A Place for Kids to Be Kids

As many of you know, since May of 2015, Pax et Bonum Communications has dramatically expanded our ministry to the poor by opening a free day care center for impoverished children in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Santa Chiara Children’s Center serves between 50 and 70 kids a day. Moreover, 20 of the children actually live at the Center. The children are given three meals a day.

The children entering our gate come bearing all kinds of physical, emotional, and psychological wounds that need to be lovingly embraced and healed. Many have been physically, verbally, and sexually abused. Some have been abandoned or sold into domestic servitude, working long hours for meager scraps of food. Besides feeding and educating our kids, Santa Chiara strives to transform their lives by giving them a sense of hope and purpose, by treating them with dignity and respect. In just over a year, we are seeing the early fruit of our work, as a number of children living at Santa Chiara are being transformed before our very eyes. They are feeling a sense of family and are lovingly caring for each other.

During our first year of operation, I have been filming all the activities at Santa Chiara. I am very happy to announce that we have just released a new film about our work in Haiti.

SCCF film cover front only

A Place for Kids to Be Kids tells the improbable story of how a filmmaker (me) and an artist (my wife, Ecarlatte) left our comfortable lives in California to open a free day care center for children in the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. The film traces the evolution of the Santa Chiara Children’s Center from operating out of a small apartment in a slum caring and for ten kids a day to our move to a larger, safer walled compound serving up to 70 children a day.

Pope Francis said: “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” In its humble, very limited way, the Santa Chiara Children’s Center is a kind of field hospital for kids. They knock on our gate weary from their battle with extreme poverty, constant hunger, emotional neglect, and often physical abuse. They come wounded in many ways. We begin by welcoming them, then feeding them, then embracing and encouraging them, then playing with them, then teaching them…and sometimes even healing them. When needed we offer them temporary shelter and even access to medical care. We pay school fees for some kids. But mostly, we offer them love.

Because most of our kids are unschooled, an important part of the mission of Santa Chiara is to offer the children classes in reading, writing, and math. Many of the children cannot read. Each child is given one-on-one personal attention depending upon their needs. Without educational opportunities the children will not have any chance to escape the prison of poverty that ensnares so many Haitian. We also provide art and craft classes which is the only time the kids get to explore their own creativity. Outside the walls of Santa Chiara there is no time for anything but the struggle for survival.

The film is divided into two parts, each presented on a separate DVD. Part One, “Sowing the Seed,” documents the early days of living in the slum. Part Two, “The Harvest,” features life in our new, larger home. Part One runs 49 minutes. Part Two runs 93 minutes.

You can help support our outreach in Haiti by purchasing the film today, for a donation of $30. We will soon be revising the PetB website so you can order and pay for the film on-line. However, if you simply send me an e-mail, I will put a DVD in the mail before I return to Haiti on July 19th. You can then send a check at your convenience. Because of the rapid and dramatic growth we are in urgent need of funding to keep Santa Chiara afloat…so please, order a film today if possible. I am sure the film will touch your heart and inspire you to be more fully united with the poor.

Peace and blessings,

Gerry

PS: Just over 100 of Santa Chiara’s supporters receive near daily updates from Haiti in which I share compelling stories about our kids. If you wish to be added to the list of recipients of these journals just let me know.

Who Is Not My Neighbor?

The Gospel reading for Sunday, July 10, 2016 featured the Parable of the Good Samaritan. For me, that parable and the Parable of the Prodigal Son are the two primary parables in the Gospels. Over the years, I’ve written a lot about the Parable of the Prodigal Son in my books, but have been virtually mute on the Parable of the Good Samaritan. After hearing the Gospel proclaimed, the story of the Good Samaritan weighed heavily on my mind for the rest of the day…and I knew it had more to say to me.

The story begins with a religious leader, either a lawyer or a scholar, testing Jesus with this question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asks him what the law says. The man gave a pretty straight-forward answer about loving God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving “your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus told him he had answered correctly. But the man pressed Jesus by asking, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus replies with story of the Good Samaritan. A man is beaten, stripped, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. Two religious people, a priest and a Levite, happen to come across the victim struggling for life. To avoid the wounded man, both the priest and the Levite, cross the street and continue on their way. Then along comes a Samaritan. The people hearing Jesus tell this parable understood that Samaritans were despised people, outcasts shunned by society. The Jews hated Samaritans. Instead of crossing the street, the Samaritan approaches the wounded man, bends down, and anoints and bandages his wounds. He then lifts the man up and hoists him onto his donkey and transports him to the nearest inn, where he continued to treat the man. The next day, he gave the innkeeper some money and told him to give the man whatever he needed, and if he spends more than he was given, the Samaritan said he would pay him back on his return trip. Jesus then asks the guy testing him with the questions, “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of a robber?” The guy gave the only answer he could, “The one who showed mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

This parable emerges from the contemplative heart of Jesus. It calls us to “put on the mind of Christ” and to give ourselves away in compassionate love. Easier said than done. The radical message of Jesus essentially says that true freedom and real joy comes from self-emptying love and loving the other. Of course, this is a difficult task. Jesus was crucified for extending mercy and compassion far beyond the accepted limits of his society. It is an enormous risk to love people living on the peripheries of society…the homeless, the migrant, the refugee, the chronically poor living in massive slums surrounded by garbage, rotting waste, and perpetual violence. Jesus, of course, did not avoid the risk…and he paid the price for following his heart with his life. The Parable of the Good Samaritan challenges us to live the gospel with radical compassion. The parable makes the primacy of the other abundantly clear. It is all about putting others first.

Our neighbor is not simply the person living next door to us. Nor is our neighbor the people we work with or happen to bump into as we go about our day. Our neighbor is not simply the people living in our town, city, state, or country. In the parable, Jesus is saying that our neighbor is the person we not only don’t avoid but also seek out in order to help them. The priest and the Levite are not diverted from their journey. When the see the wounded man, they simple circumnavigate around him and continue on their way without pausing. Jesus is saying that the Samaritan, by changing his own plans and stopping to help the wounded man, actually became a neighbor even though the wounded man was far outside the Samaritan’s orbit of friends. The Good Samaritan, out of a spirit of pity and compassion, changed the course of his day. He took an unexpected action…he drew near the wounded man and helped him recover. He shared in the suffering of “the other.”

In my life, I have often crossed to the other side of the street to avoid someone in pain. Jesus is telling us that we need to be open to changing our plans when we are presented with the possibility of tending to the needs of a wounded neighbor. Jesus wants us to move toward a person whom others ignore. By tending to the wounds of another, we are tending to the wounds of Christ. The Parable of the Good Samaritan calls us to leave our comfort zone and move toward our wounded neighbors. On March 27, 2013, Pope Francis said: “Following Jesus means learning to come out of ourselves…to go to the outskirts of existence, ourselves taking the first step towards our brothers and sisters, especially those farthest away, those who are forgotten, those most in need of understanding, consolation, help….” The Pope went on to say:

“God thinks like the Samaritan who does not pass near the victim, feeling sorry for him, or looking the other way, but coming to his aid without asking anything in return; without asking whether he is a Jew, or a pagan, or a Samaritan, if he is rich, if he is poor: he doesn’t ask anything. He comes to his aid: this is God…who moves toward us, without calculating, without measure. God is like this; God always takes the first step….”

Jesus is always ready to bend down and help us. He wants to enter our lives, wash our feet, and give us hope. He rushes into wounded hearts. He is not afraid to be wounded by love. God is the Good Samaritan wanting to pour oil and wine on our wounds, wanting to bandage us and make us whole again.

Maybe the real question is not “Who is my neighbor?” but, “Who is not my neighbor?” Jesus would answer that more poignant question with two words: no one.

Blog Silence

It has been a few weeks since I’ve posted a blog. For many years I’ve posted a reflection every three days. More than that, I felt, would be too intrusive on your time, as well as too much work for me. As many of you probably know, in May of 2015, my wife and I traveled to Haiti with the idea looking for a way to serve unschooled streets kids in Port-au-Prince. My wife, who is an artist, was born in Haiti. We met in the aftermath of the earthquake in 2010, which left her homeless. I was in Haiti filming. It took a year to get her out of Haiti. While she loved her new life in California, her heart burned for the children locked in a prison of severe poverty, enduring hunger and abuse. We made seven trips to Haiti in 2015, living in a slum. Before we knew it, our little place was being overwhelmed with kids in dire need. In December of 2015 we moved into a walled compound containing a small building that serves a school. We also have a small two-room apartment where we live while in room. Our center is called the Santa Chiara Children’s Center. We care for about 50 kids a day, offering them three meals a day, a basic education, art & craft classes…and lots of love. Most of the kids live in the surrounding slums where they have no running water. We also have a dozen kids who actually live at the Center. I spend 50% of my time in Haiti, and my wife is in Haiti 80% of the time. We spend a lot of time flying back and forth. During these last three weeks that I’ve been home I’ve consumed with finishing a new film on our Center. Plus doing lots of begging to keep out Haitian outreach afloat. There simply are not enough hours in day…and so I’ve let the blog slide. I will be in Haiti until the end of June. When I return I hope to resume the blog…but for now the blog will be on a short hiatus. I send about 85 people daily journal updates while I’m in Haiti. I send them as a PDF file via e-mail. They contain stories of the kids, our struggles living there, and some photos. If you wish to be added to the distribution list please let me know by e-mailing at Straubgt@aol.com

SCCF film cover front only

Trinity Sunday

A Quantum Leap of Faith

In a surprising twist, science, especially quantum physics, is expanding faith in the Trinity as it shows us that relationships are all there is in the universe. I confess to having a hard time understanding the quantum theory in physics. But the quantum principle of a complementarity that tolerates ambiguity, approximation, probability, and paradox greatly appeals to me. Inflexible certitudes turn me off and worries me.

The Divine Flow of Life

Any religion that has been reduced to mere performance of certain rituals, affirming certain “truths,” adhering to certain moral principles, and being part of a special group is useless. Religion is about participation not merely following. Authentic religion helps the believer to fully enter into to the divine flow of life, which for Christians means actively participating in the mystery of the Trinity. Christianity is more than going to church on Sunday and trying to be good the rest of the week. Christ calls us to something much deeper.

A Loving Embrace

If you have the Trinity figured out, you have accomplished the impossible. The Triune God is a dynamic…a dynamic love relationship, changing, growing deepening. The Trinity doesn’t simply live in unchanging truths; the Trinity lives in a loving embrace of creation.

Three Thoughts on the Trinity

Heaven is not a place; it is a state of being…state of being fully in tune with the Trinity.

The delight of the Trinity is to pour itself out into Oneness.

Prayer is the Trinity praying in us.

Walking Among the Poor

I once walked among the stars of Hollywood. I now walk among the poor of the world. As I traveled down poverty road I saw firsthand how on the margins of society, hidden far from our sight, countless people live in agony and die in despair. In these countless prisons of chronic poverty, endless misery is an everyday reality. Since 1999, I’ve seen unimaginable suffering and witnessed kids with bloated bellies dying from hunger and treatable diseases. Before I began this journey with the poor, I had lived a life of relative comfort, security, and success. I didn’t even know any poor people.

Images from my time in Haiti immediately after the deadly earthquake in January 2010 still haunt me…the decaying foot of a little boy sticking out of the rubble of a collapsed grammar school, the charred skeletal remains of a man who was trapped in the entrance of a collapsed hotel which caught fire, a woman having the open, bleeding wounds of her amputated leg being treated by a team of Korean doctors, corpses that were lined up behind the hospital that had been eaten away by wild dogs. It was a non-stop nightmare.

As I traveled down poverty road, I was shocked by the unimaginable levels of overwhelming poverty endured by most of the people throughout the world. I had no idea that about eleven million kids under the age of five die every year from hunger and preventable diseases. A single child dying of hunger – hunger for food and hunger for love – is a tragedy; millions of innocent children dying from hunger is a sin of monstrous proportions, an unfathomable and unspeakable disaster. These children are crying out to us; sadly, we choose not to hear them, not to feed them, not to love them.

Due to unjust structures, a quarter of humanity lives on the edge, struggling to survive. Already excluded from the benefits of economic and technological development, the poor are victims of resource wars, climate change, and failing states. More than 15 million of them are refugees, and over 25 million have been internally displaced in their own countries. To make my film We Anoint Their Wounds, featuring the heroic work of Jesuit Refugee Service, I filmed in the massive Kibera slum in Nairobi, the largest and worst slum in all of Africa, as well as in the main garbage dump in the city, where hundreds upon hundreds of people, including numerous woman and children, shift through the rotting waste looking for anything they can recycle for a few pennies. I also filmed in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, which is surrounded by endless miles of harsh desert and is occupied by 100,000 refugees squeezed together under the blazing African sun. Having seen the horror of these places, I can’t forget them…nor can I forget the faces of the vulnerable people I saw and photographed.

God took on human form as a vulnerable baby, the child of homeless refugees, needing human help in the ongoing work of creation. We are called to be God’s messengers, delivering food and hope to those living with hunger and death on what Pope Francis calls the “existential peripheries” of our time. But beyond dispensing physical and spiritual food we are also called to empower the poor with the practical means to become fully participating members of society.

Justice requires that people have a place to sleep, enough food to eat, and work that makes them feel worthwhile. It is not enough to be for the poor, to stand with them. We must also be against their poverty, a poverty created by injustice and selfishness. After years of deadly civil war, the fleeing Syrian refugees are flooding into Europe where resistance to them is rising. In America, talk of banning Muslim refugees is becoming louder and more insistent. The refugee’s life is a life of prolonged struggles…a struggle for survival, a struggle for dignity, a struggle for liberty, a struggle for equality. The Gospel compels us to share in their struggles, to share in their liberation. This has been my sole message for the last dozen years…and few want to hear it.

Perhaps the time is drawing nigh for me to stop walking among the poor and to begin living among the poor in Haiti.

Woven into the Mundane

Spirituality is not other-worldly;
it is found in our relationships,
work, attitudes, illness and dreams.
Simply put, spirituality is rooted in
ordinary emotional, physical and mental life.
The difficulty lies in achieving
the concentrated attention needed
to observe what is going on,
moment by moment,
in ourselves and around us,
to uncover that spiritual dimension.

Spiritual growth hinges on our ability to see
the divine woven into mundane human reality…
a feat which will take a lifetime.

God humbly came to the earth He created.

The Cross is a symbol
of God’s humility,
poverty and love.

God’s love lacks nothing
and nothing is held back.

Goodness and Being

It is God’s nature not to be self-contained.
God wants to share.
God is relational by nature.
Goodness and being are wedded in God.

God is not static;
God is dynamic.
God does not stay
within the lines.


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