Three years after delivering the first long-lasting insecticide-treated net to a remote community in rural Zambia, NetsforLife® has concluded Phase 1 of its implementation by distributing its millionth net.
The Hon. James Orengo, Minister for Land and other local dignitaries, Mr. Asiko, President of the Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, NetsforLife® Executive Director Shaun Walsh and 4,000 others participated in dramatic and musical events celebrating the completion of NetsforLife® Phase 1 in Kisumu, Kenya on December 10, 2008.
NetsforLife® is a collaborative partnership of ExxonMobil Foundation, Standard Chartered Bank, Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, Starr International Foundation, White Flowers Foundation and Episcopal Relief & Development. NetsforLife® implements integrated malaria prevention through a network of local faith-based organizations and NGOs in 17 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The program is managed and monitored by Episcopal Relief & Development in 15 countries and by Christian Aid in two.
Sleeping under an insecticide-treated net dramatically reduces malaria transmission, but because so few people have access to nets the disease remains a scourge of sub-Saharan Africa, the epicenter of 86% of the world’s 247 million annual cases. Nearly a million people die each year from malaria, 91% in Africa. More than 75% of those who become sick and die are children under the age of five. This disease causes needless death and suffering, and cripples development on the continent.
NetsforLife® has already achieved remarkable success. The program encourages people to sleep under long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, trains local malaria agents who distribute nets, provides education on how to recognize symptoms of malaria and teaches communities about environmental management and malaria control. For example, household long-lasting insecticide-treated net use by children and pregnant women, the two groups most vulnerable to the disease, increased dramatically in all countries of operation. The percentage of pregnant women and children sleeping under nets went from 12% to 88%.
In order to continue its work to eliminate malaria, NetsforLife® has launched Phase 2 of the program. During the next five years, the organization will expand its work to 17 countries, train thousands more malaria agents and distribute at least five million more nets.
As part of the Phase 2 kick-off, NetsforLife® is launching its new website, www.netsforlifeafrica.org. The innovative and user-friendly website has several features to engage those interested in efforts to eliminate malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. These include expanded information on program practices and activities, a blog with postings from different NetsforLife® field sites and headquarters and video clips presenting NetsforLife® in action.
“We are thrilled with the impact that Phase 1 of NetsforLife® has had on reducing malaria in remote communities in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Shaun Walsh, Executive Director of NetsforLife®. “We know from our project monitoring data that using the Church to reach communities at the end of the road is a successful way to instill a net culture and get people to sleep under treated nets. This is a true reason to rejoice and celebrate. Our new website provides an easy way to learn about the program and its success,” Walsh continued.
Friday, February 27, 2009
"NetsforLife Distributes Millionth Net to Eliminate Malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa and Launches a New Website" - by Devon Wallace, Nets For Life
Three years after delivering the first long-lasting insecticide-treated net to a remote community in rural Zambia, NetsforLife® has concluded Phase 1 of its implementation by distributing its millionth net.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
The vision of the Millennium Development Goals is not new. For people who draw their faith from the Bible, it is as old as scripture. There is a Biblical mandate to serve God’s mission ... and scripture offers us an understanding of the global crisis which has the potential to move us beyond the paralysis of the present to an affirmation and a way of being grounded in hope.
The doorway to this understanding starts with Jesus. And as with him, it is important to begin where he began, with scripture. For him, that was of course the Hebrew scripture. Beginning more than a thousand years before his birth, a number of texts became definitive for Jews, notably the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, which sought to establish the Torah, the Law. Then came the accounts, more or less historical, of the judges and kings of Israel. Beginning in the 7th century, the pronouncements of the various prophets were added to the generally accepted canon of readings. In addition are books which reflect spiritual struggle, like the Books of Psalms and other so-called wisdom literature.
For Israel, the defining event of its history was the Babylonian exile, a time of unrestrained grief and dislocation, of exile and persecution, which yet gave rise to the vision of an order of fulfillment, of community, and accountability. Isaiah declares the generosity of God as an encounter of a living God and a living people, in which all are invited to enjoy the rich abundance God had fashioned out of the preexisting void:
I am creating new heavens and a new earth; the past will not longer be remembered nor will it ever come to mind. . . The wolf and the lamb will feed together and the lion will eat straw like an ox. . .Neither hurt nor harm will be done in all my human mountain. (Isa. 65)In short the Old Testament God yearns for the fulfillment of human community.
It is in this reality that Jesus begins his preaching, which he does powerfully and with no mincing of words. All four Gospels move quickly as they begin their accounts of the adult Jesus. His first sermon at Nazareth, right after his baptism in the Jordan River, is from another text from Isaiah (Isa 61):
The Spirit of the Lord God has taken control of me! The Lord has anointed me, and sent me to announce good news to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind; to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.Jesus then rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down. All eyes in the synagogue are fixed on him.
Today in your hearing this text has come true.Initially, they marvel at how words of grace should fall from his lips. But not for long. He challenges their faith, and they turn on him, drive him out of town. And then the split begins, between those who come to see him as uniquely living out the promises of God and those who see someone undermining traditional Jewish values or stirring up the Roman authorities. Even his own mother and brothers come to him, questioning his sanity or at least his judgment. It then begins slowly to emerge among the growing band of his followers, that in him God has taken a decisive step in respect to the world. God has entered the world in our flesh, confronting in person the human sense of alienation and exile – Father, take this cup from me, he pleads, and from the Cross, My God, why have you forsaken me? Yet he takes there responsibility to bring about the healing and restitution for which the world longs. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. It is finished. Into your hands I commit myself.
The reality of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is not a departure from the mission of reconciliation, justice, and peace entrusted to Israel. Jesus did not come to break down the Law but rather to fulfill it. In the text with which he began his preaching, in the extraordinary ways he reaches out to outcasts, the sick, the poor, those on the edges of society, he demonstrates solidarity with them. His is a living demonstration of God’s transforming power to bring together those who are separated, what some Liberation theologians in Latin America call God’s "preferential option for the poor."
We need to see, then, that the Old Testament vision is one of restoration and renewal, lived out in hope, as God’s mission to restore the creation through a public process that curbs the raw exercise of power. It is yet unfulfilled, the not-yet-future to be sealed by the sending of Messiah, the anointed one, who will be God’s sign of the deliverance from exile and alienation. Where Christians differ from their ancestors and partners in faith is that Jesus is the Christos, the anointed one:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)When Jews are truest to their tradition, and we to ours, the promise of faith is not only that our personal lives are to be transformed by encounter with the living God, but that we are swept up into God’s mission for the creation, called to be bearers of the vision of a restored, reconciled world of shalom, peace as it is understood in scripture and in theological teaching through the centuries as the presence of justice and right order, not simply the absence of war and violence.
My friend, the late Bill Coffin puts it very well in a collection of his writings, titled Credo.
Credo – I believe – best translates "I have given my heart to," he begins. "However imperfectly, I have given my heart to the teaching and example of Christ. . . .To learn from one another and to work together towards common goals of justice and peace – this surely is what suffering humanity has every right to expect of believers of all faiths.2
No sermon on love can fail to mention love’s most difficult problem in our time – how to find effective ways to alleviate the massive suffering of humanity at home and abroad. What we need to realize is that to love effectively we must act collectively, and that in collective action personal relationships cannot ignore power relations. Until Christians learn this truth of a technological, complex world, we shall be in this world as lap dogs trying to keep up with the wolf pack.3
Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, describes the effect of Jesus’ self-emptying as creating
a pathway or an open door between earth and heaven that no turn of events in the world can ever again close. A place has been cleared where the act of God and human reality are allowed to belong together without rivalry or fear: the place where Jesus is. It is a place where human beings have only to be open to what is offered and where God demands nothing and imposes nothing but simply abides in unceasing love, a love that can only be imagined in the human world and human language in terms of vulnerability. It is thus a place where human competition means nothing; a place where the desperate anxiety to please God means nothing; a place where the admission of failure is not the end but the beginning; a place from which no one is excluded in advance.4Which shall it be? People immobilized by fear, or people empowered by hope who dare to join together for the welfare of the globe, which is, after all, our own welfare writ large. Halfway through the last century, when the world was staggering through the Great Depression and later a devastating world war, a President foresaw the possibilities of both peace and justice, drawing on his faith as an Episcopalian. From it, Franklin Roosevelt had the political courage to conceive of the Four Freedoms, to support the creation of the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to challenge the Congress to develop Social Security and other examples of a national social net. Our times are different but the challenges are remarkably similar. The eight areas of the Millennium Development Goals offer a means to understand global issues, and support and deploy resources to address them. That agenda must begin at the grass roots, the local level.
My wife Roberta and I belong to a small congregation in New Hampshire. Holy Cross Church in Weare has a part-time Vicar and a budget of $90,000 a year. Two years ago, after several months studying the MDGs, the Vestry voted the 0.7 % asking, something over $600, and divided it between a micro-enterprise in Cameroon which makes loans to women, one objective of which is to provide the income to send daughters to school, the other a contribution to support a library and computer resources to a facility for young people in a township outside Capetown, South Africa. Both programs were started by lay persons from the Diocese. A small effort, perhaps, but one which has transformed the way our congregation thinks and prays about its part in God’s mission for the world.
That’s a good place to begin.
The Rt. Rev. Arthur Walmsley is a founding member of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. This post is part of longer remarks he made for the beginning of a Lenten series at Trinity Church, Concord, MA
For the people of Mayange, the desert imagery of Lent is not difficult to grasp. Part of the reason the Millennium Village Project chose to conduct programs in this area of Rwanda is a lack of adequate rainfall and challenging conditions for agriculture.
This past year was especially difficult due to a long-lasting drought that destroyed many crops and left many people in desperate circumstances.
As I enter this Lenten season and read the Gospel lesson for Ash Wednesday in which Jesus instructs us not to disfigure our faces when fasting, I think of the countless people I pass every day who may not have eaten a full meal in weeks, yet whose faces reveal only hope and joy. As I pursue my Lenten resolution to pray with the rising and setting of the sun every day, I will remember those in this world whose journey in life is a daily struggle, but who approach each day with unfailing optimism and gratitude for the little they do have. I hope you will, too.
Reynolds Whalen is living in Rwanda working for Millennium Congregation, linking congregations with the work of Millennium Villages Project in that nation. His work is chronicling the work going on there and he will be posting regular videos to this blog.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I’m an optimist.
I have always believed that you must look at the positive side of every situation. There are many reasons for this, from preserving your own mental health to keeping yourself from being overwhelmed and run over. Make no mistake, it is important to see all the sides of a question, but focusing strictly on the down or negative side will make you both frustrated and notorious!
I remember starting a workshop one day by placing a 16 ounce soda bottle in front of me; it had 8 ounces of soda in it. I asked for a show of hands as to who thought it was half-empty or and who thought that it was half-filled. The class was fairly evenly divided in their responses! I then gave a workshop on diversity and on looking for the best in just what you are presented with. Then I asked the question again. This time, the results were significantly different: almost every student saw the bottle as half-full. This happens again and again, in every workshop that I lead! Try it yourself.
I remember when I was in college, when everybody who was anybody was a Greek – a member of a fraternity or sorority, known by the two or three Greek letters of its name. I became known not only by the three letters of my fraternity, but also as a GDO – A “God-Damned Optimist.”
The value of optimism. There is terrific value in optimism! Its potential is amazing. You will find that you are constantly looking for many do-able small solutions, instead of struggling for the one big one. This is so much easier, and self-fulfilling. Each small victory gives you the will and enthusiasm to go one more step. One of my favorite quotes in this area is from Martin Luther King, Jr., who said “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”
When you have a problem facing you, keep your eye on the horizon. This allows you to see exactly what is out there to deal with; it allows you to see all the stones that are there, realizing that “the solution” is lurking under one of them. While you see the problems, you also see where the solution is lying! Sure, when you move forward, the horizon moves back, and you see more stones, but you also see more opportunities to find “the solution.” This says to look and consider before you move forward.
One of my favorite phrases about being an optimist is that while you may see items that are unrealistic, you can always “Compromise Backwards to Reality.”
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Zimbabwe is beyond a state of crisis.
Zimbabwe was once one of the most promising countries in Africa with a thriving agriculture industry, one of the region’s highest literacy rates and a robust healthcare system. Today, Zimbabwe is a land of devastation. 28 years of increasingly dictatorial rule by President Robert Mugabe have led to hyperinflation, food shortages and a breakdown of basic public services.
Last year, the world watched Zimbabwe suffer through a botched and violent election. But last Wednesday, after months of bitter negotiations with President Robert Mugabe, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as the new Prime Minister, forming a “unity government” that will attempt to move the country forward. It won’t be easy. Last year’s disastrous election and President’s Mugabe’s continued presence casts doubt about how much change is possible. The good news is that Zimbabwe does not have to do this work alone. The African Union (AU) will serve as guarantor for this new government and it is critical that they take immediate action to ensure Zimbabwe’s unity government takes steps in the right direction.
You can show the African Union that the world is watching to make sure it keeps its promise to Zimbabwe’s new unity government, by signing our petition to the newly-elected African Union chairman Muammar Gaddafi:
Please ensure that the African Union executes its role as guarantor of the new Zimbabwe unity government.
The African Union can put Zimbabwe on the right footing and show the world that it is serious about change by aggressively policing the agreement, and, at a minimum, acting on the four recommendations offered by civil society groups in Zimbabwe:
*Insist on the immediate cessation of abductions and torture, as well as the release of the human rights activists and political prisoners.
*Demand that humanitarian agencies be allowed to work in an unrestricted environment.
*Call for an immediate repeal of unjust legislation like the Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Public Order and Security Act (POSA).
*Ensure an enabling environment for the new unity government.
The consequences of years of poor governance in Zimbabwe are poverty and disease on a tragic scale that demands a global response. Public hospitals have been without running water for months, creating a petri dish for easily preventable killers like cholera. More than 3,000 people have died in Africa’s worst cholera epidemic in 19 years. Schools have been shut down because teachers can’t be paid. The agricultural sector has collapsed, half the population requires emergency food aid and humanitarian aid groups are struggling to keep up.
We’re not the only ones calling for action. In South Africa, activist and co-founder of the Global Campaign Against Poverty, Dr. Kumi Nadoo had this to say: "Unity within governmental structures alone does not address the humanitarian and human rights issues that the people of Zimbabwe face on a daily basis. Therefore, the AU must – first and foremost – demand that the Zimbabwean government listen to and respect its people."
You can help make that happen. Take action now by adding your name to our petition asking the African Union to do its job as guarantor of the unity government, and work to end the political repression that has crippled Zimbabwe.
Thank you for making a difference,
David Lane, ONE.org
Monday, February 16, 2009
During my time in Rwanda, I have had the pleasure of connecting with the organization of my roommates Amir and Anna, called "Miracle Corners of the World " (MCW). This is an international network that empowers youth to become positive agents of change, to improve their lives and contribute to their communities. MCW serves youth through leadership training, community development, oral healthcare, and partner initiative programs.
In Rwanda, MCW has begun building a community center inspired by the ideas of youth throughout the Bugesera District, several kilometers south of the capital city of Kigali. This center will house an ICT center for learning computer skills, a classroom for language instruction, and a preschool, among other facilities.
This project will be particularly important in facilitating Rwanda's switch from Francophone to Anglophone, which occurred officially only several weeks ago at the end of 2008. In fact, Miracle Corners Rwanda hopes to build the first public library in the entire country, focusing on making English-language books available to the community.
"Kubaka" in Kinyarwanda means "Construction." This film tells the story of the groundbreaking ceremony for the center, highlighting some of the ways MCW has been working with the community, and celebrating the opportunities for education, networking, and socialization that have been and will be "constructed."
My life in Nyamata has also offered me many opportunities for personal "construction" and reflection on life's deepest joys.
The other day, in desperate need of exercise, I ran up one of Rwanda's "thousand hills" after work. At the top, I enjoyed a dazzling view of Nyamata and the surrounding villages. Coupled with the sound of my own heavy breathing was the never-ending chorus of children squealing in glee or utter dismay (i've remembered recently that kids rarely fall anywhere on the spectrum of emotions except the absolute extremes).
Later that night, I found myself interrupted at my computer by my landlord Bosco, who showed up at my door with his larger than life, tooth-missing smile, insisting that I join him and his wife for dinner. Moments later, I found myself at table with the two of them and Amir, laughing our way into the African night and struggling joyously through our language barriers, elated to discover in the immense confusion an almost sacred bond of friendship that truly united our common humanity and reaffirmed my strong belief in Christianity, a religion focused on the two qualities that made the night transformative: love and community."
Reynolds Whalen is living in Rwanda working for Millennium Congregation, linking congregations with the work of Millennium Villages Project in that nation. His work is chronicling the work going on there and he will be posting regular videos to this blog.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A day ahead of a meeting of industrial powers, the World Bank said on Thursday new research showed more people were being pushed into poverty in developing countries due to the global financial crisis.
It said new 2009 estimates compiled by the bank show that weaker economic growth will push 46 million more people below the poverty line of $1.25 a day than was expected before the crisis emerged in 2007.
An additional 53 million people will stay trapped on less than $2 a day. This is on top of the 130 million-155 million people pushed into poverty in 2008 because of soaring food and fuel prices, it said.
The Washington-based development lender, whose mission is to fight global poverty, said the new forecasts highlight the risk that the world will fail to meet a universally agreed target to halve global poverty by 2015 under the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.
World Bank President Robert Zoellick, who will attend the Group of Seven meeting, said helping the poor required a global solution.
"While much of the world is focused on bank rescues and stimulus packages, we should not forget that poor people in developing countries are far more exposed if their economies falter," he said in a statement.
"This is a global crisis requiring a global solution. The needs of poor people in developing countries must be on the table," he said
In its research, the World Bank said the global economic crisis exposed households in virtually all developing countries to increased poverty and hardship.
It said countries where poverty was already a problem before the crisis would be particularly hard hit.
It also said efforts by governments in developing countries to fend off the crisis were blunted by weak institutions and already tight budgets.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thursday, February 12, 2009
President Obama and his new economic team, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, have a huge job ahead of them. They have been facing down a growing economic crisis and recession in the United States from day one.
But while we must work for economic justice at home, we must also not forget our brothers and sisters across the globe in this time of need. That’s why Jubilee USA has launched the What’s On Your Heart? Campaign. Over 6,000 people across the country have already sent handmade hearts and postcards to remind Timothy Geithner that as Americans we care about issues at home and also about our sisters and brothers around the world. The hearts will be delivered to Geithner personally by a delegation of religious leaders, including Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
There are two really simple ways to get your message to the new Treasury Secretary
- DO IT YOURSELF: Make a heart telling the Treasury Secretary “what’s on your heart,” with your own message or click here for suggestions. Sign it with your name, address, phone number, and email address. Mail your heart to: Jubilee USA Network / 212 E. Capitol St. NE / Washington, DC 20003.
- Sign the online postcard.
The deadline to take action is February 20th, 2009.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
GENEVA (Reuters) - Demand for organic foods will keep growing despite the world economic crisis, creating an opportunity for farmers in poor countries, the United Nations' trade and development agency said on Monday.
In a research note, UNCTAD projected that sales of certified organic products would reach $67 billion in 2012, up from $46 billion in 2007 and about $23 billion in 2002.
"Even in this current economic crisis, where demand for most products is dropping fast, demand for organic products continues to grow," it said.
Sales of organic fruits, vegetables, grains, eggs and meats -- produced without synthetic fertilisers and pesticides -- shot up in past years on claims the food is healthier, tastes better and causes less ecological damage than conventional agriculture.
The typically pricier products have lost some momentum as a result of economic stress in the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, hurting some specialist retailers such as Whole Foods Market. But organics remain broadly popular among rich-market consumers, especially parents of young children.
UNCTAD said the resilient interest in ecologically-friendly production represents an opportunity for developing nations, who produce and export a large share of the world's organic goods.
Poor-country farmers, who often struggle to compete against their subsidised and technologically advanced counterparts in Europe and the United States, could benefit from growing and exporting more organic foods.
"Studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America indicate that organic farmers earn more than their conventional counterparts," it said, estimating that organic foods carry price premiums for farmers ranging from 30 to 200 percent.
In Africa, where the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says agriculture accounts for 57 percent of employment but just 11 percent of export earnings, UNCTAD said ecological farming techniques could have an especially large impact.
"Organic production is ... particularly well-suited for smallholder farmers, who comprise the majority of Africa's poor," it found.
Using more natural techniques such as composting, mulching, and crop rotation could help African crops yield two to four times more than they now do, UNCTAD said, citing soil scientists.
Drawing on a study of 331 Ugandan farmers, it concluded that "conversion to organic was fairly easy, involved little risk and required few, if any, fixed investments. The organic households became more food-secure due to higher incomes."
Between 20 and 24 percent of the world's organic farms are now located in Africa, a continent whose lagging food production has drawn the attention of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in recent years.
Only about 14 percent of Africa's 184 million hectares of arable land is under cultivation, according to FAO statistics.
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
I’m a busy person.
Please don’t take that the wrong way; I don’t want to boast. Most of us are busy and overcommitted. We tend to take on lots of things both because we have big imaginations or wide vistas, and, frankly, it is easier to say “yes” than it is to say “no” when asked for “just one more thing.”
Sometimes people have asked me what I will be doing this week, and then I say “it is time to write the monthly blog” and we are both surprised. These people then ask me “how can you spend the time to write this blog? You have so many other things to do.” I had to stop and think just how to answer that question. The fact that it happens more than once a month tells me that it is important.
Writing the blog makes me stop and think.
I have been writing these blogs about the various Millennium Development Goals. Talk about big topics and wide-ranging issues! Things about them are often overwhelming; writing on these issues will make me think “big picture” and “over there.”
The way that I work and think, I have to break these issues down into smaller parts, pieces that I can put my arms around and consider. I have to start with this issue as I see it here in Bethesda, Maryland, and then expand it. I need to broaden my thinking about these issues not just to our town, but to our county, or to our state, then to our region, and then even to the entire US - and then I have to keep going beyond our boundaries. I think about a problem as I see it in our parish, our diocese, our Province, and in the entire Episcopal church, and then beyond.
One of the secrets in getting things done is to get other people busy, too. Hopefully on what they consider the “right things.” Convincing them of this is sometimes my first task, and may be the hardest. My perception of local problems has changed – a lot. I now see things as they are, usually a subset of a larger problem or crisis. But you know, looking at things in this manner makes my local problems seem easier to handle. I bet it will for you, too.
I recently wrote a meditation entitled “I Pray on Escalators.” These little pauses in my life are wonderful to try to figure out what is going on – or not – and to ask God to help me understand just what is important – or not. I ask Him to help me stop and think.
He always does.
John Miers is from Bethesda, Maryland, where he was employed at the National Institutes of Health from 1968 to 2005. He serves on the board of St. Luke’s House, a halfway house for persons recovering from mental illness and also serves as Jubilee Officer for the Diocese of Washington. He was a member of National Commission on Science, Technology and Faith for the Episcopal Church and is active in his local church, where he is in the choir, worship committee, pastoral care committee, and the prayer team, and he also visits patients in a local hospital on behalf of the Chaplain.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Psalm 139: 1-14
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
5You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
7Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
8If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
9If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
10even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,"
12even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
15My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. "
The sunset was a minute longer in coming last night. The evening lingered just enough to stir up the oldest hope that humanity knows---spring is coming. We can wait in the darkest winter and endure our saddest seasons, because like every year since Eden, the birth of spring is coming again.
This has been a long winter, but already in my yard the two inch daffodils stems are a witness that life is bursting in full color beneath the cold frozen brown earth. Forty different Psalms sing praise to the earth, beginning with very first psalm that says the blessed man is like a tree planted by the water. Those psalms are like lingering sunsets, pointing us in hope and gratitude toward fullness in creation. The psalms themselves are songs, revealing everything that lives in the secret hearts of believers. There are all kinds of themes within the genres of psalms, but for this reflection, we are using one that invokes nature as the teacher about how God loves us. We could also use Psalm 42 that reminds us we are like deer longing for the water brook, or Psalm 23 that makes valleys the symbol of death and that quiets our souls by asking us think of lying in green pastures. In all the nature psalms the poets give us reminders that in creation, we are seeing the holy one of Israel, and in every flower, animal, and plant, we are witnessing a blessing of our God.
The first 14 verses of Psalm 139 remind us that in creation we are always with God, there is no where we can walk and be away from the presence of God. The Psalm calls us to remember that we are like the daffodils in my yard, created in the secrets of the earth, wonderfully made.
It is early February, and in less than one month our woods will begin their equivalent of a revival. These last few precious weeks of February are some of the last winter days to walk in peace among the sleeping trees and brown blankets of leaves. Soon the woods will call all kinds of people to worship at their sanctuary and parking lots on natural trails and parks will be busting at the seams. Already the early spring wild flowers like trillium, spring beauty, and sweet Dutchmen's britches, are within an inch of come out and show themselves to new fawns and owlets. So while I am like the flowers, shaking with anticipation of new creation, I am walking this week with the Psalmist's vision of walking alone in the woods with God. I am not walking on a path to God, it is God's path. God created the path and created the walker on the path. God created the winter, and God created the summer, both are part of the same creation. This psalm is unparalleled in its poetic description of how we are unable to flee God on this journey of life.
Since we, like all creation, are knit together by God, not only can we not flee from God's presence, God is intimately knowledgeable about us. Every sweet detail of our bodies is understood by God. I believe this. I remember after my children's births, learning the details of each as I held them and watched them sleep, eat, and play. I knew the pattern of freckles, sweet baby fuzz that was on the lobe of an ear, a birth mark on the inside of a thumb, and the arch on the left brow. I was adoring them and loving them, and part of how we are able to show adoration and love is to learn the details. That is why the psalmists are not content to just sing the praises of creation, they speak about the details and describe the individual gifts of each part of the creation we have been given. Part of how we show love for our creator is to know the details of what God created. It teaches me more about the spirit of god to say more than, "I love the woods". It is better to say, I love the way a soft rain sounds as it hits the brown leaves on the ground in a rhythm. When we can praise all of creation, God's spirit will be so abundant and beautiful; it is hard to contain our joy.
My psalm in gratitude for the woods: psalm 1963
We pray for respite then walk under a morning sky
Drinking its freshness in slow breaths.
We desire tenderness and in bluebonnets
Discover a sweetness that lives between purple and blue.
We need awaking and hear a rustle in the brush
Quickening our hearts to live in the moment.
We forget humility until we see a nest of hornets and
Bow our heads as we move to the side.
We yearn for freedom and discover a forgiving path
Laid down by a stranger for us.
We feel inconsolable and the sun lies in our lap
Until the pain begins to fade.
In silhouetted walnuts on a fall evening we
Visit the space between earth and heaven.
In the folds of hills we are reminded of a peace
That passes our understanding.
In the owl's eyes, the hawk's glide, in the woodpecker's beat,
We are given assurance of Your presence.
In fauna, flora, feather and flesh we are sated with Your Love.
Give us now the wisdom and will to preserve it. Amen.
The Rev. Becca Stevens is a priest, author, rector of St. Augustine's Church in Nashville, TN and founder of Magdalene House. Becca worked with her parish to found a school in Ecuador and has taken members of the Magdalene community to Rwanda to work with women there on starting microbusinesses. Read her bio here.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Tony Blair has issued a call to action to encourage people of faith around the world to act together to show the power of “a million good deeds done every day” in the name of religion.
“For billions of people, faith motivates, galvanises, compels and inspires, not to exclude but to embrace; not to provoke conflict but to try to do good. This is faith in action,” he said, speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC. “You can see it in the arousing of the world’s conscience to the plight of Africa, a cause we in positions of political power tried to answer, but which was driven by people of faith.”
Today, we at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation have stepped up our campaign to raise funds and eliminate millions of unnecessary deaths from malaria – giving people a practical way of demonstrating how faith can heal rather than divide the world.
A million deaths a year from malaria is wholly preventable. We want 2009 to be the year that FAITHS ACT TOGETHER. For this to be the year that people of faith become the change makers and take direct action to tackle this preventable disease.
FAITHS ACT TOGETHER is all about people like YOU taking TWO SIMPLE STEPS:
STEP ONE: Get together with others and use our short film “The Story of a Bed Net” (above) -to raise awareness and funds to combat deaths from malaria. Just $10 will buy one insecticide-treated bed net. That net can protect an entire household from malaria.
You can do this in your neighbourhoods or places of worship; on your campuses or in your sports teams; or simply with a few friends. There are lots of ways to get involved. Ideas and simple step-by-step guides are available on our website.
STEP TWO: Tell us about it!
Once you’ve shown the film, email us with a few words and a photo of the event, which will be posted on The Global Movement Map on our website. Your work will inspire others around the globe.
So get involved and ACT NOW.
Join us at www.faithsacttogether.org
Friday, February 6, 2009
In 1994, the Peace Corps officially closed its office here in Rwanda. The horrors that followed kept the Peace Corps at a distance until last year when the office was reopened. That return is very welcome, and I'll explain why in a moment.
While the Peace Corps was out-of-sight in Rwanda, it was also scarcely in the spotlight in America over the past eight years. During that time, U.S. presence in the world was defined by two wars and often less-than-collaborative diplomatic relations with other nations. In the din caused by those wars, most of us Americans could be forgiven for having failed to notice that the Peace Corps has quietly continued to perform its important mission of promoting world peace and friendship across the globe. Now, at a time when we are trying to rebuild bridges and heal wounds, that mission couldn't be more important.
The result of stressing defense over true diplomacy or development has been a supreme failure in American prestige abroad. I've seen that clearly in the places I've visited and worked over the last several years and that's why it's heartening to have 35 fresh Peace Corps volunteers here in Rwanda at the commencement of President Obama's administration.
The Peace Corps was founded in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy to meet several goals. Foremost among these are imparting our expertise to people in other nations, working to understand their culture, and helping them to understand ours. These are simple, but revolutionary objectives, as they count knowledge and friendship as their currency. Much of the work my teams are doing here in Rwanda through the Access Project and Rwanda Community Works is in line with a Peace Corps-style approach. I'm very excited now because we have been informed that we will be receiving three Peace Corps volunteers in the next several weeks to work on one of our most ambitious projects: to improve health care management in six districts. We don't yet know who will be sent our way, but we know that their skill sets will compliment the important work we are undertaking to build prosperity and health care infrastructure.
Though the Peace Corps was founded nearly 50 years ago, the program is still extraordinarily vital, and the need for Peace Corps volunteers is greater today than ever before. In my work in Rwanda, my teams have collaborated with corporate fellows, government aid workers, and business partners to build capacity. Adding Peace Corps volunteers to the equation will build expertise among Rwandans and provide the lucky American volunteers with the chance to see why Rwanda is one of the most exciting countries in Africa today.
Not since the election of the Peace Corp's founder John F. Kennedy has the wider world reacted so positively to the election of an American president. President Obama has thus far brought a sense of mission to his presidency as well as an optimism that is reminiscent of Kennedy's. Coupled with the messages of Obama's presidency, I think that the presence of Rwanda's Peace Corps volunteers will go a long way towards reinforcing America's place in the world, person-to-person, one-to-one. I also anticipate that the Rwandan people will confirm for the new American contingent what I have already seen. They don't need America's charity or hand outs, but rather its perennial optimism, its ideas, its expertise, and its friendship.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation is opening a search for a new Executive Director. After three-plus wonderful years of serving in that capacity, I am about to accept a call to return to congregational ministry.
We have set up a page on our website --www.e4gr.org/edsearch.html -- that has more information including a downloadable job description.
Application deadline is March 6, 2009.
We anticipate the position being open on April 1 and would like to have someone in place as close to that date as possible.
The salary and benefits package is competitive, and the Executive Director can live anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States. We encourage both lay and ordained applicants.
Click here to go to the EGR website and learn more about the Executive Director search.
I recommend the job highly! You get to work with a board that is as holy and amazing a group of people as I can ever imagine having the honor to work with. You get to work with passionate, creative people who are dedicated to God's mission in the world. You get to travel around the church seeing fabulous people doing fabulous work and encouraging and resourcing them to do even more.
Please pray about whom God might be calling to this position.
Maybe someone you know.
The Rev. Mike Kinman
Executive Director, Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation
this alert just came from the Episcopal Public Policy Network. Please take a minute and take this simple action, which is so critical for our sisters and brothers in Southern Sudan.
We here in Missouri have had a companion relationship with the Diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan for several years now. Over the past few weeks we have heard increasing reports of violence in the neighboring diocese of Mundri with refugees streaming into Lui. This is a critical action at a critical time ... and it takes no more than 60 seconds.
During his campaign, President Obama spoke of the need to stop he so-called "Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)," a Uganda-based rebel group that has been active in South Sudan and other parts of the region for more than two decades Over the past six weeks, the people of South Sudan, already living precariously with their northern neighbors, have been terrorized by an unremitting campaign of LRA militia attacks on civilians.
Christianity is the majority religion in South Sudan and the violence has had a particular effect on the Episcopal Church of the Sudan,. Some of the earliest attacks which included killings, child abductions, decapitation, and other unspeakable crimes at the hands of the LRA were directed at parishes and villages in the Dioceses of Mundri and Ezo. Tragically, the violence appears to be spreading, with reports from bishops and others in Sudan that LRA activity has reached across southern Sudan to Torit, Kajokeji, Lainya, Yei, Yambio, Ibba, Maridi, and Lui.
Last week, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged Americans to learn more about the situation, advocate for a U.S. government response, give to the work of Episcopal Relief and Development in the region, and pray for peace. To read the Presiding Bishop's statement, click here.
WHAT ONE CAN DO:
Click here to send a message to the White House, asking President Obama to take urgent action with other international leaders to stop the violence.
Ask him now to work to ensure:
(1) a viable strategy to arrest LRA leaders and bring them to justice;
(2) robust protection for civilians as the governments of Southern Sudan, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo continue a joint effort to apprehend LRA leaders;
(3) a negotiated end to the LRA's activity in the region; and
(4) an adequate deployment to the region of UN peacekeepers.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
In just 48 hours, ONE will deliver more than 70,000 notes from ONE members thanking President Obama for his inaugural commitment to fight extreme global poverty.
Increase our impact by adding your thank you now:
The note reads:
President Obama,On January 20th, President Obama stood before millions on the National Mall—and hundreds of millions more watching and listening around the world—and pledged to work with the people of poor nations on hunger, education and clean water issues. The new White House website goes even further, committing the Obama Administration to doubling foreign assistance in the hope of halving extreme poverty and hunger around the world by 2015.
Thank you for making the fight against global poverty an important part of your inaugural address. I applaud your words and support you turning this vision into a reality for millions of the world's neediest people, beginning with your first presidential budget request.
But with tough budget debates fast approaching, thanking President Obama for his pledges is more than a common courtesy—it's support he needs to see his vision through to policy.
You can show your support for his commitments by sending the President a thank you note now:
Thank you for making a difference.
David Lane, ONE.org
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I was supposed to send my EGR writing on the 1st of February, but also I was out in Rokon dioceses conducting a conference for the women. In Rokon there is no access of communication only satellite phone.
Maybe this will be the only information that I want the readers to know and pray upon it. Our dioceses in Western Equatoria (South Sudan) has a very big and critical issue of attacks by the Ugandans Rebels so-called Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since the whole of December last year entering to January this year up to this present day. Beginning from Lui, Mundri, Maridi, Yambio and Ezzo diocese. The LRA has made a lot of damages to the people in these areas, killing and looting their properties. Many people died, some were injured and some were scattered in the bush and many others ran to the town whereby food and accommodation became a problem, no shelters, no medicines.
We are unable to help the situation, we need your support in prayers so that God can intervene to calm the situation, This year will be the year of hunger if the LRA remains there because people will not be able to cultivate, the children were scattered from their schools and many of the small children will be affected with malnourishment due to lack of food.
Mama Daria Kwaje is a Mother's Union Provincial Worker, Episcopal Church of Sudan.
For more on the LRA attacks in Southern Sudan, read this ENS article.
Monday, February 2, 2009
At last summer’s Everyone, Everywhere conference, Paul-Gordon Chandler’s plenary address focused on bridging the gap between Muslims and Christians, using material from his book Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road: Exploring a New Path Between Two Faiths, as a guide. This book is an exploration of the life of faith of Mazhar Mallouhi, a Syria-born resident of Beirut, author and self-avowed Muslim follower of Christ.
Having just finished Chandler’s book at a time when there exists an uneasy cease-fire in Gaza, I am struck with how instructive the model of Mallouhi’s life could be not just to Palestinians and Israeli’s but to all of us. The great distrust of Christianity among Muslims stems in large part from how we have presented ourselves as an all-or-nothing faith – you’re either one of us or you’re not. Just as importantly, for any Muslim who wishes to follow Jesus, there is an expectation that he or she will abandon Muslim ways and follow a more Westernized version of Christianity, in effect forcing a choice between abandoning one’s family and culture for the alien ‘church’ culture of the West.
Mallouhi has modeled a different way, maintaining his identity as a Muslim while firmly following the Gospel of Jesus. He has made the Gospels available in Arabic and misses no opportunity to share the Good News with others of any or even no faith. His modus operandi, if you want to call it that, is to simply build relationships by modeling a life worthy of the calling he has received. He does not try to change anyone’s mind or tell them that their way is not good enough. He simply shares his own joy as a follower of Christ.
This joy has not come without enormous cost. Rejection by his family, scrutiny and imprisonment by governing authorities and lengthy separations from his family are just a few of the sacrifices he has made as a Muslim follower of Christ. Yet he has persevered, overcoming his own fears and prejudices to build relationships with those who would persecute or hate him.
Much of the difficulty the faith community of the developed world has encountered in providing assistance to the impoverished around the globe has been our attempts to bring people around to our faith, the way we believe. Much of the strife in our world is because we set ourselves over and against the other – those of different political, religious, economic and cultural beliefs. Mallouhi would argue that there is no ‘other’ – we are all children of one God. Our challenge is to build relationships with those we fear and do not trust, to open our hearts and our homes, even our very lives, to any who cross our path. One can’t despise anyone with whom one has broken bread or worked at building a relationship. As Mallouhi writes, “The key for me personally is to meet people who are spiritually hungry, and searching, and then walk together with them on the journey to grow toward God.” (Chandler, Paul Gordon. Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road (Lanham, MD: Cowley Publications, 2007) 202)
If one man can model this behavior, I wonder what would happen if the rest of us could? Rather than my judging the Israeli’s for the seemingly indiscriminate slaughter of Gazans, how about if I sit down with one and seek to understand? Or instead of questioning the wisdom of Palestinians launching rockets into Israel, what if I were to seek out a Palestinian and engage in a conversation? Anyone that I happen to regard as other could become, if not friend, at least not stranger, if I follow the commandment to love my neighbor.
I would think it would be difficult to bomb a community that houses those of a culture in which you have friends and acquaintances. I would find it difficult to hate all Muslims because they are Muslims if I know and love other Muslims (and I do). I could not possibly hate all Jews if I know and love some Jews (and I do). Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs – none of it would matter if we could bring ourselves to seek out the other, to treasure the wisdom of the other, and embrace rather than shun the other.
I imagine that all the development assistance in the world won’t change the state of those most in need until we are able to build relationships based on equality. Maybe we are not economic equals, but we are spiritual and human equals. And in honoring that in each other, there may be hope for this world yet.
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.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
During the Christmas Holidays, I hosted a clergy fundraiser (and awareness raiser!) for Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. I invited all the area clergy along with their partners and spouses over for an evening of Italian food. I told them the only things they needed to bring were their checkbooks—both discretionary and personal. I set up a couple of computers to run continuous slideshows from the E4GR website and printed up some literature for folks to take with them if they so desired.
We had a blast! And we raised over $1,600 for EGR. I got to do one of the things that I love best in the world—cook for other people. I hadn’t really thought about using my passion for cooking as an opportunity to raise money and it set off a whole series of brainstorms when I shared this story with my interfaith clergy group.
We’re now going to have a February Fun/Fund raiser to raise money for our local food cupboard, Church World Service, and the Rochester Public Market. Each of us is in charge of a different interest area (winter sports, crafts, indoor board/card games, and a chili cook-off,) and the participants get sponsors for what they’re going to do for the day. We’ve rented out a large heated pavilion at a local park and all our area churches are going to be involved.
Hopefully this will spark some ideas for blog readers to use in their own communities! Leave your comments and let us know!
The Rev. Dahn Dean Gandell is the rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Honeoye Falls, NY, MDG coordinator for Diocese of Rochester. She is also an EGR board member and is coordinating EGR's presence at General Convention. You can volunteer to help at General Convention or email Dahn your ideas for our General Convention presence at firstname.lastname@example.org.