Archive for ‘missions’

November 26, 2012

Calling All Summer Service Seekers

It’s that time of year for college students– what am I going to do next summer? Will I have an internship? Will I do service work? Will I travel?

I say, do it all!

Consider this: I remember those days of discernment full well. It’s hard to know exactly what to do, especially when going home and doing nothing is also an option. But, I loved my summers in late high school and college when I could dream about doing something different than the norm (besides that one summer I spent in required summer classes, boo!). From age 16 on, some really great opportunities came my way to really get out there and see the world!

Summers working in missions in Charleston, SC, Lexington, KY, travels to Burma and Thailand, a church internship in Birmingham, AL in addition to a summer on staff with Son Servants and Passport have made me who I am today. Looking back now, I’m so glad I took some leaps during that season of my life and had the resources through scholarships for school to be able to afford it.

While each of these experiences had highs and lows of of their own, I want to highlight two as a way to encourage any of you college/ seminary aged readers to consider applying NOW for one of these life changing opportunities. Or if you are a youth or children’s minister, consider taking your kids to one of these camps!

First of all, let me tell you about Son Servants. My time with this organization was amazing. The summer after my sophomore year of college, I spent 10 weeks traveling both internationally and around the country in places like Jamaica, the Texas-Mexico border, Appalachia, South Dakota and inner city Philadelphia, PA.

It was a world wind adventure unlike any other.

I learned simplicity (yes you can live out of your suitcase with only a few possessions and be happy).

I learned community life (sleeping on floors, cooking meals, cleaning showers, etc together can really form bonds like none other). I learned about hard work (mixing concrete by hand is no easy thing, especially in the heat of Jamaica).

I learned flexibility (traveling as much as you do on staff with SS you have to learn to chillax remembering the world doesn’t revolve around you).

I was introduced to such great theological texts such as Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Freedom of Simplicity by Richard Foster that I would later study in seminary. My world view expanded with each state/ country we visited, as I saw the truth about poverty, hopelessness and inequality that my 20-year-old eyes had never imagined was real.

My life now in supporting the work of Feed The Children feels a lot like a lifestyle of Son Servant summer with the travel, site visits, flexibility of spirit required and focus on service first. I told Kevin recently how thankful I am for the great staff of Youth Conference Ministries and how my Son Servants summer prepared me for what was to come (though I had no idea about at the time). You don’t even have to be a Presbyterian to apply or work here, seriously, check it out, I’m a fan. You’ll be nurtured and mentored by some of the coolest folks I know.

Furthermore, consider Passport. Passport is a youth camp organization that blazed new trails in the Baptist world many years ago and continues to do so now as an ecumenical organization empowering students to encounter Christ, embrace community and extend grace to the world. I served the summer after my first year of seminary, on staff as the first ever PassportKids! pastor. For close to 10 weeks, I was on another traveling team of college and also seminary students heading to places like TN, GA, VA, MO and AL to give kids who finished 3-6th grade a mission focused camping experience. I was also the recreation director as well as my pastoral hat (though such a job description doesn’t exist anymore, thank goodness!). I also learned the value of hard work from my time at Passport, as you might imagine. The days are long. The alarms come early. And the tasks of the day require much enthusiasm.

I loved my time on staff with Passport because it truly was an empowering experience. This summer I led the summer staff in a book study of Life Together, just as I had been taught four years prior. I was asked to PREACH 4-7 times a week in nightly worship (depending on the travel schedule) which was a huge responsiblity to learn from as young seminarian at age 24. However, the confidence and encouragement that the Passport staff placed in me, helped me to know that I could do it. I was called “Pastor Elizabeth” by young campers.  Each time I heard my name in this way my confidence grew that maybe just maybe God was calling me to pastor in a church. By the end of the summer there was no turning back. I was in.

I would highly recommend this experience to all those of you struggling with a call to ministry, those of you excited about exploring your talents in a safe environment, and looking for a family of service-minded peeps for the summer. The leadership staff, like that of the Son Servant family is amazing and will continue to abide in your life as cheerleaders for years to come. Consider applying now by clicking here.

Let not this summer ahead to be wasted– prepare to do something amazing!

November 9, 2012

Mission trips that aren’t just trips

Growing up in evangelical culture of the southern part of the United States, I learned a key component of strong Christian faith was the annual practice of going on mission trips.

Based on the Great Commission of Acts 1:8, we’d be challenged by youth pastors to make a service trip each summer, a priority in our schedules. While few would be excited about local mission projects in the inner city of our own city, for example, everyone would consider going somewhere, especially if it was a cool locale with a pool.

The farther away the holier, of course, but usually we could not afford more than an 7-8 hours drive away in one of those rented Greyhound buses. And the more poverty or the greater the population of the “heathen” (like Buddhists, atheists, etc) the more worthwhile too.

Many of my peers at church loved these trips, like I did. They formed the the young adults we were becoming without us truly understanding it at the time. We began to get a glimpse of the world outside the one created for us by our parents and surroundings. We grew in the depth of our relationship with Jesus. All of this is good. So I don’t want sound overly judgmental as I continue . . .

But here is the thing: the results were typical and short lived.

We felt moved by whatever “have nots” we encountered, feeling sorry for our blessings waiting for us back at home. But secretly craving (or not so secretly) our own beds and a hot shower pronto.

We cried on the last day of the trip, sad to leave our new friends, vowing to keep in touch. But losing the contact info page before we got off the bus.

We promised to come home and give away our clothes or shoes that we really didn’t need, only to go shopping at the mall the next weekend.

And so mission trips became just that, a trip — something fun to do with our peers in the summer that left our parents feeling good about the children they’d raised. We weren’t as selfish as the rest. And we had the pictures to prove it.

So here I am in my early 30s having gone on two of these major “missions” trips as a part of my real life the past two months, not some summer jolly ride out of town. And the funny thing is, I find myself expressing some of the same emotions I might have uttered in the 9th or 10th grade when we lodged in inner city Philadelphia.

“The spirit of the Filipino people moved me to tears.”

“The poverty was overwhelming to my eyes.”

“I want to find a way to make my life simpler, to give more.”

But this time, as a grown up, with a long term commitment to an organization that deeply cares about making changes in communities of need, I want things to be different. I want my life to reflect the stories of great need that I have been blessed to see personally. I want this week to not merely be “another” mission trip but just a part of a lifestyle.

How this happens, I still am not sure. But at least for today, I acknowledge the great arrogance and temptation of just another mission trip kind of faith. And hope this season of life will be about learning a new path.


November 8, 2012

World of Contrasts

For the past two nights, our crew has been stationed in the Philippine capital of Manila. It’s a modern city reminding me a lot of New York or LA– a city that doesn’t seem to sleep that is resident of over 12 million people. Upon arrival, has been such a shock to our system after spending several days in some very rural areas (islands of less than 500 people for example), where folks are without running water and you take showers with buckets and bring your own toilet paper.

It’s a country of contrasts because in Manilla, everything you could possibly need or want as a Westerner is here. You could start your day off with Starbucks or a Krispy Kreme donut. You could go to the mall and buy a new outfit at The Gap or Forever 21. You could dine for dinner at Pizza Hut or TGI Fridays. Folks in the business district of downtown can be seen carrying Guess purses or in designer stilettos. Folks at the airport all talk on IPhones.

But, as with most major urban centers, it is not the whole story.

It is a city of contrasts. The urban poor, living in shanties in the slums are in this city only a few km from the high rises of folks wearing Chanel perfume. For these slum dwellers, life is difficult and assistance is needed from NGOs for basic survival. The necessity of organizations like Feed The Children comes into play because government social services (which we expect in the US as a given) are limited, if existent at all. Children are malnourished and drop out of school. Children go unsupervised and play in garbage dumbing grounds. Children grow up without dreams of ever leaving the community in which they were born.

Furthermore, it is easy to go on trips like this and think this world of contrasts is a problem of a far away place. But it is a problem of my home land too.

America is a world of contrasts. For every luxury apartment in Manhattan, there are hollers in West Virginia. For every millionaire on Wall Street, there are thousands of single mother on welfare. For every child growing up entering college with bright eyes, there are multitudes inner city kids struggling to get their GED.

We are a rich nation with the poor among us. Like our Filipino friends, it is easy to ignore.

Even in counties like Fairfax Virginia where my church is located we also have a homeless problem, a large one in fact. Makeshift shelters are made every night in the woods with tents, tarps and sleeping bags around the corner from some very large shopping malls and 4,000 square feet houses.

Tonight at dinner, a Feed The Children staffer and I were trying to make sense of our experiences in this world of contrasts. “Why don’t more people share?. . . Why doesn’t the government do more about these problems? . . . How can the rich have poor literally in their backyard and do nothing?”

It’s a frustrating place to be in thought– to try to make sense of the senseless. The only comfort is to think that at least you are supporting an organization that is trying to do something. But then that is not always enough to satisfy the injustice.

All guilt, frustration or apathy put aside, if we are ever going to make changes, human changes to these worlds of contrasts then we have one important task before us. We must wake up and simply see it. The Philippines has given me new glasses.



November 6, 2012

The Slums

At dusk last night, I walked through the slums of Cebu City, Philippines.

The invitation to walk through the slums at nightfall came after our delegation spent the afternoon at Pasil Elementary, where Feed The Children is highly revered. Last year the elementary got a new wing of state of the art classrooms with funding facilitated by FTC. Upon hearing of our visit as a delegation from the US, a program of celebration was planned. Songs, dances and opportunities to interact became a delightful stop for our group. The kids who got FTC scholarships to attend school sang to us in the program: “Thank you, thank you. We hope we make you proud. May you remember to pray for us and that the Spirit connects us all.” I sat on the stage and cried.

I thought the emotion of the day couldn’t be any more intense. But then there was . . . the slums . . . the place where the school kids live.

Though no slums virgin, the shock came over me quickly with the first step. It would be a sensory assault from the start.

Stepping through the maze of “houses” in order to get to the dock by the sea, several roosters running free nearly tackled me, pecking my feet. I saw a man going for the kill with a chicken– I guess for his families’ night’s dinner. Passing by public toilets where the entire community showers, uses the toilet and gets their running water (after paying a fee of two pesos), the potency of the odor marked the spot. Next door to the “sanitation” center was a dwelling that burnt down in 1988 (we learned) that still housed a family even among the ashes and lopsided walls. I saw a mother chopping potatoes by candlelight there.

Further in, child after child was running free without supervision with tattered shirts, dirty faces, and shoeless. They stared with wide eyes as to why I would be there. Makeshift market stands selling shrimp and crab caught by fishermen slum dwellers earlier in the day, filled the concrete pavement. And no, there was no refrigeration to keep the seafood up to health code relegations. I wondered who would eat the shrimp and whether or not it would make them sick. I wondered who would treat the ills of these folks if they got sick. Anyone?

Yet, afterwards, Kevin said, “Now that was a scene out of a nightmare, wasn’t it?” Funny thing was I was thinking the exact same thing.

Before all the mother worrying types out there get too concerned, let me tell you that Kevin and I weren’t alone. Thank goodness, we had a guide, the local town council member for we surely would have gotten lost or had something stolen off our bodies if this woman’s presence hadn’t said “They’re with me. I will take care of them.” Our group stayed close to her and felt as safe as one can feel in a slum.

This is the part of this blog post where you might expect me to make meaning of what I saw and experienced. But I can’t.

I am a wealthy white woman from the United States. But there are some members of my human family who live in the slums.





November 5, 2012

Poverty, travel and perspective

As I write this I find myself on a boat heading from Bohol back to Cebu (Philippines) and I stand in amazement of where life has taken me recently. Not only did I celebrate my 6th anniversary of ordination yesterday (wow what a ride as a reverend has been!), but in the past less than 60 days, Kevin and I have traveled to three countries in Asia and Africa in which Feed The Children serves. Our lives of late have felt a lot like a long mission trip. Tiring indeed but a lot of fun!

We’ve held babies. We’ve fed sick children. We’ve danced with women. We’ve talked to school children about nutrition and AIDS prevention. We’ve traveled long hours by plane, boat, van, and taxi to see with our eyes what we didn’t know before we left the comfort of our home in Northern Virginia.

Over these past 60 days, we’ve seen the world from the perspective of what it really is like: mothers who work hard to give their kids a better life but as hard as they try they can’t. Communities that take ownership for their prosperity, even though they have little resources. Houses that shouldn’t house even one but are a refuge for many. And, children building friendship with their neighbors with makeshift and homemade ball, cars and soccer fields.

Yes, we’ve seen poverty of the material kind but we’ve also seen the huge accomplishments of those whom so much of the world has written off as part of the “third” or “developing” world.

Yesterday, for example, we met a group of families on a remote island who pulled their resources together to begin a village savings and loan– where their was no bank to help give the financial resources to move the community forward. Feed The Children facilitated the beginning of this livelihood development project, but now takes a very hands off role in its day-to-day management. It is the community’s leadership project to see through.

During our visit, our delegation was allowed to observe, a shareholders meeting, a weekly occurrence, where loans were given and dividends were paid back to share holders. Most impressive, we learned that 10% of the money made in the project goes back to assist the children in the community. Parents said, “We want a better life for kids. We know that begins with us being good stewards of our own resources. We want to be able to do this ourselves.” Over the past year this community– one where it is not commonplace to have toilets in the house or more than one pair of shoes per person– has saved over $3,500 US to reinvest in their children’s school.

Wonderfully surprising isn’t it?

For now, this is what I know: most of the world is not as it seems to us from our lens of privilege in America. The “have-nots” people are not less than human. Change CAN happen as resources and strong leadership are given to make it possible.

I have always known that intellectually as all of you blog readers do too, I’m sure. But when you see it, when you see it with your own eyes in such frequent chunks as we have, you realize that life must change.

Life can no longer be about “that trip” or “out there” but somehow we must find a way to integrate life in such a way that all of life is about being a member of the human family that is full of challenges, yes, but hope. We must do what we can to serve wherever you find yourself. We must never think first of our privilege as an honor but an opportunity to be in a larger community.

It’s such a tall order ahead… I see now why it would be easier to stay at home.




September 8, 2012

Communion with Cake

It’s always fun in my clergy circles to share stories about creative ways we’ve officiated and served communion. Especially during service trip experiences when the normal supplies are are rare to find, I’ve known colleagues who have served communion with elements like sweet tea, Cheetos or cinnamon rolls. I’ve even known colleagues who have even used chocolate wine when a red wine can’t be found.

The theology of switching up the elements from the traditional bread and wine (or grape juice) can be frowned upon or celebrated depending on who you talk to. It has been said that communion in the Protestant tradition is really about a shared meal, a common cup, and a collective community so what does it matter what you actually eat or drink? However, personally, I tend to be more traditional in my approach– bread and wine work just fine for me. Yet I understand why changing the approach isn’t so bad every now and then. It is easy for us to get caught going through the motions of hearing: “This is my body broken for you” and “This is my blood shed for you” that we forget the spiritual significance of what we are doing in the first place.

Two weeks ago now, when Kevin and I first arrived in Kenya and began spending time with the staff (all 220+ of them) gathered at the children’s center for a day of installation and celebration of Kevin as the new President of Feed The Children International, of course we ate together. It was like Christmas in August, we learned as we shared a meal of chicken, greens, rice,salads, arrow root, bread, potatoes and soda. It was the finest traditional feast they could offer.

But no festive gathering like this one we learned would be complete without a cake. A special cake for the occasion was prepared for us. And a cake cutting ceremony was in order. Kevin and I were invited to the cake cutting table in front of everyone as the community choir sang. Though Kevin and it felt a lot like our wedding (as they later made us feed each other while everyone took pictures . . a quite funny site! And, no I didn’t smear it on Kevin’s face), learning about the meaning behind the whole event made it all worth it.

Esther, the director of school feeding programs and the MC for the day, passionately explained to all of us, why we were cutting the cake. She said something like this:

If you think about the parts that go into making a cake . . . The eggs, the flour, the sugar, the water, etc you realize that none of these elements are very good if at all on their own. But when you mix them together, adding just the right amounts (and no more than is needed), you get a sweet dessert. You get something that tastes good that all people can enjoy.

In the same way, all of us today are a part of a larger family. We who are many believe that our fellowship is better and sweeter when it is shared. Let this cake today be a participation for you in knowing that each of us is part of a larger family. And when we come together in just the right way, our community and love shared among us is what we call the best life has to offer.

Then, Kevin and I (along with the two other US based FTC staff) were asked to take the plates of little chunks of cake on a plate and pass them out individually to the staff and children as they gathered in a semicircle around us. Simultaneously, everyone continued to enjoy their Sprite, Fanta and Pespi.

If this was not a communion like act, I don’t know what is!

As I served the cake from my hand to their napkin, chills ran down my spine and I caught myself saying “the peace of the Lord be with you” on several occasions though no one asked me to do so. It felt to me so much like what I do with my own congregation each Sunday when I give them the elements through hand to hand contact, looking them in the eyes and wishing blessing each participant. In the giving and receiving of the elements as a gathered community, we remember in gratitude the one who gave of his very life for us all.

While the traditions of the church and the communion liturgies that we’ve passed down from generation to generation are dear treasures in our spiritual lives, I believe, we can’t help but keep looking for God’s ongoing teachable moments for us. For sometimes the bread of Christ just might come to us in white coconut iced cakes and His cup to us in glass soda bottles. And as we partake, we’ll remember the expansive beauty in the Body of our Lord. And taste for ourselves that life in Christian community is very good.




September 7, 2012

Who Is Really Poor?

As I’ve been back in the US this week and have been processing the trip Kevin and I shared to Malawi and Kenya last week, one of the questions/ comments I’ve heard a lot is: “Aren’t you so glad to be back? I’m sure the poverty was heartbreaking over there. You must be so relieved to be at home again so that you can get back to ‘normal’ life.”

I mean no offence to any of the wonderful people in my life here, but I really do want to say “no”.  I haven’t been relieved to be at home.  In fact, I’m grieving the passing of the experiences of last week. With many tears, Kevin and I were quite sad to leave. The work we participated in– such as serving lunch to school children in the slums (see picture) was so special. It’s the purest and most wonderful parts of this kind of work.

And while yes, there are so many perks to life in the US— water from the sink that is safe to drink, constant source of power to your home without daily interruptions, warmth and water pressure in your daily shower, well-constructed roads and city planning that makes getting from place to place easy, etc, etc—I really want to convey that being in the US is not always the end all existence. We aren’t as rich as we might think.

And this is what I know: I feel our journey took us from two rich countries to come home to a poor one.

For the true be told, when we begin to life with less as Kevin and I did last week, we realize we need less. When we converse face to face, those whom we thought we came to serve become our teachers. When we relax and enjoy life, laughter springs up even in the slums.

It’s obvious what you might be thinking. All the world statistics of East Africa tell a story of scarcity of resources. Access to clean and safe drinking water is rationed –  if present in some communities at all. Mothers die unnecessarily during childbirth. Fathers die too soon of preventable diseases. If children live to their 5th birthday, families are overwhelmed in amazement. The number of inequalities in this land are unfathomable. Cycles of poverty seem too strong to even imagine being broken (even if all the NGOs and government agencies actually worked together).

But, even with this true, there’s another story at work. And it’s a story not of poverty, but of abundance. As we spent time with the Malawians and the Kenyans, this is the richness I saw:

People share.

Smiles are warm and heartfelt.

Time is unhurried.

Simple pleasures like breaks for tea and coffee are honored.

Food is savored, not devoured.

Leftovers of all kinds are not put to waste.

Help given is received with overflowing gratitude.

Sitting from my position of privilege, it’s not that I want to overspiritualize poverty.  Rather, I want to say that in the US, I believe it is so easy to become distracted by our blessings.  We not only take them for granted, but we become consumed with them to the point of forgetting from where they came.  We forget the responsibility that comes from such great gifts. We forget to be people of blessing instead of just people with blessings.

As I continue to stick close to what my spiritual teachers taught me last week, I hope you’ll join me in thanksgiving for the great paradox of the gospel.  The last shall be first and the first shall be last. It is more blessed to give than to receive. And, blessed are the hungry, for they will be filled.

August 28, 2012

How Are We Going to Meet These Needs?

Today, our delegation toured, observed, and participated in the work of Feed the Children Kenya in the Maparasha, a remote village community of the Masai tribe.

We saw a water sanitation project in action as women and children gathered water from a clean well instead of walking 5 km up a hill to a remote water source. We visited with school children in an early learning center who received lunch of corn and beans from Feed the Children’s distribution. (Kevin and I even got to serve the meal to the kids who came through the line with their tin bowls). We visited an AIDS education training session. We met with mothers at an nutritional seminar at the community birthing center– watching lessons on how mothers can best feed their family.

I felt proud today to be connected to the larger Feed the Children family.

However, in all of these accomplishments, there is always so much more that that just isn’t getting done because lack of resources.

Children have shoes but they are tattered and falling off their feet. Children have uniforms on, yes, but they have holes in them. Children eat lunch but the school only has a few number of bowls so everyone must eat in shifts. Yes, there is clean water from the pipes, but in dry season there’s still not enough water to go around so that water is only available two days a week.

Feed the Children like other NGOs needs more funds to support even more sustainable projects. And while many of us in theory care for the poor and want to help out, we look at our monthly budgets and say there is no way that I can give or give more. The big issue of child hunger and poverty seems too overwhelming to even try to involve ourselves in. Or if we are givers, we do so without a lot of hope that our small donations can make a difference. We have no connection to the larger human family that needs all of us to give and take.

I remembered today in all of my thinking about this a sermon illustration I used many months ago by Tony Campelo that seems to apply well here.

In 2003, I attended a meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Charlotte, NC where seminary professor and social advocate, Tony Campolo spoke. It came time to give the offering for missions after the sermon. And, the gentleman guiding the program asked Tony to pray before the ushers came forward to receive the offering. Seemed like a very normal churchy thing to do.

However, to the shock of many, Tony refused to pray. “What?!?” we were all thinking in our seats. Instead he said something like this: “We don’t need to pray for the offering tonight because this is what I know about God. God has already given each us in this room enough resources to meet our $15,000 offering tonight. All we need to do now is to give. So, I’ll start by emptying my wallet with the cash in it and maybe some of you could do the same.”

And, just like Tony said that night, we got our $15,000 plus mission offering plus some in that very room.

And it is the truth. God has given us every resource we need to do what we are called to accomplish. We have the money. We really already have it. It is just up to each of us to do our part. Or in this case, give so that many more kids around the world have life’s most basic necessities.

I know I am catching more fire in me for advocacy work this week. You simply can’t see needs and not be changed in return.



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