Friday, July 29, 2011

Background story on the Macon Shalom Zones

Macon, GA.   

The Macon Story of Shalom represents the first time in the history of Communities of Shalom that a local mayor initiated, hosted and facilitated ShalomZone Training in a city.

According to The Telegraph, a local paper in Macon, GA, Mayor Robert Reichert in 2009 called together more than 100 community leaders, pastors and residents and prodded them to organize small groups and begin revitalizing their neighborhoods block by block. Reichert’s idea is for residents to determine their neighborhoods’ needs — social, economic or housing related — and develop a plan to address them through Shalom Zones. Macon’s local TV station, FOX24, covered the event and aired a report on their nightly news. 

Mayor Reichert was introduced to the Shalom concept by United Methodist leaders in South Carolina. When Bishop James King, Jr., and Dr. Brad Brady, Macon District Superintendent, heard the Mayor’s vision for ‘creating safe zones in the city’ to reduce crime, rid neighborhoods of drugs, rebuild dilapidated houses and improve community life, they informed him about the Communities of Shalom initiative of the United Methodist Church.

Impressed by the similarity of vision and approach, the Mayor and his staff researched the movement and contacted the National University.  National Director Michael Christensen and Program Associate and Trainer Annie Allen were invited to come to Macon for a day to present the Shalom model of asset-based community development. Over 100 leaders from the city, representing UMC, AME, CME, Missionary Baptist and Pentecostal churches, sat around tables with heads of city agencies, council members, Jewish rabbis, NAACP leaders, and police officers, to hear and discuss Shalom. The Mayor shared his vision and introduced two resources: a Federal grant program for community development and ShalomZone training. After Dr. Christensen and Minister Allen presented the Shalom model and introduced training content in a workshop format, there was enthusiastic discussion as those
gathered responded positively to the idea of Macon becoming a ‘City of Shalom’ and organizing
four shalom teams to prepare for future training.

As Mayor Reichert explained to local reporter, “I’m hoping to inspire groups of people to come together and organize in their neighborhood, to lay claim to a defined area within their neighborhood and through partnering with the city to bring resources into the area”.

Communities of Shalom National Site Coordinator Annie Allen says Macon has all of the necessary ingredients for the concept to be a success. “This is a wonderful opportunity. There’s lots of wide range of people here today. A great group of people who, I think, which just a little bit of alignment can make a huge difference in Macon.”

Dr. Christensen stated, “Usually, a local United Methodist Church, a District or an Annual Conference initiates Shalom in their area. This is the first time that I know of that a Mayor of a city heard about Shalom and initiated the application process. At least five zones in the city of 200,000 have been identified – there is incredible momentum here."

Here's a short Shalom clip by video-journalist Ted Johnsen of Drew University, posted this week on the City of Macon website:

Here are two TV news clip on the Shalom story in the city of Macon:

Thursday, July 28, 2011

What Would Jesus Cut?

“Congress is paralyzed by toxic partisan politics while people suffer. Our elected officials are protecting corporations and wealthy individuals while shredding the safety net for millions of the most vulnerable people in our nation and abroad. Our faith won't allow us to passively watch this travesty unfold.”--Rev. Michael Livingston, past president of the National Council of the Churches of Christ (USA), arrested today praying and protesting at the US Capital.

Washington, DC:  Despite repeated warnings from police, eleven religious leaders refused to end their prayers in the rotunda of the the U.S. Capital and were arrested.  They prayed in protest that Congress and the Administration would not balance the budget on the backs of the poor. 

One of those arrested was Jim Winkler, the General Secretary of Church and Society—a peace with justice agency of the United Methodist Church.  Jim has been a prophetic leader on social issues for a long time, a friend of Communities of Shalom, and I fully support him and his social witness. 

Another faith leader arrested today is Bob Edgar, a former member of Congress and current president of Common Cause--a terrific organization that advocates for the poor and holds the powerful accountable. Common Cause was one of the prime organizers of today's prayerful protest.

Bob, too, is a friend of Shalom and also a member of the Board of Trustees of Drew University where Shalom is based. A graduate of Drew Theological School, Bob preached in chapel last Spring on our Christian commitment and calling to help defend the rights of the poor and those to whom justice is being denied.

Read today's story:   
USA Today
Huffington Post
When President Obama got angry at his press conference last Friday about the budget wars on the Hill, I got more engaged and began repeating one of his most poignant, off the cuff remarks: 

“…[Don’t] put all the burden on the people who are least able to protect themselves, who don’t have lobbyists in this town, who don’t have lawyers working on the tax code for them -- working stiffs out there, ordinary folks who are struggling every day.  And they know they’re getting a raw deal, and they’re mad at everybody about it.  They’re mad at Democrats and they’re mad at Republicans, because they know somehow, no matter how hard they work, they don’t seem to be able to keep up.  And what they’re looking for is somebody who’s willing to look out for them.  That’s all they’re looking for.”   Obama Press Conference

Inspired by a prophetic vision of the beloved community of peace and justice for all, motivated by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all citizens to protect the vulnerable and promote human dignity, many of us believe that the budget crisis should be resolved morally and prayerfully, and not just pragmatically and politically.

Representatives of 11 religious groups and denominations have held daily vigils at the United Methodist Building near the Capitol for three weeks, praying for a moral resolution to the debt ceiling crisis.  Finally, today, they felt lead to take more drastic action—praying at the Capital and getting arrested for not dispersing when warned to stop what they were doing.  

According to a NCC news release:  “The religious leaders sang "Spirit of the Living God" and "We shall overcome" as they knelt and prayed in the Capitol rotunda.  Capitol Hill police asked them to clear the rotunda but the religious leaders continued praying.  National Council of Churches 

Recent events have catalyzed an eighteen-month public policy campaign led by faith leaders representing the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths to promote a message of the common good in the current economic debate. Members of the campaign are calling for Congress and the Administration to exempt programs from budget cuts that assist the most at-risk families and children in the U.S. and abroad.

Daily prayer vigils will continue to be held on the front lawn of the United Methodist Building (100 Maryland Avenue, NE, Washington, DC), near the U.S. Capitol Building. Led by a different religious organization each day at 12:30 p.m. EDT, the prayer vigils will continue until a budget/deficit deal is enacted.

As National Director of Communities of Shalom, I urge members of the network to pray for our President and political leaders (as the Bible implores us); and also to lift up and pray a circle of protection around the nation’s most vulnerable citizens who can’t afford good lawyers or lobbyists on the Hill, but who can, if organized, transform our nation, one person, one community at a time.

For further information on how to let your prayers be heard, check out this community organizing action to create a Circle of Protection

Friday, July 22, 2011


Violence on the streets in Mzuzu

I received three urgent emails today from our friends in Malawi—Copeland Nkhata, Gabriel Msongale, and Dennis Singini-- asking us to pray for them in the political crisis and social unrest at hand in Mzuzu:

"…The country is plunging into real gloomy hours,"  writes Rev. Copeland Nkhata, pastor of the Mzuzu United Methodist Church circuit andWorldHope Corps leader in Malawi.  "Yesterday the nation went through anarchy and bloodshed. Mzuzu lost 7people in a clash with police and 47 wounded badly. All the cities had some people dead. This has disturbed and disrupted our work."

"I hope you have heard in News accross the World what just took place on Wednesday July 20th 2011," adds Gabriel Wesley Msongole, Director, CitiHope Malawi. "On Wednesday there were supposed to be peaceful demonstrations where by Civil Society Organizations and other concerned parties wanted to petition the President concerning a number of issues facing our country.

Unfortunately, the Govt. through the police force tried to stop those demonstrations.The result were riots and vandalism, especially in Mzuzu where at least 9 people were shot dead. The death toll in Malawi has come to 18 as of today, but Mzuzu registered a higher number.

We have not reported to work since Wednesday because the tension is still being felt in Town. The tension seems higher today because the Malawi Defence Force says they would like to take revenge on the Police for shooting the son of one of the soldiers.  We don't know what will happen this weekend. All shops in town have closed.

Let join our hearts in prayers for God's intervention.

All CitiHope staff are safe.  I will update you on the developments later this day/tomorrow."
Funeral for the Fallen Heros in Malawi

Our dear brother Dennis Singini, representing both CitiHope Malawi and Mzuzu Shalom Zone, continues to keep us informed:  "We thank God who has kept us safe today.  People are still very angry and unhappy to the government.  At Mzuzu Central Hospital there was another crisis.  Organizers had agreed to bury the victims at one particular place within Mzuzu because they are now popular heros.  The President sent one of his cabinet ministers to deliver a message that the bodies of those who died during this demonstration should be buried at their respective homes.  

When people heard this at the mortuary, they were angry and took one of the coffins and went straight in to where the authorities were having their discussions in protest.  Then the cabinet minister and other authorities just left and told the Pastors with whom they were having discussions to go ahead with their original burial plans.  For the first time in my life I saw a police officer with a gun in his hand running away and hiding out with patience."

Michael J. Christensen 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

From SafeZones for ShalomZones in Macon

City of Shalom

“Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age–old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”  —Isaiah 58:12

Macon, GA.  Mayor Robert Reichert had a vision for "safe zones" in his city until he heard about how to create "shalom zones" in specific neighborhoods where community leaders are willing to come together and rebuild.  

See video clip:

“When I heard about Shalom Zones I thought it was a perfect fit.  How you ask the neighbors what want and empower the residents to join together.  And then you bring municipal government into the picture to connect the resources,” the Mayor told a reporter.

The Mayor invited Communities of Shalom, based at Drew, to offer Shalom Zone Training to city and community leaders in 2009.  After six months of training, led by Annie Allen, five new shalom sites were organized and began working for transformation in their neighborhoods. Drew sent Shalom interns to Macon for the past three summers to work with the Mayor.  

This summer, Drew assigned  Ieisha Hawley-Marion, one of six current shalom interns, spent six weeks in Macon working with shalom zones out of the Mayor’s Office.  “Shalom is the kind of community outreach where you can tap into the assets of a community, tap into the love of that community, and connect all the groups,” she explained to Drew video-journalist Ted Johnsen who did a feature on Macon Shalom Zones which aired on the local news and posted on the city’s website :

On that same online news feature, Dr. Michael Christensen, National Director of Communities of Shalom, explained how it works:  “Shalom Teams, representing different sectors of a community, form coalitions that take on a particular issue and together work to raise the quality of life in the community.” Local residents and city agencies together are identifying houses and buildings in blighted neighborhoods that need to be demolished and replaced with new and affordable housing for local residents.  New community gardens with active and motivated volunteers testify to community transformation in areas where shalom is active. It’s a model of how city governments and grass-roots community leaders can work together to transform urban neighborhoods.

According to Mayor Reichert: “Some of the critics say it will never work, but we’re in the process of showing how it can work and will work.”   

Ieisha elaborates on this element of resistance: “My assignment has come during a time when there is a heated political battle over the re-election of the Mayor. I have observed courageous people counting the cost to create peace in the community.  When you decide to stand up and follow the spirit of Christ in broken environments, much resistance comes your way and tires to invalidate your purpose. Mayor Reichert’s initiative to revive a broken city has some opposition, yet he still stands and is set on creating a city of shalom regardless of what others say. His objective is to create safe environments or shalom zones at whatever cost.  The city has waged war against drug lords and gang leaders, demolishing abandoned properties and homes controlled by vandals and looters, “repairing broken walls and restoring streets with dwellings.”(Isa. 58:12)

“For example, in one of our shalom zones there is a family of 24 which formed when the four adult parents were incarcerated and all their children left behind to care and raise themselves.  Lacking social service assistance, leaders of the shalom zone lent their support and help.  In this particular neighborhood, over 75 % of the homes are abandoned and boarded up, but bridge hope from systemic poverty to a healthy community is being built. Also, I worked in a summer camp with 75 children from challenging homes in the city of Macon.  Representing all ethnic groups, they were brought together in the spirit of Love and Peace and provided a safe haven of love and peace. What a happy and exciting time for shalom.”

Friday, July 01, 2011

"What can I do to help?" By Gaius Charles

Hello friends and supporters of Communities of Shalom and World Hope Corps:

My name is Gaius Charles and I am a Master of Divinity student at Drew University where I have had the privilege of studying and working with Dr. Michael Christensen.  Recently I had the opportunity to participate in Dr. Christensen’s Shalom Zone Training in Uganda to support the interfaith work of Drew University’s Communities of Shalom Ministry in Jinja, Sesse and Mbale, in Eastern Uganda.   

The trip was extraordinary and it opened my eyes to the challenging realities that many Ugandans face every day. For example, at one school we visited, several kids were infected with HIV. At another school, the students listened attentively as we shared with them about AIDS prevention and also how God calls us into certain vocations and ministries.  They were delighted when we presented them with a simple soccer ball.

Since returning to the US after a week in Uganda, I've been asking "what can I do to help?"  

As part of the ongoing work of Shalom (a ministry dedicated to bringing healing, wholeness and prosperity to spiritually, social and economically disadvantaged communities all around the world) our host, Pastor Baamu Moses, is launching a youth conference next month centered around a soccer competition to teach young people about AIDS and HIV awareness.

I’m sure many of you already know how much AIDS and HIV have devastated the continent of Africa, taking the lives of generations of its people, and Uganda is no exception. This youth conference will serve as a great opportunity to empower the youth and shine a beacon of light, hope and inspiration as it educates young people and helps them transcend the challenges of this devastating epidemic.

The HIV/AIDS project of the Uganda Shalom Zone is a worthy cause, and I’d like to invite you to partner with me, Dr. Christensen, and Pastor Moses to make this ministry a success.

Here’s how we can help:  Pastor Baamu Moses has asked for assistance with his youth conference.  A financial goal of $500 has been set to help purchase soccer balls, food, transportation and other resources for the event. While this may seem a modest amount, $500 will surely go a long way in supplying the need for this ministry.
 Any contribution you are able to make—whether it be 5, 10, or 20 dollars or more-- would be greatly appreciated. Please think it over, pray about it and consider making a donation today. I know that the $500 goal can be met and that lives will be changed because of your love, generosity and faithfulness.

All donations are tax deductible and can be made in the form of check or money order. Please make all contributions payable to "Drew University" with a memo titled "Uganda Shalom Fund."   

Checks can be mailed directly to:
Communities of Shalom Resource Center
Drew University Theological School
36 Madison Avenue
Madison, NJ 07940

Click for online giving: 

Also because the event is just around the corner we ask that you make your donation no later than July 15, 2011.  Thank you and God bless, Gaius 

P.S. If you have any questions about this effort, please feel free to email me at 

Gaius Charles at Secondary School in Sesse

And check out Shalom's website at:   Thanks again!

 Dr. Michael Christensen at Good Shepherd School