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.

Five years in the making…

Five years in the making…

Reposted from my co-editor, Jennifer Lentfer’s How Matters blog. “Co-editor?” you ask. Read on…

This is how it began…

From: JENNIFER LENTFER
Date: Wed, Oct 5, 2011 at 5:29 PM
Subject: invitation to join “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative
To: Tanya Cothran

Dear Tanya,

As people making small grants internationally, you are part of a growing number of people that specialize in offering direct funding to local initiatives and community leaders.

You have vital expertise to share with the aid and philanthropic sectors as many are wondering  what more can be done to enable grassroots movements to emerge and gain strength.

Therefore I am inviting you to share your experience via the “Small is Big” Writing Collaborative, which aims to gather varied grantmakers’ approaches and experiences as a collective source of knowledge to share widely via an online or printed publication. In the collaborative, you and/or your staff will be engaged in a reflective learning process with my support and that of participants from other organizations…

***

5 years, 22 contributors 

And five years, 22 contributors (and many other supporters and friends along the way), here is where we ended up…

smart risks book cover

Coming April 2017

from Practical Action Publishing!

In a rapidly changing world and after decades of failed international aid, it’s high time to build the dialogue about how international actors can build their own skills and institutional processes to accompany and support community-level leadership and systems, rather than overpower or co-opt them.

Luckily there is a growing number of small NGOs and foundations that specialize in offering direct, responsive funding to grassroots leaders and small, often “informal” initiatives, groups, and movements. And over twenty of them have come together to write this book!

Compared to the old-school, donor-controlled, large-scale, project-based international aid funding, the authors use the concept of “smart risks” to build upon existing human and social capital to unleash people power and social innovation. International grassroots grantmakers are adept at keeping their minds (and perhaps more importantly their hearts) open to the possibility of results when the common good is tapped in unimagined and unanticipated ways.

People in poor countries or communities who want to make change should no longer tolerate an charity-modeled system that makes them struggle and wait endlessly for funding to trickle down to them, marred by burdensome requirements and restrictions from donors. Pushing the sector forward needs smart risk-taking, and the authors’ experience is an untapped resource for the international aid and philanthropic sectors as a whole.

Smart Risks contributors came together because they each have a professional – and perhaps more importantly a personal – resolve to build solidarity with people not as passive recipients of aid, but as whole people and active leaders of their own lives. We know that radical shifts in thinking, attitude, and practice are required and we hope that this book can contribute to shifting the power and charting new paths ahead!

Tanya’s note: It has been my honor to contribute to this process and co-edit these inspiring essays. I also wrote three essays about Spirit in Action that are included in the book! I’ll keep you update on our progress in the next few months!

Living my values through SIA

I apologize that the music videos didn’t show up in the email last week. If you want to watch them, click here!

“I believe that the whole world about me is full of beauty, joy and power, even as it is full of God, and that I can share it and enjoy it if I attune myself to my Divine Plan and am inwardly open toward God and outwardly helpful toward [others].”   ~ Glenn Clark, The Divine Plan

I have a tendency to get caught up in the details of work. I’m an organizer and I like to plan next steps, moving from task to task. And sometimes I lose sight of the bigger picture. When I read the quote above by Glenn Clark, I was jolted back into considering how all the work I do for Spirit in Action is part of my fuller life. It’s inseparable from all other parts of my life.

The quote captures it perfectly. I have been blessed to see a world of hope, beauty, goodness, and possibility around me. And when I stop to be grateful I am reminded to thank God (“inwardly open toward God”) and share this vision and hope with others (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

I love this movie poster like photo! Can you tell we mean business? Slyvestor, Canaan Gondwe, Winkly Mahowe, walking with me down the dusty road in Manyamula on the way to our site visits.

Values at work

“How did you get into this work?” a student at Illinois College asked me after I presented about SIA. As in, how does one come to want to work for a non-profit?

When I started working for SIA six years ago (2016 update: now 9 years ago!) I had just left my job at an insurance company. It was after the switch that I realized the importance (for me) of working for an organization that has emotions, learning, and faith built into its very fabric. At SIA, those things I value most – including the desire to spread goodness – won’t be pushed aside.

This alignment of values and work doesn’t only happen in nonproft organizations. I can trace my desire for passionate work to my artist parents and my professor husband. When the sole focus isn’t on profit organizations, universities, and businesses can afford to spend more time focused on people and relationships.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Giving Nellie, who started a school in Manyamula with a Small Business Fund grant, some puzzles from my nieces.

Job+ throughout SIA

I’m not the only one at SIA who feels and knows this job+ concept. Our inward/outward vision is also built into the Small Business Fund program.

The families that receive our $150 grants also receive emotional and practical support from the local SBF coordinators. In line with Glenn Clark’s vision for a good life, each is encouraged on their individual spiritual journey (“inwardly open toward God”) and asked to pay-it-forward through Sharing the Gift (“outwardly helpful toward others”).

Working together with so many people to improve ourselves and serve those around us is a blessing that is more than just work. Thank you for joining me in this good, full life.

This was previously published on the SIA blog on February 11, 2014.

Dear Friend: A Letter From Del

Dear Friend: A Letter From Del

A letter from Del Anderson:

Dear friend,

I can only look at my own journey to see how sure I was that my way was The Way. I look back with sorrow at my Christian beliefs that helped me to say, “Jesus is Lord,” but did little to allow Jesus to live my life. I feel very grateful and humble as I remember the days of ecstasy, my first experiencing, feeling, and knowing my Lord as my living Savior. Yet the experience was tinged and eventually dimmed by my belief that it was my responsibility to see that everyone else find my living Jesus with exactly the same beliefs and experience. I wanted them to use the same words I did. I felt I had an exclusive hot-line with Jesus and that He was telling me how to lead everyone else to exactly the same experience, in precisely the same way.

del_deskI did not put my trust and dependency in my Christ, who is anyone’s Savior. I did not trust Jesus as Holy Spirit to stir, quicken, lead and change within the lives of my family and friends. I failed to see that if I really trusted Jesus and gave myself as a living sacrifice to Him, accepting others in His Love and depending upon Him in His Time and Way to bring forth Himself, that this abiding and resting in Him, this looking, loving, longing to be like Him, would allow Him to accomplish His Purposes.

This egocentricity, this desire to play God, kept me from being one with Jesus and helped to separate me from other folks and even turned some precious children of God away from God.

I believe that Jesus accepted everyone where they were (and are). He loved them to their next higher step in the unfolding process of Spirit, in their pilgrimage from sense to soul, from the outer to the Inner, from self to Christ.

I believe Jesus is saying to me, “Love, love, love. Let Me live your life. Abide and rest in My Nature, My Character, My Spirit. Give Me your full attention and I will bring you into an experiencing, knowing Oneness with Me. Let Me really take over your life. Let each person plant, water and cultivate to the highest they can now accept and aspire. I love you and I love them. I need you and I need them. Do not build walls of separation. I, Jesus, am the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one can change or gain save this. I do not need your protection or ability. I AM. I only need your availability. Come! Follow Me! Don’t let your intellectual beliefs and differences separate you from one of My children. Keep your eyes on Me. I am truly your Lord, indeed!”

One with you in His Love,
Del

Gardens and pigs in Uganda

Gardens and pigs in Uganda
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Small Business Fund leaders in Amukugungu Village in northern Uganda welcome SIA to their village.

“I would not have you descend into your own dream. I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

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“If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. You should rather open your hand, willingly lending enough to meet the need, whatever it may be.” – Deuteronomy 15:7-8

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The five business groups pooled their grants together to invest in a pig rearing project and planting soybeans.

“On some positions, cowardice askes the question “Is it safe?” Expediency asks the question, “Is it politic?” And vanity comes along and asks the question, “Is it popular?” And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but we must do it because conscience tells us it is right.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The groups are excited with their success and they regularly visit each others’ gardens and piggery projects to check in on progress and encourage one another.

Lord, give us the audacity to live as though we believe our hands and feet are instruments of prayer. Amen. – Common Prayer: A liturgy for ordinary radicals

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