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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Meet Monika

A 'stranger in our midst' transforms Nebraska congregation

On a June morning in 2011, Timothy Koester, pastor of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bloomfield, Neb., got a phone call from a nearby motel. The motel owner hoped Koester could help him resolve a problem. So the pastor agreed to walk to the motel to see what he could do.

When he arrived, Koester learned that a 63-year-old German woman was stranded at the motel. An agency had paid for a couple of nights stay, but the money had run out. Now the woman was stuck with no resources, serious health problems and nowhere to go.

"I went to meet her and thereby began an epic journey with one of the most interesting people I've ever met, Monika Ruff," Koester said.

Ruff and her mother had set out to see all of the U.S., but her mother developed Alzheimer's disease and died. Ruff became sick and was hospitalized in South Dakota. Then her RV caught fire and was towed to a junkyard a few miles from the motel in Nebraska. To complicate matters, her visa had expired. Ruff was undocumented.

Koester called some of St. Mark's members, and they raised enough money to house her at the motel a few more nights.

Then for almost two years, Ruff became an integral part of the life and ministry of St. Mark. The congregation bought a small one-bedroom home in Bloomfield and named it the House of Hope. Ruff and her four cats moved in that fall.


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