Called to action – now

Called to action – now

Yesterday, Boyd and I took our lunch break to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail aloud to each other. Reading it in its entirety, rather than in a series of quotes, I was impressed by frequent references to God, Jesus, and Biblical figures. There are many deeply moving quotes from King about the arc of justice, about how we are all inter-connected, about expressing compassion to each other, about love and hatred. These are quotes that stem from and refer to the deep truths of his Christian faith without always mentioning his faith.

King’s letter quoted Amos and made more than a few references to Paul and the early Christians. He seemed to take courage from those first Christians who were radical in their faith and who didn’t settle for the status quo. Churches today, King lamented, were afraid to be labeled as “nonconformist” and were shying away from the important work of challenging injustice and structural prejudice. He asks: “Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world?”

This letter is a call to action, now. Not to wait. Not to be afraid to be different or radical or uncomfortable. People of faith must be people who stand up for justice, for moral rights, for the inherent dignity of all people.

Some of the team in Manyamula Village in Malawi that is standing up for justice and hope in their community.

Some of the team in Manyamula Village in Malawi that is standing up for justice and hope in their community.

Spirit in Action is not just a “spirit” organization. It is also an “action” organization. We see light and value and hope and possibility in the poor, in people of distant communities. We see that organizations that do not allow people to be actors in their own future, in their own prosperity, perpetuate an unsettling hierarchy of those who are helpers and those who need help. Action is confronting people who make statements that lump all of Africa into a uniform culture, who distrust all people who are poor. I know that is my great privilege to serve others, to give and encourage so that they can realize their own dreams for a better future.

We may not be able to help everyone. But we are not waiting until we can to solve all problems before we serve one person. We are not waiting to be a perfect organization before we dive into action to co-create with God for a better world.

Thank you for joining me on this path, in this action, in this service, and in using the power of God for good.

I sign off my post today with the same words as Martin Luther King, Jr. used in his letter from the Birmingham jail:

Yours for the cause of Peace and [Sister/]Brotherhood,

Joy, when you need it most

My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. — James 1:2

Sometimes it's the photos that are blurry and candid that capture the most joy. Here I am with SBF Coordinator Dennis Kiprop in 2011.

Sometimes it’s the photos that are blurry and candid that capture the most joy. Here I am with SBF Coordinator Dennis Kiprop in 2011.

What does joy feel like? For me, it is a feeling of expanse and effortlessness, an emotion that fills my heart and soul. Joy opens me to experience something that feels bigger than I alone.

Thinking about these positive emotions of joy, it is difficult to believe that the tests in my life should be moments of joy. James calls us to feel happy even in the midst of challenge, when we are most tempted to ignore God and ignore the joy of the Lord.

The song reminds me that, “the joy of the Lord is my strength.” And it is in times of test that I need that internal strength.

joy_nastee_nevThis may be an easier idea to read than to put into practice. When I feel unsafe on the road, or when I experience sickness, I don’t naturally think to consider joy.

But when I remember, when I am able, to consider joy, then the darker thoughts get pushed to the side. I can cultivate joy in those tests by talking to a friend or loved one, by connecting with the larger world, by remembering a past moment of delight, by recalling a beautiful place where I’ve experienced joy, or by putting on a good song and dancing.

Del writes about feeling joy and the power of God in us: “In this quickening power, let me be aware of God’s divine grace activity with awe, wonder and expectancy. Thus the outer condition or negative relationship is dispelled in the light of Spirit. I will practice and exercise this being still, letting go and letting God be God in me, through me, as me.”

That power of God’s joy in us and that privilege to be co-creators with God are available to us when we turn occasions of trial – occasions that, in our human experience, seem despairing – into occasions for joy. 

Related blog posts:

Co-Creators with the Divine

From the writings of Del Anderson (1906-2008), Spirit in Action Founder, in honor of his birthday on July 17th:

God will not do for us what we can do for ourselves.  We are not created as puppets to be manipulated and controlled.  The Holy One does not force us to make certain decisions or to take specific actions, but honors us as co-workers and gives us free will.

Mat-maker in Uganda.
Co-creator with God.

We are created as junior-partners, ambassadors, and co-creators with the Almighty.  The work is not complete until we fulfill God’s divine plan and destiny in our lives by expressing and manifesting “God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.”

As we pray, listen, hear and act, we receive the abundant life; all the good our Father/Mother God has already provided (created) for us, and whose “good pleasure it is to give us the kingdom.”

Let us fulfill God’s divine plan for us. Let us pray, listen and work, resting in the Holy One, waiting confidently and expectantly, alert and doing our part. Thus we discover that we are God’s answer to the needs of humankind. 

It is our joy, privilege and responsibility to transform God’s dream for us into a working, living reality.

You are greater than you know. You are of more value to God than you believe possible.

Let us believe enough to act, to start now on a holy journey of love and faith, obeying our Lord Jesus’ commands, “Feed the hungry” and “Only believe (and act as though you believe) and you shall see the glory of God” manifested in and through you.

Role models that inspire SIA

Preparing for the Spirit in Action 16th Anniversary earlier this month gave me a chance to reflect on the role models that are the foundation of Spirit in Action’s vision. Below is my reflection on three leaders that keep me encouraged and inspired:

We spent three days with Canaan Gondwe in Malawi and it felt like we were there for weeks.

People had told us to prepare for “Africa time” nothing happens quickly or on-time. But Canaan had everything in order; he kept us on a tight schedule, rushing us off to meet with people, see farms, share and listen to people. There were so many in that rural village who wanted to meet us and thank us, as representatives of SIA.

[See photos of friends at our anniversary event!]

Right from that beginning, when Canaan quickly drove us back to his village because our bus was 1.5 hours late, I saw that Canaan was a strong leader. He commanded respect and showed respect to everyone – greeting men, women, and children on the road. He has a warm smile and a booming voice. When he gave his presentation welcoming us, people listened and clapped in agreement. When we went to visit farms, people sought his advice on pig farming and growing tomatoes. People willingly shared their car with him and worked in the office with him.

Serving happens person-to-person

So Canaan is our first role model today. There is a quote by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen saying, “Fixing and helping create a distance between people, but we cannot serve at a distance. We can only serve that to which we are profoundly connected.” She is saying that serving is a closer relationship than fixing or helping. Serving is about being God’s channel and letting the service flow, rather than being a fixer or a helper with our own plans.

Serving creates a stronger bond. It is the best way for us to create chance – really allow chance to unfold.

Del’s dream of co-creation

Del’s dream, included here, talks about connecting with role models who contribute to their communities. Canaan is that role model, that leader – serving others by being there in the community, encouraging them, giving advice, modeling spiritual faith and practice. And his leadership is the strength of the Manyamula Savings and Loans group (MAVISALO).

Del was ahead of his time with his dream about connecting with role models already active in their communities. So Del is our second role model of the day. I think that Del really understood that international service is about encouraging others.

Many feel the call to serve others around the world – people who have less than us, people who lack their basic needs. And the challenge is to allow the service to flow through us, rather than expect the service start and end with us. This is the hard part – and yet I thank Del for his vision for an organization that allows and encourages others to lead change in their own communities. Spirit in Action is designed to recognize and encourage self-help projects and help get those started and flourishing. To summarize – we see that more change can come through a local savings and loans group, rather than a newly dug water well by American volunteers that no one uses.

Channeling a higher power

Del talked a lot about being a channel – Christ’s channel for healing and soothing injustices in the world. So our third role model is Jesus. Following Jesus’s model and being a channel for service recognizes that it is not our own power that will solve the problem or save a community. We see power in others and encourage that. In many ways knowing that we are channels, not the only power, is freeing for me. It lifts the weight of needing to have all the answers; instead the answer is to follow my role models.

Now, just because we are channels doesn’t mean we are inactive or passive – in fact our name, Spirit in ACTION, demands we do something. When we find our local role models like Canaan, we are called to manifest God’s spirit of goodness and love – and support and collaborate with Canaan and his community as they organize to assist the most vulnerable people, get more youth in school, help new families build houses and start farms.

So, it is with this spirit of our role models that we celebrate today – celebrate the model of Jesus, the dreams of Del, and the leadership of Canaan. We celebrate that through these 16 years we continue to stay true to the dream of cultivating leaders, co-creating with them, and channeling support to those leaders best poised to serve their fellow neighbor.

Dreaming Large for 2012!

A lioness looks to the mountain in Samburu National Park in Kenya

A lioness looks to the mountain in Samburu National Park in Kenya

Dream large, my soul, dream large
God thinks His thoughts through thee
If thou canst dream freedom for all
Mankind shall yet be free. 

Dream large, my soul, dream large
God wills for all His peace
If thou canst dream true brotherhood
Some day all war shall cease.
By Myrtle Williamson

I appreciate the beginning of the year because it seems to be a time when people are planning and dreaming. What will I do in the coming year? What are my goals? What will I do to push myself to be a better person? To me, January gives me permission to dream large for myself and for Spirit in Action.

Here are some of my dreams for 2012:

Get youth involved. Next month I’ll be creating a program about Spirit in Action for the junior high and high school groups at my church. I am excited about sharing information about other cultures and helping them create a global perspective. Of course, I also hope to inspire them to help others who are in need and further plant the seed of giving in their hearts.

Hear more stories. I still have so many interviews and photos of the people I met in Kenya and Malawi stored on my computer. It is my goal to transcribe these stories and get them out to you so that you can hear more about what SIA is doing through our wonderful partners and SBF Coordinators. Stay tuned!

Expand Small Business Fund. SIA is ready to begin developing relationships with new coordinators in new communities. I am excited to begin these conversations and to see how we might be able to help one more community create prosperity and joy through the Small Business Fund program. Please pray for this expansion!

Dream small. As in, small savings and loans groups. It was so exciting to see the success of the Manyamula Savings and Loans group in Malawi and SIA is motivated to try to share with program with other partners who are interested in providing low-interest loans in their community.

Celebrate. We are planning a special “Sweet 16” anniversary event for SIA in the California Bay Area on May 5th. We’ll also have a silent auction with some handmade items that I brought back from our partners in Africa, and several items from SIA donors in the USA. We’re still in the initial planning stages. Let me know if you have something you can donate to the auction.

For myself: Let peace begin with me. Be open to new ideas. Forgive others. Work at collaboration and compromise. Improve my communication skills.

Sounds like a great year! What are your dreams for Spirit in Action? Please share the dream in the comments section.

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