Feb 13 2019

Giving space to take the lead

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.

In his seminal work, “The Servant as Leader,” Robert K. Greenleaf says, “The servant-leader is servant first. It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first.”

In college, I took a course that helped me identify my leadership style as a servant leader. I saw opportunities to be a servant leader through the youth ministry I worked with, guiding and serving both younger students and my team of leaders.

When I came to work for Unbound, I found many of the same servant leadership principles in Unbound’s policies and goals. We seek to serve the families in our program by putting their unique needs first. From working daily in the office to traveling abroad to visiting families participating in our programs, I’ve learned that it’s so much more than serving our sponsored members. It’s helping them to clear a path, and then stepping back as they choose their own direction.

Colossians 3:12 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

As sponsors, staff and supporters of Unbound, it’s our role to be this for our sponsored friends. Unbound is about listening. It’s about learning. It’s about giving sponsored friends space to take the lead in their own lives, offering them opportunities and encouragement so they can reach their potential.

Sponsorship also gives us a beautiful opportunity to be welcomed into someone else’s family through letters, photos and maybe even meeting in person. It’s an opportunity to be taken with humility and respect. While we may enter into the relationship with the intentions of serving someone in different circumstances than our own, we often end up learning from our sponsored friends’ perseverance and determination. What a wonderful gift to receive from someone in another country.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for teaching us to be humble. Please continue to give us opportunities to learn from others, taking not only the time to serve, but also to listen. Clothe us in compassion and give us gentle hearts, we pray. Amen.

Feb 6 2019

Owning our own challenges

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.

“Let me tell you your problem.”

I doubt that anyone who’s ever heard those words has wanted to continue the conversation. I also suspect that, most of the time, they already know their problem — far better than anyone else.

We can’t solve other people’s problems. The best we can do, now and then, is offer assistance when asked. But the fact of the matter is, good as our intentions might be, unsolicited advice and imposed solutions usually create more difficulties than they alleviate.

Human beings must take ownership of their own reality in order to improve it. The good news is that no one has to go it alone. God’s grace acts as leaven in our lives when we acknowledge our challenges and commit to positive change.

The Unbound model of sponsorship follows that simple bit of wisdom. We don’t tell people what their problems are or how to solve them. Rather, through the generosity of our sponsors we support families and communities with much needed resources that allow them to overcome their own challenges.

We have faith in the families we serve just as they have faith in us. We follow their lead as they work their own way into more hopeful futures.

Please pray

Generous God, your grace flows through all creation. Grant us steadfast spirits and willing hearts as we strive to be agents of that grace in the lives of all we encounter. Let us be blessings rather than burdens and partners rather than patrons, and may all we do and say be a reflection of your merciful, healing love. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Jan 30 2019

The grace to truly listen

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.

Listening to another person is hard work. I’m not talking about simply being quiet and allowing the other to speak. I’m talking about the kind of attentive, purposeful listening where one sets aside preconceptions and becomes open to being changed by another’s point of view.

There’s a vulnerability in such listening because the outcome of the conversation isn’t known going in. To truly listen one must be open to surprise and to the reality that the best course of action can’t always be programmed or predicted.

That kind of listening is also important in prayer. Psalm 46 says, “Be still and know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:11). It’s in that stillness that God’s voice can be heard in one’s innermost being, unencumbered by ego, appetite or the expectations of others. In that stillness truth dwells.

Truth also dwells in the homes and communities of the families Unbound serves. These families know, better than anyone else, their own reality and what it will take to improve their lives. They don’t lack wisdom or initiative, only resources.

Thanks to the generosity of our caring sponsors, Unbound is blessed to be able to offer those resources, and we strive to deliver them to those who’ll get the greatest good from them. We don’t assume we have the answers, nor do we impose solutions.

But we do listen.

Please pray

God, whose goodness runs deeper than we can fathom, speak to us in sacred stillness. Deliver us from the noise and clutter of the world and bring us to the depths of our hearts, where we may listen to you in peace and confidence. Fed by your grace, may we be messengers of hope and agents of love in a world in need. We ask this in the name of your son and our brother, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Jan 23 2019

There is courage in change

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 Coordinator Abby Melgren.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they faced a wilderness of unfamiliar situations. Although blessings and freedom from bondage lay ahead, the journey was not easy and they resisted the changes.

In the same way, when Jesus called his disciples, they left a life of familiarity for the unknown.

“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.” (Mt. 4:18-20)

The families Unbound works with are no strangers to unfamiliar situations. As they have more choices and new opportunities through the Unbound program, they encounter a world of change and an unknown journey ahead. In this, Unbound families show incredible courage. Mothers and fathers choose new paths for their families — paths that might be daunting but that they believe will impact their lives for good.

Sometimes change happens to us, and sometimes we need courage to generate change. There is much to learn in this regard from Unbound sponsored friends. We don’t know what this year will hold, but we can be certain that we will need courage and faith to face changes, for better or for worse.

Please pray

Father, thank you for walking with us into the unknown. We pray for courage and your guidance as we encounter new circumstances. Give us your heart and your wisdom to approach change with grace. In your name, Amen.

Jan 16 2019

‘Do they even like fish?’

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 Writer/Editor Jordan Kimbrell.

There’s a well-known saying about how you can feed someone for a lifetime if you teach them to fish. But Unbound’s president and CEO Scott Wasserman likes to pose another question: “What if they don’t live near a lake, or even like fish?”

One of the greatest gifts God gave us was free will. It’s also a great responsibility. With it, we can do great things, and one of them is to recognize the free will of others.

That’s what Unbound’s sponsorship model aims to do.

We recognize that the families we serve might need some guidance and help, but we offer it on their terms. We listen to their goals and then help them create strategies to reach those goals. We don’t tell them we’re going to teach them to fish — unless, of course, that’s their goal.

From my own experience, I’m far more invested in pursuing goals I’ve set for myself (New Year’s resolutions aside) than those someone else has set for me without my input. This seems to be true for most people. That self-investment is what’s needed to create lasting change in a sponsored person’s — or any person’s — life.

Please pray

Father, thank you for the freedom of will that helps us all find our own selves, talents and goals. May we cherish the diversity that you’ve created in the world. Give us the wisdom to appreciate the ideas of others, even when they run counter to our own, and to recognize the beauty of someone achieving their goals.

Jan 9 2019

The virtue of interdependence

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.

When I travel to countries where Unbound works, one of the things I notice is how close neighbors are. In some places, like the slums of Kenya, that means a literal closeness. In others, where homes might be miles apart, it’s a closeness of a different sort.

Material poverty has a leveling effect. It brings people together through the common denominator of need. The kinds of things that drive people apart in developed nations, like who has the bigger house, aren’t part of the equation where neighbors walk miles together to draw water from the same streams.

Among families in the Unbound program, in particular, there’s a kind of trust that flows from interdependence. There’s a simple but profound economy that develops within Unbound communities, and it’s both wholesome and intentional. Neighbors develop complementary livelihoods and trade with one another. Parents in groups help each other out with loans. Children walk together to school, not only for companionship but also for mutual protection.

For all their challenges — and they are many — the families in the Unbound program show us glimpses of virtues sometimes lost, or at least misplaced, in places where people prize self-reliance above all. They remind us that neighbors are not just the people who live near us. They are blessings from a generous God who gifts us in more ways than we often have the wherewithal to recognize.

Please pray

Loving God, in your sacred Word you taught us that being a neighbor means treating others with compassion and kindness. Help us to be neighbors to all we encounter, both near and far. Bless us with wisdom to give when we can and receive when we should, so that the world may grow into the global community you created it to be. We ask this in the name of your Son and our brother, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Photo by Paul Robert.
Jan 2 2019

The light of God is always shining

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Photo by Paul Robert.

Photo by Paul Robert.

Throughout the Advent/Christmas season, we’ve offered a special series of reflections on the Sunday readings. This final reflection for The Epiphany of the Lord is from contributing writer Maureen Lunn.

Rise up in splendor, Jerusalem!
Your light has come,
the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth,
and thick clouds cover the peoples;
but upon you the LORD shines,
and over you appears his glory. (Isaiah 60: 1-2)

The Christian festival of Epiphany commemorates the manifestation of Christ to the world. Symbolized by the Magi coming to worship after Jesus’ birth, it falls on our calendars after the new year has begun, but the true meaning of Epiphany is not bound by dates.

Epiphany is the manifestation of Christ with us. We see it every day as God shines his light on our lives, illuminating our paths and empowering us to pursue goodness for ourselves and others.

I think about Unbound families and the tremendous changes they make to better their lives. No matter their age or the season, they set out to achieve their goals and dreams the moment they have opportunity.

This is something I want to be better at doing, especially at the start of the new year. I put a lot of pressure on myself this time of year, when I’ve spent the holidays being out of my routines and indulging. January seems like the perfect time to push the reset button. Though it’s easy to lose momentum when I isolate my resolutions to one time of year. Reflecting on my sponsored friends and their lives helps me see another way.

So this year, I want to set my goals and resolutions with the Epiphany mindset, and with the mindset that I believe many Unbound families have — to not wait for external factors like the calendar to determine my choices, habits or actions. Rather, I desire to see the manifestation of Christ in me every day. I hope to never lose sight of God’s light, which shines year round.

Please pray

God of Epiphany, thank you for revealing yourself to us through Christ. Thank you for shining your light on us always, without condition and without hesitation. Guide us with that light to pursue peace and love in the world and in our own lives always. In the name of your Holy Trinity, Amen.

Dec 26 2018

With thanks for holy families

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Throughout Advent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Feast of the Holy Family is from Unbound preacher Father David Noone.

Today we celebrate Joseph, Mary and Jesus as “the Holy Family,” and so they were. But remembering them in that way can also remind us that there’s something holy and special about every family.

My sister died in January and her husband, my brother-in-law, died in February. We held a joint memorial service for them in April. More than a dozen family members came from Virginia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Maryland. Given those geographical differences, it’s obvious that we don’t get together often.

The night before the service we had supper as a family in the restaurant of the hotel where we were all staying. As the meal and conversation began, it was as if we had last been together only yesterday, though in reality it had been quite some time.

As I listened to various family members speak and share so honestly what had been happening in their lives, their successes and their struggles, I felt the bond that family creates.

It was a good feeling. At the memorial service the following day, various family members spoke about my how my sister and brother-in-law had touched their lives and made a contribution to our family. As I drove back home to North Carolina, I thanked God for the gift of family.

I’ve been a member of other families. During his years as president of Notre Dame, Father Ted Hesburgh never spoke at any formal occasion without, at least once, referring to “the Notre Dame family.” During my years there, we would have pools at dinner. The winner was the person who came the closest to guessing the number of times Father Ted made reference to students, staff and faculty as family. It was the feeling of being part of a family that I remember most about my years at Our Lady’s University.

I had that same feeling of family the very first time I visited 1 Elmwood Ave., Unbound’s Kansas City home.

I was considering becoming (and being considered as) an Unbound preacher. As the visit went on and I met person after person and visited department after department, I knew that if I became a part of Unbound I would be a member of a family. That is precisely what I’ve felt over the past five years.

Over the course of my life, I’ve had a number of “family” experiences and the number of people I count as members of my family has grown beyond measure. So, on this Feast of the Holy Family, I can only thank God for the gift that family has been to me and the graces it has brought me.

Please pray

Father, we thank you on this very special day, for the gift of family and for all the many family experiences with which you’ve gifted us over the years. They’ve enriched our lives in ways beyond measure, and we thank you for this gift in the name of Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Dec 19 2018

The gift of loving recognition

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Throughout Advent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Advent is from Managing Editor Loretta Shea Kline.

Amazed … humbled … grateful. I’ve heard sponsored friends express those emotions on Unbound awareness trips when they receive visits from their sponsors.

It seems almost incredible to them that their sponsors would travel across the world just to meet them. For their part, sponsored friends and their families offer a hospitality so gracious and genuine that sponsors oftentimes feel overwhelmed and undeserving. Ultimately, all involved take away a priceless gift: the gift of being recognized and loved.

In the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Elizabeth receives such a gift when the pregnant Mary travels to visit her. The significance of Mary’s visit isn’t lost on the older woman, who is also pregnant.

“And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (LK 1:39-45)

Elizabeth recognizes Mary for who she is and acknowledges her act of faith. Filled with the Holy Spirit on hearing Mary’s voice and feeling the baby leap inside of her, Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

That acknowledgement must have been powerful for Mary.

Elizabeth’s words let Mary know she was not alone, that another expectant mother understood her. That kind of support can be especially critical in pregnancy, which is a time of joy but also a time of vulnerability.

I remember a conversation I had with a young staff member at Unbound’s Pan African Conference last year in Tanzania. She was from Kenya and had recently transferred from one part of the country to another. We were talking about our work and our families, and she took out her cell phone to show me a photo of her darling baby. She’d had a healthy pregnancy, and her child was growing up happy. She credited that in large part to the loving support she received from mothers of sponsored children in the Unbound program.

The mothers embraced her in her role as a social worker new to the area, and they shared their wisdom about motherhood with her. She was not alone, and that made all the difference to her.

Please pray

Loving God, in this season of joy and anticipation of your son’s birth, bless expectant mothers everywhere. Bless them with people to support them and love them through pregnancy and in raising their children. Hold them close to feel your loving embrace through the generosity of others. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Dec 12 2018

Know ‘whose’ you are

Your weekly reflection from Unbound

Throughout Advent, we offer a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

Those of us who work for Unbound receive many kind comments from people outside the organization, and we appreciate them all. But we also try to gently direct such praise to those who most deserve it: sponsored persons and their families who work hard to lift themselves out of poverty, and the sponsors who make sacrifices to help them.

That’s not false modesty on our part. It’s just the honest recognition that our role is not to be saviors but stewards, facilitators and messengers.

The good news is produced elsewhere. We just get to tell people about it.

John the Baptist would have understood. He too, was a steward (of the prophetic tradition of Israel), a facilitator (of the bridge between the old and new covenants) and the first messenger of the Good News that the coming of the Messiah was at hand.

John’s role was to point the way to life-changing truth without getting in the way of it. He understood that he himself was not the fullness of that truth. Though he was, no doubt, tempted at times to indulge in the attention people paid him, he never allowed himself to stray from his central mission to prepare the way of the Lord.

John knew who he was. More importantly, he knew whose he was. He understood his role in the building of God’s kingdom on Earth, and that understanding gave him clarity of purpose. Ultimately, it would also give him resolve in the face of death.

We at Unbound also know how important it is to never forget whose we are.

We strive to serve the Christ who lives within and among the poor and marginalized of the world. We invite sponsors to embrace the Christ within themselves. We seek to be witnesses to the good news that caring relationships heal and kindness transforms.

Advent is a season to prepare to receive Christ. We can’t do that without also learning to better recognize him in others. We must never become complacent in that endeavor, especially at a time when so many are quick to put up lines of demarcation between those who, in their judgment, deserve to be treated as Christ and those who don’t.

John made no such distinctions. He called all to the same repentance, baptized all with the same water and shared with all the same Good News.

Please pray

Emmanuel, God with us, bless us and bring us to the fullness of life. Open our eyes to see you in all we encounter. May none pass our way without being revered for the vessels of the sacred you have made them to be. May we own the truth of this holy season, that to prepare the way of the Lord we must prepare a place for our sisters and brothers. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.