St. Croix Lutheran’s Night to Shine 2018

For the second year, St. Croix Lutheran Academy was honored to host Night to Shine, sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation. Night to Shine is an unforgettable prom night experience, centered on God’s love, for people with special needs, ages 14 and older. On one night, February 9, 2018, 537 churches and schools from around the world came together to host Night to Shine for approximately 90,000 honored guests through the support of 175,000 volunteers!
Night to Shine 2018 at St. Croix Lutheran was an extraordinary night that brought together over 225 honored guests, their parents/caretakers, and over 500 volunteers, including students, staff, alumni, association congregation members, and community members. The student volunteers, over 250 strong, primarily served as buddies to each of the honored guests. Having the opportunity to crown each of the honored guests Kings and Queens of the prom was a true privilege. A parent of one of the guests wrote, “Honestly, I have never been a part of anythingso heartwarming in my life!!” Another mom wrote, “Please thank everyone involved for really creating memories and acceptance for individuals with special needs. It is so special that for three hours they have such positive and loving attention placed on them!”
An important goal of the Night to Shine movement is to change the narrative on how individuals with special needs are viewed. In a world where human life is often not properly valued, Night to Shine presents the St. Croix Lutheran community and students the opportunity to celebrate the gift of life in a meaningful way. Students have the opportunity to grow in empathy, selflessness, compassion while reaching out to honored guests with the message of God’s love – the message that all lives are extraordinarily important to God. 
As a host of Night to Shine, St. Croix Lutheran receives a grant from the Tim Tebow Foundation which helps offset the cost of the event. This year the Foundation grant covered approximately one-third of the event cost. The remaining expenses were covered by businesses and private donors who have a special place in their hearts for the honored guests and generously offered their services and donations. The evening is completely complimentary for the honored guests. In an effort to grow Night to Shine into an even larger worldwide movement, the grant received by the Tim Tebow Foundation decreases each year as each host takes on more of the costs. This model allows Night to Shine to grow worldwide, impacting more individuals’ lives.
Night to Shine 2018 was the perfect opportunity for the honored guests to do just that – SHINE!  As one student volunteer said, “I remember ALL THE SMILES!! It brought me so much joy to see all of the smiles on everyone’s faces.”

Blessing Bags for Christmas

As I sit down to write this article the temperature gauge on the outdoor thermometer reads -2 degrees Fahrenheit. I’m grateful to be warm and inside on a bitter cold day like this. Knowing just how blessed I am to have a warm office, a warm home, and a car that warmly and comfortably gets me from one warm place to another makes my heart go out to those who don’t have any of those warm blessings. My heart goes out to those who are on street corners with signs, all their worldly possessions in a garbage bag or backpack, begging for just a little something to help them in their poverty.
The hearts of the members of the Kelm family go out to those people as well. That’s why this Christmas season they took time out of their busy schedules to make a difference. They put together “blessing bags” for those in need. Blessing bags are one gallon freezer bags filled with items a homeless person might really need. They often contain things such as granola bars and other snacks, toothpaste and brushes, socks, and all kinds of other items. Jessica writes, “The boys got the idea after they put them (blessing bags) together at Camp Criox this past summer. After our boys attended Camp Croix for the first time this summer, they thought this would be something fun to add to the things we already do as a family. Then they were talking to their aunt about it and she mentioned their cousins did them as well and they decided how many more people could be blessed if they work together. So the charity ‘Cousins on a Mission’ was created.”
Jessica goes on to explain how the process works, “This year they decided to forgo exchanging Christmas gifts with each other and instead adopt two Senior Citizens for Christmas. They shopped together for the items they asked for on their list and delivered them in early December. They said it was one of the best things they have done and can’t wait to do that again next year, with the hopes of adopting more senior citizens. Some of them (blessing bags) will be delivered to Regions Hospital for any of the homeless that come in to be treated, they will be available for anyone who wants a few to keep in their cars and we are hoping to partner with a few other businesses to pass them out in large quantities at local shelter as well in the coming months.”
The Kelms have high aspirations for their plans to continue doing this in the future. “We would love to hear from anyone who would like to donate items to our mission or would be willing to talk with anyone who would like to start their own about how easy it was to get started.”

Many Ways To Serve

Maybe you’ve seen Sylvia around in the past, but if you’re relatively new to Crown of Life, you probably haven’t seen too much of her lately. Last year Sylvia moved out of her long time home in Eagan and moved into The Commons on Marice, a Community of Senior Living. She says, “this was something that was one of the better decisions I have ever made in my life.” her husband passed away in 2015. Moving to The Commons has opened Sylvia’s eyes to different ways she can serve the Lord and make an impact in people’s lives. That’s something she has been doing for many years.
Sylvia graduated with a B.A. in Elementary Education with a minor in music from California State University in Northridge. She was a TWA Air Hostess and a NWA Flight Attendant for many years, but remained involved in education as a substitute teacher. In 1973 she founded Tiny Tots and Little Tykes Pre-School and Child Care Center in her home. It was later housed in area churches, and for 21 years it was housed at St. Croix Lutheran in West St. Paul. Two years ago, the program was able to buy their own building across from Lowes in West St. Paul. For many years she poured her heart and soul into the children and families that came through Tiny Tots. In 2017 she officially retired from the Presidency of the Tiny Tots Board of Directors and now is an Honorary Lifetime Member of that board. Her many years of service there remain in her heart. Concerning those years she says, “Two of the greatest joys are seeing the former students return with their children to enroll in the program and also to see some of the children grow up and go to college and come back to teach at Tiny Tots. That just melts my heart and fills it with absolute joy. It makes it all worthwhile. Never would I have dreamt.”
Even though she has moved into The Commons and is retired, Sylvia’s heart for the Lord hasn’t slowed down. A year after she moved into The Commons, she heard they needed a local church to lead a Worship Service. Sylvia knew her pastors would be up for the task, but one hurdle remained…Who would play music for the weekly services? Sylvia thought to herself, “I have had more time to practice the piano since I moved here.” So… that’s exactly what she did. In her own words, “I practiced my little fingers off!” Now she plays piano for the weekly Tuesday service at The Commons and our three pastors from Crown of Life rotate leading the services. But that’s not all she does. She also volunteers and leads a Sunday afternoon Hymn Sing and Bible Story up on 4th floor in Memory Care at The Commons. “It’s probably the happiest hour of my week! I absolutely love these folks! In addition, I am currently playing piano and leading a 6 week Christmas Carol Sing-along on Thursday afternoons for The Commons residents. The group is really growing each week.”
Sylvia is a great example of someone who has had many changes take place in the past several years, and yet has found different ways to serve the Lord. She never would have guessed the Lord had such amazing plans for her as she moved into The Commons last year. “I began praying each night, right away after I moved in, before I fell asleep…Dear Lord, Thank you for letting me live here. Make me a blessing each day to people’s lives here and help me try to stay well, myself! I just didn’t know what God had in store for me. I’ve learned in my old age, to trust in God’s plan and to have faith for what He wants us to do. I think, for me, the biggest lesson I have learned is that He has a plan for your time and your talents….even when you’re hardly aware of it yourself! I love Proverbs 16:9, ‘In His heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.’”

Wels Mission for the Visually Impaired

“That the Blind may See” was the theme of the LWMS convention in 1968. That concept began because a young man in the WELS needed Luther’s Small Catechism in braille. So, the task began for a group of volunteers in the Twin Cities to come into existence for that purpose.
In the 50 years since, with the assistance of volunteers from our local congregations, the Gospel has been shared to those who are visually impaired. Forward in Christ, done monthly, is shipped in cassette, large print and braille to people all over the world. Additional items translated are the Bible, daily meditations, school work, confirmation materials and Sunday school lessons.
This team effort begins with pastors recording, staff coordinating, translating, duplicating, address and mailing cassettes. If a braille translation is requested, one volunteer (visually impaired) is dictated the material, types the translation into a computer which is then sent to a special printer that prints in braille. The stack of paper is then packaged up and shipped off. The post office also provides assistance as a package shipped to a visually impaired person requires no postage.
Mission for the Visually Impaired has always been funded through the generosity of donations from individuals, congregations, LWMS groups, Sunday Schools and Christian day schools, making it possible for these products to be sent without charge to anyone with visual impairments.
We thank you for your assistance in this effort, and pray that you will continue to keep us in your prayers and in your support.
Support this Mission
The annual budget for this ministry is only $7000 and they are in need of your support! If you would like to volunteer or donate, please contact the church office at 651-263-9167 or WELS Mission for the Visually Impaired at 651-291-1536. 
Thank you!

A Journey for Cruz de Cristo, Mahahual Mexico

image - Cruz de Cristo Mahahual Mexico
My journey to Mahahual, Mexico started in a most unexpected place…praying beside a stream on the Tibetan Plateau. While traveling to a remote school there for a documentary film project, my team became stranded for hours while the road in front of us was literally being finished. With no where to go, and no distractions, I sat and prayed more intently and peacefully than at any time in my life. I asked the Lord to provide an opportunity to travel and serve His Church in a similar manner. And this is how I found myself, two years later, making the four hour drive south of Cancun to Costa Maya Ministries in Mahahual.
image - pastor Mahahual Mexico I met up with Pastor Martin Valleskey at Iglesia Cruz de Cristo, Cross of Christ church, and we headed to Pulticub, a mission outpost in a fishing community 50 kilometers up the coast. As pavement gave way to dirt roads, and dirt roads to a sandy trail, I was struck by the effort that goes into the mission work here. This is Jesus’ Great Commission in living, breathing form. Over 5 million people live in the three Mexican states that make up the Yucatan Peninsula…Cruz de Cristo is the only Lutheran church there and is one of the few churches of any denomination functioning on a daily basis. While the preconception is that Mexicans are devote Catholics, the truth is, at least in this area, that most are unchurched or disconnected from their faith. As we dodge potholes that threaten to swallow our tires, we honestly don’t know if anyone will be waiting when we arrive. But faith comes by hearing, and with so few opportunities to do so, keeping these people connected to Word means making the drive. We are blessed to find two families for Bible study.
Upon returning to Mahahual, we meet a woman with a request. Her daughter is pregnant and needs to see a doctor, could they borrow Pastor’s car to get her there? Pastor agrees. The hospital is a half day’s drive away and he doesn’t know when the vehicle will return. It doesn’t seem to matter. If he can help, he does. Born to missionary parents in Africa, Pastor Valleskey’s heart lies in outreach. Lending his car, driving the extra kilometers, sharing his food or comforting words, if there is an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ, he does so without hesitation. He is self sufficient, thoughtful, humble, resolved…blessings that steel him as currently the only called worker on the ground in Mahahual. But he certainly is not alone in his efforts.
image - worship service - Mahahual MexicoDeb Blackburn, a North Carolinian by birth, is the local ministry coordinator for Costa Maya Ministries, a gracious woman whose energy is as boundless as her love for Christ. Working in mysterious ways, God used Hurricane Dean to help Deb meet Lynn and Jerry Zimpelmann and in turn bring Deb to faith. The Zimpelmanns, Wisconsin residents and missionaries in their own right, had nearly completed their dream retirement home on a beach near Mahahual when the Category 5 storm Dean pummeled the area. Needing a place to stay, Deb and her husband Hugh parked their RV on the Zimpelmann’s property and helped with the rebuild. The Zimpelmanns held Bible studies with Deb who in time came to faith, and the seeds of Costa Maya Ministries were planted. Mysterious ways indeed!
I joined Deb in picking up kids in the “Kilometer 55” neighborhood, a place of relative poverty. Standing outside the van as Deb honked the horn, I would hear the sound of feet pounding the ground as kids came running from all directions, eager for English lessons and art projects, for the soup kitchen and Bible study. Deb smiles as she mentions they had “37 kids in this van at one time.” The message is clear, the ground here is fertile for spreading the Word.
image - receiving communion - Mahahual MexicoA great deal of my time in Mahahual was spent interviewing members of the church, many in their native Spanish. Working with Pastor to translate my questions, we asked them to share their story of faith. While I have some understanding of Spanish, I’m far from fluent. However, their physical responses bridged the language barrier in a way that mere words could not. Unbridled joy shown on their faces and through their body language as they spoke about the power of the Gospel coming into their lives. As someone blessed to be raised in a Christian household from birth, “hearing” this testimony was rare, raw and inspiring.
image - talking with children - Mahahual MexicoSunday morning comes and Iglesia Cruz de Cristo is abuzz with activity. Children set up chairs. Volunteers from the States make new acquaintances. Kids pour in from the vans outside. The service begins and songs of praise echo into “Casitas” or “little houses” neighborhood where the church resides. Yallo, a man with a weathered face and eyes of deep compassion, stands to read a scripture lesson, sharing the Word with his fellow Mexicans. This is critical. The mission, built by the tireless efforts of Jerry Zimpelmann and countless volunteers, now needs the people it serves to take ownership, to make it their church, to spread the joy they’ve found whenever they go. Watching Yallo as he read, face beaming with pride, there is no doubt strong roots are taking hold.
I think often of our brothers and sisters in Mahahual, of Yallo, Don Santos, Pedro, Balta, Ruby, Miguel and Remedios, of Deb Blackburn and Pastor Valleskey, of the volunteers who so gracious give their time both here in the United States and in Mexico in support of the mission. I pray for the Lord’s continued blessings, but far to often, I need to remind myself to refold my hands and pray not only for this mission, but for those through the world. Places like Mahahual are indeed the “ends of the earth” where people have not heard of Jesus. They all need our prayers, I ask that you join me in remembering them in yours as well.
The mission in Mahahual was self-started. It hasn’t received any synod funding and is flourishing by the support and donations of volunteers. You can learn more at This year Crown of Life School’s Friday morning Matins’ offering will be going to support the mission in Mahahual. If you are interested in supporting this mission as well, please contact Pastor Pudlo at 651-451-3832 or

Cultivating Seeds

If you’ve ever been to the Eagan campus on a Sunday morning, chances are good you’ve seen Darrell and Liz Isebrand. They have been staples at Crown of Life for the past 4 years, and for 30 plus years at Beautiful Savior before the merger. Darrell has always been one who is good about introducing himself and making guests feel welcome. But what you see on Sunday morning only scratches the surface of the work of this “farmer at heart”.
Darrell describes himself this way, “Gardening has been a part of our family’s history for over 40 years as I was raised on a farm in Iowa in the 50’s & 60’s.” That gardening is still a huge part of his life. Darrell and Liz’s backyard is pretty much entirely garden. “Our garden is about 50’ x 70’ with a large variety of veggies and fruits.”
Every year Darrell spends countless hours cultivating this massive garden. Why? It’s a passion. “Gardening for me is a good form of exercise. It brings me back to the basics of planting seeds and taking care of the new plants. Each seed or plant is like a little miracle.” The produce also gets put to good use. Darrell says, “A good amount of the garden produce is given to the food shelf in Crown of Life’s name. Of course, family, friends and neighbors also get to enjoy the blessings of the garden.” Darrell has made a name for himself at The Open Door, a food shelf dedicated to offering healthy food options to those in need. Several times/year The Open Door sends a thank you card to the members of Crown of Life for the donations of fresh produce.
While this is a passion of Darrell’s, it is only part of the reason why he gardens. Darrell goes on, “There are numerous examples in the Bible using seeds and plants as a comparison to believers and unbelievers. Ultimately God grows the plants. I just take care of them. Gardening is a lot of work but is very rewarding and the quality of the food is great.” It’s this reminder that leads Darrell to also spend time not just in the garden in his back yard, but also in the garden of Eagan (pun intended). There are plenty of souls in Eagan who need care and the water of God’s word. That’s why Darrell also makes regular visits to people who have recently moved into the Eagan area. He visits them after Crown of Life sends them a welcoming postcard in order to welcome them to the area and encourage them to check out Crown of Life if they haven’t found a church home yet.
At his core, Darrell is a gardener. But the garden in his backyard only scratches the surface of the kind of gardening he does.
If you have any interest in making visits to people who have recently moved in to Eagan or West St. Paul in order to welcome them to the area and encourage them to check out Crown of Life, contact Pastor Pudlo. We’re always looking for more ways to reach our community.

The Labor of Love

Volunteers at Crown of Life are carrying out a “labor of love” at Mission Wearhouse Thrift Store in Little Canada. This ministry has impacted the lives of people too numerous to count. The pint-sized store, blessed with a bountiful supply of donated items has become a distribution hub for a variety of ministries who serve the needy both locally and internationally. People of all sorts; from the elderly to the unborn, to those as close as the Twin Cities Metro Area and as far away as Russia and Africa, have been touched by their work.
The thrift store, located in a strip mall at 2756 Lake Shore Ave. in Little Canada, is conveniently located next to the New Day Pregnancy Care Center which is partially funded from store sales. Both ministries are overseen by Christian Life Ministries. When the thrift store opened in 2001 the owner offered a low monthly rent along with an option to purchase the strip mall after 1 ½ years.
Early volunteers from Crown of Life, like Dave Danner, Charlene Ohmann, her former husband Earl, and now deceased Chet Witz, had just begun a top to bottom makeover when an enormous supply of donated items landed on the thrift store doorstep; compliments of Wise Penny Thrift Store in Buffalo, Minnesota, which was closing its doors. Volunteers from Christ Lutheran in North St. Paul sprang into action, and by organizing a huge garage sale in the back warehouse area of the store made the first sales. Meanwhile, volunteers were scrubbing, painting, shelving and laying carpet rescued from the old Emanuel School. When the liquor store on Robert St. closed, Charlene’s son, Roger was able to purchase all the steel shelving for $20 and a note from his pastor confirming it was for a non-profit business. “Gently used” clothes racks were acquired after a telephone call alerted the cleaning crew that the racks had been tossed into dumpsters behind a nearby Hilfiger’s clothing store. Even the first cash register was donated. Read more…

A Night To Shine

St. Croix Lutheran gave hundreds a reason to shine at a unique prom held Friday, February 10, 2017. The school hosted Night to Shine for people with special needs, thanks to a grant from the Tim Tebow Foundation. Night to Shine took place simultaneously, in all 375 locations, 50 states across the nation and 11 countries around the world!
From the moment guests arrive, they were treated like royalty receiving VIP treatment. The ladies were ushered through to hair and makeup. The guys enjoyed a shoe shine.
Every moment, every detail and every memory made was special. There were corsages and boutonnieres, karaoke, limo rides, and of course, dancing! Every guest of Night to Shine experienced a red carpet welcome complete with friendly paparazzi. The highlight of the night – every Night to Shine guest was crowned as a king or queen of the prom.
All of the 200 honored quests were paired with a buddy for the night. Most buddies were student volunteers from St. Croix Lutheran.
Nearly 400 volunteers contributed to Night to Shine and 75 of those were from Crown of Life, ranging from the 8th grade through retirement.

Youth Reach Out to Community

Crown of Life Teens take the opportunity to volunteer at a neighborhood food shelf on their day off from school.
Mr. Fenske took five teens to Neighbors Inc. in early December to increase community outreach opportunities in Crown of Life’s youth program. In three hours the kids sorted, dated and shelved an overwhelming amount of donations that came in during the November food drive.
Not knowing what they were getting into they were pleasantly surprised and all said that it was fun and they would do it again. It’s always fun to volunteer with friends!
Thank you for your outstanding work! Can’t wait to see what you do next.

Sharing Faith In The St. Croix Dorms

Middle School Dorms Family Dinner

St. Croix Lutheran is unique to most schools in that a fourth of their enrollment (about 100 students) are international students and come from all corners of the world. St. Croix has a new dorm to accommodate housing for all these kids and those that come from the United States. Crown of Life members Chris Maki and Bev Abel are two of six dorm supervisors. Chris’s experience comes from years of teaching and coaching while Bev’s comes from years of parenting.
Chris Maki began his teaching ministry at St. Andrew’s Lutheran School in St. Paul Park where he taught almost every grade and learned about the challenges and rewards of teaching in a Lutheran school. After several years, Chris started coaching soccer at St. Croix and was offered a position to teach geometry and be a dorm supervisor. Along with this position came new challenges and rewards, especially as he shares God’s Word with students from all over the world.
Both Perry and Bev graduated from St. Croix Lutheran, as well as their children, so the St. Croix ministry is very close to their hearts. After retiring from Travelers, Bev joined the dorm supervising staff in 2015 as the girl’s supervisor. She enjoyed being a mom so much, she thought she could take on a dorm full of teenagers. Perry, although not a dorm supervisor, enjoys engaging with the students and can often be found at their games, concerts or photographing events. He continues to work in real estate and volunteer at Crown of Life. Read more…