Thursday, May 31, 2007

True Religion is Love-in-Action



This child is just one of a million orphans in Malawi!

For over a year now, I'm been a 'man on a mission' to help save the lives of 1,000 AIDS orphans and widows in Africa, and many of you have helped me. Thank you! As Bono says: “Africa is ablaze. We are called to put out the fire!” Helping a thousand orphans affected by AIDS is a modest goal in relation to a million orphans who need help.

My particular involvement has been with CitiHope International—a non-sectarian, Christian, humanitarian relief and development agency working in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa. CitiHope Malawi is an indigenously run relief mission in Mzuzu as an extension of CitiHope International.

Malawi, Africa, is a small, land-locked, Pennsylvania-size country of 13 million bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and suffers disproportionately from extreme poverty and AIDS. Currently, AIDS infects 15% of the population and accounts for over 85,000 deaths per year, leaving 950,000 AIDS –affected orphans.

CitiHope’s mission in Malawi is to bring help and raise hope by supplying nutritional meals to orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and their extended families; delivering life-saving medicine to hospitals and rural clinics; and providing Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) in AIDS prevention and compassionate care in communities and congregations suffering from AIDS.

In 2006-2007, CitiHope International and its ministry partners
• provided over a million nutritional meals to 3,000 orphans in 9 orphan care centers
• delivered $2 million dollars of medicine and medical supplies to 17 hospitals, 7 schools, and 5 prisons
• supported 38 community-based organizations who feed and care for over 12,000 persons at least one meal a day for the year
• trained and equipped 60 pastors and community leaders (20 men and 40 women) in dealing with the social and spiritual issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in their churches
• Identified and funded two HopeHomes for AIDS orphans

“True religion pleasing to God is this," according to the brother of Jesus: "caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself from being contaminated by the values of the world.” (James 1:27)

I'm a man on a mission in Malawi, and I still need help. Join me and the team at CitiHope as we seek to save 35,000 kids from malnutrition and help them stay in school and find the hope thay need to live well in body, soul and spirit.

As John Wesley said: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Rice for Education



This week, CitiHope was offered a huge donation--2,200 metric tons of rice for Malawi orphans and school children by the Government of Taiwan. That's 135 twenty-foot containers that would arrive by ship!

If accepted, the donation will flow through Feed the Children (a Christian NGO) who contacted us to see if could effectively use it. We know where and how to distribute the rice, but we lack the funds to transport it to northern Malawi.

CitiHope has an unfunded but well-documented Plan that targets 88 primary schools and 40 community-based social agencies assisting families, including 7 Orphan Care Centers. Total recipients for all this rice will be 35,000 primary school age children, family members and their teachers over a two-year period.



We could accept the donation if Feed the Children or another charitable organization would pay for the shipping costs from Taiwan to our warehouse in Mzuzu, Malawi(a $400,000 expense!) We submitted a proposal and are awaiting a response.

If a funder can be found to pay the shipping bill, we will joyfully accept the generous donation and distribute the rice as a 'Rice for Education' program aimed at keeping children in school by providing hot meals during school and a bag of rice to take home to their family each month.

This opportunity is very timely and providential, for we have run out of food to distribute to the orphans. Please pray with us about this critical need and opportunity. I will let you know how it turns out.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A Village Well for Mosanto?



A village well in Mosanto in return for a large chicken?

On Monday, March 12, 2007, CitiHope volunteers, Don Wahlig and Dennis McQuerry, were invited by Rev. Levi Nyondo, pastor of St. Andrews Church, to drive out to the small village of Mosanto (pop. 1,000) in the bush outside of Mzuzu City. There St Andrew's Church has a satellite prayer hut, and this village also needs a well.

Upon arrival, Dennis and Don were treated as honored guests (rumored to have international contacts and access to resources). The Village Chief, who was also the headmaster at the school, presented them with large chicken--a customary gift for a special guest.

Don and Dennis sat with the leadership to discuss their need for a Village Well. They asked all the right questions about how a possible village well project would be a mutual undertaking, maintainable and sustainable for the long run. Satisfied with their need and resource assessment, Don and Dennis returned to CitiHope's mission center to make their report and recommendations, and presented their chicken to the staff cook, Taxon, to prepare the next meal.

A village well in Mosanto in return for a chicken is a question we pondered for a long time at CitiHope before committing to the Samaritan Wells project. Dennis McQuerry (pictured above with his chicken) is actively fund-raising in the State of Washington to help sponsor a deep water well for Mosanto. I believe he will be successful, and will be able to return to the people of Mosanto with a special gift for them.

Samaritan Wells



Needed: A Village Well for KAMPHENDA

Kamphenda is a small 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 and all its surrounding villages are served by the Mwazisi congregation of the Rumphi Presbytery of the Synod of Livingstonia. The Synod’s Church and Society program has trained a number of volunteers to work in the villages on community development projects, and made an appeal to CitiHope to help dig wells if we could.

Typically, each of the 200 villages surrounding Kamphenda is comprised of 35 to 40 households. There are about 6 people in each household. This translates to about 240 people in a village. Therefore, the total population for Kamphenda area is estimated to be 48,000 people.



After preaching in two churches in Mzuzu on Sunday morning, March 10, 2007, I drove out with Jacob Nkambule, a representative of the Church and Society program division of the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, to the cluster of villages known as Kamphenda—about 2.5 hours south of Mzuzu. There, we met with 20 village chiefs and their 'big chief' in a school room to discuss their need for a community well.

Potable clean water is a very big challenge for the people of Kamphenda and many other remote places in northern Malawi. I knew from my conversations with Dr. Joseph Yu, director the Rainbow [AIDS] Clinic that 1 out of 5 kids die before age 5, largely due to diseases they get from unsanitary water conditions (dysentery, cholera, malaria, etc).


This remote village area is accessible only by a 4x4 vehicle or tractor able to sludge through the bumpy and muddy roads to where 48,000 people in 200 villages live. Currently, there are only 8 functional boreholes 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 more than 8 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.



I saw with my own eyes the distended stomachs of the kids bathing in and drinking stale, bacterial-infested dirty water. Since I had just preached from the Gospel of John on the fresh water of the Pool of Siloam that Jesus sent the blind man to for healing, I felt like God was trying to tell me something.

So, imagine me sitting there as a guest of honor (rumored to have access to resources) in a room full of village chiefs and community volunteers hopeful that something could be done. I listened to these 20 village chiefs speak about their village and about their need. I asked the obvious questions:



"If you had an international partner for your proposed village well project, what local resources would you have to offer?"

The answer they gave was a commitment to provide the labor pool, sand bricks and mortar, and the on-going maintenance.

"But what about tools and spare parts. How will you afford the maintenance?" I asked.

"We will have a common bucket of funds" they said.

"You represent over 20 villages. Where would the first well be dug?" I asked.

No one responded. Again, I asked:

“If only one borehole can be provided this year, where is in needed most?”

In the discussion that followed, all 20 chiefs were able to agree on the neediest village: it was the one where the people had to walk the furthest (over 8km) to get fresh water.

"We have identified the neediest place by consensus," the Big Chief said.

Others added: "If only one borehole is to be dug, our consensus is based on distance. But actually, there are 5 critical areas in this catchment where conditions are so bad that something must be done. We need 5 boreholes to make fresh water available to all within walking distance."

There was a compelling urgency in their voices, and I wanted to help. But instead of committing any resources of CitiHope, or making any promises I could not keep, I responded with a biblical reflection on the "living water" the Samaritan Woman drew from Jacob's Well. I suggested that fresh clean water has healing properties, just as dirty water breeds disease, and why it is essential to drink only clean water for its medicinal purposes as well as to avoid disease. I told the story of the blind man Jesus sent to bathe in the Pool of Siloam which contained fresh water nearest the source, and how Jesus used this water, as well as the mud pack he made from his own saliva, to heal a man born blind (John 9).

They seemed to like my reflection, and it sparked a good discussion. We agreed to continue the discussion of the need for more wells, and to stay in touch. I added that CitiHope does what it does out of relationship, friendship and partnership, and not simply because there is a need. That we had been ministry partners with the Synod of Livingstonia since 2003, and that we had done many food and medical aid projects together. “So let us pray and see what God has in mind."

I left the area, returned to Mzuzu and was late for dinner with the team. My afternoon excursion had lasted over six hours. As Fate or Providence would have it, I got sick that night, apparently from drinking local water (it’s hard to find bottled water with the seal intact.) I was not alone in my nocturnal misery. Four out of 10 of us got a bout. For me, it became an occasion of imaginary solidarity with those who must go daily without clean water.



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

One Village Well in the Kamphenda area, with a borehole of at least 50 meters in depth, will provide fresh water for up to 5,000. The total cost for the drilling of 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 (including initial seeds, tools and fertilizer) is $10,000. (That translates into just $2 per villager for access to fresh water that will save lives!)

CitiHope International has a provisional program budget of $40,000, and is seeking sponsors to fund the first four Village Well projects in remote rural areas of northern Malawi for FY 2007-08.

If interested in sponsoring a Village Well Community Development Project, please contact Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Malawi Mission Director, CitiHope International. Mchriste@drew.edu 973-714-0023

Sunday, May 27, 2007

American Churches Sponsor PACCT

Increasingly, the church leadership in Malawi are reaching out to people with AIDS, both in their congregations and in the community at large, including prisons and orphan care centers--thanks in part of our Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) program.



In the photo above, a prisoner with AIDS is segregated from the other 150 inmates in a local Malawian prison I visited in March 2007.

AIDS orphans and neglected prisoners with AIDS are two of the most vulnerable and needy groups of people with the virus in Malawi. When they are able to access ARV medical treatment, they can live with AIDS as a chronic disease. When they are prevented from receiving treatment, they die, sometimes alone.

‘AIDS as we know it is 25 years old!

When I was a pastor in San Francisco in the early 1980’s, we began hearing about a strange new form of cancer among gay males in San Francisco and New York City. The medical establishment called it “GRID” (Gay-Related Immuno-Deficiency). By 1984, HIV was identified as the cause and the disease became known as AIDS.

Patient Zero was identified and designated by the CDC as the first carrier of the deadly virus in America in 1981, as the disease spread rapidly first among the homosexual community and those who had received a blood transfusion. Earlier stands of HIV and related viruses are now believed to have originated in Africa in the 1940's or 50’s, first in monkeys and then in humans, and the original viruses continued to undergo transmutations as the disease evolved.

As a volunteer chaplain on the AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital from 1989-1991, I witnessed the ravages of AIDS and tried to offer the ministry of presence to mostly gay men and IV drug users who were dying.

In 1983, Malcolm, the first person I knew who was HIV positive, came to my house church in San Francisco. Born and raised in the Church of the Nazarene, he wanted to reconnect with the church of his youth that he had left because he was gay. I remember church members being afraid to drink from a common cup at communion for fear of catching the AIDS virus in human saliva. Malcolm thus stayed away from worship services and Bible Studies, preferring personal visits and spiritual support in time of need. When he finally died, his mother and his partner requested that the funeral take place in a Nazarene Church, which it did and served to change many attitudes toward gay persons with AIDS.

In 1986 I performed my first AIDS funeral for an IV drug user. Charles was a homeless man in the city in San Franciso, and the church I pastored was the only place he could call home. With no known family members, I remember claiming his ashes at the city morgue, and burying him in the small side yard of our urban house church near Golden Gate Park.

In 1987, one of our Sunday School kids, Joey, at eight years of age, contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when he was born. After bringing much joy into our church community, Joey died soon after his 13th birthday party. (He was very special to me, and the inspiration behind my book on AIDS in the Church: The Samaritan’s Imperative.)

There are many stories behind AIDS statistics. By 1988, the number of cases in America reported to the CDC totaled 55,000. By 1991, a year after I had left my church to become Director of the United Methodist AIDS Project in San Francisco, the cumulative number of AIDS infections in America had reached 270,000—most of whom had already died or would eventually die. The disease had doubled, and would continue doubling, every 18 months.

Today, 25 years after, we no longer speak of AIDS as a 'gay cancer' or an 'American disease'. The AIDS pandemic has spread to every corner of the world. Over 25 million people have lost their lives to the disease and over 40 million people today are living with HIV. While the disease has lost some of its original stigma, AIDS still is interpreted apocalyptically by many as a specific form of divine judgment, especially in Africa.

The face of HIV/AIDS today is that of a young woman, between 15-24, living in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Here are the alarming numbers behind the new face of AIDS:

Of the 40 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide, 63% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. 20% of them live in Asia—where new cases of HIV/AIDS are on the rise.

Five people die of AIDS every minute!

In the same amount of time, nine more people are infected with HIV

Over 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981

The same number who are now infected in sub-Saharan Africa: 25 million!

Half of those living with HIV in Africa are orphaned or abandoned children. The common estimate is that 12 million kids have been impacted by AIDS.

Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and 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.

In addition to AIDS, there are other killers in Malawi: TB, malaria, dysentery and cholera are among them. The contaminated water supply contributes to infant mortality and accounts for why 1 out of 5 children die before reaching 5 years of age.


In the photo above, I'm holding an orphan with AIDS who needs medical treatment but lacks transportation to get to a clinic and nutrition to make the treatment effective.

In the photo below, segregated prisoners with AIDS go untreated, unloved, forgotten by the world.



My encounters with these and others with AIDS in Malaria, in part, motivates me to return to pastoral ministry with persons with HIV/AIDS that I had left in San Franciso in 1991.

The PACCT program, for me, fulfills a personal calling and meets an urgent need in Malalwi for pastoral and congregational care and training in the many issues of HIV/AIDS in the churches.

I am deeply grateful to the three American churches that have sponsored a PACCT workshop for pastors and lay leaders in Malawi in 2007: Central Presbyterian Church in Summit,NJ; Celebration Community Church in Celebration, Florida; and Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in New Jersey.

Next PACCT Workshop: July 24-27, 2007

The Apocalyptic Dimension of Global AIDS

The Apocalyptic Dimension of Global AIDS

People have been forced to cope with plagues and deadly disease for centuries. In every case, opportunities to respond with fear or courage were present. Apocalyptic and judgmental interpretations of plague and pandemic are prevalent in the history of disease, but within the crisis moments have been opportunities for transcendence, redemption, re-interpretation and counter-apocalyptic measures. Anti- or counter-apocalyptic ministry, rather than solidarity with the apocalyptic mindset of marginalized communities, is sometimes called for. Such is the case with the ‘plague’ of AIDS in Africa.

Plagues and Pestilence in Ancient Times

Before Pharaoh would heed the command of God through Moses to “let me people go!” the Lord had to stir up the waters of the Nile to cause a plague of frogs overtake the whole country. This was followed by other plagues and pestilence: gnats, flies, livestock disease, festering boils on humans and beasts, hailstorms, locusts, total darkness, and finally a plague of death on the firstborn sons of Egypt (Exo. 8-11).

Leprosy in Bible times was considered an “unclean”, contagious disease, a sign of God’s judgment and disfavor, requiring purification rites from a priest (Lev. 13). Lepers times were stigmatized by society quarantined as ‘unclean’—both physically and spiritually—and excluded from the community of faith. No one dared to touch a leper for fear that the sinful disease would be caught. Among the many people Jesus healed were ten lepers (Luke 17:12).

Following Jesus’ example, early Christians confronted plague and pestilence. “In A.D. 252 plague broke out in Carthage,” writes William Barkley in his Commentary on Philippians, “the heathen threw out the bodies of their dead, and fled in terror. Cyprian, the Christian bishop, gathered his congregation together and set them to burying the dead and nursing the sick in that plague-stricken city, and by so doing they saved the city, at the risk of their own lives, from destruction and desolation.

In the 16th century, the bubonic plague is believed to have wiped out one-third of Europe’s population. In London, according to historical records, most physicians fled their practices and many clergy deserted their pulpits. Seventy thousand of the 400,000 citizens died from this disease. We know that the “Black Plague” was interpreted apocalyptically as a form of Divine judgment from records of Masses being offered for repentance and healing in time of pestilence.

In the 1830’s, when cholera was rampant in America, the rich blamed the poor and burned their dwellings to stop the spread of the disease. During the early 1900’s, tuberculosis was the feared disease, and those who got it were committed to sanatoriums against their will. Between 1918 and 1920, influenza killed over 500,000 people in America, causing fear and hysteria in many countries.

Now, at the beginning of the 21 century, the AIDS pandemic has gripped the developing world, and is interpreted by many as an apocalyptic sign of the end of the age and/or as illustration of God’s judgment on immoral behavior.
IS AIDS a Judgment of God?

In the Book of Revelation, John saw a vision of seven angels with seven bowls with seven plagues: “The first angel went and poured out his bowl on the land, and ugly and painful sores broke out on the people who had the mark of the beast…” The wrath of God in the form of plague and pestilence, blood and bitterness, fire and brimstone, is poured out unbelievers and those who worship the image of the beast (Rev. 15-16).

I remember growing up during apocalyptic times in Southern California, seeing the film—“A Thief in the Night”—at church and fearing that I would be left behind to endure the wrath of God in the Great Tribulation. When I was a pastor in San Francisco in time of AIDS, many Christians viewed AIDS as a sign of the End of the World. I kept busy countering the predominant apocalyptic view in Evangelical and Fundamentalist churches that ‘AIDS was God’s judgment on the homosexual lifestyle’ or as ‘punishment for IV drug use.’ I remember trying to help people process (including those in my own congregation) why it was that those whose behavior put them at high risk got AIDS from a virus, not as a punishment from God for immorality.

Rather than countering such arguments directly, I found it instructive to ask theological questions: “If AIDS is a ‘plague sent by God’ to punish homosexuals, then why do more gay men get AIDS than lesbians whose ‘lifestyle’ you consider sinful? How specific and targeted is God’s judgment on particular sins in this lifetime? If AIDS is part of God’s wrath, then should Christians rejoice and participate in God’s judgment? If AIDS is God’s judgment on immoral lifestyles, why is God so selective about who gets punished? Why does AIDS tend to affect gay men, African women, and Black and Hispanic populations disproportionately? Is immorality any more prevalent in Africa than in America or more common in minority communities than in the White majority in American society? If AIDS is a direct consequence of sin, then why do the innocent suffer? Does God punish children for the sins of their parents?”

‘The judgment theory of AIDS raises more moral questions than it answers,’ I argued. ‘The facts show that AIDS is no respecter of persons. It spreads in specific ways regardless of the sexual orientation or spiritual condition of the transmitter or receiver. Avoiding certain sexual activities…taking precautions…limiting oneself to one sexual partner…avoiding IV drug use, and the screening of blood donations will reduce the risk of AIDS, but the disease can potentially infect anyone.

I remember telling my apocalyptic brothers and sisters that the problem with ‘plague theology’—attributing sickness and disease directly to God’s intention to punish sinners—is that it gives false justification for God’s people not to get passionately involved with those who suffer, as evidenced in the comment of one Christian layperson who asked me: ‘Why are you trying to interfere with what God is doing in the world?’

‘Rather than viewing AIDS as a punishment for sin,’ I preached to my flock, ‘perhaps we should come to understand AIDS as a ‘word’ from God—a call to God’s people to withhold judgment and respond with compassion to those who otherwise might die without knowing they are loved.’

Plague Theology of HIV/AIDS in Africa

Persistent famines, pestilence, civil wars and extreme poverty have wrecked havoc on the continent of Africa. As Bono of U2 says: “The continent is ablaze and we have to help put out the fire!” If no corrective measures are taken now, it is estimated that Africa will have 20 million HIV/AIDS orphans by 2010.

Malawi, with is 12 million residents, is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and 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.

The judgment theory or plague theology of AIDS is still prevalent in Malawi, I have learned from my pastoral education work there. Many pastors and people view AIDS as a punishment and condom use as indication of immorality. It is difficult to get pastors to find other ways to talk about HIV transmission than moralistic condemnation of premarital sex and multiple partners. It a challenge to reflect theologically on why people get AIDS in a culture that assumes that their affliction may is the result of divine punishment for sin or a curse from a witchdoctor in the bush. Enlightened biblical teaching and appropriate pastoral care often are lacking in many churches.

The state of the church is rapidly changing, however, as the rate of infection in the country rises, and as the church community is confronted with daily reality of AIDS in their midst. The majority of the people in Malawi attend church, and the church tends to mirror the culture-large in terms of infection and transmission. Thus, the church is starting to deal with the issues around HIV/AIDS among the membership.
What are required in the war on AIDS in Africa are counter-apocalyptic preaching, teaching and training, and a church-based approach to prevention. International NGO and government-sponsored AIDS education is not enough (nor the most effective approach). What is needed is a carefully-targeted, grass-root, faith-based, biblically-informed, theologically-sound, practical approach to AIDS education and character development within the churches. Such is the approach of CitiHope’s Pastoral and Congregational Care Training program (PACCT)—which has trained a total of 75 pastors and church leaders in ways to deal with the various issues of HIV/AIDS in the congregation.

CitiHope’s PACCT program, I believe, can be seen as a case study in counter-apocalyptic theological reflection on the judgment theory of AIDS in an African culture inclined toward ‘plague theology’ and other potentially harmful apocalyptic interpretations linking sin and suffering.

A Faith-Based Approach to Ending of AIDS


It's a worthy goal: To end extreme poverty and AIDS in our lifetime.

I'm a practical theologian. I believe that it's more important to practice your beliefs than to believe in right doctrines for their own sake. I think that humility, compassion, and right action in the spirit of Jesus are the distinguishing marks of a true beliver; and that working for social justice and transformation in the world from a faith perspective and motivation is what matters most to God.

I’m Christian activist. I think actions speak louder than words. According to St. Francis, “the only gospel most people will ever read is the gospel written on your life.” The little man from Assisi also said: “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if you have to.”

I use both words and actions in my teaching at Drew and ministry with CitiHope International.

Drew University is an historic Methodist institution of higher learning with a faith-based seminary committed to progressive Christianity and social justice. CitiHope International is a faith-based relief and development NGO focused on food security and health care in Central Asia, Africa and Dominican Republic, with a commitment to ending extreme poverty and AIDS.

What is “faith-based” and why is this approach any more effective than so-called secular and governmental approaches to education and social justice? “Faith (from fidere, ‘to trust’) is a fundamental trust in a person, Higher Power, or set of religious beliefs. According to William Saphire of the New York Times: "'Faith-Based’ signals religious motivation while separating practitioners from their sectarian institutions. Like broad-based, space-based, sea-based, based-based. It includes all theistic religions and the ultimate Power in the Universe.”

Faith-based organizations, Saphire recognizes, share the common assumption that the problems addressed are not just systematic [fixed by a funded program] but include social pathologies and ‘conditions of the soul’; that treatment involves ‘a fundamental transformation of character’.” (William Saphire, “Why does ‘religious’ suddenly need a synonym?” NY Times Magazine, June 27, 1999).

The guiding principle of faith-based, non-government organizations (NGO’s), according to the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, “is that faith-based charities should be able to compete on an equal footing for public dollars to provide public services…within the framework of Constitutional church-state guidelines…” President George W. Bush, who organized the Faith-Based Initiative soon after he took office, recognized “that government can hand out money, but what it cannot do is put hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives. What I want to do is unleash the great compassion of America, by changing America one heart, one soul, one conscience at a time" (White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives).

While I'm skeptical of the Initiative, I believe in the concept and approach. I agree with President Carter that the current administration in terms of foreign policy has been the 'worst in recent history', I think GW got it right on the need for a level playing field so that faith-based organizations can compete fairly with their secular counterparts to serve those in need and thus fulfill their mission of putting “hope in people's hearts or a sense of purpose in people's lives.”

Providing help, raising hope, instilling faith, offering love in action—these are the tasks of faith-based aid and development aimed at ending extreme poverty and AIDS in our lifetime.

American Churches Sponsor PACCT

Increasingly, the church leadership in Malawi are reaching out to people with AIDS, both in their congregations and in the community at large, including prisons and orphan care centers--thanks in part of our Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) program.



In the photo above, a prisoner with AIDS is segregated from the other 150 inmates in a local Malawian prison I visited in March 2007.

AIDS orphans and neglected prisoners with AIDS are two of the most vulnerable and needy groups of people with the virus in Malawi. When they are able to access ARV medical treatment, they can live with AIDS as a chronic disease. When they are prevented from receiving treatment, they die, sometimes alone.

‘AIDS as we know it is 25 years old!

When I was a pastor in San Francisco in the early 1980’s, we began hearing about a strange new form of cancer among gay males in San Francisco and New York City. The medical establishment called it “GRID” (Gay-Related Immuno-Deficiency). By 1984, HIV was identified as the cause and the disease became known as AIDS.

Patient Zero was identified and designated by the CDC as the first carrier of the deadly virus in America in 1981, as the disease spread rapidly first among the homosexual community and those who had received a blood transfusion. Earlier stands of HIV and related viruses are now believed to have originated in Africa in the 1940's or 50’s, first in monkeys and then in humans, and the original viruses continued to undergo transmutations as the disease evolved.

As a volunteer chaplain on the AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital from 1989-1991, I witnessed the ravages of AIDS and tried to offer the ministry of presence to mostly gay men and IV drug users who were dying.

In 1983, Malcolm, the first person I knew who was HIV positive, came to my house church in San Francisco. Born and raised in the Church of the Nazarene, he wanted to reconnect with the church of his youth that he had left because he was gay. I remember church members being afraid to drink from a common cup at communion for fear of catching the AIDS virus in human saliva. Malcolm thus stayed away from worship services and Bible Studies, preferring personal visits and spiritual support in time of need. When he finally died, his mother and his partner requested that the funeral take place in a Nazarene Church, which it did and served to change many attitudes toward gay persons with AIDS.

In 1986 I performed my first AIDS funeral for an IV drug user. Charles was a homeless man in the city in San Franciso, and the church I pastored was the only place he could call home. With no known family members, I remember claiming his ashes at the city morgue, and burying him in the small side yard of our urban house church near Golden Gate Park.

In 1987, one of our Sunday School kids, Joey, at eight years of age, contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion when he was born. After bringing much joy into our church community, Joey died soon after his 13th birthday party. (He was very special to me, and the inspiration behind my book on AIDS in the Church: The Samaritan’s Imperative.)

There are many stories behind AIDS statistics. By 1988, the number of cases in America reported to the CDC totaled 55,000. By 1991, a year after I had left my church to become Director of the United Methodist AIDS Project in San Francisco, the cumulative number of AIDS infections in America had reached 270,000—most of whom had already died or would eventually die. The disease had doubled, and would continue doubling, every 18 months.

Today, 25 years after, we no longer speak of AIDS as a 'gay cancer' or an 'American disease'. The AIDS pandemic has spread to every corner of the world. Over 25 million people have lost their lives to the disease and over 40 million people today are living with HIV. While the disease has lost some of its original stigma, AIDS still is interpreted apocalyptically by many as a specific form of divine judgment, especially in Africa.

The face of HIV/AIDS today is that of a young woman, between 15-24, living in sub-Saharan Africa or Asia. Here are the alarming numbers behind the new face of AIDS:

Of the 40 million people have HIV/AIDS worldwide, 63% of them live in sub-Saharan Africa. 20% of them live in Asia—where new cases of HIV/AIDS are on the rise.

Five people die of AIDS every minute!

In the same amount of time, nine more people are infected with HIV

Over 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981

The same number who are now infected in sub-Saharan Africa: 25 million!

Half of those living with HIV in Africa are orphaned or abandoned children. The common estimate is that 12 million kids have been impacted by AIDS.

Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and 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.

In addition to AIDS, there are other killers in Malawi: TB, malaria, dysentery and cholera are among them. The contaminated water supply contributes to infant mortality and accounts for why 1 out of 5 children die before reaching 5 years of age.


In the photo above, I'm holding an orphan with AIDS who needs medical treatment but lacks transportation to get to a clinic and nutrition to make the treatment effective.

In the photo below, segregated prisoners with AIDS go untreated, unloved, forgotten by the world.



My encounters with these and others with AIDS in Malaria, in part, motivates me to return to pastoral ministry with persons with HIV/AIDS that I had left in San Franciso in 1991.

The PACCT program, for me, fulfills a personal calling and meets an urgent need in Malalwi for pastoral and congregational care and training in the many issues of HIV/AIDS in the churches.

I am deeply grateful to the three American churches that have sponsored a PACCT workshop for pastors and lay leaders in Malawi in 2007: Central Presbyterian Church in Summit,NJ; Celebration Community Church in Celebration, Florida; and Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church in New Jersey.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

True Religion is Love in Action



This child is just one of a million orphans in Malawi!

I'm a man on a mission to help save 1,000 AIDS orphans and widows in Africa, and I need help. As Bono says: “Africa is ablaze. We are called to put out the fire!”

“True religion pleasing to God is this," according to the brother of Jesus: "caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and keeping oneself from being contaminated by the values of the world.” (James 1:27)

My particular involvement over the past 25 years has been with CitiHope International—a non-sectarian, Christian, humanitarian relief and development agency working in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Caribbean, and Africa.

Malawi, Africa, is a small, land-locked, Pennsylvania-size country of 13 million bordering Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Malawi is particularly vulnerable to famine and disease, and suffers disproportionately from extreme poverty and AIDS. Currently, AIDS infects 15% of the population and accounts for over 85,000 deaths per year, leaving 950,000 AIDS –affected orphans.

CitiHope’s mission in Malawi is to bring help and raise hope by supplying nutritional meals to orphaned, abandoned and vulnerable children and their extended families; delivering life-saving medicine to hospitals and rural clinics; and providing Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) in AIDS prevention and compassionate care in communities and congregations suffering from AIDS.

In 2006, CitiHope International and its ministry partners
• provided over a million nutritional meals to 3,000 orphans in 9 orphan care centers
• delivered $2 million dollars of medicine and medical supplies to 17 hospitals, 7 schools, and 5 prisons
• supported 38 community-based organizations who feed and care for over 12,000 persons at least one meal a day for the year
• trained and equipped 60 pastors and community leaders (20 men and 40 women) in dealing with the social and spiritual issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in their churches
• Identified and funded our first HopeHome in Malawi

So far this year, CitiHope ...


This week, we were offered 2,200 metric tons of rice for Malawi orphans and school children by the Government of Taiwan! If accepted, the donation will flow through Feed the Children (a Christian NGO) who contacted us to see if could effectively use it. We know how and where to distribute the rice, but we lack the fund to transport it to northern Malawi.

CitiHope has an unfunded but well-documented Plan that targets 88 primary schools and 40 community-based social agencies assisting families, including 7 Orphan Care Centers. Total recipients for all this rice will be 35,000 primary school age children and family members and their teachers over a two-year program.

We discussed with Feed the Children how we could accept the donation only if they or another organization would pay for the shipping costs from Taiwan to our
warehouse in Mzuzu, Malawi(a $300,000 expense!) And they are prayerfully considering it.

If a funder can be found to pay the shipping bill, we will joyfully accept the generous donation and distribute the rice as a "Rice for Education' program aimed at keeping children in school by providing hot meals during school and take home
rations each month.

This opportunity is very timely and providential, for we have run out of food to distribute to the orphans. Please pray with us about this critical need and opportunity. I will let you know how it turns out.

I'm a man on a mission in Malawi, and I need help. Join me and the team at CitiHope as we seek to save 35,000 kids from malnutrition and help them stay in school.

As John Wesley said: “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

DaySpring Medical Aid Partnership



In partnership with DaySpring International, CitiHope procured requested medicines and medical supplies from pharmaceutical donors, and placed them directly in the hands of doctors, nurses, clinicians and pharmacists in northern Malawi.



Working with the government Ministry of Health, the Livingstonia Synod’s hospital at Ekwendene, Taiwan Medical Mission at Mzuzu General Hospital, and other medical program co-sponsors, CitiHope was able to select, procure, ship, safeguard, deliver and monitor [over $2 million] of essential medicines and medical supplies for the improved health of approximately [12,000] targeted beneficiaries at 17 pre-qualified hospitals and clinics, including 3 district Hospitals and 10 out-patient clinics in the rural north.



In sharing the program cost and value of this major medical assistance program, Dayspring International (as well as World Children's Fund and Hopegivers International) have provided $1,000,000 worth of medicine for 12,000 patients in Malawi.


Additionally, DaySpring funded CitiHope's PACCT program which trained and equipped over 50 pastors and church leaders in dealing with AIDS issues and caring for HIV patients in the congregations.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hopegivers HopeHome Partnership



Hopegivers International in one of three Major Ministry Partners of CitiHope International. In addition to sponsoring food and medical relief in Malawi valued at 2 million dollars a year, Hopegivers initiated a HopeHome program this year in conjunction with CitiHope.

HopeHomes are an informal foster care provision of extended family homes in villages and towns headed by guardians (grandmothers, neighbors, family members) who take in 6-12 orphans into their homes and provide them with the “seven hopes” of every child: for nutrition, health, shelter, safety, education, family and protection.

In January 2006, Dr. Samuel Thomas, President of Hopegivers International(a major ministry Partner of CitiHope International since 2005, committed to opening the first of many community-based Hope Homes for orphans and abandoned children in Malawi.

Hope Home #1 Rev. and Mrs. Maurice Munthali, Presbyterian Church

In September 2006, the first Hope Home in Malawi was funded by Hopegivers International through an initial $5,000 grant to CitiHope. Subsequently, a total of $40,000 was granted to CitiHope for the establishment of four Hope Homes in 2007 through the Major Ministry Partnership of Hopegivers and CitiHope International.



Photo: CitiHope staff Mr. Paul Moore, Dr. Tanya Soldak and Dr. Michael Christensen with Rev and Mrs. Muntahli in their home in September 2006)

Rev. Maurice Munthali, Deputy General Secretary of the Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, Central Church of Africa, and former pastor of a 5,000 member church in Malawi was selected to operate the first Hope Home in Malawi. He and his wife, Thandi, have three children of their own and have adopted 12 orphans whose parents died of AIDS.



Extended families are now common place in Malawi, Africa, where at least 15% of the population is believed to be infected with the HIV virus. There are now over 900,000 orphans in a country of 13 million people. The way the churches are responding with compassion, how ministries are rescuing orphans, and how families are opening the doors of the homes to orphans and widows is exemplary. What they need most is tangible Christian support in the form of nutrition, medicine, clothing and educational opportunities for their adoptive children.

Rev. Munthali and his wife, Thandi, have three children of their own and have adopted 12 orphans whose parents died of AIDS. (photo: Munthali family members with Dr. Penny Muelenaer)

Elementary school is free in Malawi up through the 8th grade, but secondary school is not. Girls are lucky if they are allowed to stay in school through 8th grade. Most of Munthali’s adopted children are in secondary school or beyond. Hope Scholarships were made available to the Munthali family for direct reimbursement for food or educational needs in 2007 by Hopegivers International.

HopeHome #2 Rev. and Mrs. Copeland Nkhata, Pastor, The United Methodist Church, Mzuzu Circuit, Malawi



This wonderful pastor and his church family have taken in 11 orphaned or vulnerable youth, who are not members of the church. Rev. Nkhata says they all could use some help, especially for their food and education. Again, Hopegivers International through CitiHope is sponsoring this HopeHome in 2007, so that the children can be fed, educated, feel secure, be safe, and have hope for the future.



Michael Glenn, CFO of Hopegivers International, visited Rev. and Mrs. Nkhata at their Hope Home in January 2007 (pictured below) and approved the on-going expenditure of funds for the extended family of orphans that has now grown to 23.



“Many more Hope Homes are needed to replace the lost and broken families resulting from the HIV epidemic there,” according to Dr. Sam.

Hopegivers and CitiHope have committed themselves to delivering $2 million of medicine and nutritional food, and opening a total of four HopeHomes in Malawi in 2007.

Monday, May 21, 2007

World Children's Fund Food Aid Partnership



The Emergency Food Relief Program is part of CitiHope’s Cooperative Agreement with a USAID Food for Peace Program that provides food commodities for CitiHope staff and volunteers to manage, distribute, monitor, and document. The program budget is additionally funded through co-sponsors such as World Children’s Fund and Hopegivers International.

According to our staff monitors in the field, we have have exceeded the number of vulnerable women and children served in famine-affected regions of Malawi!



USAID Food for Peace provided CitiHope with 75 metric tons of food commodities, which translates into 6,249 cartons of Breedlove food product, enough to serve to serve approximately 4,000,000 lunch-sized servings of protein-fortified vegetable soup mix. An estimated 22,000 needy orphans, patients, and primary school children received at least one healthy meal a day) over the six-month period.



The high-protein vegetable soup mix, valued at $200,000, was delivered to 17 hospitals, 7 schools, 5 prisons and 9 orphan care centers (for a total of 38 beneficiaries) in northern Malawi by CitiHope staff and volunteers in January/February 2007.



Thus, World Children’s Fund has helped provide a nutritional meal every day to approximately 22,000 orphans, vulnerable school children, and hospital patients cared for in 38 community-based organizations located in famine-prone rural areas of northern Malawi.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Why Malawi for me?


Why am I involved in mission in Malawi?

Among my many reasons and motives, one particular moment stands out:

1. I met a pastor from Malawi in December 2004 who inspired me to join him in his campaign to save the lives of AIDS orphans and train other pastors to deal with the issues of HIV/AIDS in the churches.

The Reverend Maurice Munthali, Deputy General Secretary, Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia, was invited and sponsored by CitiHope International to come to America and tell the story of what was happening in the churches of Malawi related to AIDS. I hosted him at Drew for a lecture for World AIDS Day, and introduced him to some folks at Central Presbyterian Church.

Over dinner at my home in Madison, my family and I got to know Maurice and his wife, Thandi, and heard their story of how their family of five grew to 15. After losing three of his own brothers and their wives to the AIDS pandemic, Maurice and Thandie, with three of their own children, adopted Maurice’s brothers' 12 children as their own—and began to model for others what it means to be an extended family in Malawi.


Formerly senior pastor of the largest Presbyterian Church in northern Malawi (with 3,000 members), Rev. Munthali now oversees 110 churches and 130 pastors in the Synod of Livingstonia--the spiritual legacy of David Livingstone.

The churches message today, according to Rev. Munthali: “We’re living in extra-ordinary time in the history of our country, and it calls for extra-ordinary measures to stop the spread of AIDS. The time has come to get serious about the moral, cultural and spiritual implications of AIDS in the churches which mirror the general culture in which one-forth of the population was infected with HIV. What is needed most in Malawi is the three M’s—Meals, Medicine and Morals—in our churches and communities, in order to stop the spread of AIDS.”

“Pastors themselves need to submit to voluntary testing and declare their HIV status,” he publicly declares. “They can become role models in the church and community in de-stigmatizing the disease and responding with compassion.”

The time had come for the church in Malawi to seek international help for food, medicine and education in a country stricken with food shortages, lack of adequate healthcare and a need for AIDS education and pastoral training.

Responding to the need and the call, in friendship with Maurice and in partnership with CitiHope International and the Synod of Livingstonia, I decided to help Maurice and his leadership team in Malawi launch a new campaign calling for Meals, Medicine and Morals to save lives in Malawi.

CitiHope’s Nutritional Food Programs addresses the need for Meals.

CitiHope’s Medical Relief Program addresses the need for Medicine.

And the Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) initiative addresses Munthali’s third M—the need for moral reflection, behavior change and character development in the church as pastors and people deal with the various issues of HIV/AIDS in the congregations.

After visiting Malawi in August, 2005, with my 16 year old daughter, Rachel, on a mission trip (and delighting in her engagement with the orphans), I accepted CitiHope invitation to spend my sabbatical year 2006-07 as their Malawi Mission Director. What a great year it has been, as I’ve tried to report on my blog site. I hope to remain involved in the Malawi mission in the months and years to come.

Y-Malawi



Why Malawi? Here’s why:

• It’s one of the poorest countries in the world in need of food, medicine, education and economic development. Approximately 60% of Malawi’s population lives below the UN measured ‘extreme poverty’ line: less than one dollar a day!

• It’s the heart of sub-Saharan Africa where there is on-going famine and food security crises.

• The HIV/AIDS pandemic is raging and ravishing families and communities. At least 15% of the population in Malawi is infected. Many medical practitioners estimate the infection rate at 33%.

• Malaria, TB and other health-related challenges are equal to that of AIDS.

• Half of Malawi’s school-age children do not currently attend school, and the adult literacy rate is over 60%.

Although chronic disease and extreme poverty have taken their toll on this former British colony, the warm-hearted people of Malawi are amazingly resilient and receptive, inspiring others in how well they care for orphans and widows in their distress. In this Lake Region of Southern and Central Africa that David Livingstone explored in the 19th Century, calling world attention to the slave trade that resulted in its eventual abolition, the new enslavement called AIDS is destroying the people, leaving nearly one million orphaned children.

Why Malawi? If we know about the need, then why not try to do something about it?

In 2005, several churches, including Central Presbyterian Church of Summit, New Jersey (where my wife is Associate Pastor) formed Y-Malawi, Inc a faith-based nonprofit aimed at supporting relief and development work in Malawi. The mission objective of Y-Malawi is to “provide community-wide, sustainable development and transformation in the areas of water and food security, healthcare, education, evangelism and discipleship, youth programs, and economic development, including micro-finance.”

Since its inception just two years ago, Y-Malawi supported World Vision in launching a new Area of Development Project (ADP) through child sponsorship of more than 2,500 vulnerable children in the Nkhoma village area of southern Malawi, and raised $1.2 million in cash donations. Y-Malawi also has supported CitiHope's PACCT program.

Y-Malawi is the first phase of the greater vision of networking with 100+ churches, adopting at least 10 village areas in Malawi, and expanding to other African countries through what the founders are calling Y-Africa, Inc.

See website:


Y-Malawi Mission Team Visits CitiHope Malawi Staff