Real change comes from within
No one likes to be told what to do. My grown daughters remind me of that truism when my “advice” may not be as helpful as I might think. The fact is that people respond much better when they have the space to come up with their own solutions to problems.
At Unbound, we believe lasting change comes from within and that the surest path out of poverty is a self-directed one. In other words, the individuals and families participating in our programs know more about what they need than we do. What they require from us is a willingness to listen and accompany them on their path to change.
That’s what sponsors do when they commit to support a child, youth or elder. They offer material help through their monthly financial contribution, trusting that Unbound and the sponsored individual or family will use the funds in the best way. Sponsored friends often share in their letters the progress they’re making through that support. (And when sponsors write back, they give even more in the form of direct encouragement.)
Solutions to poverty in Unbound come from the grassroots, from the families themselves as they partner with local staffers to set goals, make plans to achieve them and hold each other accountable through parent groups. Change comes from within. It’s what we believe wholeheartedly.
Believe and let go
My son is driving by himself now. I knew that would be a big step for him. What I didn’t anticipate is what a big step it would be for his mother and me.
Letting go is hard. It takes more than a little faith. It’s also takes a certain coming to terms with the fact that, no matter how much you might want to control the actions of others, you can’t if they are to fulfill their potential.
Having meaningful relationships with people requires trust. You have to believe in their goodness, in their giftedness and in their ability to grow. You may never get to the point that you stop worrying about them, but, ultimately, you must give them over to their own choices and commend them to God’s care.
This is who we are as Unbound. We believe in our families. We believe they are capable and motivated. We believe that, given opportunity, they can lift themselves up.
We also believe in our sponsors. We believe in their goodness of heart. We believe in their generosity. We believe in their willingness to step out in faith with us.
There’s one more thing I didn’t anticipate when my son started driving. I never expected to be as proud of him as I am. It’s a pride I would never have known had I not been willing to let him go.
It turns out that believing in others is also a gift you give yourself.
The unexpected path of potential
Years ago, I heard a Christian teaching that transformed the way I thought about God. It was a message from a writer and teacher named Rob Bell. He based his teaching on the story of Jesus calling the disciples while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee, with the message that inasmuch as we believe in God, God believes in us even more.
“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20)
What Bell taught me about this passage was one thing that’s all too often overlooked — context. Surrounding this moment, when Jesus called the disciples and their startlingly immediate acceptance, is the reality that these fishermen weren’t qualified to follow a Rabbi. Unlike many of their peers, they weren’t young men who’d trained at the feet of a renowned religious leader and were on the path to becoming such themselves. They were uneducated “blue collar” workers, yet they were called by the greatest teacher of all.
We seldom see stories like this in modern culture. We don’t see powerful political leaders calling on interns who never got their GEDs. We don’t see successful business owners calling on apprentices who barely scrape by on minimum wage. But Jesus called on all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds. It was unprecedented in his time and still is today.
At Unbound we say, “See potential, not poverty.” Potential is exactly what Jesus saw when he called the disciples from their boats. When we support that same kind of potential in our sponsored friends, who may lack formal education or may not have had the chance to pursue goals, we not only give them a boost through financial support, we say, “You have potential. I believe in you.”
Bearing each other’s burdens
The first time I traveled for Unbound was on an awareness trip to Costa Rica. There, I met my editor's sponsored friend Allison, who at the time had been sponsored for 11 years. When I visited her, she and her family were getting ready to move to a better home. They’d saved their sponsorship benefits so they could improve their situation and were so excited to share that they were getting ready to realize that goal.
On that same trip I met sponsored elder Vilma. When she welcomed me into her home along with her sponsors, she had only been part of the Unbound program for two months. She'd already used her benefits to purchase an electric skillet, which made cooking easier for her. She proudly used it to make us lunch.
There are so many stories like Allison's and Vilma's, of people using their sponsorship to make their lives better, in whatever way they choose. And it's not just about material benefits. Last summer I met a sponsored elder in Guatemala named Carlos who would always show up to Unbound gatherings early to help set up because he greatly enjoyed the company of the staff and his fellow sponsored elders.
In the face of COVID-19, Unbound has stood steadfast. We’ve continued to operate, maintaining a steady source of income for sponsored families around the world — for some, their only source. And while many families have still had to adapt, in some cases going from a position of growth back to survival, we will continue to stand with the families we serve, sending additional resources to the hardest impacted as donations allow.
But our sponsored friends are not just concerned with their own realities, dire though they may seem. They want to know how their sponsors are doing because they know the pandemic is impacting jobs, health and mental well-being all across the globe, not just in their communities. Sponsored friends are continually telling our local staff that they are sending prayers for their sponsors and Unbound.
Helping people is what Unbound does. It's what our sponsored friends, sponsors and staff do. It defines us as a community.
"Bear one another's burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:2)
Empathy that leads to action
Some say that empathy is the gateway to compassion. Imagining how someone feels, then trying to feel that yourself, can lead us to take action, responding to the feeling by doing something about it.
During a visit last year to Unbound’s Kansas City headquarters, project coordinator Vincent Murmu from India shared with us that Rosa, the mother of a sponsored child, learned to write her name by participating in her local Unbound mothers group. Rosa had never gone to school. She felt the pain and burden of those years without formal education.
Not so for her daughter, Teresa. Rosa, a single mom who cared for her three children alone, made every sacrifice so that Teresa could go to school. With Rosa’s encouragement and hard work, and the support of a sponsor, Teresa had what she needed to become the nurse she is today.
The pain and suffering that Rosa had endured gave her the imagination and strength to set Teresa on a different path. Teresa’s sponsor could also, from a distance, feel the burden Teresa carried and reach out with a helping hand.
Unbound’s mission is to walk with the poor and marginalized. That mission, born of the deep faith of our founders and embraced by our community of sponsors, staff and families, flows from empathy and compassion. We feel the pain and the hurt of others because we’ve been through pain and hurt ourselves. We recognize it and we want to do something about it.
Empathy can be a gateway to compassion, making a difference in our world by inspiring us to walk with someone in need who has set a path forward and is making those in her family proud.
The second yearly installment of Ordinary Time stretches from after Pentecost to the end of the Church year in late November. It covers the lazy days of summer and fall, and to some it might seem less important than the other Church seasons. But it isn’t.
We just walked with God for 40 days through the desert of Lent. We celebrated 50 days of the Resurrection … and we’re going back to Ordinary Time? We can’t. We have to go forward to what I like to call "Extraordinary Time.”
It’s in these “extraordinary” times that we are most apt to encounter the Christ who dwells in others.
View the full reflection on video
Generosity of Spirit
Unbound sponsors support those in developing countries who need an assist to move out of poverty to a more human and bearable life. That includes children, adolescents and the elderly. Our sponsors do tremendous good for thousands upon thousands.
But from those we help we can often learn so much. One day, while visiting a very poor family, I was taken aback by the poverty of their tiny home There was only one bed, a table straddled by two benches and a couple of chairs. That was it. Three children were playing on the dirt floor.
Running out of conversation, I asked awkwardly and dumbly of the mother: “And Regina, what do you do on your day off?” Did I expect her to say she played golf or something? She answered without hesitation, “Father, I take care of the poor.”
Dumbfounded by her answer, I squeaked out, “Could you give me an example?”
She looked at me and quietly said, “Last year an elderly woman came into our common yard and she had no place to go for she had been abandoned. I felt so badly for her that I asked my husband if we could take her in. He agreed. We gave her our ‘matrimonial’ bed and we slept on the floor until she died a year and a half later. Then we gave her a Christian burial.”
I was so moved, I had the proverbial lump in my throat as I looked out at the utter poverty of her home. I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Regina, your name means queen, and you will always be queen of my heart. I shall never forget you.” To this day, I never have.
What greatness and magnanimity of soul and spirit! I never knew that such charity and love existed.
Companions on the path to a better life
One of my favorite biblical treasures is the story of Naomi and Ruth. They shared a deep love and friendship for each other.
Naomi’s life began with a dream, but it was preempted by poverty through hunger. There was a famine in her town of Bethlehem that drove her, her husband and their two sons to the land of Moab. When she heard the famine was over, she wanted to return to her birthplace. By then she was an aged widow who’d lost her sons.
She decided to make the trek alone. But her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who was from Moab, deeply loved Naomi and knew the older woman could not make the trip by herself. So Ruth left her own home, family, and familiar comforts to travel with Naomi and help her.
Naomi was wise and knew the way. However, she needed Ruth, who provided friendship, encouragement and safety.
This story reminds me of our work at Unbound. Our sponsors walk alongside children and elders who are making their way to a better life. Sponsors assist with prayer, monetary support, and friendship to those walking the path to a better life and fulfilling their dreams. Sponsored children and elders form lasting friendships with their sponsors. What a generous act of love for each other on the road of humility.
The threefold path of happiness
In his book, “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart,” Dr. Gordon Livingston (no relation to me) shared some of what he learned during decades as a practicing psychiatrist. One of his conclusions was that consistently happy people seem to have three things in common: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.
As a Christian, I filter that observation through the lens of my faith. It brings to mind the last verse of the magnificent 13th chapter of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor. 13:13)
We see these great virtues — faith, hope and love — beautifully expressed in the lives of families served through Unbound. Faith allows them to persevere through hardship, hope gives them vision for a brighter future, and love drives them to work hard so that their children and their children’s children won’t be burdened by crushing poverty.
Perhaps that’s why, despite their many challenges, these families often possess a special kind of happiness. It’s not momentary contentment or the fleeting pleasure that comes from material possessions. Rather, it’s the happiness of those who are wise enough to put their trust in God, in their own abilities and in their friends.
Know that they count their sponsors among those friends.
How do you say it?
The way we treat one another is the measure of how we are living the Gospel.
In a 1986 pastoral letter, the U.S. Bishops said it like this: “Human personhood must be respected with a reverence that is religious. When we deal with each other, we should do so with the sense of awe that arises in the presence of something holy and sacred. For that is what human beings are: we are created in the image of God.” (Economic Justice for All, #28)
Thomas Merton, the late Trappist monk and spiritual writer, said it like this after having an epiphany on a street corner in Louisville in 1958: “… then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts …, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” (from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)
Unbound says it like this: I believe in you. We work with sponsored members and their families as they walk a path out of poverty as full members in a community of compassion. We believe in one another and recognize the dignity and beauty of each person and how that expresses itself in community.
Here’s how an Unbound social worker and a sponsored child’s family lived it out. The family was grateful to receive eggs as one of the benefits of belonging to the Unbound community, but in conversation, the family and the social worker decided together that it would be better if chickens were the benefit instead.
Chickens, you see, would produce eggs that would both feed the family and be available for selling. It may be a small thing, but that’s how dignity works.
The gift of humility
Many years ago, a group of Unbound sponsors were visiting my home country, El Salvador. We were at a community, interacting with staff and sponsored friends and their families. I translated as the sponsors asked questions and conversed. It was intense trying to keep up.
At the end of the activity, a sponsored elder came over to me and said, “You are very good at translating.” I thanked her and said, “Not really, all of you are the ones who really are amazing.”
Her reply stopped me cold.
“Humbleness is accepting your God-given gifts,” she said. “One must recognize, embrace and use them to do good. You are very good at what you do. Be humble enough to accept it and continue to use it to do good.”
The lesson I learned from this abuelita (grandmother) so many years ago still lives within me. We all receive gifts from our Lord, and it is up to us to be grateful and use them for the good of others. Many times, we have no idea of the impact we have on them.
Thousands have decided to share part of their God-given gifts by sponsoring a child, youth or elder, opening extraordinary opportunities for someone to fulfill their inherent potential.
A child or teen can walk to school fully equipped for the adventure of learning. A mother can open a small business to provide for her family. A father can finally have the chicken farm he dreamed of to generate extra income for his household. Or an elder can have what is needed for a dignified life.
There are thousands waiting for the gift of an opportunity to dream, to be educated, to change their life and community. Your gift can be the opportunity they have been waiting for.
Many years later, I continue to be grateful for my gift of being bilingual and use it to help people connect with each other.
Named by God
The story of the Tower of Babel tells of a people who wanted to make a name for themselves, rejecting the name God had already given them. It was their way of asserting that they were their own gods. Their punishment for that act of disobedience was the confusion of human language.
That story is paralleled by the Pentecost event in the Acts of the Apostles, when, through the power of the Holy Spirit, people of many languages and nations heard and understood the disciples. It was a reuniting of what had been divided, brought together again through the name of Jesus.
Each one of us has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. What is your gift from God to the world? How are you going to use it to renew the face of the earth?
View the full reflection on video
Resilience in times of crisis
I’ve watched my mother’s life contract as she’s aged, and I’ve seen her respond with grace, courage and resilience.
She gave up driving at 65 when her eyesight began to fail. That’s when she and my dad started walking to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments, to a fast-food spot for a hamburger and coffee most afternoons, and to the bus stop so they could help me and see their grandkids when I broke my arm and couldn’t drive.
My mom, whose name is Erla, was 85 when my dad passed away the day before what would have been their 47th wedding anniversary. She moved from St. Louis across the state to the Kansas City area to be near my family. She had to begin a new life and did so without complaint, despite her grief. She relished outings to church and jaunts to the library and mall with other seniors on the municipal bus. She played gospel music on her keyboard and sang the old hymns as her prayers.
Into her mid-90s, she had to curtail those activities, too, as she lost more of her sight. She still had her radio to listen to gospel music and sermons and follow her beloved sports. You could ask her most anything about the Kansas City Chiefs, the Royals and the St. Louis Blues, and she’d likely know the answer.
She’s 99 now and housebound since the COVID-19 pandemic. Sports have gone quiet, and she can’t be with her granddaughters because of social distancing. Her life has contracted once again. Still, she perseveres somehow.
While there have been moments of sadness, frustration, anger and illness now and through the years, those moments are overshadowed by her incredible strength and resilience. I’ve seen those same attributes in elders I’ve met in my travels for Unbound.
One unforgettable gentleman in his 70s has been on my mind in this COVID-19 crisis. Erastus lost his wife, home and livelihood after the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya. On a visit to his home a few years ago, he shared his life’s story — from his boyhood and school days in colonial times to working as a farmer and experiencing love and loss. He talked repeatedly about the need for “flexibility,” which I took to mean having the capacity to be resilient and joyful in the face of sorrow and everyday trials.
As we navigate this pandemic, it’s my prayer that we will do all we can as a country and world to support and protect elders like my mom and Erastus. They inspire us to live life to the fullest even when circumstances limit us.
My mom summed up her approach by singing a verse from one of her favorite hymns, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.”
I sing because I’m happy,
I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.
Looking out for one another on the journey
The current safety-at-home guidelines caused by this pandemic have led to many restrictions on our ordinary routines of life. We can’t socialize with whomever we will, but are limited to “safe people.” If we do travel, very few places are open and many of the things we thought necessary are off limits. So we sit, mainly at home.
We should remember that this is the ordinary life of some of those we sponsor. For many, their only means of transportation is by foot. They may have to walk miles with no paved roads and dangers along the way. Their world goes no further than how far they can walk. Occasionally, they may ride in a hot, overcrowded bus, but many can only dream as they look up to the sky and see a plane fly overhead or hear us describe our travels.
These restrictions now might be a good time for a family retreat to remember the blessings we share while thinking of those who have so little. Some live in what amounts to a permanent quarantine but still know the meaning and value of family and neighbors. They don’t have all the distractions that we have, pulling us away from each other.
May God bless them on their journey, as he did for Joseph and Mary on the way to Bethlehem and, with Jesus, to Egypt.
God, our Father, you watched over Jesus, Mary and Joseph in their perilous travels. May we be grateful for our roads, streets, walkways and the like as well as the means of transportation. Help those who don’t have these things we enjoy, and may we be like the Good Samaritan in supporting those who are like the man the Samaritan helped. Amen.
A life of prayer and work
In 2018, I had the opportunity to travel to Guatemala to visit with Unbound sponsors, sponsored friends and staff. Many moments are etched in my memory, but there was one moment in particular that impacted me.
In one community, we wandered between small homes and shacks covered in low-hanging metal sheets. The dirt path we followed was covered in pine needles to welcome us. As we turned a corner, a massive church caught my eye.
As I followed the winding road to the church, I saw groups of men working on patching up homes. The tall, yellow church stood in startling contrast to the unfinished concrete homes, metal sheets and dirt. Above the tabernacle, there was a statue of San Jose Obrero, St. Joseph the Worker.
As I stared at St Joseph, I imagined him to be working right outside with the men I passed on my way into the church, working to provide for his family. I felt so humbled by God in that moment. He showed me the true beauty of humility. Often, I get stuck in a feeling that I must do something incredible, but a life of prayer and work is a life lived for God.
Those same virtues characterized the women we encountered as we spent the week visiting Unbound mothers groups. With the support of each other and their families, they are working to break the cycle of poverty. These women wear many hats in their communities: educators, financial advisers and business owners, to name a few.
Let us keep looking at St. Joseph as a model of dignity in work, care for families and a desire to serve the Lord no matter where we are.
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker is Friday, May 1.
Silent carpenter of Nazareth, model for laborers, by the work of your hands you gave your contribution to the work of the Creator. Your hands earned your living, and you provided for the needs of the Holy Family. Intercede for all workers, in the difficulties of their daily lives. Be with the unemployed in their anxieties for tomorrow, so that through the guidance of God they all may use their strength and talents to make visible God’s new creation. With confidence and trust, we make this prayer through Jesus. Amen.
Reasons to embrace our humanity
To cry. To create. To smile. To feel joy, heartache, hope. To love. These are the reasons to celebrate our humanity, the luxury of being alive and experiencing all of life’s miracles: a warm dish to eat, a school fee paid, a helping hand, a soccer ball, or a group of rowdy kids kicking and chasing that ball around a grassy field. A bite of ice cream.
Sometimes I experience humanity as my son’s sadness or joy permeates a room. Other times, it’s in the realities I discover while reading about an Unbound family’s struggle, their faith, their gratitude, their strength. These reminders reveal compassion, kindness. These moments remind me to remain present, to accept people and situations as they are, while still seeking ways to improve matters.
Dear Lord, for each of your miracles, fill us with the ability to discern blessing from lesson. Help us to see humanity in each act, each struggling individual and every smiling face. In your name, we pray. Amen.
It will come to pass
One of God's elderly poor had a difficult life. Still, he maintained a positive attitude toward the future. When he was asked why, he replied, "Time and time again I’ve read in the Bible, 'It came to pass.' Never did I read, 'It came to stay.'”
That's the attitude I find in the Unbound sponsored families I've met.
When I joined an Unbound awareness trip to Guatemala in February of 2020, our group was welcomed into the humble home of a widowed mother who had four children under her care as she continued her recovery from surgery for a cancerous tumor.
The house had an uneven mud floor with little drainage for rainy days. The child sponsored through Unbound continued to go to school. The mom secured a livelihood for her family by raising chickens, selling orange juice and making snow cones. She had used her benefits to buy simple appliances for her second and third occupations.
Filled with faith, she welcomed the blessing that I, as a visiting priest, offered her at the end of our visit. Tears welled up in her eyes as the group joined our prayers to hers for her health and for the well-being of her family.
Our visit gave her another reason to hope that her situation would improve, and for that, she gave thanks. God does not mean for trouble to stay. God assures her and her family that they will pass over to a better day. For that, she gave thanks as we took our leave.
For my part, as an Unbound preacher I had another reason to point out that when children and elders receive word that they are sponsored, their first reaction is often to give thanks to God. Then they write a letter to thank their new sponsor-friends.
In the face of COVID-19, all people of faith in a good and gracious God may have hope in the words of Scripture: "It came to pass" and not to stay.
This day was given to us by God
The responsorial psalm for the Easter Sunday liturgy says, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.” Since I was about 11 years old, that has been one of my favorite Scripture verses. When things got tough (as defined by an 11-year-old), I remember saying it, silently, over and over to myself when I prayed at night. What defines “tough” has evolved since then, but that psalm brings me as much hope now as it ever did.
As we prepare to celebrate the most important event of our Christian faith, the death and resurrection of Jesus, we find ourselves in surreal times. We don’t have a reference point in terms of life experience for this pandemic. Yet, as followers of Jesus, we believe that no matter what happens, this day was given to us by God, and we are to do with it the best we can, modelling his words and actions.
The times bring out the best and the worst in people. It’s disheartening to hear about all the hoarding going on as fears rise. Yet it’s reassuring to absorb many more stories about the kindness and resourcefulness of people whose words and actions speak of the spirit of looking out for the greater good above self. And it’s been especially inspiring to see the responsiveness and collaboration of coworkers as they’ve transitioned to work from home in a very short time frame.
More than usual lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on the families Unbound serves in communities where we work around the world. They form support networks in which they encourage and are accountable to one another. In the midst of obstacles they face daily, I’ve witnessed gratitude and joy expressed as though it were part of their DNA. Being kind and resourceful is not new to them. It’s part of what sustains them. They are experts at living out what the psalm says.
They remind us that we live resurrection not just on Easter Sunday, but every day.
Loving Father, Redeeming Son and Sanctifying Spirit, we thank you for the gift of faith that sustains us through our challenges. We pray for comfort and healing for all afflicted with illness and those caring for them during this frightening time. We also commend those who have died to your loving embrace and ask for comfort for their loved ones. Help us remember that each day is a gift from you, a gift with which we are to do all the good we can, and for which we are to rejoice and be glad. Amen.
A time for humanity and our earth to have a break
As I follow the COVID-19 announcements made by local authorities calling us all to stay home, I set my laptop on the dining table and get ready to work. Then my wife tells me the latest news, my daughter shares her friend’s funny story and Tommy, our doggy, barks at my son. He wants to go out.
It seems that work will be a challenge in the following weeks.
As I think about this difficult time, I feel this is also a chance for our earth to have a break from us. We hyperactive humans are constantly moving, constantly demanding more resources to fill our never-ending need for more. I think of the thousands of flights cancelled and not polluting our skies. The oil not being consumed means less pollution over our cities. Rivers have less contamination from factories. Our planet is having a moment of recovery.
At the same time, families are finding each other in the same room and spending more time together. Community members are caring for each other. Work teams are being separated physically but reconnecting virtually. People are paying attention to the elderly and making them feel loved. Humanity is finding some time to reflect on the fragility of our cohabitation and remember the things that really matter. I offer my prayers for all those who lost family members, jobs or became seriously ill in this crisis.
The reality we are going through now is normal life for many. Some live confined in their homes because of war, others worry about how to cover the next meal for their children, or feel saddened by not being able to provide proper health care for a sick relative. Yet they smile and wake up in gratitude for another day, and live prayerfully in the hope that tomorrow will be better. They show us the true meaning of faith.
My family and I are worried, we are scared, but we are hopeful that this situation will be controlled eventually. The reality of those living in poverty, though, will be the same unless they get a chance, an opportunity to change that reality.
Today, I have decided to listen to our earth telling me that I need to slow down, that she needs a chance to breathe. I have decided to take solace in the hope that things will be OK, and that the talking and barking at home are nothing but a reminder that I am fortunate to have my family close to me.
Staying close in a time of social distancing
The cruel irony of the COVID-19 crisis is that in this time of uncertainty and fear, when we most need the support of family, friends and our faith communities, we’re asked to keep our distance from one another.
It’s good to remember that the Body of Christ is without limitations. Even when we feel most alone, we’re still one in the Spirit and one in the Lord. We’re united by our love for one another, which is a reflection of the love of God. Though we’ve never physically seen nor touched that love, it’s always there and always sustains us.
As they so often do, families in the Unbound community teach us. Many live in the most remote of locations, far from paved roads, inaccessible to all but the most resolute visitor. Others, like most of us now, are living in isolation in cities large and small. For many of them, this is not a temporary condition, but a lifelong reality. Yet they know what it means to reach out and be reached. They know how to live in gratitude for compassion. They know the love of others, whether it be a neighbor across the river or a sponsor in a country far away.
We may be isolated, but we are never alone. Let us hold that awareness in our hearts as we navigate through these anxious times.
Compassionate God, we come to you with our fears in this time of global crisis. Calm us as you calmed the storm at sea. Help us to remember that in the seeming immensity of our troubles, you still hold each of us in the palm of your hand. You never forget us. You never abandon us.
Provide your healing touch to those who suffer. Bless, too, their caregivers and those charged with public safety. May all on the front lines of this pandemic be guided by wisdom, hope and resolve.
May we rise to the challenge of this moment with grace and courage. May this crisis bring out the best in us. May we be patient. May we be kind. And may our faith in you outweigh our uncertainty. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.
Our lives are intertwined
If we ever needed each other, it’s now. The coronavirus pandemic is such a good teacher. It’s bringing the obvious into focus.
For us old guys, especially us older guys with pre-existing conditions (diabetes, heart issues, cancer, some or all of the above), it’s humbling to realize just how much we need each other for the basics of life, like food. Having to depend on others when you’re feeling fit as a fiddle points out how intertwined our lives really are. I’m finding that the virus is like a huge magnifying glass, pointing out both the good in our human nature and our failings.
My guess is that our sponsored friends might say something like: So what's new? Are you just finding this out? Poverty is like the virus in this sense.”
As I write this, it was 40 years ago this day and about this hour that St. Oscar Romero was gunned down while celebrating the Eucharist. He was killed for his outspoken defense of the poor, because he stood in solidarity with his people, because he had, to use the phrase of Pope Francis, “the smell of the sheep.” It means he was a pastor who wasn’t afraid to be with God’s people.
In the Unbound community, we are all in the flock together. May our sponsorship magnify the good that is being done in partnership with our sisters and brothers, as well as what still needs to be done.
Let Us stand with one another
As churches around the world are closing due to the coronavirus, it’s important to remember that the Church is not just the building, but rather the people. We are the Body of Christ.
Unbound celebrates this great truth. The bonds of love unite sponsors and sponsored friends and their families, as well as Unbound employees and community members from around the world.
As an Unbound preacher, I see myself as not just promoting sponsorships, but, through that, as bringing together in spirit — and sometimes in person — people from around the world making real the awareness that we are, indeed, one body in Christ.
As an Unbound sponsor I pray for my sponsored friends Anthony in Peru and Pedro in El Salvador. United in prayer, my solidarity with them deepens.
At this time, let us stand as one with our Unbound family, with people who suffer from this virus and their families, with medical workers and with all who are on the front lines of fighting COVID-19.
We may not be gathering in churches right now, but let us still celebrate the faith and love that binds us together.
You've got this
In my off hours, I tutor teenagers preparing for the ACT test. I'm always amazed at how big a difference saying something as simple as "I know you can do this" has on their focus and overall scores. We're often covering material they already know. They just need to approach it in new ways and believe in their own abilities. Building trust in themselves is key to reaching their goals.
It’s similar to how we at Unbound approach working with sponsored individuals and families. They know quite well how to survive on minimal means; for many, they've been doing it their whole lives. But they have dreams beyond surviving, and with encouragement from sponsors, staff and their fellow sponsored families, they're turning those dreams into achievable goals.
In the past year, we've published stories about elders saving money so they could visit the ocean for the first time, students creating businesses to pay their way through college, and even a former sponsored youth meeting the pope. These are all people who started with a great need and found ways to turn dreams into reality.
For many, having someone in their corner saying "you've got this" can be a major motivator. The more they hear it, the more they start to believe in themselves. They start realizing those dreams aren't unattainable. They start making small changes in their lives that can lead to big changes for them, their families and even their communities.
And it can all start with just a little encouragement.
Please Pray Dear God, thank you for believing in us. When we don't believe in ourselves or others, you show us compassion and our hearts are filled. Wonderful teacher, thank you for showing us, through our sponsored friends, that nothing is insurmountable if we believe in each other and put our faith in you. Help us become better sources of encouragement and light in each other's lives. We ask this in your name. Amen.
Seeing what others see
Throughout my life I've been faced with moments of doubt, in myself, in a life circumstance or in a new venture. In all those moments, I've been surrounded by people acting as cheerleaders and supporters — people who believed in me, even if I didn't believe in myself. Without them, I likely would have never gone to graduate school, become a writer or had the courage to uproot from my Midwestern life and relocate to New Mexico.
I'm thankful as I look back over the years and realize that so many of the steps I've taken started with someone saying, "You can do it. I believe in you." Without those moments, I think my life could've been very different.
Belief, though, is not binary. It’s not something we get and then have forever. Rather, it’s a work in progress and often something we need help with. In the Gospel of Mark, we see the father of a possessed child ask Jesus to help him believe.
“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you can! Everything is possible to one who has faith.’ Then the boy’s father cried out, ‘I do believe, help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:22-24)
Sometimes we need others to believe for us, to help us believe. It’s a crucial part of the experience of community, and of the sponsorship relationship in Unbound. When a struggling mother or father knows that someone in another country sees them, cares about them and believes in them, it helps them believe in themselves too.
Another’s belief is empowering. It helps us see things about ourselves that are often hidden to our own eyes, and to find power we didn’t know we had.
Triune God, thank you for empowering us to believe in ourselves, in others and in you. Through your power, we believe. Help us to firm up our belief and to spread your love along the way. Amen.