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Grateful to God for Rain in West Africa

Reading Katherine’s post, “Experiencing the Presence of God through the Weather,” was very timely for me because I felt the presence of God in the weather this morning. I am currently in Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in West Africa, and the weather here is quite different from Baltimore’s. The hot season (108 degrees when I arrived on Saturday) is hanging on longer than normal, and the seasonal rains have been slow to begin.

Village of Saaba
Village of Saaba

As I looked out the hotel window this morning, I could see the storm clouds gathering in the distance. Very soon, high winds kicked in, bringing a swirl of dust and trash blowing through the streets. The clouds of dust in the sky, after months of no rain, suddenly made it look as if it was night again. The streets emptied as pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists (cars are less common here) all took cover. The raindrops started to fall, slowly at first, then began beating down on the dry clay soil and dusty pavement.

Rain is a precious commodity in this part of the world as the Sahara desert advances southward. There is less rainfall every year, not so much due to God, but rather because of our collective inability to care for the environment that God created for our well-being. When it does rain, people are so thankful—their lives and livelihoods depend on it in a country where many people still eke out a living through rain-fed, subsistence farming. (Remember this the next time someone claims that climate change is a hoax.)

By the time I left to go to work, the rain was already starting to taper off. It did not last long, but it is hopefully the start of another agricultural season for farmers here. When I reached the office, my Burkinabe colleagues were all extremely joyful and grateful for God’s answer to their prayers for rain. Thank you, God.

—Post & Photo by David Leege

David Leege works for Catholic Relief Services, which implements international relief and development programs in 100 countries around the world. He travels internationally from time to time to provide technical support to CRS programs.

One Baltimore: Respecting the Dignity of Every Human Being

On Thursday, May 7, The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley asked me to join her in distributing some flowering plants to businesses in Old St. Paul’s neighborhood that were damaged in the recent demonstrations. Mary knew there were at least seven places (Café Poupon, Coffee-Land, 7Eleven, Subway, Lumbini’s, the Indian Grocery Store, and Mick O’Shea’s), because she and The Rev. Mark Stanley had walked the block along Charles Street on Tuesday (from Saratoga to Pleasant) with brooms and dust pans in-hand offering to help clean up. Most of the businesses had windows broken and some had suffered significant theft.

At each place we stopped, we told whoever took the plant that we were from Old St. Paul’s and that we wanted them to know we were sorry they had been damaged and that we supported them as neighbors. Almost every recipient, at first, seemed somewhat surprised but soon were smiling and thanking us for the plant. And, as we shook hands, their appreciation was reflected in the look of gratitude in their eyes.

A few days before this, I stopped in at Coffee-Land to see how they were progressing (and, truth be told, to get one of their delicious cherry Danishes). They were busy serving customers and, when it was my turn, I said to the owner and his wife:

“I am so sorry for what happened to you. It is so very sad.”

He replied: “It was probably more good than it was bad. So many have shown love to us afterwards.”

This week, Mary had a banner made that reads, “One Baltimore: respecting the dignity of every human being.” One of the promises we make at baptism (or when renewing our baptismal vows throughout the year), is to “respect the dignity of every human being.” Now this promise is displayed in front of Old St. Paul’s and is putting out a vision for the city.

one baltimore

We have a LOT to do in establishing “One Baltimore.”  As we try to find our way in the coming days, weeks, months, and years, we can begin by looking for opportunities to connect. Smiling at people waiting at the bus stop and giving a pleasant “Good morning” might help break the ice. Engaging in short but sincere and caring conversations with strangers each day can give personal expression to our vow of “respecting the dignity of each human being.”

—Eileen Donahue Brittain, Treasurer for St. Paul’s Church, Baltimore

Creating Soft Spaces in Church and in Our Lives

Several years ago we started having a baby boom in our church, so we decided we wanted to create a “Soft Space” for families where they would feel comfortable and safe worshiping in our sanctuary. We saw the need to provide childproofed space for babies to roll around and play on the floor while their parents were in worship. We proposed to remove just one pew so that an enlarged space could be equipped with a super soft carpet, stuffed animals, and a pew door.

410-937-9957 Laurie DeWitt, Photographer

The initial proposal was well received in general, but a member of our vestry became upset at the thought of us doing anything to change our historic building. To address this person’s concerns, an architect was consulted, and a variety of locations were considered for the new Soft Space so that it might be low profile while offering easy access to exits and bathrooms. After a great deal of discussion, vestry members were polled. In the end, there was overwhelming support to move forward with the creation of a Soft Space that would provide for the practical needs of families, and also serve as a symbol of our church’s welcome of young children. Soon after it was completed, a parishioner gifted the Church with an enormous teddy bear to welcome families into the new Soft Space.

Fast forward five years, and we now have added a second Soft Space and dozens more children to our membership. In fact, we are already thinking of adding one or two more Soft Spaces to accommodate the many new families who have joined our Church. At a recent newcomer event, we asked people to share their first impressions of our Church. One young woman said, “At my wedding a few months ago, my guests were delighted to see the space for children with the huge teddy bear. My first impression was that this Church was trying to be an inclusive community.”

It’s true that, for the past decade, we have been working to build the kind of Christian community where people can come and feel accepted for who they are, nurtured through friendship, and loved unconditionally by God. We set out to create a Soft Space for families, and, in the process, we have created a whole Christian community that is one big soft space for everyone who enters our doors. Through Forums and workshops, we have worked on ourselves, asking, “How can we relate to people in ways that are open, civil, kind, and compassionate?” I could not be more proud of the members of our Christian community for their efforts at following in the footsteps of Jesus.

I wonder what more we could do to have our Church serve as a soft space for the people of downtown Baltimore, where we are surrounded by hardscape. How could we provide a soft space during the week for those who are bustling to and from their jobs downtown? What ministries might we develop to provide more of a soft space for the homeless people who sleep on our front portico most nights? Our Church community seeks to offer holy hospitality, and we do a great job of that on Sundays, but still, I wonder what more we could do for folks on weekdays.

 

—The Rev. Mary Luck Stanley

(Photo credit: Laurie DeWitt)