Sermon for May 4, 2014, St John the Divine, Victoria

Over the last weekend, May 1-4, the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s Youth Council met in Victoria, BC for our spring meeting. A lot was accomplished and we had a wonderful time meeting new members and enjoying the lovely surroundings of spring on the south Island.

On the Sunday morning, we had the opportunity to spread across four different Anglican churches in greater Victoria and share about the work of PWRDF. For some, public speaking is ‘old-hat’ and they are used to it, for others it is a scary event that needs coaching.

One of the wonderful things that youth council does, in addition to tell the stories of PWRDF, is develop young leaders from across Canada. Our speaking groups were made up of new youth council members and veterans. In my group was a brand new youth diocesan PWRDF ambassador. She’d spoken at her own church before, and at high school youth events, but never to a group as large or as unfamiliar as the congregation at St John the Divine, Victoria. So I did most of the talking, and she told a story in the middle. She did an excellent job and I think we’ll be hearing more from her in the years to come!

Because we couldn’t all be in the same place, I said I would post my sermon for those interested. The gospel reading from last Sunday was the Road to Emmaus, found in Luke 24:13-35. We focussed on that reading for our preparation for speaking, and I also spoke out of my knowledge of the engagement St John’s has with their community.

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Good morning!

Thank you for having us here this morning! It is an honour to be worshipping with you.

We are members of the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund’s justgeneration program – a body of youth from coast-to-coast who care deeply about the work of the PWRDF are involved in both speaking with the Board of Directors in order to bring a youth voice to that forum and in developing resources and telling the stories of our PWRDF partners in such a way as to engage youth.

A group of 16 of us have been having our spring meeting in Victoria for the last three days and this morning we are excited to be spread across Victoria, talking about the work of PWRDF in different Anglican churches. I am thankful to be back worshipping with you this morning, along with Matt from Winnipeg and Gillian from Brandon.

We have had a full weekend, participating in the lock-in hosted at the Cathedral on Friday night, meeting together as a group in the beautiful and peaceful surroundings of a retreat centre by the ocean in Metchosin, and talking and sharing with each other as we have been preparing meals and eating together throughout the weekend.

Immersed as we have been in eating good food and discussing issues relief and development and food security, it is unsurprising that talk of food jumped out to us as we were reading through the gospel as a group this weekend.

The gospel writer writes:

As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay here with us, because it is almost evening and the day is nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

They recognized Jesus in the sharing of food in the breaking of the bread.

This got us thinking about the centrality of food in our lives and how important food really is to daily life.

Most of you, I am sure, participate in feeding people. Whether it is preparing food to eat yourself or with your family, or making food to bring for breakfast or supper at the Out of the Rain Shelter, or bringing non-perishable food for your food bank, this is a community that knows about the importance of food.

When I lived in Victoria, before moving to Ontario for seminary, I worked for the Victoria Cool Aid Society. An off-hand remark I made to a coworker one day made me realize the importance of food in a new way. In the middle of a particularly busy day I remember saying that I really needed to go and take a break to eat my lunch before I got too cranky to do my job. As the words left my mouth, I stopped and realized the irony of what I was saying. Here I was, working at Rock Bay Landing where people often come hungry and cranky, taking a break to eat so that I could continue to function well in my job. I like to hope that this realization gave me a lot more compassion for the people with whom I worked both here in Victoria and around the world through my work with PWRDF.

I think it works like that in so many other areas of life as well. We have known for some time that ensuring kids in school have enough to eat will help them with their school work. Gillian is going to tell you about one of our PWRDF partners who is doing just that….

[Gillian: Many families in Haiti are stretched beyond their capacity to feed everyone. Children are often kept out of school so that they can help support their families by working. Through the Fred says “some like it hot” food campaign, we are providing hot lunches at schools in Haiti, which encourages parents to send their kids to school system and takes some strain off of the parents. Giving the children the food helps them bring them back to school and keeps them focused to study and learn. So far, PWRDF, in partners with the episcopal church in Haiti and CFGB (Canadian Food-grains Bank), we have helped feed nearly 8000 students, increase the enrolment in schools and the academic performance of schools substantially. ]

So here in Haiti they recognized Jesus in the hot lunch given so students could learn.

In 2009 I had the opportunity to visit a food relief project also being carried out through our partner the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. The project was responding to longstanding drought in Kenya, providing beans, maize, and oil to families. The standard process in each village was for the hungriest, as identified by the community council of elders, to be the ones selected to benefit from the food aid. Unfortunately everyone can receive food in a food relief project – only the worst of the worst – because there isn’t enough to give to everyone in the region. Each village seemed to accept this, except one. One village we visited, down in the Masai Mara took a different approach.

The beneficiaries who were selected to receive the food aid still lined up to get their sacks of beans and maize. However as they left with the bags, they stopped, opened them up, and scooped out the top 10% of the beans and maize into another pile. From this pile, the rest of the villagers were able to have some food to supplement their meagre diets.

Here in Kenya, they recognized Jesus in the sharing of beans and maize.

In November, the youth council met together with the PWRDF board members and diocesan representatives in Toronto. Joining us was Bishop Griselda of the Episcopal Church in Cuba, one of our PWRDF partners. Bishop Griselda shared with us the incredible story of some of the Cuban farmers. In some of their communities, the church was finding that a number of people were going hungry, despite the fact that they had the land to grow food for them to eat.

So they began to teach people in community development: teaching about gender issues, farming techniques, and nutrition. This has led to better access to healthy food, increased income from the sales of food, and a decrease in gender-based violence through improved understanding between the men and the women within the communities. People have become more confident, creative, and hopeful through learning how to farm for themselves.

In fact, Bishop Griselda told us, some of the communities had grown so much food that they began to bring it to the church. They would place it on and around the altar to be blessed before sharing it with the less fortunate in their community.

The Cuban farmers recognize Jesus in the growing, blessing, and sharing of farmed produce.

A little over a year ago, I found myself in South Africa, visiting PWRDF’s partner, the Keiskamma Trust. Keiskamma operates in a region of South Africa with an HIV/AIDS infection rate of 40%, with one in three pregnant mothers carrying the disease and potentially infecting their child. Keiskamma has been working for a decade to reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS by providing education around and access to life-saving anti-retroviral medications.

One thing that we have learned about Antiretroviral medications is that they need to be taken with food. What some of our partners have been finding is that people have stopped taking their medications because of a lack of food. With partners in Mozambique, we have been helping to fund food baskets so that people can continue their medications. Our partners at Keiskamma got people in the community together to start organic gardens to grow produce for those needing more in their diets to continue their medication regime.

They recognize Jesus in the giving of food so that health can be restored.

These are the stories of just a few of the people we have the privilege to partner with through our work with PWRDF. This is the work that we all participate in.

Again, thinking back to our gospel reading this morning, an interesting thing about the story of the road to Emmaus is that they didn’t actually recognize Jesus right away. They almost missed him. They encountered Jesus and travelled with him as a stranger – yet welcomed him in to share their food anyway.

This is the work of PWRDF that we all are a part of. Most of us have never shaken the hand of one of the Cuban farmers or served a hot lunch to the Hatian students. But through the work of PWRDF and the sharing of lives and stories back and forth – much like the exchange on the road to Emmaus – we participate in that work. We participate in God’s work. We are walking along the road together. Welcoming those strange or unknown to us, never knowing where or in whom we will find Jesus.

It wasn’t until travellers invited Jesus in to share food with them that they saw. It was in the breaking of the bread, when Jesus did what Jesus does in the way that only Jesus does it that they recognized their companion on the walk.

I wonder when have you and I been completely oblivious to the work of Jesus in and around us? I wonder when we have missed Jesus appearing right in front of our face, or missed the work of Jesus in the world because we are so caught up in the drama of our daily lives.

As we prepare to come together to the table to break bread in the way that Jesus taught us, I pray that we would recognize Jesus in the friends and strangers beside us, across the table, on our streets, and around the world. I pray that our eyes would be opened and Jesus made known to us whenever and however we share food.

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Young Leaders Thrive Amidst Opposition

This was written for justgeneration and has also appeared on pwrdf.org.

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Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young… (I Tim 4:14)

Those words were ringing through my head as I sat in a circle with a group of young people working for PWRDF partner CoCoSI (Committee Against AIDS) just outside of Santa Marta, El Salvador.

One by one we went around the circle, introducing ourselves, saying what our role was, and how old we were. “I am 24 … 31 … 29 …” As each one of the other young people told their story of working for CoCoSI I was struck by how this group of young people had all seen a need in their community and responded to it, regardless of opposition.

CoCoSI was founded in 1999 by a group of young people, some of whom still work for CoCoSI. They founded the organization to raise awareness of and promote prevention of HIV and AIDS in their community and in the local prisons. Since then, CoCoSi has also begun to work at preventing gender-based violence, particularly towards women, and promoting human rights to those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community.

And there was opposition: some of the young adults were as young as 15 when they founded CoCoSI. They faced opposition from those who thought they were too young to do what they were doing. They faced opposition from those who did not think HIV and AIDS should be talked about. They faced opposition from those who said they did not have enough formal education. In some cases, they faced opposition from within their own families and communities.

What was remarkable was that these were young people who should not, by all accounts, have succeeded. Most were born across the border in Honduras, in refugee camps that their parents had escaped to during the long years of the Salvadoran conflict. They had, as teenagers and young adults, returned home and begun to advocate within their community for rights of the marginalized. They also began developing HIV and AIDS education and prevention programs in their region.

Despite, or in spite of all of this, they have succeeded. After spending time with the young staff of CoCoSI, I had the opportunity to sit with two of them as they facilitated a women’s support group in a nearby community. Despite only understanding about half of the Spanish conversation, I could see the joy on the faces of the women in the group. I could see the passion and love for the women and for their job in the presentation of the two young women from CoCoSI. And I heard and understood stories of empowerment and safety echoed around the circle. Indeed, CoCoSI has been recognized internationally for their programs and I am so proud that we at PWRDF partner with them to help see that their incredible work continues.

El Salvador

IMG_2680I’ve been going full-tilt since I arrived home a little over a week ago – so much so that I haven’t even stopped to edit/review my photos. (Though you can see a few that I posted to Instagram while I was down there if you scroll back through my web feed)

This week is reading break so I’m hoping that I will have some time to catch up with myself, if only to prepare for the two papers and two midterms due next week before I head off to Victoria for Diocese of BC events.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetI did do some blogging whilst in El Salvador, though the justgeneration.ca website went down so blogs have been posted since I’ve arrived home. The blogs are, wonderfully, filling two purposes: updating our justgen website with stories about what two of our PWRDF partners are up to in El Salvador and becoming the reflection paper I have to write as a part of the program requirements for school.

Notably missing from the blogs will be my concerns with the long hours while we were there and the fact that I got sick from sheer exhaustion. But evident will be the beauty of the country, the warmth of the people, and the amazing work that our partners are doing down there.

In case you haven’t found them yet, I’m not going to reproduce them here, but the blogs can be found here:

Preparing to Leave for El Salvador

Reflecting on Archbishop Oscar Romero

Observing an Election

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On the same day as reported on with the Oscar Romero blog, I had another, even more moving experience related to a friend of mine from home. It is a beautiful story that I am still deciding on whether it is mine to share. Regardless, some amazing moments out of that trip.

Off and Away

I’m off on another adventure!

Today I leave, with a group of others from London-area, to spend the next nine days in El Salvador. We will be UN observers at the upcoming presidential election in El Salvador and then will have the opportunity to visit PWRDF partners there: the Cristosal Foundation and CoCoSi. I’m looking forward to learning more about the work that these two partners do.

I may have been quiet on here as of late, but I have been writing! Stay tuned to justgeneration.ca (or like it on Facebook!) to see updates from me as I am able to send them back from El Salvador. I do not expect to have regular and amazing access to the Internet there, so sending blogs and photos back to justgeneration.ca will be a priority over putting them up on this blog. A large story will come when I return, however!

In the meantime, I am anticipating warmth for the first time since…. August?! In a temperature change felt only when I moved to Australia (or on extreme chinook days in Southern Alberta!) I’ll be going from a balmy -19C (-30 with the windchill, I’m told) here in London to a gorgeous high of +32C in San Salvador today. Bring it on!

A Sermon for November 17, 2013

I was invited to speak about the work of PWRDF at two churches this morning, in Woodstock and in Huntingford, Ontario. As last week was the launch of our new “Fred Says” food security campaign, I focused on food with the stories that I told.

This is, more or less, the text of what I said. Typos are likely and I know I ad-libbed as I went – for one thing they used the old lectionary (and only read 2 of 29 verses of the OT reading) so I had to quickly make up a connection between what I’d prepared (Isaiah) and what they read (Micah) and the gospel. And, as I was told they wanted to have pictures, I had to write it out to give to the person controlling the powerpoint slides so that they would know when to switch from one picture to the next. Most of the pictures I used were my own, from trips to Kenya and South Africa, though I took some from the PWRDF Flickr account (licensed under Creative Commons).

We seem to be at that time of year when we our readings get “all end-timesy”. (That is the technical term I learnt in seminary.)

I hear the gospel this morning and it is a little disheartening: wars and insurrections, earthquakes, plagues, and, if I can add one, typhoons… There is enough devastation in the world, we don’t need any more.

And then I went back to the Isaiah reading and was a little encouraged: That is going to end. In the words of a social media campaign, “It gets better”.

But what about the here and the now. I’m not one to sit and wait for that switch because I believe that God has called us to be involved in our world NOW.

Reflecting on that change between the destruction in the gospel and the hope in Isaiah, I was reminded of a technique I’ve used in my counselling practice called  “The Miracle Question”.

The Miracle Question goes something like this:

   After church is over today, we’ll all head to the hall to have coffee and then you’ll head home, have lunch, and do whatever you need to do the rest of today:  finish the crossword, take the dog for a walk, help your kids with their homework. You’ll eat dinner, maybe watch some TV. Then it will be time to go to bed. Everyone in your household is quiet and you are sleeping in peace.

In the middle of the night, a miracle happens and the problem of world hunger – the availability of food – is solved! But because it happens when you are sleeping, you have no idea that there was an overnight miracle that eliminated world hunger!

So when you wake up tomorrow morning, what might be the small change that will make you say to yourself, “Wow! Something must have happened! The problem is gone!”

It might be something as simple as not seeing the guy who is usually panhandling on the corner or not having anyone show up at the soup kitchen for lunch. It might be a little closer to home, and your kitchen pantry actually has food in it.

This is the question and the contrast that I hear echoed in the words of our readings this morning.

And then there is a follow up question, one that needs to be asked in my counselling sessions as much as it needs to be asked this morning:

“What are we going to do about it?”

We have identified the problem, we know there is a solution, and so now we are called to action.

So let me tell you a little bit about the work that you are already doing – yes, that’s right, I said you are already doing!

The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is working on behalf of Canadian Anglicans on issues relating to food security – whether someone has access to healthy food every day – both within Canada and around the world. This is your Fund! And we rely on your support, both in prayer and finances, to support the amazing work that is going on around the world.

Our primary mode of operating is through partnership, which means we link up with local, grassroots organizations who are doing incredible work around the world and support them in whatever ways they need.

We participate in relief work:

Right now, as you may know, there is an incredible amount of relief needed in the Philippines. Our partners there have already delivered 5000 food packages. As of Thursday, PWRDF had received $47,000 worth of donations towards typhoon Haiyan relief – every dollar of that to be matched by the federal government.

In 2009 I was able to visit Kenya through our partners, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. There I spent a month with a food distribution project in rural Kenya.

Each community was unique, though the stories we heard were all the same: the big rains had not come in over three years. The small rains had come, but the big ones, which sustained life, hadn’t fallen.

In each community we would sit with the villagers and hear their stories, hear about their families, their hopes and their dreams. One man cried as he told us of the shame of not being able to feed his family.

Through the Canadian Foodgrains bank, families would receive giant bags of dried beans, dried maize, and a 3L jug of oil.

It doesn’t seem like a lot, but it is nutritious and will feed a family of eight for a month.

The challenge of a food distribution project is that you can’t go to everyone. The distribution centres were chosen for their centralized location, but people still had to travel to get home. So they would strap the food onto their donkey, or figure out some other way to carry it, and begin the long trek home. Some would walk all day to get to and from the distribution point.

Some of the communities requested to have a “food for work” program whereby we would help them develop their community in exchange for food: they would work and we made sure they had food.

So one community we visited had begun an irrigation project: they put canals through the fields and had dug a reservoir. Their hope was that they would be able to capture what rain did fall and prevent such a dire situation from happening again.

Our international and national development work is less of an emergency response to disaster and more partnership with communities to develop their capacity to support themselves.

This past December and January I had the opportunity to visit a partner in South Africa, the Keiskamma Trust.

The Trust is based in Hamburg, in the Eastern Cape. This is a part of South Africa that was badly affected by the apartheid years.

Decades of neglect and mismanagement and a lack of basic healthcare and education means that this is a very impoverished part of the country.

The HIV/AIDS rate is around 40% here, with at least one in three pregnant mothers being HIV positive.

Up until about 10 years ago, this part of the Eastern Cape did not have access to any antiretroviral medications (ARVs) to make living a healthy life with HIV possible and to prevent the transmission of HIV from mum to babe.

In the early 2000s, South African physician, Dr Carol Hofmeyr, came to live in Hamburg. She quickly realized the need for ARVs in the community and started the Trust as a way of educating and providing health care to people in the community.

One of the things she did was train community health workers who do HIV testing and education as well as go into people’s homes and ensure that they continue to take their ARVs as prescribed.

Through their efforts, the HIV/AIDS rate has dropped in this region and they have been able to, in many cases, prevent the transmission of HIV from positive mum to baby.

One of the things that we have come to realize with ARV treatment is that it only works if you have food. Our partners at Keiskamma have approached that in a unique way: living in a place that is fertile enough to grow food, they have begun an organic gardening project that teaches gardening skills to community members, employs community members, and feeds the community.

However not everywhere is that fortunate. Our partners in Mozambique are also working with people affected by HIV/AIDS. Except they don’t have the same ability to do gardening. What our partners were finding is that people were having to stop taking their life-saving medication because they didn’t have any food.

So they began to give out food baskets of beans, corn flour, oil, and fresh vegetables – enough to last for two months – to people taking ARVs and the difference was night and day. Life and death.

As of right now, they have been able to give out 400 foodbaskets to people in the community living with HIV so that they can continue to take their ARVs. Our goal as PWRDF is to raise enough money for 600 more baskets by the New Year.

Food baskets. Organic gardening. Training Community Health Workers. Irrigation projects.

On their own, they can seem like small steps towards eliminating hunger. But together they add up to a beautiful vision of what is possible if we all work together to make that “overnight miracle”  a reality.

Amen.

For the Love of Coffee

This originally appeared on justgeneration.ca

IMG_3799I like coffee.

A lot.

Youth Council members both mock and adore me for travelling to meetings across the country with my own, individual coffee maker, coffee bean grinder, and locally roasted beans.

It has only been in the last 3-4 years that I’ve begun to take a keen interest in coffee; I made it through my undergrad career without needing that daily dose of java and still don’t need it to survive. It is the flavours, the smells, the joy of sitting in a coffee shop with my laptop or a good book that keeps me coming back over and over again to try different roasts and brews. I like sitting down in a local coffee shop and chatting with the barista about where the coffee has come from. If I’m lucky enough to be speaking to one of the shop owners or roasters, they are likely to be able to tell me a story of having climbed up mountains in Guatemala to pick coffee with their growers in that country or of wading through fields of coffee growing in Tanzania with local producers.

Coffee is more than just a morning stimulant or mid-day meeting prop. Coffee production is one of the largest employers and it drives the economy of many regions around the world.

At the beginning of May 2013, PWRDF Youth Council met in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia to talk about Food Security with local food producers. One of the places we visited was Just Us! Coffee Roasters Co-op. They have the distinction of being Canada’s first fair trade coffee roaster and have the tag line of “People and Planet before Profits”.

But what does that mean for my coffee? Because coffee is such a hot commodity (pun intended), the potential for growers to be exploited for profit is quite high. Coffee growers often endure long hours and backbreaking work for a wage that will not support their family. When the coffee is fair trade, the purchasers travel to coffee-growing regions to meet with coffee growers, to get to know them and their families, to work together to grow the best coffee possible, and to ensure a fair price for their product. Does this mean that I might pay a slightly higher price for my next latte? Maybe. But it also means that I know the people who grew the coffee can live on what they are paid and that there is a focus on sustainability with each crop that is grown.

So what can you do? Check the labels on your bag of coffee to see if they’ll tell you who grew it. Is it fair trade? Chat with the barista at your local coffee shop. Chances are they’ll be more than excited to talk coffee with you. If they’re not, then it probably isn’t a coffee shop that places a high importance on connecting with their coffee growers either. Ask around at coffee time at your church. My parish in Victoria only serves fair trade coffee (from local roaster Level Ground Trading.) The Diocese of Edmonton recently voted to go completely fair trade in all of their parishes and offices.

So investigate your coffee and try fair trade. You’ll love how it tastes and you’ll feel good about how it was produced.

For more information on fair trade, especially coffee, visit the Fair Trade Canada website, they have some excellent resources and tips on what to look for when investigating fair trade.

Two Journeys

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Journeys.

In the last few weeks, few months, year, I’ve been on a journey. In some ways both of these pictures are representative of that for me; one directly and the other indirectly. Both of these photos were taken this month (if you follow me on instagram, you’ll have seen these and other images from my adventures already) as I travelled around different parts of the country working towards this new adventure. To the left was a weekend trip I took to the Interior of BC, to a retreat centre in the Shushwap. To the right is train tracks in Wolfville, NS, where I went for a meeting of PWRDF‘s Youth Council.

It is exciting? You bet!

Am I a little nervous? Definitely.

I’m still waiting for some of the pieces to fall into place (really, there is only one more piece left) before I feel comfortable broadcasting to the world.

I think that this voyage of discovery is one reason I have been rather reluctant to post anything on here in the last year or so. I have been doing a lot of thinking and a lot of writing in the last twelve months. However much of it has been in aid of my own internal processing and not really for public consumption. When one is so engrossed in internal and personal discernment, there isn’t a lot of creative energy left over for generating different content for the world. When one’s head is in internal space, it is difficult to move outside of that in order to share, still in a meaningful way, thoughts in a public space. Thank you for respecting that, and I look forward to sharing more soon.