Tuesday, December 30, 2008

December Reflections

As I prepare to leave for Sudan, I am both excited and sad. I am so excited about this new opportunity for transformation, for service, for discovery, and for journeying together. But it is also sad, as I have to say goodbye to ministries I have loved, especially my work with the World Mission Network of the Diocese of El Camino Real (http://worldmissionnetwork.blogspot.com/), and with the Outreach Committee and Vestry at my home parish, St. Luke’s Atascadero. And as always, it is difficult to say goodbye to my family and friends. Especially as my nephew Jacob learns to walk and talk.

This month has echoed this joy and sadness for me. I had the excitement of attending the annual conference of the organization that has given me so much training and assistance in tropical agriculture (ECHO, Fort Myers, Florida). My time there was full of new contacts and exciting new ideas and resources, which I know will be of great value to me in Sudan.

But I have also had sadness this past month from losing a friend, who passed away just before Thanksgiving. Conney, who was a bible study friend of mine, was passionate about mission work, and she helped me to discern my own call to mission. She was beloved by all who knew her, and was taken from us far too soon. She continues to inspire me by the example of her kindness, her faith, her patience, and her passion for mission.

The lesson for me this month seems to be: let go of the question “why” which only brings emptiness and longing, and move toward the question “where is God in all this?” embracing the intention to rely on God. Very little in this world makes sense, why Sudan has suffered so much, why Conney was taken from us. But truth is found in what we know: leaning on the love of God we will be comforted, acting out the love of God we will be transformed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sermon- Visalia Episcopal Church

video
I preached at the Continuing Episcopal Church of Visalia on November 30, 2008
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Visalia was the parish I grew up in, and I attended St. Paul's School from pre-school to 8th grade. It was wonderful to be back with members of the congregation who I hadn't seen for 13 years. While in Visalia, I also gave a presentation at St. Paul's School, and to the Visalia County Center Rotary Club.

This sermon is based on the readings of the day (see below). I talk about where I find hope in the world, and the hope and challenge of the Gospel reading.

Click here to see the readings of the day

Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sermon- St. Luke's, Atascadero

video
I preached at my home parish, St. Luke's Atascadero on November 16, 2008
The sermon was about letting go of fear, and based on the Gospel reading of the day

Click here to see the readings


Judges 4:1-7 Psalm 123 I Thessalonians 5:1-11 Matthew 25:14-30

Monday, November 10, 2008

Life Abundant

(Photo: myself speaking at a church in Kampala)
I returned Monday from my visit to Sudan. It was an amazing, and transforming experience. I have accepted a position as the “External Agriculture Consultant” for the Province of the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS). I will be based in Juba, which is the capitol of the south, but I will also be traveling to the 24 dioceses while working on a strategic plan for agriculture development projects throughout the Province. I will begin this position in February, 2009.

I was nervous about this trip, never having traveled alone in Africa, and uncertain about the procedure for getting into Sudan, but it was a grace filled experience of learning to let go, and depend on others. I flew from San Francisco, to Washington DC, to Rome, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to Kampala, Uganda, where I was met and assisted by staff of the ECS office in Kampala. Two days later, I flew into Juba, where I was met by Bishop Alapayo of Rumbek, and two other staff members of the ECS, smiling broadly, and greeting me as an old friend. I would love to paint a picture for you of the incredible functioning chaos that is Juba International Airport, a two-room airport that can function without power! But, there is much more I want to tell you.

My first three days in Juba, I spent with bishops from all over Sudan who were gathered for a two week training course. It was a great opportunity to get to know some of them, and I took the chance to interview 16 bishops about the agriculture situation and challenges facing their diocese. These bishops are remarkable people, working against tremendous odds, with hardly any resources, to heal the brokenness that divides their people, and to provide desperately needed services. During the war, Christians were persecuted, people were massacred, and yet, the Episcopal Church of Sudan kept it’s churches and 2,000 schools open amidst the conflict. Now as they struggle to build infrastructure and services, their pastors toil without pay, and many of their churches and cathedrals meet under the shade of mighty trees.

Bishop Paul from Torit preached an inspiring sermon to his fellow bishops where he said “As long as we continue to see Jesus in our midst, we will inherit a double portion of the spirit”. Bishop Ezekiel from Bor explained to me that it is the message of love, absolute love, absolute forgiveness and reconciliation, that Jesus preached, which is the message the people of Sudan need so desperately. Bishop Ezekiel’s passion for preaching the Gospel, as the healing balm that is the only thing that can bridge the divides that racism, tribalism, genocide, massacres, and war have left behind – the only thing that can bring a lasting peace to his people; is a passion that is shared by the other bishops. Three days in their presence completely re-defined evangelism for me.

For these bishops, and the 4 million Anglicans in Sudan, the power of Jesus’ message of love isn’t just a choice of religion. Jesus’ message to take up your cross and follow him, is not a vague metaphor. These are powerful messages of hope, they mean the difference between suffering and healing, life and death, war and peace. The faith that they have is not reserved for Sunday services, their faith is something that affects the way they live their lives.

I spent some time talking to Daria Kwaje, who is the ECS staff officer for The Mother’s Union. This is a women’s movement throughout the church. Members mentor and guide young mothers and those who are new to the faith, in what it means to raise their children in love of Jesus. They give assistance to families who are going through rough times, and they gather regularly to pray.

“Even though our bodies may suffer now, we thank God, because we know that he is about to do amazing things in our lives” – one of the bishops praying on behalf of the assembly.

I also visited Rumbek while I was in Sudan, this is a town in the central part of the southern region of Sudan. In Rumbek, cattle herding is the way of life. I saw the mighty cathedral tree of Rumbek, and the Bishop’s office – a mango tree. I saw children coming to the bishops house to borrow chairs, and then scampering off to their school under a tent. I saw young men and boys with semi-automatic weapons sitting alongside the road. As I walked through town with the bishop’s wife Helena, I saw stores overflowing with cell phones, bicycles, crates of soda, clothing, and many other goods, all of which Helena said had not been available just a couple years ago. I saw stray goats and cows wandering past, children carrying chairs to and from school, young men driving huge herds of cattle, men and women shopping, a huge charter bus preparing for the several day journey to Juba on impossibly muddy roads. What I didn’t see on the streets of Rumbek was heaps of garbage. Helena explained to me that plastic bags have been made illegal, and residents are required to rake up and burn the garbage once a week, because the cows can die from eating the garbage.

While reading the Strategic Plan for the Diocese of Rumbek, The following line jumped out at me. This is a passage of scripture that is the vision of the Diocese:

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b).

Life Abundant! This sums up for me, my first experience of the Episcopal Church of Sudan. In spite of, or because of all that they have suffered, they live life abundantly. And we from the developed world, have so much to learn from them!

May God bless you this month with an open heart, and the eyes to see how abundant your own life is!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Beginning Again

I have exciting news to share with you. I have signed up with the Episcopal Church to be a missionary again. I have a possible mission placement, doing agriculture work in Sudan. I leave on Sunday for a two-week trip to Sudan to discuss and interview for the placement, and to get a feel for the goals, challenges, and working conditions. The position is based in Juba, which is the capitol of Southern Sudan, working for the Episcopal Church of Sudan (ECS), which is a province in the Anglican Communion. The ECS has more than 4 million members, which is almost double the number of people we have in the Episcopal Church USA. I will be assisting the church to develop agricultural programs. It is a very challenging job, as Sudan has many different climates: desert, grasslands, mountains, forests, and the largest swamp in the world. Sudan is the largest country in Africa (the size of the US east of the Mississippi river), and is bordered by Egypt, the Red Sea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya.

Sudan has been in and out of conflict since it's independence from Britain in 1956. The peace agreement currently in place was signed in 2005 between the north and the south (the Darfur region in the west is still in the grips of conflict). The peace agreement gives the southerners the ability to vote in 2011 to become their own country. I have heard that this is an exciting time for Southern Sudan, after so many years of conflict to be working toward the birth of their own nation. However, the obstacles they are struggling with are huge: insufficient food production, water, medical care, schools, infrastructure, as well as societal issues like: racism, slavery, and dealing with extreme poverty, trauma, and tragedy. I have heard that 7 out of 10 women in Sudan are widows. As the peace holds, refugees are returning to Sudan, and with them increased need, especially for assistance starting up farming.

I am passionate about sustainable, subsistence farming. If you can help people to become self sufficient, with sustainable techniques (like mulching and composting), you help them to insulate themselves from fluctuations in the world food market. Steady food supply, and the ability to provide for their children gives people hope, and promotes peace.

After I return from this trip to Sudan, at the beginning of November, I will begin my preparations to leave for a year, which includes fundraising, and additional training in semi-arid agriculture and tropical livestock production. I am planning to begin my next assignment February of 2009.

Once again, I am beginning a journey, and inviting you to join me on it! Without your prayers and financial support, my work would not be possible. After I return from my trip to Sudan in November, I will post on my blog (www.robin-mission.blogspot.com) information about my experience, photos, a video, and a proposed budget for the year. If you feel called to financially support my work in Sudan, you can make a tax-deductible donation using the instructions at the end of this email.

I have participated in several exciting mission projects this spring and summer, including: short term youth mission trips to Nevada and Honduras, a trip to El Salvador, working for the Mission Personnel Office, presenting a workshop on tropical agriculture at the Everyone Everywhere mission conference, and writing a handbook on tropical agriculture for the Mission Personnel Office. You can read about all this on my blog http://robin-mission.blogspot.com My letters from Liberia are still posted on my blog with pictures, and I also have a final report, and financial report from Liberia posted.

In such uncertain financial times, fears are plaguing our country, and one reaction people have is to focus inward, on their own lives. But I think that in such times, our need to touch the rest of the world is even greater. My work is equally about helping those I go to serve, and about changing the lives and perspectives of those who send me through a shared experience. We have much to learn from those who have survived great loss, and from those who live in poverty. Jesus calls us to reach out, with what we have, and with our very lives. To touch others, to love, to serve, and to be transformed. This is the path I believe I am being called to, I hope you will join me! But even more than that, I hope you will find in your daily lives, the Love of God, drawing you ever outward into the world around you.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Blog Welcome Page

Welcome to my Blog!
(Updated for 2017)

This Blog:
This blog is primarily an archive of my previous work as a missionary. Since returning the the US, I have used it to post information relating to my continued work with agriculture and faith. You can browse old posts by date, using the archive. General and background information, videos, and files are posted as links in the blue right hand sidebar.

Current Work:
I am currently an M.Div student at Virginia Theological Seminary.

Past Work:
Church Planting, CA:
I was the lay leader of Trinity Episcopal Church Gonzales, California 2011-2014.  Trinity Church Gonzales was a cross-cultural, emerging church community. 

South Sudan:I was a missionary of The Episcopal Church, USA assigned as an agriculture consultant with the Episcopal Church of Sudan from October 2008 - April 2011.
  • I was in Sudan for the 2011 Referendum, in which Southerners voted to secede. Please note that in articles predating the formation of the country South Sudan (July 2011), I refer to South Sudan as either "Sudan" or "southern Sudan"

Liberia:
I was in Liberia, as a member of the Young Adult Service Corps (the young adult mission program of The Episcopal Church), from September 2006- August 2007. While in Liberia I worked at Cuttington University (an Episcopal institution), where I taught agriculture and worked on developing agriculture programs, and worked on agriculture and development projects with some of the local communities. I recommend the following entries:

Overview:
Under “Mission Reports” in the blue right-hand sidebar, see:
  • Liberia Report Summary” for a paragraph overview of what I did in Liberia.
  • Growing in Liberia- Final Repot” for a detailed report of the context, work, and projects from my time in Liberia. (I also have a pdf version which includs my letters, and photos, which I can email you if you are interested).
Letters:
Videos:

I have two videos, the first is Sudan the second is Liberia, in the sidebar.

Sermons:
I have sermons posted, in audio form. Go to “Sermons” in the blue right hand side bar for links to all my available sermons.
Or click here to hear one: December 3, 2008 Visalia

Monday, September 29, 2008

Sermon- St. Paul's Cambria

video
I preached at St. Paul's, Cambria on September 28, 2008
Click here to see the readings

Exodus 17:1-7 Philippians 2:1-13 Matthew 21:23-32

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Sermon- St. Martin, Davis

video
I preached at the Episcopal Church of St. Martin, in Davis California on September 7, 2008
Click here to see the Readings for the day

Exodus 12:1-14 Romans 13:8-14 Matthew 18:15-20

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sermon- St. John's San Bernardino

video
I preached at St. John's, San Bernardino on August 10, 2008.
Click here for the Readings

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Romans 10:5-15 Matthew 14:22-33

Monday, June 16, 2008

Working in New York

It has been an exciting two months! I got to work for the Mission Personnel Office of the Episcopal Church, helping them prepare for and put on the two-week orientation course for new missionaries.

It was exciting to commute into Grand Central Station every morning, navigating the teeming crowds. I loved noticing the way the Chrysler Building makes a shadow on the mirrored surface of the UN building in the early mornings of spring, as I walked to 815 Second Ave, the Episcopal Church Center. I got to walk in Central Park, explore Time Square, and visit the Metropolitan Museum. But most enjoyable of all, was staying with my friends the Copley’s, being welcomed into their home and family, learning how to rock climb and kayak, going to church, discussing mission work, and on one occasion, attempting to help with math homework.

Working at the Church Center was challenging and interesting. I loved the team spirit of the Mission Personnel Office, and the chance to get to know David, Douglas, Yanick, Michelle, and Rebecca a little better. Getting to see all the work that goes on behind the scenes made me even more appreciative of all that they do for the missionaries in the field! We are in good hands.

The Mission Orientation I attended in 2006 was a life-changing event for me. Everything was covered, from the theology of mission in the Episcopal Church, to what medical supplies to bring with you. But most important was the community of support that developed amongst the missionaries. So I was very excited to be involved in another Mission Orientation. Getting to watch and participate in that community building was wonderful. It is an exhausting, action packed two weeks, with lectures, skits, games, enactments, worship, bible study, celebration, and pilgrimage. Each one of the new missionaries brings their own passion, skills, and desire to serve. I can’t wait to get their updates, and hear about all of their transforming experiences. You can learn more about them, and see their blogs by going to: www.episcopalchurch.org/missionworks

As part of the Mission Orientation, we took the group to the “Everyone Everywhere” mission conference in Baltimore (which will be held every three years). There were more than 400 people there, involved in mission work all over the world. It was great to get new perspectives, and make connections. I got to present a workshop on tropical agriculture, and handed out nearly 100 copies of the handbook on tropical agriculture, which I wrote for missionaries (if you’d like an electronic copy of this handbook, just email me, I will try to also post it on this blog).

I returned to California just in time for my mom’s ordination, and my god daughter’s baptism. It has been an eventful two months!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Hope

Hope is such an illusive thing. When I think of the terrible weight of suffering in the world, when I think of the world wide shortage of food, when I think of all the obstacles that Liberia has to overcome just to maintain it’s fragile peace, when I think of the horror that is war anywhere and it’s aftermath… hope seems so feeble and far away. And yet the presence of hope is our only hope!

Since returning from Liberia I have felt the weight of these things pressing down on my very soul. It is only in recognizing and feeling this profound sadness for the world, that I am able to also experience the profound joy of finding hope alive in the midst of all this.

This summer hope has come to me in many forms, and I want to share some of that hope with you. I have been on two different short-term mission projects with youth and young adults through the Sierra Service Project. One trip was our diocesan youth mission trip to Nevada for a week, where we worked and lived on the Walker River Piute Reservation, repairing houses, and learning something about community, service, and spiritual journeying. As the week progressed, I worried that the youth were somehow missing the experience by being caught up in their caffeine cravings and boredom and heat exhaustion. Finally on the last day I realized that the experience had happened without me doing anything to push it. That community and spiritual growth and commitment to service happened in the midst of caffeine cravings and boredom and heat exhaustion. So many times I feel like I have to move the Spirit, I forget that all I have to do is show up and look. The Spirit was there, in all of it, and that gave me hope!

I just got back from my second mission trip this summer. I went to Honduras for two weeks with a group of young adults. We built (most of) two brick houses for impoverished families in Danli. The days were long, and the work felt back breaking. It is difficult to see hope when you have sore muscles and are surrounded by insatiable need. But I saw hope in the young people in our group. They are very much members of their popular culture and times, and yet they also were willing to sacrifice, to sleep on the floor, to go without running water, to work harder than they had ever worked, and to commit their remaining energy to building relationships with local people and learning about the struggle that is life in Honduras today.

I have found hope in other places this summer too. In Tegucigalpa our group visited an organization that takes in street children. We spent a couple hours there, and it seemed to me that hope was singing out of every wall, every bouncing ball, every footstep, every laugh. The door of this facility struck me as a sacred gate: its very existence gives me hope for the world. There is a door in Tegucigalpa, and any young person who approaches it day or night, will find it open, and behind it is a world of hope, sanctuary, and love. They will find there the Love of God, incarnate, and if they choose they will be transformed by it.

I have found that the reflections Bishop Mary has written to our diocese about her time at Lambeth Conference are full of hope, hope for our diocese, hope for the Anglican Communion, and hope for humanity as we struggle to live in a global community, a global communion, bringing our different truths to the same table.

There is a door in Tegucigalpa, there is a table in Canterbury Cathedral, there are young people stepping out in service, and there is you and me. Flawed as we are, we show up, we come to the door, we come to the table, we step out of our comfort zones, and the Spirit will do the rest.

Peace and Hope,
Robin
--------------------------

Bishop Mary’s Reflections: http://www.stlukesatascadero.org/bishop.htm

Casa Alianza (A home for street children in Tegucigalpa, New York, LA, Canada, and Guatamala): http://www.casa-alianza.org/en/news.php

Sierra Service Project (youth mission trips to Native American Reservations, urban LA, and Honduras): http://www.sierraserviceproject.org/

Friday, May 30, 2008

Update and Reflection from El Salvador


Dear Friends,
It has been 9 months now since I returned from Liberia, how the time flies! I want to thank you all again for your support. I have compiled a 30 page report of my work in Liberia which I have delivered to each of my 9 sponsoring parishes. If you would like a copy, I can email you one.

I have been keeping busy, helping coordinate a new mission network for our diocese, finding paying work here and there, and getting ready for some short-term mission work this summer. Right now I'm working at the Episcopal Church Center in New York for six weeks, helping out with the mission orientation course for new missionaries, and staying with my good friends the Copleys. In June, I'll be presenting a workshop on Tropical Agriculture at the mission conference of the Episcopal Church, called "Everyone Everywhere 2008".

I am in the process of discerning a new mission placement, which will most likely be somewhere in Africa, beginning January of 2009. I will let you know as soon as I know where I will be going! I have begun fundraising for my mission fund again (details below), to support the two short term mission trips I will be going on this summer, leading youth to fix up houses on a Native American Reservation in Nevada and to build houses in Honduras (see blog entry below). The work that I do is not my work. It is made possible every step of the way by the financial support, emotional support, and spiritual support of those who choose to journey with me. It is our work.

I got back a few weeks ago from a trip to El Salvador. I was there visiting my sisters, who are both missionaries in El Salvador now. Amy is a priest with a church and a school, Audrey does youth leadership development through agriculture, and Amy's husband Vince has a music ministry with the diocese, and coordinates mission groups who are visiting. I was there for only 10 days, but had a wonderful time. I got to see a lot of the country that I had never seen before. And I got to do a little agriculture work of my own. I talked with an agricultural engineer about the importance of the Moringa tree, and advised him on the Moringa project he has started. I also gave a workshop with a group of women who make up an agricultural work group, on the use of Moringa. (Moringa is a tree that can be used to treat malnutrition. The leaves have protein, vitamins, minerals, and kill parasites).

I also got the chance to go to some of the pilgrimage sites in El Salvador I had not been to before. The most difficult and moving experience by far was our visit to El Mozote, the site of what is considered the worst massacre in modern Latin America. More than 1,000 unarmed men women and children were rounded up on December 11, 1981, they were separated, and all the girls age 12 and older and all the women were raped, the men were tortured, and then all of them were murdered. The youngest victim was only 3 days old. Only one woman in the whole town survived. The government soldiers who planned and implemented the massacre were armed with ammunitions provided by the U.S. and trained at the U.S. Government sponsored school "The School of the Americas" in Georgia (which is still in operation under the name "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation"). The U.S. Government claimed that reports of this massacre were propaganda, and refused to send personnel to investigate. It wasn't until 1990, when human rights groups began a project to exhume the mass graves, that the truth of this massacre was finally recognized.

We arrived in El Mozote, expecting to find a ghost town, but El Mozote is alive again. The family members of the dead, who had fled to Honduras before the massacre, had returned to rebuild. Bomb craters still litter the fields, and there are still houses that are in ruins, but there are also new houses and fresh coats of paint. There is a monument to the dead, which has the names of those whose bodies were positively identified. We were given a personal tour by a local resident. She spent a couple hours with us, showing us the places where these things took place, and telling us the story. The church, where the children had been locked up and murdered, had been burned down afterward. But the people of El Mozote built a new church. I have never seen such a church. Covering its walls are vibrant, dancing, joyful colors: colors of triumph. On one side there is a mural of the history and culture of the town. The other side of the church is dedicated to the children. It has an incredible mosaic, with children dancing and playing with suns and balloons and flowers and stars. Along the bottom of the church are the names and ages of all the children. And all around there was a garden. In the moment I saw it, it was the most beautiful garden in all the world: flowers of all different colors, roses, and benches and paths, all beautifully, lovingly tended. I wanted to sit in that garden forever. It was not joy that I felt there, for how can you feel joy when our world contains such evil. The beauty of El Mozote is in those who live, and what they have chosen to do with their grief. They have poured love over these gaping wounds. Wounds where loved ones were violently ripped away from them. They have poured love over broken, burned, and bloodstained ruins. And over mass graves they have planted gardens of love. The violence, the pain, the loss, the evil of it all cannot be washed away. But Love somehow has conquered it.

We live in a world that seems to be teetering on the edge of destruction. We are daily bombarded with the reality of increased food and fuel prices around the world, with news of conflicts, riots, disasters, and wars. And it seems that everywhere we look in the world there is injustice, oppression, hunger, and fear. Who will deliver us?

Love. It all comes down to Love. Love doesn't wash away the pain and evil of it all, but somehow Love can conquer even this.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Upcoming Mission Trips

This summer I am going on two short term mission trips with youth. The first trip is to Nevada for our Diocesan youth mission trip of the summer. We will be joining other groups of youth and chaperones from the western US at Walker River Reservation near Fallon, Nevada. The program is run by a group called the Sierra Service Project. My first mission experience ever was as a chaperone on an SSP mission trip to Nevada in 2005! (Photo above) I had such a wonderful time, working with the youth, meeting the local people, and learning a little something about their heritage. And I got totally hooked on mission! So I am excited to go back, this time with a large group from around the Diocese, and with our Bishop, to help people fix up their houses, to learn about their lives, and to help youth with processing their first experience of mission. Our trip begins June 29, and ends July 5.

The second trip is a two week trip to Honduras, and is also run by the Sierra Service Project. I will be the only chaperone for this trip, but will be meeting up with two project coordinators once we get to Honduras. I am excited about this trip because the schedule includes more than just building houses. We will be working with local people, and meeting with local youth. We will also be visiting cultural centers and museums to learn about the history and people of Honduras. The youth and young adults on this trip all have some prior mission experience, but I look forward to accompanying them through what may be their first international experience. For more information you can go to the SSP Honduras project webpage: http://sierraserviceproject.org/honduras_info.htm The dates are July 14-28.

I need to raise a total of $2,440 to cover the cost of both of these trips. The cost of the program includes travel and building materials on site. If you are interested in contributing to my mission fund, which will be used to fund these projects as well as my future long term mission assignment, please see the "Financial Support" in the side bar for donation information.

Thank you for your prayers and support!

Monday, April 7, 2008

U2charist Sermon

I had the great pleasure of preaching at two U2charists in the last two weeks, one in Darien Connecticut, and one in Arroyo Grande, California. A U2charist is a service to bennefit the Millennium Development Goals, and it uses U2 music throughout the service. Both services were amazing. The energy and enthusiasm was unparalleled in my church experience!

Below is my sermon from Darien, using these readings: Isaiah 58:6-9a, 1John 3:16-18, Matthew 25:31, 34-40

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My name is Robin Denney, I am from California, and I was a member of the Episcopal Young Adult Service Corps last year. I served as an agriculture instructor at a rural college in Liberia, West Africa, for one year. I very happy to have the opportunity to be here with you today.

We are gathered here today to join in the struggle against extreme poverty. Extreme poverty is something that we see in commercials on TV: dirty children with flies in their eyes. On the news we see people with their faces contorted with suffering. Sometimes our hearts are moved, but the commercial changes, and we move on with our lives.

I want to take you on a journey with me right now. I want to take you to Liberia for a few minutes. Liberia is a difficult place. Their civil war ended in 2003, and claimed the lives of 10% of the population. Poverty in Liberia is widespread, with more than 80% unemployment. The war destroyed so much, everything.

My students at the university were studying agriculture. They saw improving agriculture as the way forward for their country, and their passion and dedication inspired me. They wore western clothes, and the ones who could afford it drank beer in the evenings, sometimes to excess. Some of them cheated on their homework. They would sit around and argue with their friends about student politics and current events. In many ways they are like college students anywhere. But every single one of them, at some point in the last 15 years had a gun pointed at their head. Every one of them saw someone they cared about, murdered, and everyone one of them was forced to laugh as they watched atrocities.

My students wanted to get out into the communities and practice the development work they were learning about. So we started a community tree-planting project. We established 10 different orchards of Moringa trees, a tree that can be used to treat mal-nutrition, and my students did all of the promotion, and education with the communities. It was wonderful to get the chance to be out in the communities. The villages in Liberia are comprised of mud buildings with thatched roofs, with the occasional corrugated metal roof. The background is the tropical forests of Liberia. The women in the village spend much of their time cooking for the family. They also do a good portion of the farm work. The men work in agriculture unless they can find some other work. The children do chores like carrying the water, and helping with the cooking, but when they are not working, they are running around together. They build things, instead of using Leggos, they use garbage, and make cars that actually roll. They laugh and scream and chase each other. And if they can find a ball, they will play soccer until they fall down with exhaustion.

My students and I planted one of our Moringa orchards at a local orphanage. When we arrived with the trees, the children saw us a quarter of a mile away, and they ran down the hill, and across the rice patties to help us carry the trees. The girls were cradling the trees in their arms, and some of the boys were balancing them on their heads. I heard one girl say, “this is my tree, I’m going to water it every day.” And one of the boys said, “We’ll be eating it, and climbing it!” We showed the kids how to dig the holes and plant the trees, and pretty soon there was dirt flying everywhere, and kids running around laughing and squealing. These are real children.

One in five of these real children will die before reaching the age of five. And of the girls who survive, one in six of them will die in childbirth.

Suffering and death are things that, in our culture, we don’t expect to happen, and we are consumed by the fear that these things will happen to us. But in places like Liberia, they understand that everyone suffers and everyone dies. But they live their lives anyway, and focus on the things that matter most: relationships, caring for people, laughter, singing, dancing, and praising God.

We have so much to learn from the people of Liberia. We have so much to gain from entering into relationship with people who see life differently then we do. It’s not about feeling guilty, it’s not about having pity, it’s about opening ourselves to the experience, offering ourselves up in action. And it’s not about the outcome of our actions. The outcome of life is death. But everyone knows that it’s not your death that’s the most important thing, it’s how you live you life in between.

God’s call to us is clear in the readings we heard today:
“To loose the bonds of injustice… to let the oppressed go free, to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house.” [Isaiah 58:6-7]
From the Gospel—to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison. And the reading from 1stJohn “Let us love not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” [1John 3:18]

Why is God calling us to do all of these things? Is it because God messed up, and we’re supposed to fix it? Let’s look back at the reading from 1stJohn. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” We do these things, because it is in the doing, and the trying, that the love of God abides within us. and that we become part of God’s redeeming love in the world. This is an epic journey that God is calling you to: a journey of extreme action. And God is calling you just as you are, right here, right now. This is dangerous work. It will open your eyes to the suffering of the world, and once the eyes of your heart are opened, they will never be closed again. The enormity of the despair of the world is so great, it feels as though we will drown in it. But it is only in being with that despair, that we can come to understand true joy: the joy that God’s love can redeem even this!

I invite you to take your service bulletin home with you tonight, and spend some time with these readings. Listen to where God is calling you in your life.

We are gathered here tonight to celebrate the Millennium Development Goals. The Millennium Development Goals are about action. In 2000, at the largest gathering of world leaders in history, they unanimously approved the Millennium Development Goals. 189 countries said, we are humanity, and we stand united. We believe that every human being deserves a life free from poverty, injustice, and oppression. We are the world, and we have the power to change the world, through partnership and action. These goals that they agreed on are for us, the modern translation of Jesus’ call to action. And they are this: To eradicate extreme poverty, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.

We each are called, as surely as Mother Teresa was called into the gutters of Calcutta, to pick up the dying and care for them. God is calling us to offer up our broken selves, just as we are. Not some day when we have our lives together, and we are prepared. Right now, just as we are tonight. Sometimes we feel like God couldn’t possibly be calling us, God only calls people who have it together, and aren’t afraid. Let me tell you, I have never been as afraid as I was on that plane to Liberia. I was sure that I had made a terrible mistake, that God couldn’t possibly be calling me after all. Throughout my year in Liberia, I was messing up, doubting God, depressed, loosing my faith, and failing at every turn. But now I see that it was through moving beyond fear that my life, my heart, my self was transformed.

God is calling you beyond your fears to be transformed by Love…and action.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What's up Next!

This year I am preparing for several exciting short-term mission trips including: Honduras to lead a youth group building houses, El Salvador to visit my sisters, brother-in-law and nephew who are missionaries there and to work on a tree project, and Nevada to lead a youth group repairing houses.

I am also preparing for another year long mission trip, which I hope to leave on late this year. I do not yet have an assignment finalized, but I will be going as a member of the Young Adult Service Corps of the Episcopal Church.

My assignment will be in agriculture. I am passionate about how improving subsistance agriculture and making it more locally sustainable has a huge impact on communities. Improved production leads to better nutrition, money for education and health care, and perhaps most importantly: hope. I want to work with community members, children, and orphans, and plant demonstration gardens.

If you are interested in joining with me on this journey as a pray sponsor, or donor, please send me an email! ( redenney99 at yahoo.com) I need to raise a total of $12,000 to fund all of these projects.

If you are interested in supporting me financially, please send a check to:
St. Luke's Episcopal Church
Memo: "Missionary Fund"
PO Box 1168
Atascadero, CA 93423
(in order for the donation to be tax deductible, the check must be filled out in this way)

I will be preaching at a U2charist in Arroyo Grande, CA at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church on Sunday April 6 at 5pm. U2charist is a church service with U2 music, used to educate people about the Millennium Development Goals, and to raise money to support these goals.