Pushing Past The Obvious

When we seek to learn from those we do not yet understand, something shifts, we move from “us vs. them” to one body.

imageWe’ve been in Manila for a week. The emotions have spanned the gamut. It has been tempting to want to be the fixer, the foreign fixer, especially when we have seen the enormous discrepancies between those who have great wealth and power to those immersed in extreme poverty.

Initially we saw a gray film all over everything. We wondered why those in power didn’t seem to notice the film or maybe they did notice but were fine with it. Either way, we knew we had to push beyond the obvious observations, feelings of anger and frustration to find deeper understanding and purpose.

We began to seek the heart of the people, any who were willing to help us to see a bigger picture. We began asking “why” questions, and finding that there were many amongst all of the mess, who are faithfully living a life incarnate.

imageWe met Rameil on top of Smokey Mountain, one of the poorest areas in Manila. The mountain is actually a trash dump and any vegetation there grows on contaminated soil. The main source of commerce on Smokey Mountain is recycling and the second, making charcoal for cooking. It’s all hands on deck, with children as young as 4 yrs old working and digging through the trash, make fires, etc… 

Rameil, who was just diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, pastors the local parish and his job is 24/7. He grew up in the area and after an encounter with the living God, he has dedicated his life to not only being a spiritual mentor to this community but practically, he helps on a daily basis caring for the overwhelming physical needs of hunger and poor health.

imageIn fact, while we were with Rameil, we met a woman with eight children, her youngest in need of immediate medical attention. And so, we all escorted her and the precious little boy, named Romeo, to the hospital. For us, it was an extremely emotional experience. For Rameil and this mother, I’m sure it was emotional too, but it is every day for them. The opportunity to come alongside these kinfolk was a privilege and an honor and they will forever be in our hearts and prayers.

imageWe also met the Long family, through a mutual friend, Brian Hommel with UPI. He takes a crew from the US to serve alongside the Longs once a year and we tagged along this time around. We learned that the Longs moved to Manila, from the US, in 1991 with their five children. They started out as teachers in a local private school and in 2004, one of their children, Jannel, asked her dad why they couldn’t do more for the street children in their neighborhood. (We love “why” questions!) From that moment on, they began to dialog about what it would look like to do more. They went home to the states for a year furlow and returned with a vision to open a group home (orphanage) and that was the beginning of what is now the multi-dimensional, Kids International Ministries.

imageWe stayed at their guest house and from our birds eye view we saw that they have had and continue to have an amazing impact in their local community, as well as, centers in Mindanao and Leyte, Visayas and have a new facility in the works that will be more agriculturally driven in Palawan. While with them, we were invited to plug into local endeavours in and around Manila including feedings, singing at the school, and spending time with the kids at the Children’s home. There is always more than enough to do and the work can sometimes seem overwhelming but the Longs take it all in stride, and like Rameil, trust God to bring them just what they need each day.

imageNear the end of the week, we visited with friends at Lilok Foundation, whose main objective is to train leaders of urban poor communities to become change makers in their respective communities. We heard about these kinfolk from our Cambodian connection, who we will visit with in a few weeks. Adam, their community coordinator, met us in the city and guided us by Jeepney (local transport) to their office in Quezon City.

imageWe met Carol, the director, Kay and Conrad. They shared a local dish called Pato, took us to a local Philippino restaurant. They also taught us a traditional worship dance. They told us their personal stories and then told us about the imbalance of power and shared that those in poverty who have no means to be trained in the faith and their passion and vision was to provide an alternative training institution which would embrace those society deems unworthy.  In 1993, through the guidance and help of some progressive academician friends from the University of the Philippines and two theological seminaries the Lilok Foundation’s vision became reality and they now provide education that builds up the Saints, all of the Saints. It was encouraging to hear their story of building a bridge between those who have and those who have not.

Finally, on our last day, actually while I was finishing this blog, we were invited to sit out on the veranda to hear about Children’s Garden from founder Sharon Gersava Wark. Manila has over 1.5 million homeless, with a solid percentage of those being street children, who live every day vulnerable to trafficking, gang induction and exploitation. Children’s Garden exists to give these children a home.

imageSitting at the table with Sharon was Michael and his wife Ruth, both in their early twenties. Michael shared about his life on the streets starting at age five. He openly and honestly gave us insight into the mind of that little child he once was. He talked about the bitterness and anger that boiled in him at the age of four, after seeing his sister raped. He shared the feeling of betrayal he felt by relatives and by a wealthy American man who preyed on him at the age of 10. He shared about the fracturing in his own heart and at the age of 11, his part in an attempted murder. His story was raw but through it all, he referenced a knowing deep in the back of his conciseness, of the destruction in his own soul and that something wasn’t right.

He talked about the significance of drugs on the street and how they were used as numbing agents to soothe his rumbling belly.  He ended up in a drug rehabilitation facility, that had its own set of injustices, but while there met a man who came to speak about another option, about a possibility of knowing God and in that knowing trusting that God had a plan for his life. However, this just pissed Michael off because he though, where was God during all of these hardships on his life!

After being released from the drug rehab, Michael had intentions of joining the military with hopes of avenging his sister. However, God had other plans and his path collided with Sharons at the Children’s Garden. It was over the next few years that Michael saw a consistent faith played out both by Sharon and her staff. During his time there he had a few hard conversations with God about his past and through it all, his heart was healed and his mind renewed. He shared about the trials that came even after his commitment to God but that his faith is only strengthened by those trials rather than squashed.

It was an honor to hear his story, to see this strong and courageous man, willing to humble himself before God and to become the man he was created to be. And to top it off, it was sheer joy to be able to see Sharon, his spiritual mother, delight in her child.

What did we see in the Philippines? Both foreigners and locals, committed to love the God of all gods, understanding that they are the hands and feet and taking that love further than themselves. They understand when Jesus said, “I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Knowing that whenever they do one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that it is to Jesus himself. Knowing that by these acts they are called faithful.

It is through their lens that we saw the gray film lift and hope arise. And, that is the most beautiful part of Manila. That is what we will take with us.

 

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Australia Tour

Jan 16-19, 2014 Illawarra Folk Festival, NSW –   Boasting 9500 in attendance, the festival site at Bulli Showground in the spectacular northern Illawarra Escarpment flock to enjoy more than 150 acts performing at 350 events over the four days, making it the largest folk festival in NSW. The Hollands! are excited to be apart of this fantastic festival.

Jan 26 Australia Day (Private Party) Melbourne, VIC

Feb 14  Humph Hall 85 Allambie Rd Allambie Heights, NSW $15 door

Feb 15  Illawarra Folk Club Burelli St, Wollongong, NSW, 2500, AU $20 door

Feb 16  River Music Nowra presents The Hollands! Held at the Nowra Golf Club, Fairway Drive, North Nowra, NSW $15 door

Feb 22 Troubadour Acoustic Club near Fisherman’s Wharf, Woy Woy, NSW, 2256, AU $15 door

Feb 25 Cloverdale House Byron Bay NSW

Feb 26  The Old Kirk House Concert Series, hosted by Dom, presents The Hollands! held at the Yamba Museum, River Street Yamba NSW 2464 $15 door (come celebrate Jana’s birthday!)

March 1 Gibson Concert Series, held at the Uniting Church Eden NSW

March 13  A Quiet Place Concert Series hosted by the fabulous Penny Larkins and Carl Pannuzzo at the Theatre Royal Castlemaine, VIC $15 door

March 14-16 Surrender Conference, This unique conference is the largest gathering in Australia of its kind, focusing on social justice, radical discipleship and incarnational mission. The conference is hosted by a number of missional communities and organisations working amongst the poor, and run in relationship with Indigenous Australians. Held in Belgrave Heights VIC

March 15 Fiddelhead Festival, Come along to the Fiddlehead Music Festival on Saturday March 15th 2014 at Yinnar Recreation Reserve. Featuring a concert, musical workshops, craft and produce market, children’s activities and more!! Yinnar VIC

March 21-23 Yackandandah Folk Festival High Street Yachandandah, VIC

March 28 Burrinja Ranges Folk Club, 351 Glen Fern Rd, Upwey VIC  $15 door

March 29 Kelly’s Bar and Kitchen, Olinda VIC

March 30 Brickyard Outdoor Concert Series, Sundays live at the Theatre Royal, Castlemaine presents 9 shows through out the summer, including Merrymaking Nomads, The Hollands! http://www.theatreroyal.info for tickets.

Learning to Fly in Oakland

Our second round with our Oakland crew was just as rewarding as our first.

IMG_3708We parked with our Nic and Moe our host family and settled in for a week of whatever might come. It’s one of the most unpredictable neighborhoods we visit and a very difficult place for us to park, with only a 10 foot drive and a tall iron fence on each side. Craig pulled it off though and we were so thankful to be with them again.

Josh and Margie welcomed us with a meal and Josh prepped us on the weeks events. We shared a song workshop with the pre-school and spent time in community with new and old friends, including an invite to one of the community meals, tea with our friend Carla and her baby girl, and jamming with Lono, our wise elder from Hawaii. We also shared sacred space at New Hope’s Sunday gathering.

We travel with tools on board and it’s always a blessing to be able to offer his gifts in craftsmanship. This time around Craig was able to help Nic and Moe with a tile project.

For homeschool/roadschool we visited Berkley. We toured the campus and went to hear Burmese poet, Zeyar Lynn, which was a real treat. And, the best part of the week came when Josh invited Craig and Banjo to learn how to build and fly an RC plane.

 

Not a typical hobby for one who lives in the hood but for Josh this hobby has turned out to be a fantastic tool to build connection with his neighbors. Josh and Margie live on a very dangerous block between International Blvd and Fruitvale. They neighbor with pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and refugees from around the world. Josh researched inexpensive ways to build the RC planes and purchased supplies. Through conversation with some of his neighbors he found an interest in trying to build a plane and learn to fly. That lead to a Fly club which meet regularly.

This commitment to the long haul is what we admire so much about our friends at New Hope. Their commitment to knowing God, loving others and really pressing into community is such an encouragement to us. In one of the darkest places in our country they offer a vibrant light of love to the community around them.  And, it is a joy to partner with them even for a short time.

This Land Is…

CNLD-PANO

This is what we’ve learned. And this is how we’ve understood it. This is a story we feel is worth re-telling. For those who have ears…

It’s about a fella named Tim DeChristopher verses the United States Government.

Hearing this story as a fellow US. Citizen was eye opening. Hearing it as a mother, was heartbreaking and yet invoked a sense of pride.

This is an paraphrase from a website called peacefuluprising.org which tells his story better than I can.

“From West Virginia, Tim came to Utah in his early 20s to work as a wilderness guide for at-risk and troubled youth. In 2008 as a student of Economics, Tim attended a Symposium at the University of Utah, where he was greatly moved and galvanized by Dr. Terry Root, a scientist for the International Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Dr. Root explained to the audience that elements of the climate crisis were already irreversible and that many species, natural wonders and bioregions were in imminent peril. Her words haunted Tim, and dramatically changed his personal worldview.

While Tim was taking his finals, advocates for Utah’s wilderness like Robert Redford and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) were attempting to bring attention to a controversial auction of Utah public lands, orchestrated by the outgoing Bush Administration. The auction included parcels adjacent to natural resources like Canyonlands National Park. SUWA and other regional advocates brought a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in efforts to halt the auction pending further review and public comment. Through no fault of SUWA or their allies, the lawsuit could not settle the issue prior to the auction.

On December 19th, Tim finished his last final exam and went to the protest that SUWA and others had organized outside of the auction. On arrival and with no prior plan of action, Tim decide to enter the building where the auction was held and approached the registration desk. When asked if he was there to bid, Tim made a quick decision. He registered as Bidder 70 and entered the auction.

Tim intended to stand up and make a speech or create some other kind of disruption. Once inside, he waited quietly with his bidder paddle lowered, until he saw a friend from his church openly weeping at the sterile transfer of beloved red rock lands away from the public trust and into the hands of energy giants. It was then that Tim decided to act.

At first, Tim simply pushed up the parcels’ prices (some starting as low as two dollars per acre, and were ultimately sold for $240 per acre). Once almost half of the parcels had been sold to oil and gas companies, Tim felt he could no longer bear to lose any more public lands. Tim bid on and won every remaining parcel, until he was recognized as an outlier and escorted from the auction.

Once it was revealed that Tim did not have the intent or the means to pay for the parcels he won, the auction erupted in chaos. Because Tim won so many parcels and inflated the prices of so many others, the auction had to be shut down. The incoming administration took office before the auction could be rescheduled. Upon review of the parcels in question, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar dismissed the auction, declaring that the BLM had cut corners and broken many of its own rules, including a crucial statute requiring all federal agencies to take the impacts on our climate into account prior to auctioning off public lands for the purpose of energy development.

Tim’s action garnered a great deal of media and public attention, and catalyzed an overwhelming influx of support and applause for his creative, effective, and nonviolent act of civil disobedience, which ultimately safeguarded thousands of acres of Utah public lands.

Although Utah’s public lands were safe, Tim’s action on December 19th radically changed the course of his life. After the current administration decided to indict Tim, despite the confirmed auction’s illegality, Tim took his message to the widest possible audience to bring attention to the desperate need for effective action to combat the climate crisis.

It took the federal government more than two years to convict and sentence Tim. The trial was delayed a total of nine times by the Prosecution. Federal Judge Dee Benson dismissed Tim’s initial defense (the “Necessity Defense,” claiming that Tim’s crime was the lesser of two evils when weighed against the threats posed by the illegal auction). The Defense’s assertion of Selective Prosecution (as no other bidder had ever been indicted for failing to pay for parcels at an auction) was also dismissed. The threat of climate catastrophe that motivated Tim was banned from the courtroom and kept from the ears of the jury, as were the fact that Tim managed to raised adequate funds for initial payments on the parcels after the auction; the fact of the auction’s confirmed illegality; and the dismissal of multiple parcels.

Despite the multiple rescheduled dates, climate activists, organizers, and advocates from all over the country came to Salt Lake City for Tim’s trial to demonstrate their solidarity with a brave young man willing to offer up his own future to fight for the future of our planet.

On March 3, 2011, after hours of jury deliberation, Tim was convicted of two federal felonies: one count of false representation, and one count of violating the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act.

On July 26th, 2011, Tim was sentenced to two years in federal prison. In the pre-sentencing report, the Prosecution openly admitted that Tim himself was not a threat to society or at risk to reoffend; the stated purpose of the sentence was to deter other activists from taking similar action to further the climate movement. In his final statement to the Judge, Tim said that he understood why the Prosecution saw him as a threat. “[My message] may indeed be threatening to the power structure,” he said. “The message is about recognizing our interconnectedness. The message is that when people stand together, they no longer have to be exploited. Alienation is perhaps the most effective tool of control in America, and every reminder of our real connectedness weakens that tool.”

After his sentence was issued, Tim was removed immediately from the courtroom and taken into the custody of federal agents. 26 people were arrested outside the Salt Lake City courthouse, and 26 solidarity actions happened at federal courthouses throughout the United States.

Tim’s conclusion to his final statement to the courtroom at his sentencing hearing crystallized his own personal stake in that commitment:

“You can steer my commitment to a healthy and just world if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.””

Rulers rise and fall. Our elegance is not to a government system but to do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. We are thankful and inspired by Tim’s willingness to sacrifice for the good of us all. We are thankful to share in the woes and the joy.

“Those people are your people are my people are you people are us people!” ~The Hollands!

Secrets that the Mountains Holds

It’s one thing to see a documentary or read an article about an injustice and all together another to meet someone who is or has gone through the fire. To hear their story of oppression, discrimination, banishment, and persecution, to share in the burden. It stirs such primal emotion.

20121201-104932.jpgPulling into Salt Lake City the beauty of the mountains deceive us. There is a eery tone, a subtle offense in the air. Secrets. The clouds hang low, as if the mountains are whispering those secrets of abuse and corruption to the heavens. We have learned much from our visit to this area. Much about a people who traveled west, following a charismatic leader and all that can happen when one man has to much power. There is a distorted law that formed and twisted thinking that justifies secrets that rape the soul and kill. We live in a time where most religion is viewed as culturally sacred. Meaning, the religion itself might be totally wack, but because it’s gone on for a long period of time it’s now a culture and that culture should be preserved, respected and tolerated. And yet, as we meet folks who have experienced betrayal and persecution by their so called “family” of religious organization there is a feeling that rises up. A primal feeling… Trying to put my finger on it. Oh, yes… RAGE!

Paul says it this way, in Galatians, that by embracing a variant message the people loose freedom. Cursed, he says, be anyone who turns the message of Christ on it’s head, even an angel from heaven.

Freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverts and often squandered. And, how quickly we can move from freedom to the “law.” We rise up and fight for freedom. Freedom comes but along with it a sense of control, a taste of power which often finds the rebel as the oppressor.

Here is the test. Freedom is the gage. If freedom is squelched, we respond with opposition. When freedom is restored we hold on loosely, gently and with humility.