29 December 2010

Photo of the Week: Christmas Cheer

Here's a quick recap of what I enjoyed on Christmas day:

Definitely not an exhaustive list. Hope yours was just as lovely.

28 December 2010

Conviction: The Unfortunate Truth

I hope you watched yesterday's video -- I've seen it quite a few times so far and I really like it.

Today let's get back to the routine and figure out just what malaria is.

From my reading on the Mayo Clinic's website, malaria is a disease (much like HIV/AIDS) that is spread by a parasite through contaminated blood. Most often spread by mosquitoes who are carriers of the parasite, it can also be spread mother to child, through contaminated blood used in blood transfusions and through shared/dirty needles used for drugs.

Once the parasite (called plasmodium) is in your bloodstream, it then travels to the liver. Here's the bad news: once it reaches the liver, it stays there for a certain amount of time -- up to a year -- and during this time, there are no symptoms.

When the parasite is all grown up, it gets back into the bloodstream and this is when malaria does it's worst: the symptoms include chills, sweating, fever, and vomiting. Those often lead to dehydration and malnutrition, which makes it the lethal disease that it is.

Kinda scary, yes?

The Mayo Clinic has some other information, too: people living in South African countries, India and several islands including Haiti are at a much higher risk of contracting malaria, and in many of those places, there just are not the appropriate resources to save people who get it.

Tomorrow, let's discuss more of how malaria can be prevented and cured! It's one of those things that is all about knowing too much to do too little.

27 December 2010

Conviction: 2000

The facts in this are so shocking, but so important.

(Having some issues with formatting -- if you are seeing problems in IE, try another browser!)

26 December 2010

Conviction: Between a Rock and...

Well, you know.

One of the things that I struggle with in regards to service and giving is the discrepancy between what I have and need in material things compared to what others have and need in them.

In general, I have more than I need, and many people in the world don't even have the things they need to live, let alone live comfortably. I have all the food I could want to eat, clean running water, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, a car, money for gas, nice clothes, a laptop, beautiful jewelry, a room of my own, a phone and so many other things. In other parts of the world and right here in my city, there are plenty of people who don't have two cents to rub together, let alone all of the luxuries I live with.

Hence the struggle for me. How do I justify the excess that I live in when I know so many people in the world are hurting and hungry? And it's complicated by the way I feel about ranking and comparing: these people aren't better or worse than me, nor do I deserve more than they do, but it is still important that I help, isn't it?

Though it is still a day-to-day issue for me, here's my thoughts on the issue now.

First, God has given us many blessings, and he wants us to appreciate and enjoy them.
"There, in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your families will eat and enjoy everything you’ve worked for, because the Lord your God has blessed you." Deuteronomy 12:7

However, as we've been discussing, it's important to love and help others:
"The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’" Matthew 22:39

So what it comes down to is balance. If I know there is something that I don't need or use, shouldn't I give it to someone who does need it? It doesn't mean I need to sell everything I have and give it all to the poor, but I shouldn't live in a mansion either.

What are your thoughts on this? I'm still so frustrated by the two! Leave a comment with your ideas or advice!

25 December 2010

Conviction: A Gift

Merry Christmas!

Today, we celebrate the greatest gift ever given.

I hope it inspires you to give in the same selfless way.


24 December 2010

Conviction: Nourish

As usual, I would like to wrap up the week with a post that will detail some ideas of how you and I can help.

Hunger is something that affects every single nation, race and culture, so the ways that you can help alleviate hunger are widely varied and unique. You have a lot of options in how you would like to help!

If you want to help the person next door, look up a local food bank or shelter:
Feeding America
Food Pantries
Homeless Shelters
Rescue Missions

If you want to sponsor a child:
Sponsor with World Vision (like me)
Sponsor with Compassion (like my parents)
or just give money where it is needed most. (Or these cute goats!)

Feeling a little stressed by all my suggestions? It's okay. It's a lot to take in at once.

For now, one request: join me at Free Rice, and let's make a team with a purpose.
Join up and get ricing! :) I don't think that's an actual verb, but whatever. It's Christmas Eve, after all.

Have fun!

23 December 2010

Conviction: My Girl

I have wanted to sponsor a child for a long time, but different issues have prevented me from doing so until very recently, when I had the opportunity at a Women of Faith Conference.

In the arena where the conference was held, World Vision was one of the biggest sponsors, and as well as having many booths situated about the arena, they had placed a child's information on each chair. After getting seated, I picked mine up, and slid out the little slip of paper that told me about this child. Serah, the card said was her name, and her picture was small but colorful.

As cheesy as it might sound, I started loving that little girl at that moment. Here was a flimsy piece of paper that only told me her birthday and gave me the tiniest glimpse into her life, but my goodness, did I love her. My mom looked at her child's packet, and a few others in nearby empty seats and asked me if I wanted a different one, but the answer was definitely negative. Little Serah who was not quite three years old was the one I wanted.

Though many things have influence my journey towards living a life full of service, very few have influenced me as strongly as the knowledge that I can change my girl's life, millions of miles away in South Africa -- the knowledge that I need to change her life.

So now I am. I send $35 every month, on the 25th of each month, and that money will help to feed her, give her clean water, pay for school clothes, and supplies and medications and anything else that she needs to grow into a strong, beautiful and healthy woman. And I know that it won't end there. When she is equipped to become everything that God made her to be, she can do the same for others.

I love my girl, and the change that she means for me and the world.
Do you sponsor a child?

22 December 2010

Conviction: Misplaced

As we continue here with the RFP series on different issues that deserve some attention, let's look at why there are so many hungry people in the world.

Like the issues thus far, money (and what is done with it) has a lot to do with ending hunger. In past years, the cost of food has risen at an alarming rate, and for people in underdeveloped countries who may not receive more than a few dollars a day, a sharp increase in the price of food staples (like rice or other grains) can be a big issue.

Though a lot of the factors in the "food crisis", as several sources term it, can be helped by outside involvement, plenty are rather irreversible. Rising fuel prices make it more expensive to transport food items to where they are bought and consumed, and that price is reflected in the amount paid by the consumer. In many African nations, military conflict and raids have displaced entire populations, and when unable to rely on their tradition food sources, the groups cause strain to be put on other healthy systems.

It's important to look at this more clearly though. "Sure, sure, food is more expensive. It's more expensive to buy strawberries in January, but whatever!" One might argue that point, and yes. That's true. But the increase we are looking at here is unbelievable.

World Vision cites these numbers from the Food and Agriculture Association:
The cost of maize has increased by 80%.
The cost of wheat has increased by 70%.
The cost of rice has increased by 25%.

That is huge. And like I mentioned before, these are staples -- the things that make life livable. So where is the money? The money that could be spent to help alleviate the poverty that prevents so many people from getting a meal at least once a day?

Lets do a little experiment here:

There are 6,892,727,905 people in the world right now,
and 1,030,493,710 of them are undernourished.

There has been 5,134,630,478 tons of food produced this year,
and 130,620 tons wasted today in the USA alone.

Americans have spent $117,276,615 on food today, only to throw it away,
and it would only cost $35,474,859 to feed the hungry.

Honestly, it kind of makes me sick.
So what are you going to do to change those numbers?

21 December 2010

Conviction: Starved

Yesterday, I gave you a little information on how many people in the world, and how many children in the world suffer from hunger. So today, let's talk about what hunger really is!

Hunger is simple as far as our definitions are concerned. However, in deference to our previous definitions, here it is:

hun·ger   /ˈhʌŋgər/ [huhng-ger]
1. a compelling need or desire for food.
2. the painful sensation or state of weakness caused by the need of food: to collapse from hunger. 3. a shortage of food; famine.

A need or desire, a sensation, a shortage -- hunger is a very bodily thing. You feel hunger, you have hunger, you are hungry. Unlike our previous definitions, I think that in the case of hunger, all of the definitions are necessary and important to our learning.

For you and I, we will most certainly feel hungry in our lifetimes. Actually, probably this morning, after you rolled out of bed and finished checking your email (I know you did it!) you thought: "Gee. I could really go for a bowl of cereal." So you wandered out to your kitchen and fixed a bowl.

It's not out of the ordinary to feel hunger, that's the first definition: a need or desire that compels you to find some chow.

The second and third definitions? Well, it's a little less likely that you or I will experience these. This is a sense of hunger, an aching in your stomach that isn't caused by a few hours without a meal, but by a few days. And a single meal won't fix it, either, though it's a step in the right direction. Perhaps its not that you didn't get a meal, you just didn't get enough of a meal for weeks on end.

I don't know about you, but I can't imagine experiencing it myself. And it saddens me that other people have to experience that.

I'm not going to tell you to stop saying anything in respect to people who suffer from hunger. I don't care if you say "I'm starving!" or "I'm so hungry I could die!" because when you say you are starving, that may well be the hungriest you have ever been. Instead, keep your eyes peeled and look for a way to help. Those will be here at the end of the week!

Until next time, how have you noticed the way food is used and misused? Leftovers, food thrown away, extra food sent to food banks? Tell me about it!

20 December 2010

Conviction: Hunger

Let's kick off another week, with statistics to get a idea of the scope of this issue.

As you might imagine, hunger is one of the most widely spread problems. It affects people down the street, people in the middle of nowhere, people next to the White House. People in Europe, people in Australia, people in Mexico and in China. There isn't anywhere that hunger isn't a draw on the resources of a society.

More than 11,000 people have died from starvation today. That means that a child dies from starvation every 7 seconds.

There are more than 1 billion people in the world suffering from hunger.

Approximately 1 in 4 children don't get the nutrition they need.

Along with that information, World Vision also cites this:

Even if a child is just moderately underweight, she is four times more likely to die from an infectious disease compared to a well-nourished child.

Worldwide, approximately 145 million children are underweight and at risk of dying — simply because they don’t get enough nutritious food.

It's not a good outlook, by any measurement. And like the other topics we've covered so far, there isn't any easy solution by which every hungry person will suddenly be fed and happy and healthy. The reason for that lies in the reasons that there are so many hungry people in the world, and those are coming up tomorrow!

15 December 2010

Conviction: Pay the Debt

As I wrote in yesterday's post, poverty isn't all about money. But there is a debt involved in poverty -- being poor is to be lacking something. So today, I'm gonna go real easy (it is final's week after all, gimme a break!).

Here are just ten things you can do to help the poor: (I pared it down some, Google returns 38,100,000 results...)

1. Give some coins to a Salvation Army bell ringer.
2. Be a Salvation Army Bell Ringer.
3. Donate to a food bank.
4. Volunteer at a food bank.
5. Donate old clothes/shoes/appliances/whatever!
6. Buy a needy family's groceries
7. Volunteer at a homeless shelter
8. Do a mission trip
9. Provide free childcare
10. Collect school supplies

I know it's not much, but anyone of these things will most definitely make a change. We just need to remember that these people are our neighbors, friends, and family. I'm hoping to do at least one of these things over the winter break, and I challenge you to do the same!

14 December 2010

Conviction: Support

Yesterday I shared the definition for Poverty, (which is of course from Dictionary.com) and today I want to talk a little bit more about that.

Just to refresh your memory:
pov·er·ty  /ˈpɒvərti/ [pov-er-tee]
1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.

While all of that is important, the part that is most important today is the end of that first clause: no means of support.
While money is important (unfortunately because I hate it, but don't get me started) a lack of money is not the sole cause of poverty. It's important to realize that in too many cases, families are in poverty because no one will help them. Sure, there are organizations and groups and government programs that are helping the poor.

But if everyone, everyone helped? The results would eliminate poverty. Completely eliminate poverty. You might think that I'm overstating this, but think about it. If everyone in this world took care of just one other person who needed it, we would most certainly be in a better place.

Here's a verse often referenced towards the poor, found in James:
James 1:27 --
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

But there are plenty of other verses that strike a similar note, including this string:
Deuteronomy 24:19-21 --
This is what you must do when you’re harvesting wheat in your field. If you forget to bring in one of the bundles of wheat, don’t go back to get it. Leave it there for foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. When you harvest olives from your trees, never knock down all of them. Leave some for foreigners, orphans, and widows. When you pick the grapes in your vineyard, don’t pick all of them. Leave some for foreigners, orphans, and widows.

So just help. We know that everything we earn here is useless after we die, so why not make other's lives just a little easier?

Pretty straightforward, eh? Stay tuned for tomorrow's post!

13 December 2010

"It's Awful!"

(I wish you as wonderful a breakfast as my roomies and I enjoyed a few weeks ago.)

First, I apologize to all of my friends, because I can't stop using "awful" as an adjective. Sorry. Really.

Secondly: FINALS WEEK.
Is it finals week at your school? Because it is at mine, and I'm a leeeeetle bit nervous. Usually, I don't really care, because I have two papers to write and then I head home for a month. This semester, I have two in-class tests, one online test, and two essays (8 and 10 pages). Holy mackerel!

In any case, I just wanted to say good luck, and I hope to be back to regular posting soon. I'm keeping my commitment to post once a day in the conviction series, because I really am convicted, but I miss the I DIY posts! Soon, promise. Christmas break is nearly here!

Let's do this!

Conviction: Your Neighbor

If you haven't been able to read all of the posts on HIV/AIDS, then check it out! Because we are movin' on, pals, and there is a lot to learn.

This week, our topic is Poverty, but specifically, poverty in the US. Not suprisingly, there is a lot of information available on poverty and its effects around the country, so for today, I just want to share a little of that with you.

According to the ever-so-handy Dictionary.com,
pov·er·ty  /ˈpɒvərti/ [pov-er-tee]
1. the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor; indigence.

In the United States, poverty is something measured not only by the government but by many other organizations in the country. The Census Bureau has a convenient (although complex!) system for determining whether a family falls above or below the poverty line, which you can read about more at the Overview/Highlights page. In general, each family is measured as a group, so if you live with your parents and siblings, you are all at the same level. If you live alone, then you are 'a family'. In any case, the method boils down to the "thresholds" that the government assigns: how many people in a household and how many of them are under 18. Then this compared to the actual income of a family determines whether or not they are below the poverty line. Check this out:

The nation's official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008
"Income / Threshold = $27,000 / $26,245 = 1.03"

In this example, the income is greater than the threshold, and the family would not be in poverty. That solution (1.03) is called the ratio of income to poverty.

"The difference in dollars between family income and the family's poverty threshold is called the Income Deficit (for families in poverty) or Income Surplus (for families above poverty)."

So using this rule, here are some statistics:

According to the Census Bureau, the nation's official poverty rate in 2009 was 14.3 percent, up from 13.2 percent in 2008.

Again, though numbers are good, lets look a little deeper.
According to the National Center for Children in Poverty;
There are over 74 million children under age 18 in the United States.
42 percent – 31.3 million – live in low-income families.
21 percent – 15.3 million – live in poor families.

I don't know about you, but I don't think that's right.

Until we're back for tomorrow's post, I would highly recommend you take a look at both of my sources for today's post: US Census Bureau and their page on poverty, as well as NCCP and their information.

Do you have any great resources for this kind of info? Fill me in below!

12 December 2010

Conviction: Your Thoughts?

In light of yesterday's post, I was hoping that today I could get your input on service and the people who have influenced you through and about service.

As I've said, I have been influenced by my parents, but I haven't talked too much about what service has meant to me, and the things that it has done in my life. Expect that next weekend!

For now, I want to know about you! So leave a comment:
Tell me about a time that service changed the way you thought or felt,
Tell me about someone in your life who has changed the way you see or think about service,
Tell me about the way you think about love and God's plans for us and the world,

Just leave a comment -- I would really love to read about it!

11 December 2010

Food and Books?!

So, I don't usually do this, because I feel like there are enough blogs that are collections of cool photos from other people, but you all needed to see this.

Thus, I interrupt my regular programming for this:

(via tart house)

These people have put a bookcase in their island and it's full of COOKBOOKS. Sure, the rest of the kitchen is clean -- that's nice, not my thing. But this bookcase! This is so ingenious and pretty I almost can't stand it.

I guess that's it, really. But gosh. I love it!

Conviction: Role Models

In service as with many facets of life (Christ-focused and otherwise), there are a million role models to choose from. People you know, people in your family, celebrities?

I used to generally pin the label of 'Role Model' on older people -- women in my church who through years of practice exemplify the characteristics and attitudes that I want, people who have spent their lives traveling the world, people who are exemplary at what they do -- usually, they just had to be older, experienced and wiser people than me.

However (and please, excuse my slow uptake if you already knew this), age has nothing to do with being a role model.

Especially in this past semester, I have been around so many people who I have come to respect, admire and appreciate deeply. And you know what? Not one of them is over 30. I still do count many older people at my church and elsewhere as role models, but I've come to realize that that role model is more than a badge for doing well in your life by the time you are 50. The people that I want to emulate now encompass many of my friends: Elise: who serves constantly, with a schedule I know would knock me off my feet, Adriane: who doesn't gossip and doesn't even scold me when she catches me doing it, Amy: who is so motivated and resourceful but crazy and silly and fun... and really, that's just all I have off the top of my head. I'm friends with people who are wholeheartedly following God, and on top of the encouragement that is to do the same and love and serve the people in my life, mostly, it makes me proud to be friends with them.

Do you have non-traditional role models in your life? Share!

10 December 2010

Conviction: Coffee for a Cause

Hey! For today, a total treat. After catching sight of Three Avocados on Twitter the other day, I realized it fell right in with what I'm posting about this month. So I sent an email through their website hoping to get an interview, and voila! Joe Koenig, a founder of the company, responded promptly to my questions. Here they are!

Real Fine Place: Please, tell us just a little about Three Avocados:
3 Avocados: Three Avocados is a non-profit coffee company, using 100% of our profits to provide clean water in Uganda. We were founded in February of 2010, and had our first coffee available for sale in April of 2010. Currently, Three Avocados focuses on Uganda, but the plan is to expand into countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Hondouras, Guatemala, and virtually any coffee-producing country that has a need for clean water.

RFP: What inspired you to start a company where you give all of your profits away?
3A: I visited Uganda in January of 2010 and saw great need. I was amazed at the number of people living without basic necessities, such as clean water. I saw how much I truly had been blessed with and felt called to do something. I wanted to find a sustainable way to make a difference. Something that didn't rely on donations, and something that could be produced in Uganda. Giving away 100% of the profit seemed natural - I truly have all I need, while others in the world are in great need.

RFP: How has your life changed since Three Avocados was founded?
3A: I am a lot busier :) Three Avocados is something I work on in the evenings and weekends in an effort to grow the organization. I am passionate about Three Avocados and truly believe it has the potential to make a significant impact, in Uganda, in the world, and in the business world, by showing what we can achieve when we place others before ourselves.

I definitely have a new perspective on life since visiting Uganda and starting Three Avocados. I am significantly more thankful and aware of all of the blessings I have been given. I certainly did nothing to deserve to be born with every opportunity placed at my feet, nor did anyone in Uganda do anything to deserve to be born into a life of constant struggle. That blessing also comes with a responsibility to do everything I can to help my brothers and sisters throughout the world. Three Avocados gives me the opportunity to do that, which is an amazingly gratifying feeling.

It's a neato story, but even more exciting -- it's just that easy for you to get involved. Maybe send your favorite uncle a nice bag of Ugandan coffee?
This is the cool thing about service. Once you see that there is so much you can do (you don't need to start your own coffee company! start smaller!) it's hard not to just start doing it.

If you want to know more about Joe's company, visit the Three Avocados' website, or find them on Twitter and Facebook. Muchas Gracias to Joe & the rest of the Three Avocados crew!

Whew! One week down. But that isn't the end -- see you tomorrow for more of our regularly scheduled programming.

09 December 2010

Conviction: Clean Water = Clean Bill of Health

Just a video today, but I know that learning how things actually help and work are very interesting. Makes it a little more real, you know?

Come back tomorrow for an interview with Three Avocados, a non-profit coffee company!

08 December 2010

Conviction: A Fighting Chance

We now know that HIV/AIDS is a disease that anyone could contract without proper precautions, and while once contracted it is eventually fatal, often, it's symptoms can be treated successfully for a long time. But a question still remains: Why do so many people still die from HIV/AIDS, especially internationally?

Here, in the US, treatment and prevention of disease is pretty closely tracked by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. You probably remember the CDC as a big player in the recent H1N1 shenanigans, but they also have records on things like HIV and AIDS -- keeping track of cases as well as providing educational information on the disease. However, a less developed country, like many in Africa, may be struggling to keep power, and disease control and prevention can be pushed to the wayside.

The only way to change this is education, learning! In the same way that I had to educate myself on HIV/AIDS, people everywhere need to be informed of just what HIV/AIDS is and how you contract it. By doing this, fewer people will get the disease, and the stigma that comes from ignorance about the disease can be relieved.

Another factor in the health and survival of people with HIV/AIDS is how clean their environment is: if they live in a clean environment, they are less likely to get any other infection or sickness. I know even in my dorm room, we have clean running water, a refridgerator to keep our food at a safe temperature, and oven to cook food and be sure that no harmful germs can get into our stomachs. Unfortunately, a lot of the rest of the world is in a different situation. World Vision lists this statistic:

"Worldwide, 884 million people lack access to safe water, and 2.5 billion lack basic sanitation."

That's rough. And again, I'm not writing this to make you feel guilty about your running water. Please continue showering on a regular basis. (That means you, Russel Brand!)

When you don't have clean water, it affects every facet of your life. You drink dirty water which leads to illnesses and often diarrhea, which will lead to dehydration. When you are too dehydrated to find your next meal, soon enough, without outside help, you have very little time left. Clean water can prevent all of that.

These are the big two, really. If people in less developed countries can be educated on the risks that can lead to HIV, and then we can do our part to provide clean water, the change would be remarkable.

Isn't it wild the things that are so easily changed? Stay tuned for some ideas coming up on how you can help, and who you are helping.

07 December 2010

Photo of the Week: Roast Beast

I think he is much scarier when you look up from your desk to see him glowering.
I have a video of his creation: coming soon!

Conviction: AIDS Here and There

Now that we have a little better understanding of what HIV/AIDS is and what it does in a general sense, we can discuss what impact it has on an individual level.

Bringing it down to scale like this is a familiar concept. We think that stealing is bad and people should be punished, but when someone steals our car, we have a much stronger reaction. The same holds true of something like AIDS or Malaria or hunger. We are in agreement that those things are bad, but when your best friend gets HIV, or your mom gets malaria, or it is your daughter who doesn't get to eat tonight, aren't you going to spring into action? I know I am.

To look more accurately at what HIV/AIDS does, I think that we should differentiate between what happens when you contract HIV/AIDS here in the US and what happens if you were to contract it as a citizen of (for example) sub-Saharan Africa. (Please understand that these are generalizations, but that does not mean they don't happen. See World Vision for more information on the situation in other countries.)

  • As an American, you can get HIV/AIDS from having unprotected sex, coming in contact with blood that is infected (if you are a doctor or caregiver for someone who is infected) or by receiving it from your mother at birth or soon after being born. If you were an African, the risks are identical.
  • After exposure to the disease, and after potentially experiencing symptoms, an American would go to a doctor and be tested for various sexually transmitted diseases, then test positive for HIV/AIDS. However, an African who is fearful of the stigma against people who carry the disease might avoid seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • After a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS, an American patient would decide a proper course of treatment with their doctor, and a series of medications would be prescribed to support the immune system and fight off disease and infection. Since the African has not received a diagnosis nor a treatment plan, their compromised immune system has no chance against any infection. His or her imminent death may leave an entire family helpless and without hope.

  • Do you see the discrepancy here? HIV will infect anyone -- location is irrelevant. It is after contracting the virus that something goes wrong. Why should a person here live a longer life than someone who is in Malawi or Uganda or Haiti if they have the exact same disease?

    I can't think of a good reason either. It's because there is no good reason. It comes down to differences in the environment of these two people.

    The American lives in a place where education on sexually transmitted diseases is important and frank. The stigma against those who contract HIV/AIDS is minimal if not nearly non-existent. Treatment is available and the likelihood of infection and illness is very slim thanks to our standards of health for food and drinking water. But the African may not be aware that they can contract HIV/AIDS through unprotected sex, and if they contract the disease, might be too scared to see a doctor. Medication for AIDS is scarce, and the rate of infection and illness high because of dirty water and various pests and parasites.

    Now what did you notice about the situation of the African?
    Every one of those problems is one that can be resolved.

    06 December 2010

    Conviction: A Deeper Understanding

    Many people are aware of the ravages that HIV/AIDS has wreaked on our world. It does not respect the boundaries that separate our map, it cares not for race, class or social standing. When it attacks, it leaves children alone and helpless, families searching for a means to survive. However, many of us are able to see HIV/AIDS as a far off issue -- a boogieman that we in the developed world can easily sweep under the rug.

    Instead, let's look a little closer. The Mayo Clinic has great resources on what HIV/AIDS is all about:
    Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a illness in which a persons immune system is weakened and unable to properly defend against sickness and infection -- it causes a lowered white blood cell count which means that your body is not equipped to combat disease. While a healthy immune system will fight and eliminate viruses and bacteria in order to keep you alive and well, the immune system of a person who has AIDS is unable to fend off intruders. HIV or Human Immunodeficiency Virus is what leads to AIDS, though it can take years for HIV to develop into AIDS. The virus is spread through bodily fluids, meaning that sex, childbirth and coming in contact with infected blood are all possible ways to become infected.

    There is no cure for HIV or AIDS. Both are like many of the cancers that we are familiar with -- the symptoms are treatable, but eventually fatal. However, in places like sub-Saharan Africa and Haiti where living conditions are not as we are used to, the disease and its complications kill much faster. These facts from World Vision illustrate the impact:

  • An estimated 32.9 million people are living with HIV and AIDS worldwide.
  • Every day, nearly 7,400 people become infected with HIV and more than 5,400 die from AIDS.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region most heavily affected, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with HIV and 72 percent of AIDS deaths.

  • It's devastating, isn't it?

    But let's recap: if we have established that yes, HIV/AIDS can be treated though it is eventually fatal, why are 5400 people dying every day from it, and why are so many of them in sub-Saharan Africa?

    05 December 2010

    Conviction: Right Under Your Nose

    As you might have inferred from the title of this post, I've been skimming over something for a while that I can't believe I missed. Remember this post from way back, about how I really wanted to hear from God about what he had planned for my future? Go back and read it. It's quick.

    Just kidding. But in case you hadn't noticed, I never updated with what God had told me! Was that because I forgot? No. Because I wanted to keep it a secret? No. It was because he hadn't told me anything.


    That was what I didn't realize. To be honest, I was a little put-out. I thought, "God, if you will tell Jordan what you want her to do with her life, what is the difference with me?" It seemed unfair, silly, and I racked my mind for months. What was I not doing right? Did I have some grudge to forgive, some person to reconcile with, some sin I hadn't repented of or confessed?

    Then I stopped worrying about it. I don't know how it happened really, since I just let it go, but I did. I wasn't laying awake at night wondering where I would be in five years or whether I needed to change my major or who-knows-what.

    Over the past few months, I've been doing a verse-by-verse study of the Proverbs 31 woman. It's my favorite passage in the Bible, but I hadn't ever really studied it. So in the prayer room last night, the memory of my future came back, so I prayed about it, asking for a purpose, a plan. I opened my bible, and after skimming a few verses in Chronicles absentmindedly, I opened to my bookmark. My bookmark that has the picture of my sponsored child.

    I had opened to the end of Proverbs, and when I checked which verse I was supposed to study next, it hit me.

    "She opens up her hands to oppressed people and stretches them out to needy people."

    Proverbs 31:20. I felt it. This -- this verse, right under my nose -- was the one I had been looking for. And where did I find it? In my favorite passage, marked by the little girl who is the needy that I need to stretch my hands out to. I wanted to dance, to jump up and down and sing and squeal. God had showed me what he wanted, and I can't be more excited to do it.

    Are you still waiting to hear from God? Don't give up.

    04 December 2010

    Conviction: Defined

    To be honest, I titled this series "Conviction" without even really looking up what the word meant. That's a little embarrassing!

    But while writing up some other posts, I realized that I needed to look it up. If I am asking you to be convicted, shouldn't I really understand what conviction is myself? I think so.

    The 'connotation' or popular definitition of "conviction" for me boiled down to having a personal sense of commitment to an idea or issue. A feeling of being compelled to do something about an issue or idea. In this case, a sense that I need to love and help the people in this world. It's not a bad connotation, but I don't know what word that 'definition' belongs to.

    The definition ('D' is for dictionary!) of the word "conviction" is as follows, borrowed from Dictionary.com:

    con·vic·tion  /kənˈvɪkʃən/ [kuhn-vik-shuhn]
    1. a fixed or firm belief.
    2. the act of convicting.
    3. the state of being convicted.

    Not so far off, eh? But what I really like is when you get down to that third definition, where it notes the "state of being convicted" which you can then boil down to "convict" (we like losing the endings in the dictionary, right?) Check out the definition for that one:

    con·vict   /v., adj. kənˈvɪkt/ [v., adj. kuhn-vikt]
    –verb (used with object)
    2. to impress with a sense of guilt.

    To impress with a sense of guilt. Is that how you feel about what needs to be done in the world? Because for me -- man, oh man. I have the ability to do some much, to create so much change. And so do you.

    Will you be convicted?

    03 December 2010

    Conviction: Great Expectations

    It will probably happen everyone at one time or another. You will sit down and think "Now, how did I get started in this in the first place?" For me, it was as I began to consider the thought that service is one of those things that I really love, but honestly, where does that come from?

    The same can be said of other people. What makes some people, like Mother Teresa, so keen on helping and loving others? It might seem that the first and most obvious and correct answer to a question like that is "Duh, Stephanie -- God. He gave Mother Teresa a gift in taking care of his sheep." Hey now, no need to be rude! I'm just kidding. (Mostly.)

    While I agree, yes, God gives us gifts and he will bless the work we do for him with those gifts, I think that the way that God makes us (which can also be interepreted as which gifts he gives us) determines us to like certain things. Generally, if you are good at writing, you like it, yes? Yes.

    But environment plays a part in that too. If you are around people who tell you that writing is repulsive and you should never, ever do it, what is the likelihood that you will do it? Not so good.

    Here's where it makes sense to me: I like service. I have as long as I can remember, but as long as I can remember serving, I have been surrounded by adults who are eager to serve and to serve with generous and joyful attitudes. The two adults who showed me this the most often? Well, they also happen to be my parents and I cannot believe how grateful I am that I had such great influences and support in doing something that I would finally realize I loved. My parents, because of their love for God and the people around them, expected me to love God and the people around me, too. The lifestyle that they created for my brother and I fostered that and now look what we have to show for it.

    So today? I'm grateful for opportunities to serve, and parents who had great expectations for me in them.

    02 December 2010

    Conviction: Road Map

    I've always liked the analogy of a relationship as a journey or a road trip, if you will. It works well, really: as on a road trip, in a relationship you make decisions that will influence where you end up. Who you are (what sort of car you are in) will determine how you will make those decisions and how you will get to your destination. The changes you make to yourself (maintenance and repairs) are also essential to arriving successfully.

    Looking back on my own map, I have made a lot of choices that have brought me where I am, and the biggest one was giving up all control of my future to God. Now, this is not to say that I expect to have a career fall into my lap feeding babies in the Congo, but instead that I'm not going to obsess about it (I have a tendency...) and that I'm going to do what he wants, what will glorify him.

    In the last year, I applied for leadership in Intervarsity, attended a week-long camp and a pre-semester training conference, a fall semester conference as well as numerous mentoring sessions and leadership meetings. Things that I have discussed in these meetings and experiences -- my relationships, my goals in life, my plans after college, what I think of serving others -- all of them are shaping my future. And everything in the first sentence led to all of that.

    One of the biggest changes in myself has been my viewpoint on service. Personally, I love service, and everything that it means. But I didn't know everything that it meant until pretty recently, because I associated service and serving people only with 'community service' and 'service projects'. This isn't bad, because I still loved serving and sharing my time with people in need. But in the past year, my definition of 'people in need' has stretched to include not just the homeless, or people living paycheck to paycheck, or people with HIV/AIDS. Now, my definition includes anyone and everyone on this planet. It wasn't so much that I hated other people before, but now, I want to serve everyone from my roommates to my boss. It's a big deal!

    If God loves everyone and wants everyone to love him and live under his blessings, doesn't it make sense that we should love everyone too?

    01 December 2010

    Conviction: 31 Days to Serve the World

    As I write this post, there are 6,887,790,073 people in the world, and the number keeps growing.(1)

    In the United States alone, there are 310,823,879 people.(1)

    That's all well and good, right? But here's what gets me:

    This year, 4,617,263 have already died from water-related diseases, and since there are 1,452,739,846 people without access to clean water, the deaths will continue.(1)

    This year, 1,867,113 people have died from HIV/AIDS, and another 32,885,805 people are infected.(1)

    Today, in Africa, 2000 children under the age of 5 years old will die from Malaria. Hundreds upon hundreds of other children are affected by dirty water, lack of food, their parents' deaths and the deaths of their guardians.(2)

    And though these statistics are just that -- numbers that tell you that tragedy is widespread -- these statistics are not only numbers. They are actual flesh and blood people. People that you and I should care about.

    Here at Real Fine Place, December 2010 is the month of conviction. After having quite a few experiences that have showed me God's love, and how it should be extended to the world, I'm convicted that I have to love people the way Jesus would have -- people here and people a million miles away -- and that extends into telling other people about it. For the 31 days that make up December, each will have a post that I hope will provide you with a little insight, hope or inspiration to love the world the way Jesus does.

    Each weekday, I'll post a little bit about one of four issues that I've chosen for the month: HIV/AIDS, Poverty in the US, Hunger, and Malaria. Then, on the weekends, posts will be about why helping others even matters, and what to do about it. Of course, regular posts will be peppered in too, so I hope you can keep up!

    Here's to the world!
    (The statistics at the top of the post come from 1. Worldometers and 2. World Vision)