May 15 2019

Listening well, guiding gently

Every week we offer a prayerful reflection from a member of the Unbound community. This week our reflection is from Outreach Coordinator Abby Melgren.

Too often we are convinced that we have the right answer, that our way is best. In these situations, we elevate ourselves to a place of pride, setting ourselves above others.

Scripture teaches that pride only serves ourselves and, ultimately, harms us. Proverbs 11:2 says, “When pride comes, disgrace comes; but with the humble is wisdom.”

Unbound is committed to a style of gentle, balanced leadership. This leadership style flows from the belief that worldly authority and wisdom are not always correlated. In fact, the Unbound community has often seen that those with the least amount of power prove to be the wisest. We believe in humbling ourselves and listening to the true experts — our sponsored families.

Unbound’s late co-founder Bob Hentzen once said, “All staff and community members are considered leaders.” For this reason, Unbound is committed to listening and advising, not informing and demanding. We act as partners with our sponsored friends, acting as an advisor as they set their own goals. And as partners, we listen to the advice the families give us. To advise is to offer guidance. To advise is to listen.

In this way we try to adopt the attitude reflected in Proverbs 27:17: “Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another.” Our families have a wisdom, gained through their life experiences, that we should do better to appreciate, and it is only through working together that we can create effective change.

Please pray

Lord, give us a spirit of humility. Show us when we need to listen, and when it is best to offer advice and encouragement. Give us wisdom and discretion to see you in every person. Amen.

May 8 2019

A mother’s encouragement

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

May, for me, has always been associated with my mom. Partly, and obviously, because of Mother’s Day, which my sister and I mark by making her breakfast, but also because Mom’s birthday is at the end of May. So when May comes around, I celebrate her.

And there’s a lot to celebrate. Growing up and throughout my life, Mom’s been my biggest champion, and not just when others doubted. She’s had to convince me a time or 20 that I was perfectly capable, despite my skepticism. She pushed me to try my hardest and to realize my potential, even when I’d have rather been playing video games.

In many of the interviews I’ve read as a writer/editor for Unbound, mothers talk about how being part of Unbound helps them pay school fees, start businesses or participate in mothers groups through which they can take loans.

These moms are using the resources offered through sponsorship and other Unbound programs to push their daughters and sons to achieve their highest potentials. But the moms add something sponsorship can’t provide. They offer a special kind of love and encouragement, and discipline, too, without which the other resources wouldn’t be as effective.

It’s why we celebrate moms.

Please pray

We give thanks, Lord, for the women in our lives who give us life, love and support, the ones we call “mom.” May mothers everywhere draw strength from you, that they may raise their children with grace, compassion and patience. May we as children remember your command to honor our mothers and be thankful for all the sacrifice and turmoil they experienced on our account. In your name we pray. Amen.

May 1 2019

The threefold path of happiness

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 his book, “Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart,” Dr. Gordon Livingston (no relation to me) shared some of what he learned during decades as a practicing psychiatrist. One of his conclusions was that consistently happy people seem to have three things in common: someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.

As a Christian, I filter that observation through the lens of my faith. It brings to mind the last verse of the magnificent 13th chapter of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor. 13:13)

We see these great virtues — faith, hope and love — beautifully expressed in the lives of families served through Unbound. Faith allows them to persevere through hardship, hope gives them vision for a brighter future, and love drives them to work hard so that their children and their children’s children won’t be burdened by crushing poverty.

Perhaps that’s why, despite their many challenges, these families often possess a special kind of happiness. It’s not momentary contentment or the fleeting pleasure that comes from material possessions. Rather, it’s the happiness of those who are wise enough to put their trust in God, in their own abilities and in their friends.

Know that they count their sponsors among those friends.

Please pray

God of faith, help us to believe and to put our belief into action. God of hope, be with us when we are discouraged and help us to embrace resurrection. God of love, break through our self-centeredness so that we may be the living expression of your healing love in a world in need. We ask this in the name of your Son and our brother, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Apr 24 2019

A prayer for Sri Lanka

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 Easter Sunday, several bomb attacks took place at hotels and Christian churches in Sri Lanka. As of this writing, nearly 300 persons have been reported killed with hundreds more injured. Unbound stands in prayerful solidarity with the victims, their families, the people of Sri Lanka and all who suffer as a result of violence.

We ask people of goodwill everywhere to pray with us for God’s healing love in this moment of need. Now and always, the Unbound community will strive to act as a gentle witness of peace, reconciliation and the triumph of the human spirit when aided by the kindness of others and the grace of God.

Please pray

God of Resurrection, we long to see your face in a broken world. Be with those who suffer from the actions of others, especially our sisters and brothers in Sri Lanka. Heal our divisions and bring wisdom to our encounters, that we may be agents of peace in violent times. Grant us the strength, always and everywhere, to speak the truth, so that we may dispel hatred with compassion and fear with love. We ask this in the name of our risen Lord, Jesus the Christ.

Apr 17 2019

Easter within

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers have included a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings. This final reflection for Easter Sunday is from Senior Writer/Editor Larry Livingston.

Today’s Gospel tells us that after Mary Magdalen shared the news of the empty tomb with Jesus’ disciples, Peter and John ran to investigate. When John saw that Jesus was no longer there, we are told, “He saw and believed.”

Many others would have seen the same evidence John saw — a few scattered burial cloths — and come to a different conclusion. They would have assumed that Jesus’ body had been taken. Even the steadfast Mary Magdalen thought that at first. So what made John see it differently?

Perhaps John didn’t need to experience Easter in order to believe in it. Perhaps he had Easter already within him.

As I write this, I need a bit of Easter within me as well. It’s the first week of Lent in what I hope are the final days of a long, dreary winter. It’s chilly and gray outside, and the remains of the umpteenth snowfall of the season lie in sooty islands at the edges of the Unbound parking lot. My feet have been cold since November.

Still, my task is to write about Easter, so I project myself 40 days into the future. I imagine a beautiful, sunshiny, April Sunday morning. The birds are singing and there’s a gentle breeze as I walk up to church with my wife and son. Kristi is wearing a new spring dress (she’s a redhead and looks great in blues and yellows) and Ben is sporting a dress shirt and slacks over one of his few pairs of non-basketball shoes. And me? I’m in the suit I bought for my mother’s funeral, but with a colorful new necktie that says rejoicing, not mourning.

I imagine these things as I write because, at this moment, imagination is all I have. But I know Easter is coming. I know because I too have Easter within me and it’s that for which I’m most thankful. It has sustained me through many false starts and human misadventures.

I also know there’s no Easter without Lent, no resurrection without the cross, no shortcut to alleluia. Unbound families know it too. It’s the Easter within them, nurtured by the support and encouragement of caring sponsors, that sustains them through their struggles on the path to a better life. They never take that internal Easter for granted, nor do we.

Wherever you are right now, I hope you don’t have to imagine a bright and beautiful Easter. I hope you can embrace it in all its glory. And I hope your feet are warm. Happy Easter.

Please pray

Jesus, Lord of life, awaken our alleluia! Infuse us with warmth and dapple us with the colors of new life. Bring us to your empty tomb and dare us, like John, to believe and be joyful. We will, Lord, we will. For we have known you, Divine Son and compassionate brother who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, always was, is now and will forever be. Amen.

Apr 10 2019

Beyond the fleeting moment

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings from members of the Unbound community. This reflection for Palm Sunday is from Director of U.S. Outreach Steve McClain.

“They proclaimed: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’” (Luke 19:38)

One of my more distinct Lenten memories from childhood is of Passion (Palm) Sunday. Growing up in the Midwest, I recall Palm Sunday as a refreshingly bright day that followed a long, cold winter. I remember my relief that Lent was nearly over and my half-hearted commitment to “deprivation” wouldn’t be necessary for another year. Palm Sunday signaled an end point for me.

As I’ve come to appreciate the season of Lent, I now recognize that Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem is another important step on his journey.

Jesus is greeted by the enthusiastic crowds, his reputation having preceded him. The stories of his miraculous healings have made him famous. Perhaps the disciples felt a rush of pride that their friend was being celebrated as royalty.

Jesus, however, is not caught up in the heady, fleeting moment. He remains focused on his mission. He humbly chooses to ride the small colt, rather than a “high horse” befitting a king or general. His ways are not about power or status.

Jesus consistently does the unexpected. He loves the stranger. He seeks out those on the margins of the crowd. He looks beyond the circumstances of each person he meets. When he meets people in need, he asks each person their name. Despite the distractions of the surroundings, Jesus engages with that person. He doesn’t assume or judge. He asks them what they need, and connects by listening.

The Unbound community is called to follow Jesus’ example by seeing the inherent value and dignity of each person we encounter. We are compelled to walk beside our sponsored friends with a spirit of love, compassion and encouragement.

Jesus knew that after the fleeting celebrity, condemnation and death awaited. But he also knew that, ultimately, his true glory would prevail. So too do we know that a better life awaits Unbound families if we are willing to accompany them through their hardships.

Please pray

Lord, we thank you for sending your only Son to show us the way to love one another. As Holy Week draws near, so do love, compassion and mercy. Let us cheerfully follow Jesus to Jerusalem and may we be renewed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Apr 3 2019

‘The Lord has done great things for us’

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings from members of the Unbound community. This reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent is from contributing writer and sponsor Maureen Lunn.

Lent is a time of reflection and preparation, a season to push the reset button on our spiritual lives. In tandem with the blooming of spring, the Lenten season helps me to wake up, be aware of what’s going on inside me, and set some intentions for moving forward.

It’s also a time of darkness and change. With spring comes daylight savings, darker mornings, but longer days. As we make our way through Lent, although the apex is Easter and resurrection, we somberly reflect on Good Friday and the dark period of waiting along the way.

Light and dark, anticipation and dread, penitence and joy. All are mixed together in this season. We eagerly await the great things that God has done while acknowledging the darkness, whether it’s in the past or still surrounding us.

The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.
When the Lord brought back the captives of Zion,
we were like men dreaming.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed. (Psalm 126:1-3)

My church has a song with that refrain: “The Lord has done great things for me.” (The Psalmic phrase is repeated in the Canticle of Mary in Luke 1). It’s a simple phrase that has helped me to lift my head, look at how much God has done for me, and find a sense of gratitude rather than wallowing in difficulty.

This, I think, is what so many families experience around the world. Those of us who’ve had the chance to visit Unbound families often think they’re very happy despite their circumstances, but I believe it’s something different. It’s an intention to look at what God has done for them, how God has brought them through and the hope they have for what’s to come.

It’s the same joy the people of Israel may have had when they came out of exile and sang the above Psalm. It’s something greater than happiness despite circumstances, it’s gratitude and acceptance right there in the middle of them.

Like Dan Pearson wrote in the reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, “Over and over God reminds us to wake up and raise our eyes to see the miracles that surround us.” This Lent, I hope to hold the tension of darkness and light, and sing of the great things God has done.

Please pray

God, we thank you for the great things you’ve done for us. Help us to lift our heads and remember those things, and then trust that you will do great things for us again and again. We believe, help our unbelief! In your holy name, Amen.

Mar 27 2019

Concern flows both ways

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings from members of the Unbound community. This reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is from Finance Manager Bill Hansen.

“Whoever is in Christ is a new creation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I’ve enjoyed many blessings working at Unbound for 22 years, but one definite highlight was the opportunity to serve with our co-founder Bob Hentzen before his passing. One of my earliest memories of Bob was him telling us, “We have much to learn from the poor”.

I wish I could tell you that my initial reaction to Bob’s statement was, “Right on, Bob!” But, truthfully, my background at that point in my life only allowed me to think, sarcastically, “Yeah, right, Bob.”

Then I received my first letter from my sponsored child, a young girl named Maribel from the Philippines. She concluded her letter by letting me know that “my family and I pray for you every morning.”

That letter just about blew my socks off. Wow, you mean even before my day begins, my name had been lifted up in prayer to God from halfway around the world? How do you place a price on that? And believe me, there are some days I need all the prayers I can get.

Compassion isn’t a one-way street in the Unbound community. Our sponsored families truly care and are concerned for their sponsors. I’ll never forget that after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we began hearing about sponsored families arriving at our project offices, checking in about the welfare of their sponsors.

We, as sponsors, have the opportunity to grow in our faith by witnessing the faith walk of our sponsored families. We learn not only how to give to others but also receive from them the unconditional love Christ shared with all of us on the cross.

Or, to cite another favorite Bob Hentzen quote, “Together, Lord, we are a liberating force of love in our world today.”

Please pray

Father, in a world that is becoming more divided every day, thank you for the opportunity you’ve given us to come together in the Unbound community. And thank you especially, Lord, for all those you’ve placed in our lives who pray for us. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!”

Mar 20 2019

Giving others the space and support to thrive

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings from members of the Unbound community. This reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent is from Managing Editor Loretta Shea Kline.

One of the greatest temptations when trying to help a struggling person is to allow ourselves to believe we have all the answers.

Whether that person is a family member, close friend, co-worker, neighbor or someone across the world, we get into dangerous territory when we grow frustrated, angry or indifferent toward someone who fails to respond the way we think they should. We justify such reactions by telling ourselves that the person who is depressed, grieving, in physical pain or economically poor should be further along the path out of their difficulty, if only they would do things our way!

We may even dismiss them as undeserving of our help.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus has little time for such superiority. He tells a parable to a group of people complaining about another group. In the story, an orchard owner says to a gardener, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?”

The gardener says in reply, “Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.”

Jesus reminds us to resist the temptation to judge others harshly. Rather, he calls us to cultivate and nurture those who suffer, allowing them to grow at their pace and in God’s time.

At Unbound, we seek to listen to and learn from individuals and families as they forge their own paths out of poverty. With the support of sponsors and the Unbound community, they blossom in ways and in time spans that make sense for them.

Please pray

Ever-patient God, you sent your son to show us the way to love, even to death on a cross. May we embody that sacrifice by opening our hearts to understand and support those who are suffering. We ask this in your holy name. Amen.

Mar 13 2019

What we see when we raise our eyes

Throughout Lent, our weekly ePrayers include a special series of reflections on the upcoming Sunday readings from members of the Unbound community. This reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent is from International Programs Director Dan Pearson.

The readings for today include two stories of divine intervention. In the Old Testament reading, God tells the childless Abram to look up at the stars, promising him as many descendants as the number of stars he can see. In the Gospel, God wakes up Jesus’ disciples to see Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah.

Both of these readings are stories where someone must change their focus in order to find God. Like Abram and the disciples, we can spend most of our lives looking in the wrong place. We march through the days either staring at the ground in front of us or sleepwalking through life. That is how God usually finds us, either asleep or absorbed in myopic bubbles of self-regard. Over and over God reminds us to wake up and raise our eyes to see the miracles that surround us.

I travel a lot to visit the homes of families in the Unbound program. Those home visits sometimes require long walks on narrow trails. I’m careful to keep my eyes focused on the trail so I won’t stumble and fall. But when I arrive at a sponsored family’s home, I must raise my eyes from the trail to look in the faces of those beautiful families because they deserve to be truly seen.

Like focusing on the trail, focusing on our daily routines is necessary. But we should not confuse the trail with the destination. The destination for all of us is connection, and for that we must look beyond ourselves and look into the eyes of another person. Sponsors regularly tell us that sponsorship helps them see beyond themselves by looking into the eyes of someone else.

But experiencing God requires more than just shifting our focus outside of ourselves to see someone else. It also requires an openness to be changed by what we see. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.”

What do I see when I raise my eyes from the trail and look into the faces of a sponsored family? Do I see poverty, or do I see potential? What do you see when you shift your attention away from rumination about yourself and look into the face of another person? Is your heart prepared to see the face of God there?

Please pray

God, we thank you for surrounding us each day with miracles that we often cannot see because we’re looking in the wrong places. We ask you to open our eyes. Shift our attention from our self-referential thought patterns so that we can experience the small daily miracles and the fundamental miracle that we exist. We ask you to open our hearts. Wake us from the dream of separation so that we can experience the truth of connection. Amen.