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Issue 11-9

Surviving Derechos

The derecho that hit the small community of West Chicago where we live swept through on Sunday, June 29 around 1:15 in the afternoon, leaving scenes of havoc in its wake. Some 91-mph winds and torrential rains destroyed stands of trees, uprooted century-old oaks and tore out twelve trees on our property alone (others are still leaning and we suspect they too will fall). The shade gardens we have lived with for over 35 years are now a sun-loving perennial’s paradise.

Storm damage in the Mainses' back yard

A derecho is from the Spanish word for “straight,” in contrast with the word
tornado, which is a “twisting” wind. Derechos are wide-stretching, long-lived straight-line storms that advance forward in bow-like squalls and expand in width the farther they move with rapidly increasing speeds.

Storm track of the derecho from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic states

Unlike thunderstorms, which typically can be heard in the distance when approaching, derechos tend to strike suddenly. Within minutes, extremely high winds rise—strong enough to blow off roofs, rip apart siding, upend airplanes and topple giant trees. The June 2012 derecho caused billions of dollars in damage as it spread from Iowa, across Illinois and Indiana, on its treacherous way to the East Coast. Some 3.7 million ComEd customers were without power and 22 were left dead.

Complicated by the record North American summer heat-wave, our power
was out for five days. Since David and I were due to meet 16 people in Canada at the Shakespeare Festival, we decided to leave Monday morning, June 30, and return the next Saturday, July 7, a week after the storm.

Before leaving, however, David made a few calls to members of our church and to our pastor. As it “so happens” Sunday, July 7, a week after the storm, was our Serve Sunday (we dedicate one Sunday a month to worship God by serving our community). Due, however, to summer schedules, nothing had been planned. The small congregation was instructed to give that Sunday to God in small acts of service and to be directed individually by Him. “Go on and go up to Canada,” said our church friends to us. “We’ll rally a group of people to help.”

We had estimated that the tree-fall damage in our yard alone would take months for us to clear up by ourselves. “How many people do you think will come tomorrow?” David asked me on our drive home that Saturday. I was expecting five or six people.

Imagine our surprise the next morning when 25-30 people showed up,
seven of them eager men with power saws in hand.

By 12:30 the tree fall was cleared; we could walk in the backyard and the driveway. Debris had been dragged into piles across the street and on either side of the circular drive (some 12 truckloads in all). The power-saw crew took off to help neighbors nearby.

Three of the "power-saw guys" who volunteered

David and I kept looking around our property. We were amazed at the damage, amazed at the future sun gardens, but mostly we were flabbergasted by the help from our church family in saving us enormous clearing costs and getting the work done in such short time so we could concentrate on working with insurance adjustors, roofers and tree-repair crews.

This past Sunday, I preached in our little church; we finished up a series of the I AM sayings of Christ. My assigned topic was from John 15, “I am the true vine, and my father is the vinegrower…” It was lovely spending the last two weeks living in this passage. Due to the branch and limb fall in our yard, this verse was especially vivid: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Verses 1-11, NRSV.

I had actual illustrations of withered branches strewing my yard. So I gathered baskets of them to haul to church as an illustration of what we do not want to be.

It occurs to me, however, when I think of the derechos of all kinds that strike our lives—real storms, emotional hurricanes, economic collapses—that not only do we need the Vine Life to be working in us as individual Christians, we also need to be part of communities of faith where people are abiding in Christ—together. One of the test of this seems to be: How ready are we to help one another? How quickly do we set aside our own schemes and jump to lend a hand to those whose schemes have been blown to bits?

This Scripture from John, “Abide in me as I abide in you…” (John 15:1), is written for corporate communal meaning as well as for individual private instruction.

A derecho hit our community this summer. Our lovely quiet yard was blasted, but there is a Vine Life growing among us, and David and I were the surprised but happy recipients of its vigorous effect. Oh, for a sign to have put beside our mailbox across the road:

Serve Sunday
The Church at Worship
Helping One Another Along the Way

Karen Mains


The Global Bag Project

This is one of those summers (maybe because of droughts and derechos) when we are all discouraged in the Global Bag Project office. Five bag parties were canceled; several other friends indicated they wanted to help but were not able to clear their schedules. Consequently, we have not been able to send money from bag sales to our bag-making colleagues in Nairobi. They have not had work. Mary Ogalo, our Kenya project coordinator, is tired. Carla Boelkens is tired. Karen Mains is tired. Due to few sign-ups and unusual obstacles, our Africa trip is falling through and we are canceling those plans. At this time, we say, “OK. What is God trying to tell us?”

Perhaps we need partners who have skill sets beyond our skill sets.
Karen has worked putting together a partnership proposal, which we’ve sent to several people. We met with one entrepreneur who launched a small microenterprise that earned millions of dollars and helped workers in Nicaragua. He told us we were doing a great job and gave us some good advice, but no practical doors opened. Do you know of anyone who would like to partner with the Global Bag Project?

Perhaps we need to look at the volountourism idea in a different way.
We will plan to take a group back to Africa next year, in the fall of 2013. If travelers had more lead time, would they be able to join us? Should we cut the price? Let us know.

Perhaps we need help to fill the home-party schedule.
The entrepreneur mentioned above has encouraged us to bring on a lively, enthusiastic, networked 35-something-year-old who would take over the home-party schedule for a monthly stipend. Are you someone like this? Do you know someone like this? Ideally, we should be sponsoring 4-5 home parties per month.

With the holiday season around the corner, perhaps we need to launch into a more intentional emphasis on Christmas boutiques and church international fairs.
Do you know of a bazaar event or does your church hold an international fair around the holiday season? Or would you be the contact person for us? Pam Klein, who traveled to Africa with us last year, launched a neighborhood Christmas bazaar and with nothing more than an e-mail list, word of mouth, and a rather ragged front-lawn sign, opened her home for a Friday and Saturday and cleared a total of $3500 for about five vendors.

If you have suggestions about successful models and can help us with this, we would LOVE to hear from you.

Response to any of the items above will be gratefully received by Carla Boelkens, Global Bag Project Stateside Director, at, or by Karen Mains at


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Karen Mains

Karen Mains

“I had actual illustrations of withered branches strewing my yard. So I gathered baskets of them to haul to church as an illustration of what we do not want to be.”

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

Our “Read and Intercede” book club took a summer pause, but the book we are all reading when we come together again for discussion the second Sunday in September is The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. Sometimes when we get tired of the long pull or confused after a series of distresses, a story like this captures us, amazes us and gives us a boost to get on with the hard work of what we have planned. A short quote from the back-cover copy:

“William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger. But William had read about windmills, and he dreamed of building one that would bring to his small village a set of luxuries that only 2 percent of Malawians could enjoy: electricity and running water. His neighbors called him misala—crazy—but William refused to let go of his dreams. With a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks; some scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves; and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to forge an unlikely contraption and small miracle that would change the lives around him.”

We recommend this unusual true story of the capacity of the human spirit, even under the worst of circumstances—poverty and starvation caused by a massive drought—to survive and thrive and to bring benefit to others. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a story about the power of inventiveness.

Copyright 2006-2012 Mainstay Ministries. All rights reserved.

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