Canata Preschool Making a Difference in Angola

 —by the Angola Partnership Group
We have received a letter of appreciation from Rev. Jose and Eva Chipenda acknowledging the impact of our University Church partnership with IECA (Evangelical Congregational Church in Angola. As forwarded to Rev. Jorge Morales, the Conference Minister of the Illinois Conference–UCC, we also want to share it with everyone at University Church, especially those of you who have so generously supported our Angola Partnership:

Dear Rev. Jorge Morales:

We are writing to thank the Illinois Conference for forwarding a generous contribution of $1,000 towards the work at the Canata Preschool Program, reflecting support provided by University Church, a member church of the statewide Angola Partnership. (This) support over the years has been and continues to be instrumental and greatly appreciated and has helped further our work. Donna Dudley brought us the check since we are visiting family here in North Carolina and we had a very good visit.

We are currently putting together a short picture presentation of the program, which we will send under separate cover. In addition, please know you have an open invitation to visit Angola to see the work first hand and strengthen the partnership with the Evangelical Congregational Church of Angola.

Wishing you blessings in your work,
Rev. Jose and Eva Chipenda

We are excited that 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of University Church’s Angola Partnership with IECA.  On Sunday February 12, the picture presentation of the Pre-School Program mentioned by the Chipendas will be available for viewing as part of our Angola Sunday.  Please, mark your calendars to come join the celebration of our partnership as we recommit ourselves to walking with our Angolan brothers and sisters as they declare that God is at work in their midst!

Fair Trade? Why?

—by Barb Havens

I don’t have statistics regarding this, but I’m sure that North Americans are the largest consumers in the world.  Consumption is our middle name — from food to clothes to televisions to computers to EVERYTHING. For most of my life I purchased those goods without any thought of the source of those goods and who made them. These past several years the concept of “Fair Trade” has made its way into my consciousness and has slowly taken root; the more I learn about it, the more I recognize the power of Fair Trade to change lives.  I now wonder why I never asked those questions before.

At University Church we have been using Fair Trade coffee for our fellowship hour. We also have made available several items — coffee, tea, chocolate — for you to purchase. Our hope is to raise awareness of how the choices we make as consumers affect the lives of others in the world. But what does “Fair Trade” actually mean?

A basic way to understand Fair Trade is that it is one way of leveling the playing field in the global marketplace — an alternative to the corporate model where profits benefit those who own the corporation, and the workers often only get the “crumbs,” but not a sustainable wage. It is buying products that were not made or processed in a sweatshop or made in a way that destroys the natural environment. Within the Fair Trade commodities market (coffee, chocolate, sugar, bananas), the source of the product is often from small farmers who have joined cooperatives in their community to sell their product directly to stores or wholesalers in the US, under the Fair Trade Certification, ensuring a just price for their products. Fair Trade is not charity, but a way of being fair and just and paying the real cost of a particular item.

If being a Christian encompasses working toward God’s Kingdom, then we also need to take God into the market place and find out where social justice fits within our economic system. Doing justice is difficult at times, and we all need to figure out how each of us will live into that goal.  Being perfect is impossible, and there are many times when we need to do the simplest thing at the time — weighing the benefits with the challenge. There will be other times, though, when we are able to make a shopping choice that will create justice for those who create/grow our products. Being aware of the source of our goods, asking questions about the supply chain, and becoming critical consumers can change us and the marketplace and our world for the better.

The following websites give more information about Fair Trade, as well as give sites and retailers where you can purchase goods:

The Angel’s Song

“There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels — some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”  —Howard Thurman

Every once in a while we must make space to hear the angel’s song. It is not that the song comes intermittently or without notice: the angels are always singing the song of respite and comfort we sometimes desperately need. But we need to take a moment, in the midst of all our various anxieties, and hear the song. Take a moment and hear the words spoken by the angel to Mary; they are for you as well:

The Lord is with you.

That is what Advent is all about.  Remember in all that is happening to and around you that God wants to do something through you as well.  For the Lord is with you, and nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:28-37).  Why then do we worry, or fret over things of this world? Why are there times when we feel so alone? “Because life has happened to us, and we cannot deny the various losses that cause us so much pain and anxiety.”  Indeed. But when is the last time you stopped to hear the angel’s song? When have you last taken a moment to allow “new glory” to enter the commonplace? It doesn’t make whatever it is go away, but God’s promise makes life livable. Hold on to that promise. You are not naïve: you are faithful.

I had to remember that this week, as the board and Finance Committee struggled to approve the leanest budget in years. Pledges are down for next year?!? We are 15K behind THIS YEAR?!?  I was stunned. This is a major organizational challenge that requires honesty (and maybe a few “Come to Jesus” moments), integrity, and deep intention. For a young pastor, it is STRESSFUL, period. But while sitting at my desk, I began to hear the faint chords of a song I needed to hear. All I needed to do was turn down the noise of the world around me, and I could hear the angel:

The Lord is with you.

Everything is going to be fine. But before we do anything else, let’s pause to hear the angel’s song. It might save you.

—Pastor Julian