Check out the latest @IPMConnect e-Connections. #HappyHolidays! https://mailchi.mp/18124992147e/what-we-find-magical-about-our-work-with-ipm?e=6ceb180db0
Check out the latest @IPMConnect e-Connections. #HappyHolidays! https://mailchi.mp/18124992147e/what-we-find-magical-about-our-work-with-ipm?e=6ceb180db0
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.
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.
April 20, 2019
Wrote this more than 5 years ago but no less relevant today.
(Paula Perez, 3rd from right bottom row w/ 2015 Yale Immersion Experience Delegation)
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
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
On Sunday June 17 as I gathered with the members of my faith community to celebrate Father’s Day our commemorations of the vital role fathers and father-figures play in the lives of children were sidetracked by the heart-wrenching scenes of children being forcibly separated from their parents at our nation’s southern border.
The statements emanating from the current administration that Christian scripture somehow places law over the love of neighbor are patently false. Quoting from Paul can never supersede the words of Jesus—a childhood refugee himself—who emphasized in action and word the longstanding commitment of his Jewish faith that we were called to welcome the stranger, (Matthew 25:35). As the Hebrew Book of Leviticus proclaims: “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”
This tradition of hospitality is not only a fundamental tenant of the Abrahamic Faiths—it pervades Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism as well. “Let a person never turn away a stranger from their house, that is the rule, for good people say to the stranger there is enough food for you,” (Taitiriya Upanishad 1.11.2).
Within the IPM Family I know that we share many diverse faiths and some of you who will read this who are not motivated by a particular religious tradition. And as a follower of Jesus, I must confess that at times throughout history, leaders of the Christian faith have used the Bible to justify the unconscionable separation of children from their families. The Document of Discovery that provided a faith-based rationale for the genocide of the America’s native peoples, the twisted use of Hebrew & Christian Scripture to justify the enslavement and death of tens of millions of our African brothers and sisters, the trial and murder of women who did not conform to the “norms” of Puritan New England, the systematic separation of children from their families during the Holocaust, and the forced internment of Japanese citizens during the second world war, provide ample testimony to the myriad ways Christianity has been used by those in power to wreak havoc on our world’s materially poor and socially marginalized.
I also know, however, that my faith and the espoused traditions of this nation, call each of us, and especially our elected leaders, to a higher purpose. From the great 5thCentury African Theologian, Augustine of Hippo, who proclaimed that an unjust law is no law at all, to the Salvadoran Bishop Oscar Romero who argued on the eve of his assassination in 1980 that even soldiers were compelled to resist a law that ran counter to the will of God: our Christian faith tradition is replete with reminders that political leaders who govern counter to the will of a loving and merciful God merit both our condemnation and resistance.
As I have written before but never tire of quoting, ironically perhaps Ronald Reagan said it best in his 1989 Shining City Upon a Hill farewell address,when he envisioned a USA in which “if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still… a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
I could go on and on writing about what the Christian Scriptures REALLY tells us about welcoming immigrants and refugees, of how this nation was built largely on the backs of enslaved and forced migrants, or of the entrepreneurial vitality immigrants and refugees continue to carry with them to our borders; but my purpose in writing to you as the Chief Executive of IPM is to remind each of us of how we are called to be our better selves.
In my personal and professional life I, like so many of you, have experienced both the horrors from which our Central American brothers and sisters run to this nation and the remarkable gifts people from around the world continue to bring to my life and the life of the IPM Family.
Look around you. See the hard work of the men and women and even children who staff our restaurants, clean our homes, pick our produce, and mow our lawns. Know that each of them has a family that they love and for whom they have come to this country seeking a better life. And know as well that they, like us, are children of God.
No child should have to grow up without a parent. No child should ever be ripped from a loving mother or father’s arms. And, for those of us fortunate enough to live in these United States, each of us is called to care for the parents and children who have been compelled to seek sanctuary at our door.
Cleveland, OH, USA
Friday, June 22, 2018
Please note that this statement was revised by Joe, in consultation with two UCC Pastor Colleagues, for publication in the Mount Desert Islander on June 28, 2018.
It’s time to care! Here is some of what you can once again do to personally help ensure that the separation of children from their parents stops:
Tel: +1.216.932.4082 / www.ipmconnect.org
May 17, 2018
I’m sorry José, I can only share this sad thing we’re living! Still we are very encouraged in our work and looking for how to help women planning self-help workshops to manage stress and anxiety in this social conflict. We know that with your prayers and our faith everything will improve, (IPM Project Partner).
IPM has a long, loving, history with Nicaragua and the Nicaraguan people. Augsburg College’s Casa Jaime Mayer (named for our co-founder, Jim Mayer) is just one living example of IPM’s legacy there—a rich legacy that we continue to live out in this our 44thyear, through our local Partners, colleagues, and friends as the quote above illustrates quite personally.
As you may know, over the past few months, Nicaragua has been back in the news again in a manner that is eerily resonate for those of us whose history with that beautiful country and its resilient people goes back to the Iran-Contra affair and the proxy wars that tormented Central America in the 1980’s.
On one hand, in November the US Government sought to eliminate the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation that has allowed more than 2,500 Nicaraguans to remain in the USA for nearly two decades and replace it with provisional residency for 14 months before being forcibly repatriated. IPM stands with all those seeking to protect TPS and provide sanctuary for those whose protected status may soon be overturned, forcing them to abandon their US citizen children and livelihoods.
On the other, after his re-election to a third consecutive presidential term in November of last year, Daniel Ortega and his spouse, Rosario Murillo—the new vice-president and heir apparent—proposed in April to significantly alter the nation’s social security program. The immediate reaction from pensioners, veterans, and students was to take to the streets. The protests were brutally put down and more than sixty Nicaraguans were killed. The Nicaraguan government has subsequently withdrawn the proposed changes but the negotiation process for these and other necessary changes remains tense with a change in Nicaragua’s political leadership long overdue.
In addition to our longstanding accompaniment of IPM’s remarkable Nicaraguan Partners, we continue to offer Nicaraguan Immersion Experience Programs specifically because the type of work we claim as our purpose is not always easy or without risk. IPM’s Immersions generate income for our Partners and Regional Staff, just as they are a vital and concrete expression of our solidarity with the Nicaraguan people and the deep historical connection we share. My colleagues, Fatima and Adela, from El Salvador will travel to Nicaragua in June to build upon their April visit there with former IPM International Board Member, Mark Falbo—who is helping us secure quantitative and qualitative background for our II International General Assembly in Cleveland (OH, USA)—and publically demonstrate IPM’s concrete commitment to accompanying our Nicaraguan colleagues and Partners.
Today, I would like to share with you some of the other moving quotes we have received from our Nicaraguan Partners, colleagues, and friends beginning on April 25 and through this morning:
We spent a difficult week, the government remains very calm, despite the big pressure the people are creating in the streets. At the end of the day, the government accepted a dialogue. We are hoping for the best to come out of this conversation. My family is well, thanks for asking.
Good morning dear Fatima, we deeply appreciate your solidarity and support for our people. From the beginning of the social conflict in Nicaragua until today, we have felt warmly embraced by the sincere affection of IPM family that have joined our sadness and prayers. Thank you !!
Our country has a lot of mourning and pain!! It is unfortunate this struggle between brothers that is endless with so much hatred and resentment on both sides.
The events of violence have brought mourning, pain and death to our people. The principles of our organization are ideological freedom, power freedom and religion freedom…We follow up the idea of creating an integral organization (all-inclusive) and keep perusing our dreams of creating an integral country (all-inclusive) as well; in which we are not a divided country but an inclusive country. We keep struggling to build a democratic, tolerant and fair society for everyone.
This past Monday, the dialogue proposed between the government and the Catholic Bishops proved inconclusive at best. The situation remains tense and reminds all of us just how fragile democracy and peace can be.
As members of the IPM Family we ask that you consider your response at this time:
Thank you for reading this and your continued willingness to stand alongside IPM as we seek to embody Jim Mayer’s prophetic vision of “exposing North Americans to the global realities of poverty and injustice, and challenging them with a new vision of society grounded in justice and love.” In Jim’s memory and in solidarity with the Nicaraguan people, we remain, faithfully yours.
Joseph F. Cistone, CEO
May 17, 2018