Saturday, January 28, 2012

Back to Africa

The March itinerary for our Mozambique trip is complete and plane tickets are now purchased!  Carol (my predecessor) and I will be traveling together in Mozambique for almost 3 weeks as part of my job training.  The plan is for me to see as many of the major projects on the ground there as possible and meet our colleagues who work on the Mozambique side.  She will essentially be publicly "passing the torch" while teaching me everything I can manage to soak up about the work that the Mozambique Initiative (MI) is doing.  This trip will be absolutely critical for me in continuing the work being done there and strategically looking toward the next chapter of the MI.  I am overwhelmed and completely excited.

Here's a rough sketch of our travel plans and a snap shot of some of the amazing things that the United Methodist Church (UMC) is doing in Mozambique:
  • Leave the US in mid March - travel for 2 days to Africa (one can only hope for a pit stop in Dakar).
  • Maputo - On my birthday, I am scheduled to meet the Bishop of Mozambique in the capitol city.  She is the first and only female bishop in the entire continent in Africa.  I cannot wait to shake this woman's hand.  What a birthday present!
  • Inhassaro - meet with churches there about sustainability projects and safe water goals.
  • Vilanculos - visit the Hanhane Women's Shelter and the new well that was put in place for these women.  I am perhaps most excited about visiting this site (see: feminary).
  • Cambine - here we will visit the Cambine Seminary as well as the Carolyn Belshe Orphanage (CBO).  The CBO, funded by the MI, has recently started an egg production project, which both feeds the children living there (providing much needed protein) and draws profit to meet additional logistical needs. Amazing.
  • Chicuque - visit with the local UMC church and see the Sahane well.  We will also visit the Chicuque Rural Hospital, a 200-bed health care facility started and sustained by the UMC in this rural, fishing village.
  • Back to Maputo - meet with government officials and conference leaders, complete paperwork and financial records, worship with Maputo UMC.
  • Beira and Chimoio - visit the Gondola Training Center, which is a center currently being built for education and training of future church leaders.  It is also the site of a new, clean water well.
I will try to blog about as much of this as possible while I am there.  I imagine that while in Maputo, there should be a decent connection to the internet, but this may not be the case in these more remote villages.  I'll do my best.  Please pray/send good vibes as we prepare for this trip. 

To donate to the MI or to any of these projects specifically, please see our website.  

Monday, January 23, 2012


A special thanks to Mark Chmiel for bringing together a group of sages who lit my heart on fire tonight.  Mark shared this with us...I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Ode to Thanks - Pablo Neruda
Thanks to the word
That says thanks!
Thanks to thanks,
that melts
iron and snow!

The world is a threatening place
Makes the rounds
From one pair of lips to another,
Soft as a bright
And sweet as a petal of sugar,
Filling the mouth with its sound
Or else a mumbled
Life becomes human again:
It's no longer an open window:
A bit of brightness
Strikes into the forest,
And we can sing again beneath the leaves.
Thanks, you're the medicine we take
To save us from
The bite of scorn.
Your light brightens the altar of harshess.


This weekend I traveled with the Mozambique Initiative to Springfield Missouri to attend a United Methodist youth conference called WOW.  Through the multi-colored mohawks, piercings of various body parts, and knee-high chuck taylors, one thing was made clear - young people want to be different.  Or perhaps more accurately, young peple want to make a difference with their lives....the fashion choices are just outward expressions of this inward desire.  They want to be noticed, but I don't think that it's just for the sake of standing out - they want to be noticed for thinking outside of the box, for making a statement that nobody else is making, and for doing something unique and impactful.  This is exactly why it is so imperative to be intentional about helping young people understand how to make a real and lasting impact on their world.   

At this conference we had the opportunity to link youth in Missouri with youth in Mozambique using skype.  They asked each other questions, made connections, and chatted about what life is like across the pond.  Youth in Missouri begin to ask about traveling to Mozambique one day and helping people who live in Africa.  They were moved outside of their own lives and daily concerns, and began opening their eyes to the concerns of others.  I would like to believe that this weekend we helped, in our own small way, articualte ways that their lives can make a real and lasting difference. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Misfit Meeting

- Misfit: a person who is not suited or unable to adjust to the circumstances of his or her particular situation.

- "Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people." -George Bernard Shaw

Last night was our first, official misftit meeting, which was simply a heart-felt chat over a few beers with a group of fiery friends. Perhaps one of the most salient things that brings us together is a shared feeling of somehow being on the outside, a feeling of not quite fitting into the mold. The individuals who make up the misfits live their passions, speak their hearts, don't hold back, and grab life by the horns. We have also all been rocked by witnessing extreme poverty, blatant injustice, and systemic discrimination in ways that will forever shape us. It was after these life-altering experiences that we realized the need for an outlet and assembled ourselves in order to garner support and encouragement, and spur each other to action.

When my mom read my new blog for the first time, she said, "I like your blog, honey, but you're not really a misfit". Part of this was her undying belief that her daughter could never be anything less than perfect, but it was also a statement embedded with a misunderstanding about the word "misfit". In reality, if we are truly living as Christians, aren't we all misfits? Shouldn't we, as Christ followers, be unable to adjust ourselves to these particular, live-the-American-dream-while-turning-a-blind-eye-to-the-world circumstances in which we live? I am not suited to punch a clock merely for the sake of a decent pension plan, I am not suited to buy nice cars so that my neighbors will notice, I am not suited to purchase houses in neighborhoods that are removed from the reality of poverty, I am not suited to ignore the suffering of those in my world for the benefit of my own comfort. We are called to be in the world, but not of the world. Jesus turned over vendors' tables, had no place to rest his head, hung out with the lowest, most impoverished, and messed up people imaginable. Jesus is the prototype misfit. Aren't we called to do the same?

Last night was the first of many intentional misfit meetings to come where we will share deeply and hold each other accountable to these somewhat lofty ideals. These misfits give me great hope in the ability to live a completely unreasonable, radical vision.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


"What would men be without women?  Scarce, sir, mighty scarce."
 - Mark Twain

If you haven't read Half the Sky yet, drop what you're doing and read it.  No really, do it.  Now.  I am using this book as one of the central texts in the class that I am teaching this semester about feminism and social work  practice.  This book covers three primary topics regarding women's issues in developing nations: 1) sex trafficking and forced prostitution, 2) gender-based violence including honor killings and mass rape, and 3) maternal mortality.  It talks about the plight of women all over the world as they are abused, neglected, trafficked, and forced into slavery at the hands of patriarchy.  It also issues a call to action and sheds light on how to begin addressing these issues.  It is a beautiful book...and it gets my head all twisted over the women in Africa and specifically in Mozambique.

Mozambique, compared to other African countries, appears to be somewhat progressive when it comes to women's roles in society.  Although it is still ranked at the bottom of the United Nations' Human Development Index, Mozambique has produced one of the largest numbers of women in leadership positions in Africa.  As of January 2010, Mozambique's parliament comprised 39.2% women, the second highest number in Africa, and ninth highest in the world.  Additionally, Mozambique recently appointed the only female Methodist bishop in all of Africa.  This is amazing. 

And yet, there is still a dire need for advocacy on behalf of women in this country.  The Hanhane Women's Shelter near Massinga in Mozambique (one of many humanitarian projects run through the Mozambique Initiative) houses dispossessed women whose families allege that they are "witches" and have banished them from their home. Other women living here have been abandoned by their families because of their state of disability.  There is no such need for housing for men because men would never be banished from their homes in this way.  Women around the globe, and specifically in Mozambqiue, remain disenfranchised and victimized solely on the basis of their gender.

Which is why I am hereby dubbing myself a "Feminary"...that's right folks, a feminist missionary.  This is not to the exclusion of the needs of men; however, because we are called to minister to the "least of these" as Christians, I cannot neglect the gender-based hierarchy that places women on the lowest rungs of society.  Despite the stigma that surrounds us when we identify as feminists, feminism is really just the radical notion that women are human beings entitled to equality.  Equality should not be a radical concept at all in this day and age, but unfortunately, it often is.  Advocacy for equality is what is required of people who identify as Christians and/or as activists.  As the authors of Half the Sky assert, we can turn oppression into opportunity for women as we advocate for equal access to education, health care, and fair wages.  I am honored to partner with my brothers and sisters in Mozambique to continue this advocacy work on behalf of women there.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Either/Or vs. Both/And

Taking this new position has been a bit of a career head trip for me. For the last 3.5 years, I've been in a rigorous PhD program that has been preparing me for an eventual academic position, preferably (according to my profs) within a university that ranks in the top 10 in the nation. Wash U breeds us, molds us, and then markets us. In fact, I spent most of last week in Washington DC at a social work research conference where much of this marketing occurs. My esteemed colleagues are all on their way to amazing academic careers, which come with a host of interesting behaviors displayed by both the marketed and the marketees. It has been an interesting experience to be an outside observer of these dynamics, and surprisingly, I got to feeling a bit sullen about being on the periphery of these exchanges until I had an insightful talk with a colleague.

I have been viewing this job decision as an either/or scenario, where I can EITHER be an academic/researcher/instructor OR an activist/practitioner/missionary. But this recent conversation opened my eyes to the fact that this way of thinking is limited and also, patently untrue. In actuality, this is perhaps the best both/and job scenario that I could imagine. I am BOTH an academic/researcher/instructor AND an activist/practitioner/missionary. As I strive to be a good steward of what God has given me, it is with grateful humility that I realize the invaluable skills, knowledge, and experience that I have acquired over the years throughout my education and social work practice. These all need to be utilized to the fullest, and because this knowledge and experience are so varied, I absolutely must think outside of the box in terms of career decisions in order to utilize them all. The Mozambique Initiative Coordinator position is vast - I have endless opportunities to gather data, write, teach, work with universities both here in the US and in Africa, AND I have endless opportunities to get my hands dirty, work with people, attempt to make a real-world, practical difference, travel, and be intimately connected to a spiritual community. And so, I'm going to continue to build bridges and have my feet in both worlds. Why not do both? Why not double the impact? Why not be a pioneer? I'm not closing any doors, in fact, I'm swinging them all wide open in ways that I probably cannot even fully comprehend.

...but just as it is written, “things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


I have New York to thank for who I am today.  And although I'm glad that I'm not living here anymore (let's be honest, I really love my Midwestern conveniences sometimes), for better or for worse, it formed me.  It was here that I found independence, and grit, and persistence, and a "goddammit, even though I can't put food on the table, I'm not going to lay down and die" attitude.  But most importantly, it was here that I found authentic community.  And though the lights, and the art, and the music, and the night life facilitated much of the self actualization, it was the people who really moved me.  A handful of choice individuals pierced my heart and accepted, equally, the best and worst parts of me.  Spending even just a few days with these friends reminds me again of the strength I find in dependence and the need that I have to share all of who I am honestly, consistently.  And so it is with overflowing gratitude that I reflect on the impact that this community had on me then and continues to have even on the decisions that I make today.  I could not have even contemplated taking this job without the love and support of these friends.  And I know going forward, these are the friends who will be there when things are hard and I don't understand and I'm disappointed, and equally there when I'm jumping for joy and laughing myself silly.  Thank you dear friends.  You know who you are.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An Unlikely Choice

In many ways, I am an unlikely choice.   I'm young, I'm not good with authority, I don't really do things by the book, I don't know Portuguese (yet), and I'm definitely not the picture of sainthood. I stay out too late and listen to music that is too loud; I talk too much, I have no filter between my brain and mouth, and I have crazy opinions regarding just about everything. I don't really fit in...but hasn't that been the way my life has always been? It's just that now, I have a new job.

For reasons that are sometimes beyond my comprehension, The Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church has chosen me as the next Mozambique Initiative Coordinator, beginning, Carol, the current Mozambique Initiative Coordinator, is in the process of retiring and will gradually work her way out of the job over the next six months, while I apprentice with her. The goal is to have me prepped and ready to go full time by July.   This job entails heading up all of the humanitarian projects underway in Mozambique through the Missouri UMC - including clean water wells, health clinics, a women's shelter, and countless others.  I will be traveling to Mozambique a couple of times each year and also visiting local churches in Missouri to share the excitement over the work being done there.  I am completely and totally excited in every way! And extremely humbled.   I will continue to finish my dissertation with hopes of finishing the PhD in social work by May 2013, while simultaneously working my way into this new position. A huge undertaking.

And so I'm asking for grace, and prayers, and support, and love, and accountability - hence the attempt at a blog. Help me help Mozambique.   Help me help the Missouri UMC.   Help me affect change. Help me work for justice.   Help me be a light.   And I will try to be the best misfit missionary you've ever seen.