Priest José Luis Díaz Cruz and Sergio Jose Cárdenas Flores, political asylees from Nicaragua, have been living in the rectory at St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Empire since March after they escaped the autocratic Ortega regime, which has cracked down on dissent and persecuted the Roman Catholic Church. Originally from the city of Matagalpa, Díaz and Cárdenas were among dozens imprisoned for six months in the capital of Managua after living under house arrest in their church last August. In February, they were among 222 political prisoners flown to the United States after being forced to relinquish their Nicaraguan citizenship. “We’re offering them a safe place to be,” said Rev. Ken Stachnik at St. Philip Neri. “This is important because it’s in the gospel. We are watching out for those who are lost and have no place to go.” The push to bring the Nicaraguans to northern Michigan came from Reverend Wayne Dziekan with the Diocese of Gaylord and who co-directs the Justice and Peace Advocacy Center, an organization which helps asylees and migrant workers in northern Michigan. Matagalpa and Gaylord are sister diocese.

A group of Leelanau County locals traveled to Kenya in November to visit some of the world’s most famous wildlife parks. They explored the Maasai Mara with its prides of lions and other rare cats, and Amboseli National Park, notable for the world’s longest study of elephants and its large population of massive tuskers. That traveler group will hold a fundraiser for the rural Maasai school and other needs of children in the village from noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 30, in the community room of Keswick United Methodist Church in Suttons Bay. Come to enjoy a (by donation) meal of African soups and chai, live music, the chance to learn more about the region and to purchase or bid on beaded crafts made by village women.

“The national parks are the best idea we ever had,” novelist and environmentalist Wallace Stegner proclaimed in 1983. “Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Many nations around the world agree. Last month, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore superintendent Scott Tucker and Apostle Islands National Lakeshore superintendent Lynne Dominy spent two weeks in Saudi Arabia working with their peers in Riyadh and coaching them on community engagement, resource management, interpretation and education programs, park policy, and collaboration. “Our National Parks are the gold standard,” said Tucker. “We’ve been doing this for more than 100 years.”

The message from Timothy Young to his six-year-old daughter Stella was clear: you’ll carry your own backpack, throughout the trip. About that he was adamant. The trip was to Chiapas, Mexico, in 2007 to meet rural coffee-growing communities which Higher Grounds Trading Co. supported through the Chiapas Water Project. That journey has now come full circle. A year after she graduated from Kalamazoo College, the 2018 Glen Lake School graduate recently became director of development for On the Ground, the international nonprofit co-founded in 2010 by her father and Higher Grounds owner Chris Treter. The organization has supported coffee farmers in Chiapas, Ethiopia and the Congo, and olive farmers in the Palestinian West Bank. On the Ground will host a party and fundraiser on Thursday, Oct. 12, at The Alluvion at Commongrounds in Traverse City.

Lizzie Brown, a 2021 Glen Lake School graduate and 2023 Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) graduate who is currently enrolled at University of Michigan-Flint, reflects on her recent trip to Guatemala, and what she learned at a model preschool run by Planting Seeds International, a nonprofit with northern Michigan support.

Randy Chamberlain is well-known as an innovative chef. His experience at multiple restaurants around the region led to his establishing the fine dining experience, Blu, on the water in Glen Arbor. Running a successful restaurant requires a dedicated staff. Like virtually every other restaurant, the Chamberlains have scrambled to find enough workers. They eventually opted to hire foreign workers to make up for the shortfall, much like others before them in the hospitality industry. One of those workers, Süleyman Kanal, returned to his home in Turkey after working at both Boonedocks and Blu last summer, with plans to come back to work here this summer. But the massive earthquake that struck his home country in February changed everything. “His father is a furniture maker, and his shop was gone. Their home was gone. They had to dig through the rubble for mementos.” said Chamberlain, who began a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for the Kanal family. Click here to read the story and for a link to the campaign.

It’s a long way from Empire to Africa. Metaphorically speaking, it’s also a long way from clarinet to the 21-string African harp called the kora. Sean Gaskell has taken both journeys, and he will return to the Glen Lake Community Library on Monday, May 15, where he’ll play the kora, sing and tell stories in the tradition of the griots (kora masters).

Leelanau County resident Bo White knows the rails and roads into Ukraine. A former Air Force pararescueman, Bo has traveled to Ukraine four times since the war began in February 2022. A month into the war, he helped evacuate wounded Fox News reporter Benjamin Hall from a Ukrainian hospital. Bo’s handshake is a vice grip, but his wife Nicole is just as strong. Together they own Dune Bird Winery, which opened on M-22 north of Leland in late 2021. And they showed strength and resilience during their son Forrest’s 3.5-year battle with leukemia. “I’ve always been grateful that I can appreciate my husband, my family, and my life as a gift. It’s not guaranteed,” said Nicole. “A lot of us pretend that we can be safe. But I’ve never been able to pretend that. I’m grateful for what I have.”

Editor/publisher of the Glen Arbor Sun, Jacob Wheeler has written a new book titled “Angel of the Garbage Dump: How Hanley Denning Changed the World, One Child at a Time” (Mission Point Press), which recounts how a young woman from Maine launched a school in the hovels of the Guatemala City garbage dump and helped pull thousands of children out of the teeming filth of one of the largest urban landfills in the Americas. Join Wheeler for any of the following upcoming readings in Leelanau County: Suttons Bay Library (with Bay Books), Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 6 pm; Glen Arbor Arts Center (with fellow author Anne-Marie Oomen) Saturday, Nov. 26, at 11 am, and Glen Lake Library in Empire (with Cottage Book Shop), Wednesday, Dec. 7, at 7 pm.

In this essay published in our late August edition of the Sun, Empire native Jessica Sharry reflects on moving from Northern Michigan to Finland and back, on practicing yoga, on immigration, on food, and on nature.