Archive for the 'General' Category

A Glimpse of Haiti

We pick up newspapers, turn on televisions, and click on computer screens seeking facts over fiction, images to help us see and stories to assist in our understanding of the devastation in Haiti. 

On February 3, 2010 Susan Demel, Director of Impact Ministries, traveled to Port-au-Prince, Haiti with Food for the Hungry. Here is a brief glimpse of Haiti from her perspective:

I remember wondering what was waiting on the other side of the border as we crossed into Haiti from the Dominican Republic by van. I anticipated the worst in my feeble attempts to prepare myself.  Observing painful scenes, hearing heartbreaking stories, smelling death in the air…could not be avoided. Even though I’ve traveled globally, this trip could not be compared to any other.

The estimates of the full devastation of the earthquake in Haiti keep changing daily.  On February 10 the Haitian government confirmed the death toll of 230,000, with the death toll still expected to rise. As many as 300,000 had been injured and an estimated one million Haitians are now homeless.  In addition, 250,000 residence and 30,000 commercial buildings have either collapsed or been severely damaged. Most hospitals and schools are gone.

The numbers are all staggering. The amount of people injured is overwhelming. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor until I was in Haiti wishing I had the ability to bring relief and healing. Many people survived but in a lot of cases limbs were crushed which has led to a lot of amputations. In the New York Times this week a doctor writes that she asked a little boy what he wanted her to bring back the next she came to help. He said toys…and a bicycle as he smiled big, until he looked down and realized one of his legs was no longer there.

The toll taken on the lives of survivors is immeasurable. The cameras will go away soon, the news coverage will wane, the statistics will stand in history as an immovable remembrance, the rubble representing homes and businesses will be cleared away. However, what won’t easily be removed are the memories of where each Haitian was on the day of the ‘event’ and the incurred. That’s what they call it, ‘the event’, not the earthquake.  Every person has a new reality, life as they’ve known it has shifted as dramatically as the earth did on January 12, 2010. The stories are all different from each other, but they are all relevant, important and significant.

Every statistic represents a life, a dream, a child, a family, a hope, a friend, a community. 

“I think with this earthquake many people realize that life is nothing. We are just sand and dust and mud. We are precious to the Lord, but houses, clothes, jewelry, furniture…all this is vanity. The most precious gift that we can appreciate now is the fact that we are alive. Personally I’m thankful to the Lord because my family is alive…I don’t know how.” Haitian aid worker who I met in Port-au-Prince.

In the midst of this calamity there exists a brilliant resilience in the people of Haiti.  Reports from individuals on the ground, share that following the earthquake, many people were praising God and hundreds were seen marching peacefully through the streets during the day, clapping and singing. Neighbors helped neighbors. It’s a picture for us to capture and remember. Many of the aid workers I met who are helping people through this are themselves Haitians dealing with their own personal heartaches and losses. Who better to know how to help than one who has experienced the same reality and tragedy?

I recently came across a quote made by a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, who was living and conducting research in Port-au-Prince. “I am telling you two things that seem contradictory: that people in Haiti are suffering horribly, and that Haitians are not sufferers in some preordained way. What I mean is that suffering is not some intrinsic aspect of Haitian existence; it is not something to get used to. The dead were once human beings with complex lives, and those in agony were not always victims.”

 

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Lasting Effects of Loving All

The Christmas season may have appeared and disappeared in a flash, but the impact that participating in Advent Conspiracy had on our community and many others around the world is certainly lasting.

Here on the blog and elsewhere, you shared your stories of how taking back the meaning of Christmas affected your celebration of Christ’s birth. From personal choices of buying one less present and giving relational gifts of time & experience to slowing down your pace of life and taking time to think about the God-who-became-man, our church had the opportunity to restore the scandal of Christmas.

But the effects of Advent Conspiracy didn’t hit just our community alone; because of the generosity of so many, we were able to give away over $180,000 to global partnerships around the world. Here’s where it’s going:

water-wells70% was given to Food for the Hungry to build wells and provide health education in the Peruvian Amazon.

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10% was given to Beacon of Hope to purchase a CD4 counter, which will provide life-saving medications for those living with HIV in Ongata Rongai and Kware, Kenya.


10% was given to our middle school students who distributed the money to the following needs in Honduras: 

  • honduras-campamentoClean water projects through Living Water International – building wells & providing clean water
  • Campamento Cerro de Luz – the students’ partnership in Honduras and the place where they join local Honduran students for week-long Bible camps. The money given will replace the A/V system which had been stolen.
  • Blackhawk’s Playground in Orica – the money given will complete the work on the playground which began years ago.
  • For more information on the above, please contact Jon Anderson, Director of Middle School Ministries.

10% was given to our high school students who distributed the money to the following needs in Romania:

  • cimg6907Housing, food, and job & life skills training for young adult orphans through Humanitas Pro Deo (HPD), or People for God – on the site, click on “Project,” then “Craiova Projects.”
  • Support for & ministry to severely mentally and physically disabled orphans and young adults through Ethos Open Hands.
  • An endowment for two Romanian boys that the high school ministry adopted.
  • For more information on any of these, please contact Lief Erickson, Director of High School Ministries.

If you have additional questions, please contact Mary Anderson.

Please continue to pray for these communities and those who will put this money to good use there. What a privilege to be a part of God’s kingdom work!

Sustainable Conspiracy

We’ve completed one full cycle of the Advent Conspiracy – from beginning to end. When my wife Katie and I first heard about AC, we were excited about the idea of taking back Christmas for the name of Christ. Then we began to explore how we were going to be creative with our gifts this year. With immediate family, we followed the AC suggestion to give “one less gift.” In our interpretation of AC, we decided to make homemade gifts rather than buy something from a store. My sister made placemats. My brother made soup. And I made blueberry coffee cake.

While that was our direct application of the Advent Conspiracy, Katie and I still wanted to make creative gifts for the stocking-stuffers that we always include in our Christmas giving. This year we were blessed by the arrival of our firstborn son, Sorin, in August. So it was almost effortless to take six different pictures of Sorin and put them into simple frames for our stocking-stuffers. Advent Conspiracy isn’t just a challenge to give “one less gift.” I believe it’s a challenge to change the way we view Christmas and even year-round giving.

One cycle of Advent Conspiracy. From an exciting idea to a strategy of meaningful giving. From the labor of making homemade gifts to the joy of family enjoying the fruits of that labor. We explored the idea that true giving shouldn’t be valued against the dollar. It was wonderful to step up to the challenge of creative giving. At the same time, we gave what we normally would have spent on our “one less gift” to Blackhawk’s Advent Conspiracy and joined the rest of the church in gathering $175,000 for three excellent causes. Needless to say this is a very satisfying season.

We heard about Advent Conspiracy, we participated, we were challenged, we grew, and we experience the joy of true giving. Is that it? Was this a one-hit-wonder? Is this like other Christian practices that have the best of intentions but don’t sustain themselves? Like the book I read which is great from page to page but I forget about when I finish, the conference that introduces me to new ideas that I can’t quite put into practice the next week, or even the message on a Sunday morning that should challenge me starting Monday morning, but I let it fade away. Is that what Advent Conspiracy will amount to – a one-time campaign that doesn’t change who I am? I should hope not. But that’s the challenge: to make the Advent Conspiracy a sustainable attitude and practice.

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Written by Hans Scheifelbein

Six-year-olds Can Change the World

I teach first grade at a public school on the west side of Madison. A few weeks ago, we were having a discussion about how we all are alike and different. One of my little cherubs raised her hand and said very proudly, “We are all alike because we all agree that God created the heavens and the earth”.

I smiled, told the child that though I believed that and she believed that, that everyone may not be familiar with what the Bible teaches. I silently thought about how great it was that this little girl knew this truth and wondered if perhaps she went to church. The following day I wrote this writing prompt on the board: One way I can help make the world a better place is …

Without missing a beat, this same child quickly raised her hand. She said she was ALREADY making the world better. When I asked for her example, she said that she was giving up a Christmas present and the money that she would have spent on the present was going to help poor kids in Peru have clean water to drink!

Again I thought, wow. This is just awesome. This child truly has a compassionate heart. And only 6 years old!

Sunday moring as I worshipped at the 9:00 service, I suddenly put it all together – there sat the child’s parents right in front of me. I had no idea the family attended Blackhawk! I wrote a note to my student to tell her that I go to her church and had sat next to her mom and dad. I asked mom to deliver the note. I wish you could have seen her smile this morning as she came in the classroom and gave me a huge hug. I am not sure if she was more proud of the fact that she and her teacher had this special secret, or that she has learned to read so well that she could read my note all by herself. Nevertheless, she was one proud little girl.

This is just one more example of how Blackhawk is changing lives. The Bible teaches that a “little child shall lead them.” This young one is a shining light to her first grade classmates becuase she is hearing truth and even at her young age is thinking about how she can make a positive difference in the world. Thanks for your part in making Blackhawk a place where even the six year olds are on a journey toward God!

Written by Cindy Desjardins

Burgers at the Beltline (and Other Christmas Traditions)

Every one of our family’s holiday traditions has one thing in common – namely, that there was a Christmas BEFORE that tradition began at which time we were content and happy about those traditions we already had. Every tradition has a beginning, and many times that new tradition replaces a more established one that we would have really preferred not to have given up.

Established traditions are embraced. New events and activities that surround the holidays are never seen as traditions the very first time they’re done, but many of these “first time” holiday activities become the traditions that we celebrate and embrace five, ten and twenty years down the road.

One of our family’s traditions – begun in the year 2000 – involves having all five of us attend the 4:30 Christmas Eve service together at Blackhawk and then stopping for a quick sandwich before driving to my folks’ house in Milwaukee. For each of the past eight years we’ve grabbed that sandwich at the Burger King on Park Street right off the Beltline.

burger1Whether traveling from our home in LaCrosse, then Rhinelander, then DeKalb, Illinois, we always found our way to Madison on our way to Milwaukee. Amazingly, the stop at Burger King became one of the most endearing part of our Christmas Eve tradition. I imagine it was because the five of us were eating a meal together rather than because of the quality of the food (although it ain’t bad!). We took a few minutes to be together, joke around, and watch frenetic employees and customers desperately trying to get somewhere else.

pfeifer-familyThat tradition – of attending the service at Blackhawk and stopping at Burger King – is over. Our son who moved to Madison in 2000 is now working outside of Washington D.C. and he’ll be flying in to O’Hare Wednesday afternoon. His younger brother is studying in Plymouth, UK this year and won’t be coming home at all over the holidays. Mt wife and I are preparing to move to Twin Falls, Idaho. And my father, who celebrated 88 Christmases and presided over our family gatherings for most of them, will not be with us. He passed away the day before Thanksgiving.

And yet, Christmas will come. The central event of celebrating the birth of Jesus transcends the traditions we’ve built around it, and we will – if we take the time to do it – be humbled and grateful for God’s incredible plan that placed a human baby in our midst who was also God – and who would grow up and be our Savior.

Although I’m not quite certain what we’ll do this week, I imagine that at least one of these things will become part of a new holiday tradition. I don’t know which one – that’s the way things are with traditions – I likely won’t know for years.

I’m thankful for the traditions our family has had and the ones yet to be discovered, but even more thankful for Jesus Christ, and plan to celebrate accordingly this Christmas Season.

 Written by John Pfeifer


Love All

Act Local: Share gifts of time and resources with those in our community. At the Impact Tree in the Atrium, find opportunities available for individuals, families and life groups. All the information you need will be on the cards by the Tree. Take a card – put an ornament on the tree.

Give Global: On Sunday, December 13 during services, we'll take up an Advent Conspiracy offering (a direct result of spending less) to give towards clean water projects and wheelchair needs in Honduras, Kenya and Romania. If you won’t be able to join us at services on that day but still want to participate, just write "Advent" in the memo of your check and drop it in any of the offering boxes.