Category Archives: feelings

International Women’s Day – What Does It Mean for Us All?

Every morning on the way to take my child to school, I pass by at least one woman wearing a hijab. This morning was no different, though since it is #InternationalWomensDay, I found myself thinking a bit more about how we understand the place of those who hold up half the sky.

Like my own mom. She’s basically a scientist/artist who raised one really-cool boy and two less-cool boys in the corn-clogged wastelands of northern Illinois. She gardens well and works hard, just like all women and moms.

Take my wife, please. She spent nine months constructing our child and still found time to cut the lawn – with a manual reel mower! She keeps me sane and reminds me to be brave and to never stop believing in myself. She’s lovely and beautiful and lovely and is an excellent mother.

Like Mary, the mother of Jesus. Besides my mom, she’s the woman that I’ve known the longest. If you know your Gospels, Mary is next-level brave; the kind that spurs you into action. She also happens to be the hijab-wearing woman that I walk past every morning on the way to take my child to school. Her statue watches my garden grow.

And every morning, my kid says, “Hi Mary!” while walking past, followed by hellos to Franklin, Frederick, and Ernest, our gnomes.

On this #InternationalWomensDay, I think about Mary, my mom, and my wife, and the ~3,644,112,000 other women on the planet now, those who have come before, and those yet to be. But it’s not enough to just think, is it?

Being supportive of equal rights for all is an active task these days. So get involved, yo. There’s no shortage of incredible women doing incredible work on behalf of us all, men included. Find them and help them – after asking if/how you can be of help – and we’ll all get through this messy existence alive.

You have my word.

RIP Adam Yauch (MCA) – A public death

Adam Yauch, known by his rap moniker MCA, has died. MCA was one of the three Jewish kids from New York who changed the face of music (and often, their own music) forever. I haven’t had any experiences with public deaths that caused a soulful reaction in me until today.

I was conversing with one of my interns when I saw the tweet: “RIP MCA” I didn’t have to guess at who or what “MCA” was – my mind connected his protracted illness to his current age and figured that it was Adam Yauch. Sharp intake of breath, both hands to my mouth, a softly-whispered “Oh no”, that weird wet tickle behind my nose and between my eyes that signals the lacrimal glands to start shedding fluid, a pause. Naturally, my first post-pause action was to retweet the news with a “Speechless…” attached to it – I am human, aren’t I?

My tummy hurt. I thought back to that day in 1995 (probably) when, while wandering through our local Wal-Mart, I picked up “Ill Communication”* and bought it with my mother’s money. I don’t know what attracted me to the disc. The cover art certainly doesn’t say anything about the Beastie Boys, a name that up until that point I had associated only with rap music, about which I knew precious little.

But I popped that Grand Royal-branded green thing into my RCA CD player and grooved out. I had no idea what I was listening to, but I loved it. It was the first album that I purchased.

I’ve bought every album and b-side collection and documentary that the Beastie Boys created. Between awesome lyrics – occasionally sick, occasionally something that was clearly created to rhyme but made no sense – and a solid “in sound from way out”, the Beastie Boys encapsulated what is great about music, namely that it can (and should) change from time to time. Instrumental jams, punk rock, hip-hop, rap, gospel, acapella, chanting, experimental – they did it all.

These were guys that spoke out about urban America, poverty, Tibet, Islamophobia, and other social issues before it was vogue for bands to do so. They didn’t do it to attract attention; they did it because they deeply believed it.

MCA was my favorite B-Boy. Dignified, intelligent, and gruff in a friendly way, his voice was the experience. Mike D and Ad Rock both had high-pitched and rapid rhymes, but MCA hit like a sledgehammer when he grabbed the mic. This day has been great for reminiscing – the tweets with his best lyrics remind me of why I liked him in the first place. As an interfaith activist, I’ve also found solace in his embrace of Tibetan Buddhism. It informed his rhymes, his medicine, and his activism.

Adam Yauch was a humanitarian and a peacemaker, a documentarian and a true musician. Like all of the Beastie Boys, he was a person who made wonderful music that cut across all genres. He rhymed as if his life depended on it. But perhaps that last point bears a deeper look. The thing that I loved the most about the Beastie Boys was that for as serious as they could make their music, they were never a serious phenomenon to themselves. They took the piss out of themselves more often than their critics. That took balls and it created longevity and fierce loyalty.

We have lost 33% of what, for me and many others, is one of the most amazing musical experiences that this world has had. It’s not a good feeling. It’s a public death that has finally forced me to understand how the general public reacts to such things. I think of the weeping crowds after Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston or Levon Helm and realize that I’m just like them.

I was on the phone with my fiancee a moment ago. She’s driving to the other side of the state tonight and asked, “What are you up to right now?”

My reply was, “Oh, just writing a blog post about…the Beastie Boys…” *sob* “and MCA and how he’s gone now.” *sniffle* *sob*

I didn’t expect to feel this way, but it’s been a great ride. Thanks for all the memories and rhymin’ and stealin’, MCA. You will be missed.

 

The time that my family thought I’d been kidnapped

It was raining. I was maybe five years old, but probably not older than six, because I was only six after we’d moved north from Lostant and the Wal-Mart that we were at was definitely the one in Lasalle, that big old one like before they switched to the red, white, and blue branding that defined Wal-Mart up until recently when they switched to soft brown and bright yellow for that ridiculous sun-shaped logo that says nothing about Wal-mart, its low prices, its amazing supply chains, its under-paid and under-protected elderly workers, or its history, but then again, I suppose that any company with a one hundred year history and that kind of name recognition need only change the shape of its logo and that is that, but of course, that’s open to interpretation and I’m not so sure that the colors from back in the day (when I was four or five but not six) were all that bad, and that’s from a two-decades-old memory, you know, like I can’t just drag up a perfect mental picture of that time since I was devoting most of my brain to imagination space for fantastic tales of knights in shining armor and trying to figure out what it meant to be a little human being, which is part of why this story is important, and which I will address shortly, after I reiterate that it was raining.

We were ready to check out, so Dad went out to get our Malibu station wagon of which I remember little except its color: white and rust. I was with Mom and, at the age I probably was, my little brother Christopher, who would have been but a wee babe.

At some point I separated myself from my Mom, who I imagine being flustered with having to keep track of a very curious young me, a crying baby Christoper, and a cartload of low-priced commodities for our country estate.

I meandered on tiny legs over to the IN doors, where I installed myself next to what seemed like an endlessly tall shelf of bright pink boxes filled with Barbie dolls. My reasoning went thusly: “People are coming in through these here IN doors. I must open these here doors in order to expedite the entrance process for my fellow humans.”

And so, I became a tiny doorman, pushing with all my might to open the steel and glass portal that allowed one access to low prices, amazing supply chains, and under-paid and under-protected elderly workers. I received many a “thank you” and probably at least one “What a dear young man.”

This process of holding open the door continued for, in my memory, at least fifteen minutes, at which point, I realized that I hadn’t seen my Mommy in some time and began to worry. The bright pink display of Barbie dolls gave me no answers. At one point, while looking outside from my self-assigned post at the doors, I saw my father driving our Malibu wagon back and forth, peering out into the precipitation for something.

That something was me.

Between the low pressure system outside and the dazzling action figures for girls next to me, I started to panic. My stomach hurt; a low, grinding pain.

Luckily, it wasn’t too long before my Mom finally found me. I was relieved. I expected her to say, “You are such a responsible and helpful little boy for opening the door for people.” Instead, what I got was, “Don’t you ever wander off like that again! We had no idea where you were. You could have been kidnapped! We were so scared!”

She walked me out to the parking lot to find my father, hand gripping my upper arm quite tightly. It was still raining. For at least the next fifteen years of my life, the sight of Barbie displays (and all toy sections have that aisle) made my stomach tie itself into stress knots.

We’re all embedded journalists now

I was thinking about how our overseas “work” during the Global War on Terror came home, as it were, to our televisions with the placement of embedded journalists. These were newspeople who climbed into tanks and ran through the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq with the US military. Being embedded meant becoming truly a part of a fighting unit and not just some goofus with a camera standing hundreds of feet away from the action. They were in the thick of it and it made for pretty interesting coverage. Very often, these reporters were up close and personal with the war. Some of them were injured. Some of them died.

But that’s pretty somber so I’m going to change the subject, sort of.

How are we embedded journalists? Easy – imagine yourself at the Carole King/James Taylor “Troubador” tour (oh, how I wish I was there!) rocking along to the sweet jams. You’re not there as a person covering the event, you’re there to enjoy it. But in this age of easy content production, it’d be not hard at all for you to put together a short video of your experience or, at the very least, a nifty little review on your blog or another music website.

Political rallies, monster truck rallies, monster movie screenings, and screen door factory workers’ strikes are all places where we can, by dint of our presence/participation (depending), become a piece of the action. UStream and its ilk allow us to effectively become live coverage of the things that matter to us, like the King/Taylor concerts. 🙂

Riots in your neighborhood? Head on over there for the exclusive scoop! Alien invasion? Get over to the landing site and get an interview with Krex-Kulab the Galactic Conqueror. New flavor of Ben and Jerry’s premiering across town? Grab a spoon and a Flipcam and get ready to produce some Pulitzer material!

I realize that the tenor of this post has quickly become a mockery of my original intent, which was to point out that it is easy for us to both produce valuable content and be a part of what we’re up to. As it appears, it might actually be too easy to fully embrace the role of a journalist embedded in LIFE. We’ve all seen perfect examples of the vigilance of those who watch the watchers, or rather, who gawk at the gawkers:

Car vs. pedestrian. Crowd gathers. Cell phones come out. As long as one of them dials 911, the rest are free to film and snap photos.

Protesters protesting something. Stand on the edge of the crowd and upload the shot to Facebook.

OK, so I guess that I’m coming down on the side of citizen-journalism-sucks-and-is-a-sad-consequence-of-technology, which I hadn’t expected to do. Oh well. What do you think?

The Bay Area Dispatch of Doom Vol. 15 (name change edition)

Hello friends,

I’ve taken to eating giant salads at around 5 or 6 PM each day. It allows me to go light on lunch and avoid going to bed feeling too full. My estimate is that each such salad has about ten servings of vegetables. I also use dangerous levels of turmeric and cumin. And yes, I’ve finally changed the name of the Dispatch of Doom. Until such a time as I find myself in a more permanent location for work (more on that later), this will remain the new title.

My life as a Faiths Act Fellow is drawing to a close here in the Bay Area, but not before we knock out a dozen more events and hold aYouth Leadership Summit at a conferencethat we’ve helped to organize. Next Sunday the 25th is World Malaria Day.We’ll be joining our voices with thousands of advocates and activists across the world to help eradicate deaths from malaria. The Fellowship terminates at the end of May. To be completely frank, I don’t think we can beat malaria by then, but I’ll do my best to make the deadline. :)

I’m a supporter of the religious response to issues of social inequity and global crisis, but the last year has totally changed my grasp of the scope of just what faith communities and individuals can do. I have a deeper sense of the potential of common action for the common good – if there’s one thing that people of faith have by the boatload, it’s hope. That incredible energy is something that I’d like to continue exploiting, in the most benign sense, of course. Which brings me to the main thrust of this Dispatch: your help.

I have two “asks” of you this time around. The first is that you swing over to the fundraising site that Hafsa and I set up: http://www.firstgiving.com/bayareamalaria and make a small gift towards the purchase of lifesaving bed nets. The money goes to Malaria No More at the end of May. $10 will buy a bed net that protects families from the mosquitoes that carry the disease. Also, until the end of May, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, will personally match every dollar (or pound, for that matter). That means two nets for the price of one. All the Fellows are working furiously to bankrupt him – join in on the fun!

The second ask is some help in extending my network. You all knew this message would come someday – consider this the formal announcement of my free agent status. I’ve been actively searching for employment since February, and I’ve had promising telephone interviews and more than a few rejection notices. I’m not discouraged (yet); I have many weeks before June 1st, and am still waiting for word on other applications. Click here to download a copy of my current resume as well as a sample cover letter that lists a few ideas about my direction in case you’re not all that familiar with my past (a few keywords: grant writing, writing/copyediting, social media, project management). I don’t want to abandon the interfaith sphere if at all possible, and I’m still very much interested in pursuing a career in international development and the nonprofit world in general. If you could pass my name along to possibly interested parties, I’d be eternally grateful. That was a lot easier than I thought it’d be.

So I bid you all adieu until my next report, which in an ideal world will still be called the Bay Area Dispatch of Doom (I love it out here), when I can hopefully talk about next steps as well as the successes of the Faiths Act Fellowship.

If you need anything, don’t hesitate to ask. Cayenne pepper has astounding anti-inflammatory properties. A teaspoon a day if you can manage it will do great things. Also, eating an avocado by scooping it out with Wheat Thins is surprisingly tasty. And as always, keep up the good work.

N.B. Poetry break for this Dispatch will be “Postscript” by Seamus Heaney. Enjoy:

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
From THE SPIRIT LEVEL (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996

The problem with “The Problem With Generation Y and Millennials” – A response to Jason Calacanis

I told myself a while ago that I would pay close attention to what Jason Calacanis said; the guy’s as close to tech as you can get and he’s got his brain in lots of different pies. Now, unfortunately, he occasionally offers opinion in some of the pies that he has no business talking about. By “occasionally”, of course, I mean “always”. That’s not a reason to stop reading him, mind you. The last major example, and there are many, was his rant (read: hissy fit) about the “Middle East” and other geopolitical realities that he understands merely by dint of being the Tesla Roadster’s most high-profile cheerleader.

I’ve written before about Calacanis’ misguided attitudes online, especially in regards to the way that he spends his money, and I know that I’m not alone in criticizing him. Normally, I would just bitch to a few other techie friends, but this time it’s personal. Here’s a section of a Calacanis Rant (we should trademark them) where he describes Millennials as  generation whose members have “never lost in their lives”:

I am 26.5 years old. Do I count myself as a Millennial? Yes. I’ve blogged about Millennials and the internet before; it’s something that’s important to me. If blog posts can take the temperature of my generation, I would swear for half of the time that Gen Y is the most selfish, self-involved, and low-achieving group ever; and for the other half that Gen Y is the last, best hope for mankind. Which is it? I’m inclined to think that it’s a mix of both. Jason Calacanis, who is 39 years old and thus not a Millennial, is not of the same mind. He says that we’ve never lost, that we are in fact losers, and that all the great dreams that we have are junk because we are morally and spiritually and imaginationally bankrupt. Watch the video again – his sputtering is positively 19th-century.

Here’s a few observations about Gen Y that he may have missed while he was raking in cash and offering free iPads for new followers (http://twitter.com/Jason/status/11647997218 – on a serious note, this is a neat contest idea) while speeding down the road in his Middle East-less Tesla (let it be known that I would gladly pimp such a vehicle, given the chance):

1. Yes, Jason, Millennials have lost, big time. You cheerfully made up a statistic of 80% of Gen Y people being losers. I’ll cheerfully say that 20% of us were led to believe that participation was, in fact, important, and that winning was secondary to being in the game. Here’s the thing: 80% (another made-up number) of us lost, and lost often. Now, we’re set adrift in a jobs market that is going to affect our long-term income [negatively] forever. Even the 40% of us who were endlessly told that we were winners no matter what don’t seriously believe that. You’d have to be crazy to think that we’re that dim. We know that participation is not the key to “winning”, however you define it, but we do know that being a part of something is sine qua non for being productive and worthwhile.

2. Gen Y has “No motivation, no killer instinct, [and they’re] all on some kind of antidepressant drugs, and they cry in their coffee all day, and they don’t want to win.” We  need to have a killer instinct because Gen Y has more motivation than you think; we know that we’re going up against other people who have used the internet and the information age to democratize the field of information management. We do cry. We don’t all drink coffee. We have to want to win because it’s the only way for us to succeed and outlive the previous generation (unlikely for the first time ever – thanks Gen X for dragging your feet and forgetting to tell your parents to give a shit).

3. Gen Y has a “good worldview, you want to save the planet, that’s all noble…being successful, making money, and being powerful will let you do more good in the world.” Mr. Calacanis, of all people, should know how much impact we can have, even without high levels of “power”, in a world as interconnected as ours.

4. Jason is so angry about the mystical 80% of Gen Y who are screwing up this country, but he’s also angry for them because they are “so stupid, and so lame.” Thanks dude. Super professional. We’re pretty angry, too. We’re angry that people like you, who don’t know who we are, think that you know what we’re about. Keep telling us. We love hearing about how sucky, yet potentially powerful we are.

5. We are losers. Jason has a new mission in life – he wants to take the 80% of Gen Y “losers” and turn them into the 20% of winners who have tech startups that he covers (for his daily bread) and change the world. Awesome! Start spending money to empower Gen Y social entrepreneurs instead of being an angel investor for tech startups whose social benefit is unknown. Help us help you. Here’s a quote from a Millennial friend of mine who works every day with young people focused on social change: “Perhaps he’s [Jason] spent too much time in the tech world.  I invite him to the ground floor to meet grassroots activists working their asses off, harnessing technology to do something useful instead of spewing nonsense.”

6. All of our jobs are going to “Eastern Russian countries”. Again, he’s a master of the geopolitical landscape. (Note: this is a cheap-shot. I also make mistakes when I’m talking quickly without thought.)

7. My mom and dad are “gonna die” and I therefore have no inheritance because they bought nice cars and went on fancy vacations. I cannot even begin to describe the anger and frustration that I feel with this portion of Jason’s rant. I grew up on a farm in northern Illinois. My mom and dad don’t, never have, and never will, make lots of money to buy nice cars. They have never gone on vacation. I watched them make sacrifices to send me to college and I made sacrifices of my own. I’ve never stepped on anybody to get where I am, and I don’t intend on starting. Don’t you goddamn try to tell me about who I am and where I came from.

In short, Gen Y suffers from an overabundance of opinion on both sides. One says that we’re destined for failure because we’re disconnected from reality. The other side says that we can’t possibly fail because we’re digitally empowered and we understand the world between us. I’m seriously inclined to believe that most of us (Jason’s magical 80%) live somewhere in between. We recognize our limitations but we know that we can do a lot to move beyond ourselves and change the world. Maybe do us a favor and stop telling us what we’re about – let us figure it out like your generation had to.

Jason even goes so far as to tell me about my tombstone – the only trophy that I’ll ever get for participation: “It’s not even going to be that big when you get it,” he says. Like many other Millennials, I plan on living forever through the good works and kind deeds and responsible life that I live.

I don’t need your stupid trophy.

We must do things these days

Not sure why I’ve chosen to post this today.

I am troubled, deeply, by the billions of people worldwide who will go to bed tonight hungry, fearful for their safety, or sick from disease. These days, it’s not worth mentioning the statistics concerning how many people live on less than $2/day. I even hesitate to use the word “statistics,” since it cheerfully allows us to ignore the very human lives behind the numbers. We know that it’s bad.

Facts and figures like these only serve to dishearten us, to make the problem seem insurmountable. But there are other statistics. Successes against disease and poverty are on the rise, many times on the local level, and the momentum of those successes is carrying over from the international development community onto the streets of America.

In grad school, I worked with The 1010 Project, a humanitarian organization that operates a robust advocacy program in the Denver area to raise awareness about issues of global poverty. Our community-based partners live in Kenya, so we didn’t get to visit very often, but frequent Skype conversations reinforced the intimate relations with those we served.

Case in point: We were speaking to a partner who operates a fish farm. Some thieves had broken in during the night and stolen all of the fish. This was bad news, to be sure, but when asked how he felt about the theft, his response was, “I am not angry that they took the fish. They must have been very hungry.”

That level of self-sacrifice and commitment to the greater good inspires me to help the poorest of the poor. Stories like that need to be spread widely. I am committed to treat all humans as I would like myself to be treated, with dignity, understanding, and compassion. That’s why I try to help.

Losing old gods, finding nature

I recently headed back to Colorado for a wonderful weekend of R&R with my girlfriend and her family. We went skiing at Crested Butte, an absolutely amazing mountain way out in the center of the state. Here’s what happens when I ski:
1. I fall down. This happens a handful of times. During this particular trip, I managed to stay vertical 95% of the day, even completing a blue square run without dropping.
2. I come closer to completion. Allow me to explain: When I’m sliding down the side of a mountain fast as hell, staring out into the distance where other peaks look back at me, feeling the warmth of the sun and listening to the whoosh of air past my ears, I really do find a little slice of heaven.
I’m guessing that this is a not-too-foreign experience for those familiar to strapping slippery boards to their feet and shooting down a hill. I relish these moments as I coast towards the base of the mountain. I use religious language to describe these times. Increasingly, I am not alone.
Bron Taylor’s “Dark Green Religion: Nature, Spirituality, and the Planetary Future” describes the “replacement” or at least supplementation of traditional religions by more sensory forms of spirituality. I want to read this book. I grew up around trees and I feel a very deep connection to nature. Here’s a very important piece of an interview with Bron Taylor on Religion Dispatches:
…traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline…new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects.
Right on. The Vatican (my Vatican), says that the hit film Avatar aims to replace the divine with nature, and I’m more than happy to agree with them. I feel that my church sometimes forgets the long tradition of Catholic eremitic life and agrarian spirituality. Moral of the story: Nature doesn’t have to be worshipped as a replacement of the divine, but it is certainly a worthy thing to honor and respect and pray for.

Poorism

Ode Magazine, which I once subscribed to, ran a story this past April called “Slum tours: Traveling off the beaten path” detailing the rise of what some have dubbed “poorism”, or traipsing through the slums of this planet for an alternative travel experience. Coming from Ode, I figured that this would be a hit piece – I was wrong. The author actually did some “pooring” in the favelas of Rio. According to the article:

Slum tours offer travelers an authentic, offbeat look at foreign cultures—and locals a new way to make a living.

Authentic? Sure! Offbeat? How can 1/6 of the earth’s population’s lifestyle be considered “offbeat”? To her credit, the author does point out this fact. She doesn’t sound like the kind of visitor to a foreign country that makes many of us cringe, but the tour that she describes definitely gives me that feeling. Imagine the marketing that these slum tour operators must use: Come see the REAL Rio! You’ve seen the Taj Mahal, now see how millions of impoverished Indians live! Hideous capitalist mindsets run amok? I doubt it. These are regular people trying to make a living, and their product is hot.

The photo that accompanies this post is of my “impact assessment team” (me and Mark Mann) from The 1010 Project moving through the Korogocho slum of Nairobi, Kenya. Korogocho was the toughest spot I had seen in Kenya – open sewers, schoolchildren eating and learning in chicken coops, and sheet-metal homes. A few days later, my team went to Kibera. That’s the big one. Smaller in size only to Soweto in South Africa, Kibera is the slum featured in the (awesome) film “Constant Gardener”. In many ways, Kibera was a lot like Korogocho: packed to the gills with people, poor, and dangerous (like any city). But when I left Kibera, I found myself absolutely drained emotionally. That’s not an easy thing to do.

I cannot imagine poorism being a rewarding trip for anybody. Dive-bombing into an impoverished community and moving on after snapping a few interesting pictures can be spiritually dangerous. Having a sustained relationship with the slums and favelas of the world would ameliorate this, I feel, and provide the “locals a new way to make a living” that is founded on up-to-date understandings of humanitarian assistance, compassion, and friendship.

Leprosy and “Kingdom work”

For the last two weeks, one particular session for the Tanzanian portion of our training program had been in the back of my mind, waiting. The itineraries we received in London listed a “Visit to leprosarium,” and we were informed that it was, indeed, a home for those affected by leprosy. I know what you’re thinking, “What does leprosy have to do with malaria?” I’ll address that in a later post. I think the question that is more likely to pop into your head might be, “Leprosy is still around?”

In short, yes. Leprosy is still around, and it still causes much suffering in the world. Not a whole lot, mind you – the World Health Organization estimates that 2 or 3 million people worldwide are permanently disabled by leprosy. The good news: new cases decline with each year. It’s a disease that is on the way out, but it’s not out yet. For that reason, there are communities located around the globe where people with leprosy can seek treatment and, fortunately, solace from a world that in many cases attaches social stigma to those affected by the disease.

We were invited to tour the Nazareth leprosarium, essentially a modern-day “leper colony”. This place wasn’t so much a colony as it was a collection of buildings in Ifakara town here in south central Tanzania, one of the few countries with enough cases of leprosy to necessitate the presence of such a place. We met Enoch, the proprietor of the joint, and he explained to us the various epidemiological features of the disease, the tests employed to diagnose it, and the treatments necessary to cure it. He’s a very funny man, and we learned a great deal about leprosy from him.

Nazareth was built by the local Catholic diocese many, many years ago. Enoch (who’s been there for 25 years) is paid by the district government, but he’s also the only real staff-person; all the other workers are volunteers or employed by the diocese. It has a small chapel on the campus, and is visited twice a month by the local parish priest, Father Mpenge, whose home we had dined at a few days previous. It’s a beautiful example of “faith in action” for reasons that may or may not require explanation.

As we began our tour of the facilities, I knew what we would encounter. Leprosy is a bacterial infection that essentially devours the peripheral nervous system and then starts on the skin. It’s not a pretty illness – opportunistic infections often lead to finger and toe amputation (perhaps even more bones) and massive skin lesions. The facial nerves stop responding so the eyes can’t close. Dust and other debris attack soft optic tissues, causing blindness. We were told to steel ourselves.

The first resident we met, whose name I did not learn, had no fingers or toes. Enoch asked him to join us on the patio and he shuffled over holding a bag slung over one of his destroyed hands. The bag contained a fork, spoon, cup, toothbrush, and comb. Enoch demonstrated the ingenuity of the Sisters at Nazareth – he wrapped a velcro strip around the man’s hand and showed us how he could feed himself, brush his teeth, comb his hair, and drink water by attaching the tools to the strap. The man smiled the whole time and laughed with us. It was a happy encounter.

We spent the next hour visiting the wards and speaking briefly with the people who were staying there. In every new room, I felt welcomed. This was not a place of suffering or worry, it was a home for people who might not have a place to call home. Many of them were severely disabled – imagine having no fingers or feet. But the residents weren’t really helpless. They engaged with us and laughed and opened their home to us. They don’t get many non-family visitors, so we must have been a welcome break in any case! We visited a large garden that provides fresh and healthy food, and we found that many of the volunteers were themselves disabled in one way or another by past encounters with leprosy.

As we walked across the courtyard, an odd thought popped into my head. “Kingdom work” is a phrase that my evangelical friends use to describe a variety of their activities: mission trips, soup kitchens, drug counseling, etc. The idea is that in ministering to those less fortunate, they can hasten the coming of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God on earth. I might say that until that day in the leprosarium known as, of all things, Nazareth, I hadn’t found an example of Kingdom work that resounded deeply with my own drive to help others.

Watching Enoch interact with the residents and seeing them smile as they greeted us brought me to a place of great peace. I can’t accurately describe it; I think I was spiritually excited that Nazareth existed, and I was actually sad to leave. There’s a story in the Bible where Jesus heals a leper by touching him, something that in his age would have been unthinkable (lepers were considered unclean). I’d prefer to let Jesus pick his own timetable for returning, but I’d also like to think that the folks at the Nazareth leprosarium are doing a bit of Kingdom work in creating a safe and healthy place for those who may have nowhere else to go.