Jill and I have had an amazingly busy, challenging and fulfilling year, as we set up house together, learned how to be a couple, traveled to the east coast, Germany as well as to conferences, and finished up Jill’s revised version of her book, Making Housing Happen: Faith-Based Affordable Homes.
I've just returned from a three-week trip to Kenya, where I attended the World Conference of Friends, an event that brought together 850 Quakers from around the world. At this historic gathering, which takes place every 25 years, I shared my book Quakers and the Interfaith Movement and made many new Friends. It was my first trip to Africa and I loved it. (Jill visited Kenya in 1988).
In a mini pre-conference stint to western Kenya I learned more about Quaker peace-making efforts. Quakers are training Kenyans in Alternatives to Violence (AVP), community organizing, trauma healing, and transformative mediation—skills that will help them to resolve their conflicts nonviolently. Quakers are also training to serve as monitors during the next Kenyan election, hoping that they can help reduce tension and violence. (1,200 Kenyans were killed during the past election, and over 200,000 displaced.) I was pleased to learn that after the last cycle of violence in Turbo, a city of 200,000 residents, the Quaker Church was the only Christian group to reach out in friendship to Muslim neighbors whose homes and businesses had been destroyed. As a result, leaders in this tiny, beleaguered Muslim community are enthusiastically taking training in nonviolence. (One of the Muslim leaders told us “for Muslims, Jesus is the most beloved prophet.”)
After the conference, I went on a Quaker-sponsored safari to Lake Nakuru (home of the pink flamingoes) and then to Amboseli (on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro) where herds of elephants roam along with lions, giraffes, cheetahs, hippos, rhinos, impalas, baboons, etc. I visited a Maasai village, where I took part in a jumping contest (this white guy can't jump but I sure had fun trying), and then I stayed in the home of a Quaker family in Nairobi, where I felt as if I were part of the family. What a blessing it is to travel among Friends, sharing spiritual insights and witnessing to God’s grace and love!
While I was away, Jill was busy going to conferences, continued recruiting churches to become host to homeless families for San Gabriel Valley Family Promise (sgvfp.org), connecting with friends and giving workshops. The day after I left for Kenya, Jill drove to Sacramento for Housing CA, a statewide affordable housing convention. This was both inspiring and sobering, as she was able to connect with people across the state determined to find ways to house our most vulnerable citizens despite funding cuts at every level. San Gabriel Valley Family Promise opened its doors in November 2011 and to date has graduated three homeless families who are now employed and living in housing that they can afford (one family has seven kids!). The contagious love these families receive from congregations plays a significant part in their rapid reentry jobs and housing. Jill had a blast reconnecting with many old and new friends sharing with them about married life. Her new friend Martha and our neighbor Kathy had a never to-be-forgotten evening on the town.
Several months ago, Martha had been scoping out our neighborhood for a documentary she was making. When she saw Jill in the yard, she stopped to and shared how much she loved our “Faith Park”—a drinking fountain, park bench and hammock for those passing by. When she mentioned that she and her husband had recently purchased a home around the corner through Pasadena’s affordable home program, Jill informed her of book on faith based affordable housing. Martha stayed up all night reading it and has now become an advocate. She and her husband attended a workshop that Jill did while I was in Kenya for the La Paz Conference sponsored by local churches, Fuller and APU. Two minutes before the workshop was to begin, Jill realized she had left the PowerPoint presentation at home! Martha’s grabbed Jill and held her tight and prayed and God answered! Despite Jill’s blunder it went abundantly well. One gal from a ministry in Orange County shared how the workshop made the whole conference worth her effort to come and gave clarity in her next steps to help house the chronically homeless.
In the past month, we have had two fundraisers for Family Promise. Martha designed a fabulous Master’s Pageant reenactment of the Lord’s Supper and two weeks later we had “Empty Bowls,” where we made $12,000! We gathered up 480 designer bowls donated from some famous local potters. Local restaurants filled the bowls with donated soup. At our host church in Sierra Madre, we sold the filled bowls for $25 and broke bread and enjoyed live music. Jill’s churches disbanded service that day become servers. The money helps to support the full time social worker who helps our homeless families find jobs and housing.
In the past month, 18 churches in the city of Alhambra, which has been inhospitable to allow churches to host homeless families, have now collaborated to seek to move the city to embrace this urgent need.
In addition to our ministry, we’ve enjoyed spending time with friends and family. In April Jill went to visit her mom, who had a big art show at her home in Shell Beach. We are looking forward to visiting her on Mother’s Day. She is amazing mom as well as a delightful artist for whom I am deeply grateful.