Dec 5 2018

Wrapped in God’s glory

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Throughout Advent, we offer a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent is from Outreach Volunteer Coordinator Clair Paul.

It seems that each year Christmas trees, lights and wreaths line the shelves of local stores earlier and earlier, sending youngsters into a frenzy before first-quarter grades come out. Children shed their costumes on Halloween night and wake up on November 1 with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. There’s an air of magic and mystery that comes with the holidays, and the young have an affinity for being swept away by it.

As we grow older, it becomes harder to give ourselves over to the giddiness of the holidays. We have responsibilities, and our jobs, families and social lives all seem to be more demanding around the end of the year. There are deadlines and expectations to meet, and that can turn one into a bit of a Scrooge.

Maybe the children are tuned in to something we’re not.

The first reading for this Second Sunday of Advent comes from the book of Baruch. Chapter 5 begins: Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever: wrapped in the cloak of justice from God, bear on your head the miter that displays the glory of the eternal name. Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.

The prophet is speaking to us, the people of God. Jesus came to Earth to wrap us in the splendor of glory from God. His birth brought for us the glory of God’s eternal name, so we will be named by God forever.

His presence changed everything. That’s something worth celebrating.

Children know an occasion for celebration when they see one. Perhaps some of their joy comes from seeing themselves in the Christmas story. Jesus came into the world as a baby, full of innocence, an image that children can connect with. Thinking of the baby Jesus may help them know that they are remembered by God, no matter how meek or how small they might be.

As we move toward Christmas, let’s remember to take off our robe of mourning and misery and instead wrap ourselves in God’s cloak of justice, for even the least in the eyes of the world is known and remembered by him. Let’s indulge in child-like joy as we celebrate the coming of our savior, who brings glory for all, forever.

Tis the season for celebration, after all.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for sending your Son to spread your splendor and glory. Let us celebrate this season with the delight of a child. Help us to know we are remembered by you. Amen.

Nov 28 2018

Vigilance in the midst of turmoil

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Throughout Advent, we offer a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the First Sunday of Advent is from Unbound preacher Father Greg Schmitt, CSsR.

When you look at a painting you may notice two things: the main subject of the painting (usually in the foreground) and the background that sets off and may add commentary to what is happening in the foreground.

The artist knows that the background helps set the tone. Is it light or dark? Is it a peaceful landscape, a barren desert or a foreboding sky? Though we may not be conscious of the background, it affects what we see.

If we were to see God as an artist, we would recognize that the main subject of his art is us.

We occupy the foreground. Human beings are the pinnacle of creation. We take our place in the foreground because that is the intent of the artist. But we are not alone. God’s only begotten son is right there with us.

In the Gospel portrait of Jesus we see ourselves. In fact, he is the best of us and our inspiration. Like him we want to be compassionate, kind and loving as well as forthright speakers of the truth — maybe even prophetic.

The background in today’s Gospel portrait is not gentle or soft. There are cataclysmic signs in nature that are alarming. The sun, the moon, the stars and the sea are riled up. People are in dismay. Some even die of fright. But out of this seemingly desperate display comes a great sign:

“The Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Luke 21:27)

How are we to take all of this? The Gospel tells us exactly how to take it: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28). And then the added admonishment: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength.” (Luke 21:36)

This is indeed our Advent posture. The birth of Jesus seems to take place on a peaceful, starlit night, but it’s going to take some doing to get there. While many things may seem to be falling apart around us, we, like the Magi, need to train vigilant eyes so that we can recognize the star that will lead us to what we are really looking for.

As Unbound sponsors we know that we are part of a birthing process. The same love that brought Jesus to Earth is still happening wherever we and our sponsored ones live. Together, we “stand erect and raise our heads” and watch the miracle of life unfold before our eyes.

A very satisfying painting indeed.

Please pray

Father, Creator, you made us in your image and likeness, and you teach us how to live in that image and likeness by sending us your beloved son in our own flesh. As we prepare to once again celebrate his birth (our birth), help us to be vigilant that we may see the mystery that unfolds around us and in us. May we stand erect and raise our heads in readiness for your revelation. Amen.

Nov 21 2018

Be thankful in all things

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Outreach Volunteer Coordinator Clair Paul.

This week, families and friends will gather. Traditions will be honored, food will be shared and memories will be made. It’s the time of year when we look around and see all we have to be thankful for.

But maybe this season is stressful or painful for you. Perhaps you’re the one charged with hosting the holiday dinner for the entire family. Or, this time of year reminds you that someone you love is no longer around to share in it. Maybe things at work pick up during the holidays and keep you from spending time with your loved ones. Even though this time of thanksgiving and celebration can bring great joy, it can also bring tension, anxiety and strain.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 reads, “In all circumstances, give thanks.” That seems simple enough, but it can be difficult to be thankful in the midst of trials.

After meeting Unbound sponsored friends and their families, many of our sponsors observe how the families have so little but are so thankful. Seeing someone living with less than what we have who is overflowing with gratitude can move us to assess the depth of our own gratitude.

Perhaps the young mother and her five children living in a small village in Honduras have more gratitude because they simply take the time to be thankful for the little things. When we start to count our blessings, both big and small, it’s amazing how much we have to be grateful for, and how overwhelming and uplifting that feeling of gratitude can be.

So, in all things — good, bad or otherwise — give thanks. You might be surprised how much you have to be thankful for.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for being the light that shines in the darkness, and for never allowing any situation, no matter how dark, to overcome us. Give us thankful hearts this season to recognize the blessings that surround us. When we feel distressed, guide us back to you, Lord, and let us rest in your peace. Amen.

Nov 14 2018

Unexpected warmth

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from contributing writer Alley Stonestreet.

The airport in San Salvador was teeming with people. The immense heat was stifling and pools of sweat saturated the back of my neck. I was not prepared for it.

I would soon learn I was not prepared for that trip at all.

Travelling to El Salvador with Unbound was exciting. I was thrilled to be able to see the program first hand. I was excited to meet the staff, who work tremendously hard for the families and sponsors. And of course, I was eager to meet the families themselves.

I visited the home of Inés, a sponsored elder. I remember the blue stringed chair small enough for her grandchild, the mattress leaned up against the tree on the dirt path to her home and the heat. It smacked me in the face again as we entered her cement dwelling.

Listening intently to Inés’ life story — a life filled with both tragedy and hope — the darkness was illuminated with a colorful and touching memorial to her daughter who passed away at 29. Inés exuded such joy amidst a background of pain and suffering that I struggled to hold back tears.

I felt myself wavering in the heat as it consumed the room. Inés noticed, and when it was time to leave she grabbed my hand. I put my faith in her as she took my hand, knowing that her compassion would guide me.

Therein lies the beauty of Unbound.

Unbound takes an unexpected space that allows the inherent qualities of those served to shine. Sponsored friends and sponsors take each other’s hands to walk alongside one another, strengthened for what lies ahead.

Please pray

Heavenly Father, we pray in your name that sponsored individuals and sponsors continue to courageously guide one another, that their faith in one another is honored through kind-hearted acts. Bless them and their communities with your omnipotent compassion.

They will neither hunger nor thirst, nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them. He who has compassion on them will guide them and lead them beside springs of water. (Isaiah 49:10)

Nov 7 2018

The unexpected path of potential

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from contributing writer Maureen Lunn.

Years ago, I heard a Christian teaching that transformed the way I thought about God. It was a message from a writer and teacher named Rob Bell. He based his teaching on the story of Jesus calling the disciples while they were fishing in the Sea of Galilee, with the message that inasmuch as we believe in God, God believes in us even more.

“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, ‘Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:18-20).

What Bell taught me about this passage was one thing that’s all too often overlooked — context. Surrounding this moment, when Jesus called the disciples and their startlingly immediate acceptance, is the reality that these fishermen weren’t qualified to follow a Rabbi. Unlike many of their peers, they weren’t young men who’d trained at the feet of a renowned religious leader and were on the path to becoming such themselves. They were uneducated “blue collar” workers, yet they were called by the greatest teacher of all.

We seldom see stories like this in modern culture. We don’t see powerful political leaders calling on interns who never got their GEDs. We don’t see successful business owners calling on apprentices who barely scrape by on minimum wage. But Jesus called on all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds. It was unprecedented in his time and still is today.

At Unbound we say, “See potential, not poverty.” Potential is exactly what Jesus saw when he called the disciples from their boats. When we support that same kind of potential in our sponsored friends, who may lack formal education or may not have had the chance to pursue goals, we not only give them a boost through financial support, but we say, “You have potential. I believe in you.”

Please pray

Omniscient God, thank you for believing in each one of us. Thank you for creating us as your handiwork, and setting us on a path of potential. Help those of us with means to use our potential to help others, and empower them to believe in themselves, as you believe in each one of us. In your Holy name, Amen.

Oct 31 2018

Being at our best for others

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Communications Liaison Coordinator Gustavo Adolfo Aybar.

Each day that I begin with my son at my side fills me with joy, as well as wonder, doubt and contemplation. Rousing him and sending him off to school in healthy, patient and loving ways keeps me concentrated on being at my best for his benefit.

To start our mornings completing simple tasks focused on peace and prayer, I believe, prepares us to meet the delight and demands of the day ahead and better receive God’s miracles.

In the same manner, our Unbound team members in Kansas City and in the 18 countries where we work wake up to their own daily struggles and joys. Many begin their days with prayers, reflections or exercise. They think about the best ways to support the families in our programs and their co-workers. They choose to give their best efforts.

Unbound’s late co-founder Bob Hentzen used to talk about the importance of preparing ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally for our work. “I always believe that we should be at our best for the poor,” he said in a 2009 interview. “We shouldn’t come at the poor when we’re all tired out and irritable or feeling sorry for ourselves. We should give them our best effort. They deserve it. Because they certainly do it for us.”

Please pray

Dear Lord, may the spirit of service inhabit every Unbound staff member. May each person awaken to experience the beauty and splendor of your grace, to live in the present and focus on all that is in the best interests of the children, elders and families in our programs. May our team members find effective ways to accompany those they serve and do so lovingly, with humility, and in your example of servant leadership. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Oct 24 2018

The welcome feeling of confidence

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from contributing writer Maureen Lunn.

The experience of starting something new is common to nearly everyone. From a child’s first day of school to beginning a new job for an adult, and everything in between, most of us set off on new ventures with a fair amount of nerves and insecurity.

Then a shift occurs, and our nervousness is gradually overtaken by a welcome feeling of confidence. Think of how your child or grandchild, on their first day of daycare or school, cried when you dropped them off, and how only weeks later they would barely take the time to say goodbye to you. Think of how, on your first day on a new job, you felt like an imposter, but a few years later you can’t imagine what it felt like to not know what you were doing. No matter the context, we all move from insecurity to confidence over time. But what brings about this change?

Time isn’t the only factor. Success is what grows our confidence. When we see that we’re accomplishing what we came for, that we’re capable of doing what we set out to do, we believe in ourselves more and more. Every preschooler who gets a gold star or a pat on the back from a teacher gets a big confidence boost. Every adult who gives a well-received presentation or makes record-breaking earnings gets a nudge toward self-assurance.

This is how success in the Unbound community works. Families who’ve had very little opportunity in their life, and thus not a lot of success, suddenly have margin to try something new. With a little bit of courage and some uncertainty, they step into the new ventures that sponsorship has afforded them, such as attending school or starting a business. Then, they might find a small bit of success. Confidence rises. They step out again. More success. More confidence. The cycle continues, and their confidence grows such that when failure comes, they endure it and keep moving forward.

The most important part of the cycle for many, though, is not faith in themselves, but faith in God. In the Letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

God has our best in mind, and throughout the world Unbound families are holding on to this truth, stepping out in faith and finding they are stronger and more successful than they ever knew.

Please pray

Faithful God, we know that all things work for good for those who follow you. Remind us of that truth and empower us to look to the good that you have for us and trust the path you’ve laid out. We thank you for all the success with which you’ve blessed Unbound families, that they may find greater confidence in themselves and in your love. Amen.

Oct 17 2018

Two saints who expanded the frontiers of faith

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

On Oct. 14 the Roman Catholic Church canonized Archbishop Oscar Romero and Pope Paul VI. In Catholic tradition, canonization is the formal recognition of a person as a saint. It’s granted to a select few who were known to have led lives of extraordinary virtue, or in other ways provided an edifying witness of the faith.
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Oct 10 2018

Remembering co-founder Bob Hentzen, who kept us connected

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

Bob Hentzen passed away five years ago on Oct. 8, 2013. I remember it as both a sad time and a time for deep reflection. Of the five founders of Unbound, Bob was with us the longest. He had great influence on what we stand for and his loss was profound.

Bob was Unbound’s president and, though he lived in Guatemala and spent much of his time visiting our communities around the world, he made it a point to come to our Kansas City headquarters several times a year. On those occasions he’d always affirm and encourage the staff here, but he never left without also giving us something significant to think about.

When Bob would speak to the community of staff and volunteers, it was easy to underestimate him because of his self-effacing manner. He might tell a rambling story or pull out his guitar and sing a song or two. But then, just when you’d be lulled by his folksy gentleness, he’d hit you with a message so astute, urgent and focused that I’d always come away thinking, “Yes. That’s why we do what we do. That’s why it’s important.”

It always seemed to me that Bob felt that one of his most crucial jobs was to keep the U.S. staff connected to the lives and reality of the families we serve. That’s partly why he chose to live in Guatemala. He saw what can happen when charitable organizations give in to the false assumptions that come with distance, and he was determined that it should never happen to Unbound.

Bob believed that liberation is a matter of communion — of developing relationships that transform and give life. That belief flowed largely from his Catholic faith and was fused into the DNA of the organization he helped found. Today, Unbound remains committed to staying vitally connected to the families in our program. That commitment is both an affirmation and a validation of Bob’s conviction.

Liberation and communion — at the heart of the Gospel and the heart of Unbound. Thank you, Bob, for helping us own that.

Please pray

Loving and generous God, your goodness knows no limits. It saturates creation and overflows into life and beauty. We give thanks for your servant, Bob, and all those who teach us how to recognize that life and beauty. May we, like them, be filled with the kind of gratitude that can only find expression in service. We ask this in the name of your Son, our brother, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Oct 3 2018

Pull up a chair

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Outreach Volunteer Coordinator Clair Paul.

When I meet new people, one way I get to know them better is by inviting them over for dinner. I ask them to come to my home, have a seat at my table and share a meal with me. I find that new acquaintances become friends a lot faster when you break bread together.

I’m sure we can all recall the feeling of knots in the stomach while standing in the school cafeteria, nervously scanning the room for a friendly face to welcome you to an open seat. Remember the relief when your friend waved you over to the spot they saved for you? It feels good to be included.

In Luke 14: 13-14, Jesus said, “Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

We are called to make room at our tables for those who have less than us. One way we do this is through sponsorship. By sponsoring someone with Unbound, you’re offering them a place at your banquet table, and telling them they matter to you.

As I’ve traveled with Unbound, I’ve had the chance to meet numerous Unbound sponsored families. They’ve welcomed me into their homes and pulled up a chair for me. Though they may have little else to give, they’re always willing to offer me a spot at their table. The gesture shows that they value my presence and I’m accepted, as well as serving as a sign of gratitude for all sponsors.

As we head into the holiday season and prepare our tables for the banquets we will share with our loved ones, I encourage you to remember to make a little extra room. Make room for our sponsored families, for those who need a place to feel welcomed, even if they don’t have much to offer in return. Let us make room to bless others with what we are blessed to have.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for the blessings you’ve provided us. You’ve made room for us at your banquet table. Help us to make room in our lives for others, and to share the blessings you’ve given. Grant us opportunities to pull up a chair for those who need to feel included, just as you have done for us. Amen.