CORD Summer02 Corners

story by Janya Mekelburg

Union College — The "College of the Golden Cords." The name is borne by a history rich in the tradition of honoring those who have served overseas; however, many Union College serve in their own neighborhoods. Some of them fulfill lifelong dreams, some come into their ministry through life changes, and others find their ministry in surprising avenues.

What do bicycles, counter tops, disasters and a small town all have in common? These are the ministries of four Unionites who have found unique ways to minister. They have taken what they do for hobbies, work and play a step further. Three of them have discovered a mission field right outside their front door, while one has blended a leisure activity into a ministry passion.

These alumni will not have a golden cord hung for them, yet their mission vision reaches people in their local community and beyond. May these stories inspire each of us to find ways to be involved in our own communities.


Counter Top Compassion

How does a couple go from designing and installing counter tops to prepping and serving close to 14,500 grilled cheese sandwiches? Six years ago, Ron ('62) and Vicki Lindsey Biloff ('67) could not have realized where their offer to donate counter tops for a soup kitchen would take them.

The Biloffs first heard of the Matt Talbot Kitchen at a Home Builders remodeling meeting. People there were talking about the project and how a remodel team was turning an old building into a soup kitchen, which now serves three meals a day to people who need a meal. Vicki asked if they needed counter tops. The project organizers said yes and Ron and Vicki donated the necessary counter tops from their laminate business. After a visit to the Matt Talbot open house, the Biloffs contemplated how to continue helping this ministry.

Involved in the Something Else Sabbath School at College View church in Lincoln, Neb., Ron and Vicki thought volunteering at Matt Talbot would be an excellent outreach opportunity for their class. With Biloffs supervising, the class chose to prepare and serve the noon meal on the first Saturday of each month.

Ron Biloff, soup kitchen volunteer, prepares his tasty specialty—grilled cheese sanwiches.

The menu on their day varies only slightly. The regulars to Matt Talbot eagerly anticipate Ron's famous grilled cheese sandwiches. "It's all in how they're buttered," Ron said smiling. One is inclined to believe him as folks come back for thirds and fourths. The volunteers serve close to 200 sandwiches along with corn, chips, pickles, dessert, milk, lemonade and coffee.

Vicki does the shopping earlier in the week and is also able to obtain some food from government sources. She then labels the items and takes the food down to Matt Talbot for storage. Each month Ron and Vicki recruit at least nine volunteers to help prepare the food, serve the meal and clean up.

"We've never had the same crew twice," Vicki said. "People love to help us at Matt Talbot." Volunteers span the age range from children to retired people. Vicki puts the children to work dishing up and serving the homemade cakes that she has the volunteers bring with them to Matt Talbot.

"So much of what the people get at the kitchen is prepackaged," Ron said. "So something homemade is really wonderful."

"We like to break the routine of going through line," Vicki said. "The children take the cake out on plates. It gives a personal touch and a friendly smile to the people who are there."

Ron and Vicki have found enjoyment in getting involved in the community. They want the people in the community to know they are concerned and care about what's going on around them.

"We want them to understand there's not a big wall around our church," Ron said. "We are truly concerned about the people of Lincoln."

The Biloffs understand that meeting the basic needs of people is the first thing you have to do for an effective ministry. They also realize they cannot meet and satisfy all the needs, but it is enough for them to know they are doing something to help.

"You'll never be able to change some of these people," Ron said. "They either can't or won't change. We're not there to change them-we're there to serve them."


Prepared for Anything

When the sunny, smiling face of Marti Hansen Cash '67 greets you at the cashier's window at Union College, you might just complete your business and move on. You probably wouldn't guess she works as a North American Division disaster consultant. At any moment, she could be called to the site of a major disaster to help with warehouse stocking and distribution coordination.

In fact, seven years ago Marti would not have believed it herself. She just knew when her children got married and left home that she was ready for a change. A childhood interest in community service resurfaced, and through an unexpected series of events, she found herself propelled into a world of disaster response training.

Marti Cash continues to discover avenues of service through her leadership position with disaster relief preparations.

Marti read an announcement in the church bulletin about a Community Services meeting. She remembered attending some meetings as a young child and recalled her boredom at the time, yet she now felt an urgency to find out what was involved. The speaker was from the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). His topic focused on what NEMA does during and after a disaster. When he finished, he asked if anyone had questions. Marti found herself plying him with questions. At the end of the meeting, John Treolo, director of Kansas/Nebraska Adventist Community Services, got up and said, "By the way, Kansas/Nebraska Conference is looking for someone to be the disaster response coordinator. If you know anyone who has an interest, please pass the name on to me."

A little old saint sitting next to Marti poked her and called out, "Why don't you ask her? She seems to have a lot of interest." Marti was stunned. At the potluck following the meeting Treolo approached Marti and asked, "Seriously, are you interested?"

"I don't know a thing about it," Marti said. "I don't know how it relates to anything. I don't have a clue."

"We'll train you," Treolo replied.

Returning to Lincoln after her training, Marti realized a connection with the Red Cross would be important. So she became a Red Cross volunteer.

"We have an agreement with the Red Cross and NEMA that in case of disaster Adventist Community Services will manage a warehouse," Marti said.

In fact, managing that warehouse would be Marti's responsibility in a crisis. Besides being a Red Cross volunteer, Marti has organized an Adventist Disaster Response Team with members from Lincoln area churches. All volunteers are on call and can be summoned any time there is a fire in the community. Responsibilities include giving vouchers to people so they can care for their immediate needs.

While at a house fire one night, Marti realized a specific need that could be met. Often, when people's homes catch on fire in the middle of the night, they flee without stopping to grab warm clothes. They wander around wrapped in blankets given to them by a firefighter.

Marti remembered thinking, "These people need sweat suits."

The Red Cross volunteers agreed, but said they did not have the means to provide them. Marti went into action. She pulled her disaster team together and asked them what they thought about providing sweat suits for people. They got excited about the idea and went to work. First they purchased a large quantity of sweat suits in all sizes and then they sewed tags in the garments that said, "Donated by your friends the Seventh-day Adventists." Since 1996, they have provided the Red Cross with more than 220 sweat suits.

"Being involved in your community is the most rewarding experience you can have," she said. "By getting out there and working with others, you don't have to preach. People can see how much you care by watching you."


Full Cycle

Sometimes things come full circle without us realizing it, but for Bill Nordgren '80, riding his bicycle has come full cycle. Once his only transportation from north Lincoln across town to College View Academy, he now rides his bike for sheer enjoyment. His love of cycling led him to an unexpected ministry—The Ukraine Bicycle Project, which has a goal of providing bicycles for Adventist pastors in Ukraine.

After graduating from Union with a computer science degree in 1980, Nordgren worked in Lincoln for more than 10 years. When a job change sent him to Dayton, Ohio, he rediscovered cycling. His friend, Bill Davis, introduced him to Doug Fattic, a frame builder from Michigan. The biking trio rode a 200-mile, two-day bicycle trip in Ohio. Nordgren was hooked.

For many years Nordgren, Davis, Fattic and several other friends made their summer plans around Des Moines Register's Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI®). Held the last week of July, the event is a seven-day bike trip across Iowa averaging 60-70 miles a day.

The assembly process for the Ukraine Bicycle Project combined efforts of biking enthusiasts from the United States such as Bill Nordgren (left) and local Ukrainian volunteers.

Nordgren moved from Ohio to Michigan and from Michigan to Seattle, Wash., with his work. However, the friends always agreed to meet and ride in the Iowa bike trip. Their biking hobby turned into a mission avenue following a trip Fattic took to the Ukraine. During his visit, Fattic realized the Ukraine pastors desperately needed reliable transportation, which could be provided by bicycles.

After a significant amount of research, the bicycle team, now involving many devoted cyclists, decided to purchase and assemble the bicycles in the Ukraine. This plan saved shipping costs and provided work for Ukrainians. The project was an instant success. Ukrainian pastors, who earn between US$55-70 a month, were unable to purchase gasoline for a car—if they owned one. Public transportation was unreliable, and bicycles cost $50-75—nearly a month's wage. Now, with the gift of a new bicycle, each pastor owned reliable transportation that would carry him to his three to four churches and to parishioner visits for those who were unable to attend church.

"Doug asked me to go over and help assemble bikes," Nordgren said. "I was already registered to ride RAGBRAI® so I had to scramble to get a new passport and obtain a visa for Ukraine." Returning to Seattle after RAGBRAI®, Nordgren received an express package that contained his passport with the necessary visa the night before he was to fly to Ukraine.

"I knew there was a reason I was supposed to be going," he said.

When he returned home, Nordgren knew he had found his mission. The Ukraine project was in full swing, and he approached it with the same enthusiasm he did biking. He could get into this project for the long haul. Those who had been in Ukraine with him shared his enthusiasm. Nordgren and Fattic started to dream. "What if we planned a bike ride through Ukraine?"

So many details, so many barriers. Working with Ukrainian contacts, they slowly put the details of the ride together along with plans to continue their support for the Ukraine Bicycle Project. Their goals were simple.

"We wanted to raise more money for the Ukraine Bicycle Project," Nordgren said. "We also wanted to provide funding for the churches that would provide housing and have fun."       

They told friends about the project and soon had riders signed up. The oldest rider was a 67-year-old grandmother. The cost of the trip was US $2,000, of which $500 directly funded the Ukraine Bicycle Project and another $500 provided transportation, food, vans, interpreters and donations while riding in Ukraine. About $1,000 covered the cost of airfare and visas. The riders, thrilled to know they were helping with the bicycle project, enjoyed a scenic, 10-day vacation in the process.

Providing transportation for Ukrainian pastors is a need Bill understands well from his academy days. Now he is blessed to have an avenue to bring things around "full cycle."


Small-town Medicine

His e-mail address reads docruff, and it's not hard to imagine him walking down the main street in Hemingford, Neb., (pop. 1,000) and hearing people calling out, "Hey, Doc!" The panhandle of Nebraska has been home to John "Doc" Ruffing '56, all his life. He grew up on his grandfather's 1886 homestead ranch in Sioux County, and for more than 40 years, he has been Hemingford's only doctor.

For as long as Ruffing can remember, he wanted to be a doctor. So it was a natural progression from academy, to Union College and then to Loma Linda University for medical school. When he graduated, he had a military service obligation to fulfill. Around that time Hemingford's doctor had a heart attack, and the city leaders asked Ruffing if he would set up practice in his hometown.

With more than 40 years of service, Dr. John "Doc" Ruffing is the only doctor many Hemingford, Neb., residents
have known.

"I told them if they could get me released from my military service obligation, I would be their doctor," Ruffing recalled.

In the years prior to Ruffing's service, Hemingford had several doctors come and go. Unlike the others, Ruffing had a very strong determination to stay wherever he started his practice.

"I knew this was where I would start my practice, and this was where I would end my practice," Ruffing said.

A rural country doctor is a busy person. So busy, in fact, Doc Ruffing could have decided not to get involved with other community projects. However, he is not the sort of man to sit and wait for people to come to him. When he arrived in Hemingford, one of the first things he did was join the fire department and rescue squad. When emergency medical technician (EMT) training became available, he took it with the rest of the volunteers.

"At one time," Ruffing chuckled, "I was the only physician in the area who was also a licensed EMT."

Ruffing also began holding stop-smoking seminars in Hemingford and the surrounding area. He still has people who thank him for helping them stop smoking nearly 40 years ago.

After he had been in Hemingford for several years, a vacancy on the village board opened, and a friend encouraged Ruffing to run. He was elected, reelected and then served as mayor for two years. After 12 years of public service he decided he needed a break.

Ruffing's interests are not limited to medicine and public service. He also enjoys music.

"I miss the large choirs from my college and university days," said Ruffing. "I really enjoyed singing in those."

Hemingford does not have large choirs with an orchestral accompaniment, but occasionally Doc Ruffing goes down to the nursing home and plays the piano while the residents eat lunch. He also fills in as an organist for other churches in town when they need someone.

His willingness to be involved in the community has endeared Doc Ruffing to the community. His community participation has earned him Hemingford's Man of the Year Award, the Distinguished Service to Medicine Award from the Nebraska Medical Association and Nursing Home Medical Director of the Year. Loma Linda University has also recognized him as Family Physician of the Year. Most of these awards require nomination from the community. Nominating Doc Ruffing is one way the townspeople have shown their appreciation for the man who has lived and served among them for more than 40 years.

Ruffing continues to share his time with Union College as well. Several Union physician assistant students have gone to Hemingford to get a taste of rural medicine under Ruffing's guidance.

"I tell them this is as rural as it gets," Ruffing said with a smile.

A year ago—in preparation for retirement—Doc Ruffing gifted his practice to the Box Butte General Hospital in Alliance, Neb. This gift ensures a full-time practitioner will be in the area for as long as the hospital is operational.

Doc Ruffing's mission to serve has always been clear. He also knows it's difficult to get acquainted with a person from only a brief medical contact.

"If you're here in the community and you expect them to support you, I think it is important that you also support the community."

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