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Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

“We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation.”

Try to imagine that your government wants to harm you and your family, maybe even take your life. You desperately seek refuge in another country, only to be turned away. With effectively no citizenship in any country, no place to legally live, what are your options? That is the situation for thousands of refugees at this very moment. We are watching one of the most horrendous human rights crises of our generation. I know firsthand the fear, dejection and hopelessness they feel. I’m receiving a constant flow of calls from refugees served by Gateway of Grace. Each one filled with fear and hopelessness, evoking doubts of worth and dignity.

There is no shortage of political discussions and media’s coverage of it, and that certainly has its place. But, what has been among the most unsettling comments is the reactions of some Christian leaders. I won’t enter the political wrangling of the matter, but I accept the obligation to correct a gross denial of Biblical authority on God’s love for the refugee.

I have yet to hear a more theologically inaccurate statement from a Christian leader than the one given a few days ago by Franklin Graham in which he stated that the refugee crisis is not a Biblical issue. From the brightest Biblical scholars to the Christians who faithfully read the Holy Scriptures daily, it is clear that God cares deeply for the refugee. And, how we respond or not respond reveals a lot about our knowledge of God.

We became refugees and were expelled from the presence of God the moment we sinned. God in His mercy reached out to us, repeatedly and lovingly to welcome us and bring us back to himself. God gave his only son WHILE we were still sinners, far from Him. He did not wait for us to convert before He loved us.

The theme of exile and finding refuge is undeniably the most prominent theme of the Scriptures. Acts 17 and 2 Chronicles 6:32-33 are very clear about the reason for welcoming the stranger. God’s desire is to bring ALL people to himself and restore them into the fullness of His image. God does not have a favorite nation and He has called us to be His redeeming, loving, and restoring presence to those who are hopeless. If as the Psalms point out over and again, God is our refuge, as little christs, we are the representative of that refuge to those in need.

For the sake of the Gospel, we are also called not to live with the spirit of fear.

We share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our loving actions and loving kindness and by obeying the commandments of Christ that fulfill that purpose. As Pope Francis poignantly said, “You cannot be a Christian without living like a Christian,” he continued, “You cannot be a Christian without practicing the Beatitudes. You cannot be a Christian without doing what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 25.” This is a reference to Christ’s injunction to help the needy by such works of mercy as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger.

“It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do not do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

As I write this, I see faces of our refugees, their tears as they share their stories and prayer requests, their hopes for the future, and their hard work to make a new life out of the ashes of the old one. As my friend Pastor Paul Wheatley puts it, “We are only as good as our ability to help the least of these.” And, that is what we will be held accountable for by our Lord.

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Author Samira Page is Executive Director of Gateway of Grace, a multi-denominational church-based ministry to refugees in the Dallas, TX area. She is an Anglican who studied at Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Ministry. She is herself a naturalized American citizen.

Samira adds: “Gateway of Grace will hold a cross-denominational prayer vigil to seek God’s wisdom, mercy, direction, and healing, and to pray for all who are involved in the refugee process. Consider this your personal invitation. The prayer vigil will be held next Monday at 6:30 at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation in Dallas. A reception will follow. Please RSVP to samira@gatewayofgrace.org”

(reposted by permission)

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Dear readers,

I just heard from classmate and friend Qampicha Wario, who was recently named Bishop of Marsabit, Kenya.  Before becoming Bishop, Qampicha founded and directed the building of a school named Tumaini in Northern Kenya that welcomes both Christian and Muslim students and provides an opportunity for education for children of families who could not otherwise afford it — both boys and girls.

Northern Kenya

Northern Kenya

Qampicha’s diocese is currently experiencing extreme drought and famine conditions.  He recently wrote to his friends in the States:

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Friends, Marsabit Diocese is situated in the vast arid and semi arid region of northern Kenya. This area normally receives two season between March and June (normally long rain) and between September and November (Short rain).  This year we received very little rain and no rain in some areas. There was no harvest from the farm. The short rain has failed and the area is hard hit with drought. The livestock are dying for lack of pasture and people are starving for lack of food. Over eighty percent of people in Northern Kenya depend on livestock for their livelihood. Now that the livestock are dying people’s livelihood is cut and a climate of despair hangs over the villages. Most people have no money to buy food, there are no market for emaciated and dying animals. For some communities, water sources at some boreholes are far away and people walk long distances and wait for hours to fetch water. The prices of food has gone up and out of reach for the already vulnerable communities who have no reliable source of income.

As I write the drought situation in northern Kenya has been declared a disaster. 

The church is expected to intervene and alleviate human suffering. But we are financially incapacitated to help.

Please pray with us for God’s provision and intervention….

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To read the full text of Qampicha’s letter click here.  Please pray for the people of Kenya, both young and old, and for the survival of their animals. And if you are able to help financially please do so – there is a link at the bottom of Qampicha’s letter.

Thank you! ❤

 

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….a friend shared this article on Facebook: “The Five Things I Need from White People Right Now“.

In no way does this seem like enough, or even doing anything at all. But the author asks us to share, and it’s the least I can do.

In grief and near-disbelief that a brother in Christ, musician, and father of four can be shot dead just because his car broke down.  When will it end?

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When I started this blog nearly a decade ago my purpose was to share my thoughts and experiences as I explored seminary and a future full of question marks… to toss ideas out there and to get insights from others. I’m thankful for the many folks who have encouraged and challenged me with your comments, both here or in person.

The Sea of Galilee

I’m now an ordained Deacon in the Anglican Church (ACNA) and am a regular preacher in local Methodist and Anglican churches, and Lord willing will be ordained Priest sometime within the next year or so.

By request of a number of friends, family, and parishioners, this blog has become a place to put sermons I’ve preached — but I’m hoping it won’t be limited to just that in the future. So hang in there, subscribers, there’s more to come!

In the meantime I’d like to invite everyone to check out a new blog some friends and I have put together. It’s called GoodNewsForAChange.  So many people I talk to these days feel dragged down by the constant bombardment of bad news in the media and in the world around us; and yet so many of my colleagues in ministry (professional or lay) see so much good news happening on a day-to-day basis, we decided we wanted to share it.

So if you’re hungry for a bit of good news come visit us at GoodNewsForAChange and say “hi”!

 

 

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I have written often how deeply I believe Americans have a duty to assist people in crisis – the homeless, the hungry, and those who are fleeing for their lives from war and terror we can’t begin to imagine.  Every American has been blessed with peace, opportunity, education, and an abundance of resources, and with these gifts comes an obligation to share them with those who need them.

Today Western Pennsylvania took a step forward in marshaling those resources for the benefit of refugees arriving in our city. A public panel discussion, organized and emcee’d by Liddy Barlowe of Christian Associates of Southwest PA, was held at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary today to reach out to, and help organize the efforts of, churches and individuals who are looking for ways to welcome refugees to the Pittsburgh area.

My notes on the meeting are transcribed below.  Comments are welcome. Feel free to share on social media.

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Welcoming Refugees: How Your Congregation Can Help
Seminar & Panel Discussion at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
March 16, 2016  2:00-3:30PM

Emcee – Liddy Barlowe, Christian Associates of Southwestern PA

Panel

  1. Ms. Williams, AJAPO (Acculturation for Justice, Access, & Peace Outreach)
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency. First point of contact. Services include micro-enterprise development, family cohesion & empowerment, youth development, immigration services, employment services, links to education, jobs, health, and support services.
  1. Leslie Aizenman, Jewish Family & Children’s Services
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.  Services include employment, case management for the vulnerable, centralized immigration information, support groups, citizenship, food pantry (including Hallal and Kosher). Recently received include Napalese, Congalese, Burmese; Syrians are just beginning to arrive.
  1. Barb Murac (sp?), Allegheny County Department of Health & Human Services, Immigrants & Internationals Initiatives
    Advisory Council, Funding, Collaboration.  Services include language/translation, children’s, referrals to other services.  Funds ISAC (Immigrant Services and Connections).
  1. Jen Hays, Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council
    Literacy. ESL programs and English language classes; also GED instruction and computer training.  Professional teachers downtown, volunteer tutoring.
  1. Kheir Mugwaneza, CARR (Community Assistance & Refugee Resettlement)
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.  Services include social adjustment, cultural orientation, employment, matching grants, landlord assistance, senior services. Recently received include Bhutanese, Iraqi, Somali.
  1. Betty Cruz, Mayor Peduto’s Office, Welcoming Pittsburgh
    Mayoral Initiative.  Visibility, awareness, Citizenship Days. Coming events include a partnership with Doctors Without Borders to put up a demonstration refugee camp in Pittsburgh.
  1. Cathy Nieble, Refugee Resettlement Director, Catholic Charities – on the roster but out with the flu.
    Welcoming agency, resettlement agency.

Answers to the question “What are the greatest needs?”

  • Say “welcome” and help the newcomers feel welcome. Language and communication.
  • Health care
  • Housing (for people with no credit history)
  • Jobs
  • Emergency funding (tide-over from arrival to first job)
  • Housing supply (dormitories, homes)
  • Mental health; trauma recovery
  • Mentoring (literacy, career)
  • Transportation (accompany them, supply bus tickets)
  • Space – a place to meet, have celebrations, socialize
  • Education
  • Combatting isolation; feeling safe and welcome
  • Cultural adjustments
  • Not to be discriminated against because of accents; celebrate their culture
  • Household goods
  • Escorts on buses

Answers to the question “What other suggestions would you make to churches that would like to help?”

  • Form multi-parish, multi-church, or interdenominational groups of churches to tackle larger needs
  • Pick out just one thing that your congregation can do (for example, “supply 10 bus passes a month” or “provide welcome packages”)
  • Invite one of today’s panelists to come and speak at church – either a ‘mission moment’ or a sermon
  • Invite a refugee to come and speak at church
  • Volunteer to make follow-up visits for longer-term resettled families (1+ years here). Ask them: “what do you need?”
  • Acknowlege community leaders in immigrant communities
  • Attend immigrants’ parties and celebrations
  • Volunteer in literacy and other training
  • Volunteer as an escort on the bus
  • CARR has storage and will take furniture
  • Work with Habitat for Humanity to refurbish homes for refugees
  • For churches who do not have refugees nearby and want to invite refugees to settle in their area – this has been done in Sewickley; must be willing to commit to full service case management.
  • ANNOUNCE AND TAKE PART IN WORLD REFUGEE DAY – FRIDAY JUNE 17. Events will be presented 11AM-2PM in Market Square downtown.
  • Other upcoming events:
    • “Bread for the World” hunger advocacy, Saturday April 2, Christ U.M. Church, Bethel Park
    • Fall 2016 – 2-day conference on welcoming refugees in our communities

Answers to my personal questions: (1) Why are there no refugee service locations west of the city (Carnegie, Crafton, Robinson, Ben Avon, Bellvue, etc) and/or in Beaver or Washington counties? and (2) with the “Welcome Packages” – do donors need to put together entire packages? Or can we collect lots of just one item?

  1. Refugees depend on public transportation. Must be able to access food, work, and health care either by bus or on foot. This leaves out many suburban locations and neighboring counties.  Western suburbs that are well-served by bus (Carnegie, Crafton, Bellvue) are a possibility.
  2. Lots of just one item would be fine. Suggestion: take the list to church and collect one kind of item each week, going down the list.

While I was listening to the presentations I was jotting down ideas for what I could do and what our various congregations – individually or collectively – might be able to do.

Here are some things I personally could do as an individual:

  • literacy training
  • computer training (tie-ins to PAWW)
  • bus escort
  • in-home volunteer
  • transportation
  • welcome and visit
  • sign up for newsletters and share via Facebook

For our churches, depending on the skills available and the level of interest, possibilities include:

  • sign up to welcome refugees
  • sign up as in-home volunteers, employment mentors, or literacy volunteers
  • invite guest speakers to talk about the refugee crisis
  • provide bus escorts
  • offer access to church programs such as senior citizen services, church dinners, and special events
  • collect items for Welcome Packages (AJAPO, Jewish Community Services, and/or Catholic Charities need these)
  • provide space where refugees can meet for socialization and community celebrations
  • business owners/employers: hire a refugee
  • look around for potential refugee housing
  • work with Habitat for Humanity to rehab homes for refugees (I have worked on a Habitat house in the past – this is very do-able)
  • work with the Mayor’s office to help establish refugee families in the communities where we have churches

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A former seminary classmate just posted that the Westboro Baptist Organization (I won’t dignify them by calling them a church) will be protesting four churches in the small town of Elizabeth City NC this Sunday, May 31, 2015. Elizabeth City is on the mainland near the bay which borders the Outer Banks, and the main highway to and from the OBX passes very close by.  Classmate Rev. Craig Stephans, my former classmate, is pastor of the Anglican Church of the Redeemer in Elizabeth City.

At this point in time the Anglican Church is not on the protest list; protests are scheduled for the local Roman Catholic, United Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopal churches. Nonetheless the Anglican Church stands in solidarity with brothers and sisters in the four targeted churches.

The Baptist group will also be protesting in Kill Devil Hills, just north of Nags Head, on the Outer Banks, the day after.

One suspects the Westboro family simply wanted a vacation on the Outer Banks and figured out a way to make it a tax-deductible church expense.

Please keep the Elizabeth City faithful in your prayers this coming weekend – that all will be safe, and that many will hear the *good* news being preached from Elizabeth City pulpits.

News source: Local press Craig’s response: his blog

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Recently a friend shared this Huffington Post article15 Things Not to Say to a Recovering Fundamentalist Christian – on social media. I jumped into the conversation, but I’m not satisfied that any of us really heard each other (or even stayed on-topic). It’s far too easy to react from the gut rather than listening from the heart, especially where it comes to personal matters like faith and religion.

The sad truth is too many religious groups are abusive to their members. And the abuse is not limited to Fundamentalism or Christianity. Fundamentalist Islam is training children to be killers while causing the deaths of thousands in the Middle East. HBO recently ran an expose of physical and psychological abuse in the Church of Scientology (Going Clear). And people around the world are still waiting for justice in child molestation cases in Catholic and Protestant churches alike.

What the author of the above article is saying is: remember who you’re talking to. Remember what we’ve been through. Be sensitive to what we’ve suffered.

Look at it this way: if someone we knew went to the city on an errand and was jumped by a street gang, robbed and beaten and left on the street, would we expect them to get up and run home and go to work the next day as if nothing had happened? Wouldn’t we take them to the hospital? See to it that their injuries were treated? Look in on them and visit? Understand if they didn’t feel like going to the city again for awhile?

The injuries suffered by people in abusive churches may not be visible but the scars are just as real, and the wounds need time to heal. Here’s what I mean:

If you had a life-threatening physical injury… If you have had a faith-shattering spiritual injury…
  • Would people expect you to go to work the very next day, ignoring the pain and the doctor’s orders?
  • Do people expect you to go to church the very next week, ignoring the pain?
  • Would people expect you to deny your pain and carry on as if nothing had happened?
  • Do people expect you to deny your pain and carry on as if nothing had happened?
  • Would people expect you to forgive the people who attacked you the very next day?
  • Do people expect you to forgive the one(s) who abused you the very next day?
  • Would people expect you to always have a positive attitude every minute of every day through months of rigorous physical therapy?
  • Do people expect you to always have a positive attitude toward organized religion as you work your way toward regaining spiritual health?
  • Would people look at your injuries and question your commitment to life and good health?
  • Do people hearing about your spiritual abuse question your commitment to God and spiritual health?
  • When you complain that you’re in pain, would people ask you why you’re not grateful for all the things you have?
  • When you say you’ve been abused, do people ask you why you’re not grateful for the good things about religion?
  • When you say “I hope they catch the people who did this to me” are you asked why you hate people so much?
  • When you say, “I hope they put a stop to the people who abused me” are you asked why you hate religious people so much?
  • When you say, “I need to speak out about gang violence” would people tell you to shut up and stop spreading bad news about the community?
  • When you say, “I need to speak out about religious abuse” do people tell you to shut up and stop causing hard feelings toward religion?
  • Would people tell you if you really had faith in God, you would pray and God would heal you immediately with no further need for medical care?
  • Do people tell you if you really had faith in God, you would pray and God would heal your heart and everything would be fine?
  • Would people dismiss or minimize your injuries and walk away?
  • Do people dismiss or minimize your abuse and end the conversation?

So if you’re a person of faith and you know someone who has suffered religious abuse, what can you do to help?

  • Pray for your friend (don’t make a show of it, just do it)
  • Listen, listen, listen.
  • Encourage your friend to share his/her story of what happened to them. Let them know you understand.
  • Don’t try to rush your friend back into church. It may take awhile. In fact your friend may never feel comfortable around organized religion again. It doesn’t mean they’ve lost their faith in God.
  • Don’t try to fix it. Your friend needs time to work through the pain and grieve the loss of innocence. Just be there while they do.
  • Remember your friend also needs time to assess what happened and rebuild healthy boundaries.
  • Do share positive spiritual experiences with your friend – answers to prayer, moments with God, spiritual insights, reflections on the life of Jesus – things that involve God but not organized religion.

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