When one of Curt and Frieda Hahn’s sons, Erik, and his wife, Sunny, requested they relocate from Tempe, Ariz., to Durham, N.C., the couple couldn’t resist the pull of family, especially two young grandchildren.

The Hahns could help with the grandchildren while their parents worked and continued their education. In turn, their son and daughter-in-law could help them as they aged and needed care. So, in 2013, they prepared to make the cross-country move.

Leaving the warm desert of Tempe for a chilly, rainy Durham was one thing, but leaving their congregation, Desert Cross Lutheran, was the bigger challenge. In April 1987, the Hahn family had been one of three in the first new-member class at Desert Cross, which was, at the time, a mission congregation. Today it has about 900 members.

“We knew everyone in our congregation as it grew,” Curt Hahn said. “Frieda was the unofficial welcoming hugger and new folks loved that. It was an emotional event—leaving, not knowing what the future would bring.”

During the years following their move, the Hahns stayed in touch with Desert Cross members and, from time to time, friends found themselves in the Durham area and located the beloved Hahns.

A few years later, Erik, Sunny and their children moved to Colorado for a job opportunity, leaving Curt and Frieda without family nearby. When the Hahns’ Arizona friends learned this, parishioners wrote to them, encouraging them to move back to Arizona, where they’d lived for more than 30 years and still had friends, said Susan Maas, a member of Desert Cross. They also offered their assistance with the move.

“What a letter,” Curt Hahn said. “We read it and read it, again and again. We were in shock. To think of a move back to Arizona—whoa. But the Spirit is always active and pushy sometimes. As we talked about it, we started to see ourselves making such a move.”

David Hahn, Curt and Frieda’s other son, cried when he read the letter. “It was in those tears where meaning for me emerged,” he said. He likens his parents being received back into the fellowship of Desert Cross in the same way the Spirit continues to receive us back into the fellowship of the Son and the Father. “It’s an embodied witness of loving fellowship,” he said.

“But the Spirit is always active and pushy sometimes. As we talked about it, we started to see ourselves making such a move.”

“Project Hahn,” as it was affectionately called, was spearheaded by Maas and church member Dottie Ohe. No logistic was left unattended.

People offered to fly to Durham and help pack up their home, but Curt Hahn did it himself. Friends donated points and money for the Hahns’ airline tickets and paid for the extended-stay hotel in Arizona where they would live for three weeks.

On Nov. 11, when the Hahns landed at the Phoenix airport, about 21 people with signs and balloons were there to welcome them. As they settled back into their lives in Arizona, volunteers regularly took meals to the hotel and dined with them.

Ohe and her husband found a rental home to suit the Hahns’ needs while they found something permanent, and volunteers retrofit its bathrooms to be accessible to accommodate Frieda’s mobility. When the Hahns shipped their car to Arizona, Dottie and Tom Ohe picked it up, had it washed and filled with gas.

And on Dec. 2 when a moving van and a pod of personal items were scheduled to arrive, volunteers stood by, ready to help unload and unpack.

Ohe said she didn’t come from a “churched background,” but the minute she walked into Desert Cross more than 28 years ago as a single parent with a young child, she was welcomed with open and loving arms. At the church, and through people like Curt and Frieda, Ohe said she was mentored and taught the truth about God’s unconditional love, grace, the importance of giving back and receiving, and the importance of community and servanthood.

What parishioners did for the Hahns is not unusual, Maas said, adding, “[The church] has always been about looking out for each other, both within the congregation and outside. We try to love others, do justice and live humbly. We try to be a point of light in our community and not to get too proud of ourselves for the work we do because there is always more.”

For now, it’s Project Hahn.

“What joy to be together again,” Curt Hahn said. “Thank you, Jesus!”

Cindy Uken
Cindy Uken is a veteran, award-winning reporter based in Palm Springs, Calif. She has worked at USA Today, as well as newspapers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and California.

Read more about: