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Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Autumn 2003

AN AUTUMN REFLECTION FROM BROTHER TOBY

Standing in the big doorway of the barn, waiting for the rain to stop, I think of the final line of Czeslaw Milosz's poem DECEMBER 1. After describing the autumn colors in a vineyard, redwood trees and the sliver of the moon, he wrote "I describe this for I have learned to doubt philosophy And the visible world is all that remains".

This is a season when fear and hope abide together and every story is a love story. I am an older parent and wonder how many more Christmases there will be with my children before death separates us, or even worse, losses of physical or mental capacity put me in that dark area between life and death.

In the grayness of the afternoon I think of young Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the unconventional love no one else quite understood, and I think of other girls. I know a girl, now a woman, who learned to love a boy with AIDS in Thailand. She complained that he was being denied life enhancing medicines and the missionary administrators took revenge on her, and him, by saying she can never see him again. In her dreams he is behind a glass but the love goes on.

I know of a 9 year-old-girl, in South Africa, who helped her mother die. There is also a 9 month-old baby. In desperation the mother asked the girl to care for the baby in her place. The girl gave up school and her dreams. One of our people found them, and now the girl is a loving sister and she dreams again.

I know of a girl, still a girl, in California whose little sister died suddenly and she doesn't know how to live with the sadness within her. She shares with one friend and then another and from her sadness comes a true circle of compassion.

I know of an African girl, only recently allowed to be a child. Her parents died from AIDS. An uncle regularly put her in a tub of water and held her head under water if she resisted his sexual abuse. She is now in one of our houses. It took her foster mother a long time to help her speak. Now she is the happy heart of that home.

Many of you know of our strange Christmas Eve Tea. Years ago our little Tina was in the hospital and not expected to live. She had a pretty little tea set someone had brought along. And, without any explanation, there was a bottle of Grand Marnier. On this darkest of Christmas nights, beside her bed, we poured the liqueur into the tea cups and toasted our family and the God who was dwelling among us. Now we do this every Christmas. In that tea cup are the faces of all whose love stories I know and also those I will never know.

Even though it is raining there is a warm serenity. The grey cat is sleeping on the straw beside me. The browns and reds of the trees pierce the gloom. There is a lovely rhythm to the raindrops on the metal roof. I would not have been aware of the stories or the things around me if the rain had not forced me to linger in the barn door.

WHEN CONVERSION AND CHILD-CARE DON'T MIX

Last summer three young women asked Brother Toby for help. They had volunteered in an orphanage for HIV/AIDS children in Southeast Asia, founded by radical fundamentalist missionaries. The missionaries are very successful in raising funds for buildings, but the young women, two of whom were nurses, found some of the standards for child-care wanting. Things came to a head when anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) supplied by the government and prescribed by physicians were not administered to the children.

  ARVs can make a difference between a painful death and a managed long-term condition similar to diabetes. The issue was not abstract to the women. There were specific children with whom each had a significant relationship. Their pleas to the missionaries were stonewalled. One child died. The story about this situation began to reach the ears of AIDS and human rights organizations and the pressure mounted on the missionaries, who took retaliatory action against the women, and banned them from ever again seeing the children they loved.

  Brother Toby gathered some information that had been flowing in here. He set forth 17 statements he had received and asked the missionaries to confirm or deny. They did not respond. If the allegations are correct there is certainly a pattern of withholding medication and a disturbing history of exorcism and faith-healing. From their own writings the missionaries have a strategic agenda of converting people from Buddhism to fundamentalist Christianity. They went so far as to say God had given them the children as a "key" to converting the Buddhists.

  After a very bitter struggle the children are now at last close to being given the ARVs. Faith groups have made wonderful contributions to those living with AIDS in this dreadful pandemic. But as Brother Toby recently wrote in a newspaper column: "It is essential that missionaries of any religious persuasion never use the needs of children, or anyone else, to promote their religious agenda. I would also personally be much more comfortable with those missionaries who did not believe they were bringing God to a foreign land but rather discovering how God has already broken through in that culture."

FROM THE FAMILY JOURNAL . . .

Between international issues and the kids’ homework, Brother Toby has a hard time finding space in his life for writing. But somehow he is managing. A new book is in the works, which will deal with leading a contemplative life within the context of a regular family.

Recently Sister Marti has made all the wreath season preparations. Her business expertise has gotten us real bargains in housing in South Africa. She keeps Starcross afloat financially and is a very full-time mother of teenagers.

Julie says her heart is in Africa - she keeps track of all the kids by name - but the rest of her is on the farm. She runs around fixing pipes, sowing seeds and doing whatever is needed to care for the homestead and crops and help raise the kids.

All of our children have grants and scholarships for special activities. David is a senior at the Yehudi Menuhin School near London. He then plans to study violin at a conservatory in the US. This past year he has given concerts with his school groups in the UK, Switzerland, Thailand and Tunisia. After an exciting summer at a peace camp in Egypt, Holly began 8th grade. She plays viola in a fine chamber group, studies photography and has an active social life with friends. Andrew loved his summer adventures in Denmark. Now he is doing well in 6th grade and playing soccer on a first-rate team which won their league’s championship.

 THE STRINGS PROJECT

  Each year our kids at Starcross choose a way to share with others at Christmas time. They give up part of their presents for this, and are really excited about this year's project.

  They had heard that music students in Cuba are not able to get strings for their instruments. They used to import them from the Soviet Union. Since that has dissolved and with the U.S. embargo on imports, they simply cannot get strings. Strings wear out and break. Especially the thin E violin string cannot last long in high humidity. Teachers have resorted to putting old telephone wire on their violins, and children cut their fingers when they try to practice.

  The musicians in our family feel this very keenly. David, in particular, is pained at the idea of young people not able to play the music in their hearts.

  We are in contact with Armando and Yuly Gomez Pino, teachers at the National School of Music in Havana which has 400 students. We have found a string manufacturer able to help, and a way to get them to Cuba. We hope there will soon be more beautiful music in the air again.

  We will expand the project after the holidays in partnership with some American orchestras and music schools.

UPDATE: AFRICAN AIDS ORPHANS

So much is happening with our two projects in Africa that it is hard to keep it all straight!

IN SOUTH AFRICA:

Our 4th and 5th houses are up and running. Negotiations are underway for purchasing house #6. When that is complete, 48 parentless children will be cared for and secure. Our houses are in a gated housing complex near Durban. Each modest home can accommodate 8 children and a permanent resident caretaker. The children are becoming healthy and strong. Adequate nutrition, a clean home and most importantly, a loving foster mother have done wonders. The joys of a normal childhood are once again within reach. The school year is nearly over. The children are happy and learning well. They are especially eager to demonstrate their progress in English, which is coming along a lot better than our Zulu.

Our amazing director, Mirriam Cele, has been commended by the National Social Ministry for her tireless work with orphaned children. The program could not be in better hands. As the project grows, it will soon be necessary to establish an office/headquarters of some sort. At present, Mirriam keeps the extensive records and fax machine in her bedroom!

IN UGANDA:

Our first high school graduate has begun studies at Kampala University. The majority of our 100 children are in high school now. Everyone is thinking about the future and what job, training, or higher education they will pursue.

Plans are being laid for an economic venture in Uganda. The purpose would be to provide training and employment for some of the young people as they become self-sufficient. Creative ideas are flying back and forth.

We support the African consensus on AIDS prevention: ABCD Abstinence. If not, then Be faithful. If not, then Condom. If not, then Death.

Our sponsors can be thanked for saving these 100 fine young people who will help rebuild Uganda.

SISTER JULIE: THOUGHTS IN A YOUNG OLIVE GROVE

Someone rightly described olives as a feast for the senses. Likewise olive trees. What could be more pleasant than sitting on the hillside among the young trees, watching the leafy branches, their silvery underskirts swaying in the wind? We often relax there for a few moments before Vespers. We listen to the birds sing as the dogs and cat enjoy their evening chase through the grove.

The 1200 trees in our first field, named after Francis of Assisi, are still babies by olive standards. Many olive trees in Europe and the Middle East have been producing longer than our country has been in existence. They are still going strong. As the Psalm says, "still full of sap, still green." We like to think of the Francis field continuing for generations. Ancient, gnarled trees acquire a distinctive beauty and character all their own.

Our seedlings planted in 2001 stand 5-6' tall. The branches are soft and graceful. While working in the field recently I was delighted to discover our first crop. One precocious Leccino tree brought forth 10 little olives. A humble beginning. The olive trees seem happy at Starcross. We=ve prepared another field for planting next spring, which will contain 600 Tuscan varietals. In a few years, the harvest will yield enough fruit to press into olive oil.

In the peaceful olive field there is rest, and beauty, and renewal.

 
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