Kristof: Congo Ignored

Having just flown out of Congo this morning I read Nicholas Kristof’s column Congo Ignored in the NY Times while sitting in an airport lounge in Johannesburg, South Africa. He writes that the raping and death in eastern Congo is one of the most ignored humanitarian crises in the world today. He says it’s a horrific war zone where barbarism has been inflicted on people for several months. He hopes the world will give Congo the same compassion it is currently bringing to Haiti.

He’s correct, Congo’s suffering is ignored by the world community and the bodies just keep piling up. However, I’d go him one further. It’s not only the war zone that needs immediate, urgent attention. The whole of the Congo needs it. Certainly eastern Congo needs it most of all, and most urgently. But this country is in a frustrating long-term fix. Someone with influence and power should address it. The E.E.C., U.S. and China are the most likely outside powers who could bring influence to bear.

Mining extraction and economic trade have not worked to the advantage of the people, but they are enriching elites. This is a the long-term reality, dating as far back as Belgian colonialism two hundred years ago.

Only yesterday I walked with a group of aid specialists through a suburb of Lumbumbashi with twenty thousand residents. The infection rate from malaria is high. Standing water, open sewers, a contaminated water table and scarcely any economic infrastructure for jobs or businesses makes this place one of the poorest suburbs in the world.

The only way out is for the people to be empowered through community organization to create better conditions for themselves. This will take support from outside because their resources are limited–their own hands and hopes. Powerful as these are, they still need training in marketable skills. They need cash resources, education, materials for better housing and shops, clean water, improved roads and sanitation.

This won’t just happen, it will come with community organization. And that won’t happen unless the community leaders are empowered and trained. So long as people live in poverty conditions they assume they have no voice and they live as if they have no power. No one listens to them and no one pays them any attention. Congo ignored, as Kristof correctly writes.

Eastern Congo, central Congo and western Congo. Urgent as the deaths are in the east, and disgusting as the raping that is part of the strategy of intimidation and terror, death by malaria, malnutrition and infectious diseases such as malaria are no less significant.

With the smells of that suburb still in my nostrils and the dust still on my shoes, I agree with Kristof that the world must pay attention, and more. It must stop the dying in the east and the west through enlightened policies, peacekeeping and community-based development. And it can be done.

I’ll write more about that next.

Save One Life, Save the World

I’m writing from Lumbumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo where this afternoon I sat in on a very remarkable conversation. A UN special envoy for malaria was addressing a group of religious leaders from several Protestant traditions and two imams. The meeting was held outdoors at the edge of a stand of towering bamboo at a Roman Catholic retreat center. It was late afternoon. All the participants had already put in a long day working on planning for a World Malaria Day event that will feature a distribution of insecticide-treated bednets.

The meeting was significant because Christians and Muslims have come together here to combat a common enemy, as one said today. The enemy is malaria.

Second, it’s notable that when the coalition is fully formed they hope to have additional members from other religious traditions. They’ve extended invitations.

One speaker explained the group’s mission by referring to past experiences which were more spiritual and less practical. He said they have come together for interfaith religious observances, for example. Tackling malaria is a move from the spiritual to the practical.

But the grand imam for the district said he differed with the statement. It sounded as the newly forming group was about to have its first disagreement.

That was not the case, however. The imam said, “The work we are about to begin is not less spiritual, but more deeply spiritual. The Quran says when you save one life, you save the world. What we are doing is not merely practical, it is more spiritual.”

The thought caused a hush of appreciation to fall over the meeting as the members reflected on his words. It was a statement that was not only interesting, it was an important moment of spiritual teaching. This did not escape the members of the group.

Another person spoke saying that, in fact, the three religions of Abraham all affirm a similar claim about the sanctity of human life. And the group seemed to be finding a deeper commitment to the fight against malaria by affirming life, which is, after all, good theology whether you find it in the Quran, the Talmud, or the Bible.

Where Two or Three Are Gathered…

This is also posted on a blog I write for United Methodist Communications.

Hearing the stories of the UMCOR and IMA executives trapped in the rubble of the Hotel Montana is to hear of conditions so horrifying they are unimaginable. Utter chaos. At times utter hopelessness. And always courage and more courage. Faith and more faith.

It is a profound gift that Jim Gulley and Sarla Chand give us when they tell this story, difficult as it is to hear. We need to know, to grieve and to hope. And they help us.

They help us to fill in the blanks. To understand the darkness and chaos. The silence. The pain. With their help, our heavy hearts can take solace in the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith. Through their words, we imagine the unimaginable – being trapped under tons of rubble in darkness.

Strangely, however, for me it’s harder to imagine singing. But sing they did. "I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got joy like a fountain, in my soul."

Such strength and faith.

They help us to piece together the fragments of life in the darkness and silence, to assimilate order out of the chaos. Our minds are still troubled and our hearts still heavy, but we find a measure of peace, like a river, in our souls.

They are helping us to shape a narrative for a community of faith. We stand with Jim Gulley, who tells us, like Job of old, he has no answers about why some live and some die, some suffer and others don’t. But some questions have no answer, and there are times when we need each other more than answers.

And these brothers and sisters in Christ comforted each other, told stories and sang. They created community out of chaos. They cared for one another. Offered comfort, encouragement and stories.

We also hear from others like Pam Carter, who was evacuated unharmed on the outside but her heart was torn by leaving a friend who chose to stay. Their separation under such conditions haunts her. But she is tirelessly advocating for Haiti now more than before.

Asked if they will return to the place of their great personal pain, all answer yes. The tasks that brought them together remain unfinished. The work of redressing the inequities of the people of Haiti has not run its course. The challenge of empowering the women, improving the quality of life of the children, partnering with the church in Haiti all lie before us and even more so now. The search for justice and the fruitful life God intends for all will bring them back, and perhaps take them to other places in God’s world as well.

This is the narrative they are helping us to understand. We share a faith of deep conviction about the abiding, loving presence of God in our midst, wherever we find ourselves. And this faith is expressed in practical action that changes the world as we believe God calls us to partner with God for change.

And, for me, most profound of all: "Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also." Even under tons of rubble in the darkness and dust and blood, I am with you.

And if this be true, and I believe it is, then we must be with people wherever they find themselves seeking a fruitful life because that is where God is and that is who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

God, what a story.

Where Two or Three Are Gathered Together

Hearing the stories of the UMCOR and IMA executives trapped in the rubble of the Hotel Montana is to hear of conditions so horrifying they are unimaginable. Utter chaos. At times utter hopelessness. And always courage and more courage. Faith and more faith.

It is a profound gift that Jim Gulley and Sarla Chand give us when they tell this story, difficult as it is to hear. We need to know, to grieve and to hope. And they help us.

They help us to fill in the blanks. To understand the darkness and chaos. The silence. The pain. With their help, our heavy hearts can take solace in the strength of the human spirit and the power of faith. Through their words, we imagine the unimaginable – being trapped under tons of rubble in darkness.

Strangely, however, for me it’s harder to imagine singing. But sing they did. “I’ve got peace like a river, I’ve got love like an ocean, I’ve got joy like a fountain, in my soul.”

Such strength and faith.

They help us to piece together the fragments of life in the darkness and silence, to assimilate order out of the chaos. Our minds are still troubled and our hearts still heavy, but we find a measure of peace, like a river, in our souls.

They are helping us to shape a narrative for a community of faith. We stand with Jim Gulley, who tells us, like Job of old, he has no answers about why some live and some die, some suffer and others don’t. But some questions have no answer, and there are times when we need each other more than answers.

And these brothers and sisters in Christ comforted each other, told stories and sang. They created community out of chaos. They cared for one another. Offered comfort, encouragement and stories.

We also hear from others like Pam Carter, who was evacuated unharmed on the outside but her heart was torn by leaving a friend who chose to stay. Their separation under such conditions haunts her. But she is tirelessly advocating for Haiti now more than before.

Asked if they will return to the place of their great personal pain, all answer yes. The tasks that brought them together remain unfinished. The work of redressing the inequities of the people of Haiti has not run its course. The challenge of empowering the women, improving the quality of life of the children, partnering with the church in Haiti all lie before us and even more so now. The search for justice and the fruitful life God intends for all will bring them back, and perhaps take them to other places in God’s world as well.

This is the narrative they are helping us to understand. We share a faith of deep conviction about the abiding, loving presence of God in our midst, wherever we find ourselves. And this faith is expressed in practical action that changes the world as we believe God calls us to partner with God for change.

And, for me, most profound of all: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I will be also.” Even under tons of rubble in the darkness and dust and blood, I am with you.

And if this be true, and I believe it is, then we must be with people wherever they find themselves seeking a fruitful life because that is where God is and that is who we are called to be as followers of Jesus.

God, what a story.

Video
Sarla Chand: “I was their connection to the outside world.”

Sarla Chand: “We at IMA will do all we can to honor Sam and Clint’s legacy.”

Sarla Chand: “Until the very end, they were joyful.”

Jim Gulley: “I want you to tell my family how much I love them.”

Jim Gulley: “We are French firemen. We are here to take you out.”

Jim Gulley: “My last walk with Sam was tragically short.”

Audio
Pam Carter: “Haiti needed us before. Multiply this a hundredfold.”

Related Articles
Haiti quake survivor Chand recalls hotel rescue

Survivor: UMCOR trio kept faith in Haiti ruins

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The Digital Media Movement

As Haiti moves toward recovery and as Christians look at how faith is reflected in major issues confronting the world such as this one, I am interviewing knowledgeable people who can offer insight on the interaction between faith and culture.

These interviews may be in podcast format, video or Skype, depending on circumstances and our capacity to reach them.

You may have noticed that United Methodist Communications has moved into providing content through digital media in a big way. You can get updates on Facebook and Twitter, through email and online at umc.org, umcom.org and rethinkchurch.org.

The world is moving at breakneck speed to online distribution of meaningful content. And we are using cell phones, laptops and desktops among other tools to receive this content.

A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 8- to 18-year-olds are living their waking hours online. They pack in 10 hours and 45 minutes receiving and distributing media content every day, according to the Kaiser report.

In every age group, the movement to digital media is growing rapidly. On behalf of the church, we at United Methodist Communications seek to engage, inform and inspire—and we recognize we must do this with every tool at our disposal.

Digital media are about more than one-way information, of course. They are about conversation, participation and interaction. My hope is that the informed material we offer about Haiti will carry out these three goals.

I also hope you will give me feedback about what you would like to see discussed and persons you would like to hear from.

This ain’t Uncle Walter’s world

If there were even an iota of doubt that the world has changed because of digital technologies, it should be erased now and forever by the Haiti earthquake. As I listened recently to an official source tell me “off the record” information, I was reading that same information on Facebook, and I received a link from a colleague about an online newspaper article containing the information. My “source” wanted to keep this “under the radar,” but he couldn’t keep it off the Internet.

Today information moves at the speed of the Internet. “Under the radar” is a quaint colloquialism. This new reality comes as disruptive and threatening to established communications patterns and traditional command and control organizations because it introduces a new set of values and new ways of perceiving.

It means the gatekeepers have lost control of the gate through which information flows. They can’t move fast enough because there are just too many cell phones and laptops in the hands of too many individuals with data packages and wireless access. There are too many gates to control. Those institutions that try will break down under the strain or become irrelevant. We will simply go elsewhere for information.

In this superheated environment, if you do not contribute to the conversation, you cannot expect to influence it, and you are irrelevant to it – even if you are an official source. The conversation will continue without you, making up the story as it moves along.

Of course, this is uncomfortable. It is certainly frustrating. And it results in a crazy mix of fact and fantasy. Yet it happens and it won’t stop. Yearn as we may for yesteryear and news anchor Walter Cronkite telling us “that’s the way it is,” those days are gone and they’re not coming back.

As I have worked with staff of United Methodist Communications during this week of earthquake coverage, I have felt like the steel ball in an old pinball machine, buffeted in every area by new information, decisions or challenges. I move through one passageway and I get slammed backward and have to adjust because a new force has been exerted. Not just the news operation, but marketing, fundraising, technology infrastructure, web utilization, graphic design, and public information are all affected by these changes.

Add to this, input from Twitter, Google and Facebook – real-time conversation, reaction and utilization – and you have a rock ’em, sock ’em communications environment that is always on and always moving. And that, as Uncle Walter used to say, is the way it is.

Don’t Tell Me Love Ain’t Worth the Fight

This is a cross-post from a blog I write for the agency for which I work, United Methodist Communications.

It is a time of darkness and deep sadness. This morning I wrote a personal note to my colleague Sam Dixon telling him of my joy at his rescue. Around noon today as I sat in the newsroom at United Methodist Communications, my colleague David Briggs informed Tim Tanton and me that Sam was dead.

I exhaled loudly, as if I had been kicked in the stomach. Tim suggested we pray together, and we did.

I went to my office and listened to the song that’s the music bed for our television spot playing now. And a line caught in my throat. "Don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight," by the band The Congress.

Sam fought the fight against poverty and disease. He fought against indifference to human suffering and the unequal division of the world’s resources. And I think he would say, "don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight." He died fighting the good fight.

I was to be in a meeting with him on Thursday to talk about combating malaria. And we were inviting him to attend our board meeting for strategic planning next month. Now there is this void.

This past week has been a time of emotional highs and lows. And if I’m feeling this at a distance, how much more so must it be for families missing loved ones? They are heavy on my mind. They fight through these days, clinging to hope and seeing reasons for despair.

In times like this when our human vulnerability is so fully exposed, faith means the most to me. We stand in the gathering darkness utterly vulnerable, our pretenses laid bare, our arrogance humbled, our false sense of power brought low and perhaps most significantly, our hopes dashed. In this state, in some miraculous way, we experience God’s grace.

Thomas Merton wrote, "If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent him to us as he is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness." In the darkness we find God. A mystery.

Through no action on our part, without justification or reason, it happens. We are encircled by a loving presence that affirms us, strengthens us, assures us and restores our hope. A great cloud of witnesses testifies to us that our vulnerability is not the whole story. There is more. It is the story of God reaching out to us because it is the nature of God to be with us in our darkest time.

The scriptures come alive. Those who wrote the sacred stories experienced life as we do. The passage of centuries does not diminish their authenticity. They knew pain as we know it, stumbled in the darkness as we stumble.

And in darkness they find themselves, even in their vulnerability, powerlessness and grief. "Once you were not a people, now you are God’s people," one writes. "I will gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise," another says of God’s promise. And a third says assuringly, "You will not fear the terror of the night." Yes, they know. They have walked where we have walked. Our humanness is their humanness.

In this I find hope. A connecting thread. A common humanity. "The Lord is near to the broken-hearted," they tell us. "Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning." A promise and hope.

Don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight.

Don’t Tell me Love Ain’t Worth the Fight

It is a time of darkness and deep sadness. This morning I wrote a personal note to my colleague Sam Dixon telling him of my joy at his rescue. Around noon today as I sat in the newsroom at United Methodist Communications, my colleague David Briggs informed Tim Tanton and me that Sam was dead.

I exhaled loudly, as if I had been kicked in the stomach. Tim suggested we pray together, and we did.

I went to my office and listened to the song that’s the music bed for our television spot playing now. And a line caught in my throat. “Don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight,” by the band The Congress. http://bit.ly/pE9ap

Sam fought the fight against poverty and disease. He fought against indifference to human suffering and the unequal division of the world’s resources. And I think he would say, “don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight.” He died fighting the good fight.

I was to be in a meeting with him on Thursday to talk about combating malaria. And we were inviting him to attend our board meeting for strategic planning next month. Now there is this void.

This past week has been a time of emotional highs and lows. And if I’m feeling this at a distance, how much more so must it be for families missing loved ones? They are heavy on my mind. They fight through these days, clinging to hope and seeing reasons for despair.

In times like this when our human vulnerability is so fully exposed, faith means the most to me. We stand in the gathering darkness utterly vulnerable, our pretenses laid bare, our arrogance humbled, our false sense of power brought low and perhaps most significantly, our hopes dashed. In this state, in some miraculous way, we experience God’s grace.

Thomas Merton wrote, “If nothing that can be seen can either be God or represent him to us as he is, then to find God we must pass beyond everything that can be seen and enter into darkness.” In the darkness we find God. A mystery.

Through no action on our part, without justification or reason, it happens. We are encircled by a loving presence that affirms us, strengthens us, assures us and restores our hope. A great cloud of witnesses testifies to us that our vulnerability is not the whole story. There is more. It is the story of God reaching out to us because it is the nature of God to be with us in our darkest time.

The scriptures come alive. Those who wrote the sacred stories experienced life as we do. The passage of centuries does not diminish their authenticity. They knew pain as we know it, stumbled in the darkness as we stumble.

And in darkness they find themselves, even in their vulnerability, powerlessness and grief. “Once you were not a people, now you are God’s people,” one writes. “I will gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise,” another says of God’s promise. And a third says assuringly, “You will not fear the terror of the night.” Yes, they know. They have walked where we have walked. Our humanness is their humanness.

In this I find hope. A connecting thread. A common humanity. “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,” they tell us. “Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” A promise and hope.

Don’t tell me love ain’t worth the fight.

“I Am With You”

Over the course of a lifetime, I have come to the conviction that we are closest to God when we are most vulnerable and exposed. When we are at our most human.

The events in Haiti bring this conviction to the top of my mind once again. I see children in the streets unattached to adult family members. I see the wounded, exposed on the sidewalk in front of broken buildings. I hear the stories of relatives in the U.S. yearning for contact with loved ones and instead experiencing the yawning silence of damaged communications systems.

I see workers digging furiously, sometimes with their bare hands, to free trapped people. I see others tending the wounded. I read prayers on social media, as if the world is raising its voice in a chorus of concern.

I see reports of a global response that is being mounted miraculously only hours after the tragedy.

When I am confronting situations like the Haiti earthquake, I hear this conviction as if it is a whisper, “God is here. God is with us. God is in our midst.” I cannot explain it. The logic of faith breaks down in the complexities of human suffering and the struggle to comprehend life and not give victory to death. I hear this whisper and I believe it. It is beyond logic and even beyond reasonable comprehension.

Because it is a conviction deep in the well of my soul, I speak of it carefully and quietly, if at all. Perhaps I think it’s so personal I should not impose it on others, and so deeply held it does not require my simplistic explanation because that would seem defensive. It is a conviction, neither platitude nor argument.

And a promise. “…remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)

We exist in the embrace of God who weeps with us, comforts us, stands with us in the midst of our suffering, feels the emptiness of our silence and holds us in the palm of God’s own hand.

I repeated it last night in conversation with myself and in prayer as I thought of the lives lost, the colleagues and family members not heard from, the homeless, injured, dazed and traumatized.

“The Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands… (Isa. 49:13-16. The Wesley Study Bible)

When you are most vulnerable and exposed. When you are most human, I am with you, always.

When God is Close

Over the course of a lifetime I have come to the conviction that we are closest to God when we are most vulnerable and exposed. When we are at our most human.
The events in Haiti bring this conviction to the top of my mind once again. I see children in the streets unattached to adult family members. I see the wounded, exposed on the sidewalk in front of broken buildings. I hear the stories of relatives in the U.S. yearning for contact with loved ones and instead experiencing the yawning silence of a damaged communications systems.
I see workers digging furiously, sometimes with their bare hands, to free trapped people. I see others tending the wounded. I read prayers on social media, as if the world is raising its voice in a chorus of concern.
I see reports of a global response that is being mounted miraculously only hours after the tragedy.
When I am in situations like the Haiti earthquake I hear this conviction as if it is a whisper, “God is here. God is with us. God is in our midst.” I cannot explain it. The logic of faith breaks down in the complexities of human suffering and the struggle to comprehend life and not give victory to death. I hear this whisper and I believe it. It is beyond logic and even beyond reasonable comprehension.
Because it is a conviction deep in the well of my soul I speak of it carefully and quietly, if at all. Perhaps I think it’s so personal I should not impose it on others, and so deeply held it does not require my simplistic explanation because that would seem defensive. It is a conviction, neither platitude nor argument.
And a promise. “…remember I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:20)
God is with us. All of us. We exist in the embrace of God who weeps with us, comforts us, stands with us in the midst of our suffering, feels the emptiness of our silence and holds us in the palm of God’s own hand.
I repeated it last night in conversation with myself and in prayer as I thought of the lives lost, the colleagues and family members not heard from, the homeless, injured, dazed and traumatized.
“The Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands… (Isa. 49:13-16. The Wesley Study Bible)
When you are most vulnerable and exposed. When you are most human, I am with you, always.