Groundswell

Making a Home at Joseph's House

Tucked back in the quiet streets of Adams Morgan in Washington, D.C., Joseph's House looks much like every other house on its block. Its nondescript face belies the extraordinary mission of Joseph's House: to provide a home for homeless men with third- or end-stage AIDS.

Eight years ago the community of Joseph's House shifted constantly. Each man who entered the house died within a year, either from a sudden attack of infection or from the slow, predictable process of AIDS itself. "All we could hope to do was stay around and treat the complications of the disease," explains Dr. David Hilfiker, who started Joseph's House in 1990.

Advances in antiretroviral drug therapies now make it possible to treat the disease. These improvements in HIV/AIDS medication complicate Joseph's House mission. "Now we have some people who come in and get better and we have some who come in and get somewhat better, so that they become sort of chronically ill," explains Hilfiker. "They aren't well enough to live independently, but they aren't going to die any time soon."

With up to five of the 11 men at Joseph's House seriously ill at one time, the personal care staff has doubled over the last eight years to 12 full-time employees and four full-time volunteers. Along with private donations, Joseph's House obtains funding primarily through a local D.C. government office, the Agency for HIV/AIDS. "The hardest question for us right now," Hilfiker says, "is what to do when people do get better. Services aren't magically available for them that weren't there a year ago."

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2001
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Suffer the Little Children

On a pleasant hillside in Oberhausen, Germany, children chat in small groups in a camp-like setting. They speak many languages, and their skin tones are across the palette, as in Disney's "It's a Small World." But this is not Disney World, this is Friedensdorf, or Peace Village, and here the children move about on crutches, canes, and wheelchairs. These 200 children, ages 6 months to 14 years, have come for medical care in hospitals in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands followed by rehabilitation at Friedensdorf. Every year 1,000 children from 15 countries including Angola, Afghanistan, Romania, Georgia, and Vietnam are cared for in this way.

Established in 1967, Friedensdorf was the creation of a Lutheran pastor, Fritz Berghaus, and the former mayor of Oberhausen, Luise Albertz. "They said [as Germans] they had to do more than pray," said staff member Wolfgang Mertens, who came to the village 20 years ago, "…and face [Germany's] responsibility for all that happened to the Jews and others during World War II."

But the village's beginnings were troubled; the first 100 children who came from Vietnam were made into German citizens. "We were hesitant to return them," Mertens said. "We didn't know if there would be a bloody revolution or not." Today, the children go home after treatment and rehabilitation.

THE NUMBER OF CHILDREN selected for treatment and rehabilitation will equal the number of available hospital beds in Europe. The children must match four criteria: adequate medical treatment is not available in their native land, successful treatment is possible in Europe, the families are financially needy, but they are able to take back the children after treatment.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2001
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The Shaw Redemption

'Mom comes too early! I was having fun!" Pouting, 8-year-old Renee lightly stamps her foot like a corn-rowed Scarlet O'Hara, then skips out of the classroom, backpack in tow. The rest of the kids in her art class pause momentarily to bid her farewell, and then get back to the business of creation.

The kids are in the pre-K to 3rd grade group at the New Community After School and Advocacy Program. The project is a mission of New Community Church, an ecumenical neighborhood-based church in the Shaw community of Washington, D.C. Established in 1984 in an abandoned building that burned in the 1968 riots, the church is a symbol of a neighborhood in physical and spiritual rebirth. The children's program began four years later.

Donna Mauney-Taylor, whose presence looms large at the school, has been executive director for a little more than a year. "We have kids who have to deal with a lot of anger," she said. "In this neighborhood they are exposed to violence and drug and alcohol abuse. Our mission is to work with these children and reach them spiritually as well as educationally." Je Nae Clark, a new volunteer from nearby Howard University, said her goal was "to connect with children, find out their needs, and to meet them to the best of my ability."

Rachel Dickerson, a longtime member of New Community Church, runs Artspace, a part of the program since 1999 that touches all participants. Dickerson said that those who lead the program believe that "children will grow up to be responsible, productive adults who in turn will give their time and talents back to the community." Dickerson feels that Artspace contributes to the mission of the school because the "art enrichment activities are planned solely for each child to come in contact with their creative selves. We learn there is nothing we cannot do. The possibilities are endless and we are all artists."

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2001
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That All May Be One

All Catholics are Zapatistas, all evangelicals are paramilitaries, and Jesus is a member of the PRI party—to many involved in the struggle for land, food, and religious freedom in Chiapas, Mexico, these pseudo-verities provide all the justification needed for armed conflict. Religious divisions already present have been exacerbated by misconceptions such as these under a strategy of low-intensity warfare.

Creatively seeking to induce further strife among indigenous groups, and using "religious divisions" as one label on which to pin responsibility for current problems, the Mexican government has systematically fanned flames of unrest between churches. Doing so has allowed the government to further justify its military presence as a "peace-keeping force." Scriptural manipulation further complicates the melee: The government often cites Romans 13 to keep evangelical paramilitaries under its thumb. Tensions exploded in the highland community of Actealin in 1998, when a predominantly Presbyterian paramilitary force slaughtered 45 men, women, and children, all members of the Mayan Christian pacifist group Las Abejas.

But into this maelstrom has blown a calming zephyr. Seeking new ways to foster peace between churches in a conflict that is often Christian fighting against Christian, several United Church of Christ missionaries joined hands with the Catholic Diocese of San Cristobal to create a space for ecumenical dialogue. With its first course on conflict resolution in 1998, the Ecumenical Bible School was born.

The school began with the idea of bridging Catholics and Presbyterians, but soon Baptists joined the mix. "And then," said Eduardo "Lalo" Rodriguez, a Mennonite pastor teaching at the school, "something funny happened—Catholics and Protestants started reading the Bible together." Once these ecumenical weekend Bible studies began, old divisions and misunderstandings began to crumble away.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 2000
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Undoing Racism in Flint

Five hundred community leaders in Flint, Michigan, attended intensive training this spring to understand and combat racism. The Flint "undoing racism" movement—highlighted in the Clinton administration’s publication Pathways to One America in the 21st Century: Promising Practices for Racial Reconciliation—is now a national model.

Flint’s mayor, Woodrow Stanley, proclaimed an "Undoing Racism" week this spring, and participants in the anti-racism workshops have included the mayor, fire chief Therron Wiggins, members of the print and electronic media, community activists, block club presidents, corporate leaders, city council members, foundations, the arts community, and a university chancellor. At least 100 teens who participated in Undoing Racism retreats are now active in the movement.

The seeds of this year’s events were planted in 1997, when the Community Coalition and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation convened a diverse group of 40 community leaders for a half-day meeting presented by the Peoples Institute for Survival and Beyond. The Peoples Institute is a grassroots training organization founded in New Orleans in 1980, with branches in California, Michigan, Georgia, Minnesota, and New York. Civic leaders attending the briefing agreed that Undoing Racism workshops could be helpful in the city’s effort to address racism. Flint had recently been identified as the sixth most-segregated city of its size in the United States, which lent a sense of urgency.

The Community Coalition received a grant from the Mott Foundation to organize four Undoing Racism workshops. Twenty people participated in the first workshop, held in November 1997; 125 attended the following three workshops, including the mayor and fire chief, who decided to encourage city employees to attend future sessions.

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 2000
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Jubilee Begins With Me

Pat Pelham lives in Birmingham, Alabama. About four years ago, she felt called to help people in need. Her pastor at Independent Presbyterian Church suggested she get their church involved in Bread for the World.

Pat and her friend Elaine Van Cleave came to hear me talk about Bread for the World at Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church. After that event, Pat and Elaine started to organize. They got their church's hunger committee involved in Bread for the World.

Three years ago, they invited their member of Congress, Rep. Spencer Bachus, to a Bread for the World dinner at Independent Presbyterian. I sat on his left, and the Presbyterian Hunger Action Enabler for Birmingham - a Republican Party activist - sat on his right. We urged Bachus to cosponsor the anti-hunger legislation that Bread for the World was pushing that year. Rep. Bachus had never before sponsored such legislation. But he called Pat the next evening and said, "I doubt that this will win me many votes, but I don't want to be responsible for even one child going hungry."

At the beginning of 1999, the Jubilee 2000 network was getting organized. Rep. Bachus had become chair of the international committee of the House Banking Committee, where any congressional action on debt relief would have to start. Pat, Elaine, and two friends from Independent Presbyterian flew up to Washington, D.C., at their own expense to bring Bachus a debt relief petition with 400 signatures.

"I don't know much about economics or international finance," Elaine explained. "But I do know that about 30,000 children die every day from hunger and other preventable causes, and, as a mother, that really bothers me....it would help a lot if you would sponsor this Jubilee legislation."

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2000
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16 Tons and What Do You Get?

If Tennessee Ernie Ford were to sing his blue-collar anthem "Sixteen Tons and What Do You Get?" to the residents of the coal fields of Kentucky and West Virginia, they would answer: property damage, dried up wells, respiratory illness, and explosions 100 times more powerful than the Oklahoma City bombing.

The latest technique in strip mining—mountaintop removal—involves detonating explosives to blow apart the top 1,000 acres of a mountain and using a dragline (a mammoth bulldozer) to dig away the soil and reveal seams of coal. The excess dirt is then deposited in valley fills, mountain streams that support the regional ecosystems as well as providing area residents with a source of water.

This is the latest of the ongoing battles for economic survival in the mountain communities of central Appalachia. In the last 40 years, the number of coal-industry jobs in coal-rich states such as West Virginia has dropped from 138,000 to 16,000, while the amount of coal mined annually is the highest ever. With the steady decline in jobs and the increase in the threat to the visual legacy of the mountains, citizens are fighting to take back their mountains—and their futures.

In Harlan County, Kentucky, citizens organized a local chapter of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (KFTC) to stop mountaintop removal. Robert Gipe, an organizer with KFTC, said the group asked themselves what the pivotal issue was. "We found a strategy that gives citizens something to do," Gipe said. They drafted a "Lands Unsuitable for Mining" petition to declare Black Mountain a public land trust. By focusing their efforts around protecting the state’s highest peak, the group was able to draw greater public attention to the extent of mountaintop removal in eastern Kentucky.

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Sojourners Magazine May-June 2000
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Healing Through Art

Evelyn came in at 9 a.m., all smiles and ready to draw even though class doesn’t begin until this afternoon. Evelyn usually comes for the Greeting Card class, where she quietly draws the same face over and over again: two circles for eyes, one for a nose, and one for a mouth. "Do you want to color them?" the instructor suggests. "No," Evelyn says. Today she is looking through old National Geographic magazines to cut out pictures that catch her eye.

Evelyn is diagnosed as mentally retarded and does not know her birthday. She sits near Teiko, a former medical researcher at the University of California at Davis who takes medication for paranoid schizophrenia and depression. Teiko has been coming to the Women’s Wisdom Project, a nonprofit arts organization in Sacramento, California, for five years. She remarks how lucky she is to have "psychosis" since it allows her to come to Wisdom.

The mission of the Women’s Wisdom Project is to provide a secure environment in which women can enter into a personal transformation process through the creative arts. Through this process they are able to experience self-worth and dignity in a creative community and are strengthened to shape their own lives and connect with the resources they need to break free from patterns of oppression. Classes at the Women’s Wisdom Project are free, supplies are provided, and no experience is necessary.

Wisdom has come a long way since its beginning in 1991. Originally held in a local homeless shelter and founded by Laura Ann Walton, a Sister of Mercy who realized that souls, as well as stomachs, needed to be fed, Wisdom now rents a building that has a small kitchen, kiln, and ample storage space.

In December 1998, Wisdom artists created a mural that spans one side of the building and reads, "‘Reflections,’ Created with Hope and Vision."

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 2000
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The Business of Relief

In the weeks after Hurricane Mitch roared through Central America, people around the world pitched in. Tons of supplies—and many volunteers—poured in to Honduras, Nicaragua, and other areas devastated by the century’s worst storm.

Soon, however, the deluge of support slowed to a trickle, as the world turned its eyes to earthquakes in Turkey or floods in North Carolina. For poor Hondurans and Nicaraguans, the struggle to recover from the hurricane’s ravages goes on. "We were poor before Mitch, but we were okay," one Honduran man said. "Now we have nothing."

Not everyone has turned away. Ferdinand Mahfood—"Ferdy"—is one who remains committed to helping those victimized by Mitch, but not by sending leftovers. "The way to help the poor is not to go into our closets and send used clothes," he said while visiting Honduras this fall. "To help the poor, you have to go to the poor and find out what they need." And that’s exactly what he does.

In the early ‘80s, Mahfood—then a Miami-based import-export businessman running "Mahfood’s Commercial Ltd."—had a revelation while visiting a slum in Jamaica, his family’s home country. First, he said, he had a startling realization as he looked at the hundreds of poor men, women, and children—"These were the faces of Christ." Second, he felt he had the right set of skills to actually help them.

"My gifts as a businessman were perfect for the huge job that needed to be done," Mahfood explained in an article in Guideposts magazine. "Running a large import-export firm, I had acquired the management skills to ship merchandise throughout the Caribbean. I knew how to cut governmental red tape. And I knew how to bargain to get the best merchandise for the best price. Missionaries had built facilities [like the one in Jamaica] for the poor. What they needed were supplies. That I could provide."

He’s spent the last 17 years doing just that.

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Sojourners Magazine January-February 2000
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Healing Hands

Much like the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, members of Sarajevo Phoenix are rising from the devastation of the 1992-1995 war in the former Yugoslavia. The 17-person embroidery cooperative is comprised of Croatians, Muslims, and Serbians who are attempting to heal the wounds of despair, bitterness, and loss through the work of their hands.

The group—originally all women—formed in the fall of 1997; at that time they were all unemployed. Some existed on miniscule pensions. But each woman had learned to embroider at the feet of her mother and grandmother. Now the 16 women and 1 man meet in program director Bela Sejdic’s home, and in their own homes, to produce altar cloths, liturgical stoles, and wall hangings. Each person who cuts and sizes, designs, and embroiders represents the rich diversity of Bosnia-Hercegovina; each believes in a multi-ethnic Bosnia.

The cooperative formed with the help of Hands Raised Together (HaRT), a ministry associated with Church of the Saviour in Washington, D.C. Although the program’s goal calls for self-sufficiency, HaRT currently subsidizes Sarajevo Phoenix’s embroidery work. Members are paid $20 for a stole, for example, that HaRT contracts to sell for $12.50; HaRT pays the cooperative $12 to create a wall hanging that is sold for $6.50. Considering that many of the women’s pensions amount to only $40 a month, they can create three to four stoles and wall hangings and triple their monthly incomes.

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Sojourners Magazine November-December 1999
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