Practicing Resurrection – Planting Trees Helps Girl Survival In India

Photo by Matt Freer - used with permission

Photo by Matt Freer – used with permission

Last week I received a link to an article from my friend Steve Goode reminding me:

In India, China and many other parts of the world today, girls are killed, aborted and abandoned simply because they are girls. The United Nations estimates as many as 200 million girls are missing in the world today because of this so-called “gendercide”.

Girls who survive infancy are often subject to neglect, and many grow up to face extreme violence and even death at the hands of their own husbands or other family members.

This is an issue that I have always been passionate about and I am always frustrated by how complex it is and how difficult to eradicate. The needs so overwhelming and our ability to make a difference seems so limited. I was delighted when I came across this article by Lindsay Tanne:

In Bihar, India—where the bride’s family traditionally pays a dowry—residents are planting the seeds for women’s progress.

Families in Dharhara village have started a new tradition: planting 10 trees whenever a girl is born.

But the gesture is not just symbolic—when it comes to marriage, the benefits are as sweet as the lychees and mangos that will grow.

Subhas Singh, the father of a 19-year-old daughter who is set to marry this month, describes the trees he planted as “our fixed deposits.” He explains that he sold off the fruit three years in advance to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Read the entire article

The planting of trees is not just life giving to those women whose families sell the fruit to provide for their weddings. It is also life giving for the environment.

This story reminds me of one of my heroes of the environmental movement- Wangari Maathai  who started teaching women to plant trees around their villages in Africa. Her actions started a movement that spread around the world. May the planting of these trees too start a movement that spreads and changes lives.


Can Solar Cooking Stop Rape in Africa?

This video brought tears to my eyes when I came across it a couple of years ago. Practicing resurrection, redemption, renewal indeed. It is amazing to think that rape and violence against women could be reduced by solar cooking. Solar cooking can bring peace and dignity to women’s lives. What impact I wonder could our own creativity provide for people at the margins?

Adam Sinned and Women Bore the Consequences.

African women - photo by Matt Freer

African women – photo by Matt Freer

I wrote this post today for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent in honour of International Women’s Day tomorrow. Part of my scripture reading for the morning was Roman’s 5:12 – When Adam sinned sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone. Adam sinned and the first thing he did was blame Eve and it seems to me that the daughters of Eve have borne the burden of that blame ever since.

Downton Abbey brought this home to me recently. Ethel gets pregnant and is thrown out of the house, forced to become a prostitute. Thomas is revealed as a homosexual and is not only forgiven but promoted. Both activities were regarded as moral sins at the time, but treated so differently.

I sat here musing about this today as I considered the inequalities that still separate women from men – less pay for the same amount of work, the inability to own property in some parts of the world, the lack of legal representation in others and of course the more subtle forms of discrimination – gender selective abortion and even malnutrition. In spite of the fact that girl infants usually have a higher survival rate, in places where malnutrition is prevalent, more boys survive. The gender gap is closing but it is still very present in our world.

International Women’s day began as a day for celebrating the social, economic and political achievements of women.  It was first celebrated in 1911, around the time of Downton Abbey, when women in most parts of the world still had few rights.

Thinking about this reminded me of the many women I have known over the years who have impacted my own life because of their advocacy and social action.  I would like to pay tribute to some of these women today.

There are those who lived in the past when it was not easy for women to speak out in society:  – like Elizabeth Fry, the English Quaker who in the early 1800s became well known as a prison reformer and social activist.  Another was Daisy Mae Bates, a controversial Irish Australian journalist who made a name for herself in late 19th century Australia as a welfare worker and lifelong student of Australian Aboriginal culture and society.  She was known among the native people as ‘Kabbarli’ (grandmother).  Still another is Gladys Aylward who became a missionary to China in spite of being rejected by the China Mission Center in London.  In October of 1930 she set out from London with her passport, her Bible, her tickets, and two pounds ninepence, to travel to China by the Trans-Siberian Railway, despite the fact that China and the Soviet Union were engaged in an undeclared war.   She is best known for her trek across the mountains with 100 Chinese children during the war, a story immortalized in The Inn Of the Sixth Happiness.

Others are women I know today whose lives continue to inspire and encourage me.  LikeWangari Maathai an environmental and political  activist who in 2004 became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for “her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.”  Another is Edith Yoder – Executive Director ofBridge of Hope an organization that works to end homelessness by surrounding single parent moms with a church support team.

Still others are women whose achievements will probably never be known by any but a small group of friends – like Heather and her husband Dennis who have founded a school in China close to the Mongolian border and Jocelyn Cowey in New Zealand who is one of the most hospitable people I have ever known and last but not least my mother whose quiet strength has always encouraged and supported me.

Then there is the young woman whose name I don’t even remember who worked alongside me in the refugee camps on the Thai Cambodian border as a Khymer medic.  She had little training but her dedication and compassion not only impressed me but saved the life of many of her country men and women.  I have met many others like her around the world who struggle to survive in a world that often abuses, overlooks and discriminates against them.  Fortunately though I may not know their names I am sure that God never forgets who they are or the good contributions they have made to our world.

Some think that singling out women and their achievements like this is outdated and even obselete.  I suspect they are unaware of how many women still struggle to treated as equals. I will never forget the Cambodian refugee who said to me “Your being here gives me hope that one day my daughters will have the same kind of freedom that you have.”  The commemoration of a day like this which has fostered massive change, not only for women, but for children, the underprivileged and victims of discrimination still gives hope to those who long for freedom.  Its achievements cannot be forgotten or taken for granted.  While 60 per cent of the world’s poorest are female, 10 million more girls than boys do not attend primary school, and violence against women kills and injures as many women as cancer, International Women’s Day continues to be a relevant and vital encouragement toward liberation.

What Do We Give Thanks For?

Today I give thanks

Today I give thanks @Christine Sine

Tomorrow is American Thanksgiving, a tradition that I have embraced with great enthusiasm since I have lived in the U.S. I have already posted a Thanksgiving – Harvest prayer for 2012 and decided there is really no need for another. Yesterday when I posted the above prayer on Light for the Journey’s Facebook page, one of my friends responded:

I want to be able to feel warmed by those words.I want to find faith and hope – right now I can’t! They don’t fit some of us in the UK- for today is really tough and full of pain for those of us who are female priests in the Church of England, and are facing yesterday’s grim decision that our gender still cannot be Bishops. I was in the first wave of women to be ordained as a priests over here.

It made me realize that even in our thanks and gratitude we live in the tension of God’s kingdom now and not yet. The glimpses of God’s kingdom that fill us with awe and wonder, that bring us to our knees with shouts of praise and gratitude are unfortunately just that, glimpses of a world that we desperately long for but do not yet see fully realized. The pain of my sisters in the U.K. who are so devastated by the General Synod no vote to women bishops is my pain. Oppression in Syria, Israel, Columbia, and North Korea oppresses my soul. The environmental degradation that devastates rainforests in Brazil, contributes to the destruction of hurricane Sandy, and wipes out species in Africa, these degrade my spirit.

Our celebrations at thanksgiving. Our gratitude and praise to God for the many blessings we see in our lives should not blind us to the suffering of others. In fact it should inspire us with the desire to see others rejoice and celebrate in the same ways that we can.

So my question for all of us at this season is What are we doing to bring thanksgiving and gratitude into the lives of those who are suffering, oppressed or marginalized? 

For more Thanksgiving prayers check out these from the last few years:

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2010

A Thanksgiving Prayer for 2009

Rejected or Embraced

This morning’s scriptures included one of my favourite gospel stories as recored in Mark 5:21-43.  It is the story of Jesus being asked by Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue to come and heal his daughter.  On the way he is touched by a woman who had suffered for many years from constant bleeding.  He stops and takes time to make sure she is identified and that everyone know she has been healed.  She is poor, she is ostracized and she is obviously afraid, because according to the Jewish tradition of the time she should have been part of that crowd.  She was unclean and certainly unfit to touch the hem of Jesus garment.  But Jesus welcomes her, heals and tells her “Your faith has made you well, go in peace (shalom) your suffering is over.” (Mark 5:34)

In the meantime Jairus’s daughter dies.  I can just imagine the angry mutterings in the crowd when this is announced.  Why did he wait?  Why did he bother about this nobody when he had the chance to heal an important leader’s daughter?  Some I am sure wanted to blame the woman for wasting Jesus time.  Instead of healing her and ending her suffering, they wanted to add to it.

Jesus response to the crowd contrasts their lack of faith to that which the woman has just shown.  “Don’t be afraid” he says, “just have faith.”  And of course he goes on to the leader’s house and heals his daughter once more embracing and including the unclean and breaking the Jewish traditions.  This time he touches a dead body and no matter how important this child’s parent’s may have been, that was just something you were not meant to do.

This story is so profound at so many levels and it never ceases to touch my heart.  The way that Jesus reaches out to the rich and the poor in a single sweeping expression of his ability to heal is awe inspiring.  And the fact that both are women makes it even more profound.  We are never told the names of either the woman or the child, but we are aware that in this moment they are sisters embraced and welcomed together into the family of God.

This story always fills me with hope.  Jesus notices the most insignificant and seemly rejected of our society.  But he also reaches out to the rich and the powerful.  All are included in his embrace.  He does not just heal and restore them but welcomes them into the same family together.  That is truly an expression of shalom.



The Causes of Our Times

I am getting ready to speak at the West Coast Healthcare Missions Conference this next week and have been updating some of my statistics and presentations.  As usual this kind of preparation challenges me again to look at the needs of our world and to grapple with how my life can make a difference in the lives of those that are marginalized by our society.

Part of my reading this week has been the Millennium Development Report 2009 It makes sobering reading as I realize how much those at the margins have been impacted by the financial crisis of the last year reversing some of the hard earned progress against poverty.  It is estimated that 55 million to 90 million more people will be living in extreme poverty than anticipated before the global economic crisis.

In 2000, world leaders in the UN established what are known as the  Millennial Development goals with the hope of freeing a major portion of humanity from extreme poverty, hunger, illiteracy and disease by the year 2015. The goals are:

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Goal 2: Achieve universal primary education

Goal 3: Promote gender equality and empower women

Goal 4: Reduce child mortality

Goal 5: Improve maternal health

Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other disease

Goal 7: Ensure environmental sustainability

Goal 8: Develop a global partnership for development

Read the entire 2009 report here

Another part of my reading came, believe it or not from the New York Times Sunday Magazine.  Why Women’s Rights are the Cause of Our Time. The challenges of this issue complements the concerns of the Millennial Development report because one of the major areas in which we have made little progress is in the health and wellbeing of women.

Every year, 536,000 women and girls still die as a result of complications during pregnancy, childbirth or the six weeks following delivery.  Girls are less likely to be in school than boys.  They are taken to health clinics less frequently, are more likely to be malnourished and often suffer the indignity of too many babies too soon which results in vesicovaginal fistula that further ostracize them.    The magnitude of the fistula problem worldwide is unknown but believed to be immense. In Nigeria alone, Harrison (1985) reported a vesicovaginal fistula rate of 350 cases per 100,000 deliveries at a university teaching hospital.

In some countries women still have no rights of citizenship or the ability to own property.  This makes them extremely vulnerable if their husbands or fathers die or abandon them.  It can also binds them to abusive and degrading relationships with no recourse to the processes of the law.

The education and empowerment of women continues to be a huge issue in our time and one which I believe Christians should be at the forefront of addressing.  Jesus treated women in radical life affirming ways that were revolutionary in his day and age.  He treated them with respect and as equals.  In a society that believed women were incapable of learning, he allowed them to sit at his feet and listen.  He raised a widow’s son from the dead so that she would not be forced into extreme poverty and possibly into prostitution, the only profession that from ancient times has been open to women who are vulnerable and alone.

According to the New York Times:,

the oppression of women worldwide is the human rights cause of our time.  And their liberation could help solve many of the world’s problems, from poverty to child mortality to terrorism…. “Women hold up half the sky,’ in the words of a Chinese saying, yet hat’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and its not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos.  Read the entire article here

As a Christian woman I feel huge responsibility to be a part of God’s solution to this overwhelming challenge.  It was part of the stimulus I needed to read the Bible through the eyes of women rather than men, to see the liberation that Christ brought and that we too are challenged to bring.  It is part of what continues to motivate me to speak out against injustice towards women, the sex trade, mass rapes that occur in war and the patriarchal ways that we interpret the Bible.  It is the main reason that I am still so sensitive to even the little ways that women are discriminated against in our society.

Let me finish with one of the scriptures that I find most compelling in this regard.

It is for freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm then and do not let yourselves (or others) be burdened again by a yoke of slavery…. You my brothers and sisters were called to be free.  But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another humbly in love.  For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Galatians 5: 1, 13, 14.)

Jimmy Carter – Losing My Faith For Equality

Jimmy Carter, president of the United States from 1977 to 1981 has just left the Southern Baptist Convention because of their discrimination against women.  I have always admired him for his involvement in peacemaking and concern for the poor.  This stand has increased my estimation of him 10 fold.  My prayers are with him as he speaks out in this historic way. It also seemed to me that his actions are an important spiritual practice very much in keeping with the series that we are conducting here

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practising Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities.

The impact of these religious beliefs touches every aspect of our lives. They help explain why in many countries boys are educated before girls; why girls are told when and whom they must marry; and why many face enormous and unacceptable risks in pregnancy and childbirth because their basic health needs are not met.

In some Islamic nations, women are restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime.

The same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in the West. The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices – as we are seeing in Iran where women are at the forefront of the battle for democracy and freedom.

I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion, and tradition, are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy – and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

The Elders are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who offer their influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity. We have decided to draw particular attention to the responsibility of religious and traditional leaders in ensuring equality and human rights and have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.”

We are calling on all leaders to challenge and change the harmful teachings and practices, no matter how ingrained, which justify discrimination against women. We ask, in particular, that leaders of all religions have the courage to acknowledge and emphasis the positive messages of dignity and equality that all the world’s major faiths share.

The carefully selected verses found in the Holy Scriptures to justify the superiority of men owe more to time and place – and the determination of male leaders to hold onto their influence – than eternal truths. Similar biblical excerpts could be found to support the approval of slavery and the timid acquiescence to oppressive rulers.

I am also familiar with vivid descriptions in the same Scriptures in which women are revered as pre-eminent leaders. During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.

The truth is that male religious leaders have had – and still have – an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world. This is in clear violation not just of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but also the teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, Muhammad, and founders of other great religions – all of whom have called for proper and equitable treatment of all the children of God. It is time we had the courage to challenge these views.