Thursday, February 2, 2012

Rags or riches?

Sometimes things come out of nowhere, smack me in the face and strip my soul bare. It happened recently when I read two news stories.
One was about “kiddie couture” with Gucci becoming the latest designer making thousand-dollar clothes for children younger than 12. The second was Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe banning the importing and selling of donated “second-hand underwear.”
It’s pretty easy for me to feel outrage over both. The hard part is looking at myself and seeing the same hypocrisy.

Children at a displaced persons camp in Uganda.
This is a confession. I am a horrible shopaholic. I cannot resist the allure of sales, and every time I need to go out of town, I have to buy new clothes. Well, I don’t have to buy them, as you would see if you peeked into my closets and clothes drawers.
I have been to Zimbabwe three times. Naked children or a child wearing the thinnest shreds of clothing is not unusual. I have seen a lot more of the poverty in this world than 3-year-olds with $2,000 coats, and yet I still spend more than I give away.
Those two stories sent me off into a spiral of pictures flashing through my mind. Always it is the children that break your heart.
I understand that second-hand clothes could be humiliating and thoughtless. But I have seen little boys and girls naked and dirty in a displaced camp in Uganda, in the garbage heap in the Philippines, begging on the streets of Haiti.
Once those pictures are in your mind, you really can’t do much to escape them.
There are as many ways of being kind and generous as there are people in the world who need kindness and generosity. I know The United Methodist Church is working every day in millions of places, and I can trust them to make my dollars multiply. I know people at the United Methodist Committee on Relief that get up every day, look into the abyss and finds ways to pull hands out.
I am far from qualified to preach or even suggest how someone else might do good in the world. Maybe second-hand clothing is not the best thing to give. I am hoping and praying that the next time I feel myself falling into the rabbit hole and rushing to the mall for a sale, one of those pictures will pop up.

Charity really does start at home.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Love and prayers for sweet people of Haiti

UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
I am not one of those people who could tell you where I was on momentous occasions, but I do have a strong memory of what I was doing when I heard about the Haiti earthquake Jan. 12, 2010. My son was home from Boston for his first winter break, and we were at a hair salon with plans to have a nice dinner together after his haircut.

I received a call on my cell phone from my news editor, “Did you hear about the earthquake in Haiti?” he asked. “We need you to come in and call a pastor whose wife is in Haiti.”
Talk about jumbling brain cells. That was the first of many sleepless hours most of us at United Methodist Communications spent calling people who were either trapped in Haiti or had loved ones there.
The news was made more personal with United Methodists among those trapped , two pastors later died of injuries from the collapse of the Montana Hotel. United Methodist churches have a long history of mission work in the poverty-stricken country. A member of a United Methodist mission team also died when the eye clinic she was working in collapsed.

Workers dig through the rubble of the Montana Hotel.
Mike DuBose and I left Nashville for Haiti to cover the story for United Methodist News Service Jan. 20. We met Francisco Miguel Litardo for nine days of traveling around the horribly broken city of Port-au-Prince and some of its outlying areas. Our guides were a team from the United Methodist Committee on Relief -- Melissa Crutchfield and Sharad Aggarwal and the Rev. Edgar Avitia Legarda of the Board of Global Ministries.

I had never been thrust into such a surreal situation before and have not since. Even with all the news stories and photos and video footage from international media, I still was not prepared for the destruction.

We went not knowing whether we would have a place to stay or if food would be available. We packed Vienna sausages and sardines and flew to the Dominican Republic. From there it was a long slow ride into Haiti. The six of us spent the first night in two borrowed hotel rooms breathing diesel fumes from the tanks we brought to keep us on the road. The next morning we experienced a really big aftershock that was terrifying. It added poignancy to our stories.

Most people were sleeping outdoors either because their house was a rubble of unrecognizable rocks or because they were too afraid to be under roofs that might collapse at any moment. After that first night, we stayed at the Methodist Guest House. We were the only people willing to sleep inside. Hundreds, including the guest house staff, camped out on the compound for the church and a primary school. We were soon joined by mission teams bringing medical aid.

I remember flashes: mothers feeding babies by the blue glow from a cell phone. A tiny boy getting a bath and his teeth brushed by a loving father in a soccer field. Walking up the twisted road to the site of the former Montana Hotel for a small memorial service for the Revs. Sam Dixon and Clinton Rabb. A lunch of coconuts in rural Mellier. The miracle of turning dirty water into clean drinkable water. The smell of death.
Mike and I returned in 2011 and we saw lots of progress. UMCOR continues to do great work and United Methodist mission teams have streamed steadily into Haiti ever since the quake.

This year, my son returns to school on Jan. 12, 2012. Once again, I am wrapped up in sending him back and breaking those “mother” cords again.
There was no return trip to Haiti this year. But the hole that opened in my heart on that day in 2010 remains full of love and prayers for the sweet people of Haiti.

Friday, October 21, 2011

I know how that feels

I recently sat in awe and amazement at Roswell (Ga.) United Methodist Church as they threw open the doors to hundreds of hurting people who are caught in the misery of being unemployed. This church near Atlanta holds a job-networking ministry every second and fourth Monday and unfortunately, it is really needed.
I sat at the table for young adults and heard the heartbreaking story of one young man who thought he had a job that would be starting that very day. He got a call at the last minute and the company retracted their offer. I really know how that feels. A travel agency once hired me and after my first day, they called me early the next morning and said they were taking it back. It wasn’t my dream job, but it still felt like a punch to the stomach.
But the worst was yet to come.
Among all the people without jobs these days are many newspaper editors, reporters and photographers. My husband and I were way ahead of the trend: The Louisiana newspaper we worked at closed down their afternoon edition years ago.
We didn’t see it coming. I still can’t really let myself think about that day. It wasn’t just us; it was many of our best friends. I remember one of the women who didn’t get laid off crying just as hard as we were. “Well, just remember it wasn’t their intention but they just did you a big favor,” she said. It took a few years for that prediction to come true, but it has.
I was lost for a long time. We lived down the street from our two best friends, we had just bought our first home and I never really wanted to leave my home state. I’d never even thought about it.
Emily, my daughter, had just graduated from kindergarten. Ethan was 3. My husband found a job in Nashville, a whole world away from the place I loved and felt comfortable.
Luckily, things have worked out. We both have good jobs at the moment, but we have watched a few rounds of layoffs come and go at our places of employment. There is always that feeling of an ax hanging over our heads, just a little out of our line of vision.
My heart aches for those who are suffering and are out there every day looking, looking for a job.
May God bless and bring comfort to us all.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Congratulations President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf!

Covering the inauguration of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in January 2006 was an awesome experience and a highlight of my career as a journalist.
Johnson Sirleaf is a longtime United Methodist who loves her church. Bishop John Innis, the United Methodist bishop in Liberia, is a good friend of hers and he invited a delegation of U.S. United Methodists to attend her inauguration. He arranged for me to have an interview with her just three days after she took office. I will always be grateful to him for that.
I won’t go into detail but just getting to Monrovia, Liberia, in time to be at the inauguration was a nightmare. It seemed the whole world was trying to get to that remote location in a city without electricity, paved roads, limited numbers of hotels and restaurants, and very sketchy Internet service.
I got to my hotel sometime after midnight and was visited by two people (and not at the same time) from the Liberian Conference to tell me I needed to be ready to leave at 3 a.m.
The press had to be at the site at 4 a.m. to be counted and verified for entry into the press area. Two buses were on hand to transport us to another site for a quick breakfast before letting us into the “pit.”
The more experienced members of the media rushed to be on the first bus. I didn’t understand at the time why they were rushing but it became painfully apparent after I boarded the second bus and got to the “pit” a few minutes later: They had all the seats and all the good spots.
Laura Bush, then first lady, and Condoleezza Rice were among the dignitaries from around the world that came to see the first woman elected head of state in Africa. The White House press corps had reserved all the front and center seats.
I staked out my small spot next to the fence where I could stand on my tiptoes and have an almost clear angle on the proceedings as long as no one stepped in front of me or pushed my elbow. And let me tell you, I had to fight to keep my spot. As the day wore on, I got meaner. I would not be moved.
From 5 a.m. until I think around 2 p.m., I stood in that spot. No food, no water, no bathroom breaks. To this day I really don’t know how I did it except by the grace of God.
Of course now I wouldn’t give anything for the experience and the memories. I am so thrilled today that she is receiving the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. I am as proud of her as if she were a close friend. In my heart, I think she is.

Friday, September 23, 2011

How can God love us all the same?

I am hooked on Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books. With my Kindle, it is too easy to just download the next book as soon as I’ve finished the last one. It’s like Criminal Minds: They start the next episode as soon as the last one ends and I get stuck staying up watching television longer than I had planned.
The appeal of the books and the show is that the really horrible people always get caught—often killed—by the good guys and the world is left a better place. I cheer. Those people deserved it; I love the good guys.
I do know the difference between fiction and reality, but what about the death penalty? In real life, it should not be in our power to decide who lives and who dies.
I was mentally and emotionally immersed in the death penalty this past week – mostly around Troy Davis, the Georgia inmate who lost his last appeal and was murdered on Sept. 21. His execution drew international attention, with more than 1 million people signing petitions calling for clemency. After all the protests, prayers and hopes, he was killed by the state at 11:30 p.m. EDT.
In the same week, Texas carried out two executions without too much notice. I think what drew so much attention to Davis was that slight glimmer of a doubt that he was guilty. Seven of the nine people who said they witnessed him shooting a Savannah, Ga., police officer withdrew or recanted their testimony. That shadow of a doubt should have been enough to keep him from the death penalty, but that is really just my personal opinion. Death is the one thing you can’t take back.
I am glad The United Methodist Church has been a leader in trying to eliminate the death penalty in the United States since 1956. Many United Methodists participate in the debates and vigils, and in the halls of justice when the death penalty is debated in their states.
I wrestle with the belief that God loves us all equally. That God loves “the bad guys” as much as God loves the "good guys."
I do know the truth from fiction. I know that no matter how much more I think some people deserve redemption, so does every other person in this world.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Clean water is precious gift from God

Recently I was asked to talk about access to clean water for a highly energetic and inquisitive group of kids attending a mission week camp at a local United Methodist church.

The young woman leading the children through the week found several articles I have written on the subject. She planned many interesting activities for the kids including a “water walk” to bring home the reality of how far people have to walk to find water as well as a Lemon:Aid stand that raised $300 for blood:water mission. (

Speaking is not something I am good at, but I do know how to change disgusting, dirty water into clean drinking water. I watched it done in Haiti by the man who invented the PUR packets, Greg Allgood. It is impressive stuff.

The hardest part of the demonstration for me was finding really dirty water. The irony was not lost on me. It would have been so simple to just turn on the kitchen faucet and fill up a two-gallon container of water. I finally settled on getting the water from the creek behind my house. It really didn’t look bad enough, even after I added a little dirt. Nowhere near the filth of that water in Haiti.

Lugging two gallons of water was no easy task either. Luckily, the church had an elevator. It made me feel inadequate when I thought of all the children toting bigger buckets than mine, one in each hand and another one on their heads walking calmly down a dusty road.

In addition to the demonstration, I also showed the children several pictures taken by friend and co-worker Mike DuBose from Africa and Haiti of filthy water along roadsides and inside villages. They saw photos of children their age carrying those heavy loads of water, playing in the sewage water and struggling to pump water from wells.

One child observed, “They must be very strong.”

It is hard to convey how really horrible the lack of clean water is for so many millions of people. Kenya is suffering from a crippling drought. Water is being rationed and each household is limited to 10.4 (U.S.) gallons of water a day. Compare that to the average American household of four that can use 400 gallons of water a day.

I still remember former United Methodist Bishop Joao S. Machado from Mozambique crying over a story he was telling about people drinking muddy brown water from a ditch in a village he had just visited. “I don’t know how those people are alive with water like that,” he said.

I don’t know either. They must be very strong.