Reflections on Kwame…

25 05 2010

Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit was convicted today to serve up to 5 years in prison (likely only 14 months).  He was convicted because he lied under oath, he was a bad husband, and he stole money from real people in real poverty.  Then he hid money thinking he could trick the court so he wouldn’t have to pay it back.  One thing Kwame missed was that his sin had consequences that hurt real people.  It’s difficult to speculate why, but I wonder if we could actually learn from this life that was so isolated from reality he apologized for “whatever I did.”  He grievously hurt people because he sinned, and he’s the only one who doesn’t know.  Detroit needs men and women of God who see sin as a big deal.


Comfortably Calloused

16 05 2010

Where I grew up in Flint we all knew about the north side, but we never went to the north side.  We had created a self-sustaining world in southern Flint, so that we didn’t need to trek through the hood.  I never knew how far this problem extended.

This berm and moat separates Grosse Pointe Park from Detroit proper. Photo by Paula Priebe

Outsiders to the city have everything they need within their Ann Arbor or their Birmingham or their Grand Rapids.  We don’t need Detroit.  What we need we come in to get (Tigers, Fox Theater, etc.), and we quickly leave.  Detroit to most people is sports, concerts, a restaurant or two, and anxious walks from parking lots to destinations.  What surprises me is that outsiders, myself included, are not wanted in the city.

Detroiters get emotional safety.  To understand why, you have to go back to the 1930s at least.  Waves of southern black workers applied to auto plants and got only the lowest paying, most physically exerting jobs, and could buy only the oldest, most run-down homes in the city.  Separation provided a comfortable callous against the immensity of these problems that even time has not solved.  After World War II, the expressway system allowed the wealthier families to move outside the city limits.  The callous thickened.  Then in the 1967, the most infamous of Detroit’s riots excused the wealthy, mainly white, city folk to further distance themselves from a “dangerous, black city.”  Even from an outsider’s perspective, the physical and economic rejection, the crippling labels, the clear racial divisions: the suburbanites are the dangerous ones for Detroiters.  The separation protects outsiders, it protects insiders, and it destroys each in unique ways.

As outsiders (aka Ann Arborites), our risk is that we grow to love comfort.  Detroit is a city that looks like a disaster zone, with a 50% high school graduation rate and the poorest zip code in America.  Yet, the problem we face in Ann Arbor can be similarly devastating to our souls, namely that our comfortable callous will become normal.  Jesus doesn’t give the gospel, He is the gospel.  Our hope is not in a program, it is ultimately in a relationship.  Missions then must not be only projects or events, it must be rooted in relationship.  The separation that “protects” both Detroit and Ann Arbor residents is at odds with the Gospel of Christ.  Missions in Detroit means physical presence, emotional connection, and spiritual truth.

El Salvador Update

20 11 2009

We are doing something – our church has responded to this need.  Come buy some nachos at church THIS SUNDAY – November 22nd! Your generous donations will go toward helping the La Libertad Church as they assist their members and community during this tough time. 

La Libertad Leadership Team

La Libertad Leadership Team

Here’s an updated report on what is going on in El Salvador since the mudslides and floods have hit.
There were more than 130 deaths specially in the La Libertad Province, that is the city but also the rural areas. Three main bridges are down in need of rebuilding. There are 40 families in shelters, they all lost their homes, the shelter is an elementary school. The community of people along the river are relocated to the shelter.  These families we have visited on our short-term mission trip to La Libertad last May. 

Three families who are members of the La Libertad church lost their homes. The people in the church provided shelter in their homes for them.  Pastor Ivo, of the Great Commission La Libertad Church, at this very moment, has turned the bakery into the food preparation center.  They have been making hot dogs, sandwiches, etc. They are feeding warm food for the 40 families.  For the three families they will rebuild ASAP what they had before.  It will be simple housing, but sufficient.  Perhaps the future mission teams of 2010 will be able to help in this rebuilding process. 

La Libertad Church Building

La Libertad Church Building

San Salvador Church sent a large team of brothers to help out in La Libertad, joining the local brothers and leaders and launching a larger outreach because many families are in their homes, they didn’t move to the shelter to protect the little they were left with, so they went to identify them, bringing water and rice and beans.  They also started a clothes, food, kitchen utensils, etc.. drive.  They are bringing these items to the families affected by the mudslides and flooding.

Please pray for Pastor Ivo and the leaders.  This is a tough time for them.  The community is very thankful for the church for their service to the community.  May their light shine!

We need to do our part to help and let them know that though we are separated by distance, our hearts are close.   Please keep praying and donate!

Mudslide Hits El Salvador Churches

10 11 2009

Sad news from the local church in El Salvador.  At least 130 people have died in mudslides throughout El Salvador due to heavy rains since the weekend.   Many more have lost their homes.  Specifically, our sister churches in both San Salvador and La Libertad were affected.  La Libertad more so, since it is a coastal city.

This was sent to us from our friend, a GCLA missionary in San Salvador.

 “Well, as far as I know, the areas that were more effected were areas near rivers and the coast. La Libertad was affected pretty badly.  There are 3 families in the La Libertad church that have lost almost everything. We are working to help them. The San Salvador church is collecting clothes, food, bottled water, and the bare necessities to help with people in need. A major bridge collapsed in La Libertad too.
As for San Salvador, yes there were areas affected-mainly the people who live in sheet metal houses with dirt floors were most effected. The government is helping to provide for the bare necessities also. I have seen in grocery stores-food drives too-so it is a blessing to see the response of El Salvador as a nation also. Thank you for caring for us here in El Salvador. ”

We do care as a church and want to respond to this need.  Stay posted.

rescuing a boy in La Libertad mudslides

Photo credit: Fidel Martinez

Neighbors recover the body of Manuel Segovia after his home was buried by a mudslide caused by Hurricane Ida in La Libertad, El Salvador.

woman in Verapaz, El Salvador

Edgar Romero / AP

Woman witnesses devastation in Verapaz, El Salvador, one of the places the Hurricane flooding hit hardest, killing 130 people.

homes flooded


Homes are flooded along Costa del Sol beach in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador.

If I Had A Million Dollars

5 11 2009

Hey everybody. Graig Austin here, with an update about life in Kenya and how we’re trying to live out God’s heart for justice here.

I love the song “If I Had A Million Dollars.” I often sing it with my kids, and we’ll each add what we would buy if we had a million dollars. To be honest, my number one is ALWAYS a boat. Something like this, check it out: Nice, ey? My six year old usually starts with some toy that she strongly desires. It’s great fun — you should try it.

I won’t lie to you: as I have gotten older (and hopefully at least a little bit more mature), I haven’t lost my selfish ideas for what I want. But I have seen a few ideas come into the mix that might actually help someone besides me. I have seen some compassion surfacing from deep down inside me, under my other desires for things like a boat.

The idea of trying to help someone begs the question, “How do I really help someone?” As I’ve thought about this question, the answer has seemed easy at first. But as I’ve drawn it out more, things have become more difficult. When I have engaged in trying to make a difference in the world in the past, I have ended up on a somewhat predictable journey:

I see a need.
I feel compassion, guilt, or a combination of the two.
I try to do something to make a difference in the need.
That “something” fails or sort-of works.
I become a bit disheartened that my idea didn’t alleviate the need.
I take some time to find the motivation or energy to try again.
Then the whole process repeats.

I have seen this sequence repeat several times in my life over the past 10 years or so, since I’ve become more aware of the greater world around me.

As I look at my life in the past year or so, I would say that I’ve been in that final stage of the sequence for a while now. I do have an idea, but I’ve been “kicking around” in that stage, trying to find the energy and motivation to engage again. This idea comes from the many failures that have added up over the last few years as I have tried to help friends in Kenya. The idea is simple: to create jobs. I am constantly asked for money while I am in Kenya. To be honest, it gets a bit annoying after a while. (That’s a blog post for a different time.) One of the annoying things about being asked for money is that something inside of me wants to give them money, but the pragmatic side of me can’t allow it since I know it won’t help in the long-run. (Feel free to ask me about the difference between a temporary fix and a long-term solution.)

The question I have asked myself over and over is, “How can I help my Kenyan friends be in a position where they don’t have to ask me for money?” The answer I always come up with, after years of thinking and talking about this, is that they need jobs.

This has led to other questions: “Are there jobs available?” The answer to that is, “No, not really, not ones that could help them get ahead.” That has left me with a final question: “Could I (or someone I know) help create a job that would help them get ahead?”

I have found that there aren’t easy answers to these questions. In the last two years or so, I have talked and dreamt about creating jobs for my friends in Kenya but I’ve never had the chance to try anything. What has happened, though, is that compassion has once again pushed its way to the front (even past my desire for a sweet boat). Youthful optimism is showing its alluring face once again.

So I’m trying something. I, Graig Austin, am now a chicken farmer. Yes, the boy who is basically afraid of most barnyard animals, is raising chickens. Or at least helping friends raise chickens. Over the last three months, we have done the research. We have laid out a business plan of sorts. We have convinced a few friends to invest. We have recruited, envisioned, and trained some Kenyan friends to own and run a chicken coop. We now have a chicken farm. It may sound crazy, I know, but I’m convinced that this could change some people’s lives. There is financial freedom for my friends in those birds. I see it, and more importantly, they see it. And honestly, this is really fun. We have one coop up and running, and two more will be built in the next couple of weeks. I know more about chickens than I ever though I would want to. Jobs are being created. Financial independence is within sight for some of my friends here, and it is really exciting. It’s a blast to talk with the Kenyan coop owners about how this financial freedom will help them expand the impact they can have on their own communities. This could be huge. Who knew that you could change the world for a few families through a bunch of chickens?

So now, as I sing the song with my kids, I will have to add that, if I had a million dollars, I would buy some baby chicks. It could change the world.

Some of what I would buy if I had a million dollars.

If I had a million dollars, I'd buy some baby chicks.


My girls with the growing chickens.

My girls with the growing chickens.

What would you have on your list, if you had a million dollars?

In Our Hands

23 10 2009

We felt like the fate of this child we held in our hands was up to us.  We were at a dark, crowded Newsboys concert, yet somehow we found ourselves looking into the life of a child in a far off country through a Compassion child sponsor packet.  Enyel Alexander Martinez Quintero was a cute, petite brown-haired boy who lived in poverty in a country in Latin America we would have a hard time identifying on a map.  It was in this moment that God began to lead our lives down a path of developing a passion for helping people in poverty.  We said “Yes” to Enyel and accepted him as our sponsor child. As we left the concert, we said a quick prayer asking God that someday he’d make a way for us to meet this boy.

Six years and many, many letters later, we found ourselves in the very country where Enyel lived!  We were helping New Life Church reach their goal of helping the poor by traveling through Latin America to find a church partner.  Words couldn’t describe how we felt when we finally got to hug our boy.  And in a much different way, words couldn’t describe how our hearts hurt seeing the conditions he lived in.  Through this experience, God enlarged our hearts and we knew we had more to give.  We knew we could have an even greater impact than this one boy.  We knew that through New Life’s partnership with a church in El Salvador that we could do more.  So we signed up.  We planned our first trip to La Libertad, El Salvador and we couldn’t wait to see what God would do….

Oh yeah, we’re Steve & Jean Swisher, serving New Life Church and the international community both in Ann Arbor and abroad.  We’ll reveal more about our past involvement with missions and future as we go.  Nice to meet you!



Life Isn’t Fair

3 10 2009

If I had a nickel for every time my parents told me “Life’s not fair,” I would have enough money to feed all the hungry children in the world. I am pretty sure that as I grew up, a day didn’t go by that I didn’t complain that something wasn’t fair. The blunt response from my parents was probably warranted as I was likely complaining about not being able to do something that I shouldn’t have been doing anyway. My keen sense of justice started at a young age, but now it tends to focus on things bigger than not being able to swim in the creek.

About nine years ago, my wife and I were visiting family in Kenya, and we were both struck by just how unfair things were there for those whose lives had been affected by HIV/AIDS. We were so bothered that we decided to do “something.” To be honest, we had a lot of excitement at first, a burst of energy leading us somewhere, but were soon saying, probably out loud, “What exactly are we going to do?” That began a journey for us that we are still on, and we are still wondering, “What are we going to do?” Along the way we have been able to feed hungry kids, give medicine to people who were really sick, love orphans in ways we never dreamed of; we’ve tried to create jobs so Kenyan friends can support themselves, fallen in love with a culture we knew little about, and involved our church in so many things going on here that break God’s heart. It’s been a lot of fun, but, to be honest, we find ourselves saying “It’s not fair” more now then ever before.

The world we live in is just plain messed up. We love Kenya and its people, but, to be honest, the more time we spend here, the more frustrated we get with the unfairness we see all around us. People are just plain taken advantage of. We have been able to use that frustration to fight harder for justice than ever before, but the “somethings” we have tried to do have not been easy at all. Things take longer than we hope, we get taken advantage of, or our money gets wasted. With each new day, we are more aware of the fact that life isn’t fair and this causes us to continue to fight.

We have realized that we, the five Austins, can’t fight all this injustice alone, so we are trying to play a part in raising up a generation of justice seekers. We are at New Life Church participating in campus ministry at The University of Michigan because that is where the justice seekers are.

What if no one joins us? That’s okay.  Life isn’t fair, and we will press on for those who will go hungry tonight, for those fleeing conflict, for kids who will go to bed alone and afraid, for all those for whom life truly isn’t fair.

By the way, let me introduce myself. I’m Graig Austin and I’m the missions pastor at New Life Church in Ann Arbor, MI. My family and I are living in Kenya right now, so I’ll keep you posted on things here.


photo by Betsy Huebner