Human Chain of Love

Human Chain of Love

Today, I am sharing a sermon that has inspired me recently. It’s by Rev. Shawn Newton of First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto and it’s about how to show love by reaching out to those in need.

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All summer, I’ve been reflecting on an image—the one pictured below.

The photo was taken on July 8th, in Panama City, Florida. What you can’t see is that one hundred yards off shore, ten people – including a family of six – are fighting for their lives, as a strong riptide saps all of their energy, and makes it impossible to swim to safety.

It started with the two boys in the family getting pulled along first. And then others went out to help them, but caught swept up in the riptide, too. With no life guards on duty, and no rescue equipment at hand, the people on the beach looked on in horror, until someone had the idea that they form a human chain.

Beachgoers form a human chain to save a family from drowning in at Panama City Beach in Florida. (Photo: Leona Garrett)

A woman named Jessica Simmons described her resolve, saying that in the heat of the moment, she was determined that, “These people are not drowning today. It’s not happening. We’re going to get them out.”

The effort started on the beach, with the human chain forming with, at first, a small handful of volunteers that grew and grew, and then moved steadily into the churning surf. In the end, there were some 80 people stretched out into the ocean.

The strongest two impromptu rescuers headed past each link in this human chain until they reached the ten swimmers stranded by the current. They first pulled the two boys to the end of the chain, and then moved them along that long strand of love passing the boys all the way to the beach.

Next came their mother, who was struggling to keep her head above the water. She was sure she was going to drown. By the time she made it to the beach, she had blacked out. When she came to, she heard that her mother, still in the water, was having a heart attack. As everyone in the chain was being battered by the waves, she told the rescuers “to just let her go” so they could save themselves.

The chain grew.

Anyone who could help was linking their legs and arms with their neighbours. In the end, after an hour of incredible effort, everyone, those rescued and each link of the chain, had made it back to the shore.

Not knowing what else to do, they began to applaud—each other and the overwhelming grace they all felt in that moment.

Links in the human chain in Kenya! The SIA team meeting with community organizers and helpers in Mumias. Our links are helping to pull people out of poverty.

Making Love Tangible

If you’ve been attentive to the news in recent days, amid all of the horrific scenes, you have also seen powerful images of people doing what they can to form human chains, to reach out, to rescue, to save and uphold life, wherever and whenever they can.

It is the covenant with life in action, on full display, with very human hands. The covenant that demonstrates the best of who we are, the best that we can be in the face of catastrophe. The covenant that makes tangible the love that will not let us go. With floods around the world, with the earthquake in Mexico, with fires blazing in British Columbia, we are living this morning in a world of hurt.

May we find our own ways to reach out and serve life, by playing whatever part we can in forming human chains of love, be it by providing emotional support to those who are suffering, be it by volunteering to help with the clean-up, be it by giving generously of your resources to aid the relief effort.

May we reach out, in times of natural disaster. May we reach out any time others are reeling from disaster, of whatever sort, that we may do our part to tend the fabric of life, knowing that our lives are interconnected with all of life, and trusting that the hand we extend to others in their time of need may return to us when we, ourselves, need it most.

So may it be. Amen.

Making friends around the world

Making friends around the world

Last week, twelve Girl Scouts (ages 10-12) took the first step toward making new friends. The girls from Santa Barbara, CA wrote letters to their new pen pals: students at Samro School in Eldoret, Kenya. They sent the letters and now they wait to hear back from their new friends!

The idea for the cross-cultural sharing came from one of the girls. Last spring, her 6th grade class had the opportunity to Skype with students in Rwanda. This sparked an interest to continue this international communication. As an avid pen pal myself, I was really happy to make the connection between her and the students I know in Kenya.

Girl Scout Troop in Santa Barbara having fun together.

I was probably about her age when I got connected with my first pen pal from Russia. It was set up through my elementary school and I remember how exciting it was to hear about this girl’s life and to see what commonalities we could find. This pen pal relationship didn’t last long. However, it does represent a milestone along my path towards work with Spirit in Action. This fascination and curiosity about how other people do things contributed to my interest in international issues. I envision that this new California – Eldoret pen pal connection will also stir curiosity and foster connection outside of all the girls’ everyday environment.

Samro Students performing at the 8th grade graduation in October, 2015.

Del, Scout Leader

I am also happy about this connection because SIA Founder, Del Anderson, was a dedicated Boy Scout troop leader. In 1949, he started leading Troop 123 in Oakland. He liked the way that this scouts brought together boys from both the poor and rich areas of the city.

When Del and his first wife Bebe (who died in 1972) traveled around the world in 1956, they visited representatives of the International Boy Scouts in many different countries. As an avid letter writer, and a supporter of the scout program, I’m sure Del would be very happy to hear about this new international pen pal connection!

Del with boy scouts

Del and Bebe greet Scouts in Japan in 1956.

Bottom Line: Generosity and Micro-Grants Reduce Poverty

Winkly with pigs

Winkly and Jane with their pigs in Malawi.

By the time I launched into my opening story about Winkly and Jane in Malawi the classroom at Illinois College was pretty full. About 60 students and faculty were there for my discussion of micro-finance and my passionate defense of micro-grants as the best pathway out of poverty.

In the three minutes before I remembered to press record on my iphone, I started with some thank yous to Joe Genetin-Pilawa (who invited me) and IC’s Leadership Program (for sponsoring the evening).

Then I launched into the story of Jane and Winkly, who live in Manyamula village in Malawi. They are a hard-working family but they lacked access to credit. I flipped to the powerpoint slide of their old house (with mud bricks and a thatched roof) and talked about some of the problems with a thatched roof, which has to be replaced every season…

Over the next 45 minutes I talk about micro-loans, crowd-funding, indebtedness, sharing the gift, and generosity. Feel free to listen and/or look through the slides!

 

IC Microfinance Slides

 

IC Talk Audio

Ripples of Change

Have you seen this map? It shows just how BIG Africa is. It’s easy to lump a lot all together under the label of “Africa.”

And yet, Africa is an entire continent – one that could fit the United States, India, China, Eastern Europe, and a number of western European countries, all within it’s borders! Africa is 20% of the world’s landmass and has 54 separate countries.

true-size-of-africa

Traveling in Malawi, just a tiny sliver on most maps of Africa, I was in awe of the vast countryside to see, so many different languages to hear, and all the people to meet within Malawi.

Besides providing good party trivia, what is the point of thinking about the enormity of Africa? It can be overwhelming to think the really big problems such as pollution and political instability in so many African countries.

A ripple of goodness

Spirit in Action is working in Africa to start small ripples of change, which can reach much further than what we can do alone, reaching to those big challenges. I may not be able to influence the government in the Central African Republic but I can start to poke small ripples of goodness in the pool.

When things seem so great, I look around to see what I can do, what small thing I can give, to make an impact in just one other person’s life. And it turns out, that making this small impact can start to make larger inroads.

Grace is excited to continue high school!

Grace is excited to continue high school! Read her family’s story here: http://godsspiritinaction.org/love-will-find-a-way/

Here’s what we’re doing:

1 Individual = receives a letter with encouragement and self-help materials (gardening, composting, starting savings groups) from Spirit in Action; (Read example)

1 Family = receives a $150 grant from Spirit in Action to start a business and improve their house and send their children to school; (Read example)

1 Community = receives a Community Grant from Spirit in Action to start a chicken-rearing process and a local village savings and low-interest loans group. (Read example)

Sharing the Gift

Then, 1+1+1 = Once people receive, they are encouraged to give forward to someone else who they see is in need; Sharing the Gift, we call it. (Read example)

That gift is shared over and over again. Then, this is my prayer, the gift ripples all the way to the country and regional level. Maybe that person who convinced the Malawian President Joyce Banda to sell the $13.3 million presidential jet and rebuild international relationships to help Malawi’s poorest was touched by part of the Spirit in Action ripple.

Or maybe, someone who realized that they were feeling small in the midst of the great world took a step to help someone by putting a Spirit-filled ripple into action and helped you.

Thank you for making our ripple big enough to reach more individuals, families, and communities than we can know or count.

Margaret talks with one of the support groups

Margaret Ikiara (center) talks with one of the support groups at CIFORD Kenya.

Moving, and Meeting Angels

This is an excerpt from a talk that I gave at Bonny Doon Presbyterian Church, sharing my personal journey and about my work with Spirit in Action. ˜ Tanya

If you’ve ever moved to a new place, you know that it can be really hard. New places can be uncomfortable; they force you to encounter new things and new cultures, even within different regions in the US. You have to find a new grocery store, a new bank, new friends.

SIA faces of compassion

And yet these moments when we are lost and lonely are moments when we are perhaps most likely to be touched by one of God’s angels on earth. Rachel has been one of those angels for me. A kind colleague of Boyd’s invited us over for dinner one Friday night. She gave me something to look forward to, she cooked a wonderful meal, and she gave us tips for things to see in the city.

Simple; but her smile makes me feel like we’ve already been friends a long time. And to me, that’s the blessing of moving. That’s experiencing God’s grace and love. If we’re standing in the same place all the time, it’s harder to meet new angels.

In a way, these angels, even though they are not the ones moving to a new place, are being emotionally moved. There are many times in the New Testament where we hear that Jesus was moved with compassion for people.

Del Anderson founded SIA, at the age of 90, as a manifestation of his drive to do good works in the world. He had lived a life filled with challenges – being a bi-racial man growing up in the early 1900s – and also a life filled with blessings.

Del was moved to compassion for people around the world who were lacking basic needs, like food, shelter, and a livelihood. He was moved by his conviction that people had the skills and drive to help themselves, and all they needed was encouragement and tools to get started.

He began his ministry by providing information to people – information about growing more food, making soap, planting fast-growing trees that could be used for lumber, fences, or shade. And sometimes he provided a small grant to help people pursue their dreams and improve their lives. (For more from Del on Compassion, read from his journal here.)

Through this work with Spirit in Action, I am continually inspired by people who are moved with compassion for their community.

guardian's group with CIFORD Kenya.

Women in the guardian’s group with CIFORD Kenya.

For me compassion is embodied in an older woman we met in Kenya. She is a member of a self-help group within the local organization CIFORD Kenya. She is also a grandmother, taking care of five of her grandchildren whose parents died from HIV/AIDS. When I met her, I saw in her the loving kindness that comes from compassionate acts.

She was moved to care for the grandkids even in her older years. And she was at the self-help group (where we met her) because that’s a stressful job. How will I buy school uniforms so that my grandkids can attend school? Who will collect water so that we have clean water to drink?

The blessing is that this group of 20 to 25 guardians is there to support her. Their cooperative movement means that they are all there to support each other emotionally, and also economically, with a small loan fund within the group. And their movement, their action, means that the children are cared for by relatives rather than be sent to terrible, overcrowded orphanages.

As these examples show, being willing to be moved is to embody generosity and to allow yourself to be an angel to someone else.

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