TBFF-2011-2012 – UNITED SIKHS Blog http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog Recognize The Human Race As One Fri, 01 Sep 2017 23:45:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Lessons from Shining Hope http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2012/03/lessons-from-shining-hope/ Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:32:41 +0000 http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/?p=1214 As a sophomore at Wesleyan University, I had the great privilege to cross paths with Kennedy Odede, then a freshman. Kennedy grew up in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya. In 2004, he started a grass roots movement called “Shining Hope for Communities” (SHOFCO) and became a visionary change maker and community organizer. By the time he left Kenya to get an education, he was popularly known as the “mayor” of Kibera since it was he who regularly responded to his community’s day-to-day needs and helped them to have a voice.

When Kennedy came to Wesleyan, he did not forget about his home or try to work on issues more “relevant” to Wesleyan students. He began telling the story of his community’s strife with fervor and passion to anyone who would listen. In spite of the fact that Kibera was foreign and far away from us in every possible way, Kennedy was able to make students in Connecticut (myself included) feel powerfully connected to his dream to build a tuition-free school for girls in the slum. Together with his partner Jessica, Kennedy built a core of students, professors and community members who slowly but surely helped to make that dream come true.

Not only is the school a great success, but Kennedy and Jessica have now received grants from Echoing Green, the Do Something Award and Newman’s Own to expand the project to address many other crucial needs in Kibera in addition to education.

As Nicholas Kristof wrote in a recent column about SHOFCO, “Shining Hope is now building a much larger school that is expected to accommodate 500 pupils. It has also bolstered services, including free family planning, for women at a clinic it runs. It trains women entrepreneurs and has just installed a new water tower that is expected to become the slum’s largest source of clean water. It operates a public library and computer center where slum dwellers can earn money by performing Internet piece work. …Shining Hope also oversees a network of public toilets, one of which produces biogas used to cook meals for children at the school. All this may be just a beginning. Kennedy says his dream is to expand Shining Hope across East Africa.”

As a Faiths Act Fellow, it is my task to mobilize people of faith in New York City to care about the issue of malaria. I know how many of the New Yorkers I talk to feel when I first mention the word “malaria,” because it is basically the same feeling I had when Kennedy first talked to me about Kibera. But through his example, I know that if I can tell a true and powerful story about the dire need for malaria education in Sierra Leone, and believe in it, others will too. Kennedy and Jessica have shown me that when young people are truly dedicated to an issue, and committed to addressing it effectively, we can have great impact, and build a global movement that defies geography.

Pictures above are from Shining Hope for Communities. Visit their website to learn more.

Nomi Teutsch is a Faiths Act Fellow at UNITED SIKHS

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Listening to Tragedy | Sikhs Visit Holocaust Survivors http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2012/03/listening-to-tragedy-sikhs-visit-holocaust-survivors/ Thu, 22 Mar 2012 15:47:03 +0000 http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/?p=1208

Both the Sikh and Jewish communities’ identities have been shaped by extensive oppression and violence. This past Sunday, members of each community had a chance to come together to learn about one another’s histories. Members of UNITED SIKHS and Park Avenue Synagogue gathered to brighten the day of elderly Holocaust survivors here in New York. The afternoon was filled with festive music sung in Hebrew, English and Yiddish, cookies in honor of the recent holiday, Purim, and much conversation.

I want to honor the communication that occurred between the Sikh and Jewish communities at this event, for I believe it is a beautiful example of interfaith action, the goal of the Faiths Act movement: As members of the Sikh community sat down with survivors of the Holocaust, they practiced an often forgotten act that is key to positive human interaction: listening. Listening is powerful. It is intentional, as opposed to the more passive act of hearing, and it holds up and amplifies the voice of the person to whom one is listening. It gives witness to the narrative of an individual or of an entire community. On Sunday, Jejiemder Singh, a Sikh man from Queens, sat down beside an elderly Jewish woman and became a witness to the atrocities of the Holocaust. He said this of his conversations: “When I met the people who escaped Europe in the time of Hitler’s control, and after listening to their life stories, I was moved. The fear they were living in was unimaginable.”

Jewish and Sikh narratives are, of course, unique. And yet they share common themes: devastating violence, ongoing discrimination, diaspora, value of tradition and love of community. On Sunday, when members of these communities actively listened to one another, these narratives were allowed to flow freely between people, creating relationships and solidarity. It was a moving day of interfaith action for the healing of human relationships.

The Faiths Act movement works for such collaborative activism, and I believe firmly in the power of people of faith coming together to tackle injustice in our broken world. Surely our wrecked human relationships are one of the most visible examples of the fact that our world is not as it is meant to be. On Sunday, I saw steps being taken to build relationship where it was lacking before.

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A Voice Outside the Patriarchy: Inspiration from my Mother http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2012/03/a-voice-outside-the-patriarchy-inspiration-from-my-mother/ Thu, 22 Mar 2012 15:42:36 +0000 http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/?p=1205

Written by Faiths Act Fellow, Hannah Shirey, in honor of International Women’s Day, March 8, 2012.

My mother, a person of great faith, confidence and determination, is an example to me in many ways and is my Female Faith Hero. It was during my own teenage years that my Mom, Alice, was in the heart of her own personal journey of becoming a leader in our local, Iowan church. By watching her stand up against the long-standing tradition of gendered hierarchy in the church, I learned an important lesson that propels me in my current work:

It is easy to walk away from the brokenness of our world and our institutions. It is much more difficult—and much more important—to work for change within our corrupt, oppressive systems.

To share my mother’s story, I turn to Dr. Scot McKnight, who in addition to being my mother’s friend and mentor, is a brilliant scholar and Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at North Park University. He recently published a book titled, Junia Is Not Alone: Breaking Our Silence About Women in the Bible and the Church Today, and in it he tells the story of many women, including my mother “who had a wonderful voice, and then no voice, and who are experiencing a re-voicing” (McKnight 2011:53). Here is an excerpt from the concluding portion of the book that beautifully describes my mother’s work and why she is my hero:

Many women today are active in ministry and are continuing with confidence and power the storied history of women in the Bible and the silenced history of women in the church. They are not silenced as they once were, and so we look around and sing to the women among us who are embodying the gifts God has given to them…a woman I know named Alice can be known and broadcast even as she does her work today.

Alice was a student of mine at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School way back in the days when people were wearing leisure suits and not really even wondering what to do with women in the church. She landed on her feet in the middle of America, in Iowa, an heir to Calvin’s Reformed churches. Some of stereotypes about America’s heartland are true in Alice’s case, or were for a time.

Alice had three kids and was running a medical research business when she up and got the idea that she should run for the school board. She didn’t win, but the experience of speaking publicly energized her because people were moved by her words. She got to thinking God might want to use her teaching gift in the church, and she [started teaching an adult education class]. An elder, after observing and sitting in her class, said to her: “Alice, you’ve got the gift. And we’ve been praying for a woman teacher in our church.”

Because of the stereotypes at work in cases like these, she and her husband spent some time renegotiating their relationship. Chuck has a M.Div. from Fuller but isn’t called to be a teaching pastor; Alice doesn’t have the M.Div. but she’s got the gift. Chuck has become Alice’s biggest supporter.

Alice thought she might also face stereotypes with her pastor, so she summoned up the pluck to speak to him. Alice now knew she had the gift of teaching, so she said, “I think I have the gift to teach and preach, and I’d like to know if it will be safe for me here.” The pastor’s response: “Do you want to find out? How about July 6? No one is scheduled to preach.” She spent six weeks preparing that sermon.

In America’s heartland, Alice was a “lay teacher” for seven years. Her church battled gender stereotypes by using them: they explained that Alice was a “mom” and a “wife” and even a “stay-at-home mom,” and she kept on teaching. Four years ago, Alice approached the pastor with these evocative words: “I’ve been wearing this JV uniform for seven years now. Don’t you think it’s about time I get a varsity uniform?”

Sure enough, Alice can be seen wearing a varsity preacher’s uniform three out of four weeks in a church with multi-site campuses, including at a little rural church that in 120 years had never had a woman preach. Recently, one of the pastors on staff caught wind of what the good folks in that rural church thought. His report: “Alice, they like you.” (McKnight 2011:308-337)

Witnessing my mother’s struggles within the church institution deeply impacted my understanding and experience of Christianity. At times in my life I have wanted to sever ties with the tradition completely and avoid being associated with such an oppressive narrative. My mother’s passion for institutional change has, however, kept me from doing so. Instead, it has allowed me to experience Christian faith from the eyes of the oppressed and to be inspired to action by the emancipatory message and radical relationships of Jesus.

Mom, thank you for making the intentional choice to work within your community and the church to push against the status quo, providing an opportunity for repressed communities to renew their voices. I continue with you so that people will not just like you, but will respect you, carry forward your work, and magnify the choir of women’s voices fighting for their just space (in religious and non-religious institutions) across our world.

McKnight, Scot (2011 December 1). Junia Is Not Alone (Kindle Locations 53, 308-337). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.

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Clergy SolidariTEA for Economic Justice http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2011/12/clergy-solidaritea-for-economic-justice/ Wed, 28 Dec 2011 20:59:43 +0000 http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/?p=1187

As Faiths Act Fellows at UNITED SIKHS, Hannah and I have had the privilege of witnessing clergy of different faiths organizing themselves to have a strong, united voice against injustice this year. Since New York City has been at the center of the country’s expression of discontent at the current financial and social situation of the 99%, it has been a particularly exciting place to be as a Faiths Act Fellow.

Watching clergy find their place in the fight for economic justice has been breathtaking, and has modeled for us the resources and wisdom that faith communities have to offer any social movement. The primary role of OccupyFaith has been to serve as a moral voice, condemning corruption and inequality and supporting the protesters and their cause. They have also worked together to provide shelter for hundreds of protesters every night in their houses of worship since the raid of Zuccotti park and the onset of winter. From the start, they have held up Occupy Wall St. as the next link in the long chain of non-violent protest movements agitating for justice, often connecting it back specifically to the Civil Rights Movement.

Last Thursday UNITED SIKHS honored the visionary leadership of OccupyFaith by providing coffee, tea and bagels at the weekly meeting of 45 members. We recognized that the participating members’ activism to bring us closer to a time when all people have the rights and resources they need to live a dignified life is exactly what International Human Solidarity Day is all about.

We thank the clergy of OccupyFaith for showing us one more way that religion can be a force for good in the world, and cherish our involvement with this dynamic and inspired collective.

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The Power of Face-to-Face Encounter http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2011/10/the-power-of-face-to-face-encounter/ http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/2011/10/the-power-of-face-to-face-encounter/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2011 18:24:29 +0000 http://www.unitedsikhs.org/blog/?p=1174 After graduating high school, I spent a year living in Jerusalem, the epicenter of many of the world’s religious conflicts. As a resident I was privy to the ways that misunderstanding and intolerance play out on a day-to-day level. From witnessing hateful graffiti and humor (on both sides) to hearing conflicting historical narratives, it was plain to see that the rift between the Jewish and Muslim communities there runs deep, and that much of the population accepts this state of affairs as the only way.

My intense sadness over the lack of visible dialogue or grassroots peace-building efforts brought me to an organization called Encounter. Their mission is to educate diaspora Jewish leaders about the realities of Palestinian plight under the occupation. Most of the participants in their educational trips have never met a Palestinian, and come to the experience with the straightforward Zionist narrative they were taught in synagogues and schools. As an intern with the organization, I was able to help organize and participate in one of their trips to Hebron. After a day of touring and learning about the history and political dynamics of that tragic city, the group arrived at a community center where we sat down with a room full of local people. Palestinian people. The tension was palpable. Most of us, Jewish and Palestinian alike, had never had the opportunity to be face-to-face with individuals of the other, “rival” group.

Each person went around the room and shared a bit about themselves and their story. Slowly, people began to laugh together and to listen to one other with focus and compassion. Some of the Palestinian residents shared objects that were meaningful to them, including one man who walked us through his different passports and the rights that each of them do and do not give him. While this may sound political, it felt completely personal and intimate, and those in the Encounter group were able to simply listen and empathize with the difficulties of life under occupation for this one, individual person. It was a relief for the Jewish participants to be heard and understood as well, and to be able to show that our people, too, are each different and unique and that most of us also constantly seek peace and understanding.

After breaking into small groups, eating, and continuing to get to know one another, the evening drew to a close. None of us wanted it to end, and by the time we said goodbye I felt a surge of emotion that I will never forget. On the one hand it was about having met these fantastic people and gained insight into their experience that I never could have otherwise, and on the other it was the realization of how rare these opportunities for face-to-face contact are between groups that are so thoroughly separated, by systems and by prejudice. That day taught me the transformative power of face-to-face understanding, and drew me to the work I am now doing as a Faiths Act Fellow at UNITED SIKHS combating intolerance by bringing the Sikh community together with other people of faith to share experiences, increase understanding of each other’s traditions, and listen to one another.

By Nomi Teutsch

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