Monday, April 11, 2011

For everything in heaven and on earth is yours

Let each of you look not to your own interests but to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4) On Sunday morning, April 10, I worshipped in the College Community Church Mennonite Brethren in Fresno, CA. It was the kick-off Sunday for a capital campaign to build much needed new facilities. Pastor Bill Braun told us God is the owner of all, we are stewards of all God has given us and we are blessed by God to bless others. I can't tell you how often I've heard churches say when they are building new facilities that spending money internally on a new sanctuary will prepare them for ministry externally in their community and around the world. In the case of College Community Church, I believe its true. A year ago, immediately following the earthquake in Haiti, this congregation gave generously to Mennonite Central Committee's relief efforts there, plus it prepared over 400 school kits for use by children in Haiti. And members in the congregation gave individually as well. College Community Church Mennonite Brethren gives just as generously to other community and global ministries. I stood in this congregation on Sunday morning and thanked them for their generosity to MCC and for their support in helping MCC in its work of relief, development and peace. In a litany of thanksgiving, the worship leader exclaimed, "Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory and the majesty." Responded the congregation, "For everything in heaven and on earth is yours." My prayer is that this congregation's capital campaign will be successful beyond their wildest dreams . . . and that those dreams and this new facility will enable the congregation to continue to support God's work in the world near and far. Thanks be to God!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Beyond the Border, Santa Barbara

Make me an instrument of your peace (St. Fransis of Assisi)

Santa Barbara CA is 17th highest on a list of 100s of municipalities across the country in the deportation rate of non criminals. Why would this be the case for a picturesque tourist town on the California coast? One reason is most certainly because Santa Barbara is participating in the federal Secure Communities program administered by and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) .

ICE requires the state and local law enforcement agencies of participating communities to automatically forward the fingerprints of all people arrested to them, whether or not the people arrested are guilty, or even in the country legally.

I joined 10 others from West Coast MCC staff in a workshop coordinated by Borderlinks to specifically look at how these national policies are affecting one community. The group included educators and students, social service agencies, law enforcement officials and others from the community.

We are spending billions of dollars as a nation targeting people who are not guilty of serious crimes and often not guilty at all, one presenter told us. Another presented suggested that the Secure Communities program does exactly the opposite of what it is intended to do - it allows crimes to go unreported because people are afraid to do so.

Another presenter suggested the real end game of the program is to have the capacity of deporting all "removeable aliens," about 12 million people, from the country by 2012.

Now why would we want to do that when the facts, rather than the myths, show that immigrants pay teaxes, provide needed services in the work force and add about $10 billion annually to the economy.

Seems to be the challenge is more than about the economy or taking jobs. The challenge is about whether we are willing to accept people who are different than we are, welcoming strangers into our communities.

All the while, during the workshop in Santa Barbara, St. Francis peers in at me and I find myself wondering, what would St. Francis think? Lord, make an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love..." Maybe we can get St. Francis to join the line up of speakers.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Millions of trees

"Without wood there is no life."

Desarmes, Haiti (February 18, 2011)

After 300 years of colonization, Haiti gained recognition of its sovereignty in 1804. But the price was high - the equivalent of $21 billion U.S. today - in reparations to France. It took over 100 years for Haiti to pay off that debt.

A large part of the debt was paid off by shipping timber to France. In 1492 when Columbus invaded Haiti, more than 75% of the land was covered by forests. In 1947 when the debt was finally paid, trees stood on only 25% of Haiti. Poor rural farmers have felled more trees to produce wood charcoal. Today, less than 2% of Haiti remains forested.

Mennonite Central Committee's program in the rural community of Desarmes centers on reforestation and education about the environment in primary schools. There are now 22 community tree nurseries producing 450,000 trees each year.

In the schools, children learn about composting, planting and protecting trees and about the wildlife around them.

One day in Desarmes we treked through the hills to a tree nursery to meet with the community association who oversees it. The association leader told us about the seedlings they produce to plant new forests and to provide trees for small subsistence farmers.

Without wood, there is no life, this community leader told us. Trees provide food, fuel, construction materials and more.

Over several decades now, MCC has helped to plant more than 7 million trees in this region of Haiti.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Still dreaming . . .

I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams... (Joel 2:28)

Port-au-Prince, Haiti (February 16, 2011)

Pere Simone is an 81-year-old Celesian priest in Port-au-Prince. He's been helping children on the street for as long as he's been a priest, over 50 years. From three locations, he runs a school for 120 young boys and girls, ages 10-13.

Pere just goes to the markets and invites children to come to the school. He asks them to give up their knives and other weapons first. He wants them to get an education even though he knows some of them will learn to read just enough so that they can read license plates to deliver drugs.

But he's taught three of Haiti's presidents, too, though he says "they all forgot me."

Pere's school, Timkatec, is one of Mennonite Central Committee's partners in Haiti. When I was in the school, I saw evidence of MCC's canned meat, comforters and school kits. After the earthquake a year ago, Pere received additional help from MCC to help keep the school open.

After 50 years, Pere is still dreaming. He'd like to open up a camp where kids, rich and poor, can come together to play and to learn to know one another without fighting and to see what life can be like.

Pere says we all need to have faith in God and depend on ourselves as well. We can't just pray all day, he says, we need to call on ourselves as well as God. That's what he tell's the children, he says.

The teachers need to learn our way of educating, too, Pere says. Even when the children are just playing, teachers need to listen to each one, because its not just a group of children they are teaching, but each student is important.

At 81, Pere is stil working with street children and dreaming about how he can make their lives better. He's dreaming, depending on God and depending on himself to help make it happen.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Strengthening relationships to serve

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:13)

January 23-26, 2011

Paraguay is a long way to go for a meeting. But it seemed worth it when it meant that representatives from global churches from around the world could meet together to talk about how Anabaptist-related service agencies could form a new network to work more effectively together.

In our congregations, we help our members who are in need and we help others in our communities, too. Through Mennonite World Conference, we can help our brothers and sisters in Anabaptist churches in other parts of the world. We know the needs are great. Think of Zimbabwe, Chile, Indonesia and elsewhere where political unrest and disasters have given us ample opportunities to show our love for one another.

There are Anabaptist-related service agencies around the world, too, that help us reach beyond our own members to communities in need. Large service agencies are in Indonesia, India, Ethiopia, the United States and elsewhere, and many smaller ones in many countries, but there is currently no linking mechanism that helps these agencies on behalf of the church to work more effectively together.

That's what this meeting in Paraguay was all about. The group pictured above spent three days together, and I was able to give some support as a volunteer staff person for Mennonite World Conference, to plan for how a new network of agencies could best operate.

Toward the end of the meeting, Cynthia Peacock, from India, led us in a devotional from Phil. 4. She said we have much to do, but we can accomplish much more together if our relationships are strong in Christ.

If these five representatives are any indication, our churches and agencies will work with diligence to extend their work as Christ's body in the world. May it be so.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Looking to the interests of others

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. -Phil. 2:4
This is meat canning week at the MCC Great Lakes facility in Goshen, Ind. In nine days, 1,500 volunteers will cut up, cook and can almost 80,000 pounds of turkey for MCC to distribute to hungry families around the world. Last year, for example, 33 tons of turkey and beef were sent to earthquake victims in Haiti.
Yesterday, I met the committee of six that oversees this work in Goshen. They represent a broad spectrum of Mennonites and Amish in the community. I was told that likely 90% of the volunteers are from the Amish and the more conservative groups in the community.
I was overwhelmed as I entered the cutting room. At long tables, maybe 100 people, most of them Amish, were cutting up turkey thighs to prepare them for cooking. Animated conversation was certainly not getting in the way of industriousness as the work quickly progressed.
These volunteers are responding to a need, and doing it gladly. This week, while the canning work was still happening, a truck came to load skids of boxed cans of meat, each labeled, "in the name of Christ," so that they couuld be shipped to Colombia where the cans of meat are desperately needed.
In the past year, similar shipments of canned meat were designated for North Korea, El Salvador and the Ukraine. In the Goshen community, these volunteers will raise over $140,000 to buy the meat and send it on its way.
The Apostle Paul says to the Christians in Philipi, look to the interests of others, not just to your own. For me, in this meat canning project, my conservative brothers and sisters in this community are demonstrating what Paul meant. Thanks be to God!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Remaining maladjusted

For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. - Ephesians 2:10

Monday, Dr. Quinton Dixie, associate professor of religion at Purdue-Indiana University Fort Wayne was the featured speaker at the Martin Luther King Day prayer breakfast at Goshen (Ind.) College. He quoted King's call for us to remain maladjusted, never adjusting to segregation, the madness of militarism and other sins. King went on to say that it may well be that the world's salvation depends on the maladjusted.

King's quote reminded me of the weekend meeting I had just concluded with Damascus Road trainers, organizers, chaplains, partners and Mennonite Central Committee staff. Within the Anabaptist sphere, the Damascus Road program has provided valuable resources and education in helping agencies, congregations and members address racism head-on.

More recently, some Damascus Road folks have felt the program would be freer to grow and be truer to its mission if it was not so institutionally connected to Mennonite Central Committee. It is hard to let go of something that has played such a valuable role in the life of the church. But listening to Dr. Dixie on MLK Day, I had to admit that it is hard for a movement like the Damascus Road program "to remain maladjusted" within an institution of any sort, even a good one like MCC!

The group gathered to discern the future of the Damascus Road program was unnecessarily harsh about MCC, I thought, the organization that was responsible for birthing it. On the other hand, this same group was passionate about the work God has called us to, a way of life, really, to combat the destructiveness of racism, work that can affect generations to come.

May God bless the future of this ministry, wherever God leads it. I am hoping MCC can continue to be a valued partner, contributing to the world's salvation, maybe even a bit maladjusted!