Monday, April 27, 2009

From the Justice Corner

Digging the Farmers

The world is seeing a hunger crisis it has not seen in half a century. An additional 100 million people in developing countries have fallen into poverty because of rapidly rising food prices, pushing the total number of people in extreme poverty to more than 1.4 billion, according to a 2008 USDA food security report. The UN says that the total number of undernourished people in the world is just under one billion.

Apart from it being an obvious and compelling humanitarian issue, US government administrations have for fifteen years recognized that world poverty is a national (and international} security issue. Poor states often fail to meet the basic needs of many of their citizens—for food, water, health care, or education. The same poor states that cannot fulfill their responsibilities to provide security and sustenance to their own people may also fail to exercise effective sovereign control over their own territory. Poor states often lack the capacity to control borders or remote areas to prevent plundering of their natural resources. For example, the “blood diamonds” taken from Sierra Leone were used by Liberian despot Charles Taylor to secure weapons through links with Al-Qaeda and Libya. Because of Taylor, Osama Bin Laden prospered. Today in Liberia, we read of timber and rubber being stolen in large numbers by forces committed to destabilizing the country.

The Strategic Importance of Agricultural Development
It probably does not come as a surprise to anyone to know that agricultural investment in developing nations is a good idea to help impact hunger. But it is much more than that. According to the UN and the World Bank, reductions in rural poverty generally correspond to an overall reduction in poverty. Agriculture fuels economic growth, provides skills and jobs, and stimulates manufacturing and service sectors. Agricultural development is not only a key to ending hunger, but ending poverty and providing greater security as well. These are a few more reasons why it is important that we care, that we get involved in combating poverty and hunger.

I’ve said before that I believe there are better ways to support hungry and poor people around the world than by merely offering food, relief aid or money to their communities. The overwhelming evidence is that communities in poverty are not transformed by gifts, money or food. Neither are communities of wealth transformed by merely trying to “fix poverty” by contributing to this kind of intervention. Communities of poverty and wealth are transformed from within. Groups like CRWRC, CRWM, and Partners Worldwide are effective because they understand this. Far better to help others grow their own food and create their own agri-business, than to simply provide it from US subsidized surpluses. In doing so, the poor develop a greater sense of self-efficacy and empowermment, and the wealthy develop a greater humility and awareness of the complexities involved in real partnerships. Africa CRWRC team works with local organizations in Mali, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Niger, to build the capacity of farmers to grow crops that not only provide food for their families, but contribute to the economies of their countries.
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I ought to add that agricultural development is only one area where our West Africa team is active. The team is involved in community development, church development, peacebuilding, justice advocacy, good governance and conflict transformation. But I wanted you to know today that none of this good work will get very far without the men and women who spend their lives digging soil for a living. That’s why we need to dig them too.

The pictures above are random shots of farms in Nigeria, Niger, Sierra Leone and Mali. That one just above us shows grain banks, storing millet for the lean times. Below are a few more from the collection of my West Africa boss, Mary Crickmore, in Mali.

Taken by friend and former CRWRC Mali consultant Winston Bosch, this is lovely afternoon shot-- what's he waiting for Winston?

The family that plows together smells cows together.

Mary's other half, Scott Crickmore, and Fulani farmer in Mali checkin' out the sorghum.

Monday, April 20, 2009

ReedNews Update April Edition

The Reeds are experiencing the unpredictability of a Michigan Spring for the first time in four years. It feels familiar and new—kind of like it always has. We had a perfect weekend, with low humidity, sunny skies and warm temps, and Monday comes with much cooler, wetter, cloudier weather. The four of us continue to do our thing and our things, with all of us mastering different aspects of adjustment to new school, new jobs, old climates, while at the same time never straying far from the fact that any week now, we’ll get the news that will give us a departure date for Ghana. Here’s some of the latest from each of us:

Noah: Our fourteen year old is making friends and doing very well in school. We are enjoying his
exceptionally subtle sense of humor and fun, and because he is rather quiet, I tend to forget how smart and wise he is. Renita and I have been noticing for about a year that his speech seemed more nasally that it used to be, and after months of debating, we took him to a doctor, who referred him to a specialist, who diagnosed him with velopharyngeal inefficiency/incompetence (VPI) for short. This is a disorder of the soft palate which prevents the throat from closing off during speech, causing too much air to enter the nose. We were all glad to know what the problem is, but the remedy may require surgery.

Hannah: She’s a straight A student with a full plate of activities. She’s now on the soccer team, loves hanging out with several best friends, and yes, is getting calls from boys. I’m watching the circling males like a giant eagle, looking for my next meal. (Click on pic at right to see a close-up of her hamming it with her friends)She just landed a summer job as a counselor at a gig called Camp Tall Turf. So that means most likely she’ll stay in Michigan for a while after we leave for Africa. And if she stays, Noah will probably stay too. BTW, our lovely first born turns sweet sixteen on Saturday. We are even now preparing for a week of festivities.

Renita: The fac
t that she’s 5000 miles and more away has not stopped her from making headway in Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Ghana and Nigeria. Each week has her writing hundreds of emails, attending several meetings, and sometimes traveling to exotic places like Sioux Center Iowa to talk development shop with interested business and/or church leaders. She even has time to share African life with local church kids.(left) She continues to wait on the Immigration people to give her a date for her citizenship interview, and then hopefully the swearing-in service would follow very quickly. She thinks we’ll be outa here by June, I’m betting on August.

Yers Trooly: Those who know me will be surprised to hear that I’m learning French, and those who know me would be even more surprised to read that I'm actually getting it. Comprenez 'vous? Renita is learning as well, but far ahead of me. I certainly cannot converse with a French-speaking person, but I’m slowly catching on. Like Renita, I’m also involved in a fair amount of other work-related activities, which for me means writing, studying and some public-type speaking. I’ll be conducting an adult education series on Justice for Madison Square Church, and last Sunday, we spoke at Mayfair Church. Speaking on justice themes is good practice for me, and I’m always honing my philosophy of justice. God help me if I ever stop honing.

Mostly though, my most challenging work is happening inside my head, as I battle with the impatience that comes with wanting to be in Africa, to be working more closely with the folks there who are doing such great and inspiring work. I know I'm supposed to be here, because, well, because I am here. That struggle is draining, and may be one reason why I’ve been feeling sad of late. But a good struggle it is. There is purpose here, and that is enough to keep my mind and heart fully engaged.
Renita, working the French program Rosetta Stone.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Valuing Low

For a week or so I've been feeling rather melancholy. I'd say it's a sadness bordering on painful much of the time. I get this way every now and then, and being a psychotherapist, I know I could call it depression if I was in a clinical mood. But I'm not in a clinical mood. To label this as "depression" is to pathologize it, to turn it into something merely to be prevented or cured. And yes, initially, when this thing hits, I get grumpy and restless, short tempered and impatient. I don't like the way I feel and I want to feel better. I want to be cured. But when I realize the sadness and emptiness is not going away just yet, I settle into it. I look for truth and meaning in it. I come to value "being here now". There is something important here. There is spiritual and emotional reality here. Being low quiets me down, brings me into the present, and gets me more in touch with the painful side of being human. Inevitably, I see it as a gift.

So folks, Yers Trooly has the Blues. It really is the reason I haven't posted to the blog this week. I wanted to-- I was thinking of the few of you who check in on us, but I could not muster the energy to make something up for you. I didn't want to fake it.
Yesterday, I drove out to Lake Michigan, which is one of the most important places in the world to me. This particular place has a well known lighthouse, and it's deep red color seemed to pierce the grayness of the day-- and my inner ache. It's boldness and audacity pleased me. It couldn't care less about my darkness, it was just going to be there, red, in my face. Later, I found myself out on a pier marveling as I watched the loons and a duck I have never seen before diving for fish in the frigid waters. I felt privileged to be in their presence. Later still, I talked to God as I walked the beach, and, as is typical, He had no word for me. He just listened, and I imagined and thought I could sense an infinite smile. I walked the beach, breathed the cold air, and allowed myself to weep a bit as I considered the world I've come to know. "So beautiful" I thought. "So much pain."
And then it was time to drive back to Grand Rapids and home. I'd like to say the trip cured my blues, but they are still here, keeping me honest. However, I did find the energy to simply be real. Which I figured is as worthy of posting as anything I could make up. So thanks for sticking with me.
By the way, I took some pictures while on my walk. Here are a few.

Hey-- who can tell me what kind of duck this is? (Update: thanks to friend Ron Boes who knows a male Long-Tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis) when he sees one.)

Monday, April 6, 2009

From Renita

The Scent of Jesus: Lessons from a Dog

As many of you know, we had security issues in Liberia that caused us to build a high wall around our house and get some dogs to sound the alarm. Within these walls were two gates that opened only from the inside. When people came to visit us (multiple times times each day), they knocked on the gate, the dogs barked and growled, and one of us would go to see who was there. If one of us went outside the gate, someone else would have to close the gate behind us, and then we would have to knock on the gate to get back in.

One day, upon returning from a community meeting, I realized that when I knocked on the gate for someone to let me in, the dogs did not bark. I assumed that I was probably talking to someone next door on my way to the gate and the dogs must have heard my voice. The next day, I intentionally was quiet on my way to the gate and knocked. Again, silence, except for the whining of Nikki who knew it was me and couldn't wait for me to come in (her whining, I knew, was an indication that her tail was wagging her entire body as she waited to greet me). So, I then deduced that they must recognize the way I knock. I wondered if I could fool them into barking at me. Time for an experiment.
The next day I snuck up to the gate and pounded on it very hard. Nothing-- except Nikki whining with excitement. The next day I knocked very gently, halfway down the gate, as if I was one of the many children who knock. Nothing-- except, well you get the point. Try as I might, I could not fool Nikki or Max into sounding the alarm when I tried to disguise my approach.

How did they know it was me? It seems clear to me now that in the few seconds it took for me to arrive at the gate, they were able to pick up my scent. Within a couple of seconds. Even though I didn't use a consistent shampoo brand, soap, or perfume. Even though I perspired more days than than others. The dogs recognized my scent from the other side of a gated wall. I find that amazing.

Last week I spent four days on a silent retreat – it’s one of those times that I have no other role than being a child of God. I’m not a wife, mother, daughter, employee, sister, church member, etc. I use that time to crawl up in God’s lap and enjoy Him. During my retreat, I read the book, Hearing God by Dallas Willard. The book talked about learning to recognize the voice of God in our daily lives, and as I reflected on this, I remembered our dogs and how they not only learned my voice, but learned my scent. If two tick-bitten mutts in Liberia could discover the scent of a Canadian in seconds, how much more should I be able to pick up the presence, the voice, the scent of my Lord and Savior, in whose image I am created? So, how did these dogs do this? Did they work some formula? Set out to study my scent? Practice? No, the obvious reason is that they were around me every day. They learned my scent.

I want to learn more than the voice of Jesus; I want to be close enough to pick up His scent.

In the quiet of my retreat, I smiled at the lessons Nikki and Max had for me. I also reflected on the pure joy that our dogs expressed whenever we returned home. Anyone who has owned a dog knows this. It didn’t matter whether we had been gone all day and they had been tied up or whether we had been gone for five minutes. They were always excited to meet and greet us, almost knocking us over with their affection. Henry Scougal, in 1677 wrote in The Life of God in the Soul of Man, that “the worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.” If the object of my love is Jesus, how do I greet Him? To be honest, it’s often with a long and tired face, hung up on the burdens of the world, the heaviness of the yoke I have taken on. I want that to change. I want to recognize His scent before He gets to the gate, and knock Him over with delight the moment I can get to Him.

In short, I want to be more like my dog.