Saturday, April 25, 2009

Renewing the Call

This has been a hard week for me here in Tanzania, lots of frustration and delays. I was feeling incredibly disconnected. So much so that I felt that I had NOTHING to blog about. I have put this off all week, not being able to come up with a single thing to say.

Finally this morning, I decided to go back and read past blogs of mine and of others, hoping to be inspired.

I came across a speech I gave on Stewardship, over a year ago to the General Convention in Ohio. I spoke of feeling the opposite of how I am feeling this week. So, I have used parts of the speech for my blog this week. Hoping to re-inspire myself to feel connected to the MDGs, to my work here in Tanzania, and to that feeling that anything is possible.

... but listening, really hearing other people is what stewardship is all about. Because only when someone is heard can their mission – whatever that might be – be truly empowered. Only when we really listen can we find the best ways to serve those around us. Being a good steward isn’t doing what you think is right, or what makes you feel better. Being a faithful steward is about hearing from those in need what would make their lives better and helping to make it a reality.

I have found that stewardship isn’t easy. It requires effort. But if you are listening with your whole heart it is much easier than we think. I had no idea why I felt the need to go to Africa, of all places. But now I do. Now I understand that by hearing that calling within myself, and following through with what amounted to a leap of faith, I was able to bring stewardship into my life in a way that I hadn’t before. Faithfulness is listening. Faithfulness and stewardship are about realizing that there is an overwhelming abundance in our lives and in turn it is our job to utilize our treasures and our talents in order to help others. It is what God is calling us to do.

My time in Africa drastically changed the path of my life. My whole perspective was changed. I will never be able to go to the mall the way I did before. Or the grocery store. And definitely not Costco. I will never see American children as I did before. Or the nightly news. Most importantly, God has changed for me. Before I lived in Africa, lots of things in life seemed impossible. I always feared that I was being asked to do something that I couldn’t. Fear was a part of the way I perceived everything. I’m not afraid anymore. God will never ask me to do anything that is impossible. It is a huge relief to know that if I feel called to do something, then I will because it is possible.

The possibilities of what we can do to change the shape of the world are incredibly exciting. Most exciting is the fact that the Episcopal Church has become a part of this. By embracing the Millennium Developments Goals, the church is forcing all of us to step outside of our comfort zone. In many ways the MDG’s do not really affect us here at home as critically, after all child mortality is not an issue threatening our country, women dying in childbirth are a thing of the past, primary education is already universal in America, and we have the most empowered female population, I would argue, anywhere in the world. The MDGs bring us face to face with that which is literally foreign to us. We are forced to face our fears about the unknown, about those third world countries that we have been ignoring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"Confirmation Sunday" by Craig Cole

I am continually thankful to be part of the worldwide Anglican Communion in part because of its interconnectedness. There is a thread that ties us together as brothers and sisters in Christ no matter where we find ourselves in the world. There is almost always a recognizable church nearby that is a member of the Anglican family.

During this Easter season, I am reminded of this kinship by a story that happened to me about the same time, 12 years ago.

I woke up to the roosters arrogantly crowing at 5 a.m., or maybe it was a little earlier. All I knew was that it was dark out. I also knew I was not where I wanted to be - and I was where I wanted to be all in the same moment.

It was Confirmation Sunday at the Chapel of St. Andrew in Boca Raton, Fl. The confirmation class, I had helped teach, was going through the sacrament that confirms their belief in Jesus Christ. As the Book of Common Prayer says, “In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop.”

I was going to miss confirmation. I had cleared my schedule to be there. I had taken every precaution necessary. Yet, a change of plans at the last moment left me feeling like I had let my kids down.

God, however, had not let me down. He had given me another place to be - literally - in the middle of nowhere. It was Sunday morning, and I was in a little village called Cange about 1,000 feet above a huge reservoir in the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

The church in Cange, The Good Saviour, didn’t have an organ, but an electric guitar, bass and drums. I also couldn’t understand much Creole but the service was exactly the same so I felt at home despite the language barrier.

Finally, it was time for Holy Eucharist. Not just the remembrance of the last supper, but a chance to be united with Christians anywhere in the world; no matter race, or country, or culture. Holy Eucharist only knows the boundaries man has set for it.

After the adults received communion, I was in for a surprise. I, along with another member of my group, were each given two huge bags of candy by the priest. Then, almost at once, there was a long line of children streaming down the aisle and out the door. So, for the next 30 minutes as the music played in the backround, my companion and me sat at the front of the altar as children, some dressed in beautiful white dresses, others in jeans, came forward to receive their own sweet “Communion.”

As we sat there with this multitude of children endlessly parading by, I sneaked a glance at my watch. I almost laughed out loud. God, in all his thoughtfulness, had provided me with an unexpected experience at just the right time. It was just past 10:30 and the Confirmation service at St. Andrew’s had just begun. God’s timing is perfect.

Every time I think about that experience, I thank God for his love for me and for those beautiful Haitian children whose smiles couldn’t have been brighter despite their poverty. Also, for God’s love for the confirmation class back in Boca Raton.

This story reminds me that as Christians, and as Anglicans, we are all connected by God to each other, no matter who we are, where we live, or how rich or poor.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Social Entrepreneurs and the MDGs" by John Hammock

Social Entrepreneurship and the MDGs

At the end of March I attended the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. This brought together over 800 people from 65 countries interested in using the power of the private sector for social good. The range of people included heads of non-profits, private businessmen, venture capitalist, academics and social entrepreneurs. As the Skoll website puts it:
“Social Entrepreneurship is about solutions and transformations that will benefit individuals, communities and, ultimately, society at large…
Tackling complex challenges from the ground up, social entrepreneurs work in areas such as climate change, sustainable business, public health, education for the poor, human rights, conflict, and water scarcity. Social entrepreneurs are at the forefront of a growing movement to scale-up positive, sustainable change…
With a focus on learning, leverage and impact, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship connects prominent social entrepreneurs with essential actors in the social, academic, finance, corporate and policy sectors—all working to accelerate sustainable social benefit.” The Forum brings together over 785 delegates representing 65 countries.” Skoll Foundation:
People who work with poverty often think the solutions must come from Government or Churches. Clearly I believe strongly in the role of both. But it is also important to think of how to harness the power and creativity of the private sector in our battle against poverty. Business does not have to be about just profit. Businesses exist that make a good profit but also have a positive impact on the society in which they work. And it is not just the enterprise; it is also the philanthropist that can be a positive force for good by focusing on venture philanthropy—philanthropy that supports social entrepreneurs.
Micro-finance, fair trade, social entrepreneurship, and socially responsible business all are practical methods for realizing this new economic framework. Growth and profit are tangible economic goals, as are a vibrant private sector and a responsible government sector, but the enhanced framework must also encompass other social dimensions that people value and have reason to value. Micro-finance is not just about loans and repayments; not just about business profit. It is also about cultivating individual and social empowerment, about instilling dignity and overcoming shame and humiliation. Micro-finance is a tool—not a panacea—which can either advance human development or exacerbate inequalities when applied without an understanding of the multiple dimensions of
Social entrepreneurs want to bring about change. How do we go about measuring that change? Is there a way using one tool to measure the various dimensions that social entrepreneurs think are important?
I work with the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI). It has developed a robust and workable method of incorporating a number of dimensions or categories into a new OPHI-designed measure of poverty or well-being. This multidimensional measurement methodology was applied by Bhutan to devise its Gross National Happiness Index.
This same approach has private sector applications where there is concern with quality and process as well as growth and income. The OPHI multidimensional measurement methodology can be applied by social entrepreneurs to measure the type of multi faceted economic, social and environmental change that they seek. Work is currently underway on a project focused on fair trade that will use this OPHI methodology.
[OPHI is also in conversations with a number of governments about adopting the measurement tool to redesign their existing income-based poverty measures. In so doing, governments can apply this method to put into practice a more accurate poverty line—based on several dimensions—not just income.]
Those of us in churches need to reach out to our members in the private sector to engage in a discussion on how the private sector can combine profit and social change. It is possible. There are companies and entrepreneurs doing it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Privilege and Bearing Witness"--By Reynolds Whalen

Often, “privilege” in our society is defined in terms of money or an exclusive social status that grants you access to VIP rooms, first class, and luxury accommodations.  On Easter this year however, my privilege was walking several miles through ankle deep mud in the middle of a moonless night in rural Rwanda.

For the past few weeks, I have been documenting the 15th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide through writing, photography, and film.  After five months of living in the small town of Nyamata, I have established many close relationships with friends who have graciously offered me access to stories that are often difficult to hear.  These are stories of brutality, loss, and inconceivable suffering.  But amidst the pain, there are often glimmers of reconciliation and hope.

On Easter, I was invited by a friend to an overnight commemoration ceremony in his hometown of Kibuye, where he (and several others I know well) watched their entire families brutally murdered with common tools such as machetes, axes, and hammers.  Like most survivors I have met in Rwanda, he knows the people who killed his family personally.

As we trudged through the long muddy path up an enormous hill with no light to guide us, I couldn’t help but think of our risen Christ, who three days previous in the liturgical calendar made a similar journey bearing similar loads in the form of a cross.  I could feel him walking beside us.

As we reached the top, we joined many others who were sitting around an enormous fire and sharing stories in hushed and heavy tones.  As the night progressed, these stories were shared more publicly through music, short films projected on a screen, and personal testimonies given by individuals using a microphone.  At about 1:30 a.m., candles were passed around and a portion of the crowd gathered in a tight circle around the fire.  These were survivors coming together to bear witness to each other’s grief.  One by one, they went around the circle describing in as much detail as they could muster the gruesome horrors they witnessed and atrocities they themselves experienced.  After each recollection, the others responded with a stanza from a song whose main chorus proclaimed with a striking simplicity: “Remember.”

In the same way as the disciples and friends of Jesus who gathered in solidarity to mourn the loss of their great friend and Teacher, these Rwandans found strength in the sacred bonds of community.  I do not believe either the disciples or my Rwandan friends could have faced their grief alone.  In both cases, Jesus appeared among them again only when they were gathered together.

I believe I witnessed an Easter miracle on Sunday night: a miracle of hope in the face of immense trauma and suffering, a miracle of remembrance, and a miracle of the power of bearing witness.  I am posting a short film clip from this experience to give you a chance to share in that witness.  I was invited to film this event because these people want their stories told.  They want the rest of the world to hear their stories and stand with them in solidarity to face the struggles of moving forward together.  Watching this clip will not be easy and it will not be for everyone.  But after having this experience, I must provide that opportunity.

This was the first Easter of my life not to be in a church.  For the past four years, I have participated in a beautiful Easter vigil in which the liturgy coincided with the rising of the sun.  The service began in darkness with readings about creation and the valley of dry bones, picking up momentum until the first shouts of “Alleluia” were proclaimed with the first shining rays of light. 

This year, I had the immense privilege to witness a different vigil.  However, the movement of the “liturgy” was the same.  And as the sun peaked over the rolling hills of Kibuye, I knew my Rwandan friends had found a glimmer of the risen Christ in the same way as you and I do every day: through each other.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Millennium Congregations and Millennium Villages"--by Reynolds Whalen

This eight-part film is one I made recently in my current home of Rwanda about the partnership between Millennium Congregations (MC) and the Millennium Villages Project (MVP).

A new American-based movement has emerged to promote an inter-faith response to extreme poverty, offering faith communities opportunities to support the incredible work of MVP and combat poverty in Mayange, one of Rwanda's poorest sectors. Interviews with staff in Rwanda and MC's founder, Jay Lawlor, help tell the story of this partnership in the context of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Within this framework are proven interventions in agriculture, education, business development, infrastructure, and health.

This initiative offers the chance for unity among religions in a time of increasing divisions, as we join in a common life of caring for the suffering and the destitute. And we may just learn something about ourselves along the way.