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.

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Today’s story of Small Business Fund success in Kenya is about more than monetary success. Sister Magrina, who received a Small Business Fund grant in 2014, is using her success to encourage and empower women in a very rural, isolated part of Kenya.

Mike Hegeman, SIA Advisory Board member who traveled to Kenya with me, wrote about the inspiring life of Sister Magrina. The following is excerpted from his sermon, “Our Uncommon Life.”

I recently returned from spending six weeks in the developing world, in countries such as the Philippines, Malawi, Ethiopia and Kenya. And in each place I encountered common people of faith living in uncommon ways.

One such person was Sister Magrina. It took us several hours to reach her, down a winding highway from the lush, fertile highlands of northwest Kenya, into the arid and seemingly desolate lowlands of the Rift Valley, an hour’s journey down a shockingly bumpy road, then a twenty minute hike into the brush, all to find a woman dressed humbly in a blue habit and shod with a worn pair of laceless sneakers, sitting under a tree in the limited, but much desirable shade, holding in one hand an outdated cellphone and in the other a bunch of rocks which she would throw one by one to keep the birds out of her withering crops.

Sister Magrina, Dennis Kiprop (SIA-SBF Local Coordinator), Mike Hegeman, Ursula, and her daughter, Chebit, on Sr. Magrina’s farm.

Sister Magrina is a nun with degrees in counselling and addiction therapy, who had given up the “comforts” of her highlands home to come live among the poor of this most forgettable village on the edge of nowhere. Just a smattering of mud huts and farms, with no running water and no latrines; only a paltry stream to water the vast desert valley.

Sister Magrina had come here to plant a farm, not for herself, but to have a reason to be closest to some of Kenya’s most vulnerable people. Here in this village spousal violence is rampant, alcoholism legion and malnutrition ubiquitous. Sister Magrina sits by her crops, and when women of the village or children wander by, she invites them to sit and pass the time of day. She listens to their woes, how evil has befallen them and scourge has come near their tents. She quietly teaches them about ways they can support themselves when their husbands are off drinking and neglecting support for them and their children. She teaches them how to grow kitchen gardens and about helpful hygiene techniques. She encourages the children to stay in school.

Women and children who pass by Sister Magrina’s hut are greeted and welcomed over for a cookie.

She is the presence of God’s love in that place; the God who promises to be with us, is present in that place through a sister willing to live in a mud hut, drink from a simple stream, and hope to teach people to create a sustainable way of living for themselves.

Love is Warm Coca-Cola

Drinking warm coca-cola and eating cookies with Sister Magrina in Kerio Valley, Kenya.

More than anything else, she teaches them about love, and thereby teaches them about faith in God. Sister Magrina says, “In this place, I am not a Catholic; I am not a Protestant. I am one who comes in Christ’s love to make a difference; I have come to a place where no one else will come…to be among God’s people…even if they don’t know yet that who they are.” Sister Magrina lives a pretty uncommon life. Her work bears witness to God’s salvation, God’s delivering grace.

When first we came upon Sister Magrina, we were strangers. Yet, she set out burlap sacks for us to sit upon the dusty ground. Warm Coca-Cola appeared, along with some fruit and crackers. We fellowshipped in the dappled shade, still sweating, and we listened to an uncommon woman, express her uncommon faith, embodying hospitality to strangers…with children in her lap and at her feet.

Sister Magrina shows Tanya her beans and watermelon plants. The crops are dry-farmed, relying on rain.

“Within you is the Power”

“Within you is the Power”

Let us not be tempted to think of SIA’s partners and Small Business Fund members as weak or helpless. In the West, we hear many stories of how desperate situations are in some African countries. Del Anderson, SIA Founder, never believed that hopelessness was the whole story.

Meeting people face-to-face, shaking their hands, and hearing theirs amazing stories of struggle and success, I felt and connected with that power – that Divine spark – in each one of them. One of the inspirational reading that Del often sent was, “Within You is the Power,” by L. Stevens Hatfield. Words from this piece popped into my mind frequently throughout the trip.

May you be similarly inspired by the Power of God that is in each one of us, no matter where we are born, or how we organize our family structure, or make a career.

Tanya with Salome Lowole, Small Business Fund leader in Malawi. She is a widow and baker.

Within You is the Power

Excerpt from the work by L. Stevens Hatfield

Within you is the power. Within you is the power to face life and all that lies before you with unshakable assurance that “the Lord your God is in the midst of you” (Deut. 7:21 RSV).

No matter what yesterday’s problem was, within you is the power to live this day in complete at-one-ment with God. As you walk in the understanding of divine love today, you are strengthened, renewed and blessed for within you is the power to meet life triumphantly, radiantly, gloriously.

Is your body in need of healing? Know that the spirit of God within you heals you. Are you frustrated or concerned over some important business or personal decision? Know that the wisdom of God within you illumines and makes the way before you clear. Whenever you surrender any problem to God, all things are made right and you are blessed and guided to paths of peace, freedom, health, and happiness.

Manyamula COMSIP Bookkeeper and all-around entrepreneur and innovator, Mbwenu Chirwa, with his son. (Malawi)

Within you is the power. If you have some need, if you are trying to reach a decision about something, talk to God about it as you would talk to a loving parent or friend. Give your problem to God. God is your unfailing help, your guide, your source, your supply.

Is there a difficulty in your life that seems insurmountable? Turn your attention away from it. Be still and know that within you is the power to solve all problems. Know that God’s wisdom is always available.

Within you is the power. At times your path may seem unfamiliar and strange to you, but God knows the way. You can rely on God. If you meet difficult situations, call on the presence of God within you. God will answer you. God will be with you.

Jesus, the Christ, demonstrated the glorious truth that the power to overcome all difficulties come from within. He drew on this power to heal, to comfort, and to bless. He said, “The Kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Lk. 17:21). In this kingdom is the power that guides, directs, and inspires you.

Within you is the power to live and work each day with a sense of greatness and purpose in your heart. Keeps your mind stayed on the power.

Members of the Manyamula COMSIP Cooperative and Maize Mill, sharing a song and dance with me.

Wisdom from Del: Grow younger!

Wisdom from Del: Grow younger!

Spirit in Action’s Founder, Del Anderson, was 90 years old when he formed SIA. He lived with a clear mind and loving heart until the age of 102! 

Reverse the Trend! Grow Younger

1. Keep before you the simple truth that you were given life by the Creative Spirit we call God. Your brain – your entire body – was formed and is being sustained by this Creative Spirit.

2. Present with you all the time, the Creative Spirit keeps your heart beating and does the countless things for you which you cannot do for yourself. This includes keeping open the lines of communication between your brain and the rest of you, so that you may thing straight, talk straights, and act straight.

3. The wisdom, power, love, and joy of the Creative Spirit are available to you all the time. For you not to make conscious use of these blessings is like living in poverty unaware that a priceless estate awaits your claim.

4. When you get your little self out of the way, these blessings are free to enter. They start reversing the trend. You begin growing younger. This will be noticeable to you and to others. With the Creative Spirit as your Partner, all things are possible.

5. To get yourself out of God’s way, to make yourself an “agent and instrument of divine Providence” (Lincoln’s words), recognize: With every breath I take – out and in – starts the simple practice of breathing out ego, breathing in God.

an older Del Anderson

Del Anderson

6. Your Creative Spirit Partner will guide you in your treatment of every person you meet. Each will observe the radiance in your face, reflecting the presence of your Partner. Because you have found your place in God, some will surely feel inspired and helped.

7. The body your Creator-Partner made for you deserves care and respect. When you open yourself to your Partner’s guidance, you will choose foods as close to their natural state as possible. Your Creator-Partner has placed in these foods the very elements needed to replenish your body, to insure its health and vigor.

8. In all things, your desire will be to have your Creative Spirit Partner rule your life, confident that the Supreme intelligence knows what is best for you.

9. The world around you will lose much of its influence and control over you. People about you may continue to crack in their mid-forties and early fifties, but with your new understanding you will grow younger.

Grow younger with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life,
For which the first was made.
Our times are in His hand,
Who to be man’s Partner planned.
Who can reverse life’s trend
Blessed younger years to lend.
— A poem by Robert Browning, modified by Del

10. Make this your motto: Mind over matter, Spirit over both.

Read more wisdom from Del.

Do we have the courage to act?

Do we have the courage to act?

Reposting this post, originally posted January 20, 2015, to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday. It is also renewing the call to stand up for the rights of the oppressed people in your country and around the world.

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“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  -MLK, Jr.

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.

Sometimes action means listening. Small Business Fund coordinators listen to the stories of the successes and challenges of the entrepreneurs in Uganda.

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.

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.

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,
Tanya

Receiving the gift of a chicken from a Small Business Fund leader in Kasozi Village, Uganda, 2014.

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