Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Moment of Kairos in San Francisco


Earlier this month, I was in San Francisco celebrating my past and future ministries. On October 6, 2006, Golden Gate Community, Inc. turned 25 years old. On that same day, I signed official papers registering WorldHope Corps as a new ministry. The next day, October 7, my youngest daughter turned 14, signaling another change in our family. The following week was the 25th Anniversary alumni celebration of my graduation from Yale Divinity School where I first felt called to international relief and development work during my first trip to Haiti to deliver emergency food provisions during a famine.

As I reflected on the timing of these seemingly unrelated events--the end of one era and the beginning of a new one--in my favorite city in all the world--if felt like syncrinicity--acausal effects somehow being connected. It felt like a special moment of kairos when past, present and future time all came together as one. Past ministry and future mission meeting in the present moment. Let me try to explain:

One fine day last Spring I got an unexpected phone call from Tess Reynolds, the new CEO of Golden Gate Community, Inc., informing me that the ministry to homeless persons that I founded in San Francisco in 1981 was now 25 years old. She invited me and Rebecca to fly out to SF to receive a special tribute at the 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Westin St. Francis on October 6.

I was both shocked and delighted to hear this news. Shocked because 25 years is a long time ago and I found it hard to remember what happened in those early years of planting a church and starting a ministry in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood. And delighted to have been remembered, honored in this way, and invited to participate in an anniversary celebration of my organizational “baby” that had grown up into full maturity.

I tried to track down as many of the early Golden Gaters as I could, but was only able to reach a few. Still, it was wonderful to see former staff, community members and supporters who showed up for the event, including: Bonnie Wong, Michael Dotson, Andrew and Steve Worthington, Mike and Brenda Davis, Paul Moore, Clari and Sue Kinzler, Ira Hillyer, Ann McArtor, Cynthia Morse, Ralph Timms, Cliff and Connie McClain, Lisa Dosa, Veronica Hernandez, Susan Gamboa, Olga and Sophie, Mark and Joan Weimer, and many more. Also great to meet new Golden Gaters (who referred to us as the ‘old timers’ and ‘aging hippies’) and who were familiar with our pioneer work. One young staff member even said: “I read and memorized your book, man.”

The anniversary celebration featured a silent fund-raising auction and a program that featured testimonies from three current youth clients, a PowerPoint tribute to GGCI's history and development, and specials tributes to three key leaders for their contributions to the ministry: Randy Newcomb (my immediate successor), Alexa Culwell (board chair) and myself as founder.

Golden Gate Community met its fund raising goal of $50,000 for the evening, and exceeded its $250,000 goal for the 25th anniversary campaign and Tribute Fund for a total of $300,000. Not bad for a ministry that once lived hand-to-mouth, month-to-month, by grace through faith, praying daily that enough donations came in from our 500 supporters to meet our $100,000/year budget. Twenty-five years later, the annual budget of GGC is 4.6 million! I guess our earlier prayers were answered.

Yes, so much has changed and many aspects of the ministry have remained the same. GGC Church and GGC mission are no longer tied together but have progressed on separate tracks, each successful in their own right. The Oak Street House in the Haight has been sold to another ministry, as was Oak Street II—our Care House for persons affected by AIDS. The new digs of GGC are in the Mission District which attracts more youth and houses the economic ventures. New staff has replaced the old timers. The mission is much more professional and mainstream. The church has grown into “one community with multiple parishes.” in the city. And pprecious lives continue to be transformed, one at a time, by God and God’s faithful people who love and help those most in need.

Amazing, isn’t it, how a little house-church of twelve folks reaching out to the homeless in the Haight grew into a multi-congregational church of two-hundred and a 4.6 million dollar social service agency with three economic ventures in the city focused on job training development for vulnerable youth by 2006?

If you look at the history of Golden Gate Community Church and see how it has evolved over the last 25 years http://www.ggcc.org/who-we-are/history/ and then look at Golden Gate Community, Inc.’s website at www.ggci.org , you get an idea of how much has changed and remained the same since 1981 in terms of the original vision and core values that we originally established.

I see the organizational DNA evidence from the early days of working with street youth, single mothers and homeless families. I am quite proud of the fact that GGC is now regarded as a premier social service agency in the city and acknowledged for its “best practices” in the non-profit world. But I also see the need for the ministry to reclaim its spiritual focus and to lift high the name of Jesus who transforms vulnerable young lives by the power of the Spirit. I’m proud to be associated with Golden Gate Community, past and present, pleased to take a bow for starting the church and mission so many years ago, and confident in its bright future.

Somehow related to all this is the promise of a new ministry focus for the future. While in San Francisco, I was invited by Joseph Lam, President of World Children’s Fund, and Paul Moore, President of CitiHope International (both of whom were present at the GGC anniversary celebration), to help start a new ministry that would mobilize professionals and lay volunteers for mission projects around the world. Together, we signed papers to register WorldHope Corps as an international relief and development organization to train and utilize volunteers in global missions, a kind of a “believers without borders” approach to ending poverty and AIDS in the world. If you are interested in helping me develop this new venture, please contact me and I’ll involve you in the ground work of this emerging enterprise.

In the meantime, my hat’s off to all who have been involved in Golden Gate Community and made the church and mission what they have been and what they are today. Here’s to the next 25 years in the City by the Bay!

Monday, October 23, 2006

First HopeHomes Sponsored




Mission Update: Through the generocity of Hopegivers International, we were able to sponsor the first HopeHome in Mzuzu, Malawi last week.

A HopeHome is simply an extended family unit that receives nutritional food aid medical assitance, and educational scholarships from external sources. Instead of adopting AIDS orphans from outside the country, our approach is to strenghten extended family units within the country of origin. It's hard enough for a family of five in Malawi to support themselves where extreme poverty prevails. It is almost impossible for nuclear families that have informally adopted another 10 or so orphans to care for their basic needs. But many families in Malawi are willing to do this, and we want to help them do it. That's why we found a way to sponsor the first HopeHome in Mzuzu.

Since 2003, CitiHope has provided emergency food and life-saving medicine to 1000 orphans in four day-care centers (feeding outposts) in Malawi on a daily bases. In addition, we provide nutritional meals and medical aid to 10,000 hospital patients and prisoners in 40 social and church-sponsored institutions in Malawi each month. At least 50% of these orphans are believed to be HIV infected. All of them are vulnerable and at-risk of malnutrition, disease and exploitation unless they remain under the care of their guardians who bring them from their homes to the Center.

Guardians are grandparents, uncles, aunts, and neighbors who serve informally as foster parents after their parents die or are unable to care for the kids themselves. It is deeply inspirational to see how the extended family system works in Malawi, and re-assuring to know that they are not just looking for a free hand-out but just a hand-up to make it on their own.

HopeHome Sponsorship entails financially supporting nutritional food suppliments and educational expenses for orphaned children. (Primary school is free but those who are able to continue past the 8th grade must pay approximately $300/yr.)

For as little as $50/month, we can feed an orphan and keep him or her in school for a year! For $600, we can sponsor an extended family with 10 orphaned or abandoned kids.

So, I'm on a fund-raising campaign to fund 10 HopeHome sponsors before year's end. If you are reading this Blog, maybe you will be one of them.

If you have a heart for orphans in Africa and want to help, please contact me:

mchriste@citihope.org

You can make a contribution at www.citihope.org

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Madonna Adopts Baby in Malawi


Madonna Adopts AIDS orphan in Malawi?
Her baby boy is just one in a million in Malawi!

Controversial pop superstar, Madonna, who offended Christians this last Spring when she staged a mock crucifixion during her world concert tour, declared her intention to donate a million dollars to support an Orphan Care Center in Malawi. Then she announced her desire to adopt a motherless baby boy from "Home of Hope" Orphanage run by the Presbyterian Church of Central Africa in Malawi. Now that she has custody of David Banda, she wants to build a new orphanage for some of the 800,000-1,000,000 remaining orphans and abandoned children in Malawi. Her intentions and efforts, however controversial, have succeeded in calling world attention to this tiny, Pennsylvania-size country of 12 million people in central sub-Sahara Africa.

The tragic story of David Banda, whose mother died of AIDS and whose father left him at the orphange when he was two weeks old, mirrors that of thousands of other orphans in Malwai and throughout Africa. International adoptions may help, but support for those left behind is critically important.

I returned last month from Malawi where I saw first-hand the desperate needs of AIDS orphans and vulnerable families coping with severe famine, extreme poverty and life-threatening disease. They need all the help they can get from people of good will and right motive. While I welcome celebrity involvement, including Madonna’s, I Christians and people of good will should reach out and care for orphans and abandoned children in Africa in any way they can. Not only by adoptions but by sponsoring a child within Malawi who needs nutrition, education and medical assistance, or by supporting a Malawian family that has enlarged its nuclear family unit by including orhans in its household, and/or supplying medical aid to Africa's most vulnerable.

Personally, I favor faith-based approaches to ending poverty and AIDS because such ministries can be more holistic in addressing the needs of the body, soul and spirit. Evangelism and giving a cup of cold water and a warm meal in Jesus’ Name is the whole gospel for the whole person. That’s why I like what CitiHope is doing in northern Malawi.

If Madonna, who does not understand the true meaning of the Cross, can adopt motherless child and contribute a million dollars to help AIDS orphans in Malawi, so can those who understand both the suffering of the Savior and the power of the Resurrection, reach out and do what we can. Jesus told his disciples not to forbid the little children to come unto him. That’s why we provide daily meals and medicine to 1000+ orphans and 10,000 patients: that they might come to Him and live.

www.citihope.org

Presbyterian Pastors Receive AIDS Training



News Archieve: PACCT Program Launched in Malawi

Pastoral And Congregational Care Training (PACCT) began in September in Malawi as part of the on-going relief and development efforts of CitiHope International—one of the ministries supported by Y-Malawi at Central Presbyterian Church.

Forty pastors and community leaders participated in the three-day PACCT Workshop, including: 20 Presbyterian ministers selected by the Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa; four ministers from United Methodist, Assembly of God and Adventist churches; and representatives of the Malawi Ministry of Heath, Ministry of Education, National AIDS Commission, World Vision, and the Livingstonia Synod AIDS Program (LISAP).

The workshop was focused on curriculum development for what is projected to be a series of training events for pastors, spouses and lay leaders around the religious issues of HIV/AIDS in the congregations: transmission modes, prevention measures, stigma and discrimination, voluntary counseling and testing, appropriate pastoral and congregational care, and special protection of women and children.

Malawi has one of the highest incidence of HIV infection in Africa (25-33% of the population of 12 million), and has at least 800,000 AIDS orphans and abandoned children. CitiHope assists 40 social and church-sponsored institutions in providing high protein meals and needed medicine to 10,000 recipients in northern Malawi.

Dr. Moira Chimombo, Professor of Education at the University of Malawi (center), Dr. Andy Gaston, MD, Director of Livingstonia Synod AIDS Program (right), and Dr. Michael Christensen, Africa Regional Director for CitiHope (right), led and facilitated the PACCT Workshop in September.

Future PACCT trainings will be offered for Ministers’ Wives, Lay Leaders, Women’s Guild, and teachers of children and youth.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Children's Coffins?


On my recent trip to Malawi, I visited FOMCO--one of the orphan day-care centers we support. On the road leading to the center I saw a sign advertizing wood coffins.

Children’s’ Coffins! A lot of children die in Malawi due to famine and disease. Coffin-making has become the #1 industry in Malawi, I was told. “You make coffins for the children you can’t save, so that you can save the ones you can,” my colleague Paul Moore Jr. observed.

FOMCO means Friends of Mzuzu Community Orphans—a community-based organization run by members of the community who volunteer their time and services. Established in June, 2000, the Center feeds 200-300 orphans and abandoned children their one and only meal, which is served outside to the orphans as they sit quietly on the red African dirt with their plastic bowels in hand.

Church volunteers also come daily to the FOMCO Center to help feed, clothe and care for the kids. When visitors visit, the kids love it because they get to play with donated soccer balls, balloons, freebies, and simple group games. Volunteers and visitors teach the kids new songs, and the kids and guardians show their visitors how to sing and dance their songs. The kids sometimes receive simple gifts and candies from the visitors, and always love and prayers.

Teachers come to the Center to hold class sessions in an outdoor, make-shift class room for those unable to go to public school. Skilled volunteers come to center on Tuesdays and Thursday to teach sewing to the older children. They make drapes and simple clothing to sell at market to support the work. A master carpenter comes daily to make small and medium sized coffins in the woodshop, and teach carpentry skills to others and to help provide income for the Center.

FOMCO’s Director, Mrs. Sichinga, took me into the kitchen hut and introduced me to young Viola (1.5 months) whose father died of AIDS. Her mother now volunteers as a cook. It takes two pots of porridge-- soy-protein mixed with maize--to feed all the kids at FOMCO one meal each and every day. As the meals are served, a group of guardians sing and dance. The Director provides a rough translation for me:

“It’s not the wish of these children to lose their parents…
We are thanking you today for giving us this meal…
People are caring for us,
Because if you are caring for the children,
You are caring for us.
Continue caring for us, and giving us food and clothing.
We thank God because it is the same God who gives you this Heart.

While I enjoyed the singing, I could not help but think about the chidren's coffins...and the children who die in Malawi due to famine and disease.

“You make coffins for the children you can’t save, so that you can save the ones you can.”