Tuesday, April 29, 2008

"Stop the Hunger Crisis" -- by the ONE Campaign

In just three years, the price of staple foods like wheat, corn and rice has almost doubled, and this week, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said that if left unchecked, global food shortages could set the world back seven years in the fight against extreme poverty and global disease. We must urge our leaders to take action.

Click here to sign the ONE Campaign's petition to President Bush. Here's the text:

President Bush,

The soaring cost of staple foods and the resulting hunger crisis has caused riots from Haiti to Bangladesh, threatens hundreds of thousands of people with starvation and could push one hundred million more people deeper into poverty. Please build on your recent commitment by taking immediate action to:

1. Prioritize issues of global poverty, including the world hunger crisis, on the agenda of the G8 Summit this July in Japan.

2. At the summit, secure commitments for additional resources for all types
of food assistance and increased agricultural productivity in developing countries.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"In it for the people" -- by Erin Bernstein

Over 200 nongovernmental organizations have congregated in northern Uganda—in Gulu, mostly. The work they have done and continue to do has saved millions of lives and has helped rebuild this war-ravaged region, but as northern Ugandan political and religious leaders have observed, these organizations can also make work more difficult for local leaders. In fact, by instilling their beliefs on how to “fix” the conflict situation in Uganda, these organizations can make matters worse.

When over 200 aid agencies are pining for the same funding, resources, and even prestige, it is quite common that they step on each other’s toes. Many work for the same goals, but instead of combining their efforts to make more of a substantial impact, they compete against each other, lessening the effect they intended to have.

I have noticed the same trend in my research. An unnecessary tendency to feel territorial and competitive about my resources and informants has risen in me recently, which is so unlike me. Just like these NGOs, I find myself getting so caught up in the competition that I lose sight of why I came to Uganda in the first place.

I am not here to make a project out of poverty, nor am I here to intellectualize humanity. I am here to learn about a situation, expose my observations, and work with my informants on creating sustainable solutions. I am here to put to use my helpful heart, passion for people, and willingness to serve.

So how do you conduct research without making objects out of human beings and without turning a real life situation into an academic work? You must reinstitute the human compassion that academics often tell you to get over in order to truly analyze the situation and compose a scholarly piece of work.

Granted, if you dwell too much on the injustices you see, it can be difficult to shake your anger and sadness. But a certain dose of empathy must remain to ensure that your work is for the people, not for you.

In my first visit to an internally displaced persons camp this past July, I was overwhelmed and took pictures of everything I saw—the malnourished children, the unusually small huts, and the indication of “subhumanness” between the people distributing the bags of food and the thousands of people waiting in line to receive their monthly ration.

After a while, I put down my camera. I could have rationalized my taking pictures by saying that I needed to show people back home the devastation I witnessed, but honestly, that’s all our media portrays anyway. Africa equals despair. In reality, that’s not the case everywhere on the continent. In northern Ugandan IDP camps, however, they hit the nail on the head.

I cried myself to sleep that night and have withheld my tears after my many camp visits since then. The people I see have not become less human. Rather, I have become stronger and more motivated to use my experience and resources to help restore justice in their lives and recognize them as human beings instead of the photo-ops and documentary features they have become.

Surgeons must refrain from viewing their patients as life-size dummies, just as they must learn how to cope with the emotional difficulties in their work. They perform surgeries to save lives. In the same sense, researchers must refrain from objectifying people, just as they must learn how to not let their emotions hinder progress in their work. In northern Uganda especially, they should be in it for the people.

Erin Bernstein is a junior at the University of Tennessee, designing a major in the comparison of post-conflict education in Northern Uganda and education in inner-city Knoxville. Her passion for serving people has brought her to Hungary, Romania, and South Africa through the Rotary Club of Knoxville and to Botswana, Uganda, and back to South Africa through the Knoxville Jazz for Justice Project, which seeks to music as healing in war-torn Northern Uganda. She is currently in the middle of a two-month stay in Uganda for an internship at the Ugandan Parliament and to work on an art therapy project with young women in the north. Read more from Erin at her ongoing blog of her trip: Uganda 2008.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

"The New Face of Hunger" -- from The Economist

This article is from the April 17 issue of The Economist

SAMAKE BAKARY sells rice from wooden basins at Abobote market in the northern suburbs of Abidjan in Côte d'Ivoire. He points to a bowl of broken Thai rice which, at 400 CFA francs (roughly $1) per kilogram, is the most popular variety. On a good day he used to sell 150 kilos. Now he is lucky to sell half that. "People ask the price and go away without buying anything," he complains. In early April they went away and rioted: two days of violence persuaded the government to postpone planned elections.

"World agriculture has entered a new, unsustainable and politically risky period," says Joachim von Braun, the head of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington, DC. To prove it, food riots have erupted in countries all along the equator. In Haiti, protesters chanting "We're hungry" forced the prime minister to resign; 24 people were killed in riots in Cameroon; Egypt's president ordered the army to start baking bread; the Philippines made hoarding rice punishable by life imprisonment. "It's an explosive situation and threatens political stability," worries Jean-Louis Billon, president of Côte d'Ivoire's chamber of commerce.

Last year wheat prices rose 77% and rice 16% (see chart 1). These were some of the sharpest rises in food prices ever. But this year the speed of change has accelerated. Since January, rice prices have soared 141%; the price of one variety of wheat shot up 25% in a day. Some 40km outside Abidjan, Mariam Kone, who grows sweet potatoes, okra and maize but feeds her family on imported rice, laments: "Rice is very expensive, but we don't know why."

The prices mainly reflect changes in demand—not problems of supply, such as harvest failure. The changes include the gentle upward pressure from people in China and India eating more grain and meat as they grow rich and the sudden, voracious appetites of western biofuels programmes, which convert cereals into fuel. This year the share of the maize (corn) crop going into ethanol in America has risen and the European Union is implementing its own biofuels targets. To make matters worse, more febrile behaviour seems to be influencing markets: export quotas by large grain producers, rumours of panic-buying by grain importers, money from hedge funds looking for new markets.

Such shifts have not been matched by comparable changes on the farm. This is partly because they cannot be: farmers always take a while to respond. It is also because governments have softened the impact of price rises on domestic markets, muffling the signals that would otherwise have encouraged farmers to grow more food. Of 58 countries whose reactions are tracked by the World Bank, 48 have imposed price controls, consumer subsidies, export restrictions or lower tariffs.

But the food scare of 2008, severe as it is, is only a symptom of a broader problem. The surge in food prices has ended 30 years in which food was cheap, farming was subsidised in rich countries and international food markets were wildly distorted. Eventually, no doubt, farmers will respond to higher prices by growing more and a new equilibrium will be established. If all goes well, food will be affordable again without the subsidies, dumping and distortions of the earlier period. But at the moment, agriculture has been caught in limbo. The era of cheap food is over. The transition to a new equilibrium is proving costlier, more prolonged and much more painful than anyone had expected.

"We are the canary in the mine," says Josette Sheeran, the head of the UN's World Food Programme, the largest distributor of food aid. Usually, a food crisis is clear and localised. The harvest fails, often because of war or strife, and the burden in the affected region falls heavily on the poorest. This crisis is different. It is occurring in many countries simultaneously, the first time that has happened since the early 1970s. And it is affecting people not usually hit by famines. "For the middle classes," says Ms Sheeran, "it means cutting out medical care. For those on $2 a day, it means cutting out meat and taking the children out of school. For those on $1 a day, it means cutting out meat and vegetables and eating only cereals. And for those on 50 cents a day, it means total disaster." The poorest are selling their animals, tools, the tin roof over their heads—making recovery, when it comes, much harder.

Because the problem is not yet reflected in national statistics, its scale is hard to judge. The effect on the poor will depend on whether they are net buyers of food or net sellers (see article); for some net buyers, the price rises may be enough to turn them into sellers. But by almost any measure, the human suffering is likely to be vast. In El Salvador the poor are eating only half as much food as they were a year ago. Afghans are now spending half their income on food, up from a tenth in 2006.

On a conservative estimate, food-price rises may reduce the spending power of the urban poor and country people who buy their own food by 20% (in some regions, prices are rising by far more). Just over 1 billion people live on $1 a day, the benchmark of absolute poverty; 1.5 billion live on $1 to $2 a day. Bob Zoellick, the president of the World Bank, reckons that food inflation could push at least 100m people into poverty, wiping out all the gains the poorest billion have made during almost a decade of economic growth.

Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Our Baptismal Promise: It's Not 'Politics as Usual!" -- by Elaine Thomas

We held an election in Pennsylvania yesterday. You may have heard something about it. The Democratic warriors trying to score the knockout blow against their opponent. At this writing, it would appear that the primary season is destined to continue. We’ll have the privilege of more weeks of hearing platitudes and promises that they occasionally might mean and perhaps might be able to deliver, though not likely in the grandiose forms in which they are now being presented. It’s all politics, and year after year I hold out hope for something real and genuine, as I do still, not quite hopelessly jaded to the process!

What would happen if you and I did not take our promises seriously, knowing that we might not really have to keep them in the end? If we could promise anything in return for something we desired, knowing that we might not really have to deliver? We’ve all made one big promise in our baptism – we signed on to a covenant, irrevocable and permanent. And even if you were an innocent and unaware infant, those promises made on your behalf are binding, and you renew them every time you witness a baptism yourself. I know a priest who, just prior to the renewal of the baptismal vows in the liturgy, invites anyone who might not be able to keep those promises to leave for that portion of the service lest they perjure themselves before God. Think about that the next time you promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons and strive for justice and peace among all people.

Have we kept our promise? I read in the paper this morning that the UN has reset the number of dead in Darfur at 300,000. Did we keep our promise to them? We observed the 39th Earth Day yesterday, yet continue to rely on fossil fuels to power our lifestyles and live in a disposable society. Have we kept our promise to the Earth? The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than a dollar a day has not lessened in the 8 years we’ve been working on the MDGs. Have we kept our promise to them?

Frederick Buechner once preached a sermon in which he imagined the characters in Shakespeare’s plays as oblivious and unaware of God’s presence as we seem so often to be. Juliet and Hamlet and Lady Macbeth know only the confines of the four or five acts of their universe and God in the great beyond is beyond comprehension. “If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right but I cannot see him” (Job 23:8-9) And what if Shakespeare decided to enter the play, to break through the parchment into their limited reality and show his hand? Would that change the evil done to King Lear or prevent the tragedy of Hamlet? Would it make a difference?

Our God did, in fact, break into our existence in the person of Jesus. We did not receive a promise that we would never know pain or suffering or would have all the answers to all the questions. What we received was even better – I will be with you in all the joys and sorrows of your life; I will be with you always, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). And we can do with that what we will, for good or ill. We can do nothing, seeking and serving only the devices and desires of our own hearts. Or we can be the hands and feet of the body of Christ, working to mend this torn creation, to heal the earth and feed the hungry and heal the sick.

And many of us have worked tirelessly to do just that. We have, to the best of our sometimes flat-footed ability, done our best to seek and serve Christ in all persons. And yes, the poor and hungry are still with us, just as Jesus said they would be. Does that mean that our efforts are for nothing? Do we throw up our hands in despair, give up, stop trying?

No, we don’t. We made a covenant. And when we make that covenant with God, we make it with all God’s people, as well. And because we do, lives are being saved because mosquito nets are available to millions of people who need them, sustainable agriculture is feeding those who have known nothing but a life of hunger, relief is provided to those whose homelands are destroyed by war and chaos, AIDS outcasts are brought into community. And all because we continue to say ‘yes’ to the promises we have made.

This isn’t politics as usual, my friends. This is where the rubber meets the road. And we don’t despair because we are people of hope who know that God can take the measly loaves and fish that we have to offer and work miracles. We simply have to be willing to bring them forward. So say it with me brothers and sisters: I will, with God’s help.

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, April 21, 2008

"The MDGs: It's about being the Body of Christ" - By Tracey Herzer

From the first moment that I heard about the Millennium Development Goals, I wanted to be involved. Hearing stories about people and communities in different parts of the world who are dealing with hardships I could never imagine touched something deep inside me and made me feel connected to people I’ve never even met.

I listened with rapt attention to stories told by people who had been to places and had amazing life-changing experiences simply because they had a heart for helping and they were willing to go… willing to set aside their own ideas and assumptions and open their hearts and minds to whatever might happen along the way.

Truth be told, part of me maybe even felt a little envious. It reminded me of how I felt as a little girl in the Baptist church, listening to visiting missionaries share heart-wrenching tales of how deep and holy connections were made between unlikely groups of people and how over and over again, they had been able to witness the many ways in which God provides. I was mesmerized by their exotic life experiences and in awe of the way they were able to put their faith into action.

I’ve never been to Africa. In fact, I’ve never been anywhere that could come close to qualifying as a third world country, and I wondered what I could possibly have to offer.

But for me, that’s what makes the MDG initiatives so accessible. We talk a lot about “what one can do” and I’ve discovered that there are LOTS of things I can do, even with my passport hopelessly out of date.

The Millennium Development Goals aren’t about “fixing things” for other people. They are about remembering that we are all connected and about looking for ways we can make adjustments in our own lives that really can have global implications. It’s about how we choose to spend our money. It’s about using our voices. It’s about being the Body of Christ.

In the body of Christ, we all have different perspectives. We have different gifts and abilities. And maybe the blessing of offering those gifts isn’t so much in the gift itself, but in the act of offering it, of offering ourselves.

So far, I still haven’t been to Africa. But I found a way to use the gifts I do have to help gather and develop some education resources to help other people understand the MDGs. It’s a small thing and there are lots of other people who have offered similar gifts and contributions… but then, that’s the wonderful thing about God’s spirit: who knows the ways in which God uses small contributions to spark something in someone else who then takes it to places we can’t even imagine.

After all, look at how many times scripture reminds us that God uses very ordinary people to do absolutely extraordinary things.

What are your gifts? And how creative can you be in offering them up for use in God’s kingdom??

Tracey Herzer is the president of the National Association of Episcopal Christian Education Directors, executive director of LeaderResources, a senior trainer for Journey To Adulthood, and EGR's coordinator for Children, Youth and the MDGs.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

"Taking the Give It 4 Good Pledge" -- by the Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell

Confession is good for the soul. (But maybe not so much for the ego!) I had been reading the info about the Give It 4 Good campaign and how we should choose compassion over consumption and I was thinking “Yeah, but I ain’t getting’ no check and I already give LOTS! This should be for other people who aren’t already givin’ what they can!”

And didn’t the Holy Spirit, in that wonderful way of Hers, convict my heart. I was reading At Knit’s End, Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much (yes, I may have taken my Lenten discipline of learning to knit socks a bit too seriously but we’ll talk about that later,) when I came across this quote by Kahlil Gibran: “Generosity is giving more than you can, and pride is taking in less than you need.” (Nobody needs to tell me that God works in mysterious ways…)

That was it. I did it. I took the pledge. And I feel at peace. Up and until I’m at the place where I have given away everything I own, I’m still not doing all I can. Somehow, the bills are still getting paid, I still am able to put gas in my car, and my family has food on the table. We are so blessed. We can always do more.

This morning I am going to preach at another parish about the Millennium Development Goals. The woman who extended the invitation was very excited about the work their youth group did throughout the Lenten Season bringing awareness about the MDGs to the congregation. I sent her a copy of the GiveIt4Good Bulletin Insert and asked that it be put in all the bulletins. She told me that she thought I should just do a “regular” sermon for the 8 o’clockers since they “really weren’t all that interested in the MDG’s.”

Friends, I am more excited about the opportunity to share the information with the 8 o’clockers! I believe that we miss an incredible opportunity when we assume our seniors don’t want to get involved. I don’t know about your parishes, but in mine, my long time members are the slow-steady engines driving the train. They deserve to be challenged and invited to get involved. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Take the pledge, folks. Compassion over consumption is the way to go.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

"Spending Our Spiritual Stimulus Checks" -- by Barbara Crafton

The following was Barbara Crafton's meditation from her "Almost daily eMo" from Geranium Farm. Click here to see them all and for information about subscribing.

In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. - John 14:2

Extravagant language about God -- the Gospel of John is full of it. The power of God, the glory of God, the wisdom of God, these are everywhere in John -- and here, God's house in heaven is so big, many mansions can fit into it! Now, who can't relate to the excitement of that? Big! The Biggest! The most ever! The idea of abundance entrances us: size, power, wealth. We want it all, and then we want more of it. And when we imagine God, we imagine God to be like us.

But what actually happens in this ancient book with all the high-flown language? The Son of God is betrayed by one of his friends, deserted by others and finally killed. The power and glory of God isn't a simple matter of more and more, bigger and bigger. The one who raises Lazarus from the dead does not escape his own death. And his own rising from death is strangely quiet, mysterious, puzzling. Nobody knows exactly what has happened, but we see no mansion, no big army, no pot of gold. Life in Christ is something else, something different from the usual human love of more and more.

Maybe more and more is not what we need. In May, many Americans will be receiving “economic stimulus” checks from the federal government in the hopes that the money will be spent to bolster the languishing economy. We're supposed to spend it. But, with a national debt of $9 trillion, the United States is arguably the most consumer-oriented society in the world. Far more goods than are needed, or that can be produced in an environmentally-sustainable manner, are purchased by people who already live lives of material plenty.

To help direct the stimulus checks to people who can truly benefit from this money, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation (EGR) launched the “Give it 4 Good” campaign http://www.giveit4good.org/ to encourage people to give all or part of the stimulus check to an organization working to advance the Millennium Development Goals, a set of benchmarks established by the international community to cut rates of global poverty. Spending our stimulus checks in this way would serve a spiritual purpose for us, as well as a charitable one for others. We don't just need to give poor people money; we also need to change our own values. More and more is not always better, or even desirable. Longing for more and more hasn't always served us well. Part of achieving Millennium Development Goal 7 -ensure environmental sustainability- begins with people who live in western countries limiting their consumption behavior.

To support the Millennium Development Goals Inspiration Fund through this campaign, make a gift to Episcopal Relief and Development online at www..er-d.org , or call 1-800-334-7626, ext. 5129. Gifts can be mailed to: Episcopal Relief and Development “Millennium Development Goals Inspiration Fund”, P.O. Box 7058, Merrifield, VA 22116-7058. To record your gift with Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, please visit www.giveit4good.org and complete the form, indicating your pledge to Episcopal Relief and Development and the Millennium Development Goals Inspiration Fund.

Friday, April 18, 2008

"I Will No Longer Count Myself Complicit" -- by Abbie Coburn

I am filled with questions these days. I’m in the middle of Kansas, traveling on the Wheels of Justice bus tour with a Vietnam War vet and two committed human rights activists – Kathy Kelly and Nora Barrows-Friedman. I live amongst the effects of war, for a brief time. PTSD on wheels. How one could support foreign occupation when you’ve seen its effects is beyond me. But where to find the root of the problem is still a mystery.

I am constantly wondering why more people aren’t throwing their arms up and saying “Enough is Enough!” Ya Basta! The direction we are headed is not sustainable – for us, for the planet, for our souls. How many more trillion dollars into the defense department will it take until we realize that we are killing ourselves? And I wonder what it will take for us to get out of the pews and begin to treat all of humanity as one. To refuse to support one more death! To sit in our congressional offices until our taxes stop paying for this $3 trillion war (or until they drag us off to prison).

And I wonder, in this online group, are we limiting ourselves to the Millennium Development Goals or are we allowing them to expand our lives? Can we see beyond what they say and get to the point of what it feels like to live in a revolutionary world? A place where the education of all of humanity means more than upholding the rights of women to education. A place where environmental resources are treated as the life-giving forces that they are. A place where justice comes first, pulling peace in its wake.

Are we reconciling ourselves to “make the best with what we have”? Or are we re-envisioning what we are really capable of? Are we restricted by how we are looking at the possibilities for our present and future? Or are we stretching ourselves to actually imagine a world where justice and equality are part of the shared human experience, not an ideal so many must struggle to never attain? We cannot continue to apply band-aids to this broken world. Move beyond the pew!

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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"The Bishop Masereka Medical Centre -- best practices for medical care in Uganda" -- by Dr. Christiana Russ

I have spent the past three weeks in Kasese, a town in western Uganda. I was a guest of a retired Anglican bishop Zebedee Masereka and his wife Stella. They invited me to come do some pediatric work at their health clinic – the Bishop Masereka Medical Centre, which functions under the umbrella organization called Bishop Masereka Christian Foundation.

I have a tendency to rant about the quality of health care provided in places which display a cross and are purportedly Christian. In far too many of these clinics you find poor staffing with inadequate training, insufficient supplies, too much dirt, and a level of ‘care’ that would inspire anyone but the most desperate person to stay home until knocking on death’s door scares them into seeking help. They come too late, there is little that can be done and adequate interventions at that point are very expensive. When they succumb their family and friends remember only that medical care didn’t help and cost a lot, and thus the grisly cycle continues.

At the Bishop Masereka Medical Centre (BMMC) I have seen a model of how things can be done differently. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Bishop and Stella urge their staff to treat their patients lovingly. Isn’t that, after all, how we as Christians are to be known?

The BMMC also strives to provide excellent medical care. They have hired a physician, Dr. Daniel, who recently graduated from medical school in Uganda. He pushes the staff to make decisions based on evidence. He encourages people to think of other causes of fever besides malaria. He insists on treating each patient well – so much so that when a 13 year old girl was diagnosed with TB and lost to follow up, he went into the town to find her so she could begin her treatment. The staff counselor then met with the girl’s family and community to teach them about TB. A few days later a woman came in with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy which is a surgical emergency. Dr. Daniel not only ensured that she was referred to a hospital with an operating theatre, but he also went several hours later to make sure they had done the surgery quickly and that she had stabilized. This is evidence of medical care, true care, and this is also why the number of patients at the Bishop Masereka Medical Centre is increasing rapidly.

Dr. Daniel and the Bishop are working hard to raise funds for their clinic. They hope to move out of their cramped, rented rooms and build a small hospital replete with operating theatre, full lab and radiology facilities. They are chasing down local businesspeople seeking donations and are planning to take out loans as needed. The care they provide isn’t free, but it is quality care that is worth the cost, and they have some donor funds that assist in running the clinic (such as the physician’s salary).

It is my prayer for Africa that health facilities such as the BMMC will continue to spring up in small towns like Kasese, where they are most needed. I pray additional dedicated and smart doctors, nurses, counselors and other staff will be trained well and will invest in improving the health care in these communities. When the quality of health care that is offered improves, and when it is given with love, people do come. It is astonishing and miraculous to witness the dramatic healing that can sometimes happen then.

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.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Doctor's Story -- from The Lancet

Meredith Bowen, who blogs in this spot, sends this note with this article:

"I would love to share the following Journal Article from The Lancet about a doctor that I am going to have the pleasure and honor of working for in the coming year." The article is from The Lancet – Infectious Disease Medical Journal.

At what was surely the largest ever Lunch with The Lancet, 17 of us sat down in Arusha, Tanzania, with Frank Artress. Artress is no stranger to Africa. He was born in Ethiopia, where his father was a missionary doctor. But he was raised in California, where he finished medical school and trained as a cardiac anaesthesiologist. He returned to Africa after a life-changing, nearly life-ending, experience.

About 6 years ago, on a trip to Tanzania “My wife Susan and I fell in love with the country and the people. We decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for my 50th and Susan's 40th birthday. It was a wonderful, uneventful climb for the first 5 days, until we stopped for lunch at 18,000 feet, and I went into full-blown high-altitude pulmonary oedema. I realized there was less than a 25% chance that I would make it off the mountain alive. Sitting up there, facing those odds, was a pretty powerful spiritual experience. Suddenly my ‘previous life’ seemed rather shallow and self-serving, and the thought of dying then without having had the opportunity to give more back to society was a bit overwhelming”.

36 hours later, with the heroic efforts of guides and porters, they made it down the mountain. Artress was treated by a doctor who said that he would recover, but “they sure needed doctors in Tanzania a whole lot more than they needed doctors in California. We thought about this for 24 hours, and both decided that it was the right time to make a change and do something different with our lives. We flew home, quit our jobs, sold or gave away most everything we had, and formed the non-profit Foundation for African Medicine and Education (FAME); and moved to Tanzania.”

To combat a “mind-bogglingly steep learning curve”, Artress partnered with three local doctors. Tanzania has only one doctor for every 25 000 patients, and medical education—to say nothing of postgraduate training or continuing medical education—is prohibitively expensive (about US$6000 per year). “The heartbreak of medicine in Africa”, he says, is a shortage of equipment and plenty of preventable diseases.

FAME's goal is to construct several facilities, including a clinic and a hospital, in a phased project that will have education as its backbone. “We realize that one doctor, treating one patient at a time, is only a drop in the bucket in view of the massive needs here.” Still, Artress says, his work in Tanzania “is tremendously rewarding, and can be lots of fun—all you need is a spirit of adventure, flexibility, and patience. Not ‘patients’, though—we've got lots of those!”

Monday, April 14, 2008

"Developed and Developing World Frameworks on Poverty" -- by Jennifer Morazes

Recently, I was published with another graduate student colleague in the Journal of Human Behavior and the Social Environment as part of a special issue on Poverty from Multiple Social Science Perspectives. What intruiged me was comparing developed and developing world frameworks on poverty.

I address global poverty from the perspectives of both the developed world and developing world, comparing these poverty theories and their dominant themes and concepts. The major themes are definitions of poverty, main unit of focus or measurement, resource distribution and theories of interventions.

The first comparison involves how the developed and developing world differ in their definitions of poverty. While the idea of social exclusion in the European literature refers to intra-country poverty and the difference between included and excluded groups, the literature of the developing world reflects a two-pronged approach that focuses on the present global economic policies and their policies affect their local region. The developing world literature emphasizes the concept of access in contrast to the market-focused developed world perspective where poverty is regarded as an exception rather than the norm. Furthermore, the developed world theorists consider their own context primarily unless the analysis explicitly references “global poverty,” while the developing world inherently references the developed world in describing the relationships that contribute to poverty and lack of access.

The second point of comparison involves the locus of rights and responsibilities within the theoretical framework, or the unit of measurement in the poverty discussion. In the developed world analyses, the focus is on the individualistic concepts of “citizenship” and individual rights and responsibilities. In contrast, the literature of the developing world emphasizes collectively at the community and countries levels in relationship to resources and distribution. In addition, the developing world literature emphasizes basic human needs – (e.g. food, medicine, water, income) – rather than the abstract principles of “participation,” “inclusion”, or “benefits” in the literature of developed countries. Developed world theorists debate universal vs. selective approaches to welfare as well as individual vs. social blame, while developing world theorists focus upon specific attributes and needs of whole communities experiencing minimum incomes (e.g. less than $1 or $2/day).

To read the entire piece, including a chart that illuminates these conflicts, click here.

Jenn Morazes – 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.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

"The Moral Issue of Suffering - The Gospel of John" -- by the Rev. Becca Stevens

John’s Gospel message this morning really begins while Jesus is walking with his disciple down the road after people threw stones at him in the Temple. Rejected from the flock, they meet a blind man. Jesus stops, even though it is the Sabbath, and makes an ointment from his spit mixed with mud and places it over the man’s eyes and he is healed. The religious authorities then question the man and throw him out as well. This is Jesus’ response and he says there is a gatekeeper who knows who the real shepherds are. It invites the listener to move beyond doctrinal issues that separate flocks and declares the gatekeeper is concerned about a higher imperative which is the moral issue to care for the suffering sheep, wherever they are and whose ever they are. That is the only way sheep are safe, and the voice of God is recognized.

On the eve of our journey to Rwanda by eight women from the community of Magdalene and Thistle Farms this Gospel is indeed good news. This journey allows us to care for women who are suffering: women trying to find sanctuary and freedom after surviving lives of violence, addiction, and prostitution. Their suffering has been and continues to be a moral issue because they are our sisters. That morality is not confined to people who share our doctrinal beliefs, it is not bound by nation/state boarders, and it affects people of all races and ages. It affects all our communities, the culture we live in, the health of the world, and how we raise our children.

Last week, one of the residents of Magdalene, our community dedicated to women who have suffered similar trauma here in the United States, spoke to the student body of Vanderbilt Law School about her experience of being the only teenager to ever testify in a federal case against a huge child prostitution and pornography ring. She talked about what a long journey it has been so far and about the guilt and fear she faced in naming the men who abused her. She talked some about coming to terms with being a child of God and dreaming of a future and helping others. For her, the dreaming includes finishing school and going to college and ministering to others who have suffered. One of the Law students raised her hand and asked, “Where do you want to go to school”. She held the mike and said, “Maybe here”. Those thin lines that some of us still draw in spite of our selves to separate flocks were erased with surgical precision in her words. “Maybe here.”

Eleven years ago when Magdalene was created we wrote that we wanted to be a testimony to the truth that in the end love is more powerful then all the forces that drive women to the streets. Those streets are hell, I have been told, and I haven’t met a woman who hasn’t been raped and who isn’t destitute. The Gospel says such suffering should cause us all to stop and make mud ointments to soothe the pain, even if we are at a place in our lives where we feel a little out of the fold ourselves. Over 115 women have graced the threshold of the Magdalene community as residents and a thousand more have come as seekers to help and find healing. Seventy-two percent of the residents have graduated and I am so thankful to still get to be a part of such a flock. In that sheepfold people share the role of shepherding, we get to talk about the freedom of forgiveness we have known, how mercy runs deeper than abuse, and about how we have to learn to love without judgment each day.

A month ago Katrina Davidson, Susan Sluser, and I drove to Tuscaloosa, AL to preach, teach and sell our natural bath and body care products to an Episcopal Church. They welcomed us through their gate. We shared stories, talked about ministry, hugged as friends and even laughed about bath and body care products being the revolutionary tool we use to talk about women’s freedom.

Driving back I thought about the other churches in places like Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Chicago and New York that have already invited us to come and share our story this year. During the drive back we talked about how it felt like we were a new kind of missionary. Not in the sense that we have a new message, the message is as old as the gatekeeper, but in how we are not going out to convert people to a particular fold, but just trying to reach out to women who are suffering with a balm of Gilead and then go into churches to remind them that the moral issue of suffering is the matter of faith to confront. Dorothy Day, a beloved saint, says that you cannot help a sister or brother in need without getting naked first. The moral issue of the suffering of another requires us to look at our own suffering and remember all those who mixed their spit with mud to help us sit in this sanctuary today. All humanity knows suffering. The special gift of this fold has been to witness how love works in the lives of some of the most vulnerable voices in the world and hear their call as shepherds.

So we get to go to Rwanda and make candles and soap and hear stories of suffering on a colossal scale. In saying that we are coming, good things are already happening. The Serena hotel chain in Rwanda and Tanzania has sent us swatches so that they can order candles and soaps for all their rooms. A fundraiser by Bono’s group in July in Europe has ordered five hundred candles for their cause; a church in a remote village has invited us to preach on Sunday, the minister of gender and the embassy want to help. Before we step foot on the plane we are learning that we should never doubt that our compassion, our fire for justice, and our moral outrage, is needed and welcomed in a world with so much suffering.

This community is my sheepfold. It is where I was allowed in the gate stumbling always through what it means to be a shepherd. I have learned so much from so many here who have shepherded me. This has been the wandering flock where many of us have found sanctuary to grieve and freedom to grow in our faith. This Gospel invites us all to step through the gate again and care about the whole world and weep unapologetically for the suffering and our own blindness. This Gospel reminds us no one is outside the gatekeeper’s flock because he spent his entire ministry caring for the suffering of others on the way to offer his life for the sake of love. For that same loves sake, we are given the gift of caring for God’s sheep. Amen.

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

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Giving it for Good" -- by John Hammock

This week, EGR launched the Give it for Good campaign to" urge people to contribute to MDG programs the money the US Government is about to send out to folks to stimulate the economy. This is worthwhile because it will raise money for the MDGs. But equally, if not more importantly it focuses on the fact that we in the richer countries need to look at how we spend our resources.

Working for a better world is not an abstract concept. And it does not just require money. It requires our own personal transformation. Every day we spend money; every day we make decisions about what to buy, what to support with our dollars. Do we buy fair traded goods? Do we buy clothes that are made in sweat shops? Do we purchase fuel efficient, energy efficient goods—from cars to light bulbs? Yes, change has to take place also at the national and international level. But it starts with us and what we do.

I am co-authoring a book about to be published called Practical Idealists: Changing the World and Getting Paid. The book tracks how over forty young people in our country have chosen to live out their values in their work. We found that it is first important to know what your values are. What do you believe in? In the case of Christians—do these values come from the Gospel? How would you articulate these? And then it is good to be in tune with your passion—what makes you tick, or get up in the morning.

“The interplay between your passions and your values will be the foundation for your practical idealism. For example, if you hold economic fairness as a value and are passionate about the environment, you might work for good air quality in economically disadvantaged regions. On the other hand, if you are excited by politics and its processes, you might work for equity by lobbying local governments to provide low-income housing for their citizens or work in government to enact legislation for school improvement. Thinking seriously about your values and your passions allows you to shape the form your practical idealism will take.”
Values and passion are important. But crucial is also asking yourself how much is enough? What do you want/need in terms of money, time, and/or recognition (success/prestige)? And can you live your life—including your spending habits—within these?

“Like it or not, one of the thorniest dilemmas facing those who wish to be practical idealists is how to have enough money to live well, but also have a job that allows them to have meaning in life. John often hears students say that they cannot take a practical idealist job and live well. There may be some truth to this; it depends on your definition of living well. It is possible in today’s world to live well and do good with a job in education, nonprofits, government, public service, farming or small-scale businesses. Likewise, practical idealists can be attorneys, physicians, mutual fund managers, or corporate executives-- they just need to avoid being sucked into a way of life that precludes mindfulness and doing good for society.”
The EGR campaign Give it for Good reminds us that it is all too easy to be sucked into a way of life that precludes mindfulness and doing good for society. What we do with our money matters; the choices we make every day matter. It is part of our discernment of how to be open to personal transformation in all aspects of our lives.

Editor's note: Find out more about Give It For Good at www.giveit4good.org. Take the pledge to give 100%, 10% or 0.7% of your "economic stimulus check" (or, if you don't qualify for a check, what you would be getting if you did qualify) to organizations of your choice supporting the MDGs. There are also advocacy actions and resources for personal and congregational study of the issues of consumption, consumerism and Christianity.
Dr. John Hammock is 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 for 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 board of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

"Connecting to One Another through Economic Discipleship" - by Lallie Lloyd

One of the ways EGR is a blessing to me is the way it brings together Christians from across the theological spectrum. People who self-identify as liberal, conservative, progressive, evangelical or none-of-the-above have come together because they are called to seek and serve Christ in the extreme poor around the world.

Since EGR’s very earliest days, this is one thing that has worked for us. And not by accident. We make a priority of praying and worshipping together, of sharing meals and faith stories, and we reach out to one another across boundaries, even the ones that are pretty real and painful. God has blessed us, and blesses us still, with powerful bonds of affection.

Maybe you’ve experienced this in your work for the MDGs too? I hope so.

Over recent months on this blog I’ve been sharing the story of how a few of us are reviving the MDG movement at Trinity Church, a big historic parish in downtown Boston.

Last week a few of us met with Rachel Anderson, executive director the Boston Faith and Justice Network (www.bostonfaithjustice.org). BFJN is an ecumenical community practicing economic discipleship in three ways: increasing giving to poverty-fighting ministries; transforming Greater Boston into a fair trade community and developing a strong Christian voice for global health, hunger relief and environmental sustainability for the poor. So far the churches that have joined cut across lots of the denominational barriers you’d find in any major US city.

BFJN uses a small group curriculum, Lazarus at the Gate, that invites prayerful lifestyle change to enable generosity to the poor. Fair trade allows us to support low-income farmers and workers around the world by what we buy, and the MDGs are the frame for policy advocacy work.

What draws me to BFJN is that it links my ongoing personal conversion to social and community acts of economic discipleship, and it does this at the personal, community and national levels. It speaks to me as a whole person, embedded in a family, congregation, neighborhood, city and nation. A person with an inner and outer life, with voting rights and economic power.

I suspect it will deeply challenge my relationship with money and I hope it will help me align this complicated part of my life with my longing for God. And I want to take this journey with other Christians because I want to learn from them, see through their eyes, know what God is doing in their lives.

So this week my MDG friends and colleagues at Trinity and I talked about starting a Lazarus at the Gate group to launch a deep and spiritually-grounded conversation about wealth, poverty and our call as Christians. This is what EGR has been about from the beginning, and it’s great to see the same hopes and longings emerging in a new place – like tender new shoots of a young vine.

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, April 8, 2008

"Augustine said, 'Be what you see, and receive who you are.'" - by Stephanie Rhodes

I was sitting at dinner one night with a Norwegian woman I had just met. A regular globetrotter, she was telling stories about the places she'd lived and the people she'd met. And, of course, the crazy, beautiful, disconcerting process of having all of your assumptions turned right on their heads. She also talked about the Americans she'd met, some of them even foreign service officials, who would immediately declare something to the effect of, this president isn't my president. The kind of disclaimer that says, I promise, I'm not that American.

And while I heartily reject the notion that this president isn't my president -- I wish he wasn't, but that's another post for another site -- I can certainly understand their need to declare that they aren't that kind of American. I laughed that traveling in Europe after our failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, our invasion of Iraq and our extrajudicial extracurriculars at Guantanamo, I was really tempted to wear a tee shirt saying "I'm sorry". This Norwegian woman said, you know, you shouldn't feel that you have to apologize for who you are (she kindly ignored the reality that I also probably shouldn't be publicly reinterpreting a U2 video).

Of course she's right, and I would no more apologize for being an American than I would for being short. It is who I am and how I experience the world. Everything I do or think or believe is either in line with or in opposition to my fundamentally American identity. The challenge, though, is in being the American that I want to be.

In many ways it's like what this site and this movement does -- attempting to reclaim the language of Christianity to mean something other than damagingly homogeneic, if not just damaging, "social values". It's attempting to find space in that language, co-opted as it may be, for connections that matter and, if we're lucky, that heal.

I think the antidote to all of the power and the bullshit that separates us, admittedly leaving some of us far more privileged than others, is relationship. The ability to stand together in something that matters, in some project that heals. Whether it's "speaking truth to power" or helping to rebuild someone's house, development should be about experiencing our shared humanity, not just succeeding in some sustainability calculation.

Unfortunately, like many people, I'm very good at saying idealistic things in writing, then keeping my mouth scared shut when the rubber hits the road. Because in zones of conflict, development is not just about building things, it's also about tearing them down. And tearing them down comes with some serious risks.

That is especially true in this conflict zone, where it seems like everyone in power is wrong. Just...flat...wrong. But there are some people, certainly braver ones than myself, who manage to call everyone out. People who tell those in power exactly what kind of job they're doing and how it pales in comparison to the one they should be doing.

And it's not that they're being rabble-rousers or blowholes who love their own rhetoric. They're doing it because it is who they are. It's the only way they can make sense of their own identity.

It's time to stop saying sorry. But it's also time to be the best of who we are.

Monday, April 7, 2008

"Taking an adventure with God" -- by Craig Cole

When I was in seventh grade, I sat next to a girl named Thea. The entire year I had a crush on her. She pretty much ignored me even though I thought she was gorgeous. Finally, in the spring we were sharing our summer vacation plans. I pointed to Honduras on a map and told her I was going there for two months on a mission trip with others my age. She looked at me with her beautiful blue eyes and said, “That is so cool.”

As my heart melted, I knew right then and there I wanted to do cool things!

Missionary work is about doing cool things. It’s about taking an adventure with God and taking a risk like Peter did when he got out of the boat and began to walk on water. Notice what happens when Peter begins to doubt and begins to sink. Jesus is right there to pick him up and make sure he didn’t drown.

When we take the risk to follow Christ, we need to know that He will always meet us at the time of our greatest need. Or, he will reveal himself in unique and profound ways.

I was recently in the Philippines and I looked up a friend of mine, Fr. George, who until recently was the priest at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Taguig, a poverty-stricken community in Metro Manila. He is a person I will never forget.

During my first visit in 2001, he was just starting out in his ministry at Holy Spirit. Taguig is a rough area where drugs, gangs and prostitution replaced several large industries that had closed. He told us he had lost his niece to the local gangs and was almost killed in the process of finding her. He also told us he had just started a daycare and had allowed children from other faiths and denominations to join. He was being criticized for this decision. However, he was committed to vision of combining both economic and spiritual development to build a stronger community

I asked him, “What’s your response to the gangs, to those who doubt you and criticize you?”

Fr. George simply responded. “When Christ died on the cross He died with his arms wide open.” And with that, he raised his arms wide open and gave a big smile. This gesture sent chills through me. I knew I had met Jesus in a new profound way at that very moment.

Since that time, his church has grown and he has become a pastor to the community. He counsels families with alcoholism, marriage problems and other issues. Meanwhile the loan program Five Talents established with his church has prospered benefiting thousands of community members.

Mission work is worth taking the risk because Jesus will show His face in so many exciting ways. And, by the way, He wants us to do cool things as well.

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

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bread for the World president David Beckmann on Bill Moyers

Yesterday, PBS aired a wonderful Bill Moyers interview with the Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World about the challenges of combating hunger.

Beckmann is an amazing guy. He's been president of Bread for 15 years, leading large-scale and successful campaigning to strengthen U.S. political commitment to overcoming hunger and poverty. Before that, he served at the World Bank for 15 years, overseeing large projects and driving innovations to make the Bank more effective in reducing poverty.

Beckmann is also president of Bread for the World Institute, which does research and education on hunger-related issues, including agriculture and trade policy. He founded and serves as president of the Alliance to End Hunger, which engages diverse U.S. institutions – Muslim and Jewish groups, corporations, unions and universities – in building political will to end hunger.

The conversation is worth a watch, listen or read.

Watch it streaming on your desktop here.

Listen to the podcast here.

Read the transcript here.

Friday, April 4, 2008

"Voices from Nairobi" -- by Reynolds Whalen

I have talked on this blog before about a group called Haba na Haba that uses performing arts for education, social change, and development in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. For this entry, I want to experiment and try something new and different. During my time working with Haba na Haba, I have conducted dozens of interviews about various topics. In this post, I simply want to share with you a very brief selection of inspiring things that were said about poverty, development, the power of theater for education, and the strength of local people to address their own problems. Hopefully through reading these, you will gain a further appreciation for the ability of local grassroots movements to make a difference in the developing world.

On Theater for Development and Education

“After the performances, when we do a skit or a play, we create a forum of discussion between ourselves and the community and we put ourselves in the shoes of the community. Now it’s not like we are actors anymore, it is like we are discussing issues that are affecting us…me and the audience. Now, in this case we do not call the audience the audience. We call the audience like a, you can say, a friend who we are in a free space and we are speaking freely. By that, each one of us comes to speak freely on all the issue that are affecting us. Yeah, so I think it’s a very unique program and very effective compared to other mediums of awareness.” –Paul Kamau

“We live in a society where girls are still looked down upon and when they can stand in front of a crowd and be listened to, just imagine what that does to their self-esteem.” –George Ndiritu

“I like being in drama, creating that awareness, you know? I’ve been through a lot, I’ve seen many people suffer, and I know it can be changed, you know? Through me I can bring change to the community. And that’s why I like being in drama because I know one day one time I will see a different kind of slum and I’ll be proud of it because I was part of the change…So I like doing what I do. That is drama.” –Stella Mwangi

On Development and the name “Haba na Haba”

“Haba na Haba means step by step, little by little. It's a Swahili proverb "Haba na Haba Hucheza Kibaba". You know “little by little, we'll fill the pot.” And that's of course, our working principle, that development is a process and we have to proceed step by step. Take one step at a time. When you're really comfortable, you can take another step.” –George Ndiritu

“For us to have a big social change in the world, all it takes is for you to do something little on your end and for me to do something little on my end and then we have the success we desire…because I find that most of the time we tend to focus on the bigger goal and we lose out on counting the small, significant steps that you are making when measured together has an amazing impact toward our ultimate goal of building safer and healthy communities in this world.” –John Ndichu

On Kenya and slum life

“For anyone who is not in Kenya or anyone who happens to be very far and would like to come to Kenya…Kenya is not what you hear. Kenya is what you see. So if you happen to see something in Kenya, then you judge it...you should judge Kenya according to what you see, not what you hear.” –Allan Shibweje

“I have finished school like other people, and I am now doing my degree at Nairobi University, degree in Sociology, so it doesn’t make any difference because in my class the other people who also come from the rich families…and I am in the same class as them, so for me it doesn’t really…I just tell people not to be depressed, all we do is just to be patient and patience pays” –Elizabeth Kiathera

“So, there are many people who will come down to see that poverty, you know to see how people are living helplessly and all that, but to me I'll always look at it differently that despite the poverty, that's the place that I've seen people smiling more than any other part of the world. And it's not about hiding our poverty, no no no, you are poor but you have to live, you have a life. So are you going to waste your time frowning? No, people have to live you know. For me to communicate with people, I don't have to show my poverty, I just have to be a normal human being.” –George Ndiritu

Reynolds Whalen is a senior at
Washington University in St. Louis, has traveled extensively in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. He spent fall semester 2006 in Kenya working with Haba na Haba in Mathare -- read his blog on it here and is working on a documentary film on that experience.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

“What Your Congregation Can Do to End Extreme Poverty” - by the Rev. Jay Lawlor

Next Monday (April 7, 2008), Millennium Congregation (formerly advertised as the Millennium Villages Faithful Action Initiative) will officially begin connecting congregations throughout the United States in partnership with Millennium Villages. Our initial goal is to fund five villages in the Mayange region of Rwanda and then continue to increase our support as part of Rwanda’s national scale-up of Millennium Villages across the nation -- helping Rwanda become the first “Millennium Nation” in achieving the MDGs and building sustainable village economies nationally.

The concept for Millennium Congregation is simple: 50 congregations - giving $500 a month- for five years - to empower 5,000 people to lift themselves out of extreme poverty and build self-sustaining lives for themselves and future generations. Each group of 50 congregations will support one Millennium Village in delivering practical and proven interventions in agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure that comprehensively address all eight of the MDGs by tackling the root causes of extreme poverty.

Millennium Congregation is working directly with the Millennium Villages Project in Rwanda (directed by Dr. Josh Ruxin, a regular contributor to the EGR blog) and in a formal partnership with Jeffrey Sachs’ Millennium Promise and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Millennium Congregation is the first-of-its-kind faith organization to launch such an initiative with Millennium Villages. We hope that our efforts will draw all faiths together in partnership with one another and the extreme poor in growing the number of Millennium Congregation-supported Millennium Villages throughout Rwanda.

I invite you to read this Associated Press article, “Rwanda Genocide Victims, Killers Meet,” on the amazing work of reconciliation and transformation that Millennium Villages are doing in Mayange, Rwanda. After reading the article, I hope that you will pray about how your congregation gives to the work of advancing the MDGs and ending extreme poverty and if joining Millennium Congregation to help support the next Millennium Villages in Rwanda is one concrete way that you – and your congregation – can respond through faith to end extreme poverty.

If you would like to learn more about Millennium Congregation and our work with Millennium Villages in Rwanda, please contact me anytime at: JayRLawlor@yahoo.com and/or visit our website: www.millenniumcongregation.org beginning Monday, April 7th.

The Rev. Jay Lawlor is a priest and economist and currently serves as Associate Rector at Church of the Nativity in Raleigh, North Carolina and as Director of Millennium Congregation. He is the author of Faithful Action: How Each Christian Can End Poverty.

"Addressing Nigeria's brain drain" - by Hugh Levinson, BBC News

The "brain drain" -- the best and brightest minds in developing countries leaving for the greener pastures of the West -- is one of the biggest barriers to societies lifting themselves out of extreme poverty. BBC's Hugh Levinson puts a face on this problem in a story from a Nigerian lab.

Dr Peace Babalola is one frustrated scientist.

At her lab in Nigeria, she just wants to get on with her research into drugs to combat endemic local diseases like malaria. But things are not easy. "It is a real sacrifice. It is patriotism," she says of her work.

She can't afford to buy enzymes. Her lab is missing a critical machine.

Most frustratingly, the power supply is unreliable.

The electricity can stop unexpectedly for several hours at a time - which can ruin experiments, damage sensitive equipment and destroy refrigerated samples.

So far she has resisted the temptation to leave Nigeria and move abroad.

"It's not as if we don't have offers," she says. "Universities in the US want us to come."

Many of the brightest and best African scientists have already been lured to the West by the promise of better pay and - more importantly - the chance to carry out more effective research.

Difficult decisions

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Africa suffers more than any other region from the brain drain in science and technology.

The higher the level of education, the more likely the scientist is to leave the continent.

Dr Babalola's former research assistant at the University of Ibadan Medical School has just joined the exodus.

"She's very intelligent, the best student I have ever supervised," says Dr Babalola.

"It's like they've cut off my right hand. Then I realised the problem of the brain drain."

Read the whole piece on the BBC news website.