Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sabbatical Journey

One year ago I was granted a sabbatical leave from Drew University, and I returned to Drew this month refreshed and restored. Mine was an active sabbatical that included two mission trips to Malawi, one educational trip to Korea, fund-raising trips to San Francisco, Houston and Washington D.C., two trips to receive special recognitions, the release of new book, and the establishment of a permanent mission center in Malawi ---all recorded on my Blog and highlighted below:

After my first trip to Malawi in August 2005 with my then 15 year-old daughter, Rachel, I felt called to return—at least for a year—to international relief and development work, particularly in relation to pastoral education and AIDS. The opportunity presented itself last summer, and with the support of my Dean at Drew, I was available to respond and engage. There is nothing like a sabbatical to rotate one’s tires and re-energize through a change of pace, focus and meaningful activity. I felt like I got back to a world of ministry that I had long ago left behind.

Way back in 1981 I had started a new church and urban mission in San Francisco, and had worked for World Vision and CitiHope International in the Bay Area before coming to Drew University in 1993. I served for a few years as a chaplain on the AIDS unit at San Francisco General Hospital, and became Director of the United Methodist AIDS Project in the Cal/Nevada Annual Conference in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. In many ways, my involvement in HIV/AIDS issues in Malawi today--25 years later--completes a circle.

I began my sabbatical journey by designing a Pastoral and Congregational Care Training (PACCT) program for CitiHope International to better equip pastors deal with the various issues of HIV/AIDS in their congregations in Malawi. I took a mission team to Malawi in September, 2006, and helped train 50 pastors and lay leaders to take on the AIDS pandemic through church-based AIDS education. PACCT calls for voluntary testing, stigma reduction, infection-prevention, and empowering behavior change in their congregations to stop the spread of HIV (see September and March blogs)

In addition to conducting PACCT, I was asked to provide executive leadership to the CitiHope Malawi Mission by overseeing staff that deliver and monitor 75 metric tons of food aid and $2 million of medical assistance to 36 institutional recipients, together serving 22,000 AIDS orphans and their extended families, school children and hospital patients each year (see September travel blog)

In October, the urban mission I founded in San Francisco--Golden Gate Community, Inc. -- turned 25 years old. Rebecca and I were invited and flown out to SF to receive a special tribute at the 25th Anniversary Celebration at the Westin St. Francis Hotel on October 6. What a surprise and a joy to see my ‘baby’ ministry full-grown and now a $5 million job development ministry with vulnerable youth, now know as New Door Ventures in San Francisco. (see October travel blog)

I spent most of October and November raising funds and writing reports on the Malawi mission, and posting updates on my blog about the work that had begun. On one trip to Washington D.C., I met Malawi’s Ambassador to the U.S.A. who advocated for her country and helped us work through the some bureaucratic obstacles to relief and development.

By the end of 2006, I was ready for a vacation break, and our family spent the week between Christmas and New Years in Bermuda (see December travel blog)

Between December-February, I was back at Drew to care for some of the details and direction of the Doctor of Ministry Program, and prepare for summer term. My new book, Partakers of the Divine Nature: Deification in the Christian Traditions, was released in January, and I gave some attention to its promotion in the academy. I also led training seminars and spiritual retreats with my wife, Rebecca Laird, on our new Henri Nouwen book—Spiritual Direction—which has been well received.

In March, I returned for the third time to Malawi to conduct PACCT II for women in leadership (see March Travel Blog). Don Wahlig (from Drew) and I also led a mission team focused on lending a hand at orphan care centers and primary schools (see March Travel Blog).

In April, my wife Rebecca and I traveled to Korea to lead a 4-day spiritual direction retreat for Methodist pastors based on the Korean translation of Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen (see April Travel Blog).

In May, I wrote Interim and Annual Reports for our Major Ministry Partners on what we had accomplished together, and how we had managed to feed and care for over 22,000 people in Malawi this year (see May Blog).

In June, I returned to Drew with gratitude to CitiHope for entrusting me with the responsibility for the Malawi Mission, and to Drew for supporting an active sabbatical and leave of absence. My mission goals were realized: 1) to help save the lives of a thousand AIDS orphans, 2) to launch the pastoral educational initiative called PACCT, and 3) to raise the budget for Malawi programs ($325,000).

The task remains: how to integratemy current work with pastors in the Doctor of Ministry program, with my experience in humanitarian relief and community development work in the world, with my call to write and teach in the areas of spirituality and social justice in the University setting?

As I struggle to find the right balance in my life, and what focus is required in the next season of life and ministry, I invite you to check in with me from time to time through this blog communique. I plan to continue posting personal reflections, travel blogs, and mission updates this academic year on this site.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Open Conference for Korean Pastors

Open Conference for Korean Pastors in New York City

Presentation on CitiHope International: Food aid for Malawi

Ahn-nyung ha-she-yoh! [Hello]:

I would like to share with you what I shared with pastors in Korea in April of this year. After lecturing at Hyupsung University, my wife and I led a 4-day pastors retreat on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen who was my teacher. During dinner conversation, I shared with Pastor Kwon my ministry in Malawi feeding AIDS orphans and abandoned children. After I shared this message, Rev. Kwon, told me God spoke to him very clearly to begin supporting Citihope every month with a $1,000 offering from his church to feed hungry orphans in Malawi.

I shared the same message of how AIDS and famine were affecting the lives of one million orphans in Malawi, and what we could do to help them with Rev. and Mrs. Jongbok Kim, pastor of Yeonsoo Methodist Church, and Rev. and Mrs. Jong Soo Kim, Pastor of Sheshin Methodist Church. Tey too said they wanted to help us feed orphans in Malawi. And so, there is now a mission connection between some churches in Korea and CitiHope International in Malawi. I hope the same kind of relationship can be developed here tonight with many of you.

Here’s the Gospel message I shared with pastors and Methodist Women in Seoul (John 6: 1-13)

How Did Jesus Feed Hungry People?

The Feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of Jesus recorded in all four Gospels. Among other truths, it illustrates the principle of spiritual multiplication: “little is much when God is in it.” There always enough resources to meet needs when God is involved.

As the Jewish Passover Feast drew near, Jesus was going about doing what he did for a living. He was an itinerant evangelist, prophet, teacher and healer. He performed miracles as signs of his spiritual authority and mission as Messiah. He wasn’t in the business of humanitarian assistance or food aid. He did not run an NGO. He was just a teacher, like I am at Drew, or you are at your local church.

Great crowds came to hear Jesus preach. The crowd stayed so late one day, they were hungry. “Where shall we buy food for these people to eat?” Jesus asked his disciples. Philip answered him: “It would take eight months wages.” Although he did not have the means to feed them, Jesus had compassion on the crowd. To perform the miracle of feeding such a crowd, he called forth the resources from the crowd. Andrew said: “Here is a boy with five small loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Oh-Byung-Yee-Uh [loaves and fish] for relief and development!

Remember the principle of spiritual multiplication: “Little is much when God is in it.”
5 loaves + 2 fish = 7 food products. Seven is God’s perfect number. It would be enough.

Although he did not do professional relief and development work (as CitiHope and other NGO’s do), Jesus had the people sit down in rows and fed them (similar to what is done in the refugee camps, feeding stations and orphan care centers in Africa).

Then Jesus took the bread the boy had offered, gave thanks, and distributed to those that were seated on the grass. He did the same with the fish. There were about 5,000 men who were fed, and there was enough food left over to fill 12 baskets (6:11-13).

CitiHope currently is providing a million meals, enough to feed 3,000 orphans a day, as well as other and other hungry Malawian families who have come to rely on our food aid. But we need to feed hungry people the way Jesus did: by calling forth their resources, not just focusing on their obvious needs. The miracle he performed that day was not just the magic of multiplication, but the example of sharing and offering to God what little you think you have so that God can leverage the resources to meet the need with plenty to spare.

This is exactly want we are doing through our growing partnership between local churches in Malawi and local churches here in the USA and Korea. CitiHope seeks to connect resources with needs. They grow as much corn as they can, but we have to help provide the nutritional supplements so that everybody gets to eat food. We are helping Christian families in Malawi take in orphans, widows and abandoned children who cannot fend for themselves or afford to go to school. We are supplying their school supplies and paying their tuition. Together we are developing a Hope Home which eventually will be self-sustaining. Don’t call it food aid. That’s not our vocation. We’re feeding hungry people the way Jesus did as a Teacher. By calling forth the resources in the crowd and leveraging what is offered and shared. “Little is much when God is in it.”

We have an opportunity tonight, at this conference, to make a difference in the world through sponsoring nutritional food for hungry orphans.

Recently, we were offered a huge donation of Rice--2,200 metric tones of rice from the Government of Taiwan. Feed the Children, Inc. has agreed to pay for the shipping of 135 sea containers on two ships from Taiwan to Malawi, if we can manage the warehouse it safely and distribute it. We need 135 church sponsors in order to do this—one church for each of the 135 sea containers of rice product. A church offering of $3,500 per container will make it possible for us to feed a total of 135,000 orphans and school children every day for two years! Please help us.

Pledge cards are available at the CitiHope Display table. I hope you will prayerfully consider what you as a church leader can do.

You saw and face and heard the voice of Rev. Maurice Munthali, who was senior pastor of St. Andrews Church 5,000 members, and now Deputy General Secretary of the Synod of Livingstonia (CitiHope’s primary partner in ministry): He said: “In Malawi
• 270 people are dying every day from AIDS
• every family has a widow
• every home has orphans
• in every home a patient is suffering
• funerals happen every week
• before the sun sets, someone is going to choose this box for a casket
• there's no point in teaching people morals unless you also give them medicine, and no point in giving them medicine unless you also give them meals
• Jesus preached everyday, but by the end of the day, He gave them food.
• Why can't we?”

Well, together we can!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Activities in Mzuzu

In Mzuzu, the largest city in Northern Malawi, with over 100,000 people, the rest of the Osborne members were also busy. Divided into two teams, a construction team and a first aid / sewing team, they worked independently in the morning, but came together in the afternoon, to do additional ministry. The construction team helped pour a concrete floor for Mzuzu Baptist Church, and build a foundation for a building at FOMCO Orphanage, where they also installed a basketball goal, all the while taking breaks to spend valuable time playing, singing and telling Bible stories to the orphans.

Meanwhile, the ladies offered first aid training and AIDS seminars at two of the secondary schools in Mzuzu, where they also gave much needed school supplies. Several area hospitals were also visited, with medical supplies being donated at each location. Stuffed animals and toys were given to children in the pediatric wards as well. Sewing machines were donated to the women’s guild of Livingstonia Synod, and to the Kanjika Club for People living with disabilities. Here the Osborne ladies gave sewing lessons on the new machines, and stood back in amazement at how quickly the women of Malawi learned.

Both teams participated in a soccer game with several young men at a local field. This lead to an opportunity to speak to these guys after the game was over. We also went out onto the streets of Mzuzu and shared the Gospel, preached in two separate prisons, and concluded the trip by participating in a “Persevere in Purity” youth rally.

Over the week, dozens of people prayed to receive Christ in the prisons, on the streets, and in the churches. Many more committed to remain pure until marriage for themselves, for God, and for their future family. Others were given much needed medicine, and various forms of treatment. Hundreds were, no doubt, encouraged. Thanks be to God who allowed us to be a part of what Christ is doing in Mzuzu, Malawi.

Rob Robbins

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Gabriel's Report for Days 4 and 5

Here’s a brief update on the Osborne mission team activities this week:

Yesterday, team A received sewing lessons at Katawa CCAP; it was a wonderful moment. The team donated a sewing machine and the women were very excited. Threads, fabric, elastic, and school materials were donated to the church at Katawa, which offers Day Care, pre-primary, primary and secondary schools?

Today we are winding up the activities in Mzuzu by spreading the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the streets of Mzuzu. Tomorrow we will be heading for Rumphi Kasasa Community Based Care Center and Rumphi District Hospital to cheer up the sick.

Team B started painting the Cook Guest House, and Team A was at Kanjika Club for people living with disabilities and at Viyele CCAP visiting the elders feeding program.

This is just a glimpse of what the teams are doing in Malawi. I should say that is it a blessing to have the entire OBC Team here with us. As you know that it becomes difficult for us to have time to sit behind a computer and check the e-mails when we have visitors. By all means we are doing what we can.

Gabriel Wesley, Country Director

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Gabriel's Report for Days 2 and 3

On Thursday the ministry team (A) visited Kutemwa Orphan Care Center in the morning and Mzuzu Central Hospital in the afternoon. Dolls and toys were given to children in pediatrician ward. But before we went to Pediatrician wards, we visited the nutrition department which is involved in making soy flour and is being given to children and other people who are on ARV treatment. The soya is mixed with corn, ground nuts and beans to make it tastier. Cooking oil is also added to the soya flour for increased ingredients.

The construction team (B)has been very busy, and the local people are very excited and encouraged to see whites getting involved in construction. It is challenging to see a person like Ricky Bates working so hard on construction. At FOMCO Orphan Care center, the foundation is being raised up.

At Mzuzu Baptist Church, the hard flooring has been completed and now the smooth course is in progress.

At Mzuzu Central Prison, a soccer ball was donated and Rob shared the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Yesterday, some members from the skills team decided to join construction team and help them by carrying bricks to the rightful place. Ricky and Rob in collaboration
with Ryan and Chad are doing a marvelous job. The arrival of Wendy Robbins and Linda Knight have strengthened both teams.

Many donations have been made by both teams, like carpentry tools, soccer balls, basket ball, basket ball ring, volley balls, base ball kit and others. It is such a wonderful and good time for the FOMCO orphans.

The music done by the teams is so inspiring and touching the soul. “Open the eyes of my heart Lord” is one of many outstanding songs.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Medical Team in Livingstonia

Dr. Terry Daniel led a team made up of a medical team and a children’s outreach team, 75 miles north of Mzuzu, to perhaps, the most beautiful view in all of Malawi, Livingstonia. After successfully ascending the mountain, while going around twenty “hairpin bends” the children’s outreach team taught classes on first aid and abstinence education in the schools, and VBS to the village children. The medical team worked at the mission hospital delivering babies, performing minor surgeries, and doing routine checkups. They also offered services to the villages surrounding Livingstonia. Dr. Daniel and Jay Cline, a medical student at Wake Forrest University, had the opportunity to preach at two of the churches

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Letters from Sarah

Dear friends & family,

We made it safe and sound to Malawi! The flights were wonderful – no time wasted waiting around on layovers, as we pretty much were able to walk off one plane and onto the next. We made it very smoothly through customs. Our few complaints were that Rob got a migraine and Sarah visited the restroom eleven times on the flight from Rome to Ethiopia. They are both feeling much better.

Please continue to pray for our health, as a handful of people have experienced some yucky side effects of the malaria medicine we are taking.

Dear friends and family:

We enjoyed a very warm welcome from Gabriel & Dennis from CitiHope in the Malawi airport at 12:30pm (6:30a at home), as they greeted us all with a bunch of colorful flowers. From there, they drove us to Ilala Lodge in Mzuzu, Malawi, arriving at 6:45pm, making our total travel time from Greensboro to Malawi 32 hours! A delicious three-course dinner was waiting for us at the lodge including mushroom soup, braided rolls, chicken, rice, potatoes, and fresh fruit. Our rooms were comfortable, so most of us got the good night’s rest we had prayed for.

This morning we met for breakfast at the CitiHope office – it was also delicious! It included bacon sandwiches, tuna sandwiches, apples, avocado, corn flakes, homemade French fries (fried potatoes), and scrambled eggs with coffee & juices.

After a briefing on recent CitiHope work and a review of our itineraries, the medical team will head up the plateau to Livingstonia, where they will stay until next Thursday. The local skills team will visit FOMCO orphanage, and the construction team will begin their work project—repairing one of the buildings where the orphans are fed.

Dear friends and family:

We are alive and well in Livingstonia! Life is very primitive and hard here-so the people are thankful for anything American we give them. Most homes do not have electricity or running water.

Jay watched 3 hysterectomies by a Dutch doctor on Friday (he would have watched 4, but almost passed out after #1). These surgeries are performed because of the uterine cancer rampant here from HPV. Today, he helped deliver a tiny baby! She only weighed 2 pounds. Karen has also been helping at the hospital.

Sarah and Pete have been traveling with 3 teenagers to churches and schools to teach about first aid and HIV/AIDS.

Thankfully, none of us have been sick since we arrived---keep praying please!

We miss you and hope you are well and healthy.


Sarah & Jay

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Osborne Mission Team Departs for Malawi

Osborne Baptist Church in Eden, NC, embarked this month on their third mission trip to Malawi, in partnership with Hopegivers and CitiHope International. What follows are summary reports from team leader, Rob Robbins:

After several months of fundraising and preparation, nineteen members of Osborne Church left on Tuesday, June 5th for nearly two weeks of ministry opportunities in Malawi, Africa. Two others followed on Sunday, June 10th bringing the total to twenty-one mission volunteers.

Partnering with CitiHope and Hopegivers Intl, the team had several goals to accomplish, the first of which was to take as much useful material and supplies as possible. After listing the supplies needed in the church bulletin, the donations began to pour in. In order to maximize the amount which could be taken, each person was limited to one piece of personal baggage to be checked on, with the other one full of supplies. The supplies included several boxes of medicine, sewing machines, recreation equipment, tools, Bibles and Christian literature, as well as, a plethora of school supplies. Cindy Hall, one of the team members, worked tirelessly to pack twenty-one donated suitcases and duffel bags with fifty pounds of supplies in each one.

We arrived safe and sound and are ready for our mission work to begin.