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!

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Summery Tea Drinks

School is out around the country and the daily temps are hitting some high notes. Phew! It’s officially summer! At my house, that means (in the ideal world anyway) afternoons in the pool, friends coming over for barbecues, and late nights staring at the stars. Oh! And ICED TEA! Here are two variations created by Compassion Tea staffers that are super easy, super kid/barbecue/pool-hopping/star-gazing friendly, and super yummy!

If you are a Compassion Tea Company member, check your June newsletter for more recipes!

IMG_2161Compassion Tea’s Jasmine Iced Tea Lemonade – from director Wendy Bjurstrom

8 cups water
1/3 cup to 1/2 cup honey or natural sweetener
1/3 cup Compassion Tea’s Jasmine Dragon Tears
1/3 Cup Fresh Squeezed Lemon Juice

Boil water with honey or natural sweetener. Let cool for 5 minutes. Put 1/3 c Jasmine Dragon Tears Tea in Compassion Tea’s Iced Tea Maker Infuser. Pour boiling water over tea and steep for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove infuser and add fresh squeezed lemon juice. Stir. Cool in refrigerator until cold. Delightfully refreshing!

Cranberry Compassion Spice – from director Chris Faherty Here’s a super easy summer tea idea! We had made some Compassion Spice for something and had some left over but not enough for both of us to have a glass. I topped it off with some cranberry juice and had a whole new drink! It was 3 parts Compassion Spice and 1 part cranberry juice. Simply delightful!

I’ve also discovered that adding Lavender Sage Rooibos to any fruity tea (like Black Currant or Peach Apricot) adds a lovely, calming note to the tea. It is super easy to fix in our iced tea maker. Simply add 3 tsp. of each flavor in the infuser, pour in the water, put in the refrigerator overnight, and pour a tall, refreshing glass the next day! Ooo La La!

What ideas do you have for your tea this summer?IMG_2147

Olympics and the Temporary

Oh Olympic fever is taking hold! The excitement is building! Opening Ceremonies are on today and I’m thinking about how to best view them and what foods to have at the ready. As I’m typing this, I have a window open to USA Today’s online Olympics coverage where a clock is ticking down the time until the Opening Ceremonies. It’s not long now!

Next to the clock is an article about Michael Phelps in relation to his housing in the Olympic Village.  (http://www.usatoday.com/sports/olympics/london/swimming/story/2012-07-25/michael-phelps-ryan-lochte-share-suite-in-village/56485516/1) The Olympic Village is of course the temporary housing for all of the athletes and is meant to be cozy, a good place to relax, and designed to encourage friendly camaraderie with athletes from around the world. According to the article, Phelps has a single room in a four-bedroom suite he shares with six other swimmers including his rival Ryan Lochte. Apparently, the village has no air conditioning (and after having lived in London for a year I question why it would need air conditioning) but “athletes use rotating fans of the kind familiar in college dorms.” And then the article finishes off with: “Phelps said his room ‘is about the size of a closet. … You walk in, and I’m not joking you, my room is probably about that wide.’ And here he spreads his arms and then tucks his elbows in, to indicate his room is not as wide as his famous wingspan. ‘I have, like, a bed, a nightstand, a dresser,’ he said, ‘and that’s about all I got.’”

Doesn’t it just pull on your heart strings? After three very successful Olympics, shouldn’t Mr. Phelps be entitled to something more posh for his fourth and last?

“Temporary” is the key word here. The Olympic Village is home for roughly two weeks. Temporary.

Two of my Compassion Tea friends, Chris and Jack, are currently flying to South Africa where they will be visiting our partner in serving, Dawn Faith Leppan at the 1000 Hills Community Helpers clinic in the Valley of 1000 Hills. While they are visiting, they will be making a trip to Claremont Camp near Inchanga. According to Ms. Leppan, Claremont Camp was created “in 2007 [when] the local municipality identified a squatter camp near Claremont, on the outskirts of Durban, and it was planned that this population would receive government subsidized housing in Inchanga. In the interim they were moved to temporary housing structures adjacent to the land where the subsidized housing would be developed.” That was in 2007. Five years later, the population still lives in the temporary housing, which consists of  “6 rows of pre-fabricated temporary housing units with 60 rooms per row.” The estimated population is 2500 people of all ages. Ms. Leppan has described the camp as a place of high unemployment, high rates of alcohol and substance (mostly marijuana) use, and highly dangerous for several reasons.

1.     There are communal toilets but they are “blocked and littered with excrement.”

2.     The municipality supplies water but the connections are broken creating a “wet area which is a breeding ground for disease as well as wasting valuable water.”

3.     The camp has electricity… in the form of wires snaking across the ground, open connections and uninsulated wires exposed to physical contact. Ms. Leppan writes, “There have been several incidents of children and adults being shocked by electricity.”

4.     There is no safe place for the disposal of garbage so the camp is littered making it dangerous for children and animals and serving as another breeding ground for disease.

5.     HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and tuberculosis rage in this camp where people are over-crowded and there is little privacy.

For more information about the camp, read the blog from 1000 Hills regarding their initial visit to the camp: http://1000hch.wordpress.com/2012/05/09/the-story-of-inchanga-camp/

Ms. Leppan and her staff have set up a weekly mobile clinic at the camp in order to provide much needed medical care on-site including supplying contraception, training on how to live more healthy, and creating support groups for patients with chronic illnesses. They serve 40 to 50 patients a week at the clinic and are securing food for the roughly 200 families in need of food. Currently, they have enough to cover 60 families.

This is a slightly different temporary housing situation than Mr. Phelps’ closet-sized bedroom. And it is much less temporary. Thankfully, Ms. Leppan is making headway in improving conditions. Yet, this gives another insight into why waiting for government organizations to take action is not effective planning. CompassioNow and Compassion Tea both understand the necessity of grassroots efforts of support for organizations already operating in rural Africa. So, what can you do to help?

1.     Donate directly to CompassioNow on their website: www.compassionow.org.

2.     Purchase a tea membership through Compassion Tea (www.compassiontea.com/memberships). 100% of after-tax profits go directly to CompassioNow and on to people like Ms. Leppan.

The situation in Africa is proving to be anything but temporary. Together we can make it more temporary!

Air Entitlement

Air travel is so delightful, isn’t it? Between the disgrace of pat downs, the grossness of walking through airport security shoeless, the jostling for position in the boarding line much like sheep through a chute, and the cramped quarters on-board, flying has become a necessary evil — convenient in the sense of time, but extremely uncomfortable. Last night as I boarded the plane in Ontario/LA, I threw up a prayer asking for safety and patience for us all and for wisdom for the pilot and crew. The instruction came to fire down electronic devices and I figured we were heading up. Turns out it wouldn’t be for another 2 hours. A screw on a wing panel was missing. Due to a lack of mechanics and screws, the process took 2 hours. People who might miss connections were rebooked on other flights. Those of us who were committed to a flight to Oakland were allowed to deplane and find sustenance. And yet, there were complaints. They ran the gamut of “how could this happen to me?” to “what are you going to give me for this inconvenience in my life?”

Me? I hunkered down with my Bible study. Through my church, I’m working through C. S. Lewis’ book The Screwtape Letters.  Screwtape, a demon worker of Satan’s, is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood and trying to advise him on ways to distract and coerce his “patient” away from a newfound Christianity and back to the ways of the world. In Letter 21, Screwtape advises Wormwood to focus on the patient’s sense of ownership. If the patient believes time belongs to him, then he will feel peevish at the imposition of others on his time. If the demon acts just right, he can convince the patient there is little distinction between “my boots” and “my wife” or even “my God.” Screwtape concludes the letter saying, “And all the time the joke is that the word ‘Mine’ in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything.” He explains, “They (humans) will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong – certainly not to them, whatever happens.” The study material itself reminded me that all we have is a gift from God… our time, our resources, our talents, our possessions, our very lives. The study material says, “The truth is God gave us life, then the liberty or freedom to pursue happiness…. God did not give us the right to make demands upon others to feed us or clothe us or to provide shelter for us or to give us a job or even to pay our medical expenses or provide an education.” Rather, “[Our] objects are all gifts from God. God would have us treat these gifts well” and “[t]he time we have is a free gift from God. How we spend that time in some measure will reflect how we will be judged [or rewarded].”

I could hardly contain myself. Rarely does Bible study and “real life” coincide so dramatically.  Here I was on a plane with a cross-section of humanity, many of whom felt that they had been abused in some way. Their sense was that they were entitled to some sort of gift or reward for putting up with the inconvenience. But what if we had flown with that lost screw, what if the wing panel had wiggled off? What about the safety issue here? It wasn’t like the airline had unscrewed the screw just to spite their clientele. Maybe it was entirely a God-thing… a protection for us all from injury and/or death. In fact, I believe completely that’s what it was. When I reunited with my family and the kids asked what had happened to delay Mommy’s return I explained just that… that God had protected the people on the plane and me from injury. Screwtape and his friends very well could have distracted the crew from noticing the lost screw (is anyone else enjoying the further coincidence of the lost screw and the author of the letters, Screwtape?).

Let’s take this a bit further. If God gave us time, money, energy, everything, then we have some very important choices to make in how we spend our time, money, energy, lives. I’ve heard it said that what we spend our money on reflects where our heart lies, what we value. How we spend our time, especially our “free time” also reflects what we value and where our heart lies. Do we make room for God’s work in “our” time? Do we use “our” money for God’s work?  Or do we simply use our time and money for our comfort?

Have I mentioned the beauty of Compassion Tea in light of my ramblings?  Indulge me for a minute! You see, when you purchase a membership to our tea club (www.compassiontea.com/memberships) you spend roughly $12 a month depending on the membership you choose. The after-tax profit from that money may purchase eye glasses or Band-Aids or Neosporin or blood pressure cuffs or Novocain or surgical gloves or medicines which will then be sent to a clinic in rural Africa where it may treat a small child, a mother, a grandmother, a father, a brother, a son, a daughter… someone who does not have regular access to health care, doctors, even basic first aid. It may be used to ship supplies to Africa. It may be donated to a clinic to build a well, buy a solar panel, fix an airplane engine, pay the salary of a medical worker, host a clinic for first aid education… somehow improve the conditions of life for people in rural parts of Africa. In fact, we have Compassion Tea directors leaving Thursday to take supplies to the clinics we support in South Africa! (Stay tuned for exciting stories from the bush!) Taking care of God’s people, teaching them ways to provide for themselves, spending money to help others… all while also enjoying marvelous teas. (Sneak preview… we’ve got new teas coming… more on that later!)

Buying a Compassion Tea membership does in fact provide for our own comfort, but it also saves a life. Talk about having your cake and eating it too!

A Wink and a Nod

One day, two clean-cut young men dressed in stark white, freshly pressed shirts and black dress pants rang my doorbell. As I opened the door, they asked if I had received Jesus as my Savior and would I mind if they came in and shared the Gospel according to the Mormon Church with me. People have all kinds of reactions to door-to-door solicitors and preachers, most of which are less than hospitable. Most of the time, my inclination is to get rid of the person as quickly as possible without being outright rude. But these two were a bit interesting. Yes, I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, so really the literature they were holding out should be saved and used perhaps at a house down the way where Jesus is a curse word rather than a name of holy praise. One pushed further. “Do you believe God has sent prophets to our world even today?”

Now that was a great question! There is an overriding sense in Western culture that God is dead. Burning bushes, seas opening up for people to cross over, staffs turning into snakes and back again, flaming altars quenched by rains that appear out of nowhere after a lengthy drought… those are the stories of a time so long ago it almost feels irrelevant. It certainly feels antiquated and archaic. God just doesn’t appear to His people anymore, let alone send people into the world to prophesy.

When these two young men showed up at my door, I was beginning an eye-opening process whereby God was opening my eyes to the ways in which He does work in the world minute-by-minute, second-by-second, behind the scenes, covertly arranging and mystifying the person willing to look. At the beginning of this process, God had introduced me to a woman, a very good friend, who dreamed dreams, saw God in places I would never have thought to look, and who boldly and uncompromisingly preached God’s Gospel. Did I believe at that point that God sends prophets into the world even today? Yes. It was fun to see the faces of those two men when I jumped into my own experience with a prophet of today. Yep. There wasn’t much else they could say or do except invite me to join them at church someday.

Willing to look for God in my world, I am now seeing Him everywhere! One of my favorite places to look is in creation. When the white moon hangs over the brilliantly green ridgeline in the abundantly blue sky, my heart soars in praise of His creativity and goodness. But God is unlimited and even when we try to limit Him because of our own smallness, He shows up in big ways. If you are willing to look.

For example, this blog has been writing itself in my head for the past week. On Friday, Joni Eareckson Tada emailed this as her daily devotional.

“Oh, magnify the Lord with me, And let us exalt His name together. Psalm 34:3 (NKJV)

It’s time for the NBA basketball finals. When Ken and I went to a playoff game in the Los Angeles Staples Center, we sat in the cheap seats-up so high in the stadium we had a difficult time seeing the basketball players on the court. They looked so small. But then I glanced at the towering jumbo screen above the court. What a difference! We could see every player up close. Even facial expressions!

The screen magnified what was already there. The magnification didn’t actually make the players bigger, they just seemed bigger to our eyes. Every aspect of each player could be enjoyed. Here’s my point: When we “magnify” the Lord, we make the God who looks small in the world’s eyes seem…huge! No, we could never change anything about Him. He’s the same “size” He has always been. We can’t make Him any more grand or great or powerful than He already is. We just “enlarge” Him before the world’s eyes so they can see Him up close.

As Christians, our lives are a little like that jumbo screen. Through our actions and attitudes, we enable others to see God better. When we let the Lord showcase His grace and power in our lives, when we display His peace and patience and joy in our daily attitudes and circumstances, then we truly are magnifying Him.

The world has such a diminished impression of God. He appears so insignificant to so many. Most people don’t even take notice of him. This is why the world needs to see the true details about who God actually is. They need to see Jesus, in His love, His strength, His majesty, and His tender care.”

God knew what was on my heart; He probably put it there! Here’s a wink and a nod that I’m on the right track. Because we put limitations on God, have reduced Him to archaic and antiquated, we also don’t look for Him. But believe me, He is still showing up!

The Compassion Tea team believes that God is our CEO. That is one of the founding principles of our company. We invite Him to join every activity we have whether it be our weekly meeting or while we are preparing for a large event. We believe He comes and directs our paths. This week, He has led us down some amazing roads and reminded us of people He has put in our paths before who might be resources of information and aid to us. We only see a few puzzle pieces at the moment, but knowing that God sees the whole completed puzzle before us is enormously calming. He will reveal each piece as it becomes relevant to our road, to our puzzle. And we are so excited by the possibilities for outreach and compassion.

Let me relay one way God showed up for us recently. The first weekend in June was the big World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. If you follow us on Facebook, you know that some of our team attended. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom had recently been to London for business. While there, they had the opportunity to purchase a special tea produced by the East India Company and picked from a bush HRH Prince Philip planted in 1954 in Sri Lanka. Only 500 caddies of this tea were produced and numbered. Ed and Wendy presented this gift to Anne and Lee Kennedy, Compassion Tea’s dynamic president and spouse who have done so much for the company, while in Las Vegas at the Expo. The number of this particular caddy? 85. Because they are willing to look for God, Ed and Wendy asked if anyone could come up with a special significance to that number. Lee did. “We have 85 memberships as of today!” A wink and a nod from God. When Lee and Anne returned home, membership 86 came in!

I think the world sometimes scoffs at Christians who look for God to show up and who see His influence. Happen stance, coincidence, fortune, magic, science, “miracle of modern medicine,” astrology are all ways the world today explains God showing up. Let’s call it what it is, people. God’s got a wink and a nod for you, too. Will you catch it?