Monday, December 31, 2007

Year End Review 2007


At the end of every year, I try to read my both my private diary and public journal from the previous year, reflect on my vocational calling in the next season of life, and put a bookmark in on the pages of life's journey before starting a new year.

Now in my second year as a blogger, I have found that I enjoy keeping a public journal of my travel notes, social commentaries, personal reflections, and mission updates. As an added feature at year’s end (for family and friends, but mostly just for my own pleasure), I have summarized activities and accomplishments over the past 12 months, and provided links to the narrative on my blog:

http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com

January
New book release: Partakers of the Divine Nature http://inside.fdu.edu/fdupress/07012501.html

February
Began teaching Drew college course on “Faith-Based Approaches to Ending Poverty and AIDS
Rebecca and I led retreat at Kirkridge based on the book we published: Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen
http://www.amazon.com/Spiritual-Direction-Wisdom-Long-Faith/dp/0060754737

March
Mission trip to Malawi:
http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com/2007_03_01_archive.html

April
Finally finished installation of waterfall for pond, thanks to George, the master mason
Rebecca and I visited Korea to led Methodist Pastors’ Retreat on Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen see http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html

May
Produced CHI documentary on Food Aid in Malawi “Alphabet of Needs”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBI9Roher_c

June
Led retreat in Nashville on Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen
Drew DMIN summer term, taught Henri Nouwen course on Spiritual Direction

July
Sabbatical Year Ends http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com/2007_06_01_archive.html

August
Family reunion vacation in McCall, Idaho
With Christensen clan and Lairds

September
Labor Day weekend road trip to SF Bay Area,
To Toronto for Henri Nouwen Society Meeting, 11th anniversary of his death
http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com/2007_09_01_archive.html

October

November
To Forth Worth for Church and Society conference
Mission Trip to New York City with church youth group
Shalom Announcement see www.communitiesofshalom.org
Homecoming at Point Loma Nazarene University and AAR
Thanksgiving with family in San Diego and celebration of my Mom's 80th birthday

December
World AIDS Day chapel at Drew
http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com/2007/12/world-aids-day-chapel-at-drew.html
To Baltimore to open new Shalom zones: www.communitiesofshalom.org

If you enjoy what you read here, I hope you will consider subscribing to my blog in the New Year:
http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com

shalom

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Village Wells Update


What a wonderful experience to watch how God connects resources with needs around the world. In early December, Robby at Hopegivers International called to tell me that his donor was ready to sponsor a village well in Malawi, and that he'd like to join me on the mission trip in March to see the project. Then, last night, Mike Rose, my partner in raising funds for village wells,called me tonight to tell me about another one of his business buddies who wanted to sponsor two village wells before the end of the year. We seized the moment to celebrate the great success that a total of seven Village Wells were sponsored and funded through CitiHope in 2007. Here's a summary of the seven:

1. Zowe (3 hours outside of Mzuzu) is a remote preaching point of the Circuit of Mzuzu, United Methodist Church, requested by Pastor Copeland Nkhata. “Zowe is a small village with a primary school and a prayer hut church in larger village catchment area of about 5,000 people. It is a very dry place and people suffer a lot, as they have to drink dirty water from the same ponds where animals drink, especially in dry season and this makes people more vulnerable to diseases. And a bore hole would be a great solution to the problem. A bore hole would serve the church, the primary school and the entire community.” Number of users: 1,000
Project sponsored and funded by Barry Emen and Chris Grant in July, 2007



2. Mosanto preaching point of St Andrews Presbyterian Church of Mzuzu, requested by Rev. Levi Nyondo, senior pastor of the largest Presbyterian church in the Synod of Livingstonia. “This is a very poor, small and needy village in the bush outside Mzuzu City,” Levi explained, “accessible only by 4x4 rugged vehicles. I’ll provide the vehicle and go with you. Come and see.” Number of users: 1,000
Project sponsored, funded and implemented directly by mission team from Westside Presbyterian Church in Washington State in August, 2007



3. Kamphenda I After doing the necessary need assessment and documentation, the Church and Society program of the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia requested the help of CitiHope International to provide at least two deep water wells for the neediest of 200 villages in the rural area of Kamphenda. The Church and Society program had already trained a large number of volunteers who are working in the villages for human rights and community development (see attached information). Their next step, once a sponsor was found, was a village well in one of the neediest villages. Number of users: 1,500
First village well project sponsored and funded by Mike and Bonnie Rose of Summit, New Jersey, currently scheduled.

4. Kamphenda II A second village well in Kampendha catchment
Number of users: 1,500.
Sponsored by Mike and Bonnie Rose
Currently scheduled



5 Euthin is another remote preaching point in the growing Methodist circuit served by Rev. Copeland Nkhata that is so disparately in need of a village well. “If God would grant you the grace,” writes Copeland, “it would be pleasant to assist this young congregation with clean water. Many villagers have to walk 3, 4, and 5 kilometers to fetch water for domestic use from streams. And often the water is polluted by animals. A borehole would safeguard lives from dangerous waterborne diseases and reduce mortality. Waterborne diseases often destroy the children and old people. Please help us rescue these precious souls. We thank God because you love Malawi. Your works amongst us are priceless.” Number of users: 2,000
Sponsored by Hopegivers International for implementation in March 2008

6. Kamphenda III third village well in Kampendha , sponsored by Bob and Diane Noelke of Chatham, NJ

7. Kamphenda IV fourth village well in Kampendha , sponsored by Bob and Diane Noelke of Chatham, NJ



Seven in 07 is a very spiritual and motivational number for me. If I get 13 more wells sponsored in 2008, I will have fulfilled my commitment to 20 village chiefs who did not have fresh water in their villages in Malawi. See blog

In March 2008, I will have the joy of retuning to Malawi with some of the village well sponsors to see with our own eyes the difference fresh water makes in a village of 1500. And to celebrate together God’s great gift of living water.



Note: A Village Well project includes: community organizing and grass-roots training, securing local supplies and labor, management of installation of deep water wells strategic areas, adding community garden and agricultural development training, and establishing a system of long-term maintenance and community development.

Sponsors are needed for each village well project at a cost of $10,000.

For information, contact:
Michael J. Christensen, Project Director
11 Ardsleigh Drive\
Madison, NJ 07940
mchriste@drew.edu

Friday, December 28, 2007

Seasons Greetings?

I, as you, received a lot of 'happy holiday' and 'seasons greetings' E-cards this time of the year. Some made my laugh. My favorite is this politically correct satire from Rob, one of my Republican friends:

To All My Democrat Friends:
Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender -neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. I also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling, and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2008, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere . Also, this wish is made without regard to the race,
creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith, or sexual preference of the wishee.


To All My Republican Friends:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Moon



Monday, December 24 – Midnight

“Christmas Moon”
T’was the night before Christmas
And looming among the stars
Was a yellow orb and red dot:
The Full Moon and Mars!
At midnight I looked up
To see this great site,
And behold, red dust clouds
Hid Mars from my sight
But the Yule Moon was Bright
And the night sky did glow
Christmas was dawning
Yet there was no snow.

So much for my Christmas poem, but it serves my purpose of revealing what caught my attention tonight as soul tuned into the meaning of the season: That a bright star from the East shone brightly over Bethlehem that first Christmas Eve, and I imagine the Moon was in conjunction with both Mars and Venus, heralding the dawn of a new age for humanity in the birth of a King.

Christmas Eve in Madison, 2007:

At midnight in Madison, we saw the Yule Moon in all its bright glory, surrounded by moving clouds that cast the orb a thick red haze. Here’s what the occultation it looked like in Berlin (where our exchange student, Toni, lives and who has now returned home):



Mars in opposition on Christmas Eve must mean something, at least astronomically if not astrologically, so I consulted one of the many cosmic seers. Here’s what Deborah Byrd et al on The Earth & Sky Radio Series said tonight:
“…the red planet Mars reaches opposition today. It’s momentarily opposite the sun in Earth’s sky, as Earth goes between the sun and Mars. Oppositions of Mars are celebrated because – around this time – Earth and Mars are closest together in space, and Mars shines brightly in our night sky. If you were above the solar system today, you’d see the sun, Earth and Mars aligned in space. Earth – in its smaller, faster orbit – is racing in between the sun and Mars. Because Mars stands opposite the sun as seen from Earth, the red planet rises over our eastern horizon at sunset tonight. It climbs overhead around midnight and sets in the west at sunrise. The next Martian opposition will be January of 2010. But not all Mars oppositions are equal. Some bring Mars closer than others. Tonight is the closest Mars opposition until the year 2016. “


Okay, thank you Deborah, but what is the cosmic significance of the occultation of the full Moon and Mars? Rather than consult the charts, I returned the Christmas story in Matthew:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the land of Judah, during the reign of Herod the King, astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem and asked: “Where is the one who is to be King of the Jews? We saw his star arise in the Eastern sky that signaled his birth. We are on pilgrimage to worship him.


From the perspective of heaven, the relatively small blue planet suddenly had great cosmic significance. Then, and still now, for Earth is the footstool of Heaven, declares the Psalmist:

Christmas Eve, 1968:

I remember how I felt as a teenager on Christmas Eve in 1968. Like most earthlings, I watched television transfixed as the Apollo 8 space crew waved to us from the moon and invoked the name of God in outer space. Until that time no human being had seen an earth rise.

The astronauts who would soon land on the moon were the first to directly view the "dark side" and thus the first to witness the earth rise over the Moon. It was a turning point in earth history, a cosmic moment that put humanity in its rightful place, not at the center of the universe, but in a humbler spot in the galaxy. Frank Borman’s simple words, then, seem a fitting Christmas greeting on this full moon night:
"And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close, with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good Earth."



Back to Madison, 2007
I join my voice to those who have seen the same Light,
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Miriam's Child



A blessed Christmas season to you all.

During the wintry season of Advent, I often sit by the warm fire in our sun room, with coffee or cocoa in hand, sometimes alone or with family members, and play our many Christmas CD's on my Bose wave music sytem.

One of my favorites is "Christmas Carols Old and New" arranged and sung by David Edwards. It's not just that he is an old high school friend from California, I explained to my daughter Rachel this morning, but it's the fact that Dave's a really good poet, composer, and musician. He gives the classic songs new resonnance, and his original song on the album--"The World was in His Hands"--is about the striking innocence and vulnerability of the Christ child who was destined to change the world:

"In Bethleham, one winter night,
a child was born by candle light,
and he looked like any other child in his mother's arms.
Nothing about him told that a mystery would soon unfold.
To see him there, so small and sweet,
with tiny hands and tender feet,
what if you were told this child
would hold the world within his hands?"


When I heard this song again this morning, gazing out through the windows over a white blanket of newly fallen snow, covering the still green grass and trees, I remembered Soren Kierkegaard's parable of the Prince disguised in beggar's clothes, covering up his true colors so that "no royal purple shows through." Behold the mystery of the Incarnation requiring a revelation to the eyes of faith.

The other contemporary song on David's album is a masterful one entitled "Miriam" by Pierce Pettis. To read and meditate on these inspired words and music during Advent is to be caught up into the spiritual energies of the Theotokas--the mystery of Mary as the Mother of God:

"No banners were unfurled,
when God stepped into the world,
held in the arms of a little girl named Miriam.
Who would ever believe,
the finance, the family,
the teenage pregnancy of Miriam?
But the laws of nature were suspended,
death sentences rescinded,
throughout all the world,
all because of a little girl named Miriam.
Medieval paintings glaring down,
stony figures judge and frown,
wearing a halo like a crown.
Could that be Miriam?
Gentile temples' stained glass swirls,
cherubim with golden curls.
Oh! How unlike your Hebrew world.
Miriam. I don't know if you ascended.
I don't care what's been amended.
There was one sure miracle: the faith of a little girl named Miriam."
(Words and music by Pierce Pettis. copyright 1996 Polygram Music Publishing)

David Edwards's Christmas album--"Christmas Carols Old and New" is independently released and can be ordered on Amazon.com I highly recommend it.

Note: 10% of proceeds benefits the programs of Compassion International

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

New “Shalom Zones” in Baltimore


Although I have not officially started my duties as National Director of the Communities of Shalom initiative at Drew University, I got a preview of what lies ahead for me in the New Year.

Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington DC Annual Conference called last week with some urgency in his voice that convinced me to join in for a day in Baltimore to help launch a new “shalom zone” in the city in response to the alarming murder rate in the city over the past year.

With more than 270 murders in the city in 2007, Baltimore now has the third highest murder rate in the nation. Bishop John Schol and conference leaders pledged to take five decisive actions in the coming year to address the systemic issues that contribute to the high murder rate. One of those actions is the establishment of five new Communities of Shalom, to be trained by Drew University, to bring peace, wholeness, harmony, and prosperity to their neighborhoods.

The Baltimore initiative will be among the first Shalom efforts that Drew will undertake in a new partnership with the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) beginning in January. The partnership represents an effort to deepen and broaden the reach of the initiative, which the GBGM has administered since its inception in 1992. Now, Drew University will provide Shalom training to congregational and community leaders, as well as prepare Drew students for prophetic leadership roles in community-based ministries.

The call for Shalom Zones in Baltimore was issued by Bishop Schol at a Service of Remembrance at John Wesley United Methodist Church in a blighted downtown neighborhood in Baltimore—the birthplace of American Methodism—and attended by over 200 church and community members. Representatives of the mayor’s office, city council, the police department, the governor’s office, and the president of the NAACP, pledged their support and collaboration with the effort.

The names of 269 murder victims in the city this year were inscribed on beautiful purple banners and hung in the sanctuary. Several members of victim’s families took turns to read a remembrance. Choir and congregation sang and prayed. I read the scripture from Jeremiah 29:1-7 and Bishop Schol challenged us all to “seek the shalom of the city where I have sent you, for in it’s shalom you will find your shalom.”

Following the worship, the congregation marched in freezing rain to one of the murder sites two blocks away. When they returned, Drew alumnus Rev. Jean-Pierre Duncan and I met with the leadership of 9 churches and outlined the steps to begin training church and civic leaders in the city’s troubled neighborhoods. What will follow are five months of intensive training to help the downtown congregations address the issues that have contributed to homicide in the community. Local leaders hope that the Drew-led training will begin in late spring.

The Shalom training equips congregations to mobilize community leaders in focusing their strengths in four strategic areas: spiritual development, economic development, strengthening race and class relationships, and promoting health, wholeness, and healing. See www.communitiesofshalom.org

In addition to the establishment of shalom zones, the Baltimore Washington conference has also pledged to

Provide free camp scholarships for children who have lost a family member to violence;
Provide free counseling services for affected families;
Enlist churches as collection centers in a handgun give-back program;
Establish a special prayer day for all churches to pray for peace in the city.

In many ways Baltimore is a microcosm of what is happening in our country in terms of increased violence through the use of handguns and other illegal weapons. The bishop’s encouragement in the establishment of five new shalom zones in Baltimore is an opportunity to respond at a grassroots community level.

The prospective Baltimore shalom sites would become part of a worldwide network of grassroots faith-based community development teams coordinated and supported by the Shalom Initiative at Drew University.

Monday, December 10, 2007

HopeHome Feeds 60 Orphans



Brother Michael,

Sweet regards. Last month we had a more wonderful and awesome picnic with 60 children in attendance their faces beaming with joy and hope. To add more flavor we had 22 foster parents in attendance. We meant to engage them in prayer as a key factor to working out the future of the OVC. We woo them to Christ by this grand fellowship.

Allow me to make some highlights

1. Our hope home group is still at 35 children officially but the actual numbers have grown very high. Our last picnic was attended by 60 children but we can't buy maize for all of them, because its above our budget. However we allow the picnic numbers to be growing because it is away of nurturing young souls for the kingdom. I do believe that when we have given them enough grounding, later Christ will be formed in them. It is my prayer that God will give you sufficient grace to continue to support us in this godly enterprise so that we can preserve some lives for Christ Jesus.

2. We have six branches in total under UMC Mzuzu circuit: Zowe, Masasa, Kavuzi, Chitimba, Bale and Mzuzu itself all have orphans that need help in terms of food and school fees and sundry. When we enter the new fiscal year we will submit more details in our proposal or when you come in March.

3. Thanks for your continued commitment for anothe Village Well. The month of March is ok. The community leaders phoned me this morning asking for the drilling of the borehore since they are desperate for clean water.

4. We gladly welcome you and the whole team for 9-11 March. We are also ready to participate in the PACCT programme.





Please continue to be part of us in prayer and financial succour. The results of your labours will surely come out in an awesome fashion at God's own time as he works out the future of the vulnerable social group through your generosity.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

World AIDS Day chapel at Drew



World AIDS Day at Drew was observed on December 3, and I was invited to speak in chapel on AIDS in Malawi. Since it was the first week of ADVENT, I chose to speak about the witness of John the Baptist who had heard that the Messiah was on the move.

Aslan is on the Move: Stirrings of Hope in Malawi

Text: Matt 11:2-5

Introduction: One of my favorite Advent themes is from the Chronicles of Narnia:

“It’s always winter and never Christmas,” says the character of the Beaver.
“But Aslan is on the move--perhaps has already landed.”

“He’ll put all to right as it says in an old rhyme in these parts:

Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,
And when he shakes him mane, we shall have spring again.”


Advent is about anticipating dramatic changes in the long season of winter, of exile, captivity, suffering or devastation. Help is on the way. Hope is in the air. Soon it will be Christmas, even is sub-saharan Africa.

There are stirrings of Hope this Advent season. Aslan may have landed! Messiah may be on the Move in Malawi, in Africa, in your life and mine.

The second Sunday of Advent often focuses our attention on the ministry of John the Baptist. In addition to the lectionary texts, there is this remarkable passage in Matt 11:2-5

"When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'

Jesus replied, 'Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."


THE EVIDENCE THAT MESSIAH IS ON THE SCENE… IS THAT THE BLIND SEE, THE LAME WALK, PEOPLE WITH AIDS ARE HEALED, SOME WHO HAVE DIED HAVE BEEN RAISED TO NEW LIFE...YOU WHO ARE WITNESSES TO THIS MOVEMENT OF GOD, GO BACK TO JOHN IN PRISON, AND TELL HIM WHAT YOU HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.



I. THERE ARE SIGNS OF HOPE FOR PEOPLE INFECTED WITH HIV/AIDS IN MALAWI!

Malawi is a small, land-locked, Pennsylvania-size country of 13 million bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi made the list of 10 countries having made the greatest improvement in the last ten years:

• Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease…but the rains came this year and the crops did not fail as they did last year and the year before when children were hungry and malnourished.

• Malawi suffers disproportionately from extreme poverty and AIDS. Currently, AIDS infects 14% of the population and accounts for over 85,000 deaths per year, leaving 950,000 AIDS –affected orphans.

• Yet, more anti-retro Viral Drug Treatment was available this year, and the number of deaths to AIDS was less than last year.

• Prevalence of AIDS in Malawi has stabilized, according to the latest report issued by UNAIDS and WHO. The number of new infections of HIV in Malawi was also lower.

The Good News is that since 2003, antiretroviral drugs have been available in Malawi—and have saved thousands of lives; making AIDS potentially a manageable, chronic disease rather than a death sentence.



II. Malawi Mission: Faith, Love and Hope

During my sabbatical last year from Drew, I was a 'man on a mission' to help save 1,000 AIDS orphans and widows in Malawi…. Some of you read my blog or heard me speak about it before. I took volunteers with me on two mission trips last year (in Sept and March). We worked with local volunteers and CBO’s to deliver emergency food rations, life-saving medicine, needed hygiene supplies, and our ministry of presence.



• We went there not inspire faith, for the people of Malawi are among those most faithful Xtians I’ve seen (70% Christian, mostly RC and Presby, legacy of David Livingstone’s medical mission and those who followed him there; and 20% are Muslim).

• We were not there to share our great love as if there was not love already there. Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa” for a reason. Even in great diversity, in the midst of AIDS epidemic, they are the most loving people I have ever encountered.

• They have faith, and they have enough love, but as a nation, Malawi is in need of more Hope. Our mission was to raise hope in people’s lives, especially for those living with AIDS.

A ministry principle I learned from Br. Roger of Taize: "When you go into a city to do ministry, instead of looking first for needs, find places of help hope and hope and just show up." (Br. Roger)

We visited AIDS clinics and hospitals, orphan care centers for children affected by AIDS, prisons where AIDS patients are left untreated, but not totally abandoned, schools and churches struggling to deal with the epidemic. And what we found were many places of help and hope where God’s people were present as the Body of Christ in the world.

• “It takes a village…” An informal foster care system works in Malawi: Guardians informally adopt orphaned and abandoned children and bring them home to live; but they cannot afford to feed them, so they bring them daily to a feeding station. There the children eat their one meal for the day—maize mixed with a high-protein, nutritionally-fortified, vegetable soup mix supplied by NGO’s. Daily, they sit on the red African dirt by the hundreds, waiting for a bowl of soup or portage that will keep them alive. And if they get sick, and if they can get to an AIDS clinic, the nutrition they get will make the medical treatment effective.

• The UMC in Mzuzu is small but growing. A 100-member congregation has taken in 35 Orphans and Vulnerable children in their Hope Homes. The regularly feed 60. Rev. Copeland Nkhata has a 6-pt charge. Preaching huts in small villages, three which lack fresh water. Idea: Samaritan Wells of living water dug next the church. First village well in Zowe where 1500 people now have fresh water. (I just received another $10k check this week to install a fifth village well in Malawi in 2007!)

There are other encouraging snap shots and stories of hope, revealing the fact that the Messiah has come to Malawi. Go back to John in prison and tell him what you have seen and heard: that the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor!



Benediction:

It's Advent, and hope is on the way. You are the body of Christ. In your words and actions, Messiah has come.

Hope is on the rise. Aslan is on the move, Messiah has come to Malawi. The people of God are present in the Global AIDS crisis! Let us tell others what we have seen and heard. That Messiah has come to heal and save the world.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day

December 1 is World AIDS Day, and there's reason for hope.



Bono says: “Africa is ablaze. We are called to help put out the fire!” God uses rock stars like Bono, celebrities like Madonna, and even politicians like GWB, as well as ordinary folks like you and me, ‘for such a time as this.’ The Continent is still on fire, but there are reasons for hope and encouragement. Because incarnations of the Messiah are on the move (see my sermon for World AIDS Day chapel at Drew).



Since 1989, World AIDS Day has raised our consciousness to the alarming stats of the global AIDS pandemic. By now, after 19 World AIDS Day observances, the stats are familiar:
• Five people die of AIDS every minute!
• In the same amount of time, nine more people are infected with HIV
• About 20 million people have died of AIDS since 1981
• Of the 33.2 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide, 63% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa.
• Half of those living with HIV in Africa are orphaned or abandoned children. The common estimate is about 11 million orphans due to AIDS.


But this year, dramatic new data was released by UNAIDS and WHO suggesting a stabilizing if not downward trend for global AIDS:

• Previous global AIDS estimates were revised downward by 16% due to better methodology.
• The number of people dying from AIDS-related illnesses has declined in the last two years (2 million this year)
• 2 million received Antiretroviral drugs (ARV’s) worldwide (cf 400k in 2003)—thanks to the Global Fund--one of the more successful initiatives supported by President Bush.

Yet, it’s hard to rejoice too much when the number of people living with AIDS infections is still rising,
• When two million people — mostly in sub-Saharan Africa — are still dying from the disease each year,
• when eight countries in southern Africa have more than 15 percent of their populations infected.
• And when AIDS is still the #1 cause of death in Africa.



“The revised numbers cannot be used as an excuse to relax the campaign against AIDS,” officials warn.



Still, there is reason for hope in such a time as this. The Good News this year is that 2 million of the world’s poorest people living with HIV/AIDS are taking a little life-saving pill each day, that within 60 days reverses the waisting away and dying process.

Let us hope and pray that by next year, the trend is still downward, and that by 2020, AIDS will be history.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

March Mission Trip to Malawi



Next Mission Trip to Malawi, Africa
March 4-15, 2008

Sponsored by: CitiHope International

Led by: Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Drew University, and Rev. Paul S. Moore, President, CitiHope International


DATES: March 4-15, 2008

Travel Plan: Depart JFK on Tuesday, March 4 for Johannesburg to arrive in Lilongwe, Malawi, on March 6; Return on Friday, March 14, and arrive JFK early on Friday, March 15 (10 days).

Destination: Malawi, a small land-locked, developing country of 12 million people bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique, is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and suffers from extreme poverty and AIDS. The March Mission Trip will carry out its mission in and around Mzuzu City in Northern Malawi where CitiHope Malawi operates relief and development programs from its mission center located in the heart of Mzuzu City.



Mission: To raise hope in vulnerable communities through cross-cultural relationships, “reverse mission” and the ministry of presence. The mission team will engage in relational and supportive activities with vulnerable children, youth and families in need in some of the 40+ schools, hospitals, social service agencies, and village community development projects supported by CitiHope International.



Reverse Mission: Our service team will focus its activities on being present in communities need and to vulnerable persons, who have their gifts to share. By focusing our mission of help and hope on relational support and being with those who are economically poor, we hope to fulfill a ministry of presence (God’s presence through us) which may result in our own spiritual transformation. Henri Nouwen calls this “reverse mission.” In encountering the rich spirit of Christ in those whom we would serve, we ourselves are transformed in the process. A good way to prepare for the trip is to read Henri Nouwen’s book Gracias to deepen your understanding of “reverse mission.” Other reading material will be recommended to team members preparing for the trip.

Projects and Objectives: Conduct PACCT IV HIV/AIDS training program, organize new “shalom zone” and facilitate volunteers in mission.


Activities: The delegation will engage in daily mission activities with CitiHope staff and ministry partners, visit selected ministry sites, and explore with local experts some social justice issues affecting Malawians, including the AIDS pandemic, extreme poverty and tropical disease, and globalization. Specifically, we will undertake the following activities:

1. Visit at least one Orphan Care Center and help feed 300+ Malawian orphans (toddlers thru teenagers) and abandoned children their daily meal, joining them in recreational and educational activities
2. Deliver nutritional food products as part of CitiHope’s R.I.C.E. food aid program in the hospitals, schools, churches, and social service agencies
3. Visit one of the HopeHomes caring for AIDS orphans sponsored by CitiHope
4. Visit patients in rural clinics and others prisoners in Mzuzu Central Prison, delivering food, medicine and hygiene supplies
5. Help dig a village well and dedicate other village wells recently installed by CitiHope as part of community development projects
6. Help organize a new ‘shalom zone” for relief and development
7. Worship with our Malawian brothers and sisters on Sunday in church


Local Ministry Partners: CitiHope International, Mzuzu United Methodist Church, Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, Malawi

Accommodations: In Johannesburg, en route to Malawi, we will stay overnight in a hotel near the airport. In Malawi, we will stay together in a Guest House near the CitiHope Mission Center in Mzuzu. Most rooms are double rooms, simple and clean, with shared bathrooms. Single supplements are available if needed.

Meals: Group meals in transit and in Malawi are included in the price of the trip.

Cost: For international travel, hotel and guest house accommodations, in-country travel, group meals, and hospitality expense, the total budget for this 10 day trip to Africa is $3,000 per person , payable to CitiHope International as a tax-deductible donation.

Funding: Although no scholarships are available from CitiHope International, team members are encouraged to request mission funds from their local church which can be channeled through CitiHope International. CitiHope also has offered to support individual or group fund-raising efforts by receiving designated mission trip contributions and issuing tax-deductible receipts for donations. A sample “appeal letter” is available by request that can be adapted and sent to family members and friends.

Availability: Limited to 12 mission-minded people who have previously donated to CitiHope International, with priority given to official representatives of local churches and organizations that help sponsor CitiHope programs in Malawi.


Who Should Participate? Service-minded people of good faith and good will who share a concern for orphans and widows in Africa and who want to do their part to help end extreme poverty and AIDS in the world in our lifetime. To get a sense of the mission at hand, visit Dr. Christensen’s mission blog: http://michael-christensen.blogspot.com

Those who cannot go on this particular trip but want to participate through financial support are invited to donate to CitiHope International www.citihope.org

Deposit Required: A $250 deposit with application is required by December 31, 2007, to reserve a space, with the total amount due before February 1, 2008.


Disclaimers: CitiHope International is prepared to receive and host visiting groups to Malawi, but accepts no corporate liability for mission team organization, travel or activities.

Next Step: Request an application/information form (available via email) which must be completed and returned before January 1, 2008, with the $250 deposit payable to CitiHope International and sent directly to
Dr. Michael Christensen
11 Ardsleigh Dr.
Madison, NJ 07940.



The team will remain in touch by email and meet once (by phone or face to face) in February to discuss final trip preparations and assess team dynamics before departing for Africa on March 4. For further information, contact Dr. Christensen at mchriste@citihope.org or 973-408-3738.

Background: CitiHope International began medical aid and food security programs in Malawi in 2003, in partnership with the Presbyterian Synod of the Livingstonia—the spiritual legacy of David Livingstone. By supplying protein-fortified nutrition and food security for vulnerable and orphaned children, delivering life-saving medicine to hospitals and rural clinics, and providing Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) in AIDS prevention and care in congregations and communities suffering from AIDS, CitiHope staff and volunteers are able to provide help and hope in Malawi.


Prayerfully count the cost and consider joining us.
It will change your life and make a difference in the world!

Charitable contributions can be sent to
CitiHope International
P.O. Box 38
Andes, NY 13731
www.citihope.org

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thanksgiving 2007




San Diego: Family gathered.

Celebrated Mom's 80th birthday!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Shane Claiborne speaks to Methodists


Fort Worth, Texas: I attended a terrific conference this weekend on the theme of Micah 6:8--"God has revealed what is required us: to seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." The highlight for me was hearing Shane Claiborne talk to social justice types who specialize in confronting sytemic social ills on a political level, and say prophetically: "If you want to confront poverty, you have to know the names of poor people..." Here's a link to summary in United Methodist Reporter, and pasted below:



Energized for justice: Living Faith conference celebrates UM ministries

Bill Fentum, Nov 9, 2007

UMR PHOTO BY BILL FENTUM

A banner at the Living Faith, Seeking Justice conference showed support for Step It Up 2007’s National Day of Climate Action, Nov. 3.
By Bill Fentum
Staff Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas—It’s easy to give in to despair on the front lines of social-justice ministry. Supporting workers’ rights, immigration reform or environmental concerns puts you at perpetual odds with others in the church.

The solution? Take a sabbatical, now and then.

About 700 United Methodist clergy and lay leaders from around the world re-energized each other Nov. 1-4 at Living Faith, Seeking Justice, a first-ever international conference sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society.

They worshipped together, celebrated victories and went to workshops taught by experts in dozens of fields—from hunger relief and war resistance to death-penalty abolition and abuse recovery. Some visited local ministries, including PACT House (Parents and Children Together), a networking and referral service for families of prison inmates.

“Justice ministries don’t just give us Band-Aids. They go after the root causes of social ills,” said Brian Heymans, a member of University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas, during a workshop. “If you’re standing by a raging river, and you see baby after baby being washed away, do you focus on rescuing a few of them?

“Of course not. You go upstream to keep them from falling in.”

Mr. Heymans recently helped launch the Amos Commission, a program aimed at involving all Austin District churches in justice work. It’s named for the Old Testament prophet who called for repentance at a time when Israel’s leaders were getting rich off the labor of peasants.

“It fell to Amos to preach harsh words in a smooth season,” Jim Winkler, top executive of the Board of Church and Society, told attendees. “Most of us don’t relish confronting principalities. But just as sheep need a shepherd, people of wealth have a responsibility to those in poverty.”

The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kan., stepped in eight years ago after public schools in nearby Kansas City, Mo., lost their state accreditation. COR, one of the denomination’s largest congregations, stayed in touch with individual teachers, provided supplies for all students and refurbished one of the schools.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, COR’s senior pastor, said members felt called to act after he preached a sermon reminding them the first public school in Kansas City started in the basement of Westport Methodist Church in 1854.

“That, I think, is the power of the pulpit,” he said in an interview. “A prophet comes in and basically fires away, and there’s a place for that. But if you’re a pastor, your goal is to gently lead the people you’re shepherding. It means using tact and wisdom to influence rather than irritate.”

Not every issue, he added, can be unpacked in a single sermon.

Before the war in Iraq began in 2003, Mr. Hamilton drafted a position paper to share with members, explaining why he didn’t believe an invasion would meet just-war criteria. Then he posted it on the church Web site, inviting the congregation to read and discuss it.

“Recognize that Christians can disagree on issues,” he told participants in a plenary address. “Then, instead of feeling like they’ve been abused from the pulpit, they’ll be more open to listening—though some people may leave.”

Forty years of membership decline in the United Methodist Church has kept clergy fearful of anything that “rocks the boat,” conference speakers said, even on positions made clear in the denomination’s Social Principles.

“But not to take sides is to side with those in power,” the Rev. Janet Wolf, a United Methodist minister and social-justice advocate, said during a sermon. “People are supposed to look on us and say, ‘You know, they’re Jesus people. Nobody else loves like that.’”

Christian activist Shane Claiborne traveled in his early 20s to Calcutta, India, where he worked alongside the late Mother Teresa. Coming home to Philadelphia, he felt driven by her words, “If we really care about the poor, we know their names.”

So in 1997, he co-founded The Simple Way, a faith community of young adults that serves the city’s poorest residents. Members take part-time jobs to keep things running, and live off of $150 a month per person.

When Philadelphia officials passed laws making it illegal for homeless people to sleep or eat in public places, The Simple Way hosted a worship service in Love Park. They prayed with the homeless, sang, then “broke bread” by ordering pizzas for them. Mr. Claiborne and others went to trial, but they were acquitted and the laws were overturned.

“I walked into court wearing a shirt saying, ‘Jesus was homeless,’” Mr. Claiborne told attendees. “The judge asked me what I meant by that, and I told him that Jesus said ‘foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ The judge smiled and said, ‘You guys might have a chance.’”

Mr. Claiborne, who was raised a United Methodist, said he’s “madly in love with Jesus. But there’s a part of me that shudders, because I never know what he’s going to get me into next!”



In another plenary, Dr. Harold Recinos, a professor of church and society at Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, said discrimination persists in the U.S., particularly against immigrant communities, because of xenophobia fueled by books like Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation (Harper, 1996).

Mr. Brimelow, a British-American journalist, urges tightening border security, reducing legal immigration and ending free education for children of undocumented workers.

“I know a lot of Mexican Americans who are more American than Mr. Brimelow,” Dr. Recinos said. “This kind of scholarship only gives rise to hate.”

Fear of immigration, he added, reminds him of the two disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus on the road to Emmaus, but not immediately recognizing him.

“It wasn’t until they broke bread with this stranger that they saw the truth,” he said. “Would that we would do the same when we see the undocumented in our midst. God’s reign comes in simple fellowship with strangers.”

United Methodists shouldn’t separate ministries of justice from their call to share God’s love with the world, said Mr. Hamilton, pastor of Church of the Resurrection.

“If we work for social justice without practicing evangelism, we’re only offering half a solution. You’d better lay hold of both, and approach the gospel in a way that puts your head, heart and hands into ministry.”

Justice-making is all about “watching for the gaps” between faith and action, just as you would be careful when boarding or getting off a train, said the Rev. Elizabeth Tapia, director of the Center for Christianities in Global Context at Drew Theological School in Madison, N.J.
“And when you find those gaps,” she told participants, “remove them.

“Sociologists say it takes only 5 percent of a country’s population to change a society. You belong to that 5 percent.”

bfentum@umr.org

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Communities of Shalom

Dear friends and colleagues:

I want to let you know that I will have a new position at Drew beginning January 1, 2008. After 12 years as Director of the Doctor of Ministry program, I will transition at the end of the year to give my full attention to my new position: Director of Communities of Shalom. My role will be to facilitate and provide resources for a grass-roots, faith-based, community development network of "shalom sites" in the USA and Africa, in connection with theological education at Drew.

Here's a link to the announcement by the United Methodist Church General Board of Global Ministries in New York:

Drew Theological School to Be New Home
Of United Methodist "Shalom" Initiative


If you are Methodist, you may remember hearing about "shalom zones" in the early 1990's. The United Methodist Church responded to the race riots and social unrest in Los Angeles by working with local congregations to create a "shalom zone" in South Central LA and poured a lot of resources into community renewal and development. That initiative sparked a movement of community development projects known now as "Communities of Shalom".

As announced yesterday by the General Board of Global Ministries, Drew University was selected as the new home-base for Communities of Shalom which now number over 250. This means Drew Theological School will 1) coordinate, support, and develop the network; 2) offer on-going consultation and training; 3)teach the theology and practice of faith-based community development; and 4) prepare and place students as interns in shalom sites as part of their theological formation.

I am delighted with the invitation to provide leadership for the Shalom Initiative, and will make the transition at the end of the calendar year.

Yes, I will continue teaching at Drew, but not administering the DMIN program. And yes, I will be able to continue my ministry in Malawi as part of my Shalom work. In other words, I have a new great job at Drew--teaching, training, mentoring, and supporting seminary students and prophetic leaders who are making a difference in their neighborhoods and community settings through faith-in-action and collaborative community development.

So, shalom to you my friends!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

HopeHome Mzuzu Expands Again

Rev. Copeland Nkata, pastor of Mzuzu Methodist Church and circuit, sends the following September Report on his HomeHome for 60+ Orphaned and Vulunerable Children (OVC) in Malawi:

Dear Dr. Michael,

Greetings of grace from the embassy of Christ at Mzuzu UMC in the office of Hope Homes and Hope Scholarships.

The Angel Gabriel remitted to us MK138410.00 equivalent to US$1000.00 for September 2007, which we have spent on the following expenses: food, children’s picnic, pictures, transportation for maize, deliveries to UMC branches where orphaned and abandoned children are cared for, transportation to schools, medical help (malaria), school fees, and administrative costs.

This time we had a more wonderful and awesome picnic with 60 children in attendance, their faces beaming with joy and hope. To add more flavor we had 22 foster parents in attendance. We meant to engage them in prayer as a key factor to working out the future of the OVC. We woo them to Christ by this grand fellowship. Please continue to be part of us in prayer and financial succour. The results of your labours will surely come out in an awesome fashion at God’s own time as he works out the future of the vulnerable social group through your generosity.

We have taken note of the need to reserve the residual funds for the borehole. It’s done. The drillers say that they can still drill in January despite difficulties in traveling. And in March, when you come, you can see the work.

We all heartily thank you for this excellent assistance before God.

Copeland Darlison Leaster
( Pastor) (Treasurer) (Administrator)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bruce Springsteen in concert


We (Rebecca, Jeff Markay, Julie and I) attended the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Continental Arena this week. It was a nexus of joy! There was a special moment when Bruce looked up, enraptured, almost orgasmic and transcendent, that was pure joy shown like shekina on his face. I thought to myself "Bruce is doing exactly what he was made for on this earth."

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Sponsors Needed for Village Wells

Village Well Project 2007
Deep Water Wells for Community Wellness
Malawi, Africa

CitiHope International, a non-government humanitarian aid organization, and WorldHope Corps, a new non-profit in New Jersey, seeks sponsors and co-sponsors for 20 village wells in a remote area of northern Malawi in need of fresh water.

Here's why:

One out of 5 kids die before age 5, mostly due to preventable, waterborne diseases.



Clean water is a big challenge in remote places in Malawi. Kids die before age 5 largely due to diseases they get from unsanitary water conditions (dysentery, cholera, malaria, etc). This can be prevented by potable water from a deep well.

One borehole of at least 50 meters in depth will provide fresh water for 2,000 villagers. The total cost for drilling the borehole, plus the mechanical apparatus, the necessary repair and maintenance fund, sanitation instructions and training, and a simple irrigation system for a community garden is $10,000. (That translates into just $5 per villager for access to fresh water that will save lives!)

The first two village well projects were sponsored and implemented in July and August 2007 (see previous blog posts) The next four wells are needed in the cluster of villages known as Kamphenda. They will be installed as community development projects as soon as funding is in hand.

Kamphenda is a remote trading center for 200 villages, located near Rumphi and the Game Reserve in northern Malawi. A dilapidated and poorly furnished primary school and a few grocery kiosks are what qualify this place as a business hub. Kamphenda is accessible only by a 4x4 vehicle or tractor able to sludge through the bumpy and muddy roads.

Each of the 200 villages surrounding Kamphenda is comprised of 35 to 40 households. There are about 6 people in each household which commutes to about 240 people in a village for a total population of 48,000 people.


Twenty Village Chiefs shared their need for clean water

Currently, there are only eight working wells in the area. Eight village wells among 200 villages cannot possibly provide clean water for 48,000 people. The existing wells are located far and wide apart so that most villagers must walk up to 10 kilometers to the nearest water point. Because of this long distance, most families opt to drawing water from small streams which are muddy and contaminated.



A contaminated water hole is the only
source of water in many villages



“This is the kind of well we need,”
said the Village Chief of Kamphenda

If interested in sponsoring a Village Well Community Development Project, please contact Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., Project Director, mchriste@citihope.org 973-714-0023