Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"I was in prison and you visited me."

Fr Paul in Uganda sent the following report (and photos) on visiting prisoners at the Mambugu Government prison in Uganda:

Last Sunday we visited, prayed and ate with the prisoners in our neighbourhood, numbering 150. It was great to visit our brothers and sisters in the prison and so moving to listen to their stories.

Above all they asked for our prayers promising to be renewed in Christ after fulfilling their sentence. It was touching and re-assuring to remember Jesus' words:
I was hungry, you gave me to eat, naked you clothed me, sick and imprisoned, you visited me.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Raising the Roof in the Rain

We received several email messages from Fr.Paul Bigirwa, head of the Hope Centre Clinic we support in Uganda, regarding progress on 'raising the roof.' Our limited funds were received (enough to purchase supplies and start the work).

Dear Tom (and Michael):

Thanks so much for your messages and support to the Health Centre. We are very grateful for the contribution.

The work is in progress (even in the rain).

Unfortunately, Julius is down with Malaria, maybe his body is also tired, he has moved a lot and worked tirelessly in these last days to implement the project before the rains intensify, and indeed has done a commendable job.

I remain hopeful that we shall meet the target.

I will send you the pictures tonight.

Fr. Paul

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Rice Distributed to Hope Home

Here is the WorldHope Corps Report from the UMC Church HopeHome program for March 2009:

UMC Church building in Mzuzu



FEB – MARCH 2009

[Note: US $1.00 = 139MK Malawi currency]

INCOME MK 276,000.00


Fees for Exams
Bicycle repairs
Admin. Costs
Medical care
Calculators for student

1. Note that we had MK82 000.00 for blanket, as a gift from Malawi Missionary conference as a way of supporting the Hope Homes initiative. This raises our expenditure index.

2. We have a number of students taking exams in June in Accounting and Business Management and we have just paid their exams fees.

3. As for the expenditure of Bob Robbin’s Account with Esnat’s children, it will come next week since we have one more event with them. After that the account will be completely exhausted.

4. We had 125 children for the Feb-March 2009 Picnic on 21/3/09 and the program was more exciting than ever before.

5. We are more than grateful for your support.

Children are awaiting your arrival on 21/05/09 and we plan to have another picnic program on 23/05/09 in your company.

Love from,

Copeland (Director)

Leaster Mhone (Lay leader

Francis Mzumara (Vice Treasurer)

Peter Botha(Coordinator)

Below are photos of rice distribution at the parsonage:

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Light of Easter

My favorite professor at Yale, Henri Nouwen (God rest his soul), helped me understand that I don't need to know God's Plan for my life (as if there were only one customized plan and blueprint for my life that I either find and fulfill or lose and have to settle for second best). We may not see the whole path ahead, but God gives us enough light to take the next step. In times of change and difficulty, it's good to remember the Jesus shows us the way, one step at a time. And Easter can be a bright time when we see clearly what we need to see and do.

My Easter gift to you who follow my blog is a sermon quote by one of my spiritual mentors, Henri Nouwen:

"Easter season is a time of hope. There still fear, there still is a painful awareness of sinfulness, but there also is light breaking through. Something new is happening, something that goes beyond the changing moods of our life. We can be joyful or sad, optimistic or pessimistic, tranquil or angry, but the solid streams of God's presence moves deeper than the small waves of our minds and hearts. Easter brings the awareness that God is present even when his presence is not directly noticed. Easter brings the good news that, although things seem to get worse in the world, the Evil One has already been overcome. Easter allows us to affirm that although God seems very distant and although we remain preoccupied with many little things, our Lord walks with us on the road and keeps explaining the Scriptures to us. Thus there are many rays of hope casting their light on our way to life."

From Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Stations of the Cross in West Salem, NC

Thursday in West Salem, NC

The Shalom Project, Inc.—a community development initiative of Green Street United Methodist Church in West Salem—was the site I visited today. Eileen Ayuso is the Executive Director of the non-profit, and Rev. Kelly Carpenter is the Pastor of the host church and leader of the shalom team. Together, they gave me a tour of the neighborhood and explained their plans for shalom.

Located in West Salem and focused on making improvements in the Peters Creek Parkway area for local residents and businesses, the project started with 30 volunteers cleaning-up of the cluttered creek and roadside, which earned considerable community goodwill. Now the community partnership is focused on beautifying the corridor, ensuring a healthy stream water flow, assisting local businesses and residents with economic development, providing resources to transient and resident populations, and participating in community planning and improvements for the benefit of all.

The West Salem Shalom team completed their training in October, 2008, along with teams from High Point and Greensboro. Once a site submits their Shalom Plan to the National Shalom Resource Center at Drew University, we affirm it and offer a $2,000 seed grant to encourage each new site in their shalom work. It was my pleasure to present the Executive Director of the Shalom Project, Inc. with a $2,000 check for their Peters Creek Parkway Shalom Plan for community development work which is well underway.

Stations of the Cross

I was particularly pleased to learn how the Shalom Project integrates spiritual growth with community development. Rev. Carpenter explained that “Salem” is German for shalom or peace, and that the name ‘Shalom Project’ fits with the identity of the partnership in West Salem that wants to seek peace and welfare for their community.

I also was glad to hear of Pastor Carpenter’s plans for Good Friday—which is tomorrow. Kelly, a skilled community organizer and prophetic leader, organized a walking meditation through West Salem to visit the ‘stations of the cross’. Based on the tradition of meditating upon Jesus’ final journey through the city of Jerusalem carrying the Cross, this contemporary and contextual version calls for a purposeful walk through the neighborhood where people continue to struggle, pausing at certain ‘stations’ along the way to reflect on the various connections to suffering and persecution present in our time and place; and the promises of help and hope.

For example, Pastor Kelly explains, “on the corner of Green and West Streets is the crossroad of hope/despair for those struggling with additions: drug-sting operations, conducted by the Police are commonplace. Active drug addiction is a slow sentence of death that affects our entire community, not just the addict.” As the people of God walk and pray tomorrow—on Good Friday-- at this street corner and at other local stations of suffering and despair, they will pray ‘that people will choose to seek help and spiritual wisdom from people in recovery; that police will be proactive in keeping our community safe from all effects of drug abuse; that our lawmakers craft sensible and effective ways for people to break the cycles of addiction; for the addicts who must surrender to a higher power for health and hope.”

The ‘stations of cross’ in West Salem include: crime scenes, strip joints, abandoned houses and homes threatened with foreclosure, as well as places of help and service in the neighborhood such as churches, schools, parks, programs, and the new community garden which is a green sign of hope.

Green Street United Methodist Church, host of the Shalom Project, is a multicultural United Methodist Congregation practicing compassion and seeking justice in their immediate community. In so doing, they are witnessing to ‘the kingdom of God breaking through’ in their midst this Easter. Check out what the prophetic congregation of Green Street Church is up to: www.greenstreetchurch.org

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"Living Good, Feeling Good" in Charlotte

Wednesday in Charlotte, NC

Charlotte Communities of Shalom began in 1997 after three shalom teams were trained and equipped by the national network, one of which is still active. The focus of Thomasboro Community of Shalom continues to be on improving the health and welfare of residents living in seven communities in the city of Charlotte. In 2006, the organization received a $360,000 grant from the NC Health and Wellness Trust Fund to assist in reducing disparities in health among minority and under-served populations in the State. The Shalom coalition implemented a “Living Good Feeling Good” door-to-door campaign for cardiovascular disease and diabetes prevention, “Hope Works” to improve economic and health status, as well as several other community health interventions and promotions targeting vulnerable children, youth and seniors.

I met this morning with Mike Collins, Conference Shalom Coordinator, Renee Jones, Executive Director of Thomasboro Community of Shalom, Sonia Crawley, Administrative Assistant, and Evelyn Newman, secretary/treasurer of the Board of Directors.

I was very impressed with the historical and current programs of Charlotte Communities of Shalom, and excited about visiting the neighborhoods and meeting the incredible people who carry on the work month after month.

Mike Collins was one of my Doctor of Ministry students at Drew until Katrina hit the Gulf and he had to manage all the dispatches for United Methodist Committee on Relief. Today, in addition to his ongoing disaster response role with UMCOR, Mike is Director of Volunteer Response Ministries for the Western North Carolina Conference with oversight for shalom ministries. I found his practical wisdom and perspective invaluable in offering technical and relational support to Communities of Shalom.

Renee Jones (wearing red) is a seasoned executive director who understands all the complexities of community-based non-profits, and how faith-based coalitions like Shalom need to navigate the waters of secular and sacred cultures. After spending the morning with her, I left re-assured the Charlotte Communities of Shalom is in good, loving, and capable hands.

Sonia Carley is more than the administrative assistant and office manager at the Shalom office. She is a special woman called of God as a missionary to Africa. After several mission trips and church sponsored projects, Sonia plans to return to Kenya, and later to Malawi, to help lead a local effort feed hungry orphans and dig wells in villages without fresh water. (As you can imagine, Sonia and I started to compare notes and got very excited about what Communities of Shalom can do together in Africa).

Finally, meeting Ms. Evelyn Newman, a veteran ‘shalomer’, was the highlight of my day. A retired Manager with AT&T, Evelyn has been an active resident, community organizer and community developer in the Tomasboro for several decades. As a long-time member and Outreach Chairperson of St James United Methodist Church, Evelyn became involved the Thomasboro Neighborhood Improvement Association to help make the community a safe and desirable place to live.

The church and community task force were successful in convincing the city not to demolish and close the Thomasboro Elementary School but to create a new one. She and others in the church and community formed a Shalom team, received ShalomZone Training, and became known as Tomasboro Community of Shalom. In recognition of Evelyn’s prophetic leadership in the community over the years, a local artist created a mosaic that included Evelyn’s image prominently displayed on Freedom Blvd in the heart of the community for all to see.

I insisted that I take her picture next to the mosaic, and was delighted to hear more about the Living History Project funded by the Arts and Science Council of Charlotte that included hers and other leader’s stories and images in a published booklet.

I’m sure we will hear more from Charlotte Communities of Shalom in the months ahead, especially after their new shalom community garden grows (on the spot in photo below)

Monday, April 06, 2009

Reinventing the Hand Well

Dinner in Wilmington, NC

Local resident, Marilyn Meares, invited several of us over to her house for dinner tonight to discuss how best to work together to find a more cost-effective way to drill boreholes and install pumps that won’t break down so easily in the interest of safe, local and sustainable community wells.

Jock Brandis and Jeff Rose of The Fully Belly Project, and Jesse Stowell and Jen (Marilyn's adult children who are into wind technologies), Chappy, my wife Rebecca, and myself…all have at least one thing in common: we want to provide appropriate well-digging technology for Malawi. This was our discussion during dinner.

Chappy and Marilyn agreed to develop a business plan for the implementation of a locally run enterprise whose end goal would be to increase the number of wells and provide employment and training opportunities for many. Jess and Jen offered to do some research on how to fabricate the equipment necessary to construct hand operated, cable percussion, well digging equipment that can be done easily, cheaply and sustainably. We would use materials already in Malawi and use funds raised to buy fabrication equipment that would allow a crew to build these rigs and get them into the hands of other NGO's involved in bringing assistance to villages in need.

Well Spring Africa is one organization that specializes in hand dug wells and re-introducing that technology to villages in Africa. After watching their video clip of men and women working together using a relatively simple technology to dig a deep well, the vision for “Women to Women Village Wells” was born this very day. The basic idea is that women’s groups in the USA (like United Methodist Women or Presbyterian Women’s Guild) might be interested in empowering a group of women in an African village to take charge of their dire situation of not having access to clean water, by providing a well-digging kit for their use in organizing a local effort to hand-dig a community well.

Rebecca is committed to raising $5,000 for the first of such community well projects in Malawi, and Chappy is ready to spend six months there to get the venture started. The entire working group in Wilmington is very excited about the prospects for success of this new economic venture. Stay tuned as this new collaboration emerges.

Let us see what comes from the synergy created in this remarkable group over dinner in Wilmington.

Full Belly Wells?

Monday in Wilmington, NC

After breakfast at Chappy’s favorite coffee house, a walk around town, and lunch with the local United Methodist pastor who was interested in expanding his church’s mission in Africa, we visited The Full Belly Project—a nonprofit group that designs and distributes simple technology for income-generating agricultural devices to improve life in developing countries. www.fullbellyproject.org

Founder Jock Brandis is the inventor of the Universal Peanut Sheller which was featured on CNN after it won the Civic Ventures 2008 Purpose Prize of $100,000.

Jock gave us a tour his facilities and we watched how his team are literally engineering answers to problems in food production, sanitation and potable water supply specifically for application in third world situations.

For example, Full Belly developed a simple hand washing station that uses very little water but would do so much to curb the spread of disease within the villages. It is constructed of an old truck tire, several empty two-litre bottles, a few nuts and bolts and some cement. Every village could have one and it would save lives by reducing the spread of disease. I hope to introduce the concept and deliver instructions to staff of CitiHope Malawi and the United Methodist HopeHome program in May.

Full Belly now wants to engineer a simple technology for digging bore holes and easy-to-use foot pumps to draw the fresh water to the surface for safe drinking. The idea being to find a more cost-effective way to develop safe, local and sustainable community wells that won’t break down so easily, and that does not rely on expensive heavy equipment brought in from afar. The real beauty of their core concept has to do with using materials that are available in Africa, mostly in adaptive re-use applications and only require some training and relational support.

See the CNN video profile of the work on YouTube: http://www.purposeprize.org/video/yt_video.cfm?candidateID=3779

It is my hope that WorldHope Corps, Communities of Shalom, and The Full Belly Project can become partners in Malawi to help villagers to dig their own community wells in the years ahead, without the need for external resources of heavy equipment and expensive well rigs.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Holy Week in North Carolina 2009

Sunday in Wilmington, NC

Since it is Spring Break for Megan and Holy Week break from classes for Rebecca and me, we decided to all go ‘shaloming” in Western North Carolina where I need to visit four of our newly trained shalom teams, and check on the production of a well-digging kit and peanut sheller for Malawi. Why not make it a family road trip? So we planned a trip from Wilmington on the East coast to Asheville in Western NC.

First Stop: Wilmington, NC

We flew from Newark to Wilmington where Chappy Valente (a long-time friend who traveled to Malawi with me last year) met us at the airport. Chappy lives and works as a artist (see his “Road to Mzuzu” painting in my October 1, 2008 blog post) and has a deep desire to return to Malawi to develop a well-digging business.

Downtown Wilmington near the River is a gorgeous 19th century American reconstruction period town. And Wrightville Beach is a great place to walk for miles on clean sand, in cool water, under a warm sun, with no crowds. For dinner tonight: delicious sea bass with fresh vegetables.