Wednesday, 23 January 2019

An I-Love-To-Read Activity Inspired by a Reader

I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner... Oh well, my book Hutterite Diaries is still here and schools are still purchasing it. And those who've had it from the beginning, I rust, still enjoy it. What inspired this is: A colony school in the United States who were just introduced to my book are planning to encourage their students to write to me.

With I-Love-To-Read Month coming up, I thought I would share this idea with other schools, for a number of reasons: First, it's always nice to have a variety of ideas to get students to write, and writing to an author can be a fun activity. Furthermore, nowadays, as we all know, not too many letters are handwritten anymore, so I also want to encourage that lost art. (That said, I have nothing against email, so I'll respond to those letters as well.) Second, it's always interesting to hear which stories children connect with or which ones are their favourite. Finally, I always love to hear what readers have to say about my stories, especially children.

On that note, just before Christmas I read one of the stories to our Grades 3-5 students. The story I read was Sisterly Love-Laced with Revenge. It's a childhood Christmas memory where my sister and I played a trick on our little brother, James. As it worked out, one of the students I read the story to, was James' eight year old son, Jakobi, who didn't appreciate that we tricked his dad all those years ago. So he planned his own revenge on me. Days before Christmas he told me repeatedly, that he has a gift for me under the tree and "I just want to see your face when you open it." (A line he got from the story.) He ended with, "You had no business playing a trick on my dad."

Christmas Eve, is when my family usually does a gift exchange. Jakobi announced that I had to open his gift first. And he wanted someone to take a picture. His 'revenge gift' was in an old green gift bag, stapled together at the top. It wasn't one of those pretty Christmas gift bags, but one that came from some store years ago, but it did have a handle. I opened it, peered in and laughed. I’m not sure that this was the face Jakobi was looking for. The items in the bag were clearly not from his home, and certainly never belonged to him. There was a cute little doll and two used lip chaps, all of it 'borrowed' from my sister, Sonia, without consulting her first. I guess he didn't have an attic where he could go to in search of the perfect prank present, like I did.

Still, I found it sweet and amusing that he decided to practice some payback, on behalf of his dad. It certainly never crossed my mind as I was writing the story, that my nephew will one day feel compelled to teach me a lesson.

As mentioned before, I thought writing a letter would be a fun I-Love-To-Read activity for next month. I’ve had classes write letters to authors in the past, and it caused a lot of excitement when the authors wrote back.

Should you wish to do this with your students, individually or as a class, as I promised the school in the United States, I will respond back with a handwritten letter on nice stationery.

Wishing you a fun-filled I-Love-To Read month!

Linda Maendel

Saturday, 5 January 2019

Starting the New Year with Oswald Chambers and Antoine de Saint-Exupery

 New Year Blessings!

I received two daily devotional books as Christmas gifts; one in German, one in English. Der Herr ist Nahe (The Lord is Near), has become somewhat of a tradition, where friends from Germany send me a new copy each year. (Thanks, Lutz and Ante!) Each day/page starts with a Bible verse, which is explained, or sometimes also highlighted with a short story, in the text that follows it. I also appreciate the clear and comfortable print. (I must be getting old - first thing I notice when I open a book these days, whether the print is tiny or just right. It's not that I can't read the small print at all, I can. But I certainly appreciate when my eyes don't get strained after the third page.) 

The other book is a well-known daily devotional by Oswald Chambers - My Utmost for His Highest. (Thanks, Kathy!) I tried one of those books a few years ago and found the language difficult to follow. I find this 'Updated Edition in Today's Language' a lot better. (I accept the fact that the print in this one is not 'just right'.) I'm grateful that I have two devotionals to start my days of right this year! And for the friends that gifted them!! 

Some time ago another German friend introduced me to the German version of a beautiful prayer by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince. I prefer the German version and have read it numerous times and always find it's simple message inspiring and quite fitting for the start of a new year. As part of my New Year's wish to you, I'll share the English one here so more people can read and understand it.  


The Art of Small Steps, a Prayer

Lord, I’m not praying for miracles and visions, 
I’m only asking for strength for my days. 
Teach me the art of small steps.
Make me clever and resourceful, so that I can find important 
discoveries and experiences among the diversity of days.
Help me use my time better. 
Present me with the sense to be able to judge 
whether something is important or not.
I pray for the power of discipline and moderation, 
not only to run throughout my life, 
but also to live my days reasonably, 
and observe unexpected pleasures and heights.
Save me from the naive belief that everything in life has to go smoothly. 
 Give me the sober recognition that difficulties, 
failures, fiascos, and setbacks are given to us by life itself 
to make us grow and mature.
Send me the right person at the right moment, 
who will have enough courage and love to utter the truth!
I know that many problems solve themselves, 
so please teach me patience.
You know how much we need friendship. 
Make me worthy of this nicest, hardest, riskiest, 
and most fragile gift of life.
Give me enough imagination to be able to share with someone 
a little bit of warmth, 
in the right place, at the right time, 
with words or with silence.
Spare me the fear of missing out on life.
Do not give me the things I desire, but the things I need.
Teach me the art of small steps!

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Wisdom from the Homeless - Neil Craton, M.D.

Lessons a Doctor Learned at a Homeless Shelter

About the Book:

Sometimes the world seems like a very dark place. In this angry world, I have seen a glimpse of light. I have seen kindness, love and hope at a homeless shelter. Siloam Mission is named after a pool where, in Biblical times, Jesus healed a blind man. In this tradition, the Mission has a medical clinic, and I have had the privilege of working there. The homeless men and women I have met at Siloam have taught me profound lessons about perseverance through suffering, expressing joy in dire circumstances, and the rewards of service to those in need. I want to share those lessons with you....


My Thoughts: 

Every once in a while a book comes along, that will stay with you, long after the last page has been read. Wisdom from the Homeless, is that kind of book for me. No doubt, the poignant stories and striking photos gracing these pages will linger for a long time, perhaps even hauntingly. As well they should. We have so much that we can share with the less fortunate!

Another aspect that will linger is the passion and kindness of the people serving the patrons of Siloam Mission, especially those in the medical field. It can't be easy seeing so much pain, disease, addictions... knowing those patients are homeless. I can't imagine nursing my little aches and discomforts, without a clean bed in a warm home to rest in. By contrast, there are people dealing with serious health issues and are living on the street. 

After treating a man with a dangerous bacteria on a badly broken and infected wrist, which 'had been unattended for days', Dr. Craton emphasized it beautifully:  

"This man needed mercy not judgment. I tried to imagine that I held the hand of Jesus, and for me that transformed the moment into something transcendent. I was no longer fighting through the smell of glue and infection or trying to figure out how this man got here; I was meeting God." 

 I had to put the book down for a few minutes - it's difficult to read through tears. 

 I've volunteered at Siloam Mission and know that it's a life-changing experience. That's one of the reasons this book caught my attention. The other is, when the temperature dips to -25C and I'm snug and warm in my bed, I wonder how many are curled up in a cardboard box on the street. That alone has compelled me to reach out. I realize, what I do as a volunteer is minuscule in comparison to Dr. Craton's contribution. However, if we all do something, significant changes will ensue. "Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make the mighty ocean and the pleasant sand. - Julia A. F. Carney.

Woven into each story are Dr. Craton's candid accounts of self-reflections and lessons learned from the homeless. They're thought-provoking and beautiful and help make this such a powerful and heart-warming read: 

"I try to view the act of washing a homeless person’s feet in the context of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. For me, this changes the experience from something clinical, to something sacred."

"Pop (and my daughter) taught me a lesson I need to learn over and over again: that pride and fear can live side by side in my spirit, and both corrupt my expression of who I really am. Pride causes me to love myself more than others, and fear makes my neighbors enemies. Wisdom from the homeless."
If you've ever seen a homeless person, regardless if you've felt sympathy or less than empathetic, and have wondered what brought him/her to this point, you should read this book. It will cause you to pause, self-reflect, give you insights which you may not have otherwise and inspire you to help in some way.

My sincere thanks to Dr. Neil Craton for penning this powerful portrayal of homelessness and for sending me a complimentary e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Never-Fading Fingerprints

Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch.
                                                                       -Judy Blume

“You’re more than welcome to come and tour our facility!” concluded Candice, the Rural Liaison for Siloam Mission at the time. “We’ll gladly show you what we’re doing with the support of people like you.”   

For many years, Elm River Hutterite Colony – my community – has supported this homeless shelter in Winnipeg, but that day, I became involved on a personal level. Candice was visiting our colony to share about the work of Siloam Mission and offered to present to the children as well. I work in our school as a teacher, so I helped supervise during her presentation and expressed to our principal my enthusiasm for the proffered tour.

Accepting the invitation on behalf of the school, my younger sister, the principal arranged for the tour of and scheduled it as part of our annual field trip.

Founded in 1987, by Suk Woon Lee, a former penitentiary inmate, Siloam Mission is a faith-based, faith-operated organization. Their mission statement reads: A connecting point between the compassionate and Winnipeg’s less fortunate, Siloam Mission is a Christian humanitarian organization that alleviates hardships and provides opportunities for change for those affected by homelessness.

Together with board members and volunteers, Mr. Woon Lee established this inner-city ministry providing meals and counseling services. They believe that addressing homelessness is about meeting not only physical needs but also psychological and spiritual ones. By means of a spiritual care program, they provide an inclusive space for healing and growth for people of any faith or spiritual background, where they conduct two weekly Bible Study Sharing Circles for interested guests. 

Siloam Mission has expanded considerably over the years: Hannah’s Place, an emergency shelter on the second floor, opened its doors to 110 homeless men and women, providing a safe place for the night. An onsite Health Centre has been added as well, along with a Resource Centre dedicated to providing art therapy and computer training.   

During our tour, we learned that the late Dr. Saul Sair donated state-of-the-art equipment for a full dental lab, and a variety of dentists, hygienists and practicum students gladly volunteer their time.   In 2011 –  with the support of all three levels of government – The Madison was bought, then renovated and turned into supportive housing. Transition Services help guests move forward in their lives through goal setting, weekly meetings, supports and accountability. 

Today Siloam Mission has seventy employees and over the course of a year, five thousand volunteers offer their time and energy, serving in a variety of ways. Three times daily, four hundred and fifty meals are served.  The vast majority of the Mission’s funding comes from private donations, from individual people, businesses and Hutterite colonies. The remainder comes from the grants of foundations and charities, as well as all three levels of government.

On the day of our tour, Candice was joined by John, a Siloam Mission teacher, in showing us around.  I didn't know what to expect, but I was impressed by what we saw: classroom, kitchen, dining hall, fitness room, clinic, sleeping area, stocked storage rooms.... everything was clean, neat and ready for the patrons.

Most surprising and mesmerizing of everything we saw that day was the art room. Bright and spacious, it provided a place for patrons to practice their artistic skills and creative expression. Not only stocked with everything necessary for painting, it was graced with gorgeous completed paintings, as well as works-in-progress:  on tables, walls, easels, standing in the windows and even on the floor – all by Siloam Mission patrons – people who call this place home. It was deeply touching to learn that they were given this opportunity and taking advantage of it. 

“Some even sell their work as framed pictures or cards,” we were informed. It was easy to imagine how much this might mean to someone living on the street. Walking out of there, I knew I wanted one of those pretty paintings for my wall. A few weeks later I bought a lovely winter scene, which is now displayed in our home – a constant reminder of my visit to Siloam Mission and the importance of faithfully supporting places like it.  

Later that summer, when the kitchen at Siloam Mission was being renovated, we prepared and served one of the evening meals to hundreds of patrons: vegetable soup, ham sandwiches, salad and chocolate chip cookies. The kitchen was managed by an efficient, well-organized team and I thoroughly enjoyed working with them. Serving food to hundreds of people that day, I was reminded of these words from the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope”, Jeremiah 29:11.

My heart went out to these men and women whose smiles radiated gratitude as they took their plate and sat down. I know supplying basic needs is but the first step towards “a future and a hope”.  However, learning through our tour about changed lives and volunteering at the mission, I came away grateful that places like Siloam Mission exist, and that we have opportunities to serve in soup kitchens and homeless shelters. We have so much more than we need, that it was a poignant reminder of how much we take for granted. 

It’s one thing to have my Hutterite community offering financial support to places like Siloam Mission, but there’s nothing like personal involvement to enhance the meaning of our Lord’s teaching, And the King will say, “I tell you the truth: when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me,” Matthew 25:40.

In the past, Hutterites may not have seen themselves as obligated to contribute directly to places like urban homeless shelters or even soup kitchens, but after a century of life in Canada, it is becoming more of a reality and they are doing it with increasing frequency. At Siloam Mission, Hutterites lend a hand on numerous levels, in addition to financial donations:  preparing and serving meals, sorting clothing, sewing quilts, donating vegetables and other food items, and helping with renovation projects. 

There are probably several reasons for the shift in thinking which has inspired Hutterites to become more actively involved in altruistic outreach, including leaders who encourage it. It’s also the willingness of grass roots Hutterites to serve in that capacity, as well as seeing the value of sharing from their bounty and doing good beyond their own communities in response to the call, But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? 1 John 3:17.

 As a result of this involvement, Elm River received two tickets to Siloam Mission’s fundraising gala “Home for the Holidays” held at Winnipeg’s huge Convention Centre a few years ago. The invitation featured a quotation by American writer, Judy Blume Our fingerprints don’t fade from the lives we touch. What a simple, yet meaningful and memorable motto for people who support and work for places like Siloam Mission! Our colony responded to the invitation by buying additional tickets, so eight more people were able to attend. 

The Convention Centre banquet hall was spectacular – festive, elegant, sparkly. Upon arrival I stood for a few minutes to appreciate the splendor of the decked-out hall. Candle-lit tables were flawlessly set for a full-course meal. Each plate held a set of cards featuring art work by Siloam Mission patrons. The evening started out with a mocktail reception and delicious hors d’oeuvres, while a variety of groups, including the Silver Winds Colony choir entertained the guests. 

Then came the four-course dinner – the type where you are compelled to figure out which fork to pick up first. We started with button-mushroom, wild rice soup – hot and deliciously smooth. The second course included romaine lettuce salad with tomato and buffalo mozzarella, garnished with Crostini, eggplant chips and almonds, drizzled with fire-roasted red pepper vinaigrette. The entrĂ©e consisted of chicken roulade, bruschetta with pancetta, feta cheese and tomato sauce. For the final course we were served chai cheese cake topped with rich, creamy chocolate sauce. 

After the meal, we were treated to stories by people who experienced homelessness – heartbreaking accounts of individuals fleeing abusive relationships, struggling with addictions, or are dealing with mental illnesses. Through Siloam Mission they find food, shelter, hope and a renewed purpose to life. Many come away wishing to give back by helping others change their lives around. In this year’s annual report, one of the patrons stated it beautifully: “It’s only by God’s grace that I ended up at the doors of Siloam Mission. Now all I want to do is give back to the community that embraced me with open arms.”

 It was heart-warming and gratifying to learn about the Mission’s history, the goals and milestones that have been realized and the continuing dreams of management and staff, dreams that all of us can help make a reality. It served as a reminder of the constant needs at soup kitchens and shelters that can’t function without the support of caring contributors. 

Sadly, sleeping in a cardboard box and going hungry are the daily norms of so many around the world. I cannot imagine spending the night in a cardboard box during our harsh winters. Each winter, it seems, we hear of at least one homeless person freezing to death. Every year, too many women, men and children face the holiday season struggling with unemployment, poverty, homelessness and mental health issues. 

Together with Siloam Mission, we are blessed and honoured to leave never-fading fingerprints, spreading hope and love and joy, ensuring that these people can experience some measure of “Home for the Holidays”.