Sherin Bowen Memorial

Saturday, March 28, 2009
A Testimonial by Steve Vetter
President, Partners of the Americas

Barbara Bloch and I am here today on behalf of the Partners of the Americas to recognize the remarkable legacy, the many gifts, of Sherin Rose Bowen and to thank the Bowen family for having shared her with all of us.  Patricia Hill Williams, our chairman of the board, our board and staff, join me acknowledging the special contribution that Sherin made to the Partners of the Americas.

I also want to also recognize all of the Nicaraguan Partners and friends who have traveled from Nicaragua to join us in this Memorial occasion.  You are all so important to us and to Sherin and made so many of her dreams come true.  She would be honored by your presence here today.  (Please stand and be recognized.)

VOLUNTEER LEADERS. Great volunteer leaders have a way of  multiplying themselves, extending their reach beyond themselves.  I have worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer, worked with Vista volunteers, Americorps volunteers, Meals on Wheels volunteers , Big Brothers and Sisters over 40 years and I have never met anyone like Sherin Bowen or seen the impact she has had.  Sherin’s influence goes well beyond her influence on her family, her community, her state of Wisconsin and the country of Nicaragua.  She has inspired so many of us in Partners of the Americas and beyond.  That reaches from Chile and Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, through Nicaragua and back up into almost every state of the Union.  Her reach and her impact has been global, especially in this Western Hemisphere.  It is a remarkable story of how one individual can touch so many others.  My goal today is to try and share some of the lessons of her remarkable life.

CRACK THE CODE.  Partners of the Americas is built on that statement made by John Kennedy many years ago:  Ask not what our country can do for you but what you can do for your country.  He understood the power of people-to-people but I suspect he never imagined what someone like Sherin could accomplish.  What made Sherin, the Bowen Family and the Wisconsin Partners so important to our organization is that you “cracked the code” on figuring out how to mobilize volunteers to serve others better than just about anyone else.  My attraction to Sherin was to try and figure out how so much has been accomplished.  The POA has over 100 chapters, organized into 50 partnerships but few of them have excelled in the ways that the Wisconsin/Nicaragua Partners have.  Imagine:  we have 100 chapters all over the hemisphere and you have 100 Centros de Aprendizaje in Nicaragua alone, supported by 28 Partner Cities.  We cannot “bottle her magic” but we can take her essential lessons.  Prior to my arrival, I was fortunate enough to read her autobiography and I recommend it to all of you for so many of the clues about Sherin as a person are found there.  In fact, it may be one of the best stories about voluntary service that I have ever encountered.  The first lesson that I derived is this:  Sherin could have accomplished very little without you; and you could have accomplished very little without her. I also noticed that she paid tribute in her autobiography to Dwight D. Eisenhower and the role that he played in organizing the first White House Summit on People to People programs in the mid 1950s.  No president since Ike has chaired a follow up meeting but Sherin understood the power of people to people in almost revolutionary terms, especially in today’s world in which our standing and respect have fallen so low.   We are working with the new Obama Administration to champion a second summit on the value of people to people programs.

UPON MEETING A SANDANISTA.  My first visit to learn directly from Sherin, Amy, Bob, Lucy and others was informed by the plan to accompany a Nicaraguan Diplomat to the Annual Meeting earlier this year.  We met at O’Hare on a busy Friday afternoon and our flight was canceled, not delayed.  So I called Amy to say that we were going to have to return to DC.  She had this to say, “We have volunteers in every community of Wisconsin. Pick any airport and someone will pick you up.”  I doubted whether the Governor of Wisconsin could offer me such assurances.  But one hour later we were picked up in Appleton and whisked down to Stevens Point by two cheerful volunteers.  Prior to departing, the Nicaraguan diplomat took me aside and had this to say, “I’m a Sandanista.  I am not comfortable in your country and did not ask to be here.  I lost family members in the Contra war and do not support US Foreign Policy.  I just thought you should know that.”  I could only smile and say this, “I can’t imagine any better place for you to be right now than in Wisconsin.”  It took only one day with Sherin, Lucy, Amy to reduce him to disbelief and tears when he noted, “I had no idea that the American people are like this.  I have met more people in Wisconsin that care more about my country than many of my countrymen.  How can you explain this to me? Why would anyone in a small town in Wisconsin care about anyone in a small town in Nicaragua?  I don’t understand this.” I assured him that it had nothing to do with the water or the cheese, although I suspect many of you would argue that point.

LA VOLUNTAD DIVINA:  One of the striking elements of Sherin’s Story is the enthusiasm she brought to the job and the longevity of her commitment.  I served as a PCV for 3 years and then have been active as a volunteer with many other NGO.s  But it is Sherin’s 20 years with Partners that caught my attention, and then her husband Bob’s 20+years and then her daughter Amy’s many years and now her Grandchildren’s years.  How can this be explained?  When I asked her how she had successfully involved her entire family over three generations she had this to say, “Bob and I looked at it this way:  we could spend the same amount of money going to Disney Land for a fantasy vacation or Nicaragua for a reality service vacation.  This was not a difficult decision to make.”  Tasso Lugon, a Board Member of the Partners had more to add:  “In Brazil, we refer to this as the Voluntad Divina or the Divine Will.  To understand this you need to go back to the essence of the word enthusiasm which was built on the concept of  theos which connotes God Force or Divine Will,  hence Voluntad Divina. This special type of energy was rare, he noted, viewed by the Greeks as a gift of their Gods to only a select few.  The Greeks looked for this special quality in their leaders, assuming that the gift allowed them special and direct communication with their various deities.  Why else would so few have it if it were not to be used for such purposes?”  Some of you have referred to Sherin as a “Force of Nature.”  According to Tasso, you are not that far off of his deeper understanding.

HER GIFT TO NICARAGUA AND TO ALL OF US:  Few of us know what to make out of her accident in Nicaragua.  Does this inform us that the risk is not worth it and we should stay home?  I think Sherin would want us to view this as the ultimate gift she had to give to Nicaragua, one that will inspire all of those who knew her and want to emulate her.  I know that many of you will agree that we will honor her memory by carrying on her legacy and leadership.

OUR GIFT TO THE BOWEN FAMILY AND THE WISCONSIN PARTNERS:  THE SHERIN BOWEN FELLOWS.  Upon further reflection, Sherin’s motto of “Working Together We Can Make a Difference” should probably read, “Working and Learning Together We Can Make a Difference” for it was her spirit of open inquiry and her appetite to learn that so distinguishes her, that captures the essential spirit of what any leader needs to inspire and open paths for others where so many appear to be closed.  We hope to partially repay Sherin for this gift by establishing the Sherin Bowen Fellows.  Each year we will select 4 to 8 volunteer leaders who are committed to learning about how to better serve their communities and aspire to make Bowen-like contributions to their communities.  The Bowen Fellows will be able to travel and study either within their partnerships or cross-chapter, depending on the type of needs that they have.  I suspect many of them will want to visit Wisconsin and learn first hand how to develop a top-rate volunteer organization.  I also want you to know that we have been nominated to participate in a public television series called the Heroes of Hope which we hope to base in much of the work of the Nicaragua/Wisconsin Partners.  I cannot imagine a better title for Sherin other than a Hero of Hope.

THE ESSENTIAL LESSONS FROM SHERIN’S LIFE.  A child of the Midwest, Sherin had all of the requisite common sense and practical talent to make things work.  Her determination, discipline was without boundaries.  But it was the mega dose of service to others over the long, long haul that set her apart.  How did she develop this.  Part of the answer is here with us today and we want to recognize and thank her Mother, June.  Her work in the 4H also had a profound impact as did the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Award that she received when she was in her early 50’s that allowed her to chart a new course in her life.  In Nicaragua, we reflected on this and tried to better understand why she and the Wisconsin Chapter has contributed so much.  Ellen Maurer, one of the founders of the learning centers movement, and a powerful leader in her own right, added that the friendship and love of the Nicaraguan counterparts was a big factor.  Sherin commented later, “this is just something we do in Wisconsin.  It would be more difficult NOT to serve.  We need to serve others.”  She then went on to reflect on one trip during the rainy season when she and some of you here today were slipping and slogging around in the mud, enjoying every minute of your work.  It was then that I recalled the essential insight that Robert Frost captured in a poem that had held a riddle for me for so many years:  it is love and need that have to be combined to successfully order our lives for a greater purpose.   The title,  Two Tramps in Mud Time,, may capture better than any other the lore of what attracted Bob and Sherin and their family to work in Nicaragua.  The poem, paraphrased, goes something like this,

“Only when love and need are one….is the deed ever done…for Heaven and Future’s sake.”

I think all of us would agree that all of Sherin’s deeds have been done for Heaven and Future’s sake.  May she rest in Peace.

Steve Vetter
Partners of the Americas

Thoughts from the Family

Amy’s Perspective

Monday, March 16, 2009

I had just arrived in Tampa, Florida with my daughter for the start of our spring break, and decided to check my email while waiting for a ride at the airport…….A close friend of mine in Nicaragua had sent me a message saying she was so sorry about my mother’s accident…..I sat stunned and couldn’t imagine what this was about???   I immediately called Nicaragua and was given the news from Tom, a WI volunteer who was there with the Baseball project, about my mother’s accident.  He explained everything and said she could not fly home the next morning as planned.  He was also scheduled to depart the next morning, but would stay with her, so I would need to change both their tickets. (The Eco Tour ended on March 12th, but my mother had felt she needed to stay in Nicaragua for the VOICE workshop on the weekend.  I wanted her to come home on Monday, but she insisted on Tuesday, as there would be some follow-up work to be done.  I reluctantly purchased her ticket for the return date of March 17th.)  So with Tom’s confirmation she was in no condition to fly home, I called the airlines and changed the tickets, and Tom said he would call me with any updates.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

During the night I received a call they were taking my mother into surgery to drain the hematoma.  I asked to talk with her and was told I could not at this time.   The next day I realized how serious this had become, and I needed to be there with her.  It was only by the grace of God I just happened to have my passport with me which I would need to fly to Nicaragua.  My wallet had been stolen with my money, credit cards, and drivers license on Sunday in Chicago so I had no photo ID, the only way I could fly to Florida was to get my only other photo ID from my house, 4 ½ hours away, so a friend of mine went into my house, found my passport, a spare credit card I happened to not throw away, got me some cash, and met me ½ way.   It was less than convenient and still after midnight before I got back to Chicago, but still enough time to sleep a bit, and get to the Chicago Police Dept to file an amended police report as I learned my credit cards were being maxed out by another person – not just attempted use as I originally thought, and get to the airport in time to catch the flight to Florida.  Now, here I was in Florida, less than 24 hrs, and calling all the airlines to get a flight out of Florida, but the last flights to Nicaragua had already left.  In desperation I called the DC POA office to get help from their travel agent to see if she could help me find something, the only option was the next morning, Wednesday.  What choice did I have but to sit and wait?  I lay awake all night wishing I could be there with my mother.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The flight to Nicaragua seemed to take forever; I couldn’t even speak to the person next to me which is very unlike me.  I didn’t say a word until we were ready to depart the plane.  At that time, I asked, so what are you doing in Nicaragua?  The gentleman was a construction engineer and wanted to volunteer in Central America, he was not sure how, but he figured the first step was to learn the language so he was planning to attend a language school for the next 6 weeks or so in Nicaragua.   I sat dazed, and managed to explain that while my mother was scoping out a possible location for a building expansion by our Managua Office, she fell, and maybe someday, depending on the outcome of her accident, there may be an opportunity for him to volunteer his skills.   We exchanged contact information and left it at that.

The drive to the hospital seemed to take forever, I couldn’t imagine I was going to see my mother in the Vivian Pellas hospital because only weeks before we were both right here together in Nicaragua and were supposed to meet with the staff at the Vivian Pellas burn unit and explore ways to work together.  Our schedule for the Learning Center Trek was so full, we couldn’t fit it in, and could only note the building location as we drove by – and now here I was going there to see her as a patient?  This just couldn’t be happening.    We were supposed to have a meeting together with Vivian herself that week, but again, our schedules just didn’t allow it, and my mother and I decided there will be other opportunities to have the meeting in the future.

We finally arrived to the hospital and the tears wouldn’t stop as we walked up the stairs.  She was having a test and I was told we could see her soon.   When the time finally came to be at my mother’s side, I was overcome with emotions, joy to finally see her and sorrow to have no response from her.  I was informed she was stable but on life support, time would tell, but I hung tight to the 20% chance for recovery.  My mom was a strong believer in somehow, someway, that’s just the way it was with everything, so this shouldn’t be any different.  So many times in my life I would come to her with what seemed impossible to me, and she would help me to see a way.   We stayed by her side, praying for a miracle.  We met with the Dr. later in the afternoon; he was straightforward and did not express the optimism we were so hoping to hear.  He would repeat the EEG in the morning and we would go from there.   We all cried together in desperation, and finally left the hospital sometime in the late night or early morning.

I must comment on the love and support that was present immediately upon my arrival to Nicaragua by the W/NP staff, volunteers, and even people I had never met before.   They all were deeply concerned and offered to help in any way possible.  I cannot begin to name them all because surely I would leave someone out as it was such a painful moment and truly a blur of activity – but my gratitude is immense for each person I came into contact with.    It just happened that the Lopez family, who were long time volunteers with Partners, lived close to the hospital and offered us a place to rest in addition to phone, internet, and anything else that would assist in this crisis.   When we went over the situation, it really became necessary to pursue the option of medical evacuation to the US.  The medical team was excellent but they did not have the means for any other treatment, so we called Dr. Brad Martin for a medical consult and evaluation on the possibility to transport my mother.   Beth and I lay down exhausted and shortly after I closed my eyes, I awoke and it became apparent to me we needed to transport my mother as soon as possible and hold tight to the 20% chance for survival, time was of the essence in a big way.   I said to my sister, Beth, we have to do this.   My father would not leave my mother during the night so he was still at the hospital; we called Dr. Brad Martin to help us begin the arrangements.  The insurance co was only open 8-8, and if we waited for them to open, her chance for survival was less and less with each passing moment.

In the middle of the night, I called the number Dr. Martin had given me for the transport service, and woke up the person who would initiate the flight, and explained our situation.   Between Dr. Brad Martin, Dr. Glenn Smith, and Chief K from the Embassy, amazing things happened and the evacuation became a reality.   The transport jet would allow for the patient, and two other passengers – my father and I.   After about an hour, I began to question if it should be me in the plane with my mother, or my sister?  I felt confusion and didn’t know what to do, or where this thought was coming from.  I am the youngest, and am the only child who has remained geographically close to my parents, we are together a lot, and it seemed right for the 3 of us to be together in the plane.  Again, where is the thought coming from that maybe it should be Beth, her husband made the accepting physician arrangements at the Milwaukee hospital, maybe she should go?   What if something happened en route, and I couldn’t be there?  How could I get to Milwaukee?  I called Chief K, and asked if we could change the names of the passengers, he said, yes, just give me the info.  I said I didn’t know yet, and would call him back.   He called awhile later, and I still had not come to a decision, so he took both our names, and said whatever we decide they will go with.   I knew I needed help finding a way back to Wisconsin for my brother and I if we stayed behind, so I called the POA office and Marika provided some options.  I was pained to hear my flight would leave before my mother, and my brother would leave the following morning.  I hated to leave this way, but it seemed the right thing to do.   Chief K took care of my check-in at the airport and upon departure he turned and said, by the way, you are on a waiting list for a business class seat.   I sat in disbelief about the whole situation, completely overwhelmed and wishing I was leaving with my mother.  After being dropped off at the airport, I realized I had not asked Marika to ticket my brothers flight, oh my gosh, I had no phone, and I would not get to Miami until 6 and she would be gone out of the office.  So I tried to send her an email, they were calling my flight to board the plane, I tired to connect to the internet, it said I was connected but my message would not leave the outbox!  I was trying not to panic, but I had no phone, no phone cards or other credit cards because of my stolen wallet incidence in Chicago before I left to Florida.  I did have one credit card left so I tried that in the phone, but it wouldn’t work.  In desperation, I went up to a stranger who had a phone and asked could I please make a call – I called Chief K, who was right in the middle of my mother’s transport, and asked him to help me get in touch with Marika for my brother’s flight.  He said can I call you back in 5 minutes, I said, no, I have no phone and I’m using someone else’s and I have to board the plane.  UGH, I don’t believe this is happening to me.  He said he would take care of it, and that was the end.

I was supposed to be in seat 27E (back of the plane) but had been moved to 3J.  I’m still in disbelief, I can’t stop the tears flowing from my eyes wondering where my mother is and if she is still alive – the roads and traffic are terrible from the hospital to the airport, her brain is so delicate at this moment, I pray for her safety.  So here I am in business class, the first time in my life, and completely dazed and exhausted.  In my mind, I tell my mother, I don’t believe you did this to me, can you see me  now, why aren’t you here with me??   This is crazy, I don’t want to be here, but I guess it’s better than in the back of the plane.   The Friday before she left, we were in the office, her desk was a mess and papers piled everywhere  and I looked right at her and said, you know, you better not EVER leave me because I AM NOT doing this WITHOUT YOU!  No one knows how much has to take place for all these things to happen and I CANNOT do this alone – I WON’t!!  She promised me she wasn’t going anywhere and she would be back before I know it.

Once again, it was a very strange experience on the plane.  Almost identical to my flight into Nicaragua, the gentleman sitting next to me was in Nicaragua for the first time and was an engineer who had an interest in volunteering, a compassionate spirit, connections for contractors, and others who could be beneficial if our plans to build onto the Managua W/NP office ever came to fruition. I didn’t want to think about that, at that moment a part of me never wanted to come back to Nicaragua again w/out my mother. Another part of me could hear my mother’s planning on how he could be a part of what we needed to make the building project a reality. I felt God was truly watching over me by my seating placement in the plane.  I wondered if Chief K would ever know the depth of my gratitude, would he ever know the importance of my sitting next to this person who helped to ease my pain and could possibly be a part of the building project my mother ended up loosing her life for?

When I arrived in Chicago on Friday, it was after midnight and I had not really slept much since Monday so at the encouragement of my friends, I decided to rest a few hours before making the drive to Milwaukee where my mother was.  I left in the morning and en route received a call from my sister; she said I needed to get there as soon as possible.   Oh please don’t let this be happening….. was all I could think of.

The rest of the story you know from my brother’s account.  It’s a tough time for us all, my mother was a huge part of my life and has left me in a place I don’t feel prepared for, but I continue to pray for strength and understanding.  God surely has to have a plan because on my own, I am not up for what lay ahead.

If you’ve never had the experience of watching someone on life support, you may consider watching this video on the link below.   It’s a powerful illustration of how helpless one feels standing hours upon end near someone you love more than anything in this world – wondering can they feel you, can they hear you, are they in there somewhere or it is only the machine breathing in and out?

My heart aches today with the loss I am faced with, yet I am so thankful I don’t feel the regret of not telling my mother I loved her.   If she could hear me or not in the last days I don’t know, but I do believe before her accident she knew full well how much I loved and needed her.  So if you can, call your loved ones before it’s too late, and let them know you love them!

Things left unsaid video:


Thoughts from the Family

[Beth] God’s Fingerprints on my Mom’s Journey home

The past week has been an incredible journey of faith and as I reflect back upon it I can see that God’s fingerprints are all over the events that transpired and it has brought me comfort to see His hand in all that happened, He had a purpose that I am slowly beginning to see.

The phone call Tuesday morning that Mom had had surgery, sent me into shock that this was much more serious than we had initially thought.  As I stared dumbly at my husband in the swirl of breakfast and getting our girls off to school, he looked at me and said, “Just go! Your dad shouldn’t be alone now.”  I decided to try and get a ticket to Nicaragua; me, who often can’t make a decision in a restaurant, decided in just those few seconds to take an international flight. I called Continental, was told a shocking price and that there was one seat left on the same flight as my Dad’s… God whispered go and fifteen minutes later I was in the car racing to Milwaukee.   On the plane ride down in my desperation I felt called to the book of Psalms clinging to the myriad promises of healing, strength, preservation or comfort.  I found Psalm 41:1-3

“Blessed is he who has regard for the weak; the Lord delivers him in times of trouble.  The Lord will protect and preserve his life… The Lord will sustain him on his sickbed and restore him from his bed of illness.”

I thought here is my mom who most of what she did was in regard for the poor and this must apply. As I prayed in desperation I began to understand Andrew Murray’s vision of the Lord’s School of Prayer to which I felt I had been suddenly thrust into to take a crash course in what prayer is really all about.

Arriving in Houston we received a call that she was declining, so we prayerfully and tearfully cried out to God to preserve her life and restore her.  Again on the plane, I turned to the next 50 Psalms whose comfort and promise of his unfailing love, mercy and strength supported me in the anxious waiting.  Tom Ordens, who had been with her when she fell, and Rodney McDonald escorted us to the hospital where we were overwhelmed by the concern of a waiting room full of Nicaraguans as anxious for her recovery as we were.   Their hugs, prayers, and comfort strengthened us during the wait to see Mom. At our first glimpse of mom’s unconscious form with her blood stained bandage and criss-crossed tubes, I cried out in despair to God to bring healing and restoration gently touching her feet, fearful of bringing any germ that could compromise her feverish state.  The consultation with Dr. Vega was grim as he related her condition.  I fear we badgered the poor soul as we grasped for some shreds of hope.   Helplessly we tried to understand the CT scans wishing Glenn was here to interpret, thanks to modern technology I was able to call him and he took time out of his busy day to advise.  We left the hospital exhausted and in shock in the care of Rodney McDonald who with his wife opened their home to us offering us not only a bed, but food, phones and comfort. I felt like Jacob wrestling with God through the night, desperate for the blessing.

On arriving at the hospital early on Wednesday we were encouraged that her fever was down.  Upon visiting her when we spoke to her and touched her legs, her legs and torso moved, it seemed the sign I had begged God for, so we held onto hope.  The doctor dismissed it as an involuntary movement. While waiting outside the ICU we realized we were never alone, there were always several friends of Mom’s waiting with us; so many whose lives she had touched.  We received phone calls all day from far flung reaches of the country as scores of her friends sent messages of condolences and prayers. We had a consultation with another neurosurgeon who concurred her condition was grave, but not without hope.  More CT scans were not encouraging.  We passed the day with a continuous stream of Mom’s friends bringing their support and prayers.  As we prayed with many of Partners’ members who came to keep vigil with us, we prayed desperately for a miracle, begging God for her healing, trying to believe that God is who he says He is and can do what He says He can do.   I spent much of the afternoon in the X-ray department trying to get the CT’s emailed to Glenn so we could have confirmation by someone in the US; was it really as bad as it seemed?   Everyone in the hospital went out of their way to be helpful, the Phillips CT software representative even stayed on just to get these huge files sent.  Amy arrived mid-afternoon, as heartbroken as Dad and I were.   In the late afternoon they conducted an EEG. When Dr. Vega came to bring us the news we could see by his face that the news was not good.  When he told us it was flat, the dam burst and we wept inconsolably.  Still unable to accept it, we held out hope that it was wrong.  In the rawness of our grief a Seventh Day Adventist pastor who somehow knew my Mom, seems everyone down here does, came as an angel of comfort to read scripture with us and lay hands on Mom and pray, bringing the balm that we needed to carry us through.

Again this night we were cared for tenderly by the Lopez’ who graciously opened their home as a shelter in the midst of a storm offering rest, use of their phone and anything we needed no matter the hour.  We realized the need to get Mom back to the States enlisting Glenn’s help to arrange the hospital and Brad and Joan Martin’s help who would search through the night for a med-evac service.  At midnight we felt we could do no more and fell into a fitful sleep.  At 4am Amy and I woke up and turned to each other simultaneously and said we need to get mom home no matter what, so we crept as quietly as we could through the Lopez’ bedroom to the phone to call the med-evac service the Martin’s had found, both debating and disregarding the insurance situation.  In a matter of hours with a few calls to mom’s friends at the embassy, a plane was in the air.  That was a miracle in itself to get clearance to land so quickly.  The medical staff at the hospital sensed our need and was entirely cooperative in the effort.  Again we witnessed the faith of our Nicaraguan Friends as they poured out their hearts to God on behalf of my mother.  The next few hours were a blur as the team arrived, transported Mom, Dad and I to the airport and onto the plane with the help of the bomberos (firemen who knew and loved Mom).  I continued my walk through the Psalms on the tense ride to Milwaukee.   With relief we passed the torch we had been carrying to the medical staff at St. Luke’s and knew that we had done all we could and we must wait on God and accept what the outcome would be.   As the reality of the situation was dawning on us I thought of John 6 where many of Jesus disciples leave and he asks if they want to leave too?  Their response is “to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life”.  So although it seemed we would not get the miracle we had hoped for, in God’s infinite wisdom, “his ways were higher than ours” and we must trust Him.

This year I had been reading a devotional by Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for his Highest, which often calls us to a hard obedience.  Thursday’s reading urged us to a faith like Abraham, who was not devoted to his desire but devoted to God no matter what.  Friday’s was even more direct, in Gal 2:20, he urged us to sign the death warrant of our disposition to sin, my claim to my right to myself.  Hard words to hear at this time.  Was our request rooted in desire for what we wanted or what God wanted?  In my prayers was I agreeing with God or demanding what I wanted? Chambers challenges us to keep praying in order to get a perfect understanding of God Himself, I have so much to learn.

I realized that just a week ago at Youth Group I had heard the words of Jesus saying “I tell you the truth unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds … John 12:24 and Mk 8:35 “that who ever would lose his life would save it and whoever would save it for himself would lose it.” It finally was becoming clear to me that Mom had lived her life giving it away. She was a visionary, always looking to what could be done next to help the people of Nicaragua, even the day of her fall she was pursuing a vision. Her incredible generosity and compassion for everyone she met we had witnessed coming back to us in so many ways.  Ecclesiastes 11:1 says “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again”.  What Mom cast out, has returned and multiplied as evidenced by all the postings on this site.   Her life is a testimony of a life well lived.

As I think of what it means to live life well, I found I am now also thinking of what it means to live with the eternal in view.  The Hope of Heaven has never been more dear to me. Hebrews 2:14-15 saysSince the children have flesh and blood he(Christ) too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” The fear of death, our own or a loved ones, can keep us captive.  Having come face to face with death this week I have a much greater understanding of what Christ offers us in   John 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my words and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned, he has crossed over from death to life.” In the busy race of life we often overlook the eternal and the promise that Christ made to those who will hear and believe.  May you experience the comfort and hope of the promise of heaven.

Thoughts from the Family

[Glenn] A Son in Law’s Privilege

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? But because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

These words penned by Stephen Schwartz in his song “For Good” have resonated in my heart from the moment I learned Sherin’s life was in jeopardy. Now that she is gone, the resonation has become a symphony, yet also a still quiet voice that speaks peace to my soul. For it is so true of her – she was an instrument of change in my life and in so many others.

As Sherin and Bob’s son in law, I have been so privileged to be enveloped into the Bowen Family. 1983 found me as a 20 year old college junior courting their jewel of a daughter, Beth. Her tenderness, humor, initiative,and brilliance of countenance drew people to her – traits she reflected from her mother. As I got to know her and the family I was treated as I later learned they addressed all new comers: as part of the family. The welcoming feeling of ” So nice to meet you! How would you like to help us out with this project…?” (bailing hay, shearing sheep, stacking wood…) . Their family knows so well that there’s nothing like sharing in good, honest hard work to build a team and to build relationships that last. Twenty five years later, those relationships are so precious to me.

Sherin was “graciously practical” in how she treated people. She accepted people for who they are better than anyone I’ve ever known, no matter what their past failings or problems; at the same time she saw the potential in a person to become something more. Being with her, you felt accepted but also challenged to be a better person – to follow her powerful but gentle example of living a meaningful, purposeful life.

Sherin was a visionary extraordinaire – but a visionary who lived in the present. She would talk for hours about her dreams – dreams for the Lake Esadore family retreat (which is now practically an estate!) and dreams for development and empowerment for Nicaragua. Her vision for Lake Esadore to be a place of celebration, restoration and relationship was realized by literally hundreds of family, friends and guests over the past 10 years. our children count such memories as some of their best childhood memories and our friends talk of when their next visit can be arranged. All this in large part due to Sherin’s dream. Her vision for the work of Partners in Central America has likewise been phenomenal. How many hearts and lives she has touched there only eternity knows. My family was privileged to accompany her on a trip to Nicaragua several years ago; it was a lifechanging experience for us. Since then, each of my children have embraced this culture, learned Spanish, and traveled again to Central America . Beth and my 13 year old daughter Mckenzie were fortunate enough to join her on a “Learning Center” Tour as recently as last month, of which we are so grateful they had the opportunity. Her dreams were infectious – she saw as possible what most of us could barely imagine. Then, by motivating the rest of us to teamwork, the vision became reality!

One of the teams I witnessed in action on countless occasions was the “Bob and Sherin Task Force”. Take two strong individuals with equally strong, sometimes divergent opinions and watch them get things done. I never really saw their relationship as the classic “you lead I’ll follow” type, but more of a working out together what the best way to accomplish the task approach. Though emotions and critique were freely shared , it was plain that they loved one another fiercely. Their loyalty to one another was evidenced not so much in that they always agreed with one another, but that in spite of disagreements, they chose to include the other one as an intimate partner in life. Never did I witness their devotion so strongly as when the other was in peril. From early on Sherin would share with me her concerns regarding her husband’s safety while undertaking his “risk-taking” pursuits (flying, diving, sailing, skiing..). Last January when Bob underwent coronary artery stenting, we shed tears together as she cried “I hope he makes it; he’s GOT to make it!”. Thank God he did. Bob’s love for her is no less intense; there has never been a time I have experienced it as I have this past week. His matter of fact e mail message the night of her surgery in Nicaragua : “I’m leaving at 6:00 AM to be with her. ” No questions asked. Beth made the quickest decision I’ve ever seen her make that morning: buying an airline ticket, packing her bags and sending the kids off to school – all in less than 15 minutes! Through Beth’s reports over the next few days, I learned that he kept a near constant vigil at her side in the hospital, speaking quietly and encouragingly to her day and night. When I suggested that they place pneumatic stockings on her to improve circulation, they couldn’t be found in Nicaragua. Never one to be deterred, Bob set out to massage her legs himself, his powerful well calloused hands working the blood flow back into dormant vessels – for THREE days straight! Later he confided he would gladly do it for three weeks if it would have helped, if he could have her back. When the plan to air lift Sherin back to Wisconsin developed, he -along with Beth, Amy, Bobby and Dr. Brad Martin – was relentless in accomplishing this. Through what I consider near heroic and miraculous efforts (getting approval to land a private plane in Central America usually takes 2 – 3 days alone I was told), The process took less than 24 hours! Sherin arrived by air ambulance, along with Bob and Beth crammed in a modified Lear Jet around midnight last Thursday at Mitchell Field in Milwaukee. I was privileged along with my two daughters to go down the next morning to join her and the family at St. Lukes Hospital. I embraced my father in law, who truly is like a second father to me, sensing his pain and sharing his suffering. My own tears started as we prayed together as a family and later again when my own daughters wept by her bedside. Mckenzie wrote a poem for her and read it to her; we sang quietly to her, and to each other. In all sincerety, Bob tearfully asked the doctor if they could use his brain as a transplant to save her life. The doctor shook his head slowly and sadly. This was a desperate love, a fiercely intense love, a sacrificial love and I want to add, an extravagant love. It was as close a model of Christ’s love as I believe I have seen.

As I sort through my feelings and thoughts from this past week, I see hope, despair, weariness, anger, humility, sadness and even joy. I am grateful for the chance to be part of such a family as the Bowens, and to have known such a soul as Sherin. I cling to my faith in God who draws us close to Himself even- and maybe especially- in times of pain and grief. I pray that much good will continue to come from Sherin’s hopes, dreams, love, work and life.