Monday, February 25, 2013

My story of faith

Over the past week, I've been grieving the death of a friend I met once. His name is Richard Twiss, a Lakota man from South Dakota, and I met him at a conference last year. I asked him a few questions, and he pulled me aside and skipped a session in order to mentor me. I was hoping to have more chances in the years to come to tap into his friendship, but I didn't take advantage of it soon enough. Last week, he died of a massive heart attack.

One of the most powerful things Richard told me last year was that I needed to tell my own story. It's one thing to re-tell the stories of the Bible, or to explain the gospels. It's entirely another to tell my own story of faith, as an eyewitness. It was a strong message, and I tucked away somewhere deep in my heart. And of course, promptly forgot about it.

I was reading Richard's book "One Church Many Tribes" this week, and I must admit, it made me uncomfortable. Not all the stuff where he talks about First Nations culture as an expression of Jesus - I already knew that, because I'd seen it in play. No, what made me uncomfortable was the bold and clear way he talked about Jesus Christ. The words weren't trite because they came from his mouth - I at least knew him well enough to know that he believed them. Despite seeing the destruction the Church had caused in his community, the man loved Jesus. Not just God, or Grandfather Spirit, but Jesus. Richard has a way of communicating that is extremely blunt - maybe why I liked him instantly. As blunt as he is about social justice and the place of First Nations in the Church (all of which I agreed with strongly), he is as blunt about Jesus (which made me feel awkward for his readers).

So as I was reading, and feeling awkward, I felt a hand upon my shoulder. Now, my tactile spiritual experiences are few and far between, so naturally I thought I was crazy. I jumped a bit, looked around, and told myself that being delusional would require medication. But the hand stayed with me. I can't describe it well, but somehow I knew inside that it was Richard there with me. Which is weird, because according to my theology, it should have been Jesus. But it wasn't. It was Richard. As sure as I live and breathe, Richard was with me. I didn't hear an audible voice, but just the same, I knew what he was telling me. He told me that this book is his story, and he told it honestly. He then told me I needed to do the same. And that was it. The hand went away. Freaked out, I sat in my chair for a while. Mental illness does run in my family, you know. I pondered which psychiatrist I should see. Then, bored by my own melodrama, I continued reading, still feeling just as awkward about the Jesus bits as before.

 Yesterday, I finally told a loved one about this experience, and I realized that I needed to practice telling my own story honestly and boldly. You see, I don't often talk about my own experiences with Jesus, and when I do, I'm half-ashamed. The mockery of friends and family when I first became Christian, coupled with the fact that I know in my head it sounds ridiculous, makes me tell my story quietly, leaving out the essential bits. Richard has inspired me to start doing this differently.

I've been joking that I'm giving up my pride for Lent. I've started working in a field I know nothing about, and it's been hard on my ego to be the dumbest person in the field. Apparently God heard me joking and decided to show me what actually giving up my pride is like. So here is the story of why I'm a Christian.

For most of my childhood, I really hated Christianity. Partly I was brought up that way, and partly it came from going to a Catholic school, being ostracized by them for not being Catholic, and seeing massive hypocrisy everywhere I turned. Jesus seemed like a fairy tale, but not even a believable one. He was a crutch for people who couldn't cut it in the real world. Fiercely independent, I knew I could live life without that crutch. Also, I was way too smart to believe in something as illogical and unscientific as a resurrection, or life after death. And morally, I could not believe in the subdivisions of heaven and hell, because it didn't make sense - how could a supposedly loving God send people to hell for not believing in him? Seemed pretty petty to me.

In high school, I met a few Christians who I really liked and respected. They were smart, which surprised me, and they had high ethical standards that I admired. One in particular spent a lot of time with me, taking my jabs about his religion, and talking to me about why he believed what he did. I started listening despite myself. Even if you had asked me what I believed,  I would have spat a non-Christian answer back at you, but inside, something was seeping in. I started going to church with him, mainly to mock it. But the more I went, the more I had this nagging feeling that maybe it was true. I already believed in God, it was the Jesus stuff I couldn't stomach. I trusted my friends who said they believed in Jesus and it changed their lives, though, but it just wasn't a step I could take for myself.

I kept thinking about it though, I couldn't shake it. There had to be something to this story that changed the whole world - I mean, we base our whole calendar year on it (accurately or not, it's the thought that counts). Finally, one day, at a bus stop in the rain, I decided to give up. I decided to give Jesus a trial period - I would try to believe, as much as I could, and just see where it took me. I still didn't fully believe right away, but I opened my mind to consider it possible that maybe Jesus was the Son of God, and maybe He was resurrected, and maybe somehow he died to take away my sins. Whatever that meant. Still, something inside me stirred and breathed life into me that day. Something supernatural happened. I can't explain it well.

Slowly over the years since then, I've grown in faith. I've studied a lot about Jesus and the Bible, and I did so with a skeptical but open-minded heart. And it's brought me to where I am now. I'm at a place now where I can solidly say that I do believe Jesus is the Son of God, that He did die for me and for the world, and that goodness and love does win in the end. I trust that Jesus was resurrected, because it means that love really does triumph over every last evil in this world. And one day, things are gonna be better. One day, God is going to blow on every ember of beauty and this whole world will be lit up with goodness and peace. The Holy Spirit (which is a fancy way of saying the spirit of God or breath of God) speaks to me in still small moments, and lives in me, guiding me. I'm grateful.

Some days, it's more hope than faith. Faith is conviction. A lot of times I'm unsure. My scientific mind, a blessing from God, can work against me sometimes and it makes me doubt. But it also makes my hope real. It's not a blind faith where I just take in what I'm told. It's hope, against everything I've seen, against all my doubts, that the world already reflects the goodness of God, and will one day be fully His. It's hope that when I pray to Jesus, He is listening, and He is guiding me. If you asked me to answer honestly, I would say that deep down inside me somewhere, deeper even than the skepticism I've had since I was young, is the conviction that God is real and He sent His son to live amongst us, die for us, and be resurrected to give us hope and show us what is to come. Jesus loves me.

Through studying the Bible, I've come to see it as a collection of stories of God in the world. I love hearing the stories because every time I do, I learn something new, or I relate to them differently. And I want to hear the stories well, because it matters. It changes the stories if you choose to see them with only your own lens, or if you choose to see them as stories that many have written about God in the world - stories He inspired to help us know more about Him and more about us. Christian theology is not at all what I thought it was - my thoughts on heaven and hell and Jesus were so confused before. I studied the Bible because I wanted to develop biblical literacy - it's not a book meant for every reader to casually pick up, glean meaning from, and set down again. It's a rich text full of layers of meaning and themes between books themselves. So I'd say my faith in Jesus has grown as I've learned more about Him in the Bible. It's why I love the Bible so much. It sets a clear direction towards Jesus, towards hope.

To all my friends who are not Christian - I hope I didn't offend you. And I'm sorry if I deceived you by not being blatant about my faith. I really am a Christian, through and through. I actually do love Jesus. Please don't write me off right away though -  I'm still the same thoughtful person. This is just where my thoughts have led me.

To all my friends who are Christian - I hope I didn't offend you. I can only tell my story the way it happened, and is happening. There are many more stories in my life since then where Jesus has been present, but this was the first one. And it matters to me that I tell it the way it happened.

So in conclusion of this post, I encourage you all to tell your own stories of spiritual experiences, and interactions with something other than what we see in the world. Telling these stories makes us more vulnerable, but it also opens doors to discussion and greater awareness that there is a spiritual realm. Embarrassing as it may be, believe what you've experienced, and tell it, if only to encourage those around you. In this way, you can learn to be true to yourself. It's a journey I'm still taking. :)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Abortion, politics, and the chance to be thoughtful

What can I say, it's been a year. I finally feel like writing is an outlet again, instead of a burden. It's a good feeling.

Today I was thinking about the recent Tory MP scandal regarding abortion. PM Harper heard the term 'abortion,' which conjured up the phrase 'losing the next election,' and shut them down almost instantly. Normally I would applaud that move, since I do value separation of church and state, and I don't think Canada needs an all-out ban on abortion. But here, I think the MPs had something important to say and their reason got lost in a federal public policy nightmare.

The MPs brought up a few (491) cases where a late-term abortion (past 20 weeks) occurred but the fetus was delivered live but later died due to the abortive measures that had taken place. They say it's a homicide because a live baby was delivered, but it later died because of what happened in the womb. Those protesting claim that because the killing act happened before the fetus was delivered, even if it was born live, it's not a homicide because at the time the act happened, the fetus was still in the womb and was not technically a human being.

I agree that a line has to be drawn somewhere. I'll disclose my personal bias - I'm a Christian, and I think life begins at conception. That being said, I understand abortion and the reasons people do it. I'm not out to judge people for going through with an abortion because they felt they had no other choice. People who are struggling need love and support, not condemnation. I protest the crazy genocide awareness people because they don't realize they're just causing more pain, and glorying in their self-righteousness over others. That's not the way to engage with people who are considering or have experienced abortion. Christians are not meant to judge, but to love.

All that said, I think that first trimester and third trimester abortions are two very different things, even if I believe both involve terminating a life. The techniques used are different, and the fact that the fetus can survive on its own makes it different. I don't know why I think they're different - it certainly merits more thought. It might just be my gut. But then again, my gut is what tells me God exists when my brain wonders otherwise, so I've learned to trust the gut. When a baby is born alive, but then dies because of something someone did to it, that's not right. I also take issue with the primary ways that third trimester abortions occur; D & X, D & E, and chemical abortion with delivery all make me uneasy.

In Alberta, physicians are encouraged by their own medical association to not perform abortions past 19.5 weeks. No fetus is ever viable before that date, and so there is no chance that the fetus will live apart from it's mother. However, these are guidelines only. There is no law in Canada governing abortion whatsoever. This may be the only time I will ever say this, but we probably could learn a thing or two from the States. I think that third trimester abortions could stand to be banned, or at least heavily regulated to prevent infant death after live birth. I think the MPs raised a real issue, and the Tories tried to save face by ignoring it and hoping that it wouldn't increase the stereotypes against them. In this case, doing so may have cost Canadians the opportunity to have real, thoughtful discussion around abortion instead of blanket yes or no answers.


Saturday, February 18, 2012

What I actually do

"Put pressure on that till EMS gets here." 
"Stick a towel under his head and watch he doesn't inhale his vomit."
"Sit down and if you feel like pushing, don't!"
"Where's his insulin?!?!"

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Just another day

I had nothing left to say. It's rare that I find myself at a loss for words. Anyone who knows me will roll their eyes and laugh when I say that. But just then, the air had drained from my lungs.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Dreams for 2012

In the spirit of the intentionality of New Year's resolutions, but without the pressure, here are some of the goals or things I'd like to see happen in 2012.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Realities

Driving home after work, I was thinking about Jesus. Don't get excited, it doesn't often happen - to be honest, groceries are usually way farther forward in my mind than the Son of God. Still, 'tis the season.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Sex on the beach

We sat sipping our drinks in silence, trying not to look.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Hope.

This is a guest blog by Eric S. It is his response to our pastor Scott writing us to ask for a story of hope based on our experiences. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That's all for now

Well, we pushed through a last week of clinics before finally throwing in the towel. We are now in the capital city, and are recovering from a spate of illnesses (everything from malaria to shingles), but spirits are high especially in the cool weather.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Let's hope it's just maggots."


Back in the days when I was a bright and idealistic young development studies student and overseas aid was my dream, I held some romanticized notions about catching babies and saving lives in the bush. Like a teenage girl who spends her daydreams imagining her wedding without once giving thought to her marriage, I spent my fantasies on village life and heroics without ever really thinking about the sacrifices. Ironically, I never once planned out a wedding.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Changes

Hello everyone who's been following our experiences here in Africa,

Unfortunately due to the changing security situation where we are, we discussed as a team and decided that we would be taking down all the blog posts about our work and facebook stuff for the public. We will be sending out email updates instead. If you are not on the Awaken list but would like to receive our updates, please email me and I will add you to the list.

We are still safe and will continue to operate as safely as possible. Please pray for peace, and an end to the violence, as well as wisdom for us as we navigate this. Pray also that we will be able to keep serving the people of this area well.

Meera

An update from this: We've put most of the posts back up, with some details concerning names and locations removed. We'll try to keep posting for now. 

Saturday, November 05, 2011

God is good


In our first week here, we were one stream in a flood of reasons for hope.  Let me try to describe some of them in light of the difficulty of my last post, both because I want you to see them and because I need to remember them.

Friday, November 04, 2011

A Realm of Evil



B: “The [S] men are blaming the [S] women for starting the war by not dressing conservatively enough.” 

E: “So when their wives showed skin, instead of having sex, the men decided to kill people? 'Cause that makes sense.”  


Friday, October 28, 2011

Legalities and Moralities


Cardus recently published an article criticizing the legalities of the Insite decision, and my friend Prof. John Stackhouse has responded publicly here.

There is something embarrassing about having a group of the wealthiest people in Canada criticizing the legalities of a decision that saves the lives of a group of the poorest people there, without acknowledging the moralities of the decision.

Village Medicine


We have finished a whirlwind three days of clinics in the bush. We are all doing well, God is good.

After driving crazy through camels, goats, and a few baboons, we would set up our makeshift clinic, and treat people all day.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Turning up the heat


Every morning we hear reports of more bombings. Tomorrow we head into the bush, and will not have internet for three days. I will try to write again when we get back, but no news is good news.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Life in Town


While we are here in town, we are running temporary medical clinics through the Ministry of Health. Basically, we go where they tell us there is a need.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The rains have come


The rains have come to the desert. Praise be to God for answering the prayers of so many.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Why Christians Should Help Addicts Shoot Up: Video

In case you missed the Regent lecture that John Stackhouse and I did last night, here it is. There were some technical glitches but it's mostly all there.

The mp3 version of the talk can also now be downloaded free of charge from Regent Audio.


Watch live streaming video from regentcollege at livestream.com


Sunday, October 02, 2011

Why Christians Should Help Addicts Shoot Up: Public Lecture

 This Wednesday, I have the privilege of providing a public lecture at Regent College with Dr. John Stackhouse. John and I will be speaking on the theology of harm reduction and why it is an essential outpouring of the Christian faith. I will be speaking directly from my experiences as a nurse at Insite.

We will also have an open Q&A session at the end, where we will both be responding to questions that many are bound to have, given the nature of the subject  matter and the timing so soon after the Insite verdict.

Please join us for an evening of discussion, Wednesday October 5th, 7:30 pm PST, at Regent College (across from the UBC Hospital, 5800 University Blvd). Be sure to come early to get a good seat, as we are expecting a crowd.

The event will be streamed live online, from this page. So for all those of you who cannot be in Vancouver on Wednesday, you can still hear us speak.

Hope to see you soon!

Friday, September 30, 2011

A Christian Response to Insite

Today, justice and grace walk hand in hand through our nation.

The unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision to keep Insite open is a victory for the Kingdom of God. The decision today has sparked discussion among Christians about harm reduction philosophies - the Church is starting to take note. This will continue as the door has been opened for more supervised injection sites to open around the country. Fortunately, harm reduction initiatives like Insite are so fully in line with the Christian faith, that the only barrier is our own fascination with judgment and stigma rather than justice and grace.

 As a Christian nurse who worked at Insite, I have been privileged to experience grace in a way I didn't learn about in Sunday School. I witnessed grace every time I brought an addict back to life from a drug overdose, giving them back their future. I lived grace each time I handed an injection drug user a clean needle, essentially telling them that I have hope for their recovery one day and that I want them to experience their days of peace HIV-free. I have received God's boundless, undeserved grace, delivered as His Son lay dying on a cross, given while I was still a sinner. It is the least I can do to enter into the pain and darkness of injection drug use and bring this same light of grace compassionately to those who bear my Love's image.

Those who preach justice, need to preach whole justice. Justice on the foster system that created a girl who'd rather be a prostitute, because at least on the street she gets paid for what her family took for free. Justice on the residential school system that contributed to the current situation of incredible poverty among First Nations people. Justice on the society that has marginalized and neglected those suffering from the disease of addiction, labeling them junkies instead of patients. We must first turn to ourselves in judgment, before judging those self-medicating their emotional pain with drugs. Thankfully, in this situation, when whole justice happens, grace abounds. There is grace enough for all of us. We can move forward together in God's hands, caring for one another.

And so, it is my dream that Christians will re-engage with the unreached people group that is hardcore active drug users, bringing with them love, compassion, whole justice, and healing through the grace inherent in harm reduction. As they do so, they will find they are joining the Kingdom of God at it spreads through our land.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Insite verdict is coming...

Hello all,

I've been asked a lot about when the Supreme Court of Canada is going to hand down their verdict. The answer is this Friday, Sept 30th, at 9:45 am EST.

I will be watching hopefully, and awaiting justice.

To learn more about the case, check out the SC website, or read some earlier posts.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Processing "The Whistleblower"

The Whistleblower is a movie you never want to see. It is one you wish was a conspiracy theory, fictionalized, sensationalized. You wish it were playing at Cineplex instead of The Globe, so it would be easier to disbelieve.

Telling the harrowing story of what it's like to call out the UN on their staff's involvement in human trafficking, this true story exposes the worst that the world has to offer - from graphic rape to blatant cover-ups that go all the way to the Secretary General. After working on the streets as a nurse, I am no longer naive enough to think that the corruption and callousness I've seen doesn't extend all the way to the top - no matter the organization. But there is still a part of me, always, that wishes it were limited to a few warped individuals. "The Whistleblower" doesn't allow that fantasy. Instead it shows us that those with courage, who truly care, those are the people who are few and far between.

 So I asked the question (again) today "How can God exist in this world?" Today is a day when I do not have faith but perhaps rather hope. I can't say with certainty that there is a good God, especially in the midst of suffering that we inflict upon each other. But in the midst of it all, I have to hope He exists, that the little jewels of light that I see in the world will eventually break through the darkness. Because otherwise, there is nothing to hope for.

This intensifies the call to live missionally. If we are the ones bearing Light for the world,  we can't watch a film like "The Whistleblower," and despair. This story is not over yet. It is up to us to join in wherever we see Light spreading, and do so hopefully, bringing joy into the worst situations because we know there's more healing yet to happen on the Earth.

So, I trust that God is good. And yes, today, it's a choice rather than a certainty. I choose not to despair at this film, but rather to understand it in the context of which I am given - the context of the not-yet-finished play rather than the final act. I encourage you all to watch the movie, to truly feel its pain, and to choose to hope (and act) for change.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Entering Insite

Please take an hour out of your day today, tomorrow, or the next day, to enter Insite through watching this video about people I love. It's so close to my heart, and I'd love to share it with you.

http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/2008-2009/staying_alive/video.html

Monday, August 01, 2011

Invisible People Interview

Mark Horvath from invisiblepeople.tv interviewed me recently about what it means to be a Christian and a harm reductionist. Here's the link to his post and the video. If you don't know about him yet, learn.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Anger and Grace

It's kind of funny that I'm writing this blog post in light of the holy discontent expressed in my last post. But there is something to be said about the struggle I face daily with my anger over injustice, and my lack of grace for perpetrators and bystanders.

This is my biggest struggle - impatience, irritability, and frustration with those who I judge as being hypocritical. Of course I fall into that category as well, and that only increases my irritability, because then I start disliking who I am too. It is my darkest side and it comes out in all sorts of ways.

My beauty is found in the grace I surprise myself with - both for myself, and for others. I have learned that if I preach love for the homeless because they're real people, then I actually have to love all real people. That's hard to do. It's easier for me to be scornful towards wealthy Christians who drive Hummers, and to care deeply for vulnerable and ill people without a roof over their heads. But this is hypocrisy - I'm telling it like it is.

It's more socially acceptable in my circles to slam the rich, because slamming the poor makes you an inhuman monster. But the reality is there is good and bad in everyone. Love is about what you choose to see in the other. I choose to look at a homeless person and see her sense of humor, or his generosity. I choose to look at a Christian who has never served anyone outside of the church and see her hypocrisy, or his callousness. That is more about my lack of grace than their lack of heart.

As hard as it is, (because it's actually pretty fun to mock rich Christians with their heads in the sand), this is not what God calls me to do. I have been wrong. I have contributed to the divide between the social justice activist types, and the "normal" people who think we're all angry bra-burners. See, I think the thing that scares everyday people about activists, is the anger. Nobody likes being around angry people. And when that anger comes out, people think that we're trying to make them feel guilty. That's when the defensiveness shoots up.

What if we actually practiced what we preached, and loved everybody? What if, instead of mocking the corporate types, we befriended them? What if we actually lived out Galatians 5:22-23? I was reading this book two nights ago, after a long day at work where I was irritable and exhausted. Shockingly, I found out that irritability and exhaustion are not fruits of the Spirit? What?! But I was doing so much good during the day! :)

Apparently, or so I read, the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The more I think about it, the more I realize that often the Christians in the megachurches do exhibit many of these characteristics. Not all, and not consistently, but I'm far more likely to characterize a megachurch congregant this way than I am a social justice activist. There is much that front-line staff have to learn from those that we get frustrated with. We have to approach the discussion with humility. We are the experts on loving homeless people, but not on loving in general. And that's humbling.

Front-line staff often burn out - frustration that nobody else understands, that the work seems insurmountable, that people are dying on mats at Alpha because they have nowhere they can access health care... all of these things create burnout. Anger and discontent can be holy, but only when tempered with a healthy dose of love, peace, patience, etc. And that's the lesson I'm currently learning. It's hard breaking the mental habits, and I'm really bad at it. But Christ is in me, and one day, it's gonna show.

Of Bears and Men

We were sitting in the car, driving back to Calgary from a hike near Banff, when I exploded. "F***!"

The driver, a friend of mine from church, looked at me, startled. I don't swear often, and I almost never use the F-bomb. But some situations warrant anger of that magnitude.

This particular instance of expletive came out of a deep place in my heart. I had just seen a bear on the railroad tracks. Over the past few years, bears have been dropping like flies - getting hit on the highways, and by trains. Our Alberta grizzly population is dwindling at an alarming rate, and this concerns me. I've been a backcountry hiker over half my life, and wilderness matters. Bears, especially grizzlies, represent everything that is wild and free about Alberta, this province that I love. Tourists will create bear jams that go for miles on the highway just for a glimpse at the revered grizzly bear. We pay lipservice to valuing the bears, but it doesn't go far enough to make a difference on the rail line.

A few years ago, a mother grizzly was killed on a stretch of rail line near Lake Louise. Her orphaned cubs died in the wild. This year, it happened again. She was one of three females with cubs in the area, and now there are only two. This is her the day before she died. 

Bears are being hit while on the railway line, but they are specific examples of the bigger problem of humanity's incredible ability to be selfish.

The frustration I have about human callousness to animal life isn't just about bears. It's about human callousness to human life too. We have homeless people literally dying in droves from poverty. Sure on the surface it's sepsis, or trauma, or overdose. But really, it's poverty.  Financial, emotional, social poverty. We have known for a long time that poverty is a determinant of health - it's taught in every community medicine class around the world. And yet we justify it somehow when it's in our own nation. "It's their own fault," we tell ourselves. "Calgary is booming - if they wanted a job, they'd have one." Ever tried to get a job without a home address? Not so easy. But it's more than just that.

The number of homeless, addicted, mentally ill, or vulnerably housed people who have been hit while on Calgary's C-train tracks is astounding. And that's literally. So many of our population are dying due to inadequate health care. Whether that's because they're getting discharged to mats at Alpha House, or because they're vulnerable to violence, rape, infection, and malnutrition. That's not even considering all the illnesses that are associated with addictions too. Every day at Alpha, we see multiple people who are quite ill. Some are dying. Getting them health care is often a huge battle.

People are being hit while on the rail lines too. Are we going to respond, and if so, how?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Really, girls?

As I was indulging in my newest addiction (Mantracker) on the CityTv website yesterday, I was repeatedly shown the new Trop50 orange juice commercial. And as I watched awesome women and men fight their way through the bush to beat the tracker, using their wits and their strength, I became increasingly irritated by the women in the commercial.



You see, men have oppressed women for a long time, it's true. But what gets me more is when women do it to themselves. A group of women valuing their juice more than their friend, using poor grammar, being corrected by one of them but then having that correction be tossed aside so long as it's used on flattering her physique... It's just so flaky. These are the kind of women I'd never want to be like. I have no respect for them. I know the point of the commercial was "drink this juice so you can be skinny and hot." I know that's the point of most commercials. I know that it's a step up from having the girl clad in skimpy clothing on the arm of a guy with a beer. I don't expect more from ads targeted to men - it's a sad reality that most of them are like that. But it does make it that much harder to watch when the ads are targeted to women, and it's assumed that all women get together in groups and talk like that. As someone who doesn't often watch tv, it was a sickening reminder of just how far we have to go before women will start valuing themselves.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

#rtvRD: My thoughts

This past weekend, I attended a conference in Red Deer on human trafficking. It was put on by Raise Their Voice, an amazing organization started up by people who care. For me, the weekend highlighted the incredible strengths we have in fighting trafficking, but also the huge barriers we're up against. I wrote a blog post about it for coerce.ca, and you can find it here.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Human Trafficking and Models of Atonement (or why theology matters)

Social justice is a predominant catchphrase in the circles I spend time with. It refers to any kind of help-the-needy thought or action. It's kind of weird to use the word justice when really often we are referring to mercy. Or are the two one and the same? And how does grace fit in?

I've been strongly advocating for InSite, which follows a grace-based philosophy of care (also known as harm reduction). Being immersed in this grace mentality has lead me to Canada's justice system, as the fate of InSite lies in the hands of the Supreme Court of Canada in May of this year. In this case, justice will enable grace, in the context of mercy.

Grace and justice often present, however, as mutually exclusive ideas. Grace for victims of human trafficking who become adult prostitutes. Justice by prosecuting their pimps. But what about the pimps - do they deserve a break also? So then, how do we hold both grace and justice in our hands in any kind of conflict?

Life in the midst of these tensions highlights my struggle with traditional atonement models. The question of Divine intentionality in the crucifixion profoundly disturbs me - if God's wrath needed to be sated by violence, what does that say about His character? Can I trust a God like that in the midst of the evil that is predominant in the world of human trafficking? But if God had no control over evil, that it was human violence alone at the cross, then why didn't He step in to prevent it? It seems to set up God as either sadist or masochist.

I want to believe in a God who forgives all, who loves, who doesn't judge.  But that's not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible forgives, loves, AND judges. He somehow manages to combine justice and mercy, and asks the same of us. Perhaps justice is in the heart of God, along with mercy.  I just finished listening to Hans Boersma (Regent Prof) as he discussed his book Violence, Hospitality, and the Cross. He supports a modified traditional model of atonement, trusting that God is not mean, but just. I think that Scripture supports this idea, but I'm still wrestling with it.

Here are the things I know about God. 1. He isn't sadistic. 2. He isn't masochistic. Anything that comes out of the cross is deeper than either of those things - touching on a fundamental sense of justice, a fundamental sense of grace, and a fundamental sense of mercy within me. I don't understand how all of those things go together. But I trust.

Perhaps the cross was needed for justice, in order to enable grace. So I am learning to embrace human need for grace, and trust in Divine justice. I don't understand why Jesus had to die. I don't understand why so many awful things happen, or trafficking has not been eradicated. But I do understand that I have been given boundless grace, and I am to spread that in a wise and discerning manner, in line with justice and mercy.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
   and to walk humbly[a] with your God. 

Micah 6:8

Sunday, February 27, 2011

She Has A Name

Last night I went to a play called "She Has A Name." Written by the brilliant Andrew Kooman, performed by Burnt Thicket Theatre, this play was far better than the (cheesy) video trailer for it implied.

When I worked in Cameroon against child trafficking, it was hard. The complete and utter inadequacy of response - mine, and those around me, was something that you just don't understand unless you've been there. Kooman gets it, and that's what made this play great.

His character "Jason," the protagonist, was brought to life by Aaron Krogman in a way that helped everyone in the room understand what it's like to work against child trafficking. You hate yourself. You hate the world around you. You hate the reality you're faced with but you can't leave it once you know it exists. The tension between Jason and his wife made for a poignantly real scene, showcasing the difficulties of fighting trafficking. Everything that I had felt, everything that I had gone through, he went through it too. It was a relief to see other people communicate so clearly the things that I felt and experienced in such a powerful way. I was so grateful that this play didn't trivialize, or stereotype, but instead clearly outlined the complexity of life as a trafficked person.

Denise Wong was amazing as "Number 18," the girl who once had a family but now works in a brothel. She comes on to Jason in the first act and appears to enjoy what she's doing, grabbing at the front of his pants playfully, almost childishly. Denise brings out the psyche of her character brilliantly, understanding that Number 18 is still a child, just one who lives in a world of rape. We come to see that she is responding in the only way she knows how, in order to survive. It is painful to watch, and even more painful to remember.

The play brought up a lot of hard memories that have been long buried for me. I, unlike Jason, did not see it through. I decided it wasn't for me, and I left. Ironic that I now find myself working with trafficking victims right here in Canada - from the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre to InSite. I can't escape it, can't just live in suburban bliss. Like Jason, I've tried, but I can't turn a blind eye to injustice now that I know it's out there. This play was healing for me in that I realized it's okay to feel the pain of human trafficking.  I was hesitant at first when human trafficking became the "Christian" thing to fight against, just another fad in the church. I was active before it was "cool," and it was hard to be around so many people who would say "that's horrible" and then change the topic to the weather. Now, people are starting to realize that we can't just ignore it. It won't be a fad if we keep fighting it until things change. This play completely dissolves any ideas of jumping on bandwagons by forcing us to face how difficult the reality is. It's worth seeing.

Two things you can do. The first is go see the play. The second is to pray about what next step you should be taking - be it donating towards the cross-canada tour of the play, getting involved with an anti-trafficking agency, or raising awareness in your own social circles.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Want to keep InSite open?

Well, here's who to write to:
  1.  Your own MP. Find out who your MP is here.
  2. Minister of Health (Leona Aglukkaq)
  3. Minister of Justice and Attorney General (Rob Nicholson)
  4. PM Stephen Harper
Here's why we're writing. 1) We want the Federal Government to drop the lawsuit against InSite and allow InSite to remain open. 2) We want the Federal Government to allow new supervised injection sites to operate legally.

If you're on board, please take the time - it will be public opinion that makes the biggest change in this.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

InSite Stats

Usage
• 750 – 800 visits per day
• 257,575 visits per year

Insite Participants
• 27% of clients are women
• 19% of clients are Aboriginal
• 17% of clients are homeless
• 68% of clients live in the Downtown Eastside (DTES)
• 80% of clients have a history of incarceration
• 73% of users have injected in public before

Drug use
• Heroin was used in 42% of injections
• Cocaine was used in 26% of injections
• Morphine was used in 11% of injections

HIV/Hepatitis C
• 3 in 10 injection drug users in the DTES are HIV positive
• 18% of Insite clients are HIV positive
• 30 new HIV cases in the DTES in 2006 compared to 2,100 cases in 1996
• Lifetime costs for a new HIV infection are close to $500,000 USD
• 9 in 10 injection drug users in the DTES have Hepatitis C

Harm Reduction At Insite
• Number of overdose interventions: 2395. Number of deaths: 0
• 3,862 first aid and medical care interventions
• 2,269 referrals to social and health services (40% made to addiction counselling)
• Insite users are 2x as likely to engage in addiction treatment than non-Insite users

Benefits to the Health Care System
Benefit of prevented HIV infections deaths is calculated to be between $1.50 and $4.02, depending on model used, for every dollar spent. Calculations are based on an underestimate of the full range of benefits and an overestimate of the annual costs of operation of the facility. In 2008, an economic analysis showed that there were incremental net savings of $18 million and 1175 life-years over 10 years of facility operation.

2009 Statistics:
1.5 Million visits since we first opened in 2003
12,000 clients registered at the facility.
  • 276,178 visits to the site by 5,447 unique individuals
  • An average of 702 visits daily, up to a maximum of 1,171 visits daily
  • An average of 491 injections daily
  • 484 overdose interventions with no fatalities
  • 2,492 clinical treatment interventions
  • 6,242 referrals to other social and health services, the vast majority of them were for detox and addiction treatment
  • 411 admissions to OnSite detox (55% completion rate)
  • InSite's operational budget was $2,946,610 in 2008-2009.
  • More than 80% of Vancouver Coastal Health's total expenditures on addictions are used for treatment and prevention.
  
All Statistics obtained from InSite website, CMAJ article, and SafeGames2010 website.

Doing the homework

I've found that it's really easy for me to get on board with a cause, or deny a cause, without putting in the effort to find out more. I'm from the instant gratification generation - if I can't learn about it in 5 mins, it's not worth learning. This kind of thinking leads to snap judgments and it's not right, it's lazy. So, because I really care about keeping InSite open, I did my homework. Below are a number of resources you can check out if you're interested in knowing more too!


Summary of research done on InSite before 2009:
British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. (2009). Findings from the evaluation of Vancouver’s Pilot Medically Supervised Safer Injecting Facility InSite.

Recent Medical Analysis Article on InSite:
Dooling, K. & M. Rachlis. (2010). Vancouver’s Supervised Injection Facility Challenges Canada’s Drug Laws. CMAJ 182(13):1440-1444. Also available online: www.communityinsite.ca/CMAJ.Sept212010.pdf

Downtown Eastside physician writes on addiction:
Mate, Gabor. (2008). In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts. Toronto: Random House.

The role of Christians when dealing with addiction:
May, Gerald. (1988). Addiction and Grace. New York: HarperCollins.

ChristianWeek Feature on InSite:
Bai, M. and J. Stackhouse. (2010). “Why I Help Addicts Shoot Up.” ChristianWeek 24(12). Available online: http://www.christianweek.org/features.php?id=85

Pivot Legal Society Press Release and supporting documents on federally funded anti-InSite research:

NY Times article and video on InSite:

Federal Government National Anti-Drug Strategy (excluding harm reduction):

Basic User Statistics on InSite:

Official InSite Website:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interview about InSite - Part 2



This is the second part of a video recorded by Rohadi Nagassar with Calgary Church.
Many thanks to them for making this happen!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Ambrose Public Lecture

As many of you know, I wrote an article for ChristianWeek last fall, and the response has been overwhelming. Listed as one of the top ten ChristianWeek articles of 2010, the widespread reaction received is indicative of the fact that harm reduction ideas are becoming mainstream, and Christians are grappling with the ethical implications.

 Ambrose University College in Calgary has invited me to explore this topic with their students and the public. The evening will begin as I discuss my work at InSite, Vancouver's supervised injection site, and continue with an open forum of Q&A.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

World AIDS Day

Today, red ribbons are being worn all around the world to symbolize humanity's fight against the viral killer, HIV.  It's a celebratory day - a day to cheer at humanity's ability to combat every awful disease we've been hit with, in optimism that we will overcome AIDS as well.

The way that we overcome is to care, together. We've heard it a thousand times, but it doesn't stop us from needing to hear it again. One person helps in one tiny way, and it makes a difference. All of us help as best as we can, and it changes the world. Together, we will overcome this.

So I'm asking you to contribute somehow. Volunteer your time at a shelter. Hand out condoms and clean needles. Be a volunteer teaching abstinence in schools. Donate to a good cause. Write your MP about keeping InSite open. Make friends with someone who is HIV positive and stand by them.

Because, you see, the fact that AIDS deaths are decreasing because of increasing awareness, is part of the Good News. God is at work in this world, and today, you get the chance to see how.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Join the Discussion!

I'd love it if you would hop on over to my friend and professor John Stackhouse's blog and join us in our discussions about InSite and the article we wrote together on ChristianWeek. Here's the link! 

Monday, October 04, 2010

Spreading the Word

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to co-author an article on Insite with John Stackhouse, who was one of my professors at Regent and an incredible support to me as I worked and attended school. Although we often disagreed with each other in class, and have different ideas sometimes on theology, it's been an encouragement to me that he has been willing to work together closely with me in getting the message out about what InSite means to Christians. Here is the article we wrote, published in ChristianWeek magazine. http://www.christianweek.org/stories.php?id=1156

I've also gotten the chance to participate in a conversation about InSite with a local missional church movement called Calgary Church.  I have reposted the first part of their video interview with me below. 





I'd like to thank all those who are working hard to get the message out that this facility is in line with Christian values and it is our role as the Church in the world to speak up on behalf of those who need InSite to remain open.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Democracies, Minorities, & Incompetencies

As part of my belief that our systems of living together are a) created for good, b) ridiculously flawed, and c) capable of being redeemed, I chose to work within the system in my attempts to convince the Conservative party to stop wasting taxpayer money trying to close InSite. Many have fought and died for democracy, and I am fortunate to live in Canada, where relative peace overtakes the majority. The problem in our system, however, is protection of the minority - those that the majority don't know or care about. In order to protect those minority rights, we have the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the government attempts to trample the rights of a marginalized group that most people don't notice, that group has the right to take it to court.

So this is what has happened with InSite - the Federal government has attempted to shut them down, knowing full well that nobody outside of B.C. will pay any attention to the matter. The B.C. Supreme Court (and Appeals Court) affirmed that shutting down InSite would, in fact, contravene the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by denying a specific marginalized group the same healthcare that is provided to all other Canadians. Despite this, the Conservative government is spending large amounts of money taking this to the Supreme Court of Canada. What's a citizen to do?

Well, I started going about it within the system - by writing to my MP. Below is a copy of our email conversation.

My initial email:
Dear Mr. Anders,

I am a nurse who has lived in your riding for many years. Recently, however, I had the chance to live in Vancouver for a few months and work at Vancouver's supervised injection site, InSite, while attending an evangelical seminary, Regent College. In my time there, as a Christian nurse caring for injection drug users, I realized that this community has been marginalized in Vancouver and Calgary alike to an inhumane extent. On a typical day, I could expect to treat patients who had been hit by cars on Hastings - and the cars didn't stop. We have grown to devalue injection drug users as less than human, and it shows in our public policy.

I am writing to request that you speak out within your party to request that the Federal Government re-adjust its priorities and shuffle funds away from the impending court case against InSite at the Supreme Court of Canada, and into more effective means of preventing drug use such as adequate social services for at-risk children. Please review the attached report on InSite and take time to consider its implications. Feel free to contact me with any questions or follow-up. I look forward to hearing your response to my email. Thank you!

Meera Bai, RN
Calgary West constituent
His response:

Thank you for your email which has been read by Rob Anders, MP.  Below is his response sent from his blackberry.

 I have read your email.  The advice that I have received from former drug users is not to give federal money to people who test positive for drugs. The former users told me that those addicted take free shelter, free food and free clothes so that whatever government money they get can be used to buy drugs. Former users told me to deprive addicts of the opportunity to live off the system.
--------------------------
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Sincerely,

Margaret Hoppe
Constituency Assistant
Rob Anders MP Calgary West
Tel: (403) 292-6666
Fax: (403) 292-6670
My response:
Hi Mr. Anders,

Thank you for your response. It seems as though you are unfamiliar with what InSite provides drug users. They do not provide food, shelter, or clothing, but rather health care. While there may be a wide variety of personal opinions on what drug addiction entails, I think that we can all agree health care is a basic human right that should be provided to all, drug users or not. I would be happy to sit down and discuss InSite with you so you can better understand that the issue at stake is not abusing the system but rather access to basic health care.

Meera Bai, RN
And his response back:

Thank you for your letter which has been read by Rob Anders.  Below, in italics, is his personal response.

I know they don't provide food, clothing or shelter. I was merely sharing a drug related perspective that many in my constituency hold.
--------------------------
Sent from my BlackBerry Wireless Handheld

Sincerely,

Margaret Hoppe
Constituency Assistant
Rob Anders MP Calgary West
Tel: (403) 292-6666
Fax: (403) 292-6670

This has been the extent of our communication so far. I can't honestly say that I hope it continues, but I will try nonetheless because in a democratic society, Rob Anders' response is inadequate, inappropriate, and inaccurate. I hope that he will take me up on the offer to sit and talk professionally, but for some reason, I doubt it.

So it remains up to those fringe few who interact with the marginalized to raise awareness amongst the majority and make it a mainstream issue in order to protect the Charter. Of course, we are still dependent on the Supreme Court of Canada's decision making process, and hopefully they will recognize the foolishness of this case, but in the meantime the Federal government spends hard-earned taxes without accountability from the masses. That accountability needs to come from awareness. And that's where you come in.

If you took the time to read this post, please take the time to tell a few other people about InSite, and start to make waves. It's the only way we can hold up our heads as Canadians.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

There's No Place Like Home

As I walked through my neighbourhood this afternoon, autumn leaves blanketed my path like a yellow brick road, leading me onwards. The river ran beside me, trees overhead, families all around. I found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to live in the most beautiful place on earth.

At church today, we talked about what it means to move into the neighbourhood, as Eugene Peterson notes that Jesus did through the Incarnation. We looked at Jeremiah 29, where urban exiles are encouraged to settle down, plant gardens, raise families, and stop living with one suitcase packed and waiting by the door. It was a wake-up call for me to unpack.

When I returned to Calgary from Vancouver, mid-degree, leaving a job I loved, I wasn't sure why. I felt called to return - but I didn't have a clear path laid out before me. I didn't have a job lined up or a place to live. It seemed foolishness to leave Vancouver. If I wanted to settle into a small community church, it didn't have to be Awaken in Calgary - there were plenty just like Awaken in Vancouver. Come to think of it, there were plenty all over the world. I'd heard about great ones from Boston to Brisbane. I could visit each of them - learning something new each time. The temptation was - and is - strong. I love to travel, but I've been doing so much of it that I've forgotten what it's like to lay down roots.

I'd paved over the roots across my path with the hope that with each new location, I'd find the Emerald City. Despite not having found it yet, despite my yearning to stay in Vancouver, I returned on sheer faith to Calgary, not knowing why, but knowing that if I didn't follow my gut, I'd regret it. Even after arriving, I've been having a hard time finding my way. Things aren't always the way I want them to be, I don't have a white picket fence, and I get lonely sometimes. My home isn't perfect yet - but one day, when the Creator moves in, it will be. I have glimpses of that already.

This afternoon, as I followed my yellow brick road, I looked up and realized that the golden leaves blanketed the ground all the way back to my house. I have grown to love where I am - where I have friends who are family. I've been to many beautiful places in my life - and I have no doubt there are many more in the world. But none of them are as beautiful as Bowness is to me.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Books Are Sacred

The thing that tests even my vivid imagination is wondering what it would be like to have lived my life unable to read. Reading has been so formative for me - I started when I was very young, and ever since, immersing myself into other peoples' stories has been one of my greatest pleasures. All of my best vacation dreams would involve quiet reading time. Freakish? Perhaps. But when I think about how literacy affects maturity, education, and development, I am amazed and thankful that I'm one of the lucky ones who's developed a love for reading.

Recently, world news has highlighted a manipulative and childish ploy by a pastor in the States who is risking the lives of people living and working in Muslim countries by threatening to burn a Qu'ran if he doesn't get his way. Aside from my obvious disgust in his behaviour, the thought of burning a book sends chills down my spine. All books have shaped people, and they are a part of human story, for better or worse. Books deserve a special place in human history, because they record stories that have shaped us.

So, I thought I would list some of the books that have shaped who I am, in the hopes that others will be inspired to read and be shaped as well. You can find this booklist here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

A Request

As many of you know, I'm a staunch advocate for InSite, being a staff nurse there. InSite is being taken to the Supreme Court of Canada by the Conservative Government this fall; following their policy against harm reduction, they are attempting to shut us down. If you are on board with my previous posts about InSite, I ask that you contact your MP to let them know that keeping InSite open is a concern for you.


Here's how to figure out who your MP is, if you don't already know. Please get involved - you can make a difference.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Men and Women Can Hold Up the Whole Sky Together

There are so many feminist books out there that the topic is exhausting to many. I have argued with misogynistic backwards Christians who tell me I'm going to hell for being a woman and daring to speak. I've also argued with angry power-hungry feminists who believe that because men have oppressed women for so long, now women deserve to be the oppressors. The issue has long been exhausted in North America - not that it doesn't continue, but that people don't want to hear about it anymore. Our emotional fatigue in the area of women's rights has created a deadly block to the injustice that inequality has brought most of the world. People simply don't want to hear about "women's issues" anymore - these conjure up images of angry females shouting themselves hoarse about perceived injustices. My friends usually get looks of fear when I start ranting about women's rights - or if they've been around me long enough, they just look bored. Clearly, ranting does not connect well with many people.

Stories, however, change lives. Through stories, we are transported into the shoes of another, living their life for a paragraph, a page, or a chapter. Written by Nick Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, "Half the Sky" is an adult storybook. Packed full of the women that this Pulitzer Prize-winning couple have met throughout their travels as reporters for the NY Times, the book provides us with tales of humanity. Chapter by chapter, they piece together the world of human interaction between genders with insight and blunt honesty.

Reading this book forces us to meet hundreds of women with different stories - we see their pictures, learn about their childhoods, and watch them struggle through life. Some make it. Others don't. We also hear stories about women from all around the world interacting with each other - helping each other. Despite the fact that all the victim stories are about women, the book paints a sordid picture of humanity as a whole as a limping creature fighting itself. The authors make a clear statement: this is not a book about women's issues, it is a book about human issues and the casualties of these issues - who happen to be women. This is a book for and about men and women.

The beauty of humanity is that our hope also lies in both men and women. Just as we once abolished olden-day slavery, so we can also overcome the barriers that we have created to oppress women into being modern-day slaves. "Half the Sky," despite tackling issues as sad as sex trafficking, female genital mutilation, and mass rape, manages to be a book of hope. Hope is found in the fact that China once was all about foot-binding, and the Americas were once all about slavery. In the same way, perhaps one day we won't associate the Democratic Republic of the Congo with rape as a weapon of war. This too will change - and it will change as people start to take notice, and start to care.

I read this book chronicling the abuses of women in our world at a time when I was working through my own family's history of abuse and oppression. I cannot think of a single woman in my family who has not undergone some form of physical or sexual abuse - such is the nature of our Tamil Hindu culture. I am dealing with many repercussions of this, and some days I have very little hope remaining. And so, I put off starting to read this book in fear of becoming even sadder. Instead, I found relief in this book. I realized that women all over the world have come out of abusive situations and not only survived, but thrived. Women, when given a chance, have the ability to blossom in the most unexpected ways. I am one of these women. My story is echoed by the countless stories in "Half the Sky," and my strength is reflected in the strength of the women who chose to tell their stories too.

This book is good for those who haven't had the chance to talk to a diversity of women struggling with abuse and oppression. It does not replace the importance of personal story-sharing relationships with oppressed women, but it does provide scope for the problem by sheer volume of stories. By emotionally entering into these stories, we can't help but fall in love with the women they're about. And love is what changes things - it creates compassion, which stirs up justice.

Change is coming. Email me or check out this link if you need some ideas on how to become part of it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Flooding in Pakistan



Before reading on in this post, click the link below.

How you can help.

Now for my thoughts on the video.

First of all, I cried. My tears were out of sadness that this has happened, compassion for the victims, anger at the international community, frustration with the church for not responding, anger with God for letting it happen, trust in God for being present with the victims, and faith in God that somehow there is still good in the world - even if it's in two boys who comfort each other.

Ann Curry, one of the people I admire greatly as a reporter and human being, implies at the end of the video that the soul of Pakistan is at stake since terrorists will take over in the flooded regions, using suffering for their own agenda. I know that she is desperate for flood aid, and is saying whatever will motivate people to give. But I hate that by doing so, she also used suffering to reinforce American foreign policy. The kids in the video are crying because they're hungry, not because they fear a war on terror. And we need to be giving, because they're hungry and we're not.

I know not everyone in the world follows Christ, turns the other cheek, and gives because they love instead of because they fear. But I really can't stand this new media spin. And yet, if it brings in more donations, then so be it. Let's feed them first, and argue about it later. Please, please give.


More ways you can help.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Love > Fear

I've been reluctant to comment on the arrival of a ship full of Tamil migrants to Canada for a few reasons. Often people expect me to have strong pro-Tamil views, as both my parents are Tamils from Sri Lanka. However, since I was raised in Canada, I actually relate more to being Canadian than being Tamil. And after claiming the body of Christ as my heritage, I try not to have a preference for one ethnic group over another, simply because that's the group my family comes from.

That being said, I do think that the arrival of this ship is a test of Canadian hospitality. Canadian Tamils have flocked to B.C. to provide translation services, food, and financial support for the hundreds of men, women, and children who disembarked the ship. They've shown the embracing spirit that other Canadians claim to value. But for all the talk Canadians put out about equality, the strongly racist standoffishness generated by Canadian media about the arrivals has shocked me.

I don't care if these arrivals are from Sri Lanka or Sudan, nobody brings children through cramped quarters halfway across the world escaping a civil war, on a joyride. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for those parents? One kid starts a temper tantrum, and the whole ship has to listen to it. Another kid throws up, and soon half the cabin is retching. It's not easy. It's not like they just hopped on board on a whim. Sri Lanka's war has been marked with atrocities on both sides; mass murders and child soldiers have been vying with media repression and racist tensions for making it a bad place to live. I'm not saying that accepting them all in without any concerns whatsoever is a good idea - but I'm saying that we should be accepting them in even with the knowledge that it may be difficult for us. Hospitality isn't about minimizing inconvenience - it's about reaching out in love to fellow human beings regardless of ethnicity.

So I am speaking up - not because my family is Tamil, but because I am Christian. Canadian media should be ashamed of itself for propagating fears about terrorism - that's so yesterday. We are no longer living in a culture of fear, and trying to stir it up again will not work. As a Canadian citizen, I refuse to be part of it. Instead, I commend those who have worked tirelessly to care for the new arrivals - the volunteers, health care workers, social workers, police, and lawyers who are choosing to provide care to these fellow human beings in need. Theirs are the stories that should be splayed across the headlines.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Angela and the Fistula Girls

As some of you already know, part of our time in Angola was spent in Lubango at CEML, the Christian hospital run by Dr. Steve Foster. We were fortunate to live and work with Kevin and Angela Deane, who by some strange strike of fate are also from Calgary, and are close friends with our pastor, Scott Cripps. I'd never met Angela, but after getting to know her, I think that there is nobody I look up to more as a nurse. Her heart is huge, and her work with the fistula patients inspired me. I would write about the fistula patients myself, but they're really her stories to tell - she worked with them for months before we got there. Here is the link to her and Kevin's blog about their time in Angola. Her stories echo my own heart for these hurt girls.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Christina

I first met Christina as I began hiking behind her mother Teresa, on the way to the millet fields. Our whole team spent a day with Teresa, and got to share in her delightful family of children - all of who seemed to like us. All except Christina, that is.

For some reason, every time Christina looked at any of us, she would start to cry. Not just any cry. She screamed like we were demon warlords sent to conquer the earth. Although we managed to snap a few shots of her looking grumpy, the fact remained that around everybody but us, she was a happy child.

I asked her big brother why she cried when she saw us, and he shyly told me she was scared. Of what? Well, they wouldn't tell us, but apparently some people in rural areas believed that white people were cannibals. Now I'm pretty sure Christina didn't know what a cannibal was, but all she knew was that we were different and that was scary. I wish I could say that by the end of our time in Tchincombe we were less scream-evoking, but that would be a lie.

At least we knew she had healthy lungs, no chance of pneumonia in that child. She's lucky in a lot of ways. First of all, she's alive and so is her mother. Angola's maternal mortality ratio (maternal deaths per 100, 000 live births) is 1400 compared to Canada's 7. Their infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births) is 130, compared to Canada's 6. Christina was fortunate to have been born in Tchincombe, where Donna Foster puts her veterinary skills to work manning the human clinic and driving people to the hospital in Lubango when necessary.

Christina, other than being a screamer, appears to be a healthy baby girl, and she's fortunate. She spends her days with her legs splayed across her mother's back, sleeping under the sun while Teresa harvests millet. She also has a whole bunch of brothers, sisters, and cousins to keep her company and care for her. It really does take a village to raise a child, and Christina is fortunate enough to have one.