Sharing Acts of Kindness

Sharing Acts of Kindness

This Friday is World Kindness Day, a day of coordinated acts of kindness, of gifts from the heart that we can offer each other and that have the power to transform the world.

Last month at my church we were invited to be thoughtful of ways that we could offer simple moments of grace to a stranger. Some people bought a meal for someone or paid for someone’s coffee order. My simple act was pressing the “open” button on the subway turnstile so that someone with a bike could easily exit. This small gesture cost me nothing and yet offered a moment of ease and an opportunity to move more gracefully though life.

Generosity is Global

I like that this is World Kindness Day. It’s not rich people giving to poor people day. It’s an everywhere, everyone acting kindly towards another, or towards themselves. I was moved last week by this story video about Generosity and the Gift Economy. What stood out to me was Nipun Mehta’s awareness that generosity is the answer to the universal problem of inequality. And generosity is present in communities all around the world. (You can watch the full 20-minute here.)

Mbwenu with milk from his cow for us to take home and enjoy. We encountered generocity wherever we went! (Manyamula, Malawi; July 2015)

Mbwenu with milk from his cow for us to take home and enjoy. We encountered generocity wherever we went! (Manyamula, Malawi; July 2015)

Sharing the Gift

Mehta told a story of meeting a poor woman in Japan who experienced a real low point four years before. Her health, relationship, and finances were all presenting challenges. In the video he relays her healing process when she was ready to make a change: “then I remembered that when you feel like you don’t have anything is when you start to really deteriorate your spirit and so she said, what do I have? What are the gifts that I can offer the world; when it seems like I have nothing; when the conditioned mind is saying I am bankrupt? She decided that every day she’d make a rice ball and give it to one stranger. She did it every single day for 4 years.”

Then things began to turn around for her. She experiences a lot of happiness now, she owns a successful restaurant. And she credits the practice of giving the one rice ball as the source of her strength.

That joy in giving is something I know as a donor, and it is something that our Small Business Fund groups know as they Share the Gift with someone else in their community. Their acts of kindness might perfectly reflect this woman’s practice of sharing a rice ball, though in Malawi it might be sharing a donut or tomato.


SIA Small Busienss Fund leaders in Malawi practiced Sharing the Gift by teaching other women how to bake and market donuts and breads.

Go Out and Experiment!

On this World Kindness Day I encourage you to Share the Gift and to give because you have been given to. Mehta concluded his statement in the video with this advice: “Go out and have some part of your life which is no strings attached and just notice how that makes you feel, and just notice the ripple effect of what happens there.

“We tend to think that if you give freely, that I’ll be taken advantage of, that it’s not going to work out. But you might surprise yourself. And what comes out between the two of you – which was previously transactional and now just is trust-based – that possibility is going to be a whole new paradigm.”

Bonus Track!
“Kind and Generous” by Natalie Merchant

Let’s make a difference!

Let’s make a difference!

This Saturday is Make a Difference Day in the U.S. You are encouraged to lend a hand, to improve someone else’s life, to build a positive movement with others in your community. I wrote recently about the importance of giving money internationally to make a big impact, while also noting that volunteering locally is a great way to effectively put your giving spirit into action.

I was impressed that the Make a Difference Day website has 20 projects organized in Santa Cruz! The projects range from cleaning up neighborhood parks and schools, to removing graffiti, to painting picnic tables for public use.

However you put your spirit into action for positive change this weekend, you might take a moment to connect in common purpose with our many SIA partners in towns, villages, and cities across Africa.

  • Canaan Gondwe at the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative for economic justice;
  • Jeremiah Mzee leading Progressive Volunteers to provide education for even the poorest in Nairobi slums;
  • Margaret Ikiara with CIFORD Kenya meeting with girls and widows to talk about their rights;
  • Moses Mukongo with CMAP Kenya for a more sustainable environment;
  • and so many more who are volunteering their time to make a difference in their communities.
Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

Margaret met with 78 women in September to discuss family life and sexuality.

If you don’t join one of your official community projects, consider how you might be making a difference in your everyday life. Sometimes the pebble is cast even when we don’t know we’ve thrown it: “The biggest differences I’ve made are the ones I don’t even know about. If you’re working for justice and you’re living with compassion and integrity, you are probably making a difference in people’s lives every day. You just might not realize it.” (Barbara Harrell-Bond)

Enjoy your week!


Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

Acting our faith – Welcoming the immigrant

This week, with all the news about refugees and migrants running from dangerous situations and lured by hope, we have an extraordinary opportunity to put our spirit into action.

I have been heart-wrenched after hearing about the monumental journey that families are deciding to take, either together or apart, to search for that hope and that peace that is our right. Sadness and death are all around. Fear keeps people from reaching out a hand.

And yet, there are also promising stories of radical acceptance, of people welcoming strangers, giving encouraging words and nourishing food. Churches and secular communities are coming together saying, “We must do something. We must act to make the world better NOW.” And they are finding ways to act, by pressuring governments to accept more refugees and even sponsoring families to come to live in safety.

Welcoming the Stranger

This act of making space for, and welcoming the stranger, is core to my faith. Three years ago I came to appreciate this on a deeper level. (Reposted from my 2013 blog post):

“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. [blog link]. 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.”

“respect myself and my brothers and my sisters

In the coming weeks may we get down to pray and then get up off our knees and act to show our true respect for those members of our global family who are courageous enough to leave what they know to seek a better future.

Am I young enough to believe in revolution
Am I strong enough to get on my knees and pray
Am I high enough on the chain of evolution
To respect myself and my brothers and my sisters
And perfect myself in my own peculiar way.
~Kris Kristoferson, from Pilgrim’s Progress

Can I get some encouragement?

Can I get some encouragement?

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…” Hebrews 10:24-25.

It is a special call to provoke one another to love and to do good. And considering how to encourage people is part of Spirit in Action’s legacy. There are some places – camps, retreats, church groups, support groups, etc. – where the barriers we build up in everyday life can be broken down, and we can reach out to each other. We allow ourselves to encourage and be encouraged, recognizing the light that is in each of us.

Del Anderson, the founder of Spirit in Action, was very skilled at encouraging people. He had a way of speaking or writing words of encouragement that took away doubt so that you absolutely believed what he was saying. Reading one of his letters in college could relieve my feelings of inadequacy and fill me with a greater sense of worth and purpose. I sensed that he honestly believed the truth of his words as he told me and others, “within you is the power,” and, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

Del wrote many inspirational essays, which are freely available on our website. One of my favorites, which I still send out regularly, is Co-Creators with the Divine. In it, he writes:

“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.”

tanya and family and chicken; Uganda

Giving some encouragement to a SIA Small Business Fund family in Uganda and receiving a gift of gratitude (in the form of a chicken!)

Encouragement, when given honestly and humbly, can have a tremendous, lasting effect. That’s why I often highlight “encouragement” as the third leg of SIA’s programmatic stool. In addition to the Small Business Fund, and our Community Grants, we also are called to listen to and encourage one another.

And the encouragement doesn’t go unnoticed. “I am happy that you are perfectly playing your role of motivating and inspiring me every time we exchange emails,” responded one partner from Kenya. And from Zambia, “Thank you so much for mail. I really appreciate for endless support to WCI.” I receive so many emails with words like these. And I also received emails and notes from SIA supporters who encourage me.

So let us hear and answer this call to encourage each other and provoke each other to love and do good works for our neighbors and the earth.

I’ll leave you with my latest favorite words of encouragement:

“I have need to be on fire. I have icebergs to melt.” — William Lloyd Garrison

Lord, give us the audacity to live as though we believe our hands and feet are instruments of prayer. Amen. — Common Prayer (via Sojourners)

The Power of Hope

The Power of Hope

Finally! This week there was some great news about aid programs that really alleviate extreme poverty (less than $1.25/day). And – yay! – the programs with this long-term, positive impact are very similar to our Small Business Program. A recent multi-country study evaluated a program with range of interventions, including “cash to meet basic needs, training on how to earn a living, access to health services, and frequent check-ins from field workers.” In the same vein, our Small Business Fund provides business training, regular check-ins from our local coordinators, and start-up funds for a business of the group’s choosing.

Even a year after the program ended, the researchers found improvements in food security, women’s empowerment, and mental health. “But one of the most important effects of the approach,” the Christian Science Monitor article suggested, “could well be its tendency to spring participants from a mind-set that sees little or no hope of breaching the extreme-poverty ceiling.” The power of the program was that afterwards, people felt better about their future; they felt hopeful. And this, in turn, helps them continue to improve their lives.

"We began this work as if we were joking. Now it gives me joy." A Small Business Fund leader in Uganda makes clay pots and then sell them at nearby markets.

“We began this work as if we were joking. Now it gives me joy.” A Small Business Fund leader in Uganda makes clay pots and then sell them at nearby markets.

Del knew well the importance of self-esteem. It came across in our conversations and in the many letters he sent to me. “Within you is the power,” and “use what you already have and, step by step, uncover results that prove that we are greater than we realize,” he wrote. Perhaps we know from our own lives that money troubles can bring stress and make it even hard to get motivated to make a change. We can’t see beyond the immediate challenges or grasp the big picture.

On the other hand, as families in the Small Business Fund begin to see the great changes they have achieved through their own work, they get excited and hopeful. In part this hope comes from what Canaan Gondwe, Small Business Fund (SBF) Coordinator in Malawi, calls “mindset preparation.” He has on-going conversations with group members helping them mentally prepare to make these big changes in their lives, to seize their future, and to put in the many hours necessary to make their business successful. After three months in business, 84% of his groups report feeling better about their future.Our family has really moved from a minus to a plus,” one family proudly wrote.

When we were in Malawi, Theu, who had received a SBF grant to start a restaurant, testified that the business is growing and that he "has bought everything he needs." Other SBF Members in Malawi  cheer him on!

When we were in Malawi, Theu, who had received a SBF grant to start a restaurant, testified that the business was growing and that he “has bought everything he needs.” Other SBF Members cheer him on!

Even our Sharing the Gift initiative, where SBF families are encouraged to pay-it-forward to another family in need, is part of building self-esteem. I have written about how it gives the gift of giving. Groups that have gone through the program and have been successful get to help someone else. They see how far they have come and then there is the opportunity to bring others along with them.

Was I surprised that hope turned out to be a factor in alleviating poverty? Not for a second. Still, it is exciting to have confirmed what I already knew from our Small Business Fund – that encouraging people, meeting people with dignity, and helping them work to realize their own dreams is the way we’re going to make the world a better place for all.

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