Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"The Daunting Task of Being One" -- by Rachel Swan

On Thursday, Sept. 25, more than 300 bloggers around the world participated in World MDG Blogging Day -- spreading the word about God's mission of global reconciliation and the Millennium Development Goals. Over the coming weeks, some of our daily entries on the EGR blog will include some of those entries. Like this one!

Have you heard of the ONE campaign? Most likely, yes. Not just because Mr. Hotpants is a major spokesperson, but because you may have seen people wearing the white wristbands or you have seen the YouTube videos? Maybe you have been to an event, a rally, raised your voice to your congressperson or senator. Maybe you saw that someone signed up for the ONE group on their facebook or myspace causes? Maybe you are a huge U2 fan, and follow the work of Bono, ultra hip and cool rockstar/humanitarian.

In the Episcopal Church, we have an group kind of similar called E4GR. E4GR (Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation) is an Episcopal grassroots movement of connection and collaboration to seek and serve Christ in the extreme poor around the world. It is this group that has had me put a badge on my blog, and invited me to lend my voice to the other almost 2,000 other bloggers who have committed to writing, praying and fasting last Thursday, Sept. 25, the day that the UN Secretary-General and the President of the UN General Assembly are convening a High-level Event on the Millennium Development Goals at UN Headquarters in New York. So what is all this hoopla about?

The MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). What are the MDGs you ask? Google it, I dare you. You will come up with about a gah-gillion hits (ok... about 4,010,000 for MDG in 0.21 seconds) , with literally hundreds and hundreds of organizations, governments, and everyday people talking about the MDGs. People like Ellen, Bill Gates, Angelina Jolie and Ryan Hanson (aka Mr. Joe Average American) are all spreading the word. So I too, am lending my voice.

The Millennium Development Goals are a concise set of goals, numerical targets and quantifiable indicators to assess progress in development. The set includes 8 goals, 18 targets and over 40 indicators. All United Nations Member States have pledged to meet the following goals by the year 2015.

They are:

But *ugh*. Really, what can I do, just me, little ol' me?

WARNING: HONEST Reality check. My heart screams "YES! Right on! I am so in!" and the rest of me is an apathetic piece of s#@*%$@! who can hardly bring herself to vote in the primary, is scared to call her congressperson or senator because she has never done it before, and really, just wants to write her check, and be done. I WANT more for myself, I want to be more, do more, but the reality is most days I am as selfish and lame as the next person when it comes to my social activism. I hate this truth about me, and I am ashamed, but feel like maybe there are some of you who feel like I do. I am no Angelina Jolie I say to myself. What can I do?

I can pray.

God, are you sick of me yet? Forgive me and my apathy, and create in me a clean heart and a right spirit to be ONE, in the way you have made me to be. Jesus, table flipper-redeemer-grace beyond grace giver-transformer, show me, teach me, rattle me with the stories of who and whos I am. Holy Spirit, nudger-havok reeker-heart restarter, breathe life into my apathethic bones, and the bones of my neighbors, government, leaders. Help me believe that You are in fact at work in this crazy, messed up island home we call earth. Help me to discern what I can do.

(and the E4GR Prayer)

Most loving God,
as your desire for mercy for the poor is unrelenting,
may we be unrelenting in our pursuit of mercy for all;
as your compassion for the suffering of the poor knows no limit,
may our hearts overflow with compassion for all;
as you long for justice for the poor, may we strive for justice for all.
Open our eyes to the structures of oppression from which we benefit,
and give us courage to accept our responsibility,
wisdom to chart a sound course amid complexity,
and perseverance to continue our work until it is finished.
Breathe your life-giving Spirit afresh into your Church
to free us from apathy and indifference;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.


Rachel Swan is a self-described Episco-Lutheran? Luther-palian? young adult who works for the Minneapolis-area synod of the ELCA and who dreams of owning her own dive bar. You can read her regular musings at swandive.typepad.com

Monday, September 29, 2008

"Mothers Union Pharmacy Project" -- by Dr. Christiana Russ

I am just returning from 3 weeks in Kenya and a week in South Africa. In Kenya I was working with the diocese of Maseno North Mother’s Union on a de-worming project that we started just under a year ago. It was an extraordinary experience and we gave medicine to treat intestinal worm infections in approximately 2500 children at about 10 parishes while I was there. The women were planning to reach another 5 parishes after I left. Seeing so many children, most of whom are either orphaned by AIDS or otherwise vulnerable, is overwhelming. When they sing to you in welcome, it’s indescribable, particularly when you and they know that you came to give them 5 unfortunate tasting tablets to chew and swallow.

At several of the parishes there was a child brought forward with obvious longstanding illness. One boy had a bad infection in his lower leg, which upon taking him to the hospital was found to involve a fractured bone as well. Another girl had terrible looking eyes – bright red with ulcers visible on her cornea. Severe vitamin A deficiency can do that, but so can other things.

Neither of these situations is unusual. Visits to these rural parishes, especially the more remote ones, usually turns up one or two children who are in serious need of medical attention, and whose illnesses are so progressed that they’ve clearly been worsening over a period of weeks to months. The overall infant and child mortality is very high in this region of Kenya, an indication that a lot of children get quite ill and don’t receive medical care. It is common however for families to purchase over the counter medications to try to treat illnesses themselves. So I was especially interested when I heard about a new possible venture for the Mother’s Union to address this problem.

Several of the women have received some training as community health workers and others are interested in it. A public health professor visited Maseno recently and had the following idea: give a few women in each parish start-up money for a pharmacy which they can run in their rural area with medication obtained from the hospital. Medications such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, anti-malarials and basic antibiotics are available in pharmacies around Kenya, but studies have shown up to half of them or more don’t actually contain adequate active ingredient. Medications at Maseno hospital are purchased from a company that checks the meds, so they are known to be good. While selling medications to treat simple and common complaints, these women can also be trained to pick out danger signs or indicators that someone needs to be referred to hospital. They could screen for malnutrition and refer kids to the hospital if necessary or potentially to a feeding program. With some training they could function quite well as community health workers while simultaneously making a bit of money.

I was so excited about this idea that I am using money donated from St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in Chatham, MA to start a pilot project in two of the parishes. If it goes well we can fund-raise to expand it. If we can find a way to pick out children (and adults) who need true medical attention earlier in their disease process, we will be able to alleviate a lot of suffering.

To find out how you and your church can support the Mothers Union Pharmacy Project, contact Christiana 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.

"Poverty Through Christ's Eyes" -- a sermon by Reynolds Whalen

We live in a world where a child under the age of five dies every three seconds due to a preventable illness, where 500,000 women still die every year due to complications with pregnancy and childbirth, and where 100 million children do not have the opportunity to attend school and read the books that tell them one billion people in our world live on less than a dollar a day. Just to give some of those numbers a bit of context, nearly 10 children have died of a preventable disease since we sat down.

Now, many of you may be sitting there and wondering why I would start a sermon with statistics that seem so depressing and disarming. But I think as people of faith, and especially as Christians, we shouldn’t see them that way at all. Because you see, our gospel is not one of despair. Ours is an invigorating gospel, a gospel of determination and hope…an empowering gospel…a gospel of action.

In fact, Jesus was a living example of all of these things. More than anything, the life of Jesus was about opportunity and transformation.

Jesus simply saw things differently than anyone else. Instead of focusing on the burden of hunger, Jesus saw the opportunity to feed 5,000 people with just a few fish and loaves of bread. Instead of seeing a criminal hanging on the cross next to him, Jesus saw a repentant man and the newest member of the Kingdom of Heaven. When Jesus saw prostitutes, tax collectors, and those we would consider vagabonds, he saw his dinner guests for that evening’s meal. Even in his very last days on Earth, when he knew he was going to die, Jesus did not focus on that fact in isolation (which is astounding when you really think about it. I mean, your own death is a pretty big deal). Rather, he took the opportunity to show us how something as simple as bread and wine could represent something as profound as his own body and his own blood. He surprised the disciples by grabbing the food items and saying “see this bread? This is not just bread. This is my body. See this wine? This is not just wine. This is my blood. I am here to tell you that just as I am taking these seemingly ordinary things and making them extraordinary, so will you take your seemingly ordinary lives and make them extraordinary.” Instead of seeing a broken and lost world, Jesus saw one of renewal and hope.

At the end of a semester abroad in Kenya my junior year of college, everyone on the program did a four-week independent study with an agency or organization of their choice. Some people worked in health clinics in Uganda, others worked in law offices in downtown Nairobi, and some spent time in national parks looking at wildlife and issues of conservation. As a double major in African Studies and Drama, I was ecstatic to find an organization in the slums of Nairobi called “Haba na Haba” that uses performing arts for education on important issues in the area, such as HIV/AIDS, prostitution, drug abuse, and violence. During the semester leading up to my time with the group, and during a research project I was conducting on the area, I read dozens of newspaper articles about Mathare, the primary slum where I would be working. Every single story, without exception was bad. I read about gang violence, police brutality, or a fire that consumed 15 houses in under an hour. So naturally, when I arrived in the area, the first things I saw were the horrific conditions of sanitation and health, and the vastly different ways of living.

This probably doesn’t surprise anyone. My experience was typical of most of us living in a Western world where the media is accustomed to portraying Africa a certain way. In fact, I would be willing to guess that the first things that pop into your mind when I mention Africa are negative: hunger, violence, political corruption, etc. These are the things which the media chooses to highlight. And in a certain way, I can hardly blame them. There is a tendency when visiting a foreign place to capture that which is different. When we approach a situation that seems depressing or unjust, we think “wow, I need to take a picture or video of this horrible thing so I can show people back home and they will hopefully help me fix it.” In many ways, this can be positive and inspire people to give money to various causes. But in a more subtle way, this particular approach is dehumanizing and portrays the people involved as more foreign and less like ourselves. By emphasizing the “other,” we make it easy to accept the conditions we are seeing and begin to internalize an assumption that this should somehow be expected, even if we feel compelled to help change it.

Well, it didn’t take me long working with Haba na Haba to realize that, apart from the conditions in which they live, these people were no different than myself. I talked with many people who had similar hopes and aspirations, and who approached each day with goals and a desire to do the best they could with what they were given. I had always understood this concept intellectually, but actually living it had a significant impact on me. And I believe my surprise grew out of the oddly slanted exposure we have to Africa, one that highlights the problems at the expense of people’s humanity.

But you see, I think this humanity is the first thing Jesus would see. I think Jesus would look at Mathare and see the small business owner who only sleeps a few hours a night to protect his goods and ensure the stability he needs to pay for his child’s college education. He would see the young soccer player who was persistent enough to earn a spot on the Kenya National Team and play in the World Cup. Or my friend Fupi who receives a transportation stipend for participating in Haba na Haba, but walks several miles a day and saves the transportation money to pay his rent. Or especially my friend Allan who is a prolific musician and lost his left arm in a bus accident, but instead of letting it hinder his participation, started a brass class for over a dozen teenagers…he still has his right arm for playing his trumpet. These are the things Jesus would see.

In the Galatians reading today, Paul proclaims that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, man or woman…black or white, African or American, rich or poor. As Christians and followers of Jesus, we should strive for equality between all people by seeing their humanity first. Then, we can turn our eyes to the towering trash heaps in Mathare. We can see our brothers and sisters defecating into bags and throwing them as far as possible because there is no existing system of sanitation. And that will make us ask “what can we do? What must we do?”

At the turn of the millennium, international development economists from all over the world came together to discuss that very question. At the end of months and months of research and painstaking analysis, they determined that for the first time in human history, we have the ability to eradicate extreme global poverty if the “rich” nations of the world would contribute 0.7% of their incomes to the cause. Eight specific goals with targets and means for evaluating progress were established, and over 190 member states of the United Nations signed a declaration pledging to do their part in achieving these “Millennium Development Goals” or “MDGs.”

Since that time, our very own church has taken this project and made it an issue of faith. The national church pledges 0.7% of its income to the MDGs and encourages individual congregations to the same. We have an organization called “Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation” that exists for the primary purpose of equipping churches and individuals with the tools they need to address these issues. We have “Episcopal Relief and Development” which provides disaster relief and manages development programs all over the world. Most recently, a non-profit called “Millennium Congregation” has been started by Episcopalians to encourage inter-faith support of incredible development work in East Africa. And finally, the Lambeth Conference a few months ago released a statement urging the entire Anglican Communion to make this Thursday, September 25th, a day of fasting and prayer as a special session occurs in the United Nations to discuss the progress made on the MDGs and the best way with which to move forward.

As the Millennium Declaration suggests, we have the extraordinary means for the first time in history to eradicate extreme global poverty. No longer do we have an excuse for inaction. But instead of seeing this as a burden, which seems to be the approach of much of the world, we as Christians should see it as an incredible opportunity…an opportunity to put the Gospel into action and carry out the work Jesus called us to through his very own life. Amen.

Reynolds Whalen is a 2008 graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and 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 made a documentary film on that experience. He is currently raising funds to spend 2008-9 working in Rwanda for Millennium Congregation helping people in the villages of Rwanda tell their stories. You can give toward Reynolds work in Rwanda with Millennium Congregation here (be sure and put Millennium Congregation - Reynolds Whalen in the designation field)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

"For World MDG Blogging Day: A Bailout We Can Believe In" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

In moments of crisis ... real or perceived ... the United States has shown that money is no object.

Often those moments have been crises of security. When we went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we were told that critical security concerns superceded the financial burden that would follow. Now this week, a $700 billion Wall Street bailout is on the table ... and, once again, we are told that the crisis supercedes the financial burden that will follow.

More than a billion people live on less than $1 a day.

Nearly 30,000 children die a day of preventable, treatable causes due to extreme poverty.

More than 100 million school-aged children aren't in school.

Women around the world are disproportionately excluded from educational and economic opportunities.

If this isn't a crisis, I'm not sure what a crisis is. And we have made it clear that in a crisis -- and this one is real -- money is no object.

Today, while our leaders on Capitol Hill and in the White House are debating a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street, in New York City, world leaders are meeting to take stock of how we are doing on meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Here's a hint -- not so well.

On nearly every goal, we're behind where we need to be to reach them by the 2015 target date. It's not because the technology isn't there. It's because we lack the political will to do here what we have been willing to do elsewhere -- put our resources where the crisis is.

When the MDGs were agreed to by every UN member nation eight years ago, the World Bank estimated it would cost $40 billion - $60 billion a year to make them happen. That's a total price tag for the 15 years of $600 billion - $900 billion.

So as EGR's contribution to World MDG Blogging Day, we offer a simple proposal. If there's going to be a bailout, let's give the money to the people who really need it the most. The ones who are literally dying waiting for our help.

Let's keep our promise to make the Millennium Development Goals a reality. While we're ready to write nearly a trillion dollar check to Wall Street, let's shave $60 billion a year off the top and give a bailout to those who really need it.

Let's bail out the extreme poor.

This is a serious proposal. Until we realize that global extreme poverty is a crisis that dwarfs all others by comparison, we will never take the action necessary to heal a broken world.

This is a moral imperative that has gone unheeded too long.

We're not saying ignore the financial crisis on Wall Street ... we're saying if money is available for them, then it's available for people who need it even more.

The Rev. Mike Kinman is the executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

"If only that were true..." -- by the Rev. Lauren Stanley

By Lauren R. Stanley
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

RENK, Sudan – So what would you do if someone told you that something you believed to be a true and accurate fact, something you held near and dear to your heart, wasn’t true?

Would you believe this new version of truth? Or would you fight it and be upset?

Nearly every day as a lecturer at the Renk Theological College in Sudan, I have to deal with the varied reactions of my students to “new” truths.

The first time I told the students, most of whom are already ordained as priests and deacons of the Episcopal Church of Sudan, that Matthew’s Gospel was not the first one written, that Paul’s Letter to the Romans was not his first letter, that scholars don’t know for sure who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, that Moses did not write the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, and that David is not the author of all the psalms was an eye-opener for both the students and myself.

The students sat there in disbelief. No one had told them anything about how the Bible was put together, just that this was the Bible, the holy word of God. No one had explained that numerous authors were involved in writing the Scriptures, and that there were many things we did not know about authorship or the timing of the writings.

Me? As a lecturer in a theological college, I was stunned to find out that the students had no background in biblical studies. Most of the students were already ordained; most had been preaching to and teaching their congregations for years. How could they not know?

And then I realized that in Sudan, which has been torn apart by war for decades, education was a rare and precious commodity, and that these men and women had not been able to go to school. They were ordained because they knew the story, the Good News of God in Christ Jesus, and they could tell that story, sometimes very well indeed.

Finding out that all they held near and dear wasn’t quite true was hard.

Some of them were curious and immediately wanted to know more. But some were absolutely aghast – how could this be true? And still others refused to believe, no matter what I said that day.

Even after a year and a half, they are still surprised when I give them new information. Recently, we had a long, lively discussion about whether John the Baptist actually baptized Jesus in Luke’s Gospel. In Matthew and Mark, there is no doubt: John baptizes Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel, that’s not the case. The Scriptures clearly say that John was arrested in prison, then tell of Jesus’ baptism. I pointed this out to the students in class, and for over an hour, we debated on this.

Because Matthew and Mark have John baptizing Jesus, they said, it must be true of Luke. Then they said that since Luke was writing for the Gentiles, it was obvious he didn’t know. The debate went all over the place. I kept pointing out what that they had to read what Luke said, not what they wanted Luke to say. In the end, the students agreed – I think – to accept that in Luke’s Gospel (as well as in John’s), it’s not clear who baptized Jesus, and furthermore, it’s not important.

The hardest part about being the person who gives out new information is realizing that sometimes, the people getting that information don’t want it. It’s not that they don’t want to learn – these students wouldn’t have traveled here to live in less-than-stunning conditions, many without their families, if they were desperate to learn more.

What’s hard for them is that new information, especially about things they thought they already knew, means change. It means changing basic beliefs sometimes. It means looking at the world in a new way. It means allowing yourself to be transformed.

And transformation … well, that’s just hard. There aren’t many of us who want to go through that, fewer still who are willing to set aside long-held beliefs to accept new ones. No one likes being told that the truth he holds isn’t true. No one likes finding out that she has been wrong all along.

But if we aren’t willing to be transformed, both as teachers and as students, then we won’t even be able to hear new things, much less accept them. And if we aren’t able to hear new things, how can we grow in Christ? How can we tell the good news of God’s love for us if hearing about that love is too frightening?

So we walk a tightrope, my students and I, between wanting to hear in new ways the love of God, and wanting to stick with what we’ve always known, whether it’s true or not. On our worst days, we reject anything the new and pretend the old is good enough. But on our best and bravest days, we accept the new and go forth from there, changed and transformed for the better.

The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley is an appointed missionary serving in the Diocese of Renk in the Episcopal Church of Sudan, where she is a lecturer and chaplain at the Renk Theological College.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"What is a Christian organization anyway?" -- by Craig Cole

I usually sign my thank you letters to Five Talents supporters with the words, “Yours in Christ.” Several times, I have had phone calls asking me not to send letters with those words as they found it offensive. The ending, “God Bless” was OK as that was more neutral. So, admittedly, I have gotten a little skittish and diluted it even further. I now sometimes sign letters with “Warm Regards” depending on the audience.

This little battle within me may seem trivial but it reflects a larger issue about how to maintain and grow a Christian microenterprise development organization.

There is a fundamental question that is sometimes asked of me during presentations or in private conversations afterward: “What is the difference between a Christian organization and a secular organization?

It is an easy answer if the question is about motivation. Christian organizations are motivated by God’s love to help the least of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

It’s a more difficult answer if the question is about how Christianity is practiced within the context of projects in the field.

I would suggest that being a Christian organization goes beyond just motivation and a scriptural reference. It means that at the very heart of a Christian organization beats a desire to see lives transformed by the love of Jesus Christ and His saving grace.

Spiritual transformation means there is intent to work and partner with the local church, which is God’s institution to carry out His mission. There is also the intent to incorporate holistic activities like Bible studies on stewardship, trainings on life skills and discussions on faith issues.

For example in Peru, Sister Patrician of the Anglican Church of Peru carried out a pastoral reflection on the family with some of the loan beneficiaries of one of our microcredit programs near Lima. The beneficiaries had the opportunity to ask question about how to improve the quality of family life and how to encourage their children to read the Bible. At the end, they shared a snack and had the opportunity to get to know other beneficiaries of other Village Banks and Solidarity Groups.

In Indonesia it’s not culturally sensitive to have overt spiritual development programs for the beneficiaries, 95 percent of whom are Muslim. It is possible, however, to encourage the Christian staff of GERHATI (an acronym in the local language for ‘Gateway of Hope for Human Transformation’). The local Anglican pastors and board members of GERHATI come to speak to build character and nurture the spiritual development of the microfinance staff. One such talk was on God being the owner of GERHATI and that being an employee is a service to God. The intent is for the staff to overflow with the love of God and be a blessing to those they meet regardless of faith. They base this concept on the apostle Paul who wrote that he was “being poured out like a drink offering” (Phil. 2:17).

For some reading this, these activities may seem beyond what a Christian microenterprise development organization should be doing. It should stick to finances and actions not words will be enough. But, I have found it is the indigenous church that asks for the intentional and practical ways to share the Gospel and be involved in the faith lives of their community members.

In the end, there will always be somewhat of a “dance” or balance when we try to maintain a Christian ethos to our work. And, that balance is especially difficult when money matters. Will corporations, government or individuals give if the organization is Christian, or possibly “too” Christian. What happens when someone wants to give a million dollars but any Christian witness is out of the question? Or, will we offend a potential large donor by signing a letter “Yours in Christ?”

Those are tough questions to answer as it could mean mission drift or possibly morphing into a secular organization that is no longer motivated by Christ, nor intentional about sharing the Good News. All too often in the non-profit world, the heart of the Christian organization will stop beating for Christ. The organization that was making a difference for Christ is now no different in its delivery of services than any other humanitarian organization. That is a tragedy. “For I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Yours in Christ,

Craig Cole

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

Monday, September 22, 2008

"India, Market Economics and Poverty" -- by Dr. John Hammock

I just returned from India. The magnitude of India is staggering. Over one billion people. India’s economy is booming. Economists gloat over the fact that India’s growth rate over the last few years has been dramatic—and they say it shows that the liberalization of market forces in India has worked.

It is true that the national Indian economy is growing. Things look rosy if we just look at that overall economic indicator of success. If you look under the surface of this one dimension, however, we see that India is still a country of staggering poverty. Over one third of the world’s poor live in India. It also has a higher proportion of its population living on less than $2 per day than even sub-Saharan Africa. That is the sobering news coming out of the World Bank's latest estimates on global poverty. The fine print of the estimates also shows that the rate of decline of poverty in India was faster between 1981 and 1990 than between 1990 and 2005. In other words, the pro-market reforms, which started in 1991, have failed to reduce poverty at a faster rate.

While the rich have been getting richer in India and while the middle class has expanded, the poor in India have not seen the benefits of market-led economic growth. The disparity between rich and poor is growing.

I was in India to attend the Annual Conference of the Human Development and Capability Association, HDCA. This is an Association of academics and practitioners who believe that economics should be about more that increasing Gross Domestic Product, more than just focused on growth. The goal of economics should not just be growth. The goal must be the flourishing or wellbeing of all members of the society. Growth is one tool, but it must be combined with a concern for other aspects of wellbeing—such as education, health, security, even dignity and empowerment. While we do not hear in the United States from economists who believe that economic systems can be based on the notion of building from what people value and have reason to value (that is, on the ideas of personal wellbeing and freedom), these ideas are much more common in other countries.

We can see from our own economic woes, the losses on Wall Street, the collapse of large finance and banking ventures that our economy based on a purely free market system has not worked. Our government has come to the rescue of large businesses. But this is not the solution. The solution rests with the folks that attended the conference in India—a whole new way of looking at economics that puts people first, that allows government to play a crucial role in meeting the common good while preserving the market system. Now is the time not just to focus on the Millennium Development Goals. Of course these Goals are important. But we stand poised to reconsider our whole economic framework. We can hang on to a system that clearly does not work for the poor; it is now not even working well for the richer. Or we can look for an alternative. The Human Development and Capability economists provide us with an alternative—one that puts people first.

If you want to learn more about this approach to economics and in particular its approach to poverty, go to www.ophi.org.uk I work with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, run by another EGR Board Member, Sabina Alkire (author of What Can One Person Do?: Faith to Heal a Broken World). OPHI is a research and policy effort that is challenging traditional economics and traditional conceptions of poverty. I urge you to join our cause.

I want to end with another note on India. India has recently passed the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This is a unique scheme that guarantees rural workers a minimum of 100 days a year of employment at the minimum wage. Of course the details are much more complex than this simple one liner. This is not charity; it is payment for an honest day of work. Sixty per cent of India's workforce is self-employed, many of whom remain very poor. More than 90 per cent of the labor force is employed in the "unorganized sector", i.e. sectors which don't provide the social security and other benefits of employment in the "organized sector." It is in this environment that one sees the radical nature of this rural employment guarantee act—a bold initiative to help people survive with dignity, not handouts. If you want to learn more about this, go to www.righttofoodindia.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 also currently working with 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. John is the president of the EGR board.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Make poverty history

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Friday, September 19, 2008

"A Prayer for Responsible Government" -- 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.


How can a poor community hold their elected Member of Parliament accountable who hasn’t visited them for the whole 5-year period of office? And what were the outcomes when a community managed to engage their local politicians?

This week’s reflection is a follow-up article on the Mapalo community’s ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ in Zambia’s Copperbelt.

Since the elections in 2006

*The government has agreed to fund a new middle school;

*The government funded 13 churches to carry out HIV prevention work;

*A water company has constructed outlets for people to buy safe drinking water;

*An essential bridge, that becomes difficult to pass each rainy season, has been assessed so that sustainable improvements can be made;

*The government has promised to up-grade the community from an illegal settlement to a ‘site and service community’.

In Exodus 18:1-27 we read of the first structural division of responsibility in governance.

Moses ‘chose capable men from all Israel and made them leaders of the people, officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. They served as judges for the people at all times. The difficult cases they brought to Moses, but the simple ones they decided themselves.’(Exodus 19:25+26)


Let us pray:

*For our local and provincial political leaders, that they may govern wisely and with dedication to the people who have elected them.

You may want to pray for them by name.

*For Micah Challenge Portugal. João Pedro Martins, the facilitator for MC Portugal writes:

‘We are preparing various exciting activities in Portugal in the next weeks and would be very grateful for your prayers.

Micah Challenge Portugal will be “on the road” from October 12 to 19. The campaign theme is “8 days to change the world” - (8 MDGs, 8 bible passages about poverty);

I also beg your prayers for an open letter against poverty which is promoted by Micah Challenge Portugal but also subscribed to by Catholic and Non-Christian organizations. At the moment we are collecting signatures to publish the letter in the main national newspaper.

*Reflecting on the brief excerpt from the recent WHO report below:

Lord, we long for more equity in our world and today pray particularly that governments’ social and economic policies will increasingly have an impact on poor people’s access to health systems.

We pray that every boy and girl in this world can grow up and develop to its full potential and live a flourishing life.

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 4: Reduce child mortality
Goal 5: Improve maternal health
Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases

‘Social justice is a matter of life and death. It affects the way people live, their consequent chance of illness, and their risk of premature death. We watch in wonder as life expectancy and good health continue to increase in parts of the world and in alarm as they fail to improve in others. A girl born today can expect to live for more than 80 years if she is born in some countries – but less than 45 years if she is born in others. Within countries there are dramatic differences in health that are closely linked with degrees of social disadvantage. Differences of this magnitude, within and between countries, simply should never happen.

These inequities in health, avoidable health inequalities, arise because of the circumstances in which people grow, live, work, and age, and the systems put in place to deal with illness. The conditions in which people live and die are, in turn, shaped by political, social, and economic forces.

Social and economic policies have a determining impact on whether a child can grow and develop to its full potential and live a flourishing life, or whether its life will be blighted. Increasingly the nature of the health problems rich and poor countries have to solve are converging. The development of a society, rich or poor, can be judged by the quality of its population’s health, how fairly health is distributed across the social spectrum, and the degree of protection provided from disadvantage as a result of ill-health…

Social injustice is killing people on a grand scale.’
Source: Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health, WHO, September 2008
Executive Summary:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Economic Collapse?" -- by the Rev. Michael Lerner

The fear is palpable. Those of us in the non-profit sector feel it deeply already, because with the predictions of collapse surrounding us, many magazines are reporting drops in subscribers, and many change-oriented organizations are suffering from a drop in membership or donations. And it's likely to get worse. There are predictions that even with the hundreds of billions likely to be spent to ameliorate some aspects of what we face, there might be as many as five million people who will be losing their homes in the mortgage crisis, and millions more losing their jobs as small businesses collapse. And if the price of oil remains high, and the storm in Texas last weekend has already sent prices soaring again, there will be tremendous suffering next Winter when many people can't afford home heating oil.

Unfortunately, none of the major political candidates has been willing to speak honestly about why all this is happening, if they even know.

But there's a simple and accurate answer: materialism and greed which has become a run-away epidemic in the contemporary capitalist world in general, and in the U.S. in particular, is the root of the problem. The oil crisis may be partly rooted in the desire of China and India to live a standard of material well-being comparable to that in the West, but it's mostly rooted in the speculative trading of oil futures that has artificially jacked up prices wildly. The collapse of the mortgage and banking industries has largely been a product of speculative investments as banks and mortgage companies sought to make super profits on their mortgage loans by turning them into monetary forms that could be traded and against which others could borrow money. It is this speculation, not solely the absence of the commodities, that has been a major source of the problem.

For decades we've watched passively as poor people and people of color have lost jobs, and faced a weakened net of social protection in the U.S. as the conservatives seemed to convince the American majority that the marketplace was fair, and that hence people who were not doing well had no one to blame but themselves. It was wrong to over-tax rich people, we were told, because they had taken the risk of investing in projects that could fail, so the public had no claim on their huge profits when they succeeded. The bailouts that the marketplace have required in the past, and now once again with the bailout of Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac, demonstrate the emptiness of this argument.

The reality? When poor people fail to flourish economically, the government shrugs its shoulders and gives a pittance of relief. But when super-giant firms fail, and the wealthy are endangered, the government, with the votes of many erstwhile conservatives, jumps to the rescue. The exception of Lehman Brothers may have something to do with the fact that the Bush Administration, so willing to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to save their friends, has little concern for an investment firm that was always perceived as "Jewish" and "liberal."

When it's their friends, they intervene to save the capitalist enterprises on the backs of the taxes paid by ordinary working people today, or our children tomorrow. It reminds me of an old saying: "When is it a "recession?" When YOU lose your job. When is it a "depression?" When I lose MY job!" Too many of the people who are suffering today were all too willing to allow others to suffer when it was "just" in a community of "people of color" or people with a "lower class status." Now, they are upset when it is they who the larger society is abandoning.

What can be done? Well, although there are many short run solutions (check our website www.tikkun.org for some of the recent discussion about short-term solutions), the real answer is this: when a private firm or enterprise fails, and it's socially valuable to keep that firm alive, then the U.S. government should take it over and nationalize it. That's what should happen to Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac and to the investment firms and banks that have needed our tax monies to bail them out. Or, let the firms remain in private hands, but let the tax payers automatically get the percentage of annual after-tax profits that our bailout tax dollars are compared to the total worth of the institition as that moment when it needs a bailout. And bailout individuals at the same time as we bailout banks and energy corporations. And if we need to use oil and gas from our own country, then the corporations that mine that gas and oil should not be allowed to make a profit off our natural resources except if all of those profits are 100% used to support public investment in alternative energy supplies.

So why isn't this at the center of the campaign? Why haven't Democrats passed laws to prohibit this speculation or to demand sharing the super profits of the oil and gas companies with he ordinary citizen? The answer is that all our thinking is constrained by the fear that if we talk about returning profits to our government or allowing government to set a "fair price" that we will be creating a socialist system. Well, I know that socialism "won't sell" in the US.. so instead lets call this people-oriented economics shmo-cialism or even fairness-ism. But be sure of this: if the speculators were in jail instead of running the economy, if super-rich people and institutions were fairly taxed instead of making out like bandits while so many of our fellow citizens suffer, we'd be in far less vulnerable

We are told that our fellow citizens would never support even shmo-cialism, because they imagine that someday that they will be rich themselves (do disabuse them of the fantasy) and that they can't feel empathy for others who are suffering. But this is not true. The truth is not that they don't feel identification with others, but that that part of themselves, their most generous and caring part, has been put down and made to feel "abnormal" so frequently throughout their lives that they don't feel ready to trust their own desires and think that they would just be making a fool of themselves to imagine a world in which people really took care of each other.

Here we get to the fundamental contradiction of antagonism to "big government." The whole point of having a democratic government originally was to create an institution to provide the kind of hands-on-caring that we couldn't do if we want to keep working and making a living. ˝Government" then, is the institution that should be the manifestation of our caring for each other. Instead, it has been largely shaped by the interests of the wealthy and the powerful, who use government to protect their own interests and honestly believe that their own interests are the public good. And as more and more people begin to see government failing to give a real priority to being an instrument of mutual caring, they get more and more incensed at having to pay taxes for this king of reality. Unable to imagine any other reality as "realistic," many people decide that their only refuge is to resist taxation and support candidates who promise to lower their taxes. The resentment of government that the Right plays upon is based in a correct assessment that too often it fails to serve the needs of ordinary people but only the needs of the insiders and their

Yet the underlying desire to be a caring person doesn't go away. Frustrated by the lack of any obvious way to be caring in the public sphere, millions of Americans flock to churches, synagogues, mosques, ashrams and civic institutions where they get an opportunity to actually act on their caring for each other. But these institutions lack the finances to make up for what government fails to do: protect the common good by taxing the super-profiteers like the oil/gas and military-industrial complex and criminalizing the behavior of the speculators that have ruined the mortgage

Until these dynamics are presented to the American people, the special interests (no, not workers organizing into unions to try to defend themselves from losing their jobs but the super-rich corporations and their corporate dominated mass media) will predominate and most people will feel powerless to do much. But the way to present this is by emphasizing the positive: that so many Americans really do care about each other, and that they are stunned when they watch the profiteers undeterred as they lead the society into economic crisis. But that stunning can eventually lead to cynicism and despair, psychological depression, and even to an openness to fascistic solutions if they are not presented with the vision of a really compehensive progressive

That's one reason why we should be asking our elected officials, at least the ones we trust, to make this kind of analysis more central in the way that they discuss what is happening and what needs to be done, rather than keeping that discussion in vague and technocratic terms that avoid the central ethical issues that are always at the heart of the economy. If Obama, for instance, were talking this way, actually confronting the power elites of this country, he would face a huge assault by the corporate-dominated media. Yet he would also reach many people who don't believe he really cares about them. Surrounded by the cautious insiders of the Democratic Party, Obama is unlikely to talk as forthrightly as is necessary to help people understand what is really going on. And without that, they will fester in their fear and their

Is is precisely in these moments that people turn toward fascistic forces that promise order and discipline and control over what seems to be out of control. If they cannot hear a reasonable and common-sense analysis of what is happening to them from the Left, they will turn toward the fantasies of the Right-- a return to less complex realities of small town America, hoping against hope for a return to the "good old days" when (in their fantasy, but not in reality) things were simpler and more straightforward and you could take care of yourself, shoot a moose or deer or buffalo for dinner, and rely on neighbors' generosity when you needed help. But don't blame this on the stupidity of the American people. They are looking for clear answers and solutions, and so far what they hear from the Democrats is confusion and an unwillingness to really confront the real sources of the problem in any straightforward way. They don't want policy wonks--they want someone to name the reality and give an ethically and spiritually coherent vision of what to do about it. Unless they hear that, they will look for others who have some willingness to present a coherent (though in our view, deeply distorted) set of solutions (though in the not-too-long-run they will prove to be non-solutions as the economic crisis deepens and shapes everyone's life--but the Republicans only need to get the economy to survive through November, because if they win power again, liberal people will feel so despairing and de-energized that the Republicans will only face the kind of opposition to their economic policies from the Congress that they faced in opposition to their war, which is to say, Nancy-Pelosi-style-capitulation and

Once again, the responsibility is on ordinary citizens to stand up and talk back to the politicians in both parties, and to do so in a way that demands a new set of values to run our economy, so that materialism and selfishness is put on the defensive and caring for each other becomes the central motif. It is only when some serious political leaders are willing to make that the center of their campaign, to demand that love, generosity and caring for others is the shaping force determining their policies, that the American people will be able to take that part of their consciousnss that wants such a world but believes it impossible, and finally transcend their fears and act on their highest desires rather than sinking into the other fearful part of their consiousness that leads them to seek magical solutions in repression and denial of much of what they know about the failures of the economy and of our foreign

--Rabbi Michael Lerner is editor of Tikkun Magazine and chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives. RabbiLerner@Tikkun.org

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"Economic Disparities Contribute to Social Unrest in India" -- by Lallie Lloyd

A recent news article tells of sectarian violence between Hindus and Christians in Orissa, an impoverished state in northeast India that is fueled in part by the kind of economic differences targeted by the MDGs.
Christians have been attacked by mobs with using sticks, axes, swords and knives. Sixteen people have been killed, 1,600 homes destroyed, 80 churches and small prayer houses destroyed and 13,500 are estimated to be living in refugee camps. A nun from the order founded by Mother Theresa was among those attacked. Survivors say they recognized neighbors among their attackers.

What has prompted these attacks? Local tensions have been high since the August murder of a local guru associated with a radical Hindu group. While evidence suggests a Maoist group committed the murder, some local Hindu activists blame Christians.

I looked into this story and found a blog reporting on “Christian attacks on Hinduism.” I read a reference to an employee of World Vision who, the article implied, had been arrested by police.

I’ve known and trusted World Vision’s work for decades, and I wanted to know how they were reacting to the violence and particularly to the report that one of their employees had been arrested in conjunction with the murder.

So I called Word Vision. Turns out the employee was picked up by police when he was fleeing for his life, and was released after his identity was verified. He was never a suspect in the murder.

Part of the context here is that people are not receiving the health care and educations they need from their government. Despite India’s rapid economic growth, huge segments of the population are excluded from opportunity because of geography, social prejudice, health and education among other barriers. The New York Times notes, “Orissa has long suffered from government neglect, and Christian missionaries provide services, including schooling, much better than most residents receive from the government. While that has caused friction before, the stakes are higher now that better-educated people have more of a chance of joining the economic boom.”

Another part of the context is that many – but not all – Christians are Dalits, also known as “Untouchables.” In the traditional Indian caste system Dalits’ jobs dealt with dead animals and human waste, making the Dalits ritually impure. They were frequently segregated from higher caste people to avoid contamination. Though illegal, discrimination continues. During relief efforts after the tsunami of 2004, Dalits were not allowed to drink fresh water from the same sources available to other refugees. Not by law, but by custom, enforced by local authorities.

So, is the violence in Orissa based on religion, ethnicity or social class? The answer, of course, is all three.

Just as in Jesus’ time, poverty has many dimensions. The poor are outcast economically, socially and politically.

The MDG challenges facing India are enormous and are complicated by its vast size and social complexity. At a national level, some progress has been made:

• The proportion of the population living on less than $1 a day dropped from 41.8 percent in 1993 to 34.3 percent in 2004. This represents about 82 million people.

• The mortality rate for children under five has dropped from 123 per thousand live births in 1990, to 74 in 2005.

• The ratio of girls to boys in primary education increased from 87.4 girls to every 100 boys in 2000 to 96.1 girls to every hundred boys in 2004.

But much remains to be done:

• The proportion of children immunized against measles hasn’t changed since 1990.

• The number of women dying from complications of childbirth barely moved from 570 per 100,000 live births in 1990 to 540 in 2000 (this ratio in the US is 17; in Sweden it’s 2).

But even these numbers fail to tell the whole story.

Disparities within India are enormous. The national economy is huge, exceeding over $3.5 trillion in 2005. But the population is also huge: exceeding 1.1 billion (one-sixth of the world’s population live in India). In 2005, India’s per capita income was lower than Iraq’s or Cuba’s. Meanwhile expenditures on public health per person are about one-fifth the global average. Chronic hunger and preventable disease abound.

The violence in Orissa is not caused by religious differences alone, nor is it caused by poverty. Violence is caused by criminals who take by force what they cannot gain by legitimate means.

But the MDGs are directly relevant to the situation in Orissa. A robust social fabric – with, among other things, the rule of law, open markets, health care, education and clean water (all targets of the MDGs) – is less likely to spawn the despair that harbors and supports criminal activity. When income disparities increase and economic prospects expand for some and shrink for others, a scarcity mentality takes hold and it is human nature to look for someone to blame.
Ancient religious differences are as good a way to choose an enemy as are ethnic and class differences.

Jesus knew this too. And warned us against this temptation. His call to community and mutuality ia a call to love in action, a call to turn away from demonizing. Like other faith-based NGO’s World Vision provides direct services to people in stark need, as a witness to God’s love for all and until such time as they themselves, or their governments can meet the needs themselves.

Monday, September 15, 2008

"Haiti Struggles with Humanitarian Disaster in Aftermath of Deadly Storms" -- an interview with Dr. Paul Farmer

Here's an excellent interview from the Democracy Now! website with Dr. Paul Farmer about the aftermath of Hurricanes hitting Haiti.

In Haiti, as many as 1,000 people have died and an estimated one million left homeless after the impoverished country was hit by four major storms and hurricanes in less than a month. We speak to the renowned physician Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health, a group that provides free medical care in Haiti. After visiting Gonaives over the weekend, Dr. Farmer wrote, “After 25 years spent working in Haiti and having grown up in Florida, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything as painful as what I just witnessed.”

Dr. Paul Farmer, Professor of medical anthropology at Harvard Medical School and is the co-founder of Partners in Health. He is also associate chief of the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. His books include Infections and Inequalities: The Modern Plagues, Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor and From Outrage to Courage: Women Taking Action for Health and Justice

In Haiti, a humanitarian disaster is unfolding after the impoverished country was hit by four major storms and hurricanes in less than a month.

As many as 1,000 people have died. An estimated one million Haitians have been left homeless. Rescue groups say they have no access to many interior villages across the southern region or to Gonaives, Haiti’s third-largest city, which has been cut off after a bridge collapsed. Much of Gonaives remains under water. At least 80 percent of the estimated 300,000 residents have been displaced or otherwise affected by the flooding. The city’s population has been stranded for days without food or drinking water. Many are making do sleeping on rooftops, with their animals and furniture, waiting for the water level to drop. Throughout Haiti, bridges, roads, clinics and homes have been washed away.

Dr. Paul Farmer is the co-founder of Partners in Health, a group that provides free medical care in central Haiti. After visiting Gonaives over the weekend, he wrote an urgent appeal for aid supplies to be delivered to Haiti immediately. Dr. Farmer wrote: “After 25 years spent working in Haiti and having grown up in Florida, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything as painful as what I just witnessed in Gonaives.”

Dr. Farmer is renowned in the world of global healthcare, a professor of medical anthropology at Harvard Medical School and the author of several books. He joins us now from Boston, just back from Haiti.Thank you, Amy. Good to be back.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Why don’t you just describe what is happening in Gonaives and how you made it in there?

DR. PAUL FARMER: Well, the situation is perhaps most grave in Gonaives, but unfortunately, the entire country has been affected by these storms—southern Haiti, northern Haiti and even central Haiti, where we’ve never seen flooding before.

As for getting into Gonaives, you know, just—I had heard, even from the air where one could see approaching Port-au-Prince, that the city was under water. I had heard that the—it was not possible to get there. But we just went there in a jeep. Now, Saturday night—there are three main ways into Gonaives: from the north, the south and from the central area of Haiti, where we work. We also work close to Gonaives, a little bit further south on the coast in a town called St. Marc, also badly affected by the storm. But Saturday night, Sunday morning, the way that we got in, the bridge through central—from central Haiti also collapsed. So, although it’s more difficult than ever to get into Gonaives, I’m confident that a determined relief effort could reach all of those people stranded there, since we’re not really specialists in disaster relief and we didn’t have much trouble getting there. In fact, my colleagues there today tell me they intend to go back to Gonaives, and whether that’s by using a small boat or just getting through the—past the collapsed bridge with four-wheel drive vehicles, we’ll see. But I think that what is clear is that people can get into Gonaives with water and food and temporary shelter.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk, though—just describe the picture of what you saw. What are people saying inside? And where is the Haitian government in all of this?

DR. PAUL FARMER: Well, I’ll take those as two different or three different questions. What I saw was something I had never seen before, except in that same city four years ago, when Tropical Storm Jeanne brushed the northern Haitian coast, never making landfall there, and killing 2,000 people in Gonaives, which is—was the same time, more or less, as Katrina. And it was the city—the downtown of the city, the central area of the city, in water, and I saw huge numbers of people in the streets, but they were all people from Gonaives. Very few—this is Friday—on Saturday, very few people from disaster relief organizations had really reached there.

As for the Haitian government, they were there. Their officials were there. And you may recall that over past few months Haiti has not had a government, because the prime minister was—lost his job because of the food insecurity issue, again, which Haitian governments have little to do with. So it was actually not until Saturday, when the new Haitian government was installed. And on that day, Saturday, we met with the new prime minister. And she spent her first day on the job working on disaster relief. The problem is, the Haitian government and the Haitian state have been so hollowed out over the last several years that they really don’t have the resources that they need. But the people in charge of responding, the doctors and disaster relief employees and the volunteers, they were there in the city doing what they could with what they had. The problem is, they just don’t have anything.

And so, that leads to the third part of your question: how do the people feel? Well, you know, they’re angry, and they’re upset, and they’re frightened. And they’ve lost their property. And many of them have lost family members. And they’re still stranded on top of these ramshackle buildings. And in one house, for example, there were about a hundred people crowded into one single-family dwelling on top of the roof and, you know, in the dryer parts of the house. And you could see that all over the center of the city. So, again, getting food and water and medicines to the people inside that area and also to those who have been pushed further south towards places like the ones in which we work or into the center of Haiti is going to be an urgent—it is an urgent, has been urgent, and also feasible.

Read the entire interview here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Turning a Blind Eye" -- 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.


‘TV has made us into monsters’ is the title of the picture of London artist Banksy.

It shows graphically how Christians in the Global North can too easily ignore poverty issues if they are delivered on TV.

In our world of mass media we are bombarded with people’s needs from all around the world. How can we avoid turning a blind eye to them?

In Matthew 20:29-34 we read of Jesus’ healing of two blind men. The bible says that Jesus ‘had compassion on them’ and then helped them.

As a result of Jesus’ actions the men followed Jesus and praised God; so did all the people who had witnessed the scene.

Let us pray:

  • Lord, we pray for compassionate hearts so that we can respond to needs close by but also globally. We also pray that we will use our resources wisely and generously.
  • We pray for Micah Challenge Haiti. Valery Vital-Herne, the coordinator of MC Haiti writes:

    ‘As you may know the situation is terrible in Haiti. About 8/10 departments had severe floods. We are still counting the dead. The Minister of Finance has estimated the destruction to more than 10 billion US dollars. We were in harvest time, so no need to tell you how great the lost is. There are about one million stricken people. The main roads and bridges leading to the most affected departments are destroyed. So relief is delayed.

    After 3 hurricanes (Fay, Gustav, Hanna), people are waiting to see if Josephine will hit Haiti.

    Please pray for God’s intervention in this situation. Pray also for the church to be courageous and be the heart, hand, feet of Christ to express love and compassion to the most afflicted.’

  • Reflecting on the statistic below: we pray for the Asia-Pacific region, which encompasses half of the world’s population.

    We pray particularly for China and India where, despite considerable economic growth in the past years, child mortality is still unacceptably high.

    We pray for good and just political leaders who will ensure better distribution of wealth so that health care services in poor regions can be funded adequately.

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 4: Reduce child mortality

Target 5: Reduce by two-thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the number of children 5 years old or younger who die from preventable illnesses

‘Between 1970 and 1990, Asia-Pacific as a whole managed to reduce its annual number of under-five deaths from 10.5 million to 6.7 million.

Despite these attainments, major challenges for child and maternal survival remain. Asia-Pacific’s absolute numbers of child deaths, though falling, remain high… Worldwide, of the 9.7 million children who died before their fifth birthday in 2006, more than 40 per cent were from this region. Of the six countries accounting for half of all deaths of children under age five worldwide, three are in the Asia-Pacific region: China, India and Pakistan. India alone accounts for one fifth of under-five deaths worldwide, with 2.1 million in 2006.’

Source: The State of Asia-Pacific’s Children 2008, UNICEF, May 2008


Yours in Christ,

Regine and MC team
Please view all the Friday Prayer statistics we’ve used to date at Index of Millennium Development Goal Statistics.xls

Please see Index of Reflections on Integral Mission.xls

Friday, September 12, 2008

"How to Hijack a Funeral" -- by the Rev. Zachary Drennan

The Archbishop of Kenya, the Most Reverend Benjamin Zimby, came to Katakwa over the weekend for a visit. For the benefit of those blissfully uninitiated into Episcopal/Anglican Church politics, Zimby is a compelling and controversial figure. With Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria, he is at the forefront of the backlash against the Episcopal Church over issues of homosexuality and ‘orthodoxy’. He has made his presence felt in the U.S. by ordaining former Episcopal priests as Kenyan Bishops, all the while providing ‘pastoral oversight’ to over thirty U.S. congregations. Unlike a number of Bishops from Western Kenya, he refused to attend the recent Lambeth Conference, at which many of these issues were discussed and debated. I was a little unclear, even, how he would take to me, a missionary priest in good standing (mostly) with the Episcopal Church and a member of Calvary Parish in Pittsburgh, known for its staunch opposition to much of what Zimby has been up to lately. Bishop Zak’s (Katakwa’s Bishop) advice? “Just sit there and don’t say anything.” Well, he is my host.

Give the man his due: he powered through one heck of a day on Saturday. By my count, we visited six schools, three building sites – two of which were churches, one orphanage, and a medical center. The highlight, for me at least, came when we noticed the lead car in front of us taking an unexpected sharp turn onto an un-improved dirt road. The Archdeacon to my left remarked, “It looks like our program has changed.” “How so?” I replied. “I believe we are going to hijack a funeral.”

Now, how to you pass that up?

Sure enough, we crashed a funeral, a dang big one too. Dodging people and cars and motorcycles, we skidded into the compound of the bereaved to join the other 3,000 people present. Our entourage piled out, and we were escorted to the main tent under which a legion of clergy, evangelists, and choir members were already seated.

Now, for a bit on Kenyan funerals: Burials are always held on the deceased’s family compound. Large tents populate the open areas to keep people out of the equally devastating sun and rain. Though mourners will trickle in and out throughout the day, by tradition most visitors arrive around ten in the morning. This includes an abundance of clergy, who’s arrival signifies the official beginning of all Kenyan funerals. As with political rallies, an M.C. presides over the gathering, working his way through introductions and the list of family and friends chosen to speak. He is aided by both a choir and a keyboardist, whose amplifier, powered by the freshly charged car battery next to it, hums quietly to itself. Those called to speak get as much time as they wish and use it to introduce, by show of hands or rousing chorus, all the members of their particular clan. Given that many older Kenyans come from polygamous families and have enough children to field competing football teams, this can take a while. After no less than three hours of speeches, with the occasional interlude from the choir and keyboard, a close relative will give the ‘official’ eulogy, and the clergy will begin the funeral rite: Readings, singing, and (always) a word of encouragement. When the sermon concludes a long procession in which the coffin is carried to the grave site, usually in a corner of the same compound. Amidst prayers and songs, we lower the body into the grave and sanctify it with a final blessing. Afterward, somehow, enough food materializes to feed the entire crowd, which, as noted earlier, can number in the thousands. The family will remain and pray over the body, off and on, for the next few days, and visitors and family members who were not able to make it the day of the funeral will continue to drop by and visit.

We barged into this particular funeral right in the midst of the speeches. The Archbishop was immediately ceded the mic, and he gave a few words of consolation. Though I missed much of what is said (largely in the local vernacular), I was struck by how warm the ‘sharing’ was and how much laughter pervaded the ceremony. Certainly people were grieving, particularly over by the coffin where a small crowd was gathered. But I’ve learned that one of the primary coping mechanisms Kenyans employ in dealing with hardship is humor. It seems that best thing to do – perhaps the only thing to do - when confronted with the all-too-common tragedy is to gather in the company of loved ones and have a good chuckle. It is one of the traits that, to my foreign eyes, makes the Kenyan spirit so compelling and (I suspect) so durable in face of life’s seeming belligerence.

I’m hopeful that in time laughter will help heal other rifts as well. Zimby and I didn’t speak much to each other, but we did share a giggle or two. And while little was done to mend any of the broken fences in the Anglican Communion, I think we both found we could set aside our differences long enough to appreciate a good joke or two. It’s a start.