GENEROSITY: Re-imagining Stewardship: Evolving ideas for different times

Have you thought about how we interpret all the passages of scripture related to giving, tithing, and the essence of being a steward? Do we treat these readings as clear dictates, rightly applicable from their original context to ours and coming from a single, unified voice? Or do we see a process, a more significant trajectory of re-imagining, over thousands of years and varied cultures, what it means to live a life of faith, to multiply love and goodness, and to generously contribute to the common good?

What, if anything, does fundraising have to do with stewardship, and is there a role for fundraising wisdom and practices? For example, fundraising and development professionals talk about “case statements” or “making the case” as the explanation of why an organization deserves philanthropic support. If we want people to be not just stewards but good stewards, making the case is one way we help them discern that supporting our ministries is a better choice than other options they might be considering. Efforts to make the case, articulate how vision leads to impact and clarify the real problems our congregation exists to solve, are all ways of reinforcing that good stewardship is a higher aspiration than merely being a steward.

The Lake Institute on Faith and Giving in Indianapolis has been teaching for years that people are actively re-imagining how God is calling them to make a difference through their resources. Lake Institute refers to this shift in people’s giving paradigms as moving from an institutional focus to being donor centric. Giving is re-imagined not as a duty or obligation to autonomous institutions trusted by default, but as a response to grace, a pathway to spiritual transformation and a means to impact. In the new paradigm, donors and institutions are partners, building trust over time and making a difference by working together.

To further re-imagine stewardship, check out the podcast from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, including the episode titled “Case for Support.” Feel free to also get connected to one of the stewardship seminars happening around the ELCA titled “Cultivating Generous Congregations” based on curricula from the Lake Institute.by Rev. Larry Strenge

 

BUILDING PUENTES: CONNECTING

The following is a reflection from Meg Blodgett member of Calvary, Mt. Airy, another one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the next weeks, volunteers will serve and support as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog.

 

After going to multiple ELCA youth gatherings over the past 10 years, I have always found my “God moments” during times of interaction with the people we are helping rather than the actual service work itself. Although the work is very important, I love being able to connect with the people who are in the areas that we are going to help. For 9 months, I have been waiting to come to Puerto Rico and work with the community here to re-build their homes and lives. This was my chance to actually re-build houses, roofs, fences, and immerse myself in a new culture for two weeks! Monday afternoon, I sat down with the 6 other people that I would be working with for the next week to help re-build a man named Alfonso’s porch and overhang. His house had been destroyed by Hurricane Maria. We shared expectations and prior experience that we could bring to the project. I told the group that I did not have much experience building things besides Lego sets but I was willing to learn! The next four days we would spend helping Alfonso fix his roof and learn his story.

Tuesday morning, my group arrives at the house and are greeted by Alfonso who was so eager to meet us all and show us his house. Case managers from Lutheran Social Services of Puerto Rico greeted us as well to help us facilitate communication with Alfonso and be a point of contact for our group if we needed help. Although there was a language barrier between Alfonso and I, I tried my best to use my three years of high school Spanish to be able to introduce myself and tell him how happy I was there to help. He understood my attempt to communicate and returned it by telling me “Thank you for coming” and shook my hand. The next 6 hours went by swiftly. At the end of the work day, we had built the foundation of the porch roofing addition and I had even drilled some of the hangers into the frame!

On the drive back to camp, I started to contemplate the topic of my blog post that I was supposed to write the next day. Turning to one of my teammates, I asked, “What if I interviewed Alfonso as part of my blog post?” She thought it was a great idea and we got to work thinking about some questions that I could ask him.

Wednesday morning, we arrived at Alfonso’s house at 8:00am, ready to work and I was eager to learn more about Alfonso’s life. I asked the case managers if they would ask Alfonso if I could interview him for the blog and if they were able to translate the conversation. Both were in agreement and Alfonso was ready to participate as well.

The following is a translation of the interview I had with Alfonso:

Meg: How many people lived in your house before the hurricane?

Alfonso: I lived there with my daughter and 3 grandchildren.

Meg: How old are you?

Alfonso: In October, I will be turning 85.

Meg: Do you have family living by?

Alfonso: Yes, my sister lives in the house right next to mine. I am staying there while my house is being rebuilt. She is having health issues so she is staying in the city in Dorado.

Meg: I know you are probably retired by now. What did you used to do for work?

Alfonso: I have been retired for 10 years. Before that, I worked as an assistant chef in hotel kitchens around the island.

Meg: Please tell me about your experience during the hurricane.

Alfonso: During the hurricane, I stayed at my sister’s house with her and one of my grandchildren. It was safer there. No one in my family was hurt during the hurricane.

Meg: What happened after the hurricane?

Alfonso: After the hurricane, I stayed at my sister’s. The roof was completely ripped off my house and everything inside had water damage. The electricity and plumbing were destroyed. My daughter and her children moved into the city to stay in government-funded housing. I didn’t want to go with them. I didn’t want to leave my house. I like it here.

Meg: How much did FEMA help?

Alfonso: They gave me some money for supplies to rebuild my roof. But it wasn’t enough. The hurricane destroyed all of my family’s clothes and appliances. I went out and bought wood for the roof but it wasn’t enough for the porch roof. I had volunteers help me rebuild the roof of my house.

Meg: How does building this roof going to help you and your future life in Puerto Rico?

Alfonso: A lot. The fence surrounding my porch was gone. Other volunteers helped me put it up. I live on a hill and spend most of my time on the porch. Now when my grandchildren move back in, we won’t worry about them falling and getting hurt.

Meg: What do you love about Puerto Rico?

Alfonso: I love the sports here. I love watching baseball and boxing. I like living where I am. I’ve been here for 70 years. It has a peaceful setting and landscape.

Meg: What do you want us to know about Puerto Rico?

Alfonso: The music. The music here is great and so moving. Take in the art of Puerto Rico. If I was able to take you somewhere, I would take you to a baseball game and to hear the music of my home.

End of the Interview.

Serving and mission work isn’t just about physical labor and building stuff…it’s about connecting with people and getting to know them and their unique stories. I hope you enjoyed learning more about Alfonso and his life in Puerto Rico as my team and I have this week.

BUILDING PUENTES: GRATEFUL

The following is a reflection from Sharon Stromberg from Frederick, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the next weeks, volunteers will serve and support as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. A few of them will be reflecting on their experiences, and we will share them here on our blog.

Tuesday was our first day on our work sites. When I talked to people this evening, I heard all kinds of stories. Some groups experienced logistical challenges with tools or supplies. Others learned the joys of concrete construction: jackhammering out old windows; power-washing, sealing, and priming flat roofs.

Here are some reflections on our day:

  • Our group had a very special “God moment.” We needed to clear brush away from a doorway, but didn’t have any tools that would do the job. Then someone noticed a rather rusty machete lying on the ground nearby. It proved to be quite sharp and exactly what we needed.
  • A couple of our youth made friends with the 5-year-old who lived in the home where we were working. Despite the fact that he spoke no English at all, they wound up playing with him for quite some time. We could tell that it really made his day. I’m sure he will never forget us.
  • Several ladies in our group were busy hauling 4×8 plywood sheets up the 55+ steps to our work site. A bunch of pre-teen kids came by on their way back from a VBS program. They felt sorry for us working so hard and pitched in to help finish the job. We were very grateful!
  • The home we worked on belongs to a gentleman who is bed-ridden due to a spinal injury from an auto accident. He enjoyed talking to the members of our crew (in very good English), and expressed his gratitude over and over.
  • Our homeowner complained about the iguanas ruining the crop on his fruit trees. He explained, they like to eat papayas and mangoes, but they don’t like starfruit. Next thing we knew, he was presenting us with two full bags of starfruit that he’d picked for us. It was delicious! We also got to try quenepa, another unusual tropical fruit.
  • Power-washing a roof is one of the more fun jobs on a hot, sunny day.

We’d like to give a special shout-out to the LSS staff and case managers who accompanied us to each job site. And of course to the staff of Campamento Luterano Dr. Eduardo Roig who are taking good care of us.

CONNECTEDNESS STORY: FAITH-BASED RESPONSE TO OPIOID & ADDICTION CRISIS

To help those suffering from drug addiction, it is imperative that we engage, educate and train our church body about opioid addiction and overdose. This crisis is in our communities, our congregations and our homes. As faithful people, we must not ignore this crisis but rather live out the words of Matthew 25: 35-36 tells us:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

We show the love of Jesus by accepting and supporting people in active addiction. We do this by connecting with people in the midst of the realities of where they are in their life and open the possibility of recovery and building relationships with them throughout their recovery journey. This ministry can only succeed by building relationships across our synod for those being affected by the opioid crisis connecting people to each other, to the greater church family, and to our communities.

The facts are before us:
Maryland is among the top five states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths with nearly 29.7 deaths per 100,000 persons were related to opioids—including prescription opioids, heroin and fentanyl—compared to the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000[1] and Delaware has the 13th highest for opioid-related overdose deaths at a rate of 16.9 deaths per 100,000 persons—compared to the national rate of 13.3 deaths per 100,000[2]; and reported the second-highest percent increase at 105% in suspected opioid overdose emergency department visits from July 2016 to September 2017[3].

The CDC indicates that the average life expectancy in the United States has declined for the second time in three years primarily due to deaths from drug overdose and suicide, with more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths reported in 2017[4].

Of people entering treatment for heroin addiction who began abusing opioids in the 1960s, more than 80 percent started with heroin. Of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug[5].
86 percent of young users had used opioid pain relievers nonmedically prior to using heroin, and their initiation into nonmedical use was characterized by three main sources of opioids: family, friends, or personal prescriptions[5].

The Delaware-Maryland Synod Opioid and Addiction Team is calling us all to participate in this essential ministry.

On August 24th, our synod will be offering a Faith-Based Response to the Opioid Crisis and Other Addictions training. Please join others in the Delaware-Maryland Synod to work faithfully to fight the greatest health crisis facing our nation: addiction to drugs and alcohol.

This event will help individuals, congregations and organizations grow in their knowledge of this crisis and work on plans for a strategy in your context. All ages, genders, races are being affected. We ask, how will your congregation have a faithful response? This time together will include presenters from the ELCA, US Drug Enforcement Administration and provide Emergency Overdose Response Training, as well as connected us together to share, support and empower each other to work to address this crisis.

The event will be Saturday August 24, 2019 from 9:30 am – 1:30 pm at Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church (905 Frederick Rd. Catonsville, MD). A light lunch will be included. Cost is $15/person or a max $60 per congregation/organization so bring a group! Childcare will be provided, and you must pre-register.

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER and share this flier throughout your congregation and community!

Pray about your engagement in this national crisis who will you invite to join you in this event and important work.

______________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Sources:
[1] Maryland Opioid Summary. National Institute on Drug Abuse. https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/maryland-opioid-summary
[2] Delaware Opioid Summary. National Institute on Drug Abuse https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids/opioid-summaries-by-state/delaware-opioid-summary
[3] Delaware ED Data Shows Significant Increase in Opioid Overdoses; DPH Announces Forum for First Responders and EDs to Address Overdose Management. March 7, 2018. https://news.delaware.gov/2018/03/07/delaware-ed-data-shows-increase-opioid-overdoses/
[4] https://www.aafp.org/news/health-of-the-public/20181210lifeexpectdrop.html
[5] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/relationship-between-prescription-drug-heroin-abuse/prescription-opioid-use-risk-factor-heroin-use

BUILDING PUENTES: FINDING PLACE

The following is a reflection from Alicia Ribeiro, member from Holy Trinity, Laurel, one of the volunteers working in Puerto Rico this week to aid in recovery from Hurricane Maria. Over the next weeks, volunteers will serve and support as a part of the Building Puentes initiative with the Caribbean Synod, the Metro D.C. Synod, and our Delaware-Maryland Synod. We will be sharing reflections on their here on our blog.

Monday morning curled in around me as a cool draft of air conditioning across the ceiling. As I became aware of the sounds of active bodies around me I decided to join the world of the awakened. Today would be the day I joined ranks with those of my age. I had previously been socializing with those kind adults with parenting instincts and the young adults that were like older respected siblings to me. Those people were kind and inclusive to an outsider like me, but I was still not one of their own. I was one to check in on, not one to share a beverage with or compare parenting tactics or timeshares with. Also I needed some people to go on wild adventures with. The adults would not do for that purpose.

Today was not a day to build physical structures. For the people of Puerto Rico it was a day to protest for better political structures. And for the volunteers at the Lutheran relief camp it was a day to build relationships with each other. With this goal in mind I sat next to a girl I had ridden in the van with to the camp. She was quite friendly and even invited me to join the younger generation at another table. I of course eagerly accepted this invitation and sat with the other vaguely high school aged girls. I enquired as to their names and churches. After introductions the girls quickly set about braiding hair and weaving friendship bracelets. I asked for some string and started my own. I worked industriously, speaking little.

After breakfast we all took a group photo in front of, and in some cases up in, a large tree. After the photograph I asked what the girl I met would be doing. She didn’t know so I wandered around the camp until I found myself talking to a man from my church about potential electronic book inventions with actual pages. (Shout out to you, if you’re reading this.) We meandered down to the pool. I was so absorbed by his explanation of his life history that I almost forgot to be disappointed that I wasn’t interacting with someone of my own generation. Almost. But it was still a lovely morning. We sat in the shade on ceramic pool benches and felt precious breezes of subtle wind. I learned much about the importance of thrift stores, haircuts, and nurturing a life partner’s relationship. We made our way back up to the mess hall for lunch and a meeting.

Finding a place to sit was another point of anxiety. I didn’t want to sit with the elders anymore and I didn’t want to sit with the same girls I had sat with before. I wanted to sit with someone new. I found myself sitting near a high school aged boy and a couple of adults. I asked a bunch of questions of the boy once I figured out he was a senior as I would be going into the year he had just survived. After these questions I fell into silence and stared into space while I chewed on my sandwich. Next was more free time before we departed for the beach. At this point my mind was crowded with thoughts like “Why am I so lonely?”, “I miss my friends”, “It’s my fault” and “Why am I like this?” I knew I was slipping into a state I didn’t want to be in so I changed route from the room I shared to a walk around the camp. “I need to stop thinking without actually thinking” I said to myself and decided to analyze myself in a more productive way. As I walked down the sunny sunny hill I had the following conversation with myself:
What’s wrong?
I’m really anxious.
Why?
I feel all this pressure to be social and I feel inadequate.
Why?
My sister is stuck at home and would do anything to be here. So I have to take advantage of my situation and make the most out of it. I have to have fun. I also have internal ideas for myself. I wanted to have some friends my age to have wild adventures with. In a way, I wanted to change myself. But I’m not like that and I can’t do that.
So what can you do?
I have to have fun in my own way and in my own context. I also have to remember my purpose.
And what is that purpose?
My purpose was to come here and help the people of Puerto Rico that few other people would help. If I do that then I’ve achieved my goal and it would be enough.

At this point a lifting feeling rose inside me from somewhere within my rib cage, like a weight had been lifted, but warmer. I spotted two boys walking over to a tree. I thought “maybe…” and approached them. One of them was pulling on a limb until it snapped and hung limply down, it’s long fronds drooping.
“I told you not to break it” the other boy said.
“Well I never do what you tell me,” tree snapping boy said. I recognized tree snapping boy from the van earlier.
“What are you doing?,” I asked.
“We’re making a spear” other boy said.
“What are you going to stab?,”
“Fish” tree snapping boy said.
“At the beach?”
“Yeah”
“I think I’m going to watch if it works,” I said.

Later I made sure to go in the same van as tree snapping boy and other boy. On the way we made conversation about the particular curiosities of the intriguing state of Delaware. I felt at ease, I don’t know whether it was the voices or the uncensored flow of information, but I was more relaxed.

I walked across the sand at first but it turned into a hop and then into a run as the sand burned through the bottoms of my feet. The water was warm and welcoming and I quickly walked in, finally submerging myself completely. “No fish” I thought, looking through the clear, clear water.

The other boys in the group soon joined and we all swam to the rocks. I recoiled at first at the slimy, slippery surface of the rocks which felt like something you’d accidentally touch in dish water. Then I grabbed a crag of the rock and pulled myself up. Once on the rocks there were many flat places to rest one’s feet. Some of the boys jumped off of a rock back into the water. At first I looked at the space, calculating whether I would land on a sharp rock or in the soft sand after crashing through the water. Then I ran and jumped, feeling myself commit as I hurled towards the water. Water crashed over my head and the burn of salt flushed up my nose while my feet were greeted by velvety sand. Then I emerged, water dripping painful droplets into my eyes in triumph.

We noticed shells clinging to the water darkened rocks and the senior high school boy peeled one off and placed it in his hand. The “it” soon became known as Escar and we all gathered around to watch “Escar go”. Escar left a clear trail of slime on senior boy’s hand that remained even when rinsed with seawater. Escar clung to senior boy, even when he flipped his hand upside down, a loyal companion. Soon more snails were distributed. When one was placed on my hand, a strike of surprise went through me when I felt the living thing first cling to my hand. Then the little feelers emerged from the shell, inquisitively hovering over my skin.

We decided to explore the other side of the rocks to look for more wildlife. So this was what it was like to go on an adventure. We found various mysteries, including a sea urchin and a potential anemone, although no one wanted to test that theory. There were also uniquely patterned and colored snails and a lone hermit crab.

We joined with the girls and there were various attempts, successes and failures at chicken fights, three person stacks and cheer positions. Then we all- adults, young people, girls and boys- gathered in a wide circle to toss a frisbee, football and volleyball around. I wasn’t really good at this at all but stood in the circle to show I was part of the community.

After we arrived back at the camp I joined my newly found delawarian friends at the pool. We messed around with pool chairs and the net used to fish seeds out of the pool, spraying each other with water. I was invited to join them for dinner, and I did, deciding I needed to see an interaction between other boy and his famed best friend.

After dinner was a devotion about the parts of the church being compared to the parts of the body. Each part has different skills but all are necessary for the body to function. I didn’t know which part of the body I was but someone spoke up and said I was the thumbs because I was writing the blog post. Someone said that it was hard to put thoughts into words and I said I had too many words. Then the whole group started talking about how important my perspective was as one of the young people. Shoutout to the people in my devotional group for validating me and making me feel seen. Also shoutout to anyone who read this far into this blog post. My eyes started to swell with tears which I blinked away as I answered the next question.

After the devotion a man (a Lutheran intern pastor from San Juan) came in to speak to us about the political situation in Puerto Rico. I will give a brief summary, but disclaimer: you should definitely read an article, this is just what I got out of it. There are three political parties in Puerto Rico, the ones in favor of Puerto Rico becoming a state, the ones in favor of it remaining a territory and the ones in favor of it being an independent country. The state and territory parties are the prevalent ones. The governor and other officials including the secretary of education were found guilty of corruption. There was also a group chat released with much offensive content, making fun of any minority, underprivileged, or marginalized group you can imagine. This included victims of the hurricane. The people of Puerto Rico, regardless of political ideology, started to protest, demanding the resignation of the governor. Our speaker went into much more detail about the elections and the backgrounds of the people involved, but I can’t make this blog post too long.

After listening to more of what the man had to say I sat alone at a table to write this blog post. I wanted to be secluded to be able to focus on my writing. Then branch snapping boy came and sat down next to me, not saying anything but looking at his phone. Later, other boy and his famed friend came with some cards. “Finally”, I thought, “people are coming to me. I think this means I have friends”. I played a couple of rounds of cards and then walked down to the pool to hang out with branch snapping boy and other boy.

It was strange and unsettling to stumble through the dark, unsure of where my feet would land. I saw the bright white light of the pool, piercing through the darkness. I was happy. Thoughts floated up around me and I pushed them back down because I just wanted to keep being happy.

I don’t know if this is important or relevant to the trip, it all seems too personal. We did not get to do any physical service today for our Puerto Rican neighbors, for very understandable reasons, but that was what I expected this blog post to be about. Of course in life God never gives us what we expect and this blog post was no exception. Instead this blog post is the very honest experience of a young person at Building Puentes. I think the importance of this was to show the building of fellowship within a group of volunteers and the way that various preconceived notions I had about others and myself were dissolved. I remember everyone’s names but due to the personal nature of this narrative I did not disclose them. If you did happen to get anything out of reading this narrative, I would be immensely satisfied as that would mean I have done my job well.