social justice

Forced From Home

It was a chilly day 3 months ago. I had a warm coat, but the wind occasionally kicked up, making me wish I had one more layer on. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but I was ushered into a fenced off area and told, “You have 30 seconds to decide what you’re taking. You can pick 5 things. GO!” The small group of us searched through our “possessions”. What would travel well? What was a necessity? What had value that I could sell and also conceal? Cell phone? Medication? Passports? Money? Water? Food? Blankets? Coats? I snatched up things with as much discernment that 30 seconds provided.

“Time’s up.”

It was time to flee my home and leave behind everything I wasn’t already holding. A small group of us hiked to the boat that we hoped with usher us away from danger. We’d have to pay for our passage in this crude powerboat. There goes my money. We had gas and questionable life jackets, but no pilot. Our guide just pointed across the vast emptiness. How long would we be on the water? Would my coat keep warm from the gust of wind across the open sea? What about once it got wet? The Bible is right. “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers!” (Matt 24:19) We don’t even need to wait that long to have those thoughts. I am grateful our entire party consisted of adults. How much harder it would be with children. I could not imagine what kind of fear is needed to motivate a parent to bring a child on such a dangerous journey. Strike that. Yes, I do. Sometimes the unknown is better than the known.

 

When our boat finally reached the other side safely, there were grateful tears. We’d all heard the tales of boats who were not so fortunate. Between the elements, the patrol boats sent to turn travelers back, and the drowning, the numbers of those making it to the other side were dwindling. Where we landed was still on our side of the national borderline. Decisions needed to be made. We weren’t safe yet, but we were still citizens. Once we crossed the line, our status would officially change from internally displaced persons to refugees. On the one side we still had some legal protection, if one could trust the government to ensure those rights. But once we stepped across the line, all legal protection evaporated. We were at the mercy of hostile host nations, UN laws (if they could be enforced), and NGOs. We crossed.

The first camp we arrived at wasn’t all that bad. I mean, it wasn’t great, but there was food and water. There was some shelter, and there was rest. We’d been traveling for so long that our supplies from home had long been depleted. Here there was a market, though the prices were inflated, and we had little to bargain with. I traded away some more of my scanty possessions. We could even charge our phones, even though the chances of using them now that we crossed the boarder were minimal. It’s been a long time since we’d heard from family. The phone gave me some hope. At least it held their numbers.

It wouldn’t be long before the novelty of rest wore off. The aid workers were doing their best to help, but sanitation was remedial and the tents were so close to each other. We were crowded into shelters with strangers, packed like sardines, sleeping on mats, sharing a single pot to cook our allotted food. We prayed for dry weather to air our things out. I knew that I would likely be moved to a new camp. I wasn’t sure where that would be, but I felt the need to keep moving.

The group that I traveled with approached a more permanent camp (oxymoron, I know) with some joy. This was an MSF camp and it had doctors. Praise God! How long had it been since my medication had run out. Maybe I could get some help? There was some fear though. The camp had seen cholera. Would there be an outbreak? Would we be safe? They were providing special food for those who were malnourished and vaccines and medicine to those who needed them. It was a mix of fear and hope. I think one of the moments of real hope I found was when they told me their were people we could talk to, mental health counselors who might help us process all that we had been through from the dangers in our homeland to the struggle on our journey that had led us this far.

This far. Where were we now? Was this home? How long would we be here? Would this ever become home? How long before it would be safe to go home again? Would it ever be safe? Would this tent commune be safe? Would there be jobs or school? How many of us would never make the return trip? Should I apply for relocation? Would that be giving up on my dreams of going home again? Would I make it through the years of living this way to make it through the process? Where would I go? Would I be able to speak the language? Would the people welcome me? I have so many questions, worries, fears.

And then it was done. 60 minutes later, our group was ushered towards the exit. Our tour of “Forced From Home” was over. I got to go home to my warm house. My friend, Cat, and I walked back across Independence Plaza with Independence Hall and the Philly skyline in the background. Freedom. Safety. These are things we so often take for granted. No longer.

 

 

Learn more about what Doctors Without Boarders is doing or to donate click here.

Check the Forced From Home website to watch videos and learn more. Check back for new 2017 dates to experience this exhibit yourself. You won’t regret it.

 

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ethically traded, social justice

The Purpose Filled Wedding

wedding-favorRecently, I went to a fabulous wedding, truly one of the best ones ever. Like all Christ-centered weddings, it was filled with praise and worship, scripture, and the deep symbolism that facilitates the embedding of Truth into our hearts. I cried. I always do. It was beautiful and joyous, and a reminder of the love and life my husband and I share together. It was simple yet profound. And then we went to the reception.

Wedding receptions are one of the few true celebrations of sacraments we still honor in our post Christian society. They are filled with food, music, and laughter. Everything at this reception was Pinterest perfect. And what did I take a picture of? The plates. I’d call them paper plates, but I’m not sure they can be called “paper” as they were made from palm leaves, completely biodegradable, and as they don’t destroy trees, they are environmentally friendly. I’d seen a video on them prior to the wedding, but I wasn’t aware they were available already. (Yes, I have already purchased some for my next family affair.)

wedding-plates

The wedding got me thinking about previous weddings we had been to and creative ideas I have seen that could make your upcoming wedding a little more justice focused. A few years back, friends of ours decided to do away with the traditional wedding favors, and instead gave guests a choice of three different charities to choose from. They donated $1 per person to the charity they selected. Not only was this a better use of their money and a time saver, but it opened up conversation around the table as we all talked about which charity we liked best and learned a bit about them.

Here are some ideas you could use in addition to palm leaf plates and charitable donations.

  • Start with an ethically traded engagement ring and wedding bands from a company likeDo Amore.
  • Buy a fair trade wedding dress from a company like Celia Grace.
  • Invite your bridesmaids to join you for your special day with Mercy House bridesmaid invitation card and earring set.
  • Find your wedding day accessories from a fair trade organization such as Trades of Hope, Noonday Collection, or War Chest Boutique.
  • Decorate with white lights from Holiday LED and candles from Thistle Farms.
  • Serve Equal Exchange coffee, tea, and chocolate.
  • Consider getting your meal catered by an organization that is helping people such as Thistle Stop Café or Edwin’s Restaurant.
  • Donate your leftover to a local soup kitchen, rescue mission, or other organization.
  • Order your thank you notes from To the Market or  Ten Thousand Villages.
  • Consider checking out Love Gives Way, an organization that helps people find vendors who donate a portion of their profits to ending  sex trafficking.
  • Reduce the use of cheaper dollar store type items that creates a marketing demand for products that would be difficult to produce in an ethical manner.

I discovered a number of organizations devoted to ethical weddings, but they were located in the United Kingdom and Australia, so less helpful in the United States. A quick internet search will give you plenty of other ideas to chose from.

Happy planning!

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Bible Study, Christian, ministry, social justice

A Mile Wide: A book review (of sorts)

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Thirty years ago, I gave my life to Jesus. I was just 13 years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I had attended church and Sunday school, VBS, and sang in the choir. I had believed in Jesus my entire life, and I had faithfully done all that Christians were suppose to do. Then, in the wooded grounds of Agape Farms, surrounded by tens of thousands of other Christians, speaker Roger Cooper introduced me to a personal savior. I didn’t need a second invitation; I didn’t struggle with whether or not I wanted to surrender my life to God. I just did it. I had no idea that I was missing such an important piece of the Christian walk, until someone shared it with me.

While my walk has had its stumbles, I have never looked back. I have followed Jesus faithful, albeit imperfectly, for three decades. And after all this time, what I know is that there is more. Deep in my soul I know it. There is more than what modern American Christianity is offering. There is more than getting out of bed early in the morning for some quiet time with the Lord. There is more than Sunday morning and Wednesday night church, Friday morning women’s study, and Friday night home fellowship. There is more than twice a year service projects and a summer mission trips. I’ve done these things. These are not bad things, but there is more. There is more than growing in the Fruit of the Spirit so the church pews can become nothing more than bigger and bigger baskets of fruit that never meet the true hunger of the world. Many in the church are fermenting in the pews, and not in a meaningful way.

mile wide 1

For me, like for many, my period of greatest change came with a period of great loss. In 2010, many of those things in life which I was holding on to as my identity began to slip away. When I started to question who I was, I ran to God. More accurately you could say that I was in a wrestling match with God that could rival that of Jacob. It was in that time that I began to really look at global issues of injustice: slavery, honor killings, child brides, poverty, gender based violence, and broken justice systems. I knew I needed to do something, and that something needed to be hands-on volunteerism, not just writing a check. It began with writing a check, and I continue to do so, but the hands-on part has still eluded me. I knew I needed this, but life has been hard and time and resources are in pretty short supply. How could I find the time to meet all the commitments I had in life as well as serve others? I was worn thin, and my spiritual life was suffering. The Christian status quo wasn’t working for me.

As a teacher, the first week of summer break is reading week. I curl up and read. This summer, my book of choice was A Mile Wide: Trading a Shallow Religion for a Deeper Faith by Brandon Hatmaker. I read and cried. C.S. Lewis said that friends are made when one person says, “You too? I thought it was just me.” Brandon (I’m making us on a first name basis, because, you know, CS Lewis said we were) wrote:

“I don’t know how you interact with God or if you, like me, have been trying to force intimacy in a way that isn’t really you. But know this: he will meet you where you really are. He’s there in that simple, authentic, vulnerable place where your questions are hard and your words are unrehearsed . . . he’s waiting for you, to meet the real you among the muck and the mire.”

Yes! Yes, to all of that. I have tried to grow in my relationship with God by mimicking others who seemed to be doing it better, but whose path did not fit  my journey. For instance, the morning devotional time, sneaking out of bed before everyone else to have quiet time at “the foot of the cross.”  Not happening. I’ve tried it. I promise you, I don’t like anyone early in the morning, not even Jesus.

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So was this just another how-to-book, following another person’s 5 step plan to a deeper prayer life, a more faithful walk, and a better ministry? No. It was the answer to my question, “What am I missing?’ And while I haven’t had the chance to live out what Brandon offers as a solution, I am confident it is exactly right. The answer isn’t to learn more about living like Jesus or to be a better church goer. The answer is found in living a life like Christ and not Christians. The answer is not in more Bible studies, more prayer breakfasts, more outreach programs, or more serving the church. The answer is in less. The answer is in less of me and more of Jesus, less church programs and more relationships with “the least of these” and the nearest of these.  The answer is profound and perfect.

I know this book will change my life. I already feel the freedom.

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I RECEIVED AN ADVANCED READER’S COPY FROM THE PUBLISHER IN EXCHANGE FOR MY HONEST REVIEW. YOU CAN READ THAT REVIEW ON GOODREADS.
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ethically traded, hannah more, slavery, social justice

Vote Early, Vote Often

voting 2Election season is upon us. Personally, I know I have found my blood pressure rising as I scroll through new articles and social media posts. There is much to be gained and much to be lost as we elect the leaders of our nation, state, and local communities. Often we get bogged down in the mud slinging and the corruption. Our family openly discusses politics and current events. I tell them it’s important to vote early and often.  While this quote has an uncertain origin, it arose from the corruption of early 20th century Chicago political corruption. While meant as a tongue in cheek expression, I’d like to give it a new meaning.  Personally, I vote every day. Here are ways you can as well.

Vote with your money:

Equal 2Buy ethically traded goods

  1.         Consider shopping through companies that exclusively sell ethically traded goods.  This can be food (especially the items most often connected with unfair labor practices and the use of slaves such as coffee, tea, chocolate, and sugar), clothing, jewelry, housewares, décor, and pretty much anything you can think of. Supporting these organizations is a great way to impact the global community with jobs for those most at risk.
  2.         While shopping at your local chain stores, restaurants, or online, look for ethically traded goods. Each time I go shopping I scan the same items on the grocery store shelves looking for new additions to organic items and ethically traded goods. If I purchase those items, I know the store will stock more. If you have a particular item that you love to get, let the store know and they may even consider stocking that item. Sometimes online shopping is just more practical, but if I’m searching for and purchasing items that demonstrate my commitment to fair trade practices, these companies will take note. They will see the market and if there is a demand, they will see that it’s supplied.

Buy local

  1.         Buy local. I love having a boxed farm share. Once a week I pick up a box of organically grown vegetables (no picking required, though that option is available for those more awesome than me). I know exactly where my food comes from, and who is growing it. Try your local farmer’s market or roadside stand. Whenever we travel, I try to find some local mom and pop restaurants to get a more authentic feel for the area. This is also true for when I’m home. Some of the best places to eat in town are the tiny joints that open up offering unique fare.

Buy from Small Business

  1.         I’m not anti-corporation. I shop the big stores, eat in chain restaurants, and own technology made by the same major corporations that most of the world does. However, I also see the value in the little guy. Start with gifts. Can you buy a gift certificate for lessons for someone you care about? One Christmas we bought each of our kids lessons for something that they were really interested in. Each kid loved it and three different local instructors were supported. Do you have friends who run small businesses? Ask on FB and see who sells something and consider  using them for your Christmas gift giving.

 

Vote with you Time

 

Write a review

  1.  Authors, musicians, restaurant owners, artists on Etsy and other individuals  would love you to write a review of your wonderful experience with them. These reviews can help them as they move forward in their careers.  A good review on Goodreads, Amazon, or Etsy could help an author sell more books, music, or crafts which often means either supporting them and their families, or supplementing their income. A few minutes of your time can mean all the difference for them. Word of mouth works great as well. Take a few minutes to share with someone about this great new coffee shop that opened and serves ethically sourced goods or the shop you stopped by for the first time

Have a voice

  1. Write some letters, emails, or sign a petition.  Send a letter to a company to praise their support of a charity event, suggest that they stock fair trade items, or sign a petition for something you believe in. You know how rare it is for people to go out of their way to compliment the boss of  a sales associate, a manager, a waitress? Praise goes a long way in making the world a nice place.  Most congressional members can be reached easily via email and will listen to your voice. They count up the people who are for or against issues and they assume that most people don’t call, so they consider you to be speaking for many other like minded individuals. Have a voice.

voting

Get Started

Looking for places to buy ethically traded products?  Start here at our Ethical Shopping Guide.

Find a local farm share or a farmer’s market.

Want to get in touch with your congressional representatives? Go here.

Keep learning about issues of injustice around the world through our website and follow us on Facebook.

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ministry, prayer, social justice

Living Passionately With Boundaries

In Father of The Bride (1991), George Banks (played by Steve Martin) is talking with his daughter’s ex-fiancé following a dramatic break-up scene. George is trying to smooth things over when he says, “Annie’s a very passionate person. And passionate people tend to overreact at times.” He is using the word “passionate” as a nice way of saying she is a little crazy at times. After seeing this movie, my husband started using the term to describe me. He uses the word a lot.

While my passion is selective, it is impossible for me to only partially commit. This applies to a project I am working on, but not to cleaning my house; which at times can be problematic.

“You need help with summer camp, sure I can help and of course I will plan the activities for my station and buy goat to roast over the open fire. “

easter eggs

“Why yes, my mouth is all bruised and swollen. I was blowing out 2 dozen eggs for my 1st graders to hand paint as a lesson on Russia. “

“We’re taking a trip to New Orleans (from New Jersey), so I planned a few other stops not too far out of the way like, say, Austin, Texas.”

“You know, these lesson plans had a great idea for making food from ancient Egypt, I bet I could do that with every place and time we study. I just need a map and I can check off the countries as I cook.”

 

My husband has just gotten used to these crazy ideas, God bless his soul. Our house is filled with crazy things like a miniature steam engine, wood burning tools, painted backdrops of volcanoes and jungles, and quill pens all because, “I might need them for a lesson some day.” (and I DO!) Our kids eat whatever is put on the table and have simply requested I not tell them where it’s from. Our road trips are EPIC!

The problem comes when I get passionate about something, but I can’t do anything about it. I become conflicted. I mull it over in my mind ad infinitum. That was the case for me with issues of justice in the world that I was seeing: slavery, poverty, violence, inner-city education, oppression of women, and the list goes on and on. Before I could even wrap my head around one problem I would learn about another problem. These are all vast issues with many facets, often deeply entrenched in culture and religion. Sometimes the depravity of what I was seeing would haunt my thoughts day and night.

I felt helpless, conflicted, and at times almost paralyzed or apathetic, because how could things change?

How does one live passionately with tasks so overwhelming? How does a passionate person not burnout when confronting immeasurable injustice and oppression around the world? How?

 

I’ve found myself at times caught in a downward spiral of anguish over some injustice. I’d get stuck in learning about some horror and I couldn’t let go.  I needed boundaries. 

Boundaries I have found helpful:

  1. Everything in life must be centered on Christ. This is both a reminder to myself and the crux of my being. I can only fight injustice when I understand the Creator of justice, when my mind is renewed by Him DAILY, and when I am strengthened by the Holy Spirit who resides within me. I forget this truth often and must be reminded of it regularly.
  2. I don’t watch/read the news. Not that I don’t keep up with world events and politics, but I limit my consumption. I don’t need to read every news report on every child molester. Nor do I need to hear every survivor’s tragic tale to be informed. I don’t need to see everything for myself. You just can’t un-see something. Sometimes less really is more.
  3. “Look for the helpers,” just like Mr. Rogers said. I read of rescuers, of survivors, and of hope as much as possible so I can envision the change I am working towards.
  4. “When I was a boy and I would see scaryI surround myself with supportive, faithful Christians who lift me in prayer, teach me the Word, and hold me accountable. A safety net is a must.

 

If you’re going to join in the fight for justice you need to set up some boundaries. You aren’t any good to the fight if you are worn down and feel defeated. Your boundaries might be different from mine. You might need to steer clear of some particular injustice. Don’t feel bad. You aren’t alone. Someone else will take up where you aren’t called to be. Take the time to set up boundaries now before you get too entrenched in this battle.

 

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.-1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook-2

 

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hannah more, slavery, social justice, writing

Why Hannah More?

The problem with many of our heroes is that they are people we could never be. They are “other.” There is something about them that while we respect and wish to emulate we can never really be due of some circumstance out of our control. It was like that for me and William Wilberforce, the great champion of abolition in 18th century England. He was a wealthy politician; he was powerful and influential. This is not only a bit foreign to me, but honestly not something I would wish to be if I could be. Then I read about his friend, Hannah More. The realization came as I read through the pages of Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. Here was a woman who changed the world, but who did it in a way that I could grasp. I could see myself in her. She was a teacher, a writer, a mentor, all things that I am. In the late 1700’s and early 1800’s she was not only stirring the hearts of the people of England to fight the slave trade, but to care about the education of poor children, the treatment of animals, and even international issues like the the burning of widows in India. She wrote and people listened. She never gave up fighting the injustices in her society. Her tenacious spirit and passion were birthed from her deep faith in Jesus Christ. Surrounded by a crowd of supporters, this woman who felt deeply changed the world with her faithful devotion to God by being the voice for those who could not speak up for themselves. Finding Hannah More was like awakening to possibilities I had never imagined. It was like God whispering to me that her work was unfinished and I could champion their cause. Not me, us. We could do it together.  So let’s begin.

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ministry, social justice, writing

What Does a Calling Look Like?

It’s been years. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect the first time I felt this sense that God had something different for me, something new, something a little frightening was when I had three small children. That wasn’t the reason for the feeling, I just have a few vague memories of the old church building which gives me a reference point. I had this unsettled feeling and I was drawn to the stories of Peter walking on water and diving overboard. Water. I didn’t know what it meant. I prayed. I waited. Nothing. Time passed and the stirring increased. Things I had been holding on to I slowly began to release.  “I don’t want to move, God.”  “Okay, I’ll move, but not too far.” “Okay, I’ll move, but not out of the country.” “Fine, I’ll leave the country, but they have to speak English.”  “I don’t care where you send me, God, if you’ll just TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT ME TO DO!” The years passed like this, with no revelations or guidance. I continued on the journey, always learning and growing, but never finding. I had my heart broken and the ministries I once had seemed to be taken away one at a time. It hurt immensely, yet in the turmoil I felt this sense that after all this time God was going to finally reveal to me “The Plan.”  But He didn’t. I cried. I sobbed. I was broken. Life went on just as it always did, and I adapted. I wrestled with God and in the end I was left with a limp but not a calling. I’m not entirely sure if I think God is giving me a calling, but then there is this thing. I’ve had ideas before; I’ve “done ministry.” I’m not really sure if this is any different. I’ve been involved with other things where my gifts and passions seemed to come together. So I look at this new thing equally with hesitancy and expectation. Could this be what I have been waiting for? Or could this just be another thing? The idea formed as a twisting turning thought from a myriad of places. There was the biography I had wanted and purchased for Thanksgiving break, but didn’t finish until Christmas break. There was the book that Amazon recommended, by an author I had never heard of, and I opted to take a chance on it praying it would be better than the last book Amazon thought I would like (the one that told me I needed to spend the first 20 minutes of my day with God, then take an hour walk for my physical well being all before leaving for work at 6:45 am). Then there was my advisory council of beautiful women (and my husband) who said pretty much, “What the heck are you doing? STOP IT! ALL OF IT! Give up every single thing in your life except for the family God has given you and your job.” They were right. They knew it. I fought it. It was inspired. How does one discern the difference between a calling and my own conception? Did I just dream up an idea from the bits and pieces of things I was reading about, or are these the threads of my life coming together into the tapestry that God has specifically planned for my life? My heart is already full with the perfect job for me and a family that consumes my heart and much of my time.  Is this the right timing for this dream? Can I fluctuate between feelings of “This is it!” and “I don’t want to,” and it still be from God? Can I rest in the idea for a little while before embarking on making it a reality or is that untrue to a calling I have been waiting  years on end for? Is there a calling for everyone, or is our calling just what we chose to do as we live a life that makes the deliberate choice to follow Christ? I am in the process now of laying out my soul once again. I wrote the fragmented pieces of this idea down and then laid them out for my husband over fast food. Ironic, sharing a vision that has taken a decade to form over fast food. I held my breath and asked, “What do you think?” And in that moment, all that I love about him was present as he held my dream with care and gave me a vision for how to make it a reality. Taking a pen and scribbling notes on my embryonic treatise, he gave me permission to be this person, to take on this monumental task, to become. While I was still swimming in uncertainty he was buying domain names, God bless him! Then I made a second draft, and by that I mean a 20th draft, but the second one I would let someone see, and I sent it to my council of beautiful women. They are the accoutrements of God! They are also my therapists and my voice of reason. Then I set up a meeting with my pastor. And now I wait. I wait on the responses, the meeting, and the moment. I feel a peace in my soul that I haven’t felt in a long time, even with the toggling between the many questions and feelings. I think this is what resting feels like, maybe even a calling.

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