Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Food -- Who Pays the Price" -- a BBC World Debate

Dwindling food stocks and rising food prices raise questions about who produces our food and how.

Urbanization, climate change, changing diets in emerging economies and the impact of supermarkets are putting new pressures on the land and changing the face of farming.

One solution is to support the hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries. Yet just when they’re needed most, many smallholder farmers are finding it difficult to make a living and are leaving the land.

Should food be treated as a global commodity? Is industrial scale farming the best way to meet global demand and protect the environment? Or could and should more be done globally to protect small independent farmers and the food they produce?

BBC World brings together six international panelists considered some of the most important issues effecting the future of global food production in the BBC World debate “Food – Who Pays the Price?”. Click and watch above.

Monday, May 26, 2008

"A modern Lord's Prayer" -- by the Micah Challenge

Today's post is from the Micah Challenge, a global Christian campaign to achieve the MDGs. Part of their mission is a weekly prayer emailing like the one you see below. You can receive it in your email box every week send a blank email to regine.nagel@micahchallenge.org with the words 'subscribe prayer' in the subject line.

The reflection this week is a 24/7 style prayer for the world by Pete Greig, one of the founding members of the 24/7 Prayer movement. It is based on the Lord’s Prayer. Please reflect on a modern version of the Lord’s Prayer below:

‘The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Father in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;

Do what's best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You're in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You're ablaze in beauty!

Yes. Yes. Yes.’

Matthew 6: 7-13 (The Message)


Let us pray:

* From the words of the prayer: ‘We volunteer. Motivate us to become the answer to the prayers on our lips.’

* Please pray for Micah Challenge Germany as they mobilize Christians to engage their local Members of Parliament. The aim is to inform politicians about the Millennium Development Goals and engage them in further action.

*Please pray for enthusiasm and wisdom for MC Germany coordinator Daniel Rempe as he promotes these actions to German evangelicals.

* Reflecting on the statistic below: Lord, we thank you for the 40 000 000 more boys and girls in school. We pray for improved education systems which provide funding to increase free access to schooling and employ more teachers to improve the quality of education.

Meditate on the Statistics

As you spend time in prayer and reflection, you may like to take a moment to silently understand with your heart the focus statistic we include each week (see below). Our hope is that you will find this series of statistics a useful resource in preparing presentations.

Goal 2: Ensure access to primary schooling for all children

Target 3: Ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling

‘Forty million more children are in school and gender disparity in primary and secondary schools has declined by 60 percent, but 75 million children remain out of school.’

Source: Global Monitoring Report 2008, World Bank and IMF, April 08

Friday, May 23, 2008

"Fulfilling their dreams" -- by Elaine Thomas

My son, Seth, is graduating from New York University this week. Never mind that he was on the five-year plan at one of the most expensive universities in the country or that he decided early on in his college career that he just wasn’t a good student (never mind that he was in the top 10 of his high school class) - hence the five years. He’s graduating, and the long trail of tears is about to end. As a high school senior, he did not apply to any other college. He has dreams of being on Broadway, and where better for him to study than in the Big Apple at one of the finest acting schools in the country?

My daughter also went to a college with Ivy League tuition, even though it wasn’t an Ivy League university. She received a well-rounded liberal arts education, which is exactly what she wanted. I decided early on that my job as a parent is to give my children every opportunity to pursue their highest dreams and aspirations, at least until they reached adulthood and launched on their own. Sending them to a school that would give them the best training and opportunity to pursue those dreams is part of that parental responsibility. So we’ve made the sacrifices we needed to make, and now both children will put to best use what they’ve learned.

On the other side of the globe, an earthquake buried a high school in the Sichuan province of China. Hundreds of young people are dead or injured and thousands more in the region are dead. In Myanmar, thousands more children have perished in the destructive force of Cyclone Nargis and many thousands more are homeless.

Who will provide for the dreams and aspirations of these children? What future does life hold for them? In both regions, it could well be years before a daily meal is assured or a roof over the head is routine. The countries in which these areas are located are not entirely welcoming of outside assistance, but there are organizations that are helping. Episcopal Relief and Development does marvelous work by developing partnerships with those on the ground to get help to those in need in some cases more quickly and effectively than government organizations. Through the efforts of all of us, relief will ultimately help with the worst of the devastation and we will eventually begin to see rebuilding efforts come to fruition.

But there will be no university for most if not all of these kids. There may not even be a full course of primary education, Goal #2 of the Millennium Development Goals. And without that, they will be left vulnerable to the worst effects of future natural and man-made disasters. As we bear witness to the devastation in those far flung places on earth, let us dedicate ourselves to pursue with renewed vigor the work of fulfilling the MDGs. It is the best hope for the young people of the world.

As for Seth, maybe someday you’ll see him on stage. Or maybe he’ll end up teaching high school English and doing community theater. Either way, he has been given the best opportunity for success that we can give. The children of Rangoon and Chengdu are equally worthy of our best efforts to fulfill their dreams. “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs (Mark 10:14).”

Elaine Thomas is a member of St. James in Lancaster, PA where she is a member of the Peace and Justice and Stewardship Committees. She is also the EGR and ERD Coordinator for the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania. Elaine works for Episcopal Community Services in Philadelphia, a social service agency whose mission is to help individuals and families with multiple needs overcome the impact of poverty.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

"In Celebration of Ubuntu" -- by the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell

I first heard the word “ubuntu” during the walkabouts prior to the election for Rochester’s 8th bishop. The Rev. Dr. Prince Singh spoke about ubuntu—the idea that “I am because You are”—the interconnectedness of us all. We elected Prince to be our bishop on the second ballot and he will be consecrated and installed in 12 days (Thanks be to God!)

When I opened the May, 2008 edition of Episcopal Life Monthly, I was thrilled to see that “Ubuntu” will be the theme for our General Convention in 2009. I am definitely sensing a movement of the Holy Spirit here. It seems to me that a commitment to the MDGs is a way of living into the spirit of ubuntu.

I don’t spend too much time on my computer. I always prefer talking to folks on the phone or seeing them in person. I had a friend introduce me to Yahoo Messenger and when I was signing up, I found that one of the options is to “appear invisible to everyone.” I was horrified. I know it’s just a way to manage availability, but the thought of appearing invisible to everyone made me really sad.

And then I got to thinking about the millions, perhaps billions of people on this planet who feel like they’re invisible to everyone every day, like no one really sees them or cares about them. The past two weeks have brought heart-breaking stories of cyclones, earthquakes, terrorist bombings, and wild-fires. My prayer is that we keep our eyes and hearts open and try to BE God’s hands at work in the world about us. We may not be able to travel to China or Myanmar or India to do relief work but we can pray for and financially support those who can. We can look for those folks who seem lonely or isolated in our own parishes or schools or offices or grocery stores and start a conversation. We can embody ubuntu.

p.s. Last month I wrote about introducing the MDG’s to some 8 o’clockers at a parish in our diocese. There were 7 people who attended that service and about 75 at the 10 a.m. service. After the 8 a.m. service, one of the women came up to me and pressed a twenty dollar bill in my hand and asked me to do something with it. I added $5 and funded a kiva loan to a 49 yr old woman with 6 children living in Cambodia.

The Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell is rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Honeoye Falls, NY, and the MDG coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Us vs. Them" -- by Dr. Christiana Russ

I recently went to the presiding bishop’s summit on domestic poverty in Arizona. It was a wonderful think-tank comprised of people who do all varieties of work combating poverty in the United States. At the start of the meeting the point was made that while the Millennium Development Goals are important there is a need to focus on the poverty and deprivation that continues to persist within our own borders, despite our substantial GDP. This is absolutely true. It also made me sit back and think hard about our very human experience with limited resources and time, and thus our need to carve up how we spend those resources and time.

I am the chair of the executive council committee on HIV/AIDS and in our committee we have this conversation quite often. How much effort should we continue to put into pointing to the ever present but changing face of the AIDS pandemic in the United States? Does focusing on the international pandemic pull attention from the domestic problem and allow people to rest in false comfort of AIDS being ‘over there’? Or is there a way to see the commonality of the problems facing people both infected and affected by HIV in Africa, Asia, South America, our very own Province IX and in the borders of the United States?

In all of these places people face stigma, people face their fears of illness and dying, people struggle for access to healthcare, and family members care for orphaned children and ill loved ones. The magnitude of those particular problems might vary among individuals especially depending on their economic resources, but they are still very present and I believe the church is called to respond to every one of them.

We encounter a similar dilemma with poverty. I have heard people who work on domestic poverty dismiss international aid work as ‘sexy’ and lament the lack of people rolling up sleeves and going into their own backyards. Those comments fail to recognize that many of the problems of poverty are pretty similar in the U.S. and in Africa. I have met some of the loneliest and most deprived people imaginable while working with the homeless on the streets of Boston. And I have seen children alone and starving in Africa. Authentic relationship with each of those people forces us to face their needs which are enormous both materially and spiritually.

Good thing our God is so big and that His economics are all about abundance and love.

We also talked at the summit about having enough faith to dream big and step forward to do the work we are called to do… each according to his or her own gifts. The need of the world can be entirely overwhelming and yet at the root, many of the sorrows that people share across the world are the same. When we find those areas of similarity and focus on the synergy that can come from solving the same problem in different settings – amazing things can happen. When we trust in a God of abundance instead of viewing ourselves as competing for scarce resources or attention, again amazing things can happen. I pray that our church will have a big enough heart to care for people over there and over here.

Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician doing her residency at Boston Children's Hospital, currently working at an Anglican mission hospital in Kenya through a joint arrangement with Children's and the Diocese of Massachusetts. She is also chair of the Executive Council Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"The prosperity Gospel and the MDGs" -- by Carl Hooker

I was not feeling all that chipper last Sunday and regretfully decided my physical presence in church would be a bad thing for my community given my level of cooties. I sat in my chair with my hot liquid and started to look for something on the TV that might return some religious feeling and perhaps take the place of being there. I came across one of those so-called mega-church preachers. Usually I would just pass Go and collect my $200, but for some reason I lingered and listened. I missed the first half and so was walking blind into whatever was left. I listened and was struck by the oddity of it all. It was pure and simple wealth religion. He never mentioned prayer, mentioned Jesus perhaps a handful of times but spoke often about God never intending 'you' to be poor or less than prosperous and I am pretty sure he meant money prosperous. The camera panned the large auditorium frequently with well-dressed folks holding Bibles and notepaper, all the while with a caption on the bottom of the screen advertising his new book ("available wherever fine books are sold").

How do you respond to that? What would happen if someone went into that congregation and spoke about the MDG's and global reconciliation? I do not know. I am NOT trying to pass judgment on them since it was a one time event and only for a portion of the total program, there is enough to be directed back to me and maybe that was the message; what was MY response to that excess, how should I react to hearing a gospel of prosperity of self and not community to say nothing of the world?

I am not sure what this means to me and the readers of this blog. I would like to sift through it though and for the next few months post my reflections here. If you have any thoughts or direction please reply to the post and let me know. Again, I assure you I am not looking to bash this sort of teaching, I am just trying to discern my response.

Carl Hooker is an economist employed in an academic healthcare system. He is an EGR diocese coordinator in the Diocese of Missouri, and currently studying in the diocesan school for ministry.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Debt Relief -- 21st Century Jubilee" -- by the Micah Challenge

Today's post is from the Micah Challenge, a global Christian campaign to achieve the MDGs. Part of their mission is a weekly prayer emailing like the one you see below. You can receive it in your email box every week send a blank email to regine.nagel@micahchallenge.org with the words 'subscribe prayer' in the subject line.

In May 1998, 70,000 people from across BritainBirmingham and the world formed a human chain in to demand debt cancellation for the world’s poorest nations from the G8, the leaders of the world’s richest nations. This had an immediate and long-term impact on people living in poverty.

This day was a deeply spiritual experience for many, writes Stephen Rand, the co-chair of the Jubilee Debt Campaign in the UK. Why? Because people started to take the Bible and its call for justice seriously and acted in solidarity with the poor.

Please reflect on Leviticus 25 which outlines God’s principles for debt cancellation, freedom from the bondage of debt and ultimately a restored community.


Let us pray:

  • Lord, we thank you for the impact that the campaigning on debt relief has had over the past 10 years. But looking at the statistic below, we realize that there is still so much more to achieve.

We pray for full cancellation of all unjust and unpayable debt that developing countries are currently burdened with. We pray for the IMF, the World Bank and other debt institutions to give future loans responsibly, on fair terms and in a transparent way.

  • Our prayer focus is for Micah Challenge Peru and their engagement in the Alternative People Summit in Lima this week.

Genaro Guerrero, the coordinator of MC Peru writes:

‘Please pray as we participate in the Alternative People Summit this week that is held parallel to the Fifth Summit of Heads of State and Government of Latin America/ Caribbean and the European Union in Lima.

Fifty-three leaders from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean have confirmed their attendance at the May 16-17 summit where they are expected to discuss important issues as trade, climate change, poverty and the global food crisis. There is no doubt, that this meeting will be crucial for the future of our peoples.

Please pray that:

    • The Heads of States will consider poor people in their decisions!
    • The Alternative People Summit as we try to offer a critical analysis on discussions and agreements.’

Meditate on the Statistics

As you spend time in prayer and reflection, you may like to take a moment to silently understand with your heart the focus statistic we include each week (see below). Our hope is that you will find this series of statistics a useful resource in preparing presentations.

MDG 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Target 12: Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system.

‘The total external debt of the very poorest countries (the 'low income countries' which have an annual average income of less than $875 per person) was US $379 billion in 2005. During 2005, these countries paid nearly $43 billion to the rich world in debt service (payments of interest and principal) – that is $118 million a day.

These are the latest figures available - there has been some debt cancellation in 2006 and 2007, but there also have been new debts taken on. The overall figures are unlikely to have changed hugely.’

Source: Jubilee Debt Campaign UK http://www.jubileedebtcampaign.org.uk/?lid=98

This website also provides many facts and other information about the debt crisis.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

"How Much is Enough" -- by Meredith Bowen

This past weekend I hosted a fundraising event in my home town - in order to raise awareness and funds for the orphanange in Tanzania where I have volunteered. At the beginning of the evening a gentleman approached me and asked "How much?" "Excuse me?" I replied. He wanted to know how much was "enough" - he had a check in his pocket, he had come prepared to donate - I appreciated that. However, I was thrown. I had never been asked how much before. And I have been fundraising for years now. I didn't have an answer for him. I suggested that maybe he come back to me later in the evening, give me some time to think it over.

Why was this such a difficult question? More important, why did it upset me that this man had asked? As the evening began to come to a close - having been bothered by this encounter all night - it came to me.

There is no answer. At least not one that I will ever give. The answer is personal. If I give an amount I have basically let that person "off the hook" of having to decide themselves.

At the end of the evening I spoke briefly about my love for the orphans that I had been so fortunate to love over these last four years. I was frank with the crowd, encouraging them to write checks to support this endeavor. And I said, "If you are wondering how much is enough, "enough" would be the amount that you hope the person sitting next to you will make their check out for, especially if these children were your children. Because they are all of ours."

Meredith Bowen is at law school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, spending the fall semester in Arusha, Tanzania doing an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Has volunteered in Tanzania with the Rift Valley Childrens Village (an orphanage) as well as with the Anglican Diocese of Mount Kilimanjaro and the Diocese of Tanga. Started the African Orphan Education Fund to award scholarships for secondary school and university.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

"Love One Another: The Decade to Overcome Violence" -- by Jennifer Morazes

“Beloved, Let us love one another, because Love is from God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love . . . God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear . . . The commandment we have from Him is this: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

It sends chills down my spine to recite this particular passage. Isn’t it beautiful? For me, this passage is one of those which marks a cornerstone; one that, of the many messages of the gospels, points to at least one of their main themes.

Like the gospels themselves, it is difficult to pin down the “exact” message of the Decade to Overcome Violence. During my year in New York City working for the World Council of Churches, one of the main criticisms of the idea of this Decade was that it was too broad, not “exact” enough. “What kind of violence?” People would ask. The concept said everything and nothing at the same time, to some folks.

But to others’, including me, the Decade resonated deeply. Overcoming Violence spoke to me as a faith imperative, a faith imperative expressed in the above passage: Let Us Love One Another, because Love is from God. This is a perfect way to launch into what this Decade means for faith communities and for Americans. What I mean to convey to you today is not a formula or a program, but an introduction, a vision, and a spirit.

First, I have two stories for you, two stories which I would call Love Stories, but perhaps not in the tradition of George and Gracie, or even Brad and Angelina. These stories are about people I have cared about; and they are about people who, for me, were living examples of the impact of Love on our Lives, living proof that God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

So, my first story is a local story, one that happened to me in my work in Boston last year, before working for the World Council. I went one night to a residential treatment program, as I was there to attend one of my client’s graduations. I worked as a reintegration specialist; this is a fancy way for saying I helped people in prison plan for their discharge, and followed up with them once they were out to assist them in carrying out their plans. So, I’ll call this client Jim in order to tell the story. Jim is a person I came to feel in awe of when I was in his presence, and I do not mean this in any idealistic, flimsy sense. Jim knew that he had made some bad choices, choices that affected both himself and others in his life. He had a criminal record about two inches thick, had spent maybe a third of his life in prison, and another third taking and dealing heroin. He had both scars in his arms and many nice cars to show for his efforts. In addition, Jim had AIDS, Hep C, and lived in daily physical pain. And, in the time that I had gotten to know Jim, he is very close to dying.

Yet, day in and day out, when he came into the program that I worked in, Jim did not complain. And so, as we would play Scrabble in the Drop In Center we would talk as I was getting creamed, and I would say, “Look, Jim, you have every right to be grieving, angry, upset. You don’t have to be so polite with me.” But Jim would not budge in his insistence that he was OK. Did he get angry? I’m sure. Did he cry, did part of him hate his situation? Yes. But one day he said to me “Look young lady, I’m not going to die in the street. I know people here care about me. I've got no reason to complain.” God, how brave he is, and what a spirit. He was a testament to John’s words: There is no fear is love; perfect love casts out fear.

Another story occurred half way around the world, in Southern Africa. Two years ago, I had the privilege of attending the Anglican Students’ Federation of Southern Africa’s yearly conference. I was inspired by the work of then student organizer Francisco Zandamela in his conviction that international ties must be formed around concerns such as viable economic solutions and HIV. The conference title was “Transforming Victims into Victors” and the point was that our call in our histories – personal, interpersonal, communal, even international – is not to be victimized by the past or what we may see as “failures." Instead, the process of identifying both the stones and seeds in our own hearts provides us with the potential for how we ALL can engage in the process of transforming our histories, through the promise of Christ, into victories.

Francisco almost single-handedly organized a conference for young adults on HIV, a very important conference for this very at risk population in Southern Africa. Through the conference, many young people were inspired to get tested and to change behaviors that may put them at risk. Another inspiring piece of the conference for me was seeing connections formed from people from very different parts of the world. For me, Francisco’s life, which ended tragically in a car crash six-months later, was a testament to John’s truth: Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

So, one way to enter into the spirit of the Decade to Overcome Violence is by reflecting upon our own journeys of our selves in communities. Where have we beheld the transforming impact of love in overcoming violence? Our own histories can provide us with a lens through which to see others in our own and in different communities, appreciating both our similarities and differences and the power that lies in each. Here, from my own life, I describe two witnesses of love. There are many lessons to be gleaned about Love from these two stories, but the points I would emphasize as the take away message about love, is that 1) Love is Hard Work 2) We are the messengers, the bearers, the FRUITS of the Vine, of God’s love. And sometimes, recognizing that we are the FRUITS of God’s Love, is, in itself, the Hard work of Love. Within this lies a vision and a spirit of the Decade to Overcome Violence.

As you can tell, even though both of these stories are from my life, neither are about me directly, as a self-described “messenger of love.” In both cases, I was a little like Philip in the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts: God basically told me to get up and go. So, I got up and went. In both cases, I encountered someone: one person from a local community, another from a completely different country and context. In both cases, we had some similarities, but also some very significant differences, like the “Ethiopian” which Philip himself met. We sat side by side and shared, and we “baptized” each other from our exchanges.

Given our own stories, the example of Philip, the transforming impact of love and our place as “Fruits of the Vine”: Who are we being called to love, as members of a faith community, and as Americans with a place in today’s international scene? Where is our own hard work on Love’s behalf? How do we love people who are different, how do we form these connections, and how do we convince ourselves that we have the capacity to bring this love into reality?

So yes, here’s the hard part, why Love is such hard work: Even given Philip’s example today and the inspiring words of John and 1 John, to what extent do I, do we all believe the fact that we really are God’s fruits, to what extent do we believe, do we have faith in the fact that this love is in our hands? Thich Nat Hahn wrote in one of his books that as we move through life, we get “irritated hearts.” What an understatement! We’ve received messages from many places about how worthy or, perhaps even more memorable, how unworthy we are. We’ve received messages about what is “realistic,” or “possible.” What if Philip had considered his unworthiness or how “realistic” it was to joint the Ethiopian and never gotten into the chariot? A connection between two people, two very different people, would have been missed. And so would the opportunity for sacrament, for baptism.

The quote I think that best illustrates this process is one made by one of my spiritual mentors, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He wrote and has preached that the most evil thing about apartheid is that it convinced God’s children that they were not God’s children. Working analogously and in synchronicity are the myriad ways in which we have encountered violence ourselves, the ways in which we have been told, even by those we care about and who care about us, that we are not the FRUITS that we are. In our minds, in our hearts, and even our physical bodies, we are not unlike Moses, who, as God has called us to Overcome Violence, we say “Oh God. But I have never been good with words. I don’t want to be responsible. Please ask someone else.”

In our imperfectness, our woundedness, we continue this cycle of hurt, we inflict it upon others and upon ourselves, internalizing the pain and even recreating the pain in our own lives. How many times in these cycles of violence do we either inflict our hurt upon another or internalize the hatred onto ourselves? And these realities, these conditions that run antithetical to love -- addiction, and trauma and oppression -- all make our hearts more than “irritated”, but downright festering wounds!

But, as Philip shows us, we can all get into the chariot. We can. Both Jim and Francisco, in different ways, exemplified love for me, and I had the gift of knowing them by climbing into the chariot, by taking that chance and trusting love. This is way we break the “cycle of violence” and Overcoming Violence, by being open to the possibilities and believing that we are worthy to receive them.

In this season of Easter, of rebirth and renewal, let us remember that love is a process, a verb, a condition, a way of being in the world with ourselves and others. Love exists in being, in being who we were created to be, in confronting the challenges of faith that have been set before us in our individual paths and I’ve climbing into the chariot next the “the Ethiopian,” as challenging as that be. We all have been given true examples of this process of love, in our lives and in the lives of our spiritual leaders, like Philip. Through Jesus’ being born against all odds in a manger and his acceptance of his call, love became. Through Mohammed answering God’s call and bringing his ministry into the world, love became. Through Hagar, Mohammed’s very great grandmother, through her cries in the wilderness and her calling upon God’s name (the first person in the Bible who did theology) the possibility of love was born. Love exists in the be-ing, this becoming, in the transformation of our grief and fears by making the choice to love and create the reality of unshakeable hope. Let us see ourselves as God’s branches, and reach, and bloom. Amen.

For the full text of this sermon, click here.

Jenn Morazes is a graduate of Episcopal Divinity School in the area of Theology and Contemporary Society. Currently studying in the School of Social Welfare in the MSW/PhD program at the University of California, Berkeley. Jenn has studied and performed community work in both Mexico and Southern Africa and also participated in the Young Adult Stewards Programme with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, Switzerland. She has also served as an anti-racism trainer for the national Episcopal Church. Her current clinical work and research focuses on the impact of trauma on particular communities locally and internationally, as well as homelessness,wealth distribution and the role of faith communities in social development.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Germany, Congo, Darfur, Rwanda" -- by Dr. Josh Ruxin

April 7, 2008, was the 14th anniversary of the commencement of Rwanda’s genocide. With periodic massacres that date back to 1959, Rwanda’s genocide did not happen overnight. Its climax, however, began April 7, 1994. It was a few days later that 36-year-old Epafrodite Rugengamanzi was murdered. From what his sister, Josepha, has gathered, he was chased into the yard of the house where we now live, brutally killed, and buried. Her brother’s killer confessed to the murder during gacaca — the traditional court process for genocide suspects — and brought her to his burial spot.

The disinterment of Epafrodite RugengamanziThe disinterment of Epafrodite Rugengamanzi

Josepha came to our house Wednesday with other family members and dug up her brother’s skeleton. The orchestrated process took several hours. Once they were sure that all of his bones had been collected, they carefully cleaned them. Josepha then asked me and my family to come over and listen to their testimony (and asked us to share it with others). Josepha was smiling and told us how lucky she felt to have found her brother’s bones and to be able to re-bury them shortly at Gisozi, the national genocide museum and burial ground.

Epafrodite RugengamanziEpafrodite Rugengamanzi
Josh Ruxin with JosephaJosh Ruxin with Josepha

Epafrodite’s murder was avoidable, since the UN had the power to prevent it. Ultimately it was not an international team of peacekeepers who brought Rwanda’s genocide to a close, but rather, the Rwanda Patriotic Army, a disciplined military force drawn from Rwanda’s diaspora. After years of fighting, the Rwanda Patriotic Army on July 4, 1994, brought stability to the country. Human Rights Watch, a French judge, and a Spanish judge allege, however, that the Rwanda Patriotic Army carried out thousands of reprisal killings and crimes against humanity during and after the genocide. President Kagame publicly bristled this past week over the recent Spanish indictment.

A close look at the complexities of Rwanda’s genocide would remind China’s leader Hu Jintao, President Bush and others of the path history can take, yet does not have to. Darfur is at least beginning to take on some of the dimensions of Rwanda: a gradual genocide in a region still lacking an adequate peacekeeping force and the political commitment to bring it to an end. The carnage there continues and now a new genocide threatens in Southern Sudan. While hope has so far proven elusive for Sudan, it is even harder to imagine that its people will get themselves on Rwanda’s track to peace and prosperity anytime in the next few decades. Rwanda’s resilience and approach are exceptional.

My friend and head of Orphans of Rwanda, Jean Baptiste Ntakirutimana, wrote me the other day about his meeting last week with his mother’s killer: “I inquired first about his life in prison, his family and his state of mind. He said he was expecting that I could kill him, which he thinks was the way of doing justice for having killed my mum. He added that no one dared killing my mum; that she was brought by two militia to her home village and called for people to come and kill her. No one did so besides him who felt he had to kill her. In fact he told us that they were told that no one was allowed to loot from Tutsis before killing all their family members. Since they thought I was already killed from Kigali, where I was residing, the only hindrance to take all the family property was my mum. So she had to be killed. By the time he started explaining how he killed her I partly lost consciousness. I prayed to God to give me His spirit to revive me and give me more strength to continue, as I felt it was His mission I was on. Miraculously I felt warmth from my head to my feet, I felt like a big rock melting from my chest and my head. I felt very refreshed, cleaned up my tears and carried on the conversation tremendously relieved from my whole being. I then told him that I have personally been forgiven all my wrong from God and that it is in the same spirit that I was coming to him offering him pardon myself. Then it was like a huge veil off his face he started smiling with a lot of words of gratitude. He started holding my hands and telling me many other things I couldn’t expect about himself and the reality around the genocide. He agreed to go and see other people for whose family members he killed.”

Fourteen years later, Rwandans are still struggling to reconcile the past. The struggle, however, is proving easier against a backdrop of national stability, economic growth, and a rising national profile. Foreign investment is at a high, there are swank hotels, and tourists are coming by the thousands.

Post-genocide history is mired in enduring civil conflict and instability. Rwandans know firsthand that exports such as peace and stability are far superior to tales of disaster, massacres, and corruption. Rather than provide the object lesson of what can go wrong, Rwanda now embodies quite a different ideal. The nation was one of the first to send peacekeepers to Darfur and today has one of the largest contingents on the ground. Nothing points more clearly to Rwanda’s recovery and resolve.

Josh Ruxin is a Columbia University expert on public health who has spent the last couple of years living in Rwanda, where he administers the Millennium Villages Project in Mayange. He’s an unusual mix of academic expert and mud-between-the-toes aid worker. His regular posts (including this one) can be found on the blogroll of Nick Kristof of the New York Times, and he has given his permission to be cross-posted here. Josh and EGR executive director Mike Kinman team-teach a global poverty module for Trinity, Wall Street's Clergy Leadership Project.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

"Hunger, Poverty and Economic Change" -- by John Hammock with the Rev. Gary Cartwright

Hunger riots, the cost of food soaring, soup kitchen lines getting longer--even in the United States. What is one to do? As Christians we know that if someone is hungry we need to give her food. We know that Jesus himself calls us to feed the hungry—as if we were feeding Jesus himself. But we also know that pure charity is not enough. People do not want to be dependent on charity over time. They want to be free to grow their own food, to start their own businesses—to have the opportunities to make it on their own with their families and communities. As Christians we give food gladly but we also must help people and communities as they move beyond charity. We can invest in micro credit and agricultural development programs; we can contribute to programs that fall within the goals of the Millennium Development Goals—from safe water to children’s education, from maternal health to community and environmental sustainable development in which local people own the process of local change.

I remember speaking to Fatima in Ethiopia. She had lost two of her small children to famine. Food had saved her other two young ones. When I spoke to her, she was clear that she did not want to be dependent on food aid. She wanted to move back to her own land again—to get on with her own life and make it in her own community. We need to be ready to help in a timely way in both these stages of her journey.

These two pillars are crucial—feeding people in need and assisting in the process of change leading to sustained development. But they are not enough. To solve the perennial problem of hunger, it is important to step back and look at the broader picture of poverty and economics.

Very simply, our current economic system is based on the assumption that if the national economy grows then the economy is doing well. Clearly the growth-based strategy makes some very wealthy; it unleashes invention and entrepreneurship. But the benefits do not trickle down to the majority of the poor. This growth-based strategy also produces more inequality and poverty over time. The very economic system that focuses on growth often exacerbates or leads to increased hunger. Unless we do something about our economic fixation on growth and income, we will not deal with hunger or with poverty. What can we do?

We must educate ourselves as to a new economics that accepts growth but moves beyond it to include what people value and have reason to value. Perhaps this is illustrated by the following equation: Freedom = growth +.

What does this mean?

Economics is not just about income and growth; it is about the freedom of each individual to do what he values or has reason to value. We all know that we value more than money. It means putting value on education, health, personal security, dignity and more. The wellbeing of its citizens becomes essential. It means putting a value on individual freedom. It means investing in the development and then promotion of a new approach to economics. This in turn means having a solid theoretical framework and good evidence based research to sustain such an approach.

This is not an argument against growth. Rather it is a plea in favor of broadening the dimensions that are essential to economics and development. It means that growth becomes a means to a goal, not an end in itself. It means that education, nutrition, health, empowerment, personal safety, employment and potentially other dimensions are given value and fall within the models and frameworks of national economics.

For example, if poverty is defined not just by income but rather includes some range of the types of things that people value given above, then our programs to deal with hunger and poverty will be shaped by this way of thinking rather than from the perspective of pure growth.

Governments and corporations can and must play a crucial role in putting people’s well being, not growth, at the top of their priorities. But we cannot leave this only to governments and corporations. Individuals have a crucial role. [See What One Person Can Do by Sabina Alkire and Edward Newell] And the church can mobilize people for this role. The Rev. Gary Cartwright, deacon in the Diocese of Southwest Florida, stated it this way:

Can we start a conversation that would grow and include others that is solution-orientated (not just hand-wringing)?…The intent would be to find solutions that would engage many others at the grass-roots level that could eventually change the political will of US and foreign world leaders.
Gary says (and I agree) that one place where that conversation could start is here at EGR. The earliest of Christians certainly focused on the role of economics. Gary writes:
When we look at the original group of Christians (as told in the Acts of the Apostles) it was a society where every new person joining turned over all their goods to the apostles who then distributed them according to the needs of the community. We don’t know what happened to that economic system, but it seems to have died pretty soon after. So, in my mind there is a direct connection between living as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and the participation in a fair and just economic system.
Gary ends by saying that he is not proposing the early apostles' economic system. Rather,
We do need a new economic system that is more than profit/bottom line oriented, and includes personal dignity, health, education, personal security and the like.. However, it needs to encourage personal initiative, a community understanding of our inter-connectedness, without establishing a world-wide government that imposes on personal liberties.
To deal with the current hunger crisis, charity and development aid are important. But equally relevant is rethinking our economics so that people’s wellbeing is at its center. Christians need to be involved at all three levels. Gary calls us to start a solution-based conversation on the need for a new economic system. It is a role for EGR.

For more information on this type of economic thinking please see
www.ophi.org.uk and www.hd-ca.org

Dr. John Hammock is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy & The Fletcher School, Tufts University. He is currently on leave until September, 2008 and working Sabina Alkire as a senior research associate at the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, John was Executive Director at Oxfam America from 1984-1995 and Executive Director at ACCION International from 1973-1980. He is the EGR board president.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Must-hear radio from APR's Marketplace

Two stories on Thursday night's American Public Radio's Marketplace worth listening to.

First, "What Will Americans Do With Their Rebates?" takes a look at alternative uses for the "economic stimulus checks" going out this week -- including EGR's Give It 4 Good!

Next there's "Corporate Giants Get Fat on Food Crisis" -- looking at profitable side of the global food crisis, and the big agribusiness firms that are breaking earnings records as everything from grains to soybeans skyrockets.

Friday, May 9, 2008

"UnChristian?" -- by Lallie Lloyd

I recently read David Kinnaman’s new book, UnChristian, which is a great gift to the church, though not a comfortable read. I’ve been thinking about how to apply his research findings to our work for the MDGs and have come up with these notes. I hope they’re helpful to you.

Kinnaman is a researcher for The Barna Group and spent years doing rigorous research into how young adults, ages 16 – 29, perceive Christianity. He includes reflections on his own life and faith journey and tells powerful stories about people he knows. He writes with an engaging humility and self-awareness that challenges us to drop our defenses, and he balances his message with a passionate invitation to Christians to take responsibility for how we are perceived.

But it’s not a pretty picture.

Kinnaman’s findings are summarized in his title, Christians are unChristian. We are hypocritical (say one thing and live something else entirely), focused on saving others (insincere and concerned only with converting), too political (identified with extreme conservative politics), anti-homosexual (show contempt for gays and lesbians), sheltered (boring, unintelligent old-fashioned and out of touch with reality) and judgmental (prideful and quick to find fault with others). Ouch.

Turns out young adults don’t avoid church because of Jesus. Many of them don’t know much about him, but they like what they do know. They avoid church because they don’t like Christians.

Here are two implications of his research for our MDG ministries:

First, we can tell the people we know –outside the church, and inside, about the work we do to end extreme poverty, and why we do it. “Our relationships, our interactions with people, comprise the picture of Jesus that people retain,” Kinnaman writes.

Our culture is hungry for a church that leads the country to repentance for consumerism, greed, destruction of the environment and arrogant dismissal of the basic human dignity and survival needs of the worlds’ poor. In other words a church that lifts up the MDGs. A church that is on the forefront of this movement will be more recognizable as the living body of Christ. This isn’t about spinning the Christian message; it’s about living it.

Second, most young Americans don’t give the Bible moral weight and don’t know its stories and images, so we need to use language that is fresh, accurate and meaningful when we describe why the MDGs are important to us. Kinnaman urges us to be creative, be “engaged, winsome and intentional.”

Fresh talk comes from our hearts and personal experiences; it may not be the way we are accustomed to talking in church, but if we want to be understood outside church, and if we want to invite our lay and ordained leaders to work for the MDGS, then we each need to develop our parables, stories and metaphors. I’m a vision-driven person and believe a world in which the MDGs have been met is an inherently attractive vision. But I need to tell my personal story. It may take time, reflection and practice to get your story clear in your own mind, but when you do, it will be easier for people to hear you, you’ll be more relaxed, and your ‘talks’ will feel more like conversations -- they’ll refresh you instead of draining you.

Get the book and see what you think.

Lallie Lloyd is the author of "Eradicating Global Poverty: A Christian Study Guide on the MDGs" for the National Council of Churches and co-chair of Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

"The Poverty of Dreams" -- by Stephanie Rhodes

I'm such a dreamer… it's not just an occasional segue – it's a core element of my personality. The truth is that I can't imagine life without dreams. Not just general dreams either, or practical 5-year plans. No, I dream big, but with lots of colorful details. Keeps things exciting and enticing. It also generally keeps them thoroughly impractical, yet familiar and deeply loved.

But at the end of the day, it's an escape born out of possibility. The reality of being an only child in a middle/upper middle class household is that you have a distinct sense of potential. You believe that there's a great big future out there, whenever you feel like catching up to it. It's natural, when all of the basic dreams like, for example, going to college are already assumed. You may not be able to afford the school of your dreams without some scholarship help, but you're sure as hell going somewhere. And, of course, the grades and activities that tend to earn scholarship money are easier to come by when being a good little student is the only real obligation you have.

It was always easy to assume big, exciting possibilities. And, despite the disappointments and setbacks that inevitably accompany growing up, it still is. After all, I manage to spend most of the year in the Holy Land doing work that I find rewarding in a place that I love, even when I sometimes hate it. I took risks, but I've also been incredibly lucky. More than that, I always knew that there were people who could offer fallback support if I really needed it. That is not an insignificant crutch.

So the thing that I find the most painful and sad about life for Palestinian children is the absence of dreams. I mean, I'm sure they still have them, but I wonder for how long? When you've come of age amidst a conflict that includes hundreds of children in its carnage, even the basic notion of life can be a huge assumption. And, assuming that your parents have the money to help you go abroad (also, by the way, a huge assumption), the requisite visa is by no means guaranteed.

Growing up near the Gulf Coast, beach trips were a frequent characteristic of family vacations and, later, spring breaks with friends. There was always something magical about the ocean…deep and powerful in ways that I couldn't completely imagine…the next wave bearing connections I couldn't predict but knew that I wanted to be a part of. It is the quintessential dreamscape for me.

Most children in the West Bank have never seen the sea.

Perhaps growing up with martyrs rather than maritime romance has made their dreams very practical. Most of the teenagers I meet long to go to college abroad. But of course their schools lack the study abroad connections that characterize the American college experience.

Dreams, like any other living organism, need food. Without it, they cannot survive. Likewise, I'm not convinced that people, and certainly not a culture, can survive without dreams.

Or, as Langston Hughes phrased it,

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
and then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?
Stephanie Rhodes lives in Jerusalem where she coordinates Palestinian media development projects. She is a former member of Episcopal Church Committee on the Status of Women.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"My War" -- by Craig Cole

Memorial Day is approaching and I am starting to feel guilty. Well, my emotions are more complex than just mere guilt. I feel the sadness and loss of a missed opportunity to serve my country in the military. During the first Gulf War, many of my high school friends were part of Desert Storm. As an editorial assistant for a Chicago area newspaper at the time, I collected and published stories and photographs from families of those serving “over there”. One of them was killed. I sat behind a desk.

I am now over 40 and I am too old to join this fight, but I still feel a pull to go because despite the cliché, there is no shame in the sacrifice of serving our country. I should be there in Afghanistan or Iraq.

There is a desperate desire for shared sacrifice at the very soul of our country. Yet as individuals we have not been given a concrete opportunity to do so by our government and thus we are disengaged from a struggle that has historic implications for the future of our country and for the world.

To quell my guilt and disengagement, I sometimes refer to the work of poverty alleviation as “My War.” I have seen children die of malaria, mothers who die at childbirth and the awful stench of life in a slum. Poverty ravages and kills innocent children each day and creates such despair that those who survive choose terrorism and suicide bombings as their one path to riches.

What’s more patriotic, and in the best interests of the United States, than stabilizing societies and countries through economic development? A secure household with parents who have jobs even in a slum like Kibera in Kenya or in Lahore, Pakistan can translate into security here at home.

My heroes are not only those who serve in the armed forces, but those in the relief and development agencies and churches at the frontlines who help rebuild and love their neighbor in the pits of hell. My friend Brian is finishing a tour with USAID in Iraq while his wife and three children wait for his return. And, I think of Anna, who about a month ago died in Afghanistan while working with a non-governmental organization. Although her death was an accident and not related to the conflict, she still leaves six siblings and two parents grieving the loss of a young, vibrant life. This too is her Memorial Day.

There are many opportunities at home and abroad to transform lives and assist those who live on the very margins of society. We must act now not just militarily, not just diplomatically but at the very grassroots achieving what is unthinkable but is more urgent than ever – creating employment, stabilizing communities and ending radical poverty before the next car bomb goes off somewhere _ maybe even here in the United States.

As Christians, it is imperative that we engage in this world, not just by voting on the best American Idol, but through service and sacrifice. There is a war out there on poverty and misery that we can all agree needs to be fought. Let’s not miss this opportunity. We may regret it later in life.

Craig Cole is the executive director of Five Talents International, an Anglican microfinance nonprofit. He is also a member of the Diocese of Virginia's Mission Commission and an EGR board member.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Much Work Left To Do In Sudan" -- by Reynolds Whalen

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of spending time with Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak of Sudan. As he spoke to the Companion Diocese Committee of Missouri, he stressed the need to think on a large scale when approaching issues of development and reconciliation. He stressed the importance of the United States facilitating the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the North and South in Sudan three years ago, and used that as an example of how American citizens can have a profound global effect. He urged us to use our political agency as citizens of one of the most powerful nations in the world to help ensure peace in Sudan.

Over the past five years, there has been considerable media attention to the atrocities in Darfur. The conflict has left several hundred thousand people dead and several million displaced from their homes. Personal stories from people living in the area and the labeling of the situation as “genocide” have mobilized a significant activist movement around the world. However, recently, the Sudanese government has used this attention to further exploit the failing peace agreement in the South. Many provisions are not being met and returning refugees are finding their villages in shambles, no sign of the reconstruction promised by the government in the CPA.

When I was in Southern Sudan in 2005, shortly after the signing of the CPA, I conducted several interviews about the political situation and the relationship between conflicts in Sudan. Here were some reactions:

We know [Darfur] is affecting us here because now peace was signed, but now peace is not working. We know this is the problem on the Darfur: if there is no war in Darfur, maybe there is change in this peace, but now peace is not changing. We know that is the war in Darfur.

You see, if we still hear about war in Sudan, it is like still we are not free, we are still under war because the Darfur people are our people, you see? They are still in Sudan. So we don’t want to even hear a war in Sudan […] we are Sudanese and if the peace was there, you see for all the Sudanese, not only the one side, you see, still if you hear your brother is groaning because of something, you still feel pain, you see. So, in fact, it affects us badly...we are thinking we are still in war.

[Darfur] will affect the peace because it is the same Sudan government involved in that war and it is the same Sudan government we signed peace with from the Southern Sudan. So even though those of Darfur are far from here, we are still sympathizing with their situation because we have gone under the same situation and we know exactly how they are feeling.
Three years later, these issues continue to plague the country and all of the conflicts continue to be related. As those interviewed explained, the country needs to be addressed as a whole.

Recently, some positive steps have been taken in the direction of addressing issues of conflict in Sudan from a multi-faceted approach. The United States Congress passed House Resolution 1011, which calls on Chad, Sudan, and the Central African Republic to work together for stability throughout the entire region.

However, there is much to be done. This upcoming week will be crucial for our government as we decide on a Supplemental funding bill for Sudan in the FY2008 budget. As Christians living out our baptismal covenant, concerned for all of humanity, this is an issue on which we should speak loudly. How can we even begin to discuss the Millennium Development Goals in regions where constant armed conflict threatens all forms of infrastructure and livelihood?

Your members of Congress will listen. I have called Representatives and visited Senators’ offices many times, and am often contacted later and told that the information I offered became a great factor in decisions to sign or co-sponsor important bills. Do not let the size of our democratic system be daunting and stop you from letting your voice be heard. Educate yourself and use that education to think big and spread your knowledge to the places where it will have the most impact.

Reynolds Whalen is a graduating senior (ONE MORE WEEK!) at Washington University in St. Louis, has traveled extensively in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. He spent fall semester 2006 in Kenya working with AIDS orphans -- read his blog on it here and has produced a documentary film on that experience.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Love the whole world, one person at a time" -- by the Rev. Becca Stevens.

I have been thinking about what it means to love the world. A group of seven women from the Magdalene Community just returned home safe and sound from Rwanda. It was amazing, and we thankful to be with our families again. The women we met fell in love with the message and community of Magdalene. We read letters the women from Nashville sent and in response, the women who are part of the sisters of Rwanda started sharing their experiences of surviving incest, violence, addiction and prostitution. Their staff said that they had never heard the women talk so openly. In gratitude and solidarity with the women of Magdalene, the sisters of Rwanda wrote letters and sent video messages to us. The stories are hauntingly similar.

Rwanda is full of people walking around with ghosts, while new life is strapped to the backs of women. Hearty crops are blooming next to people so poor they can't feed their children. It was so much to take in sometimes my legs would shake or my head would throb. Our small group carried you all with us the whole time. It was the right trip and we all think there are many more villages of women who want us to be with them. We found the cousins to the thistles. One of the many lessons I learned in Rwanda was that rape and love are universal actions. Neither get lost in translation and our job is to love the whole world, one person at a time.

Seeing women in traditional African dress with goggles and rubber gloves preparing to make soap is awesome. They were so excited when we started the second morning, they had already started cleaning the equipment. We went to villages where women waited all day to see us. They were stunning, poised, and almost whispered what they needed to tell us about their lives and their need for hope and money to keep going. We went to the market and purchased shovels, seeds, and sewing machines in response to some of their requests. Sometimes its just a fishing pole people need. They already know how to fish. The faith we saw was inspiring and a little intimidating. The singing and dancing were beautiful. The landscape is hilly with mists that come in like sweet blankets. It is strange to think of a million people dying on that land. It is hard to love the world, but if we can't, nothing else means anything to me.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

"Making a Killing From the Food Crisis" -- by GRAIN

The Rev. Martha Korienek, EGR diocesan contact from Los Angeles, forwards this report from GRAIN: an international non-governmental organisation which promotes the sustainable management and use of agricultural biodiversity based on people's control over genetic resources and local knowledge.


The world food crisis is hurting a lot of people, but global agribusiness firms, traders and speculators are raking in huge profits.

Much of the news coverage of the world food crisis has focussed on riots in low-income countries, where workers and others cannot cope with skyrocketing costs of staple foods. But there is another side to the story: the big profits that are being made by huge food corporations and investors. Cargill, the world’s biggest grain trader, achieved an 86% increase in profits from commodity trading in the first quarter of this year. Bunge, another huge food trader, had a 77% increase in profits during the last quarter of last year. ADM, the second largest grain trader in the world, registered a 67% per cent increase in profits in 2007.

Nor are retail giants taking the strain: profits at Tesco, the UK supermarket giant, rose by a record 11.8% last year. Other major retailers, such as France’s Carrefour and Wal-Mart of the US, say that food sales are the main sector sustaining their profit increases. Investment funds, running away from sliding stock markets and the credit crunch, are having a heyday on the commodity markets, driving prices out of reach for food importers like Bangladesh and the Philippines.

These profits are no freak windfalls. Over the last 30 years, the IMF and the World Bank have pushed so-called developing countries to dismantle all forms of protection for their local farmers and to open up their markets to global agribusiness, speculators and subsidised food from rich countries. This has transformed most developing countries from being exporters of food into importers. Today about 70 per cent of developing countries are net importers of food. On top of this, finance liberalisation has made it easier for investors to take control of markets for their own private benefit.

Agricultural policy has lost touch with its most basic goal: that of feeding people. Rather than rethink their own disastrous policies, governments and think tanks are blaming production problems, the growing demand for food in China and India, and biofuels. While these have played a role, the fundamental cause of today's food crisis is neoliberal globalisation itself, which has transformed food from a source of livelihood security into a mere commodity to be gambled away, even at the cost of widespread hunger among the world’s poorest people.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

"Sent Side-by-Side Into the World" -- by the Rev. Jay Lawlor

In recent weeks, I have been thinking a lot about how the work of ending extreme poverty is such an important aspect of my ministry as a baptized person and as an ordained priest. I have been especially reflecting on the ever-expanding network of amazing people that I am blessed to be working with in pursuit of this common mission.

In my reflections I have been drawn to Mark’s Gospel on Jesus’ sending out of the twelve. This short passage from the gospel according to Mark is packed with insight about Jesus' teachings on discipleship -- what it was like for the apostles and the Church's mission and ministry for the 21st century. Jesus sends the twelve apostles out two by two and provides them with detailed instructions:

He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money for their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place does not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them" (Mark 6:8-11).
First, let us examine the significance of Jesus' instructions for the twelve apostles. Traveling in twos was common in antiquity for practical purposes. It was dangerous to travel alone due to some treacherous terrain and the threat of robbers/bandits along many of the roads. It provides a clear message that ministry should not be done alone -- even if it is to protect one another from the dangers the world may present.

Jesus first instructs the apostles that are to take nothing but a staff. This, presumably, was a staff for travelers to help traverse the countryside and fend off wild animals. But this is rich in important symbolism. Recall Psalm 23 and the beloved imagery of God's rod and staff, they comfort me. Or Jesus as the Good Shepherd caring for his flock. The staff being a longer rod that a shepherd can lean on for support and use to guide the flock is the imagery, I believe, that Jesus wants to leave with his apostles and us. Jesus is granting the disciples an extension of his authority to act on his behalf in the world. They are to become the shepherds of Christ's flock.

Through our mission we are called to continue Jesus' work here on earth. The Church today shares in the authority and mission as given to us just as assuredly it was given to the twelve apostles. The questions we need to ask ourselves are: What do we do with this in the face of extreme poverty, violence, and environmental destruction? How is Jesus sending us out into the world to preach and to heal a gospel of compassion, justice, and reconciliation?

What first need to remember is that ministry cannot be done alone. We must walk side by side with one another and always be calling upon the Holy Spirit to move in us and through us. Second, I believe that Jesus' message is for us to carry our staffs to draw people together in caring and compassion. Thirdly, we need not worry about bread, or bags for money, or an extra tunic, as ministry is not about our own profit or gain. Jesus is calling us to be his disciples as an extension of his ministry.

Most importantly, nothing that we do in ministry is of our own authority. Our ministry as Christians is an extension of Jesus' authority and ministry that he has invited us to share in. We are ALWAYS dependent upon Jesus Christ as the source of our authority in ministry. Let us see the world through Jesus’ eyes and may we answer Jesus' call to go forth into the world as his disciples, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to be powerful catalysts that build a stronger church and a better world.