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#ShareTheJourney – A Reflection for Holy Week

30 Mar

How we respond to people who are most in need demonstrates our beliefs more than any statement of faith. On this week when we enter anew into the passion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, I can’t help but reflect on these sacred mysteries in the light of having sojourned this Lent with refugees and those working with them. The Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda brought our group face to face with some of the worst of man’s inhumanity to man. We met those who suffered in the Congolese War, spent time learning about the Rwandan Genocide, and encountered the victims of gender-based violence finding anew their dignity with the help of others.

Moving past identity as refugees
First, I want to acknowledge briefly the very problem of discussing “refugees” as the term, while helpful, creates an unecessary distance. The term “refugee” is an important political word which seeks to assist persons who “owing to wellfounded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion….” Refugee is a useful political term, but not a theological one. For Christians working in migration ministries, we must push past this identifier to something more essential.

The Image of God
From the first chapter of the first book of Hebrew scripture, we learn that all humans are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26–27). The Image of God is a central concept referred to in theology by its Latin name, Imago Dei. This theological truth for Jews and Christians alike grounds any understanding of work with persons displaced by persecution in their essential worth as people made in God’s image and likeness.

For Christians, Imago Dei is further understood in terms of the deep relationships among the persons of the Trinity which means to be made in God’s image is relational and not primarily individual. Jesus taught that all of the Law and the Prophets depend on loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving your neighbor as yourself. Jesus would define neighbor as broadly as possible with his Parable of the Good Samaritan in which the Samaritan, an often hated and mistrusted “other” for Jews living in Israel, was the neighbor to a person in need. For those who seek to follow Jesus, caring for widows, orphans, and yes refugees, is essential to our faith rather than something optional.

The Heart of an Alien
This is certainly seen in the Hebrew scriptures as applying specifically to those forced out of their homeland. “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 22.21) and “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt,” (Exodus 23.9) are but two of many examples.

The second chapter of Matthew’s Gospel tells of the Flight into Egypt in which Jesus’ earthly parents fled persecution by King Herod. Jesus earliest memories would have been of living as a refugee and in a synagogue in Egypt where he would have heard the words of the Torah concerning treatments of aliens.

Seeking and Serving Christ
For Episcopalians, this is also found in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in the Baptismal Covenant. In particular, the two questions, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” and “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” The answer to both being, “I will with God’s help.”

These questions in the Baptismal Covenant flow from our understanding of the Christian virtue of Charity, or caritas, found in the self-giving agape love of Jesus. That agape love is most fully embodied in the Great Triduum, which is as one prayer celebrated in the three days from Maundy Thursday evening to Easter. As we see most fully how far the love of God extends to all humanity, we are challenged to make that love real in our own lives. While there are many ways this can be lived out, assisting refugees will remain a vital one in a world where roughly 15 million people have fled their homeland to escape persecution and many millions more are internally displaced in their own country due to the same pressures.

What We Accomplish Together
There is no denying that issues of migration are politically thorny. Working with refugees identified by the United Nations and U.S. State Department is more straightforward, but also involves a tangle of issues. Yet for those of us of faith, we can not simply consider these political realities with no reference to our theology which reminds us of our common identity binding us to all other humans.

This Holy Week, the agape love we encounter in the story of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection also points to the need to show that same love to persons suffering persecution. Through thirty affiliates across the country, Episcopal Migration Ministries makes the love of God real each year for more than 5,000 persons resettling in the United States. This is, of course, purely to serve others and without proselytizing or other motives other than assisting people in need, especially in there first months in this country. Through this ministry, the Episcopal Church practices what we preach about seeking and serving Christ in all persons and respecting the dignity of all. On average, our churchwide efforts help 100 persons a week begin a new life. While not every Episcopalian need support this great work of our church personally, we can still appreciate this ministry as an important part of what we do together that none of us could accomplish on our own.

peace,
Frank

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

All photos above are from our visit to Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda and are by Wendy Karr Johnson.

 
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A Heart Opening Pilgrimage to East Africa

18 Mar

“I never knew I could be a human being
and could make something of myself.”

These words were said with wonderment by Zewditu, a refugee from Ethiopia I met last week at RefugePoint in Nairobi, Kenya. She was looking back on the life she had as she fled her homeland from the perspective of being a small business owner in Kenya. The life she and her children now share is one she could not have imagined when she fled persecution at home. (Zewditu is pictured here at right).

Taking part these past two weeks in Episcopal Migration Ministries’ Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda has opened my heart as well as my mind to the plight of refugees. Along the way, I discovered anew more about the big-hearted nation in which we live. For those who don’t know, my wife, Victoria, and I were in a group of eight pilgrims from across the Episcopal Church. Our group included Spencer Cantrell, who grew up at St. Michael and All Angel’s, Savannah.

The eight pilgrims and staff on our trip used the lens of the people living in Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda to learn about issues facing refugee populations across the globe. This was not simply a visit to a developing nation. Our trip opened doors for us to meet those who faced the ravages of war head on and were now stuck in limbo as their homes and lands have been confiscated and they can never go back (I detailed the reasons this group can never return home in a blog post here). Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson

During the trip, we visited the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, which recounts in some detail how the 1994 genocide occurred in Rwanda (read about that visit here). The tragic 100 days in that small country touched off the war which would engulf most of the nations in the middle of the continent. This became Africa’s World War in which three million died. The fighting displaced millions more in their own country and led to hundreds of thousands fleeing to Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and elsewhere.

Stories of Hope
On our pilgrimage, we met people of great resilience, both refugees and the humanitarian workers who assist them. In Gihembe, I met with 38 women who joined together for a farming cooperative program growing mushrooms and passion fruit. These HIV positive women have taken advantage of the little control of their lives made possible while in Gihembe. Together the group tills the soil, tends to the plants and in the process, they have raised one another up (Read more online here). Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson

We also met Alice Eschuchi of Heshima Kenya who provide a safe haven for girls under 18 and boys under 10 who have suffered rape and other gender-based violence, which is a world wide means of victimizing the enemy in war. Heshima provides childcare, education, mental health and medical services, and a chance to earn income (More on that visit is online here).

The Objective of Working with Refugees
The goal for both war refugees and the 148 countries that assist them through the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) is to keep persons displaced by war (and other threats) safe until the refugees can return home. This happens in most cases. Another group is resettled in the country to which they fled for safety. The smallest group, just 1 in 100 refugees, must be moved to another nation as these are persons who for various reasons can never return home and can not remain where they have fled. Roughly 3 in 4 of this group resettles in the United States as we are the nation that receives most refugees worldwide according to targets set in a process which involves both our State department and the US Congress. Photo by Wendy Karr Johnson

How the Episcopal Church Helps
Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM) and the others of the nine agencies which work with resettling refugees in the U.S. Episcopal Migration Ministries, its affiliates, and church partners provide assistance to arriving refugees as they adjust to their new communities and begin building for the future. Meeting this group served as an example of one of the many refugee crises around the world. These Congolese Refugees is a group the Episcopal Church has already assisted and will continue work with in the coming years (pictured at left is Kaltun, one of three Somali Community Health Volunteers in Nairobi who go door to door where western aid workers fear to tread).

EMM assists in resettling more than 5,000 refugees each year. Episcopalians can be a part of that story through co-sponsoring a Congolese refugee family and other refugees from across the globe with similar stories. In an upcoming article here in From the Field, I will share more about how your congregation can be a part of this effort.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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#ShareTheJourney – Durable Solutions

15 Mar


Children of young women who are in the program at Heshima Kenya and below a woman in the program spends time on the grounds of the non-profit’s main house in Nairobi. Photos by Frank Logue.

Taking part in Episcopal Migration Ministries‘ Pilgrimage to Kenya and Rwanda has opened my heart as well as my mind to the plight of refugees. Yet, gentle reader, as I have traveled with one of only nine groups approved by the State Department to work in resettling refugees, you might get the impression from my writings that most refugees are assisted in settling in another country. The prime goal is to assist refugees in returning home. Only 1% of persons recognized as refugees are resettled to a third country, such as the United States.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees seeks to find a “durable solution” for those who flee their country to avoid persecution. The three options are:

  1. Resettle in their home country.
  2. Resettle in the second country where they currently have asylum.
  3. Resettle in a third country.

Number three is the durable solution for just 1 in 100 refugees.

Who is a Refugee?
148 nations all work from the same UN framework first approved in 1951 which defines a refugee as someone who:

“owing to well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

There are further rules which, understandably, do not apply this definition to those who have committed serious crimes, including war crimes. And there is also a desire to keep families together so that the UNHCR states “If the head of a family meets the criteria of the definition, his dependants are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity.”

Assisting those who can never go home
So the people identified for resettlement to the U.S. with the assistance of EMM and the other of the nine agencies are those who can not return home and can not stay in the country where they are now living as a refugee. They are clearly the marginalized, the lost and the left out who we as Christians are called to serve as if serving Christ.

By the time a person identified as a refugee is approved to move to our country, she or he has been through extensive interviews which are cross checked by the Department of Homeland Security and other relevant agencies. They have been through numerous evaluations at several levels to confirm all of the information provided. Speaking at length with people involved in this work demonstrated to me the rigorousness of that work.

How You Can Help
At the end of this usually multi-year process, a refugee family finds themselves in an airport in an unfamiliar country, facing a new future with determination, but a great deal of uncertainty. This is where you and your church can come in. EMM works through 30 affiliates around the US to resettle more than 5,000 persons each year (Map shows states with EMM Affiliates.). These affiliates need congregations to partner with the for the first six months of that resettlement. These EMM affiliates do not need you to fund this process or to handle the details of resettlement. But they do love to partner with congregations. Co-sponsoring congregations agree to help refugees become self-reliant, emotionally secure, and culturally adjusted as they put down roots in this country. Co-sponsors offer refugees hospitality and friendship along with basic resettlement services like orientation to a new environment and culture, help in building language skills and seeking employment, assistance with initial housing, food and clothing, and many other critical forms of support. For more information, visit episcopalmigrationministries.org

To get a better feel for the work EMM does, you will also find extremely helpful, the series of short videos they created. I have embedded one below, the others are found online here: EMM Media Page

Boise, ID — Refugee Community Allies from Episcopal Migration Ministries on Vimeo.

 
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#ShareTheJourney – Catch 22 and Congolese Refugees

15 Mar


In the photo above, a translator shares the comments of one of the adults taking part in the town hall style meeting we took part in while visiting the UNHCR camp. This and the other photos below of Gihembe Refugee Camp were taken during our visit by Wendy Karr Johnson.

Living in a United Nations High Commission on Refugees Camp (UYNHCR) in Rwanda, far from either their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) or the capital of Kigali, more than 14,000 refugees fill Gihembe Camp. They are stuck in limbo due to their particular history which both gives them claim to citizenship in Rwanda and DRC and also virtually assures the refugees of Gihembe will never again permanently settle in either of those nations.

On our Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to East Africa, the eight pilgrims and staff used the lens of the people living in Gihembe to learn about issues facing refugee populations across the globe. And in a town hall style meeting in Gihembe, we came face to face with the deep frustration born of just shy of two decades in the camp. More than 100 adult residents of Gihembe Refugee Camp filed into the plastic chairs in the large, open windowed, concrete floored meeting room. They came to meet our group and a UNHCR staff member explained at the outset how we could not help address any specific camp concerns or address their particular issues with resettlement. We were there as one of nine refugee agencies that assists the US States Department in its role of settling refugees according to targets approved by Congress. We could speak to life beyond the camp and encourage refugees taking advantage of English classes, school for their children, and other opportunities made available by the UNHCR.

Understandably, this proved frustrating to those in attendance. Their only concern was when can they leave Gihembe. Many made it clear that their preferred option is to return to the provinces in the DRC where they lived prior to the Congolese War. Like any of us would likely feel if unimaginable horrors descended on our current homes, what we would most want is to return to life as it was prior to the conflict. Others were in routine contact with friends and relatives already resettled oversees and they most wanted to join them in the safety of a new country, often the United States.

Overseeing this camp is a very dedicated UNHCR staff. We spent time with some key staff and saw first hand their professionalism, dedication, and compassion. But the problems faced are not easily resolved as the weight of history bears down on the situation.

Why Refugees in Gihembe Can’t Go Home Again
A very brief sketch of their history shows the particular issue of statelessness which is the crux of the problem. When Germans colonized Rwanda beginning in 1895, they found three groups of people present—Hutu, Tutsi, and Twa. The Twa, sometimes referred to as pygmies, were the people of the forest and they existed in the smallest number by far. The Hutu were identified as those shorter and darker color skin persons living largeley as subsistence farming. The Tutsi (also known as Watutsi) were taller and usually has a lighter skin color. European colonists defined “Tutsi” as anyone owning more than ten cows (a sign of wealth) or with the physical feature of a longer nose, or longer neck, commonly associated with the Tutsi. Historians believe that the Tutsis had governed Rwanda since the Bronze Age. First the Germans and then the Belgians who replaced them after World War I, kept this system and allowed only the Tutsi to be educated and only they could participate in the colonial government. These policies engendered resentment among the majority Hutu population.

In 1959, the Rwandan King, Mutara III, died after being treated for a headache by a Belgian physician in Bujumbura on the way back from a consultation with Belgian officials, in what Rwandan conspiracy theorists consider to have been an assassination. The king was a member of the Tutsi tribe. A wave of anti-Tutsi violence ensued and from 1959 to 1961, Tutsi fled from the oppression in large numbers. This is when the residents of Gihembe or their parents or grandparents left Rwanda. They settled in the Eastern Provinces (mostly North and South Kivu) in the Belgian Congo. In time, these refugees were given citizenship in what became Zaire as President Mobutu Sese Seko needed voter support in that region.

The tide turned once more in November 1996, when Mobutu’s government issued an order forcing Tutsis to leave Zaire on penalty of death. What followed as other African nations joined the fight became known as ‘Africa’s world war’ and would be responsible for the deaths of around three million people. Rape became endemic and staying in Zaire meant all but certain death. The former Rwandans living up until now as Zairan citizens fled once more across the border into Rwanda. The UNHCR set up a Mudende Refugee Camp, but that camp was too near the border and the UNHCR knew it. They were making efforts to move the refugees when hundreds of refugees (some claim as many as 3,000 people) were killed in multiple attacks on the camp between August and December 1996 by the group responsible for the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The camp at Gihembe was created to move the Mudende survivors to a relatively safe location. The refugees have now been there for 19 years. Though getting good support from that government for the camp, these refugees are not welcome to repatriate to Rwanda as they are viewed there as Congolese. They can likewise not repatriate to the DRC as the area not only remains volatile, but their land and houses have been confiscated by others and they are now considered Rwandans, not Congolese by the DRC. Though they have claim to citizenship in both Rwanda and the DRC, the group is stateless.

What next for the Congolese Refugees?
The UNHCR and its participating states have seen the Catch 22 that has held these refugees on a Rwandan hilltop for nearly two decades. The have agreed that at least 50,000 Congolese refugees would be submitted for resettlement from 2012 to 2017, making the Congolese one of the largest resettlement operations currently underway. Everyone in Gihembe is in contact, often through Facebook, with persons already settled in a third country. While some resettle in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, the large majority of the Congolese refugees will be resettled to the United States. Episcopal Migration Ministries and the others of the nine agencies which work with resettling refugees in the U.S. Episcopal Migration Ministries, its affiliates, and church partners provide assistance to arriving refugees as they adjust to their new communities and begin building for the future. While our meeting this group serves as an example of one of the many refugee crises around the world, this is one we have assisted with and will continue work on in the coming years. Due to security concerns and other issues, not everyone in that meeting room at Gihembe will be resettled. But thousands will find there way out of that hilltop camp to a new life.

Episcopalians can be a part of that story through co-sponsoring a Congolese refugee family and other refugees from across the globe with similar stories. Contact Episcopal Migration Ministries to find out how: episcopalmigrationministries.org.


Students look out the window of a sixth-grade classroom we visited in Gihembe’s 3,000-student school.

 
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#ShareTheJourney – Covering the Cracks in the System

14 Mar

In a dangerous world, some people are at the very limits of safety. No matter how well intentioned all of those working with refugees, some who flee persecution at home, find themselves still in truly perilous living conditions where survival is an hour by hour consideration.

Sasha Chanoff co-founded RefugePoint (and serves as its executive director) specifically to have the freedom to continually work creatively only with those at the very limits of vulnerability. Sasha had worked extensively Sudanese Lost Boys, Somali Bantus, Congolese Tutsis-at-risk, Liberians, Sierra Leonians and other groups. After two decades in refugee rescue, relief and resettlement operations in Africa and the United States, he found that there were always some people outside the bounds of solutions being offered by traditional means. He started the non-profit to not just identify and protect refugees who have fallen through the cracks of humanitarian assistance, but to move them as quickly as possible to stabilization and self-sufficiency. They offer counseling sessions as well as a medical clinic as part of the work of stabilization.

Aiming for Self Reliance
For the majority of clients, the goal is to assist them in working toward earning enough money to care for their basic needs while providing for increased safety. This means offering a food program that provides 75% of calories they need (more for children 5 and under in the family) and grants which assist with housing that start at 100%, back down to 50% after a few months and then go away. Non-food items such as mattresses and a simple stove and pots, and similar items help establish a new household. All children eligible start primary school, which is free in Kenya for all kids resident in the country no matter their status. RefugePoint assist with uniforms and books to make this education open to all in their program.

The emphasis is always the client’s goals so that social workers assist clients in creating their own case plans. To assist in this, home visits are always a part of intake of cases to determine the real needs. As refugees have social systems which are broken down, counseling is done in groups sharing the same language and culture. Trauma counseling is the main issue and the sessions give refugees room to talk while learning stress and anger management techniques. This work happening with those from their own culture assists clients in creating their own networks of support with others in the program.

“When it is dark, you do not know when the light is coming.”
-Zewditu

Two Amazing Women
Visiting RefugePoint’s Nairobi office this week, we met two women who exemplify the work of the innovative team Sasha has gathered for the work—Zewditu and Kaltun.

Zewditu (pictured above at right) fled Ethiopia 14 years ago. Like most refugees, she was most concerned for her children. Looking back as someone aided by RefugePoint to start her own business using her knowledge and love of cooking her country’s traditional food, she said, “I never knew I could be a human being and could make something of myself.”

Now she is a successful small business woman whose children are now in school with improved prospects. Marveling at the reversal of fortune, she said, “My kids can even take a taxi to school and I never dreamed of this.”

Kaltun (pictured at left) is a diminutive Somali who doesn’t look old enough to have lived as a refugee in Nairobi for 24 years. Yet she shoulders an important work load as one of three Community Health Volunteers who go door to door where western aid workers rightfully fear to tread. Her work takes her into the homes of the urban refugees in the dangerous Easterly neighborhood. There her fellow Somalis face routine round up and threat of arrest from police, usually getting out of the system through bribes. They also face shake downs from the gang Superpower, among others. They prey on the at risk people in the community. Into this dangerous terrain, Kaltun takes medical services including education on diabetes, delivery of prescriptions to those who can’t afford losing a day of work to negotiate Nairobi’s infamous traffic to pick them up in person. Beyond this, she can be the eyes and ears of RefugePoint to discover new needs in her community.

The Most Vulnerable
This glimpse into their Urban Refugee Protection Program including stories of just how life-saving their interventions have been for the most vulnerable urban refugees. Most amazing is how the team works to quickly stabilize at risk persons as they work not toward dependence on aid from the outside, but a concrete plan towards true self-reliance.

To read a few more brief examples of their inspiring work, visit www.refugepoint.org/stories/.

You can also hear Sasha tell the story of what led to the founding of RefugePoint at themoth.org

 
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#SharetheJourney – Lifting up the Vulnerable

12 Mar

The women and young girls escaping the ongoing turmoil in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo emerge with stories making it painfully clear how vulnerable they are in conflict. Not only is rape a common weapon of war worldwide, but some are further forced to be sex slaves for a group of soldiers while others on the run are forced into marriages. Those who make it out are further at risk wherever they land.

While the journey is different, young women are also at risk in other refugee populations found here in Nairobi, including Somalis and Ethiopians.

Whenever such a girl makes contact with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees here in Kenya, an option for protection is a Safe House run by Heshima Kenya. Heshima is the Swahili word for “respect”. The non-profit exists to protect and build up women under 18 escaping persecution and their children. They also care for boys under the age of 10 who are similarly at risk, as boys victimized by rape has been increasing in the eastern DRC in the past five years. The Safe House, which can also be used for up to 3 weeks by women over 18, is in a location known only to Heshima and key UNHCR staff. Once in safety, an assessment begins to seek a durable solution for the girl, and her child if she has one.

Many of the girls will move from the Safe House to Heshima Kenya’s main facility in Nairobi. Located on a large wooded lot at the end of a quiet street, this house too is not marked at the street. In its sheltering walls, the approach is holistic with not just shelter, but also childcare, education, mental health and medical services, and a chance to earn income.

Heshima’s slogan, embodied throughout their work, is “One girl at a time.” Alice Eschuchi is the Country Director in Kenya whose concern for these young women is evident in her passion for her work. Alice says, “Each girl’s needs are different depending on her past experiences and where she is now.” Alice is pictured here at left.

Starting where the girl is when she arrives is foundation. Alice says, “We do not judge. We take what we are told by the girls and work with them.”

Common needs are safe care for their children so that the girls can study to graduate from Primary School (which goes through what is 8th grade in the US). The schooling is free for all who are resident in Kenya. Last year all eight of the girls at Heshima who took the examinations passed. 30 girls are preparing for the examination this year. Because secondary education is prohibitively expensive for those who remain in Kenya, Heshima also teaches tailoring and creates items to sell with cloth. This gives ten girls the ability to earn an income.

The focus is is on building up the girls both in terms of self esteem and in life skills. While the goal is not resettlement, as only one percent of refugees are resettled in a third country (with the country they fled and Kenya being the first and second). Heshima works with the UNHCR to conduct a Best Interest Determination based on the specific young woman. This then helps them work with the girl in deciding on the future. Among the many who pass through the program, about 20 are resettled each year in another country.

In describing her work, Alice talks of how the girls arrive extremely shy and showing obvious signs of suffering trauma. Then she proudly shows photos of the girls who have graduated from the program. Some of the young women have been settled in America, Canada, Sweden, and the Netherlands. They email of their lives there and send photos that give Alice and other staff members deep joy as shown in how they share the stories. “These are our girls,” Alice says, “It is amazing how far they have come.

Peace, Frank

 
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#SharetheJourney – A Boy on a Journey

10 Mar

“I was not lost. I was just a boy on a journey,” says Ger Duany, whose life has taken him from serving as a child soldier to acting in five movies, most recently in “The Good Lie” with Reese Witherspoon. He says fellow South Sudanese refugees have been very supportive of the film as it captures their story. Ger adds, “My heart still pounds when I see it on the screen and I see the problems again.”

Today our Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage spent time with Ger at the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Hub in Nairobi. He has come a long way from a childhood in which he learned every part of an AK-47 before he reached puberty. And yet, he remains connected to and concerned for his home land as well as those who have followed him in resettling in the US. My photo of EMM Pilgrim Scott Gunn with Ger Duany.

The film, “The Good Lie,” offers rare insight as it is about resettlement in the US from the South Sudanese perspective.

Ger is clear that many of the South Sudanese who went to the western world lost their way. For himself, he says that he was fortunate to find basketball and through that sport, a scholarship. Ger found it difficult to navigate his way in America until he graduated from college, which is not open to all who are forced to leave their homes due to persecution.

Ger says, “Many of the guys I came with did not have that opportunity and so they went into the military and they died in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Beyond college, he also cites the importance of finding a home in a Lutheran church choir. He notes that at home and abroad, Sudanese tend to stay together through churches. Ger says, “I got my help in churches and that is how I thrived.”

Ger works now to support work with refugees. He says, “UNHCR has impacted my life and I want to add my small voice and also to work with those who are helping South Sudanese.”

In a pilgrimage focused on better understanding refugees, it was a delight to meet a so called Lost Boy who not only found his way, but who also continues to help others.

Peace,
Frank

 
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#SharetheJourney – Strong Women Working Toward their Future

09 Mar


This and all of the other photos of the women referenced in the story are by Wendy Karr Johnson

Women living in the developing world are not perhaps the first image that comes to mind in considering powerful people. When these are HIV positive Congolese women living as refugees in Rwanda all ideas of power are gone. This is not completely wrong as far too little ability to control their circumstances is given to such women, and yet…

Last week in Gihembe Refugee Camp, I was privileged to meet part of a group of fifty HIV positive women who formed a cooperative farming project. They farm both passion fruit and mushrooms, both to improve their diet and to add the ability to generate a small income.

Meeting the women was a study in contrasts. Gihembe is crowded with more than 14,000 refugees in a fairly small hilltop space. Its deeply rutted dirt roads also make for a dusty environment. The women who met us in their finest clothes with their neat as a pin farm stood in stark contrast to the setting.

All of the group shares the same story of refugeeing out of Congo in 1996 when rousted from their homes at gun point. The first refugee camp the group settled in was too close to the border and many were raped, tortured, or killed in an attack on their camp the following year. The United Nations High Commission on Refugees then opened the camp at Gihembe to move the refugees further from the conflict. They have been in place for 18 years since that move.

So, yes, this is a group that has suffered much and that back story I knew from my homework reading for the Episcopal Migration Ministries Pilgrimage to East Africa. I was pleased to see the women taking the power they could to work to better themselves and the lives of their children.

As the women showed us the mushrooms and gave us passion fruit, the told how 12 of the original 50 women have now been settled safely in third countries, including many to the United States. Thanks to technology, they stay in touch. The women share then a glimmer of hope for a safer life beyond the hilltop in Rwanda where they each await news of their own resettlement. They U.S. State Department has given priority to assisting the members of this group who qualify. As the State Department says,

“While third country resettlement cannot be the durable solution for the vast majority of the world’s refugees, it must remain a possibility for those refugees who are most vulnerable and for whom repatriation or local integration in countries of refuge are not viable options.”

This group is vulnerable and they can not return to the area of the Democratic Republic of Congo they fled as their land and houses have gone to others and they are not safe to return. The priority (P2) status for this group was set by our Department of State in consultation with the Department of Homeland Security, Non-profits working with refugees, UNHCR, and others. The experts have determined them as being in need of resettlement.

So these women who have taken advantage of the little control of their lives made possible while in Gihembe have worked together to till the soil and tend the plants. In the process, they have raised one another up. They also to continue to share community with the members of their group already resettled. I look forward to many of these women first resettling and then after years in our country, earning U.S. Citizenship. Yes, some may be resettled elsewhere, but whatever nation they settle in will be blessed to have such determined women and the children they are raising.

Peace,
Frank

 
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#SharetheJourney – Small Wins

08 Mar

Resettling families who can never return to their home countries due to political persecution involves amassing a mound of paperwork. Details are checked and cross checked while medical and security screenings and myriad other steps grind forward. Earlier on this pilgrimage in visiting the impressive operations of Church World Service‘s Resettlement Service Center in Nairobi, Kenya, the Episcopal Migration Ministry Pilgrims met a number of the 300 people who shepherd that process for persons refugeed from a variety of places across Sub-Saharan Africa. The level of professionalism and dedication they apply to their current case load of more than 71,000 refugees is nothing short of awe inspiring.

I asked the Center’s Director, Miro Marinovich, how he and the staff stay so upbeat in a process that involves so much detailed, beaurocratic effort. Without pausing, he said, “Small wins.”

Miro (pictured at left) went on to give the example of a family approved for refugee status by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees who nonetheless had spent nine years in “the pipeline.” This time languishing from approval to resettlement occured for a variety of legitimate reasons. He then told of how many of the staff at RSC pulled together to get the family through the steps to resettlement. He went on to recount the satisfaction they all felt when the family was able to move to a new home in the United States. He also told of how the same team worked hard for an at risk refugee moved to resettlement in 30 days.

Adding to these two extreme examples, a random file was picked off a stack of files in processing to show us a sample case file. Carefully documented in the thick folder were the lives of a family of five from Burundi. In multiple interviews the file meticulously documents the life stories of five people moving away from difficulties I can only imagine to a life lived in relative safety, where these core issues will never come up again. Through each of the three cases, we could see the immense care taken with the lives of the more than 71,000 refugees the Center is working with across 44 countries.

These changes of circumstance, of course, are much more than small wins for the refugees who were moved from persecution and grave danger to the safety of a new life. Miro knows this too as his own life experience includes being refugeed from Bosnia in the 1990s. The amazing fact I discovered during our visit is how the team at the Resettlement Service Center stays focused on that bigger picture while shepherding refugees along the pipeline toward a new beginning. I am humbled by their work and the example it sets.

Peace,
Frank

 
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#SharetheJourney – Redeeming Tragedy

08 Mar


This and the photos below are by Wendy Karr Johnson of our visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Facing humankind’s inhumanity is daunting. Yet you have come this far and I encourage you to stick with me a few moments to share a tragedy as large as any in history as we seek to learn from it. For failure to remember the great tragedies in our history could doom us to repeating the cycle. And for the group of pilgrims on the Episcopal Migration Ministries pilgrimage now underway in Kenya and Rwanda, the Rwandan Genocide of 1994 was ground zero for a series of events that would engulf the heart of the African continent. Yes the events of this hundred days came out of an ongoing history dating back to at least Rwandan colonization by Germany in 1895, but something turned in 1895 to bring in many nations.

Earlier this week, our Pilgrimage visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial where a tour guide took us through exhibits documenting the genocide in context of Rwandan history with photos and some videos. This straightforward telling of the genocide was quite devastating in its own right.

On April 6, 1994, persons unknown at the time shot down an airplane carrying Rwandan President Juvénal Habyarimana and Burundian President Cyprien Ntaryamira as it approached landing in Kigali. Everyone on the plane died. This news made hardly a ripple in our country, but in Rwanda, the Hutu Power movement used the incident to incite the broad scale mass killing of those identified as Tutsi and those who sympathized with them. Over the next roughly 100 days, members of the Army, police, militias and armed civilians killed more than a million people, often with machetes and clubs. Infants and children were also killed as brutally as adults. Rape and torture were also part of the frenzied killing. Nearly twenty percent of Rwanda’s total population and roughly seventy percent of the Tutsi then living in Rwanda died. The genocide had been planned and prepared for by the nation’s political elite.

I knew from my own reading of the book We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families. The title comes from a letter to the president of a church association by Tutsi pastors. The denomination president was later convicted of aiding in the next day’s killings of those church members. As the genocide memorial painfully shows, he was not the only religious leader using the sanctuary offered by a church to lure members to their deaths.

The details of the Rwandan Genocide would be terrible enough, but we know too of German atrocities against the Jews and others, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and genocides in Guatemala and Bosnia in more recent decades. None of us can make this a problem faced by others. In fact, naming people as other is the first step in the slide toward such atrocities. For when we name another human other, then we begin to blame the problems we face on that group, we will tend to dehumanize them and then we have seen time and again how inhumanity follows.

The Genocide memorial included a room with photos of several thousand of the 250,000 victims buried just there in 14 mass graves. There was another room with additional skulls and bones of victims and a third with the stained and damaged clothes from around the capital city. Finally an exhibit had large photos of children shown in life. Beneath was a plaque giving the child’s name, age at time of death, favorite food, favorite activity, sometimes last words and always how the child was killed. This amplified the impact of all that came before. And just as my own tendency to want some old fashioned smiting, there were quoted from survivors. I found it hard to read through tears the words of a young man who was praying for vengeance from God and his mother told him not to do this. She told him he was to forgive, even if they killed her. These words were uttered as the genocide continued. I am not worthy so much as to carry that woman’s sandals.

While I believe that earthly justice is needed and those who planned and promoted the killing should rightly have faced criminal proceedings, I could also see the benefit of the communal approach taken for most of the cases where perpetrators told their stories, usually while giving the hidden location of some they killed so to offer closure to families seeking to bury their dead. In so doing, many were able to find a path toward healing.

Forgiveness is an issue we al face. Seeing such forgiveness offered in response to seemingly unforgivable acts is humbling. This was not the only response and the fleeing Genocidaires were to lead to destabilization of neighboring Zaire, which further led to a war involving Uganda, Rwanda, Congo, Angola, and other nations led to many hundreds of thousands more deaths and much more rape and torture in the process. So while it is hard to imagine such powerful forgiveness as embodied by the woman warning her son to pray not for vengeance, but forgiveness, we can readily see how bad the situation gets when we insist on an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

We concluded our visit by laying flowers on one of the mass graves and then walking amid the beautiful gardens on the grounds of a site dedicated to preserving the story of one example of the worst of human cruelty. It was a small act. Yet, if the whole world could continually remember with small acts the loss created by our indifference and cruelty, then we could begin the much harder task of redeeming tragedy. For we can not take away the immense suffering that has occurred, but we can work toward redeeming it.

Frank

For more on our own personal forgiveness, see my:

Forgiveness Means Forgetting and Other Myths
and
How Much Sin Is Too Much to Forgive?

 
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#SharetheJourney – Jesus Christ, The Refugee

28 Feb

“Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night,
and went to Egypt, and remained there
until the death of Herod.”

Matthew 2:14-15

Jesus earliest memories would have been of living as a refugee. An ancient Jewish synagogue in Cairo still carries the memory of being the ex patriot community that had welcomed Joseph and Mary and their infant son. I visited there in 2004 and know that whether that old stone building is where it happened or not, Jesus first heard the words of the Torah concerning treatments of aliens while living in a foreign land on the run from a cruel dictator who would have killed his family for returning to their homeland.

“You shall not oppress a resident alien;
you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens
in the land of Egypt.”

-Exodus 23:9

Essential to Our Faith
Jesus would come to distill the essence of his teaching to Love God and Love your neighbor as yourself. He would then define neighbor in such as way as to make it clear that the term is inclusive of all persons, with an emphasis on the poor and needy. Christians then do not have the luxury of deciding whether we would like to care for refugees so much as deciding whether we want to follow Jesus. For those who seek to follow him, caring for widows, orphans, ans those in need, is all part of the journey that is essential to our faith rather than a possible extra curricular add on.

Refugees Today
Today, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) works with more than 10 million refugees around the world with another 4.8 million in the Middle East cared for by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The sixth largest situation is the result of what is rightly termed Africa’s World War, the turmoil in the Democratic Republic of Congo that included fighters from Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Angola, Zimbabwe, and other nations. The conflict had such tragic consequences for civilian populations, especially women and children. This conflict led to untold suffering, including making the region the rape capital of the world.

#SharetheJourney
This week, my wife, Victoria, and I travel with a group of Pilgrims on a trip set up by Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM). We will be on an 11-day journey into the Great Lakes region of Africa to visit the Gihembe Refugee Camp in Rwanda, to meet refugees and those who work with them and observe the process through which these Congolese refugees are resettled to the United States.

In preparing for the trip, I have been immersing myself in the history of the conflict back to its precolonial roots through reading first King Leopold’s Ghost and then bringing the story forward with Africa’s World War. This would be an unbelievable story if while singular it were not also common. Unchecked greed led to a rape of the land and its people first in the creation of the world’s only colony under the power of not a nation, but a single person (Leopold II of Belgium). But then the independent African nation was led by those who learned the lessons of the colonizers all too well and likewise ran the Congo for primarily personal benefit. The history is well summed here by EMM: DRC Webinar

Prepare to be Changed
I don’t know what the trip will bring. I do know that travel like this brings change. I am open to being changed and I ask those who journey with us to likewise be open to change. For to encounter the stories of others is to be open to them in a different way. The Messiah, Jesus, was himself, in his humanity, shaped by the experience of growing up a refugee in Egypt, dependent on others making room for his family. This was of course no accident. God’s intent in the Incarnation was that in becoming human, God the Son would begin life with this refugee experience.

So we certainly do not go to take Christ to Kenya and Rwanda for God the Son, in his divinity, has never failed to be found in the refugee camps of the world. We go to experience Christ there and to share that journey with others. I hope you will #SharetheJourney. For we will also be returning with news of how you can share this journey too in your own church community.

Join the virtual pilgrimage using #ShareTheJourney or via Twitter (@EMMRefugees) or Facebook. Follow the trip’s blog: EMMRefugees.tumblr.com.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue

The images are Merson’s Flight Into Egypt and Christ Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM. You may purchase Lentz’ image by clicking on the icon above.

 
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Attracting Families with Young Children

24 Feb

The goal of most every church with whom I meet is to attract families with young children. This is natural enough. All of us want our congregations to continue through the generations. Many of us remember when we were the parents with the children and church and we love to see the next generations in worship.

This past week, I ran across a thoughtful reflection on the Internet linked here: When Churches Want a Pastor Who Can “Bring in Young Families.” The post bears some reading and reflection while examining the difference between wanting people for what they bring us to shifting the church culture for a different engagement.

In addition to these considerations, I would add that we should not so long for any given group to join us for worship so much that we miss those Jesus is bringing us. Teaching and encouraging practices which foster inviting friends, family, and coworkers; connecting with visitors who do show up; and incorporating newcomers fully into the life of the church and the journey of Christian discipleship will tend to help your church grow. The additional members may or may not be the Holy Grail like family with three young kids, but they will be the people the Holy Spirit sent your way. Let’s not miss those God is sending while we look for others.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Keep Connected to the Core of Your Faith

17 Feb

There is the story in my wife’s family told the story of how her grandfather was elected to the vestry and what followed. As a business law professor and lifelong Episcopalian, he was sought out for the position. He came home from his first vestry meeting fuming mad. No stories to tell. He just couldn’t stand how the group functioned (or didn’t). The next month he came home from the meeting having resigned. He never entered any church again. Church work can take its toll on the faith of the otherwise faithful.

There is much work in the church that, while essential to the functioning of the body, is not likely to make one’s heart sing. Certainly, there can be a great feeling of satisfaction in good budget work, or crafting endowment policies, but the meetings that go into getting to that end result can be demanding. This is why lay people need to be able to stay connected to what interested them in the church even while serving in otherwise demanding and thankless tasks. Likewise, deacons and priests must stay grounded in those actions that bring life and give energy.

I hope you will allow a digression into my own ministry as an example before turning to the broader issue. I have been thinking about this recently as I seek ways to keep myself grounded in being a priest even as I serve as a Canon to the Ordinary (which is an official title for an assistant to the bishop, often, as here, alongside a Canon for Administration). There is no question that I am a priest and am to continue to live into that calling which the church affirmed and for which I was ordained. The priesthood is more than performing the functions of a priest.

I have sought ways to stay grounded to that core part of ministry. One way is through spiritual disciplines such as the daily office and its scripture readings, and other practices in my Rule of Life. Certainly, I celebrate and preach in congregations most every week, and often more than once a week. But beyond these, I also seek ways to not simply serve as a Canon, but to continue to be a priest while I continue with this job to which I feel very much called and which I am not tempted in the least to leave.

What Makes Your Heart Sing?
What about you? Whether you are a committed Christian taxed by volunteering for your church or a priest trying to juggle being pastor and wife and mother, the dilemma of balance is the same. How can those of you who risk losing your religion in doing the work of the church? What about when vestry meetings go far too long or budget discussions that turn into battles that are carried out in ways that do not speak well of the faith that is in us? My personal answer is to balance the work of the business of the church with staying grounded in spiritual disciplines and making sure I am involved in sharing the Gospel in meaningful ways. I have also kept up a continual flow of efforts that immerse me more fully in my call such as serving with Kairos, or at Happening, or with Project Smile in Belize, or my upcoming trip to East Africa with Episcopal Migration Ministries. These are not add-ons to what I do as Canon, but essential to staying grounded in the call God has for me. What might you do to balance your church work with something that makes your heart sing?

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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A Maintenance Reserve Study Avoids Surprises

09 Feb

Churches always seem to have more needs that dollars to meet the needs. Even when finances are doing well, there is always more that can be done than any congregation can do. Unfortunately, buildings tend to suffer for it. It is rare to speak up for the roof, or the heating and air system until somewhere just before or during a crisis. Yet, there is no need for surprises. Setting up and funding maintenance reserves can assist a congregation in avoiding most surprises.

The vestry needs to be assured that the money will be on hand to replace the air handler, water heater and so on when they go out. As these and other pieces of equipment come with typical life expectancies, it is possible to plan for the future and set aside money at a steady rate, rather than dealing with issues arising when maintenance has been differed. Pictured at left is a crew installing an HVAC unit on the roof of Stuat Hall at Honey Creek.

Vestries can plan for eventual maintenance issues with a maintenance reserve study. Set up a task force of 2-3 people headed by the Junior Warden to tour the building, making note of areas of possible concern including the parking lot and the building from roof to foundation with all significant electrical and plumbing issues in between. Seek input from professionals (often available in the parish) who can estimate the remaining life and replacement costs at the time action is needed. Then budget to set aside a little money each month toward the maintenance reserve fund. Then when the water heater tank ruptures or the heat pump dies, funds will be ready to apply toward their purchase. Revisit the study each year and adjust the maintenance reserve line item as a apart of the budget process.

This practice keeps maintenance of your building a small, routine line item in the budget, which is as it should be. I know there is no money for this lying around waiting to be allocated to a future need. But considering the high cost of leaving an old roof in place, you can’t afford not to set aside a little each month toward this eventual need. If Jesus does not return first, your congregational WILL face these maintenance issues. If Jesus does come before the heating and air system gives up the ghost, imagine how pleased our Lord will be to see you had prepared to care so well for his house.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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A Brief How to Guide on Welcoming Visitors

02 Feb

The ministry of greeting those arriving to church for worship requires sensitivity. Some visitors will enjoy a greeter showing them around, asking questions, and offering lots of information. Other visitors want to get in and out of church with as little contact with others as possible. This is true as visitors bring their own expectations, and often some emotional baggage to church with them. Greeters need to be trained not to offer the same welcome to all, but to pick up on the clues offered by the visitor as to how best to welcome them.

More than one type of welcome
The visitor who arrives early and begins by looking around is asking to be engaged in conversation. Early arriving persons not known to the official greeters, or other regular attenders, should be greeted with something like “Hi, My name is Frank. I don’t believe we’ve met.” This won’t offend the long-time member who usually attends the early service, but popped in for the 11 o’clock this week. It is also the perfect opening for the newcomer with questions.

The visitor who makes a beeline for the nave without hardly making eye contact if at all, should not be stopped and made to talk. Remember always that someone may not quite be sure they want to be in church yet, and so may not be ready for a conversation on their first visit. Folks in this category, will often, though not always, arrive close to time or just after the liturgy has started.

After the Eucharist, the greeters should be on the lookout for visitors. Perhaps the person who zipped into the service is now going slow and looking around on the way out. This is the time to welcome him or her, to offer to go with them to the coffee and refreshments and connect them to others.

For those who are not greeters, remember the five-minute rule. For church members with a gift for hospitality, the first five minutes after the liturgy are your time to introduce yourself to those you don’t know. Take the time to get to know the person and to connect them to others in the church, including the clergy. After that you can talk with friends who will still be there, while the visitor may slip out if not greeted. Then on later weeks, look for the visitor to return so you can greet them again.

Genuine hospitality
The goal is to balance a genuine welcome with not wanting to overpower visitors. We do not do this in order to grow a church. We do this because hospitality is part of who we are to BE as Christians. This is the God’s House on the Lord’s Day and all who come should be welcomed as if we are welcoming Christ.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Resources for New Vestry Members

27 Jan

The task of overseeing both the spiritual and temporal affairs of a congregation is not easy and can be a thankless task. Yet we are not a congregational church and in our representative form of church governance, the Rector, Wardens, and Vestry acting together is the group with the authority to make decisions for a congregation. The vestry matters to the health of the whole congregation. Being a good member of vestry means setting aside one’s personal agenda to seek what is best for the congregation as a whole.

The Episcopal Church Foundation offers a great collection of resources for vestries through their ECF Vital Practices Series. One may find a helpful Digest of five articles online here: Vestries: Start the Year Strong. There you will find links to 1) online Vestry Orientation Webinars, 2) how to include spiritual practices in vestry meetings, 3) how to be on the same page with policies and procedures, 4) how to use a consent agenda for more effective meeting times, and 5) the use of a Vestry Planning Calendar.

All of the previous articles in the ECF Vital Practices Series related to vestries are online here: ECF Vestry Articles. One more helpful article from the site is Scott Evenbeck’s My Top Ten: Vestry Responsibilities.

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Contemplative Prayer for a Busy Mind

20 Jan

Jesus told a parable of two men who go to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray. The first stands and says to God for all to hear, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” This first prayer is all about the man praying and how he deserves God’s blessings.

The second man stands off to the side, head down beating his breast. His prayer is one from the heart and he cries out to God, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” And it was this second man, in Jesus’ parable who is justified in God’s eyes, for he lays his whole life before God and asks only for mercy.

This prayer of the humbled tax collector forms the basis for The Jesus Prayer-a prayer central to the Orthodox understanding of Christianity. The Orthodox churches, such as Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox were separated by political divisions from Christianity in the west for more than 1,000 years. There is within the Orthodox understanding of Christianity vast depths of wisdom which many of us who live West of Constantinople have never experienced. I want to offer this decidedly Orthodox form of prayer-The Jesus Prayer-as a possible new avenue for you in your life of personal prayer.

The prayer itself is the utmost in simplicity. Merely seven words: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. That’s the whole prayer. This prayer takes as its pattern, the prayer of the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” There is a longer form of the prayer used sometimes which is “O Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But the most common form is the shorter, seven-word version. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

The way I do this is to breathe in while thinking Lord Jesus Christ, and then exhale while thinking have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Try this prayer with me. I’ll write the words. You just think them and breathe in and out with the words.

Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.

Over time I have come to see that “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” says the same thing to me as “Your will be done on earth as in heaven.” The Jesus Prayer is a prayer for whatever our Lord has for us. Not a prayer demanding some set solution, but a prayer open to whatever is God’s mercy.

Praying this prayer for others
Once I came to see that, I started to use the prayer in a way I have never seen written or discussed. Yes, I know that The Jesus Prayer is an interior prayer, a prayer for contemplation. Yet I started to use the prayer to pray for others. Sitting at the bedside of my wife’s dying grandmother, Hulda. I was grieving myself and all out of words, so I matched my breathing to hers and prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Hulda.” Her breath, my breath, one prayer. Since then, I have prayed that way at other bedsides, in waiting rooms and courtrooms. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on” and then I add the name of the person for whom I want to pray.

Deep Wisdom
But mostly I use the prayer as it has been used for centuries and I have found that here is deep wisdom in it. A deeper understanding of God in being humble enough to stop giving God the answers we are seeking, and instead just seeking the God who answers the prayers we don’t even know how to put into words.

This form of prayer will not be for everyone who reads this. But if this seems like something God might be challenging you to try, then be sure not to forget the advice of Nicephorous the Solitary who said, “patiently continue with this activity for some time, and a way to the heart will be opened for you without any doubt. We have learned this by experience.”

-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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How to Go from Church Member to Disciple

13 Jan

The most basic task of any church is to make disciples. This goes back to The Great Commission and continues until our Lord returns. But while making church-goers is tough enough, the work of assisting someone from attending worship to following Christ in a meaningful way is a step churches can miss. In fact, if your congregation has no intentional means offered to assist in the move from church attendance to discipleship, then you are more likely to make church members than followers of Jesus.

Read the Bible
A proven means to assist in this transition from church goer to disciple is through teaching and modeling spiritual disciplines. One basic example is daily scripture reading on a pattern to read through the Bible, which is central to our identity as Episcopalians. Normative for us is the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer, which is to be practiced by all clergy and remains the norm for laity. Typically our churches have copies of Forward Day by Day, which offers reflections for each day to fit the same readings as found in the office. Teaching this practice as a discipline to be followed no matter whether one feels like it or not is the most straightforward way to help parishioners make room for the Holy Spirit to break in day by day.

Create a Rule of Life
By experience, we all learn that if we don’t set and work to keep priorities, then life will overtake you and those things you consider important will be lost in the urgent. This is true for one’s relationship with God. This is why spiritual disciplines are vital. A time-tested way to set your spiritual priorities is to create, and in time modify, a Rule of Life. The basic idea is to note the important elements of your own spiritual life along with some plan for how you will carry it out.

For example, any spiritual rule of life should include worship. “I will attend church on Sundays when I am well.” To this could be added Wednesday worship or feast days of the church. But no matter what you decide, the rule of life will be most likely to work if you write it down. Keep what you write simple and specific. Do not use permissive language such as “I will try” as all of us try to do things. Write instead, “I will” or “I promise.” Want to know what to cover? Try this PDF file I created while at King of Peace: Creating a Rule of Life.

Be Realistic
The temptation in creating a rule is to create an idealistic one. Saint Francis doesn’t need a Rule of Life anymore. Try instead to create a realistic plan for your life. Start by listing what you do now in the areas found in the brochure above. Then add one, or at the most two, new disciplines or an increase in participation in one area. The goal is to set out some spiritual priorities you can keep. You will be better off to start too small. In time you can revisit your rule and make changes.

You don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too much to do. Time spent on your spiritual journey is not meant to be one more list of chores in a busy life. Tending to your faith is more akin to giving yourself a source of rest and refreshment in a world too short on both.

The Church’s Role-Teach and Model
As congregations, if we are not teaching those who attend worship some practical ways to make our Triune God part of their daily lives, then we are teaching by omission that attending church is all there is to the life of faith. This is not only untrue, it is not fair as that sort of faith will not meet the demands of the real world. We need to give church goers the tools to become disciples.
-The Rev. Canon Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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Rewiring Your Brain with Common Prayer

06 Jan

My name is Frank. I am a tech addict. And as you are reading this via email or perhaps through a Facebook link, there is a good possibility that you share my compulsion. Before you decide, consider what neuroscientist are telling us about how certain technology usage mimics addictive behavior and is even rewiring your brain.

How technology rewards you
Much of the way one interacts with technology, causes the brain to release small hits of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter once linked to pleasure, but neuroscientists now know that opiates relate to the pleasure centers, while dopamine actually excites the brain to searching and seeking (See Psychology Today article). So as you go clicking around the internet for information, or check your phone for a text, or your Facebook feed for an update, you are sometimes frustrated by not finding what you want and other times you are rewarded with the answer you are looking for, a new text message or Facebook update from someone you care about. The random nature of this is actual part of the allure. Just as the gambling industry has long known that random paybacks of varying amounts keep people hooked longer, so too the frustration of not finding what you are looking for actually hooks you to your email account or Facebook feed (See article in The Altlantic).

The unpredictable nature of when you will get a tech pay off with information you care about is exactly what gets the dopamine system going. This activity causes your brain to receive hits of dopamine which itself drives a further desire to search. Watch someone checking their smart phone and know that each time they check for texts or social media updates, dopaminergic neurons are sending out messages to parts of their brain to encourage even more seeking. That obsessive smart phone user is actually getting chemically rewarded for the behavior just like a mouse getting cheese for successfully running a maze.

Why this matters
This constant search for connection via technology is mentally and physically rewarding, but as the reward is a chemical hit encouraging more seeking, the loop cycles again and again. There is a high cost to this feedback loop which comes in the form of exhaustion. Beyond this we find decreasing attention available for other tasks as multi-tasking isn’t actually possible. One has to switch from one task to another. Each time one switches tasks, attention suffers. For a well-written look at the tragic consequences this can have, read A Deadly Wandering. The book, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Matt Richtel, explores matters of attention in detail by using the deadly example of texting while driving.

To be clear, I am using the term addiction loosely. The best science would name technology use a compulsion rather than an addiction. While that may seem a semantic distinction only, be aware if you do kick the tech habit, you still don’t know how difficult it is for your friends in recovery to stay off drugs and alcohol.

The Cure
The prescription for chance is obvious from the nature of the problem. We need to set limits on interacting with technology. Turning off visual and auditory notices of new texts, emails or other updates helps. This will allow you to decide when you want to check in on this information rather than having those bings or vibrations give you a hit of dopamine to encourage you to check in. If you have trouble not looking at your phone while driving, lock it in the trunk of your car. Set times to check your work email and stick to those times only. It will help to keep these limits to also get away from the computer and the phone altogether. Gardening, hiking, kayaking and other activities that have you interacting with nature are also great antidotes as these activities are rewarding, but the senses are not bombarded in the process. There is a way that liturgy helps.

Your Brain on the Book of Common Prayer
Remember the old anti-drug commercial in which they show an egg and say “This is your brain”. Then they crack open the egg and plop it messily into a hot frying pan and the narrator says, “This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” Beyond this advertising metaphor, we actually have images of the brain on prayer and specifically The Lord’s Prayer. (See article in Lab Times). A Danish study looked at functional Magnetic Reasonance Imaging (fMRI) of devoted Christians as they recited a nursery rhyme, asked Santa Claus for things they wanted, prayed improvised prayers and prayed the Lord’s Prayer. While the nursery rhyme and “prayer” to Santa elicited no rewards, the improvised prayers and even more so the Lord’s Prayer excited “the dopaminergic system of the dorsal striatum in practising individuals.” In other words, the prayers elicited a chemical response in the brain.

This benefit is in addition to the documented anti-stress properties found in both meditative prayer—such as Anglican Prayer beads, Jesus Prayer, or Centering Prayer—and in regular corporate worship (See article at Huffington Post and Pew Research article). The photo above shows children praying The Lord’s Prayer in a chapel service at St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Belize City. Belize.

Regular worship with the well-crafted, oft prayed prayers of the liturgy actually assist in rewiring your brain in healthy ways as you build and maintain those neural pathways by regularly strengthening them through repeating prayers. Far from mere rote recitation, the liturgy can wire your brain for prayer and will use dopamine to reward you and encourage more searching for God. While science would never be able to say that this causes feelings of peace and well being, they are already prepared to say that religious community and prayer does correlete with longer, more fulfilling life (See U.S. News article).

Your kids and grandkids
Technology use is a particular problem for younger brains still forming those neural pathways. The best way you can teach the proper place of technology to the digital natives in your own family is through setting proper limits yourself and through teaching the joys of gardening, running, and most importantly praying at home and worshiping together in church.

-The Rev. Frank Logue, Canon to the Ordinary

 
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The lever that moves the Church

17 Dec

The Task Force for Reimagining the Church has published its 73-page final report. The group took on a difficult task, waded through the work, and have emerged on the other side with a document that will now belong to the General Convention set to meet in July 2015 in Salt Lake City. It is up to the Bishops and Deputies to now roll up our sleeves and begin doing some work of our own to take up where TREC has left off. My colleagues Nurya Love Parish, Adam Trambley, and Tom Ferguson (aka Crusty Old Dean) have all blogged on this, offering helpful perspectives.

Change Already Underway
While I do agree with Crusty Old Dean’s appreciation for their biblical imagery and articulation of the big-picture issues, I don’t share his pessimism about where this will go. But his prophesy will prove true if we don’t use the present moment to begin the debate and start moving toward change. If we wait until we get to Salt Lake City, the restructuring revolution will falter and halt. But we have already seen how the Reverend Gay Jennings, President of the House of Deputies, has already shown how much progress can be made through the work she has done to make changes to the Rules of Order which should make the General Convention more efficient. And our Presiding Bishop and Chief Operating Officer have already made some helpful changes in of equal import through staffing decisions with no need to wait for the General Convention. And then there is what I believe to be the lever that moves the church, found in a two-line resolve on page 8 of the report:

  • “Resolved, That the diocesan assessment percentage be lowered while making it canonically mandatory (with means for pastoral exception) for each diocese to meet that assessment.”

A diocesan assessment creates a real mandate in terms of budget dollars for our church-wide mission. This particular resolve is the technical fix that rules them all in a church needing adaptive change (as noted in the first 6 pages of the report). I currently serve in this triennium on the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F). I also serve on a diocesan staff that lived through reducing the diocesan asking while adding a canonical provision much like this resolve anticipates. So, I have a good vantage point to see how these two lines could be important.

The Current System

The Episcopal Church currently asks each of its 109 dioceses to give 19% of their respective budgets to fund the church-wide budget. Forty-seven dioceses give at that rate or higher. Thirteen give 15-19%. Twenty-seven give 10-15%. Eight give 5-10%. Eleven give 1-5%. Five dioceses do not give anything at all. The current median is 16%.

For full disclosure, I am the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia and for the year this information is based on, my diocese gave 13.6%.

The Preliminary Draft Budget
In a bold and helpful move, the Executive Council’s Committee on Finances for Mission (FFM) posted its preliminary draft 2016-2018 triennium budget online for comment (comments may be made here). That draft gives some substance to the two-line TREC proposed resolution above. The current budget draft extends the exemption from $120,000 to $200k, meaning that dioceses are not asked to give on the first $200,000 of income. With that new exemption, nine dioceses would not be asked to contribute to the church-wide budget since their entire budgets are less than this amount.

The new asking anticipated in the preliminary draft budget will move to 18% in 2016, 16.5% in 2017, and 15% in 2018 if that proposal were to pass with no changes. This means that for the coming triennium, the budget would be based on income anticipated from an average asking across the three years of 16.5% while moving the The Episcopal Church toward a 15% asking for the next triennium. Since the income of The Episcopal Church is not limited to income from dioceses, that comprises just under 66% of the total income. For example, of the $111.5 Million budget for 2012-2015, the projected income from diocesan askings is $73.5 Million. Other revenue, including income from investments and rental income from the Church Center in New York, is projected to rise. That means the overall revenue would goes up $4.6 million across the triennium in this budget projection. But this increase in income is more than offset by expanding costs, the largest of which is the rising cost of benefits to our Church Center employees.

Whatever you think of the specifics, Clergy Deputy Susan Snook and Bishop Mark Hollingsworth and their committee have done a great service to the church in providing their working document for comment and for having the courage to lower the asking. Given that the budget processes of 2009 and 2012 were problematic.

Note the importance of their revenue projections, for any mandate not funded in the budget is likely to get no follow through. So once we set the asking and so the revenue side of the budget and follow up by setting staffing and the rest of the budget accordingly, ideas that seem vague suddenly get very concrete. At the core is our deciding what we need from the denomination that can’t be more appropriately done at other levels. While this can be done without reference to a budget, the budget numbers will hold more sway than any ideal.

Realistic Projections
One issue I do see with the projections in the current preliminary draft budget is that they assume that the dioceses giving below the asking will come up by 10 % a year. But since the current draft is based on an asking, rather than on an assessment, I don’t see how we can assume dioceses giving 1% or even 12% will make a move toward 18, 16.5 or 15 percent. Instead, I find it more productive to consider the actual giving pattern by each diocese. When that is done, it is becomes apparent how much the specifics matter. For example, some of those giving 19% have quite small budgets (such as Western Kansas with $172,437 and Alaska with $341,497 in 2013). Other dioceses give a far lesser percentage, but have much larger budgets (Texas at 10.9% on $6.5 million and Pennsylvania with 4.8% on $4.3 million in 2013). Such details matter a lot. The only way to truly generate realistic projections is to talk with diocesan bishops honestly about the asking in order to get a feel for whether those giving less than the current asking will be able to move up to any given new asking.

A 15% Budget
If this plan works, and we begin to move to a 15% assessment, where will this leave the churchwide budget? That would, of course, depend on how many dioceses are able to reach that level of giving right away. In 2013, the total income from dioceses after the $200,000 deduction was $173.4 million. This means that the highest possible income number (every diocese giving at the new assessment number) would be $26 million per year or $78 million for a triennium. This would be an increase of more than $4 million above the current draft income. But given that every diocese would not be able to move to this number in a single year, we need to adjust expectations.

If every diocese giving more than 15% dropped to that number at once and no dioceses below 15% increased their giving, the income would be $22.5 million or $67.6 million for the Triennium. This creates a worst case for the move to 15%. Actual experience would be somewhere close to the middle of the $67.6 million likely worst case and $78 million best case scenarios. We can not know without the diocese by diocese conversations, but a back of the envelope projection would end up cutting the churchwide budget by $3-4 million in the first year. The church would then see that number rise each year as the number of dioceses making their full assessment increases. Without the asking become an assessment, this option would result in more drastic cuts in revenue. If the “teeth” in the assessment are seen as not an issue for dioceses, then this move will still fall short of raising the revenue projected above.

The Tithe
Given that my own diocese unanimously passed a resolution calling on TREC to adopt the tithe as the standard of giving to the churchwide budget, I would be neglecting my role as chair of the Georgia Deputation if I did not mention moving to a tithe. The standard of ten percent is consistent with our traditional tithing messages to parishioners and is therefore defendable. This percentage is likely to get very high participation even in the first year as only 11 dioceses give less than 8% now once the $200,000 deductible is in place. This makes the working number of $17.3 million per year or $54 million for the triennium a close estimate, if giving income increased each year by the 0.5% assumed by the current preliminary draft. This cut by $19.2 million to the three-year budget would significantly change what we are able to do at the churchwide level. This example shows more clearly the point above that when we set the revenue side of the budget, we create the one technical fix that makes the most change.

A Number We Can All Support
I believe that we would all prefer to have our dioceses fully support the church-wide asking, even though we might not agree on the percentage we can all support. In 2012 the House of Bishops considered a 15% asking. Given that the current median is 16%, perhaps that number of 15% is a realistic number that the vast majority of dioceses could support, especially with the $200,000 deduction proposed by the Executive Council’s Finances for Mission Committee. The current proposed draft assumes this as the number, but it will take three years to get there.

Putting Teeth into the Budget by Turning Asking into Assessments
With the $200,000 deduction and a move downward below the median, the time is right for the asking to become an assessment. What might that look like? Those not giving their full assessment would lose their voice and vote on the budget at both CCAB and General Convention levels and would not be eligible for program funds, such as a Mission Enterprise Zone Grant. These dioceses would retain their seat in convention and continue to have voice and vote on other matters.

All dioceses would be given the opportunity to appeal to a committee of Executive Council if they could not move at once to the new assessment. We would expect that all dioceses significantly below 15% would need time to adjust their budgets to get there. The “pastoral exception” should be only for dioceses that experience a significant drop in their own revenue. In these cases, the committee could have the ability to adjust the assessment to 15% of the actual income of the diocese. Any diocese giving at the rate approved in an appeal to Council (such as those moving up in a multi-year plan) would continue to have seat, voice, and vote on all matters before the General Convention.

In the Diocese of Georgia we made the move from a graduated system of four rates (17.5%, 15%, 12.5%, & 10%) to a simple of 10% for all congregations (based on the average of the previous three years Normal Operating Income line item from the Parochial Report). We also created an appeals process that helped congregations below the tithe move up to 10% over a three to four year process, depending on how far below 10% they were. We also asked those giving more to ladder down to 10% over three to four years. We had enthusiastic cooperation in this process from our congregations.

Conclusion
I propose moving at once to 15% for all three years of the next triennium and removing voice and vote on the budget as noted above in order to make this an assessment. I am willing to work hard to make responsible cuts keep this leaner budget mission focused. I think that the move to a 15% asking will generate higher participation by dioceses without creating catastrophic budget changes at the churchwide level. If we combine this approach with asking dioceses giving more than 19% to ladder down while other dioceses are laddering up, the significant impact could be lessened. There is no easy way to make this change and it will result in likely cuts of $4 million in the first year alone. Elsewhere, we can begin the discussion on changes to the expenditures that would be in line with a 15% assessment.

This is a technical fix which will not do anything toward the real adaptive change needed to move the church to a mission mindset and approach. But setting this income number rightly will provide the context for the decisions which follow as we determine which mandates get funded and which get left out of the budget. That’s when our talk of changes to the structure will really start to be made real.


The Rev. Frank Logue is the Canon to the Ordinary for the Diocese of Georgia. From 2000-2010, he served as the founding rector of King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Georgia. He served on the floor of the House of Deputies in 2003 when a first alternate, then in 2006, 2009, and 2012 as a Deputy, including twice as chair of the deputation and two conventions on Dispatch of Business. In 2012, he ran for President of the House of Deputies.


The video above is offered in appreciation for the Task Force for Reimagining the Church who is considering how to align The Episcopal Church structures more effectively for mission. This is my very bad freestyle rap based on tweets from the churchwide meeting held at Washington National Cathedral on October 2, 2014.

 
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