of the Messiah showing up in the mundane.

As my footsteps drew closer to the main entrance and its three porticoes, my heart began to race.  The skill, beauty, hypocrisy, and stumbling victory of the façade pierced the heart.

I stood under the central entryway for almost twenty minutes contemplating the faces of the statues etched into the façade:  saints, nobles, clergy, kings of Judah, all with their knowing glances staring into one’s soul.

I took time to listen to what I was feeling – amazement, joy, wonderment, and suddenly, terror.
It was a strange feeling, this beauty/terror that struck me as I stood between the two monolith towers that supported the central façade.

We often talk about how unapproachable the Church seems to be and I wondered about the passers-by in the Middle Ages as they lived and walked past such colossal beauty.  As they passed through the market, what did this gargantuan cathedral communicate to people about who God was?

Was God also a Colossal Beauty?

And as we stand beneath Her beauty and strength, His breadth and width that seem to swallow us whole, what is it that we feel?  The more we gaze into God’s mystery, are we overcome with the knowledge of our own inadequacies and of that familiar, yet unnamed, haunting feeling that we can’t quite ever shake whenever we are overshadowed by the divine showing up in front of us in colossal and beautiful and terrifying ways?

There I stood.

I was Job and the façade along with its towers and Rose Window were the whirlwind – dwarfing me in its grandeur.

My neck began to ache from staring at the central sculpted art protruding over the main door.  I looked at angels and demons battling, the righteous on the left and the condemned on the right, the devil and saints balancing souls in the scales. Above them sat Jesus, Mary, and the apostles:  all with blank expressions and posed in static glory – emotionless as the judgment took place below them.

I did not like it.

Mostly because I don’t like facing my own darkness, what I know must be judged and purged, let alone facing it with some static, overhead lighting type of faux-glory that sheds light but does not transform.

A burning bush, a whirlwind, an empty tomb, tongues of fire – these are instruments of a dynamic Glory that transforms and draws us out of our darkness.  The splendor and scandal of the crucified Christ is beautiful because it illuminates and changes those who hear it as their own story.  It transforms those who allow themselves to be drawn into the stunningly intricate tale of God unleashed around and among us…

So, there I stood, gazing at a stagnant, static depiction of Jesus – very much unlike the rebel I often read about and preach about and pray to.

The Jesus I know has tears in his eyes, dust on his feet, crumbs in his beard, and wine in his mouth as he mingles with guests at a wedding in Cana, with lepers in their homes, with hypocrites in their holy places, and with women who cling to the hem of his garment knowing that this Jesus transforms them.

The Jesus I know is the un-static, God-on-the-move, glory of the divine, putting on skin.

I am changed by this Jesus. The One who sticks doubters’ fingers in his scars, breathes peace over the frightened, swallows up death and hell in his conquering the grave, calls women and men alike to tell the Story, and then cooks breakfast for his friends on the shore.

It might sound strange, but the façade still haunts me as I write this…perhaps because a depiction of a stagnant, static Christ, a Jesus unmoved by the story of humanity, is not the Jesus I know.

Rather, it is the active, subversive, God-on-the-move, Word-made-flesh, rebellious, compassionate, and conquering Christ who lays down his life for us – all of us – who promises to be moved by the human story, who promises to swallow up the powers of darkness, death, and evil forever, all because of the relentless LOVE he has for us.  That is the Jesus I know.

The Jesus I know has laughter in his heart as he props toddlers upon his knees, compassion in his voice as he chooses to call us his friends, and sorrow in his eyes as he laments over ones who do not return his embrace.

The Jesus I know gets dirty.

He gets dirty from the mess he enters into when he chooses to mingle with us – the ones dwarfed and terrified by the reality of Colossal Beauty choosing to make our hearts a dwelling place for a vast kingdom and choosing our hands to be the place where righteousness and justice kiss.

Our Jesus isn’t static.  Our Jesus gets messy.

Our Jesus becomes our mess and conquers it on His cross.

That ain’t a stagnant yawn-fest.  That is colossal, beautiful drama.

And that is a Story worth repeating.

Transformed by the Story,
Rachel Ringlaben

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hotos taken from my climb up the cloisters…

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Berlin Bound


My dear followers of the Story,

First, I must express my gratitude to you all for your constant prayers and support as I am on this Graduate Preaching Fellowship (GPF) journey.  I also am immensely grateful for the GPF donors’ consideration, patience, prayers, and mercy as I recovered from the emergency hernia surgery I had in July while I was in Guatemala.  They granted me an extension to complete my GPF year in Europe as originally planned.

As most of you know, I was admitted for emergency surgery in Guatemala in late July (see blog post below) and I spent the month of August recovering from surgery to bed rest to slowly walking to being able to make home visits with the elders once again.  September rolled around and I was asked to do supply preaching at Solomon’s Porch, a bilingual congregation across the lake from Santiago Atitlán.  I was able to put into practice all I had learned.  I told Bible stories – stories most members had never heard because they were recently coming to faith.  I also had the opportunity to continue visiting the elders’ center; to talk about Jesus to the children who would visit me in the coffee shop I attended daily, and to give an on-the-air concert/interview for the Guatemalan Christian radio station, La Vision Atitlán.  What I thought would be a depressing month of recovery turned out to be God utilizing my presence to engage in conversations with many about Jesus.  What a holy surprise!

I flew back to the states in October to serve as a Spiritual Director on a Via de Cristo retreat in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  I was also able to visit my family in Arkansas and Georgia, as well as my grandmother, Betty, who is in hospice care in Texas.  This brief pause from the GPF journey was such a blessing to reconnect with family, friends, and congregations who have been lifting me up in prayer.

I will be leaving for Berlin in a just a few hours to complete my commitment with the GPF.  I will be spending one week in Germany (Berlin and Wittenberg) and then two weeks at the Taize monastic community in France.  I can’t wait to set foot in birthplace of the Protestant Reformation, to touch the stones of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Zionskirche (Zion Church), and to speak with missionaries in Germany who are seeking to live out the Gospel in tangible ways so that the Story can again take root and flourish.

I will then travel by train and bus from Berlin to the Taize Community in France.  My time with the Taize Community will be a time of intentional prayer, reflection, and processing of all the stories that I have heard this past year from my brothers and sisters in Central and South America – stories that now have a harbor in my heart.  It will be a time that I can sit and intercede for all the people who have crossed my path this past year and for all the ministries and social services I have been invited to visit this past year.  Know, dear friends, that you, too, are being held in prayer by a community of international believers, followers of God’s Story.

I am looking forward to all God will continue to reveal as I seek out how God’s story is rooted and growing in the lives of others.  Thank you for your prayers for safe travels and for your encouragement along the Way.  I thank God for each of you.

May we continue to be at awe at God’s work in the world as God’s story unfolds within and around us.

Rachel Ringlaben

10643992_283878135146741_1232408772_a Leading worship at Solomon’s Porch in Panajachel, Guatemala

1002683_10100782614037541_7036664528213642370_n Visiting my grandparents in Texas.

photo (8) Back in the saddle and ready to go! Berlin bound!

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Jonah and the Banana Muffin

God said to Jonah, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” – Jonah 4:11


“Buy me a cappuccino,” the little boy in the blue hat shyly says to my friend as we sit on the stools at Café Rafá.  I look down.

“Hola, Pedro!” I say to him as I recognize him from the street.  “Do you remember my name?”  He shakes his head.

“Do you remember the last time we ran into each other?” I ask.  He nods and says, “You bought me juice.”

“No, I invited you to have juice with me,” I correct him jokingly.  “Have you sold a lot today?”  I ask him as I point to the basket full of beaded key chains that he peddles everyday along Calle Principal, what the locals call “Calle Gringa” due the tourists that make hour trips to the Santiago Dock and stick to the few blocks of market rather than discovering the beauty that lies within the inner parts of the pueblo.

Pedro nods energetically.  “Can I invite you to a soda?” I ask.  He nods again.

I pat the stool next to where Sara and I are sitting and say, “Pick a soda out and hop on up here.”

“Pepsi!” he says as he sets his basket on the counter and climbs up next to me at the café bar.

“How’s school going?  Did you have math yesterday?” I ask.  “Sí!” Pedro says as he puts a straw in his Pepsi can.

I point to the soccer player whose image is branded on the can.  “Who’s this guy?” I ask, already knowing the answer.  Pedro shrugs.  “It rhymes with Pepsi…sort of…” I hint.

“Messi!” Pedro shouts, recognizing the star player for Spain’s Barcelona team.

“Yea, but we’re Madristas, right?” I say, reminding him of our fidelity to Barcelona’s rival team, Real Madrid.  I point to the Real Madrid hat he is wearing.  “Sí!” he says, touching his hat.

“Did you watch the game yesterday? James scored at minute 81!” I raise my hands and cheer, “James!  James!”  Pedro laughs.

My soul laughs.

“You hungry?” I ask him.  “I just bought some muffins.  Do you want a banana one or an orange one?”

“Banano,” he says.

I open up my bag and hand him one as I talk to Juan, the café owner, about local current events.  I turn back to talk to Pedro and find the muffin almost completely gone.

“Whoah! Did you swallow that whole???” I ask the 10-year-old sales boy on my right.  He laughs with his eyes.  “You swallowed that banana muffin just like the whale swallowed Jonah whole!” I say.

He stares at me.

“Do you know the story of Jonah and the big fish?” I ask.  Pedro shakes his head as he sips his straw.

“Well, I can tell you the story if you’d like,” I say.  Still sipping on his straw, Pedro nods.

So I start telling him the story of the reluctant prophet Jonah and the big fish.  Using Lake Atitlán and the surrounding villages as common day comparisons.

“Imagine if you were thrown off of a boat and a HUGE fish swallowed you whole! Then you were stuck in its belly for three whole days on the bottom of Lake Atitlán!  THEN the fish spat you out on the dock in San Pedro!” I say to him.

Pedro’s eyes light up.  He listens intently, sipping his Pepsi.

“So Jonah spent the whole day walking from the beginning of the city to the end of the city, preaching for people to repent because God wanted to be in relationship with them, so they could experience the freedom of God’s forgiveness.”

I cup my hands around my mouth and pretend to be Jonah, “Hey everybody, this city is headed for trouble. Best thing to do is repent and get to know God!”

Juan, the café owner and fellow believer, grins and nods.  Pedro sips and listens.

“And do you know what happened?” I ask him.  Pedro shakes his head.

“The whole city – every single person – felt sorry, repented, and God forgave them!  The city wasn’t destroyed because God’s love was greater than the people in the city and even Jonah had imagined!”  Pedro’s eyes grow wide.

“So what do we know about God from this story?”  I ask.   Pedro shrugs.

“Even though Jonah thought the people in Nineveh didn’t deserve God’s love, he couldn’t keep God’s love from them.  God’s love is for everyone – even you, Pedro!  God loves you, too, Pedro.  More than we love soccer or Real Madrid or banana muffins.  More than anything in the whole world.  God loves YOU.”

Pedro’s eyes stay on me as he sips his Pepsi.

“Did you like the story?” I ask.  “Sí!” he says.

Knowing he has to make a quota of sales for the day, I point to the basket full of beaded crafts and say, “Well, let me take a look.”  As I look through the items I ask Pedro what is his favorite color.  “Blue!” he answers.  I pick out two hummingbird key chains.  “Which one should I get?” I ask as I hold them up.

“This one,” Pedro says, “This one is blue!”

“Deal,” I say as I hand him 15 quetzales.  “Well you better get back to work before you have to get to school,” I say.  Pedro agrees and hops down from the stool.

“Want a muffin to go?” I ask.  Pedro nods.  “Banana right?”  He nods again as he takes the bag from my hands.

“Gracias, Raquel,” he shouts back to me as he leaves the café.

“De nada, Pedro,” I say back to him.  “Thanks for accepting my invitation!”

I look down at the blue, beaded hummingbird sparkling in the sun, sip on my coffee and thank God for the marvel and wonder that occurs in conversations and stories of God’s unfathomable love that meets us in surprising ways.

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Hearing the Story in Paraguay

Journal Entries from my stay in Yaguarete Cora, Paraguay

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une 25, 2014

As our tires push through the muddy waters of Buena Vista, Daniel taps me on the shoulder.

“Here´s story telling in the works – my mom is telling the Noah story to our friend, Maria*.”

I watch Maria, a Paraguayan Guaraní-speaker, listen intently to Jean´s every word. As water surrounds us on all sides of the Land Cruiser and as we push through the waters over the flooded bridge, Jean tells the Noah story in Guaraní and points out the window. The bending trees and brush along the river bank and lost cows meander their way through flooded pastures all seem to lend themselves to Jean´s gestures.

We are in the ark.

Maria’s husband has become a dear friend of the Floyds. He´s been known to stop by their house weekly to sip on cold tereré (the traditional herbal drink of Paraguay) as Tony and Jean tell him Bible stories. The Floyds have been in Paraguay for 16 years and confess that communicating the Gospel and planting home churches has been a learning process.

“It is all about relationships,” Jean says. “We live here and love the people and we then are able to share the Gospel with them.”

Tony adds, “We stumbled upon orality after realizing that what we were doing wasn’t working – text studies were not hitting home with people. I listened to a recording about oral cultures and was struck when the author said that just because people reject the method of teaching doesn’t mean they are rejecting the Gospel. We just had to find the way that the Guaraní would best hear the Gospel.”

After that revelation, audio Bibles on MP3 players were passed out to community members and storytelling workshops were held. The Floyds say that this was the turning point in their ministry.

Tony says, “People were listening to the audio Bibles as they worked out in the fields, as they did chores at home, as they walked to their neighbors’ houses. I saw a man who never once spoke when we did text studies begin to lead Bible studies through telling the memorized audio Bible stories and verses. That’s when I became a believer in this orality stuff.”

In a culture where community members sit on their neighbors´ porches to share a cup of hot mate or cold tereré and tell jokes or share events from the day, the oral storytelling method fits naturally in the everyday life of rural, Guaraní Paraguayans. Once the audio Bible showed success among community members, the SIM missionaries collaborated with their Guaraní neighbors in developing a series of Bible stories spanning from the creation story to Revelation, each with a memory verse that captures the key ideas in the story.

“We want the Bible to be transferable and stories do that in an organic way,” Tom, the director of SIM Paraguay, says…

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June 30, 2014

The dim porch light is the only light for miles as we gather at Rosario´s* home in the rural interior of Yaguarete Cora. Her son, Juan*, leans forward, his hands holding his head as Tony tells the story of King David – his anointing as king, his sin with Bathsheba, his killing Uriah, his repentance, and God´s forgiveness. Juan´s eyes light up as he hears that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”** Juan shares how this verse resounds with his experience as a Guaraní Paraguayan. “Many people,” he says, “look at us here in the campo and think that we aren´t smart or we look at the people in the city with all their wealth and think they have everything…but God tells us that what is in the heart is the most important.”

He leans forward as Tony continues revealing the plot twists of David’s manipulation, adultery, and murder of Uriah. Juan expresses surprise at David’s repentance and God’s forgiveness. The memory verse that accompanies the David story is 1 John 1.9 – “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

A story I have heard a hundred times is brand new to this family who sit and listen in awe. Grace surprises them in a story where I no longer am surprised. It is a gift to be reminded of forgiveness meeting us when we are our most flawed. Their reactions to hearing the story are ones I will always remember.

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June 29, 2014

Sunday afternoon we sit on the porch and share tereré. Gabriel*, a neighborhood teenager, pours the tereré into the metal cup and hands it to me. I suck on the metal straw as the group speaks in Guaraní about the ingredients – yerba, polmera, azucar. We pluck oranges from the trees and begin peeling our afternoon snack. We laugh as Jorge criticizes how Americans peel oranges and deal cards “the wrong way.”

“We go to the right, you go to the left! That’s so weird!” he says as we all laugh.

I finish sipping my turn and hand the cup back to Gabriel. He pours more tereré and hands the cup to Sonia on my right. We sit and eat oranges, shoot the breeze and story-tell the Bible and of how God has come near to us on this day.

Hearing the Story Anew,
Rachel Ringlaben

Please click here to watch a wonderful video on SIM´s audio-Bible ministry in the rural interior of Paraguay.

*Names have been changed.
**1 Samuel 16.7

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ot to see a baby calf be born on the Floyds’ farm!

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ipping on terere with a neighbor.        The audio-Bible mp3 player that SIM distributes.

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Visting Jesuit sites in southern Paraguay.  These were places of refuge for the Guaraní who sought an escape from the Portuguese slave trade.

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Marion and Jamie, originally from London, live in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.  They are involved in a different form of storytelling the Gospel through art!  They distribute free art pieces that depict scenes from Bible stories to schools all over Paraguay.  To find out more about their ministry, please visit  To see more original art by Jamie, please visit

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Visiting natural world wonder, Iguazu Falls or Cataratas do Iguaçu. The name “Iguazu” comes from the Guaraní words meaning “big water.” Once all belonging to the Guaraní, these falls are now divided between Brazil & Argentina. If you have seen the movie, “The Mission,” this is the location of that true story about Jesuit priests fighting alongside the Guaraní in opposition to the Portuguese slave trade.

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The Story of How My Life Was Saved in Guatemala – A Story of Spirit Hovering

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27

“The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

July 23, 2014, Panajachel, Guatemala

I was still smiling as I hopped into the boat that would take me over to Panajachel for a quick doctor’s appointment. The morning I spent reuniting with the elders here in Santiago was a homecoming as sweet as the strawberry cake we ate together in celebration of my 29th birthday. I could still hear Concepcion’s voice echoing back to me along with the other elders as we sang the songs I had translated into Tz’utujil. A quick trip across the lake and I’d be back the next day to visit some of the elders in their homes.

The pain below my right hip that I had experienced for about a week had become almost excruciating. Each bounce in the boat over Lake Atitlan’s waves reminded me why I had scheduled an appointment for what I was sure was just an uncomfortable cyst. About fifteen minutes into my doctor’s appointment, the ultrasound results and physical exam confirmed a hernia near the femoral artery. Dra. De Paz, a surgeon who just happened to be returning to her office next door to collect a few forgotten items, was summoned to examen me and look at the ultrasound results. As she pushed below my hip, I yelped in pain and tears filled my eyes. She looked at me and said that this was an urgent case due to the hernia being so close to the femoral artery and that one of the organs being suffocated by the hernia could be the appendix.

“We must operate on you now,” she said, my doctor nodding in agreement behind her. “It is a simple procedure, only lasts about a half hour, but we need to do it now to save whatever organ is being suffocated – we can see something is stuck in there on the ultrasound.”

“Are you sure it is not just a cyst?” I said in disbelief at the quick turn of events.

“No,” she said, “It is definitely not a cyst…this is a femoral hernia and you need to be operated on now. I can drive you to the hospital myself and bring you back tomorrow afternoon.”

Still shocked that surgery was needed, I went to the Sharing the Dream hostel in Panajachel to call my parents in the United States…

“Dad? Um…You know how I had a doctor’s appointment today? Well, it isn’t a cyst…it is a hernia and they tell me it is serious, that I need to be operated on now because there is an organ stuck in the hernia and something about an artery and they want to make sure they can save whatever is being suffocated and they say it is urgent, that they would have to sign a waver for me to leave their office without being operated on so that if anything happens to me they are not legally or medically responsible…I have the number of the doctor here, so write it down…I can’t believe this, I mean, I’ve never had surgery before, let alone in a foreign country…and I’m supposed to fly home to y’all Sunday and then to Taize next week…I’m scared, dad.” I began to cry.

“You sound panicked,” my dad said, in the deep, soothing voice that cut through my fear. “There are a lot of voices in this, but what is God saying to you when you quiet down and listen?”

I sat in silence with the phone receiver on my ear, tears slowly coming down my cheeks.

Suddenly, a wave of comfort and peace swept over me. It was the feeling of home – the comfort I had felt many times over this year when I had sat on the shore of Lake Atitlan, when I listened to Quichua women singing the Psalms in the Andes, when I was in the hospital in Bolivia, when I heard a Guarani woman tell me the freedom from fear she found in Christ, when I gazed up at the new stars I had never seen before blinking in the Brazilian night sky, when I had felt at home being invited into the stories of the people I had met along this journey.

It was the sense of home I feel every time I partake of the eucharist. I knew that it was not my own calm, but that of the Spirit who had hovered over the waters at the beginning of time and has been hovering over me since birth and Who had led me back to this place.

I moved the phone closer to my mouth. “I feel God say…that this needs to happen, that somehow this is supposed to happen, that I should trust the people here and do the surgery now. That is what I feel God saying.” My muscles were relaxed and I heard the tone of my voice change. “I feel the Holy Spirit in this, dad. She is here in this.”

“I have no bad feelings about this, Rachel,” my dad replied, “You are going to be fine. I love you.”

I phoned mom quickly and updated her. “We hear the peace of the Lord in your voice, Rachel,” she and my bonus-dad said to me. From within the depths of my voice, I replied, “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” It was that Spirit’s hovering that drew this promise to my lips as I said good-bye and headed out the door.

My surgeon, Dra. De Paz, drove me to the hospital and friends of mine awaited me in the lobby. Within an hour I was being prepped for surgery in the tiny private hospital, which in the dark of the evening looked more like a small backpacker’s guesthouse than anything in a medical magazine. As the anesthesia kicked in I remember saying, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” It was the song I had sung earlier with the Tz’utujil elders in Santiago…

I remember waking up in the middle of surgery.

The anesthesia from the mask had worn off, but the spinal anesthesia injection that numbed me from the ribcage down was still working. A curtain separated me from seeing what was going on, but I could feel a tugging sensation on my organs. I looked to my left and saw the anesthesiologist sitting there with concerned eyes.

“Que esta pasando?” (“What is going on?”), I asked him in Spanish.

“The surgery is lasting longer than we thought…it is more complicated,” he said back to me.

“Am I alright?” I asked.

“They are working hard,” he responded…the answer contained no hope or assurance.

I looked at him and in desperation asked, “Can you please recite me a Psalm?”

His head dropped and he looked back at me with an apologetic gaze, “I am so sorry. I am a Christian, but I don’t know any Psalms by heart…” His gaze shifted around and then fixed back on me. “Please forgive me,” he whispered.

“Of course, I forgive you,” I whispered back as I closed my eyes again. “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?” I said under my breath.

I awoke with Dra. De Paz speaking over me.

It turns out the surgery was much more complicated than expected and lasted two and a half hours. When Dra. De Paz opened me up, she discovered that intestinal lining was being pushed through the hernia and was tangled around the femoral artery. This meant that extra precaution taken so that the femoral artery would not be cut while she removed the intestinal lining that was tangled around it.

One wrong cut and I would bleed out on the operating table.
Leaving the artery alone would mean the artery would suffocate, cutting off blood to the heart and I would die of cardiac arrest…

“I don’t know how much longer you would have lived had we not discovered this during surgery,” Dra. De Paz said to me as I was wheeled to the recovery room.

“Thank you…You saved my life,” I wept to her as my mind tried to comprehend all she had said.

“No, I was just an instrument,” she replied.  “To God be the glory.”

The next day as Dra. De Paz drove me back to my friends’ house in Panajachel she asked me, “What church do you belong to?”

“Well, I’m Lutheran,” I replied.

She squinted her brown eyes at me. “Do you remember that you were singing during the surgery?” she asked intently.

“No!” I responded in surprise. “I was singing?”

“Yes!” she said to me, “You were singing a hymn. I told you that you have a beautiful voice, but the anesthesiologist said that you were already asleep. You just kept singing throughout the surgery. You sang about God’s love. The other surgeon looked at me from across the table and said to me, ‘We are operating on a servant of God.’ And I knew that it was true and that you were going to make it.”

Tears filled my eyes as her car turned a corner and I saw the blue waters of Lake Atitlan.  I felt a familiar peace – the hovering of the Spirit – the Peace that calms chaos, the One who speaks life over the waters.

Looking back at a week ago, I know that it was NOT my own strength that carried me through the many decisions and circumstances enveloped in an evening that could have turned out much differently.  I cannot do anything but praise God for placing me in the hands of these incredible people that saved my life from something that would have killed me had they not discovered it during the surgery.  I raise my hands in awe and bow my head in adoration for the loving-kindness that God has shown me through this whole miracle – through the surgeons, my host family in Panajachel, my friends from Santiago across the lake, and the prayers from hundreds around the globe.

As I spend the next four weeks here in Guatemala recovering from surgery, I will continue to write and reflect on the incredible moments this storycatching journey has held.  So stay tuned for more blog posts and stories over the next month! Although this August will look quite different than originally planned, I am assured that the Holy Spirit has led me back here for “such a time as this.”

Thank you for your prayers and constant support on this wonderful and unexpected journey.  I cannot express enough how honored I am to be the GPF recipient this year and continue to look forward to all that God has in store for the next month.

In Awe of the Spirit’s Hovering,

Rachel Ringlaben


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Re-framing Story: Part II



Journal Entry, La Paz, Bolivia                                        June 29, 2014


“Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, ‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.  See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.’”
 – Jeremiah 1:9-10

Along this storycatching journey I have continually asked myself – “What are the stories we tell ourselves? Out of what narratives are we living? What are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and about the world in which we live? From what stories are we drawing our own life’s narrative? Is it the Story of God and who we are as God’s creation? Or is it a narrative of distrust, despair, and anxiety? What does it look like to reclaim the story of the Gospel as our communal identity?”

During my stay in Bolivia, I have spent time with Quechua and Aymara church leaders who are passionate about the mission of building loving Christian community that seeks to embrace all with a Story of hope and redemption.  I have listened in wonder as Aymara women speak of their desire to continue uprooting and tearing down destructive narratives of domestic violence & sexual abuse that so often dictate communal life.  I have sat with Quechua men who are driven to inspire a generation of youth by sharing their own experiences of overcoming alcohol dependency.  They all have taught me the transforming power of re-framing stories in light of the Gospel.

Yet, re-framing our stories means that we need an audience – a community to tell us the truth about ourselves when everything around us tells us half-truths, almost-truths, or even full-out lies.  This is why Christian community is so vital here in Bolivia – the leaders I have spent time with understand the power and freedom that comes from sharing one’s story within a trusting/trustworthy community.  Through the stories and sermons I have heard among indigenous populations (Quechua and Aymara) I have been challenged to re-frame how we the church in the United States encourage parishioners to share their experiences with God, their God-experiences with others, and how we listen to the stories of the community that surrounds us in order to communicate the Gospel in a tangible way to our neighbors. 

What I have seen over and over again is that in indigenous communities, they value a person’s message of the Gospel much more if they have witnessed that person living life alongside them – farming in their fields, opening a store in their community, providing tutoring for their children, praying for their sick.  As Christian leaders hear the concerns, experiences, and stories of the community, they are able to aid the community in imagining how God is at work within their own stories and to what God might be calling them in the future as a community of faith. With their actions and words, the Christian leaders I have met with here are saying to their indigenous community members:  “Share your story and let the Gospel inspire the narrative you are telling about yourself – for you are loved, you are beautiful, you are broken, you are needed in this place.”  The people of Bolivia have taught me the importance of identifying the narrative that is destroying life so that by retelling their story in light of what the Gospel says about who they are they can in turn change the world around them. 

This lesson of re-framing story came in a very fragile part of my Storycatching tour.  At the beginning of June, I was hospitalized here in La Paz for having an extremely dangerous type of parasites in my system that attack vital organs and the blood stream.  I have been on bed rest until very recently.  Being on bed rest, missing the travels I had planned to take, and being far from family and friends during this time was very hard on me.  And in the darkness of this experience, I began to hear those half-truths and lies creep up behind me to say that I failed, that all I had seen was in vain, that I would die in that hospital bed.  And the thing is that these frames – these voices – that seek to dominate the narrative of our experience – they sound just close enough to the truth.  That’s why we trust them.  But theirs is a frame, a lens, a half-truth that does not set us free.  The frame of our story that sets us free is the Truth of the Gospel that unbinds us from destructive narratives.

And then, the Beloved community began telling me the truth – as I sat in the hospital and as I sat in bed, the Spirit sent voices to aid in re-framing this story.  A dear friend of mine wrote to me, “Rachel, parasites only mean you have embraced each adventure and have shared daily life with those around you.  Jesus is proud.”  That was the Truth that set me free – a re-framing of the story I was in.  I experienced the Global Church reaching out to encourage this Storycatcher through visits, phone calls, messages, medical care, delivering meals and sending me songs.  I had an excellent team of medical professionals and an amazing host-family taking care of me.

Re-framing our stories in light of the Gospel is hard work.  It takes practice.  It takes patience.  It takes a community around us to remind us of the beautiful truth we often forget – the truth that we are loved, we are God’s, and we are made new daily to change the world around us with the Love and Truth that sets us free.

Rachel Ringlaben


ermana Laura and I pose for a photo in the middle of the potluck after worship.  “Aptapi” is the Aymara word used for potluck!

IELB (Iglesia Evangelica Luterana Boliviana) national leadership retreat in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

ith the youth of Cochabamba’s ILEB congregation, EL REDENTOR.


Leading worship with Pastor Juan Fernandez (WMPL) at his cell group in La Paz.

At Gabriela’s FROZEN themed birthday party.  I am so thankful for Juan and Ann and their family for being an incredible host family during my time in La Paz.

Although my travels in the southwest were cancelled due to me being in the hospital, my time in Bolivia has been absolutely amazing and I am honored to have bore witness to the incredible things God’s Spirit is doing here.

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Re-framing Story: Part 1


Journal entry from Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol                                     May 30, 2014

The noonday sun was beating down on the Island as I climbed back into the private boat I rented for the day to explore the northern side of Isla del Sol.  As the waves from Lake Titicaca lapped against the boat, my driver, his assistant, and I traded stories throughout the day.  We enjoyed explaining cultural differences between Aymara life on the island and my life in the United States.  Our conversation weaved in and out of Aymara legend, Catholic traditions, and Lutheran theology. 

As we were hiking the bluffs earlier in the morning and my profession as a minister came up in the conversation, my driver-turned-tour-guide began asking for my opinions on the things that he had very clear views on – the after-life, women’s rights in Bolivia, violence in the campo, education for women in Latin America, forgiving one’s enemies, etc.  Between me catching breaths to share my views, he would insert commentary on the scenery around us and the Incan ruins that littered the Lake’s shore.  “I pray for my children, because I know that life is harder these days for them than it was for me in many ways,” he said to me as we made our descent back toward the boat.  “Especially for my daughters because I know that machismo is a reality they must fight against every single day.”  He continued telling me more about his life, his faith, and his hopes for his children.

Now we were back in the boat, making the long trip back to Copacabana.  I shut my eyes to take a quick nap.

About thirty minutes into the ride I hear his voice behind me ask, “Raquel, can I ask you something?”

I open my eyes and I turn to face him.  “Sure, ask me anything.”


He adjusts his baseball cap over his forehead.  “I divorced my wife a number of years ago and remarried…I am happy in my new marriage and know it is better this way, but I feel like a bad father and I feel guilty for divorcing my wife.  I don’t want my children to grow up and be mad at me.”

“Sometimes when we feel guilty about something we’ve done, it is a sign we need to ask for forgiveness.  Have you asked for forgiveness?”

“Yes, everyday, I ask God to forgive me for my mistake, for being a bad father.”

“How long ago did this happen?” I ask.

“Seven years ago,” he replies.

“Wow, that is a long time to believe that God hasn’t forgiven you and that you are a bad father,” I say as I move closer to his perch in the back of the boat.  “From what I heard you say to me while we were hiking, your love for your children motivates most of the decisions you make.”

“Yes, of course.  I love them and I love spending time with them,” he says, removing his baseball cap.

“Sounds like you are loved by your children and that they think you are a good father,” I say to him.  “You know, the first time you asked for forgiveness seven years ago, God forgave you, dear brother.  God forgives you.  God loves you.  But maybe it would be beneficial to share these feelings with your kids – let them know how you have felt guilty and ask them for their forgiveness.  Perhaps that is the missing piece of your healing.  I know that in my own experience, having a forgiving conversation with each of my parents after their divorce really aided in us moving forward in our relationships.”

His eyes squint at me, “Wait, God forgives me the first time I ask?”

“Yes, that’s called grace.  God forgives you and you get a new start.  Just like that.”

His eyes grow lighter as if they have tossed off the weight they have been carrying for seven years.

“God forgives me…just like that,” he whispers as his eyes fill with tears.  He looks over his shoulder at the Lake.  “Thank you, I feel at peace for the first time…I think you’re right, I should talk to my kids and let them know that I am sorry if I have hurt them and let them know that I love them.”

“I’ll be praying for you as you have those conversations and I will pray that tomorrow morning when you wake up, you can remember the forgiveness that God offers you every day.”

“Gracias, Raquel,” he says to me as we approach Copacabana’s shore, “I feel at peace.”

“That’s grace,” I say as I smile at him and stand to hop out onto the dock.

“Grace…” he repeats as he hugs me and waves good-bye. 

An integral part of telling and living one’s story is to discover the narratives we were never meant to carry – the lies we believe about ourselves and out of which we operate and relate to others.  In John 10:10, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

We are beckoned to release he lies and narratives of destruction so that we may fully embrace a new story – the True Story of who we are – beloved and treasured creatures destined for abundant life alongside God and one another.  Being here in La Paz is teaching me to fix my eyes on the Author of our story, my story, this day and every day so that we are able to become free from those destructive narratives that bind us.  We were made to be strong, bold, courageous, free. 

The True Story about us, what the Gospel ways, is Love.  And this Love God has for us, can be recognized when we are Unbound from the narratives of destruction.  The fingerprints of the Gospel are the words and experiences that unshackle us, unbind us from what holds us bound and constricted.  We were made to run in the spacious spaces within our hearts, our healed scars, and the in the world around us.  As the Psalmist wrote, “God brought me out to a spacious place; he delivered me, for in me God takes delight.” (Psalm 18:19).  We are made free by the Love, the delight, God has in us.  We become unshackeled by a boundless delight, a limitless enamoring, a borderless Story that runs alongside us as we learn to walk, to stumble, to dance, to love, and to run unbound.


Learning to Run Unbound,

Rachel Ringlaben










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The Story that Should Never Be

I am in Bolivia.  

I am not in Nigeria. 
But my thoughts and fears and prayers are there.

It has been about three weeks since a terrorist group, Boko Haram, entered into a school in Chibok, Nigeria and kidnapped over 250 school girls at gunpoint. 

Over 250 girls.

This entry could address a myriad of topics – the stacked dominoes of issues as to why this happened:  patriarchy, violence against women, misogyny, rape culture, negating education for women, religious extremism, terrorism, sex trafficking, child marriages, machismo, sexism, corruption, injustice…

But this entry is not about issues.

This is about her.

I do not know her, but she is my sister.

In the blink of an eye she goes
from solving physics problems,
from laughing with classmates,
from dreaming of her future,
to being


She is thrown into a story she was never meant to be a part of.

This is a story that is my worst fear come to life…and she is living it.

This is a story that makes my skin crawl and my blood boil
and my heart break in the deepest places of who I am as a human and as a woman.

This is a story that makes God vomit and weep when She hears it.

This is a story that should never be…

And I am powerless to save her from this nightmare
of men negotiating price over her life,
of foreign hands groping and prying her legs open,
of mothers collapsing in anguish,
of fathers weary with indignation,
of countries’ complacency.

All I have are tears of anger.
All I have are supplications of grief.
All I have are sighs and groans too deep for words to express…

for this is a story that should never be.

For God’s sake,


Rachel Ringlaben

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Huch´uy Runa – Ancient Ruins & Stories of Hope


March 18, 2014     Huch´uy Runa School & Orphanage       Cusco, Perú

¨Cuzco is not a city to visit for this or that painting.  Rather, it´s the whole of the city together which creates the impression of the peaceful, if sometimes disquieting, center of a civilization that has long since passed…The semi-indigenous features of the curator, his eyes shining with enthusiasm and his faith in the future, constituted one more treasure of the museum, but a living museum, proof of a race still fighting for its identity.¨ — Che Guevara, ¨The Motorcycle Diaries¨

¨Buenos días Señorita Raquel,¨ the children at Huch´uy Runa say in unison as I walk through the door of each classroom and workshop.  They carefully explain the details of their work…

Lucia takes me by the hand.  Her tiny eyes, magnified by her glasses, twinkle as she shows me her ceramics work station.  ¨Así, Señorita,¨ she says as she shows me how to ball up the clay into tiny pieces to make the walls of her tiny ceramic adobe home.  Honorio, 8, sits next to me with a runny nose that he continues to wipe with his sleeve.  I hand him a tissue and he heartedly grabs it to blow his nose.  ¨Gracias, Señorita!¨  His voice is so tiny and bright.

The professors teach each child to take pride in their craft and in their history as Quechua – descendants of the Inca.  The walls of each classroom and workshop are adorned with pictures of the Christ as well as paintings of Incan warriors and moral sayings of the Incan Andean cross:  Allinta Munay, Allinta Yachay, Allinta Ruway (Love well, learn well, do well). 

A fusion of faith where pride in their culture is cultivated with the love of God shown to them by the professors and staff.  The presence of God is tangible as I walk into Huch´uy Runa – almost bringing me to tears.  As I spend time with the kids I am reminded of Christ´s words that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little ones such as these.  And that is what Huch´uy Runa is – the kingdom of heaven breaking open over each child and each narrative she or he brings with them as children of the Cusco streets.

¨Most of the children here come from broken homes, homes of violence and dysfunction, ¨ Professor Edwin tells me, ¨but when they come here, we tell them that today is a new day for them to succeed and become better than their circumstances.  They hold the future in their hands and we tell them they have the capacity to create a positive future for themselves.¨

Professor Edgar adds, ¨The family unit is very important in our Quechua Andean culture.  Therefore we meet with the families in their homes every semester.  Only children who have no other housing options stay here with us during the week because we do not want to break the family and community bond created in the campo

¨Yet we also want them to know that we are a family here at Huch´uy Runa – we take care of each other.¨ Clara, the director and founder of Huch´uy Runa, smiles as she continues.  ¨When we work with them we want to cultivate hope.  Although many of them will leave here after sixth grade to work jobs while they are in colegio, we are equipping them with skills in their workshops so that they will not be exploited.  These children are our future – and that fills me with hope.¨

Che Guevara, in this travel diary throughout Peru, wrote that there are three Cuscos one can experience while visiting here.  The first is the Cusco of the Incas – Qosqo, walls of stone and strength and sadness that linger from the conquest.  The second is the Cusco of the Spanish conquest – Cusco of ornate cathedrals and plazas built on the backs of the Incas.  The third is a Cusco of the hesitant tourist – a Cusco one passes over superficially while relaxing in the winter of the Andes.

But I believe that if one squints one´s eyes over the Cusco horizon, the cobble roofs and cascading Andes, one might spot a fourth Cusco – the Cusco of Huch´uy Runa – the Cusco of audacious hope that sings and plays and learns and laughs with the supernatural joy of the Holy Spirit in the face of obstacles.

¨Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.¨ – Isaiah 58:12

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites labored to rebuild the ancient walls left in ruins, the staff at Huch´uy Runa labor to rebuild ancient ruins as they teach just down the hill from Saqsahuamán´s fallen fortress.  They are rebuilding the ancient walls of each child´s story – reconstructing an environment where each Quechua child hears the radical truth that they are loved by God.  As we begin our day at breakfast, the staff and children sing in Quechua and then pray a prayer of thanksgiving.  They walk to class together, smiling, awaiting another day where the fourth Cusco appears to affirm that each child is a miracle and has a voice, has a purpose, and has a part in the Story.

Witness of the Fourth Cusco,


Lucia shows me how ceramics are done.

Clara (far right), director of Huch´uy Runa, shows off the break-making workshop.

Jimmy heads down the Street to sell the scrumptous bread his class just finished making.

I sit in on the weaving workshop.


Music time with the traditional Andean bombo drum.



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Canchacuta, Peru – Where the Story has found a Haven


Quechua Village of Canchacuta (“Haven of Shepherd Animals”), Peru                            13,120 feet above sea level, population 300

There is a gift waiting here as the evening winds move the clouds that bring the rain over the village.  It is a gift of silence, of longing, of peace.  The snow-capped peaks of the Andes Mountains that cascade in front of my writer’s perch become engulfed in thick cumulus clouds.

A donkey brays.  A sheep baas.  A rooster crows.

The only constant sound is the chilling, howling wind that tinges one’s skin.

I gaze down on the city of Huaraz below as the sun sinks behind rain clouds and a gigantic shadow is cast along the fertile valley.  The green patchwork of crops and fields climb up to where I sit – writing in silence.

Well – almost silence.

A child laughs.  A wheelbarrow trudges past me carrying cement.  A pup barks.

I look to my right and gaze at an enormous, glorious rock formation that reaches up toward heaven.  Strong, elegant, longing – its reach is one familiar to me.

The barking pup draws closer to my feet and the sun peaks from behind rain clouds that will soon break open over fertile ground.  The clouds stop to rest on the snowy tops of the mountain range – as if holding hands in prayer with a dear friend.  Its grasp is one familiar to me…

Susana calls to me to help mix the grain that is laid out to dry on the mud yard in front of her adobe home.  I sit and mix the grain with my hands.  Like jewels they glimmer in the sun.  Carmen laughs as a rooster sneaks its way beside me to steal a snack.  I quickly shoo him away.

“Afuera, afuera!” Susana shouts as she shoos her hens outside the tin door.

I squat down on a log to begin peeling potatoes.  The Quechua women stare at me.  Feeling their gaze, I look up.  Elvia takes the knife and potato from my hand and says, “No, no, like this!” as she seamlessly peels circularly.  “Don’t you cook in the United States?”, she asks me.  I respond to her partially tickled and partially offended, “Yes, I love to cook, but I am used to using peelers and cutting boards instead of just a knife.”  We laugh as she hands the knife and potato back to me.  “It is as if you learn to tie your shoe one way and then all of a sudden you have to tie it a different way…same task accomplished differently.”  Elvia chuckles and I seek her guidance as I peel the potatoes for lunch.

Elvia’s two daughters play in the mud.  Melinda, about 6, grabs a knife and peels discarded carrots that are for the pigs.  Her older sister, Yenina, about 9, finds a glimmering metallic handbag in the pile of garments to be given away to the community.  She squeals with delight as she places the handbag on top of her head.  She prances around in her new “hat” and chases the hens out of the adobe kitchen.

We gather around the table for lunch and say grace.  We slurp down our soup and the women joke about me cautiously nibbling the chicken foot floating in my soup.  “I’m getting used to having toenails in my soup!” I say as I nibble on the foot.  They all laugh.

As night falls, leaving only Susana and me to tidy up, she tells me of how God called her to be a missionary to this community of Canchacuta.  With a nursing background and hearing Quechua spoken all her life by her grandmother, her skills in health and language are invaluable here in the village where Quechua is the language of the people, not Spanish.

She lights candles to illuminate the room where we sip on hot apple cider as we trade testimonies.

“This community did not know the Gospel before I came here six years ago,” she says.  “I brought Bibles translated into Quechua and the people here thought I was trying to sell them something that I wrote!”  She pauses to put more sugar in her cider.  “But then I started teaching Bible studies in Quechua and little by little people have come to trust me and know I am here to love them and help them know the God who loves them.”

The respect and love the village has for her is palpable as we drive up the hill in a taxi and children hop down from their perches yelling, “¡La hermana!”  They run behind the taxi and cheerfully help unload the boxes and boxes of produce that Susana has brought from Huaraz to sell to the villagers.

As the candle light begins to fade, Susana tells me that because the people of Canchacuta have seen her sacrifice moving from Huaraz to their village, they have been more open to hearing the Gospel.  Her love, compassion, and desire to help holistically (medical care & selling food at low cost) have opened doors for God’s story to envelop those who live in Canchacuta.

Susana lights more candles as women and children fill her small home in order to hear more about this Jesus – this God made flesh.  We sing in Spanish and Quechua in the candlelight and open our hearts to hear the Story that embraces us all.

Resting in the Story’s Haven,


Mixing the grain with Carmen, Elvia, and her two daughters, Yenina, and Melinda.

My neighbors and I play with the ducks in the nearest puddle!

Susana runs a grocery store out of her home, bringing produce, meat, medicine, and other necessities from the city in the valley, Huaraz, so that villagers do not have to make the trip down to the valley to buy their groceries.  Hers is the only store in Canchacuta.

Two of my neighbors came grocery shopping at Susana’s store.  I told them how much I loved their hats and Susana snapped this picture of us.

Susana leads a Bible study in her home by candlelight, using Quechua hymns and translated Quechua Bible stories.

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