Archive - January, 2007


Each day brings abundant hope. Here are examples
from Uganda, Liberia and Angola.

Each day brings an abundance of reason to hope. I believe hope is different from optimism because hope is rooted in reality and it results in action. I want to share three examples of hope.

This morning four young adults visited our offices at United Methodist Communications to present a video about the children of northern Uganda who have been at risk for almost two decades. The Lord’s Resistance Army, a militia that is anything but related to the Lord of Christian faith, has been abducting children and forcing boys into child soldiering and girls in sexual servitude. Three teenagers from California have produced a video and developed an organization to call attention to the children of this region, focusing on children who resist abduction and seek safety by sleeping enmass at bus terminals and other places.

The video documents their stories in a compelling, moving account. Today the Invisible Children team left us without a dry eye but extraordinarily hopeful that this horrible reality can be changed. I recommend checking out their website, buying a video and inviting them speak to your local church youth group. And then taking action.

Kathy Gilbert is a writer for United Methodist Communications who covers HIV/AIDS and stories related to the church beyond the United States among many other assignments. Kathy was in Liberia when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. She tells a story about how Liberian children responded to her, a native of Louisiana, when they heard the news of the hurricane’s destruction. Listen to her story and you will be warmed and filled with hope.

The post by Elizabeth Mckee from a hospital in Angola in which she saw the face of malaria for the first time is a moving account, simply written. She closes by thanking people in Portuguese for their contributions to provide bed nets to places such as this.

Each day brings an abundance of hope.

The Face of Malaria

Elizabeth McKee of the United Nations Foundation
and Nothing But Nets writes a compelling account of seeing the face of malaria
in Angola. Elizabeth, a member of The United Methodist Church, is traveling
with Sam Perkins, Brook Meeks and Ruth Reilly of the NBA Cares to visit bed net
distribution in Nigeria and United Methodist health care in Angola. Her
first-person account from Angola is compelling reading.

(Elizabeth McKee of the United Nations Foundation and Nothing But Nets writes a compelling account of the face of malaria in Angola. Elizabeth, a member of The United Methodist Church, is traveling with Sam Perkins, Brook Meeks and Ruth Reilly of the NBA Cares to visit bed net distribution in Nigeria and United Methodist health care in Angola. Her first-person account from Angola is compelling reading. This blog post was sent by e-mail from Angola. Posting her blog from Luanda is difficult due to unreliable Internet connection.)

The Face of Malaria

Staring malaria in the face is very new to me. The Nothing But Nets program works on malaria prevention through net distribution, not treatment. But we are currently in Angola to see the impact of malaria in an area where there is not a good supply of nets so we truly understand the need. The United Methodist Church has been our host for this portion of our observation trip. They do the most work around malaria prevention and treatment here in Angola.

In Luanda, Angola, floods have displaced thousands of people and caused malaria, a deadly killer, to ravage young people and families. Malaria was long present in Angola, but the standing water and basic sanitation nightmare that has resulted from the floods has created a perfect breeding ground for the worst strain of malaria, called Falsiparun.

The Nothing But Nets team visited the largest hospital in Luanda and the smallest clinic in a nearby village, both overrun with malaria to the point that people are lying on the sidewalks outside with IV’s in their arms. Walking through hospitals are feverish children who are so anemic from malaria that it is too late for ACT treatment to work. It makes me wonder how these children get so far gone before they get care.

The face of malaria looking back at me is a child with yellow eyes and so many flies on their face that I can’t see the opening of their nostrils. Ruth Riley from the WNBA said yesterday, “This experience makes me want to buy nets with every cent I have in my bank account, so none of them have to go through this.”

To the thousands of Nothing But Nets donors: all of your donations are making a difference. I cannot express how important these nets are to children and families in Africa. I wish I could show all of you what you are preventing with your 10 dollar donations. All I can say today from Luanda is Obrigada!

Elizabeth McKee

Looking for the Leading Causes of Life

Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray present a new way
to frame the search for meaning and hope in The Leading Causes of Life published
recently. Gunderson and Pray write that life is breaking out even in the midst
of death-dealing events and the challenge we must accept is to look for the soft
whisper of life when the loud crash of death is easier to hear.

I have chased death around the world. The killing fields of Kampuchea (Cambodia), famine in the Horn of Africa, civil war in Central America. Tsunami, hurricane, earthquake. You name it, and for many years I was there.

I wasn’t searching for death. I was looking for life and writing about how life prevails in the midst of death-dealing circumstances. And if you look for it, you will find life but, as Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray state in a new book, The Leading Causus of Life, you won’t find life by staring at death, or that which kills.

Often life is quiet, courageous and heroic; a colorful, tenacious little flower that pushes up through the cracks of a granite boulder. Death is sometimes–but not always–explosive, crushing and cataclysmic. It comes crashing in when a shell explodes in a village in Somalia or Iraq. It comes with the thunderous winds of hurricanes, the roar of rushing floodwaters or the rumble of earthquakes. We’ve seen and heard far too much of death lately, and we’ve talked about life less than we should.

Despite our neglect, life goes on doing what must be done to preserve life. And if you ask those engaged in courageous, heroic acts of life it’s quite likely they’ll say they’re just doing what needs to be done, what comes naturally. Most people do everything they can to restore life when it’s broken and to prevent death when it threatens. Life seeks life.

This can be as simple as a whispered word of encouragement or as physical as one hand grasping another to lift someone from the rubble.

Often we who write about such events frame our stories by how many people have died, or what those who suffer lack, because this is how we try to grasp the scope of circumstances. However, this framing takes a toll. It can desensitize us to deep suffering and leave us emotionally bereft. It can make problems seem too big to resolve. And it’s just plain depressing. Death does not lead to life.

I reflected on these thoughts as I read Gunderson and Pray. They write that changing the way we approach the all-to-common pathologies and deficits that exist in every life can result in finding sources of life that will make our journey on this earth more meaningful.

The roots of life, they write, are to be found in coherence, connection, agency (action), blessing and hope. These five create the environment in which we can flourish regardless of the diseases, pathologies or deficits we experience. And they empower us in ways that strengthen whole communities even as they empower individuals.

This has very practical value for me. I find myself involved these days in discussions about why I believe we should end malaria and whether this is too visionary to be accomplished. These conversations are with people who are genuinely concerned about others and are mature in their religious faith.

“If we emphasize ending malaria I’m afraid we will de-emphasize HIV/AIDS,” writes one. “If we start saving all these lives, as horrible as it is to think about, won’t we contribute to the over-population problem?” asks another.

When we isolate problems and focus on deficits, we put causes into competition with each other, write Gunderson and Pray. Our vision is constricted by the limits that we believe bind us.

They don’t recommend simple positive thinking, however. They say we must look deeply at causes and effects. We must confront death-dealing conditions realistically. When we do this, we find that malaria and HIV/AIDS, for example, need not compete for money and attention. They are interrelated and affect the whole human family. We are connected, as are the circumstances of the these deadly diseases. They flourish where poverty exists.

Rather than focus on death, we need strategies for life–empowering individuals and communities by encouraging discussion and solving problems, creating economic opportunities so that all have opportunity to thrive, creating health systems that are accessible and affordable for everyone, providing information about basic sanitation, contagion, clean water and disease prevention. These strategies integrate disparate causes and unify us around holistic solutions that give us life. They foster coherence, not competition.

It occurs to me that the prevailing narrative of fear and death since 9/11 has led us down a path that has not made us more secure nor unified the people of the world. We are more divided and death is more present. War is a strategy for death. Death leads to death.

Framing also affects how we heal brokenness, injustice and disease. Gunderson and Pray remind us that repeating a litany of despair does not result in hope for better life. The long-term framing of mainline denominations in the United States has been about decline. This litany is self-fulfilling. But it neglects the life that courses through these communities of faith. It ignores the coherence of their traditions that gave them life and spurred them to move forward. It leads to competitive behavior not connection. And it calls up a distinctly unfaithful and hopeless attitude about their resources and their future existence.

I often hear what can’t be done, and how limited resources are. This is what happens when we focus on what we lack and pull inward because of fear. In a world of great abundance and equally great creativity and skill, to believe that people of faith cannot change the death-dealing circumstances that crush vulnerable people, and to repeat that we don’t have resources to carry out compassionate ministries and to do justice is merely repeating a litany of death.

Gunderson and Pray remind us the more we speak of death, the more we forget about life. “You quite literally lose your life: you misplace it and forget where it came from.” (p. 181)

And they ask, “Why not look for the causes of life…?”

Indeed, why not?

To look for the leading causes of life is more realistic than talking about our limits and, in effect, negotiating with death, as Gunderson and Pray write.

Life is present in every community, and the challenge life presents to us is to find it, grab hold, and run with it because life is moving on. We have a choice, of course. Life or death. Gunderson and Pray tell us the language of death is easy to speak, but they call us to make a different choice and find a new language. And they believe the disciplines of life create the deep discourse that integrates, unifies and ultimately heals. It’s better to look for the leading causes of life than to chase death.

The Leading Causes of Life, Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray, published by The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Memphis, TN, 2006.Available at

Hunger in Zimbabwe and Somalia

The BBC reports the Famine Early Warning System
says hunger is looming in Zimbabwe. While it hasn’t been reported yet, I would
expect to hear a similar report about Somalia.

Hunger looms in Zimbabwe. The Famine Early Warning System, a network of the United States Agency for International Development, reports the winter wheat harvest has been below normal due to weather and lack of fuel. FEWS estimates 1.4 million people are “food insecure.” The lack of grain coupled with a shortage of fuel to transport available supplies and runaway inflation has left the poor in the country vulnerable to hunger.

The BBC reports a shortfall of 850,000 tons of grain. The government plans to import approximately 60% of the shortfall but lacks foreign currency to purchase the food supplies. A 1200% inflation rate makes Zimbabwean currency virtually valueless outside the country.

When the General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church met in Zimbabwe the first week of January, Commissioners helped unload fifty pound bags of grain at several schools in rural areas. They also prepared porridge for lunch for two days the first week of the new school year.

I haven’t heard reports of hunger yet from Somalia but floods in the south and military action have displaced the population, creating conditions for hunger. I have read that food distribution has been sporadic due to the Ethiopian drive to chase the Islamic Courts militia into the bush in the south. U.S. airstrikes have also caused people to flee towns along the coast. This disruption of normal life hampers farmers from planting and working their fields and will undoubtedly result in food shortages. This will add to population movement as people search for food in refugee camps along the Kenya-Somalia border. It is an escalating process of destabilization.

Both situations will take diplomatic intervention by the UN to get food distributed, and in Somalia it will require pacification and stability.

My hope is that these situations will not be neglected or crowded from global attention by the war in Iraq. When I hear about hunger today I see faces and remember the names of real people, not just statistics. But whether we know them or not, we cannot allow the world to forget these folks, and many more who are not in the news just now.

There is no reason for hunger to exist in this world of abundance.

Malaria in Jamaica

The Time Global Health Blog reports on an
outbreak of malaria in Jamaica.

The TIME Global Health Blog notes that malaria has been identified in Jamaica. UNICEF has sent bednets and the Centers for Disease Control have issued a traveler’s warning.

Zimbabwe Coverage

These links cover the visit of the General
Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church to Zimbabwe. The
Commission met for the first time outside the continental United States and
participated in instructional classses and feeding programs for children made
orphans by HIV/AIDS.

This is a collection of stories covering the first-ever meeting of The General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church outside the United States. The Commission is the board of directors for the agency responsible for communicating on behalf of the global United Methodist Church.

The meeting began in Harare, hearing from veteran Zimbabwean journalist Ezekiel Makunike and discussing four proposals by the General Secretaries of the church to support congregational development, new church starts, leadership development, addressing poverty and conducting a global health initiative.

The Commission has authorized and supported a churchwide initiative to provide communications equipment and training for communicators in Africa, Europe and the Philippines. The Commissioners got hands-on experience interacting with Zimbabwean communicators.

Visiting the Old Mutare Mission, a Methodist mission begun in the 1800’s when Zimbabwe was colonized and known as Rhodesia, the Commissioners met the supervising physician at the mission hospital that serves twenty-five thousand people in the region. The Mission includes a boarding school and a children’s home caring for approximately fifty children orphaned by AIDS. Upon learning the Mission did not have sufficient bed nets to protect patients and children from mosquitos, they pledged to purchase nets for the hospital, children’s home and a residential school for deaf children in the city of Mutare.

The Commissioners hauled fifty-pound bags of grain to six schools in the Marange region. The grain is boiled and served to children for as porridge for lunch. The experience revealed the labor of a typical rural African woman every day.

HIV/AIDS–The Toll Lives On

The infection rate for HIV/AIDs is declining in
Zimbabwe. But the toll lingers on in lives left torn asunder by this terrible

(This is the sixth post from Mutare, Zimbabwe where the General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church met Jan. 3-10, 2007. With representatives from Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, this was the first meeting of the Commission (board of directors) outside the United States. The Commission supervises United Methodist Communications, the communications agency responsible for communications services for the global church.)

At the end of a long workday, a young boy sits on the front steps of a small adobe house set in the midst of a plowed field. He gazes expressionless toward the distant mountains. Evening breezes whip rivulets of dust into the air. A small clay pot rests angularly in the soil under a wood stick platform where cooking utensils once dried after washing. Every inch of this arid hillside land is cultivated right up to the house itself. But for the mountains, it looks for all the world like a scene from dust-bowl Oklahoma.

But this is the mountain highlands of southern Zimbabwe and the youth, Tenderakai, lives with his younger sister Priscilla in the house in the plowed field. Down the way a few hundred yards is his grandmother’s rondeval.

Tenderakai and Priscilla don’t know farm life. They were born in the city. They came from Harare in November when their mother died from HIV/AIDS. Their father passed away earlier, adding them to the twenty million children and youth orphaned by the virus. This is the farm of their widowed grandmother who lives has already taken in two other grandchildren orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The younger children live with her.

Despite a decreasing infection rate in Zimbabwe–an encouraging sign–the lingering toll of HIV/AIDS is the burden it leaves behind in disrupted lives. The grief of losing one parent is devastating for any child, but losing both parents and being uprooted from a familiar home environment to a completely foreign place is life-shattering.

Across Africa, the legacy of HIV/AIDS is the same. Grandparents who have reached an age when they should be cared for themselves are starting new lives with young children who, instead, require their care. Not that anyone has time to complain. Survival doesn’t grant one the luxury of self-pity and it doesn’t allow time for rest. There are mouths to feed, school fees to pay, uniforms to buy and fields to plant.

Among some, especially women, information about HIV/AIDS is no longer unsuitable for conversation. Road signs and billboards on school buildings urge abstinence and use of precautions such as condoms.

But an exchange in one of the sessions of our communications workshop was revealing. A young female AIDS activist spoke to the group of Zimbabwean religious communicators about interviewing AIDS-affected persons, and how subtle behaviors affect individuals sensitive about their physical condition. This was followed by a demonstration interview with a shy young mother with the disease.

As she speaks of the deeply intimate effects of the disease on her life and her infant daughter, giggles are heard at the back of the room. It is unsettling. A young women made a remark completely unrelated to the presentation and she and her neighbor laughed. But the rest of the group could not know this, and the young mother is crestfallen. It is awkward and exceedingly uncomfortable.

To the presenter it is a teaching moment, and she spares no lack of clarity in explaining the need for sensitivity when conducting interviews. Human dignity, if not compassion, demand respectful treatment, she says. Those who had created the discomfort are embarrassed but they learn an important lesson. An interview is a relationship and it must be conducted with care. Both demeanor and language are important.

The conversation turned to how the subject of preventing HIV/AIDS should be introduced to children. A young male pastor said it is inappropriate for fathers to discuss the subject, especially with their daughters. Some of the women in the group could not conceal their disagreement.

On Finding the Leading Causes of Life

While in Zimbabwe, I am reading a new book by
Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray about The Leading Causes of Life, and It gives me
a new way to look at the struggle people here face daily.

(This is the fifth post from Mutare, Zimbabwe where the General Commission on Communications of The United Methodist Church is meeting. With representatives from Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States, this is the first meeting of the Commission (board of directors) outside the United States. The Commission supervises United Methodist Communications, the communications agency responsible for communications services for the global church.)

Gertrude grew up in an orphanage run by The United Methodist Church in Old Mutare. She knows how painful it is to be without the love of family, even when you live in a community that cares for you and gives you their love. It took some deep thinking, she says, about what to do when she reached the age of eighteen and was too old to remain in the children’s home.

For a child with no family to fall back on it’s hard to be thrust into the world to make your own way. Gertrude chose to become a pastor, and more, she chose to also take on responsibility for children who, like her, have no others to help them reach maturity.

She isn’t operating an orphanage with paid staff, but she does have legal guardianship of the children in her care. Ten children live in her home in rural Zimbabwe and she has legal responsibility for the well-being of seven others.

I learned this when she whispered to me in a workshop on writing. We were asked to share one thing about ourselves and she said barely audibly, “I have seventeen children.” That got my attention!

I learned she felt called to care for orphaned children as she had been cared for, and because she knows first-hand the emotional struggles they live with. She provides for them primarily by subsistence gardening and baking sweet rolls for sale in a local market. Some of her older children have reached adulthood and contribute to the care of the younger ones still at home.

Amazed by this scheme, I continue to ask all the questions whose answers come so naturally to Gertrude. In fact, they make my questions seem trivial.

How did you decide to do this? “I understand what the children go through so I just decided to help them.”

How do you make ends meet? “I teach them to garden. We have a subsistence garden. I teach them to make rolls. We sprinkle sugar on them and sell them.”

Can you make enough from gardening and baking to survive? “Some of my children are adults now. They work in the city and send me money.”
She makes it sound so simple.

I would have mulled it over until I convinced myself of the impossibility of such a scheme, or I would have written a plan, changed it a few dozen times, given it further thought and decided I needed additional advice, and I’d still be considering it. But Gertrude just went and did it.

No matter how many times I go to Africa, I find a similar story. I find people who just do what has to be done without considering why they can’t do it. It’s built into the fiber of the continent, I believe. And it’s why despite all that should cause us to despair for Africa, I don’t. Africa is a continent so full of life it’s beyond imagination.

While in Africa I was reading a new book by Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray–The Leading Causes of Life–and it summarizes Gertrude’s spirit perfectly. It also reinforces my own view of Africa and Africans and gave me new words to state it. I’ll write a more complete review for readers of Perspectives later. I re-print an excerpt below with permission. Here is how Gary and Larry write about people such as Gertrude:

As the swell of AIDS orphans reached tidal proportions, UNICEF and others wondered what kind and scale was possible. The obvious one-orphanages-was impossible. How could we build and sustain orphanages for 20 million children amid already broken African economies? They launched a small study in just six countries to evaluate what might be done by the world’s humanitarian agencies. To everyone’s surprise, they learned that small groups of village women had already moved quietly, but at very large scale. On average, each group of women (usually members of a small church) was taking care of about a hundred kids, sort of like a perpetual, full-service summer camp. This was happening in thousands of villages without any encouragement, training, or funding from the big agencies from afar that were thought to be indispensable in such work.
These women expressed their own agency, not waiting or even thinking about waiting for any agencies. They simply did what they could do. While in most villages, the male preachers were still going on perpetuating the worst stigmas imaginable about these kids–the women simply did what they knew to do.

Leading Causes of Life, Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray, published by The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Memphis, TN,

© 2006 Gary Gunderson

And thus, Gertrude.

When Food is a Luxury

When food is a luxury it’s hard

Some in imbawe must choose between buyig clothing and eating, or choosing whic limited food they can afford to buy. That is the state of imbabwe today.

HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe


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