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

A New Year’s Remembrance

(Paula Perez, 3rd from right bottom row w/ 2015 Yale Immersion Experience Delegation)

Dear Friends,

I had planned to write you today with New Year’s Greetings while reminding you of our year-end match campaign. And, in fact, you may donate to IPM through this evening (and via check’s dated December 31st) to support the remarkable work of our Project Partners and Regional Offices around the world.

But early this morning while accompanying an IPM Immersion Experience delegation in Rome, I learned of the passing of longtime IPM’s Project Partner Paula (Paulita) Perez. Paulita had been battling a terminal illness for some time and while her passing was not unexpected, it is no less heartbreaking. A peer of mine in age and socio-political orientation, Paulita and I shared a myriad of remarkable experiences over the years. I—and countless IPM colleague and friends in El Salvador—will miss her deeply.

Paulita was born to parents who were actively engaged in the social ferment of El Salvador in the second half of the last century. Active participants in their faith community and the political process, they were targeted for unspeakable horrors and ultimately forced to flee from their home to the outskirts of Zaragoza. Their faith and family held strong. They raised their children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and countless friends to believe that change was indeed possible and that it was everyone’s responsibility to actively work toward a world more equitable and just for all, but especially, the poorest of the poor.

I first met Paulita as one of the co-founders of the Muyer y Communidad (now ACOMUJERZA) Women’s Sewing Cooperative. This was one of the first new Project Partners of my then still new tenure with IPM and modeled on the work of a similar women’s cooperative in Nicaragua. Paulita was short in stature but strong in spirit and will. She was a fighter, an embroider, and an inspiration. She taught countless IPM Immersion Experience participants over the years how to embroider—a talent I never fully acquired—and what it means to be a Christian who prays with ones actions in the world. In conversations at the Cooperative, long walks around her community, and overnight stays in her family home, I got to know her like few other Salvadoran women of my generation.

Later in our relationship as I recovered from the lingering effects of Hepatitis E and her health deteriorated more rapidly due to her own liver disease we would talk increasingly of mortality, the health of her elderly mother, and of the remarkable impact she had had on so many in her own small way. I would stay awake at night tormented by how her illness would have likely been curable in the States, as mine was, and yet her path ahead would be undeniably hard. She was not one to mince words, and she struggled with how the political situation in El Salvador stagnated just as the Beatification of Oscar Romero brought some hope. In the past year, I saw her much less frequently as IPM’s Immersion Experience numbers in El Salvador declined and her own health kept her more often at home than at work in the cooperative.

But I, like many, thought often of Paulita: of the powerful influence she had on the Cooperative’s founding; of the way her embroidery skills were a hallmark of their work and would carry on in the next generation; of the powerful witness of her extended family; over questions of why she, of all people so strong and so dedicated, was struck with such a debilitating illness; and, of her hopes for the future of her beloved El Salvador.

2018 has been a tough year for so many. Replete with challenges for our Partners and friends living through civil unrest in Nicaragua, the growing autocracy in Brasil, India, & Kenya, and fear-mongering & xenophobia in the USA. It has also been a year where many of us celebrated the almost impossible dream of Oscar Romero’s portrait hanging from Saint Peter’s facade and with the faith that the pendulum would swing back again—bringing a new generation of social, political and religious leaders more focused on justice, peace, and hope.

2019 promises to be a different year as they all are. A year in which I trust IPM and the world will continue to counter hate with hope, and fear with love. As I dream of what might be possible in the year (and years) ahead I will remain inspired but the example of so many of you and, particularly, of the witness of one tiny but powerful women who I had the honor to call a friend.

Paulita is just one shining example of the kind of person IPM believes in and the kind of Partner that thrives at our core. Her life and her commitment will continue to inspire me as I know it will so many of you. And I pray that her spirit—like that of so many who have given their lives in the service of others and of this movement—will continue to animate all we do.

Please join me in praying for the Perez Family at this time of mourning. Please consider making a gift in Paulita’s honor to support ACOMUJERZA & IPM’s Partners in El Salvador. And please be assured of our best wishes for a more joyful and peace-filled New Year.

Faithfully yours – Joe


December 31, 2018, Rome

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