Sunday, April 29, 2012

On this very day...20 years ago

Today marks the 20th Anniversary Weekend of Communities of Shalom

This Very Day--Sunday, April 29—is the 20th Anniversary of Shalom!

Friends of Shalom are here in Tampa for the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

This afternoon, from 5-6, in the Big Tent (across the street from the Convention Center) hosted by the Methodist Federation for Social Action, friends of shalom will gather to sing, testify, pray, and tell stories of shalom work in their communities.

Bishop Joseph Sprague (Instigator of Shalom in 1992 and still active in the Greater Hilltop Shalom Zone in Columbus, Ohio) will offer inspiration followed by anointing with oil for the difficult work ahead. 

On Sunday night during the 7pm celebration of ministry service in the Convention Center, Communities of Shalom will present its Report to GC and show the new video “Shalom is still on the loose!”
Watch it live at the General Conference Live .

THIS VERY DAY, 20 years ago, on April 29, 1992, the long-awaited trial of three policemen accused of beating motorist Rodney King was occurring in Los Angeles Country.  The brutal beating was caught on video tape, and shown repeated on national television stations leaving no doubt that three police officers used excessive force in subduing Rodney King while their supervisor looked on.  Yet, an all-white jury in a suburb outside of LA acquitted the officers. 

Public outcry was immediate.  Fires erupted in LA for three days after the verdict; there was looting and riots, chaos, civil unrest, and a social uprising in the racially divided city. Fourteen died, many arrested, millions of dollars of damage to property.  According to CNN, April 29, 1992 “ignited one of the worst race riots in US history” (CNN documentary, The Beating of Rodney King, April 29, 2012).

General Conference was in session in Louisville in April/May 1992.  The presiding Bishops, amazingly, set aside the Agenda of the Day to discuss how The United Methodist Church might respond to the civil unrest in LA, and threatening to spread across the country.  When Rev. James Lawson, civil rights leader and UM pastor in LA, spoke for the Cal-Pac Conference delegation, he gave an eyewitness report to what was happening in Los Angeles.  After a call for prayer and fasting, the next morning, Pastor Joseph Sprague (later Bishop Sprague), made a motion to create in downtown LA a “shalom zone” where health, healing, harmony and wholeness could emerge as neighbors worked together to seek the shalom of their community.

What started in one square mile in Los Angeles in 1992 has now developed into an international network of over 150 Shalom Zones worldwide; and a Shalom Zone Training® product that continues to equip new shalom teams to transform their communities.

Sunday, April 29, is the 20th Anniversary of Shalom to the day—this very day!

If you are in Tampa for General Conference of the UMC on Sunday, join us under the big Shalom Tent across from the Convention Center to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Communities of Shalom.

For more information on Communities of Shalom:

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Watch us on Shalom YouTube

Register for 20th Anniversary Shalom Summit:  Shalom Summit 2012

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Origins of Shalom

On this 20th Anniversary Day for Communities of Shalom, I asked Bishop Joseph Sprague, Instigator of Communities of Shalom, to reflect on the origins of Shalom on April 29, 1992--the day of the social uprising in Los Angeles after the non-guility verdict for the officers who beat motorist Rodney King and the response of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church to create the first "shalom zone" in south central LA. 

Origins of Communities of Shalom (1992)
By Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of the Shalom Initiative at General Conference, April 29, 2012

There was a certain irony about how I got to General Conference in 1992.  As a pastor from West Ohio, I had been elected as a delegate at two prior General Conferences. However, this time Good News and IRD targeted me to not get elected, apparently because of some of my social justice stands.  Consequently, I was the last clergy delegate elected and seated.  As luck or Providence would have it, I was seated on the aisle in front of the chair of the Presiding Bishop, perfectly positioned to make a motion from the floor.
While we were in session, the verdict was announced in the trial of the police officers involved in the Rodney King arrest in California. James (Jim) Lawson, a UMC pastor in Los Angeles, hosted and led the Los Angeles contingency as they gave a report to the General Conference about what was happening in their city in the wake of the verdict’s announcement.
The General Conference Rules were suspended and we all listened.  The Order of the Day was set aside for over an hour.  Rev. James Lawson, representing the Los Angeles delegation, was asked to speak about the civil unrest in LA. (Jim, I believe, is the second most influential person in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Having been trained in the Gandhian method of active resistance and non-violence, he trained most of the children and freedom riders in the movement.  I knew Jim over the years and we had done justice organizing together, and his brother, Phil, was a seminary classmate and part of our delegation to the Selma to Montgomery March decades earlier.)
.           That night, following the reports from James Lawson and Brandon Cho on the social uprising in LA, my fear was that the next day the delegates would adopt an empathetic, eloquent Resolution about the Rodney King incident and the plight of urban America, and we United Methodists would assume that by such action we had addressed the attendant issue and its systemic causes.
Sleep would not come. In the ensuing restlessness, I searched the Scriptures for a theologically sound addition to the far too narrow governmental program of Enterprise Zones in vogue at the time. The prophetic admonition in Scripture to “seek the Shalom of the city” leapt off the page from the Letter of Jeremiah. What about United Methodist--initiated Shalom Zones to be organized in myriad urban communities through which vast networks of religious bodies and called servant leaders, along with the private and public sectors, would work together to transform urban America one broken neighborhood at a time?
I drafted a proposal for creating a shalom zone in long-hand on paper and early the next morning passed it by as many people as I could. It required some early morning caucusing with the Los Angeles delegation and others who care about cities and urban ministries.  The Los Angeles delegation affirmed it enthusiastically and suggested that the first Shalom Zone be organized in South Central LA.
Before the first session of the day, the proposal had a lot of support.
I was positioned directly in front of the chair as the last clergy to be seated. I was ready with my card to be raised at an appropriate time. The Presiding Bishop saw it right away and recognized me. I read what I had written out during the night and brokered with others in the early morning. 
Many spoke in favor of the resolution and a few against it. The language of shalom was acceptable and supported. Specific actions were suggested. Many of the Good News delegates understood shalom as a faithful, tangible, biblical response to violence and injustice.
When the vote was taken, support for the motion and the concept behind it was overwhelming. The General Conference adopted the proposal nearly unanimously. It was one of the few times that the General Conference was able to make a bold decision with bipartisan support.
The work began almost immediately. And, the rest of the story is now both history and an indication of God’s preferred future of Shalom for all humankind.
Providentially, it has been my joy in Shalom’s 20th Anniversary Year initially to organize and then watch committed young adult leaders work with their older United Methodist and other colleagues to develop the dynamic Greater Hilltop Area Shalom Zone, aka, ‘The Zone’ in a forsaken neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio. To see hundreds of at-risk youngsters served regularly, legal and health clinics emerge, non-violence and conflict mediation taught as lifestyles, and much more because private and public systems are working tirelessly with ‘The Zone’ is a gift to savor.
This gift of the Great Mystery and Shalom’s twenty year history combine to urge me to state unambiguously that we United Methodists have at our fingertips a viable model for faithful ministry with the poor for the transformation of lives, families, and the world God loves. This proven model is within reach for effective, faithful ministry with the poor, if this is a genuine priority and not a mere rhetorical Resolution.
May it be that we United Methodists will covenant with God and each other to seek the Shalom of the city in urban America and around the globe.                                                                                                     Bishop C. Joseph Sprague
April 29, 2012    
About Communities of Shalom:
Communities of Shalom is an international network of congregations and community partners that work together to transform their communities from the inside out. Trained Shalom teams engage congregations and communities to build a future of hope and peace together through multi-cultural, multi-faith, collaboration and asset-based community development.  
The Shalom Resource Center at Drew University provides on-going training, technical assistance, and relational support to 150 registered communities of shalom 
               For more information, visit


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Seeking Shalom in Tampa this week

Our Shalom Team is in Tampa joining forces with other peace and justice ministries of the United Methodist Church in seeking the shalom of the city where we have been sent (Jeremiah 29:7). If you are in Tampa at General Conference, let me know. I plan to blog, tweet and link this week during the 20th Anniversary of Drew Shalom
Explore what is going on in other communities and United Methodist churches around the world and share your stories about your ministries and/or ministry with the poor.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why I attended OWS Spring Training

Call to Action:  99% Spring Training      

With the goal of training 100,000 people this Spring in community organizing and non-violent direct action, the 99% Spring coalition hopes to gather a critical mass of people power to “draw a line in the sand and say ‘No More!” to the corporations and wealthy power brokers who collectively have hijacked our democracy.

Given last year’s Supreme Court decision granting corporations and superpacs legal provisions to spend unlimited money to influence the political process, I personally agree that its time to demand a “separation of Corporation and State.”  (See my earlier posts on OWS   for why I have supported this original and primary goal of Occupy)

A broad-base coalition of national organizations (initiated by Occupy Wall Street and invited community activists to today’s training session in various cities across the country. Several friends and supporters of Communities of Shalom registered for trainings in Harlem, Morristown, Oakland, Los Angeles, and other cities where Communities of Shalom is active.

I was quite impressed with the quality of the Spring Training in both its content and video-based delivery system utilizing a local facilitator supplied by    Link to Training Materials:

In my local group in Morristown, NJ, twenty people from the area gathered in the living room of a private home for the 3-hour training.  We first watched a short video of interviews with ordinary people saying why they identified with the so-called 99%.  Then, each of us were invited to write down and then share our story of why we are part of the 99%. 

Storytelling:  “We are the 99%”

Those who identify with the so-called 1% of the world's population (characterized as extremely rich individuals and corporations who exercise an unfair and controlling influence on the American economy, political system, and democracy) certainly have their story to tell.   And those who identify with the so-called 1% also have a story to tell of personal struggles and frustrations with the current economic hardships and inequities in America.  We are tempted to blame the wealthy for the plight of the poor, yet a couple of us in the room expressed gratitude for many of the 1% (e.g. Warren Buffet, George Soros and many others) for their support of the 99% movement.  

We all told our story in brief, and I cannot tell other people's stories, but here's the story I told about myself and why I came today to participate in the 99% Spring Training:  

“My name is Michael, I teach at Drew Theological School where I direct the Shalom Resource & Training Center for the 8-million-member United Methodist Church’s Communities of Shalom Initiative I’ve participated with OccupyFaithNYC since October 2011 in support of many of the goals of OWS.  Our coalition of faith-based organizations and churches facilitated the interfaith services on Sundays in Zuccotti Park, led the Occupy march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and tried to Occupy Christmas at Trinity Church Wall Street where several in our group were arrested for non-violent direct action.

I’m here today in to honor the legacy of the man who instigated the United Methodist Shalom Initiative--Rev. James Lawson, colleague of Martin Luther King, JR.  asked by King to train the Freedom Riders and others in civil right movement in Nonviolent Direct Action (long before he helped us start Communities of Shalom in April 1992 in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict in LA—exactly 20 years ago).

Personally, I don’t really feel part of the 99%.  Based on the economic indicators of poverty and wealth.  I have a good job, adequate salary, no student loans to repay, and we own our home with equity.   I’m probably part of the 95% rather than the 99% in terms of net worth and income.  But as a Christian, I’m in direct solidarity with the frustrations and struggles of the 99%, and with them believe that “a better world is possible.”  I believe in the separation of Corporations and State, and believe its time to stand up to the principalities and powers that have a stranglehold on our economy and democratic process.“

What I did not feel led to say is why I am disappointed with Occupy in terms of its strategy for social transformation. I think that OWS was distracted by taking on too many social issues (bank foreclosures, global warming, reproductive rights, support for LBGT justice issues, support for Unions, etc) and incorporating too many advocacy organizations within their ranks.  The original call to occupy Wall Street last summer was to focus world attention on the disproportionate influence of Wall Street, Big Corporations and the interests of the Wealthy on Lawmakers in Washington DC.   After the early success of OWS, there now are too many ideological groups and social causes diluting the movement that still is without identifiable leaders and realistic, clear-cut proposals for incremental change (as the Civil Rights Movement was wise enough to do).

Nonetheless, I appreciated the group of citizens I was with and the training we received today from our gifted facilitator, Hatem.

I was delighted that United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader James Lawson was featured in the OWS training video on the history of non-violent direct action in America, and proud of is connection to Communities of Shalom.  (Rev. Lawson is the Honorary Co-Chair of the 20th Anniversary Shalom Summit in Los Angeles in October 2012)

Among the Direct Actions that members of the group came up with during the training was to occupy the Post Office in wealthy Mendham, NJ (and other cities in the country) on Monday, April 17 (Tax Day)—in order to attract media attention and raise awareness about the low tax rate many of the 1% enjoy due to legal loopholes for tax avoidance and passive income provisions in the Tax Code; and how mega corporations are paying record low taxes while social safety nets continue to get cut out of the national budget by lawmakers who follow the priorities of their benefactors.

Tax Code Reform (starting with implementing the ‘Buffet Rule’) is just one of many proposals by the 99% Spring Training campaign, but its important not to lose sight of the larger picture represented by the movement:  that the “world as it is” is not the “world as it should be” and that “a new world is possible” in which social and economic inequities are made right, human rights restored, community health valued, and spiritual values supported.  I still believe in Dr. King’s dream of the Beloved Community of Shalom, and Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom (Isa 65).  As a product of the idealism of the 1960’s and Jesus Movement of the 1970’s, and after decades of urban ministry and community development work in the world, I still believe that radical change and social-spiritual transformation is possible; and have committed my life to teaching others about the Kingdom of God--here and now and an in the world to come.  

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.”

Friday, April 06, 2012

Time to Own Our Own Rig

WorldHope Corps Seeks Sponsors to Secure Well Rig Equipment in Malawi

Calling all sponsors.  We need $50,000 to start our own well-drilling ministry.  After five years of sponsoring village wells by hiring well rig companies to do the work, we are ready to secure our own equipment, employ our own crew, and run our own well-drilling business.   For more information on this new venture, and learn how you can help, please contact us at

WorldHope Corps began drilling boreholes in Malawi in 2008.  So far, we've managed to put in 18 deep water village wells in northern Malawi.  For five years now we have contracted with different drilling companies to install our sponsored wells.   Typically, we contract with drillers with rigs based in southern Malawi who are willing to bring their equipment to the north (and we have experienced considerable delays and obstacles in the process).  What is needed is a well-drilling business in the rural north, and a coalition of ministries to support such a venture.  WorldHope Corps is in a unique position to lead such a coalition and to start our own well-drilling venture in northern Malawi.  

A 2009 Well Rig, Land Cruiser and borehole equipment has been offered to us by another NGO that is scaling back on their operations in Africa.  WorldHope Corps is stepping up to the challenge to drill more wells by securing our own equipment and starting our own well-drilling business in Northern Malawi.  We plan to do so in partnership with the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (CCAP Rural Development ministry).  
2008 Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup

Here's the background and the opportunity:

1. WorldHope Corps, Inc was contacted almost one year ago by the Director of Rural Development of another international relief and development organization.  They offered to transfer to us their well-drilling program and equipment (consisting of the rig, compressor, supplies and a land-rover vehicle).

                       Drilling Gear and Supplies

2.  According to their Program Director (who I’ve been in serious discussions with since May),  they drilled 20-30 boreholes a year.  Their ministry venture was successful and self-supporting, but their Board decided to consolidate program activities in other countries and they no longer need the equipment in Malawi.  They are willing to transfer the equipment to us by special arrangement and succession agreement.  In securing their equipment, registration and network, WHC will be continuing the village well work they began successfully in Malawi in 2009. 
3.  Our main ministry partner in Northern Malawi for Village Wells is the Central Church of Africa Presbyterian (CCAP).  We have also partnered with the United Methodist Church Mzuzu Circuit and CitiHope Malawi to drill new village wells. A WHC Advisory Board representing these three organizational partners has been appointed to oversee the new village well program and well-drilling venture.

4.  What WHC needs right now is $50,000 to finance this new, bold venture. We need to secure the equipment in southern Malawi, move the equipment to the north, hire and train a crew, and operate as a self-sustaining ministry to provide clean water to rural villages in northern Malawi. 

5.  WHC has launched a capital campaign to raise $50,000 to support this new venture.  So far, $12,000 has been contributed for the Well-Rig project.  We need a few more major gifts and lots of smaller gifts for this to be successful.  We hope you will consider making an Easter Pledge or Gift, and joining us on this great adventure in 2012!

Scroll down to see our previously drilled wells, read about the great need for fresh water in Africa, and how access to clean water saves young lives.  Then, prayerfully consider making a generous Easter Gift to the Village Well program.

Have a Blessed Easter Season! 

Michael J. Christensen, Founder and CEO
WorldHope Corps, Inc.
P.O. Box 295

Madison, NJ 07940 

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