Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving in Malawi



Home for the holidays. This year, nine members of our family of 17 will sit down at the table for a delicious Thanksgiving Meal. When Dad cooks he doesn’t like to prepare a traditional turkey, mash potatoes and gravy dinner, but something more exotic. Last time it was curried lamb and mulligatawny soup. This year, it's curried shrimp (classic Indian and shrimp Korma), two types of dahl (green and red), six varieties of chuntney, a fresh fruit platter, nan bread and condiments.

Today, millions of American will enjoy an abundant meal topped off with pumpkin pie for dessert. Even in the soup kitchens of America, volunteers have donated and prepared turkey dinners for all who want to eat. As we give thanks for living in a land of plenty, let us pause a moment to remember that 60% of the world’s population will still be hungry at the end of today!

Here’s a simple way to visualize global poverty adapted from the folks at Oxfram relief and development agency: (sourc: Oxfam Hunger Banquets at www.ONE.org)

If 20 people are sitting around your table today, let each one represent a percentage of the world's population. Three will eat a gourmet meal (like my family today). Five will get rice and beans (enough to live). And 12 will receive a small portion of rice (not enough to be well-nourished, like what the AIDS orphans in Malawi are eating today).

In the real world, the problem isn't a lack of food. As Gandhi said:
“There are enough resources in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”

The problem is the distribution according to need, rather than accumulation according to greed. It’s an inequity that that can be fixed if we have the will to do so.

What can you do? Consider joining the campaign to end extreme poverty in the world in our lifetime by sharing some of your time, talent and treasure with an organization working in the developing world. Visit www.ONE.org for a list of NGO partners worthy of your support during this season of sharing.

As for me and my house, www.citiHope.org is the charity of choice.

This year (2007) CitiHope distributed 75 metric tons of food commodities (a protein-fortified nutritional soup mix) to 40 institutions in Malawi, enough to prepare approximately 4,000,000 meals and feed 22,000 people for six months. However, due to the lack of other food resources, many institutions used up the soup mix, which was intended as a nutritional supplement, as their main meal. Therefore, the estimated number of recipients fed was only 12,000 needy orphans, patients, and children. And now, the food has run out.

More food aid is needed this month and next year, and with your help, CitiHope can do more.

If you and I are lucky enough to have food on our table this Thanksgiving, then you and I also have the power and means at our disposal to help end extreme poverty in the world.

I urge you to make a contribution to a humanitarian relief organization or your choice that delivers food aid and assists in agricultural development in the third world. If you choose to support CitiHope International, you may do so online at www.citihope.org or send a check ear-marked for Malawi Orphan Care to
CitiHope International
PO Box 38, Andes, NY 13731

Thanksgiving, of course, is not celebrated in Malawi, but those who receive enough food today and tomorrow to nurish and sustain themselves will survive and thrive knowing that they are not fogotten by the world.

How grateful they are for the gift that has been supplied.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post Election New Start


Post elections present opportunities to re-prioritize how to spend one's life, re-commit to important causes, re-affirm higher values and make a brand new start. On this first day after a decisive national election, when the future seems uncertain, I propose a simple action that could change your life. I signed and made an important pledge today in support of a worldwide movement to end extreme poverty and global AIDS in my lifetime. And I invite you to do so as well.

An impossible goal, you say? Perhaps. But suspend your disbelief for a moment and read on. Consider the possibilities. Dare to believe what could happen when critical mass of people of faith, good will and commited action are mobilized and deployed in the Name of God and Spirit of Christ. A critical mass of people of good will whose faith "is the substance of things hoped for, evidence of things not (yet) seen." (Hebrews 11:1)

Go to WWW.ONE.ORG "The Campaign to Make Poverty History."

Read the ONE DECLARATION signed by over 2 million people.

See why so many world Christians, people of good will, and faith-based organizations have joined the movement. Perhaps you will join us in this new and positive campaign. Each of us doing our part. Electing and supporting only those leaders and politicians that seek to follow and be faithful to the homeless Rabbi who opened the scroll of Isaiah 61 in the temple and declared that he has come to bring good news to the poor...and proclaim the year of Jubilee.

ONE.ORG was started by my favorite rock star--Bono of U2. Bono is also my favorite preacher. If you missed what Jim Wallis calls "his best sermon yet' last year at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington D.C., then here's link:

http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.display&issue=060203

Go there and read it for yourself. May Bono's prophetic words, and the Spirit of Jesus, move you today to take commited action in behalf of the world's poor, especially in caring for the AIDS orphans and widows in Africa.

"For true religion, pure and simple, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unpolluted by the world." (James 1:27)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Election Day and the Poor


It’s Election Day and I intend to vote my conscience. Problem is my conscience is conflicted.

On the one hand, how can I reconcile my Christian faith with support for politicians who justify bloodshed in Iraq, torture for terrorists, hanging for convicted dictators, and trampling on the poor in order to build an Empire? On the other hand, how can I support politicians who engage in negative and vicious campaigns, take bribes, self-serve and corrupt themselves with power?

On the one hand, no President has done more than George W. Bush in 3rd world debt reduction and making AIDS drugs available and affordable in Africa. Prior to 2003, AIDS was an inevitable death sentence. Now, thanks to the Global Fund (which George W. deserve much credit for funding), millions of Africans don’t have to die. ARV treatment has now made AIDS a chronic disease for those who are able to access the protocals.

On the other hand, George W. is not my favorite President…and I don’t want to vote for those who support him.

How best to vote as a Christian in the midterm election? I find some guidance in John Hay’s “Seven Considerations I Make When Voting” on his blog site: http://bikehiker.blogspot.com excerpted below:

1. WHAT DOES IT DO TO THE POOR? Neither domestic poverty nor the impact of American policies on those who are poor internationally factor much into campaigns. Yet it was to the poor who were being crushed by the empire and belittled by religious sects that Jesus of Nazareth primarily addressed himself.

2. BEWARE LITMUS TESTS. Beware: personal piety does not necessarily translate into sound leadership or policies that reflect Biblical integrity.

3. AMERICA AND GOD’S KINGDOM ARE NOT THE SAME. Combining or confusing the two is, to my way of thinking, a potentially lethal mix

4. COMPASSION BEYOND CLICHÉS. I look for a candidate who I think will lead compassionately, not just talk about it. Will the candidate give an ear to those who are vulnerable and dominated?

5. LOOK BEYOND “ALL OR NOTHING.” Neither candidate is as extreme or demonic as the other camp says he/she is; neither is as morally right and righteous as his/her own press indicates.

6. CONSIDER THE USE OF VIOLENCE. I ask “How has a candidate responded to violence or used violence? And how does he/she plan to respond to and use it in the future.

7. AMERICA’S ROLE IN THE WORLD. Finally, I consider how candidates envision America’s place and role in the world. I am very concerned, as are many Christian missionaries, about an emerging aura of “empire” or “Pax Americana” that American actions are foretelling.

It’s Election Day, and at the end of the day, I suspect that I will take the advice of Robin Williams in “Man of the Year” who said: “Politicians and baby diapers are alike… in that they should be changed often and for the same reason.”

Monday, November 06, 2006

PACCT calls for Behavior Change to Counter AIDS



Persistent famines, pestilences, extreme poverty and civil warfare have wrecked havoc on the continent of Africa. Worldwide, 25 million persons have died of AIDS and 40 million are living with HIV disease. Sub-Sahara Africa suffers most from the AIDS pandemic where there are over 12 million AIDS orphans. If no corrective measures are taken now, it is estimated that Africa will have 20 million HIV/AIDS orphans by 2010.

Malawi, a relatively small country of 12 million, is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and suffers disproportionately from one of highest incidence of AIDS. Currently, AIDS infects 25%-33% of the population of Malawi, and accounts for over 85,000 deaths per year, leaving over 900,000 AIDS orphans in need of food and medical care. In spite of great efforts of large-scale AIDS awareness campaigns, what is missing is a carefully-targeted, grass-roots, faith-based, biblically-informed, theologically sound, practical approach to AIDS education and character development within the churches. Since the majority of the people in Malawi attend church, the church tends to mirror the culture, and thus a church-based behavior change intervention will significantly impact a majority of the population in northern Malawi.

During my September visit to Malawi, I was told many stories about how school-aged girls and boys who were sexually accosted on their way to school, either forcefully raped or economically pressured to trade sexual favors food and money.

Married women, too, are often victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. According to recent local government reports, “gender violence is on the increase in Malawi”. In addition to rape and predatory behavior in the community, “reported cases of domestic violence in Mzuzu have increased by over 50% this year.” (Mzuzu City Assembly reported in The Nation, April 2006).

According to a national study, “various violent acts and abuse against women by their partner put them at risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.” In fact, “49% of [married] women in the country have experienced some form of abuse from their partners…” In Mzuzu, a total of 796 registered cases (and countless more unreported cases) of rape, indecent assault, incest, defilement, etc. were reported to the courts. (Case Statistics on Gender Based Violence Against Women Tried at Mzuzu Magistrate Courts, 2004-2006).

Thus, a combination of economic issues, cultural beliefs, abuse and marginalization of women in the country is making more youth and married women vulnerable to the HIV and AIDS pandemic.(Crime and Justice Division of the National Statistics Office, April 2006) Clearly, standard “safe sex” education (ABC’s) falls short of what is needed in Malawi. Behavior change, character development, a new commitment to traditional values (including abstinence in singleness, monogamy in marriage and care for the afflicted), and the willingness to challenge certain cultural practices are required in this extraordinary time of AIDS pandemic.

Empowerment for women to say No, as well as confrontation and remedial interventions for males who prey upon and exploit women and children are most urgently needed. In addition to conventional AIDS education, “watchdog” confrontations and interventions are needed to stop predatory behavior and open the door to professional counseling, support groups, recovery programs and character development opportunities sponsored by the churches. Twelve-step type recovery groups, voluntary testing, and practical access to treatment programs are also needed to stop the spread of AIDS and help men and women overcome their experiences of rejection, exploitation and victimization.

Many community-based tribal leaders, Christian ministers and their spouses, church elders and members, and teachers of children and youth are ready and willing to become change agents in their communities and congregations—if specific, grass-roots, church-based training can be provided.

THIS IS WHAT CITIHOPE'S PACCT PROGRAM IS ABOUT. AND WHY I'M INVOLVED IN CHURCH-BASED AIDS EDUCATION IN AFRICA.

Our Pastoral And Congregational Care Training (PACCT)includes: frank discussions of various modes of AIDS transmission, HIV infection prevention strategies, dealing with denial and social stigma of AIDS, the need for voluntary counseling and testing, how to access medical treatment, find transportation to clinics, how to pay (if necessary) for needed medicine, and how to start, run or join recovery and support groups.

As a church-based equipping and empowerment program, PACCT is designed to train and empower 200 pastors and church leaders in Malawi to more aggressively take on high risk behavior issues in the fight against AIDS—without being moralistic. Those equipped will in turn train 50 more leaders in their churches and communities for a total of 10,000 persons equipped to help stop the spread of AIDS in Malawi.

So far we have trained and equipped 40 (mostly Presbyterian) pastors in Malawi. More trainings are needed as funding becomes available (see previous blogs.

If you are interested in learning more or helping me fund PACCT, I'd love to hear from you.

mchriste@citihope.org
citihope.org