Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart" -- a review of a book by the Women of Magdalene

We have dedicated ourselves to end global poverty because we believe that the brokenness of the world -- particularly when some benefit from the brokenness of others -- prevents all of us from enjoying the abundance of life God dreams for us. That's why we call our movement Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation. Because it's not just about providing a meal, or even an education ... it's about healing the brokenness. It's about the church's mission to "reconcile all people to God and each other in Christ."

The women of Magdalene are some of the most remarkable people I have met on this journey. They are a community of women based in Nashville, TN. They come from as deep brokenness as you will find on this planet. They are survivors of lives of violence, prostitution and drug abuse. And they have not only survived that life but have found that abundance of life Christ dreams for all of us not just from help from above our outside but in the eyes, ears and arms of one another.

"Find Your Way Home" (Abingdon Press) is an accumulation of the wisdom of 11 years of community living of these women who were given a chance to escape their former lives in the intentional community known as Magdalene House. It is exquisite in its simple power. It's a book you could read in an hour --- but it took me days. Because every brief chapter. Every piece of wisdom. Every story pregnant with humanity begs to be pondered, sat with, prayed and even wept over.

Find Your Way Home is a Rule of Life from this community of women. It's a handbook of wisdom that has helped them survive and thrive. Like all Rules of Life it's essentially a community interpretation of THE Rule of Life of Holy Scripture. And like our Christian faith itself, it is Word incarnate ... enfleshed in the lives of the women that leap out from the pages.

I have had the honor of spending time with this community of women on several occasions, and so there were times when I heard their voices and saw their faces as I turned the pages. But you don't need to have spent time with these women to have this book change you. As Magdalene's amazing founder, the Rev. Becca Stevens, says "While our story is particular, the problems of prostitution, violence and drugs are universal. We have residents from all over the U.S. and Latin America and have met with women from widely scattered regions of the world, including Russia, Ecuador, Botswana, Rwanda, Sudan and Thailand, all of whom tell similar stories about how sexual abuse, not prostitution, is the oldest form of abuse."

As I turn the pages, I see the faces of pain and brokenness not just from our city streets but from the mining communities in Western Ghana, where girls who should be in Brownies sell themselves for food. But this is a book and these are lives that are not about despair .. but a sure and certain hope that is pure Gospel. A hope that does not ignore or sugar-coat the brokenness of the world but says with a clear and beautiful voice that death in all its forms does not have the last word. That Christ has the last word -- always -- and Christ, for these women, was found when two or three gathered in his name. When they became the Women of Magdalene.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I know I will read it again and again and again, finding new wisdom each time. I hope it will do more than that, though. I pray it will give me the strength and desire to put the book down and go out in the streets and meet the saints of God who walk there. And spread Christ's love to them as these women have spread it to each other.

Joe Chambers/Waters of Hope leading March Gladness!

EGR's March Gladness is through the Sweet 16 with a new leader ... Joe Chambers playing for Waters of Hope (

All of Joe's Final Four are still alive and he has the Pitt Panthers cutting down the net, so if things keep going his way, the majority of the pot will be heading to excellent water projects in Swaziland and Sudan.

But there are other people in the hunt.

Scott Cain, a former sportswriter from Arkansas, had a big Sweet 16 and has moved into second place. He's got Michigan State upsetting Louisville tomorrow and also has Pitt as the eventual winner ... so that West Regional Final will be key for him. Scott is playing for the Samaritan Community Center in Springdale, Arkansas.

Scott is tied with Amanda Shea -- who also has Pittsburgh winning it all. Amanda has been among the leaders the whole tournament and is playing for Chila Inc, a wonderful nonprofit of medical students and medical schools building clinics in Guatemala!

... and I've got to announce an exciting darkhorse coming around the outside -- 10-year old Schroedter Kinman! Schroedter moved into fifth place last night when Michigan State beat Kansas. He picked UNC to win it all, but his big gamble is faith in his dad's alma mater, Missouri, to beat UConn today and go to the Final Four. Schroedter is pretty pumped up about it ... and he's playing for the Central Asia Institute, 'cause he's reading Three Cups of Tea together and he wants to help build schools in Pakistan.

For full results go to

Monday, March 23, 2009

Millenium Development Goal #5 - by John G. Miers

Millennium Development Goal #5 Improve Maternal Health"

Then Jesus said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home." - John 19:27

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Maternal Health?”

Many people think of Maternal Health as ensuring that a woman gets through the childbirth process safely. I think that it is much larger than that, however.

It is different from Children’s Health, which is another of our MDGs. At first, I wondered it if was a chicken and egg situation (no pun intended); can you have one without the other? If so, which should we worry about first?

At a church service recently, I saw a woman who had been widowed. She had been brought to the service by her son. He doted over her, took her up for communion, watched out for her. This is also maternal health. What can be done to encourage this type of responsibility?

I think that we should use this very important goal as a springboard to encourage, justify, and validate just what we should be doing anyway, caring for all. Yes, maternal health is very important, but it is only a segment of our responsibility to each other. And, as noted above, maternal health can be much broader than just what is first thought of. Caring for your mother is a life-long process. Caring for your mother is something to be taught to children. Caring for your mother can be the cornerstone to a caring society.

But then, I started to think in a broader, more inclusive way.

Why does this goal only speak to maternal health? What about paternal health? As I write these blogs, I am often struck by the value of these 8 MDGs. They are so universal and all-encompassing. But they are also so limited. By that, I mean that if you are taking them literally, it is easy to be constrained or restricted by them. But God doesn’t want us to be restricted – ever. As we ponder these 8 goals, it is simple to allow them to lead you on broader and more inclusive paths.

So, for this one, “Improve Maternal Health,” it is simple to see that not only all types of health for women must be included, but that we are also led to improve all types of health to all people. Isn’t this what the Lord really expects of us? Improving Maternal Health is the first step on this journey. People have spent their entire lives on this journey. We should, too. That means examining each situation with which we are presented, and wondering just what HE would want us to do…..and then doing it.

As of March 16, there were 3,291,805,000 females in the world, and the world’s population was 6,615,852,000. This means that females are 49.76% of the world’s population. Simply focusing on Maternal Health can take care of almost 50% of the people. Worrying about everyone boosts that by a factor of two. WWJD?

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.

"On Sacred Ground" -- by the Rev. Becca Stevens

It could have been the sun
Blushing from kissing the day goodbye,
Or the reflection off a creek on a late afternoon.
It could have been an early Redbud blooming,
Startled awake by the beauty of the day,
Or a field of fire-pink rising from the ashes of winter.
It called as deep calls to deep.

I followed it deep into the hollow of my woods.
It was fear and liberation walking down the aisle
Toward the altar and the author of life.
I kicked off my shoes so I could feel my feet
Bound for seasons, walking on a wet, cold ground.
I wanted to fall to my knees but hope outweighed despair.
In the whitest flames I was consumed,
And felt a Pentecostal crown set upon my head.
In dancing shadows I felt the pain of poverty
And the burden of riches that feel like death.

I heard nothing but God’s voice rising,
Not just from the flame, but the woods itself.
My face, hot to the touch, was soothed by salty gratitude.
The smell of lavender, olive and geranium
Rose like incense uncontained on upward drafts.
The vision was of fire, or maybe desire.
It melted my heart as easily as iron in the kiln.
My heart was fashioning itself to love.
Ash and sacred oil clung to my skin like manna.

Turning away with an aftertaste burning my heart,
I grieved this specter may never light this ground again,
But pray its light carries me through interminable nights,
Unforgiving waters and undue seasons.
Putting my shoes back on my beloved feet,
I turn from myself so that this fresh heart of flesh
Can grow and flower in its transfigured grace.

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 and to support women's industry in Rwanda. Read her bio here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Shea and Walker lead after first round of March Gladness!

We're through the first round of EGR's March Gladness (if you don't know what this is, click here!) and we have co-leaders: Amanda Shea and Max Walker, each of whom picked 27 of the 32 games correctly.

Amanda is playing for CHILA Inc., - - a project supported by the medical school at East Tennessee State University, where her husband, Ryan (who is tied for 3rd, BTW) attends. It's a great group working on health issues in rural Guatemala. Here's what they're doing:

1.) Construction/Maintenance of a Clinic in Rural Guatemala (exam rooms, water source, laboratory, medical equipment)

2.) Business/Product Development with Q’ana Tz’uul Taq’a, an indigenous women’s group dedicated to promoting local herbal medicine in Guatemala (natural medicine product marketing for sales in tourist destinations, food/spice products, handicrafts)

3.) Development of a “Healthy Schools” Program with local children of villages of Chisec, Alta Verapaz (training members of women’s group to facilitate dynamic classes with children in local elementary schools on basic health topics)

4.) Future International Medical Missions (doctors, dentists, nurses, and medical students will participate in short medical mission trips when clinic is established)

Also, Amanda is an AMAZING professional photographer. Check out some of her work at

Max is playing for Waters of Hope ... ... a group riding bikes around the Diocese of Missouri to raise money for water projects in Sudan and Swaziland.

Waters of Hope is a great cooperative effort of the dioceses of Iowa and Missouri. The water projects they are funding include digging wells in the diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan and great portable water purification systems in Swaziland.

Check out both these great nonprofits ... and why not click and make a donation while you're at it.

Second round starts today. Check back on Monday for the leaders going into the Sweet Sixteen!

For full results go to

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"MDG #2 so many children out of school" by Meredith Bowen

I currently live and work in a very rural area of Tanzania, in the town of Karatu. The population of Karatu is approximately 220,000.

Each morning I drive to work and each afternoon I drive home. And every day I am shocked by how many children I see on the road - as opposed to being in school. Children herding cows or goats, or carrying buckets of water home.

Beautiful little children; full of potential. But potential that will never be fulfilled if they don't attend school.

Living here is Tanzania, I meet needy kids each and every day. Kids who need medical treatment, kids who need better nutrition, and always kids who need scholarships to go to school - whether tuition for private school (since so often teachers don't show up at government schools to actually teach their classes) or simply funds to pay for a uniform and a writing tablet for local government schools.

Recently I met a little girl named Winnie.

Winnie is ten years old and is in Standard Five (the basic equivalent of 5th grade). At the end of the 2008 school year, Winnie scored the highest score on the government standardized test of any child in the entire Karatu region.

But only a few years ago, Winnie wasn't even in school. Her parents had both passed away. Her mother from AIDS and her father from an "unknown illness" - probably AIDS as well. Winnie was suddenly orphaned, which meant no uniform, no books, no pencil - no school.

And yet, here she is, only a few years later, the smartest 5th grader in the region. Winnie was lucky enough to be taken in by her loving aunt and uncle, and she was fortunate enough to get a scholarship in order to study at the best school available in Karatu.

But without these lucky breaks, Winnie would be just one more little girl with a bucket of water on her head on my drive to work. No school, no future.

How many of the children I pass each morning and each afternoon are as gifted and bright as Winnie?

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Everyday Miracles" by Karen-Schmidt of

Forty-something years ago, when I was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., I was a sickly thing. I weighed only 6 pounds. I had a strep infection and wouldn't eat. The doctors put me in an incubator and treated the infection, and within a few weeks I was well enough to go home to my family's split-level in the suburbs.

A few years ago, a 9-year-old boy named Samson came down with strep. But he lived in rural Rwanda, not suburban Pittsburgh, and his family did not have the pennies needed to take him to the clinic to be treated. He developed rheumatic heart disease that damaged his heart valves, and for years he was too ill even to attend school.

After spending 10 years of my career in global health, five of them in Rwanda, I know the numbers. Samson is just one of hundreds of thousands of children in Africa whose minor illnesses go untreated every year. Worldwide, a child under 5 dies about every three seconds. Up to a third of those die within weeks of birth. The rest die primarily from pneumonia, measles, malaria and diarrhea — all preventable or treatable illnesses. It's an overwhelming tragedy, all the worse because it's avoidable. Rwanda's child mortality rate has shown remarkable improvement in recent years, but more than 10 percent of babies still don't make it to age 5.

How is it possible that in 2009, a baby just like me would likely not survive if she had the bad luck to be born somewhere like Rwanda? How can it be that even in the United States we have yet to put into practice the simple logic of making sure sick people get treatment so they don't get sicker?

Solid primary health care isn't really hard; in fact, it's kind of boring. Most ailments are routine. Many can be prevented. It's only when the little things don't get managed that things become — disgracefully — interesting.

Thirty years ago, the International Conference on Primary Health Care in Alma-Ata, in what was then the USSR, adopted the Declaration on Primary Health Care, a sweeping document that launched a movement to make primary health care "a fundamental human right." Last October, back in the same city — now known as Almaty, Kazakhstan — another international gathering marked the publication of a World Health Organization report titled "Primary Health Care: Now More than Ever." In her introduction to the report, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan acknowledged that "despite enormous progress in health globally," the failure to make primary health care essentially universal was "painfully obvious."

The classic indicators of health have certainly improved worldwide in the past three decades, but progress has been desperately uneven: Gaps between rich and poor have widened, and some of poorest countries have actually lost ground. Although the global under-5 mortality rate has been cut in half since 1970, the United Nations reports that 27 countries in the world, most of them in Africa, made no progress from 1990 to 2006 in reducing child death. In 1977, life expectancy at birth in sub-Saharan Africa was 48. By 2006 it had only risen to 50. Even in places that are better off overall, such as India and the United States, health disparities within countries remain stark. The American Cancer Society reported in December that African Americans are 48 percent more likely to die of colon cancer than white Americans. The Institute of Medicine estimated that 18,000 people died in the United States in 2000 because they didn't have health insurance; an update a year ago by the Urban Institute reported that the figure has risen steadily, reaching 22,000 a year in 2006.

It doesn't have to be this way. Whether the solution for preventing serious disease is cancer screening, the prompt treatment of malaria, blood pressure pills or a measles shot, the most logical place to provide it is through a functioning system of primary health care that is accessible - geographically and financially — to everyone. Over the years, policy wonks have defined primary health care in many ways and rebaptized it many times: It's been called close-to-client care, patient-centered care and, more recently, medical home. At the simplest level, though, commitment to primary health care is as an approach that starts with preventing and treating the easy stuff and only gets more sophisticated when the patient needs it.

Where Samson lives, in Rwanda's Bugesera district, the clinic was barely functioning a few years ago. Mayange Health Center had a solid building but no power, almost no medicine and an unmotivated, poorly compensated staff. The center saw only a few patients a day, and every month almost all the expectant mothers in the area delivered at home rather than pay the cost of delivery at the sparsely equipped maternity room. Throughout the country, health centers were called death centers.

Read the whole article here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

"A Time of Transition for EGR" -- by John Hammock, President, EGR Board of Directors

As President of the EGR Board of Directors, I want to dedicate this blog to reporting on Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation in this time of transition. Michael Kinman is stepping down as Executive Director at the end of March after over three years in that position. Michael began as Executive Director just as EGR became a legalized not- for-profit. From the beginning our mission has not been just to promote the Millennium Development Goals, but rather to lift up the Gospel of Jesus as we called for conversion—in our personal lives and in our commitment to end poverty. Michael never wavered from this commitment. His leadership, enthusiasm and dogged determination have helped EGR become a beacon of hope for many and an example of what a new type of organization can be.

EGR decided early on that it did not want to grow its own institution. Rather it was to grow a movement, building on the work of individuals, churches and Dioceses. EGR has kept its staff to the Executive Director and one half-time administrative assistant—even as its programs have extended nationwide and as it has sponsored event after event using the internet. EGR is the epitome of a non-hierarchical agency modeling a new approach to organizations within a very hierarchical church.

As EGR transitions to a new Executive Director the organization is committed to continue this organizational model. In our first three years, EGR has focused on the MDGs—first raising awareness and commitments on the 0.07% target for giving and later also on education and advocacy on these goals. This continues to be a primary focus of EGR.

From the very beginning EGR has reached out to young people. We have felt that a movement to eradicate poverty was a way to reach out to young people and to get them involved in the work of the church. The dynamism and active involvement of young folks in our work has proved us right.

This past year we instituted a Rule of Life and offered this up to our members. The idea was for people to commit to daily prayer and action and to know that a group of Christians were working to support each other in our commitments to end poverty. We will continue to look for ways to deepen this type of personal commitment and support structure—giving us a concrete way to show our daily solidarity with those who are less fortunate.

This past November the EGR Board decided that it could not be silent in this defining moment of our Church and our society—a time when the economic crisis engulfs not just those who are poor but many of those who have felt financially secure. EGR has begun a series of internal discussions on what its role should be, how it should frame the debate on this economic crisis—and its impact on the MDGs, poverty and the church as we know it. This will be a core challenge for EGR—to hold fast our commitment to personal conversion and personal action as we build a movement, to continue to promote the MDGs through individual, church and Diocesan action and, in addition, to begin a dialogue within the Episcopal Church to deal creatively with the financial and economic crisis we now live, seizing it as a defining moment in our lives. As such, how we respond is essential for us as we struggle to be Christians in today’s changing world.

I ask all of you who are concerned about EGR and its work to keep us in your prayers as we go through the process of finding a new Executive Director. I also ask you to pray for Mike as he moves on to his new challenges in St. Louis. Together we will continue to make a difference through EGR; together we will continue to be creative, breaking traditional boundaries and conventional thinking, building a movement that puts Christ at its center—calling for personal conversion and a personal commitment to living out our faith.

Thank you for your support, for your prayers and for your steadfast commitments to making a difference in this world.

Dr. John Hammock is an Associate Professor of Public Policy at The Fletcher School, Tufts University and works with Sabina Alkire as a research associate at the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative, John was Executive Director at Oxfam America from 1984-1995 and Executive Director at ACCION International from 1973-1980. He is the EGR board president

Thursday, March 5, 2009

"Millennium Development Goal #4 Reduce Child Mortality" -- by John G. Miers

"Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more." -Jeremiah 31:15

Rachel is weeping. I would be, too. There is a special bond between a parent and child. This also extends beyond parents, however. It includes grandparents, too. It also goes to Godparents, Aunts and Uncles, and then to Cousins and just regular friends. People see potential and hope in these children, (whatever their relationship may be). People see the future. Each child is seen uniquely and separately, a gift from God, and treasure to be cherished and prized. Each is special.

Several weeks ago, I went to a local hospital, to visit the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, known as “the PICU.” There were many sick kids there, some very ill. There were family members there trying to soothe each other, trying to be there for each other, trying to be there for the sick child. There were subdued voices and frightened faces. There was not much weeping; there was a lot of hope. People were there hoping for healing, expecting healing, assuming that healing would come and come soon. The doctors and nurses and technicians were all bustling around. But there was hope. Always.

This was here in the US. But what about “over there?” What about places where there is not so much technology as we have here? There are places where supplies are short or non-existent. Stethoscopes, maybe; monitors, no way. But there are children there who are sick, many of whom are quite sick, and have been sick for a long time. Each is special, and each is prized. But is there hope? Sometimes. How can we ensure that “sometimes” will increase to “most of the time,” and that “most of the time” will increase to “always?”

This is the key to having MDG #4 – to “Reduce Child Mortality.” This is a goal that everyone can identify with. People see sick children everywhere, and we must remind them that things are more drastic “over there.” In order to “Reduce Child Mortality,” it has to be done there, too. It is harder to do it there, for several reasons. First, more children are sick, and there are fewer resources to care for them expertly.

This is where this MDG comes in. Through various arms and agencies, it encourages and allows us all to help. Those of us “over here” are encouraged to help those who are “over there.” Funds and resources are needed. We can donate time, resources, and funds, the ‘Time, Talent, and Treasure’ about which we have learned. We have so much “over here” that it is obvious where it is needed – and needed desperately. How can we ensure that Child Mortality will be reduced? How can we ensure that Rachel will weep less? Find an agency with international ties. Find a foreign hospital. Support them, and help Rachel stop weeping.

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.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Will Africa Let Sudan Off the Hook" -- by Archbishop Desmond Tutu

This Op-Ed appeared in yesterday's New York Times.

THE expected issuance of an arrest warrant for President Omar Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan by the International Criminal Court tomorrow presents a stark choice for African leaders — are they on the side of justice or on the side of injustice? Are they on the side of the victim or the oppressor? The choice is clear but the answer so far from many African leaders has been shameful.

Because the victims in Sudan are African, African leaders should be the staunchest supporters of efforts to see perpetrators brought to account. Yet rather than stand by those who have suffered in Darfur, African leaders have so far rallied behind the man responsible for turning that corner of Africa into a graveyard.

In response to news last July that Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the court’s chief prosecutor, was seeking an arrest warrant for President Bashir for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, the African Union issued a communiqué to the United Nations Security Council asking it to suspend the court’s proceedings. Rather than condemn the genocide in Darfur, the organization chose to underscore its concern that African leaders are being unfairly singled out and to support President Bashir’s effort to delay court proceedings.

More recently, the Group of 77, an influential organization at the United Nations consisting of 130 developing states and including nearly every African country, gave Sudan its chairmanship. The victory came after African members endorsed Sudan’s candidacy in spite of the imminent criminal charges against its president.

I regret that the charges against President Bashir are being used to stir up the sentiment that the justice system — and in particular, the international court — is biased against Africa. Justice is in the interest of victims, and the victims of these crimes are African. To imply that the prosecution is a plot by the West is demeaning to Africans and understates the commitment to justice we have seen across the continent.

It’s worth remembering that more than 20 African countries were among the founders of the International Criminal Court, and of the 108 nations that joined the court, 30 are in Africa. That the court’s four active investigations are all in Africa is not because of prosecutorial prejudice — it is because three of the countries involved (Central African Republic, Congo and Uganda) themselves requested that the prosecutor intervene. Only the Darfur case was referred to the prosecutor by the Security Council. The prosecutor on his own initiative is considering investigations in Afghanistan, Colombia and Georgia.

African leaders argue that the court’s action will impede efforts to promote peace in Darfur. However, there can be no real peace and security until justice is enjoyed by the inhabitants of the land. There is no peace precisely because there has been no justice. As painful and inconvenient as justice may be, we have seen that the alternative — allowing accountability to fall by the wayside — is worse.

The issuance of an arrest warrant for President Bashir would be an extraordinary moment for the people of Sudan — and for those around the world who have come to doubt that powerful people and governments can be called to account for inhumane acts. African leaders should support this historic occasion, not work to subvert it.
Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.