Sunday, January 31, 2010

NOW, ONLY THE SKY CAN FALL


January 30, 2010
Leogane, Haiti

Today, we visited Leogane.  The 7.0 earthquake that brought down 30% of the homes and buildings in Port-au-Prince on January 12, 2010 was centered near Leogane, about 30 miles west of the port.  Leogane did not fare nearly as well as Port-au-Prince.  Here, 90% or more of all structures collapsed.  Driving through the town on National Road 2, I am reminded of pictures of bombed-out towns at the end of World War II.

Buildings with more than one story are pancaked.  Walls of single-story structures are toppled inward or outward.  Around each collapsed building rubble piles high.  Steel beams, aluminum strips and rebar protrude upward in every direction.  A team of explosive experts could not have done a more thorough job.

In front of and beside crumbled houses--surreally--new structures have been erected.  This post-modern architecture features hastily-cut wood-pole frames covered with a patchwork of tarp and canvass.  These huts mix in with a smattering of manufactured tents—Coleman, Timberline, Wal-Mart.  They form groups of four or five, or ten or fifteen, or 200 or 250 on open spaces along the roadway through whole stretch of town.

As with every other area near Port-au-Prince since the temblor, it seems like everyone is outside.  No one here trusts a roof.  No one believes in the power of a concrete city anymore.

It was buildings that fell on so many of their loved ones and neighbors and injured or killed them.  It was concrete enclaves—so sturdy to withstand hurricane after hurricane—that trapped them alive.  It was these structures with wrought-iron grating on every window and door, surrounded by high walls topped with razor ribbon and locked gates that utterly failed to secure.  A roof over one’s head—every person’s basic symbol of safety and security—became the crusher of life.

Now, at least for now, the only safe place is outside the buildings that remain.  Now, only the sky can fall.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

INTERNATIONAL CHILD CARE MINISTRIES IN HAITI

40% of ICCM's international investment is in the children of Haiti

International Child Care Ministries, the initiative I’m working with, advocates for the spiritual, educational, physical and social development of children by partnering with friends globally.  Our primary strategies are sponsorships, scholarships, and creative initiatives on behalf of children in partnership with friends around the world.

We currently work with more than 21,000 sponsored children in 29 world areas. $21-a-month sponsorships help with education, food and supportive care that foster hopeful futures for kids.  ICCM's affiliation with Free Methodist church workers at local levels worldwide offers high levels of accountability and spiritual support.  ICCM-sponsored children are connected to a caring community of faith in whatever city, town or village they live in.

In Haiti, in particular, we have over 8,900 children under sponsorship.  These children attend 53 ICCM schools.  In the Port-au-Prince area—the area most affected by the January 12th earthquake—we have 16 schools and 1,867 sponsored children.  Thus far, we have had sparse specific information about these children.  Like most residents of Port-au-Prince, many will be living on the streets in makeshift shelters.  Some may have perished in the January 12 quake.  More than a few may have become orphans.

ICCM is not a relief organization, though representatives from International Child Care Ministries have been on the ground in Haiti delivering water, food, water filters, and medical supplies.  We respond to crises, but our primary focus is to invest in the future of children through education, nutrition and spiritual care.

We know that many of our schools in Haiti have been damaged by the quake.  A damage assessment team is in Haiti at this time to visit our schools and make recommendations.  Some schools will need repair.  Others will need to be rebuilt.  All will need some equipment replaced.

Our sense is that the sooner education can be reestablished, the sooner this aspect of children’s disrupted lives can be restored and normalized, the better off they will be.  Our primary investment after the earthquake is in these schools and the education and well-being of children in Haiti.

ICCM is responding to the Haiti earthquake through our Special Projects Fund.  While sponsorship funds are directed to education costs, uniforms, and food for students, our Special Projects Fund invests in new schools, school repairs, and initiatives that complement the primary focus of education in these precious lives.  100% of contributions to our Special Projects Fund go to the intended purpose; we do not subtract any processing or support fees from this fund or contributions made to our food funds.

You can donate and explore International Child Care Ministries at www.childcareministries.org.  You can also see how the Free Methodist Church, with which we are affiliated, is responding to the Haiti earthquake at www.helphaitiheal.org.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

RESCUED AFTER 10 DAYS


This has got to be the best picture...ever.  This child was rescued 10 days after the January 12th earthquake in Port-au-Prince




In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A WEEK OF HAITI EARTHQUAKE RESPONSES

I've been busy trying to learn and convey information on behalf of ICCM and 8,900 sponsored children in Haiti

This news clip on Indianapolis FOX affiliate TV 59 reflects just one of the challenge we've been grappling with since last Tuesday afternoon.


 

It's been a non-stop week for me and for many since learning of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti last Tuesday afternoon.  Really, I just want to be in Haiti right now.  As much as I can do on these sidelines, in my heart I'd rather be on the streets with the suffering.  I'll just bullet-point some of the things I've been doing or involved in:

I've made a monetary contribution. I encourage you to do that right now. It's what's needed most by rescue and relief efforts at the moment.  Give through organizations you've come to count on, in whom you have confidence.

I'm praying.  Specific prayers?  Sometimes.  Mostly a vigilant presence of mind and heart.  I want my heart to continue to be broken and positively and wisely responsive to this natural disaster and humanitarian response.

Each day, I've gathered information and posted updates for the sponsors of ICCM.  We have 8,900 children who are sponsored in Haiti, 1867 of whom are in the Port-au-Prince area, along with staff.  The latest ICCM Bulletin can be accessed at this link.

I've met with ICCM and Free Methodist World Mission staff on effective responses and been on the phone much more than usual in response strategies and efforts.

I've met several times with the parents and a brother of Jeanne Acheson-Munos, who was buried and unable to be rescued of a Free Methodist building in Port-au-Prince.

I've conducted three TV interviews and several phone interviews with local media outlets regarding the loss of Jeanne, a woman who grew up and was based in Indianapolis.

I've monitored news outlets almost constantly, trying to keep up with breaking information and scanning for any news of our kids or leaders.  We know now that most of our ICCM and Free Methodist leaders are alive, though most have lost everything and are living in temporary shelter.

I have been working to share information and converse with people about the situation on Facebook and via Twitter.  Still very fascinated with these social networking media.


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

THINKING OF HAITI, REMEMBERING JOB

The Beatitudes and Elie Wiesel speak to my soul in the wake of the Haitian catastrophe




In the wake of the devastating earthquake in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Tuesday, I went looking for some counsel.

I have significantly greater care for that island nation today than I did six months ago. International Child Care Ministries, with which I now serve, has 8,900 Haitian kids under sponsorship with 53 schools and a robust Haitian staff--none of which we have heard from yet.

Where does one go in the face of such loss of life and incomprehensible level of natural disaster? Don't even try to foist off pat and easy answers on me.

Still numb, I found myself turning to the Scriptures and to a Jewish holocaust survivor for counsel today.

I found help in the Beatitudes. Reading them as the primary message of Jesus reminds me that Jesus is not the success guru we sometimes try to make him out to be. Blessed are those who mourn; they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek; they'll inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful; they'll be shown mercy. This is a very different message than an accusation of Haitians being cursed for making some pact with the devil that Christian TV evangelist Pat Robertson declared.

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy.

And, I happened onto an observation on the Scriptures by Elie Wiesel, that eloquent, truth-telling, gut-wrenching holocaust survivor who has for a generation helped the world not only "never forget" but to remember well and choose to live differently. Here is Wiesel's statement from his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:

"We must remember the suffering of my people, as we must remember that of the Ethiopians, the Cambodians, the boat people, the Palestinians, the Mesquite Indians, the Argentinian desaparedicos--the list seems endless.

"Let us remember Job, who, having lost everything--his children, his friends, his possessions, and even his argument with God--still found the strength to begin again, to rebuild his life. Job was determined not to repudiate the creation, however imperfect, that God had entrusted to him."

Let us mourn with those who mourn. Perhaps we together shall be comforted. And together build again.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

QUOTING B. T. ROBERTS


The founder of the Free Methodist Church reflected a perspective I can lean into


B. T. ROBERTS.  Benjamin Titus Roberts helped organize the Free Methodist Church as a fledgling denomination in 1860 after he and other Methodist ministers were put out of their mother church even as they tried to return it to the priorities, teachings and practices of John Wesley and original Methodism.

FREE AT LAST. Among the issues the Free Methodists contended for was a priority on proclaiming the doctrine of entire sanctification (freedom from sin), abolition of slavery and ordination of women (freedom of persons), abolishing church “pew rentals” that effectively shut the poor out of churches (free seats), a turn away from formalism (free worship), and simplicity in lifestyle (freedom from worldliness).

HOWARD A. SNYDER.  The following B.T. Roberts quotes come from an online paper by Howard A. Snyder (“’TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR’: MISSIONAL SELF-UNDERSTANDING IN EARLY FREE METHODISM, 1860-90”).  Snyder, who has already given us insightful books like The Radical Wesley, The Community of the King, Decoding the Church, and The Problem with Old Wineskins, authored an authoritative biography of B.T. Roberts titled Populist Saints.

THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.  “My special mission is to preach the gospel to the poor.  I believe that churches should be as free as the grace we preach.  The Lord allowed me to be thrust out as I was, because He saw that in this manner this work could be carried on to the best advantage.  The work is progress­ing and I expect to live to see FREE churches all over the land-especially in the cities where the poor are congregated.  This is a blessed work! (B. T. Roberts, The Earnest Christian, January 1865)”

THE ILLS OF LIFE.  “The wealth of the world is in the hands of a few.  In every country the poor abound....  Sin has diffused itself every where, often causing poverty and suffering.  God assured his ancient people, favored above all others with precautions against want, that ‘the poor shall never cease out of the land.’  These are the ones upon whom the ills of life fall with crushing weight.  Extortion wrings from them their scanty pittance.  The law may endeavor to protect them; but they are without the means to obtain redress at her courts.  If famine visits the land, she comes unbidden to their table, and remains their guest until they are consumed.”

PROVISION FOR ALL.  “The provisions of the gospel are for all.  The ‘glad tidings’ must be proclaimed to every individual of the human race.  God sends THE TRUE LIGHT to illuminate and melt every heart.  It visits the palace and the dungeon, saluting the king and the captive…To civilized and savage, bond and free, black and white, the ignorant and the learned, is freely offered the great salvation.”

IN SPECIAL MANNER FOR THE MOST DESTITUTE.  “In her regard for the poor, Christianity asserts her superiority to all systems of human origin.  Human pride regards most the mere accidents of humanity; but God passes by these, and looks at that which is alone essential and imperishable.  In his sight, position, power, and wealth, are the merest trifles.  They do not add to the value or dignity of the possessor.  God has magnified man by making him free and immortal.  Like a good father, he provides for all his family, but in a special manner for the largest number, and the most destitute.  He takes the most pains with those who by others are most neglected.”

LAYING UP TREASURES.  “Jesus forbids his disciples to amass wealth.  His language is plain.  It requires a great deal of ingenuity to pervert it…  Must we take our choice between laying up treasures on earth or treasures in heaven?  To do both is impossible.  Deliberately take your choice.  Not to choose is inevitably to drift into the current of worldliness.  To choose the world is to choose sorrow, and trouble, and eternal death.”

TO SAVE THE RICH, AS WELL AS THE POOR.  “If you resolve to lay up treasures in Heaven, begin at once.  Give yourself to God to do good to the utmost of your ability to your fellow-men.  Adopt the motto of Wesley, ‘Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can….’  Plain, free churches are everywhere needed, quite as much to save the rich as to reach the masses and carry the Gospel to the poor.”


In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Monday, January 11, 2010

BENEDICERE


I read this blessing  in Sojomail from Sojourners. In Latin Benedicere means “to bless."  It’s by Ken Sehested, a North Carolina pastor and stonemason.  Written on New Year’s Day 2005, it launches with a traditional Irish blessing.

May your home always be too
small to hold all your friends.


May your heart remain ever supple,
fearless in the face of threat,
jubilant in the grip of grace.


May your hands remain open,
caressing, never clinched,
save to pound the doors
of all who barter justice
to the highest bidder.


May your heroes be earthy,
dusty-shoed and rumpled,
hallowed but unhaloed,
guiding you through seasons
of tremor and travail, apprenticed
to the godly art of giggling
amid haggard news and
portentous circumstance.


May your hankering be
in rhythm with heaven's,
whose covenant vows a dusty
intersection with our own:
when creation's hope and history rhyme.


May hosannas lilt from your lungs:
God is not done;
God is not yet done.


All flesh, I am told, will behold;
will surely behold.



In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, January 8, 2010

HERE AND NOW

his reflection by Paul Tillich is one of my favorites, particularly at the New Year

PRESENT POSSIBILITIES.  "The goal of humankind is not progress toward a final stage of perfection; it is the creation of what is possible for us in each particular state of history; and it is the struggle against the forces of evil, old ones and new ones, which arise in each period in a different way.

KINGDOM COMING.  "There will be victories as well as defeats in these struggles.  There will be progress and regressions.  But every victory, every particular progress from injustice to more justice, from suffering to more happiness, from hostility to more peace, from separation to more unity anywhere among us, is a manifestation of the eternal in time and space.  It is, in the language of the writers of the Old and New Testaments, the coming of the Kingdom of God.  For the Kingdom of God does not come in one dramatic event sometime in the future.  It is coming here and now in every act of love, in every manifestation of truth, in every moment of joy, in every experience of the holy.

PRESENT STRUGGLE.  "The hope of the Kingdom of God is not the expectation of a perfect stage at the end of history, in which only a few, in comparison with innumerable generations, would participate, and the unimaginable amount of misery of all past generations would not be compensated.  And it might even be that those who would live in it, as 'blessed animals,' would long for the struggles, the victories and the defeats of the past.  No!  The hope of humankind lies in the here and now, whenever the eternal appeals in time and history.  This hope is justified; for there is always a presence and a beginning of what is seriously hoped for."

(Quoted in Prayers for the Common Good, edited by A. Jean Lesher, 1998, Pilgrim Press.  Paul Tillich, one of the 20th century's outstanding Christian theologians, preached these words in 1965.)

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.

Friday, January 1, 2010

BEATITUDES FOR THE NEW YEAR

I had an odd juxtaposition of thoughts: thinking about New Year's resolutions, I somehow leaped to the Beatitudes, that list of eight striking "blessings" or "attitudes"--or whatever they are--that Jesus shared (Matthew 5:1-12). I guess I was mulling over whether or not the Beatitudes qualify as resolutions.  I don't think they do, per se, but the New Year certainly offers an opportunity to consider embracing their challenges as an invitation to radical living today.

Here are the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

A few reflections as I think about the Beatitudes in light of New Year's resolutions:

1. They go to the heart of what Jesus said and lived.


2. A Beatitude is likely to be perceived as a "blessing" only when we have lived through the tough circumstances to which it is a gracious response.  When we respond in Beatitude responses, we will know we have embraced them.

3. The Beatitudes are radical.  They go to the heart of our deepest passions and life circumstances.  They point to gut-wrenching realities of life: poverty and emptiness, loss and grieving, powerlessness and social contempt, spiritual hunger and yearning for right to prevail, seeing needy persons being treated unjustly and neglected, bitter division and violence, religious persecution, insults, gossip, and false accusations.  It seems to me that only heaven-borne grace can conceive of and make possible the radical outlook and actions described in the Beatitudes.

4. It is one thing to learn the Beatitudes, to have memorized them and to be able to quote them.  This is often as far as it goes in Christian catechism or Sunday School.  But, like the Ten Commandments or the Lord’s Prayer, familiarity does not mean we understand them or joyfully cultivate them as a heart and life orientation beyond a merely formal and legal application.  Compliant and eager to be an ideal Christian as I was as a child, I remember inwardly revolting at most of the Beatitudes.  It was easier to just recite them and keep them as stained glass phrases.  As I have continued to revisit them, my understanding and appreciation has increased, but they are no less challenging forty years later. 

5. The Beatitudes run counter to American machismo and status quo.  They unsettle the presumptions of consumer Christianity.  On the surface the Beatitudes seem to be a se-up for certain failure in society that apparently rewards rugged individualism, conformity to sameness, upward mobility, the appearance of mental or physical toughness, and a thoroughly materialistic and self-indulging orientation to value and action.  Dig deeper in the Beatitudes and it gets increasingly difficult to straddle kingdoms.  What emerges is that Jesus actually declares people blessed whom Western civilization has over the millennia come to despise or disparage.  The rest of Jesus’ ministry is one way or another verification that his is an upside down kingdom, an invitation to downward mobility, and an lifting up of all who sorrow, who are relegated to the margins.

6. Above all, the Beatitudes call for what Brennan Manning calls “ruthless trust.”  Because the blessedness or results described in the Beatitudes seem so far-fetched or distant, they call for ruthless trust in the invitation, worldview, Kingdom order, and certain future Jesus describes.  As Manning puts it: “Faith in the person of Jesus and hope in his promise means that his voice, echoing and alive in the Gospels, has supreme and sovereign authority over our lives.”  Does it get any more radical than that?

7. It is appropriate to consider the Beatitudes on the first day of the New Year.  And in this case, on the first day of a new decade.  So while we wish each other a Happy New Year, we might do better by offering each other a prayer for Beatitude grace.  And may we also receive the ruthless trust to see them come to fruition in our hearts, lives, and world.

In the spirit of dialog, I welcome comments and/or questions. Click on "responses" below to post. They're moderated only to reduce incivility.