Tag Archives: compassion

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY…THROUGH HANDMADE PRODUCTS by Koren Lindley, Final Year Diaconal Ministry Student

Imagine not having the financial means to feed your own children.  Imagine feeling you have no other choice than to work long days in a sweatshop or to turn to prostitution to gain enough income to provide at all for them.  Imagine feeding your child pies made out of clay because that is all you have.  For most of us in the United States, this is not our reality, but for women in many other countries this is a daily struggle.  Not only are they not able to feed and provide for their children, but they are living in gang and drug-infested neighborhoods.  They are caught up in a cycle of poverty that one must live in to completely comprehend.

In March, 2015, while on her husband’s pastoral internship, Wendy Daiker, a Wartburg Theological Seminary spouse, felt a call to help women.  Initially, Wendy felt these women were local to the Iowa town where she was living, but she soon learned that God was calling her to a much broader community.  This was affirmed when Wendy’s husband, Joe, connected her to a friend who was a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.  Wendy quickly realized that God was calling her to help women through Trades of Hope on a global scale.  It was then that Wendy became a Compassionate Entrepreneur for Trades of Hope.

Trades of Hope was started in 2010 and was created to empower women worldwide and to create jobs for them.  According to the Trades of Hope Fall 2015 catalog, “We want every mother to be able to break the cycle of poverty-for herself and her children.  Parents who are working can provide basic necessities, support, and protection for families.”  Trades of Hope does this by marketing the handmade products of artisans through a home party model.  Compassionate Entrepreneurs (CEs) bring the products (jewelry, handbags, home décor, etc.) into homes and share both the products and the stories of the artisans who have made the products.  Products are sold and the artisans are given a fair wage for their work, a wage that helps them support themselves and their families.  Currently, Trades of Hope represents 28 groups of artisans (over 6500 artisans!) in 16 countries.

The artisans are mainly women and their stories are as varied as their fingerprints.  Some are trying to create a better life for their family.  Others were rescued from the sex trade industry or have diseases such as AIDS or leprosy.  Still others have aged out of orphanages and have nowhere to go.  They are women who do not want charity, but do want an opportunity to better their lives.  These artisans are given new hope and confidence that they can break the cycle of poverty through their handmade goods and with the accompaniment of Trades of Hope.  Wendy’s favorite part of being a Compassionate Entrepreneur is “knowing that what I do empowers other people and makes a difference.”

You can learn more about Trades of Hope by visiting Wendy’s Trades of Hope website or by liking her Facebook page “Wendy Daiker Trades of Hope.”

THE GAIN OF THE LOSS — HONEST ADVOCACY by Alexandra Hjerpe, 2nd Year MDiv Student

I have the choice to walk away from here: That is part of why I keep returning.

Cars, people and crumbling autumn leaves bluster on by the windows of the shelter, not minding the world around them, unaware that the lives of the people inside have lurched to a sudden stop. I hear the tick of a clock as I pass my mop over the creaking, wooden stairs. This sound is the evidence that time is indeed moving; otherwise, it is as if the whole shelter, as well as the women and children who take refuge here, have been crystallized in amber.

Time passes slowly, and does not heal all wounds.

I’m here at the shelter for my weekend shift as an advocate for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. It’s a part-time, paid job that involves tasks of maintaining a safe-house shelter and current residents, as well as responding to a crisis hotline for future residents. It’s also is a full-time, costly job that requires a certain sacrifice of trust, and loss of control, in humanity.

Trust often requires a kind of the will to not notice.

As a shelter advocate, I often find myself struggling to balance in a tension between practical restraint and compassionate openness when interacting with residents. On one hand, these individuals are highly resourceful, frequently dishonest, and every bit the survivors forged from the worst of experiences. On the other hand, these residents are persons who deserve the greatest attentiveness, honor and empathy of any God has created, and each were formed of, and will return to, the same dust to which I shall also return.

It could be me, living in this house. It could be Christ, bearing these open wounds.

Many of the people who take refuge at the safe-house would otherwise be homeless. Supported by donations of local community organizations, the shelter provides basic health supplies to these individuals that have been otherwise denied. I never knew it could be empowering to allow a woman to choose the color and size of her pajamas and slippers. I did not realize that it was a privilege of personhood for a child to have his own fresh toothbrush and toothpaste.

There are so many small, ordinary pieces of personhood that we do not know we own until we experience someone with impoverished autonomy.

Once in a while I have the opportunity to sit down with a resident in my office, offer him or her a cup of water, and listen to their story. Never offered an objective ear prior to the shelter, these persons may be long overdue for a time to express feelings, and become emotionally explosive: shivering with tremors of anxiety, churning with long-suppressed anger, or flowing with open facets of grief.

While these moments are a privilege, I cannot say they are a gentle blessing, inspirational, or personally intimate; they are frightening, painful, and very difficult to hear. I cannot underscore this loss enough, and urge you to not glamorize advocacy as you imagine the scene. Instead, I can feel my own Self and soul stirring, desiring to provide, as I listen—and then, compassion takes the form of an objective, silent listener, who will provide a tissue or a hand, upon request.

Part of advocating for the powerless means an intentional release of your own power and need.

I find this submission of my desire to comfort, provide advice, and to generally “fix” things to be the most challenging part of my work as a shelter advocate. The recognition of my innate privilege–and the loss that comes with realizing that others do not share this privilege!–conjures in me a mixture of guilt, shame, sadness and anger. Yet, feelings are messengers. Yet, this emotional energy is signaling my Soul to work: it is transformed into action, in which I engage the reality of privilege, and put it to work, per the context. With these persons who have been traumatized by the violence of physical – and truly, a deeply spiritual– abuse, the task required of an advocate is a release of his or her own choice, own need, and own power in a situation. Then, one may watch in wonder as a space opens up for bruised people to breathe on their own.

It is a marvel to help others realize that they indeed have a voice, and a choice, and a Soul that is precious, and worth holding on to.

This is the gain of the loss for the shelter advocate: that you pause, so that others may become.

WHEN CHRIST BECOMES CHRISTA by Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir

When Christ becomes Christa
The importance of a contextualization of the cross-event
By Arnfríður Guðmundsdóttir
Excerpts of a lecture presented at Wartburg Seminary, November 13, 2012

Full lecture here: When Christ becomes Christa

As a key symbol of the Christian faith, the cross symbolizes God’s participation in human suffering and death. An empty cross signifies, on the other hand, the resurrection, or the important message about the final victory of life, over suffering and death. When the cross is interpreted particularly in light of women’s experience, it signifies God’s compassion with women, who suffer, amongst other things, because of domestic and/or sexual violence. Sometimes this compassion (or co-suffering) is portrayed in a female body on the cross.

In the past the cross has sometimes been used to discourage people from resisting injustice. When the cross is understood as a symbol of kenosis  of patriarchy, the self-emptying of male dominating power, the power of the cross becomes the power of love instead of the power of control.

For centuries women’s has been justified, based on the idea of its salvific meaning. Despite the abuse of theological arguments in order to justify women’s suffering, women have been able to experience Jesus’ solidarity with them not only in their suffering but also in their fight against unjust causes of their suffering. This is why the christological question, “Who do you say I am?” receives a response with yet another dimension, when answered from the perspective of women’s experience of suffering. Hence, the Christ who sided with women as “the oppressed of the oppressed” reminds us that also today the knowledge of God is to be discerned in the midst of suffering. By identifying with the suffering women, the foreigner, the deserted, the sick, and the social outcast of our time, we are identifying with Christ among us.[i] At the same time we are participating in God’s ongoing struggle against injustice, inequality, and oppression.

The power of the cross is not to be understood on the basis of our knowledge of power as control. The power of the cross is the power of life, as both unexpected and ongoing.

Christa – a Crucified Woman

Since the mid-seventies a number of images of a crucified female Christ (often referred to as Christa) have stimulated interesting discussions about contemporary interpretations of the passion story. Christa-figures have pushed for important discussions about the meaning of the contextualization of the Christ-event, especially the gender-question.

Christ as Christa liberates not by condoning the suffering of abused women, or proclaiming that there is an innate redemptive quality in it; but by being present with and sharing in the brokenness, identifying this as the priority for God’s healing love, Christ gives hope, empowers and enables the process of resistance.[ii]

Indifference is truly something we should worry about in our western societies. All of us have probably heard stories about people passing by, instead of helping those who have been assaulted or hurt and need help. Those stories remind us of the story of the good Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite saw him lying there “half dead” and decided to pass by without helping him (Lúk 10.30-37). Too often people do hesitate to intervene when they are witnessing violence of some sort taking place next door – because they don’t want to intrude on people’s privacy. They also hesitate to intervene when somebody is being bullied, maybe because they are afraid of risking being bullied themselves.

Compassion- to be able to feel with somebody, can be passive, meaning to express solidarity,to listen to and to offer to go along with the one who is in pain, which can prove invaluable for the one who feels left alone in his or her suffering. But compassion can also be active, encouraging resistance and not submission to injustice. We have examples of both in the gospel stories. This is why imitatio Christi, or to follow Christ’s example, can either mean to suffer with the suffering one (com-passio) or to stand up and resist, hoping that eventually justice will prevail. Sometimes we need to be creative in order to come up with effective ways to practice nonviolent resistance, like Jesus certainly was.

There has always been a strong tendency to silence women’s experience, particularly their experience of oppression and abuse. Churches and other faith communities have been slow in responding to the danger many women are faced with, due to violence and abusive behavior. Initiatives by large church communities have signaled an increasing awareness of the problem. As a follow-up to the Ecumenical Decade: Churches in Solidarity with Women 1988-1998, the World Council of Churches (WCC) decided to confront the challenge of violence directly, by establishing a Decade to Overcome Violence: Churches Seeking Reconciliation and Peace, (2001-2010).[iii] While the WCC focused on manifold expressions of violence, violence perpetrated against women and children was among their central concerns. Bishop Margot Kässmann in her book Overcoming Violence. The Challenge to the Churches in All Places: “The inability of churches to deal with domestic violence is one of clearest indicators of the urgency of a Decade to Overcome Violence for the churches.”[iv]

Following the WCC’s initiative, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), in its document Churches say ‘NO’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches from 2002, called its member churches to act on behalf of violated women. By offering this contribution to the WCC decade against violence, LWF sought to direct the focus of the international church community to the effect violence is having on women in their home as well as in the church and the society at large. In the foreword to the document the General Secretary of LWF, Ishmael Noko, depicts violence against women as a theological problem, and not simply a social one. Noko writes: “When those who are victimized suffer, so does God. Let us work together to overcome all forms of violence that are an offense against God and humanity.”[v]

A cross from El Salvador was painted in memory of María Cristina Gómez. Here we see a close relationship between the cross event and the resurrection. Without the resurrection, the cross remains an example of one more victim of evil; of  one more person who lost her/his life life for a good cause.  That is why it is crucial to keep the close relationship between the cross and our hope for the final victory of life over death, good over evil.

María Gomez spent her life fighting for a better living conditions for women in El Salvador. She particularly cared about women who were victims of rape or suffered from domestic violence. Among other things, she taught them to read. Eventually Gómez was murdered by her opponents in the year of 1989. This cross is a sign of hope because of the story told by the pictures of the cross. It is a sign of hope for those who want to improve the living conditions of  victims of violence and abuse. This is not only a story of the power of evil amongst us, and the sufferings caused by it; but a story of the power of non-violent resistence. It is also an encouragement to follow to imitatio Christi, not to give up, but to stand up and resist evil, holding on to our hope that good will eventually prove stronger than evil.

[i] Mt 25.31-46.

[ii]  Quoted by Clague, see ibid., 106.

[iv]  Kässmann, Overcoming Violence, 45.

[v]  Churches Say ‘No’ to Violence against Women. Action Plan for the Churches, 5.