Starcross CommunityStarcross Community
    A lay monastic family,  questing for  the sacred,  and advocating for children.  

Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Summer 1999

WORKING ON THE WEBSITE is our website address. It is not a site to promote Starcross, but a place to allow our friends to rest a while.

It has been an adventure developing it, and we are still far from finished. Brother Toby set out to write “A Short History of Starcross”, and 21 pages later changed the name!

In setting out the different aspects of our life and history we found ourselves harvesting diverse streams that have run through our community and better comprehending the whole that is emerging from our many parts.

Our desire in creating the website has been to share with our friends who and what we really are. To do that, we found there were a number of separate areas. First, the Gatehouse where we take care of a number of practical issues: Copies of our newsletters; descriptions of retreats and programs; a gift shop with items for sale (mostly books by Brother Toby, Christmas wreaths and dried fruit); and a bulletin board with the most recent updates on news from Starcross. We also have a little photo tour of the community.

The Chapel is a place where we share things that are important to us in our spiritual life: reflections; scripture readings; saints we especially like; a discussion of living with serious illness; prayer; a place to enter people who have died into our memorial book; and a lot of information on writing haiku poetry.

We have recorded our history with Children, who have always been an important part of our life, and we have written little updates on the children here. Our International Children’s Activities are chronicled, too.

The section on Community has the chronicle of our history, a description of our daily life, bios on the three founders, information on monastic life and Cistercian spirituality, and something about those Associates who have connected with us.

Each section has a drawing by Hannah Zender (like the one at the top of this story) and photographs.

We see the website as an ongoing, never-ending project which helps us reach out to our friends and clarify our mission in life. Already, we have a better sense of our future from this unfolding process. Please come for a visit!


By Sister Julie


One late afternoon in Uganda, young Jussy, came shyly into the room cradling a baby doll in a blanket. She solemnly unwrapped the doll and held it out for me. She had made it herself of corn husks and banana leaf fibers. In the yard some of the other children were lobbing a tennis ball back and forth. An older boy sat on a bench sketching. Several kids were giggling as they peeled potatoes and gave the scraps to chickens. It was a typical after school scene at our HOUSE OF HOPE in Gganda.

I couldn’t help thinking back to a year and a half ago when I first met these kids. Jussy had had no clothes herself. Her food that day had been a small corn cob. They had showed me where her parents and many other AIDS victims in the village had been buried. Her elderly grandmother shared a mud hut with 10 orphaned grandchildren. She could barely feed them. Decent clothes and school fees were out of the question. Now Jussy is a radiant, joyful second grader with plenty to eat and wear. She is thrilled to be sleeping on a bunkbed.

The kids with the tennis rackets came from different villages. Both are very bright. Roger was orphaned in a remote place deep in the jungle. He soon had mastered the lessons available in the little local school. All his intellect had to be devoted to basic survival. He had no family left to help. Closer to a town, Senyondo was lucky enough to find a compassionate headmaster who waived the school fees and allowed him to sleep on his pile of rags in a corner of the teacher’s quarters. Each evening he wandered the village and most often found someone able to spare a little food. Now, outside my window they are 2 very secure kids playing tennis.

The difference in all the children is incredible. They are bigger and stronger, of course, but the most striking change is not physical. It has to do with their sense of security and confidence. They now have a place they belong and people who care. They are part of a loving newly formed family and they have extended family friends abroad who will help them grow up and achieve their potential. All those living at the new Starcross/Kin Initiative “HOUSE OF HOPE” have been rescued from despair.

To briefly recap the story, we were contacted in 1997 by Ben Ssennoga who was trying to help some of the many AIDS orphans in his village feel some connetion with the world. He generously assisted children in especially difficult circumstances as best he could with food, school fees, etc. He called his project Kin Initiative. He wrote to us seeking penpals. Soon a large program had developed and friends of Starcross began taking full responsibility for sponsoring destitute kids.

My first visit to Uganda was in January 1998. We cannot really comprehend the scope of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa. Up to one in four adults is infected. They do not have access to medicines and so the average life span is 42 years. Without testing they do not realize they are infected until they take sick and die, often leaving large families. There are a million children in Uganda who have lost one or both parentsto AIDS. The uncles and aunts are dying, too. Often there are no adult kin remaining. Social services do not exist. These children have no way to pay their modest school fees and are trapped in dire poverty. Fortunately, there are people like Ben Ssennoga and his friends who are willing to reach out and act as kin. We felt privileged to be able to assist in this project.

Many friends of Starcross showed interest. We were able to raise the funds to obtain a two acre parcel of land in Gganda. Ben moves very quickly! He cleared and fenced half of the parcel and has set up quite a compound. The first building of bedrooms, sitting room and office is complete. A second one is under construction but is already in use as a dining room and storage area. At present there are 7 children in full time residence, attending the nearby school. They’ve planted a sizable garden. Simple nutritious meals are cooked in a tin covered outdoor shed. Ben is hoping to construct a kitchen with indoor food storage, and some more bedrooms. He wants to acquire a used manual typewriter, sewing machine and basic woodworking tools to give the kids some skills training. His goal is to provide a home for 20 children as well as emergency housing for a few who may come in from remote villages for medical care. Ben is getting quotes now on how much will be needed to complete the construction. We assume it will be under $15,000. Any contributions will be forwarded directly to him.

Kin Initiative is not able to provide a home for every needy child in Uganda. But, as in our Romanian project, the example of a few people working to create a good life for even a few special children who would have been lost to the world is powerful leaven. The children themselves feel the love and share it and so the circle expands. They are growing up with the awareness that they have been helped and the desire to do the same for others. There is a real possibility that within this amazing group of 52 sponsored children there is a future world leader. Needless to say, there are more children waiting for sponsors. If you are able to literally rescue a child in this way, please contact us for more information. The cost of sponsoring a child is $350-650, renewable yearly.

The trip this year was difficult because Uganda is experiencing some political and civil instability. There is palpable tension in the capital. However, in the village of Gganda there is a little island of tranquility and joy where wonderful things are happening!




We want to share a wonderful letter we received from a very special friend. Brother Toby lifted Ionut Belfiore out of an iron crib in a horrible institution in Romania when he was not quite 3 years old. He’d been abandoned there because of HIV. Our first volunteer foster mother, Susan Belfiore, fell in love with her foster family and ended up adopting Ionut and 3 girls and bringing them to New Jersey. Recently Ionut wrote. . ”Dear Brother Toby, I won this money in an invention project. I want to give the $50 for helping children. Thank you for taking care of me. .”

The $50 prize money has been sent to the HOUSE OF HOPE in Uganda, where we will buy a bicycle, both to help with daily water fetching and for fun. The kids are thrilled and thank Ionut for his love.


On Saturday, July 10, about 40 people gathered at Starcross for a “Day of
Recollection.” The time flowed peacefully between talks, prayers and singing in the
chapel, silent nature walks and quiet conversations.
The experience was as enriching for us as it was for the participants. We learned
how people’s stories and our story intertwine. It is good to pray and hope together.
We look forward to offering one-day retreats like this again.

 A reflection by brother Toby


In the summer months it is easy to understand Emerson's observation that "beauty is God's handwriting - a quasi-sacrament". Picking corn, watering the chapel flowers, sitting in the cloister garden, walking in the first light of day and listening to the sound of waking birds; surely these are sacraments of life.

For spiritual health, beauty is not a luxury but a precondition. Generations of Japanese poets and painters have known the necessity of a place between the inner experience and the outer world. In our youth and in old age we live primarily in this "garden" at important times. For me that is increasingly an actual little garden. Recently I was to have a brief contact with an artist friend who was only days from death. I was not sure how to use that little time. I went into the garden to think about it. A hummingbird zoomed past me and connected with a tiny red flower. It happened several times. I realized this is what I wanted to share with my friend. It was the right thing to do. Since that time I have looked for the answer to many nagging questions in a rose or a violet.

Nature is something which brings us pleasure, but it does more than that it takes us beyond the daily grind and therefore helps us gain perspective, refreshes our spirit, helps us find more meaning in life and gives us a sense of wholeness.

When the children were quite young we started summer evening walks in a little garden or a meadow behind the house. When one of us finds something interesting he or she will, in very few words, point it out. Almost always someone else adds to our experience by sharing how he or she sees the same thing in a slightly different way. It is exciting to go over familiar ground and find something unexpected. We have seen, really seen, a spider web, the first squash blossom unfolding, apple petals dropping on the amazed cat, bees on the rosemary, tall trees going in and out of view in the mist, orange butterflies circling the chapel and many, many ordinary things in an extraordinary way.

We all can broaden our outlook by looking down more. Once there was a student who complained to his rabbi that in recent times people did not speak about "The face of God." He demanded to know why. "Because people do not look down as much as they once did" replied the old teacher.

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