by Brian Reetz
The first time I met Steve Erwin was the Sunday that we had the interview. Like I said, I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting everyone from church due the pandemic. When he came in and said hi, I kind of put my foot in my mouth to be honest. We had both attended the Husker men’s basketball game the day before and I may have mentioned (okay I did) that following Husker men’s basketball has been a lifelong struggle for me. Thank goodness Pastor Amy stepped in before I could say anything else. For those that don’t know (I do know now!),Steve played for the Huskers in the early 1970s and he was a good one!
“I’m a farm kid, Dixon County. I went to University of Nebraska. That’s where I met my wife. I have an animal science degree from University of Nebraska. OK, so I started out in the ag field, but Banking for the most part was something that was out there and I ended up starting my banking career a couple years out of college in Omaha.”
He was then in and out of Omaha a few times and also ran a bank in Chadron. He then came back to Omaha and also to Lincoln.
“ I told them in banking I was basically changing careers other than retiring because I really don’t like that word. I turned around and I basically had worked 40 years and in the last 20 some years I’d basically pretty been the District manager, Regional manager for Nebraska. It was a very, very, rewarding job and I met a lot of wonderful people. I do still miss all the people today, but I decided that I needed to do something different. I’m getting older. Time is one of those things, you know, you just can’t buy.”
What did he enjoy so much about the Banking? “Oh, definitely the people, you know. I mean, we dealt in businesses, small businesses, individuals. So it was always enjoyable in regard to seeing people have some success.”
But a farm boy never leaves the farm.
“And even today, we have farms out in western Nebraska. We run cattle out there and so we have a livestock operation and my two daughters decided that maybe we needed to go ahead and sell some of the beef online. So we also have an online beef company.”
How did he become a Christian?
“I was always involved. I think about the church that we grew up in which was in the little town of Concord, Nebraska, a Little Lutheran Church. I just had really, really good support. I had a really good support system around me: my parents, grandparents. So you know, it probably wasn’t one of those things that, you know, you can read about in regard to, you know, did you have a revelation on a certain day that that really never really happened to me? I just was a believer. And I was around a lot of believers. And then I had the good fortune that when I got down to school, you know, I was involved in things like FCA, Campus Crusade, for the most part that particular support group is always very, very good.”
How did you come to learn about South Gate? He was recruited by Harold Chaffee, who was the former coach and athletic director at Nebraska Wesleyan. South Gate is similar to a church that they were attending, Elkhorn Hills in Elkhorn, Nebraska. Bill Ritter was the minister. So that’s how he and his wife became members here.
How has your Christian faith helped you in your life? “Oh goodness. You know, I think it helps every day, I mean, just in your upbringing, but also in your decision making. Where you have faith, in my opinion, it gives you contentment. We’ve got a challenge going on right now because I have lung cancer. And in fairness, it’s kind of like when it came on you are going to say, well, why me? But on the other hand, my faith, for the most part, it got me through, it really did, and my family. I’m fortunate right now that I have a certain gene and I have a miracle drug and it’s just doing wonders. So I have a miracle almost every day going on in my life.”
If you watch the full video, you probably hear me let out a gasp when he mentions his lung cancer. But by the end of that minute, I felt a wave of peace come over me because I could feel his faith got him through and I’m so thankful he was willing to share this news worth sharing with me.
“I mean you could just almost every day come up with something that pretty much, well, how did that happen? And you know, it’s not that I have a Pollyanna approach to everything, but on the other hand, when you have those challenges, it is something very good to rely on. And I think that’s the thing in regard to Christians. I think Christians have something that they rely on and it really kind of helps and if you believe the scriptures, you know if you read in regard to all the challenges that they ran into. It’s kind of like it isn’t nothing compared to what we have today. In fact I don’t know how we got the silver spoon that we do.”
Be sure to listen to what he has to say about Warren Buffett, time and place and also how he feels about giving his interview, talking about his faith and what happened to his brother in a farm accident.
Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit calling you to do something big? “I don’t know what that means. You know, I mean, when you say something big. I think the spirit that we have calls us to do things. You know, calling us to do something big, I don’t know if I can really pick one time. I know in regard to me, my career, my family – it’s all big.”
“I remember a guy saying one time to a group of real smart kids, he said, you know, the thing is you can go ahead and make plans, you can go ahead and have goals, but, he said, I’ll guarantee you those will change and they change all the time in regard to what what you’re going to do. So you know the spirit will lead you. It’s just a matter of, you know, do you really want to make those steps, do you really want to make those decisions? And you know, at those times when you have to make those decisions, it’s you want to make sure you’re paying attention. That can be in the form of prayer, what you read in the Bible, what resource do you have around you?
And being an active listener. Not just hearing what the spirit or a friend shares with you but listening and responding and asking more questions, like what this exercise has been for me and when I meet new people. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world with time being so precious, especially in today’s non-stop world.
“I’m convinced that as I get older I was not a good listener. I’m convinced I need to be a better listener and that’s tough to do, particularly when you get old, you got your own opinions, my wife tells me, but you really do need to be a good listener and at all levels you know whether it’s those those grandkids or, you know, I have the good fortune that I’m able to coach some of these young kids, so I’m still around them, and it’s just really interesting i you can listen to them in regard to what they’re telling you and they’re so honest in regard to what they’re telling you.”
Thank you to everyone that has taken part so far in this series of Humans of South Gate. If you would like to be a part of it and tell your story, I would love to listen and share. You can reach me at 402-525-7026 or email email@example.com. Of course you can also contact Pastor Amy or the church office.
by Brian Reetz
I hadn’t met Greg Nelson before we met the day of the interview at South Gate. I knew a little bit about him from some of the background that Pastor Amy gave me but that was it. You will hear in the video a lot of my loud, vocal expressions as he shared about his amazing life experiences.
When I asked him his background, I knew I was in for a good ride/interview.
“Oh dear, I’m a retired, semi-retired Social studies teacher – history and geography. And a few other things.”
After doing his student teaching in Lincoln (Northeast and East), his first teaching job would be far from the Capital City.
“My first teaching job was 11,000 miles away in Australia,” Greg said
“Oh wow,” I said.
“So I had to get on a plane and go to Australia for my first teaching job and it was pretty scary. Kind of like this morning not knowing what to expect (he was talking about our interview). I taught in Australia for about three years. Actually, I had been in Australia before when I was a kid, my dad was a Fulbright exchange teacher and we lived in Sydney. I was nine and 10 at that time and liked Australia a lot. Of course, when you’re that age, you don’t worry about where you are going to live. How much are you gonna get paid? How are you gonna get around stuff like that? So those are all things they had to deal with when I went back to Australia to teach and because I have a background in history and geography gave me an excuse to travel right? So that’s what I did. And then I taught after I came back from Australia (mostly around Lincoln),” Greg said.
“Most recently, I’ve been teaching online with the scouts. Some citizenship classes and things like that.”
Many of you probably know of Greg’s involvement with the Scouts and maybe made even more of a connection this past Sunday since it was Scout Sunday at South Gate.
I asked him if he’s been involved with Scouts his whole life?
“Pretty much, yeah, it helps to have your dad as a Scoutmaster for many years and he encouraged me to do whatever we wanted to do. I wasn’t originally going to be a teacher. I wanted to be an architect or an astronaut. I never did get past the A’s in the job listing. But yeah, my dad was a scout leader in Alliance for many years, so I knew Scouts through him and decided to continue with it here at South Gate and other places that I lived. I actually started a Scout troop in Australia – a bunch of people. That was fun.”
Why is it so important? What do you enjoy so much about that? My son, Bret, was a Cub Scout way back in the day. I wasn’t when I was young but one of my best friends growing up, Darrin, was and very involved.
“Well, scouting has got a lot of good precepts. I think people can live by the Scout law, for example. If you follow eight out of 10 or 8 out of 12 scout laws, you’re doing pretty good. And I don’t follow the ball but I try to keep them in mind when I’m dealing with other people and challenges that I deal with in my life. I think scouting has been good for me, and for a lot of other people, in trying to focus on the good in the community, protect what is good and try to build on that if we can. And then I’ll talk about the 12th point of the Scout Law, which is that a scout is reverent. That’s been an important part of my life to try to be reverent in church and other aspects of my life.”
And how did you become a Christian? Greg obviously has a great grasp on his family history (you can hear even more around the 20 minute mark of the video).
“Well, having grown up in my family, there have been generations of people who have expressed their Christianity in various ways.”
I encourage you to listen to all of it on the video as he shares so much of his and his family’s actions in their ways of expressing their faith, including some of them coming to America to lead the way as well as his knowledge that he is a fourth-generation school teacher.
And what about coming to South Gate and what keeps him coming back?
“Well, after Linda and I were married in ’79, then we were looking for a smaller size, family-oriented church and her sister, Jeannie, and her husband, John, had decided to come to South Gate and they recommended South Gate, so there’s really through Linda’s sister and her husband that encouraged us to come to South Gate. And we’ve been here ever since.”
“The families, the people, the great leadership we have here at South Gate. We have some great leaders and I’ve always enjoyed speaking with the pastors and other people in the Ad Council and so on. And we don’t have kids of our own, but we like to see the kids come through and grow up and see how they become good adults. So it’s been fun to see how the generations have grown through South Gate. I have enjoyed being here and participating in various activities, mostly through Scouts.”
And what about his faith? How has his Christian faith helped him in his life?
“Well, it’s helped me to define some of my actions and behavior, I think. I’m just trying to be a good Christian. It’s not easy some days to be a good Christian. I’m not always a really good example of that, but I keep trying. So I’d like to say that my faith has helped me to focus my life, in certain directions, one in the direction of scouting and the other in maybe environmental awareness.”
And another wow, living his faith through actions, environmental awareness and taking a stand!
“Environmental awareness has been in the back of my mind for years. My grandmother, the woman whose descendants came from Germany and Pennsylvania. She bought me the National Wildlife Federation magazine and National Geographic. So she encouraged me to be interested in the environment and travel and other people’s cultures and stuff. So I blame that on her, but I think my interest in the environment has been long term in terms of being able to look at how our activities, our family activities have impacted on the land and vice versa. Having had farmers in the family, we know the impact of weather and climate and so on on crops and how that influences people’s decisions to stay on the land or move into town or something like that. So environmentally I’ve been interested in stopping the pipeline. The Keystone XL pipeline. And I became active in that.
“I think that’s probably the one of the challenges is to become active in an organization. You don’t know any of those people, but you take an interest in their goals or their methods. So I became interested in stopping the Keystone XL pipeline after I talked to people who were interested in doing that and met a lot of wonderful people. In particular, wonderful Native Americans who have changed me inside, maybe directly than most people in terms of their Native American culture and their faith in all things living and not living.”
That included trips to Washington D.C. along with other Nebraskans. Also rallies, letter writing campaigns and other things including sending thousands of pens to President Obama to encourage him to sign. There was also a concert in Antelope County that included Willie Nelson.
“So we were able to finally convince President Obama to stop the pipeline. And of course, we’re very, very happy about that. And so I think through our faith, especially the Native Americans, in demonstrating their undying love of the land. That’s what’s encouraged I think a lot of us to continue with the fight because we knew that Native Americans, they were here for forever, you know, and they had they had ownership before any of us got off the boat.”
All of that also pushed him out of his comfort zero and that nudge from God.
“But the story is not yet written, it’s not yet complete,” he said of environmentalism.
Did you ever have doubts about what you were taught about God and the Bible?
“No, not really. I think. The big concern I’ve had is that, like during the Civil War, the Northern soldiers in the Southern soldiers were both praying to the same God for safety and salvation and hoped that their cause would win. And God was getting a lot of conflicting messages. I don’t know how God sorts that all out. Maybe there’s a committee that works with him, I don’t know. But sometimes when you work on a committee you have to reach a decision. And so because of the cause of the war, the way the Civil War ended, people should have thought that maybe everybody now has more equality and people have a right to live and to be free and not to be criticized for the color of their skin or how they worship for example.”
By Brian Reetz
I first got a chance to meet Mikayla as part of the R360 group. She sat across from me at the tables that had been brought together for the group of us. She was as open and vulnerable at that first group meeting as she was when we sat down together at South Gate for Humans of South Gate.
She grew up in York, a town that always holds a special place for me because of Chances R Restaurant, which was owned by a Reetz. Whenever anyone would ask me what the R stood for I always told them, Reetz, even though I figured that wasn’t right.
She grew up in the Methodist church and then went to college at Midland, studying a mix of psychology and sociology. Her initial job out of college was in Lincoln, where she investigated initial reports of child abuse and neglect for about five years for the State of Nebraska. She is now in the central office overseeing state wide programs.
“I’m not on the front lines with my work anymore so that allows me to work with other states and national programs on how they do things so I feel like my wheels are turning all of the time on how can we get that in Nebraska?…It’s a lot of prevention work.”
“There are a lot of families in our communities that get multiple reports or generational. We had their parents, and now we have them as parents and there is a risk that we will get their kids when they become parents. How do we stop that generational cycle of abuse and neglect?”
I applaud her for taking such a role.
“Really working on how best to advocate for parents and kids and keep the family unit together in their home because that’s where families strive best.”
How does her faith come into it?
“I’m a giver. So…I don’t want to say I struggle a lot…but I care a lot for the families that we work with and I want to make sure that they are being served the way that they should be served and cared for. I think I got that from growing up in the church and being able to serve others and take care of others the way they should be taken care of.”
How did you become a Christian?
“My mom. Growing up we went to church every Sunday. 8:30 church. We were the only kids there…my mom had me dedicated to the church when I was 4. It wasn’t until I was in fourth grade that I was actually baptized in our church. I remember that pretty vividly in my mind. My mom wanted me to make that decision and to fully understand what that meant. Even in fourth grade I’m not sure I knew what that meant but I was becoming more involved in the church…It was just something we did.”
“My mom, my mom’s family is very religious. My grandpa, I don’t even know how many times he has read the Bible from front to back. I didn’t grow up knowing my biological dad. My mom’s side were all very involved in the church. For me, it was just what we did. There was no alternative.”
But was there ever a time that you felt like you were pulling away, she smiled and agreed with that statement from me.
“When I was 14 years old, I was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. At that point in my life, I really pulled away. Why did God give me this? Why am I having to go through this? Poking my finger to test my blood sugar, giving insulin shots. Physical activity with my friends and being able to go to sleepovers became very tricky and stressful, even more so for my mom as a parent, but because I was 14 I had to give my own shots, I had to do everything on my own. That adjustment, I really pulled away and didn’t understand.
“It wasn’t till I was in college and I was in my dorm room and my roommate at the time had someone that was pretty involved in the church events around campus and they were doing a little Bible study in our room so I joined. I remember at that time fully accepting Christ into my heart and us sitting there and praying and feeling it. I think more so as an adult that it was the first time I felt like it was to be a child of Christ.”
How did she find her way to South Gate? She went church shopping (something I kind of did as well). She knew she wanted something smaller. She admits to being an introverted person and also admits she would probably do better at a bigger auditorium type church where she could just sink in but she feels maybe it was a push (maybe from God) to be somewhere smaller that she could be more involved in different things at the church to help on her journey. She related well to Pastor Stephanie and her messages and finally one Sunday she was asked if she wanted to become a member? “I was like oh, I don’t know how that works?” It just happened from there, with her husband and two kids, so about six years ago.
How has her faith helped her? She admits to having a lot of ups and downs. She’s questioned a lot of things, especially the past few years. She’s still on her journey and finding out where she’s at, including reaching out to Pastor Amy in the midst of that questioning and tests – COVID, politics, family….. “I’m being able to find my voice….God wants us to question because we are digging deeper into our faith.”
And through a difficult time?
“Lots of things.”
I encourage you, if you haven’t yet, to watch the longer version of Mikayla’s video now starting about halfway through. She includes talk of her early diabetes journey, how she changed her career path, and the birth of her youngest child, who was in the NICU for 32 days.
This written blog can’t do justice to the way she tells the story of that journey with her daughter…so watch it now as she gets very vulnerable and an experience you won’t forget.
God has been pushing her out of her comfort zone as she tries to find her voice and advocate more for herself. “I never would have questioned my mom, especially on religion. It hasn’t always gone great. There are times that I’ve hung up the phone, but as I’m getting older and as a parent, it’s helping with my voice to not be afraid to voice what I believe and what I’m thinking. I may be wrong but I’m not going to know that unless I speak it to other people so we can have a conversation about it.”
“You can find good and bad in the Bible, it depends where you look and how you interpret it.”
What a delightful, engaging conversation with a lot of questions (including those coming from her children and their faith journey) and that’s good! I hope you enjoy this time with one of your fellow Humans of South Gate, Mikayla.
by Brian Reetz
I’ve had a lot of people mention the name Ruby Thelander to me since I started at South Gate.
“Have you met Ruby?”
“You should really meet Ruby!”
“You would really like talking with Ruby.”
I finally got that chance in January!
“I’ve worked harder since I’ve been retired than I ever did when I was getting paid, but it’s rewarding.”
Much of that volunteer work was through United Methodist Women with a focus on social concerns. “That’s always what I argued for.”
As chair, she decided that maybe everyone needed to learn what the legislature does in Lincoln. This was in 1975. So all United Methodist women in Nebraska were invited to come and join them visiting the State Legislature and attend workshops for a day. “How do they make the laws?” 300 women came to learn! They filled the entire balcony and they were recognized from the floor and they got a standing ovation.
“We were using scraps of paper for name tags because we ran out.”
The evaluations came back from the day and they said, “Please do it again!”
That was the beginning of the 45 years as her leadership of the day and it continues to this day!
And it was God pushing her to do something big! This was just one example and there are so many more! (Watch the long video on our youtube page).
At any rate…A catchphrase she likes to use..she helped start South Gate!
“South Gate is a very aware church. We came over here when my youngest was 3 and she’s now 60. We’ve been here forever.”
“It was an interesting process to help with the start of a church. It was exciting. At least for me it was. We are all in the same boat. We didn’t have any money. We were a mission church. We got the church, the grounds…It was a very good experience.”
Don Miller called on her family and so they decided to join. “The willingness to reach out to people in this church at that time was phenomenal. It was exciting in spite of the fact that we didn’t have money for a janitor and we had to scrub the floors ourselves.”
“We grew fast!”
But something was missing/lacking…
“This church doesn’t even have a choir.”
So she started a children’s choir! And then they grew up and they became a youth choir! Out of that choir came the Hope Singers who performed at Pinewood Bowl and other various churches too.
Ruby did have some rough stretches too and 1971 was one of those years. Her mother died (February 5, Ruby’s birthday), not much after Don Miller died and then in April her favorite uncle died.
“I was in trouble. I spent a lot of time praying and didn’t hear anything. I felt so alone and for a while I thought, maybe there wasn’t a God. Maybe that’s all somebody’s bright idea. So I struggled through.”
(There is much more here too in relation to the choir at the time, be sure to watch the video around the 25-minute mark)
On South Gate:
“I miss seeing the people here and being with the people here. I’ll be so glad when this is over and I hope I live long enough to return and have everyone here.”
How did you become a Christian?
“I was born one.”
“We were always in church.”
“That’s just the way it was.”
“To this day, I love stories from the Old Testament.Any preacher who preaches on the Old Testament has my star. I appreciate the stories and what they teach us. They get neglected. I know it’s important to teach what Jesus did…but when they hit an old testament scripture I perk up and that’s my kind of story.”
“Catechism was very serious business for me. I took it very literally. I bought the whole nine yards. That’s what I’ve had to deconstruct. It was very confining. It was the literal old fashioned translation of who God is. I’ve had to pick that apart and find out who God is on my own.
“I mentally picked them apart. I didn’t share that with anyone because I was afraid I would get kicked out of confirmation class….No one knew I was struggling with the answers. I didn’t quite buy it.”
“All of the Sunday School and all of the Confirmation gave me a good background into what religion seems to be to people….You have to adapt.”
Where would you be without faith?
“I don’t know. At loose ends somewhere….We are here to do things. We are not here to simply use up things.”
Have you had doubts in your faith?
“Yes. When my mother, Don and Johnny died. I figured nothing mattered.”
“Every night I offload the pandemic, Washington, the church problem (the divisions within the Methodist church), my physical problem onto God and she better be listening.”
So….At any rate…It sure was a pleasure to meet Ruby!
Humans of South Gate – Introduction
By Brian Reetz
Rising out of the Readiness 360 discussion, I was so excited when we started talking about Humans of South Gate. As you may recall, Readiness 360 started as a church-wide survey to help us understand our church’s perception of what our vision is and how we are called to live out that vision. The idea came out of the Dynamic Relationships area. As many of you might know, I didn’t start at South Gate until early in 2020 after transferring over from Trinity. And then what happened in early 2020? Of course everyone knows…the pandemic. So my chance to get to know many of you changed drastically as we all went into shutdown mode. Some of you might know me as I read scriptures from time to time and my dog, Ozzie, shows up from time to time, but I haven’t gotten to know you all! So I jumped at the chance to help with Humans of South Gate.
What is Humans of South Gate? Well you might have heard of Humans of New York, as Pastor Amy mentioned in her message, but there are many others too. Humans of New York is described this way: Humans of New York (HONY) is a photoblog and book of street portraits and interviews collected on the streets of New York City. Started in November 2010 by photographer Brandon Stanton, Humans of New York has developed a large following through social media. As of March 2015, the book had spent 31 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list. Hundreds of “Humans of” blogs have since been developed by people in different cities around the world influenced by HONY. So it’s telling their story.
I do a feature for L magazine in town called, Coffee with… and I thought it would be fun to approach this in much the same way. I’ve had a chance to sit down with four of you so far and I hope we can do more in the coming month ahead in 2022 and tell your story.
A three-minute story will be shared of a Human of South Gate following Pastor Amy’s message during her series in February, but we will also have the full interview from each person available on the South Gate youtube channel, features on social media and here on the website.
I hope you enjoy this new feature from South Gate: Humans of South Gate.