Building Community: Welcoming the Stranger

Building community is central to Spirit in Action’s vision of empowerment and change. Our grants are about bringing people together – to plant a community garden, start a micro-savings group, educate girls – encouraging people to learn, work, and live together to improve a community.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the Small Business Fund grants spark families to work and achieve together. Similarly, and not surprisingly, at the core of our Community Grants program is a desire to bring people together in larger communities.

I Was a Stranger

CIFORD Kenya engages support from the whole community to support education for girls.

CIFORD Kenya engages support from the whole community to support education for girls.

For the last 40 days, Sojourners Magazine’s devotional emails have followed the “I Was a Stranger” Challenge, which used Bible verses about welcoming the stranger to highlight the need for just immigration reform in the U.S.

It surprised me just how much is in the Bible about the stranger. For example, “When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were one of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Over and over again, the Bible makes it pretty clear: treat people fairly, no matter where they come from; welcome them, because you never know when you might find yourself in need of hospitality.

Hospitality builds community, in part, because it is a gift to both the giver and receiver. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). Both the host and the hosted have the opportunity to meet angels.

Eight months ago I came to Canada – an immigrant – and I’ve received so much of the generous hospitality to newcomers. But just last week I was able to help a woman in the grocery store find what she needed, “I’m new in town,” she said by way of explanation. And so, I helped her, because I once was the newest newcomer. Plus, who knows, she might be an angel. scuba diving in menorca

Community in Malawi

A very full community hall in Manyamula –
all are gathered for a presentation about financial literacy.

It’s Good For You

Welcoming all people as citizens is community-building. In our culture, we are used to focusing on the individual and we can forget the fact that most people are seeking connections and appreciate invitations to join community. Also, research shows that people in spiritual communities live longer and be in better health. This is not only because people are encouraged by their faith, but also because people in community – churches, meditation groups, prayer groups – are taken care of; people in community look after each other.

Spirit in Action grants are ways to build this community. The Manyamula Village Savings and Loans group established a social fund, along with their other business and lending activities. The cooperative, which now has 150 members, waives the initial fee for a number of widows and other poor in their community, so that they can join the group. This small act of generosity brings in the outsider, widens the community, and increases diversity all of which are crucial steps towards our goal of community and empowerment.

Related Posts:

Let us share a story about Del

Tomorrow is World Storytelling Day – a global celebration of oral storytelling – and for our contribution Marsha Johnson, Spirit in Action Coordinator for 12 years, shares a story with us about Del Anderson. If you have stories or memories of Del that you’d like to share, leave a comment or email me.

an older Del Anderson

Del Anderson

It was a moment of awe.  Del Anderson and I sat close beside one another at the computer table in the library of the assisted living facility that was his home.  The occasion: to present Spirit in Action’s new-born website to Del, Spirit in Action’s founder.

Think of it!  Such a time warp.

The San Francisco earthquake, April 18, 1906.

Del’s birth three months later, in San Francisco, July 17, 1906.

And now, almost ONE HUNDRED years later, in 2005… Del and I are close in front of a computer, a very, very new-fangled invention in his experience.

This is a man who had never even used a typewriter because, as he said, his hands are just too big. “Big hands” was also the reason that he was unable to pursue a profession of his early choosing, to become a dentist!

Del was a passionate communicator through regular phone calls, often to elders and shut-ins, and through hand-written letters packed to the maximum weight for the given postage with beloved tracts and small slips of paper containing copies of this favorite spiritual quotes and verses. And to his international correspondents, he often included a five or ten dollar bill to be used “as God guides.”  I expect that many of us who are part of Spirit in Action gratefully remember those precious parcels. (If you never received the precious blue “Seed Thoughts” booklet from Del, you can download a copy here.)

That day in 2005: it was with pure amazement that I accompanied Del through his introduction to the first rendering of Spirit in Action’s website, created by board member, Karl Johnson. Even though Del was closely involved in deciding the content of the website, he was nonetheless in awe of its presentation.

His strong, sometimes clumsy fingers pressed the right keys to progress through the amazing website:

  • Del himself pictured with the SIA board of directors
  • SIA’s history, mission and goals
  • Brilliant, clear photos of Del’s beloved correspondents around the world, and the SIA Small Business Fund families and community groups actively engaged in their blessed businesses
  • Del’s writings available, ONLINE for anyone to enjoy, without the need for envelopes and stamps
  • Contact resources with other organizations and websites freely shared with all the world
  • Inspirational links to Glenn Clark’s writings and more

Step by step, Del’s awareness of this amazing tool, the internet, took hold and he was overjoyed, humbled, and deeply grateful to accept this new expression of God’s all-presence, all-power, all-love, communicated in a new and accessible way. Hallelujah!

SIA's website from 2008

SIA’s website from 2008

Family Matters – at home and in Malawi

Playing jumprope with kids as we wait at a roadblock.

Playing jumprope with kids as we wait at a roadblock.

My mind is in family mode today; my sister gave birth this morning to a baby girl! It’s thrilling for me to know this miracle of life is happening right now.

When I was in Malawi, I witnessed some complex family dynamics. I saw three women walking to town with their small babies held to their backs with wraps of cloth. Later, I saw toddlers running and playing with kids a bit older than themselves. While taking a bus to another town, we passed women carrying suitcases and water jugs on their heads, and as I went for a walk, I saw women balancing wraps of wood as they trotted down the hillside. Women’s lives are very full.

A woman, almost hidden, carrying wood down the hillside.

A woman, almost hidden, carrying wood down the hillside.

Woman with a bucket of fresh fish in the front seat of the taxi bus.

Woman with a bucket of fresh fish in the front seat of the taxi bus.

Men’s lives are full too. Since wage labor (with regular hours and pay) is so rare, most men are resourcefully piecing bits of work together. Maybe they travel to buy fish from one place and sell it further inland, other days they might plant or harvest crops (letting their kids help with the water pump!), and still they might repair bikes or shoes for a bit more cash for their family.

Alan has been able to turn his life around, opening a bike repair stand at the market.

Alan has been able to turn his life around, opening a bike repair stand at the market.

Saul's children like to help with the water irrigation foot pump.

Saul’s children like to help with the water irrigation foot pump.

There is a common refrain that men leave to get drunk all day, leaving the women to care for children and make money for the family. And while this is certainly true in some families (as also is the case here in the US), it’s also true that rural men have a big challenge in constantly seeking new opportunities to make money. It’s not as easy as shaping up and getting a steady job since there are so few jobs like that to be had.

Saul with his wife and children, including one of his nephews whose mother has died with HIV/AIDS. They want to buy a new roof with farm profits.

Saul with his wife and children, including one of his nephews whose mother has died with HIV/AIDS. They want to buy a new roof with farm profits.

Realizing that both men and women have big barriers to providing for their families in Malawi is one reason that some of our Small Business Fund Coordinators focus on family groups for the $150 small business grants. This is an opportunity for both men and women to start something that can sustain the family. It is a chance for both to contribute their skills to a joint project. Both can work to provide for their children in ways they could only hope to do before.

The family business can be a catalyst for families – families of all shapes, sizes, and forms – to come together, spend time together, and learn to cooperate and communicate. And the local Small Business Fund Coordinators are there in the community to encourage this family cooperation – for the improvement of all members.

Related posts about Malawi:

Listening: Wisdom from Del

One of the things I really admired about Del Anderson was his passion for learning. He was still reading, writing, thinking, and learning well into his 80s, 90s, and past 100 years old! This morning, I read one of his journal essays about improving his listening skills. (The quotes are from an article by Morton T. Kelsey that inspired this writing.)

These are some of my favorite passages from Del:

To read the full essay, go to: http://godsspiritinaction.org/listening/

Del and Lucile Anderson, 1982

Del with Lucile, whom he called “one of God’s outstanding listeners.” (1982)

  • Morton Kelsey says, “Unless we listen to human beings, we do not know what they are. In such cases we project either positive or negative elements of ourselves upon other human beings and try to force them into the pattern of what we think they ought to be. This may be a kind of communication with ourselves, but it is certainly no communication with the other person, and no basis for real relationship.”
  • Kelsey further says, “There is no other way to learn to listen to God except by learning to listen to human beings.” This was a “shocker” for me.
  • Then, how do I become silent as I listen to others? I allow myself to be silent with other people, silent not only in speech, but also in my inner response, an inner silence. I neither agree nor disagree with what is said; as I really listen it opens the way for people to be what they are.
  • Listening is love in action. It is one level of prayer. Listening assists me to penetrate through my human ego and “hear the Spirit of God which dwells in the heart of every person.” Real listening is a religious experience. It is awesome; one method of worship.
  • Listening has been one of the missing links in my spiritual growth. Though I spend time daily listening to God, alone in the Silence, I have failed to realize the need for me to listen to people as they begin to talk.
  • Now, we are in a position to be used by God in God’s Healing Light and process of recognizing, acknowledging, affirming, and claiming the Christhood within each other. Then we are God-bearers for and with each other. How awesome! What a mystery, what depth of each human soul!

Who can you listen to today as an act of prayer and worship?

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