Debra Rubin

Debra Rubin writes for Religion News Service.

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Congregations Tend the Soil and the Soul with Vegetable Gardens

by Debra Rubin 05-16-2013
Photo courtesy Robert Nevel/KAM

Volunteers harvest vegetables at KAM Isaiah Israel in Chicago. Photo courtesy Robert Nevel/KAM

The Rev. Morris G. Henderson wasn’t sure what do with a vacant city block of land behind his 31st Street Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. The church had purchased the plots, but didn’t have the funding to build a planned family life center.

Then, he had a vision.

“Why not build a garden and people can learn to be self-sufficient and we can grow food?” Henderson said.

With an 80-year-old congregant heading the project, the congregation planted its first garden in 2008: watermelons, tomatoes, okra, squash, strawberries, and blueberries.

By the second year, even after the gardening chief had passed away, congregants were getting guidance from the Virginia Cooperative Extension; this year, the church has at least two dozen raised beds, with the bulk of the harvest used for the church’s Monday-Friday soup kitchen.

Military Chaplains Heed Call to Serve God and Country

by Debra Rubin 02-07-2012
Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldie. RNS photo via Odell.

Army Chaplain Capt. Joseph Odell mourns a fallen soldier in Afghanistan. RNS photo courtesy Joseph Odell.

Growing up in Kuwait, Asif Balbale thought he wanted to become a chemical engineer. He never imagined enlisting in the U.S. Navy, much less becoming an imam.

Balbale got his engineering degree after immigrating to the U.S. at age 21. With jobs hard to come by, he tried to enlist in the Army, but didn't weigh enough. Instead, he met the Navy's minimum requirements.

He was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in 2005 while deployed aboard the USS Boxer. Intending to apply for an officer program, Balbale, 31, mistakenly emailed a recruiter for the chaplain corps.

"God, I think, had better plans for me," Balbale said, looking back.

And so it is for a number of military chaplains who, by twists of fate or perhaps divine Providence, found their calling to become chaplains while on active duty.

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