Monday, May 2, 2011

A Response

In response to the action of U.S. troops last night, I borrow words from a man I dearly admire and respect:

"I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that" -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Last night, Saint Louis Missouri was hit by as many as six tornadoes. Many homes were destroyed, and the airport has been badly damaged. Many people have minor injuries, but there have been no deaths, thank God.

I took cover in my basement with my family, and thankfully our home was not hit by anything but strong wind and rain.

Time to rebuild StL, yes?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

We Don't Know Best

Please take a moment to read Dan Haseltine's words about orphanages. I like this very much. It is due time for Americans to re-examine the actions we take in places like Africa. There is no us and them. And we certainly don't know best.

"I remember the conversation as if it just happened.  I was sitting at a table in a beautiful hotel in Rwanda.  I was there to learn about the complexities of helping people in communities overrun by HIV/AIDS.  
The idea of orphanages came up.  For one of the African community health workers, it was more than she could take.  She described what orphanages do in the area where she worked.
An African’s identity is deeply connected to the land where they live and sweat.  The toiling that is done in the fields is an expression of the roots that reach generations and generations down into the hard soil of their communities.  It is not unlike many of us.  We still have connections to the places we were born.  It is as much a part of our identity as the color of our hair, or the shade of our skin.  We cannot change where we were born.  The setting of our story was set before we arrived. 
I have now lived in Tennessee longer than I have lived anywhere else.  But my roots are still firmly planted in Hampden, MA.  On the occasion that I get to travel to New England, I find myself breathing more deeply, and feeling more at home.  I never worked the earth when I lived in MA.  I mowed a rather large lawn, and maybe that was work enough to make me feel connected to it.  Africans have a deeper connection to home and land than we do.
There is also something about the work ethic of an African.  If they do not grow crops, and tend to the care of those crops, they will not have food to eat.  The amount of work they put into their land often directly affects their ability to sustain life.  If they cannot feed their families, then they will starve.  So being lazy is not really an option.
And maybe the most obvious thing we can recognize from experiencing rural villages in impoverished parts of Africa is that there are not many resources to go around.  Material possessions are few.  Many people don’t have access to new clothes or shoes or schoolbooks. 
In an attempt to fight against poverty and chip away at the massive orphan crisis due to the amount of parents who have died from AIDS, So enters the orphanage. 
On the surface it seems like a good idea.  It most definitely has the ability to save lives.  And we do not want to see children starving, or living alone. 
The orphanage is a well-intentioned idea.  However, in the places where my African friend works, it is problematic. 
She describes the effects of the orphanage model.  Orphanages get built.  They identify orphans and pull them from their land.  This immediate strips them of their identity.  You give them food and shelter apart from the work of their hands.  So you take away their work ethic. 
In villages where orphanages exist, the children that are not orphans can feel penalized.  If a child loses their family, they gain access to schooling, and clothing, and books and a bed.  They have resources that are better than the ones the rest of the children in that community have.  This creates competition and animosity. 
She says that you have just developed a person with no identity, no work ethic and negative relationships with everyone in their village.  She says, “You have just contributed to the growth of poverty.” 
And then she asked, “Did the orphanage model work in the United States?”  My response was to say, “No, it didn’t work in the U.S.”   There are other ways to deal with the orphan crisis in those communities.  But it was a classic example of a western idea being implemented in Africa.   In development and relief work, it is a common theme.  We desire to do good things.  In our haste and sometimes in our arrogance, we end up hurting or demeaning the people we want to help. 
The other hard part about community development work is that not-for-profit organizations function off of donations from people who often need to see the proof of where their money is going.  This seems reasonable as far as accountability and transparency is concerned, but what about the ways this takes shape in Africa?
Organizations are constantly wrestling for money.  The best way to build trust in a donor is to develop a solid trustworthy brand.  Branding is an issue.  It means that we have to spend lots of time propping up the work that is being done. 
It also means that many organizations use tactics for engaging people that are incredibly dishonoring to those who they seek to help.  How many images of bloated bellies can we take in?  How many pictures of children with fly resistant eyes can we stare at while the dramatic music plays in the background?  When did we have to feel sorry for someone to help them?  But this is a VERY common tactic.  Many organizations don’t tell the story of people doing good work in their own communities because that could jeopardize the messaging that a particular organizations work is what is saving people. 
Thus, a song is born. 
Light Gives Heat was a critique of the ways we engage people in the grip of physical poverty.  It was a song that was written almost like a play.  The narrative at the beginning is in the head of a well meaning, but slightly arrogant aid worker. 
“Catch the rain empty hands, save the children from their lands… wash the darkness from their skin.
Heroes from the west, we don’t know you, we know best.
So many organizations think that the answer lies in our ability to Americanize African people.  If we can strip them of their culture, and replace it with our own, than they will live healthy lives.  And they can’t do it on their own… so we are the great white hope that will sweep in and save you. 
The African voice enters:
"You treat me like I’m blind, setting fires around houses on the hill,"
Can we even think for a second that Africans don’t feel dignity being stripped away?  Do we think that they are not smart enough to know when someone is ultimately working for their own gain, or for the gain of branding an organization? 
When we tell Africans that we are here to save them, it implies that they cannot save themselves.  This is especially true with ideas.  We can help with resources, but when we choose not to listen to Africans and learn from them about how their culture works and what ideas they have to bring healthy infrastructure into their land, we strip them of their dignity.  And we remove the ability to empower them.
The song draws from history as well. 
“Segregate my mind, burning crosses from our fears”
We repeat history when we approach people as if they are less than human; If people are less than capable of good ideas.  We fear what we do not understand.  People enter Africa knowing only the story of poverty and disease.  They don’t know the story of spiritual richness, deeply rooted culture, soulful living, passionate music, wondrous storytelling, courageous acts, daring and thoughtful and poetic humanity.  And so we are in control of a relationship that is never equal.  We always have the upper hand.  This feels safer. 
Most organizations go to places and never once try to learn the language of the local people.  It is up to the villages to communicate in English.  It is up to the people of the village to extend beyond their reach.  And this is a problem.  It is another way that we devalue people and their culture. 
That is why we wrote this song.  I had the opportunity to sing it in Kenya.  I sang it to the people who have inspired me.  I sang it as an apology.  I sang it as a confession.  And they sang it back to me in forgiveness and solidarity.   
“But Light Gives Heat.”  African’s will take our charity.  But they want our relationship.  They will work with the arrogance we bring, and use it to benefit their communities.  They have survived enough to find the good in the worst of circumstances.  And so even our most arrogant acts might have something in them for Africans to repurpose." -Dan Haseltine


Friday, February 11, 2011


Well, apparently something was changed with the server that was hosting my background on here. Please bear with me as I try to get it figured out.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February Focus: Let Justice Roll Down (Dr. Perkins)

As you all (hopefully) know, February is Black History Month. In honor of this, I would like to direct our focus here at On Behalf Of during the month of February towards a man I admire so much. He was active in Civil Rights nonviolence, returning horrific acts of hate with transcendent and neutralizing love. He has dedicated his life to restoring communities in Mississippi plagued by racial hatred and economic inequality. I had the honor of meeting him at his 80th birthday party last year. :) His name is Dr. John M. Perkins.

During the month of February, I will feature some writings from Dr. Perkins, and information about racial inequality in America. The featured art pieces will provide support for the John M. Perkins Foundation for community development and racial reconciliation in Jackson, Mississippi.

J. Foreman wrote a song for him.. I think he puts it quite beautifully (A somewhat long read, but please trust me that it is worthwhile):

The Living Blues
"As we all know, freedom is more than capitalism, liberty more than self-governing politics. We like to play a song about a hope that I have for my own country. A hope that our country would rise to a freedom from racism and intolerance. A hope that the United States would rise above its past, embracing a future of true freedom. That we might rise above the disgrace of inequality and learn to love the ones we share our breath with on this planet -- that the "land of the free" might find freedom from hatred, freedom from the shackles of self tyranny. We play a song for a hero of mine who spent his life living out these dreams: the Reverend Dr. John M. Perkins. 

Dr. Perkins is an American civil rights leader. Born a Mississippi sharecropper's son, he grew up in the dire poverty and bitter racism of the time. At the age of 17 his older brother was murdered at the hands of a town marshal, so he fled the state vowing never to return. Yet in 1960 Dr. Perkins and his wife Vera Mae Perkins felt compelled to go back to help the poor in rural Mississippi meet their own needs. So they left the relative comfort of California and moved back to Mississippi hoping to show God's love in action. 

Over the next few decades Dr. Perkins' outspoken nature and leadership in civil rights demonstrations resulted in repeated harassment, brutal beatings and imprisonment. Yet even in the hands of his oppressors he chose the path of love over violence, of compassion over hatred. His story is the story of the struggle for true freedom, freedom from even the knee-jerk reaction of retaliatory violence. His song is the song of the blessed community. His dream is the dream which Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King and so many others died for. His story is living proof that love is louder than violence, louder than hatred, and louder than racism. 

In the face of dire poverty, racial prejudice, and violent, brutal injustice Dr. Perkins chose to break the cycle of hate and respond with love. He has since become a well known author and leader in community development and racial reconciliation throughout the world. John Perkins' life is one of consistent, reliable, steady compassion. He downplays his moments of heroism, saying anyone in his shoes would have done the same thing. Never ostentatious, never seeking the spotlight- Dr. Perkins was a man who did what specifically needed to be done. The past and present of his story point in the same direction. The means and the ends are exact. Love for all: including those who hated him. 

King and Perkins both came to the conclusion that to return "hate for hate, anger for anger, violence for violence" would be a loss of character. Violence cannot accomplish love's work. The means and the ends must be consistent. When the black community was rightly angry about the wrongs that the white community had committed against them, Perkins warned them, "If we give in now to anger and violence we would be just like the whites. We would lose what little we have already gained." 

Dr. Perkins had compassion on even the people who violently beat him -- almost to his death. He saw beyond the exterior of hate and chose to forgive. He refused to believe that his racist oppressors were his enemies. Which is to say, that John M. Perkins chose to see the best in them, as they could be rather than as they are. He saw past the present circumstance towards a vision for a world that did not exist yet, for a version of his oppressors that was no longer filled with hatred. 

Love looks into the future and sees possibilities that do not currently exist. Love is larger than the moment; love is larger than the present tense. Maybe it has to start with a dream, a dream of a better world. Dr. Perkins' contemporary Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream. A dream so large that it couldn't fit within his lifetime. His dream was a beloved community that was larger than his contemporary reality. Larger than life. Larger than even the violent hatred, fear, and racism that led to his assassination. 

These audacious dreams of equality and liberty pull us forward. These hopes drive our lives with purpose and vision; our actions become us, and we become our actions. The only way to become a runner is by running. A disciple of love must begin by loving those around her. Every dream has to start somewhere. Soren Kierkegaard said, "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." And so it is with every one of our stories. You have to see the whole picture to tell the difference between a fake Monet and the real thing. Time alone can tell the difference. The final pages must be written to make sense of the past. The narrative we live today puts the past in context. 

It's incredibly rare to find someone who remains true -- who has found a way to "be the self that truly is." (to quote Kierkegaard again.) Dr. Perkins' life is a song that is consistent. The tale of John M. Perkins will outlast even John M. Perkins himself. Yes, our story is being written today. Our present actions determine the context for the rest of your story. The pure acts will remain. All else is illusion. Your true soul is not a means to an end. The legacy of love will remain; these are the stories that stand the test of time 

Love lays herself down for others. Love is willing to trade kindness for hate, acceptance for fear, and compassion for rage. Love refuses to recognize the walls between us, and chooses instead to find the commonalities. Love permits damage rather than damaging the other. When the highest price was asked of Dr. Perkins he rose to the occasion. "I told them -- and I meant it -- if somebody still had to suffer, I was willing. And if somebody had to die, I was ready." ....
I heard a story that sums up my feelings perfectly. When a man naively asked Dr. Perkins if he played the blues, Dr. Perkins grabbed his hand and smiled, "Brother, no. I LIVE the blues." Yes, you do Dr. Perkins. You live them beautifully." -JF

Tuesday, February 1, 2011


If you're one of the ONE HUNDRED MILLION people that are being affected by the semi-nation wide blizzard that is sweeping through the country, snowed in, with nothing better to do than drink tea and stare into your computer, then I have something great to share with you!

I'd like to introduce you to one of the best time-wasters out there. It's a website called free rice. It is sponsored by the UN Food Programme, and they sponsor a series of web games, where for every question you get right, they donate 10 grains of rice to hungry people around the globe. 
Spend a couple hours with this game, and it's pretty easy to earn hundreds of thousands of grains.
Plus.. it's educational! Feed your mind during the snowpocalypse, while feeding the world. I think that's a great thing.

(Stay warm... I truly dislike winter weather...)

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What is to Come...

Hi Friends :)
I am so very excited to share that I am planning a trip for this summer. YOU are invited to be a part of it. You can support, pray, or.... you can COME.

We are partnering with Haiti Outreach Ministries July 30 - August 8, bringing hope to the people who continue to struggle there.

Let me know if you would like to know more. You might begin by watching the video David and I made ^^ ;)

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Morning Will be On the Other Side

I finished and posted my two paintings for January.
Prints can be purchased here.

"Do You See Me?"

"The Morning Will Be On the Other Side"

90% of the proceeds from these pieces will go to the care of orphans worldwide.

Happy Birthday Dr. King

Today we celebrate and remember a man who has lived past his own lifetime. Although his voice was silenced over 40 years ago, he continues to speak today. Dr. Martin Luther King stood for something profound and groundbreaking, not only for the rights and dignity of the African American people, but for global peace and economic justice. Whether it was through was nonviolent direct action campaigns or civil disobedience, King believed that "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
He led a movement led by love and justice, and retained a deep sense of dignity despite innumerable atrocities committed against him. Indeed, a spirit of love and hope is characteristic of any of his speeches and writings. He refused to sink to the level of the segregationalists, repaying hate with hate, for nothing would be accomplished by this.
We all have much to learn from Dr. King. With each passing year since his death, a little more of his passion and indignant love is forgotten. Less of his urgent and pressing words are remembered. If we stop to remember him today, let us also open our ears to the message that he gave his life for.

Some Quotes:

A man can't ride your back unless it's bent.

A man who won't die for something is not fit to live.

A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.

I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law.

If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.

In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.

That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.

We have guided missiles and misguided men.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.

We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.

We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

If those words don't make you burn on the inside, I don't know what will..

As I look at pages dedicated to the memory of Dr. King, there are still responses left by people today filled with the most awful, grotesque, and foolish hate. I'm sad for those people, for they will never experience the most beautiful kind of love that Dr. King stood for. It seems like misguided people are more likely to stop and leave negative responses than the true and good people are to pause and respond in thankfulness and love. I want to challenge you today to do just that, in honor of Dr. King.

"On March 22, 1956, King celebrates his conviction. He believed it was right to disobey unjust laws. Explaining his buoyant mood, he said, "Ordinarily a person leaving a courtroom with a conviction behind him would wear a solemn face. But I left with a smile. I knew that I was a convicted criminal, but I was proud of my crime."
From LIFE: Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Friday, January 14, 2011

My Biggest Story

As we continue to take time this month to bring attention to orphaned children around the world, I want to take time to share just why this specific topic is so very important to me. As I have said before, it is what started it all... this journey towards who I am and the purpose I've found in my life.

I'm still amazed when I think about it.

Here's the story..
When I was a very young teenager, preteen, actually.. I went to a big concert. At least it was for me, in those days. It was a Steven Curtis Chapman concert, and he had just founded Shaohannah's Hope (Now "Show Hope," the organization I have featured this month.)
There was a time during the concert when the lights went down, and they showed a video similar to the one in my last blog post, about little girls being abandoned in China. I remember, as a little girl, feeling like something inside me was exploding.. The world as I had come to know it all came crumbling down, as I looked around the stadium in which I was standing. I thought... What are we doing here?
Then, this man, Mr. Chapman, came walking back out onto the stage, holding a little girl. He proceeded to tell the story of how his teenage daughter had learned about these little girls, and had come to her parents, telling them that they  were going to adopt one. At first, they laughed and commended her big heart, telling her that it wouldn't be possible for them. Still, she continued. For several years, she hinted to her parents about it, leaving notes, never giving up. Eventually, it all came together, and after an adoption process, they traveled to China, and returned with a baby. They named her Shaohannah.
After that day, all I can say is that that story basically became my story as I took on the same strategy as that teenage girl. I knew we were going to adopt a baby girl from China. No doubt. I just had to help my parents realize it. From that time until I was about 15 years old, it was hard. So hard.. I wanted to bring that abandoned baby girl home more than anything. Anything. Little did I know that she wasn't even born yet.. Not until the year I turned 15.  
Everything came together so beautifully. In 2006, my parents flew to China and brought Hannah Kate Yang Rui home. My girl.

Two years later, I flew with my mom to Ethiopia after a 2nd adoption process, and we brought home Abebech (Abi) and Mamo (Adam)

They've grown up a bit since then.. :)

There's a video where I tell the story here
(I don't know if it will work if you're not my friend on fb. If you're not though, just request ;) )

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Show Hope

My featured organization for January's topic of Orphans/Orphan care is Show Hope.
(Originally Shaohannah's Hope)

This organization was founded by musician Steven Curtis Chapman and his wife as a result of their experience adopting three girls from China and seeing the desperate need of orphans around the world.
Show Hope is a ministry that enables individuals and communities to change the world for orphans by not only addressing a child’s need for food, shelter, care, and spiritual nourishment, but by also addressing the root issue for an orphan: the lack of a family.
I'll provide more information about this organization and the impact that they have had on my family later. What I want to share today is some facts about orphans worldwide:


What is the need?
* Over 130 million children have lost one or both parents.1
* Every 18 seconds another child becomes an orphan, without a mother or father.2
* At least 16.2 million children worldwide have lost both parents.3
* Every 14 seconds a child loses a parent due to AIDS.4
* Conflict has orphaned or separated 1 million children from their families in the 1990s.5

Where are they?
* 43.4 million orphans live in sub-Saharan Africa, 87.6 million orphans live in Asia, and 12.4 million orphans live in Latin America and the Caribbean.6
* 1.5 million children live in public care in Central and Eastern Europe alone.7
* At any given point there are over 500,000 children in the U.S. Foster Care system.8
* In some countries, children are abandoned at alarming rates, due to poverty, restrictive population control policies, disabilities or perceived disabilities, and cultural traditions that value boys more than girls.9

What about AIDS?
* More than 14 million children under the age of 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa.10
* By 2010, the number of children orphaned by AIDS globally is expected to exceed 25 million.11
* AIDS is more likely than other cause of death to result in children losing both parents.12
* As the infection spreads, the number of children who have lost parents to AIDS is beginning to grow in other regions as well, including Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Eastern Europe.13

What happens to the children?
* Children are profoundly affected as their parents fall sick and die, setting them on a long trail of painful experiences often characterized by: economic hardship, lack of love, attention and affection, withdrawal from school, psychological distress, loss of inheritance, increased physical and sexual abuse and risk of HIV infection, malnutrition and illness, stigma, discrimination, exploitation, trafficking, and isolation.14
* Orphaned children are much more likely than non-orphans to be working in commercial agriculture, as street vendors, in domestic service and in the sex trade.15
* Unaccompanied boys are at high risk of forced or 'voluntary' participation in violence and armed conflict.16
* Orphanages, children's villages, or other group residential facilities generally fail to meet young people's emotional and psychological needs.17

What about foster care?
* On average, children stay in foster care for 30 months, or 2.5 years.18
* 118,000 children were waiting to be adopted on September 30, 2004.19
* On average, those children waiting for adoption have been in foster care for 43.8 months, almost 4 years.20
* Each year, an estimated 20,000 young people “age out” of the U.S. foster care system. Many are only 18 years old and still need support and services. Of those who aged out of foster care:21
Earned a high school diploma: 54%
Obtained a Bachelor's degree or higher: 2%
Were unemployed: 51%
Had no health insurance: 30%
Had been homeless: 25% 23
Were receiving public assistance: 30%

Is there any hope?
* Yes. There is One who infinitely loves each orphan and calls His people to join Him in caring for the fatherless. Each one of us can Show Hope to an orphan.
* If only 7% of the 2 billion Christians in the world would show hope to a single orphan, looking after the child in their distress, there would effectively be no more orphans. We can each do something.