Traveling for Transformation: The “Return” of IPM’s Signature In-Person Immersion Experience Programs.

Transformational Learning. Ever since IPM coined the term Immersion Experience Programs, twenty years ago, a commitment to personal transformation through Immersion has been at the center of IPM’s signature program.

I first recall hearing the term “Immersion” in the context of international, short-term travel—what others had long-called “mission trips”—from my dear friend and mentor, the late Kim McElaney, then serving as the first woman Chaplain at a Jesuit institution of higher learning, my alma mater Holy Cross (MA). It was 2002, and I was on my way back to Cleveland from two weeks in Rwanda & Kenya, when I stopped for dinner at Kim’s home outside of Boston. Kim, and her spouse Tim, were fascinated by my relatively new role with IPM (I had begun my service as Executive Director on June 1, 2001) and Kim asked if I might be open to creating an Immersion Experience for Holy Cross students in Kenya. 

By this point, I had already been in discussion with an old friend and colleague, Mark Falbo, who was then serving as the Director of the Center for Community Service Learning at John Carroll University (OH), and with whom I had travelled earlier that year to El Salvador & Nicaragua to meet with IPM’s Project Partners and friends. Mark and I had also envisioned a student trip to El Salvador but hadn’t yet used the term Immersion, but rather another “service learning” opportunity. In our planning, this travel experience was to be similar to others Mark had offered in his tenure at JCU but with IPM facilitating a deeper experience of solidarity and accompaniment among our Project Partners. In my mind, such short-term travel would be more like the Travel Seminars my Yale Divinity advisor and professor, the late Letty Russell, had been facilitating for years in conjunction with area studies in Liberation Theology. Letty was the first to allow me the opportunity to travel to Korea and Mexico while I struggled making ends meet as graduate student.

What Kim, Mark, and I may not have known, was that we were on the cutting-edge of a new approach to short-term international travel opportunities for students that were not about “mission” or “service,” let alone prostelization or work. Yes, we would travel short-term, but not “to help,” rather to be present. We would immerse ourselves in the history, culture, and day-to-day reality of IPM’s Project Partners and humbly learn that the hopes & dreams, aspiration & struggles, of IPM’s Partners were not too dissimilar from our own.  We would not travel to “fix” anything, to “convert” those we visited, or to reinforce our own sense of cultural superiority—what has become known, in the years since, as “white saviorism” regardless of the actual skin tone of the participants. Rather, we would see ourselves as pilgrims, seeking to atone for the injustice our nation & others had perpetuated upon the peoples of El Salvador, Kenya, Nicaragua, and Rwanda, while nurturing bonds of friendship rooted in trust. 

In the two decades since, IPM has facilitated at least 254 in-person Immersions, in more than twelve countries, with more than 2,300 participants. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, we have also facilitated 7 Virtual Immersions with 66 participants to date. As we enter the 2022-2023 school year—and with assurances from our Partners that we will not possibly jeopardize their health by sojourning among them—we look forward to the return of in-person Immersion Experiences, with twelve already in development. In our continuing efforts to be as inclusive as possible, IPM will continue to offer Virtual Immersions for those unable to travel internationally with a focus on thematic experiences like our popular Caste, Environmental Justice, and Gender Equity programs. Personally, I look forward to also offering long-time friends of IPM the opportunity to join me once again on what we traditionally refer to as “Tag-Along” Immersions. These occasional programs allow a handful of people to travel with my colleagues & I as we work internationally among our Regional Partners & Staff, experiencing our mission & programs side-by-side. 

IPM’s creation of and unique approach to Immersion has been copied by many others since those first in-person Immersion Experiences in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Kenya in 2002-2003. I can attest from my Doctoral work at Eden Theological Seminary (completed in 2011), and personal experience, that no one does it quite as well in a multi-faith & multi-national context. IPM Immersion Experiences may not work for everyone, and that is OK. They aren’t conceived to meet service “requirements” though many academic institutions do incorporate IPM Immersion Experiences as part of a for-credit class, campus ministry program, and/or service offering. They aren’t mission trips to proselytize or experience something solely among people of the same religious faith but are always an appropriate avenue to live out one’s personal sense of vocation in a deeply spiritual way. 

Perhaps most uniquely still, IPM’s Immersion Experiences are coordinated and led by local Staff & Partners on their terms, their schedule, and to their benefit. There is nothing “to do.” IPM’s focus is on “being”… being present, being attentive, being willing to look deeply inside ourselves, being open to owning up to our complicity in the injustice that stalks our world, being ready to become the change we seek. That, if you will, is the service—a service that comes from being willing to journey not solely to another place but into our deepest selves.

Immersion Experiences are, first & foremost, about personal transformation. Transformational learning that can only come from stepping outside ourselves & moving beyond our presuppositions of how we might “help.” Ultimately, Immersions Experiences are about looking as deeply as we can within ourselves to reimagine and reshape our role in the world. 

I would be thrilled to talk with you more about how you and/or your academic institution (corporation, faith community, nonprofit, and alike) might plan and participate in an IPM Immersion Experience. I hope you will reach out and look forward to being immersed with you for the first time or once again. If IPM & I can guarantee you anything, you will be transformed! 

Peace, Joe  

Be Light & Love this Holiday Season

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Dear Friends, 

I write to you today as many of us continue our celebrations of this #HolidaySeason and the promises of a New Year. I do so from IPM’s headquarters in Cleveland, where the pandemic’s renewed spread is wreaking havoc on so many families who had hoped to gather-together around the table (often, for the first time in two years) to celebrate this season of #light and #renewal. 

In my tradition, the season known as #Advent is a month-long reminder of the core values of our faith. A time to reaffirm our shared commitment to embody #hope, #peace, #joy, and #love in our own lives while offering those same gifts to the world. For our Jewish brothers & sisters who just commemorated #Hanukkah, for our many friends around the world who marked the #WinterSolstice earlier this week, and for those working to ensure the well-being of the world this #Kwanzaa, the call is similar: to bring light to times of darkness and love to a world that is broken & hurting. 

For almost 48 years, #IPM has been doing just that! Your partnership with us—whether as a colleague, donor, Project Partner, student, &/or volunteer—makes everything we do possible. You are the light we need during the darkest days, the hope that sees us through, the joy we see on the faces of each & every woman, child, and community where the IPM Family continues to nurture and transform. 

We live in extraordinary times. No matter our respective faith tradition &/or spiritual practice our response must be just extraordinary. A dear friend recently reminded me that: COVID, like so many other tragedies, draws us all towards the cliffs of angst and despair. Many cannot endure looking directly into the face of the fear, and harden themselves by turning away, denying, rejecting, and grasping at their ropes of nationalism and isolationism, not seeing that the rope is rotting and frayed and ever-so-loosely tethered. Even more of us live between the fear and the will to connect–paralyzed by the size and magnitude of the tragedy, not sure what to do to respond to the needs of the world and to our own internal duplicity. And then there are a few who walk into the fear, seeing it for the phantasm that it is, and call to the rest of us to join them in slaying the monster though love and connection, through having our hearts be open houses for each other, for the world – the few who set the place at the table for the rest of us, calling us home to our humanity.

Each of you “set the table” for the rest of us. You open your homes to others in the service of “love and connection”.  Your humanity and sacrificial giving makes our mission possible. This Holiday Season, through the generosity of the Sheffler and Weber families, your gifts to IPM post-marked on or before December 31 will be matched up to $50,000. I trust that you will thoughtfully consider your response and remain profoundly grateful for your generosity.

But most importantly, I hope you will wake up this Christmas morning knowing that your consistent presence is the greatest gift of hope you can offer the IPM Family and that the Peace and Joy you bring to each day we have together is one of the greatest gifts you can offer the world in the coming New Year!

May the #light and #love of this Season be with you and all those whom you hold dear. 

Peace, Joe  

What Happens When COVID Ends?

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10 November 2021

Dear Friends, 

The headline in a recent post from one of my favorite periodicals asked: “What happens when COVID ends?” I was struck by the hopeful naivete of the question? Clearly the author doesn’t sit where I do!

This week, IPM lost yet another dear friend to the still-raging pandemic, the horror of which remains far from most of our “northern” eyes. We may debate when to have our children under 11 vaccinated… We remain frustrated by new variants and so-called breakthrough cases that keep popping-up as vaccination is questioned and masking deemed optional—giving COVID a new lifeline literally every second of every day… We are saddened that, after all this time, we still need to keep our distance from the most vulnerable of those we love… but most of us have truly no idea how bad this pandemic still is. 

As of today, more than 5MILLION PEOPLE HAVE DIED! There have been over 251MILLION CASES. In the USA alone almost 757,000 people have died. In EL SALVDOR, a country that claims “success” in fighting COVID, the vastly underreported number of deaths is 3,704 with a huge nation-wide spike in marginalized communities right now. In COLOMBIA, where IPM’s Partners are suffering in a particularly harsh way, over 127,000 people have died. In INDIA, a microscopic representation of reality the number of deaths is 461,849. In ITALY, where I first partnered with IPM, 132,491 people have died. In KENYA, where only a small percentage of the population has been vaccinated and national accounting for health care is abhorrent, the death toll is at 5,314 and rising. 

These aren’t just numbers, they are lives. Lives taken all too soon from loved ones. Deaths that could have been avoided if our actions matched our rhetoric. The “numbers” are so large that we have become almost dismissive of daily caseloads and death tolls that rightfully condemn the vast disparities in our health care systems worldwide. 

The IPM core value of Accompaniment calls us to move beyond disbelief and frustration to action. It’s not enough to simply say we wish we could do more, or we’ll keep you in our prayers. Not enough when our Project Partners and their families remain gravely ill and are unable to be present for the burials of their loved ones. Dear members of the IPM Family are still on oxygen, confined to their beds, unable to get even the first dose of a vaccine. 

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Don Rafael Carranza (pictured above in his Zaragoza home) is one such person. The father, grandfather, and great grandfather of a former IPM colleague, dear friends, and Project Partner participants, he was incredibly dear to me as well. As I told my faith community this Sunday, every time I hugged Papito he reminded me of my own maternal grandfather—same smell, same firm grip, same kind eyes. He was buried overnight and largely alone. His daughter Maria Julia, an IPM Project Foundress and student of the murdered Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel, has COVID and is on oxygen herself as she comes to terms with her beloved father’s sudden death. The unspeakable human tragedy of this pandemic has not ended for her family nor for virtually all of IPM’s Project Partners and friends worldwide. 

More than two decades ago on my first IPM journey to El Salvador and Nicaragua I finally, fully, understood the meaning of Casa Abierta by the il Duo Guardabaranco in Don Rafael’s home. In the subsequent years, over thousands of days with IPM’s Partners, I’ve felt what it means to be welcomed into such an Open House:

I want things to be good between me and my brothers and sisters.

From North to South, to the end of the world.

I know how to listen and lend a hand…

Everyone here is human.

What else can color my world, my race?

Inside we have feelings that need sustenance.

If there are good feelings inside they can’t stay inside.

Here’s my open house.

There’s a plate for you on our table.

The tree’s shadow for your head.

You’re life’s an open book at my door…

Open house.

An unconditional friendship, that’s your motto.

Earth likes it that we love each other.

Regardless of cultures or flags

Open house.

I’d like to give you some good luck and be your friend until death and distance, won’t stop me…

Here’s my open house.

There’s a plate for you on our table.

The tree’s shadow for your head.

Your Life’s an open book at my doorstep…

(https://lyricstranslate.com/en/casa-abierta-open-house.html-1)

Despite too many differences to list, there was never a moment when I felt unwelcome in the Carranza home. There was always a shared plate at the table for me and all those who have come to know the family over the many years since we first met. Many of you have joined me in feeling just as at home within the IPM Family, especially including the family of my longtime Indian colleague Mahesh who is still struggling—along with his spouse and mother—with the latent impacts of COVID-19. My fondest hope is that each of them have somehow felt just as welcome in my own home. 

For almost 50 years, IPM has insisted that color, culture, race, and flags don’t divide. We are brothers and sisters that share the same hopes and dreams. This pandemic tragically reminds us that no matter how hard we work, vast difference still exists—in class, income, food security, and access to healthcare. There is much to do, much of which lays beyond the impact of a relatively small organization such as this. 

My years in El Salvador, Kenya, and India have taught me that we can all do something. And, if COVID and Don Rafael taught me one thing it is that everyone is welcome in the Open House that is the IPM Family. Each Partner endowed with a justified claim for a place at our table—where health & wellness is the most fundamental right of all! 

I hope each of you will do what you can to step up at this time as we continue to listen, love, and lend a hand. 

Faithfully yours,

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Joseph F. Cistone

Chief Executive Officer

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Here are some concrete suggestions from my colleague Adela Zayas Hernandez, IPM’s Director of International Partnerships & Programs, who you can reach directly at: ahernandez@ipmconnect.org), on how you can join IPM in offering a place at our table right now!

The World has always been in constant change, but since COVID-19 the transformation we see in social relationships, economy, health, safety, and food security is radical. These changes have brought many needs. 

COLOMBIA: There is a great need for job sustainability, for just salaries and income, as well as the re-integration in education, after virtual classes, for many children in different parts of the country, especially in rural areas has become a great need. 

Support IPM’s local Partners, The Center for the Formation of Peace and Ser Mujer

EL SALVADOR: The need for oxygen tanks, hospitalization access for all and education around biosecurity measures has become more important than ever, since COVID-19 cases are significantly growing each day. 

Designate your gift for IPM’s Emergency Response to the Pandemic—#IPMResponds 

INDIA: The need for proper health care and access to medicines for all communities—across Caste and religious expression—is not covered in India and is something our local Staff is working to change. 

Support the remarkable work of IPM’s South Asia Regional Office

KENYA:  The need for food security, access to potable water and adequate sanitary resources like

masks, alcohol, and disinfectants, is immense throughout East Africa. 

Designate your gift for IPM’s new Regional Coordinator in Kenya

NICARAGUA: Need for free expression, security for social leaders and government stability. The need for democracy is growing every day.

Support local Project Partners CEPROSI and Mujer y Communidad.

As Adela prophetically proclaims: “As humans committed to peace, justice, and hope we must be aware of the needs around the world, to support the vulnerable, to share their story and to accompany their struggles. This is how we face the constant transformation we are all living during this pandemic, united in solidarity.”

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Want to learn and do more?

  • Reach out to Joe directly at 1.866.932.4082 or jfcistone@ipmconnect.org
  • Consider participating in an upcoming IPM Virtual Immersion Experience Program with IPM’s Director of Education & Immersion Experience Programs, Vicky Jimenez. You can meet Vicky in person when she is in the USA later this year or contact her via email: vjimenez@ipmconnect.org
  • Check out https://www.facebook.com/IPMConnect/
  • Support #IPMResponds at https://ipmconnect.org/make-a-donation/
  • Please continue to center IPM in your thoughts, prayers, and meditation practices

www.ipmconnect.org

Accompaniment & Solidarity in the Midst of Pandemia & Physical Distancing

April 2, 2021

Dear Friends,

One year ago, I wrote to you just as the potential impacts of the Novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic was becoming clear. After a traumatic year of physical distancing, social isolation, economic dislocation, racial reckoning, and heightened climate change, it’s hard to believe Passover, Holi, Lailat Ul Bara’h, and Easter are here. While different in history & purpose: they each provide an important opportunity for reflection & renewal—especially after a year like this! 

While I have been blessed by the ability to work from home, extended time with my spouse and younger children, and a National Park next door, I miss being in the presence of each of you. Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp, and the rest can be wonderful vehicles for staying socially connected & getting work done, but nothing can replace the transformative nature of physical presence.

Physical proximity is at the heart of accompaniment. Accompaniment, perhaps the preeminent posture of IPM, encourages solidarity & nurtures trust. One can claim they are working to decolonize & end structural racism, but before COVID it seemed almost impossible to do so from a distance.  Actual physical presence was how, for almost five decades, IPM built connections & worked across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance.  

In re-reading Isabel Wilkerson’s latest book Caste, in preparation for an upcoming Virtual Immersion Experience with John Carroll University, I’ve been struck by how person-to-person connection allows us to traverse caste and the related “discontents” Wilkerson brilliantly identifies. My personal & professional life may encourage cross-caste relationships, but I’m painfully aware how divided & distant so many of us remain from one another. Enforced physical distancing may not have made that any easier but it has forced us to imagine & create new ways of being & working together.

IPM was founded to transcend difference no matter the distance between us. We preface our partnerships as a two-way-street. We pride ourselves on our hard-fought indigenization & inclusivity as “proof” that we are on the right path. A Zoom screen or WhatsApp group with folks from five continents reminds us that, yes, we may walk the same path together in ways hitherto unimagined. 

This week’s holy days remind us as well that accompaniment is at the heart of our respective spiritual traditions. From Holi’s celebration of diversity to Lailat Ul Barah’s search for reconciliation. From Passover’s commemoration of a peoples’ liberation to a protest march into Jerusalem that ultimately led to the promise of Easter… these last holy days highlight the universal importance of being present, in-person & in-memory, with one another.

This past year, IPM has had to reinvent what it means to be present in almost too many ways to imagine. Virtual forums, virtual immersions, virtual meetings, virtual Partnerships, virtual programs… Virtual or not, we have found that presence can happen no matter the time and distance between us. Accompaniment might not be as “easy” virtually, but we can be present for one another no matter the distance if we can trust that we’re all working together from our own spaces for equity, justice, and peace. 

Virtual will still have to suffice for a while. Many more will suffer as the gross disparities in our global health system are laid bare. Partnership without physical presence will continue to try our patience. The coming months won’t bring us back to pre-pandemic realities, but they will provide the chance to collectively reflect on what we’ve been through and where we’d like to head.

As we gradually begin to gather together again in person and anticipate the celebration of IPM’s 47th year on May 10th, I hope that this week’s Holy Days gift you with the renewal & revitalization accompaniment requires. 

Amani/Pace/Paix/Paz/Peace/Namaste/Shalom,

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Joseph F. Cistone
IPM CEO

April 2, 2021

Let Your Circle Be Wide Enough to Let Others In

#PastorsCorner for Sunday, February 21, the First Sunday in Lent ~ Liturgical Year B

This past Wednesday more than forty of us from across MDI gathered together for a virtual Ash Wednesday Service coordinated by my colleague, the Rev. Dr. Janet Adair Hansen, Interim Pastor of the Somesville Union Meeting House UCC. Janet has been a wonderful addition to the local UCC Pastorate and this Lent it will be a joy to work alongside her and my dear friend, the Rev. Rob Benson of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church UCC once again. While we don’t always agree—no three adults do—and our ministries have taken various paths, it is a remarkable blessing to be able pastor alongside each other with a healthy respect for one another. As with any profession, but perhaps especially ministry (like teaching and medicine which can also place similar 24-hour stress on the practitioner), having colleagues of integrity, honesty, and reliability is vital for both personal and professional health. We do well when we seek out mentors and friends who round-out our own experience, inspire us by their own commitment, and challenge us to be who we are called to be.

The Rev. Douglas C. Horner has been one such person for me since our days at Yale Divinity School. Doug and I share essential things in common—a solid Northeast Ohio childhood, loving families, devotion to the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth & the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a life-long love of canoeing, and the willingness to speak truth to power—but we also complement each other: he’s a gifted mechanic, I’d rather plant a tree; Doug’s a former Marine with a passion for veterans, while I spent my time after our years in New Haven volunteering among immigrants & refugees in Rome; he works selflessly amidst the materially poor & socially marginalized in this country while my life has been largely dedicated to ensuring human flourishing in the international sphere. One thing is for sure. I would have never considered ordained ministry in the UCC if it weren’t for Doug example as my longtime Pastor at Saint Paul’s Community Church in Cleveland and someone who consistently reminds me of what it means to live out one’s calling in the day-to-day.

The past year has been difficult for all of us. Many of us have mourned the enforced distance from loved ones and mourned, as well, the loss of like. Doug’s dear mom, Betty, passed away this past year. She was an inspiration to Doug, his family, me, and literally thousands of others across the country for her lifelong commitment and how she challenged the UCC to be the Open & Affirming Denomination we have come to be. Today, we have the gift of Doug’s presence and wisdom with us in Worship. When he learned about Alyne’s recent, major surgery, he asked how he could help, and I told him preparing a Sermon for a Sunday morning would be a great relief! I’m thrilled he is able to be with us this morning as he reflects upon our scripture from Genesis & Mark in a Sermon entitled “Life Moving Forward”.

Throughout his preaching we will be posting this poem, entitled Outwitted by Edwin Markham, that Doug asked us to share: He drew a circle that shut me out –heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win. We drew a circle and took him in. This Lenten Season, I pray that you will also find the comfort of shared commitment of dear friends. For each of us is called to love and to have circles wide enough to let others in!

Faithfully Yours, Joe

February 21, 2021

A Time To Give Thanks

Dear Friends,

We’ve arrived at the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday once again, and what a year it’s been. While it seems like only yesterday my colleagues Alyssa Bovell, Jared Odiambo, and I welcomed my Yale Divinity School students on an early January Immersion Experience to Kenya, I am well aware of how much the world has changed since then.

As we traversed Kenya—and our colleagues Adela Zayas & Victoria Jimenez welcomed a delegation from Holy Cross to Colombia—we had no idea what the months ahead would hold. And, when my family and I travelled to the March Memorial for my late Father-in-law in Texas, we had only begun to suspect where the newest Novel virus would lead. Our last in-person Immersion Experience was here in Maine with the Wabanaki Peoples as two new colleagues — Vicky and Enyeda Ramos — found themselves left behind in the Dominican Republic as the first Immersion Experience was postponed. Soon thereafter, travel to Italy for a Global Citizenship Conference and Immersions to El Salvador, India, and Kenya were put off. Ilze and all of us knew it was time to buckle-down and reinvent.

Words cannot express how proud I am for what my colleagues and our Board have accomplished in the midst of a still peeking pandemic. No tears will ever be enough for the pain our Project Partners have shared in the intimate moments we have been forced to spend over WhatsApp and Zoom. Their remarkable commitment lightens my soul in the midst of the death of loved ones and the lingering illness of so many dear friends. Perhaps more than any other year in my tenure with IPM, I’ve learned so much more than I can ever hope to give.

Like so many of our Project & Community Partners, IPM is not “out of the woods” yet. One can’t simply replace the loss of our signature Immersion Experience Program, no matter how thrilled I am with what we have been able to create and deliver virtually in the time since we first heard the words COVID-19.  No matter how much I’ve enjoyed the extended time at home with our “little” ones, nothing can replace the early morning coffee and late night reflections with friends and loved ones worldwide. A virtual International Executive Board Meeting from India—thank you Mahesh, Himat, & Bindiya!—while wonderful, can never replace being there hand-in-hand.

If you know me well, you’re well aware that I’m always conflicted about the myth behind Thanksgiving. Last year, IPM’s Fulbright Scholar Fatima Pacas,  my son JJ, our pup Dozzi, and I took advantage of a Thanksgiving morning to wander the Cleveland Metroparks’ North Chagrin Reservation to recluse ourselves, even briefly, from the hypocrisy of the holiday. This year there won’t be a hike or run with family & friends in Northeast Ohio, nor a series of in-person year-end meetings with IPM’s dearest donor-friends in my hometown. The turkey will be served at distance and the cranberry will remind me of the bitterness that absence brings.

But this year I’m perhaps more thankful than ever. For gardens that still leave much to harvest. For food pantries full of the love we share with neighbors. For a dear friend, Grace Weber, who confidently left a transformative Estate gift in IPM’s hands.

Thankful not for conquest or false narratives, but for the promise of partnership and the myriad of opportunities presented for each of us to begin again.

May the Peace that Passes all Understanding hold you tight in these tumultuous times. 

          
Faithfully Yours, 


Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

November 25, 2020

Next Year’s Words Await

December 31, 2020

Dear Friends,

When I quoted from T.S. Eliot in our final E-Connections of 2019, who could have ever imagined what the year ahead would become?! The unprecedented cocktail of a pandemic, Presidential election, long overdue racial reckoning, and catastrophic climate change, has left us all reeling. As Eliot implied, we often need new voices and even new language to truthfully express all that has transpired.

But no matter what we’re feeling this New Year’s Eve, we know that that which unites us is infinitely stronger than that which divides. Throughout the past ten months, we have learned yet again that love & hope are the nexus of both human community & global possibility.

The IPM family has been honored to share so many prophetic stories & voices with you & our world this past year. We’ve been able to do so through the generosity & kindness that each of you provides unfailingly.

As we look forward to the promise of better health, global travel, and the reopening of so much that has been shut down, we know that our partnership with you is as important as ever.

I pray that 2021 is a time of renewal & rebirth for each of us; I look forward to being able to greet each of you personally when health & physical distancing permits. 

Happy New Year!

May Light Shine & Guide Our Righteous Path

Dear Friends,

In the midst of this Diwali Festival, it is hard to believe that the U.S. Presidential election was called a week ago tomorrow and yet so much tension remains. How I long for the days when coming together for the benefit of one’s nation was lived out as a humble calling and the politics of grievance weren’t so pervasive. Whether you are reading this from South Asia in the midst of Diwali or somewhere in the USA—or anywhere in between—I pray that each of you continues to remain focused on what you can do to bring light to our communities and world.

The Hindu Festival of Lights is an opportunity to recall the way each of us is called to be a light for the world. Light in times of darkness. Light in the face of despair. Light to lead us on a path to the deeper understanding that is born from love of self and love of neighbor.  

No matter what your partisan persuasion and, especially, in the face of so many autocrats in the countries in which IPM works, I trust we can all agree that fighting for the kind of society we want for our children and friends is a struggle worth engaging in. Our world is beset with pandemic, gender inequality, racial injustice, climate change, and so many other challenges; it can be more than a little daunting. 
And yet, each challenge is an opportunity to do more and to do it well. Each of us is ably equipped to be the light and leaven our sisters and brothers so desperately need.
 
As we join our Indian & Nepali colleagues & friends in commemorating Diwali, may we remain open to those with whom we disagree while remaining vigilant in the struggle for justice & peace. And may we find the courage to be a source of light in the midst of darkness and the resilience to speak & act for the dawn of a brighter day. 
          
In light, 


Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

November 14, 2020

#VoteForHope!

Dear Friends,

Having grown up with the tragic histories of Bonhoeffer vs. Hitler, Silone vs. Mussolini, King vs. Wallace, and having witnessed personally the devastating effects of fraudulent elections coupled with violent transfers of power from Bosnia to Rwanda, Kenya to El Salvador; I find it almost impossible to believe that I have to write this about my own nation.

Perhaps those of us in the USA should not be surprised that we have arrived at the current crossroads given our recent history of hanging chads, Bush v Gore, unfounded allegations about the birth location of our nation’s first black president, and the last four years. 

This past week has seen the continued ratcheting-up of the partisan divide and political rancor that continues to plague the USA. The partisan installation of a Supreme Court Justice, the final Presidential debate, and vicious attack ads from all sides, poison our airwaves and harden many hearts. The simple public-health act of wearing a mask to protect our neighbors as well as ourselves remains highly politicized even as the spread of COVID-19 is hitting new peaks nationwide.

And yet, as of this morning almost one hundred million of us have voted in one way or another. And tomorrow the rest—or at least a significant portion thereof—will head to the polls. The tension around this election is palpable. Mistrust and conspiracy theories are being sewn by politicians and across the internet. We are called not to focus on such nonsense, but to remain true to our nation’s founding aspirations. To do so, as faithful citizens, requires us to VOTE!

And while IPM cannot legally take a stance in a partisan election we can and do advocate unswervingly for environmental justice, gender & racial equity, multi-faith collaboration, refugees & forced migrants, and the rights of the child. Our “politics” are rooted in justice, inclusion, and the passionate enunciation of inherent dignity of each and every human being.

Over the past few years, autocrats have again returned to power in many of the countries where our Project Partners struggle to bring dignity and hope to their communities. But political systems that are poisoned by fraud, rooted in divisiveness, and grounded in a maldistribution of power are inevitably doomed to fail. So tomorrow, with democracy itself on the ballot, we cross our fingers, bend our knees, pound the pavement, and unify our voices so that this election takes place without fraud, with all the ballots counted, and the appropriate concession.

The USA, despite all its faults has a choice to make, I pray that you will join with me in affirming your commitment to the very basic principles on which IPM was founded almost 47 years ago. Together we’ll stand firm to ensure that this election does not become an American model of the very injustice we so rightfully condemn in other nations around the world.

I hope and trust that if you are voting you will do so faithfully supporting those candidates that reflect the values common decency, love of neighbor, and belief in a better world. And no matter what happens this week, that you will join with us in each moment ahead to nurture love & joy in a world that is hurting & overcome with fear.

May the arc of our traditions continue to bend toward justice, may the hope promised at the time of our founding continue to resonate in our hearts & our actions in the world.

Stay safe, vote if you can, and may the peace that passes all understanding be with us all this week.

Faithfully Yours,

Joseph F. Cistone
IPM Chief Executive Officer

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Cranberry Bitterness That Absence Brings

We’ve arrived at the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday once again and what a year it’s been. While it seems like only yesterday my colleagues Alyssa Bovell, Jared Odiambo, and I welcomed my Yale Divinity School students on an early January Immersion Experience to Kenya, I am well aware of how much the world has changed since then. 

As we traversed Kenya—and our colleagues Adela Zayas & Victoria Jimenez welcomed a delegation from Holy Cross to Colombia—we had no idea what the months ahead would hold. And, when my family and I travelled to the March Memorial for my late Father-in-law in Texas, we had only begun to suspect where the newest Novel virus would lead. Our last in-person Immersion Experience was here in Maine with the Wabanaki Peoples as two new colleagues—Vicky and Enyeda Ramos found themselves left-behind in the Dominican Republic as the first Immersion was postponed. Soon thereafter, travel to Italy for a Global Citizenship Conference and Immersions to El Salvador, India, and Kenya were put off. Ilze and all of us knew it was time to buckle-down and reinvent. 

Words cannot express how proud I am for what my colleagues and our Board have accomplished in the midst of a still peeking pandemic. No tears will ever be enough for the pain our Project Partners have shared in the intimate moments we have been forced to share over WhatsApp and Zoom. Their remarkable commitment lightens my soul in the midst of the death of loved ones and the lingering illness of so many dear friends. Perhaps more than any other year in my tenure with IPM, I’ve learned so much more than I can ever hope to give.

Like so many of our Project & Community Partners, IPM is not “out of the woods” yet. One can’t simply replace the loss of our signature Immersion Experience Program, no matter how thrilled I am with what we have been able to create and deliver virtually in the time since we first heard the words COVID-19.  No matter how much I’ve enjoyed the extended time at home with our “little” ones, nothing can replace the early morning coffee and late night reflections with friends and loved ones worldwide. A virtual International Executive Board Meeting from India—thank you Mahesh, Himat, & Bindiya!—while wonderful, can never replace being there hand-in-hand.

If you know me well, you’re well aware that I’m always conflicted about the myth behind Thanksgiving. Gratitude is one thing, but disavowing genocide while wallowing in gluttony invariably sets me off. Last year, IPM’s Fulbright Scholar Fatima Pacas,  my son JJ, our pup Dozzi, and I took advantage of a Thanksgiving morning to wander the Cleveland Metroparks’ North Chagrin Reservation to recluse ourselves, even briefly, from the hypocrisy of the holiday. This year there won’t be a hike or run with family & friends in Northeast Ohio, nor a series of in-person year-end meetings with IPM’s dearest donor-friends in my hometown. The turkey will be served at distance and the cranberry will remind me of the bitterness that absence brings. 

But this year I’m perhaps more thankful than ever. For gardens that still leave much to harvest. For food pantrys full of the love we share with neighbors. For a dear friend, Grace Weber, who confidently left a transformative Estate gift in IPM’s hands. 

Thankful not for conquest or false narratives, but for the promise of partnership and the myriad opportunities presented for each of us to begin again. 

May the Peace that Passes all Understanding hold you tight in these tumultuous times. 

Faithfully Yours, Joe