Dear people of Bethlehem,

Greetings from Sonoma County. I am here with thirty four students and nine leaders to work on a Habitat for Humanity building project and assist the Santa Rosa community in fire recovery. The students are dumbfounding the Habitat people by getting done twice as much work as expected. Yesterday they prepared a foundation. Today they put up the walls on a new home to house a family after the fires. The students say they are so happy to help in this kind of need. We are sleeping at Cross and Crown Lutheran, where I served for 6 years before coming to Bethlehem.

I have been struck, again and again on this trip, by the power and grace of community. First, students of two separate churches working together for the good of people they will never meet. Then members of Cross and Crown who stopped by to thank them saying, “As a resident of Sonoma County, thank you for all that you are doing.” And my personal joy at seeing people I have not seen in 10 years, while at the same time surrounded by students from Bethlehem whom I have known and loved those 10 years. And those in Santa Rosa whom we are helping, but whose names and faces we will never know. It is a bit overwhelming, I must admit, and full of joy and the certainty that community is built, not of common walls, but of common story and shared tears and mercy and grace.

Community is finally, one thing. That we are bound together by the God who loves us all.
The theme for the trip this week is “Rising from the Ashes” as we help rebuild in Santa Rosa after devastating fires that have left thousands of people homeless. But it has come to have another meaning as well. Here at Cross and Crown, a 5 year old girl named Dahlila has been fighting for her life at Stanford Medical Center. I have know her mother Kahlia for years. The word as we arrived was that they were going to remove Dahlila from the machines that were keeping her alive and let her go. We all cried and prayed. Now 72 hours later, she is healing so well, that they may be able to take her off those machines by Friday and allow her to breath on her own. Rising from the ashes has come to mean so much. The work we are doing, but also new life and hope for a little girl.

Perhaps that is community at its best: Rising from the ashes and holding on to each other in mercy, grace and love. Knowing our fragility and claiming the strength that we find together. At Bethlehem, we are newly blessed to welcome Iglesia de Cristo Minesterio, a small worshipping community, to use our family center on Saturday evenings. Their leader Donaciano has been gracious and kind and I am delighted that we are able to invite another community of faith to join us. Donaciano is a contractor and noticed, as he was putting away chairs, that we need some dry wall repair. He asked my permission to repair it for us. I told him we would happily reimburse him for the work. He said, “No, this is our gift to you!” What grace upon grace. Bethlehem Serves is coming up on Sunday August 19th. Come and join us as we help many in our community that morning. We will work in a school garden, and at the humane society, and all over Encinitas. Come to church at 9 am and we will go out into our community together. Also, we will be hosting an event for Ocean Knoll parents on August 28th. All are welcome. The Ocean Knoll community thanks you for all the food you have provided for their English language learning students this summer.

The connections never cease. The grace abounds. How thoughtful of God to gather us all in his wide embrace. To hold disparate communities in the same love and to connect us to each other. So that in each other’s faces, we might see the grace of God.

God bless you, and all the communities in which you travel. May you find grace wherever you go.

In gratitude,
Pastor Laura