Sunday, December 19, 2010

local outreach

'Tis the season for giving back to our friends and family, and also to those in need, the poor, hurting and lonely. As we continue to try to LOVE ALL this Advent, I'd like to ask you a question, Have you supported or volunteered at any local charities in the Baltimore City and Baltimore County area that you'd like Nativity to be aware of?

We are looking to partner with organizations locally, nationally and internationally (see 're-branding'), and are trying to focus our local efforts on a few strategic partners. This is just a casual question to widen our scope -- so if something comes to mind, leave a comment or e-mail missions@churchnativity.org.

And by the way... thanks for all you do with your friends and family, on your own and with your small group to serve these great organizations. I hope in the coming year we can work together to accomplish more, grow in our faith, and learn to be in closer relationship with those in need around us.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

ac2

We're kicking off our Advent series "Advent Conspiracy 2" this weekend. It's going to be an awesome four weeks, and I'm especially excited for the first Sunday.

I wrestled with this series last year (as I imagine some others did as well) but started to catch on towards the end of Advent. I understood and liked all the concepts, but had some difficulty applying them. I struggled most with accepting that I have such a consumer mindset and that I have bought into the materialism of the season.

Well anyway, here are some of my thoughts about my Advent preparation this go-round...

Worship Fully --
       Hard one for me. Especially as we gear up for another Christmas Eve at the Fairgrounds, carving out quiet time is difficult, and I'm already not great at it. I think the Twitter updates and daily devotional e-mails will be a great way to center myself in the mornings.

Spend Less --
       I can do this. Budgeting and planning are essential though. Last year I chose family members, think I'll be reaching outside that circle this year. My extended family does an auction thingy -- that might be a good opportunity. I hope people take advantage of the SPEND LESS cards this year's kit!

Give More --
       This is the hard part. I had the ideas last year, good ones, but lacked in the followthrough category. I think the simpler the better. Simple enough that I'll be able to make good on my gifts at least. (Also, I've interpreted this as potentially costing something, just not as much as an ordinary gift.)

Love All --
       A no brainer. Having been to Haiti twice this year, having met some of the children at St. Anne's and seen the situation they are in, I can't wait to see how our conspiracy in Timonium has an effect in Haiti.

Monday, October 25, 2010

missional values

As I keep digging through some of the lessons learned from our relationships in Nigeria, our past work in Mississippi, and our most recent findings in Haiti, some key values are emerging for Nativity's Missions partnerships.

Jesus sent his disciples out on mission before he ascended into heaven, telling them to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  At Nativity, we want to develop strategic partnerships with local, national and international organizations, and these four values have come forward as integral to these partnerships.

Evangelical
Relational
Sustainable
Measurable

  • Our missions will be carried out in the name of Jesus Christ.  We are a community sent to witness to Jesus' saving grace.  We will not let "good works" get in the way of the real purpose for our work.
  • Our missions will be done in the context of relationship.  We will have mutual dialogue with our partners. We will not let things get in the way of sharing ourselves.
  • Our missions will be focused on the future.  We will address immediate needs as well as systemic problems. We will not let a short-term challenge get in the way of a long-term vision.
  • Our missions will be completed with a goal in mind.  We will show how God is working through us. We will not let our missionaries get burned out by not seeing and experiencing life change.

Monday, October 18, 2010

daniel

Sr. Oresoa is one of our strategic partners in Nigeria.  She is in the US for a few days this week and visited Nativity yesterday morning.  I had the pleasure of bringing Sister up at Endnotes at the 9:00 and 10:30 Masses to introduce her to our community.  After Mass, we hung around in the lobby.  Many people came up to just say hello, missionaries from past trips stopped to chat, it was a lot of fun.

One of the best moments of the day was when one of our members brought up her son Jimmy to meet Sr. Oresoa.  They exchanged greetings, Mary introduced herself and then said that Jimmy had a question for Sister.  I was intrigued; a question from an adolescent boy who is just meeting a nun from Africa for the first time... this could be, well, who knows what this is going to be.  He sheepishly looked up at her and said, "Hi Sister. How is Daniel?"

Sr. Oresoa was amazed that he knew Daniel and that he had the compassion to ask about him. Daniel is one of the orphans at Anawim Home.  Jimmy had remembered him from last year's Advent Conspiracy when his family spent less on Christmas gifts and instead gave the gift of water to their community in Nigeria.

It was an awesome moment...  And I can't wait for another Advent Conspiracy this year!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

the anawim around us

Last week was the wrap up for this year's Nativity:Nigeria team. The Anawim Team, the five who went to Africa, and the Home Team, those who supported the mission from Maryland, gathered last Wednesday to celebrate. The team shared stories and photos and we all celebrated a safe journey and successful trip. It was a feast of food and fellowship. (Side note: we don't do enough feasting -- eating a meal together to celebrate the completion of something is a lot of fun!)

The mission group is named the Anawim Team because we stayed with Sr. Oresoa at their Gwagwalada location, called the Anawim Home. While we were in Nigeria, Sr. Oresoa told us the meaning of "Anawim." It's a Hebrew word that is found throughout Scriptures meaning poor or afflicted, the outcasts and rejected. More specifically "anawim" characterizes those who, due to their circumstances, cannot not rely upon their own strength but have to rely upon God to provide for them.  The Anawim Home is just that. A place where young mothers out on their own, mentally ill, and abandoned children can call home.

The trip was an eye opening experience for all of us, but one of the struggles we encountered as we began settling back into our routines at home was about a takeaway. What should we all be doing differently? Certainly, God used our experiences to speak to us in unique ways, I know I'm being challenged to spend my money more wisely. But we really struggled to come up with something for all of us, an overall lesson learned.

Then it became more clear. Although we traveled around the world for those two weeks... Sister Oresoa lives in Nigeria. She lives among all the poverty and injustice we saw, and the things we "dealt with" for a brief time are a daily reality to her. She saw these things in her own community and decided to do something about it. While we have traveled back home, she's still in her community serving her people. So what's the takeaway for us? It's the exact same:  to go into our own community and serve.

The awesome part is that Nativity:Nigeria is setup to help and support Sister as she works to bring justice to Gwagwalada. But we must remember that the anawim are all around us.  They're in Nigeria, and they're in Cockeysville, Timonium, Towson and Hunt Valley.  Maybe it took going half-way around the world for the five of us to realize this, but I don't think that's a requirement.  Who are the anawim around you? Find out, pray for them, and do something about it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

win, win, win

Two signed letters were sitting in my mailbox when I came into work today.  Here are the first paragraphs of each...

I am writing to acknowledge the generous donation of $... to the Hope for West Africa Foundation, Inc. in support of the Faith Alive Water Projects.  The donation will be used to drill two boreholes, one at Faith Alive Hospital and the other at the Bakin Kogi Clinic.  Currently, this clinic has been closed due to lack of water.  The borehole will benefit a large number of patients ending long hours traveling to Faith Alive Hospital for care.

I would like to extend my personal thanks to the Church of the Nativity for donating $... to International Relief and Development (IRD) to help in our Pakistan flooding response and relief efforts.  Our Board Chairman said we could count on his church to help.  It is nice to know that there are so many caring neighbors such as yourselves to give help where it is most needed.

I was thrilled to read these letters! Two new boreholes for our partners at Faith Alive (WIN! WIN!), a Nativity member showing great confidence in his church, and immediate relief for Pakistanis affected by the floods (WIN!).

Even when you don't realize it, Nativity's international partners are hard at work, effectively using our resources to relieve suffering around the globe. Our partners are fighting for justice and caring for those in need. When you invest in Nativity's Missions, your contribution will go towards the pursuit of righteousness and the alleviation of suffering. When you get involved in Nativity's Missions, your eyes will be opened to the injustices of the world and the battle that is taking place.

I'm happy to share these wins with you -- I hope there are many, many more to come. And I encourage you to pray, or keep praying, for all those needing medical attention in Jos, that the Bakin Kogi Clinic could help them, and those hungry and displaced in Pakistan, that IRD's supplies reach those most in need.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

retelling stories

Over the past few days, I've retold the same story about Anawim a few different times to a few different people.  It's a story about a 16 year old boy named Francis who lives in the boys' hostel at Anawim.  I've cried every time.

Francis has been living with Sr. Oresoa nearly his entire life. Sister rescued him as an infant; he was a newborn baby starving to death on the floor of a home for the mentally ill. This place really was no home at all. It was a room in a building on a property tucked back far from the main road. A place you wouldn't stumble on by accident -- and there's a reason for that. The mentally ill are kept in shackles, chained up by the dozens, naked, in a room, in a building, on a property tucked back from the main road.

The team visited a few of these sites one morning. I don't know what kind of picture forms in your mind when you think about the five of us going into these rooms to give out rice and soap, but try to picture fear and anxiety, ghastly smells and dingy, dark places. As we pulled up to the third location to give out the last of the rice, Sr. Oresoa turned to Francis and said, "Do you remember this place?" A chill ran down my spine. "Here is where I found you," she said. "Here is where I saved your life."

...

Francis had been there before. And he wasn't nearly as emotional as we were. Sister told him he would be there again too. She told Francis later that afternoon that she was taking him there so that he would know his story. "You have to know who you are and where you've come from, Francis. Be proud of your story. Be proud of the life God has given you."

It's hard to imagine Francis being proud of his story -- hard for me at least. But you know, all throughout history, time and time again, God chooses to use "unlikely" people to carry out great works. God wants to use us, all of us, to do his work. No mater how unlikely you think you are, God knows your story, and he wants you to be proud of it too. He's crafted your entire life and has chosen to give it to only one person in the whole world, you! The best way to know how God wants to use us in the future is to look at our past. Know your story. Be proud of your story. God wants to use it to do a great work!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

new photos

Check out a few new shots of our friends at Anawim on the photos page...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

love

Each night while the team was in Nigeria, we met to read scripture together and reflect on the day, specifically what we encountered, how it made us feel, and how we saw God working.  Since we've been back, some of the verses from the trip have been popping back into my head. Here's one I just stumbled across again, it's Galatians 5:13-14:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
Called to be free! Paul explains earlier in Chapter 5 that freedom means Christ came so that we don't have to live a life of burden, a life enslaved to sin and its temptations.  Instead, he has won for us a lasting freedom that we are to use for service, to "serve one another in love," to "love our neighbors as ourselves."

Love.

From the moment we stepped out of the car at Anawim, we were loved. The boys and girls ran to us, hugging, touching, holding, loving us. They braided Lisa's and Christy's hair. They sat on my lap asking why my skin and hair were different from theirs. (One boy, Jude, went back to his room and came out a minute later with a small packet of shampoo -- he told me to have it so I could use it to keep my hair clean and beautiful.) They asked us to read them stories and play games with them. They begged us to stay out of the sun so we wouldn't get too hot. They offered us their seats when we came to see them. They danced and they sang. These children, these beautiful, happy little boys and girls -- they knew love; they loved love! And they loved us, people who looked strange and talked differently, people who couldn't understand their situations, people who came from far away and were leaving soon enough, they loved us all the same, they loved us as themselves.

Daniel and John Bosco.  Happiness, Blessing, Mercy and Anna.  Favor, who wants to be a nun, Elizabeth, who wants to go to law school to help Sr. Oresoa with the adoption process, and the boys who all want to be soccer players! They have all been given freedom, a freedom that only Christ can give, and they all have chosen to use their freedom for love.

Then, in an instant, it dawned on me. I broke down. Someone decided these children were worthless, not worthy of food, not worthy of attention, not worthy of life. All of them, every single one, had been left behind, many discarded by their own parents, shunned by older siblings who just didn't care or relatives who couldn't bother. Pictured here is Paul, both he and his twin brother Peter were tossed to the streets as infants. He told the story of how they begged for food in the streets and ate mostly from trash cans.  Paul explained that their relatives rediscovered them after a period of time and threatened to kill them, and then Paul went on to say that his older brothers lived in the next state over, one working as an engineer and the other... the pastor of a church!

One of the most touching moments of the trip was when our leader, Rob Devereux, was playing a few songs on his phone for one of the orphans, named Sunday. Then, Rob told him about a song that he sings at his church back in the United States, Nativity. Rob explained how whenever he hears it, he always thinks about Nigeria, about Anawim, and all the boys there. As the tune began to play, Sunday stopped, and his mouth slowly dropped open. He just stood, listening. Once it ended, Sunday said to Rob, "That is the most beautiful song I've ever heard." The song was Love.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

God honoring prayer

Each day at the Anawim Home, the community arises before sunrise to head to 6am daily Mass. (The sisters gather in the Chapel at 5am to pray before Mass.) After school, they reconvene at 3pm to pray the divine mercy chaplet and again at 6pm for the rosary. In addition to these formal, corporate prayer sessions, each car trip, before and after each meal, and spontaneously whenever the situation called for it, they pray. We prayed with them. A lot.

At one of our nightly reflections, the team started to talk about all the praying we were doing. We noted a lot of different things:  the true dependence on God it showed, how formal the prayers were, everyone's discipline and dedication, the repetition, reminders for us of Catholic school (and yet how we still barely knew these prayers), and how it sometimes seemed labored. We all pretty much came to the same consensus that once home, you would not find any of us praying these traditional prayers on such a strict schedule.

Wanna guess why? Because we didn't feel any different. Before and after, not much seemed to have changed. No one was moved emotionally or really feeling the goose-bumps-presence of God. And none of us left asking for more.

Reflecting back on our discussion that night and the faith of the community in Gwagwalada, one thought comes to mind. I get caught up so much in the feelings of prayer and worship that I forget that its purpose is to give praise and honor to God. I'm guessing we weren't the only ones who didn't feel anything significant during those prayers, but you know what... everyone keeps praying! Every time they gather, they worship God. Every time 3 o'clock rolls around, they pray. Everyone at Anawim pauses to profess their faith, acknowledge their dependence on God, and lift up their needs and the needs of others in prayer. All feelings aside (good, bad, or indifferent), they pray.

I could make excuses about why the rosary or the strict schedule aren't my favorite, but the fact remains that those prayers are not about feeling good or holy and they are entirely about honoring God. And you know what else? I think He's listening. The amazing work being done by Sr. Oresoa and the sisters of the Poorest of the Poor is truly remarkable and would be impossible without divine assistance. The sisters realize this and they depend on Him. It was awesome to witness their faith and to know that Nativity is a part of such great work being done in Nigeria, a work so great that God is personally seeing to it that it gets done!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

a missional summer

It's been a crazy summer...  July presented five days touring churches and schools in Haiti devastated from the January earthquake. And August started with a two week trip with the Nativity:Nigeria team serving the poor and experiencing some tremendous injustices on the other side of the globe.

There are many, many takeaways from these two trips.  And I'll be sharing them here in the coming days and weeks.  If you want to learn more about the Nigeria mission trip, check out nativity-nigeria.blogspot.com where you can find a daily journal, "spotlights" with all the missionaries, and a lot more.  I'd like to share a few wins from the last trip before I sign off.

First, it was awesome to have Sr. Oresoa, the founder of Anawim Home, paint such a clear picture of the relational aspect of Nativity's mission work.  Anawim Home gets a number of visitors throughout the year, but Sr. Oreosa, at a board meeting we attended, pointed out the dedication Nativity:Nigeria has to "eat, sleep, and live among the poorest of the poor." This is what it's all about, loving our neighbors! Sure, we are also committed to supporting their efforts to carry out God's work among the poor, but the reason for the trip is to walk in their shoes for two weeks.

It was also great to hear our trip leader, Rob Devereux, talk about his experience of returning to some of the places he visited last year.  The awesome part was hearing him recount how Sister expressed specific needs to the team last year (e.g. the borehole at Anawim and fence in Kaduna) and then returning this summer to see how those needs had been met. This highlights the need for our efforts to be measurable. It's super rewarding and equally motivating to see how the outcome of last year's Advent Conspiracy has really changed lives in Nigeria.

Lastly, the support shown from the Nativity community is a big win.  The sendoff at the 10:30 Mass was very uplifting, the N:N blog recorded hundreds of hits each day, and twice while we were away, members gathered to lift up the missionaries in prayer.  As a member of the team, this felt really great to know that we were truly representing all of Nativity.  And also knowing that we were being watched and prayed over the whole time, not only ensured a great experience, but also gave everyone peace and safety as we took some risks. I think this speaks to the necessity for our missions to be long-term.  Support has grown tremendously over the years, and I think we need to give the opportunity for the church to get behind our efforts -- this takes time.  The fact that we are invested in Nigeria and continue to send new teams each summer helps spread the word about the mission and allows for more people to get involved.

So thanks for all your support!  Check back soon to hear more about the trip...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

haiti diary

Wednesday, July 14
We took off from Reagan National for Miami at about 6am, then made a quick transfer there to our flight to Port-au-Prince.  Surprisingly, it was a big plane and it was full.  Many of the people on the flight were with Church groups (Evangelical Church groups), clearly identifiable by their T-shirts. As we would learn, Evangelicals have a huge presence in Haiti, especially since the earthquake.

Once we landed we were immediately introduced to our new normal.  The airport was wrecked by the earthquake, sheds now serve the purpose instead. And beyond the physical disruption the scene as a whole was not what you would call an orderly one.  In fact, it was a bit overwhelming to be in a mass of people pushing and shoving and shouting, without a clear idea of where we were suppose to go.  Eventually we made our way through customs, retrieved our luggage and found our guide and host, Dr. Rod Mortel.  Dr. Mortel is a native Haitian who spent his professional life at Penn University. Now he is devoted to bringing assistance to his country, precisely by connecting local churches here with local parish churches there.  Along with Dr. Mortel we meet his very efficient assistant Rachel.  We loaded up our large van with the help of our driver, Max, and made our way out of the airport. 

It was outside the airport that we were encountered complete chaos.  Traffic was grid locked, people, especially children, where all over the place (including all around the van), and there was rubble everywhere.  Oh, and it was hot, really hot.

The plan for the first day was to drive away from Port-au-Prince to the city of San Marc to the north.  But just the little we saw of the capital that day was unbelievable.  Tent cities stretch for miles and miles in every direction and to call them primitive would be an understatement. The tents are just plastic sheeting, there is little water available, no electricity, little or no sanitation, unreliable food sources.  These cities are lawless and dangerous and filthy.  Later that day there was a terrible rain storm, typical for this time of year, and in these storms these cities, such as they are, are wrecked.  The tents collapse, the dirt turns to mud, and any semblance of a plan is lost.

The drive north was long and tiring: though a new "National Road" has been built (by the Americans we were told), it is still rough going in many places.  The effects of the earthquake were felt throughout the country and the evidence is everywhere, everywhere crumbled, broken buildings and more rubble.  But there is amble evidence of deeper, more long standing problems too: generational sin and self-serving leadership that has led to ruinous consequences. The land has been denuded of plants, trees and vegetation, most people's only source of fuel for cooking.  The result is a stark landscape that is prone to erosion and floods that, over the past few years especially, have done as much, if not more damage than the earthquake did.  Beyond the National Road there is virtually no infrastructure and the villages and towns we passed through were shanty-towns filled with illiterate unemployed people who mostly survive on subsistence farming.

It was also interesting to note that as we drove along the coast, we were, in fact, on the Caribbean...as beautiful in Haiti as anywhere else.  But, there is no development along the Sea, no resorts, no hotels, no beaches.  It is a vast resource the country has never even turned to. 

We arrived in San Marc late in the afternoon.  Our home that night would be the school of the Good Samaritan. It is a private school Dr. Mortel founded to serve only the poorest of the poor children of San Marc.  BUT, it provides them with one of the most progressive educations available in Haiti.  The school is the only one in the country with a computer lab and science lab, and one of only a few with a library and play ground, as well as a chapel area and dining room.  Our accommodations were simple but neat and clean with some running water and electricity.  Compared to the city around us, a cacophonous riot of horns and dogs and traffic and dust and dirt, Good Samaritan was an island of peace and good order.  We enjoyed a dinner of Squash soup and bread.


Thursday, July 15
We were up early (at least by our standards...the Haitians are early to bed and early to rise, so that they can get their work done before the heat of the day makes work more difficult).  To our surprise, the coffee was really good, and this proved to be the case everywhere we went.  This morning we were visiting the first parish Dr. Mortel would introduce us to as possible partners. We were traveling north from San Marc through the city of Gonnaives.  There we stopped to pay a courtesy call on the Bishop, who himself served us more excellent coffee and spoke of the extreme challenges that the people of the region face.  One of the main commitments of the church there is education, because 80% of the country is totally illiterate and education is the only hope for lifting children out of the cycle of poverty.

From Gonnaives, we travelled deep into the interior of the country to Labranle, driving mostly along riverbeds and dirt paths to the church of St. Anne.  Here we were meet by what surely must have been the entire town, very enthusiastically greeting us.  The Pastor, Father Wilner, led us on a tour of the parish facility which included a small shed style central building, which turned out to be the church,  surrounded by still smaller sheds which served as rectory, parish center and school.  One of the school buildings could no longer be used as a result of the earthquake. 

Then we sat in the shade and listened to the Pastor and his very articulate Parish leaders outline their priorities for moving forward.  St. Anne's was so impressive to us because dozens of lay leaders do nearly everything: teaching, pastoral ministry, outreach, evangelization as well as building and maintaining the church buildings.  And in the parish missions the lay leaders also lead the weekend worship. After their presentation, they sang for us a beautiful song about being the Body of Christ together.  It was very moving.  Then we were served an elaborate lunch of rice, beans, beets, potatoes and a special treat: roasted goat.

After lunch we visited one of St. Anne's several missions, in an even more remote village.  Here too, there was a council of lay leaders on hand to greet us and show us around.

Next came a long, rough drive in another direction, to the town of Bassin Magnant and the Church of St. Lawrence.  On this drive we actually blew out a tire and found ourselves delayed for a while.  By the time we got to our destination it was late in the day and we were tired, so we greeted the Pastor and made our way to where we were staying that night.  This was the occasion of one of the funniest lines of the trip.  We were staying at a nearby retreat house owned by the diocese but Dr. Mortel said "The van can't go there."  After the harrowing ride we had all day long, it was inconceivable that there were worse roads ahead, but there were.  "The van can't go there" quickly became and axiom for us: just when you think it can't get any worse, it can.

The retreat house, when finally reached, was primitive in the extreme but, sitting on top of a mountain, it afforded great views of the surrounding countryside.  We were served a dinner of eggs and oatmeal. That night was really hot.

Friday, July 16
We were up early again and we celebrated Mass together in the Retreat House chapel.  Then we had breakfast.  inexplicably we were served spaghetti! (We were thinking they got their meals mixed up, but in Haiti there are not shared expectations about which foods go with which meals.)  Then we were off to St. Lawrence, for our tour.  The Pastor is a lovely guy but the situation could not have been more different than St. Anne's. St. Lawrence had just been established as a Church by the Bishop and the Pastor has only been on the job a matter of months, so there is virtually no parish leadership and it looks like he is trying to manage things on his own for now.  The Church is a big concrete shell surrounded by rubble and trash (since there is no waste management, there is trash everywhere in this country,but we were frankly surprised to see it around a church).  Next the Pastor took us to two of his missions: one in a little farming village and the other in a former mining town: both places filled with poor people without a plan or a way forward. St. Lawrence is a place with many needs, but first of all it is going to need leadership to even get headed in the right direction.

After lunch (beans and rice) we returned to San Marc.  Once back there we had some time to take a look around. Besides the grade school, Dr. Mortel has two other projects that are both moving forward: a high school now under construction and a trade school, now complete.  These two institutions will be a place for the most promising students to graduate into when they have completed their time at Good Samaritan (or the other grade schools in the area). It was very impressive to see this plan taking shape.  That evening we dined out at one of the only restaurants in San Marc, where we really enjoyed hamburgers and french fries and Coca-Cola.

Saturday, July 17
This morning we travelled to the town of Montrouis to visit the parish of St. John. The very gracious Pastor, Father George, showed us around his parish campus, probably the most complete facilityof the three we saw.  There is a charming old church, though far too small for his congregation, and a parish house and hall behind it. There is also a school building, large but primitive, just outside of the town.  Father George has nine missions in the country surrounding Montrouis, some can only be reached by foot.We visited one of these missions and meet the leaders there.  The mission church is constructed of palm branches and the floor is dirt, but all very neat and well cared for.  The "pastor" of the mission was a young lay man of great enthusiasm who leads weekend worship and was also getting ready to preach that weekend (we thought of Chris speaking back at Nativity).

Saturday is market day in San Marc, so after we returned from Montrouis we spent a couple of hours wondering the streets, teeming with vendors selling fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, canned and package foods, housewares, clothes, hardware, furniture, tools, coal, live stock and more.  Each vendor squatted in the dirt of the road, their wares laid out before them on matts.  It was fascinating. That evening, after a dinner of ham and eggs, some of the students from the school came to visit us and talk about their experience and their dreams for the future. Though they do not have television or access to the Internet, they knew all the popular American songs and sang some of them for us. Turns out young people are pretty much the same everywhere.

Sunday, July 18
This last day brought us back to Port-au Prince where we toured the vast, shattered city.  Our guides choose Sunday morning because traffic is light then.  Most of the major roads are now clear and there was indeed very little traffic so we were able to see quite a lot from the crumbled National Palace, sitting neatly on a still lush and well maintained lawn to the once magnificent French Gothic Cathedral, only its facade remaining.  It was explained to us that nearly half the remaining buildings will have to be removed because they are no longer safe for use, so the devastation is even worse than first appears.  Beneath the rubble are still many many bodies, it is believed.  And on top of the rubble are tents for displaced residents.  There are tents everywhere. Everywhere.  Everywhere is devastation and ruin and crushed dreams and loss and heartbreak and grief. It is hard to imagine how this situation can ever be remedied. It appears overwhelming and almost hopeless.

Almost, but not quite. 

Emerging from one of those foul tent cities, carefully steping through the excrement and waste, emerging from the chaos and rubble came two little girls in white dresses, patten leather shoes and white gloves, Bibles in hand...on their way to Church.

MJW, BPC

Friday, July 16, 2010

from st. marc!

Greetings from Les Bons Samaritains school in Haiti. It's been an amazing three days, and it will be extremely difficult to sum up our experiences in just a few words.

The weather has been hot with rain in the afternoons. Traveling from church to church is extremely difficult due to extreme erosion and lack of infrastructure. The pastors we have met are extremely gracious and the hospitality is overwhelming. And although hopeful and high spirited, the challenges they face are tremendous. We see this as an opportunity.

Thank you for your prayers and support. We will continue to travel tomorrow before spending some time in Port-au-Prince on Sunday. Then we will be heading back to the states.

-Fr White & Brian

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

haiti

I'm off to Haiti tomorrow.  I've been reading for months, watching news reports and online clips all week, and praying all along.  I don't think I'm prepared.  Honestly.  I think there's no way for me to prepare myself to encounter such suffering.  My prayers have all started with, "God, you're in control." I think that as long as I keep praying that, it'll be all the preparation I need.

I'm sure I'll have a lot more to post once I'm there (look for updates and pictures here and on twitter -- @bpcrook), and certainly once I return, but for now, I'm just too filled with emotions to put down a simple thought.  So pray for us, pray for the people of Haiti, and get to know more about their situation, because we're going to be helping them -- and they will be helping us.

Heavenly Father,
You are in control.
I pray that we trust that completely.
I pray that we receive your love,
and that we empty ourselves of love for others.
Amen.

Monday, July 5, 2010

perspective

We lose perspective very quickly. A statistic, a story, an experience or encounter, a website or some anonymous quote will suddenly give us "perspective." We'll gain insight to how good we really have it, or how fortunate we really are, how lucky, how loved, how smart, how special, how successful we are.  But then we click onto the next web page, or the phone rings, and our perspective is lost...

I was reading a book this morning (the book has a website) about eternity. Thinking about eternity gave me some perspective on my life. I spent over an hour reflecting on my life and its meaning, on where I should really be focusing my attention and to what I should be giving my money. It was a real "God-moment" for me. But then I got in the car, and fifteen minutes later that emotional experience that gave me "perspective" was long gone.

Change starts with emotional appeal. The video that you might have watched on Francis Chan's website might have moved you emotionally, but odds are nothing will happen that results in lasting change unless it becomes translated intellectually. So I've started compiling a document (and using the voice recorder app on my phone) that puts these thoughts, these stirring moments into words.

One study of Harvard graduate students shows this in a tangible way...  All Harvard graduates were taught that goal setting was important and necessary.  However, only three percent of the graduates actually put their goals on paper. Thirty years later, the results were in. The three percent who wrote down their goals were more financially successful than the other ninety seven percent combined. Wow.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

assumptions

On August 2nd, Nativity is sending another "Nativity:Nigeria" mission team to Africa.  Back in 2006, a small group of four made the trip to Jos and Abuja to meet Dr. Chris Isichei and Sr. Oresoa with whom we were hoping to form a partnership.  Over the years, this relationship has grown and in a few weeks we're sending our fourth team to serve in Nigeria.  This year, due to the civil unrest in Jos, where Dr. Chris is located at the Faith Alive Hospital, we're sending only one team of six (that includes me!) to the Anawim Home Orphanage outside of Abuja.

At first, we viewed this as a small setback.  First off, fewer spots were available on the trip since Sr. Oresoa only has capacity for so many visitors, and the experience that the Faith Alive team has with Dr. Chris' work with AIDS patients is incredibly eye opening and convicting.  However, as this year's team has grown together in preparation, I'm starting to realize how much good has come as a result of taking a smaller group.  Mainly, in large part to the feedback we got from last year's missionaries, we've experimented more with different team building exercises in preparation for the two-week experience.

At the meeting last night, we did an exercise that was designed to help the six of us address some of our expectations and assumptions about different aspects of the trip.  We were given some time to write any thoughts that came to mind under seven different categories, some broad (Nigerians) and some specific (children at Anawim Home).  It was interesting to see how much conversation flowed from looking at all of our assumptions.  Many we shared in common, some were original, and a few were contradictory.  Unfortunately the conversation was stopped short since we ran over on time, but it was really helpful to just put these things out in the open.  It's encouraging to know that you're not alone in your own thoughts, it's challenging to realize that your thoughts could be wrong, and it's helpful to allay the power that our assumptions hold over us.

After all, you know what they say about assumptions...

Friday, June 25, 2010

soda/pop/coke - kicked up a notch

Check out 'soda/coke/pop' if you haven't already...  Let's keep that thought going.  Your perception of the proper name for a drink (soda, coke, or pop) was probably something that you inherited based off your early or current environment.  Consider also, that your perception of justice was also formed in the same way. I won't argue that all justice is subjective, rather that we all have justice blind spots.

Travel with me to the 18th century when our [Christian] founding fathers of the United States of America came over to this land to seek religious freedom. After a short time here, they built churches where they worshiped on Sundays and found land where communities were expanded and colonized. What went on simultaneously though was the enslavement of Africans who worked their fields and the uprooting, robbing, raping and killing of countless Native Americans. How could a people who traveled together with a shared faith be the creators of such dreadful injustice.  Even church leaders called those who promoted equality and opposed slavery were regarded as atheists, socialists and communists.

See Jesus' words in Mark (7:6-8)...

He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
   "'These people honor me with their lips,
      but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
      their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."

What regular injustices in your world, in your life, are going on without any attention?  What injustices has your culture, your environment, your family taught you to ignore that God is telling you to oppose? 

We, like our ancestors, have held onto the traditions of men.  The Church has, and you and I have.  Our efforts are often so focused on avoiding sins of commission, but how much more guilty are we of these sins of omission!  Martin Luther King, Jr. said it powerfully in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail:

When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church, felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies.  Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leader; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.

I pray that you and many like you will partner with us in the coming year as we strive to become a church who will not claim ignorance to the needs of the world, who will not be cautious or remain silent behind the security of our stained-glass walls, but instead who will have our eyes opened to the suffering around the world, our hands soiled with the stains of poverty, our hearts broken from the cry of hunger, our lives complicated by the unfairness of discrimination and disease. We will not stand on the sidelines any longer. Join me in prayer that this church can be the salt and light of the world.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

soda/coke/pop

Wasting time on the world wide web a little while back, I came across this graphic. This kind of stuff is interesting to me.  As you can see, it shows which parts of the US call their beverage "soda," "coke," or "pop." Is it accurate for you?

This map makes me think, maybe too hard.  But consider the following:  how much of what we consider to be truth (like I would consider calling my drink a "soda" truth) is actually true and right -- versus how much of our 'truth' is just a product of our upbringing and circumstances?

I think I'll get Freakonomics off the shelf this weekend...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

copa mundal

Last week I read "Serving with Eyes Wide Open" (one of the books rotating under 'what i'm reading'). In it, David Livermore emphasizes the importance learning cultural intelligence in order for missionaries to serve effectively.  In order to make a lasting impact in a community, we have to open our eyes to the cultural (as well as economic, political, social...) differences that are present.  He compares cultural intelligence (CQ) to concepts like like emotional intelligence (EQ) or intelligence quotient (IQ) which measure how in tune we are to our emotions and how intelligent we are... CQ measures how well we interact cross-culturally.

As I've been watching the 2010 World Cup over the last few weeks, I've wondered if the referees for all the matches are fluent in the languages of both countries, are they in any way trained or educated about how to interact with people from different cultures, since the rules of soccer are pretty much universal, do they need to have cultural intelligence?  Unfortunately I don't know the answer to any of those questions (if you do, feel free to comment).

One take away, though, is that we can improve our cultural intelligence in simple ways without traveling half way across the world.  We can begin to open our eyes to the diverse world that God has created from our own homes.  For starters, we can watch foreign films, read books set in different cultures, eat authentic foods, and check up on international news.  Even more basically, we can switch up our daily routines.  Very easily we become so ingrained in our day-to-day lives that our worldview shrinks to wake up, work, watch TV, sleep, do it again...  Try to change things up in the next week, open your eyes to how different things could be for you and how different things are for billions of other people in the world!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

zeal

A Jesuit friend of mine gave me a book that I keep in my office, Thoughts of St. Ignatius Loyola for Every Day of the Year. I don't read it every day but just happened to see today's thought and noticed how appropriate it is for me during this season of life.

"The most precious crown is reserved in heaven for those who do all that they do as zealously as possible: for to do good deeds is not enough by itself; we must do them well."

The first half of that sentence wouldn't make any sense without the phrase 'as zealously as possible.' Go ahead; re-read it. That would make it sound like something my college tennis coach would yell at practice... At any rate, I've been learning the lesson over the past few months/years that it's not as much what you do (or where you do it), but how you do it.

The world teaches us to be result oriented, to be productive, to measure our success by whether or not we accomplish our goals. God, on the other hand, is method oriented. I think God cares about results, I mean he's orchestrated the creation of the universe and commands us to make disciples of all nations -- those are some serious results -- but what does it mean that God is method oriented? Well, remember that the outcome is not in doubt, that the end of the story has already been written. However, our role in how history gets told is what's still up in the air. God has chosen us all as main characters so that he could share with us the glory of his story. It's not about the results, it's about doing them to honor God.

St. Ignatius says it beautifully. 'The most precious crown is reserved in heaven' for those who do those deeds zealously. We're not called to do all that we do -- rather do all that we do with great energy and enthusiasm as we pursue justice and peace and truth and all in the name of Jesus Christ. God is taking care of the results, we need to just focus on the how.

So think about keeping your eyes on the real prize, let your Heavenly Father take care of the specifics, and do all that you do as zealously as possible... What situation are you in right now that is testing you? Think about the fact that God cares more about how you do it than the results.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

re-branding

A lot has changed since I've last posted on the ol' blog... Most recently, the World Cup has come around again, BP has spilled a lot of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, Apple has released the iPad and the new iPhone4, and I've been given a new job at Nativity, Missions Director (or maybe Director of Missions - comments welcome). So that means I'll be, in the words of the Pastor, "our first ever full time staff guy for missions and service."

Acts 1:8 (NAB) says,
"But you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

Nativity's missions will be focused on building relationships with local (Jerusalem), national (Judea and Samaria), and international (ends of the earth) organizations where individuals from Nativity can serve and spread the name of Jesus.

So this summer I'll be headed to Haiti with Fr. White in July and then to Nigeria with the Nativity:Nigeria team in August. I'm really excited about these awesome opportunities and especially about all the possibilities for what Missions at Church of the Nativity can become... Look for more [frequent] posts in the near future!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

blogging

It seems I'm not very good at this... Here's a short list of things I'm not good at:
- blogging
- eating breakfast
- waking up early in the morning
- reading quickly
- singing

Here's a short list of things I am good at:
- driving my truck
- organizing
- typing
- sacristan-ing
- sleeping

Here's a short list of things I wish I was better at:
- being on time
- confrontation
- reading the Bible
- listening
- golf

"A business which takes no regular inventory usually goes broke. Taking a commercial inventory is a fact-finding and fact-facing process. It is an effort to discover the truth about the stock-in-trade. One object is to disclose damaged or unsalable goods, to get rid of them promptly and without regret. If the owner of the business is to be successful, he cannot fool himself about values. We did exactly the same thing with our lives. We took stock honestly."