A New Name, A New Family

African American father and son text messaging on cell phone.This article was first published in Prison Fellowship’s Inside Journal.

We knew his face long before he saw ours.

Three years ago, we saw his picture for the first time. An 18-month-old toddler with no known parents and no known name. From the other side of the world, we gave him a name. We became his parents. He became our son.

And three years later, when he was four-and-a-half, we held him in our arms for the first time. The little boy we had known all along finally started getting to know us—his “Mommy” and “Papa.”

It is a story of adoption. It is a story of the lost being found. It is a story about God.

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For Every Tribe

Photography By Jeremy Kramer

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine.

One of the worst days of Elidamares (“Eli”) de Almeida’s life was the day she had to take her husband to the doctor with her. The 40-something elementary school teacher from Brazil had recently immigrated with her family to the U.S. She knew very little English and was almost completely dependent on others.

In Brazil, she was a capable and independent woman with a bachelor’s degree in education. “I was free to do everything I wanted or to solve any kind of problem.” Not so when she came to America.

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The Autistic Road to Belief

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Image courtesy of byFaith Magazine.

Seven years ago, Christian singer-songwriter Lori Sealy experienced what she describes as a fierce battle against the “old vestiges of atheistic doubt.” It went back to her torturous teenage years and her even more difficult beginnings.

Conceived as a result of an adulterous affair, Sealy was almost aborted. Thankfully, her mother decided to walk out of the abortion clinic at the last minute. Sealy was soon adopted, but her adoptive mother struggled with mental illness. Consequently, their relationship was stormy and didn’t do much to help Sealy wrestle through her spiritual questions. She grew up in a church, but it didn’t help much either.

“From my earliest years I had longed to know and understand God, but my questions were either met with petty pat answers, calls to blind belief, or hypocritical hubris.” Fed up, Sealy “turned the page on God.” And while still in high school she began a new chapter of “theistic disdain.”

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Dying with Grace: My Interview with Kara Tippetts

(Reprinted with permission from byfaithonline.com. Photography by Jen Lintz.)

Kara Tippetts, 38, is the wife of PCA church planter Jason Tippetts (Westside Church, Colorado Springs, Colorado) and a mother to four young children. She is also dying of cancer. Not long after receiving her initial diagnosis of breast cancer, Tippetts started a blog called “Mundane Faithfulness,” where she chronicles her daily battle with cancer and her fight for joy in the midst of pain and probable death. Her rawness, sense of humor, and spiritual clarity have particularly connected with women, with close to 30,000 now subscribing to her blog. In late 2014, despite plodding through three weeks every month of chemo treatments, Tippetts published her first book, “The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard” (David C. Cook). This past Thanksgiving, while Tippetts was in Indianapolis, Indiana, speaking to a group of more than 700, byFaith writer Zoe Erler had a chance to talk with her about the book and what keeps her going in the face of her expected prognosis.

You arrived in Colorado Springs in 2012 with the dream of planting a church. Instead you were welcomed with a shocking diagnosis of  breast cancer. What did church planting look like then?

We had only been in town six months before I started chemo, and so the church started out basically not having a pastor’s wife. If they wanted to be a welcoming church, they had to be the ones to do it. I didn’t have the strength. I was often sitting there slumped sick in a chair. I would show up, but I didn’t have any pastor’s wife abilities to host other people. Our church plant was really born out of brokenness. But it has created this safe environment of “we don’t have to pretend that we have it all together here.” And then it created a warm community where the people understand it’s their job to capture the new people and to embrace hospitality where we can’t.

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Robert Indiana on “Indiana”

 

Robert Indiana's "LOVE, 1967." The "Love" image was originally used for a Museum of Modern Art holiday card in 1964. © 2014 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Robert Indiana’s “LOVE, 1967.” The “Love” image was originally used for a Museum of Modern Art holiday card in 1964. © 2014 Morgan Art Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Bob Indiana sits shivering in his museum home on the remote island of Vinalhaven, Maine.

“The pipes are frozen, the artist is frozen, everything is frozen,” the 85-year-old Indiana-native tells me over the phone.

Thirty-six years ago, Indiana, contemporary artist best known for his “Love”sculpture, removed himself from the New York art scene and set up shop in an old Odd Fellows Lodge on Vinalhaven — a move that took him even farther from his Hoosier roots.

 

The enigmatic man, who much prefers to refer to himself an “American painter of signs” than a “pop artist” (although most art historians would lump him into that group), has popularized a cluster of one-syllable words over the last half century. Words like “Eat,” “Hug,” “Die,” “Air” and “Love” have appeared numerous times and in numerous fashions on signage and sculptures across the country. But curiously, “Indiana,” the four-syllable word the artist most closely attached to himself, is the one he seems most ambiguous about.

Continue reading at Sky Blue Window . . . 

Philomena Gets It Wrong

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Philomena tells the story of Philomena Lee (Judi Dench), a British woman who goes in search of her son who was adopted almost 50 years earlier and taken to America. Based on Stephen Frears’ book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, the film shows Martin Sixsmith (actor/director Steve Coogan), a disgruntled ex-BBC journalist, teaming up with Philomena to help her confront her past and write a book about  the supposed injustices committed against her and her son.

Early in the film, Philomena, a young Irish teen, gets pregnant out of wedlock and is sent by her family to wait out her confinement and birth at Sean Ross Abbey in Roscrea, Ireland, a home for unwed mothers and their children run by the Catholic Church. At the Abbey, Philomena is denigrated by the nuns for her immoral choices and then spends the next several years working hard labor, only getting to see her son about once a day. Although she signs a document relinquishing her child, she is still shocked when she discovers that her son is being adopted by an American couple, presumably after they pay the nuns a steep price for the child.

Fifty years later, Philomena remembers the circumstances with regret and goes on a mission to track down her long-lost son, making a pilgrimage to America with Sixsmith at her side. While there, she discovers that her son, a gay man, had been a successful senior level aide to President Reagan and had died just a few years earlier, presumably of AIDS. After returning to Britain, she discovers that her son had made a similar journey the year before he died to the Abbey in Roscrea, looking for Philomena. Philomena and Sixsmith pressure the Abbey to explain why the records of her son’s adoption had never been made available to her and why the Abbey hadn’t contacted her when her son showed up. The nuns implied that the records had been destroyed in a fire. Later, it’s implied that it was a fire they started.

In the end, Philomena makes peace with her tragic past, forgiving one particular nun who was supposedly the main barrier between Philomena and her son, and visiting her son’s grave (he chose to be buried at Roscrea). It is a bittersweet ending, one that raises serious concerns about the Irish Catholic Church and its potential involvement in child trafficking.

That is, if it were true.

Continue reading over at Marriage Generation blog . . .

Remember the Prisoner

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Photo taken from ByFaithonline.com

Mr. Casson, I hereby sentence you to life in prison with the possibility of parole. You understand sir, that the key word here is ‘possibility’ and that you may never leave prison; in fact, you may die there. Do you understand the sentence that I’m imposing on you today?”

These were the words that 21-year-old Mark Casson heard in the courtroom on a cold day in March 1989.

“I liked violent things,” Casson admits.

While serving as a linguist with U.S. Army Intelligence, Casson often engaged in underground fighting at a warehouse in San Jose, Calif. Committing murder was just the next step on his violent path.

One day, his best friend told him that his wife had committed adultery and he wanted revenge. Casson agreed to be the hit man.

Continue reading at ByFaithonline.com . . .

Reclaiming a Pool Hall to Redeem a Neighborhood

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine

Photo courtesy of byFaith Magazine

In a smoky pool hall in an undisclosed urban ghetto, Tom Cruise, playing a young billiards protégé in director Martin Scorsese’s 1986 film “The Color of Money,” bends over his cue and shoots impeccably, not only winning the admiration of his challengers but provoking their jealousy. Almost 20 years later, a young pastor takes a hammer to the walls of that same pool hall; blood, sweat, and prayers now at work transforming the once notorious pool hall at the corner of 64th and Cottage streets into a common ground — a haven for the downtrodden, the once-forgotten street kid, and the weary intellectual.

Continue reading at byFaith Magazine . . . 

 

Bridge to Bhutan

As they read, Todd Fizer couldn’t help but notice the tears welling up in their eyes. For many, those letters from home were a link to relatives they hadn’t seen in two or three years — a bridge between the displaced Bhutanese living in Nepali refugee camps to a community of old and new family members at New City Fellowship Church (PCA), St. Louis.

According to the U.S. State Department, during the past five years the United States has welcomed almost 324,000 refugees from around the world. More than 51,000 have come from Nepal, originally displaced from Bhutan, a tiny country sandwiched between China and India.

Continue reading article here in byFaith Magazine . . . 

Peer Power

Bruno and Micaela Rivas

Here is the second article in the “Trends in Social Innovation” project I’ve been working on for The Philanthropic Enterprise.

Eleven years ago, Bruno Rivas left Mexico City to make a better living for his family in San Francisco. He landed a job at a restaurant and began making some money, but couldn’t figure out how to break out of a cash system into a marketplace driven by credit. Every week, he would receive payment in cash, a large portion of which he would send back to his wife Micaela in Mexico via a check cashing service, often incurring a fee of 10 to 20 percent of his paycheck. With the money he kept for himself, he was able to purchase items for daily provision, but without a means of building credit, he struggled to find a way to fund larger purchases or take bigger steps toward financial health.

But then four years ago, Bruno learned about the Bay Area-based Mission Asset Fund (MAF)—an organization that has garnered nationwide recognition for its nontraditional approach to lending—and decided to join a peer lending circle, or “cesta populare” (“community basket” in Spanish).

Read full article here.