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.