#HolyDaysAndPhysicalDistancing #Passover #Easter

#Passover & #Easter

Many of us we are now in the midst a sacred time. While it is certainly hard to believe it’s already Passover & Easter, it may be harder still to come to terms with remaining in the continued fast of physical distancing.

For a hugger like me, the challenge of physical distancing is profound. While I have been blessed with the ability to work from home and the added blessing of extended time with Alyne & the kids, I—like you I’m sure—miss being with everyone else. Facebook, Skype, Zoom, YouTube and the rest can be wonderful vehicles for staying socially connected and getting work done, but nothing can replace physical presence.

It was the same physical presence, or lack thereof, that our faith traditions commemorates this week. From a Passover meal to murder for standing up to Empire… From Mary Magdalen discovering an empty tomb to #Liberation from bondage in a foreign land. What these last holy days highlight most deeply, is the importance of #SacredPresence in our lives.

For the followers of Moses & Miriam: no journey was to far if taken together in faith. For those of us who follow Jesus of Nazareth: while we may continue to debate the actual physical nature of Resurrection, we know that Jesus’ resurrected physical presence among them was at the very heart of early Christian community and belief.

This days many of us are obliged to worship remotely once again, but the simple truth is that the Peace that Passes All Understanding will be with us no matter where and how we gather.

I pray that you will continue to feel and be emboldened by the presence of God’s Spirit in your life during these #HolyDays, as we each look forward to the day when we can be physically present with one another once again.

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



from Italia to where I sit

Friends and loved ones

caught in a web

Tangle of misunderstanding

of fear and othering

Inability to take heart

to take responsibility

Where O God

to find peace at times like this

Where O Soul

burdened down

Where O Lungs

longing for breath

Where O Heart

reaching out to others

Hands that cross the divide

spreading to feel as one

Novel Coronavirus

infection in the millions

Deaths untold

no means to say goodbye


disease eating the heart of America

Facemasks lacking

Gowns sodden

Ventilators broken

Cries unheard

The times are heavy

the light is darkened

The rain offers cleansing

the sky a ray of possibility

Here in the silence of the morning

in the messages of friends far and wide

We find some peace

a deeper sense of belonging

a strengthening of spirit

a burgeoning of will


© Joe Cistone, 3 April 2020

What is Most Important: IPM & COVID-19

!!!15 IPM logo high DPI for printing

March 20, 2020

Dear Friends,

I write this special note to you after having spent much of the past two weeks in Texas for a family memorial. While gathered there in the midst of an expanding pandemic, I was touched by the myriad conversations with friends from across the IPM Family and the times of reflection spent with family & friends from across the globe.

We gathered in the Dallas-Fort Worth area just as the virulence of COVID-19 was being belatedly acknowledged and in the midst of draconian measures being implemented in Brasil, India, Kenya, and the other countries where IPM has a long-standing and important presence. I have been particularly shaken by what is transpiring in Italy—a country I called home for many years and where I first encountered IPM—and in El Salvador, where our Project Partners and local Staff are having to cope with the kind of armed police presence not seen since the Civil War.

No matter how shaken those of us who call the USA home may be, we know that the situation is much worse in other, poorer, countries and marginalized communities around the world. For more than a month now, our Project Partners have been expressing their own concern about what is transpiring in and around them. Inadequate health care systems, the scapegoating of minority ethnic & racial communities, the loss of work, militarization, and the closing of borders, has everyone on edge.

Times like these challenge us all to be our better selves, not giving into the fear and “othering” that is the easy way out when we feel threatened or alone. Times like these—and the very possible sense that this Pandemic will dominate much of the coming year(s)—force us to re-evaluate what is most important and how we will make it through.

For IPM, a global pandemic—like 9/11 and the great recession before it—cut right to the heart of our mission, vision, and values. Who do we claim to be when our global community is divided amongst itself? What can we do to bridge the new boundaries being forced between us? How can we best respond?

An essential part of imagining our response is being real about what this means to our day-to-day. The abrupt cancellation or postponement of Immersion Experience Programs has already led to the loss of more than $150,000 in projected income, hindering our mission and programs. It’s likely that number will double, perhaps even triple, in the coming months. The loss of such income and the opportunity for our North American friends and supporters to sojourn among our Partners will have an incalculable impact upon them. If IPM is unable to compensate our indigenous Staff, unable to plan the programming our Partners depend upon, even unable to make the Project Partner payments expected this year we are forced to ask exactly what we can be?

Thankfully, a handful of committed friends of IPM have taken the time to speak with me about how they might help us get through this challenging time. They have committed more than US$50,000 to help us cope in the short term. We, in turn, are asking you to match their commitments up to $100,000 (50cent on the US$1) so that we can continue operating at a streamlined level this year. Please consider making a gift at this time via the enclosed envelope or on-line at www.ipmconnect.org.

Times like these force us to re-think how we prioritize both our time and our lives. I believe deeply that they are also, as Oscar Romero said, a time for God’s grace to enter and do the rest. May the Peace that Passes all Understanding be with you and those you love in these trying times. Thank you for your willingness to step up and make IPM a priority for your giving right now.

Faithfully Yours,

Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer

A Wall for Ahmedabad

A Wall for Ahmedabad
In the rush of news related to the spread of the Coronavirus, you may have missed the recent visit by the current US President to India. In preparation for his visit to Ahmedabad, a literal wall was built for the distance that the President was traveling, in order to hide poor slums where many Muslims are forced to eke out a living. This wall was positioned far enough from the US caravan’s eyes and further ostracized the families who live there from civil society. The 6-7 feet high wall on an estimated 600-meter stretch was constructed in barely 10 days to block his view of the slum area where some 5,000 people live in 700 odd “kaccha” houses. The community barely has basic amenities such as water supply, electricity, and sanitation, limited water supply and access to only two common washrooms outside the slum area, Many residents are forced to walk over 1km to bathe and to defecate in the open near a river.

Despite the expressions of mutual admiration at a particularly large stadium rally, the real impact of the President’s visit fell hardest on the poorest of the poor—particularly the Muslim communities in Ahmedabad and Delhi. Coming alongside anti-Muslim citizenship policies recently introduced by the Indian government and the fermenting of anti-Muslim sentiment by the Hindu nationalist governing party, many took to the streets and their protests were brutally repressed. Muslim citizens, shop owners, and the Dalit community were targeted throughout the State of Gujarat and the Capital of Delhi. The town of Khambat in the Gulf of Cambay and a few miles from Golana, where the Pochabai Foundation is based, was singled out. Fear and memories of the earlier 2002 riots caused panic among members of HUM who continue to work collaboratively as Hindu & Muslim women. By the end of the President’s visit, hundreds had lost their lives and tens of thousands had lost their homes and businesses. 

As IPM’s Mahesh Upadhyaya has said, there was much crowing about the US President’s visit being a meeting of the two “greatest” democracies in the world: one, the oldest, the other the largest. But the meeting between the President and Prime Minister in the Indian Capital of Delhi highlighted the ongoing betrayal of democratic values and constitutional governance in both countries. As Delhi burned just a few miles from the summit, the President and Prime Minister expressed their admiration for the “toughness” of each other and announced a huge sale of weapons of war to India—cynically ironic in light of their time together at Ahmedabad’s famous Gandhi Ashram where that icon of non-violence conceived some of his most important positions in favor of peace over war and unity rather than division on the Indian sub-Continent. In the end, despite the heroic efforts of our Partners and so many committed Indians, hate trumped love leading to death and destruction for the ordinary citizens of Delhi and Khambat. 

Much of the anxiety stems directly from the Indian Government’s proposed Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA) that provides a fast track path to citizenship for migrants from India’s 3 neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan belonging to the Hindu, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Parsi communities. To be eligible for the fast track citizenship, such migrants should have arrived in India before December 31, 2014. Notably, migrants from the Muslim community are not covered under CAA. The CAA is intended to protect persecuted minorities from Muslim majority / Islamic countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan who had fled to India. The ongoing, justifiable protest against CAA is rooted in the argument that providing citizenship based on religion violates the Indian constitution, specifically the right to equality before the law, and the principles of secularism on which India was created. 

When the US supports such laws and the authoritarian leaders behind them, while looking the other way when communities are persecuted solely on the basis of their religious belief, we betray not only our historically espoused values but our standing in the world. Participating in such violence is not the only wrong. Looking the other way in the face of such discrimination and violence poisons the soul of each and every one of us—Indian and US citizens alike. As Eina Ahluwalia said: “To the chanting, burning, stabbing, bearing, acid and petrol bomb-throwing mobs, I have just one reminder—that there may be many kinds of Indians right now, but there is only one kind of human being, and your brutal attacks are on your own soul.” And, similarly, the US President’s divisive rhetoric has all too often resulted in attacks against minority communities and compromises our country’s values. We need to speak up and work for the change we want to see in the world. 

Throughout India today, there are countless stories of Hindu Temples being saved by Muslims, Muslim Mosques being saved by Hindus. Stories of young people joining together to prevent violence and imagine another way. Stories from IPM Partners and Colleagues who continue to live compassionately in their quest for peace and harmony among both Hindus and Muslims. This is what we are about!

This issue of E-Connections provides additional background on the recent violence in India and how our Partners there are responding. We also touch on the worrying developments in El Salvador where another authoritarian leader endorsed by the US administration is violating constitutional norms and harkening back to the violence of the ’80s. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we are actually living in 2020! And yet, the work of our Indian and Salvadoran Staff, Fellows, and Partners continue to inspire us. HUM is just one remarkable example! We invite you to learn more about their remarkable work and consider the difference you can make. 

Unfortunately, as I write this, the growing risks associated with the spread of the Coronavirus are beginning to impact IPM directly. An international conference I was scheduled to attend has been canceled and at least one upcoming Immersion was postponed by an academic institution. Any radical disruption of global travel, and especially the Immersion Experience Program, would have a dramatic impact upon IPM’s ability to operate effectively and, as is usually the case when it comes to global pandemics, the impact will be felt most acutely by those already marginalized by our global society. Please do all you can to stifle the spread of this new pandemic and feel free to contact me if you’d like to offer advice and/or support to our response. 

No matter what walls our politicians build and/or seek to create between us, the mission of IPM to work across borders of culture, faith, and economic circumstance envisions another way. Thank you for caring enough to review this E-Connections and continuing to share your generosity with the IPM Family.

Joseph F. Cistone
Chief Executive Officer
5 March 2020


Another Voice for the New Year!

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language. And next year’s words await another voice.” — T.S. Eliot

T.S. Eliot’s words remind us that as the year—and decade—changes, it’s a time for each of us to leave some words behind and find another voice.

The voice of IPM has been counter-cultural since our founding. Accompaniment, Hope, Partnership, Solidarity, and Trust aren’t necessarily words the peoples of the colonized world historically associated with “mission.” Our founders new the world and the work of mission needed to change. They envisioned a small organization that acknowledged the Divine Spirit within all of us while nurturing partnerships that ensured the inherent human dignity so often denied. Admitting that we had much more to learn than we could ever offer from our material abundance, was a completely radical idea that resonate even more powerfully today.

Together with your support, IPM developed its own language, giving life and substance to terms that have more recently been co-opted in the corporate and political realms. But partnership is more than how one relates to their personal banker. Solidarity is about radical change that few political leaders have the stomach for.

Here on the dawn of a new decade, our Partners continue to give voice to the voiceless and our eyes remain keenly focused on IPM’s 50th Anniversary to come!  IPM—a small but mighty organization that is rooted in our Partners’ language and accompanying them where they lead.

A new voice grounded in the same core values IPM espoused in 1974. Another voice that nurtures the love we have for one another. The language of justice, peace, and hope, that are the greatest gifts we can offer each other in the coming New Year.

Happy 2020, Joe

Who Is My Mother~Sammy Mayer


Dear Friends,

One of the most difficult aspects of my role with IPM is to share the sad news of those members of the IPM Family who pass away during my tenure. I have done this all too often but rarely with the sense of deep personal loss as this time.

As many of you know by now—through personal relationship with the Mayer Family, my related email of last Sunday, and the moving tribute from IPM’s Latin America & Caribbean Office—IPM Foundress Sammy Mayer passed away peacefully with her family beside her, Sunday morning October 6 at the age of 94. Sammy is survived by her 8 children, their families, and a host of loved ones she called her family. She certainly was family to me.

Anyone who was in Sammy’s presence was unable not to be touched by her. I have had the privilege to know thousands of activists, faith leaders, and social change agents during my lifetime and few could rival her commitment, courage, and passion. She was a mentor, friend, and my “Saint Louis Mother.” We spent countless late nights together discussing IPM’s direction and praying for guidance together as IPM sought to deepen and expand the vital mission Sammy helped birth alongside her beloved Jim after years spent together in service among the people of India.

Sammy was a forceful woman of unmistakable talent who was in some ways born too soon. She was brilliant, fearless, radical in the best sense, and honest to the core. I often joked with her that had she been born closer to my time, she would have been the perfect leader for IPM, if not a much-needed prophetic Bishop in her beloved ELCA denomination!

Born when she was, she found the perfect partner for her passions in Jim and helped set IPM’s vision and direction in the more than three decades since his tragic death. She served the IPM International Executive Board faithfully as a Director and Trustee Emeritus, was a driving force behind IPM’s Saint Louis Advisory Council, travelled to El Salvador with IPM and her son Jim in 2006, was a founding member of my “kitchen cabinet”, and, welcomed countless IPM Project Partners and International Staff Members to her Saint Louis home.

Her death on Sunday the 6th took me and many by surprise. Frankly, I am still coming to terms with what her passing means for me and the IPM Family. We have lost a remarkable woman who was a source of deep and consistent inspiration. Every time she began to speak at an IPM gathering the room went quiet. It was as if the world stood still and God’s Divine Spirit was there among us, speaking through Sammy, with a vision for the way the world ought to be.

I learned of her death while celebrating worship among my Faith Community. While Sammy “had my back” as IPM transitioned from an Ecumenical to Multi-Faith organization during my tenure. We shared a deep sense of how those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth are called to live. Literally at the moment the text came telling me of her passing we were singing the song “Who Is My Mother?”

The words we shared together that morning—”Who is my mother, who is my brother…Spirit blown people…differently abled, differently labeled…crutches and stigmas, culture’s enigmas…Love will relate us—color or status, can’t segregate us…family failings, human derailings… all are accepted…bound by one vision, met for one mission…we claim each other…here is my mother, here is my brother, kindred in Spirit, through Jesus Christ”—are the perfect description of the type of justice, righteousness, & shalom Jesus taught and to which Sammy dedicated her life.

Some people are simply irreplaceable. Sammy was certainly one of those unique souls. I will miss her as long as I live. From this day forward, I will recall that beautiful twinkle in her eye, feel the transcendent compassion of her heartfelt greetings, and hear her purposeful voice leading me on, as together we imagine IPM’s continued, vital, role in the world.

May the peace that passes all understanding be with all of you as you join me in mourning the death of this remarkable woman and may we continue to hold firm to the truth that Sammy remains with us in all we do and whenever we utter her beloved name.

In faith and love, Joe

Please note: visitation will be held Tuesday, October 22, from 4pm to 8pm at Kutis Funeral Home,10151 Gravois Rd, St. Louis, MO 63123. There will be a private family burial the following morning with a Memorial Service on December 28, details to come.

kutisfuneralhomes.com. The family requests that memorial donations in Sammy’s honor be sent to IPM or Bread for the World.

Your Heart Makes Fathers Like You—June 16, 2019.

“Flesh and blood does not make you a Father, your heart does”

Dear Friends,

This Sunday, June 16th, those of us in the United States, and folks in some 25 other countries around the world, will celebrate Father’s Day. Having spent the first five years of my own fatherhood in a country that commemorates fathers on March 19—the feast day of Saint Joseph—I’ve always been more than a little conflicted about the more commercial U.S. Holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I love my dad. You could even argue he’s my best male friend! But something about how these Hallmark card holidays came into being in North America continues to rub me wrong.

Then again, my life and my life with IPM is a testimony to the importance of loving fathers. From colleagues around the world with whom I share fatherhood, to the men who support and nurture so many of our women-led Project Partners, there can be no denying the impact a good dad can have on the life of their family and community.

In Nicaragua, where I just spent a powerful week that I’ll be writing more about soon, IPM’s longtime logistics coordinator Martin Castro exemplifies the best a dad can be. A tireless worker, faithful spouse, and dad to not only his own three children but the myriad international students who have learned so much while staying in his family home: Martin is just one example of the kind of dad we need more of and whom I am humbled to call a friend.

In India, our Regional Fellow Himmat Chauhan, grew up with the huge loss of a father who was murdered by the local elite. Himmat’s father, Pochabai, was in the midst of organizing the Dalit community of Golana when he was targeted for assassination. Himmat continues to stand on the powerful shoulders of his father and mother as he leads the Foundation named for his father—which directly impacts the lives of tens of thousands of annually while ensuring environmental justice in a part of India long regarded as unworthy of government support. Himmat was IPM’s first Regional Fellow, working in tandem with IPM’s Regional Director Mahesh Upadhyaya (another remarkable dad by the way!), and his fatherhood is a huge part of all he does.

In IPM’s hometown of Cleveland, Doug Horner (center of photo with Patrick, Jesse, and Jared) leads a local Congregation that has served as a vital partner for IPM for the past decade. The 2012 Nairobi photograph is from one of the IPM Scholarship Immersion Experiences IPM has coordinated with Doug through the generosity of the Dudley P. & Barbara K. Sheffler Foundation—the remarkable Family Foundation behind IPM’s current 45th Anniversary Match Campaign. The father of two remarkable young women and the “fill-in” dad for countless Cleveland kids, Doug embodies the same spirit that animated IPM’s founding fathers, Jim Mayer and Paul Strege, and—as I mentioned when we presented IPM’s David N. Westcott award to Doug last year—he’s my “partner in mission” in much the same way Paul and Jim were for one another.

While IPM works primarily with women and girls, we know that good dads continue to make a real impact of the work of each of our Project Partners. Good dads like Martin, Himmat, Mahesh, Doug, Dudley, David, Jesse, Patrick, and Jared often mean the very real difference in the life of a child: if s/he will have access to schooling, adequate health care, and become a responsible parent as well. It’s part of what makes the IPM Family so unique that the list of dads I could mention could go on for days!

Best wishes to all the IPM fathers celebrating with their families and communities this weekend. May you know that the sacrifices you make are invaluable and that the world is a little better each day thanks to all you do.





#Nairobi #IPMImmersionExperience
The above 2012 Nairobi photograph is from one of the IPM Scholarship Immersion Experiences IPM has coordinated with Doug through the generosity of the Dudley P. & Barbara K. Sheffler Foundation—the remarkable Family Foundation behind IPM’s current 45th Anniversary Match Campaign.


Living Into the Shared Promise of a Passover & Easter Weekend.


Dear Friends,

Thursday night I had the privilege to celebrate again this year a Jewish Seder Meal and the Christian Holy/Maundy Thursday with a small group of committed friends.

As we read our way through the Passover liturgy, we were reminded of the bitterness of the Israelites captivity in Egypt and of the way that Jesus of Nazareth, like the Prophets before him, sought to bring liberty to those “captured” in a system of imperial injustice that most profoundly harmed the imprisoned, orphaned, widowed, and stranger.

The empire of Jesus’ day—one that forced his family to become refugees and eventually nailed him to a cross—echoes in many of the populist policies of today while the Project Partners around the world that IPM accompanies continue the millennial struggle to be recognized for their inherent human dignity and equality in God’s eyes.

IPM’s deep, long-term relationship with the peoples of Central America–El Salvador & Nicaragua in particular–causes us to challenge the rationale and efficacy of recent US government policies that destabilize nations on one hand while preventing the freedom of movement of the most vulnerable with the other. Such policies only lead to further emigration–the very reality that our current administration seeks to stem. Similar policies toward people of Muslim descent, belie the oft-repeated claim that the USA is a “Christian” nation. Failure to confront the authoritarian dictatorships of our day, which punish the very people for whom both Moses and Jesus sought liberation, is perhaps the greatest heresy of our time.

This Passover and Easter weekend it’s vital that we remind ourselves of what the shared Abrahamic faith of so many of us commands: that we act justly, love mercifully, and walk humbly with our God. We join our voices with the IPM’s multi-faith Partners to insist that another world is indeed possible AND that it starts with each of us.

A good friend recently reminded me that Mahatma Gandhi shared similar sentiments in the midst of his own struggle with empire. Gandhi said this: “nonviolence does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer, but it means the pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant. Working under this law of our being, it is possible for a single being to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save (one’s) honor, (one’s) religion, (one’s) soul, and lay the foundation for that empire’s fall or regeneration.”

This holiday weekend is a time to remind ourselves of the power that each of us has within our hearts & hands to be a seed of liberation & love… a promise of both regeneration & resurrection.

I pray that you find such inspiration as you commemorate Passover & Easter. And, may the peace that passes all understanding continue to guide us all in our common effort to make this world a more just, peace-filled, and hopeful place.

Faithfully Yours,


April 20, 2019