Not a corporate board…

Not a corporate board…

The Spirit in Action Board of Directors met over the weekend to approve new grants, receive reports and review our program, and also pray for our partners and donors. We also joyfully welcomed Wendy and Terry Silverthorn of Camino, CA to the board! They are longtime supporters of SIA and are happy to get more involved with our work.

I bet it won’t surprise you to learn that the SIA board does not operate like your average corporate board! After reviewing each grant proposal, we take a few moments of silence to reflect and listen in prayer. Then, we each share our thoughts about the proposal and any guidance that came to us in the silence. This listening prayer and consensus model really does help the meetings flow more smoothly.

New Grants!

Over the course of the day the board approved some very exciting new grants! We funded 23 new Small Business Fund grants, and also grants for a LGBT workshop in Uganda, a savings and loans cooperative in Kenya, a bead work and carpet-making workshop for women in Nairobi, and more! Some of these grassroots organizations are for long-time partners, and others are new to SIA. In all cases we remember Del Anderson’s commitment to building relationships, and his openness to sharing knowledge with each other, and learning what we can about poverty reduction and local needs from our partners.

At the end of the day, and before meeting up for dinner, several of us took a walk in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. After the intensity of the meeting, I reveled in the stillness of those ancient trees and the lush greenness of the resilient undergrowth.

Me next to a giant redwood tree!

During the meeting, board member Barbara Deal shared about her experience of meeting Mother Theresa many years ago. Mother Theresa remarked that the reason she served others, including the most destitute, was that it was an opportunity to “serve Jesus in all his most distressing and glorious disguises.” At Spirit in Action, as we serve alongside our wonderful partners, we also have this opportunity to co-create with Jesus.

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.

Encouraging Updates

Encouraging Updates

A family business in Eldoret, Kenya

Purity and her son, Cyril, started a milk and doughnut business (a winning combination!) with a SIA Small Business Grant in 2015. This week, local coordinator Dennis Kiprop went to visit them and was pleased to see that Cyril had already sold out by 10am. Cyril shares his excitement, “I am grateful for SIA for coming to us in time, we have been so encouraged in our family and we have expanded the business.”

Cyril with milk jugs attached to the back of his motorbike. He works with his mother to support the family.

Cyril with milk jugs attached to the back of his motorbike. He works with his mother to support the family.

Supporting Business Expansion

The SIA Board met over the weekend. We took time to pray for each of our dedicated partners throughout Africa. We rededicated ourselves to continue our work of empowerment and encouragement. One of the newly approved grant projects is a jewelry shop. The Namaiyana Women’s Self-Help Group is in Archer’s Post, Samburu County, Kenya. The 25 members make beautiful, handmade beaded jewelry and accessories, wooden artifacts, and suvenirs for tourists on safari.

Board Member Kathleen King was pleased to support this application. “This is exactly the kind of project that we like to support. The women have already learned the skill and Spirit in Action funds can help them get to the next step to support themselves and their families.”

Young artisan showing off the beautiful beaded jewelry.

Young artisan showing off the beautiful beaded jewelry.

Receiving Prayers of Peace

“We are praying for you in the wake of your elections,” is a phrase I have written many times in my nine years with Spirit in Action. Elections in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria have called me to prayer. This week, I am on the receiving end of these messages. One of our partners in Kenya wrote, “I am also praying for you for peace, understanding, and respect in the wake of your new president.

I remember that when in Kenya, everyone I met was so proud of President Obama, a man with Kenyan heritage. Many Kenyans remarked how impressed they were that the United States had elected someone who was so different. May we receive these prayers and be grateful for our amazing global SIA community.

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”
~ Dolores Huerta

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.
Quote3

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.

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

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