Dec 4 2019

Flawed but worthy

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 David Noone.

We all have our favorite scripture verses, but there are also verses I find troubling. One of them happens to be in the Gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Advent, the verse that reads, “… but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.”

My problem is with that sense of “unworthiness.” I grew up believing I was “unworthy,” not because I experienced that about myself, but because I was taught it. In fact, Christianity seems to have gone out of its way to emphasize our “unworthiness.”

But, at some point, I began to wonder if that word “unworthy” applied to me, or to any of us. The catechism I grew up with asks, “Why did God make me?” It responds, “… to know, love and serve him. …” If God made me to love him, he also made me to share his love with me. That’s what love does; it wants and needs to love. In some wonderfully mysterious way, and despite all our flaws and brokenness, God sees us as worthy of his love!

Earlier this year, I had a conversation with an Unbound sponsor. Around 13, her life took a downward turn until, eventually, heroin took it over. She considered seeking help in the Catholic Church she grew up in, but she remembered being taught there that God gets angry with people who screw up their lives. Instead she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a non-denominational Christian Church.

There she was assured that, no matter how messed up her life, she was still worthy of God’s love. Working with this awareness, the young woman found her way to sobriety. Later, she returned to Catholicism out of a strong conviction that to stay sober she needed the Eucharist. So for the past several months she has attended Mass and received Communion daily.

As our conversation ended, I was surprised to learn that she is sponsoring a number of Unbound children and was about to embark on an Unbound Awareness Trip to meet them. When I asked how she could afford the sponsorships, she told me that, when addicted, drugs and alcohol had cost her far more and it was time to use those funds to do good.

Every weekend, I look at the children and elders whose pictures are displayed on the folders lying on the sponsorship tables of the parish I happen to be in. I see them, whatever their story or situation, as simply people worthy of God’s love and ours. And when a parishioner decides to take a folder and sponsor the person pictured, he or she is helping God express his love in the life of that person in a very concrete and special way.

“Lord, I am not worthy?” We may be flawed and broken, but we are not unworthy. God’s love makes it so.

Please pray

Father, when we look at our lives and see how fragmentary everything is, how many plans have gone undone, and all the reasons we have to be embarrassed and ashamed, help us to realize that there has not been a minute in any day when we have not been embraced by your love. Amen.

— Inspired by the words of Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

Nov 27 2019

The hour is upon us

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 Greg Schmitt, CSsR.

The labor pains have begun. A young life is pushing to become a part of the world outside the womb. It is the hour for birth.

The dating has run its course. Loving hearts and calculating intuition have come to a decision. It is the hour for a marriage commitment.

Long enough have self-recrimination and bitterness flowed through my veins. Guilt has had its festival. It is the hour for forgiveness.

The phone rings at the rectory. The hospital is calling for a priest. There can be no delay. It is the hour a parishioner to meet death.

People take to the streets — thousands — clamoring for freedom. Powerful figures are dethroned. It is the hour to open holes in the inhuman walls of oppression.

Paul writes to the Romans, “it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep … the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Jesus speaks in Matthew’s Gospel, “So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

This Advent season arrives with a sense of urgency. The hour is upon us, including those of us in the Unbound community. While it important for us to learn from Unbound’s history, the real story is now. How is it going now? Are we on track? Are dreams becoming real? Are our relationships growing steadily?

Advent is the time for renewal of the Unbound spirit.

Please pray

Father, you gift us with this Advent season to alert us that your hour is always upon us. We live in now time. For that is the only time when we can come to meet with you, and celebrate the birth of the One who helps us make sense of our lives. Fill us with gratitude for what you are bringing about in us. Let your light shine in each of us that we may be a light for one another. Amen.

Nov 20 2019

Continuing the journey

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

In the warehouse space at Unbound headquarters in Kansas City, there’s a rack with a couple of old, well-worn suitcases. The labels on them even say “Christian Foundation for Children,” which was the original name of our organization when it started on Nov. 20, 1981. I pass these suitcases often, and normally they’re simply part of the background that is our building.

But sometimes I stop and consider the history they represent. These suitcases have been all over the world, rocked about in the backs of pickup trucks and the trunks of cars. They’ve traveled with Bob Hentzen, one of our founders, as he met with the families for whom Unbound was created. The wear and tear on the suitcases is a testament to the time, distance and hardship Unbound staff have been willing to put in to serve the families, transforming the humble suitcase from a simple piece of luggage to a symbol of love.

Though Unbound has traveled a long way from the days of our founding, in name and mission, we remain connected to our history and rooted in the Gospel call to serve the poor.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for simple reminders of our past. May we reflect on them and continue to grow. Thank you for the founders of Unbound, who heard your call of service and created something that has lasted nearly four decades. Thank you for the children, youth and elders we serve, as they continue to remind us that poverty is still among us. Bless us as we continue the journey started by Bob and the other founders. We ask this in your name. Amen.

Nov 13 2019

The courage to enter into relationships

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Managing Editor Loretta Shea Kline.

“Meet one another doing good.” That quote from Pope Francis describes what we do every day at Unbound. We connect people of all backgrounds with a goal of “doing good” in our world.

As World Day of Poor approaches Nov. 17, I’m reminded of the times I’ve had the privilege of meeting people in the Unbound community doing their part to end global poverty. I felt blessed this year to meet a family in the Kibera community of Nairobi who exemplify what doing good means.

Kibera is the largest slum in Kenya and one of the biggest in Africa. Residents cope with problems such as lack of basic infrastructure, poverty and crime, but this city within a city also teems with life. Pedestrians and vehicles traverse the dirt paths as people commute to work and school, and patronize the seemingly endless rows of small businesses lining the streets.

In this community, Elizabeth and Peter have created a welcoming home. Besides raising three daughters, they care for three children orphaned after Elizabeth’s sister and brother-in-law passed away. Elizabeth is a cook at a local primary school and Peter paints houses. Their biggest challenge is feeding and educating all the children. Because their 16-year-old daughter, Sylvia, is sponsored through Unbound, they have help paying school fees. Elizabeth also participates in the local Unbound mothers group and has taken and repaid microloans to help with family needs.

“I pray if all the kids in this house can go to school and reach the high level, that is my prayer,” she said.

Elizabeth, Peter and their daughter’s sponsor, Lucy in Illinois, show us how prayers are answered when we “meet one another doing good.”

Please pray

God of the possible, give us the courage to open our hearts so that we may enter into life-giving relationships with our brothers and sisters near and far. Hear our prayers on World Day of the Poor and every day to “meet one another doing good.” We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Nov 6 2019

Empathy that leads to action

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Church Relations Director Paco Wertin.

Some say that empathy is the gateway to compassion. Imagining how someone feels, then trying to feel that yourself, can lead us to take action, responding to the feeling by doing something about it.

During a recent visit to Unbound’s Kansas City headquarters, project coordinator Vincent Murmu from India shared with us that Rosa, the mother of a sponsored child, learned to write her name by participating in her local Unbound mothers group. Rosa had never gone to school. She felt the pain and burden of those years without formal education.

Not so for her daughter, Teresa. Rosa, a single mom who cared for her three children alone, made every sacrifice so that Teresa could go to school. With Rosa’s encouragement and hard work, and the support of a sponsor, Teresa had what she needed to become the nurse she is today.

The pain and suffering that Rosa had endured gave her the imagination and strength to set Teresa on a different path. Teresa’s sponsor could also, from a distance, feel the burden Teresa carried and reach out with a helping hand.

Unbound’s mission is to walk with the poor and marginalized. That mission, born of the deep faith of our founders and embraced by our community of sponsors, staff and families, flows from empathy and compassion. We feel the pain and the hurt of others because we’ve been through pain and hurt ourselves. We recognize it and we want to do something about it.

Empathy can be a gateway to compassion, making a difference in our world by inspiring us to walk with someone in need who has set a path forward and is making those in her family proud.

Please pray

O God, who feels our pain, open our hearts to those in need. May our own pain and hurt help us feel that of others and lead us to walk with them through suffering to hope. We are grateful for the life you pour out upon us and that we, in turn, pour out on others in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Oct 30 2019

Companions on the path to a better life

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

One of my favorite biblical treasures is the story of Naomi and Ruth. They shared a deep love and friendship for each other.

Naomi’s life began with a dream, but it was preempted by poverty through hunger. There was a famine in her town of Bethlehem that drove her, her husband and their two sons to the land of Moab. When she heard the famine was over, she wanted to return to her birthplace. By then she was an aged widow who’d lost her sons.

She decided to make the trek alone. But her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who was from Moab, deeply loved Naomi and knew the older woman could not make the trip by herself. So Ruth left her own home, family, and familiar comforts to travel with Naomi and help her.

Naomi was wise and knew the way. However, she needed Ruth, who provided friendship, encouragement and safety.

This story reminds me of our work at Unbound. Our sponsors walk alongside children and elders who are making their way to a better life. Sponsors assist with prayer, monetary support, and friendship to those walking the path to a better life and fulfilling their dreams. Sponsored children and elders form lasting friendships with their sponsors. What a generous act of love for each other on the road of humility.

Please pray

Dear Lord, your work takes us to many places for which we are thankful. We offer our gratitude to you for all you have given us. May we continue to walk along the path you have chosen for us with humility, as we carry our gifts to those we serve. Amen.

Oct 23 2019

Receiving with gratitude

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.

Years ago I heard a stand-up comedian (I wish I could remember his name) do a routine on how tough our pioneer ancestors were. He talked about how they came across the country in covered wagons, worked from sunrise to sunset, cleared the land, battled the elements and lived off what they grew.

Then he paused a beat and said, “And me? If I have to go to the bank and the dry cleaners on the same day, I’m exhausted!”

The joke, of course, is that Americans today are softer than those who went before us. While many in this country struggle with economic hardship (and their numbers are growing), it’s nonetheless true that, for those with the resources, we’ve become a society accustomed to convenience. Electric lights, running water, paved roads and a hundred other little comforts have become such a part of our daily lives that we hardly notice them anymore. Maybe we should.

The English writer G.K. Chesterton said, “When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” The families in the Unbound program could perhaps teach us something in that regard.

The families in the Unbound program don’t take convenience for granted because they understand what it’s like to be without it. Their world is one of inconvenience, where something like procuring the day’s supply of water isn’t always a matter of turning on a faucet but, perhaps, lining up at a municipal water truck, drawing it from a community well or walking to the river.

For these families, the norm in decision-making isn’t choice but necessity. Consequently, when they are presented with choices, they embrace them with deep gratitude. That gratitude manifests itself in hard work fueled by hope.

As our pioneer ancestors could attest, that’s a formula for success.

Please pray

God of all, you have created us to build one another up and help each person reach their full potential. Bless us as we strive to live in solidarity with our sisters and brothers. Give us the wisdom to look past that which separates us to that which we have in common, our sacred identity as your beloved children. We ask this in the name of your Son and our brother, Jesus the Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen.

Oct 16 2019

Creating a path out of poverty

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Loyalty Marketing Specialist Clair Paul.

I worked for Unbound a few years before I truly felt the weight of the conditions families in our programs experience. In 2016, I accompanied a group of sponsors on a trip to Costa Rica. I had been on similar trips and felt prepared for what I would experience that week, but I had no idea how unprepared I was.

After being in the country for a few days, we visited a community precariously built on a riverbank. We were dropped off several blocks away and walked single file down the side of a highway as cars zipped past. Sponsored members and their families greeted us and escorted us down muddy slopes into their homes. We ducked into a small, two-room residence built with scraps of metal and plastic. The floors were dirt, and water leaked and dripped inside. The children bounced from one dilapidated sofa to the other as their mother told us about their life.

She explained that the river below was a dumping ground for trash and chemicals. Flooding happened often, making already treacherous paths nearly impassible. They lived in fear that their home would wash away or that the government would evict them.

As I listened to her speak, I stole glances at her son and daughter, not yet old enough to go to school. I wondered, “How could this be the reality a child faces every day?” That evening, I sat on my bed and cried.

Oct. 17 is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Let us join in prayer for those living with less than what they deserve. We’re thankful that the Unbound community provides families with options and opportunities that allow them to create their own paths into full participation in society.

Please pray

Lord, we come to you with our burdens that seem too heavy to bear. We know we cannot end the suffering of others on our own, and we ask you to be with those living in poverty around the world. We pray that you will give us opportunities to do what we can, so that one day we may see a world without poverty. Amen.

Oct 9 2019

Perseverance and grace through adversity

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

When I was 16 and it came time to take my driving test, my older brother felt sure that, because I was a girl, I would do worse than he had a few years earlier. He’d barely passed on his third try, and he claimed I would fail thrice and be forced to take driver’s ed. I’m proud to report that, through hard work, practice and God’s grace, I disproved his assumption by passing the first time.

Today, girls and women around the world face all sorts of bias. There are assumptions that they either can’t do as well as boys or should be limited to “traditional” women’s roles. Families may give preference to boys over girls when it comes to education. Despite these obstacles, girls and women in the Unbound program are transforming their lives, their families’ lives and their communities.

I think of the group of mothers in India who, despite challenges of illiteracy and lack of formal education, used a traditional art form to do a high-level analysis of their community, identifying opportunities for new businesses. I also think of the many young women that have worked hard to become Unbound scholars, giving back to their communities while continuing their educations.

In Galatians, St. Paul says we are one in Christ without distinction based on race, circumstance or gender. “For through faith you are all children of God in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

The women and girls of Unbound are inspirational. They show us what it’s like to overcome adversity with grace and strength, not only in the face of poverty, but in the face of being a woman.

Please pray

Lord, thank you for the endurance you’ve given women throughout history. May we learn from the examples of women who have gone before us, and from those we encounter in our world today who exemplify perseverance and grace in the face of adversity. May we continue to draw strength from you, Lord. We ask this in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Oct 2 2019

The feedback loop of faith

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

Autumn has arrived in the United States. Soon the trees will turn colors followed by leaves browning and dying, paving the way for new life in the Spring. Where I live in New Mexico, this cycle is particularly striking to me as the aspen trees paint the mountainside in solid bright yellow, making the unmistakable change from green to gold to the eventual brown of winter.

In the science world, the seasonal rhythm of trees creates what’s called a feedback loop, where vital phases put positive input into the system — oxygen in growth, minerals in death and a lot of natural cyclical processes in between.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus uses a horticultural image to describe the reciprocal relationship that exists between the divine and humanity:

“Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5).”

Jesus is describing the feedback loop of faith. He believes in us, we believe in him, and this cycle perpetuates in every aspect of our lives. It helps us to believe in ourselves and in others. When I believe in myself, I have more capacity to see the potential in others, and the cycle begins again.

The Unbound community is full of these feedback loops. My sponsored friend writes me a letter and it compels me to write her back. An Unbound mother invests her family’s sponsorship funds to create a greater return. An Unbound family that finds success inspires another family in similar circumstances to follow their own path.

These are the cycles of inspiration, the feedback loops of potential. As we look for the autumn leaves soon to change, may we also look for the potential in ourselves and others to input more positive change into the world.

Please pray

God of all seasons, thank you for remaining in us and believing in us. Help us and our sponsored friends to see potential everywhere we look and bear fruit to better your world. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen.