Milestones

When there is a new baby in the house, you mark milestones. Whether is it the first time he rolls over or mutters a discernible word, mommies and daddies mark it down. And in today’s world, we post it online, on some form of social media, for the whole world to enjoy with us.

 

We have a new baby. She’s 15 weeks old and already potty trained. Ornery and feisty in the morning, she is the perfect lap dog in the evening when we’re all on the sofa ready to read and relax. Yes, she’s a fur baby, another goldendoodle, and she is the perfect compliment to our 4 ½ year doodle Winston. Maggie is her name and we are smitten. We are marking her milestones, her shot schedule, waiting impatiently for the day we can safely take her for a walk around the neighborhood, tracking her weight gain, and teaching her manners. It’s fun marking those milestones!

 

As I mentioned, Maggie has a big brother, Winston. While Maggie is very much her own dog, she looks up to her older and wiser doodle. While they play together something fierce and while I love watching them romp, I most enjoy watching Winston guide Maggie, showing her the ropes, minding his manners so that she learns hers. I caught this photo of them together the other day. You get the idea.12510461_10208182632501642_3559157654668221333_n

 

I wanted to share this photo with you for two other reasons.

 

  1. When Compassion Tea started on February 26, 2011, (Do you note the date? Do you see the milestone?) we began much like this photo, looking up to our God for guidance and direction. We founded our company on these 5 Bible verses:
    1. Proverbs 19:21 “You can make plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”
    2. Psalm 37:5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
    3. Psalm 16: 1-3 “Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.’ The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!”
    4. Psalm 90:17 “And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!”
    5. Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. I will call a swift bird of prey from the east – a leader from a distant land to come and do my bidding. I have said what I would do and I will do it.”

Over the past 5 years, we’ve held approximately 250 prayer calls to pray over our tea, over our business, over our customers, over the people we are serving in Africa, over the people in Africa who are providing medical and spiritual care at our partner clinics, over each other. We have consistently held up the company before the Lord and asked him to heal, redeem, direct, guide, provide wisdom, to multiply efforts and monies and supplies, to give us strength to keep walking forward, faith to take the next step, and hope for an even bolder, broader, and beautiful future wherein we are able to serve more and more people. 250 calls. Yes, we’re like puppies looking up to the big dog to see what’s next!

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2012-10-13_14-10-53_91tea rounds ready to goTea pouches for Christmas Tea bazaarAnd he has rewarded that faithfulness on our part, offering the next steps when the time was right, bringing new customers and directions, and multiplying the funding we are able to provide to CompassioNow. And the number of prayers He has answered in those 5 years is astonishing. With God as our CEO, we have built a thriving business, we have changed lives here in the US and in Africa, and we have brought Him continual glory. That’s not to mention the new connections and the healing and the stronger relationships and the safe travel and the beneficial exchange rates and shipping costs. The list of success and answered prayer goes on and on!

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Reason 2:

On February 4, 2006, CompassioNow was awarded its non-profit tax status, making it a legal and legit organization. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom recently tabulated what they have been able to provide monetarily to the clinics in Africa over the last 10 years. They discovered that it was over $1 million! Another milestone… $1 million and a 10 year anniversary! Woo hoo! But that hardly shows the full impact of those 10 years. It doesn’t tell the stories of the lives changed, the clinics that have been built, the new buildings and medical wings, the staff and supplies, the men, women, and children who have turned to one of our partner clinics as a last resort, after the witch doctor didn’t work, after the government hospital sent them away without proper treatment, after they’ve come to the end of their ropes, desperate for relief and healing.

It doesn’t tell the stories of the people tested early for AIDS and who began early medical intervention, the lives saved from parasites, which could have been lost had it not been for a basic antibiotic; the children who have been given life through urgent medical care and/or pre and perinatal care of their mothers; the home-bound who have community health care providers making regular visits; and the children who have been granted eyesight from a donated pair of eyeglasses.

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This doesn’t tell the story of medical training and supplies, of medicine shelves stocked, and birthing beds delivered, of bicycle ambulances, and fixed airplanes to transport medical staff and those who need more urgent medical care.

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We can put a number on the money raised for Africa but we can’t put a number to the people who have been touched by CompassioNow and its mission to bring “life-saving medical care to the world’s least served.”

 

Oh the milestones! Biblically, when people wanted to celebrate and remember what the Lord had done for them, they built an altar or raised a rock on end. They made a physical mark on the landscape to say, “Here, God answered us.” That is no longer tradition. But here, we raise our Ebenezer, we make our mark on cyberspace, we count the successes and mark the milestones. And we look forward to the future, knowing that with God as our CEO there is more goodness to come. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you.”

 

 

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Sri Lanka Tea

IMG_1972“Good tea is not made in the factory.  Good tea is made in the fields.  If you do not get good leaf you cannot get good tea.” — Lalith, a good friend in the tea business while visiting his homeland of Sri Lanka with Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom of Compassion Tea Company

We love tea. It’s true. Learning about this fabulous drink makes us a little bit giddy. And there are few things in life that bring us more happiness than a tea tasting! (Of course, this is second to serving God and His people in need!) Several members of our team have now been to Sri Lanka to learn about the tea process from plant to your cup. We’d love to share some of our knowledge with you.IMG_1667

The complicated process of making tea is thousands of years old. And among the superior quality teas such as the ones we carry, a vast majority of the process remains done by human hands. Let’s look at the process as it is done in Sri Lanka.

Currently, in the world tea market, there are 70 different tea growing areas around the world.China produces 39% of the world’s tea. India produces 23.5% and Kenya produces 8%. Sri Lanka follows with 6% of the tea market production. Teas from Sri Lanka are called Ceylon teas. About 400 tea plantations operate in Sri Lanka and roughly 20% of the land in Sri Lanka is under tea cultivation. There are about  650 tea factories. About 340 million kilograms of tea are produced in Sri Lanka each year.

Despite the statistics that say tea is one of the fastest growing beverages in the United States, the US imports a modest 2% of Ceylon tea. Turkey and Russia import the majority of the Ceylon tea.

All tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis plant. How the leaves of the plant are processed creates the different types of tea such as black, white, green, and oolong. Herbal teas are a misnomer in that they do not come from the Camellia Sinesis plant but are based on flowers, fruits, the shavings of the rooibos plant, and other leaves.

The Camellia Sinesis plant grows naturally into a tree, but in order to cultivate it effectively, plants are maintained as shrubs. This also makes the harvesting more comfortable for the tea pluckers. Climate, soil, and elevation play an important role in the quality and quantity of the tea produced. The plant grows best in tropical climates that see a lot of rain and at higher elevations.

When the tea is harvested, workers enter the fields to hand-pluck the top youngest leaves and buds. A typical “pluck” is to pull two leaves and a furled bud from the top of the plant. It takes about 4.5 lb. of fresh tea leaves to produce 1 lb. of the tea you brew for your cuppa.

Typically, men oversee the work of the tea pluckers as they are called. The tea pluckers, who are women, begin their days in the fields around 8:30. They have a morning break and a two-hour lunch break. They then pick in the afternoon until about 4:30. The women carry a special basket on their backs. This lightweight basket makes it easier for them to use both hands for plucking. They then toss the leaves in the basket. Measuring sticks keep the plucking to a consistent level. Once an area of the field is plucked, it won’t be picked again until at least 8 days have passed.c84d8bcf-f64a-43e3-8e7d-9cec8b5a23d28617342c-c9b1-4a90-bfe3-af425635f51a

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On the Pedro estate where Ed and Wendy visited this past January, the pluckers make 680 rupees ($4.50) per day minimum and get free housing and medical care, child care and maternity as well as 21 days holiday pay. They are compensated for extra leaves picked and are given free food for their children and free burial. A health care clinic on the plantation provides the majority of their medical needs. The workers are well cared for and make a good living by Sri Lankan standards. Sadly many of the workers who stay on the plantations  for free do not even work on the tea plantations, but prefer to work elsewhere (like farming) where they make more money. But they cannot be kicked off the plantation. Out of the 7,500 people who live on the Pedro tea estate, only 1,500 work in tea plucking or processing, yet all 7,500 get free housing and benefits! This poses a real challenge for the plantation owners and may lead to problems in the future as world demand for Ceylon tea lessens and as costs rise.unnamedunnamed-3unnamed-2

Once the tea is plucked it is carried to be weighed. Because extra bits of leaves and twigs accidentally get in the baskets, the tea pluckers sort through their baskets before they take them for weighing. The tea pluckers are given bonuses for extra tea plucked. Once the tea is sorted and weighed, it is ready to head to the processing plant. Three times a day, trucks carry the tea from the fields to the processing factories. Because Ceylon is a black tea, it will undergo a fair amount of wilting and oxidizing in order to give the tea the rich black taste we know and love.

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Our Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Decaf English Breakfast,  Black Lemon, Cinnamon Orange Spice, and Black Chai teas all contain at least 90% Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka.

Green and white teas are minimally processed from here. Black teas, like the Ceylon in Sri Lanka, undergo 10 steps to provide the proper oxidation of the leaf to achieve the black color and flavor that makes Sri Lankan Ceylon so delicious. Here is a pictorial guide from the Lover’s Leap Tea Factory at the Pedro Estate of Sri Lanka where Ed and Wendy visited last January.

IMG_1683IMG_1716Step 1: Withering Process- Air comes up from the bottom of the withering bins, and the leaves will wither for 12 hours. These leaves begin the withering as soon as they come in from the fields. After withering, the leaves go through a tunnel to the rolling room.

IMG_1708IMG_1714Step 2: Rolling – The leaves are placed in the roller for 20 minutes. Oxidation is taking place. Rolling bruises the leaf and makes the juices come to the surface. Left: The leaves on the left are rolled, and the leaves on the right are withered only.

IMG_1739IMG_1759Step 3 – Rotor Vane – After the tea goes through this “mincemeat grinder” it will be much finer, like wet grass. Tea can go through up to 4 turns on the rotor vane. Above: The leaves on the top are ready to go to dryer, but the leaves on the bottom must go through the rotor vane again.

IMG_1736Step 4: Shaker – The tea leaves that are ready to go to the dryer will fall through while the larger leaves go through another rotor vane.

IMG_1817Step 5: Drying step – The tea will go through a drying oven at 125 F for 21 minutes. A wood fired boiler is used to heat the ovens.

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Step 6: Electrostatic separators are used to pull out fibers and stems from the tea. After separating, it drops into the yellow buckets. At this point the tea is finally stable. You can see that it is really starting to look like black tea by now.

IMG_1832IMG_1834Step 7: Grading – Tea is graded by size using the Chota sifter. There are 4 sizes: 10, 12, 14, 16. Number 16 (BPOF) will be the smallest and the strongest tea.

Step 8: The Color Separator is another way to remove more stems and fibers. It also separates the tea into different grades.

IMG_1870Step 9: Bulking – The tea goes through the hole for the bulking step. This is where they blend several harvests together.

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Step 10: Bagging. The teas are put into bags which each hold 33 kilos. Then, the tea is sent off to the auction house or other tea blenders to make specialty teas. 

This tea factory in Colombo, Sri Lanka, gets tea from the tea estates and makes their own blends for shipping to countries like Japan. Below is a series of photos showing a huge blending machine from top to bottom.

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Many tea factories also make their own tea bags. These teabags are going to New Zealand. Much of the work here is done by hand.

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Here is a worker gluing the tea bag boxes shut.

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This tea factory in Colombo ships 40 foot containers of tea to Japan, England, and the Middle East. The Middle Eastern countries buy much of the Ceylon tea; however, due to conflicts and wars in this region, tea exports were down for Sri Lanka this past year. 056c1a09-f10a-4dcd-bdbf-6c92ea289849

It’s all ready to go somewhere around the world!

Did you know how much time and labor and care went into your cuppa? Enjoy!IMG_1986

Of Passions… for Football and Tea

I don’t have a man in the game, so the Super Bowl doesn’t have a lot of meaning or excitement for me. Sure, I’m enjoying eating brie and apples and Chex Mix and chips and guacamole and all but I suppose I don’t need a football game to do that. The game is on the TV, my son is in the tree house pretending it is Hogwarts and he’s a wizard, and we’ve all spent 30 minutes watching the skies as the F15s fly overhead; after all, the Super Bowl is only 20 miles from here. 20 miles from here, there is a huge stadium full of people partying and whooping it up, gnoshing and celebrating and who knows what else. Millions of people. And we’re nestled in our home, TV on, quiet and taking a Sabbath in a way. So, I feel it appropriate to share a little story with you.

It’s a story of a man who played football, whose passion was football, whose every aspiration revolved around football. But God had a slightly different plan for him. This is the story of Zack Follett, one of our newest customers and owner of the Fresno-area coffee shop chain Kuppa Joy.

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As Follett shared with Marek Warszawski of the Fresno Bee newspaper, “’If it didn’t involve football or girls,’ he says, ‘I wasn’t interested.’”

Warszawski continues: By all accounts, Follett was successful at both. At Clovis [High School], the Tri-River Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2004 was known as “Zack Attack.” At Cal [Berkeley], where he played from 2005-08, he glossed himself “The Pain Train.”

Both fit his aggressive, reckless, shot-from-a-cannon style.

“I had an anger and a rage to me,” Follett says. “The football field was a place where I could let all that go, and it was cheered and admired.”

Football was his consuming passion. He watched games on TV, memorized stats, collected cards. Besides partying and girls, there was little interest in anything else. Especially religion.

Dewayne Coleman remembers.

Coleman and Follett met as sophomores [at Clovis High]. By senior year, they became friends. They hung out, played video games and created art in Follett’s garage. Which helped bridge the primary difference between them: Dewayne was deeply religious, and Zack had no time for that stuff.

Many times during their high school years, Coleman would encourage Follett to attend Fellowship of Christian Athletes meetings.

Follett would sometimes go, mostly out of respect to his friend. He rarely stayed long. The football star showed up, gobbled a few slices of free pizza and bolted.

“If I tried to talk to him about God, he would look me in the eye and say, ‘D, football is my life. That’s all I care about,” recalls Coleman, now a youth and young adult minister at The Word Community Church in Fresno.

“I could never have that conversation with him.”

While at Cal Berkeley, Zach bought a $10 print of Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper” from Ross Dress for Less. He didn’t know why he bought it except he thought it might bring him good luck. Suddenly, however, after an evening with his cousin Adam, that painting took on meaning. According to Warszawki: The evening of March 8, 2008, began just like any other night. It happened to be during spring football before Follett’s senior season at Cal.

Zack and his cousin, Adam, along with two young ladies, piled into Follett’s black Hummer H2 and headed across the Bay Bridge for an evening of wining and dining in San Francisco.

Things did not go as planned because the two men ended up alone in Follett’s Berkeley apartment. They sulked for a while before Zack invited his cousin into his computer room to watch a funny video and lighten the mood.

That’s when Adam, a Christian, spotted “The Last Supper” hanging on the wall. He was surprised to see it — and a little angry — knowing Zack wasn’t the slightest bit religious.

“He said, ‘Do you want to know about this picture?’ ” Follett recalls. “I rolled my eyes and thought, ‘Oh, no. More Jesus talk.’ ”

Adam started talking. And talking. He spoke for 2½ hours about God, creation, and Satan. He spoke about Jesus, the apostles, and the Eucharist.

Only this time, Follett listened.

“A light bulb went on in my head,” he says. “All those people I’d made fun off for loving Jesus, finally I understood.

“The Holy Spirit was talking through my cousin that night.”

Coleman remembers being awakened by his ringing phone. It was almost 3 a.m. He was living in Sacramento and attending theological college. He and Follett had stayed in touch through social media but didn’t see each other.

Coleman recognized Follett’s voice; just not the words coming from his mouth.

“To be honest,” Coleman says, “I thought he was drunk.”

The next morning, Coleman saw a missed call from Follett. He called back, and Zack repeated the same things he’d said in the middle of the night.

“I never had a hint it was coming,” Coleman says. “I’d never heard the words ‘Jesus Christ’ come out of his mouth unless it was swearing or used as a derogatory word. That night changed everything.”

 Follett’s awakening came swift and sudden. It seemed like each time he had a question, the Bible provided an answer.

Heading into his senior year at Cal, Follett was more enthused about football than ever. He felt like God had given him a new energy, adding to the considerable zeal he always brought to the field.

Follett was a second-team All-Pac-10 selection as a junior with 12½ tackles for loss and 6½ sacks. And when the Bears switched to a 3-4 defense, it was like the new scheme was designed for him.

As a senior, Follett led the nation with 23 tackles for loss to go with 10½ sacks and five forced fumbles. Heading into the draft combine, his bio on NFL.com contained phrases like “plays with reckless abandon on every snap,” “forcefully takes on blocks with impressive pop” and “looks to intimidate his opponent.”

But at the end, there’s this: “Tackled with his head down too often in 2007, leading to some missed tackles and, more important, putting his spinal cord at risk.”

Follett missed nearly three games of his junior season with a neck stinger. Concerns over the injury probably were the reason he slid into the seventh round, where the 6-foot-1, 236-pounder was drafted 235th overall by the Detroit Lions.

It didn’t take long for Follett to establish himself as a special-teams ace, especially on kickoff returns. One hit on Rams return man Danny Amendola was particularly fierce. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie, recording 10 tackles.

Follett quickly became a fan favorite in Detroit, both for his style of play and colorful personality. When his father, Bob, died suddenly and unexpectedly, his faith only deepened. In year 2, Follett cracked the starting lineup for two games until his season abruptly ended after a helmet-to-helmet collision with the Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul on Oct. 17, 2010.

Laying motionless on the turf, Follett appeared to grimace as he was strapped to a backboard and taken off the field on a motorized cart. Giants fans gave him a standing ovation.

No one knew it at the time, but those were the last football cheers for Follett that he would hear. Unable to recover from his injuries, he retired the following August during the start of training camp.

Two days before the announcement, Follett sent his then-girlfriend the following text message:

“Playing football no longer makes me happy. Preaching Christ is what brings me joy. Praying God reveals his plan for my life.”

That revelation didn’t come in Detroit. Nor did it come in Clovis. It came in England, of all places, where Follett traveled in January 2012 to speak at churches and schools and also serve as a studio host for Sky TV’s coverage of the NFL playoffs.

Follett remembers sitting at a coffee shop in Marlow, a town of 14,000 in southern England, sipping cappuccino, when the epiphany hit him like a bolt of lightning.

He had his Bible with him, of course, and was reading the following passage from Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”

“As I took a sip of that cappuccino, I thought, ‘This is a cup of joy,’ ” he says. “The Holy Spirit connected with me at that moment.”

The voice inside Follett’s head told him the next step: Move back home, back to Clovis, and open a coffee shop.

 

With the same passion he had for football, Follett tackled coffee, despite the concerns of his family and the economic situation of the Fresno-area. In December 2012, Follett opened his first Kuppa Joy in Old Town Clovis. Warszawski continues: It took a while to find the perfect location on Clovis Avenue, an old building with a brick interior that used to house a flower shop. To remodel and open the doors[,] he used his own savings without borrowing a dime…. All the decorative touches, from the naturally finished wooden tables and benches to the ornate throne representing King Jesus to the behind-the-counter wallpaper made from coffee bags, are Follett’s.

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The setting is warm and inviting. It’s [a] place to sip fine coffee drinks and socialize — or tap tap tap on the computer keyboard.

“Coffee is the medium people use for connecting and conversation,” [Follett] says. “I love everything it represents.”

The only evidence that an ex-football player owns the place [is the] five helmets sitting on a high shelf. They are… Follett’s actual helmets from Cedarwood Elementary, Clark Intermediate, Clovis High, Cal[Berkeley,] and the Lions.

“My whole life I’ve been Zack Follett the football player,” he says. “I’m definitely proud of my past, but there needs to be much more.”

Longtime friends like Coleman are astounded at the transformation.

“Honestly, it’s like two different Zacks,” Coleman says. “It’s like a whole different operating system in his mind.” 

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Last December, Lee and Anne Kennedy of Compassion Tea visited Follett at his Clovis store and introduced him to Compassion Tea. Follett’s enthusiasm for sharing tea and saving lives reflects his passion for serving Jesus and His people. And thus begins a beautiful relationship, if you don’t mind me waxing poetic. This past week, Follett opened his second location of Kuppa Joy, this one in downtown Fresno.

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God certainly grabbed ahold of Follett’s heart. His motto is to “Love God, Love People, Love Coffee.” We’re thankful for this change of heart and we’re hopeful that Follett will “Love Tea” as much as we do!

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Click here to hear Zack tell the story himself. To read more about Zack Follett, go to: http://www.fresnobee.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/marek-warszawski/article19527702.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margin

Margin is a hot word in my house these days.

There’s the margin of business, of getting the most buck for your bang. It’s the fine line between squeezing the most money out of clients and the most work out of your employees – without tipping either side of the equation. And big margins are good, sought after, applauded. Margin.

Then there’s the margin of life, the blank space, the whitespace that circles the words of our chaotic lives. Margin is space to breathe, to create, to still and listen, to put down the phone, the TV remote, the computer, the calendar, the to-do list 3 feet long and just… be. Margin is time for the kids to play and be kids. Margin is time for mommy to soak in a tub or for daddy to unwind from the day and connect with someone in his family… or vice versa.

This kind of margin keeps perspective, holds the balance, allows for God to be heard, for healing and health and reconciliation and emotional stability.unnamed-23

unnamed-40But is this margin applauded? Don’t we prefer to applaud the family that can pile the schedule with sports and arts and homework and busyness? Don’t we marvel at the mom juggling all 10 balls marginally well and wonder skeptically at the efficiency of the mom who only juggles 3 very well? Or the husband who works all day, serves on boards, and coaches little league… don’t we marvel at his dedication? But we don’t ask where his margin is, do we?

Is there an assumption that the more margin we have financially, the more margin we’ll have time wise? That the striving and squeezing and pinching stops when the bottom line looks good? Or does the striving and squeezing and pinching just pick up in other areas, cluttering our lives with the trappings of affluence?

And I’m wondering this morning, as I’m flailing in the struggle of creating margin in a world that demands we keep running without margin, what margin looks like in Africa.

Like in Zomba, Malawi, where Passion Center for Children is located. Where is the margin in life when floods have destroyed your house and your crops? Is there rest, blank space, stillness when there aren’t mosquito nets and pots and pans and food and when children are sleeping in the open because there are no beds, no walls, no roof? When there is no monetary margin, no buck for the bang, when life is hand to mouth, where is the margin?10378274_812999028771587_6202102954853020024_n

10923281_812999078771582_747795061580541710_n10917445_812999052104918_3699448331697225328_nOr in Uganda where Village of Hope is located, where 9 new sponsors for children this week is celebrated! And the bottom line says that there are 200 more that need sponsors. And the bottom line reads like this: “Dear friends… this is Cindy. We really need your help. As you know the last couple of years have been hard on me physically. So I have not been able to go out and ‘friend’ raise. Because of that… we are running $20K short each month. We have added a Skill Training Center and another 50 kids to our Villages. Those things add up. So we, our 340 children, need your help. Every dollar helps!”

How do you build margin into your finances, into your life, when there are 340 kiddos who depend on you for life – food, education, healthcare, nurturing, shelter – because the alternative to this is child-run families, sleeping in the open, abuse, days without food, a tentative survival, and no upward mobility. Where is the margin?10299080_10152398008179763_3795027765915466660_n 11015953_10153109834269763_317411810080949687_n 10352939_10152674151649763_6536344923481152464_n

Or in the Valley of 1000 Hills, South Africa, where 1000 Hills Community Helpers is located, where some 5000 people this month will attend a medical clinic of some sort and will be treated effectively and well for the unimaginable cost of $1 per person. Where that same number of people or more will gather for meals, where children will meet daily for schooling and care, where mommies and daddies will learn skills and grannies will meet and sit under the canopy or gather around a table and sew. Where the safe house had to close because there wasn’t funding to keep it open. And where the bottom line says we’re running this amazing operation on nickels and dimes, we are doing great good, but we’ve got no margin and we’re not meeting our financial needs to keep all these balls in the air.1011836_10151711910730854_1547028917_n 10628167_10152865178225854_4632364125688208242_n 1800479_10152895399445854_1985007257085480745_n 10628268_10152895404295854_8499036510535850559_n

Where is the margin when it all sounds so dire?

The margin is in the whitespace. The margin is in being still and listening for God to speak, being still and knowing that He is God, being still and knowing that He is at work, that He has built up these relief centers, that He has begun a good work, and He will fulfill His promises to His people, and He will finish those good works.

And margin is in the whitespace created when we take a moment to savor a cup of tea. Whether we’re members of Compassion Tea and we amble into a pantry well-stocked with a multitude of tea flavors or whether we buy our favorite flavor every other month online or whether we shuffle into our favorite coffee shop, favorite because it carries tea with a cause, how ever we come to our cup of tea and with whomever we share it, when we create this pause in our day, we are creating margin in Africa.IMG_7536

And that’s the bottom line!

Drawing Circles

In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. And God commanded, “Write this down… this word.” And Daniel wrote. And Moses wrote. And Isaiah and Ezekiel and Malachi and Jeremiah. They wrote it down so that when all went silent and 400 years of silence crept by, people still had the Word. And Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and later Paul and John again heard the instruction, “Write it down… this word.” And they wrote it down so that after 2000 years people still have the Word and it is still marvelous and wonderful and awesome, not in the 21st century slang kind of way but in the magnitude and splendor of God kind of way.

So today I have to write it down too. This Word.

You see, some 4 months ago, God called me out of my day and said, “Go for a hike. I have something to show you.” So, I hiked. My dog and I climbed in the scorching sun, in a landscape parched and dead. We passed ponds that raised dust; no trace of mud or moisture left. The sun and dust combined in a glaring golden haze. My mouth felt sticky and dry and the dog kept encouraging me to turn back. It’s too hot and too dry he seemed to be saying. Go home. At least there is shade there.

We circled a pond, the barren remains of a pond.unnamed-11

 

Circled its lifeless perimeter because I was reading a book by Mark Batterson about outrageous prayer. And I was circling this pond in prayer because to me it represented the valley, the whole lot of us parched and thirsty. The dog circled too. Nothing should have stopped him from crossing the pond bed. No mud, no water, no nothing. But he circled like it was holy ground. And I prayed to God to bring the rain, to fill the pond, to restore His people, to heal the land and its people.

I will, He said. The next time you come up here, this will be full.

Faithless that I am I thought it would take a while for that to happen.

When I circled that pond I was also circling Compassion Tea in prayer. We were all reading Draw the Circle. It wasn’t a particularly difficult, parched time for Compassion Tea; we were just wondering what God had in store for His company. Where were the blessings we had been seeing for months previously? Were we headed into a drought ourselves? Wendy had said, “Let’s circle this in prayer.” So we prayed the prayer of Jabez; “Jabez called on the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that thou wouldst bless me and enlarge my border, and that thy hand might be with me, and that thou wouldst keep me from harm so that it might not hurt me!” And God granted what he asked.” (1 Chronicles 4:10) Only our prayer was “Oh bless Compassion Tea and expand our borders, Lord. And be with us, keep us from harm. And God granted our request.”

And God granted our request.

Today, the inability to breath was strong again, as it has been for the past two weeks. And as I fought my way home on familiar roads that nevertheless were raising the hair on the back of my neck, and as I cried out to God again, He called me out of my day and said, “Go hike. I have something to show you.”

The hike up was excruciating, not because of the altitude climb or anything treacherous about the path but because God and I had a little talk about my inability to breath and why it was so bad right now. We had a little chat about hard hearts and how sometimes He allows hard hearts like He did Pharoah’s because His glory becomes even more brilliantly and emphatically displayed. We talked about surrender and about my Jonah heart… not those people God, not those.

Sometimes it is good to walk in the rain. No one can tell if those are tears or raindrops.

I didn’t see much on the climb up because my eye was inward, listening to the pain of my parts pouring out in front of their Maker. And the laying of them down at His feet, those pains, fears, worries, the things that have slowly been suffocating me.

And then, there was this.

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Like searing light, like electrical shock, an invisible hand writing on a wall, He said, “I am the Lord God. I am faithful. I am faithful to fulfill my promises. I will heal my people of their iniquities. I will heal my people.”

The tears came hot and blinding in streams filling the ponds of my soul.

Because here it was, proof that He is faithful and He did fill the pond.

Because here it was, proof that He is faithful and He has expanded our borders.

Compassion Tea now stretches from sea to shining sea, West Coast to East Coast, Gulf Coast to the northern border. St. James Coffee in Rochester, Minnesota, yesterday joined our cause and the four points on the compass are represented. And when you draw a line to connect those dots, you get a circle.

A pond is a circle. A pond is a round bowl full of water. Like a cup of tea, a place to ponder; like a baptismal font, a place to be made clean, sanctified, restored.

You should see the dog. His paws are muddy. He couldn’t help himself. He had to go in the water. Instead of begging to go home, this time he raced farther and harder. And the holy ground… he bounded through it. This is life, this water, this pond, this circle.

And this Word. His Word. “I am faithful.”

I write it down lest I forget. I write it down so that when things are silent and I can’t breath I will know.

I’m Dreaming of a Green Christmas (and why you should too)

The trees gave up their leaves early this year. It was dry and brown has been the landscape color for months now. So, when the scorching heat passed finally sometime in October, the trees seemed to breath a collective sigh of relief and shed their skin. They’d born the weight, the burden of carrying those leaves long enough. The maple and the birch, the pear and plum, the sycamore and the aspen all gave up. Just like that.

But not the oak. Its thick waxy leaf still clings to the branch. And it is being rewarded. unnamed-10

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Yesterday we had rain, the kind we haven’t seen for four years, the kind that rekindles streams, that makes puddles in minutes, that completely washes off the surfaces of the earth. The kind that brings green.

And it’s not done yet. It’s misting today and the moss is back, the mushrooms are pushing out of the mud, the mist is rolling over the hills. It’s a perfect day.unnamed-6

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Taking a walk in the mist today, I remembered back to my 21st birthday when I headed out onto the moors of Yorkshire with little more than a camera, a stout pair of Wellies, and the best wax jacket a college student could buy. I had no mobile phone with GPS to guide, nothing to connect me to the outside world. Just me and a whole hillside of sheep. I felt again today a wonder at the misty clouds breaking over the treetops and at this green in front of me.
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This is a green with nuances of yellow and blue, a green that shouts, “LIFE!” It doesn’t scream it like I almost wrote. No, it shouts it. Not an angry scream but a joyful shout. “I’m alive and I’m growing and this is good,” I can hear the trees calling to each other under the gentle patter of raindrops. Roots long dry, gasping for the last faint hints of water in the soil are trembling today in glee.

I think this year, I’m dreaming of a green Christmas.

And I wonder if I’ve gotten it wrong all these years.

I do understand the romantic appeal of a white Christmas. There is something so delightful about the idea of a silent white snow blanketing the earth, like God is tucking us all up under a white fleecy throw where we are secure, warm, sleepy.

Funny thing is though that God didn’t come to tuck us into a big cozy earth bed.

There’s another side to the white blanketing snow. In Northeastern Ohio, where the sky and the snow make one long horizon-less expanse of a nebulous shade of grey, one feels it and might even call it despair. It’s a trudging dullness, a sleeping of the senses where sound is muted, touch is frigid, and sight is washed out.

Snow, like sand, is barren.

And into a barren landscape, God came to bring green… life. He birthed himself into baby form. Drawing breath, belting out a first scream into the night, He trumpeted His arrival with angels singing in the skies, shepherds running and calling through the streets at midnight, and a star much too bright to sleep through.

Jesus’ life was not one of security and warmth and sleep nor did he call out his disciples to such a life. His family had to flee to Egypt, children were murdered in his place, refugee that he was, vagrant itinerant doctor that he became. He didn’t come to heal the well, but to minister to the poor of heart, spirit, morals. He promised a water that would quench all thirst, a living water. He lifted up the impoverished and the uneducated and he called out the religious and the educated for their hypocrisy.

I’m looking at this brash green all around me and thinking, “This is Christmas!” Life, in your face living, green washed clean exposing the chlorophyll in brave ways, a carnival of green aliveness.

This is life in Christ.

Jesus wasn’t quiet and peaceful and blanketing and warmth and security. He was raucous green, speaking in puzzles, exposing fraudulent ideas about His Father God. And His epic day on the cross sprang forth an evergreen of salvation for those who believe in him.

He didn’t tuck us into a quiet bed to sleep until the angels sing us off to heaven. He empowered us to go into all the world making disciples of all people; he coaches us to let our light shine before others… like a green mossy festival of life.

So. Yah. You may want a white Christmas. But me? I want it green!

The Crossing Coffee Bar — Another Circle of Hope

The Crossing Coffee Bar in Carrollton, Texas, is now serving Compassion Tea! This addition of venue marks an amazing “crossing” of paths and purposes.
I’ve written about the concentric circles that ripple out from the sale and consumption of Compassion Tea.
And I’ve written about the hope those circles bring.

And now, it’s time to introduce another circle of hope.

Back in April of 2013, the CompassioNow Board of Directors voted to begin supporting Cindy Cunningham’s Village of Hope, Uganda. It wasn’t the beginning of a beautiful relationship, but rather a continuation of one, a solidification of that relationship if you will. Wendy Bjurstrom, CompassioNow founder and Compassion Tea Director, recently traveled to Texas to visit Cindy. As she left, she stocked her suitcase with Compassion Tea. Her goal? To share tea and save lives!
While in Texas, Wendy met with Karen Bledsoe and Marguerite Fenton from The Crossing, the coffee shop arm of Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Carrollton, Texas.unnamed

Bent Tree, the church Cindy Cunningham attends, supports many missions, including Village of Hope. According to their website,

“Bent Tree exists to be used by God as He transforms people into disciples of Jesus Christ here and around the world. At Bent Tree, we strategically partner with people and organizations to send financial resources and mobilize the Bent Tree body around the 4 C’s.
Church Multiplication: 
To see Life-giving, grace-based churches established.

City Transformation
: To see cities transformed by the power of the Gospel.

Crisis Response: 
To provide crisis relief and development through timely and strategic mobilization.

Children at Risk: 
To lift women and children out of three key areas: danger, poverty and illiteracy.”

Village of Hope falls under the Children at Risk category. For more information about Village of Hope, go here!

The Crossing donates its profits to these local and global outreach organizations. And now, The Crossing is going to add Compassion Tea to its offerings!

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The café is located in the lobby of the church. With a weekly attendance of over 2000 people, The Crossing reaches a broad audience. Recent efforts to improve the ambiance of the café have made The Crossing “a place for great coffee and quiet conversation, veiled from the world.”

“This café hasn’t stopped at the church doors however and increases their efforts at reaching those outside of the congregation. Last Easter, the baristas took time to create baskets for employees working in nearby offices and included a free drink coupon. People who haven’t been involved in the community yet have a chance to do so. ‘We want to invite those outside of the church to partake in the refuge of the café. We’re not just serving the church, we’re called to serve the world at large.’”

The Crossing also serves Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, a coffee with a cause that is grown and produced by small farmers in Rwanda.
Now, when customers at The Crossing buy a cup of Compassion Tea, they will be supporting Village of Hope Uganda in two ways, through Bent Tree’s support of the orphanage and through CompassioNow’s support of the medical clinic in the village.
We are overjoyed at this addition of another circle of hope!

Ebola Gear on the Move

Morning standard practice around here is to scan the headlines of the Wall Street Journal as I’m preparing the dog’s breakfast. But hubby got to the paper first this morning and he had it opened to the World section. This caught my eye!

And made me exceedingly glad that the Ebola PPE’s we sent over to Village of Hope Uganda have arrived safely.

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Because our clinics are in rural parts of Africa where healthcare is scarce and questionable, our clinics and the surrounding villages are especially susceptible to whatever may or may not rip through them. To read more about the difficulties, go here.

Thank you so much for your support of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea and our work to provide life-saving medical care to the world’s least served.

Throwback Thursday — Healers

“Healers in parts of Africa—both herbal and faith-based— are often more highly regarded than those who come to promote more unfamiliar forms of medical care.” —Wall Street Journal.

Unfamiliar forms of medical care? What are those? In the case of dealing with ebola, or really any kind of disease, those include proper sanitation, attention to cleanliness, and the use of medicine. The Wall Street Journal ran this article on Tuesday and it reminded us of an article we wrote two years ago about witch doctors and the lack of western medical care in rural parts of Africa. This is one of the daily battles our clinics face. But they are winning this battle through successful ministering and healing and education. So, for your Throwback Thursday enjoyment, we present — It’s Magic!

Raising Our Ebenezer

“In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9

When Compassion Tea Company began in 2011, its founders planned a course for a company that would provide a steady income for CompassioNow so that quality healthcare in rural parts of Africa could be consistent and growing. At inception, the company appeared to be solely a tea membership venture. We watched as the club grew in member numbers thanks to our friends, families, and opportunities at church events, craft shows, Christmas teas, and holiday bazaars. At heart, we remain a small company dedicated to its members.

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But God, ever interested in the steps, has guided our company toward new partnerships, ones that reach more people and, we’re hopeful, will make an even larger impact for Africa.

It began with an opportunity to supply tea at Valley Community Church, Pleasanton, CA, for their evening worship service. This connection grew into our supplying the tea for their burgeoning tea and coffee shop, Inklings.

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Shortly thereafter, we approached Barnstormers Coffee Shop at Lighthouse Christian Supply in Dublin, CA, about carrying our tea. Friendships led us to Tifa Chocolate and Gelato in Agoura Hills, CA. Word of mouth led us to Brew Unto Others in Lamar, CO. And Homeboy Industries of Los Angelos, CA, serves our tea in their Homegirl Cafe.

As if this wasn’t blessing enough, we now find ourselves heading to the East Coast through an exciting partnership with Ebenezers Coffeehouse on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Compassion Tea will now be served there along with their “coffee with a cause.”

Some may call it karma or kismet, but we call it a “divine appointment” that CompassioNow founder and Compassion Tea director Wendy Bjurstrom found herself with a $35 plane ticket to Washington DC earlier this fall. While in DC, Wendy met with Ebenezers staff and introduced them to the work of CompassioNow and to Compassion Tea. Nor did we find it at all odd or coincidental that Lee and Anne Kennedy, Compassion Tea directors and CompassioNow board members, were at that very time reading The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church, the church behind Ebenezers.

Ebenezers Coffeehouse is located at 201 F Street NE on Capitol Hill. “In 1908, Ernestine Reuter was granted a permit to build a one-level diner…. The estimated cost of construction was $2,000. The diner originally served ‘butter and eggs’ to the Union Station travelers before food service was available on the trains.”

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According to Batterson, “[W]e had a dream we decided to circle in prayer. It seemed ridiculous, but sometimes those crazy prayers have a way of working their way into our spirits. We had the dream of converting a former crack house into a coffeehouse. One block from Union Station, the property had an asking price of one million dollars. At the time, our attendance and budget were nowhere near enough to reach that amount. We were a church. Churches don’t build coffeehouses, and we had zero experience in the coffee business…. Six years after we began praying we miraculously got the property even though we had been outbid by four other potential buyers.”

The Ebenezers Coffeehouse website adds, “After nearly twenty-five years of neglect, National Community Church purchased 201 F Street NE on February 7, 2002. The property was successfully rezoned from residential to commercial use in January 2003. Architectural plans were approved by the Historic Preservation Review Board in February 2004. Construction began December 2004 and we opened our doors March 15, 2006.”

Ebenezers Coffeehouse is “the largest coffeehouse on Capitol Hill” and its “profits go to local and international missions projects.” Explains Batterson, “The driving motivation behind building a coffeehouse was the fact that Jesus hung out at wells. They were natural gathering places in ancient culture. Ebenezers is a postmodern well that has served more than a million customers—neighbors, business people, and congressmen alike.”unnamed-1 unnamed-2

The term “ebenezer” means “a monumental stone set up to signify the great help that God granted the one raising the stone.” As the stones that built Ebenezers Coffeehouse were renewed, there had to be a moment of recognition among the National Community Church community that they were setting up a monument. We see this new partnership as another way God is helping us and we are pleased to set up this monumental stone.

What exciting opportunities God is opening up for us! As God establishes our steps to help bring “essential healthcare to the world’s least served,” we are humbled and amazed and thrilled.

If you are ever on Capitol Hill, stop in Ebenezers! Enjoy the venue, the history, and the tea!