Showing posts from 2016

Sharing ourselves with others

Who dares make light of small beginnings? (Zechariah 4:10 NET)
The other day, on a crowded subway in Mexico City, I watched a mother buy a pack of flavored gum for her two-year-old son from a vendor passing through the train cars. The two-year-old delighted in opening the gum packet and eating a piece. Then his mother did an amazing thing.
The mother instructed the boy to share his gum with those of us sitting in the same area on the train, and he did! Smiling and laughing, he made his way up and down the car offering gum to each one of us, all of us smiling and laughing in return. What a joy to watch! Such a small act of generosity with such a large impact!  
This is how I often find myself feeling when I see MCC’s work around the world alongside our partners. A relatively small contribution can often make such a large difference in peoples’ lives.
In the village of Tepatlaxco about 90 minutes outside of Mexico City, Aulas de Desarrollo y Esperanza (classrooms of development and hope),…

Building stronger communities

A gift opens doors; it gives access to the great. Proverbs 18:16
We slogged through the mud to the village of Dia, about three hours northwest of Hanoi in the Tan Son district. The people here are an indigenous ethnic group called the Muong. Their ancestral home and former livelihood is now in the nearby mountains, a national forest no longer available to them. The Muong and their Dao neighbors are left to make their way as farmers. New gifts and new skills to use the land do not come naturally to them.
The new farmers are learning to grow vegetables in the winter in addition to the two crops of rice they grow throughout the year. MCC works here in six villages in two communes, or townships, working and learning alongside the Muong in agriculture and education projects and in peacebuilding workshops.
The village of Dia includes 55 households, about 200 people. With MCC’s help, Ha Phi Chung is raising rabbits. In the past six months, she has been able to sell several dozen rabbits and e…

A heart to learn and a heart to care

Exodus 34:7 (GNT)
I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.

Paul and Esther Bucher are two of seven foreigners living in the Quang Ngai province of Vietnam. Esther is an occupational therapist. We watch her work and play with children at the Vietnamese Association of Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA) day care center in Pho Duc.
In the 60s and early 70s, during the “American” war in Vietnam, the U.S. military sprayed millions of gallons of the herbicide and defoliant Agent Orange on the countryside of Vietnam. The purpose was to eliminate ground cover, destroy crops and force civilians into the cities so that the resisting Vietnamese forces could be killed more easily.
Instead, more than 400,000 people were killed or disabled by Agent Orange and, since then, a half million more children have been born with disabilities caused by these chemical toxins. American soldiers serving in Vietnam during the war have been d…

Building bonds of friendship

Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also. – I John 4:21
Cuban farmer Hernan Hernandez owns 300 mango trees on 20 hectares of land in the village of San Miguel de los Banos. Last year, a severe drought decimated most of his crop.  
Hernan says that most years there is plenty of rain, but last year, there was almost none. MCC partner CCRD (Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue) helped Hernan purchase new seeds and seedlings this year and MCC provided an irrigation pump.  
There is a bountiful crop of large, succulent mangos on the trees this year. Unfortunately, the state mandates that farmers sell most of their crops to the government for a low price, but this year, the truck that was supposed to pick up the mangos broke down and wasn’t able to pick up the mangos. Hernan will receive no income.  
After he showed us his crops. Hernan shared a cup of mango juice with 
each of us. Since the Cuban government also controls the country-wide system for processing mangos, …

Walking in God's way

Be strong and courageous and keep the charge of the Lord your God – I Kings 2:2
Since the revolution in the 1950s, the churches have had to find their way in Cuba. More recently, national policies have become a little less restrictive and the Cuba Council of Churches now includes about 50 member churches.
Council president and Presbyterian pastor Joel Ortega Dopico says the Council’s purpose is to help the Cuban churches be more effective in their mission. He says the church can never lose sight of their two fundamental responsibilities – developing church leaders and serving the community.
Pastor Luis Hernanez has been the national president of the more than 150 Brethren in Christ (BIC) churches for less than a year. While the BICs are not a member of the Council of Churches, Pastor Luis demonstrates his commitment to these responsibilities as well.
Pastor Louis earns about 300 Cubanas each month (about $12 USD). For his salary, Louis is the director of the national church, the adminis…

Republic of NGOs

“How good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” – Psalm 133
It is difficult to overstate the challenges the people of Haiti have faced. During an era of colonization in the 1600’s, for a period of time, 48,000 slaves each year were sent into Haiti, each one facing an average life expectancy of just five years. When Haiti finally became the first black republic in 1804, France demanded an indemnity of $21 Billion which was paid off through 80% of Haitian revenues for 100 years.
Today, the average Haitian lives on $800 each year and 24% of the people live in extreme poverty with only 17% having access to latrines. 92% of the schools are run by non-state actors. The promise of democracy since 1990 has largely been disappointing.
And then in 2010, an earthquake was responsible for 220,000 deaths and almost 2 million people were displaced from their homes. More than 90% of families lost a family member in the earthquake.
When you look at the history, says MCC Haiti country…

We give God the glory

Praise the name of the Lord. (Psalm 135:1)
It is only a rocky road cut into the side of the mountain, but for the communities of Biket and Rondo, high in the hills above Desarmes, Haiti, and several hours north of Port-au-Prince, the new road is making a difference in the lives of the people who live there.
Less than five kilometers long, the road gives the several thousand people in each of these communities access in the valley below to the village markets, schools and emergency health care. What was once up to four hours journey on foot can now be traveled in 20 minutes by modo.
Mennonite Central Committee built the road as part of its response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. More than $14 million from our supporters has rebuilt hundreds of houses, trained people in earthquake resistant building techniques, sponsored trauma healing workshops and made roads like this one possible.
I was in Haiti this past month with the board of MCC U.S. to learn from communities there abo…

We need to support each other

You are the salt of the earth . . . you are the light of the world. (Matt. 5:13-14)
“MCC envisions communities in right relationship with God, one another and creation.” I am speaking to a summit for MCC partners in the Ukraine, but I feel like an impostor after hearing “Vadim’s” story (not his real name) last night.
Vadim is a pastor in the eastern Ukraine conflict zone, the occupied territory where bombing is an everyday occurrence and many people have lost their homes.
Yesterday, Vadim spent eight hours waiting at the military checkpoint before he was permitted to drive to Zaporizhzhia for the MCC summit.
In his community, Vadim says the tanks are constantly going up and down the avenue. Young people are risking their lives while the shooting is going on to deliver food and blankets to people in need. He says people even need to be careful what they say to each other because if you are heard sounding sympathetic to Ukraine, you could be arrested.
The violence has brought the churches …

They welcomed us

One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. (John 9:25)
She was addicted to drugs for 20 years. She was in prison and her family broke apart. Her child was in an orphanage and her husband died. Because of her substance abuse, she eventually lost her one arm below her elbow. She saw no way out. She had hit the very bottom.
When she came to know God, Natalia says everything changed. She found she had a deep desire to help people like herself and she discovered that her life experiences helped her understand others.
“I remember what God did in my life and I have hope that God can touch other peoples’ lives and give them new life, too,” Natalia tells me. In Nikopol, Ukraine, she and Olga and Valodya, both of whom have similar stories to tell of their own, began New Life Charitable Fund a half dozen years ago to help people in prison, or who have drug or alcohol addictions, are HIV positive, homeless or for some other reason need a helping hand.
Ukraine has one of the highest ra…

Will anyone help us?

I would rather take refuge in you, God, than rely on people. (Psalm 118:8)
“If you cannot open your doors to my people, help my people stay here,” Father Douglas Bazi tells us.
Father Douglas provides oversight and leadership to Mar Elia, just one of the 14 refugee camps, or what he calls “centers,” in the Chaldean Catholic diocese of Erbil, Iraq. He says four Catholic and other church dioceses disappeared overnight when ISIS swept through the nearby Ninewah Plain in August 2014. Over 11,000 Christian families fled the Mosul region for Erbil and the surrounding area.
The Christians are a small part, perhaps about 10 per cent, of the Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Christians and other minority religious groups who suddenly found themselves homeless because of the war in the northern Kurdish region of the country. 
The rise of ISIS is only the latest misery suffered by the people of Iraq in a long line of wars, economic sanctions and repression, and then, the American-led invasion. MCC evacuated …

Better for everyone to talk about peace

Have mercy upon us, O Lord! Have mercy upon us! For we have had more than enough of contempt. (Ps. 123:3)
Over two years ago, their house in Aleppo, Syria was completely destroyed. The family of six lived in another village for four months, and then they walked six days to the Jordan border, sometimes needing to dodge sniper bullets. They finally made it across the border into Jordan to a refugee camp with not a single possession but the clothes they wore. They feel alone in their new country and they want to go home to Syria.
A second family fled Qaraqosh, Iraq about the same time. They lived in Erbil for two months, and while they weren’t able to get any help with food or shelter, they were able to arrange to get a visa to go to Jordan. They live in a small makeshift apartment on the fourth floor of another family’s house, but they have no family of their own here. The wife has a sister in the United States but she isn’t able to provide any assistance. The husband told me they’d go a…

Choosing a different future

Let your compassion come to me that I may live. (Ps. 119:77)
Just outside Jerusalem in an area designated as “Area C,” a place in Israel and Palestine where it is sometimes possible for Jews and Palestinians to meet and talk with one another, Ali Abu Awaad has offered his family’s land in Beit Umar for exactly this purpose.
Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger from Alon Shvut walked to our meeting on Ali’s property and Shaul Judelman, from the nearby Tekoa settlement, got here easily enough as well. Together, the three help lead Roots, an Israeli and Palestinian organization located on Ali’s land, to foster a grassroots movement of understanding, nonviolence and transformation among Palestinian Muslims and Christians and Israeli Jews.
Ali says that when he, as a Palestinian Muslim, meets with Jewish settler groups, he tries to help them break through a barrier to see him as a human being, someone who shares their love for the land. “Even though we live so close to each other, we live in almost comp…

Regaining what has been lost

Would you still want to kill me?

After the war in Sarajevo, Amra Pandzo started working with MCC. After some peace training, she decided she wanted to devote her life to help build peace in her country.
By day, Amra is a librarian, but she also started a small organization called Small Steps to work in the public school system. Children receive religious public education at school, but because children are separated for this education according to their background – Catholic, Orthodox or Muslim – the religious education contributes to deepening religious and ethnic divides.
Amra has since created a Handbook for Religious Muslim Teachers. She told me that her goal for the handbook was to do for the Koran what Mennonites have done with the Bible – to look at the Holy Book from a peacemaking perspective. She has helped to train 1,500 Muslim teachers who are teaching religion in the schools.
More recently, she organized interfaith meetings for religious teachers. The workshops encourage tea…