Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Imagine No Malaria

While at jurisdictional meetings in San Diego this week the western superintendents and bishops gathered to hear a presentation by Bishop Tom Bickerton about the next phase in our goal to elliminate malaria from the face of the earth. It is called IMAGINE NO MALARIA. You may remember our previous campaign called NOTHING BUT NET, which by the way is still active. This next phase is to raise $75 million.

Here's my question. Why don't we as the Alaska conference choose this as our missional emphasis for next year?

This is from their web site: So, how will we do it? How will we eliminate deaths from a disease that has killed so many millions of people for thousands of years? Imagine No Malaria helps us take the next step in this fight.

Think of it as Nets Plus. We continue to support Nothing But Nets, because bed nets are an effective tool against the disease. But, we’re doing more.

First and foremost, we work in full partnership with communities in Africa. Empowering people to be part of the solution. Providing the tools needed so they can fight malaria.
So here’s the plan: we’re gonna put 160 years of know-how and experience in Africa to work against malaria. This comprehensive approach is divided into four main parts:

Prevention: It’s about improving the ways people fight the disease locally.  Using bed nets. Access to diagnostic tests and medicine. Draining standing water. Improving sanitation.  Every person can take steps to prevent malaria deaths, from protective measures to taking swift action when malaria symptoms begin.Treatment: Improving infrastructure. There are literally hundreds of churches, schools, hospitals and clinics operated by The United Methodist Church in Africa, but what good are they if medicines to treat malaria aren’t available?  We’ll make sure these facilities have the diagnostic tests and treatment needed to save lives.Education: It’s about outreach to those who need it most. Last year alone, we trained thousands of local people in African communities to teach their communities about avoiding malaria. In Sierra Leone, these workers went door-to-door to deliver bed nets, install them in homes and teach folks how to properly use and care for the nets.Communications: And finally, your support helps upgrade communications networks throughout the continent. Building new radio stations and providing hand-crank and solar-powered radios will ensure we are reaching great numbers of people with life-saving information about malaria.
What makes us so sure? We are putting in place a system of accountability. By establishing health boards in Africa, these groups will be held responsible for stewardship of your donation and results, putting funds to work with a plan that creates malaria programs that truly serve the needs of their local communities. Once established and trained, these boards will be eligible to receive a lot more funding from our partners, like The Global Fund, to Fight Malaria.

UM's came through with amazing support of Nothing But Nets. Let's gather our energy and resources to run this next leg!

Grace Always,

Friday, January 20, 2012

Garbled Speech

Last Friday it was very cold in front of the federal courthouse in Anchorage.  I was there to read a statement from my friend and Presbyterian executive, Rev. Dr. Curt Karns.  It was a rally to highlight the unfairness of the recent Supreme Court decision that corporations deserve the same rights as individuals.  This movement seeks to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

This is what Curt wrote and what I read at the rally.  "The biblical witness is clear both in the prophets and in the words of Jesus that societies are to be based on justice, and that societies are judged by their commitment to justice.  By granting civil and personal rights to corporations, the Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Board case has turned this biblical guidance on its head. Rather than viewing political and social decisions from the perspective of the poor, the weak and the downtrodden, decision will now be considered from the perspective of the most powerful corporations.  The undersigned regional leaders, speaking on their own behalf and not their churches’, therefore endorse the formation of an amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, in which it will be clear that corporations are not persons with constitutional rights, and that money can be regulated for political spending.
Christians have always understood that any true justice is of God, the Creator of all that is, including Creator of justice. As such, whenever gross injustice appears in a society it is important for Christians to stand up and be counted among those who oppose that injustice."

I encourage Alaska's United Methodists to apply our Social Principles to this and other social situations and speak out to church and society.  The funny thing as I began to speak at the rally after standing in -8 degree cold for 30 minutes was that my mouth literally could not speak!  I think my mouth muscles were freezing.  It felt like the dentist had just shot my mouth with novocain!  There I was with community leaders and the media watching, and I could not speak!  And what eventually came out was somewhat garbled.

I suspect there is a metaphor here for us as Christians.  Our mouths often become frozen when it comes to speaking a prophetic word in the public square.  The message of the Church is sometimes garbled and the message of God's desire for humanity fails to be understood.  My prayer for us as a conference is that Christ's message will be refined by the fire of our passion to bring God's reign to our communities.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Issues That Will Not Let Us Sleep

Last week I wrote about the sin of imprisoning children to be sex slaves around the world.  I am asking for our UM churches in Alaska to keep this issue before our congregations.

Another issue Anchorage residents will face on the April ballot is an initiative designed to provide equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation.  Currently, a lesbian can be fired for simply being homosexual.  If a restaurant owner were to refuse to interview a straight waiter, that prospective employee would have no protection.

The One Anchorage Initiative simply provides to gay and transgender Alaskans the same legal protections that are provided to Anchorage residents in employment, financial practices, housing, restaurants, and other businesses.  

What are the similar issues in your town?  In the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr., what injustice can be seen through a God lens that demands prophetic voice and actions?  Where does our resolve to do something come from?  Not all UM's will feel the motivation to act on this issue in Anchorage.  I get that.  But as God's people we are called to look at life through a God lens.  Sometimes that view calls us to prayer, or to donate money, or to learning more.  But for some of us (and this means all of us at one time or other) it is a call to action.

I fully support this initiative in Anchorage and am working in concert with pastors to promote this issue.  It is because of my faith that I am compelled to act and work for justice.  And I encourage you to consider a justice issue in your community, one that may just move you to action.

Grace and peace,


Monday, January 9, 2012

Invitation to Prayer and Action

Isn't it interesting how stories of human suffering come into our minds and hearts?  We breathe a prayer and move on.  But every now and then it seems that God grabs our attention and we find ourselves wanting to do more than pray.  
Last Saturday I turned on the TV to look for a football game and locked onto an MSNBC special on how children are being forced to be sex slaves in Cambodia.  They were doing a follow up on four girls whom they had rescued five years earlier.  The transformation was astounding.  These teenage girls proudly wore their school uniforms and talked about their future.  One wanted to be a CEO.  Another wanted to be a doctor.  It was a testament to the power of healing love.
One California family of five saw the first special and were so moved that they sold everything and moved to Cambodia to provide a safe place for freed children to begin a new life.  Talk about being grabbed by God!

After the special I went to my computer and sent out this email to all Alaska clergy and asked them to read it to their congregations in worship during the prayer time.

"Next Sunday is Human Relations Day which is part of the United Methodist Church's effort to support community ministries that teach and advocate for justice, especially among people struggling to survive in the margins of society. As your superintendent I am asking you to pray for the world's children trapped in a dark web of human sex trafficking.  I am also asking for some of you to learn more about this evil so the light of God's love and justice can bring freedom and healing to children damaged and scarred."  

Pastors, if people come forward willing to learn and educate your congregation about this issue please refer them to these web sites.  Our UMW is working in this area as is General Board of Church and Society.  They recommend churches and organizations learn more about becoming a Rescue and Restore Partner.  

This issue has touched my heart and I encourage us all to shine God's light on this dreadful curse.

Grace and peace,


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Roles in 2012

I have been fascinated with identity over the years and nearly finished a book on the subject 5 years ago. Specifically, I am interested in distinguishing between identities we choose and those that others choose for us.

Last Saturday, Dec. 31 I gained a new identity as a grandfather when Isabella Kay Smith was born. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I received a title on that day. My identity as a grandfather is one I gladly choose and which will require my love and energy. I will make time in my life to think about her, pray for her, spend time with her, and get to know her. This is what it will mean for me to choose and nurture my new identity as a grandpa.

I wonder if this applies to our identities as Christ followers. Are we simply assuming this identity because we grew up in a Christian home? My guess is that a Christian identity for many is a default identity. We did not choose it to be our own, but was chosen for us. And because we did not feel empowered to fully choose it for ourselves we simply defaulted to what we were given.

What would our lives be like in 2012 if we consciously made a choice to take on the identity of Christ follower each day? What if we embarked on a journey to wrestle with the questions of life and faith for ourselves? My sense is that our spiritual, emotional, and physical lives would be much enriched if we choose each day to invest ourselves into a relationship with God in Jesus Christ. And in the process the world will be transformed.

From a happy grandpa,