Thanksgiving–It’s Each of You I Am Thankful For!

It probably won’t surprise you to know that Thanksgiving remains a holiday of mixed blessings for me. Created as a myth that denies the reality of genocide perpetrated against Native communities and now largely morphed into a shopping holiday, I continue to wrestle with exactly what we are claiming to be thankful for.

For the five years in Italy when I served as an IPM Project Coordinator at the Joined Hands Refugee Centre, I juggled wanting to share “the best” of the U.S. Holiday Season with my foreign-born daughter and what such a holiday might mean for the Refugee members of the JHRC. We’d travel the countryside to find the “right” bird and host hundreds for a special feast. Those shared meals in the heart of Rome reaffirmed my sense of the Holiday’s value and taught me much about what it means to live a life full of gratitude in a world where so many are left longing.

When I returned to the States in 1997, Thanksgiving was not only a welcome break from the workweek, but an opportunity to continue a tradition of service and shared sustenance. In fact, helping to prepare a meal for the less fortunate or running in a Turkey Day 5K to bring early Christmas joy to hospitalized children, was rewarding to me in a way that a meal replete with political and religious discord simply never could be.

During the past seventeen+ years with IPM I’ve found a new appreciation for the Holiday just as I have bristled at its false pretense. Thanksgiving has become for me—as I know it is for so many of you—an unique, annual opportunity to step back, count our blessings, and redouble our efforts to make a difference in a world that is hurting.

We all have much to be thankful for. And those of us in these United States have a daily abundance that remains the envy of many and yet we bristle when they show up at our door seeking refuge. We fear the other and remain deeply divided by class, ethnicity, gender, race, and religion. Hate seems to be on the rise and fear mongering remains the expedient form of political discourse.

But there is also a spirit at work in communities across this nation and around the world that speaks to another way. A vision of human thriving that is grounded in what we have in common, not that which divides us. A faith in the power of love to make change and a growing commitment to the hard work that real, sustainable change entails.

IPM’s II International General Assembly in Cleveland last month was a reminder of just how much is possible when we are able to spend time together, face to face and hand in hand. Whether we hailed from South Asia or Sub Saharan Africa, the Americas or Europe, we knew (and know!) that the world needs just the sort of person-to-person connection that IPM has been nurturing for forty-four years.

So as you sit down for a meal this Thursday, I’d ask that you keep IPM in your prayers and meditations. That you would join us in redoubling our efforts to honor the indigenous communities around the world whose stories of joy and thanks giving often remain unknown to us. And that you will take the time to slow down and remind yourself what a difference your time, talent, and treasure can make in the life of the IPM Family.

For it is your commitment to this International Partnership Movement for which I am most grateful this week and that continues to help us make all the difference in the world.

Best wishes for a joyful and peace-filled Thanksgiving Holiday!


Joseph F. Cistone, IPM CEO

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#KeepFamiliesTogether

On Sunday June 17 as I gathered with the members of my faith community to celebrate Father’s Day our commemorations of the vital role fathers and father-figures play in the lives of children were sidetracked by the heart-wrenching scenes of children being forcibly separated from their parents at our nation’s southern border.

The statements emanating from the current administration that Christian scripture somehow places law over the love of neighbor are patently false. Quoting from Paul can never supersede the words of Jesus—a childhood refugee himself—who emphasized in action and word the longstanding commitment of his Jewish faith that we were called to welcome the stranger, (Matthew 25:35). As the Hebrew Book of Leviticus proclaims: When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

This tradition of hospitality is not only a fundamental tenant of the Abrahamic Faiths—it pervades Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism as well. “Let a person never turn away a stranger from their house, that is the rule, for good people say to the stranger there is enough food for you,” (Taitiriya Upanishad 1.11.2).

Within the IPM Family I know that we share many diverse faiths and some of you who will read this who are not motivated by a particular religious tradition. And as a follower of Jesus, I must confess that at times throughout history, leaders of the Christian faith have used the Bible to justify the unconscionable separation of children from their families. The Document of Discovery that provided a faith-based rationale for the genocide of the America’s native peoples, the twisted use of Hebrew & Christian Scripture to justify the enslavement and death of tens of millions of our African brothers and sisters, the trial and murder of women who did not conform to the “norms” of Puritan New England, the systematic separation of children from their families during the Holocaust, and the forced internment of Japanese citizens during the second world war, provide ample testimony to the myriad ways Christianity has been used by those in power to wreak havoc on our world’s materially poor and socially marginalized.

I also know, however, that my faith and the espoused traditions of this nation, call each of us, and especially our elected leaders, to a higher purpose. From the great 5thCentury African Theologian, Augustine of Hippo, who proclaimed that an unjust law is no law at all, to the Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero who argued on the eve of his assassination in 1980 that even soldiers were compelled to resist a law that ran counter to the will of God: our Christian faith tradition is replete with reminders that political leaders who govern counter to the will of a loving and merciful God merit both our condemnation and resistance.

But it’s not just my faith that compels me to speak out against the heinous treatment of the refugee and immigrant families seeking our nation’s protection. The United States of America remains bound by the 1967 Protocol Relation to the Status of Refugees and other international agreements created specifically in response to how our nation and others closed their borders to those seeking asylum as millions of innocent civilians were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators.

The USA’s own political traditions from the Declaration of Independence, which decried King George’s maltreatment of those seeking to emigrate to the then colonies, to the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty—”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—emphasize the very best of this nation’s immigrant past.

As I have written before but never tire of quoting, ironically perhaps Ronald Reagan said it best in his 1989 Shining City Upon a Hill farewell address,when he envisioned a USA in which “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still… a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”

I could go on and on writing about what the Christian Scriptures REALLY tells us about welcoming immigrants and refugees, of how this nation was built largely on the backs of enslaved and forced migrants, or of the entrepreneurial vitality immigrants and refugees continue to carry with them to our borders; but my purpose in writing to you as the Chief Executive of IPM is to remind each of us of how we are called to be our better selves.

In my personal and professional life I, like so many of you, have experienced both the horrors from which our Central American brothers and sisters run to this nation and the remarkable gifts people from around the world continue to bring to my life and the life of the IPM Family.

Look around you. See the hard work of the men and women and even children who staff our restaurants, clean our homes, pick our produce, and mow our lawns. Know that each of them has a family that they love and for whom they have come to this country seeking a better life. And know as well that they, like us, are children of God.

No child should have to grow up without a parent. No child should ever be ripped from a loving mother or father’s arms. And, for those of us fortunate enough to live in these United States, each of us is called to care for the parents and children who have been compelled to seek sanctuary at our door.

Peace, Joe

 

Cleveland, OH, USA

Friday, June 22, 2018

 

Please note that this statement was revised by Joe, in consultation with two UCC Pastor Colleagues, for publication in the Mount Desert Islander on June 28, 2018.

It’s time to care! Here is some of what you can once again do to personally help ensure that the separation of children from their parents stops:

  • Write &/or call the White House and your Senators & Congressional Representatives to insist that families seeking asylum at our borders are not separated and that those children already taken from their parents be immediately returned to them.
  • Open your home to provide immediate hospitality for immigrant and refugee families seeking shelter and comfort at this time.
  • Encourage your faith community to declare Sanctuary for those who may be forcibly repatriated without a place to live freely in the USA, https://action.groundswell-mvmt.org.
  • Donate to IPM by calling us at 1.216.932.4082 or toll free in Canada and the United States at 1.866.932.4082 as we support the good work of Nicaraguans and Salvadorans within their own countries so their need to emigrate is lessened.
  • Keep all those individuals and families potentially impacted by these policy changes at the center of your prayer life and/or meditation practice.

Tel: +1.216.932.4082 / www.ipmconnect.org

A Cry of the Nicaraguan People

May 17, 2018

I’m sorry José, I can only share this sad thing we’re living! Still we are very encouraged in our work and looking for how to help women planning self-help workshops to manage stress and anxiety in this social conflict. We know that with your prayers and our faith everything will improve, (IPM Project Partner).

IMG_0533.JPG

IPM has a long, loving, history with Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people. Augsburg College’s Casa Jaime Mayer (named for our co-founder, Jim Mayer) is just one living example of IPM’s legacy there—a rich legacy that we continue to live out in this our 44thyear, through our local Partners, colleagues, and friends as the quote above illustrates quite personally.

As you may know, over the past few months, Nicaragua has been back in the news again in a manner that is eerily resonate for those of us whose history with that beautiful country and its resilient people goes back to the Iran-Contra affair and the proxy wars that tormented Central America in the 1980’s.

On one hand, in November the US Government sought to eliminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation that has allowed more than 2,500 Nicaraguans to remain in the USA for nearly two decades and replace it with provisional residency for 14 months before being forcibly repatriated. IPM stands with all those seeking to protect TPS and provide sanctuary for those whose protected status may soon be overturned, forcing them to abandon their US citizen children and livelihoods.

On the other, after his re-election to a third consecutive presidential term in November of last year, Daniel Ortega and his spouse, Rosario Murillo—the new vice-president and heir apparent—proposed in April to significantly alter the nation’s social security program. The immediate reaction from pensioners, veterans, and students was to take to the streets. The protests were brutally put down and more than sixty Nicaraguans were killed. The Nicaraguan government has subsequently withdrawn the proposed changes but the negotiation process for these and other necessary changes remains tense with a change in Nicaragua’s political leadership long overdue.

In addition to our longstanding accompaniment of IPM’s remarkable Nicaraguan Partners, we continue to offer Nicaraguan Immersion Experience Programs specifically because the type of work we claim as our purpose is not always easy or without risk. IPM’s Immersions generate income for our Partners and Regional Staff, just as they are a vital and concrete expression of our solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and the deep historical connection we share.  My colleagues, Fatima and Adela, from El Salvador will travel to Nicaragua in June to build upon their April visit there with former IPM International Board Member, Mark Falbo—who is helping us secure quantitative and qualitative background for our II International General Assembly in Cleveland (OH, USA)—and publically demonstrate IPM’s concrete commitment to accompanying our Nicaraguan colleagues and Partners.

Today, I would like to share with you some of the other moving quotes we have received from our Nicaraguan Partners, colleagues, and friends beginning on April 25 and through this morning:

We spent a difficult week, the government remains very calm, despite the big pressure the people are creating in the streets. At the end of the day, the government accepted a dialogue. We are hoping for the best to come out of this conversation. My family is well, thanks for asking.

Good morning dear Fatima, we deeply appreciate your solidarity and support for our people. From the beginning of the social conflict in Nicaragua until today, we have felt warmly embraced by the sincere affection of IPM family that have joined our sadness and prayers. Thank you !!


Our country has a lot of mourning and pain!! It is unfortunate this struggle between brothers that is endless with so much hatred and resentment on both sides.

The events of violence have brought mourning, pain and death to our people. The principles of our organization are ideological freedom, power freedom and religion freedom…We follow up the idea of creating an integral organization (all-inclusive) and keep perusing our dreams of creating an integral country (all-inclusive) as well; in which we are not a divided country but an inclusive country. We keep struggling to build a democratic, tolerant and fair society for everyone.

This past Monday, the dialogue proposed between the government and the Catholic Bishops proved inconclusive at best. The situation remains tense and reminds all of us just how fragile democracy and peace can be.

As members of the IPM Family we ask that you consider your response at this time:

  • Write your Senators and Congressional Representatives to insist that the US Government refrain from making inflammatory statements about Nicaragua or covertly taking sides in this matter, since our intervention will only lessen the possibility for peaceful resolution at this time.
  • Keep IPM’s Project Partners, colleagues, friends, and the Nicaraguan people at the center of your prayer life and/or meditation practice.
  • Continue to support to IPM as we nurture the good work our Nicaraguan Partners are doing to promote justice and hope in their communities by donating at: https://www.ipmconnect.org/donations-2?viewmode=listor calling 1.866.932.4082.

Thank you for reading this and your continued willingness to stand alongside IPM as we seek to embody Jim Mayer’s prophetic vision of “exposing North Americans to the global realities of poverty and injustice, and challenging them with a new vision of society grounded in justice and love.” In Jim’s memory and in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people, we remain, faithfully yours.

Paz, Joe

Joseph F. Cistone, CEO

May 17, 2018

Be Not Afraid

Friday, March 30, 2018

What a week it’s been! It seems like I’ve been saying that a lot this past year but this time there was as much sadness as joy, fear-mongering as hope for the future.

The #MarchForOurLives last Saturday was inspiring and a welcome reminder for me that the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ own march into Jerusalem as a direct confrontation of Roman rule where the lives of Jewish children clearly didn’t matter.

While some took to social media to challenge who was “really” behind the prophetic response of Parkland’s students, many of us asked where the similar outrage is when black lives are taken? Today’s release of an independent autopsy of Stephon Clark confirms what the #BlacksLivesMatter movement has been reminding us for almost four years: the way our society still views black lives and black bodies is infused with the bias of centuries of white privilege in a nation where we still falsely claim equality for all. It took a remarkable 11-year old girl, Naomi Wadler, to remind us once again that we are still so far from what we claim to be, (https://www.nbcnews.com/video/naomi-wadler-gives-speech-at-march-for-our-lives-rally-bringing-attention-to-african-americans-left-out-of-the-gun-violence-discussion-1194281539844).

Some will continue to attack Emma Gonzalez and the Parkland survivors as opportunists or point to Stephon Clark’s past as some sort of twisted excuse for being murdered in his grandmother’s back yard, but what I see in these events, and so many others like them, are signs of a nation that is lost and afraid.

Most of us in the U.S. claim Christianity as our religion, but over this weekend, how many of us are truly willing to head the words spoken to the first apostle, Mary Magdalene—Be Not Afraid.

It must be fear that divides us. I can’t, I won’t believe it is simply that we don’t care.

  • Why else would we stand by when a loving father, the Guatemalan born Felix Garcia, who has been living and working peacefully in the US for 23 years, is detained just as his US citizen daughter is completing her third year of medical school at IPM’s frequent Immersion Partner, Loyola Chicago, (to take action click here: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2018/03/21/take-action-stop-deportation-of-felix-garcia-father-of-loyola-chicago-medical-student/)?
  • How could we even imagine forcibly repatriating more than 200,000 Salvadoran nationals with protected status to a country they barely know, while leaving a like number of their US citizen children behind at a time when our State Department claims it’s unsafe for US citizens to travel there?
  • How can we continue to ignore what our own policies have done to further civil war from the Congo to Syria and then refuse to accept those who come to our borders seeking asylum?

The older I get, my best guess is that it is because we don’t see—let alone feel—how our lives are connected to theirs. Perhaps we feel there is just too much evil in the world to respond. Maybe, most simply, we are afraid?

Last night I gathered with friends and colleagues from across our community to celebrate a Jewish Seder Meal and Christian Communion Service. In re-reading the Passover texts from Exodus and other sources, I’m reminded that the best of our religious holidays—Holy Thursday & Passover, Ifthar & Diwali—are not just about what we may or may not believe; but of the importance of gathering together and getting to know one another over a meal.

Clearly we can’t find a way to eat with everyone. But that doesn’t mean that at table with family, friends, and even those we barely know, we can’t come to understand what is the most essential message of IPM: that the vast majority of the world’s citizens desire the same things for their children and families that we do for ours—plentiful food, ready access to potable water, a quality education, affordable healthcare, & the right to love whom we choose.

You can travel with me on an IPM Immersion for a myriad of such meals. You can support a local food co-op or help your faith community provide more community meals for those you barely know. But do something. We all need to do something if we want to live free of fear.

When I looked at the faces of those who gathered with my children and I at the march last Saturday, when I look across the room at those commemorating Passover, when I recall breaking a fast or breaking bread on a floor India: I see eyes that gaze back deeply at mine, eyes that won’t let me go, eyes that keep me awake at night and challenge all of us to do more.

As you gather with friends and family this Holy weekend, I hope you’ll acknowledge that so few people in our world have the opportunities we do. I pray you’ll recall with Martin Luther King, that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And perhaps most importantly, I plead with you not to see difference in a young black man murdered in Sacramento, a young woman’s pride in their Cuban heritage standing silently in front of thousands in DC, or a father detained in Georgia, but to see yourself and all you love in them.

For as we do onto them, we do to ourselves. And until we come to respect and love one another despite our difference, we will always be afraid.

Peace, Joe

#LetTeachersTeach

My parents are retired teachers—public and parochial schools respectively. My cousin teaches in one of the most challenged districts in our nation. My daughter and her partner are in their third years with City Year and Teach for America. I’ve taught/teach at a secondary school in Rome, two denominational seminaries, and at one of the best (the best IMO!) universities in the world.

So why does that matter? Because in no case did I feel I should be packing a gun to “protect” my students. That’s what my friends in law enforcement and the military are for! I can shoot. I grew up around guns and hunters. I live in a state where deer and moose season is an annual festival. We can protect a right to bear arms while ensuring our basic human right to life.

But kids shouldn’t be allowed to carry guns to school. Those with mental illness and histories of domestic violence shouldn’t be allowed to have guns at all. And most of all, it ought to be a lot harder to buy a gun than it is to vote, drink a beer, and drive a car.

#GunsInTheWrongHandsKillPeople just as people do. But I’ll take my chances with a knife any time.

So politicians, stop prostituing yourselves to the NRA. Preachers, stop making excuses for incredibly bad behavior. Principals resist any decision to arm your teachers. Police do your job and keep guns out of the hands of those who have no reasonable right to have one. And all of us—parents, friends, people of faith—let’s be honest about what the 2nd Ammendmanet was really meant for and come together around sensible gun legislation to keep us all safe.

We owe it to the kids killed in Parkland, those massacres from a Church in Charleston to a concert in Cegas, and to all those whose whose lives have been taken by guns in the wrong hands.

#SensibleGunControlNow

 

 

Happy New Year from IPM!

Dear Friends,

This New Year’s Eve will find me in Assisi with an IPM delegation focused upon the Hebrew & Christian Scriptures from the Perspective of Art, Faith, and Service. While back in a country that was my home for seven years—and where I first served as an IPM Project Partner in the early 90’s—I am reminded of Francis of Assisi’s famous dictum: Preach the Gospel Always, Only When Necessary Use Words.

Our work within the IPM Family remains fundamentally about just that: “preaching” through our actions in the world. The notion of lived rather than just spoken faith has been at the heart of IPM since our founding by former Lutheran Missionaries, Rev. Jim Mayer & Rev. Paul Strege and their families in 1974.

In the past year that faith has been lived out in countless, pragmatic and inspirational ways, directly impacting the lives of more than 60,000 people worldwide. Just some examples:

  • In 2017 alone, IPM provided funding, technical support, and training to Project Partners from more than 12 countries with a particular focus on our “hubs” in El Salvador, India, and Kenya;
  • During the past year IPM expanded our still new Fellows Program from India to Nepal whereby outstanding Project Coordinators are guaranteed a just annual income and consistent mentoring from IPM’s International Staff as they learn and mature as community leaders with the personal resiliency required to make change for the long-term;
  • IPM’s International Staff and long-term Consultants continued to provide essential training in their home & neighboring countries, expanded their personal expertise through further academic/professional training, and facilitated Regional Conferences and regional participation in IPM’s international forums with an eye our 2nd International General Assembly to be held in Cleveland in late 2018 (more exciting details to come soon!);
  •  In the USA, IPM took a more active role, consistent with our founding principles, to advocate on behalf of the inherent human dignity and often denied human rights of immigrants, indigenous peoples, persons of color, people from minority ethnicities & religions, refugees, and women & girl children;
  •  IPM continues to partner with Eden Theological Seminary (St. Louis), Yale Divinity School (New Haven, CT), Holy Cross (Worcester, MA), Saint Joseph Academy (Cleveland), and other faith-based and secular Program Partners who view our Immersion Experience Program as the perfect avenue for the transformational learning their institutions and students desire.

In the USA, IPM took a more active role, consistent with our founding principles, to advocate on behalf of the inherent human dignity and often denied human rights of immigrants, indigenous peoples, persons of color, people from minority ethnicities & religions, refugees, and women & girl children.

I could go on and on but my point is quite simple—IPM continues to transform lives in a manner that is making a tangible and sustainable difference in our world!

Please know that as a 100% privately funded organization IPM is completely dependent upon the generosity of people like you to ensure we continue making a difference in the world. You can support IPM directly right now by clicking here: DONATION LINK All donations made or dated prior to December 31st will count toward our special year-end Challenge Match made possible by the Singing for Change Foundation.

Thank you for all you do to make the work of the IPM Board, Staff, and Partners possible! We couldn’t accomplish any of what I’ve listed above without people like you.

On behalf of the entire IPM Family, please accept our best wishes to you for a joyful and peace-filled New Year!

Peace,


Joseph F. Cistone, CEO
December 29, 2017

A Much-Needed #SeasonOfLightAndLove

Lidai Coggiola Christmas 2017

December 23, 2017

Dear Friends,

This month most of us within the #IPMFamily will gather with those we love to celebrate the Holiday Season and New Year.

For those of us of the Jewish faith, #Hanukkah has recently concluded—an eight day Festival of Lights not too dissimilar from the Hindu Festival of #Diwali or the Muslim concept of finding God’s light in all things–ending this year on the eve before the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. Similarly #Kwanza, beginning on December 26th, marks the celebration of more than 5million U.S. citizens, who utilize light to honor their African heritage and emphasize the power of coming together, (#Harambee in Swahili).

For those of us of the Christian faith, the annual celebration of Jesus’ birth not only coincides with the lengthening of light that comes on the heels of the Solstice, but also a deep connection to our #AbrahamicBrothersAndSisters in the hope that divine justice—not division or conquest—will reign on Earth.

All of us, no matter our faith or which holidays we celebrate these few weeks, live in times when justice is defined quite differently. Our nation seems to have lost its moorings. The coming week caps a year when hope and love have seemed fleeting. A time when the very concept of Sanctuary, for the poor amongst us and especially for those whom we call “stranger,” is in particularly short supply.

But it is times like this when the story of any child to a family on the run from an Empire and its authorities, is deeply relevant. The story of a particular Holy Family seeking shelter and a child born in a manger remind us that our faith is grounded in marginalization, simplicity, and familial love. A season of light is upon us in the midst of a world darkened once again by fear and intolerance.

We remain deeply divided from our fellow citizens & immigrant neighbors. Simplicity often gives way to grandeur, family often comes second to possession, and love struggles to find voice in a climate of hate.  

But we can’t give in to that. #Faith and #hope and #love are needed more than ever and they are exactly the values that IPM has sought to nourish and uphold for more than four decades. As you continue to celebrate in the week ahead and as you nourish the need for light in out lives, please know how grateful we are that people like you continue to ensure that fear won’t win.

May this special time with family and friends, refresh and embolden you for the struggles ahead. And, may each of us reflect this season of light and love throughout the coming year!

#Peace,

Joe

Two Anniversaries: World AIDS Day & Remembering The Martyrs of El Salvador

0603 Grace in Rwanda

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear Friends,

I write to you today on what the world celebrates as World AIDS Day and just a day before our IPM delegation in El Salvador joins thousands of others commemorating the December 2, 1980 martyrdom of Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel in El Salvador.

Each World AIDS Day brings me back to the early 1990’s when the spread of HIV&AIDS was ravaging the African communities I was working with through my time with Caritas Internationalis, the migrants forced into sexual exploitation in Rome, and the lives of my gay friends back in the USA. I am reminded of how slow my church of that time and the government of the USA were to respond—a delayed reaction grounded in bias against marginalized peoples that would lead to the unnecessary death of millions.

Similarly, each December 2nd, brings me back to that morning in high school when I first learned that Cleveland-based Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay Missioner Jean Donovan were missing, that evening when my mom spoke to me about Dorothy, and the following day when we first learned of the brutality of their murder by Salvadoran forces unleashed by the incoming U.S. Administration. At 15, I remember struggling with what their deaths meant for my sense of vocation and the life-shattering notion that the Catholic Church I had grown up in was in direct conflict with US Policy.[1]

mural

It is in light of these two anniversaries that I write. And as I think of what I would like to share with you at this time, I am strengthened by the witness of Grace & John (two AIDS “victims” whose lives continue to inspire me) and Dorothy & Jean. For each of them—John during Divinity School, Grace on a mud-hut floor in Rwanda, Dorothy & Jean reminding me of what accompaniment is all about every time I touch down in El Salvador—gives witness to what IPM means when we proclaim that “mission is a two-way street.”

The four of them, like each of IPM’s Partners, help center and ground me when it feels like life is overwhelming, that justice is still a far off dream, and that peace is the farthest thing from every step.[2] It can feel like that right now can’t it? That the times we live in are no better than the ‘80’s, that our political system is broken, and that a nuclear holocaust on the Korean peninsula is just around the corner.

And there can be no denying that for IPM these are especially hard times. Even with the promise of a 44th Anniversary to come in May of next year we are laden with:

  • political violence in Kenya that is once again taking lives and challenging the inter-ethnic, inclusive nature of our Partners efforts there;
  • inter-religious bigotry in India where IPM’s longstanding commitment to multi-faith responses to social injustice are being systematically oppressed by a nationalist government;
  • in our own hemisphere, our friends in the USA and Partners in El Salvador and Nicaragua in particular are in a constant battle to defend the Dream Act, provide Sanctuary for those moms and dads of US Citizens threatened with deportation, and ensure the continuity of Temporary Protected Status for their communities and our Haitian brothers and sisters as well; and,
  • a changing philanthropic climate where everything seems to be more about metrics than the transformational change global solidarity can make in each individual’s life.

These are indeed times when one’s faith and commitment are being tested in unimaginable ways! But like all such times, this is also a moment when organizations like IPM and people like you can make an even greater difference in the world.

You can help us in so many ways. Share the good news of IPM’s transformational work around the world. Bring a friend (or friends!) along on an IPM Immersion Experience Program. Join in one of IPM’s new advocacy campaigns to Defend DACA and stop the political violence in Kenya. Pray that our International Staff and Partners have the courage and strength to continue their life-changing efforts to bring justice, peace, and hope to the abandoned and forgotten. Donate your time, talent, & treasure to make our mission possible.

This is just some of what you can do. It’s much of what my colleagues and I try to do each and every day emboldened by the notion that “it is not the years in your life that count it’s the life in your years,” (Abraham Lincoln). And years like these require all the life we can give!

It may be hard to believe but IPM is concluding it’s 43rd year. Even harder for my to believe that I’ve been connected with IPM, as a Project Partner, Board Member, and Staff Member, for 25 years! And each of you, over all those years, has played a vital part in making IPM what we are today—a movement more than a mission, a family more than organization. A non-profit that couldn’t exist without you

As I write this letter, our nation and our world may feel even more divided than they did last year. But people of faith and communities worldwide are standing up and reminding us that another world is indeed possible. That fear and hate can’t rule the day. That hope and love always win in the end. That the mission of IPM to work across border of culture, faith, and economic circumstance is needed now more than ever.

Sometimes, at our darkest moments that might be hard to believe. But I believe and I know that you wouldn’t keep supporting our work together if you too didn’t know that you can make a difference! Your partnership with us provides IPM with the resources to accompany and nurture tens of thousands of people of who have taken up the challenge of living with and loving one another… of making our world and their communities a place where everyone is valued and no one is forgotten.

Thank you and best wishes to you during this Holiday Season and throughout the coming year!

Peace, Joe

Here are five concrete things you can do right now to help ensure the type of world IPM is fighting for:

  • Gather with your local faith or school community and decide how you can promote diversity and welcome people different then yourselves, especially when you hear words of hatred directed at persons of color, immigrants, Muslims, refugees, and/or the materially poor;
  • Contact IPM to learn how to lobby your elected leaders to Defend DACA, continue the Temporary Protected Status for Haitians, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, & Salvadorans; and, to hold the Kenyan Government responsible for fair and free elections without the threat of political violence;
  • Provide a gift to support the life-changing work of IPM’s International Staff, Fellows, and Project Partners as they model a world where everyone is valued and welcome;
  • Sign-up with a friend for an IPM Immersion Experience Program in 2018 or beyond so that you can publically witness to the world that the people of the United States are open and accepting of all; and,
  • Keep IPM central to your prayers and/or meditation practice so that the shared power of human hearts and mindfulness can continue to make a difference in our world. Thank you!

 

[1] Lernoux, Penny. Cry of the People…

[2] see the writings of Dorothy Day and Thich Nhat Hanh

#DefendDACA #Sanctuary

I’m not sure that it’s “standard blog behavior” to share the writings of others. But I feel so passionately about how we #WelcomeTheStranger that I thought, as we enter this #AdventSeason that commemorates a holy family of #Refugees, you might indulge me. Thank you Tracey for your powerful words! Peace, Joe

#Sanctuary #DefendDACA New from the UCC’s #WitnessForJustice program:
 
Issue# 868 November 20, 2017
#WelcomeTheStranger Without Caveats or Conditions
Rev. Tracy Howe Wispelwey
Minister of Congregational & Community Engagement
 
As a longtime advocate for just immigration reform, I have been following and amplifying the call for a clean Dream Act. When President Trump ended the DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), 800,000 young people became vulnerable to deportation. I believe we are called to be people of justice and mercy, recognizing the violence and crisis driving the global movement of people, but I also believe the Dreamers benefit our communities and that we need them to help us make a more just and beautiful world. I want them to stay for multiple reasons. Congress must pass a legislative solution very soon for that to be possible. It is an urgent matter, which is why I recently shared an update on this issue from a young Dreamer on social media using the hashtag, #HereToStay.
 
A social media “friend” of mine, someone I have not spoken to in years but with whom I went to high school, commented on the hashtag writing, “yes, they can stay if they immigrate legally like my grandparents did from Sweden.” Swedish flag emojis and exclamation marks followed. People of privilege often make the assumption that what worked for them or their family must be possible for everyone. However, our immigration policy and history is full of racism, exclusion and economic preference, all written into law.
 
The policies, economics and history driving different groups of people to our country are complex and interconnected. But as people of faith, the just and right response is simple and clear: welcome the stranger and care for the immigrant. It is a clarion call throughout scripture. There are no caveats made, no conditions that if the stranger is only a first-generation arrival, then we don’t have to welcome or care for them; or if they are an immigrant with brown or black skin they can be treated differently than immigrants of European descent. Our call is simple, recognize humanity; welcome and care for humanity.
 
Advent is right around the corner and with it the reminder that Jesus was born a refugee fleeing state violence. King Herod, feeling threatened and angry that another “king” was being born, ordered all children two years old and under killed. Who could inflict such massive violence and suffering in the name of protecting their own power? Was the messaging spun that this was for the safety and wellbeing of all? And yet, this story unfolds here and now too. The threat of mass deportation by our politicians amounts to more than just words. It has been accompanied by a surge in ICE raids and propaganda painting all immigrants as threats to the nation’s economy and security.
 
We must lift our voices. We must be lights shining against this darkness. All of our humanity is at stake.

Thanksgiving–A Time To Remember Who We Are

 

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It probably won’t surprise you to know that Thanksgiving has always been a holiday of mixed blessings for me.

Back in College, the sheer gluttony of the Thanksgiving meal tore me apart as I wrestled with my sense of vocation and, particularly, my exposure to the Catholic Worker movement and others who were living out their faith daily, providing food and shelter to the materially poor.

While at Divinity School I even took a few Thanksgiving’s “off” as I struggled with the concept of being thankful for so much abundance when I knew my new-found friends in Korea, Mexico, and even parts of New Haven would be going hungry that night.

And for seven years in Italy I was conflicted… torn between wanting to share “the best” of the U.S. Holiday Season with my foreign-born daughter and the Refugees through whom I first encountered IPM. We’d travel the countryside to find the right “bird” and those shared meals in the basement of an Episcopal Church in the heart of Rome taught me something very special about what it means to be thankful in a world where so many are left longing.

When I returned to the States full time Thanksgiving was certainly a welcome break from the workweek, but it also provided an opportunity for service and shared sustenance. In fact, helping to prepare a meal for the less fortunate was rewarding to me in a way that a meal replete with political and religious argument among an extended family never quite cut it.

But in the past sixteen+ years with IPM I’ve found a new appreciation for the Holiday just as I have bristled at it’s false retelling of a founding myth. Thanksgiving has become for me, my immediate family, my faith community, and the IPM Family across the USA, an unique, annual opportunity to step back, count our blessings, and redouble our efforts to make a difference in the world.

We, who live in these United States, do have much to be thankful for. Yes, we live in difficult times for sure. Yes, we seem to be increasingly divided by class, ethnicity, gender, race, and religion. The extent of our Partisan divide and the rancor that goes along with can be troubling at times, debilitating at its worst.

But there is also a spirit at work in the communities where I spend most of my time. At IPM, at worship, with my students and friends: I can’t help but feel a sense that something is changing. That all the negativity is making us realize how much there is to be positive about. That all the rancor can help us recall just how good it can feel to find a compromise. That all the hate in the world can’t squelch my deepest belief that hope and love ultimately win.

So as you and those you love head off for this Thanksgiving Holiday I’d ask that you keep IPM in your prayers, that you consider the type of year-end gift you can make to truly make a difference in our work around the world, and that you will take the time to slow down and remind yourself just what brought you into relationship with this IPM Family. Give yourself the gift of knowing—even if for only a moment—that your partnership with us makes all the difference in the world.

Best wishes for a joyful and peace-filled Thanksgiving Holiday!

Peace, Joe