Friday, August 24, 2012
And stars they were! Annie Jr. was really that good. It was funny and moving, as every production of Annie is. And the orchestral music that filled the auditorium was, as always, sing-along familiar. But in this version of Annie, every cast member was a child whose disability too often pushes him or her to the margins of life. In this Annie, these same kids were pushed to center stage. If you watched closely, you noticed the times when the young artists were—literally—given a gentle push by the mentor who shadowed them. Face the audience, a mentor seemed to be saying with a gentle hand on an artists’ shoulder. Or, Here’s your next line, whispered a mentor who nearly succeeded in making herself “invisible” on stage, turning herself into a prop, a part of the scenery. But occasionally her devotion to her artist was so visible—and so beautiful—you just had to watch her. You couldn’t help yourself.
After the production, Dr. Andrew Morgan stood in front of Willow’s coffee shop and chatted with well-wishers. A developmental pediatrician and the former head of the Division of Child Development at the University of Illinois in Peoria, “Dr. Andy” created the Penguin Project because he recognized that “theater not only provides children with a valuable recreational experience and an opportunity to display their creative talents, but also enhances social interaction, communication skills, assertiveness, and self-esteem.” The name “Penguin Project” comes from the unique characteristics of penguins. “They are extremely playful and curious, and they work well together. More importantly, they have a ‘disability’ that distinguishes them from other birds: they can’t fly! Instead, penguins waddle and toboggan on their bellies over the snow, and are excellent swimmers. So, like our young artists, they have adapted to the challenges of their environment, and have not allowed their unique difference to interfere with their lives.”
The Penguin Project was a perfect partner for Willow Creek’s Special Friends, a ministry that welcomes and embraces all individuals affected by special needs or disabilities. The Special Friends Ministry is a volunteer-based endeavor, pairing disabled individuals with friends who have a heart for those with special needs. The magic of Annie was the relationships that developed between the artists and their junior-high aged mentors, who had walked and laughed and studied and prayed their way through every memorized line, every perfected dance step, and every rehearsal disrupted when a frightened artist decided “I can’t do this anymore.” When the big day arrived, the mentors shadowed the actors, quietly encouraging them when necessary.
Directly by Christy Weygandt, a long-time Willow member, and her assistant, Kathy Lambert, Annie is a don’t-miss event. Bring yourself, your kids, your parents, your grandparents, your friends, your neighbors. Everyone will thank you! Tickets are $5 online or at the door. Remaining performances are tonight, Friday, August 24, 7pm and Sunday, August 26, 3:30pm. For more information: http://specialfriends.willowcreek.org
Thursday, August 23, 2012
Consolation and Protest
My all-time favorite conference is The Justice Conference. In 2011, as a “charter member” of The Justice Conference teaching team, I spoke in Bend, Oregon about “nice girls and dangerous women” and interviewed Matt Soerens and Jenny Hwang about immigration reform. At The Justice Conference 2012 I joined Tomas Perez in challenging men to engage in the fight against sex trafficking, and had the honor of interviewing Stephan Bauman, President and CEO of World Relief.
In order to get to know Stephan and to shape interview questions, I enjoyed a lengthy late-night conversation with him and his wife, Belinda. I didn’t know that conversation and the interview that grew out of it would lead to a lasting friendship, to my second trip to Congo, and to the birth of Ten for Congo. Yes, Stephan’s wife is that Belinda—my Belinda, my Ten for Congo teammate.
Stephan recently traveled to Goma, Congo, and of course, every member of Ten has been pestering him for updates. Here’s a brief excerpt from an email we just received from Stephan. You who prayed for us as we traveled, and continue to pray for our friends in Congo, will find a renewed call to prayer in this most recent update from the Kivu region of Eastern Congo.
Greetings Lynne, Belinda, Christine, Lili, Sherri, Marianne, and Erin,
Thank you for your notes and, more importantly, your ever-relentless pursuit of the Congo. You inspire me. I spent the day before last in Goma with Charles, Marcel and others, including Dr. Monique. At the present, Rutshuru and surrounding areas remain inaccessible. Still, we shouldn’t assume your friends there are in danger. We just aren’t able to communicate. We’re hoping to have more information by next weekend.
As for your visit, in all my years I’ve never seen the impact of a team like yours. The regional World Relief Director said, “These women just wept and wept and wept. With their tears, they healed.”
Some of you may follow Jurgan Moltmann, Miroslov Volf’s mentor. In one of his books, he says, “Christ is not only a consolation in suffering but also a protest against it.” Through the cross, Jesus consoles suffering; through his resurrection, he protests against it. You have joined Congo’s suffering through your lament and you protest against it through your activism. Thank you for following the resurrected Jesus into the Congolese bush.
I wrote the following words in the early days after the earthquake in Haiti. I’ve adapted them for you below—just a simple prayer, a lament that begs for resurrection for the Congo:
Lay Your gentle head
Upon this Kivu bosom
And kiss the quivering lip
I find prayer most effective when it is most affective, that is, when our emotions are wrung dry while ruthlessly gripping hope. Thank you for showing us how to do that these past few months.
Stephan J. Bauman
President & CEO
When I interviewed Stephan at the Justice Conference I revealed—with his permission—his secret life as a poet. As a means of processing the suffering he sees throughout the world, Stephan shapes words into anguished but beautiful poems and prayers—as you’ve seen in the email above. You can read more of Stephan’s global poetry at www.underthemango.com.
Wednesday, August 22, 2012
This article was first published in the current issue of Sojourners magazine.
Seven American women sat at a long rectangular table with 10 pastors from rural communities in Eastern Congo to learn about the pastors’ work of healing and reconciliation. A brilliant World Relief translator moved seamlessly from Swahili to French to English as we jotted notes.
“When Marcel from World Relief first gathered local pastors together, we were suffering,” one pastor said. “But he reminded us that, even in circumstances like these, the church has a crucial role to play. All the victims in our communities are people given to us to care for.”
Local church pastors in the North Kivu region of Congo face personally all the sufferings common to members of their communities: murder of family members by armed militias; rape of mothers, wives, and daughters as a weapon of war; displacement from their homes because of local conflict; an economy based on subsistence farming destroyed when crops are burned or uprooted by marauding rebels.
But their personal suffering doesn’t invalidate their biblical call to “care for the least of these.” Marcel, formerly a local Congolese pastor, works with World Relief Congo to serve local pastors by providing training in leadership, community transformation, trauma healing, and conflict resolution.
The pastors’ first challenge was to create committees representing every denomination and tribe in the region. The committees meet monthly to determine who in the community is most in need—a family with nothing to eat, a widow without shelter, a victim of sexual assault who needs hospital care. Sometimes the most needy are church members; sometimes they aren’t. It doesn’t matter.
In June 2012, I took my second trip to Eastern Congo. I had met many of the pastors on my first trip to Congo in 2009 and was amazed by the progress they had made in just three years.
On this trip, our team of seven spent a day listening to 11 women courageously share their stories of rape and other violence by rebels and “bandits”—and the care they received from lay counselors provided by the church committees. In some cases, women had found their way to the counselors bleeding and naked, having lost everything, including their families. The women said, “The counselors literally gave us back our lives.”
Equally impressive were the village peace committees—men and women from every denomination and tribe in the region, appointed by their churches to resolve disputes and facilitate reconciliation in their communities. We spent an entire day seated in a concrete church building listening to 20 stories of reconciliation: Broken marriages. Conflicts between parents and children. Disputes over land. Paternal neglect. Violation of widows’ rights. It was like sitting in a passage of the Bible: “A certain widow had two sons ...” Except the story unfolded in 2012 in Rutshuru, Congo, and the agents of reconciliation—who had the wisdom of Solomon—were the humble leaders seated before us.
In each case, disputing parties had tried other options—which basically meant paying bribes to local police and judges, trying to get someone to take up their cause. But bribes and justice seldom kiss. Finally, they would hear about the peace committees, who take no bribes, earn no salaries, and seek only the benefit of those involved in the conflict. The favored technique of reconciliation is to initiate ongoing conversations with the disputing parties—separately at first—and slowly allow possible solutions to emerge from the shared ideas. These solutions always involve compromise and must be accepted by each party rather than imposed upon them.
Several days after I returned from Congo, a New York Times columnist suggested that the largely ineffective U.N. peacekeeping mission in the Congo “should refocus its efforts on supporting grassroots projects directed at resolving local conflicts ...”
I wonder if that writer knew he was describing the local churches of Eastern Congo.