Jan 13 2021

Drawing strength from one another

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.

The past week has been unsettling for the people of the United States and the world. Violence in our nation’s capital that led to loss of life, destruction of property and a violation of the very seat of our democracy brought us face to face with the reality that our institutions are only as strong as our common commitment to sustain them. It’s a truth known well by friends in many other nations around the world, and they look to us now with compassion and concern.

We ask that you join with us in prayer for the U.S. and all nations, that we may continue to grow into a worldwide community of compassion, respectful of differences but united by our dedication to uphold one another’s essential, God-given dignity.

The challenges we face are great and they defy simplistic answers. But, as we often do, we draw courage and inspiration from the Unbound community, where the virtues of faith, hope and love often help conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles. With God’s grace and one another’s care, we shall prevail.

Please pray

Loving God, you who make all things new again, bless us at this time of uncertainty and division. Help us to embrace our common virtues and beliefs rather than obsess over that which separates us. May our love for you lead us to embrace your presence in every human being, and may love overcome the fears that keep us from living in freedom and joy. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Jan 6 2021

Vulnerable and heroic

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.

We just bid farewell to a year that few of us will miss, one filled with loss, fear, frustration, anger and the anxiety of not knowing what life will look like going forward.

Perhaps the great lesson of 2020 was that we are not as in control of our world as we once thought we were. We’ve learned that no matter what we do, we are susceptible not just to the visible threats in life, but also to those unseen, like microbes.

The families in the Unbound program have taught us that to be human is to be vulnerable, to be wise is to come to terms with vulnerability, and to be heroic is to keep moving forward no matter how much our vulnerabilities make us want not to.

In 2021, Unbound will keep moving forward, following the lead of the families who knew long before we did that while control is an illusion, hope when married to effort does not disappoint.

Please pray

God of the journey, guide us. We still wander through the desert, yet we dream of the promised land and trust that you will bring us home. As we walk, help us to be loving companions, shouldering each other’s burdens and picking each other up when we fall. In all we do, may faith nourish us and hope propel us forward. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Dec 30 2020

The wisdom to seek God’s face

Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, our weekly ePrayers have included a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This final reflection for The Epiphany of the Lord is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

The mysterious travelers who came to visit the Christ Child are referred to simply as “magi” in Matthew’s Gospel. Magi were priests of ancient Persia. They practiced a form of astrology, which accounts for their recognition of a star as foretelling the newborn king.

While the Magi are sometimes called the “Three Kings,” I prefer to think of them as the “Three Wise Men,” (Though, truth be told, Scripture never says there were only three or that they were all men!) It’s the “wise” part that I like.

Wisdom is one of the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit, and it’s among the most valuable things a human being can possess. It allows us to see beyond the confusion of the moment to recognize what’s truly important. In an age when choices often come faster than our ability to discern them, wisdom is priceless.

The Magi were wise because they were seekers. They recognized within the signs of the times a call to the presence of God, and they yearned for that presence. They left their homeland, which is to say they left the familiar and comfortable for the unknown. They disregarded the boundaries of nation, class and religion in a quest for that which they most prized, a glimpse of the face of God. All the while, they trusted that the one who called them forth would guide them to their destination.

In my work at Unbound, I get to hear from people all over the country who are helping a child or elderly person overcome extreme poverty with support and encouragement each month. These sponsors are also seekers. Like the Magi, they follow a star that leads not to wealth and privilege, but to humility and simplicity. And, like the Magi, they make a gift of material resources in exchange for an encounter with Christ in the person of a child or elder whose life they’ve helped make better.

As we prepare to leave the Christmas season and enter Ordinary Time, it’s good to remember that the Star of Bethlehem didn’t suddenly disappear. It’s still there. It still shines, though the clouds of our lives sometimes hide it from us. In 2021, let’s help one another seek that star. Let’s help one another catch a glimpse, now and then, of the magnificent face of God.

Please pray

Loving God, help us to recognize your presence in all we meet. Give us the wisdom to reverence you by serving our sisters and brothers. In all we do, may love for you be our strength and our guiding star. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen.

Dec 23 2020

Loving, trusting and caring for each other

Throughout the Advent and Christmas seasons, 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.

Have you heard of the “Urban Dictionary?” It’s a crowdsourced dictionary that seeks public help in defining words. I often use it to get a different slant on the meaning of a word. With that in mind, I looked up “family” in that dictionary and found it defined as “a group of people, usually of the same blood (but do not have to be) who genuinely love, trust, care about and look out for each other.”

That’s not a bad definition and it certainly describes the family we call the “Holy Family,” Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

My sense of “family” has grown because the number of people I care about and who care about me has grown. At first, “family” was simply blood relatives, then classmates (grade school, high school and seminary) were included, then parishioners came along and, in time, “family” began to include even people of different faiths or no faith, which was not true in my earlier years.

As the years went on, staff and patients I got to know as a chaplain in hospitals here and overseas became “family.” And, when a group of us helped build and continue to support a school in Haiti, the people who live in that small rural village, as well as the students and staff of that school, became a part of my family.

My experience in Haiti and my retirement from parish ministry led me to Unbound and again my sense of family was expanded. As I started to travel for Unbound, I saw “family” in the staff and parishioners in any number of parishes who seem to “genuinely, love, trust, care about and look out for each other.”

I know, however, that my sense of family needs to become still larger.

The New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, speaks about an experience he had in Penn Station in New York City while waiting to catch a train. As he stood there looking at the crowd of people standing around him, he suddenly didn’t see them as different from him by race, ethnicity, language, religion, politics, etc. He saw them, he said, the same way he saw himself, as simply “souls,” all members of the same human family.

I’m not there yet but I’d like to experience what David Brooks experienced while standing on the platform of a train station. And, the fact he experienced “family” as including all of us gives me the hope that I might be able to as well.

Please pray

Lord, as we celebrate this feast of the Holy Family, help us to enlarge our sense of family to include all those you see as family, which certainly includes those who have gone before us, those who live with us now, and those who are yet to come. Amen.

Dec 16 2020

An angelic surprise

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 Unbound preacher Father John Anglin, OFM.

When I hear the word “surprise” I think of something wonderful. Perhaps it is a surprise birthday or anniversary party where friends and family gather and lavish gifts are given. Maybe it’s the perfect and unexpected gift under the Christmas tree.

Not all surprises, however, are so wonderful. Many people are surprised and taken aback by a difficult medical diagnosis, a sudden death or the loss of a job. Other surprises are a mixed blessing. They offer something good, perhaps even great, but call for serious adjustment of life plans.

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Advent speaks of the latter type of surprise. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary to let her know that she is to be the Mother of God. That’s wonderful news. Mary’s life, however, as well as Joseph’s, is turned upside down. Who among their neighbors is going to believe this? Moreover, Mary is eventually told that a sword will pierce her heart. Her journey with her Son leads to the cross.

Many of the families served through Unbound are like the Holy Family. I remember one mother in El Salvador when I visited there saying what a joyful surprise it was to receive the news that her little son was to be sponsored. That news, however, came with the realization that she and her family now had new responsibilities, such as participation in the local Unbound community and a commitment to their son’s education. These were responsibilities they gladly undertook; but they were challenges, nonetheless.

Many of the families in the Unbound community receive the negative kind of surprises, too, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the hope they receive from God and the Unbound family, they have the strength to meet the challenges they face. Some have received positive test results for the virus. Others face challenges from floods and storms, or shortages of food and water. When these challenges are met in faith and hope, however, they have the strength to carry on.

Surprises can indeed be wonderful or challenging, but they are always invitations to be open to new possibilities. That was the case for Mary and Joseph. It is the case for families served through Unbound and for all of us as we walk this path together.

Please pray

Dear God of life and of surprises, help us to be grateful for the positive surprises that come our way and to meet courageously the surprises that challenge us to be open to new possibilities. May we be transformed into living surprises of goodness and grace for all those whom we meet on our journey of life. Thank you, Lord, for the great surprise which is the birth of your Son into our lives. Amen.

Dec 9 2020

Voices still cry out in the desert

Throughout Advent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent is from Unbound President/CEO Scott Wasserman.

Long before I came to work for Unbound, my family and I were sponsors. Our daughters grew up with our sponsored friend, Diego. We were fortunate to visit him in Guatemala almost every year. When the children were small, they would play Red Light/Green Light. They watched clown shows together. They took boat rides around Lake Atitlán.

Diego is now a young man. With our continued support, he studies accounting at a university. A couple of years ago we visited him for perhaps the last time. He and his mom had prepared a photo collection of our trips together. The photos showed Diego and my children when they were all young. He had photos from our boat rides and the clown shows.

I think back over our many years of sponsoring Diego. At the start, we thought we had come to save him. As it turns out, Diego saved us. He saved us from selfishness and superficiality. If we were saving him from his poverty, then he was saving us from our abundance.

In the Gospel for the Third Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist makes clear that he is not the Christ. Instead, he identifies himself as “the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.’”

Together, Diego and my family “make straight the way of the Lord.” These days, loving across differences can make us feel like a “voice crying out in the desert.” Sponsorship shows us that love is real. Love is possible. Love is essential.

Diego, I am grateful to you. I am not the Christ. Instead, I am a voice crying out in the desert. We can love; therefore, we must love.

Please pray

Dear Lord, grant me the humility to be your image to those who need me. Grant me courage to cry out in the desert that love is real. Allow me to see you in all persons. Amen.

Dec 2 2020

The journeys of Advent are the journeys of our lives

Throughout Advent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent is from Unbound preacher Father Greg Schmitt, CSsR.

When we undertake a “journey,” it may mean we are going from one geographical location to another, one type of life to another, one way of thinking to another, or moving to a whole new awareness of the meaning of our own life. The Scripture readings for this Second Sunday of Advent reference several journeys that seem to include all of the above.

In the first reading, Isaiah describes the movement of the Israelites from 50 years of enslavement in a foreign land back to their homeland. God himself is portrayed as walking with the people as they plod through the desert. In his compassion for them, he levels the mountainous terrain and straightens the road.

The second reading, from The Second Letter of Peter, tells of God’s desire that we step from wherever we are now into a state of repentance.

Mark’s Gospel, which begins and ends with the proclamation that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, presents John the Baptist as laying the groundwork for Christ’s coming. John is a messenger prophetically inviting us to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. To hear him preach, people from Jerusalem would have had to walk more than 30 miles, round trip (uphill going back). He must have been quite a speaker!

Bob Hentzen, one of the founders of Unbound, to demonstrate Unbound’s identification with the world’s poor, made two historic walks — one of 4,000 miles from Kansas City to Guatemala and another of 8,000 miles from Guatemala to Chile. We may not be physically walking those distances, but we span those miles with our hearts as we reach out to sponsor the children and elders whose lives we change. In the process, we change our own as well.

Let us continue our Advent journeys.

Please pray

Lord, there is no place in all of creation where you cannot be found. Watch over us and accompany us as we undertake the journeys of our lives. At the end of each journey may you be there to welcome us and be the fulfillment of all we have been searching for. Amen.

Nov 25 2020

Staying alert for God’s surprises

Throughout Advent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This reflection for the First Sunday of Advent is from Unbound preacher Father Mark Lane, C.O.

In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells his disciples to “Be watchful! Stay Alert!”because they don’t know when God is coming. In the parable Jesus exalts the image of the gatekeeper, the one who’s ready when the master returns. The truth is that we are all “gatekeepers.” The mystery of God’s advent is that he comes into the world through human beings, first because of Mary’s courageous and generous “yes,” but also in all places and times through people like us.

Twenty years ago I became a gatekeeper in a surprising and life-changing way. It began with the gift of a sabbatical from my work as a parish priest in Brooklyn, NY. I had long had an attraction to the life of a missionary and so reached out to a colleague working in Turkana in the remote north of Kenya.

For much of my time there I was the only “mzungu” (white person) in the village. The total immersion into a new culture and language with no one to rely on stretched me to grow in ways I would not have chosen on my own. It forced me to see and feel the lives of the local people with none of the usual ways to distance myself from their suffering and poverty.

My heart had been moved to help, and when I got back to New York I was determined to do something. But how could I help the people I had just left from the other side of the world? One thing I did now appears entirely providential.

Flipping through a magazine, I saw an ad for Unbound (then called CFCA.) In my memory its message read, “You may not be able to change world poverty, but you do have the power to change one person’s life.” I sent in the form and became number 5,528 in a family of sponsors that has now grown to a quarter million.

Today I sponsor three people and have preached on behalf of Unbound all over the country. I love to present the message of Unbound because it gives people what I so wanted to be able to offer, a concrete and positive way to make a difference. It has allowed me to realize my role as a gatekeeper, ready when the Lord comes, as he so often does, in the most unlikely ways and through surprising people. It has been one of the most satisfying and rewarding gifts of my nearly 40 years as a priest.

When we say “yes” to God, God comes into the world again. So “Be watchful! Stay Alert!”

Please pray

Good and gracious God, as we prepare a way for you this Advent, help us to be attentive to your presence in all our sisters and brothers. Awaken in us a hunger for justice for all your children and give us the will to make a difference with the resources you have entrusted to our care. Amen.

Nov 18 2020

Love and appreciation

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Outreach Call Representative Shantel Davis.

Not long ago, I heard a beautiful lady living in extreme poverty in the Philippines say how much she wishes she could go visit her family but could not. It humbled me to realize that even though I had issues with my father, I still had the choice to reach out to him.

There are a lot of people living in such circumstances that they can’t reach out to their families and truly don’t know if they ever will be able to again. There have always been people who struggle with their relationships. There have always been estrangements. But right now, there is something else going on. Because of COVID-19, people are having to leave their families and all they know to find work. Some have to travel great distances for safety.

When a sponsor comes into the life of someone with a similar experience, I am not sure there are words to describe the love and appreciation that is given back. People who, in some cases, may have felt like they had nobody, now have a friend. Whether it is an elder, a child or a family that is enduring struggle, the relationship and connection that is shared is incredibly special and meaningful.

Today, because of someone else’s heartfelt example, I reached out to my father. We talked for almost an hour and it ended with love.

Please pray

Oh God, please allow those who wish to be of help to feel the impact that they have on the lives of others. Let each sponsor see that they are greatly blessed by the power of love, truth and connection that their new relationship bring. Let us all build authentic, global relationships by accepting one another with open hearts. This we pray. Amen.

Nov 11 2020

Compassion after the storms

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.

In recent days, we’ve been twice reminded of the vulnerability of those who live at the mercy of nature.

First, we witnessed the devastation wrought by Typhoon Goni in the Philippines. The storm damaged crops, caused major flooding and necessitated the evacuation of more than 1,000 families in the Unbound program. At least one member of the Unbound community, a 5-year-old girl, was killed, and her mother and sister were missing.

A few days later, Hurricane Eta struck Central America, bringing torrential rain, flooding and deadly mudslides to Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Each of those countries has sizeable Unbound programs, and many sponsored members and their families were evacuated, while others were left isolated by flooding.

In the coming days and weeks Unbound staff will continue to reach out to support families impacted by these disasters. Please know that the prayerful support of their sponsors and other members of the Unbound community is a tremendous source of comfort and encouragement to these families as they strive to rebuild their lives.

As of Monday, Tropical Storm Eta has passed through Cuba and has now made landfall in southern Florida. It continues to bring torrential rain and the likelihood of flooding. Please include those in the storm’s path in your prayers.

Please pray

Merciful God, we know that you suffer in the suffering of your people. May we be your instruments of love and support as our friends in the Philippines and the nations of Central America seek to recover. We ask this in the name of Jesus, your beloved Son and our compassionate brother. Amen.