Monday, January 28, 2008

Bush to request doubling funding for global HIV/AIDS in State of the Union tonight


WASHINGTON — President Bush will propose doubling the funding to combat HIV/AIDS overseas in his last State of the Union address tonight, one of several new initiatives he says will demonstrate his intention to "sprint to the finish" of his time in office.

The five-year, $30 billion proposal would provide treatment for about 2.5 million people infected with the disease and preventive measures for about 12 million others. The initiative, approved by Congress in 2003 at $15 billion, operates in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

"Our compassion should be manifested in helping people who suffer from disease and hunger," Bush said Thursday in an interview with USA TODAY. "We have a strategy that's working. It is to support a strategy that has made a difference in over a million people's lives in a relatively quick period of time."

That effort will be on display next month when the president travels to five African democracies, including Rwanda, a nation wracked by civil war and genocide in the 1990s. Bush also will visit Tanzania, Ghana, Liberia and Benin during a six-day trip from Feb. 15-21.

So what does this mean?

The ONE Campaign has issued this statement, which includes a lot of great information on what our government is currently doing:
President Bush, along with Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress, should be proud of the successes in the fight against HIV/AIDS, global disease and extreme poverty in the world's poorest countries and particularly in Africa. Today, two million people are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral drugs thanks to the generosity of Americans.

"The results are in: funding efforts like the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) and Millennium Challenge Corporation has proven to be money well spent, an effective investment not only in saving lives in poor countries, but also in promoting the goodwill and generosity of America around the world.

"We now have an opportunity, for the first time, to build on that success. While we continue our fight against AIDS and malaria, we can take these strategies and scale up efforts in expanding clean water and education to help the world's poorest people beat global poverty. Fulfilling our commitment to the Millennium Development Goals will help secure the future and stability of both America and the world's poorest countries. President Bush has requested a ten to 12 percent increase for International Affairs in past years, a similar increase for the 2009 budget dedicated to these proven programs and core development and humanitarian accounts will ensure that America continues to lead the world in this fight. As President Bush prepares to travel to Africa next month to see the achievements of these initiatives, ONE hopes that he will use the State of the Union to highlight the historic and bipartisan progress America has made in helping to combat crippling disease and poverty."


President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

Built on bipartisan Congressional initiatives, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five year, $15 billion initiative to combating HIV/AIDS in an effort to reach two million people with life saving antiretroviral treatment, prevent seven million new infections and care for ten million in need, has been enormously successful. Already, as of September 2007, PEPFAR has supported 1.4 million people with life saving anti-retroviral treatment, provided care for 6.7 million (including 2.7 million orphans and vulnerable children), provided services to prevent the transmission of the HIV virus from mother to child for ten million pregnancies and more than 30 million voluntary counseling and testing services. This year, the U.S. will consider key legislation to reauthorize PEPFAR for 2009-2013.

(EGR note - For more information on PEPFAR, go to its official website. Here is also the Wikipedia site, which (if you scroll down), contains the salient criticisms of it -- including a provision that 1/3 of all funds go to abstinence only programs and its refusal to support needle exchange programs.)

Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria

The Global Fund has supported programs that have saved the lives of more than two million people who would have died from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. The Global Fund has provided ARV treatment for 1.4 million people, DOTS treatment for tuberculosis to 3.3 million people, 46 million insecticide treated nets to protect families from malaria and 44 million malaria treatments. To date, the United States has contributed 28% of funding to the Global Fund.

Bilateral Malaria Funding

On June 30, 2005, President Bush announced the President's Malaria Initiative (PMI), a new commitment to spend an additional $1.2 billion between 2005 and 2010 and cut deaths related to malaria by 50% in 15 focus countries in Africa. As of November 2007, PMI has reached distributed 2.3 million insecticide treated bed nets, procured 15 million treatments and conducted indoor residual spraying to benefit five million in need.

Millennium Challenge Account

Created in 2003, the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) is designed to reward democratic countries dedicated to fighting corruption and poverty while at the same time creating an incentive for other countries to qualify in the future. The MCA is focused specifically on supporting programs that reduce poverty by fueling sustainable economic growth through market-based investments in areas such as agriculture, education, private sector development, health and capacity building. A unique feature of the MCA is the fact that the countries themselves are responsible for identifying the greatest barriers to their own development.

ONE is a grassroots effort by millions of Americans working with more than 150 of the nation's leading relief, humanitarian and advocacy organizations to rally Americans -- ONE by ONE -- to fight the emergency of global disease and extreme poverty. For more information, please visit

Friday, January 25, 2008

"The False Gospel of Mindless Consumption" -- by the Rev. Mike Kinman

Yesterday, a $150 billion "economic stimulus package" was unveiled -- a package agreed to both by the president and Congress.

When I heard about it on NPR last night, I did the math quickly in my head. As a married parent of two with a family income less than $150,000 we will get between $1,200 and $1,800 -- depending on whom you believe.

Politicians, pundits and economists are arguing the economic efficacy of it. Whether it is enough of an infusion of capital into the economy. Whether putting another $150 billion on the government's tab while we're running record deficits and the national debt is more than $9 trillion and increasing at $1.43 billion per day is a good thing. Whether we can sustain tax cuts and a war in Iraq that has already cost us more than $488 billion and is sucking $275 million a day at the same time.

What I haven't heard anyone question is the morality of the entire system this rebate supports.

And then I opened this morning's USA Today and saw Steve Breen's excellent cartoon from the San Diego Union-Tribune (above), which wonderfully and tragically lays out the problem.

We have an economy that is based on -- and, in fact, only sustainable through -- hyperconsumption. That's the whole basis for these "tax rebates." We define economic recession by lowered consumption. The answer is to increase consumption, which is what everyone is hoping will happen with these checks -- that people will use them to consume more goods and services. (The irony that Breen illustrates is that this recession was triggered by people trying to consume beyond their means -- in the form of bait-and-switch subprime mortgages on houses they shouldn't have been able to afford.)

Except this economy is not sustainable. Like a cancer that continues to grow until it consumes the entire body, an economy based on hyperconsumption will kill us ... and will take the rest of the world with us.

An economy based on entitlement to hyperconsumption puts our consumer desires (I won't call them needs) above all other values. It has caused us to cripple the creation with which God has entrusted us. It has led us into a war in Irak that has escalated to genocidal proportions in terms of civilian casualties and done inestimable damage to our relationships around the world.

It has also eaten away at our nation's soul. We routinely sell out our most treasured values -- freedom, care for "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free," -- so that "our American lifestyle (code for hyperconsumption) can be preserved."

Jesus says, "where your treasure is, your heart will be also." When the rich young ruler comes to Jesus and asks "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus responds, "Go, sell all you have, give it to the poor, and come and follow me."

The call of Christ stands in direct opposition to the dominant culture ... the false gospel of mindless consumption. And we are at a holy moment of decision.

Which Gospel will we choose?

As a church, we have embraced the Millennium Development Goals -- and that is a good thing. We have embraced those goals because we see in them a framework for living out the Gospel imperative of Christ to heal the world. But these goals ... and much more important, our call to be a Body of Christ through which God transforms the world ... will never be achieved unless we speak prophetically against this false gospel not only with our lips but with our lives.

To our American culture, the path of Christ is a path of almost untenable paradox. It is a path of liberating sacrifice -- a phrase that seems oxymoronic in the context of mindless consumption. And yet it is the path before us.

Jesus told the rich young ruler to sell all he had, not because the poor needed it or because material goods are evil but because in order for that young man to have the depth of life he desired, he needed to be liberated from the materialism that bound his heart. He needed to be able to give his heart to the divine ... and to do that he first had to free it from the treasure in which it was bound.

This is about liberation. Perhaps a more accessible image for us is that it is about breaking addiction. Recessions like the one we are experiencing are warning shots that this is unsustainable -- that our addiction to consumption is killing us. But instead of entering rehab, we are like the junkie who treats the negative symptoms of his addiction with another hit.

The truth is we don't need an infusion of capital, we need an intervention. We need to confront each other and be confronted by each and lovingly told "you are killing yourself ... and we love you too much to let you do this any more."

The check that will arrive in the mail sometime in the coming months gives us an opportunity to say that to ourselves and one another. To take a stand and say we want to break free from our addiction to consumption and grasp the abundant life Christ means for all.

When that check comes...

Don't spend it.

Don't save it.

Don't even use it to pay down debt.

Give it away.

Our economy of mindless consumption is sustained on the backs of the poor around the world. It is sustained on the backs of refugees in Irak trying to put back together what is left of their families and their lives. It is sustained by draining the resources of a planet that is crying out in pain.

It is sustained at the price of our souls.

This check is literally blood money. Don't take it.

Send it to the International Red Cross/Red Crescent -- which is one of the only relief organizations trusted by the people on the ground in Irak.

Send it to be used on the MDGs through your companion diocese relationship, to help rebuild the relationships and lives our consumption is destroying.

Send it to Episcopal Relief and Development, Five Talents, Anglican Relief and Development, or the myriad of other organizations that are working toward sustainable development in nations of extreme poverty.

Use it to buy carbon offsets and contribute to reforestation, renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Resolve to do it now, before the check is in your hand. Tell someone else you have resolved to do this, so it's harder to go back. When the check is in your hand, it will get harder ... it's always hardest to resist the drug when it's right in front of you.

Then tell your friends what you are going to do and urge them to do the same.

Write letters to your Senators and Representatives and tell them what you are going to do ... then write them again when you have done it.

Write letters to the editor of your newspaper and tell them what you are going to do ... then write them again when you have done it.

Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is a movement of spiritual transformation. We are about a call to conversion -- confession, repentance and amendment of life -- through which Christ will change the world.

Let this be our first step on that path.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Mind the Gap" -- by Elaine Thomas

Friends of ours invited us to join them at their timeshare in Acapulco the week before Christmas. This was not a location my husband and I had on our list of places we wanted to visit, but with frequent flyer miles taking care of one plane ticket and no cost for the lodging, it was too good to pass up. So in mid-December, we packed our shorts and bathing suits, flew from Philadelphia to Chicago and barely made it out of there before a major snowstorm blew through, landing in paradise in time for dinner.

Acapulco is lovely – all palm trees and sunshine every day. The resort at which we stayed was like another world, and the balcony of our room looked out on the extensive pool and the Pacific beyond. It was truly spectacular, and we soon realized how long it had been since we had been on a vacation that did not involve some kind of work on our part!

As is the norm at such places, there was a veritable army of Mexicans employed there to make sure every blade of grass was just the right height, every floor polished to a high sheen, and perfectly iced Margaritas delivered at poolside upon request. They are undoubtedly grossly underpaid, and my white liberal guilt was always close to the surface. I made sure to greet each person graciously and tip generously, but the discomfort never quite left me. The dichotomy between the tourists and the locals is so great at such places that I couldn’t decide if I should be grateful that the workers have jobs or ashamed that I could live the high life on their sweat and toil.

One day about mid-week, my husband dressed for our day at pool and beachside, throwing on a T-shirt that I had picked up for him on a business trip to London. It says “Mind the Gap.” For those of you familiar with the London tube (subway), you will recognize that familiar phrase which is always announced as people enter and exit the train. It is a reminder that there is a sometimes-considerable space between the platform and the train so to be careful when making that step.

Seeing this t-shirt on my husband this day, however, brought an entirely new meaning to the phrase “Mind the Gap.” The gap in question was so obvious – the gap between haves and have-nots, rich and poor, those with time for leisure and those without, those with a feast set before them at every meal and those lucky to have a few grains of rice in a day. We did not have to venture far from our resort to witness the crushing poverty faced by the locals every single day while just down the way, an unattainable Promised Land beckoned.

I can’t help wondering if I would have felt the same turmoil had I been visiting for some country other than America. As a nation, we are such a Goliath at using the world’s resources and garnering global wealth at the expense of those without our might. Perhaps my discomfort was magnified by feeling like an ugly American.

I won’t pretend that I did not thoroughly enjoy my time in Acapulco. It was sublimely restful and a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with dear friends. But the “Mind the Gap” message has lingered as I return to my work among the impoverished of Philadelphia and keep up on the work of EGR and ER-D. The gap is enormous. Let us all be mindful of it.

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.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Train up a Child?" - by the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell

“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6, RSV)

This past week, my 7 year old daughter Hannah came home from school and proudly showed me her “Peace Prize.” She had a paper medal around her neck that was a copy of the medal given to the Nobel Peace Prize recipients. That day at school, she had learned all about Martin Luther King, Jr. She learned that he won the Nobel Prize. She learned that he had a dream. She learned that he had been assassinated on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. She didn’t understand why someone would want to kill a person who just wanted people to be treated fairly.

Then she told me that her teacher taught her a hard lesson. While the children in the class were watching a dvd, the teacher put stars on the back of some of the medals and not others. After the movie was over, the teacher told them to look at their medals. Everyone who had a star got to come to the front of the class and get candy. The children who didn’t have stars didn’t get candy. There was no reason why some kids got stars and some didn’t. The kids who didn’t get stars were very upset. The teacher explained that this is how discrimination works. And the way that the children without stars felt was the way that Dr. King had felt lots of the time and it’s what he was fighting. Hannah asked the teacher how the kids who got the stars were supposed to learn the lesson which the teacher said was a “Very Good Question.”

I am incredibly privileged, as are my kids. How do I teach them about poverty, disease, thirst, genocide, discrimination? They hear me talk about the MDG’s but in reality, my kids were born with stars on the back of their medals. I want them to enjoy the blessings of this life but I want them to be aware of the kids without the stars. And I want them to share the candy.

Today my kids have the day off from school in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you’re taking the time to read this, take some more time and read some of Dr. King’s amazing writings, especially his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And tell a child about what you read.

Editor's Note: An excellent resource for spending time with Dr. King's writings and speeches today is the website of the Martin Luther King, Jr., Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. There are audio excerpts from many of his speeches as well as complete texts of his writings.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2008

"Minnesota: MDG Campaign Uses Community Organizing for Congregational Transformation" - by Kate Hennessy

Diocese of Minnesota communications coordinator Kate Hennessy wrote this story about the diocese's innovative approach to bringing the MDGs home in congregations. The project is spearheaded by the Rev. Devon Anderson, EGR diocesan contact and blogger.

Epiphany weekend 2008 witnessed the birth of a new phase of the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) campaign in the Diocese of Minnesota. Individuals representing four churches from across the diocese met at King’s House in Buffalo with the diocesan MDG Leadership Team and trainers from the Kennedy School for Public Policy for a Leadership Team Training Weekend. The focus of the training was to learn how to engage the skills of community organizing in the new MDG Congregational Campaign, the goal of which is to transform the Episcopal Church into a powerful effective force for the elimination of global poverty by 2012.

The first pilot programs for this exciting project will run during Lent at St. Anne’s, Sunfish Lake; St. James on the Parkway, Minneapolis; St. James, Marshall; and St. Paul’s, Duluth. These churches represent a wide cross-section of the Diocese of Minnesota, spanning four different regions; involving urban, rural, and suburban parishes; and including Total Ministry to program-size congregations.

The goal of the Lenten campaigns in each church will be that 50% of its members pledge 0.7% of their incomes to an MDG project. It is important to note that the main focus of the campaigns will be on participation — the goals are set for number of people participating in pledging 0.7%, and not on how much money the congregation wants to raise.

The movement will not end there, either. The task force's vision is to use its learning to coach a group of ten, use their learning for another group of twenty, and then continue to grow, involving more diocesan churches in each round, with the eventual hope of taking the program to the national church.

Telling our own stories
The tactics and strategies the teams will use to accomplish this goal include skills that are traditionally used in community organizing, such as the use of public narrative, which organizers believe is the single most effective tool available to mobilize people to act. Public narrative is the art of demonstrating how values become action through the simple but powerful act of telling one’s own stories. At the Leadership Training, team members had the opportunity to learn firsthand that each of them did have an important story, and that telling that story could move others to action.

After seeing public narrative demonstrated by the Kennedy trainers and Project Coordinator Devon Anderson, each person constructed and shared a story of how the challenges and choices in their own lives resulted in their being interested in fighting global poverty and coming to this training. These stories were then expanded to include the individual’s involvement in their parish communities and then to include a call to action for this campaign. One parish team member was so moved by a fellow member’s public narrative that she made her pledge on the spot, stating, “I really was not going to pledge; I was just going to give my time to the project. I didn’t think I could afford to give money, but my team member’s story was so powerful, I’ll find a way.”

At the end of the campaign, the pledges from the congregations will be pooled in a common fund, and those who pledge will engage a collective decision-making process for how to invest the funds. Each pledge will entitle the pledger to voice in the process. The hope is that by working together in this way, congregations will find themselves joyfully and creatively engaged in doing the Gospel mission in a new way together.

“The MDG project's top priority is learning," says The Rev. Devon Anderson, Project Coordinator. "As our diocese figures out how to link together and engage mission work, our MDG project provides a chance for congregations to learn and experiment with working together around a common area of interest in mission. What excites me most is that we have leadership teams that are willing to risk something big for something good. Being out on the edge is fraught with anxiety and uncertainty but it is also a brave thing because it firmly places the vision ahead of the fear.”

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Kenya isn't Rwanda" - by Dr. Josh Ruxin

Josephine Mujawiyera is traveling this month and is unable to post. In her place, we have a bonus post from one of her Rwandan neighbors, Dr. Josh Ruxin, from his work on Nick Kristof's NY Times blog.

Let’s say you’re an African country. Here’s your New Year’s choice: Democracy or development? Which is more important? Which should be pursued first? This might seem like a silly question — both are important and should be pursued in tandem, right?

Well, it’s a harder question than it might seem. The experience of developing countries over the past 50 years offers conflicting evidence: countries like Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Japan developed quite rapidly in the years after World War II under military or one-party rule, while some multi-party democracies like India and Peru crept forward, posting persistently anemic rates of growth.

On the other hand, military dictatorships in places like Burma and North Korea have produced nothing but economic ruin. Countries that have bounced between multi-party democracy and dictatorship — Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan — exhibited no consistent correlation between governance model and growth. Even looking at Africa, you can argue that the countries that have recently gotten praise for combining democracy with growth — Ghana, Senegal, and Kenya — transitioned in slow stages from strongman or single-party rule to competitive electoral democracy.

The chaos that has erupted in Kenya over the past week provides some strong evidence that democracy and development go hand in hand, and that economic growth does not necessarily reinforce weak political institutions. Kenya didn’t choose development over democracy. It chose to be a democracy, hoping that economic growth would follow. Indeed, the past 5 years have seen impressive and sustained economic growth. Yet, when the Kenyans who were left out of the country’s expansion attempted to use their franchise to vote out the incumbents and vote in their champions, Kenya’s ruling elite appears to have responded by stealing the election.

Kenya was widely hailed for the smooth transfer of power in 2002 from Moi to Kibaki — something extremely rare on the African continent. Last Saturday, however, the inauguration of the president marked something quite different. Despite the fact that the exit polls showed a strong lead for Raila Odinga, and that the voters of Kenya threw most of Kibaki’s cabinet out of office and decimated the ranks of his parliamentary party, the Electoral Commission of Kenya declared Kibaki to be the winner by a thin margin.

International observers reported that voting had gone smoothly, but that the counting was a suspicious mess. Different final vote totals were reported to the central government than were initially reported locally. There was a suspicious delay in the reporting of votes from Kibaki strongholds, suggesting that local officials were waiting to see how many votes had to be fabricated to ensure a Kibaki victory. It does not seem to be a stretch to conclude that there was wholesale election rigging.

The weakness of Kenya’s political institutions means that those from whom the election was stolen have zero confidence in the willingness of the courts to intervene to protect a democratic process in the face of self-interested tampering by those in power. Accordingly, the result has been predictable but misdirected violence, literally shutting down the country and leading to tribal massacres eerily reminiscent of Rwanda’s genocide in 1994. Luos and Kalenjins have attacked Kikuyus, sometimes demanding identification documents at roadblocks to establish ethnicity. The ramifications of this disastrous turn of events demonstrate that where neither democracy nor economic development are adequately advanced, nations and regions can fall into devastating conflict in a matter of hours.

Zimbabwe’s strongman, Robert Mugabe, threw his nation into a tailspin after confiscating white-owned farms. Today the country may have inflation as high as 100,000 percent, cannot deliver AIDS health care services and floods South Africa with economic immigrants. Similarly, Kenya’s recent choices will have many downstream effects. Here are some of the repercussions, both immediate and far-reaching, of Kenya’s debacle:

1) Fuel. Shortages are spreading across Kenya and will spread to neighboring countries that rely on its ports. Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda are particularly susceptible. And don’t forget, that fuel provides much of the region’s electricity as well.

2) Tourism. The world’s largest industry is Kenya’s cash cow, but for the time being and for years to come, it will be seriously impacted. Since many package tours to Kenya include visits to neighboring countries, regional tourism will be hit hard as well.

3) International organizations. Nairobi is home to offices of the United Nations and to virtually every international organization to be found in East Africa. Increased insecurity over the last several years has imposed an enormous tax on doing business there. Now these organizations may look abroad for more secure surroundings.

4) International investment. Investors have flocked to Kenya because of its vibrant-in-spite-of-corruption private sector. The prospect of seeing investments demolished by violence and instability will deter future investment. Furthermore, it will force investors to think again before considering capital investments in nations where democracy and development are not flourishing.

Kenya has long been regarded as stable and safe (though deeply corrupt). It’s been a tourist destination for decades, giving millions every year a gorgeous glimpse of African wildlife. The country has been open to investment for decades, and many Kenyan businesses are flourishing. Because of that veneer of stability, foreign news correspondents seem unable to analyze the deteriorating situation in context. Some are seeing, with alarm, a replay of the Rwandan genocide. Even the opposition candidate Odinga, exhibiting a keen instinct for calming the situation, declared that the violence amounts to “genocide on a grand scale.”

That kind of blithe comparison obscures more than it clarifies. If you rely on the foreign press, the parallels with Rwanda may appear striking: violence committed by one tribe against another (in this case, multiple groups against one); rioting characterized by intense brutality and seemingly indiscriminate murder; most horrifically, hundreds of sanctuary seekers burned to death in a locked church. But there, the similarities abruptly end. What is happening now is terrible and horrifying, but it is not the 1994 Rwandan genocide; something else is occurring, a failure to accompany economic development with a concomitant strengthening of the institutions of political democracy.

It may seem like I’m splitting hairs, but it is vitally important that we understand the distinctions. In recognizing the differences between Kenya today and Rwanda in 1994, we can understand why this is happening and can begin to fight this particular kind of madness.

And we need to fight it. Rwanda’s genocide was fostered over decades, beginning with the identity cards that Belgian authorities forced the public to carry - cards that identified each citizen as Hutu or Tutsi. The hatred that recognition brought about was only one manifestation of a state-sponsored attempt to wipe out an entire ethnic group. This was genocide by government policy, and the directive was carried out with zeal.

However, Kenya’s disaster seems to have hit like a tornado out of thin air. Although it too has roots in the past (including British colonial oppression of the Kikuyu), it is not controlled or sponsored by the government, which is trying to stop the killing, not promote it. We’re seeing the images of Kenyan police in riot gear, lining Nairobi’s streets and patrolling rural townships to suppress rioters. The government doesn’t benefit at all from rioting largely aimed at it and its allies. Therein lies the reason for the fighting. Even though CNN and other networks called the violence “ethnic cleansing” this morning, what we’re seeing here is not genocide, it is the disenfranchised acting out in the only way they can now that democratic elections have been stolen from them.

Although Kibaki’s entourage may be correct in saying that they can quell the “hooligans” who have taken over the country, it’s clear that international opinion for years to come has already been shaped. Just as the genocide in Rwanda came to define its place in the media right to the present, Kenya’s malfeasance will do much the same. While the two catastrophes are of course utterly different, the dimensions of the Kenyan situation will have regional and long-lasting consequences. Cancel that safari trip. Move out of emerging African market funds. You can hear the sound of progress being sucked down the drain.

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 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.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

"Abundance" - by Dr. Christiana Russ

These past few weeks I have been thinking a good deal about abundance. In my last blog I had written some about the culture shock of returning to the United States during the Christmas season, and the incredible and overwhelming abundance of material things that we are blessed with. Lately I have been thinking about God’s abundance instead.

We are used to working with models of scarcity. We talk a lot in development about ‘sustainability’. In the church the catch phrases such as ‘good stewardship’ might have us thinking along the same lines. I recently was talking with an HIV committee at a church group and heard the quote ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’ spoken by Theodore Roosevelt.

So that is a very good and reasonable way to approach economics – distributing scarce resources. I think the quandary faced by those of us who claim to believe in a God of abundance is that we sometimes get trapped into believing our resources are scarcer than they are.

Let me explain a bit further. I work part of each year as a pediatrician in Kenya, and one of the most frustrating problems I face is the overwhelming numbers of people who just absolutely can not afford health care for their children. The hard part is that the mission hospital is already limping along – charging minimal fees for services. Those minimal fees still amount to $10 a day for an admission plus additional fees for lab services and medications. Parents are so worried about hospital charges that they don’t bring their children in to hospital at all, or if they do bring them it is often in very late stages of illness when appropriate care is decidedly more complicated and expensive than it might have been several days prior.

Our current economic models don’t offer really great solutions to this dilemma. Insurance would perhaps give people a safety net that would bring them in sooner for care, but the national health insurance in Kenya is too expensive for most poor rural families. The only conclusion I can come to is that at least right now, while the general populace in rural western Kenya is so impoverished (we all hope that will change some day), an external source of funds needs to exist to subsidize or pay for health care. The economists among us might disagree but that was the solution I kept bumping up against.

And that idea would stick like a big lump in the back of my throat. My prayers filled with phrases such as, ‘God – I don’t have that kind of money. God – I don’t KNOW anyone with that kind of money. God -- I know I can find money for the 30 or so kids who come to the hospital each month for care now but once this plan works and more children are brought in for care, I’ll be entirely up a creek.’

God fortunately is pretty clear with me in these situations. I sent out an email asking for money for a de-worming program for our kids in Maseno. The response resulted in about five times as much money as I had hoped to raise. I wrote my initial blog describing my frustration at the lack of funds for healthcare. There were additional generous responses with funds sent to Maseno Hospital. Friends from home also offered money to be used as a sort of discretionary fund. Gradually I began to get the idea – our God is a God of abundance. He says, ‘Ask and you shall receive.’

This doesn’t mean don’t be careful with money. I do believe in good stewardship and stretching your every donated Kenyan schilling as far as it will go. But I also am learning that sometimes you have to dream a little bit bigger than you might otherwise be comfortable with. Sometimes you have to have a little faith that God is backing you up and has sent you to this work and will not abandon you.

So I continue to seek that balance between realism and sustainability and faith in God’s wonderful abundance. How else can we move towards God’s Kingdom come? Please keep Kenya in your prayers.

Dr. Christiana Russ is a pediatrician on faculty at Boston Children's Hospital. She spends half the year at an Anglican mission hospital in Kenya through a joint arrangement with Children's and the Diocese of Massachusetts. Christiana is chair of the Executive Council Standing Commission on HIV/AIDS.

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Re-entry" -- by Meredith Bowen

I arrived home to Ohio about three weeks ago - after seven months in Tanzania. I was ready to come home. It had been a long trip and I was exhausted. I had done the whole re-entry thing many times before - so I thought I was prepared for the culture shock that awaited me. Months of living and working in an area where homes made of mud are the standard can make returning to the U.S. a difficult process.

Amsterdam airport is always the first of many overwhelming experiences. Followed by Detroit. Suddenly the population shifts and my white skin makes me a part of the majority and yet I feel out of place.

Returning to my family is always a joy. Which is good since for the first week or so I tried not to leave my house in order to avoid the consumerism that typically is the hardest part of returning home. The mall, the grocery store, the traffic of expensive cars that fill the streets. Coming home right before Christmas might have been my biggest mistake - the commercials on TV, the long lines, the piles of presents adding up to more than what your average Tanzanian makes in wages over the course of an entire year. How could we possibly shop for one more thing?

Christmas Eve came and I headed off to church with my family. It was dark and cold, the church was beautiful. The service was lovely as always. But as I sat there, trying to celebrate the birth of Jesus I couldn't shake the sadness I felt. I started to cry. I couldn't stop, Legitimately, I would get it together and then there it was again. This ache I felt. Guilt that I sat here warm and secure - celebrating - while a billion people were neither warm nor secure. Missing the kids from the Children's Village. I had to get up and leave.

It had only taken a couple of days on a couple of airplanes to bring me back to this side of the globe and yet, sitting there amidst such abundance it was so apparent that the two are worlds apart.

There is much to be done "there" in places where there is a need for food, medicine, schools, etc. But there is also so much to be done right here in terms of bridging the gap between our lives and the lives of a billion people who live on a dollar a day. We need to build it into our consciousness so that it affects each day and each decision we make.

The sadness passed. I returned in time to hear the story of night that Jesus was born. It was no coincidence that there was no room for Mary and Joseph that night at the inn. I pray that we can all make room in our lives for those in need.

Meredith Bowen
is a law student at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. She spent last fall in Arusha, Tanzania doing an internship at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. Meredith 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.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

"'Aren’t We In the Same Church?': One Man’s Story" - by Jennifer Morazes

The narratives of many people who live on the streets of Boston (with whom I have spoken) almost always include either a negative “church” experience or a critique of their Church hierarchy. In their eyes, the Church or their church poses a dilemma for them as their view of Jesus’ teachings is not consistent with current Church practice/structure. For example, one man described to me an incident that took place during a parade in which he saw a prominent church leader driving by in a limousine. This man asked, as the limo drove by with the window open, “Why am I living out here on the streets while you are driving by in a limo? Don’t we belong to the same church?” As his story goes, the church official actually stopped and asked him if this is the way he really felt. This story reminded me of a quote by theologian and psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro, who asked:

. . . What would mental health look like from the place of a tenant farmer on a hacienda, or personal maturity from someone who lives at the town dump, or motivation from someone who sells goods in a market? Note that we say . . . “from” the tenant farmer on a hacienda and the woman in the market, not “for” them. This is not a matter of thinking for them or bringing them our ideas or solving their problems for them; it has to do with thinking and theorizing with them and from them. 1
As Martin-Baro shows us, one man’s experience on the streets of Boston can be translated internationally into the lack of acknowledgement people may feel in churches in the two-third world. As people with privilege who live in the United States, even in our efforts to be helpful, we frequently – in symbolic and actual ways – drive by the majority of people who live on earth in our “limousines”.

Consequently, theologies which celebrate wealth only in terms of money need to be responded to by returning people and relationships to the center of any discussion of theology and economic security. For example, initial attempts to understand the impact of economic globalization on the part of the ecumenical movement; declarations that “ . . . advances lead to a growth in economic productivity and are to be welcomed as a gift from God”2 need to be countered by theology that puts the worth of life and just relational value as an equal, primary unit for so-called “social development.”

A brilliant example of a paradigmatic shift in "economic theology" can be seen in the essay by Leslie Boseto entitled “People Are Security.” As Boseto describes the path of Jesus, he identifies that “Jesus’ life could not be confined within temporary and artificial institutions”3 ; instead, Jesus relied upon the hospitality and sanctuary of others both in life (at the Last Supper) and in death (as he used anothers’ tomb). Similarly, we should be challenged within community to cease our total dependence on hierarchical structures, market forces and privatized forms of security which lead to the exclusion of others and value our capacities to give and receive hospitality as much as or even more than our capacity to produce or commodify.

As a “Living Ethic” witnessing to economic disparities nationally and worldwide, how as churches can we be accountable to the perspectives of people living without economic stability? Providing sanctuary/pastoral response, opportunities for church representation and participation and church advocacy and prophecy on economic issues: these three prongs of response are necessary to ensure a people-centered rather than money-centered theology. So, in the story I told about my friend who lives on the streets challenging the church official, I see evidence for hope. What would it mean if church officials from every denomination stopped to have a conversation -- an honest dialogue -- with a person outside of their social location, not in attempt to change them but to understand them? What would it mean for all of us to exchange our experiences of God and our calls? How would vocation be different, or church structure, if church officials took a person who experiences homelessness or poverty and their experience of God seriously? How can we change the church together?
1 - Martin-Baro, Ignacio. Writings for a Liberation Psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 1994. Pg. 28.
2 - Kinnamon, Michael and Brian Cope. The Ecumenical Movement. Geneva: WCC Publications. 1997. Pg. 291.
3 - Kinnamon, Michael and Brian Cope. The Ecumenical Movement. Geneva: WCC Publications. 1997. Pg. 454.

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.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Be Transformed

An excerpt from Be Transformed, by Dr. David Bosch (a Dutch Reformed theologian/missiologist)

The real stumbling block often happens to be the church herself—the very church whose raison d’etre is precisely to be a pointer to Christ and to attract others to him. The church too often fulfils the role of a social agency for the relief of painful disappointments; she is the place where uncomprehended fears are suppressed, where uncomfortable memories and awkward expectations are being covered up. The church has become the cozy ghetto of kindred souls, the cave into which we flee when the day-to-day problems are too much for us. The church has to provide the snug atmosphere of a comfortable living room with a fire glowing in the hearth, quiet music in the background and a glass of wine in hand. In such a church, people think in the categories of prosperity and success rather than the cross. The Good News then becomes what people wish to hear because it soothes them. No, more than that: it drugs them, it becomes the ‘opiate of the people.’ If we define the church – however subconsciously – in these categories, it means that we want to see results. That we want to report progress, that we judge the church according to the dividends she produces. She then adapts to her environment.

Instead of turning the world upside down, we keep it neatly in position so that nobody is caught off-balance. Instead of causing people to stare in amazement at the newness and sparkle of our community life, we irritate those outside or make them yawn because we bore them. Instead of drawing people to us, we repel them. This is the deepest reason why we have to stage evangelism campaigns and other special programmes in order to boost our membership and make our tarnished image a bit more respectable. But precisely these evangelistic campaigns often become utterly self-defeating because of the shallowness of the life of the church into which we receive new converts. We often resemble a farmer who carries sheaves into his burning barn.

We have called her the ‘alternative community,’ however. And the whole thrust of that word is that there can be only one alternative, one alter. What Jesus offers is the only alternative to all the other options. In this alternative community we are not asked about the extent of our successes but about the depth of our obedience. We have been so inveigled by the success ethic, says Desmond Tutu, we forget that, in many ways, we were meant to be a failing community.

These are the strange paradoxes of the alternative community: it is only when we leave self behind that we find ourselves; it is only when we serve that we are free; it is only when we are prepared to suffer that we experience true joy; it is only when we die that we live. Is this not what Paul also said? ‘… we are imposters who speak the truth, the unknown men whom all men know: dying we still live on; disciplined by suffering, we are not done to death: in sorrows we have always cause for joy; poor ourselves, we bring wealth to many; penniless, we own the world.’ (2 Cor. 6:8-10)

Thanks to the Rt. Rev. Jeffery Rowthorn for supplying this excerpt.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"The MDGs and Personal Transformation" by Dr. John Hammock

At EGR we are all about the Millennium Development Goals. We take our inspiration from the work of Jesus among the poor—his insistence that we share with others, that we treat others as we would treat ourselves. But today I want to write about another part of the equation—our own transformation and lives. It is easy to write a check to ERD or OXFAM. It is even relatively easy to be informed about what is going on overseas—perhaps a Sunday school talk on hunger or a gripping program on the crisis in Darfur on TV.

It is much more difficult to listen to the words of Jesus who calls us to reflection and action. In my last entry in this blog, I talked about how much is enough in our society. How do we balance what Jesus has to say about giving away material goods (the ability to let go of all) with our current culture of consumption and accumulation?

But Jesus does not just call us to not treasure, hoard or covet worldly goods. Jesus calls us each to confront our own lives—our own egos and ways of living and being. Jesus calls us to help the poor, but also to have this be but an outward manifestation of an inward spiritual growth—an acceptance of a radical way to live.

I say radical because Jesus is not one to feed us pabulum. Jesus calls us to live our lives every day as if it were our last day, to be cognizant in all we do of Jesus and what he calls us to be and do. Let me share with you what this means to me.

God is within each of us. God is not something out there; God is right inside each of us. We need but listen. We are free to listen or to ignore the God within us. If we say yes to this God, then we must take the time to discern what God is telling us. We need to stop to take the time to reflect, meditate—yes, pray. The more we can put the videos of our mind at rest (or to the side), the more we can name and acknowledge our own egos and the power tricks it plays on us, the more we will slowly begin to listen to God.

At this wintry time of year, there is much talk about Light. Scriptures focus on the light shining in the darkness, light enkindling our hearts and shining forth in our lives. We need but acknowledge that the light lives within us (“God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” Galatians 3), capture that light and then let the light shine through in everything we do—not just feeding the hungry, but also in our daily work, our daily relationships, our daily shopping habits.

For it is not enough to listen to the inner voice of God. Last month I recommended Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird. For me it has been essential to take the time to be silent, to learn to slow down in order to run again. Part of this has been meditation and prayer (and yoga). But solitude and prayer is not enough.

Another part of this for me has been pure and simple gratitude. I truly resonated this month with Albert Nolan. He writes in Jesus Today: A Spirituality of Radical Freedom: “Personal transformation in the spirit of Jesus would have to include the development of a grateful heart.” We have so much. “Gratefulness is an alternative attitude to all of life.” We are encouraged by some of our leaders to live in fear, to protect what we have, to dwell on the negative. But Jesus calls us to hope; Jesus calls us to love life and live the life we have with gratitude and love. “It is challenging to develop and maintain a grateful heart in the midst of intolerable suffering and evil.” We cannot ignore evil; we cannot ignore the suffering and pain. But we must not allow it to destroy our “spirit of humble gratitude.” (See Nolan’s book chapter 10 for all these quotes.)

Having taken the time to listen to the inner voice of God and having been grateful for the love that we have in Jesus and for all that we have each day, we then must decide to act. For Jesus does not call most of us to radical contemplation. Rather he calls us to radical freedom—to do what needs to be done to bring the message of hope, peace and love to all. And this at times requires us to be bold, to be provocative, to go against institutions, even religious and civil laws that burden us and laden us down.

One can dismiss the MDGs by just treating them like one more program, one more panacea that probably will not work. Or we can sign on to the MDGs as a way of articulating part of the vision of change needed in today’s world—the outward societal part of the vision. But for this to provoke real change there must also be spiritual transformation-- for us as Christians fully based on the words and actions of Jesus. “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest…” (Isaiah 61) We are called to action, to love our neighbors and our enemies, to forgive those who we perceive do us wrong, to stand up for what is right—even throwing the money changers out of the church or the corrupt officials out of office, or waging peace through non violent protest.

Jesus is not easy to follow. Jesus requires much of us. We must start by giving thanks for our lives, for Jesus and for being able to feel the strength of his teachings. We must reflect, meditate and pray. Then we must let God’s light shine through us in everything we do—not shying away from the little and the large battles—with faith and hope, not fear and hate. If we are able to follow Jesus in this, and people of faith in other religions can do the same within their traditions, then we can see the world ending hunger, reducing child mortality, ending maternal deaths and having the will to tackle all the goals of the MDGs.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

"The long view of God’s love revealed" - by the Rev. Becca Stevens

Epiphanies are events in which God’s incarnate love is revealed.

My Epiphany began as I spotted a hillside with dried thistles. I pulled to the side of the road and just as I picked the first downy blossoms it dawned on me that I was becoming a thistle farmer. These thistles were there for anyone, but they felt like a present for me, free and wild, holding the capacity to make beautiful paper. To be a thistle farmer means the world is a plentiful field and we can harvest beauty from weeds and abandoned lots and through action preach love and hope. It was strange to think that it had taken me six years of being a part of Thistle Farms to come to that realization. The moment was six years in the making. But it was even longer than that in coming.

Thistles were one of the first sights that stood out on our first trips into the streets 13 years ago. They were the flower that donned my mother’s china. If I could ask her why she chose the thistle for her bridal plates, I bet there would be a story about my grandfather who was a farmer. If I could ask him about the thistle, the story would eventually carry me across seas and generations of farmers and faithful pilgrims. Somehow my small Epiphany connects me to a line of Epiphanies that span hundreds of years. The church teaches us that there are three to celebrate: The coming of the wise men to see Jesus in Bethlehem, Jesus getting baptized in the river Jordan, and Jesus’ first miracle of turning water to wine at a wedding in Cana. They are not separate events, but part of one Epiphany withcountless manifestations of how God’s love is revealed to us.

Epiphanies have never come out of thin air. The reason that Jesus was born in Bethlehem can be traced back generations to the story of Ruth. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, traveled to Moab because there was famine in the land of Judah. There her two sons married and some time later died. When Naomi was leaving Moab, Ruth begged her to go with her saying, “Where you go I will go and your God will be my God”. Ruth came to the land of Bethlehem. Her loyalty to Naomi and her faith led her to marry, Boaz, and they had a son, Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse and Jesse was the father of David, and so the line continues until Mary and Joseph in the year of the census travel back to Bethlehem, David’s home. It is the history of faith foretold by the prophets in Isaiah and the Psalms and the priests around the time of Jesus’ birth knew it. The wise men came to Jerusalem, not Bethlehem and after consulting the vassal king of Rome, Herod sent them to Bethlehem. Ruth, Jesse, Herod, are all part of the Epiphany.

The same is true for us. Epiphanies are experienced in specific time and place and in particular political realities, but they move past specifics as they connect us to universal and timeless truths. They seem like fragile or passing thoughts, but they are strong and change the balance of love in our world. Your revelations of God’s love for you and your place in the history of love are not fragile or disconnected.

The wise men in the Gospel are a caste of people from the east that can interpret dreams and understand astrology. After the Gospels were written the Church elaborated that there were three men carrying symbols of virtue, prayer and redemptive suffering. They came because the cosmos offered another sign of God’s love unfolding. That star had been burning for countless millennia, maybe it was a supernova dying, and the men were drawn to its light and force.

We have all looked up into the heavens like the wise men in awe and wonder. Christmas Eve, 2007, the skies were clear and cold and the full moon was glowing. In it you could see craters like grey shadows and all around it shown a halo of light. Its majesty increased as I remembered the whole world sees the same moon, and all our lives pass by it quickly. In the moon’s shadow you can feel the connection between all the births and deaths and epiphanies of our lives.

You can picture a child under the same moon pumping water from the well in Ecuador, a nurse offering food to a man dying of AIDS in Botswana, a monk assisting a blind child through the corridors at the orphanage in Vietnam, a woman picking a thistle by the side of a road, people offering kindness to strangers and the other million acts done by countless men and women for countless years under this same moon. In each act there is a moment or glimmer of grace when the skies open and we feel a part of God’s loves for the world.

May your epiphanies this year bathe you in new light, remind you of all the epiphanies that led you to your new place of wisdom, and ground you even more firmly in your knowledge and love of God.

The Rev. Becca Stevens is a priest, author, rector of St. Augustine's Church in Nashville, TN and founder of Magdalene House. She worked with her parish to found a school in Ecuador. Read her bio here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

"Telling Our Stories" - by Lallie Lloyd

I’m embarking on a project, and I wonder if you can help me?

Can you tell me about a congregation that has been transformed by its work for the Millennium Development Goals?

Not made busy, made new by living more deeply in the Body of Christ and connected to the Body that hurts because of extreme poverty. Finding God, and their deeper selves, in giving and serving others.

I’ve talked to a few folks, and they say things like, “Well, we’re not doing that much…” Then they tell an amazing story about, for example, the micro-finance bank in India they help support that has launched fifty women in cottage industries, supporting fifty families and strengthening communities and neighborhoods.

Not that much? Then, they go on to talk about their next project in Sierra Leone where they are working with a priest they know who wants to start a school…Not that much?

What got this congregation started along the path of the MDGs? Who were the catalysts and what opportunity did they seize? Where was God for them in their very first steps? Did they see themselves as following Jesus?

And what happened to them as they walked that path? How were they changed? As individuals? As a congregation?

I think I’m talking about conversion here.

In my experience, conversion is not a one-time thing . There was a big one as a young adult, but in the intervening years there have been maybe thirty other big ones and many smaller ones.

We are being “converted” through the MDGs to a softened heart that weeps when Haitian infants cry out for affection, but cannot be picked up for fear of breaking their fragile, malnourished bones (see Craig Cole’s January 7 post) and to new eyes that see privilege and plenty at home, knowing what others lack (see Christiana Russ’ December 15 post).

If we bring these experiences back, our congregations will be changed. What does that look like? What are the steps and stages of these journeys? Is anything about it predictable? Is it too soon to go out to the edges of our shared experiences in congregations and come back with some stories to tell?

How did your congregation get started on the MDGs? What started you on the path of seeing the world through converted eyes?

Was it you or someone else? Did they take a trip, meet a visiting priest, read a book, hear a sermon?

How did they bring the energy and concern back? How did they connect it to what was already happening? What stumbles or challenges did they have? How did leadership help? Was it about worship first? Prayer? Money and giving? Education and learning?

Please take a minute, leave a comment and post a bit of your story here, and we can share what we’re learning together.

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

"The silent tours go by" -- by Stephanie Rhodes

There was broad coverage in the American media about record numbers of tourists in Bethlehem during this year's Christmas celebrations. I wasn't there for them, but the news sounds encouraging.

On the other hand, as much as I want to believe that it's a sign of better things to come, I am, at best, cautiously optimistic. The problem lies not in the numbers per say but in the way that the Intifada and the Wall have shaped tourism in Bethlehem. Most tourists don't spend the night in the city. They don't wander the streets stopping in the myriad small shops tucked away in the Old City. In fact, they do very little for the broader tourism economy in Bethlehem because they spend very little time in Bethlehem itself.

Most tourists come on buses run by Israeli-based companies. They cross the checkpoint, get on the bus, and go straight to the Church of the Nativity. Photos are snapped, candles lit and the smell of history inhaled with awe...then it's back on the bus. Perhaps they'll stop in one of 5 or so large tourist shops that probably provide handsome commissions for the tour operators. Places that do enough business to accept credit cards and that have space enough to accommodate a busload of people all at one go. Then it's back across the checkpoint and out of any perceived danger zone.

Meanwhile, the restaurant owners, the smaller souvenir shops, the countless small businesses that stand to profit from tourism watch another opportunity pass them by.

And yes, it really is that predictable and depressing. The good news, though, is that you can help. Visit the Holy Land. Visit Bethlehem.

But don't visit as the other pilgrims do: buying the tiny, neat afternoon tour package. Spend the night, walk the streets, experience the place, and spread your spending around.

Stephanie Rhodes is a young adult currently living in Jerusalem and coordinating Palestinian media development projects. She is also a former member of Episcopal Church Committee on the Status of Women.

Monday, January 7, 2008

"The Babies" -- by Craig Cole

When working with the poor, a layer of mental skin forms protecting your mind from the horrors of what it means to be poor. It’s like a callous that protects emotions from being rubbed raw. But, for me, there is one place that always pierces this mental armor.

The Missionaries of Charity run a home for abandoned children in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, and every time I visited there, I come away bleeding, and in pain because the callous has been torn off.

This is where I meet Jesus in a new profound way.

The little babies cry from their cribs, desperate for affection. There is just not enough staff to provide the necessary love and care. And, for many, the only world they may ever know is their crib. Some are so frail they can’t be picked up and held; yet they hold their arms out in longing expectation. And, behind their tears, I see the dull eyes of malnourishment. Others have tubes sticking out from their heads, their hands tied gently to the crib so they won’t pull them out.

This is where my tears flow. This is where I see poverty. I am supposed to be inoculated to this. I’m the observer, the journalist who is recording poverty for others to see. But, to step into this room is where my emotional barriers break down.

This is where I meet Jesus.

I stand in front of a crib and the infant struggles to stand up and holds her arms out to me. I’m told that if I hug her I might break her small bones. The infant is crying and I’m trying to hold back tears all the while thinking where is God, where is Jesus.

I look up and on the wall, overlooking these rows of babies, is a portrait of Jesus on the cross being kissed by a small child. The face of Jesus shows none of the pain of the cross, instead his face reveals a sadness intertwined with the warmth of comfort.

In return for his comfort, the child is trying to make Jesus better with a kiss. A kiss, not of betrayal, but of love. And Jesus is returning that love, though physically weakened by his ordeal.

The child is holding on tight not wanting to let Jesus go. But, Jesus does go, and we as his people are left behind to fill his physical void, to spread his love and warmth to the children of the world.

This is the place that makes me cry. This is where I meet myself and this is where I meet God. A collision of my will and His. There is no contest. I wither before His presence, and my soul is exposed.

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

Thursday, January 3, 2008

"An Epiphany Gift to End Extreme Poverty" - by the Rev. Jay Lawlor

On January 6th we will celebrate the Epiphany where the three Magi (or Three Kings or Three Wise Men) come to pay homage to the Messiah. As the story goes, the Magi come bearing gifts for the Christ child and their arrival to honor him represents Christ's manifestation to the gentiles -- that he has come to redeem the whole world. The story is so familiar to regular church goers that I often wonder what new insights the Epiphany event can offer us (especially as I prepare to preach another Epiphany sermon).

Perhaps we can turn the focus from the gifts that the Magi offer the Messiah and ask what gifts the Christ desires we offer the world toward achieving the MDGs in honor of his redemptive love.

Consider that:
$50 will treat 2,500 people infected with parasites
$100 will provide bednets for 20 people
$250 will feed 42 school children
$500 will educate 100 children
$1000 will help 77 farmers feed their families

These are examples of the types of gifts that we can offer through the Millennium Villages Project that helps Africans lift themselves out of poverty in over 80 villages across sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, over 400,000 Africans, living in Millennium Villages, are breaking the poverty trap as these types of gifts translate into investments in agriculture, health, and education. The end of extreme poverty is becoming a reality for hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children as the Millennium Villages achieve all eight of the MDGs simultaneously to break the poverty trap.

The Millennium Villages Project is the concrete implementation of the UN Millennium Project's Investing in Development recommendations that drew on some of the very best minds that the world has to offer. Nonetheless, what makes the Millennium Villages so important is that they represent the very best of a "bottoms-up" approach where the findings of Investing in Development are applied locally in a village with significant input and participation from local villagers and where many of the Millennium Village staff are Africans. The villagers themselves drive the implementation of the village MDG strategies, that they participated in developing, as they work to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and create systems that support sustainable development.

As I have observed Millennium Villages since their inception in 2005, the results have been amazing. So amazing that plans are being developed to scale-up the Millennium Villages regionally and even nationally in Rwanda and Kenya. The possibilities of expanding the Millennium Villages Project to other villages in countries across Africa is truly exciting and I am honored to be working with Jeff Sachs and Erin Trowbridge, of Millennium Villages, to launch the Millennium Villages Faithful Action Initiative (MVFAI). MVFAI will launch this month to assit diocese, congregations, individual church members explore how they can respond through faith to help end extreme poverty in a Millennium Village. I invite you to contact me to learn more about Millennium Villages and being part of the amazing transformation as a village achieves all eight MDGs and breaks the cycle of poverty that leads to a productive and sustainable future.

The gifts that we can offer to Africans living in Millennium Villages -- be it $50, $100, or more -- can serve as reflections of our devotion to Christ as we pay him homage as the Messiah this Epiphany, and beyond.

To learn more about the Millennium Villages Faithful Action Initiative and how you can support Millennium Villages, please contact:

The Reverend Jay Lawlor
Church of the Nativity
or e-mail him at:

The Rev. Jay Lawlor is priest and economist. He has worked with Jeffery Sachs and the Earth Institute on the MDGs, currently living in North Carolina and founding an interfaith nonprofit aimed at getting faith communities involved in the Millennium Villages Project. He serves as the associate rector of the Church of the Nativity in Raleigh.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

"O 30-foot high wall of Bethlehem" - by Abbie Coburn

Close your eyes and imagine Bethlehem. Imagine a town bustling with the spirit of Jesus. A town busy with pilgrims preparing for the arrival of Christ and the Three Kings that soon followed. A town where the key to the church of the Nativity still remains with the original holder. A town where our theological ancestors still give birth to babes and look to the heavens for a sign.

But this is not the Bethlehem that exists in the here and now.

A Palestinian Christian woman came to the SF Bay Area this Christmas season. She journeyed past checkpoints and armed guards; dealt with aggressive customs agents and thousands of miles of journeying so that we might hear the desperation of Bethlehem. She came with her story of living under constant occupation for 5 years now; of raising 4 children in a home that has become surrounded by a 30 foot concrete wall erected by the Israeli army; of the feeling of Bethlehem Christians that they have been abandoned by the rest of the Christian world – that too many people are unwilling to walk the talk.

Claire's journey westward is reminiscent of the opposite journey the Wise Men took upon hearing of Christ's birth. It is a journey that would be near impossible for them to take today. The numbers of pilgrims to Bethlehem has dropped drastically as people have turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Palestinians from their occupied lands.

One year ago this Epiphany, I stood in a barren Nativity Square in Bethlehem. It was a far cry from a joyful arrival of the Three Kings. The most visible tourists were Orthodox, but even they only numbered a few dozen. The Wall has been built to keep prying eyes out. We are told to keep quiet. That the cries of the people on the other side of the Wall are imaginary, because there were never people here. That we must turn away from Christ's birthplace and continue to think of it as an idyllic field with a manger.

Do not turn away this season. Walk on to Christ on the other side.

(Editor's note: To learn more about What One Person Can Do about reconciliation in Palestine, visit the websites of
Sabeel and Churches for Middle East Peace)

Abbie Coburn is a 23-year old from San Francisco, has lived in Zimbabwe, attended the international school Friends World Program and has worked in Palestine with Birthright Unplugged. Currently traveling around the U.S. with Wheels of Justice -- which organizes education and nonviolent action for justice and human rights, especially in Iraq and Palestine.