Friday, May 20, 2011

WorldHope Corps Mission Team 2011

Ministry Partners:  Mzuzu Shalom Zone, Mzuzu United Methodist Church, and CitiHope International

Hosts in Malawi:  Rev. Copeland Nkhata, Gabriel Wesley Msongole, Dennis Singini and Noel Kumwenda

Team Leader: Dr. Michael J. Christensen, Ph.D., Director, Communities of Shalom, Drew University, and Founder of WorldHope Corps, Inc.

Mission Team Members:

Michael Christensen teaches practical theology at Drew University where he directs the Shalom Initiative for Prophetic Leadership and Community Development that provides training and support for an international network known as Communities of Shalom. In 2007, Dr. Christensen founded WorldHope Corps, primarily to mobilize volunteers-in-mission, but also to support charitable projects in Malawi, Uganda, Ethiopia, Haiti, and the Chernobyl region.  This will be his seventh mission trip to Malawi since 2005.  He plans to post daily travel blogs about the mission trip on his blogsite at   
Ruth Bashe is a member of  the Mission Council at the Presbyterian Church in Basking Ridge, with a major commitment to international missions.  She was part of a small group that was instrumental in helping the church adopt Malawi as one of their mission projects over the last several years.  Ruth has a particular interest in orphan care and service projects, and successfully procured donations of soccer balls and uniforms for the youth we will visit at FOMCO orphan care center. This is her third trip to Malawi to volunteer with WorldHope Corps.  
Helen E. Hoens was trained as a Stephen Minister in 2003 and, since January 2004, has served as one of the leaders of the Stephen Ministry program at Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church.  She has taught Sunday School both in Basking Ridge and at the Third Presbyterian Church in Elizabeth where she also served as a Ruling Elder.  She has long been active both in mission work and in volunteer work on behalf of autistic children and adults and their families.  Her professional calling involves working for the cause of justice as a part of which she is a frequent author and speaker.  Helen has a particular interest in the Hope Tailoring School which she has supported through WorldHope Corps.  This will be her second trip to Malawi.

Robert Schwaneberg returns to Malawi this year after receiving his master's degree in health law and policy lst year from Seton Hall University School of Law.  He is currently active in the development of health care policy locally and nationally.  Robert previously spent 30 years covering state government as a reporter for The Star-Ledger. He is a member of Basking Ridge Presbyterian Church and is an expert photographer who has documented many of the village wells sponsored by WorldHope Corps.  He lives in Basking Ridge with his wife, Helen Hoens, who also is traveling to Malawi for the second time.

Rev. Paul Gasque, from Latta, South Carolina, is a United Methodist Pastor actively involved in a number of community ministries, including sponsoring a health screening clinic, food ministry for needy children, and advocacy and case management for people living with HIV/AIDS. He has been on a previous medical mission trip to Rwanda, and continues to feel called to social justice ministry—especially with issues related to HIV/AIDS--on a global level.  He provided a Hope Scholarship this year for an orphaned youth who he hopes to meet on this trip.

Morgan Hope Jackson, currently a nursing student active in a community service sorority focused on visiting a nursing home and a children hospital.  A member of Friendship United Methodist Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, she has volunteered served for five years with the Salkehatchie Summer Service work camp in South Carolina, and participated in a mission trip to Nicaragua.   Morgan will have graduated and completed her nursing degree by the time we depart for Malawi in May.

Carolyn Henderson is currently attending University of South Carolina where she is a member of a service sorority through which she completes 50 hours of volunteer service each year. A life-long member of First Baptist Church of Walterboro, SC, she has participated in numerous compassionate ministry projects and mission trips in New York City and Mobile. Al.  Carolyn studied abroad in Spain last year, and plans to graduate in May, and embrace her next season of life and ministry.

Rev. John Wesley Culp, a United Methodist pastor in South Carolina, is founder of the Salkehatichie Summer Service work camp, and a member of the Communities of Shalom National Committee, United Methodist Global AIDS Project, and General Board of Global Ministries in the UMC.  A socially-active, visionary, global Christian, John raised funds this year to sponsor two village wells in honor of his granddaughter, Reagan, who is a cancer survivor.  He plans to see and dedicate “Reagan’s Well” (recently drilled) on this, his first trip to Malawi.
Linda Bales Todd serves as the Director of the Louise and Hugh Moore Population Project (LHMPP) for the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) based in Washington, DC.  For the past nine years, Linda has addressed some of the most critical population issues facing women & children: HIV & AIDS, domestic violence, human trafficking, poverty and child and maternal health, including reproductive health.  Her goal is to mobilize United Methodists to become better informed as activists for peace with justice including speaking truth to power at local, national and international levels. As a facilitator of social issues workshops around the globe, primarily in Africa, Linda, in partnership with indigenous United Methodists, assists participants discern how the Gospel of Jesus Christ can lead toward a more whole world where all people are embraced and valued.  Linda served as a trainer for the Communities of Shalom Initiative from 1994 - 2001, an international United Methodist effort focused on community empowerment, health and wholeness.  She will offer one of the Shalom training units in Malawi this year.

Katey Zeh directs the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet initiative for the General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) of The United Methodist Church. She works as an educator and advocate to mobilize United Methodists and key members of Congress on the importance of maternal health and international family planning. She has partnered with women's health advocates from Kenya, Sierra Leone, and India to inspire people of faith to action through sharing their stories and experiences from the field. Prior to joining GBCS, Katey worked at the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE) in Washington, D.C. and the Religious Institute in Westport, CT. She earned her Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and her undergraduate degree in religious studies from Davidson College. Katey will co-facilitate with Linda a Shalom Training unit focused on community health.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Dining with the Dalai Lama

... and 200 of his closest friends in Newark. In many ways it was a dream come true.  In other ways it was a reminder that he is not The One, but only One of many who point the way.
The Peace Education Summit in Newark last weekend was three days of joy, compassion and wisdom; but lacking in practical strategies, beyond meditation and right action, to bring about lasting peace in the world.  I’m still betting on the Prince of Peace inspiring believers without borders to “seek the peace of the city where you have been sent” (Jeremiah 29:7), and “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with thy God” (Micah 6:8).  This through a practical strategy of
Systemic engagement with social structures of oppression, with a focus on
Health, healing and wholeness for communities
Asset-based community development
Love for God, self and neighbor 
Organizing for community action, through
Multicultural partnerships united for Peace

Which how we spell SHALOM  see
Okay, so dining with the Dalai Lama was a blast.   He walks into the beautiful solarium at the Newark Museum streaming with light and decorated with Tibetan flags, artwork and Buddhist symbols, where approximately 200 invited guests (speakers, funders, and celebrities attending the Peace Summit ) eagerly await the appearance of His Holiness at Table over vegetarian cuisine or a chicken salad lunch.   Mayor Corey Booker greets us and introduces the 14th Dalai Lama who rises from his seat to address the crowd...who return the love they feel radiating from his happy face.

 I was too busy taking pictures with the Blackberry to remember much of what he said.  Besides, he kind of muffles his words in a range of pitches, high and low, in a cadence of phrases, long and short.  What I was struck by was his warm continence, easy grin, and endearing belly laugh that exuded a deep contemplative spirituality.  He embodied the joy, compassion, and wisdom of the OM in SHALOM.

I had hoped to sit on his left at his table.  But I was seated to his right, three tables away.  I had hoped to simply touch the hem of his garment, but was strangely restrained by my inner voice of wisdom not to walk over to his table, interrupt his conversation with a young blond woman in black, and touch him. Instead, I met and talked to others in room, including a brief encounter with another interfaith figure I like and learn from:  Deepak Chopra.  I also enjoyed taking pictures of Goldie Hawn, Forrest Whittaker, Corey Booker, and even former NJ Governor Tom Kean.

Earlier that day, in the morning session, Dalai Lama had made his first appearance and speech at the NJ Performing Arts Center to the 2000+ registrants of the Peace Summit. As His Holiness walked on stage in his flowing saffron robe and head piece, grinning from ear to ear, the crown rose to their feet in applause.  He sat down to speak for ten minutes. Again, I don’t remember much of what he said, but it was something as simple as this:

“…People tell me my face looks the same as it did 10 or 20 years ago.  As if I’m not growing old.  People sometimes think I’ve mastered some deep form of meditation that keeps me looking young. It’s not true.  I have a very simple form of meditation that anyone can practice.  When I get up in the morning, I think about the compassion of the Buddha.  I make a right intention for the day.  Then I try to fulfill that intention. Ro be kind, gentle, compassionate.  That’s all.” 

Again, the crowd stood and applauded, not so much for the words he said, but for the inner peace he embodies.

Other notable panelists on stage with the Dalai Lama included: Nobel Peace Laureates Shrin Ebadi, Jody Williams, Deepak Chopra, Rabbi Michael Learner, and other peacemakers, moderated by Robert Thurman (Uma’s Dad) from Columbia University and famous friend of Tibet.   I loved the spirited interchange between Dalai Lama and Jody Williams (internationally recognized for her heroic work to rid the world of land mines).  After he spoke about the need for inner peace before we can bring about outer peace in the world, Jody said something that I found disrespectful to the Dalai Lama:  ‘I’m not really into meditation or inner peace.  People think I’m angry, but I would say I have righteous indignation at the grave injustices in the world, our America’s complicity in it all.  While you’re meditating for inner peace, some of us are out there working to stop violence and oppression without the luxury of contemplative peace.‘ (I’m paraphrasing from my notes, but that was the jist of her remarks).

Dalai Lama responded to Jody with unconditional warmth and respect, though he did say she was “blunt” as he laughed in his belly and grinned ear to ear.  He obviously enjoyed her spunk and candor.  But he also was straight forward in disagreeing with Jody on America’s positive role in the world as a peacekeeper and advocate for democracy.  Jody was a bit patronizing in her retort:  “Whatever you say Your Holiness, whatever you say…”
Deepak offered deep wisdom in his remarks that violence in the world stems from individuals reacting out of their “reptilian brain” rather from their cerebral cortex, and that through meditation we can reboot our brains to be peacemakers…
But my favorite panelist was Rabbi Michael Lerner, progressive peacemaker and editor of Tikkun Magazine.  He had us stand to our feet and sing together old Freedom songs, including: 
“I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside, down by the riverside,
“I’m going to lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, down by the riverside.
(Sing it with me): “I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more, “I ain’t gonna study war no more,I ain’t gonna study war no more, I ain’t gonna study war no more, “I ain’t gonna study war no more…”
After three days of learning from Christians, Muslims, Jews and Buddhists and the Peace Education Summit in Newark, I’m ready to pray for President Barak Obama as he outlines his Middle East Peace Plan, and pray with St Francis: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  And to trust in the Prince of Peace to empower us all to seek Shalom/Salaam/Shanti/InnerPeace.

Saturday, May 07, 2011


Driving home from an interfaith speaking engagement this week, my cell phone flashed a text message from my administrative assistant: “If you want to have lunch with the Dalai Lama, you must call Chris ASAP.”

Chris is the Project Administrator for the Newark Interfaith Coalition for Hope in Peace—of which Communities of Shalom is a charter member.  We are  participating in the upcoming Peace Education Summit  in Newark with the Dalai Lama, next weekend, May 13-15, at the NJPAC.  

No way did I want to miss the opportunity to dine with the  Dalai Lama after his keynote address.  It was thrilling enough just be on the same program with His Holiness (as well as with Rabbi Michael Lerner, Deepak Chopra, Imam Deen Shareef and other interfaith leaders). 

Our Coalition had been invited to offer two workshops at the  Peace Education Summit.   The one I am co-leading is PW 104 Interfaith Conjunctions: Buddha, Jeremiah, Jesus and Muhammad on InnerPeace/Shalom/Salaam 
Doing a workshop at a conference is one thing, but a private luncheon with the XIVth Dalai Lama was a dream come true for a fan like me (I’ve been to Tibet, and seen too many films on the plight of the Dalai Lama not to be in awe of their rightful king).

Promptly, I called Chris back, who wanted to know the full spelling of my legal name, date of birth, and place of birth.  

“Why?” I asked.  

“Background checks by US State Department for the security of the Dahlia Lama and his host, Mayor Corey Booker.

“Of course,” I said as I provided the information.

“And Chris,” I added jokingly before ending the call. “Be sure you seat me on the left side, and not on the right hand of His Holiness.” 

“Why not on the right?” asked Chris with a chuckle. 

“Well, only James or John can be on his right.  I only want to touch the hem of his garment. So just put me on the left.”

I could tell that Chris did not fully share my odd sense of religious humor, so I reminded her of the bold request of James and John to sit on the right side of Jesus at the Table for the Feast in the coming kingdom of God:

 35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Matt. 10:35ff)

Comparing Jesus to the Dalai Lama, inappropriately, was my light-hearted way of recognizing and affirming His Holiness’ place of honor at the table, and my humble, hoped for place somewhere in close proximately to the master.  Seriously, though, I am thrilled beyond belief for the chance to meet one of the great religious leaders of our time.

As a Christian, I think it is important to enter into respectful yet humorous and light-hearted dialogue with representatives of other faith traditions as we seek common ground to build the Beloved Community of Shalom/Salaam/Shanti and Inner Peace together.  If we don’t learn to love each other, we will end up killing each other, I’m afraid.

Perhaps you can join us at the Peace Summit next weekend, or let the occasion remind you to pray for peace among the angry religious of the world, that we can find ways to work together to eliminate violence, injustice and poverty, rather than destroy, dishonor or diminish the “other.”

As the prophet Jeremiah proclaimed to the exiles living in Iraq long ago, to those living among people of a different faith and culture: “Seek the shalom of the community where you have been sent, and pray to the Lord in its behalf, for in it’s shalom, you will find your shalom.” (Jeremiah 29:7)