Blog #3 -- FAITH TO END POVERTY

Ida KAASTRA MUTOIGO

BLOG #3 – FAITH TO END POVERTY

Have you ever thought about the connection of your faith in ending the cycle of poverty around the world? It is interesting that even global leaders such as World Bank’s President, Jim Yong Kim acknowledge the important role of faith in ending extreme poverty. During a 2015 conference that I attended he said: “I believe that some of the most important leaders in the movement to end extreme poverty will be people of faith, people who are motivated fundamentally to help the most vulnerable among us.” He also noted that the number of people living in extreme poverty, defined as less than $1.25 a day, has been cut in half since 1990. On that basis of past achievements and a strong movement out of faith communities, he expressed confidence that an ambitious goal to end extreme poverty by 2030 could be reached. (source: http://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/faith-world-bank-group-and-ending-poverty)

Faith is the fundamental driver to World Renew’s work in ending poverty. Faith is what drove me to take up the challenge of cycling in the Sea to Sea ride to end the cycle of poverty. Why is faith so critical? Ephesians 6:16 provides a response to this question with a reminder that when we “take up the shield of faith, we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” With the powerful energy of faith in God and from God motivating us, we can put an end to those flaming attacks that seek to push people into poverty, keep them in poverty and push donors away from walking alongside people in poverty.

Without realizing at the time I purchased my bicycle, there is a shield placed front and center on the head tube of the main frame! This section of the bicycle supports the handle bars for steering the bike, supports the front wheel for moving forward and supports the crossbar that connects the rider’s seat. The symbolism here is incredibly rich! If faith is the shield, it is faith that supports our ability to steer poverty reduction programs in the right direction. It is faith that provides the energy to move forward in confidence that poverty can end. It is faith that connects us as a rider to participate actively in the journey of overcoming poverty. Faith calls us to action and not to be a bystander when it comes to ending the cycle of poverty.

This shield of faith, as Ephesians 6:16 notes, also has another major function. It stops flaming attacks. What are the “attacks” that come at a cyclist and that a head tube or main frame of a bicycle helps to stop? I think about the force of strong winds, of bugs in the air, of dogs eager to bite and of branches suddenly sticking out in rural trails. It sure helps at such times to have a strong shield of a frame to be the frontal force against these threats.

What are the “flaming attacks” that our faith needs to counteract as we work to end poverty? The most dangerous attacks are the ones that prevent us from hearing God’s voice that is calling us to listen carefully, to give generously and to serve actively. Pope Francis in his Evangelii Gaudium highlights this so wisely when he states:

“The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
(source: http://www.vatican.va/evangelii-gaudium/en/files/assets/basic-html/page3.html )

How do we counteract the flaming arrows of apathy, donor fatigue and skepticism? World Renew tries to engage supporters in volunteer opportunities, discovery tours and workshops that encourage generosity, genuine listening and meaningful, direct connections. How do we respond to the flaming arrows of fear and lack of confidence that contribute to poor leadership in communities of poverty? We provide training on good governance and use an asset-based approach that highlights how God’s rich gifts of love and creation’s resources can accomplish far more than people originally imagined. How do we extinguish the flaming arrows of prejudice, racism, ethnocentricism and gender injustice that sideline the power and potential of people in communities? We try to bring groups that have been in conflict together in peacebuilding and trauma healing projects such as the work with the Fulani and Tiv in Central Nigeria (see story: http://worldrenew.net/our-stories/healing-trauma-and-promoting-peace-nigeria ) While technical programs in agriculture, health, economic / business development are helpful to build skills for human development, it is really the value-laden interventions that help to reach the heart for sustaining human development. Prayer is our powerful connection to God that enables us to do this in faith and with intent listening to his direction and how he is at work already in people’s lives.

The head tube, where my bicycle has a shield, is the place that I lean into with my full weight whenever I am facing a challenge of climbing a hill or facing a strong headwind. As I do so, I trust that it will not buckle under. Overcoming the challenges of poverty requires a significant leaning into the shield of faith that God provides. It is my prayer that we will all lean heavily in trust and faith in God even as we pedal forward with all our strength. As Psalm 46 says, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” How will your faith be stronger today to help end poverty tomorrow?

April 17, 2017
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Blog #2 -- FEET FOR PEACE

Now that the snow has finally melted, I am back on track with cycling on a more regular basis. Today, I managed to do about 35 kms. It felt like I was flying for the first half of the ride but the way back was tough going with a head-strong wind blowing at 32 km/h. My feet felt frozen after cycling for over an hour since the temperature was still only about 4 C and reaching home, they took about an hour to thaw. No wonder I’ve been thinking a lot about my feet lately!

Feet are an incredible contributor for effective cycling. To maximize their usefulness, I have learned it is important to have the right kind of shoes especially for going long distances. In contrast to my bendable, lightweight jogging shoes; my cycling shoes do not bend and are quite heavy. They also have steel clips on the soles that can latch onto the pedals to increase efficiency. That means my foot does not just work on the forward motion but also works when it moves back and upwards. This efficiency ensures movement is sustained and wear and tear on my feet is much less compared to using regular running shoes. The only downside of these clip-on shoes is when a sudden stop has to be made. If I don’t twist my foot out in time, I will fall still attached to my bike.

Reflecting back on the Ephesians 6 “armor of God”, I am struck by the reference to feet in verse 14. An important part of the armor for fighting spiritual forces and keeping faith strong is to make sure our feet are “shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”. Now what does that mean, especially when it comes to fight forces of poverty, disaster and injustice on our world today? For me, it emphasizes the importance of World Renew’s work in peace-building and trauma healing. Did you know that one of the major reasons people continue to live in poverty and hunger is due to conflict and war? Even if the major conflicts have ended, there are years, if not decades, of restoring broken relationships before deep and lasting levels of development can be achieved.

I remember this clearly in my work in Rwanda right after the genocide in 1994. We tried to implement a goat program and constantly met challenges with community members not trusting each other. They were still traumatized and highly suspicious of their neighbors who had turned against them. How could they agree on who would get the first offspring of the goats when there was very little trust? I realized that trust was essential for building any relationship and relationships were essential for building community. Forgiveness and experiencing the healing of God’s love were essential for rebuilding trust and restoring peace. And where did that peace-building power come from? It had to come from a power beyond human strength, the spirit of forgiveness and healing that Christ gives when we accept him in our hearts. And how do we get to know this peace-building power? It comes from the gospel. It is encouraging to hear stories now from Rwanda that show the power of forgiveness is changing the story from distrust and conflict to peace and reconciliation.

My feet are not a very attractive part of my body. While I have great respect for them in taking me all over the world, including long rides on a bike; I don’t really like looking at them. If I don’t wash them daily, they have a bad odor I can hardly tolerate. I am not keen on doing a pedicure and have never put nail polish on my toenails. In college, I would fear that one of my roomies would take advantage of my ability to sleep soundly by painting my toe nails a bright red! Given my aversion to my own feet, I find it quite amazing that when Christ decided to show the depth of his love, he washed the disciples’ feet! He loves my feet too, way more than I love them. He calls me and anyone who follows him to use their feet to go and share the depth of his love with others, especially those who are in distress of poverty and oppressed.

As I cycle today and look forward to doing it with Sea to Sea, I think God’s amazing love truly is the best shoe for my soul and the sole of my foot. He is able to give the proper “shoes” that maximize efficient development that is lasting and sustainable. Those “shoes” are his good news for the world, the message of peace that restores all broken relationships. As Romans 10:15 says “how beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things”.

I am inspired as I prepare for my long Sea to Sea ride this summer, celebrating that my feet are equipped by God to bring peace. I am also incredibly grateful for World Renew staff, our partners, community leaders I work with and all of God’s workers around the world who serve long hours on rough roads so that all people may know God’s peace. How about you? Do your feet bring God’s peace? In a troubled world, peace-building shoes are well-worth using for cycling against poverty!

Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo
March 29, 2017

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Blog #1 -- GEARING UP!

Do you know what it’s like to be part of a cyclist’s culture? I had no idea until I recently registered for the Sea to Sea ride. In about three months, from June to August, there will be about a hundred riders who will participate in cycling a portion or the entire route from Vancouver to Halifax. Imagine the spirit it takes to cycle day after day for about 100 to 150 kms each day!

Why have I decided to join this campaign and do the ride from Calgary to Winnipeg? The main reason is to raise awareness and support for what God has laid on my heart “do justice and love mercy”. World Renew and Partners Worldwide are the two agencies involved in organizing the Sea to Sea ride where funds raised will be used to support families in developing countries to overcome poverty through training programs in agriculture, health, literacy and economic livelihoods. At least 20% of the funds raised will also go towards supporting local community organizations in Canada and USA that congregations are involved with to address issues of poverty, refugee resettlement and other needs.

My work for about thirty years in World Renew has made me acutely aware of the daily sweat and tears of many families around the world who want to change their story of hunger to plenty, of despair to hope and of broken relationships to reconciled ones. Many of them strive to get a bicycle in order to transport their produce to the market, to take children to school, to fetch water, to attend church services and visit friends too. In solidarity with them and with the riders from Sea to Sea, I am excited to be part of this movement to change the story as God intended.

Now let me share what I have learned so far about the culture of cyclists. First, I discovered that buying a bicycle for a long ride was completely different from buying a bicycle for doing short errands. A very helpful sales clerk at one of the bike shops in Hamilton started by asking me questions about the terrain I would be riding and suggested I select a hybrid bike with about 29 gears. What a contrast to the 10-speed bike I thought was ultra-modern as a kid! Then he coached me about getting proper shoes, a snuggly-fitted helmet, a seat that is ergonomically fitted to the size of my bones and a bike frame that allows me to reach the ground with my feet as well as hold the handle bars comfortably.

As I went through this process of buying the bike with all the accessories, I was reminded of the passage in Ephesians 6:10-20 which talks about putting on the armor of God to fight spiritual warfare. Fighting poverty requires using both spiritual and physical armor. Just like a proper fit with a bike is essential to successfully completing a marathon ride, proper tools are essential to overcome poverty. For example, a cyclist needs to be in good physical shape which includes having a strong girth or waist to avoid a very sore back from hours of being hunched over. Ephesians 6:14 similarly talks about girding the waist with truth and putting on the breastplate of righteousness. When dealing with issues of poverty, it is imperative that people confront lies they believe about themselves and replace them with God’s truth. If they are fatalistic by thinking their destiny is poverty and they can do nothing about it, we encourage them to embrace God’s promises for strength and a life that is flourishing.

Pardon the pun, but I am quite geared up for this ride. Thanks for all your support! Thank you for visiting. Together we can make a difference!

Blessings,
ida

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