Bubbling Over

When I look back at life, I tend to view it in terms of snapshots – momentary clips that capture a particular emotion. Snapshots that come to mind when I think of Aunt Anne and Uncle Lee include Uncle Lee toasting us at our wedding, sitting on the back patio of their home in Alamo enjoying Bay Area sights and sounds and weather for the first time, being stuck on the side of 680 when our wine country tour limo got a flat tire, and Clara’s fascination with Aunt Anne’s piano playing.
But I have two favorite memories of this couple. The first memory snapshot is a literal snapshot, a real picture. Aunt Anne is sitting in a wheelchair in an airport. She has an enormous smile on her face and you can tell she is thoroughly enjoying the ride. Aunt Anne had no need for the wheelchair. She and friend Chris Faherty were transporting the wheelchair to a mobile clinic in Sinazongwe, Zambia, and the easiest way to transport it was by Chris pushing Anne through the airport. The two must have been giddy as school girls at the silliness of what they were doing. But that wheelchair elicited even bigger smiles when it arrived in Africa. I remember Anne excitedly sharing with us as she showed the picture that the wheelchair was delivered to a seven year old girl with Cerebral Palsy. The girl had never walked but had been carried everywhere on her mother’s back. All of her family came out to see the new “contraption” which at first was quite frightening. It took the pastor explaining how special this chair made her and how it would help her be more independent as she grew before the smiles came. But mother and daughter were so grateful, Anne relayed, with a very big smile herself.
The second snapshot that stands out was from the weekend Aunt Anne and Uncle Lee spent with us in early March last year. Shortly before, they had spent a weekend in Palm Springs with Chris and her husband, Jack, and mutual friends, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom. While in Palm Springs, the three couples had committed to forming an online tea store to be called Compassion Tea. Lots of details still remained to be ironed out. But both Aunt Anne and Uncle Lee were on fire with enthusiasm for the potential of this company – not because of any personal expectations of self gain, but because of a true feeling of a calling from God, a clear direction from Him for serving His people. This enthusiasm was palpable all weekend and they and their co-founders have carried it for months as they have ironed out the details of the Compassion Tea Company. Every step of the way has been met with prayer and praise and palpable enthusiasm.
As Compassion Tea Company prepares to launch its website, we hope that you find this enthusiasm pouring forth, bubbling over, if you will, like a boiling teapot. Drink it in!

Movie Script or Reality Show?

How often does this happen? Three couples, all good friends, call each other up and discover that they are going to be in Palm Springs on the same weekend. They all had different reasons for going and none of those reasons involved getting together, but after chatting, the three couples decided to make use of that weekend to catch up and to hatch a plan. It almost sounds like the beginning of a romantic comedy, doesn’t it!
Jack and Chris Faherty, Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, and Lee and Anne Kennedy met that weekend in February in Palm Springs as friends whose life experiences had scattered them around California. They left Palm Springs as the founders of a new business… Compassion Tea Company. (**Later, life-long tea drinker, friend, and relative of the Kennedys, Donna Cribbs was asked to join the core group of founders. Together, the board has built this very exciting new company!)
Jack explained to me that all three couples have been actively involved in the CareNow Foundation. Ed and Wendy founded it while Anne and Chris have served on its board and made trips to Africa taking wheelchairs, other medical equipment, and medicines to clinics supported by CareNow. All three couples are intimately involved in the fundraising efforts of CareNow as a result. But Jack wasn’t satisfied with the results. Surely, he thought, there must be a better, more sustainable way to raise funds and awareness.
After looking at the business models of several charitable organizations and after much prayer and research, Jack and Chris felt the answer was tea. Tea, they learned, is the number one beverage consumed worldwide after water. In 2009, Americans alone consumed over 60 billion servings of tea. Improved health is often attributed to drinking tea. Because tea is often produced in poorer, more rural areas of the world, places like those CareNow seeks to help, it seemed like a natural product for increasing awareness of those places. And finally, tea tastes great, encourages relaxation and conversation, and is the perfect event through which to spread compassion.
I remember Aunt Anne excitedly telling me shortly after this February meeting in Palm Springs, “God is our CEO!” The company has chosen this Bible verse as their standard: “Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble” 1 Peter 3:8. It is this awareness, awakeness to use a theme from previous blogs, that started Compassion Tea, and it has been God’s hand that has driven its creation process. We, at Compassion Tea, are all ecstatic about the future… especially since the first shipments of tea have already gone out to eager customers. We have already begun to “Share Tea, Save Lives!” What can we order for you?

Wake Up Call

On Sunday, when I picked Joseph up from his Sunday School class, he was carrying a blue piece of paper on which he had glued a picture of two boys in karate uniforms. An adult had written, “Who is your neighbor?” After discussing what he had played during Sunday School (superheroes, of course), I asked him, “Well, who is your neighbor?” I fully expected some kind of shallow yet adorable four year old response indicative of his world view, a comment that would make me laugh and I would post on Facebook for its cuteness. What I heard was far better. “Everyone is my neighbor, Mommy.” Everyone.

In my last blog, I talked about waking up from our slumber, about how we can easily throw money at causes and yet not connect in a compassionate way with those around us or with those causes we theoretically support. Mostly, we’ve fallen asleep on God. Those who founded Compassion Tea Company are different. The idea for the company had its inception out of the caring work of The CareNow Foundation, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to sending medicine, medical supplies, and medical training to rural villages and clinics in South Africa, Tanzania, and Zambia.

The CareNow Foundation was created after Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom visited several countries in Southern Africa in 2002 and again in 2004. Aghast at the enormity of the AIDS crisis, Ed and Wendy saw that solving the AIDS crisis was an incredibly daunting task but that other aid could be offered immediately. Ed commented the other day that while one could sit around and discuss plans for solving the problem, that wasn’t caring now and caring NOW was what he and Wendy wanted to do, to find ways to help immediately. That people were dying due to the lack of a medicine that cost 25 cents, Ed added, seemed ludicrous and unconscionable to him. Hence, CareNow was created. Please visit their website for more information: http://www.carenowfoundation.org/history.html.

Seeing the situation in Africa in person had a similar impact on the rest of the Compassion Tea Company founders. Each of them has traveled to Africa, some multiple times. And each one of the founders can tell you how that experience changed their life. Lee Kennedy, another founder and Matt’s uncle, explained to me, “Seeing first hand, looking into the eyes of people and realizing how much I have, how much even the poor of this country have, by comparison, changed me. Bill Hybels (Founder and Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago) once stated that when he went to Africa and saw it, something changed and relocated in his gut and it never returned to where it had been. I understand that. Scriptures often talk about how Jesus looked at individuals, the leper, the prostitute, the down and out, and saw them, not their titles, illnesses, occupations. There is something about really looking into the eyes and seeing that changes you. I went through life looking at pictures and news and not really seeing. Once I saw, I had to do something.”

Everyone, after all, is our neighbor. Compassion Tea Company seeks to bring those neighbors in Africa into our view so that we can look into their eyes and really see. It’s not just about tea, and really good tea at that. It’s about sharing tea, and saving lives.