Saturday, June 30, 2018

In Lieu Of Flowers

Sisters Maggie, Fannie Mae and I at a
little family gathering yesterday.
I feel over-the-moon blessed this morning for the gift of another birthday, a beautiful-beyond-words day to celebrate 79 years of life.

I've already had more than enough birthday wishes, congratulations, cards and cakes to highlight my welcome into a rural Oklahoma family of two loving parents and seven older siblings on a Friday afternoon so many years ago. And yesterday I got to be with my two remaining sisters, both of whom live in Virginia, and the two of us made a long distance call to our only remaining brother, who lives in Costa Rica and who just celebrated his 88th.

So join me in any or all of the following:

- Do a random act of kindness for a loved one--or a complete stranger.

- Offer heartfelt thanks to God for undeserved grace and blessings, and especially for family, friends and good neighbors.

- Intercede and act on behalf of millions of people enduring suffering and hardships.

- Spend some quality time with someone who needs your extra love and attention, starting with your loved ones.

- Make a generous donation to a good cause of your choice. Here are a few of mine: (Gemeinschaft Home roof project) (Mennonite Central Committee refugee relief)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

One Of My Ancestors Was An Unaccompanied Minor

Ships like these carried many of our
forebears to the new world.

Reading about month-long northward journeys of refugees fleeing violence in places like Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras reminded me of the youthful flight of one of my own maternal ancestors.

We don't know the exact date of his birth, nor the names or history of his parents, but my great great grandfather Christian Nisly (or Nüsli, meaning a small nut tree;-) came to the port of Philadelphia in 1804 from Switzerland at only 16 or 17.

We know few details about his voyage, or whether he was accompanied by any relatives, but in migrating here he was completely separated from the rest of his family, never to see them again.

What would have motivated someone so young to leave all behind for an uncertain future in the new world? Most likely he and his Anabaptist family made this difficult choice to avoid his being drafted into the Swiss army, which regularly supplied mercenary troops to fight frequent wars in neighboring lands. As followers of Jesus opposed to killing people for any reason, this may have seemed like least awful option.

On the perilous month-long journey, young Christian and his fellow voyagers endured the hardship of a severe storm that damaged their vessel as well as experiencing the terror of being detained on the way by a hostile pirate ship of some sort, although we only have his sketchy notes to base this on.

Young Christian worked for an unrelated Zug family in Philadelphia for several years to pay for his journey, then moved to frontier Somerset County in western Pennsylvania, where he met and married Sarah Miller. There he was ordained to the ministry, and later moved to Holmes County, Ohio, where they raised a family of 14 children. He died there at age 73 in 1848.

Their youngest son Abraham and family moved to Indiana and from there to a new Amish community near Hutchinson, Kansas, a pioneer town then only 12 years old, in 1883, after his second wife Dinah died. Just two years later he himself passed away at age 61. He and Dinah's oldest son Eli, my maternal grandfather, was left to look after the remaining members of his family. 

At 19 Eli and another young male friend had traveled by freight train to Hutchinson, accompanying five train car loads of horses, farm implements and household furnishings belonging to their respective families. Over the first winter on the prairie, the two families lived in a single makeshift shack and used twisted bundles of grass and cow chips for cooking and keep themselves warm over winter.  

At age 23, and soon after his father died, Eli married my grandmother Fannie Troyer, then only 19. Fannie, whose mother had died when she was only 13, had responded to a call to go to Kansas to do housework for second-time widower Abraham Nisly while only a teen. After marrying Eli, Fannie bore 13 children, the ninth of whom was my mother Mary.

As I reflect on these parts of my family story I wonder about the impact of all the traumas the Nisly clan experienced through multiple premature deaths and many migrations. And I’m sure many of your immigrant family stories contain the same elements of both great hardship and great blessing.

Here are links to more family stories:

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Legal and Moral Are Not The Same

Jesus represents the ultimate level of moral development.
Much of the national debate on immigration seems to be about what is legal and what is illegal, and therefore can never be tolerated. Our president has said his hands are tied regarding any changes in refugee policies unless or until Congress acts to change existing immigration laws he is sworn to uphold. To his credit, he later determined he could accomplish this impossibility and mandated more humane policies by executive order.

A couple of questions: 

1. Is everyone who crosses a border without a passport (i.e., an actual asylum seeker) thereby committing an illegal act? Fortunately, our nation actually has legal and constitutional provisions for providing refuge for people whose lives are in danger in their country of origin.

2. If accepting endangered refugees were in fact illegal, should it be? Again, America has historically seen itself as a place of welcome for oppressed people and for "huddled masses yearning to breathe free."  

3. Should "legal" be the primary basis for judging what is moral and right? Looking back, we agree that slave laws and Jim Crow policies, for example, while legal, were anything but moral. And all martyrs, with the exception of victims of mob lynchings, have suffered and died at the hands of authorities who were carrying out some fully legal mandate. They defended their acts of torturing and killing believers because they were judged, by law, as bad people committing criminal offenses.

4. Are there precedents in the Bible for doing things that are illegal but which are just, moral and even mandated by our faith? There are of course many such examples, such as the midwives who refused to dispose of male babies, Moses' parents who hid their male child, young Babylonian captives like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and Jesus himself as he appealed to a higher law in his observance of Sabbath and other well established rules of his time.

5. At what level of  Kohlberg's stages of moral reasoning do most of us operate as churches and as individuals? This could be a fruitful conversation to have, as to whether we make our decisions largely from a human "law and order" perspective or from the perspective of a people governed by the heaven-headquartered Kingdom of God. See

Friday, June 22, 2018

Bear Left, Then My Place Is On Your Right--You Can't Miss It

Here's how roads were laid out where I grew up
as a young child.
When our family moved to the Shenandoah Valley from eastern Kansas in the 40's we had to get used to people giving us directions in terms of 'going left' or 'turning right' rather than referring to points north, south, east or west. The latter made sense in parts of the Midwest where rural roads are laid out like city blocks of a square mile each, but for finding one's way among winding roads in the Virginia countryside, not so much.

When it comes to locating each other's ideological and faith positions, we need to avoid creating caricatures of people as being located simply as a part of "the left" or "the right". As someone has wisely noted, that all depends on who we are standing beside.

As believers, we need to think instead of "above" or "below", and to discern together what is in line with God's will and what, by contrast, represents short sighted and near sighted earth-based wisdom. In other words, what does it mean for us to sincerely pray that "[God's] will to be done on earth as it is in heaven"?

God's people seek to orient themselves by having a common compass set to their pole star, then seeking the best means possible toward their desired ends--as as in "doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God." 

But to polarize, stigmatize and stereotype others because they may not all use the same language or apply their faith in exactly the same ways as we, then lump one group (the left) with Hamas and the other (the right) with Hitler is just not rational or helpful. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

My Eight Rules For Posting On Social Media

As a frequent user of Facebook, I want to be accountable for observing the following Eight Commandments: 

1) Separate people from their positions, then address positions without attacking persons.

2) Avoid attaching labels to others they do not choose for themselves (leftist, fascist, socialist, racist, liberal, conservative, etc.).

3) Never engage in derogatory name calling (idiot, stupid, ignorant, crazy, hypocritical, etc.).

4) Affirm others' valid points.

5) Treat others with the same courtesy and respect you expect of them. 

6) Never imply that people with whom you disagree are less intelligent or less worthy than yourself. 

7) Avoid the use of generalities like, "always", "never", "forever", "all the time", etc.

8) Post only statements that can be verified by reliable, fact-checked sources.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

From Mere Meeting Places To Holy Spaces

This was the plain meeting house of our family's congregation from 1946-54.
My earliest memories of church go back to eastern Kansas, where I recall our Amish congregation meeting at our house when it was our turn to host. Straight benches without backs were brought in by horse and wagon and packed into our living room and dining room area. I remember the slow songs in German and two ministers speaking for a total of 1 1/2 hours, followed by a simple meal of coffee, hot soup and crackers and home made bread.

Everything seemed long, drawn out and solemn for a five year old, much as I always liked getting together for this weekly social event at someone’s house. I’m sure nothing about the format for the service had changed much for generations. There was clearly something in these people’s Anabaptist DNA that had them keeping things simple, and not conforming to worldly impulses to build elaborate buildings with fine furnishings, stained glass windows, elevated pulpits and robed preachers and choirs.

When we moved to Virginia when I was 6 we did have a simple Amish church meeting house, with a long, tin roof shed built next to it for all the horses. Inside the meeting space there were unvarnished pine benches, with backs, on an unvarnished pine floor. The ministers spoke from a plain pine table on the same level as the congregation, to women sitting on one side and men on the other.

From its beginnings at Pentecost, the Jewish church in Jerusalem continued to meet at the temple for certain acts of worship, but met in each others homes for the “breaking of bread,” fellowship and prayers (Acts 2:46). New Testament references to the “church in your house” are found throughout the New Testament. In Acts 20:7-8 we have an account of believers at Troas meeting in an upper room of a house on the first day of the week to “break bread” and to hear the traveling missionary Paul speak with them. But normally each member was to bring “a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation” (I Corinthians 14:26).

Christian understandings about holy spaces were that the resurrected Jesus represented the very presence of God, and that the congregation was the living and breathing 'house' which God inhabited. Jesus himself stated that the Jerusalem temple would be destroyed and replaced by his resurrected body (John 2:19-23). The apostles affirmed that “in Christ all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9), and that believers are the new “temple” in which God lives (I Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19-22, I Peter 2:4-10). 

The word church (ecclesia, assembly) was used only for the community of believers, never for a building in which they met. In fact there is no mention of any special building for Christian worship in the New Testament, and no elevation of clergy to special positions above that of other members of the congregation. All believers were seen as priests, and elders were a part of the 'laos' (from which we get the tern 'laity', meaning, the people), appointed by the laying on of hands to lead the called out people of God.

In a later development, and as new congregations were formed in a given city, a piece of bread from the communion service of the bishop (lead elder or overseer, the “episkopos”) was sometimes sent to other churches to add to their eucharist bread as a symbol of their unity. As time went on and churches grew in size, some believers’ homes were renovated or added to for exclusive use as meeting spaces, but prior to 200 A.D. there is no evidence of any buildings of a unique Christian character actually constructed for that purpose. And whereas in both pagan and Jewish worship practices priests carried out sacred rituals in spaces separate from the rest of the congregation, Christian leaders met with their fellow believers around a common table in ordinary household-type settings.

Early on, some Christians in Rome gathered in underground burial places called catacombs, and even built some of these for the burial of their own dead, including, of course, those who had died for their faith. This they could legally do, and they were able to include chambers in the catacombs that could be used for safe worship spaces and for the veneration of martyrs. Some Christians even organized themselves as funeral guilds to give them added protection and for the right to have common property such as burial chapels both under and above ground. These developments further led to the concept of holy spaces for Christian worship.

Meanwhile, more elaborately furnished homes and funerary chapels were being built in other places, including baptistries, round or polygonal structures used for baptismal ceremonies. By the end of the third century, numerous “houses of the church” (domus) were being built along the lines of existing house architecture of the time. These were never referred to as temples, but by the fourth century, the term basilica began to be used for some of these, a basilica being a special hall built by an emperor for public use. Some of these were destroyed during various waves of persecution of the church, but some were later allowed to be rebuilt.

As time went on, more elaborate liturgies and the increased elevation of the office of ordained clergy led to the development of the a “presbytery” at the front of these buildings, usually a raised area with a special chair for the bishop, along with other members of the clergy, and often separated from the rest of the congregation by a low wooden railing. Within that area was a special table for the eucharist which later evolved into an altar with closed sides. There were sometimes additional rooms for the instruction of new believers, a baptistry and a confirmation room, a dining room for meals offered for the poor, a vestry to store vessels, and sometimes a library. Additional rooms for storing food or clothing for the needy were not uncommon, and eventually some even included offices and living quarters for the clergy and their staff. This was all before Christianity was officially recognized as an approved religion.

Altar of the Crucifixion in Jerusalem's
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
After 313 A.D. and the rise of the emperor Constantine, elaborate church structures were built all over the empire, projects that were promoted, financed and furnished by Constantine himself. This emperor, though not officially a Christian until he was baptized on his deathbed, sought to restore the 
glory of Rome through erecting lavish monuments to the Christian faith. This ushered in a new era of extravagant and expensive temples associated with Christian worship, a far cry from the humble house church origins of the faith, and in seeming contradiction to what Jesus, the apostles, and the first Christian martyr Stephen (Acts 7:44-50) taught about the need for sacred spaces for worship.

Much of the information in this essay is from a paper I wrote as a seminary Church History 505 requirement in 1993, "From House Church to Church of the Holy Sepulchre."

Sunday, June 17, 2018

We Need 'Cities Of Refuge' Not More Border Walls

Should we provide havens for those whose lives are in danger?
There was one picture in the Bible story book we had at home that struck special fear in me as a child. It showed the sheer terror in the face of a man fleeing for his life to a city of refuge, his avenger in hot pursuit, as in the illustration on the left.

The Bible story was based on a passage in Deuteronomy 19 in which designated sanctuary cities were to be provided as safe havens for those who might have accidentally caused someone's death and which resulted in some family member of the victim seeking revenge.

Today millions of refugees around the world are fleeing in similarly desperate ways, including many from gang-ridden neighboring countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador to the south of us. In most of these cases, however, they are not in flight because they have caused harm to others, but because they are in danger of being murdered due to gang corrupted governments (traditionally supported by our country) which are unwilling or unable to rid themselves of drug-financed cartels who make life increasingly unbearable and unsafe.

Not only do many of these people deserve to have 'cities of refuge' to flee to--in Central America itself as well as along our southern border--but 'underground railroads' to help them find their way to such sanctuaries.

I just got a copy of the book, "When Humans Were Sold As Chattel" compiled by William A. Good for the local Long's Chapel Preservation Society, that describes some of the heroic work of conductors and hospitality providers for the underground railroad that helped countless slaves fleeing with their families to freedom in the north and in Canada prior to the Civil War. The parallels are striking, with African-American families in the South making heroic efforts to stay together and find a decent and safe life for themselves, and with compassionate people of amazing courage and at great sacrifice helping them along their way.

Present day versions of underground railroads and cities of refuge could be a part of an answer to our refugee crisis, and would be a far better and more humane investment than pouring countless billions in more border walls.

Friday, June 15, 2018

"What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?"

Frederick Douglass February ?, 1818-
February 20, 1895
Rochester, New York, home to our daughter and family, is celebrating the bicentennial this year of the birth of Frederick Douglass, buried at the historic Mt. Hope Cemetery along with other well known contemporaries of his like suffragist Susan B. Anthony.

Born a slave on the eastern shore of Maryland, Douglass witnessed first hand the horrific suffering of members of his race at the hands of slave owners who were supposedly good, church-going Christians. At age 20 he escaped to freedom and rose to become a sought after speaker and writer in the cause of the abolition of slavery.

It was in Rochester on July 5, 1852, that he delivered one of his most famous speeches, which included the following:

... the church of this country is not only indifferent to the wrongs of the slave, it actually takes sides with the oppressors. It has made itself the bulwark of American slavery, and the shield of American slave-hunters. Many of its most eloquent Divines, who stand as the very lights of the church, have shamelessly given the sanction of religion, and the Bible, to the whole slave system. - They have taught that man may, properly, be a slave; that the relation of master and slave is ordained of God; that to send back an escaped bondman to his master is clearly the duty of all the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ; and this horrible blasphemy is palmed off upon the world for Christianity.

For my part, I would say, welcome infidelity! welcome atheism! welcome anything! in preference to the gospel, as preached by those Divines! They convert the very name of religion into an engine of tyranny, and barbarous cruelty, and serve to confirm more infidels, in this age, than all the infidel writings of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, and Bolingbroke, put together, have done? These ministers make religion a cold and flinty-hearted thing, having neither principles of right action, nor bowels of compassion. They strip the love of God of its beauty, and leave the throne of religion a huge, horrible, repulsive form. It is a religion for oppressors, tyrants, man-stealers, and thugs. It is not that "pare and undefiled religion" which is from above, and which is "first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." But a religion which favors the rich against the poor; which exalts the proud above the humble; which divides mankind into two classes, tyrants and slaves; which says to the man in chains, stay there; and to the oppressor, oppress on; it is a religion which may be professed and enjoyed by all the robbers and enslavers of mankind; it makes God a respecter of persons, denies his fatherhood of the race, and tramples in the dust the great truth of the brotherhood of man. All this we affirm to be true of the popular church, and the popular worship of our land and nation-a religion, a church and a worship which, on the authority of inspired wisdom, we pronounce to be an abomination in the sight of God. In the language of Isaiah, the American church might be well addressed, "Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me : the new moons and Sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons, and your appointed feasts my soul hatest. They are a trouble to me; I am weary to bear them; and when ye spread forth your hands I will hide mine eyes from you. Yea! when ye make many prayers, I will not hear. YOUR HANDS ARE FULL OF BLOOD; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek judgment; relieve the oppressed; judge for the fatherless; plead for the widow."

Douglass was forbidden to learn to read and write as a child, but he taught himself to do so with the help of a Bible and whatever other written material he find, and at age 13 experienced a conversion to the Christian faith, which he described in the last of the three autobiographies he published in that same year:

I was not more than thirteen years old, when in my loneliness and destitution I longed for some one to whom I could go, as to a father and protector. The preaching of a white Methodist minister, named Hanson, was the means of causing me to feel that in God I had such a friend. He thought that all men, great and small, bond and free, were sinners in the sight of God: that they were by nature rebels against His government; and that they must repent of their sins, and be reconciled to God through Christ. I cannot say that I had a very distinct notion of what was required of me, but one thing I did know well: I was wretched and had no means of making myself otherwise.

I consulted a good old colored man named Charles Lawson, and in tones of holy affection he told me to pray, and to "cast all my care upon God." This I sought to do; and though for weeks I was a poor, broken-hearted mourner, traveling through doubts and fears, I finally found my burden lightened, and my heart relieved. I loved all mankind, slaveholders not excepted, though I abhorred slavery more than ever. I saw the world in a new light, and my great concern was to have everybody converted. My desire to learn increased, and especially, did I want a thorough acquaintance with the contents of the Bible.
- Life and Times of Frederick Douglass 1852

I include this account to highlight the kind of evangelical faith this prominent abolitionist prophet held to.

Were he alive today, what hypocrisies would he most likely address?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

For Christians, Jesus Becomes The Lens Through Which They See God

“The Scripture is the means by which God draws us to him. The Scriptures sprang out of God... and were given to lead us to Christ. So you must go along by the Scripture as by a line, until you come to Christ, who is the way’s end and resting place.”
- William Tyndale, 16th century Bible translator

All faiths have their core beliefs and central themes that give meaning to their lives and serve as the basis for reading and understanding their sacred texts. For followers of Jesus, Christ is seen as playing the key role in God's story, in their personal lives, and in the way they interpret scripture. 

Here are some of the texts in the Christian Bible that highlight this unifying theme:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
- Hebrews 1:1-3a

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty... We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.  
-  II Peter 1:16, 19

He was despised and rejected,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.  
- Isaiah 53: 3-6

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  
- Jesus, John 5:39-40

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth   
- Colossians 1:15-19

I will raise up for them a prophet like you [Moses] from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 
- Deuteronomy 18:18-19

Quotations are from the New International Version.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Final Push For A New Roof At Gemeinschaft

Just got this photo from Jennifer Jacovitch at Gemeinschaft.

As a member of Gemeinschaft Home's Fundraising and Public Relations Committee, I offered to contact as many friends as possible to help raise the projected $33,000 needed to replace the roof on the main building and repair the front porch. Unfortunately, some structural and insulation issues may increase the originally estimated costs.

So far the response to this "Raising the Roof Campaign" has been a gratifying $12,450 in outright gifts, and an additional $13,000 in three-year, interest free loans of $1000 each, leaving us with the challenge of raising the final sum of at least $7300.  

Here's where you come in. Your generous response can help Gemeinschaft reach its goal by the time the project is completed, which should be by midsummer. Gifts are most appreciated, but a loan can be a pain-free way to help, and you will get all your money back in three years.

The "interest" you earn will be priceless.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Immigrants Are Faring Well In My Home Town

Welcoming America cities are springing up all over the country, and we are the better for it.
In response to a recent blog which cited scriptures in support of welcoming immigrants and strangers I got a flood of comments on Facebook defending our nation's recent reduction in the numbers of foreign born individuals allowed into the country. Strenuous action needs to be taken, many said, due to lax and "chaotic" immigration policies that allow really bad people into our communities. 

Judging from our own area's experience with new Americans I'm not sure what is meant by "immigration chaos". According to a report just issued here in our community, local immigrants contributed some $780 million to our area's economy in 2016, representing 10% of the region's GDP. I hear few voices in our business community calling for a tourniquet to stem this tide in Harrisonburg, where there are several dozen language groups represented in the City's high school, where our grandchildren are blessed by being in one of City's amazing dual language programs, and where Harrisonburg officially became a Welcoming America City in 2017,  due to an initiative by Faith in Action, a coalition of 26 local congregations. 

We've just learned that our granddaughter at Skyline Middle School has earned three high school Spanish language credits this year as a 7th grader. This kind of opportunity, far from representing chaos, is all about America at its best.We're blessed with a vibrant and diverse immigrant community here in the heartland, thanks to people of all kinds of political persuasions and to the support of many of the faith communities in our area. 

I did just hear my friend Jim Hershberger, who heads the local Church World Service refugee resettlement program, lament that it looks like they will be serving only a third of the usual number of displaced families this year due to tightened immigration policies. Neither he nor I are interested in demonizing the president or his party for this, but many of us want our local DACA friends to have a path to citizenship and our immigrant neighbors in general to continue to feel welcomed and appreciated.

PBS's American Experience just ran a documentary on the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1872, a racist policy that resulted in hardworking Chinese in the US suffering severe hardships and discrimination for the next half century based on their ethnic origin alone.

We can only look back on this dark period in our nation's history with a sense of shame. And today Oriental students in our schools and universities are generally seen as among the brightest and the best.

What can we learn from our immigrant nation's history?

Monday, June 4, 2018

Urge Officials To Support Faith In Action Goals

When representatives of the 25 local Faith in Action congregations presented their 2018 action goals before the City Council and the Board of Supervisors recently, they were heartened by the positive responses they received. But it will still take a lot of prayer, patience and perseverance--accompanied by your emails, letters and other contacts to the local officials listed below--to assure concrete action on those goals, as follows:

1. Eliminate the financial burden of the $1 per day fee currently paid by family members of inmates at our local jail and the $3 charged for local inmates transferred to Middle River Regional Jail. This is one of numerous high priority concerns expressed by family members of inmates that needs to be addressed.   Some talking points:

- The income generated by this fee represents less than .07% (7/100th of one percent) of the jail's $10.05 million budget.

- Innocent family members should be able to put money on their loved ones' accounts for phone calls and for commissary items without it having to first go toward this keep fee. 

- While not all commissary items are necessities, many items would not be considered "luxuries" by most of us (an extra pair of socks or underwear, ketchup or mayo packs for dry hamburgers, breakfast coffee, energy bars for inmates doing rigorous daily workouts, etc.).

For MRRJ inmate families, the $3 daily fee represents 4% of an annual $25,000 income. And often one of the family's wage earners may be the one incarcerated. 

2. Engage in a careful and open selection process for the hiring of a well qualified Community Justice Planner. This person would evaluate all criminal justice programs and practices, make strategic recommendations for the best allocation of resources, and coordinate the legally mandated biennial update to the Community Criminal Justice Board’s Community Corrections Plan.     Some talking points:

--Harrisonburg, Rockingham County and JMU have recently invested $3 million in a software system to collect data about, among other things, the local criminal justice system. The Planner can use this data to created proactive strategies to reduce incarceration rates.

- The $40,000 required for the County to pay for its half of the projected annual salary and benefits for such a person, for example, would be only around .0001% of its annual budget (the City would pay the other half).

- The experience of other localities with an effective planner shows that there can be significant savings in incarceration and other expenditures that far outweigh the costs, including having someone who can apply for grant monies available for criminal justice reform.

- To fail to utilize best practices in the field can result in a local system that is wasteful of limited tax dollars.

3. Establish protocols for all juvenile justice cases to be screened for a restorative justice process. We will support transparent and community based steps in implementing restorative justice alternatives for adults and juveniles alike.    Some talking points:

- Restorative Justice is already proving to be an effective alternative as utilized by the Harrisonburg City Schools, James Madison University, EMU, and increasingly by the Harrisonburg Police Department and other entities.

- RJ gives priority attention to the needs of the victim of a wrong, and of how the wrongdoer can truly make things right rather than simply receive punishment without a means of actually making restitution.

- Incarcerating juveniles should be seen as a very last resort, in that being detained with other juvenile offenders tends to be a breeding place for more criminal thinking and behavior.

Please do your part by sending letters and emails to your local public officials showing your support of the above goals:

City Council members

Richard Baugh
342 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

238 Campbell Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

409 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Christopher Jones
409 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

Mayor Deanna Reed
231 Broad Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22802

County Sheriff (especially for the first ask)

24 S. Liberty Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801

County Board of Supervisors

1716 Breeden Circle, Elkton, VA 22827

P.O. Box 174, Port Republic, VA 24471

543 Elm Street, Broadway, VA22815

6710 Vista Heights Road, Bridgewater, VA 22812

1393 Cooks Creek Road, Rockingham, VA 22802

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Firsthand Report On The Conflict in Nicaragua

Jacinto Yoder, my grandnephew and a Nicaraguan citizen and church leader, just issued this account of the dangerous situation in the country where he and my nephew Pablo (his father) and family have lived since 1995:                                                            

Our country is at the verge of an all-out war, if we’re not in one already. Last night the infamous head of the Consejo Supremo Electoral (Supreme Electoral Council) resigned, but we thought he had resigned back at the beginning of the year. Such is politics. Apparently he was still leading the CSE.

Business men, campesinos and vandals (gangs included) aren’t impressed with any of what has been going on, and are demanding that the president step down, and there have been burnings of various buildings: The Fiscalía (prosecution) building in Masaya, Caja Rural (Venezuela aid channel) center in Managua, the barracks of the MTI (Ministry of transport) in Sebaco, two radio stations (one on each side of the fray), and a few Alcaldías (mayor’s offices), including a government party building in Ometepe. There has been looting in a number of department stores in various cities, and the famous Masaya tourist market was partially burned. The students have taken a number of universities in Managua, the latest one being the UNI (a modern one). When we were in Matagalpa for a few hours of quick business the 29th, two of the main banks whose leaders oppose the government were open but had tin and plywood all over their windows.

There is basically no law right now, so people just do what they want. The police are apparently scared or unwilling or don’t have the power to do much. They go out and take down a barricade, and the next day there are three to replace it. They push rebels out of one area, shooting as they drive by out of the back of their Hilux pickups, and the rebels just show up in another area. They have mostly lost control of a large part of Managua (Masaya seems to be in the hands of the rebels). The southern part of Managua, from Lake Tiscapa to the south, including Carretera a Masaya, is where the rebels protest and reign, mostly. This makes the empty lots from earthquake faults around Lake Tiscapa the battleground between the two groups. The new stadium was in the center of the fray on Mother’s Day. Rocks on glass windows, slingshots, homemade guns, fireworks, and more and more real guns in hands of both sides make Managua look a mess. The smoke from the burning buildings and tires hovered over the city the afternoon of Mother’s Day.  The army is apparently trying to stay neutral, but we all wonder for how long.

Violence has slowly but surely kept escalating and we’re not sure what comes next. Now, with 18 killed around Mother’s Day, including a number of the “peaceful march” youth with bullets in their heads, some people are asking for what amounts to a nationwide strike (though the private sector leaders are not calling for it themselves at this point). Not knowing if it will actually happen, but even if the businesses stay open, the roadblock people are saying they are going to completely shut down and will only let emergencies through. Waslala now has roadblocks on either side of town, though we’ve seen no violence, and the town at the turnoff for Zapote Kum, Puerto Viejo, has one too. We can still travel to Zapote, as long as they don’t cut off our turn off like they did one day. The Puerto Viejo barricade is on the bridge right after our turnoff for Zapote.

The local medical clinic is only seeing like an average of a dozen people a day, and we’ll probably need to close next week if the barricades keep being complete ones. Our fabric store was running at about 60% sales in May, which is amazing with all the unrest, actually. Some straggling busses still come by our house here at Kusulí, but it seems like there are fewer every day.

Thanks for your prayers, and may the Lord help Nicaragua!

Jacinto Yoder
Waslala, Nicaragua
June 1, 2018