A Much-Needed #SeasonOfLightAndLove

Lidai Coggiola Christmas 2017

December 23, 2017

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#Peace,

Joe

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

0603 Grace in Rwanda

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dear Friends,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, Joe

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

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

 

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

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

#DefendDACA #Sanctuary

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

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

Thanksgiving–A Time To Remember Who We Are

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace, Joe

Living in Interesting Times… Through IPM Each of Us Can Make a Difference!

The famous Chinese saying is may you live in interesting times. Well, we certainly are living in quite “interesting” and indeed challenging times.

Over the past few weeks we’ve heard heated debate about healthcare—especially for the young, the aged, and the poor. For more than four decades, IPM has facilitated the development of extraordinary holistic healthcare programs from Kenya to India to Nicaragua that have addressed the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other preventable diseases, and allowed women to care for themselves and their children

Over the past few months, we’ve heard the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees. From our founding in 1974, IPM has been involved in the resettlement of Refugees from Chile in the United States, Ethiopia & the Sudan in Italy, providing income-generating programs in Bosnia & Uganda, and helping to provide education and financial resources to keep Salvadorans from having to flee their homes.

Since Ferguson & Cleveland, we’ve had powerful reminders that racial injustice continues to stalk our nation. We know that many of our neighborhoods aren’t safe and that young people of color—almost 50 years after Martin Luther King—are still treated differently by our judicial and penal systems. As we come to terms with the violence of this past weekend’s white supremacist and neo-nazi rally in Charlottesville, IPM continues working to help bring racial justice to our nation in small steps from Missouri to Maine that make a huge difference.

We’ve heard much more intensely of late there is no climate change. But we know that care for Creation is part of our inherent responsibility as people of faith and that our planet and its seas are indeed warming. This is the only Earth we have and its fauna and flora are irreplaceable. So from coastal areas in India to the Savannah of Brasil, we are working with IPM Project Partners to ensure that land and watersheds are protected and that food security & potable water are accessible to all.

And since at least 9.11 we’ve regularly heard that we should fear Muslims. I began with IPM just a few months before those attacks but that tragedy, and the violence that has sprung from it, has only further emboldened our International Executive Board and Partners to advocate for and build a truly interfaith organization where we see our Jewish & Muslim, Hindu & Buddhist, Catholic & Protestant brothers & sisters as ourselves.

 

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There can be no denying that while the times we live in are indeed “interesting,” the challenges before us are daunting. We can choose to let hate win or we can strive to embody love in our life and relationships. We can be overwhelmed into feeling that we can’t make a difference or we can remain hopeful even when so much of our world-view may feel upended. I’m writing to remind each of you, that no matter what the politics of our nation are today this is not a time for us to stand on the sidelines and wonder what we might do? It’s a time to engage directly–through advocacy and action–in life-changing effort that have the power to transform our world.

You can join with me in supporting IPM’s life changing work right now. We need your help especially at this time of the year as school is out of session and so many of us are focused on finding time to get away and renew our spirits.

Can we count on you to commit to the mission of IPM, knowing that while our world has changed in innumerable ways, IPM is still the same, small light leading the way?  Thanks to four remarkable IPM Donors, any gift made between now and September 30 will be matched $1 for $1 up to $50,000 doubling the impact of your support! You can donate here: https://www.ipmconnect.org/donations-2?viewmode=list or by calling 1.866.932.4082.

Join with us to remind everyone that a better world is possible and that we are each called to do our part to make it that way.

Thank you for your continued support of IPM and may God’s peace be with you everyday.

Peace, Joe

A Life On The Periphery

This evening in Managua I’m reminded, haunted, by Yamalette’s eyes. This old friend of mine recounted a story that changed her life… of a young child scavanging in the city’s dump who opened and devoured a can of chocolate only to die horrifically from the rat poison contained within.

As she teared up I felt myself do the same–not for that particular child but for all the unknown stories represented therein. How we don’t tend to see those “on the periphery” (as Pope Francis suggests) but if we don’t see them, we are condemned to never see change.

My life with IPM these past sixteen (really 25) years has been about the all those on the periphery of our global society. Not the biggest or best know organization but a consistent struggle to touch a single life each day, in each place, with each partner so that their life may be changed.

As I felt my eyes tear up alongside Yamalette’s this morning, I knew that at least for now and despite all the challenges, it hasn’t been a life in vein.

Toda cambia (everything changes)!

Peace, Joe

Managua, Nicaragua, June 27, 2017

Happy Father’s Day

This Sunday is #Father’sDay in the USA. And while I’ve become more accustomed to celebrate on March 19—the Saint Joseph Day Holiday that is also my feast day and a more common date of celebration in the Latin world—I’m struck as we head into the weekend of just how powerful Father’s Day has become for me.

Part of that is because as one ages, and watches one’s parent’s age as well, the times we pause to commemorate all those who have made a difference in our life resonate more deeply. I was privileged to have spent much of the past month with my dad, but especially to watch him interact with my two youngest children both in person and from a distance as he babysat while both my spouse and I were out of the country, in her native Kenya and in conjunction with IPM’s VII Latin America & the Caribbean Regional Conference in El Salvador respectively. Another part is because as each year passes I miss the IPM co-founding father I knew, Paul Strege, more than ever and I long for just one chat about IPM with the one I didn’t know, Jim Mayer, perhaps even more.

In full disclosure, my memories of my father in my childhood are vague at best. Ours was a fairly traditional family and he was often more of a distant presence than a trusted confidant. Each summer, apart from a usually brief but wonderful camping holiday, I spent more time at my maternal grandfather’s side in the garden, than I ever did with my father as he worked extra jobs to make ends meet. But as I grew and struggled with personal and professional success our relationship deepened in both subtle and profound ways. He is now, arguably my best male friend and certainly the one man I would go to if I had a question or quandary only an older guy could answer.

At the same time, I have been blessed by more male #IPM mentors than I could ever do justice here but Bob, David, Dick, Doug, Dudley, George, Hank, Jim, John, Mark, Matthew, Nick, Paul, Ralph, Tim (and multiples of some of those names) you know who you are.

And, perhaps most poignantly, my tenure with IPM has allowed me to work alongside some of the best Fathers one could ever imagine. In Carlos, Doug, Jared, Johnny, Mahesh, and Martin today I, and IPM, are surrounded my remarkable men who take being a dad, being a role model, being a partner, and being here for one another as seriously as any professional vocation.

Just last month, at IPM’s #VIILatinAmerica&CaribbeanRegionalConference we heard powerful stories of Fathers and Father-figures who:

  • serve as academic mentors for first generation University students in #ElSalvador;
  • had their own life taken as part of the landless struggle in #Brasil;
  • model healthy & loving relationships with their daughters in #Nicaragua;
  • keep adolescent boys on the ball-field and off the streets in Warren, #Ohio; and,
  • put their weapons down for a chance at lasting peace in #Colombia.

These are just a few of the countless examples fatherhood plays in the life of the IPM Family worldwide.

While I know that many of us don’t or didn’t have the kind of relationships we wish/ed for with our fathers. Some of us don’t seven know where they are. And many more, still mourn their passing each time someone invokes their name. But good Father’s and Father-Figures make the lives of young people that much richer. The right dad’s presence brings an appropriate balance of tenderness as security, acceptance as abundance.

I know that being a dad has been a huge part of my role within IPM and I know IPM would be nowhere near where it is today without the steady presence of the men I’ve mentioned above and so many more. This Father’s Day weekend we remain thankful for the presence each Father and Father-figure makes in the life of IPM and within each of us.

Happy Father’s Day! Joe

Generosity Beyond Our Kin!

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At a time when communities across the USA reflect on what it means to be a “Sanctuary” and offer hospitality to the “Stranger,”  I’ll share these words from the twentieth century playwright, Tom Stoppard, and I paraphrase:  “To me, the trick in life is to take that sense of generosity” that typically comes so easy “between kin” and “make it apply to the extended family and to your neighbor, your village and beyond.” Peace, Joe