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!

Advertisements

Play Ball

It was the head-bangers that boggled my mind first. Every time Shawn Doolittle came out to pitch, his trademark heavy metal song was piped through the stadium and a large section of fans stood, waved flags, and head-banged until my head was pounding. Then there was Mr. A’s himself, in his white linen sport coat and white jeans and his green or gold shirt underneath working the crowd as if he was in his living room. And the cow-bells and brooms and drums and yes, even the skulls on a stick that serve as rattles… looking around me I was pretty sure I had traveled well beyond my comfort zone.

And then there was the jumbo-tron demanding the attending fans “make noise,” be “louder,” clap their hands and jeer at the opposing team’s pitcher as he and his coach held a meeting on the mound. Or the incessant rounds of “Let’s go A’s” circling the stadium. Really? I found myself thinking. Really? Do I have to follow what you are telling me to do? Can’t I just cheer at my own level and in my own way?

As a family, we’ve loosely followed Oakland A’s baseball for the last 9 years. The stadium is easy to get to, many of the local teachers are huge fans and share that love with the kiddos at school, and the A’s do a lot in the community to raise reading interest among other things. But this year, we’re sharing season tickets with another family so we’ve spent many weekend afternoon and evenings at the ballpark. Sure, we’ve had a lot of fun as a family and have learned a lot.

For example, the only way, seemingly, to get our little boy to sit still long enough is to repeatedly feed him. Corn dogs longer than his arm and a bowl of nachos usually tame that beast.unnamed-5

We have grown to look for certain personalities … like the guy who pedals pizza. His voice and method of calling are so unique that he is a crowd favorite eliciting many “echoes” as he climbs the aisles. And that one time he lost his voice, the crowd called for him!

We enjoy the traditions… the long-standing tradition of singing of the National Anthem at the beginning of the game and the singing of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the traditional 7th inning stretch as well as the larger than life hall of fame “bobbleheads” who race, hand out beads and t-shirts, and who are slightly cool and borderline creepy. Of course, we love Stomper the elephant.unnamed-3

Our section, along the third base line, is relatively fluid and mild-mannered. There are some familiar faces now after half the season, but overall we’re surrounded by new faces each game. And yet, when the homeruns are hit, everyone becomes best buddies cheering and high-fiving and toasting with a beer or when the A’s forget to bring their game those best buddies still develop as conversation grows around who should be brought in and traded and what strategy should be followed. The camaraderie grows… maybe because we’re all crammed in like sardines, or maybe because we can make assumptions about people. Like, “You’re here, you’re routing for the A’s; therefore, you must be alright. I can talk to you.”10306089_10204098901730925_2200846511345265592_n
During commercial breaks for the at-home crowd, the A’s run a series of give-aways and challenges and games. When these involve real people attending the game and not just some animated, computer generated gizmo on the jumbo-tron, the question always comes up, “Share with us a favorite memory from an A’s game.” Repeatedly, the answer has something to do with how the fan grew up watching A’s baseball with grandpa or dad or some other figure and how A’s baseball has been a part of life for as long as memory stretches. Many fans connect with this comment as attested by their apparel and tattoos. Yes, there is a family feel to the ball game and yes that makes it a beautiful way to spend time together as a family. And now, about halfway through the season I hear my kids asking questions about the game and the players and the rules. They are starting to feel the tug as well. This is true Americana! Maybe, soon, we won’t need the corn dog to pass the time!

Nevertheless, baseball, as is true with all professional sport, remains entertainment. And yet, there are people who come to the games always wearing the same thing, who go through certain motions while at the game, who have their own personal traditions… as if they are as important to the game as the players on the field. As if they the fans can somehow influence the outcome of the game. Like, if I don’t don my green full-body bodysuit and walk around with my friend in his green and gold Darth Vader helmet every single game there is no way the A’s can pull off the win. Or if I don’t stand and head-bang for 5+ minutes, there is no way Shawn Doolittle can pitch a no-hit inning.

Between the booing of players and this… I’m not sure which makes me most uncomfortable.

The front page of the Wall Street Journal this morning brought it to my attention again. There’s a man in Cleveland holding a sign that shows LeBron James arms outstretched and chin tilted high. Above James are the words, “The King has returned.” Click here to see.

Am I the only wacko out there who sees in this all kinds of religious imagery?

James, arms outstretched, like Jesus on the cross? The words King… king of basketball, king of the Jews… has returned. James is back in Cleveland, his more-or-less birthplace, the much-anticipated return of Jesus. In both, there is hope. James will bring a championship ring to the Cavaliers and to a fandom that is parched for success. The return of Jesus will bring the final days, the judgment and making right of all things, the wiping away of tears and the donning of robes of pure white and an eternity of living back in the Garden, at the feet of a God of light and good and mercy.

Baseball, professional sport in general, is a religion. A worshiping of false idols.

Several weeks ago, we were watching an A’s game on TV at home. We had a better view of home plate and could see the advertisement there for the next big promotional… a Coco Crisp garden gnome. Oh we laughed long and hard over that! Yes, let’s decorate the garden with Coco Crisp! Turns out we had tickets to that game and as the date approached we strategized our game plan for early arrival so as to be within the first 20,000 people at the game. We were by no means the first in line. Clearly other people had the same idea. As we got closer to the gate, my son began to fret. “What if they run out before we get there?” Like the world would stop if we didn’t get a plastic, poorly made and poor representation of an A’s player who is good now but who will quickly fade into oblivion in 50 to 100 years. Right. The gnome was procured and peace was restored. Pictures were taken.unnamed-2

Inside the stadium, Coco Crisp came near the wall in front of us to sign autographs. One young lady came back to her seat beaming as if she had just had a religious experience. Her backpack was covered in autographs, but she explained repeatedly, “I said Coco, you’re the only one I don’t got.” As if having this last signature will complete her life.

It leaves me a little heart-broken. And maybe you’ll say I’m reading too much into things. But looking at the fans around me, at this culture that pays sports figures millions of dollars to play ball, at this culture that elevates the news of where James is going to play basketball over the news of what is happening along our borders or around the world in places like Israel and the Middle East where rockets are firing and it seems like any sort of relative peace is completely imploding, at people who pin their hopes and their identities on the teams they follow… yes, it leaves me a little heart-broken.

And it challenges me. Because if there are people who spend their paycheck to take their son to see a game or to buy a fan jacket or to tattoo “Athletics forever” on their arm… they may have a passion I don’t have. While they put their hope in that new pitcher or the third baseman or in a season (this is our year baby!), I put my hope in a man who died over 2000 years ago, who died on a cross, one of the worst, most humiliating forms of death man has ever created. He lived a humble, itinerant life, teaching, healing, instructing, loving. His greatest accomplishment seemed to be irritating the religious leaders of his day… and raising people from the dead and healing them from life-long illnesses. He was viewed as wacky by the people in power with his claims to be God’s son and his way of overturning their cozy little powerplays. Oh, and yes. He died. But three days later he began to appear, first to his scraggly band of followers and then to larger swaths of the population. Men wrote about him hundreds of years before he was born. Men wrote about him after he died. He continues to visit people, to touch hearts, to lead lives, and to influence culture. This is who I put my hope in.

I spent several years in Cleveland. I know first hand the thrill of a winning team in town. I remember the days when the Browns were something special, when the Indians had a run at a World Series. And I learned quickly that players and teams have slumps. Players get injured, get traded, move away. Teams move too. Putting our hope in a player or a team is a transient kind of hope, dependent on the location, the season, the strength of the athlete(s). Putting our hope in Jesus is eternal. There are love songs that he sings through my life, ways he blesses me and encourages me and strengthens me that I could never find in a person, or a team, or in anything earthly.

But do I have the passion to follow him as fully as a “true fan?” Do I make enough noise? Does my life show him to the world? Does the way I dress, do the things I say, and does the example of my life clearly tell the world where my hope lies? And do I live as if God’s plan can’t win if I don’t play my part? Do I faithfully take up my part? And when the going gets tough, do I continue to cheer in full faith and hope? Maybe I have more to learn from these fans about living loud and fully committed. Because in the end, the game of life is the one that truly counts. And I better play my part well.10402577_10203940894980855_4703814435724589571_n

Technology… Who Needs It?

I have a tween in the house and the other day she greeted me at the school gate with these words, ”Mom, I am like the only person in the fifth grade who doesn’t have an iPod or a phone of my own. I so need one.” Something about the tone simultaneously made my toes curl and my heels dig deep as if they were growing roots right there on the school sidewalk. Need? You NEED an iPod or a phone? Whatever for? NEED, like water, air, safety, love? NEED? We have radio, CDs, computers, and an iPad. She has a Kindle all her own. I am rarely more than 10 minutes away from her vicinity and when I am she is with trustworthy adults who are armed with cell phones. I made her write a paper explaining her needs. She needs technology so she can do research. Well, we have technology already available. No. There really is no reason at this point in time that my tweener needs more technology, except maybe to feel cool for the 2.5 seconds a material possession will bring happiness. I am that mom.

In the middle of this ongoing discussion, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Your iPhone Upgrade Is Good for the Poor.” The article, written by Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering and biophysics at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how Fletcher and his students are repurposing smartphones. Such repurposed phones are now able to capture images of human cells to look for malaria parasites and tuberculosis causing bacteria. These repurposed phones are able to screen for parasitic worm infections, to scan the eye for retinal diseases, to scan for oral cancer. Fletcher tells how other researchers have been able to create a cellphone stethoscope and a portable ultrasound system. Says Fletcher, “But with smartphones capable of providing basic primary-care services and diagnostic work, and with expanding wireless services that allow doctors to interpret results and recommend treatments remotely, many of the services we enjoy at the doctor’s office will be available in the field – anywhere in the world.”

0-55

Geoff and Nelle of Mission Medic Air hold the portable dental chair.

Isn’t that beautiful! It reminds me of the portable dental chair Wendy and Stina Bjurstrom just delivered to Mission Medic Air in Zambia. The chair is lightweight enough that it can easily fit in their airplane and can be worn as a backpack. It comes with a drill that is solar powered and it will make dental clinics in the bush both easier and more productive. The article also reminds me of the medical kits just delivered to the Community Caregivers at 1000 Hill Clinic in South Africa. Each medical kit has a brand new stethoscope donated by MDF instruments and basic health care items donated by Giving Children Hope and CompassioNow.

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

These kits will go with the caregivers into the villages surrounding the clinic serving some 20,000 people. The caregivers are the front line for the clinic, assessing patients at home, assessing needs, providing basic health care and education. Imagine if they were armed with smartphones capable of scanning for parasites or infections!

When Anne and Lee Kennedy returned from Tanzania in July, they noted that since their last visit to Africa, what had changed the most, what they found to be the most shocking change, was the prevalence of cell phones. People in Arusha had more than one phone, were calling each other frequently. In fact, cell phone coverage was better than the roads. One day when they were trying to find a particular clinic, Anne and Lee called Wendy back in the United States to get directions. The locals didn’t know where the clinic was, but through the use of technology, Anne and Lee were able to find the remote spot. Lee commented then on the changes this increase in technology will bring to the remoter parts of the world, parts of the world where healthcare is so scarce. Hospitals and clinics and transportation providers will be able to communicate more effectively. Doctors in the cities may be able to diagnose complaints over the phone for patients far out in the bush. Or better yet, doctors will be able to provide ever more sophisticated tests and treatments while in the bush.

And yet, we must remember that technology has its limitations. A beautiful x-ray machine sits at the clinic at Lily of the Valley Medical Centre in South Africa, useless because someone stole the computers back in May. Similarly, Danny and Nancy Smelser at Tanzania Christian Clinic have been praying for months for a trained technician to come operate their newly donated x-ray machine. People are still needed… to carry and use and protect the technology, to provide the healthcare.

This past week, Wendy sent daily photos, videos, and updates from her smartphone… updates that told the stories of the 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa. How marvelous it was to open my inbox and see these pictures, to hear the joy and gratitude, to read the heartbreaking stories, and to know that it was all happening in real time, on the other side of the world, but it felt so close, so accessible. Yes, technology is making the world smaller, bringing communities together, advancing new methods of providing healthcare to parts of the world where healthcare is scarce, teaching us about our neighbors on the other side of the world. As we search for ever better reception, pixels, platforms, functionality, as our affluence demands higher quality, we are helping the poor.

Perhaps if my tweener had written that last line as the reason for her need of further technology, I might have caved. A little. Perhaps.

Making Progress

“I’m thirsty all day long. And I have to sit on a bench all day so my back hurts and my neck hurts. It’s hard to sit on a bench with no back to it. And the bun in my hair is giving me a headache. I hate wearing buns; they always give me headaches….” The tirade went on for several minutes in this vein. I can’t say I blame my daughter for her rant. I completely get where she is coming from. I would have the exact same woes were I to have a tight bun in my hair, to sit on a backless bench all day, and not have a water bottle handy. But I think it is a great lesson for her.

Last week was Apple Valley School week for Clara’s class. On Monday, the fourth graders all arrived in period costume and were greeted by a somber and proper Mr. O’Brien – the multi-tasking teacher of kindergartners through high schoolers in the one-room schoolhouse circa 1854 which had once been a 21st century fourth grade classroom outfitted with projection screens and computers and other modern amenities like over-head lighting. As the class went through the re-enactment of life in an 1854 schoolroom, they had a lot of fun.

Clara circa 1854

Clara circa 1854

Dunce caps, fate cards (like Clara drawing a card that said she couldn’t catch the cow and therefore couldn’t get the milking done making her tardy for school for which she lost 5 points), funny names like Matthew who was for the week Carl Jr. (Get it? The fast food joint?), and a classroom that had a cardboard and paper stove, ye old blackboards instead of wipe boards, and a noticeable lack of technology all added to the enchantment of the re-enactment. They had age-appropriate lessons in math and writing and reading (in that each student was given a new age to show the broad spectrum of ages and abilities an 1854 schoolhouse would have housed). There was even an old-fashioned spelling bee.

The first time the ruler hit the desks to get everyone’s attention, there was a visible jump among the students. Old-fashioned manners were in play… bowing and curtseying, ladies first, addressing the teacher in a manner more formal than with the familiarity that has fallen over everyone in the last weeks of school. For misbehavior, students stood on a brick or wore a dunce cap. Clara nearly came unglued on Tuesday morning when she discovered that she had marker on her hands and she would lose points for coming to school with dirty hands. Hats and bonnets were put on when stepping outside and were taken off immediately upon entering the schoolroom.

And lunch was interesting. No Ziploc baggies, no plastic containers, no pre-packaged foods, no cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, juice boxes, Lunchables, water bottles, you get the idea. I packed real foods in a cloth handkerchief all week. But I was not able to let go of the refrigeration element. The ice pack must go in.

It was fun and educational, but as Clara’s tirade after school indicates, it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. Sometimes, in our high-speed lives, we get to romanticizing the past, thinking that the simple life of yester-year was truly better and if we could just recreate that simplicity we would find our own personal nirvana. Go ahead, chase that rainbow, but any pot of gold you “discover” will be fleeting at best, elusive at worst.

So, why am I bringing this up? Well, first of all, it is fun to see how far we’ve gotten since 1854 when public schooling first began. A group of moms was chatting after school, waiting for our cherubs to emerge from 1854, and we were particularly discussing the challenges of packing lunches circa 1854. As I said then and will say again, “Progress is a good thing.” While there have been aspects of last week, namely the increased manners at school, that I’ve liked, I wouldn’t change 2013 for 1854. No thank you. I rather like plastic and refrigeration and over-head lighting and computers and a closet full of clothes.

Do I need to tell you that there are places in the world where the progress of 2013 looks more like 1854? Because we deal with medical care through CompassioNow, this is the area where I see this the most. Take Zambia, for instance. Through Mission Medic Air, doctors and nurses fly into the bush for monthly health clinics. Otherwise, people in the bush are left to fend for themselves medically. There is no local CVS to head to for over-the-counter antibiotic creams, pain relievers, or bandages. The closest doctor does not hold a Ph.D. but rather has completed extensive training in magic and voodoo. Healthcare in the bush is rudimentary at best.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (click here to read the full article May 29, 2013 edition) discussing the fact that counterfeit malaria medicines are flooding Africa right now. These medicines, being sold in open air markets and in shoddy “pharmacies” across the continent contain no active ingredients and are threatening years of progress in the quelling of a disease that proves fatal for people who do not have access to adequate, up-to-date healthcare.  According to the article, “Massive Western aid programs have financed the purchase of millions of doses of Coartem and other antimalaria efforts such as insecticidal nets and spraying. Combined, they have helped bring about a sharp reduction in malaria fatalities, health experts say. Over the past decade, annual deaths from malaria in Africa fell by a third, to about 600,000, according to the World Health Organization.” A seizure of counterfeit malaria drugs in Angola last June recovered 1.4 million packets of the medicine, enough to treat over half of the annual cases of malaria in Angola in a year. One report estimates that 1/3 of all malaria drugs sold in Uganda and Tanzania are counterfeit. The article states that, “A study published last year by the Lancet medical journal and conducted by a unit of the National Institutes of Health found that 35% of 2,300 malaria drug samples tested in sub-Saharan Africa were of ‘poor quality’—either fake, expired or badly made. Such pills ‘are very likely to jeopardize the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria,’ the paper’s authors concluded.”

Concurrently, reports of new drug-resistant TB strains are spreading from the third world to the first world. TB, according to the World Health Organization, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest worldwide killer. Between the years of 1990 and 2011 the TB death rate dropped 41%.  Yet, due to drug shortages worldwide, including in the United States, the drug-resistant strains are threatening this progress. The clinics we support see malaria and TB as two of the top complaints they address along with HIV/AIDS. However, they have a hard time keeping typical medicines stocked. Government funding is slim, availability is scarce, and knowledge of sanitary practices among the broader public is lacking.

That doesn’t stop us from trying! Because any progress is good in the realm of healthcare, we continue to look for new ways to send supplies, funding, and aid to the clinics we support. Above all, we make sure that the medicines we supply are up-to-date, not set to expire, and are legitimate. And we continue to add new clinics when we can to spread quality healthcare to people who need it. Several of our Compassion Tea team just attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas where they met tea suppliers from all over, including Uganda. We are very excited about the prospects of selling tea grown and processed in Uganda where we just recently added a clinic to support. Stay tuned!

Progress is good. Progress is rapid here… too rapid sometimes. But in Africa, progress is slow and is constantly in jeopardy.  That is worthy of a tirade, too.

Redeeming Grace

Silent Night, holy night; Son of God, Love’s Pure Light; Radiant Beams from Thy Holy Face; With the dawn of Redeeming Grace; Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth; Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth.

Taking a 5-year-old boy, who is the living definition of perpetual motion, to an orchestra and choral concert while he is in the throes of Christmas excitement was perhaps not entirely bright. But we did. The boy crawled all over my lap, conducting the orchestra in his own way, falling to the floor on occasion, and playing with my hair most of the time. Between my own incessant shushing and his commentary about the songs and sights, it is amazing that a) we were allowed to stay and that b) we got anything out of the concert at all. But we did. After all, this was the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus – perhaps the best orchestra in the US if not in the world.

The concert opened with a rendition of O, Come All Ye Faithful that was both melodiously traditional and hauntingly new. When we got to Joy to the World and the audience was asked to join in, a thought struck me. It was fleeting due to my son and his gymnastics, but it was a coherent thought and it went something like, “Wow! This is a Christmas concert in the truest sense of the word! Celebrating the true meaning of Christmas! Here is an orchestra and chorus and audience singing a Christian hymn of praise in a very secular, public place. Cool!” And then I had to disengage from the thought and the moment to prevent my son from crawling under the seats.

Shortly thereafter, I was relieved to hear the familiar opening bars of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. We can stand! Hallelujah! I leaned over to my daughter to explain to her that when King George II of England heard this music for the first time he was so moved that he had to stand and that because no one may sit when the king is standing everyone has been standing for the piece ever since. (I’ve also heard that he had nodded off, and when the first trumpet sounded out the notes of the Hallelujah Chorus, George awoke with a start and jumped to his feet. Others have suggested that as the head of the Church of England, George would have been very aware of the Jewish tradition of standing for hymns of praise and therefore was a) complying with tradition and b) accepting his own secondary status before the true king of the universe, Jesus Christ.) And then the thought hit me again. “Wow! Look at us all! Standing and praising God and heralding Jesus Christ as the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings!” My mind swept back to Peggy Noonan’s opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

Like so many of us, Noonan tried to explain or analyze what just happened in our country, what the events of Sandy Hook Elementary really mean. She commented on how people across the US are not following the story and its every detail like they have in the past. “Too depressing,” she quotes their explanation for tuning out. “Because it’s too painful now, because they’re not sure anything can be done to turn it around and make better the era we’re in. This new fatalism is… well, new. And I understand it, but there’s something so defeated in turning away, in not listening to or hearing the stories of the parents and the responders and the teachers.” There have been a lot of Facebook posts and Twitter tweets talking about the impact of our nation turning its face away from God, suggesting somehow that because we’ve asked people to refrain from public prayer, public displays of religion, and the public teaching of biblical morality, we’ve turned God out and invited in the devil at the worst or at least a grey no-man’s-land of political correctness and individual morality that has actually created a moral abyss. This national sense of despair Noonan is sensing may in fact be because we, in turning away from God, have become hopeless. As she suggests, our nightmares are coming true and the optimism, hopefulness, and perpetual innocence of our grandparents is being shaken by current events. Where do we turn to for hope if we’ve asked God to leave?

Yet, here I was with over 2000 people, packed into Severance Hall, standing for the Hallelujah Chorus. Was this a moment like the one in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation where Grandma Bethany who, when asked to offer a blessing over the Christmas Eve feast, recited the Pledge of Allegiance? Did they stand because it is a tradition that has little meaning but that is followed to the letter simply for traditions’ sake? Or were the people standing in awe of the one King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Was this a midwestern phenomenon? Would such concerts be played this season at Radio City Music Hall, Carnegie Hall, or in any other of the big concert halls of our country? Or was this a prime example of President Obama’s statement about the Midwesterners who tend to cling to their guns and their religion (well, maybe not guns, although since Ohio is a conceal-carry state, perhaps there were a few guns in the audience)?

Fleetingly, I marveled at the freedom of the moment. After reading Noonan’s piece in the Wall Street Journal, I had glanced at a headline of another opinion piece. “The Most Persecuted Religion” written by Abraham Cooper, John Huffman, and Yitzchok Adlerstein, claims that of the 193 nations on our planet, 131 nations harbor either individual groups or governments that are openly hostile to Christianity and its believers. The article discusses how there are groups in places like Nigeria who are practicing Nazi pogrom style selection, singling out Christian people for slaughter. It reminded me of a speaker I once heard who told of a meeting with a Chinese lady. This American had worked closely with the woman for years on psychological studies. Neither had ever publicly acknowledged the other as a fellow believer for fear of repercussions. But during their first meeting in the United States, the two were able to embrace moving the woman to tears. Why? Because she was so happy to be with a fellow believer, safely. And here I was, at a public concert, quite openly celebrating Christ. Hallelujah!

The concert closed with Silent Night. The stage was bathed in candlelight and the twinkle of strands of Christmas tree lights hanging from the ceiling. Robert Porko, who directed the orchestra and chorus for this concert, asked the audience to ponder the recent current events as they listened to the words and sang along to this beloved hymn. He had previously joked with Santa about the Fiscal Cliff and the Debt Ceiling, about repealing Santa Care (which stood for unlimited cookies for life), and about the ever-bumbling Browns football team. Porko added Newtown to that list of things to ponder. Like Noonan, it seemed he sensed a national need in the midst of crisis after crisis to return to the one who offers unlimited hope. And then, in the third stanza, it hit me. Silent Night, holy night; Son of God, Love’s Pure Light; Radiant Beams from Thy Holy Face; With the dawn of Redeeming Grace; Jesus, Lord, at Thy Birth; Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth.

Redeeming Grace, the grace that is redemptive, the way we should treat each other. This is a great big God saying, “Hey, you bunch of screw-ups, I love you and I’m going to save you.” This is joy beyond measure translated into handling each other with grace, with mercy, with peace. This is holding Christmas in our hearts. This is forgiveness for the little screw-ups and for differences of opinion and for each other’s foibles and tendencies and idiosyncracies. This is hope. Once upon a time, America was viewed as a city upon a hill, set apart, shining holy hopeful light on the valleys below. President Obama recently commented that we are no longer a Christian nation. But what I see happening is that perhaps we don’t quite agree. Perhaps Christmas needs to mean a little bit more to us all, that we are beginning to wake-up from our nebulous gray cloud of moral turpitude, from our politically correct stupor to say, as Noonan put it, quoting Eugene Kennedy, “We are like King Arthur’s knights, entering the forest each day without a cut path, and ‘finding our way through is what we are called to do.’ Here… faith offers not an explanation but the only reliable guide. Jesus said, ‘I am the way.’ That is not a metaphor.”

*******

Through our holiday sales this year, and thanks to you for your amazing support, we at Compassion Tea will be able to offer redeeming grace in the form of life-saving medical care to countless people in Africa. Extending the hand of love, God gave us Jesus. Extending the hand of love, we in turn give care and love to our neighbors in Africa. Hallelujah!