Monday, December 29, 2008

ALLIE UPDATE: Christmas Season Without the Snow

Hello! Allie Naskret has become a dear friend to many in the ORB community, and a good friend to me personally. As many of you know, her heart is in serving the poor and needy and addressing issues of global poverty.

She decided that God was calling her to a year in Guatemala. And she is blogging about it regularly. So I would like to post all her posts on the ORB CARE blog so we as a community could all follow her adventures!

The following post is from Allie's blog - Adventures in Guatemala.


So the holiday season has been pretty rough and lonely here, but I am trying to take one day at a time and appreciate the new experiences. Thanksgiving Day went by, and it really did not feel like Thanksgiving. I spent the day at a conference at a Presbyterian seminary in San Felipe. The conference, which was called "Caminando Juntas" ("Walking Together") was run by CEDEPCA (the organization that my director Marcia works for) and was designed to educate Guatemalan women about domestic violence and child abuse. It was a really awesome experience, because there were women there from so many different parts of the country and so from many different walks of life - some who had been victims of domestic abuse, and others who wanted to learn more about the issues so that they could help women in their churches and communities. It was a really powerful workshop, and it was inspiring to see so many women speaking out and stepping forward as leaders in their communities, since women here are so often marginalized and left without the same opportunities or access to education. It was also fun to see some of the dynamics of the group. Celeste and Callie (two of the other volunteers) and I had shared a room the night before with an eclectic mix of women, all packed into bunk-beds. As we were trying to fall asleep, there was one rather big lady who started laughing for no reason and couldn´t stop. An older lady in the room told her to quiet down and then tried to sing some lullabies to calm her down, but that only made her laugh even harder. Meanwhile, two ladies on the bunk beds below me chatted in Mam (a Mayan language), as the laughing and lullaby-singing continued for quite some time. The next morning, we were awoken at about 5am by more commotion, and the whole situation was really pretty absurd and funny, although I didn´t get much sleep that night. In the morning, Celeste, Callie, and I got to take a dip in the seminary swimming pool (in our pajamas, since we didn´t have our bathing suits). It was our defiant celebration of Thanksgiving, as we tried not to think of our families at home gathering together over meals of turkey and pumpkin pies.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, however, I got the chance to cook a "traditional American" Thanksgiving dinner for my host family. It was pretty interesting, since I had to cook over a fire (we don´t have a stove or oven) and was limited to the ingredients that I could find at the market in San Antonio. I only made stuffing and a few vegetables, since I didn´t want to see one of our turkeys be slaughtered. I´m not sure how it all turned out; it definitely wasn´t as good as my mom´s cooking, but at least I got everyone in my host family gathered around the table to eat together. Since there are so many people in the family, we usually don´t all eat at the same time or in the same place; everyone kind of eats when they are hungry, and wherever there is room (there is a table in the comedor and another small wooden table outside by the fire stove, and sometimes my host siblings just sit and eat while watching tv...). But for Thanksgiving, I was able to get everyone squeezed around the table, and we went around and each said what we were thankful for. I told my host family that I was so thankful for the way they have taken me into their lives and welcomed me into their house. I told them that I felt at home with them. And then after dinner I went in my room and cried. I really did mean what I said to my host family, but I was still sad and homesick, and the reality is that there are still many ways in which I will never completely fit in here. But I´m glad I got to share Thanksgiving with my host family, and they were all very grateful that I cooked for them and that we could share a meal together.

That week we also decorated for Christmas...with strands and strands of cheesy blinking lights that my host parents´ daughter Dominga had mailed from the United States. There is a strand of lights that plays one line each of Jingle Bells, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, and We Wish You a Merry Christmas, over and over again, in a piercing high pitch and slightly off-key. It´s pretty annoying, and conveniently right outside my room, but everyone else seems to love it, so I can´t say anything...I´m learning to tune it out. :) As we were putting up the Christmas lights, my host brother Armando started to get sad. He is the grandchild of Juana and Miguel, and his mother Dominga is currently in the US and has been since he was very young. That week, I finally learned from Juana the story. After Armando was born, his mother decided to go to the US to find a job and send back money to support her son. The plan was that Armando´s father was going to stay with him and the rest of the family, and work to help support the family. But Armando´s father ended up running away with another woman, and left Armando with his grandparents, while his mother was still in the US. Armando´s mom still sends money and things from the US, and the whole family I think is hopeful that she will come back some day to live in Guatemala. She was supposed to come visit this Christmas, but now she´s not, and I think that she wants to stay in the US. The whole situation is very mixed up and sad, although Armando is pretty well-adjusted, all things considered. There are so many broken families here, with fathers, mothers, siblings, and husbands who have gone to the US to find work, leaving their families behind in order to be able to provide for them financially. I could tell that Armando was getting sad as we were putting up Christmas lights, and that night we had a moment of crying together. He told me that he missed his mom, and I told him that I missed my mom too, and we cried a little bit, sitting on his bed. It was very sweet, and I´m glad we got to share that special moment and cry together because we missed our mothers.

Meanwhile, at the church, I have started getting involved in some new activities. A few weeks ago, I started teaching keyboard lessons. I have about 11 or 12 students right now, and that number keeps growing - more and more people keep approaching me to ask if I can teach them. I´ve really enjoyed teaching lessons so far. I like seeing people nervous and squirming in their seats, with red faces and sweaty palms, trying hard to play a piece correctly...and then all of a sudden, their faces light up when they finally get a piece right, and they start to relax and smile. It´s like a little moment of revelation, of overcoming an obstacle. It´s also been interesting for me to learn all the different musical terms in Spanish, so that I can teach different concepts.

In the past weeks, I´ve also formed a humble choir of about 15 young people to sing at the church service on Christmas Eve. We´ve been having practices two times a week, and it´s been interesting to say the least. None of the young people in the choir have ever had any musical training before, and a few are a bit tone-deaf. It has been funny trying to teach them to harmonize and sing without belting at the top of their lungs. But we laugh a lot, and it has been a learning experience for everyone, myself included. I´m not sure if it will all come together before Christmas Eve, but it should definitely be a memorable experience. :)

I´ve also started getting involved with the Presbyterial (the women´s governing body of the churches in our Presbytery), and my time with those women has been one of my favorite things that I´ve been doing lately. I attended a session meeting about two weeks ago, and it was nice to see some familiar faces there. I recognized some of the women there from the Caminando Juntas conference, as well as from another presbytery meeting that I had attended several weeks before. I feel like I am starting to build relationships with these women, however slowly, and I´m excited to see what develops from these relationships. At the session meeting, the women asked me to preach a sermon at their convention in January, and I was completely terrified. But I said yes, because I didn´t want to regret not accepting such a challenge and an opportunity for growth. So, the second sermon I will have ever given will be in Spanish. I figure I have several weeks to prepare, and to look up the necessary vocabulary, and practice my pronunciation...I´m still pretty terrified, but hopefully I will be able to say something that will resonate with the women at the convention, that touches at least someone there. It is going to be interesting...I´m sure there will be stories in my next blog entry. :)

After the Presbyterial session, I went with the women on a visita (a visit to the house of someone who is sick). We went to the house of a pastor named Manuel, who is very old (I think in his nineties) and has been suffering from joint and leg problems. He is the sweetest old man, so friendly and warm and funny. He was very happy that I was there, although he couldn´t get my name right and kept calling me Alejandrina. It was very endearing. We sat and talked with him for a while, and prayed for him, and sang a few choruses of some hymns. We also brought a basket of food staples, such as sugar, rice, and beans for him and his family. When we arrived, Manuel had his daughter bring out vases of soda for us, to receive us into his home. I´m really glad I went to visit with him, and it was nice walking back with the other women in the group and futilely trying to find a bus back to Chocola, only to be smushed into the back of a tuc-tuc (a three-wheeled, death-trap vehicle that serves as a taxi).

The women from the Presbyterial invited me on another visita with them about a week later, to a nearby town called San Miguelito. The ride there was quite long, since we had to take a bus, and then another bus, and then a pickup truck, and then walk some more to get there. San Miguelito is further up in the mountains, and the view from the back of the pickup truck was breathtaking, as we passed green mountaintops, with crystal streams flowing beneath in the valleys. On the ride back to Chocola, I sat smushed in the back of a pickup with about 15 other women, with one of the women holding onto my knee for support and another gripping around my legs for dear life, as the pickup manuevered over the rock-covered roads. We joked and laughed most of the ride back, tossled around in the back of the pickup. One of the woman told me at one point, ¨This is the life of a Guatemalan, and you´re living it.¨ And I smiled and thought to myself, ¨This is why I´m here: to be smushed in the back of a pickup truck, swerving over bumpy roads, and laughing with a group of women, as we hold onto each other desperately.¨

I´m looking forward to working more with the Presbyterial and the women´s group at the church in Chocola. I´ve already found lots of joy and laughter in the time that I´ve spent with many of them. I still feel like I am in a period of waiting, but I think God is teaching me things slowly, and I have to be patient and wait for some things to grow inside. I feel like there is so much more to say, but this blog is already very long. I will try to update soon! In the meantime, Feliz Navidad and Feliz Año Nuevo!

ALLIE UPDATE: 500 Tortillas Later

Hello! Allie Naskret has become a dear friend to many in the ORB community, and a good friend to me personally. As many of you know, her heart is in serving the poor and needy and addressing issues of global poverty.

She decided that God was calling her to a year in Guatemala. And she is blogging about it regularly. So I would like to post all her posts on the ORB CARE blog so we as a community could all follow her adventures!

The following post is from Allie's blog - Adventures in Guatemala.

500 Tortillas Later

Things have been pretty slow here lately...My teaching position at the school hasn´t started yet, since the school is on break until January, and my work at the church is very informal and unstructured. I am still looking for places where I fit in and can offer some of my gifts to the people here. Sometimes it is frustrating, because I´m not sure what I´m supposed to be doing or what my purpose is. I am able to understand a lot more Spanish than I did when I arrived, but it is still difficult for me to speak, and I often feel insecure and unsure about what to say or how to say it. I have had to trust a lot in God to bring me up out of my insecurities and fears, but it is a slow process. I have been able to do lots of Bible reading lately (I´m hoping to get through the entire Bible this year) and I have been very encouraged by story after story of God´s steadfast love; time after time, God chooses the most unlikely people to be great leaders and messengers of His love to His people. I just recently read the passage in Exodus where Moses tells God that he is not an eloquent speaker. He begs God to choose someone else to be a messenger to His people. Yet God uses Moses anyway, and he becomes a great leader of the Israelites. God tells Moses not to worry about the words that he will say, because the right words will be given to him at the right time. This passage has been very encouraging to me; I am learning to trust more and more in God´s power to use me, whether I think I can do it or not, or whether I think that it´s happening or not.
Although things have been slow, some of my favorite moments have been when I´m just ¨being¨ with people, whether it is talking to my host mother after dinner, with the glow of the fire lighting up our faces, or laughing with my younger host siblings as we run around the house trying to spray each other with water on a hot day. I have had a lot of time to practice my tortilla-making (and tortilla-eating!) skills, and a lot of laughter and wonderful conversations have taken place over the dinner table or while making tortillas. I think that an important part of my ¨work¨ now is to observe and listen, to learn what life is like for people here, what joys and struggles they face, how they understand God and express their faith in this different context.
I did get to visit the school where I will be starting to teach in January. A man named Eligio came and took me on the back of his motorcycle up the hill to the neighboring town of X´ojola (which is pronounced almost exactly like Chocola - it is very confusing). At one point, he made me get off the motorcycle and walk up a steep and rocky hill. He said that the road was very treacherous, and I guess he didn´t want me to fall off the back of the bike, so he rode up the hill on the motorcycle, while I huffed and puffed my way up the hill to meet him at the top. We finally got the school in X´ojola, and although we didn´t get to go inside (Eligio didn´t have the key), it was good just to see the place where I will be teaching and to talk with Eligio for a bit. Eligio is a teacher at the school, and he is also the secretary of the plenary (the governing body of the Presbytery, which consists of 8 Presbyterian churches in the area). We also went inside the communal health clinic which is next door to the school, and got to chat with a man named Manuel who works in the clinic. While we were inside, it started pouring, and we could barely hear each other over the din of the rain on the metal roof. Since Eligio and I had come by motorcycle, we decided to wait out the rain before heading back. So we waited...and waited. For about an hour and a half. And the rain didn´t look like it was about to stop anytime soon. So Eligio finally ran outside and hailed down a pickup truck (he knew the driver, who was one of his former students). He stuck me in the front seat of the pickup, next to the driver, and told me he would ride ahead of the car in the motorcycle, to accompany us back to Chocola. So off we went. In the back of the pickup, a group of people huddled under a plastic tarp (pickups are used as a form of public transportation here), while I sat in the front seat perfectly comfortable and dry. By the time we got back to the house, Eligio´s clothes were soaked through from the rain. He got off the motorcycle and ran up to the house to bring an umbrella for me, so I could walk from the pickup to the house without getting wet. And he told my host parents that he had returned me, safe and healthy, back to the house, just as I had left. I felt terrible. I didn´t want to be treated special. I just wanted to fit in, to ride on the back of Eligio´s motorcycle in the rain and have it be horrible. There have been many moments like this, where I have been so humbled by people´s acts of kindness toward me. I am realizing now that what Eligio did was not to make me feel like I was different, but to make me feel cared for and loved, like a sister in Christ. I came to Guatemala hoping to learn how to be a better servant, and I have found myself over and over again being served by other people. I am learning to be more gracious and to accept help and kindness from people. I certainly do need lots of help at times, in a new place, where everything is different and unfamiliar and often lonely. God is certainly showing me how to be servant - and it is through the way that the people here have received me and loved me and welcomed me into their lives.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

AWARENESS POST: Gov Rules May force NY Religious Shelters to Shut down

Interesting article from NY Times .. Full article

As temperatures outside were dropping from icy to arctic early Monday evening, volunteers inside the Friends Meeting House off East 15th Street prepared their gym for homeless guests, following a routine that has taken place nightly for more than 25 years.

They arranged green cots in neat lines on the polished wood floor, placed cold cuts and leftover lasagna on pink cloth-covered tables, and set out 14 chairs — 12 for the homeless, 2 for volunteers who share the communal meal, then sleep in the next room.

But these lovingly preserved rituals may soon come to an end because of a pending change in city policy in which shelters that contract with the Department of Homeless Services to provide beds would be required to provide hot dinners and transportation, things that the Friends shelter and many of the others do not have the staff to handle.

Monday, November 24, 2008

AWARENESS: Education as a "Weapon" in Pakistan

Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times chronicles a private program promoting education in Pakistan. Particularly eye-opening are the shoddy public schools and the stories of girls seen as threats because of their education -- mothers secretly taking their girls to school and hiding it from fathers. Also, people testify that the Taliban is less likely to infiltrate a village if the populace is educated.

Opinion | Nicholas D. Kristof

Books Not Bombs

While the U.S. government is fighting Islamic extremism in Pakistan with bombs, private donations are quietly financing a more important campaign: education.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SERVICE: Turn Black Friday into Buy Nothing or even Make Something Day

From God's Politics - the blog at Sojourners online

Make Something Money Can’t Buy (Glue Gun Optional)
by Julie Polter 11-19-2008

Since the early 1990s, a guerrilla campaign has been waged by Adbusters magazine and others to change the day after Thanksgiving into Buy Nothing Day (slogan: “participate by not participating”). Of course, buying nothing will be a given this holiday season for the many Americans struggling simply to pay for the basics—food, housing, clothing. Some of us who thought our faith in God was strong are finding ourselves haunted by anxiety as we watch retirement funds evaporate or enter yet another month of unemployment.

Perhaps we find ourselves in spiritual crisis as well as financial crisis. To find our way to an economy in balance with God’s call on our life, we can begin by not just buying nothing, but making an investment in God’s currency of grace.

Last year, members of the San Diego-based Ecclesia Collective, a Christian community network, put forward Make Something Day (see Jason Evans’ post earlier this week). In this new spin on Buy Nothing Day, people are encouraged to turn their resistance to consumerism into positive, productive action by gathering with friends and family to share Thanksgiving leftovers and make crafts and fruitcake and mix CDs, instead of going to the mall.

Perhaps, like me, you suffer from craft anxiety (glue guns don’t make ugly Christmas ornaments, people like me do). Or maybe Make Something Day seems a little naïve for hard times, trying too hard to counter a culture that may be down for the count. With the overstuffed “good life” being sold to us on every flat surface, the fact that making something may be the only prudent option when it comes to stuffing stockings or having dinner can seem at first like loss, not gain.

Yet hands and hearts are truly amazing things, and the works they produce can be suffused with love and memory and individuality in a way that money really can’t buy. If yarn tangles when it sees you coming and Martha Stewart gives you hives, think computer-aided and functional: Make a hard-copy, hold-in-your-hands album of photos for that relative who hates digital; type up your childhood memories or those of family elders and bind them in simple booklets for the younger generation; compile family recipes for sharing. Make a gift certificate for a far-off friend, promising at least one handwritten letter a month for the next year (and then make a solemn promise with yourself to follow through).

Make a commitment of presence or treasure to your local food bank or homeless ministry. Make an interest-free loan. Make an offer of mentoring to others in your community. Make someone happy. Make an apology. Make someone know they are loved.

Julie Polter is an associate editor of Sojourners. For more of her thoughts on Advent, see Re-Rooting Ourselves in God, her commentary in the December issue.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Hello! Allie Naskret has become a dear friend to many in the ORB community, and a good friend to me personally. As many of you know, her heart is in serving the poor and needy and addressing issues of global poverty.

She decided that God was calling her to a year in Guatemala. And she is blogging about it regularly. So I would like to post all her posts on the ORB CARE blog so we as a community could all follow her adventures!

The following post is from Allie's blog - Adventures in Guatemala.

Friday, October 24, 2008

So I´ve been in Chocola for about a week and a half now, and a lot has happened already. Sorry for not updating in a while, but it´s been hard to get to the internet in the past weeks. I tried to update earlier this week, but the internet here is painfully slow. I have moved in with the Menchu family, and I think I´ve finally mastered everyone´s name. My host parents, Juana and Miguel, have eight children and one grandchild living with them in the house. Plus, there are two dogs, a fat pig, six turkeys, several chickens, and a hen with about ten baby chicks that also make their home here. The chickens run freely through the house, and it is quite funny to see the children shooing them out of the kitchen sometimes. Juana keeps saying what a shame it is that I don´t eat chicken, because their chickens are delicious. My first night here, it was very difficult to sleep - the pig makes all kinds of snorting noises through the night (sometimes it sounds like he´s dying), and the roosters start crowing at about 3am (what I like to call the bewitching hour). But I am slowly adjusting to my family, my new home, and the strange noises at night. It feels good to finally be settled in one place, and (somewhat) unpacked, although I am still living out of my suitcase.

My first full day in Chocola, my host sister Sonya, who is my age, showed me around town. We walked to the bosque, which is a big park with a basketball court, tables, and benches, and we sat down and talked for a while at one of the tables. We walked through the streets, past brightly colored houses, tiny tiendas, the big coffee processing plant in the center of town, the market where vegetables, fruits, and meats are sold, and the camioneta stop outside the market. We wove through groves of banana trees and coffee plants, following some of the unruly dirt roads in town, which are spotted with puddles and lots of rocks. We sat for a while on a big rock, watching a group of children outside their school, doing excercises for phys ed class (they enjoyed putting on a show for the onlooking foreigner), and climbed a big hill from which you can see all of Chocola.

After touring the town, we returned home for a lunch of fried fish (it was pretty much a whole fish on my plate), vegetables, and of course, tortillas. My family cooks everything over a fire behind the house. I have been trying to help Juana, Sonya, and Franci cook meals, and I´m slowly learning to make tortillas. It is a lot harder than it looks (actually, it looks pretty hard)! Juana can make about three perfectly round tortillas in the amount of time it takes me to make one, thicker and somewhat oddly-shaped tortilla. But I am learning, and it certainly is a thrill to eat tortillas that I made with my own hands. I told Juana that it is a good thing I have all year to practice...maybe by the time I return home, I will be able to make my own tortillas for family and friends!

I spent most of my first afternoon playing hopscotch with Mindy (the youngest in the family, five years old), Armando (the granson), and Ludwy. Ludwy drew lines in the dirt with a machete, and we used rocks for the markers. Mindy just hopped and spun around without paying any attention to the lines. :) Mindy is so cute, and she has already become very attached to me. Juana told me the other night that Mindy has been praying for me before she goes to bed! How sweet! Mindy is very curious, and she always comes in my room to investigate what I have out on my desk. The other day, she made me show her all my photos of my family and friends, and she had many questions about everyone.

So far, I have been spending a lot of my time just getting to know my family and the town. At times, I´m not really sure what I´m supposed to be doing, because my work isn´t really delineated for me. For now, I am just accompanying my host sisters and brothers when they go out to different places, whether it be to the market, or the panaderia (bread shop) or to grind corn for tortillas at the molina. I am slowly figuring out Cholcola, and meeting people at the church, and finding opportunities to be present to people here.

I have been going to the church quite often (they have services every night), and attending different events with my family. My host father Miguel is an elder at the church, and the whole family is very involved in the life of the church. The congregation is fairly small (the Menchu family makes up a good percentage of the attendees), but there is a lot of life and energy there. My first night in Chocola, one of the elders from the church gave me a hymnal with the music to all the hymns (all the other hymnals just have the words, no music, because everyone knows the hymns by heart). The church has an old keyboard, but it has gone mostly unused, because no one knows how to play it. The music at the services is led by a single man or woman who sings acapella over a microphone, at the top of his or her lungs, and often out of key. The elders of the church are all very excited to have someone who can play the teclado (keyboard). I have been going to the church some afternoons with Sonya to learn some of the hymns - she sings while I play the teclado.
Last Thursday night, I had my first music gig at the church. About an hour before the service, the singer for the night (Carlos) gave me about 7 or 8 hymns; I quickly learned them, with the help of Sonya, and was pretty much expecting to be a rock star at the service...for there to be applause and cheering, and a big parade afterward. I prayed to God before the service that my music would be for His glory, and not my own, and He certainly answered my prayer, in a very humbling and funny way. About halfway through the service, the keyboard stopped working (I think it shorts out when it is on for too long), so I told Carlos to sing the next song without me. So he started, and then halfway through the song, the keyboard came back on, but by that time eveyone had already started singing in a totally different key, so it was useless to try to join in. Also, different people kept coming up front to sing different hymns that were not on my master list, and that I had never heard before. So I just let them sing without me, as I sat up at the keyboard smiling and laughing to myself a little bit. Nevertheless, all the church elders were still thrilled to have someone at the keyboard, and I´m afraid they are going to expect me to play every night. I am excited to bring music to this church, and I am hoping that I can teach some people lessons, so that when I leave, someone else will be able to accompany the services on the teclado. I have to adjust and improvise a lot, because the congregation sings a lot of the hymns in a different rythym than is written in the hymnal...It is quite interesting at times. :) But in many ways, I think the music is so much more sincere- unrehearsed, raw, and from the heart. It doesn´t matter so much if the notes are perfect.

Other highlights from the week:

1) There was an earthquake here last Thursday! Actually, it was just a tremor here, but apparently it was pretty strong in other parts of the country. I have never felt one before, and it was very strange to feel the earth moving under my feet!

2) I got to ride on the back of a motorcycle with my brother Pablo to Santo Tomas! We went to go buy bread, but the shop was closed, so we just rode around a bunch to see the town. It was kind of scary, especially on some of the windy and rocky dirt roads!

3) I think there was a scorpion in my room the other day...I saw it on my door, and tried to swat it out of my room with a notebook, but it scurried under my bed and disappeared, never to be seen again. I slept very restlessly that night.

4) I am still afraid to get up in the night to go to the bathroom, since I have to walk around the house in the pitch dark (the bathroom is sort of like an outhouse). Also, a huge cockroach and the biggest spider I have ever seen live behind the toilet.

5) I think I might have eaten shark the other day for lunch! We had this broth thing, with fish, crab, and shrimp, and there was an unidentified piece of something, with very thick and slippery skin. I thought it was a fish I had never seen before, but after I ate it, I heard Juana tell Miguel that it was shark!

6) It has been raining quite a lot here lately, and the roof over my bed has started to leak. :(

There is so much more to write and not enough time...Hopefully I will write again soon! Until then, que les vaya bien!!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

SERVICE OPPORTUNITY: Make loans that change lives - The ORB CARE Kiva Lending Team

Kiva is a non-profit website that allows you to lend as little as $25 to a specific low-income entrepreneur in the developing world. You choose who to lend to - whether a baker in Afghanistan, a goat herder in Uganda, a farmer in Peru, a restaurateur in Cambodia, or a tailor in Iraq - and as they repay the loan, you get your money back.

ORB CARE has a lending team at Kiva to help alleviate poverty, started by ORB member Emily Tang. Once you're a part of the team, you can choose to have a future loan on Kiva "count" towards the team's impact. The loan is still yours, and repayments still come to you - but you can also choose to have the loan show up in our team's collective portfolio, so our team's overall impact will grow!

If you are interested, e-mail, and I will make sure you will get a registration e-mail from Kiva! Also, join the "Make loans that change lives -- The ORB CARE Kiva Lending Team" Facebook group!

Special thanks to team captain, Emily Tang!


Monday, October 27, 2008

AWARENESS: "Poverty and Poor health" podcast

PRI's Global Health and Development Podcast covers stories on health and the developing world. Topics include as the state of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis worldwide; the myriad efforts to provide healthcare and other aid in the developing world; and ways to grow and deliver food to the poor.

Poverty and poor health
A new report by the World Health Organization focuses on the social factors -- like poverty and unemployment -- that determine people's health. Lisa Mullins speaks with Michael Marmot, chair of the WHO's Commission on Social Determinants of Health.

AWARENESS: "Why They're Dying in Congo" podcast

From Public Radio International, PRI: The Changing World is a series of radio documentaries that examines issues in-depth. "The Changing World is a special collaboration between the BBC World Service, Public Radio International, and PRI's The World."

The Changing World: Why They're Dying in Congo, Part 1
The civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended six years ago. But as many as 45,000 people continue to die there each month, largely from a lack of basic medical care. BBC World Affairs Correspondent Mark Doyle examines the current state of health care in Congo -- and comes face to face with personal tragedy.

The Changing World: Why They're Dying in Congo, Part 2

Congo's situation now makes it arguably the world's most deadly crisis since World War Two. Mark Doyle visits the General Hospital in Kinshasa, the capital. Several decades ago it was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Africa. Now, doctors there have trouble getting even basic supplies, such as bandages.


Monday, October 13, 2008

AWARENESS: Christians Persecuted in India for Belief

For many, the threat of persecution for faith in Christ is real. Let us in America be grateful that we have the freedom to practice our belief.

Pray for our brothers and sisters in other places of the world that do not have that luxury.

Pray also that they be given the strength and wisdom from God to proclaim the Kingdom of God in such circumstances.

Pray also that we as a community can announce the Lordship of Jesus Christ to a broken world that yearns to hear that hope, specifically through advocating for social justice and fighting for true peace for the poor and oppressed.

-- cdc

From New York Times:

Hindu Threat to Christians: Convert or Die

The family of Solomon Digal was summoned by neighbors to what serves as a public square in front of the village tea shop.

They were ordered to get on their knees and bow before the portrait of a Hindu preacher. They were told to turn over their Bibles, hymnals and the two brightly colored calendar images of Christ that hung on their wall. Then, Mr. Digal, 45, a Christian since childhood, was forced to watch his Hindu neighbors set the items on fire.

“ ‘Embrace Hinduism, and your house will not be demolished,’ ” Mr. Digal recalled being told on that Wednesday afternoon in September. “ ‘Otherwise, you will be killed, or you will be thrown out of the village.’ ”

India, the world’s most populous democracy and officially a secular nation, is today haunted by a stark assault on one of its fundamental freedoms. Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.

The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.

The clash of faiths has cut a wide swath of panic and destruction through these once quiet hamlets fed by paddy fields and jackfruit trees. Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.

Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.

India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.

It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.

The police have blamed Maoist guerrillas for the swami’s killing. But Hindu radicals continue to hold Christians responsible.

In recent weeks, they have plastered these villages with gruesome posters of the swami’s hacked corpse. “Who killed him?” the posters ask. “What is the solution?”

Behind the clashes are long-simmering tensions between equally impoverished groups: the Panas and Kandhas. Both original inhabitants of the land, the two groups for ages worshiped the same gods. Over the past several decades, the Panas for the most part became Christian, as Roman Catholic and Baptist missionaries arrived here more than 60 years ago, followed more recently by Pentecostals, who have proselytized more aggressively.

Meanwhile, the Kandhas, in part through the teachings of Swami Laxmanananda, embraced Hinduism. The men tied the sacred Hindu white thread around their torsos; their wives daubed their foreheads with bright red vermilion. Temples sprouted......

Please read the full article at The New York Times.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Allie Update!

Hello! Allie Naskret has become a dear friend to many in the ORB community, and a good friend to me personally. As many of you know, her heart is in serving the poor and needy and addressing issues of global poverty.

She decided that God was calling her to a year in Guatemala. And she is blogging about it regularly. So I would like to post all her posts on the ORB CARE blog so we as a community could all follow her adventures!

This will be some catch up. Here are her last three posts:

Monday, September 15, 2008

So I have been in Guatemala for almost two weeks now, and it has already been a whirlwind of emotions and new experiences, of hopes, excitement, fears, and being very much out of my comfort zone. After a week-long orientation in Louisville, our crew of six set off for the airport bright and early at 4:30 in the morning. After a few layovers and much anticipation, we arrived in the airport in Guatemala City that afternoon, overwhelmed by the barrage of new smells, sounds, and sights. Our director Marcia picked us up at the airport, and took us to our first destination, an old Catholic monastery which is now a retreat center, located in Antigua. For the first few days, we took some time to settle in, and to get to know Antigua and each other. Antigua is a very strange place - an old colonial city, with red, yellow, blue, and white buildings and cobblestone streets, surrounded by breathtaking volcanoes and mountains. Although the city itself is fairly small, it is much more international than I expected, and there is a strange blending of cultures that is sometimes confusing. There is a large expatriot community here, which makes Antigua feel sort of like a bubble, disconnected from the realities which are very much a part of life in other parts of the country.

After a few days of getting acquainted with Antigua, we packed our things once again to go to San Juan del Obispo, which is where we have been staying for the past week and a half for Spanish school. San Juan is a small town, with cobblestone and dirt roads, and lots of stray dogs in the streets. Across from the school, there is a little shop where you can hear a lady making tortillas all morning. We will be in San Juan until October 13, when our group will split up and we will all go out to our individual placement sites. It has been strange to be in this sort of transitory period, but I am trying to just live each day and soak in as much as I can. I still don't quite feel like the experience is real, and it hasn't completely hit me yet that I am going to be here for a whole year. But I am trying to take things as they come and focus on being here now.

In San Juan, I am living with a host family, and it has been a very humbling and challenging experience. My host mother and father are named Maria and Mario. They have two children living with them, Mario Jr. and Patricia, and Patricia has two small children, Melanie and Diego, who are the cutest kids. I have been welcomed into the lives of these people with love and grace - they have opened their home to me and they take care of me. It is very awkward a lot of the time, because my Spanish skills are not very good; I feel like most of my conversations with my host family have been about food and the weather. It is hard to not be able to communicate much beyond the surface-level, to not be able to express my heart and what I'm feeling and thinking. But I think that feeling awkward and uncomfortable is an important part of this experience - I need to be broken and humbled a bit before I can be remolded into the person I am meant to be.

Here is what a typical day in San Juan is like: I wake up at about 6:45 (or actually, much earlier than that, because I am scratching at my bug-bitten feet or have woken up suddenly, wondering where I am). I proceed to get ready for a shower; I collect my soap and shampoo and try to balance my change of clothes delicately on the toilet. My shower usually doesn't last very long at all - the water is ice cold, and I just stick my head under long enough so that I can soap up my hair. After a nice icy shower, I eat breakfast, usually with my host mother and/or Diego and Melanie. After breakfast, I get my books and head to language school, where I sit with my teacher Mirian and talk for about an hour or two in Spanish (with a lot of effort and concentration on my part), before proceeding to some grammar, reading, and writing notes in my cuaderno. It is a very slow, frustrating process learning Spanish, but I guess we have only been here for two weeks, and I shouldn't expect it to come so quickly. My brain usually hurts by the time I have to head home from school - four hours of Spanish school and intense concentrating really takes it out of you. At the house, I have lunch with my family (which usually consists of some kind of veggies, rice, and tortillas - mmm, there is always a basket of warm tortillas in the middle of the table). After lunch and a bit of awkward conversation with my host mother, I head off to meet the other girls for our afternoon activity in Anigua. The school plans activities for us in the afternoons, to help us learn more about the history and culture of Guatemala. Some of the activities have included watching a movie about the recent civil war, taking a salsa class, going to visit the ruins of the San Franciscan church in Antigua, and walking the Cerro de la Cruz, a path which goes up to a huge cross on a hill, overlooking beautiful scenery below. From the hill, you can see all of Antigua and San Juan in the distance. After the afternoon activity, I return to San Juan on a crowded caminoneta (in English, a "chicken bus"). I have a delicious meal with my family and attempt a bit more conversation, but at this point in the day, I am usually so exhausted and overwhelmed that I soon retire to my room to do some homework and fall asleep, sometimes with a book in my hand and the light still on.

Some highlights of my time so far in Guatemala:
1. Climbing the Volcan de Pacaya!!! - Last weekend, our group climbed Pacaya Volcano, and saw lava up close! It was a terrifying and thrilling experience. The 2 hour hike up was completely in the rain - it was bone-chilling and super windy, weather more like you would picture in Northern Ireland than in Guatemala. The fog was so thick that we couldn't see anything of the supposedly beautiful view. Toward the top, we were climbing almost straight up, over the volcanic rock (one tumbling rock hit my leg, and I still have a big scrape). All of the sudden, it got really warm, because we were near the lava, and my soaking wet clothes dried almost instantly. It was certainly a crazy adventure - I feel like now that we've hiked that volcano, we can do anything. I think it was a good way to start off our Guatemalan experience. :)
2. The delicious food...the homemade corn tortillas are muy delicioso!
3. How friendly the people are - everyone says hello and buenos dias when walking by in the streets.
4. Playing tag with my host brother and sister after school some days

Some lowlights:
1. The scuttling noises I hear on my roof at night, and the family of spiders living in my room
2. Having a man throw up next to me on a very crowded caminoneta one night
3. Being stranded in the bathroom without toilet paper sometimes
4. How the food is sometimes not so friendly on the stomach...:(

Overall, my experience so far has been a mixture of many different emotions, and I am trying to appreciate and live in every moment, whether good or bad, because all these moments are going to shape me. It has been very overwhelming at times, because so much is unfamiliar and unknown. I feel like for the first time, I am not just looking at poverty from the outside, or visiting it for a brief time, but I am actually experiencing and living it, being with the people in their struggles and joys and day-to-day realities. There is so much more to say and I don't know the words to say it. I'm sorry this is so long and rambling, but so much has happened and I haven't even begun to scratch the surface. I will try to be better at writing from now on...
I will have more stories soon!

Friday, September 19, 2008

New Discoveries

So today, I discovered two things:

1. If I jiggle the shower nozzel several times and postion it just right, I get about 30 seconds of (luke)warm water - it is amazing.

2. Yesterday my friend Celeste said that she bought a ball of soap (jabon en bola), and she loves the smell of it and wants to just carry it around like a baby all day long. Since then, I have been trying to take note of different smells, because these are the things I am going to remember. I´ve noticed that the bathroom in my house definitely has a distinct smell ( I know this because I have spent a lot of time in there recently...) - it´s not really a bathroom smell, but it´s a smell nonetheless.

Also, it has been raining for the past three days and probably will never stop. I washed some of my clothes by hand yesterday in the pila (a stone basin divided into three sections) and hung my clothes up to dry, but I think they are just going to grow mold instead. It is very wet; I live on the top of a hill, and there is a river of water running down my street.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Visit to Chocola

So much has happened since my last (very exciting) post...let´s catch up. Last Sunday we visited Chocola, which is where I will be heading off on my own in two weeks (!) to live and work for the rest of the year. The whole day was amazing, and I was so encouraged and excited and overwhelmed all at the same time. Before our visit to Chocola, I was feeling a little discouraged and struggling to understand why I´m here and what my purpose is in these first few weeks. It seems like my main purpose and goal right now is to learn Spanish - I´m in sort of a preparation stage for what is to come. It has been difficult to feel like I haven´t quite started my "work" here - I´m ready to go out on my own and start building relationships with people and truly becoming part of a community. It seems like Chocola is going to be the perfect place for me to do this.

Everyone in the community was so welcoming and gracious and kind, and I was so touched by the open and loving hearts that met me there. When we first arrived in Chocola, we met with some of the elders from the Horeb Presbyterian Church (where I will be working), and they were incredibly warm and welcoming. They kept calling me their hermana (sister), and talking about how we are all one because of the love of Christ - we are all part of the same family and same body. There were so many moments throughout the day when I was just so overwhelmed , overjoyed, and grateful for the outpouring of love I felt - tears welled up in my eyes.

After being welcomed by some of the elders from the church and talking about some of the possibilities and responsibilities I will have during the year, we ate a delicious meal together that was prepared by some ladies from the church. Then, we went to meet my host family!!!! They are wonderful and were so excited to have me there - I feel like I am really going to be accepted into the family as a daughter and a sister. The parents, Juana and Miguel, have 14 children (!!), although I think only 8 or 9 are currently living in the house. I´m so excited to have so many brothers and sisters - I think I will never be without someone to talk to! My first challenge is going to be learning everyone´s name...

I also got to see my room - it is painted a bright, cheery blue and has a big window that opens to the outside. On the bed is a red, shiny beadspread, with a heart in the center, that looks kind of like it should be in a honeymoon sweet...haha. I think I am going to feel very much at home here, am so excited to become part of the family. I can picture myself really coming alive here...I was imaging myself making all these drawings and covering the walls of my room with artwork, and singing each morning in my room, and playing music at the church, and really feeling like part of the community there.

ahhhh, also, my family has a PIG and chickens and two turkeys...i´m super excited! except i don´t want to become too attached, since they will probably become dinner one night...

After meeting my host family, we went back to the church to go to the afternoon service. Just as the service was starting, it started downpouring, and the rain was so loud on the metal roof that we could barely here anything. The woman who was leading the songs was singing at the top of her lungs over a microphone. It was such a genuine way to be praising God - I think that if it weren´t raining so hard, we wouldn´t have had to listen so intently or sing our praises so loudly, straining to lift our voices up to God.

I´m so excited to head off on my own to Chocola in less than two weeks!

(Her blog site is

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

AWARENESS: Relief needed in Haiti after storms

If you feel called to do so, you can donate for emergency relief efforts for Haiti by going to their website:
Text From

As rains from Hurricane Ike drenched northern Haiti, World Vision continued its relief activities for communities still suffering from the effects of Hurricanes Hanna and Gustav. Our staff also assisted people as they evacuated to higher and safer ground in northern Haiti on Sept. 6.

"The only good news here is that Hurricane Ike's path was far enough north that Haiti did not take another direct hit," said Wesley Charles, World Vision's national director in Haiti. "But the rains from Ike have made it even more difficult for aid workers to get into some of the worst-flooded areas. People are becoming increasingly desperate."

Access to many of the hard-hit areas remains a critical challenge, Charles emphasized. In the devastated city of Gonaive, 10,000 people are crammed into 115 shelters. An assessment found that just 10 of the 115 shelters had food. Flying into the cut-off areas will be difficult, as it's believed that all but one of the runways in the northwest are flooded. Helicopters are needed, but few are available in Haiti.

'Distraught and burdened families'

Despite ongoing access challenges, World Vision managed to provide 10-day food rations to about 450 families on the island of La Gonave, 1,100 hygiene kits to displaced people in the Central Plateau, and clothing and shelter materials to 300 families in Jean Denis, which became cut off from the capital overnight when rains from Hurricane Ike washed out the last remaining bridge into the area.

"In Jean Denis yesterday, I met scores of distraught and burdened families," said Steve Matthews, World Vision's emergency communications manager. "With the last bridge now destroyed, the needs in that cut-off region will continue to climb.

"Dirty water was everywhere as we traveled to Jean Denis," Matthews continued. "Children played in the filthy water. Women were washing clothes and dishes in overflowing streams. The farmland was absolutely drenched. Everything has become waterlogged, making it nearly impossible to cook, even for those who were able to salvage some of their rice."

Damaged crops

Because cooking is currently a challenge for flood-affected families, plans are underway to provide ready-to-eat food such as high-energy biscuits.

"Bread is scarce and will soon be gone, and much of people's stored brown rice got wet when Hurricane Hanna went by," explained World Vision relief coordinator Elvire Douglas. In a brief period of no rain on Saturday, people were trying to salvage their wet rice by drying it on tarps laid out on roads and in fields.

Storms exacerbate food crisis

World Vision plans to scale up its relief efforts in the week ahead in close coordination with the United Nations and other humanitarian groups in Haiti. We plan to distribute 40 metric tons of food in the city of Mirebalais beginning Tuesday, along with 150 hygiene kits and 250 cases of water.

Haiti has been hit hard by a succession of hurricanes and tropical rains over the past two weeks. Tens of thousands have been displaced. Overland access to a large portion of the northwest of Haiti is cut off by washed out bridges and roads, making food scarce. Meanwhile, the beginning of the school year has been delayed for at least a month, creating an additional hardship for children growing up in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

The storms have also damaged the next mango crop, the only viable export crop from Haiti. The loss of this income will hurt farmers, even as much of the country struggles to feed itself in an ongoing food crisis caused by higher global food prices, among other factors.

Two ways you can help

Please pray for children and families affected by the multiple storms and severe flooding that has pounded Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Pray for organizations like World Vision that are working hard to bring life-saving relief to those who need it most.

Donate now to help World Vision respond quickly and effectively for children and families who are suffering in the wake of the recent flooding in Haiti.

Visit for more information and how you can donate.

Monday, August 11, 2008

New ORBCARE Projects, plus updates on other projects

This is Christopher Dela Cruz, from ORBCARE, the service group at ORB. I wanted to let you know that fellow ORBer Susan Haugenes and I recently met about the future of ORBCARE and our renewed focus and direction. Here are three things we concluded:

1) ORB CARE would specifically focus on needs outside the immediate ORB Community.
ORB does a great job of really running to help those inside the community in need. So Susan and I concluded that ORB CARE would focus on bringing members of our community to serve those in Red Bank and beyond that they may not be familiar with -- perhaps even making people uncomfortable.

2) ORB CARE, in the next coming months, will focus on a few projects, rather than spread ourselves thin -- but projects that require a commitment and are uniquely ORB's.

3) For ORB CARE to work, the whole community needs to be informed, a good number need to be at least occasionally involved, and at least a few need to make real commitments.


So here are the projects that we are focusing on for the rest of the year:

* Delivering Communion outside Service *

I'm glad to say that this young ministry is going great! The goal is to take Sunday Service to those who physically cannot make it to service - whether because of sickness, old age, disabilities. We have been serving communion to Vivian, an elderly woman in a retirement home, for a few months now. From personal experience, I know she has moved my heart and revealed Christ to me just as much as we have been serving her.

PLEASE, Let us know if there are other people that want us to come to them and bring Sunday Service to them. Also let me know if you're interested in either going once or joining the regular rotation --

* Food Drive for Red Bank Soup Kitchen "Lunch Break" *

We are going to regularly collect canned good and other non-perishable items for the local Red Bank soup kitchen "Lunch Break." Paper bags with a list of items to collect are available every Sunday at the back bench. You can drop off the items at the same place.

Take a bag to work, and ask co-workers to bring in even just one can! Give it to family members, friends, etc etc.

* Ronald McDonald House *

The Ronald McDonald House of Long Branch provides "home away from home" for the families of seriously ill children undergoing medical treatment at area hospitals. They offer a safe, comfortable, supportive haven for families during a time of uncertainty, stress and difficulty. We go serve dinner the first Tuesday of every month, 4 - 6 p.m.

If you're interested in joining this group, or even for just coming out once to check it out, call Susan at 732-887-0511 or email

*** NEW PROJECT: Lunch Break Lunches for Sunday ***

Here's the big project we want to focus on in the fall. The "Lunch Break" soup kitchen in West Red Bank serves big lunches Monday through Friday. On Saturday, St. Leo's Church goes to the parking lot of Lunch Break to serve sandwiches. But there's a hole for Sunday. ORB CARE should fill that hole and make lunches on Sunday at the Lunch Break parking lot. What makes this a good project is:
a) It is local
b) It is not ORB giving to another project but uniquely ours and requires a commitment. In other words, people can't just bail out.
c) It will make communities from different sides of the Red Bank divide to interact with each other
d) It does not require our building.

The Lunch Break Board is talking about the idea at their next board meeting, Wednesday. We will keep you posted, but ORB CARE wants to know who would be interested in that project, and what resources and time people could give.

PLEASE let me know your talents, time you could give, resources (ie house, food, business connections, etc) you have, or even if you're just interested in helping out once a year!

We will have a meeting in the next couple of weeks to discuss the project.

*** LONG TERM PROJECT : Missions trip to West Virginia ***

Next summer, we have been thinking about a possible week-long missions trip to a Christian organization in West Virginia that deals with rural poverty. For those who would love to go on a missions trip but cannot go to the DR, or for those who feel called to deal with poverty in our own country, this would be great. Is there anyone out there interested in possibly helping organize this? And who would be interested?

Thanks for hearing me out!
Chris Dela Cruz

Friday, July 25, 2008


Hello friends,
Last Tuesday, ORB's Young Adult Group dedicated it's entire night to serving our community, specifically with two projects: making bagged lunches for a daycamp for urban youth, and making artwork and raising money for bible packages for pastors in China!

The daycamp, run by the wonderful non-profit Aslan Youth Ministries, services urban youth in Red Bank, Asbury Park, and Long Branch.

The artwork is part of a project by Red Bank Community Church to send Bibles, teaching materials and other needs to PLUS raise awareness about the issues concerning oppression of professing faith in China.

The artwork from all around the community will be displayed at an art exhibit this fall in New Jersey and an art exhibit in Hong Kong!

A HUGE special thanks to Emily Tang, Sandi Andrews, Michelle Andrews, and all the other YAG leaders and people that helped organize and set this up!

Here is some of the great artwork done by ORB YAGers!

And here are said YAGers:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

AWARENESS: Everyday Tips on Not Wasting Food and Saving Money

According to the New York Times, the average price of a dozen eggs soared, between 2006 and 2008, from $1.45 to $2.18.

It's always been a moral issue, wasting food while much of the world's population starves. But lately, the struggling economy has also made it a very real pocketbook issue.

From a British newspaper, The Guardian, tips and advice, some simple, some a bit harder, on not wasting food.

Excerpt from "Waste not..." by Laura Barton and Jon Henley, The Guardian
full article here

1. Avoid the supermarket

"Supermarkets are very expensive places to shop," says Joanna Blythman, author of Shopped: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets. "The idea of the one-stop shop encourages you to buy more than you need." If you do have to go to a supermarket, make a list of what you need beforehand, and stick to it rigorously - but do check that these are groceries you genuinely need, and not items you have just got into the habit of buying: "There's the Stepford Wives aspect of supermarket shopping, where you start buying the same thing every time," says Blythman, "the same yoghurt regardless of whether you've run out of the last tub. But I just say don't shop in supermarkets. They are a rip-off."

2. Ignore two-for one offers

More often than not, supermarket two-for-ones exist because the items in question are nearing their use-by date, or to give shoppers what Blythman refers to as "the halo effect" - the feeling that they are in a place of endless bargains. But stop and think: are you really going to eat those 12 iced buns before they go stale? Are most of the cherries in those punnets even edible? Just how much custard do you require? "Two-for-ones are just encouraging overspending," says Blythman. "They're getting you to buy more than you need." Rose Prince, author of the Savvy Shopper, is also sceptical: "All this means is the supermarket has doubled the price for a given period and then halved the doubled price. Amazing, isn't it?" However, such offers can occasionally prove useful, if you are able to think laterally: "They are great value, but only provided you know how you can use the extra food," says Richard Swannell, director of retail programmes at Wrap, the organisation behind the website "It's just being clear in your mind that you are going to use one and freeze the other."

3. Shop daily for perishables

By shopping daily for what you need, you are less likely to buy mounds of vegetables, meat and fish that will then sit in the fridge going off. Plus you will re-establish a connection with those who produce the food you eat. "The problem is that the distance between the people eating and the people supplying the food is getting longer and longer," says Moritz Steiger, co-author, with Effie Fotaki, of the Independent London Store Guide. Steiger points to the establishment of smaller, neighbourhood supermarkets such as Tesco Metro and Sainsbury's Local as evidence that we still have a desire for corner shops, but these smaller supermarket branches do not necessarily supply the best quality of food, nor do they offer the best deal for the supplier or the customer. Blythman agrees: "Supermarkets generally charge more than the independent greengrocer for fresh fruit and vegetables, especially seasonal produce." As does Prince: "My own researches show that you'll save a minimum of 35% - and usually a lot more."

4. Bulk-buy non-perishables

Bulk-buying storecupboard staples, such as rice, pasta and lentils, along with tinned and bottled items, online is cheaper than visiting the supermarket - not least because it considerably reduces the likelihood of being enticed into buying three punnets of strawberries and a tub of sprinkly cupcakes as you stroll the aisles. "In our house we bulk-buy rice in seven kilo bags," says Swannell. "It saves on packaging and money." Various websites offer a good range of store cupboard essentials, including, which offers a variety of Italian foodstuffs across the UK, and for organic health foods and wholefoods in bulk. Blythman, though, suggests that rather than shopping online you can "just visit your local wholefood shop".

5. Be storage savvy

There are tonnes of household tips for storing foods to increase their longevity (many of them appear on the site) including topping and tailing carrots as soon as you buy them to prolong their life, keeping apples in the fridge so they last days longer than in the fruit bowl, and ensuring your olive oil is kept somewhere cool and dry to prevent the breakdown of the fatty acids. Also, invest in an EGG - "ethylene gas guardian" ( many fruits and vegetables give off ethylene gas as they ripen and the refrigerator traps this gas, which results in the early rotting of your produce. The EGG keeps the ethylene levels in your fridge low, meaning your vegetables last longer.

6. Meal-plan for the week

If, at the beginning of the week, you work out precisely what you wish to cook over the next seven days (some of which may incorporate leftovers), you can then shop with a degree of rigour, are less likely to be distracted by appetising products on the supermarket shelves, and even less likely to end up with a heap of unused foodstuffs at the end of the week. This approach also eliminates the common feeling of returning from the supermarket laden with shopping bags but without a clue what to actually cook for dinner. "In the past," notes Blythman, "people more or less had the same thing on particular nights of the week - leftover roast on a Monday, fish on a Friday ... " and while there is no need for your menu to become quite so predictable, a degree of planning ahead saves time, money and waste and will prevent you from falling back on ready meals.

7. Cook

While many of us have become rather adept at following recipes, we have, somewhere along the way, lost the ability to actually cook - a tangibly different skill which allows you to know just what to do with all the celery you didn't use in last night's risotto, for instance, or that quarter can of coconut milk that wasn't needed in the pumpkin curry. These aren't strictly leftovers but recipe byproducts, and the accomplished cook will be able to incorporate them into subsequent meals without a great deal of fuss or research. The idea is that you don't ever buy recipe ingredients without simultaneously considering where in your culinary week the remainders - that half a courgette, that zested lemon, that quarter block of feta - will find a home. So, whereas recipes can be seen as singular events, cookery is more of an ongoing project. "We didn't used to buy chicken pieces," says Blythman. "We bought a chicken. We had it hot once, and then we scraped the bits off it for sandwiches, and then we boiled the carcass and the gizzard and used the stock to make soup or risotto. Domestic economy was always a rolling programme, you used what you had as the base, added a few extra fresh bits. It's a question of momentum." G2 chef Allegra McEvedy agrees: "There are three main areas of waste: the first is ingredients that are past their best; the second is bits surplus to a specific recipe [as in 'take a third of a courgette and one stalk of celery') and the last being what is usually understood by the term 'leftovers'. For the first, there are two ways forward: buy less and don't be so quick to toss out. Summer fruit that's lost its shape and has squidgy bits can so easily and happily become jam. Super-soft avos will live again as guacamole for the night, and shrivelled tomatoes often have better flavour than taut-skinned ones, and make a stunning tomato soup. The truth is that almost anything in the kitchen has the ability to be born-again as soup or maybe a slow one-pot braise with some spices and a couple of tins - one of tomatoes, the other of some multi-faceted pulse, such as chickpeas."

8. Buy quality not quantity

"If you buy cheap supermarket bread you have no compunction about throwing it away," argues Steiger. "If you buy quality bread you're more likely to use every last bit of it." This goes for most food items, from the fancy yoghurt you're more likely to eat before the use-by date arrives, to the gourmet biscuits you probably don't want to leave to go soggy (or gobble all in one expensive sitting).

9. Freecyle/become a 'freegan'

The website should point you in the direction of your nearest group of freecyclers, a "grassroots and entirely non-profit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns". That stuff often includes perfectly usable food. Freegans take it one step further, scavenging for food from supermarket dustbins that may be about to reach or is just past its sell-by date but is invariably still edible, or whose packaging may be damaged. Supermarkets, of course, detest them because they are proof that large food retailers throw out tonne after tonne of food that could still be safely consumed; as a result, many now stash their waste bins behind barbed wire fences.

10. Reacquaint yourself with your freezer

The freezer compartment is not just for storing ice cubes, a half-eaten tub of Häagen-Dazs and several inches of encrusted ice, but also to keep leftovers for future meals. Though it's not recommended to freeze salad leaves or crunchy vegetables, it's the perfect place for portions of rice, sprinklings of herbs, pre-sliced bagels that you can pop straight into the toaster. You can even freeze cheese and eggs (so long as you separate the whites and the yolks). It's also worth noting that freezers are more efficient when full, so you'll be saving the pennies there, too. has plenty of basic tips for the novice freezer.

11. Don't be afraid of an empty fridge

"I think that goes back to the rise of the big American fridge," notes Blythman. "It's an aspirational thing." You do not, therefore, need to buy acres of food each week to keep it chock-full.

12. Grow your own herbs and salad

Packets of herbs and bagged salad are among the products most likely to go off in the fridge, so if you have a garden, balcony or windowbox, use that space to grow your own. These plants grow quickly and easily and, of course, save on food miles.

13. Buy vegetables whole

A lettuce bought whole and kept in your fridge will not go off in the same way as a pre-prepared salad will, because as soon as fruit or vegetables are processed in any way - even just picked, handled and washed - they begin to decompose. Likewise, it's best not to buy carrots that have been washed, then packaged in plastic and refrigerated, as they will rot sooner than the still-soily variety stored somewhere cool and dark.

14. Know how much a portion is so you don't overcook

Never forget the simple fact that with dwindling rice and wheat crops, the more you waste, the more expensive it will become. So the easy rule is to weigh before you cook: an average portion of rice for an adult is 50g (or a quarter of a mug); for pasta, it is 100g.

15. Bulk-cook meals

Blythman advocates cooking twice as much as you need of one dish and freezing the extra portions, or you can set aside time to stock up your freezer for the coming week. "Buy a box of over-ripe tomatoes from your local street market - they virtually give them away," suggests Prince. "Make a tomato sauce and you have the base for curries, bolognese or just a plain sauce for pasta or to top a pizza. Store both stock and sauce in discarded plastic milk cartons. They freeze beautifully and when frozen you just cut the carton open and heat."

16. Learn how to use leftovers

The site has a huge array of recipes contributed by celebrity chefs, nutritionists and members of the public, including a large number dubbed "rescue recipes" - in other words, how to put that bit of leftover chicken or half courgette to delicious use. There are also websites out there ( and, to name but two) that, one you've typed in the primary and secondary ingredients you have spare, will go away and search their databases for recipes to use them up. Bit of fish left over, and some broccoli? Try, for example, Chinese steamed fish. And a couple of books may help: Second Time Around: Ideas and Recipes for Leftovers by Pamela Le Bailly, and The Use It Up Cookbook: Creative Recipes for the Frugal Cook, by Catherine Kitcho.

17. Look to previous generations

We have, as Guardian foodie Matthew Fort puts it, a great deal more food experience than previous generations, but considerably less food knowledge. We are familiar with the taste of foods from around the world, but we've forgotten how to make the most of what we've got already. During the second world war and well into the 1950s and even 1960s, food was precious: a week's meals were planned down to the last carrot, and we used every scrap of food in our larders (few had fridges), cooking dishes such as shepherd's pie and bread-and-butter pudding precisely to use up leftover scraps. These days, we're more likely to buy them ready made from the supermarket. "People just pick what they fancy off the shelves and end up throwing half of it away because they don't know what to do with it," says Sheila Tremaine, 81. "We never threw anything away, because if you didn't use everything up you had nothing to eat. People just seem to have lost that skill." The WI was founded to help women make the most of the food they had, and has some excellent tips and recipes. Try reading that doyenne of wartime cookery writers, Marguerite Patten: We'll Eat Again, a Collection of Recipes from the War Years, and Post-War Kitchen, Nostalgic Facts and Food from 1945-54 may provide inspiration.

18. Take sell-by dates with a pinch of salt

As a general rule, only "use by" is worth taking seriously; "sell-by" and "display-until" dates are merely stock-control devices for food retailers, and "best before" is simply the producer's estimate of when the food will stop tasting good, which is fairly subjective anyway. Rather than slavishly observing these date labels, we'd be far better off understanding the kinds of foods that could actually be harmful if they go off, such as ready meals (including sandwiches), soft cheeses, pates and cooked, processed meats and seafood. Eggs with a Lion Quality stamp can be kept for weeks in the fridge; chicken, raw meats and fish will all look and smell unpleasant long before they're actively unsafe (as long as you cook it thoroughly, chicken, for example, is good for at least a week past its sell-by date). Apples last for months; potatoes are fine as long as you chop the green shoots off before cooking; tins and jars will last decades if not centuries; hard cheese is indestructible; and dry foods will last for years too. "Ignore sell-by dates," insists Swannell. "They're not relevant. And best before is just what it says on the tin; it doesn't mean the food is toxic the day after that date."

19. Rediscover packed lunches

Leftovers can easily be recycled as packed lunches for children and adults alike - not only is this more frugal, in these credit-crunching times, than a daily trip to the gourmet sandwich shop, it also cuts back on domestic waste. Try rethinking leftovers as fillings for wraps or pitta bread pockets, making leftover vegetables into sushi rolls and bruised fruit as fools or compotes.

20. Equip yourself

Introduce yourself to the stockpot, the freezer bag, and the salad spinner. "Make your own bread," says Prince. "It's quick, easy and so much better tasting than shop-bought. It's also much cheaper. Make your own ice cream, it's a doddle. Invest in a mincing machine as an attachment to a food processor, and turn the leftover roast lamb into a base for shepherd's pie. While you're at it, invest in a sausage stuffer and ask your butcher for some sausage skins when you buy the pork."

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

PRAYER REQUEST: American Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan

War Torn - Veterans who return home with psychological damage may engage in self-destructive violence. About half the time, substance abuse is involved..

After The Battle, Fighting the Bottle at Home - Video

Links to Organizations that help veterans:


Sunday, June 29, 2008


While we Americans are fixated on choosing our next president, there is a real danger of ignoring the plight of the world around us, such as in Zimbabwe where the oppression of international food aid, government-sanctioned murder of opposition groups, and the sham election of an oppressive leader happens with little uproar. 

We have to be properly engaged both as citizens and especially as Christians if we genuinely believe in a meaningful holistic Gospel of truth that speaks to all of God's children, here and abroad.

And we need to come to a steadfast trust in the power of prayer, even with huge complex world events like this.


Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Zimbabweans — orphans and old people, the sick and the down and out — have lost access to food and other basic humanitarian assistance as their government has clamped down on international aid groups it says are backing the political opposition, relief agencies say.

This weekend, Zimbabweans voted in a presidential runoff that has been widely denounced by Western leaders because of state-sponsored violence and efforts to intimidate voters with threats of beatings if they failed to cast their ballots for Robert Mugabe, the sole candidate. Dozens of opposition supporters were killed in the weeks leading to the runoff. 

The opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out of the race, citing continuing attacks against his supporters, and he later sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy. 


Patson Chipiro, a democracy activist, wasn’t home when Robert Mugabe’s thugs showed up looking for him.

So they grabbed his wife, Dadirai, and tormented her by chopping off one of her hands and both of her feet. Finally, they threw her into a hut, locked the door and burned it to the ground.

That has been the pattern lately: with opposition figures in hiding, Mr. Mugabe’s goons kill loved ones to send a message of intimidation. Even the wife of the mayor-elect of Harare, the capital, was kidnapped and beaten to death.

From Nicholas Kristof's latest column on Zimbabwe


From --

CARE, one of the largest nonprofit groups working in the country, has been ordered by the Zimbabwean government to suspend all its operations, which help 500,000 of the country’s most vulnerable people. This month alone, CARE would have fed more than 110,000 people in schools, orphanages, old-age homes and in various programs, it said.

But the aid restrictions go far beyond any one group. Muktar Farah, deputy head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Zimbabwe, said Tuesday that millions of people had lost assistance because of what he called “the shrinking of humanitarian space.”


Aid workers and human rights groups say the restrictions are meant to prevent them from witnessing attacks on opposition supporters, often in nighttime raids, amid the government’s increasingly violent and deadly crackdown on those it sees as a threat to its hold on power.

The United Nations Children’s Fund said Monday that 10,000 children had been displaced by the violence, scores had been beaten and some schools had been taken over by pro-government forces and turned into centers of torture. In a statement, it expressed worry about the welfare of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and orphaned children, given how many aid groups have restricted their operations “due to threats, requests to do so by authorities or general ‘concern at current uncertainties.’ ”

Zimbabwean political analysts and civic leaders say that Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF, his governing party, are themselves seeking to use food as a political weapon in a country, once the region’s bread basket, where hunger now afflicts millions. The government recently bought 600,000 tons of corn. By barring NGOs from giving out food in some areas, the governing party controls food distribution and can use it as an inducement to win support. 


With many aid groups forced, my honest answer is that from a single-person standpoint, I'm not sure. Prayer is our strongest weapon, and I don't just mean that in the abstract. I mean, literally, practically, as Christians, we are called to have faith in the true power of prayer to the living Lord.

We can also support the political sanctions our government has recently called for. Perhaps letter campaigns, calling your representatives, writing to newspapers, websites, TV, radio, etc etc and making it an issue to be concerned about is needed.

If you think those methods work, the fact that Darfur is a household name says a lot to the grassroots work of non-profits, Christian and other religious organizations, and others.