Welcome!

Welcome!

This space called “Blog,” while curated by the Diocese of Massachusetts Office of Global Mission, is not the word, nor the thoughts of our Office.  Rather, it is a compilation of submissions by congregations throughout our Diocese, reflecting on the impact, lessons learned, questions, and hopes that have come out of their experience in Global Mission.  While we will try to establish a context to introduce each submission, the “blogs” on these pages are those of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We welcome your reactions, your questions, and your own stories.  To have them posted here, please submit them to Lauren Zook, Administrator of Global Mission, at lzook@diomass.org.  

East Africa Trip Report: Malawi

By Laura Walta, Global Mission Director

February-March 2017

Trip Purpose and Summary: 
Believing in the value of face to face conversations with our mission partners, I planned a trip to East Africa, where I hoped to spend time with eight partners.    My purpose was simple: The Lord called me to learn more about what they are doing, where He is leading them, and how the congregations of the Diocese of Massachusetts might form deeper relationships with churches in their Diocese as they accompany one another on God's mission journey. My respect for them and their respective ministries is enormous. I wanted very much to involve each of them in this effort.

It had been three years since my last visit, and I had invitations from two new potential partners that I wanted to assess.  I wrote to each partner in advance, explaining that I planned to be in the area, the purpose of my trip, and asking if they would like me to spend some time with them.  All replied affirmatively, resulting in a five week, five country journey that fed all involved.  We traveled, we talked, we each shared and learned.  It was a trip of mutual discovery, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as we discovered God’s gifts and began to imagine new approaches and opportunities in each community.

The following is a brief outline of my trip, including each of the communities I visited.  My hosts were incredibly generous with their time and attention, sharing history, explaining context, and accompanying me on my journey.  Daily, I met Christ in them and the people around me, in their radical hospitality and loving care for me as a visitor.  For me, “seeking and serving” is learning and sharing a Christian direction and purpose.  For 35 days, that is exactly what happened, as I was blessed with the opportunity to live fully into my Baptismal Covenant with the peoples of East Africa.

Malawi

Diocese of Lake Malawi, Nkhotakota- host: Rev. Baird Mponda, Dean of All Saints Cathedral

This was my first visit to Malawi, at the invitation of the Rev. Baird Mponda, whom I had met first in 2014 at the annual Anglican Conference on World Mission in England.  We have remained in regular communication, and there is a strong interest on the part of Fr. Baird for a relational congregational partnership of the sort that we encourage and support in the Diocese of Massachusetts.  The Diocese of Birmingham (England) has a formal link with all four Dioceses of Malawi.  I have been in touch with them to ensure a collaborative approach.  I was honored to stay in the home of Fr. Baird, with his wife Grief, and his three small children- Chastity (7), Elite (3), and newborn Triumph.  The Cathedral sits on the site of missionary Livingstone, who in 1861 convinced the Chichewa chiefs to stop selling slaves to traders.  British missionaries arrived in 1894 to watchdog the treaty.  They built a church and house, and opened a primary school on their veranda for 100 village kids.  The current primary school on the property (serving 2000 students) was originally a school for the deaf and blind until 1945. 

Location All Saints Cathedral, Nkhotakota

Summary:  Architecture on the grounds was first built around 1900 and additions were made in 1950.  The current cathedral was completed in 1901 in traditional English style.  Eventually, they need to build a new Cathedral as the present one does not hold all congregants (800+ plus over 400 children) I met with the wardens and all of the leaders (chair, treasurer, secretary) of the various church ministries.  These are committed lay leaders, each passionate about their ministry.

Ministries:

  • Development- focused on a new roof, and completion of the Diocesan offices.  Would like to rehabilitate the Guest House, and restore the cemetery grounds where all previous Canons have been buried. Also looking to build a fence around the property to keep out stray goats, and provide additional security to the compound, which includes the primary school and the hospital. 
     
  • Mother’s Union- has 200 members, focuses on maintaining the sanctity of mothers faith, providing marriage support, child rearing assistance, spiritual practice (including Friday prayer meetings) and women’s counseling.  There are also hospital, prison, and aged/shut-in ministries.
     
  • Daughter’s of the King- an alternative to membership in the Women’s Union, its 35 members, focus on prayer, ministry of the Word, and servanthood.  They do door to door evangelism, reach out to the vulnerable, and are building commitment by youth to this way of life.
     
  • St. Agnes- 89 Daughters are aged 9-20 years old.  They are challenged by the range of interests among the various ages, and use prayer and inspiration, along with the wisdom of the Mother’s group.  Focused on ministry of the Word, Christian manners, farming, cooking and knitting.  Traditional and family focused, I encouraged them to take on a role in helping girls to develop and use their mind and voice, particularly around justice issues that affect quality of life- food security, medical care, education, clean water, sanitation, etc.  With several strong women between the two women’s groups, they might also focus on confidence building, and the power of organization. 
     
  • Father’s Union- coordinating with the Mothers on issues of marriage and childrearing, the Fathers support the men of the congregation over the age of 16 to develop spiritual practice and volunteerism with prayer and Bible study groups, outreach, and the idea that it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him fish.  It could also be effective to prepare them to see women as partners, and to respect the ideas and voice of women.
     
  • Sunday School- serves 400 children, toddlers through age 12.  At Age 13, young people prepare for Confirmation.
     
  • Choir- observed at least seven different choir groups of various ages, mostly female but a few have several male members, singing a huge variety of upbeat worship music, some acapella, with others accompanied by clapping, piano, guitar, drums, and other local instruments.
     
  • Elders- 4 per ward in each of 6 wards, elected by the Christians in each ward, look after the affairs of everyone in their ward and refer issues to the church. A social resource, they provide training in local village law, lay responsibilities in lieu of a priest, counseling and psycho/social support

Challenges: Drought and food insecurity are constant issues, as are income instability and difficulty paying medical and school fees.

Opportunities:

  • There is interest in training a few girls to be nuns, either here or abroad.
  • Commit strong women to develop the minds, voices, and confidence of younger girls.   
  • Commit men to encourage respect and partner with strong, educated young women who have much to offer in many areas of development.
  • Creation of a safe place for battered women to stay, and to develop work skills.
  • Build a pre-school/kindergarten for village children. 
  • Would like to revive the School for the Deaf and Blind- connect with the school in Jordon (Diocese of Jerusalem).
  • Restore the guesthouse- 3 singles + dormitory for 6-8, small kitchen, shared bath.

Requests:            

  • Prayers and partnership of a Diomass congregation
  • Prayer books and hymnals ?(Chichewa if possible); Way of the Cross pictures
  • Fr. Baird needs to finish his Bachelor’s degree (Malawi seminary is a 3 year certificate program) and would like to get his Masters in Family Therapy or Social Work
  • Well, bore hole drill to bring clean water to all of the villages, schools and hospitals without it

 

Location: Bishop Mtexateka Secondary School, Nkhotakota, Mr. Jasmine- headmaster

Summary: Rated #6 in the country, 90% of students pass 10th grade, and 80% of the students pass 12th grade, with 18% going on to university.  New curriculum adds topics, pupil centered teaching models, and emphasis on physics and chemistry. Of the 456 students, 50% are female.  Many live on-site in the hostel.  Class size is around 35.

Ministry:

  • The school serves both Christian and Muslim students in a peaceful community where the two faiths often inter-marry.  Muslims adapt to daily prayer and Bible study.
     
  • Lay Leader Training in leadership, finance, liturgy and discipline
     
  • Youth Seminars on behavioral change, HIV/AIDS/STDs, substance abuse, crime, peace
     
  • Agricultural activities 10 acres- maize, ground nuts, rice, banana
     
  • Vocational training- tailoring, carpentry
     
  • Religious seminars-conference room also used by other churches
     
  • Reforestation project, Solar Lamp distribution project to fishermen

Challenges:

  • No government funding, dependent on fees in a fishing/farming community
  • Need additional hostels for students who travel great distance to attend
  • Water and electricity are inconsistent
  • No permanent donors
  • Variable farm results due to floods and droughts

Opportunities:   

  • Accredited vocational training options for the 82% who do not go on to university
  • Fence to provide security
  • Livestock farming
  • Additional Hostel for 160 girls

Requests:

  • Prayers and partnership
  • Headmaster needs a Master’s Degree

 

Location:   St. Ann’s Hospital (Diocesan), Nkhotakota

Summary:
This is a level 3 hospital with 180 beds, providing universal coverage to women and children only, serving an 80km radius.  Salaries are paid by the government.

Ministry:

  • Treats Christian and Muslim community without discrimination
  • Serves 6808 outpatient mothers and 1921 of their children under age 5, with 194 antenatal surgeries.
  • Serves 1234 outpatients with HIV/AIDS and a small number of family planning                     Serves 1552 inpatient (excluding deliveries), plus 210 inpatient deliveries including 104 C sections, and 304 general surgeries

Challenges:

  • Many- a rural area with no health insurance, dependent on inconsistent incomes from farming and fishing, makes for inconsistent user fees to cover fixed expenses. 
  • Only room for problem pregnancies and previous C Sections, 60% deliver at home- government wants 100%
  • A shortage in medical graduates (one school) staying in Malawi makes filling vacancies difficult (up to 2 years) and retaining staff even harder with stiff competition by other providers.
  • The hospital has no computers, and a manual accounting system
  • Unreliable electricity
  • Hospital runs at an annual deficit to the detriment of plant and equipment maintenance and repair
  • Virtually no diagnostic equipment
  • Refer too many cases to worse hospitals for lack of equipment
  • New attention on non-communicable diseases but no resources


Opportunities:

  • Continuing education and advancement opportunities for support staff                               
  • Develop local mentors and resources
  • Low cost prescription medicines
  • Rehab staff housing
  • Identify used medical equipment resources
  • Internship site for a medical school?

Requests:

  • Prayers and partnership
  • 20 computers and an intranet
  • Even just one computer and some accounting software?
  • Medical equipment: Infant resuscitation equipment, fetal monitors, warming machine, nebulizers for asthma
  • EKG machine, Microscope, Centrifuge, Chemistry analyzer, Sterilizing equipment
  • Oxygen machines and Generator
  • Sheets and blankets
  • Scrubs and gowns for the operating theater
  • Surgical scissors and forceps

 

East Africa Trip Report (February-March 2017)

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By Laura Walta, Global Mission Project Director

Trip Purpose and Summary

Believing in the value of face to face conversations with our mission partners, I planned a trip to East Africa, where I hoped to spend time with eight partners. My purpose was simple: The Lord called me to learn more about what they are doing, where He is leading them, and how the congregations of the Diocese of Massachusetts might form deeper relationships with churches in their Diocese as they accompany one another on God's mission journey. My respect for them and their respective ministries is enormous. I wanted very much to involve each of them in this effort.

It had been three years since my last visit, and I had invitations from two new potential partners that I wanted to assess.  I wrote to each partner in advance, explaining that I planned to be in the area, the purpose of my trip, and asking if they would like me to spend some time with them.  All replied affirmatively, resulting in a five week, five country journey that fed all involved.  We traveled, we talked, we each shared and learned.  It was a trip of mutual discovery, inspired by the Holy Spirit, as we discovered God’s gifts and began to imagine new approaches and opportunities in each community.

The following is a brief outline of my trip, including each of the communities I visited.  My hosts were incredibly generous with their time and attention, sharing history, explaining context, and accompanying me on my journey.  Daily, I met Christ in them and the people around me, in their radical hospitality and loving care for me as a visitor.  For me, “seeking and serving” is learning and sharing a Christian direction and purpose.  For 35 days, that is exactly what happened, as I was blessed with the opportunity to live fully into my Baptismal Covenant with the peoples of East Africa.

Nairobi- host: Kenneth Chomba, Executive Director of Tatua

This was my second visit to Kenya, but my first time outside of Nairobi.  Kenneth Chomba and I have become good friends over the past three years, working together on a couple of projects, and he was a speaker at the 2016 Diomass Global Mission Summit.  While Nairobi appears to be a well developed city, complete with huge traffic jams, those residing outside of the center live in impoverished conditions, lacking access to food security, medical care, and traveling long distances to attend government schools.

Diocese of Kajiado, Bishop Gaddiel Lenini

This diocese is low church with missionary beginnings, when the East Africa Bible Fellowship came from Rwanda to Kenya.  In the Kenyan Anglican Church, diocese are autonomous, and do not receive support from the national church.  There is a new Archbishop, recently visited by the Archbishop of Canterbury.  The Diocese is working diligently to become self-sufficient, undertaking the construction of office buildings and malls to provide a source of income to the diocese. The building in which the Diocesan Office resides is fully occupied with NGOs and local/regional government offices.  The Diocese has applied for the Trinity Grant through the Episcopal Church for sustainable projects in Kenya, with which it hopes to build a shopping mall.

There are currently 238 congregations (of from 50 to 2000 people each), in 52 parishes (double that of 20 years ago).  Only 90 priests serve all of these churches- only two have the time to be bi-vocational, and pastoral care is limited to members. 

Ministry:              

  • The diocese runs a hospital (really just a clinic) that serves the entire region                               
  • There is a Diocesan secondary school
  • The Diocese tries to remain relevant to people, recognizing paradigm shifts in a culture it needs to both understand and tackle head on. 

Challenges:         

  • Poor churches provide no real funding to the diocesan offices, barely able to support their own priests. 
  • Support of the church by the younger generation is not as strong as it used to be

Opportunities:

  • Bishop desires pre-ordination experiences in other parts of the world for all priests
  • The Diocese is refreshing its mission strategy to go where the people are.  Churches are strongly challenged to expand.  The area is mapped to identify gaps where churches are then planted. 
  • Youth pastors and Sunday school pastors are being developed to engage the younger generation
  • The Bishop is trying to develop a purpose driven church with a ministry of sustainability

Requests:   Prayer

 

Tatua Kenya, Nairobi, Kenneth Chomba, Executive Director

Kenneth’s organization, Tatua Kenya, trains “fellows” in the process of 1) Campaign Visualization, Fundraising, 2) Awareness through Community Listening, 3) Organizing through Community Engagement and Leadership Development, 4) Campaign SetUp, Community Organizing and Mobilization around an issue, and then Project Management of the locally derived campaign solution.  Fellows return to their village, city, or town to implement, with ongoing support from Tatua staff.  A final phase of Reflection and Evaluation prepares for future initiatives.

Ministries:            

  • Kibagare slum- outside the gates of a wealthy development, the residents of Kibgare live in temporary housing of corrugated metal and scrap wood.  Children are handed a death sentence just by virtue of being born here.  A spontaneous development in the 1960’s, with no infrastructure whatsoever, and 120,000 residents in the confines of under 2 square kilometers, the slum is notorious for crime- the rich suburban gates close at 7.  The two government schools at each end of the suburb, and the Catholic school across the street (with fees of 1200 K shillings) are all filled to capacity.  Originally created as a daycare in 2010 for the children of day workers in a small room, they grew to 50 children in 2012.  In 2014 they moved into a new shelter built to serve 50, but 130 showed up.  In 2016 they found temporary space of four rooms intended to serve 120 local children ages 2-9 who have nowhere else to go and 150 showed up on the first day.  With virtually no materials, teachers instruct in all primary school subjects.  Parents afford the 410 Kshillings/month, but then have trouble feeding their children.  Those in the oldest class have nowhere to go come August when the school year begins.  Entre to the rich neighborhood (employing many slum residents) is hoped to lead to organizing and fundraising to support education.  Need a building and materials- operations and salaries are covered by fees.
  • Limuru and Menengi tea estates (Maramba housing)- Workers on the tea estates live in two room apartments” in long concrete rows of 120 total housing units at the rear of the estate.  Intended for workers, it is also the home of their extended families, creating a very densely populated group of people.  There are roughly 150 children, 20 in secondary school, 70 in primary school, and 60 in nursery school, who walk long distances to local schools.  The government pays for school through the 8th grade.  Without options after year 8, girls become vulnerable to men living but not working on the estate.  Nyariara, a Tatua fellow, and Nancy, now a college educated social worker who grew up in the worker community, are concerned about the lack of productive activity for teenage girls.  From different tribes and languages, organizing this group could prove difficult.  All Saints Church in Kamundi provides mentorship, faith practice, sex education, life skills training, and child protection for children being drawn into sexual activity with older men.  Now beginning a listening phase to identify perceived issues.  What factors motivate or demotivate bahaviors?  Are these setting or institutional factors?
  • Athi River- The community at Athi River is a mixed between new, individual homes and older, multi-family buildings erected by squatters- day workers at local construction sites who do not own their property.  There are no water, electricity or roads.  Observing the poor speaking and reading skills of residents, and looking for educational opportunities for kids in the community, Winnie started a library called Tu Elimike or “Let’s Get Educated” through which she reads aloud to young children, provides a homework center, and loans a small selection of books to residents.  The closest school is 7 km away, and many of the younger children simply do not attend.  Winnie is challenged by the question, can you organize a community if there is no sense of community?  (Note- I have received a donation of a large box (75 books) of multi-level reading materials from my Public Library, but lack the funds to send it to Nairobi.)
  • Nairobi- Missionary Beatrice has formed Children at Risk Ministry for children, identifying the most vulnerable (mostly orphans) on the streets of Nairobi and connecting them with mentors and sponsoring churches.  She is looking for a close partner- a church, organization or individuals that would be willing to adopt her or her project as a missionary and register it as a non-profit (501c3). As a local missionary without a salary, she struggles.  She operate from the SIM Kenya offices and they have graciously hosted her for the last fifteen years. She only pays for office bills and not space. In her own words, Beatrice asks: “As you pray please pray for God to come through for me in the following areas: 1) Monthly house rent, water and electricity bills, monthly office bills, food, medical, university education for my children, self development etc; 2) With a seed capital of about $2000 I can start an income generating activity that can sustain me and enable me meet my personal monthly bills. This would enable me more time to concentrate on the ministry coordination, consultation, research and ongoing activities.”

Challenges:

  • Tatua needs funding for staff- currently working for nothing
  • How to make this amazing work into a viable business model
  • How to partner congregations with specific community efforts


Opportunities:

  • Take method further through Kenya though other churches or govt. connections
  • Take method outside of Kenya into the larger Anglican Church- UK connections?
  • Create materials for a US market for community organizing around issues of social justice?
  • Further document and copyright instructional process, training trainers to take abroad
  • YASC volunteers paired with fellows
  • Create pilgrimage opportunity with history and living church ministry

Requests:

  • Prayer and Partnership
  • Spiritual and Financial support

 

St. Peter’s Anglican Church, Diocese of Mt. Kenya South, Ndumberi, Rev. Anthony and  Rev Joseph, 9 members of the Mother’s Union incl. Chair, Nancy

The St. Peter’s grounds include an elementary school, a high school now funded by the government, an office building, two rental houses, an enormous garden, and three school busses.  Two services serve 500 each in a Kikuyu and English respectively, with 400 children attending Sunday School weekly.  I met with 9 members of the Mother’s Union, along with 7 parents, and two former students.

Ministries:

  • The Mother’s Union addresses the needs of women and girls in the congregation and cares for the sick and desperate, the elderly and the most vulnerable in the parish. A Kenyan Anglican Men’s Association addresses the needs of boys.
  • Scholarships- A grant from the Diocese of Massachusetts has been used by the mother’s Union to send the children of the most needs families in the area to government high school and college (vocational school), regardless of faith tradition.  Scholarships pay school fees only.  The Mother’s stay in touch with parents and get regular reports from the schools enrolling the students.  Poor grades result in counseling.  The relationship with parents has added to the reputation of St. Peter’s in the community.
  • Youth- The church also has a very active program of Sunday School, Youth, Teen groups involved in choirs, dancing, and bands, and a Boys and Girls Brigade (scouting) program.  Participants are trained to be teachers of the younger, to visit orphans, to live out their Baptismal Covenant, and to own the church. 
  • Confirmation occurs at 12 years old, with 60 children and 25 adults confirmed each year.       
  • An Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC) program involves parishioners in donating food offerings which the OVC members bring to the children during home visits.  Children are also supported with school fees and materials.

Challenges:         

  • Family, health, and life issues make attendance and keeping up grades difficult.
  • Many participants are not really university bound, needing vocational college training to become independent.
  • Many parents are widows and widowers with multiple, often disabled, children to support.  All have experienced deep trauma.

Opportunities:

  • Connect St. Peter’s Mother’s Union with KCHEF in Uganda, where scholarship recipients and guardians have formed an association to engage the larger community in supporting the education of its most vulnerable.

Requests:

  • Prayer and partnership
  • Continued scholarship funding
  • Would Amy’s new church become a partner congregation?
  • Thanks, love, and appreciation from all for the decision to use the funds for scholarships

 

 

1,000 Mugs: Empowering Students in South Africa

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Parish of the Messiah, Auburndale In relationship with Simunye* and the Winterton and Khethani Townships, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

“We discovered that the simple act of coming had made a difference”

Simunye, is a South African NGO located in Winterton.  It is a collaborative effort established by six Winterton and Khethani churches-Anglican [All Saints, Winterton], Assemblies of God, Dutch Reformed, Khethani Christian Fellowship, Lutheran, and Methodist.  This organization has been engaged in many projects to support Zulu families impacted by the AIDS epidemic. Members of the Parish of the Messiah have visited the Wintertown-Khethani area, worshipped at All Saints Anglican Church, and were very impressed by the scope of Simunye’s efforts. 

Members of the Parish of the Messiah have been supporting projects in Winterton, a small farming community, and the adjoining Khethani Township in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa for over twenty years. 1,000 Mugs: Empowering Students in South Africa began in September, 2008 at the memorial service for Marlene Nelson, a member of the parish, who wanted to make 1,000 mugs and use the proceeds to improve the quality of education for Zulu school children in Khethani Township. Marlene died before she could fulfill her vision, but, at her memorial service, her colleagues at the Harvard Ceramics Studio promised to create 1,000 mugs if Messiah would handle all sales activities and administer the funds.

Initially, the project focuses on establishing a library for the Celimfundo Primary School in Khethani. Christian Ndlovu, the school’s principal, stated that their goal is to make the library available to “learners, teachers and the community…during working hours….”  While we have a longstanding relationship with the Winterton/Khethani community, no member of the parish had visited Winterton or Khethani since 2004, several years before the creation of 1,000 Mugs and before the school was built. All communication pertaining to the project has been limited to phone calls, mail and email.  Encouraged by a Mission Tithe Matching Grant to “make it personal,” a small group of us decided that we had a number of questions that need to be discussed in person in order to determine the future direction of the project.

Meeting with representatives from Simunye, the school, and the community revealed a number of roadblocks to the idea of a library, and we discovered that people in need will say yes to most anything you offer them.  Rather than ask “Do you need/want a library?” we needed to ask “What do you need?”  In the end, it was a place to cook lunch for the children at the school that was the most pressing need of the community.  And so it was that a kitchen was built, using local workers, that not only serves the children at the school, but also the whole community in the evenings and on weekends.

Some Reflections on Lessons Learned

We learned, relearned, or had fleshed out several significant lessons as a result of our work on this project and our time in South Africa:

  •  Before we left, one very significant understanding was suggested to us by Laura and Holly and by reading sections of Toxic Charity. The community that you are reaching out to must define and prioritize its needs. We are sure that the school still would like a library but, when the government could not provide a building and the headmaster knew that the funds were still committed to the school, meetings were held with the school staff and a more pressing priority was expressed. This was confirmed at our meeting with Mr. Ndlovu, (headmaster) Mr. Mokoena (deputy headmaster) and Mr. Hlongwane (community chair) when Mr. Ndlovu thanked us for letting go of the idea of a library and providing funds for a kitchen. So, we learned firsthand that, as Laura observed, it may be that when a project bogs down it’s because something else is needed.
     
  •  We also learned that we had to trust God to work things out. We could never have been prepared for everything that might happen during our time in South Africa. We saw a variety of needs, met many amazing people working creatively to meet those needs, and encountered some difficulties that we never could have anticipated. The difficult political situation detailed in our narrative left us worried and distracted. We did not solve this problem! We simply came. However, we discovered that the simple act of coming had made a difference. We were told that our presence caused the community (particularly Simunye) to focus on the problem and work it through. It was plain to us that God’s Spirit was using the openness and willingness of local people to be involved in ways that would truly help the school community.
     
  • As we worked together we recognized that each of the three of us brought unique and important gifts and ideas to the process of listening, making plans, and building relationships. It will be exciting to see what fruit that understanding bear in the future.
     
  •  Finally, we are humbled by the willingness of the South Africans we met to address with energy and optimism the myriad problems of their communities, to put themselves on the line, and to work cooperatively despite denominational differences. There are lessons there for all of us.

Post Script #2 from St. John’s Church, Beverly Farms, MA: Broadening the Focus

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Post Script #2 from St. John’s Church, Beverly Farms, MA (2017)

In partnership with NuDay Syria, for the benefit of residents in Camp Freedom and Camp Atmeh in Jissr-Shughour, Syria

Broadening the Focus

“…it is with growing humility and a sincere, heartfelt motivation that we continue this mission.”

Over the past year, we have accepted several invitations to speak about our mission to partner churches within and outside our Diocese.  All have asked how they can help and several have made thoughtful suggestions. At this time, we have increased to approximately 50 churches, schools, and organizations making donations to this mission effort.  This mission goes beyond the North Shore of Boston. We are supported by interested parishes from Worcester, the South Shore, Merrimack Valley, and Boston proper. We continue to reach out to other churches and community organizations to develop support for this global mission.

We have also attended the New England Muslim Festival for the past two years at the invitation of Wafaa Wahabi, member of the American Muslim Center Mosque in Everett, Massachusetts.  We have sustained a strong relationship with the NuDay Syria founder Nadia Alawa meeting on a regular basis.  Nadia has kept us informed of the most recent events occurring at both Freedom Camp, site of NuDay Syria Grammar School and Camp Atmeh, site of Future Generation Girls High School inside Syria.

Summary update: This time a High School

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”  Proverbs 3: 5-6

St. John’s continues to support Camp Freedom in Jissr Shughour, which has reached a capacity of approximately 42,000 displaced women and children. Recently, conditions in Damascus and Aleppo have necessitated the growth of Camp Atmeh, a refugee camp, just outside Sarmada, Syria to accommodate approximately 40,000 newly arrived displaced persons. There is a great need for a high school that will focus on young women seeking an education who have no options to complete their schooling past the middle school.

It is recognized that there are cultural differences within Syria, as well as physical and psychological challenges that these displaced persons face living in a war zone. As a result, it is with growing humility and a sincere, heartfelt motivation that we continue this mission.  The recent changing political climate in the United States regarding immigration from targeted Middle Eastern countries further contributes to our drive to support the worst refugee crisis since WW II. The women and children in Freedom Camp as well as those in the new Camp Atmeh are very thankful for our multifaceted support during this refugee crisis, now in its seventh year. Due to security issues inside Syria and the need to protect the displaced refugees in the camps, it is extremely difficult at this time for St. John’s Syrian Refugee Mission to communicate directly with any persons either by internet or postage mail.  Therefore, relationship building will be limited to the local council representatives, Wael Ibrahim of Camp Freedom and Noor Hemour of Camp Atmeh.

With the help of a second Mission tithe Matching Grant, we continue to work with NuDay Syria to help organize the new Future Generation High School in Samarda, Syria.  This high school focuses on young women who have completed the middle school.  Education at a higher level has been difficult to find inside Syria, and this educational opportunity will allow the girls to obtain high school certification. It is the hope of the NuDay Syria to expand the opportunities for Syria’s youth to build their country and funnel their energy on a dedicated and much needed demographic - young women.  If this program meets expectations, then opening the program to adolescent boys is a possibility.

On a sustainable level, the school will employ approximately 20 certified teachers from local and  IDP (internal displaced person) populations.  This ensures that both teachers and students regain a sense of self-worth and opportunity to rebuild their country, while simultaneously ensuring that they are sustainable breadwinners for their families.  Teacher salaries are a responsibility of the funding capacity of the local counsel in Syria.

Future Generation Girls High School opened September 16, 2017 to 149 female students in grades 6-10, and 26 faculty and staff.  It is widely recognized that Syria’s refugee children are lacking the appropriate education to ensure their country’s future.  In particular, future plans of the Syrian Refugee Mission are to continue to support the grammar school in Camp  Freedom and the Future Generation Girls  High School in Samarda,, Syria.  Providing funds for a Computer Lab at the high school is a related project along with donations of back packs and school supplies. We continue to meet with Nadia Alawa on a regular basis to discuss the ongoing needs inside these two refugee camps.

Working with refugees here in our own region:

Our relationship has notably expanded beyond our partnership with Nadia Alawa, founder of NuDay Syria.  We continue to support refugees living in the North Shore area.  One, a refugee from Sudan, was donated a car over the summer of 2017 to provide transportation for work.  This donation was aided with the help of Landmark School’s automotive program. Prior to this donation, two members of our Syrian Refugee Mission committee provided transportation to this refugee’s work place.  Another family from Iraq has been provided with rent money in partnership with Ipswich Refugee Project.  There is an ongoing relationship with Ipswich Refugee Project to support this family. 

Supporting empowerment:

Empowerment is reflected in the fact that the Sudanese family is able to be independent and to have improved living conditions.  The Iraqi husband has recently acquired his driver’s license as well as employment.  He continues to seek the donation of a car. In regards to the NuDay Syria mission, we have collected varied donations consisting of fabric, sewing machines, notions, and yarn. This will further the advancement for Syrian women and girls to form a cottage industry for making clothes and knitted items.  And efforts to build a computer lab at the new High School will allow students to complete the last two years of their education so that they can graduate eligible to attend university.

Post Script #1 from NuDay Syria: Education: Restoring a Basic Right in the Midst of War

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Excerpt from 8/30/16 Jissr Shughour School, Hammam Sheikh Issa Grant Project Overview

 Education: Restoring a Basic Right in the Midst of War

“…efforts in this regard are lacking and have been overshadowed by basic needs for survival.”

NuDay Syria is a non-profit organization focused on bringing humanitarian and medical aid to mothers and children inside Syria and in the bordering areas in Turkey. Emphasizing empowerment through dignified means of service, NuDay Syria aims to develop self-sustainable programs to provide possibilities for displaced mothers to obtain a means of income, while providing their children with educational opportunities, thus normalizing their living circumstances.

Ultimately, NuDay Syria aims to ensure financial independence and a productive future through fostering a mentality of world citizenry amongst those we serve.

For more information on NuDay Syria, please visit us at www.nudaysyria.net.

This report focuses on the Jissr Shughour School, an initiative focused on meeting the educational needs of internally displaced children in Syria who are now located in Jissr Shughour of the Hammam Sheikh Issa village and surrounding areas in Idlib countryside. The mission of NuDay Syria’s education efforts are to provide educational facilities to serve the over 35,000 IDPs in that area. Despite the large number of school-aged children, options for education are currently minimal. A vital bi-aspect of the project of rebuilding this particular area is to revive the economy by creating jobs in educational fields, thus fulfilling NuDay Syria’s mission of self-sustainability.

Excerpt from “School Project” p. 10

Trained schoolteachers, principals, and maintenance staff are available amongst the IDP population. The majority of the teachers are women, meeting NuDay Syria’s goal to support and empower Syrian women. Getting schools up and running enhances the local economy and enables teachers and staff to make a living. Alternative make-shift schools have often run on a volunteer basis with irregular classes and attendance, but by definition a school building with formal curriculum and exams (such as those through NuDay Syria) means wages and an actual staff.

One of the most desired aspirations for Syrians is for their children to receive an education. Often in the countryside, children attend school to only the seventh grade due to the need for them to help earn money for the family while children in bigger cities with a more reliable economy and highly educated parents usually are expected to receive a BA education at the very least.

With the constant violence and war, Syrian children have been stripped of their basic right for a formal education. Building schools and offering learning and an education to these children do not always result in good student attendance or attention to classes mostly because students have PTSD, are distracted emotionally, and in many cases cannot attend fully due to the need for scrounging for food for their families in order for them to eat.

NuDay Syria realizes the complex issues of children actually attending school and began in winter 2015 to ”reward” attending students with school supplies, stuffed animals, and other needed items at the end of every few weeks of school attendance. Consequently, a huge increase in students coming to school was noticed, as was their level of focus. As permitted by logistics and grants, snacks and meals are also regularly offered to children, all of whom are constantly hungry, ideally at least once a day. Conclusively, we have found a huge turn around in the students’ attitudes to school at the schools we sponsor with students prioritizing and appreciating the option to be at school, and we expect to use this same reward-system at our new school in Hammam Sheikh Issa.

One Thing Leads to Another. St. John’s Church, Beverly Farms, MA in partnership with NuDay Syria.

St. John’s Church, Beverly Farms, MA (2016). In partnership with NuDay Syria, for the benefit of residents in Camp Freedom and Camp Atmeh in Jissr-Shughour, Syria

“Our spirit strengthens in working together collaboratively.”

The Syrian people served by this project are internally displaced people who have taken refuge from many beseiged areas in Syria.  According to NuDay Syria, there  are over 35,000 people living in the camp in Jissr Shughur, and of that an estimated 20,000 school age children. Jissr Shughour is in the Northwest area of Syria where they are living in refugee-migrant camp in tents on the lower bank of the Orontes River.  These internally displaced women and children lack the basic living needs of food, shelter,  medical care, and education.

When the Outreach Committee of St. John’s in Beverly Farms learned of the refugee situation in Syria, their hearts were opened.  Upon learning about the camp in Jissr Shughour from NuDay Syria, an NGO working on the ground with Syrian women and children, they knew they were called to respond to this desperate situation.

What started out as a collection drive of emergency items for residents of the camp, took on a life of its own, impacting both the residents of the camp, and many in our own diocese.

Summary

In retrospect, we see our relationship in Syria in terms of phases, as the completion of one goal created an opportunity for the next. We started this effort in early 2016:

Phase One of our mission provided donations of women’s and children’s coats and clothing, blankets, linens, food, toys, diapers, and medical supplies which were collected and safely shipped to Syria by NuDay Syria.  We reached out and received what turned out to be a shipping container full of donations from the eight churches in the North Shore Deanery, and four North Shore public and private schools. 

Meeting emergency needs, and thinking about the future of a country with so many uneducated children led us to ask, how can we help these children get an education?

Phase Two of this global mission collected donations of 300 bookbags and school supplies for Syrian Refugee children.  Such educational supplies are not available in Syria at this time.  This Book bag ministry provided materials for learning even if they are not fortunate enough to have a school to attend. Opportunities were created for women in the camp to teach them language, writing, math, and arts.  We went back to our local partners, and received overwhelming support.  Future plans are to continue to support the needs of the camp, as assed and prioritized by NuDay Syria, members of the camp, and Wael Ibrahim (local counsel in Idlib).

Providing the supplies to support learning by the children in the camp got us wondering, is there not a way that these children could attend an actual school?

Phase Three helped build a school in Hammam Sheikh Issr, Jissr Shughour, Syria. The school was constructed by NuDay Syria’s partners in this area, who are local humanitarian aid activists and reputable leaders.  Materials for the school were transported from Turkey. At this time we contacted and received support from the Episcopal Diocese of MA Office of Global Mission in the form of a Mission Tithe Matching Grant.  The school opened in September of 2016 with 400 children enrolled, 200 girls attend each morning, and 200 boys in the afternoon.

We are working with NuDay Syria to bring relief and self-sustainability to the internally displaced Syrian women and children living in the JissrShughour camp.  NuDay Syria’s focus is to hire women who live in the area to teach at the school.  The new school has been constructed by displaced women and men who live in the refugee camp.

Reflection on the question “Win what ways in which this mission relationship benefits both St. John’s  and the camp residents in Syria?”

“The mission relationship benefits St. John’s-Beverly Farms bringing our church together in the spirit of giving and service to those in need.  It futher provides a mission for collaboration with other churches and public & private schools in the Northeast area of Boston.  For Syria, this mission project benefits internally displaced women and children in Jissr Shughur with basic needs (food, blankets, clothing) and supplies for children’s education.  Education provides an opportunity for each child to learn to read, write and acquire the basic skills needed to be successful as well as employ displaced Syrian women as teachers.  Adds Nadia Alawa from NuDay Syria “I feel love and you are helping us achieve success in Syria working with you.”

Post Script #3 from Tatua, Nairobi, Kenya

 A Reflection on Tatua Fellowship Program

“[People here are] hoping again that they too have what it takes to bring about change in their communities…”

A word from Kenneth Chomba, Executive Director of Tatua

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2017 has been the toughest and most testing year for Kenyans, the fabric that holds us together as Nation is torn by the strenuous political competition that has seen Kenyan communities turning against each other . For a very long time, Kenyan citizens have left development work in the hands of the government and external players who have in turn treated them as beneficiaries and not equal partners. As a result, Kenyans have experienced perennial disappointment with successive government’s failure to meet their over expectations. This situation has left many Kenyans helpless, dependent, and frustrated.

Community Organizing has never been as important in Kenya as in this times. It has been the hope in the face of disappointment, as through Tatua Fellowship we have seen communities that consist of people from different ethnic groups, religious affiliation and economic backgrounds, joining hands and working together, seeing and bringing the best out of each other. But most of all hoping again that they too have what it takes to bring about change in their communities and that they can be equal partners with the government and other organizations, and not just beneficiaries.

Tatua Fellowship is a program that equips community leaders with people engagement and leadership skills to organize their own communities to come together, build relationship, mobilize their resources and lead social change. Every year, Tatua works with 15 Fellows (Community Leaders) and their communities, training and coaching them through their campaigns on the issue that is a priority to them.

 Read more about Tatua Kenya at https://tatuakenya.wordpress.com/

Post Script #2 from Church of Our Saviour, Somerset, MA  

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Africa

“…The schools in Amagoro are very different from our schools…”

 In December, 2013, then 10-year-old Ben traveled with his mother, Kim, to Amagoro, Kenya. In the following essay, he shares his observations from the visit.

When you look out of the shiny window of the humungous plane that came from New York, outside the window is a whole new continent. Nairobi is a big city like any other city with highways and malls. Then we get to Amagoro and it is something different: The streets are made of dirt. There are cows walking on the street, and men with thin strips of wood are tapping them on their tails to keep them on the path. The people in the village live in huts made from dirt and cow manure.

The people who live in Amagoro do not have a Stop and Shop. They have little stands that sell basic foods like apples and bananas. The stands look wobbly and moth-eaten. There are also stands that sell cheap phones. The few concrete stores are painted with bright colors and the names of products like Coca Cola and phone companies are painted on the sides of the building. Many companies like Coca Cola pay to have the buildings painted, and they paint their logos right on the side of the building.  There are no cars, school buses, or motorcycles. People walk everywhere, even though they often don’t have shoes. There are no neighborhoods, and nothing is close by, so if you want to buy something from the stores you have to walk at least 5 miles.

The people of Kenya speak Swahili and English, and may also speak another tribal language.  You may know some Swahili words. Jambo means hello in Swahili. You can hear this word in an iPhone commercial. If you have seen the Lion King, you know a few Swahili words. Hakuna Matata means “No problems” in Swahili and Simba means lion.

The schools in Amagoro are very different from our schools. The schools are made up of several long thin buildings. One building houses the first and second graders, another building houses the third and fourth grade, another the fifth and sixth, and another seventh and eighth. There is a cooking building and a building for kindergarten. The windows are often broken during the rainy season and never replaced. The windows are thin, and the central government doesn’t pay enough money to keep the school in good repair. They need to raise money by themselves to repair their buildings, and sometimes, organizations like Elewana give them small grants to make repairs. In Kenya, they don’t have winter and summer as seasons, but they do have a dry season and a rainy season. Kids go to school in both the rainy and dry seasons. They do not have summer vacation, but they get a month off from school during December and another month off in August.  Each grade has one or more giant classrooms with around 80 students in each.  Six children sit at each desk, on long benches. Most kids do not have pencils, pens or paper. One pencil is shared by many kids, and they take turns using it. In school they learn English, Swahili, Kenyan history, Science, Art and gym.  They cook all the food for the school in a special hut. It has a large fire and the kids collect sticks to heat the water. For lunch they serve rice, tea, and ugali, which is a corn mush. On special occasions they have samosas, which is African ravioli.

Africa is an extraordinary place. It is much different from America, but the people are agreeable and thankful for what they have. You will know as soon as you put your foot on African soil that your life will change.

Post Script from Church of Our Saviour, Somerset, MA

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A mission of learning

“…Future trips should also have concrete goals that benefit both communities.”
In the words of participant, Kim Forbes, Church of Our Saviour, Somerset

In early July 2015, Church of Our Saviour, Somerset, visited friends in Amagoro, Kenya for the third time in four years. Amagoro is in the Western fringe of Kenya where the border between it and Uganda gets squiggly, like someone jostled the hand of the mapmaker when he was drawing. Amagoro is 4.5 miles from the Uganda border, at the foot of the hills that culminate in Mount Elgon. Because of its proximity to the mountains, there is weightlessness to the air here: You feel as if you can blow the heat of the day away with one strong breath.

In many ways, our “mission” is as feathery as the heat of Amagoro. For four years we have been trying to figure out why God keeps calling us here. We are beginning to discern that it may have something to do with education. This trip we worked directly with the staff and leadership of Amagoro Primary school. We worked on a long-term pen pal program that matches students with similar interests on each continent. Our hope is that this will lead to a 2.5 year commitment to communicate by letter or email from each side. While our children played with the children of Amagoro, the adult members observed teachers in the classroom and took notes to bring home to the teachers in Somerset.

One remarkable teacher we met was Evans Okwenye, who controls a large outside assembly like a maestro conducts an orchestra. He is trim with a close-cropped graying beard, and dressed in the universal uniform of male middle-school teachers everywhere: short-sleeve collared shirt with a pen clipped in the front pocket. His pants are creased and pressed, and magically repel the fine red clay dust that coats every inch of my clothing.  “I’m sorry, I have not had time for a visit this time,” he says to me before turning to his students. “I have been busy with exams.” In Kenya, students are tested and publically ranked every year.

After Evans turns from me, he begins to lead the students into their expected behavior for the program. Like every Kenyan teacher whom I observed teaching, he stands in front of this large assembly of over 300 students from grades 5 to 8, and does not move much. American teachers move a lot in the classroom. If a Kenyan teacher is like a conductor, an American teacher is more like a ringmaster, restlessly moving from one end of the classroom to another, checking groups, overseeing projects, balancing learning objectives, “accountable talk,” and independent projects with the finesse of a plate spinner. Classrooms that average 45 to 50 students per teacher necessitate less group work and more traditional class structures at Amagoro Primary.

As Evans is talking to me, there is chatter and jostling, disagreements and snatched papers in the rows of students around me.  “Good afternoon, children,” Evans intones, and magically the chattering, crying, and bickering stop. Three hundred children reply, “Good afternoon, teacher.”

Evans pivots to address all of the children and says, “Today, we are going to have a special program to say goodbye to our friends from Somerset, Massachusetts.” He briefly describes the program of events. Evans gently pats his hands together, and says, “So let’s say goodbye to our friends from . . .  . “ He leaves the sentence hanging, and waits for the children to pluck it from the air. Three hundred children reply, “Somerset, Massachusetts.” He nods his head and smiles. “Good,” he tells them.

Excellent teaching is universal. Evans Okwenye has control of his classroom, provides a recognizable routine where every child knows how to respond, and provides plenty of positive reinforcement. The fact that he is able to do this at an end-of-the-year assembly, after exams, after school, with no help, may seem miraculous to American teachers. Maybe God is leading us to a teacher exchange program. The expertise of Mr. Okwenye who teaches at a large, poor, underfunded school in a remote area of Kenya with very little government resources would resonate with American teachers who teach at large, poor, underfunded schools in America.

Zach Drennen, the Episcopal priest who hosted our trip through his non-profit organization, the Elewana Education Project, says the “professional development for local teachers” is one of the goals of his organization. Although we can support this goal through financial backing, we should also export some of the skills that I saw in Amagoro to our local communities. In this way, our mission is truly bi-directional: a real relationship that benefits both communities and widens our goals from not just improving our church and improving a poor school in Kenya, to using the complementary skills of our partners to improve our own larger communities.

Nicholas Lorusso, another member of the Church of Our Saviour team that visited Amagoro this year agreed that expanding the definition of mission would only serve to strengthen both Amagoro and Somerset. “[This trip] was a nice balance of school and community activities.” Nick went on to say that future trips should also have concrete goals that benefit both communities.

Somerset and Amagoro are in a relationship that we are still trying to figure out. If we continue to work together with respect and patience, I have no doubt that God has great things in store for both communities.

 

Learning from Our Kenyan Partners

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Church of Our Saviour, Somerset, MA

…We came to hear from Kenyan colleagues first hand this foundational truth: throwing foreign money at problems does not transform communities. Communities transform communities.

"For the last 7 years, Church of Our Saviour has been part of an exciting church-based project that involves the larger Somerset community and communities in Amagoro, Kenya and Nairobi. One of our local schools, North Elementary, began a pen-pal relationship with Amagoro Primary school in 2010. In 2012, Church of Our Saviour organized families of children with pen-pals in Amagoro, other parishioners and local educators to travel to Amagoro, Kenya. The youth of Amagoro and Somerset brainstormed for ways to help Amagoro Primary School, and decided to plant a bean garden. The garden fed the students and their families; and excess crops were sold to buy more supplies for the school.  Since then we have maintained the relationship. We began with pen-pal letters, but transitioned to email, Facebook and Skype. While we were in Africa in 2012, we met up with and visited another NGO in Nairobi called “Be the Change Kenya. (They have since renamed the organization Tatua.)

The vision of the African Mission group of Church of Saviour, Somerset is a reciprocal, multi-generational and community-based partnership with two NGOs in Kenya: Elewana Education Project headed by Reverend Zach Drennen, and Tatua headed by Natalie Finstad. Our goal is to empower our local youth and the youth of Kenya to become agents of change in their communities.”

“…in organizing this trip, we joined with the Leadership Development Initiative (LDI), and used that training to help create a plan for this second trip. The result: clearer roles for group members, and clearer goals for the trip as a whole. Interestingly, the training we received in Kenya, from Tatua, is based on LDI principles as well. This made for powerful continuity between trip design and learning once in Kenya. The other excellent example of continuity: three of our partners from Amagoro also attended the Tatua training outside Nairobi, so that our work together was always “on the same page… Receiving Tatua training in Kenya, side by side with our partners from Amagoro, made for a deeper shared purpose...”

Post-trip Reflection on the questions “how this experience affected your group as Christians in your partner community and back in your home community.”

The biggest impact for our group: Tatua training. Why? Because our training, and time spent sharing with Kenyan and Ugandan colleagues, and visits to community campaigns like the home for street children, brought about an epiphany. Our group truly came to understand the difference between charity and justice work. And we came to hear from Kenyan colleagues first hand this foundational truth: throwing foreign money at problems does not transform communities. Communities transform communities. This inspires us in our own work in the Somerset/Greater Fall River area. Our community faces so many struggles, and with our food pantries and soup kitchens we are putting band aids on systemic problems. After the time in Kenya, we feel inspired to dig deeper and to strive for justice through more collaborative projects with the friends we serve.

As for our youth group, their first project involved a supplies drive for the homeless. They made up over 150 “survival bag” backpacks filled with snacks, first aid kits, long underwear, Mylar blankets, etc., and distributed them to folks at the shelters and food banks and shelter motels. Beyond this, the group met with a formerly homeless woman named Ginger, to hear her story. Her message: Supplies are great. Conversation is better. Human connection, best of all. We are learning to think about mission in new ways, and we have our friends in Kenya to thank for this.

Post Script #2 from Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton, MA

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As Equal Partners (2017)

Reinforcing “the ‘new’ way of mission, which is less about donors and recipients and more about enabling people to control their own future.”

Since their 2016 visit to El Octillo, members of Church of the Good Shepherd have become exposed to the rights-based approach of community learning and organizing used by Foundation Cristosal from San Salvador, El Salvador.  They were excited about plans to meet with members of El Ocotillo in a customized Cristosal course this summer, to discuss together, as equal partners, how to grow our relationship, improve their lives, and increase the self-sustainability of their community.

In the words of participant Jesse Paneck:

Fundahmer continues to be an excellent and essential in-country partner for our work, but this year we have been drawn to consider an additional partner.  Through the Diocesan Latin America Network meetings, we were introduced to Cristosal, the Episcopal human rights organization in El Salvador. One of our parishioners (who has been on several of our delegations) took a course on at Cristosal’s Global School in San Salvador last summer. It was a powerful experience for her, making her even more passionate in her concern for the people in El Salvador. She has shared her passion and much information with our El Salvador committee and also with participants in our Lenten study program. 

Her experience in the Cristosal course may be a significant stepping stone in the development of our Salvadoran relationship.  It led us to invite Noah Bullock, executive director of Cristosal, to visit our parish in November. He preached an interactive sermon with our rector Gareth at both our services on a Sunday.  Noah gave the congregation a sense of the hardships and violence Salvadorans face, and the inadequacy of the Salvadoran government’s response. He then presented a vision of how Cristosal seeks to empower the Salvadorans to improve their lives. It was an sobering introduction for many to the Salvadoran reality, and also reinforced the ‘new’ way of mission which is less about donors and recipients and more about enabling people to control their own future.

Our committee met with Noah about how we could support Cristosal and how we might collaborate with them to enhance our El Ocotillo relationship. We began to consider combining our delegation trips to El Ocotillo with a customized Cristosal program.  We see potential to move our relationship with El Ocotillo to one of greater equality; a possible goal would be studying side by side with in a Cristosal course with individuals from El Ocotillo.

 

 

Post Script #1 from Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton, MA

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Sometimes, “we were more of a hindrance than help.” : A reflection by participant Barbara McGee on the 2015 trip

Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton Partners with El Octillo, El Salvador

We have a relationship with a sister community, El Ocotillo, in El Salvador.  Although our main goal is accompaniment, over many years fundraising has focused on supporting scholarships to keep the youth in school. 

In recent mission trips we have asked the community if there is a small project that they would like us to help them accomplish.  From our perspective the projects have provided a way for us to spend a morning working side by side, an especially nice experience for non-Spanish speakers on the trip.    This past summer they wanted to build pilas (outdoor sinks) for a few families. We sent the funds down ahead for supplies. When we arrived we found that they had already built the pilas! They were so excited to have the materials that they couldn’t wait for us! 

A few newcomers on our trip were greatly disappointed, having the vision of something tangible to say they did on their mission trip.  We realized we were more of a hindrance than help in most projects. One youth explained to his friends it was like having a guest who has never used a lawnmower offer to mow your lawn.  You teach him how it works, he mows the lawn, you thank him graciously and when he leaves, you do it all over again to fix all the mistakes!

Connecting When We’re Apart

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Church of the Good Shepherd, Acton, MA
In relationship with the village of El Octillo, El Salvador and Fundahmer

“Maintaining our program in the long term is very important to us.”

Church of the Good Shepherd and the community of El Ocotillo, El Salvador, have been in relationship for 16 years, and El Ocotillo is a primary mission focus of our parish. A group of us usually visit them every two years, but our whole parish, not just those who travel there, has engaged with this community in many ways.  Since 2008, the funding of scholarships for the best students in the community has been our primary way of enabling them to make a better life for themselves.

As planned, in 2015 Good Shepherd did not send a delegation to El Salvador, so it was a relatively quiet year. Although we had tremendous interest with a record-sized delegation in 2014, we did not feel we had the ability to shift to having an annual trip. Having a ‘year off’ from travel has proved to be a sustainable model which allows us to focus on raising funds for the scholarship program and building parishioner interest for the next visit. Maintaining our program in the long term is very important to us.

Post-trip Reflection on the questions “How do you sustain your relationship?”

We continued, of course, to support our Salvadoran students. The Diocesan grant enabled us to sponsor eight university students in 2015, and small stipends were added for three high school students. As in the past, we allow the community itself (the mothers’ group and the students together) to decide who receives our assistance. This is a decision process they take very seriously, and it is one of the key ways we empower the community. It was recently confirmed for us that if the community does not feel a student is living up to his or her commitments, they do not continue to receive funds. In this case, a new student is selected to receive support. It is very encouraging that the members of the community hold each other accountable in this way.

One of the ways we stay connected with our Salvadoran friends during the alternate years when we don’t visit is by sponsoring a small community improvement project. Our 2014 delegation discovered that the local elementary school desks were in very poor condition. The community wanted to fix them, but needed financial help to do it. Our 2015 community improvement project enabled them to do this. They found a local craftsman who would do the work of repairing them, and we educated our parish about this need, raising over $500 to pay for the work.

It was a relatively small project, but was important for maintaining our connection.  We felt supporting the local elementary school was a way of showing the community that we care about education for all, not just those who can go on to university. The process of raising money for El Ocotillo also keeps our relationship in the forefront of our parish’s thoughts; we gave pencils imprinted with “El Ocotillo, El Salvador” to those who donated, to remind them to think of and pray for our sister community.

Although our support is primarily for our scholarship program, we also paid for two members of our El Ocotillo community to attend a conference in San Salvador led by our local NGO, Fundahmer.  This was an important opportunity to train the local leaders in El Ocotillo, giving them an opportunity to learn from members of other communities in sister relationships.

Post Script from St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, MA

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…We cannot allow these relationships to deteriorate…

Since their return from South Africa, the young people have been hard at work, not only presenting their experience to the congregation, but also planning for a reciprocal trip to welcome their new friends to visit Hingham.  Planning is underway for a 2018 reunion.

In the words of the teens:
Our journey last year to South Africa was just that, a journey: an all-encompassing experience which involved friendship, loyalty and faith. After a long process of learning and preparation, we were lucky enough to visit South Africa and strengthen the bonds within our youth group and parish while strengthening global connections and working to maintain them. Allowing these connections to continue will help us realize, as a church and as a community, the power of loyalty, welcoming and the celebration of faith.

“Working together to do God’s work in the world” (mentioned as a good definition of mission at a recent planning meeting for this journey). Our journey was an actualization of this statement, an act of faith that allowed us come closer to God by encountering, and coming to love those different from us. The people we met and stayed with in South Africa welcomed us into their homes and their daily lives. They provided friendship and fellowship. They worshipped with us, ate with us, laughed with us. They gave us the gift of hospitality, and proved to us the universal fellowship central to Christianity. Allowing these groups to come together again will foster a stronger faith and stronger relationship between the groups. Another aspect of our work is to further God’s will through volunteering and giving back to our community. We hope to join our friends from Africa to come together and help our local community through outreach and education both here at our church and in our school. It is our hope that this will lead to the expansion of everyone’s horizons and go a long way in inspiring us to continue to work across boundaries of difference. Bringing together such different cultures in order to help our community will allow us to enrich our perspectives and illustrate the issues our societies our country faces.

Community is an imperative part of this journey. I found a stronger sense of community within our parish, as well as a new one across the globe. I was immediately welcomed into their fellowship and have continued this relationship throughout the year. The way they “were church” became a model for us to aspire to. 

Based on how strongly we were impacted by this trip, it is our conviction that we cannot allow these relationships to deteriorate, or remain one-sided. Bringing South African youth to our parish is a natural continuation of this relationship, and an experience that will have a profound impact on St. Johns as a whole. Allowing these connections to continue will help us realize, as a church and as a community, the power of loyalty, community and the celebration of faith as well as continue to expand our desire and understanding of what it means to work for justice in the world. The faith of these youth will move you. Their stories will touch you. And their presence in our community here at St. John’s will enrich our life together and inspire us to consider our role in the global community of faith.

 

Race, Reconciliation and Hope

Race, Reconciliation and Hope

St. John the Evangelist, Hingham, MA
In pilgrimage to St. Martin’s Anglican Church in Bergvliet, a suburb of Capetown, South Africa

Twenty-seven members of the St. John’s congregation in Hingham, MA embarked on a yearlong introduction and experience of South Africa past and present culminating with a 10-day in-country experience designed to create a context for enhanced spiritual growth and knowledge for the group.  Over the past year, the inter-generational group of pilgrims had a series of preparatory experiences to prepare them for the ten-day in country ministry. Between March and January 2016, the group participated in a series of lectures that introduced them both to pre-apartheid; apartheid and contemporary post-apartheid South Africa.  The group completed a reading list and developed a set of “critical questions” that would serve as the “lenses” for their personal in-country experiences.