The Rev. Gary Teske now has a better understanding of our neighbors.
Teske, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Lawrence, set out to answer the question “Who is my neighbor?” when he applied for a grant through the National Clergy Renewal Program. The church learned he won the grant last May, then Peske went on a three-month summer sabbatical, studying Hispanic culture throughout the Southwest United States and Mexico.
Teske’s project proposal pulled ideas from the parable of the Good Samaritan found in Luke 10:25-37. Teske thought the theme was appropriate with respect to the culture of our neighbors in Mexico.
The $23,000 grant, made possible through the Lilly Endowment Inc., provides ministers with the opportunity to take a Sabbath time of renewal and reflection away from their daily obligations. He was one of 150 clergy in the United States to receive the grant.
Teske, who joined Trinity Lutheran in 2002, says he has a passion for traveling and learning about people who from other cultures.
“I love to discover the stories of their lives,” Teske says.
While on his sabbatical from June to August, Teske set three goals: to learn more about Hispanic history and culture through reading; to become more informed on immigration issues; and to become proficient in Spanish. He says he accomplished each goal.
Teske says he immersed himself in reading material about Hispanic history and culture, focusing on the book “Open Veins of Latin America” by Eduardo Galeano.
Then he worked to become more knowledgeable about immigration by visiting with members of Hispanic congregations in Garden City, Taos, N.M., and Omaha, Neb. Teske also spent time in Washington, D.C., working with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services.
Much of Teske’s sabbatical was spent discussing the reality of immigration and human rights issues with Hispanic Americans. He says he was exposed to extreme poverty in Mexico.
“I discovered a vast majority of them are very poor people with no place else to turn,” Teske says. “They’re just looking for a way to survive.”
Teske says he realizes immigration is an explosive issue, but as a pastor he hoped to become a resource for his congregation and return with more understanding and information about the people of Mexico.
“Regardless of where we are on the issue they are our neighbors,” Teske says. “In a purely spiritually sense we need to acknowledge them and treat them humanely.”
Teske spent three weeks in Mexico City and Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he participated in the Spanish Language for Ministry program.
In Cuernavaca, Teske stayed with a host family who spoke very little English. Teske says he enjoyed experiencing their daily lives with them. It was this experience he says that made an impact on him rather than visiting the many tourist attractions in Mexico.
“My favorite part of the trip was experiencing the countless examples of hospitality and warmness from the people of Mexico,” Teske says.
Kevin Boatright served as a member of the sabbatical committee that helped Teske determine the details of his trip and to provide a link to the congregation while he was away. Boatright says while the congregation may have been divided on the issue of immigration, they responded well to Teske’s sabbatical, understanding that it was beneficial for the congregation as a whole.
“I think they understand that ministry extends beyond Trinity,” Boatright says. “As Christians we have a mandate to assist our neighbors.”
For Teske, the experience reiterated the importance of acknowledging the beauty of other cultures.
“I always liked a quote that stated, ‘The greatest challenge that every individual has to realize is the world doesn’t revolve around me or nor should it,’” Teske says. “This experience reminded me how incredibly important it is to have a larger view of the world.”