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.

Honoring Black Lives

Honoring Black Lives

Does it feel like it’s been a rough few weeks for the world? News of horrendous acts of violence. Lives suddenly ended. The terrible grief that is expressed when a loved one is taken away.

In my email to the Small Business Fund Coordinators this week, I asked for prayers for peace justice, understanding, and overwhelming love. Usually I offer prayers for Kenya, Malawi, and Uganda. Yesterday I felt I needed prayers for my country as well. 

Many of you know that I regularly listen to the BBC’s Africa Today podcast. It helps me keep informed about what is happening in African countries. Rarely, it will discuss news from other continents. The day after Philando Castile was shot in Minnesota, the African correspondents reported the news. “This [profiling] is not just a problem for African-Americans. Black men – wherever they come from – are vulnerable,” says the reporter, quoting a Malian community leader in New York City. If our SIA partners were to come to the US, they would be vulnerable. I pray that the U.S. can become a nation where the life of each African and African-American is fully valued.
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Honor their dignity

The subject of whose life has value is not just an issue in the US, it’s a matter of global justice as well. A core principle of Spirit in Action is seeing and honoring the potential and power within each person, particularly those living in Africa. We honor their ability to fulfill the life goals they have for themselves and their communities. We honor the resilience and strength and ingenuity that is within people with black skin. 

Nancy, Dennis, and their son Timo live in Kenya. Nancy is working on her PhD and works for the county. Dennis has a degree in Business Administration, runs the Ukweli training centre for sustainable agriculture, and volunteers his time with Spirit in Action. They have a family prayer time together each evening.

Nancy, Dennis, and their son Timo live in Kenya. Nancy is working on her PhD and works for the county. Dennis has a degree in Business Administration, runs the Ukweli Training Centre for sustainable agriculture, and volunteers his time with Spirit in Action. They have a family prayer time together each evening.

Mary Phiri in Malawi has seen huge change in her life since she started her grocery shop. Her husband, Martin, was an alcoholic and there was a lot of fighting in the home. Now, their business has been successful and the husband is sitting for exams. They have been able to hire people to help with the farming and their daughter is in day-care.

Mary Phiri in Malawi has seen huge change in her life since she started her grocery shop. Her husband, Martin, was an alcoholic and there was a lot of fighting in the home. Now, their business has been successful and the husband is sitting for exams. They have been able to hire people to help with the farming and their daughter is in day-care.

Wambui is the local SBF coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. She also works for Alternatives to Violence Project promoting peace and healing from trauma. This month she is attending a peace conference in Switzerland.

Wambui is a local SIA Small Business Fund coordinator in Nairobi, Kenya. She also works for Alternatives to Violence Project promoting peace and healing from trauma. This month she is attending a peace conference in Switzerland.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening. He put together the system on his own.

Mbwenu stands proudly next to his solar panel charging station. This battery is charged with the solar energy and can power the lights and appliances in the evening. He put together the system on his own. (Malawi)

Ruth and her mother Catherine in Uganda. Ruth speaks English and Lugandan and acted as interpreter during our conference there. Catherine raises pigs and runs the family compound.

Ruth and her mother Catherine in Uganda. Ruth speaks English and Lugandan and acted as interpreter during our conference there. Catherine raises pigs and runs the family compound.

How can we promote peace?

How can we promote peace?

(Pictured above: A craftswoman in Kasozi, Uganda tells Tanya about how she weaves baskets, dying the rafia to get different colors.)

Why do Americans care about bombings in Paris and seem to dismiss bombings that happen in Kenya? Maybe because it’s easier for people everywhere to connect and empathize with people who look like them, and with cultures that are familiar to them. I can picture myself in Paris. I may even know people who live there. Knowing this tendency, and wanting to work for world peace, I must find more ways to connect with, listen to, and understand people from around the world. Paul K. Chappell, a peace activist who I heard speak last month, calls these “peace literacy” skills.

Chappell has defined seven forms of peace literacy. We know that reading literacy is important; lets not forget that developing tools to navigate peace is important too. Two forms of peace literacy that I am developing through Spirit in Action are literacy in our shared humanity and literacy in the art of listening.

Literacy in our Shared Humanity

“Think about how difficult it would be to dehumanize people if we were all literate in our shared humanity,” muses Chappell. Quakers talk about recognizing that, “there is that of Good, of God, in every person.” A group of peace-building Quakers use this concept in their work in eastern Africa, during which they bring together “enemies” and encourage them to listen to and learn from each other. In one of his fantastic blog posts about the transformative power of the workshops, David Zarembka writes, “participants often express how liberating the concept is when first they realize that their “enemy” also has goodness in him or her and, just as important that, regardless of what they have done or what they have gone through, there is still goodness within them that they can tap into.”

Next time you hear a news story of violence against (or violence perpetrated by) someone of a different culture, take a moment to connect with the Good in them.

mlk quote

Literacy in the Art of Listening

Part of my intention in writing each Spirit in Action blog post is to develop our literacy in the art of listening. I like when I can include words directly from our grant partners, so that we can listen more closely and discover the similarities and differences in our experiences. This listening is more than a shallow hearing of words, says Chappell, “when we listen with empathy we also hear their emotions, hopes, and fears. We hear their humanity.”

When I make trips to visit our SIA partners, most of my time is spent listening. I hear the challenges, the successes, the accomplishments, and the hopes for the future from our grant partners.

When I met Theu at his cafe (which he started with a Small Business Fund grant) in Manyamula, Malawi, I learned that he had recently returned to his home village after working in South Africa for several months. Many laborers in Malawi make the journey to South Africa where they can find temporary (and often illegal) jobs in the construction and service industry. Sound familiar? But life in South Africa as an undocumented worker is hard – you may suffer abuse from your employer and have no one to turn to for relief. The Small Business Fund grant from SIA meant that Theu could stay in Malawi, rather than leaving his family to find work. “I’m free because this is my country,” he told me.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

Theu tells me his story of starting his cafe after being deported from South Africa, where he had been working as an undocumented worker.

I encourage you to read more stories of SIA partners:

Turn to Love

Once we recognize the Good in ourselves and in others, and once we truly listen with empathy, then we are creating space for peace.

This group of women meet twice a week to weave mats together under the trees. "People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money]."

This group of women in Kasozi, Uganda meets twice a week to weave mats under the trees. “People laugh when you are going [to market with your mats], but not when you are returning [with money],” one of them told me during my visit.

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
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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

Why give internationally?

Why give internationally?

When I put out a call for blog posts that people would like me to write, I got this suggestion:

Q: “I would like a post about “Why Africa?” So many of my friends say they want to support causes close to home, so are less inclined to support causes around the globe. Can you speak to that? I know you have insight about this.”

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A: Thanks for the great question! My reasons for giving internationally fall around five key considerations:

  1. Your money can have a much larger impact internationally.

SIA’s Small Business Grants of $150 can help a family in Malawi or Kenya start a small enterprise. In order to start any business in the U.S. you’d need a much larger investment. Similarly, a small amount spent internationally on de-worming pills can significantly improve a child’s life, whereas the same amount wouldn’t have the same affect on long-term quality of life in the U.S.. Our dollar has much greater purchasing power in so many African countries.

 

  1. Simply greater need internationally.

Many developing countries have much less government and social support available. There is a lot of infrastructure and also individual rights that we can take for granted in the U.S.. Most people in the U.S. don’t face the same barriers to accessing basic financial services or medical care that are the norm for a majority of people in Uganda. Many parts of Malawi do not have running water or electricity. Those are basic things that are so well-established in the U.S. that we can forget that they are there. Giving internationally can help people access things that we don’t even realize we already have.

 

  1. Expanding my community and connecting with the larger world.

While giving locally can help people I see around me, I think it is also important to give to those who are beyond my scope of vision and who still need help. There are levels of poverty and violence that are so much greater than anything I see in the U.S. and it is important to remember them even when I can’t see them. Giving internationally, and learning about international issues, helps me to connect with the global community and form a greater understanding of the varied experiences of living on earth that are so different from my own.

 

  1. To right historic wrongs.

This might be a more controversial consideration but I do think it is important to recall that British, American, and other colonial projects have had massive, lasting, negative impacts on the lives of people in the colonized countries. The U.S. benefited greatly over many generations on the backs of slaves from Africa, as well as minerals and natural resources taken from African countries. Giving internationally can be a way to recognize that history and privilege, and to work for a better future.

 

  1. Finally, in seeking a balance between local and international giving, consider how you can give differently for each need.

It is much more effective to volunteer and give goods locally than internationally. Travel expenses and shipping costs can add up to significant amounts of money without helping those in need. Similarly, you can be a greater advocate to your local government or for societal change in your own community than attempting those same tasks in a culture where you are an outsider. Consider the old adage “think globally, act locally.” I’d add that while thinking globally, also give globally! Money travels easily around the globe and (see #1) can have an enormous impact in countries where people are living off only $1-5 dollars a day.

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Ultimately, I hope that you will all find both local and international causes that inspire you to give.

If you have other questions or topics on which you’d like me to reflect, let me know in the comments or in an email!

Give to SIA’s international programs now!

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