Friday, April 26, 2013

“What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.”

by Elaine M. La Van

Elaine M. La Van, a US-2 missionary, shares her views on what it means to have relationships that God intends for us.

This past week, like many of you I’m sure, I was glued to the TV to see the unfoldings of the tragic news from Boston. Since most of my week involved working with our tea project, I was able to have the news on in the background. Now, this is not a post about those occurrences, because let’s be honest, I know relatively little about the event. Only the news stories that spun on every news station, which cannot lead me to claim any knowledge whatsoever. My personal ties to Boston are also very few, although I do feel a connection to my fellow runners. What the events in Boston have to do with this post is that they have been a push for me to travel a path that I have long been destined to explore.

While watching the events, again, as I’m sure many of you were, I found myself praying for those affected by the bombings. I suddenly felt convicted to pray for those responsible for the bombings. After I did as much of a double take as you can while you’re praying, I stopped to ask, “why?” I received the response of, “Because, they are still Mine.”

Now, in addition to this, as a single gal I have also recently felt convicted to examine what it means to have the kind of relationships that God intends for us to have, with not only a significant other, but with people in general. This includes family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers, etc. But most importantly, how to seek God out to have the kind of fulfilling relationship we all crave with our creator. Through a series of fortunate events I have come to be reading a book on the life and love philosophies of St. Francis. After only a few hours I have made it about half way through the book and I am already completely floored by what I have been learning.

Art by Elaine La Van

In Daniel P. Horan’s book, he states, “although the times have significantly changed…the human condition remains strikingly unchanged. Our human brokenness and sin continues to affect our outlook and daily encounters, but that intrinsic capacity to desire and know God remains.” How true is it that we seek companionship and fulfillment not only from other people and hollow things, but now also from hoping for connectedness through social media and impersonal interactions. More and more things are being added to our lives daily that only make me feel more and more alone. In all transparency what I have been seeking is an explanation of worth and purpose. It’s somehow easier to get lost in a world that claims to all be connected. Although logically, I know where to find what I need, I have not known with such deep conviction as I have lately while beginning this recent journey. It has been difficult to express my jumbled feelings lately into words but one of my favorite things that Horan says in his book is, “…we usually don’t know what we want—at least not at first.” And I love that. It’s such a simple statement, but so profound at the same time.

I know what I want, an even deeper relationship with my Creator. I don’t want to get one kind of fulfillment from Him, seek another with a friend, seek another at work, seek another from Facebook, and so on. “We must communicate our whole selves to our Creator.” Through this kind of relationship we have, “the potential to turn our whole life into a living prayer.” What a beautiful concept. This kind of relationship also has the potential to give us a whole new confidence in ourselves that no other can give. Compliments and pats on the back soon fade and lack meaning, but God’s very cause for our creation gives us a whole new understanding of purpose and value. God doesn’t love us because we are human, “God’s plan for my existence centered on me, just as God’s plan for bringing you into the world centered on you.” We have worth in us simply because God desired us to be in the world. We are, “unique, irreplaceable, unrepeatable, and individually loved by God.” Now, if we can take faith in the fact that God loves us so incredibly much to put so much individual effort into our creation, then we must take comfort and truth in knowing that He wants to continue to know us deeply and intimately. Another line that I love from Horan is that we are, “individually loved into existence.” Horan goes on to explain that without knowing this raw truth of our creator, “what can we bring of ourselves to the relationships?” If we don’t know who we are, who’s we are, and why we are, then how can we share ourselves with another?

Now, however long it takes someone to come to terms with the depths of our Creator’s love for us, we can then move on to explore, how selfish and misguided we could be to think that God would not love another just as much? The recent events I discussed at the start of my post were like a smack in the face. How could I disregard my own personal mission statement? I wanted to be a part of the work that I do exactly because I want others to know the profound love that can be found through a relationship with Christ. How could this be that I could be so stunned to think this really did mean everyone. When spiritual gifts were being handed out, “judge” was not amongst mine. But mercy and empathy were. And I need to continue to practice them.
“No one is, at the most basic and human level, better or worse than another. Every life is sacred. It is only in embracing that image of ourselves and others that we are able to in turn embrace God.”

Life occurs every day, from the earth shattering and devastating events that call for all media coverage to the little things that some don’t even see as worth gossiping about. But, in embracing who we are in Christ and what others are to God we can learn to connect with others and God on a whole new substantial level.
Seek comfort in knowing your value lies in your very creation, friends. “What you are before God, that you are and nothing more.” -St. Francis

Blessings to all of you in your daily mission fields. Until next time.

*All quotes came from Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis by Daniel P. Horan.

Elaine M. La Van is a missionary through the US-2 young adult program of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church. Commissioned in August 2012, she is assigned as an advocate at the Women’s Shelter at the Navajo United Methodist Center in Farmington, New Mexico.

This post originally appeared in La Van’s blog: “To Never Be The Same.”

Monday, April 8, 2013

Holistic Dental Health in Nicaragua

By Dr. Belinda Forbes

Orlando Jacobo receives a certificate of participation in the dental worker
training facilitated by Dr. Forbes and AMC.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana

Orlando Jacobo Cristobal is Miskito indigenous and comes from the community of Dos Amigos on the Prinzapolka River in the remote part of the North Autonomous Atlantic Region (RAAN) of Nicaragua. Dos Amigos has 378 inhabitants among 54 houses. Twenty years ago the community held an assembly and elected Orlando as a health leader. Since that time, he has been participating in trainings offered by
Dental worker Orlando Jacobo treats a patient.
Dental worker Orlando Jacobo treats a patient.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana
Acción Médica Cristiana (AMC) in first aid, dental extractions, and administration of essential medicines. The only medical doctor is in Alamikamba, hours away by rowboat, so health leaders along the river like Orlando serve as local doctors, attending to primary care needs in their communities. Orlando has participated in the recent dental health refresher training workshops facilitated by me and AMC. In my last newsletter I shared that in the RAAN there is only 1 dentist for every 50,000 people, so Orlando’s services are eagerly sought out. In March he joined a mobile dental team to the Prinzapolka River. Dr. Dean Gregson of Portland, Oregon, brought members of his staff and family to help AMC serve 6 communities with extractions, cleanings and even fillings using a solar powered drill. Orlando wore several hats during the trip; organizing patients, translating Miskito-Spanish, and delivering health care to patients. Orlando says of his work with the team, “I am so grateful to you for helping me. I am working in so many areas; I cannot meet the demand for dental care on the river.”

Orlando is an extraordinary example of the community health system that AMC has been developing for more than 25 years. Not only can he extract teeth. During our stay in Limbaikan a sick patient arrived, carried by his family in a makeshift hammock. He was severely dehydrated and his family had traveled 6 hours in a boat to get him to this community. The health leader was away but his family provided the solution which Orlando placed intravenously, monitoring the patient until he was well enough to go home the next day. This kind of first response has saved countless lives all across the regions where AMC is present.

Mission intern and nurse Sarah Frazier helps students on the
Prinzapolka River brush their teeth.
Courtesy of Acción Médica Cristiana
The professional skills and materials that Dr. Gregson’s team could offer complemented not only Orlando’s dental skills but his knowledge of local culture, language and people to create a holistic approach to the care offered, and with greater impact. Dr. Gregson remarked at the end of the trip, “Thank you so much for an amazing experience, we felt safe, cared for and useful.” The best help a short-term team can offer is to work with a local partner and help build the capacity of those on the ground who give the ongoing first response to health needs. Orlando is now serving as treasurer on the Territorial Council, a leadership role that has impact on public policy and municipal development plans.

Published in News from Nicaragua Easter 2013, missionary newsletter by Dr. Belinda Forbes, Global Ministries missionary assigned to Acción Médica Cristiana, Nicaragua.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Enough is Enough: How We at SMMS are Fighting Violence

By Hillary Taylor

“What is wrong with us men??”

This was the question that Bishop Mike Vorster asked us at the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council meeting a few weeks ago. The meeting was about gender-based violence in South Africa. Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary (SMMS) sent 8 people (including me) to represent the seminary among the other ecumenical bodies in the region. Bishop Vorster (a Methodist bishop) was the chair of KZNCC, and he called this meeting because of all the recent violent news stories (Most notably the Oscar Pistorius shooting and the Anene Booysen gang rape story).

“I’m tired of men misbehaving and the ‘cat-calls’ and saying ‘wives should be submissive because the Bible says so!’ We’re doing absolutely nothing to bring systematic change to this country! Things like the 1 Billion Rising Campaign have their place, but they’re not engendering programs of action. Violence against women has increased. Maybe it’s because it’s being reported much more, but one rape is too much! Moral outrage is nothing without systematic change. And we as the Church should be the advent guard to change!”

South Africa is the most dangerous place to be a woman. Every 17 seconds, a woman is raped in South Africa. It is the “rape capital” of the world. Some media reports claim that women in ZA are more likely to be raped than educated.

Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary Responds

But at SMMS, we are saying, “Enough is enough!” to violence.

On February 14th, 2013 (the day before Lent), the women of SMMS put on a flash mob during the Tuesday Family Worship Service. It was the kick-off to our Lenten observance of women and children living in violence. Every Thursday since Ash Wednesday, we as a seminary wear black through the Thursdays In Black Campaign to mourn with those who live in violence, bring gender-based violence to people’s attention, and say we refuse to be a part of it anymore. This is what led us to take part in the KZNCC discussion with Bishop Vorster. And still the question was asked, “Why is there so much violence against women in South Africa?”

There were a lot of answers thrown around the table. Some people brought up the lack of good male role models in the lives of children, poor education, misinterpretation of affirmative action from the government, sexual addictions, etc. But the “rape epidemic” in South Africa has a brutality to it. “Children and grandmothers are being raped in huge numbers, and there is no sexual pleasure in this type of rape,” Bishop Vorster said. Like most other countries, rape in South Africa seems to be largely premeditated. According to the 2012 South Africa Victims of Crime Survey, “The results shows that a large proportion (44,1%) of the victims (from selected individuals) of sexual offenses were attacked by a known community member(s) from the area followed by those attacked by their relative (17%), while only 15,4% stated that the perpetrators were unknown community members. Only 14,4% were victimized by known people from outside.” Historically, rape has been a weapon of war, a social protest, and a demonstration of power. Lots of these rapes are being perpetrated by young adult males. “We must assume it is a generation that has witnessed violence,” Bishop Vorster said. “What will it do to you socially if you’ve grown up with a country in a state of violence? Better yet, what are we doing as a church to say that we’re really concerned about this?”

When we got back from the KZNCC meeting, I told the SMMS president, Dr. Dandala, about the experience and how we are helping to draw up short-term and long-term plans for both prevention and rehabilitation of perpetrators. I also told him about how we would like to involve men in this conversation of how best to tackle violence in this country. Dr. Dandala paused for a moment and said, “I think we must get the men together and talk to them about these things. I think that would be beneficial.” I’m so thankful that he did, and this is why…

In Solidarity

This past Tuesday, we all came into morning chapel like normal. Then two seminarians (Diba and Mazwenkosi) got up and said to all of us, “We men are here to stand with you, ladies! This struggle against violence is not just your battle. It’s ours too. We need to address it in our own families, with our wives and our children. And as a sign of that, we have brought flowers for you, and we would like to give them to you now as a sign of our appreciation to you and all that you do.” Then, in mass exodus, all the seminary men got out of their seats, took yellow chrysanthemums from the alter, and gave them to all the women in the chapel (including staff!). There are more men at the seminary than women, so many ladies ended up with a whole bouquet of flowers! Then another seminarian (Lubabalo) got up and said, “What my elders have forgotten to say in their old-fashioned ways is that ‘We love you! Like they said, this struggle also begins with us. No mother ever gives birth to a rapist. And we will do what is in our power to fight violence against all women and children in this country and prevent it from happening any more.’” It was touching, and as he finished, one of our female seminarians got up to speak. Slowly, she began to tell the seminary her story as a victim of sexual assault. To my knowledge, she is the first female seminarian in the history of SMMS to give a personal testimony on such an unspoken subject. I deeply admire her strength and courage to tell this story to the seminary. Her story has made this cause our cause as a seminary body (and, perhaps more importantly, the body of Christ).

We live in a day and age where sex is made to look free and easy in movies and media. We live in societies that perpetuate many myths about rape (e.g., married women can’t be raped, men can’t be raped, the side effects of rape are “not that bad,” women want to be raped, etc.) But perhaps the biggest myth about rape is that men don’t want to play any part in fighting against rape and gender-based violence. In this regard, women have not done justice to men. But that is changing here at SMMS, and we are excited to see men joining women to prevent such violence from happening.

To answer the question, I don’t think there is anything wrong with men. I believe that so long as a human being (male or female) is willing to seek justice, freedom, and peace alongside the poor and the marginalized, he or she is perfectly capable of emulating God in this crazy, broken world of ours. But if a person perpetuates injustice, conflict, and disregard of others, we as a Church must rehabilitate this person back to humanity. Because if we don’t, what does that say about us?
Hillary Taylor is a mission intern with the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, initially serving at Seth Mokitimi Methodist Seminary in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.This post originally appeared in Taylor’s blog