Helping Those in Poverty Blossom, An Advent Devotional

Each year, the parishioners of Holy Comforter create an advent reflections booklet composed of their own contributions. This is mine, used for December 18, 2013.

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. (Psalms 72: 12-14)

Bob Hentzen

Bob Hentzen

On October 8 of this year, Bob Hentzen passed away from natural causes. I had the blessing of spending a week with Bob when Tenley and I went to Guatemala as part of a Christian Foundation for Children and Aging Mission Awareness Trip in July 2011.

As I read the psalm for today’s reading, I couldn’t help reflecting on Bob’s approach to helping people who live in poverty.

Before our trip to Guatemala, I had possessed a vague idea of the ways in which CFCA helped the “lives of the needy.” Our extended family had given $30 a month for years to help our sponsored child, Silvia, and her family have access to education, food, health care, and shelter.

Although the trip involved the incredible highlight of meeting Silvia, it involved so much more. The most eye-opening parts were when we were able to visit the homes of families being helped by CFCA. I had never seen residences that appeared so vulnerable to weather, so rudimentary from the standpoint of plumbing and waste management, so different from our orderly neighborhoods here in the U.S.

“Electricity” meant one light bulb hanging from a cord. When a homeowner was asked why she did not have the light on, she explained “it’s too hot.” I don’t know if the real issue was that she was ultra conservative about the use of power, or if she truly felt it was “too hot.” No use of resources happened without deliberation.

In addition to the tours of homes, we watched presentations about various ways in which people were given help in learning to make a living. We met women who had learned a skill, gone on to use that skill to support their families, and completed the circle by teaching other women to do the same thing. To see a woman empowered with the ability to rely on herself in order to feed and educate her children was to see a “dawn” of a new and improved life for that woman.

Carolyn Zimmerman, of Topeka, Kansas, said this about Bob after his death: “His steps and his life took him throughout the world, where he connected families across the divides of distance, privilege and poverty.”

The people I met in Guatemala were often people who had “no helper” and needed support to cross the divides that Carolyn wrote of. They were people who had been affected by violence and oppression. Perhaps not personally, but culturally. Although Bob did not treat them with the “pity” mentioned in this psalm, he saw the precious potential in each one. And through him, God helped them blossom.

As you reflect, how can you help someone in poverty blossom?

A Guatemalan Mother Participates In A Reforestation Project

A Guatemalan Mother Participates In A Reforestation Project


Photo credits: Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (www.hopeforafamily.org)

 

The Best Kind Of Sight

barb for profile pic

I need to do a lot more processing before I write a proper tribute post to my mother in law, Barb, who passed away early Saturday morning.

A quick thought for the night, though.

I was listening to an interview with Alexander Payne, director of Nebraska, for which Bruce Dern won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival this year. He was talking about how much he liked to watch the film with the sound turned off, that the actors did much of the work of the roles through components of their acting that had nothing to do with what they said. I can’t find the exact quote right now, but it was something like, “You can hear so much without actually hearing a single word.”

Somehow that sentiment could be modified to praise Barb’s approach to the world. She may have been physically blind since 1985, but she “saw” so much in each one of us who was privileged to share time with her.

Dining in the Dark 2009

Dining in the Dark 2009

Faith is the daring of the soul to go farther than it can see. ~ William Newton Clarke

For Barb’s obituary, including information about the visitation (11/18) and funeral (11/19), please click here.

Bob Walked; Everyone Grew

Saturday mornings almost always find me doing my long run. I have run several times through the trails at Lake Lafayette. A few weeks ago, my schedule changed and I was able to participate in a Move Tallahassee walk through the same area. Walking the trail took three times as long as running it would have, but since I ended up among bird lovers and conservationists, things were brought to my attention that I would have missed before: uncommon juvenile birds nestled in the aquatic plants; trash that had been left by walkers prior to us; invasive and predatory vegetation. I left the day with a heightened appreciation for the advantages of slowing down.

When I read an article memorializing Bob Hentzen, President and Co-Founder of Unbound, after his death on October 8, I learned that when he decided to relocate from Kansas City to Guatemala in 1996, he walked. That’s right: 4,000 miles!

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes...

The walk from Kansas City to Guatemala can be hard on shoes…

I can only imagine the human rights issues Bob saw on his walk (and continued to see when he settled in Guatemala).

Did he encounter racism before he left the United States? Did he see citizens of his home country withholding jobs, the ability to rent homes, common courtesy from each other based on which racial group they belonged to?

As he headed south, did he encounter citizens of Mexico, struggling for the right to health protection amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis?

When he arrived in Guatemala, did he immediately see the challenges faced by indigenous people in danger of losing their land and/or livelihood? Undoubtedly he saw what he already knew: that women and girls were in danger of being victims of violence and the inability to get educated.

I know from spending a week on a Mission Awareness Trip in Guatemala with Bob in July 2011 that he cared deeply about the women and girls of Guatemala who needed help to learn skills that would earn them a living; who needed support to get education beyond the initial early grades; who needed protection when spouses succumbed to substance abuse or simply left.

Bob with Guatemalan children

Bob with Guatemalan children

I have so many memories of Bob that have come flooding back since I learned of his death earlier this week.

  • How a few of the kids in the group (and, ahem, perhaps some of the adults) thought it was “quaint” when he walked in for the first time with his guitar. It’s possible a few eyes even rolled. By the end of the week, we were done with that though. I’d give a lot of quetzales (Guatemalan money) to hear Bob sing again.
  • His reference to a song he heard a Guatemalan child sing (paraphrasing here….) “we sing to drown out the sounds of the guns.”
  • The way he interacted with every single Guatemalan family along the way during our week. His little notepad, where he wrote down specific needs and facts. How despite taking notes in his little notepad, those families had his full attention. I remember him asking one teenager if she went to school. She said “no.” There was no judgment coming back from him. But I think a seed may have been planted in that girl’s head. It was clear that no one in Guatemala wanted to disappoint “Don Roberto and Doña Cristina (his wife).”
  • The way he interacted with his staff. I know how short tempered I have been with staff when I supervised. When you’re all crammed together in a mini bus for a week, there’s not a lot of privacy. I listened to him give directions to the Unbound staff and had a sense of abiding, quiet, humble leadership.
  • Despite all that abiding, quiet, humble part, I know that Bob would not brook any nonsense when it came to Unbound. When he talked about charity clearinghouses and auditors questioning how he allocated funds, he was resolute in making sure as much money (and resources) got directly to families as possible while retaining the necessary cushion of financial solidity for Unbound.

Back to walking and human rights. I doubt any of us reading this plan any 4000 mile walks in our lifetimes. What we can do, however, is slow down and walk through our town, our country, or another country and observe the human rights challenges, with an eye to doing something about them.

To extend that example to Tallahassee and my home state of Florida, human slavery steals the rights of women (and some men). In the United States, pick any of a number of issues.

As for other countries, if you have an opportunity to visit and see for yourself, do it. In the meantime, there are plentiful ways to improve your awareness and make a difference.  (One of my favorites is Half the Sky.) In memory of Bob, I also encourage you to visit the Unbound site and consider sponsoring a child, giving a monetary gift, or even simply spreading awareness by sharing Unbound’s message on social media (or face to face!).

One of Bob Hentzen’s most repeated quotes is:  “Society has told them [the poor] all along that they are not capable. We are here to tell them they are quite capable. You are not alone. We are walking with you.” When it comes to the topic of human rights, I encourage you to take a page out of Bob’s book and walk …. blazing a path of awareness and compassion.

Bob and Sponsored Children

Bob and Sponsored Children

(Each year, Blog Action Day “brings together bloggers from different countries, interests and languages to blog about one important global topic on the same day.  Past topics have included Water, Climate Change, Poverty,  Food and the Power of We, with over 25,000 blogs taking part since 2007.” This year’s theme is human rights.)

 

Wordless Wednesday (#StyleMeMarch – Week Four Edition)

Week Four of the “#StyleMeMarch” challenge from Hilary Rushford of the Bow Ties and Bettys Style Blog had me digging deep — into my closet and into my imagination.

Here’s the entire month’s plan:

Week four started last Wednesday with “so my city” day. We love our institutions of higher learning here in Tallahassee. I donned my garnet and gold, and topped off the day at boot camp climbing the stairs of Doak Campbell stadium over and over, reliving decades of FSU memories.

Thursday was “hair accessory” day. I didn’t go out and buy anything new; I don’t have a lot of “accessorizing” options for workday hair. But it was the perfect day to give an homage to the unsung hero of my active fitness life: the humble little “Effortless Beauty” headband.

I usually only wear one at a time, of course! But they keep the sweat and my bangs out of my eyes. They do their job, day in and day out, with little fanfare. So thanks, rainbow of knit headbands, for helping me stay fit (and for occasionally actually coordinating with my outfit).
Red Hills Cross Country Equestrian Course

On Friday, our theme was “your least expensive piece.” Next to the number of run-related tshirts I own (enough to clothe a small army), I own a lot of Florida Healthy Kids and KidCare apparel. Here’s one:
Saturday was “fresh faced” day; that was perfect since the day was a typically active one for me. It started with me lacing up my shoes for a 9.7K race (wearing one of the aforementioned coordinating headbands!):

and flowed* into yin yoga at Journeys in Yoga for Journeys’s fifth birthday party:

Sunday was “saw on a style blog” day. The best I could do was to incorporate tangerine (or the closest I could get); I have been reading a lot about how tangerine is the “it” color this spring (here’s one example):
Along the way I learned about other spring trends, and now I see them everywhere – peplums, huge florals, nude shoes.

Monday was “layer over/under a dress” day and that was another one that I found pretty difficult. None of my dresses and separates really lent themselves to layering, so I went with this dress/sweater combo.

When I read that today (Tuesday) would be “statement necklace” day, I knew immediately what I would choose. It may not make the biggest fashion statement, but I love this cross I bought in Guatemala last summer. I almost didn’t get it — as the trip wound down I was trying to conserve quetzals (Guatemalan currency) but I am so glad I made the relatively small splurge. I love it and it reminds me of the people I love, especially Silvia and Estela who we sponsor through CFCA.

I’d like to thank my coworkers for getting in on the “#StyleMeMarch” fun:

Beth’s Hair Accessory
Beth’s “Least Expensive Piece” Day
($5 tshirt/$6 overshirt)
Beth’s Accessories for Least Expensive Day
(Handmade by a Young Friend!)
Beth’s statement necklace (from Quarter Moon Imports
of Tallahassee).
 Karen’s “Dollar Store” Socks for Least Expensive Day
($1 for 5 pair – Fifty Cents Per Sock!)

It has been a lot of fun playing with these clothes and accessories, and rediscovering a few neglected items stuck in the dark hinterlands of my closet, but hands down the best part has been sharing the #StyleMeMarch fun with my coworkers. Thanks ladies for playing along – we may not have big budgets but that doesn’t mean we can’t have big hopes for looking great!

*little yoga joke!

Hope For A Family – Carla’s Family

(This was the view from CFCA’s Shalem Center as Tenley and I waited for our sponsored child, Silvia, to arrive for our July visit.)

As Tenley’s and my week in Guatemala was winding down, the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA) staff talked with those of us who had been on the trip about ways we could continue to partner with CFCA once we returned home. One of the ways is to share the stories of children who still need sponsors, in hopes that someone who is seeking an opportunity to provide hope to a family and expand their own experience of another culture will choose to sponsor this child.

For this reason, I am featuring Carla tonight.

CARLA
Carla just turned six yesterday (August 13).  She speaks a Mayan language called Q’eqchi’. Her father is a day laborer (as a wheat grinder) and her mother is a housewife. She has a 10-year-old sister and a 12-year-old sister.
Carla’s family home has board walls, a tin roof, and a dirt floor. The family does not have electricity, and they get their water from an outdoor pump. Their sleeping facilities are described as “brick with rug.” The family prepares food over an open fire.The family’s approximate monthly income, in US dollars, is $50.
Her profile from CFCA tells us that she likes to play chase and dance. Her jobs at home include cleaning the table and feeding the chickens. Additional biographical information says she “likes to smile, likes that everything is in order at home, and likes to run errands.” Her family is described as “very humble” and they are consistently involved in activities held in their village.
These chickens belong to a family whose home Tenley and I visited.
If you are not familiar with CFCA’s sponsorship program, the $30 per month commitment helps families meet basic needs such as education,  nutrition and medical care. Sponsorship also provides the support and opportunities these families need to improve their life situations and provide a better future for their children. CFCA has staff who work directly with the sponsored children and their families to make sure the sponsorship money is spent wisely. In addition to improving the family’s nutrition options and the child’s education situation, CFCA also works with families to teach them skills they can use to generate additional income; these individuals often go on to teach others. 
As I have thought this week about what I would write about Carla and, in the future, other children who need sponsorship, I kept getting a bit stumped about how to “pitch” this. I decided that my role in this process is to help tell the story, not sell the story. All I ask is that if you are seeking an opportunity to make a difference and this seems like a good fit, let me know. If you could share Carla’s story among your social networks and friends, great. If you live within driving distance of me, I will be glad to brew up some Guatemalan coffee and come speak to your group. 
For another sponsor’s perspective, check out Lynn Woolf’s post, $1 a Day, about her family’s  experience sponsoring Flora from Tanzania and Christian from Honduras. Lynn does a great job of describing one of the other benefits of sponsorship – the thrill of corresponding with your sponsored child.
In closing, I read this quote recently and it resonated with me as I continued to process all of the images and experiences from my trip to Guatemala:
Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possesses you. -Andre Gide
I am seeking your help in giving Carla the best 6th birthday present possible — the gift of knowing someone “completely possesses” the desire to sponsor her.
For more information:
My phone number: (850) 556-3517
My email:  opuswsk@aol.com
CFCA email: mail@cfcausa.org
CFCA phone: 800.875.6564
Note from Paula: It is possible that more than one person may contact CFCA about sponsoring Carla or that a potential sponsor may really have their heart set on sponsoring a boy instead of a girl, a child from one of the 21 other countries served by CFCA, or an elderly person. Please know that CFCA has many sponsorship opportunities available and will be happy to work with you to select who you want to sponsor. You can get more details on that here.







           

Cinco Minutos en el Blog, Siempre en mi Corazón (5 Minutes in the Blog, Always in my Heart)

The welcome given to us by one of the communities we visited.

Dear readers,

It is so nice to be back with you, after missing a Sunday blog post last week for the first week since June 28, 2009. Since Tenley and I were in Guatemala last Sunday, I skipped blogging, partially because I needed a bit of a break and partially because Internet access was limited.

I have been writing about my goal of going to Guatemala to visit our family’s sponsored child, Silvia, for a long time. The Guatemala visit was on my 2010 “top three goals list” and although the 2010 part didn’t happen, the trip came together for July 2011, thanks to the moral and financial support of many friends.

There is no way I could put everything about the trip into one blog, and I believe part of the beauty of the trip I just took is the fact that parts of the learning from it will not reveal themselves right away. That’s why I decided last week that my first blog upon my return would be a “get out what you can in five minutes” exercise, similar to my Got Five Minutes for 2010? post from December 2010. My five minutes are represented below, in italics.

The one moment that stands out most vividly for me is when we were visiting a family home in a Guatemalan village. The home was extremely basic. Dirt floors, tin roof, I think the walls were cinder block. It housed a large family in two small rooms. As I walked in, the dad said to me, “I am sorry this home is so small.” I eventually took a picture of the dad as he spoke to us about his hopes for his family, and the phrase that occurred to me is “this is what it really means to “man up.” We had learned of so many families where the father had left and the mom had to carry the weight of supporting the family all by herself.

It also meant so much to look our sponsored child, Silvia, in the eye. So much more than a picture on an end table. And for Tenley to choose to sponsor a child (Estela). Being able to talk with these children and their families, even though it took the help of translators and there were plenty of language barriers (Estela speaks Kiche, a Mayan dialect), was an experience that transcended something … their mothers were so very grateful to be our partners in providing more for their children, especially an education. I said it in Guatemala and I believe it’s true — all mothers the world over want the same thing for their children – health, happiness, education, safety.

We were greeted in such a grand manner in these communities — very elaborate welcoming ceremonies — it was humbling to be greeted by marching bands, applause, and carpets of elaborate flower petal designs.

A sample of the elaborate floral greetings underfoot.

In closing, I want to expand upon what I wrote about the flower petal designs just a bit. When our group was visiting one of the family homes, Bob Hentzen, President and Co-Founder of the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, the lay Catholic organization working with persons of all faith traditions to create a worldwide community of compassion and service that organized the trip, told the group to look under our feet, where the family had spread fresh pine needles. This was a sign of welcome and an indication that our visit was a very special occasion. When I think of the elaborate floral welcomes, juxtaposed with that in my mind is the profound simplicity of the pine needles. I don’t think I’ll ever look at a pine needle again without memories of the people of Guatemala, who I now consider teachers.

Pine Needles Spread Over the Floor in Welcome