From: Paul Jeffrey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: A letter from Paul Jeffrey to supporting congregations
To: "Supporting churches" <email@example.com>
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010, 10:49 AM
Dear colleagues in ministry,
I’m just returning home from southern India, where I’ve spent the last three weeks documenting the work of faith communities in responding to HIV and AIDS. Once a principal purveyor of stigma and discrimination, today the Christian community in India has taken the lead in providing both care for people living with the disease as well as advocacy and education to reset the culture’s response to people infected with or affected by the virus. I saw that repeatedly in the faces of people living with HIV and AIDS who have themselves become advocates for their neighbors–determined that everyone shall live full and healthy lives.
Much of this work was done on behalf of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, but I spent the last day with a group in Madurai that gets funding from United Methodist Women and does street theater in rural villages. Young people, some of whom have lost spouses or parents to the virus, enthusiastically and creatively share information about the disease while at the same time breaking the myth that people living with HIV and AIDS should be treated as today’s untouchables. People are literally being set free by God’s grace.
I shot a variety of other subjects during the trip. I spent one morning, for example, shooting young boys who work in the garbage dump in Chennai, but who spend their nights in a shelter run by a local ecumenical group. We had to be somewhat surreptitious in order to get me into the dump, in that local authorities don’t allow journalists inside. Garbage dumps aren’t pretty places, and in places like Chennai they’re filled with the some of the poorest people on the planet working in horrendous conditions. But the kids helped me enter without initially being seen, and I was able to photograph them for several minutes in their environment before being forced to leave.
The same organization runs a shelter for women who are survivors of trafficking, and I photographed some residents there as well. But then the next day the women came to me with a request that’s a new one for me. Several of the women are interested in getting married, or in marrying their older daughters, and they need to prepare a packet of materials to take to a marriage broker–most marriages in India are still arranged. An essential element of the marriage proposal packet is a photograph (actually two: one of the face and one of the entire body). And they didn’t have any money to do that. So I became a marriage proposal photographer for survivors of human trafficking. The women and I had a lot of laughs doing that, and I was honored to play a small part in helping them get off to a new start in their lives.
I’m now home for four weeks before heading to the UMW Assembly in St Louis. I’m fixing some broken camera gear, chipping away at a huge backlog of unprocessed images going back to last July (deadlines amuse me), and helping Lyda move. As of April 1, she returns from an appointment in New York City to serve as missionary for the development of Hispanic and Latino ministries in the Pacific Northwest Conference. It’s a new position, representing a partnership between the annual conference and the General Board of Global Ministries. It’s an exciting opportunity for Lyda to use the skills she has acquired over the years to nurture and mentor the growth of holistic and dynamic faith expressions in the Spanish-speaking corners of our conference. She doesn’t believe our task is to form ethnic congregations that simply mirror the dominant culture of our white churches, but rather we’re called to let the Holy Spirit work freely to form new expressions of faith that incarnate the Gospel within the lived histories and cultures of the people involved. I’m excited about Lyda’s new ministry in that context, and hope you will be as well.
She’ll be living in Grandview, in the lower Yakima Valley in eastern Washington. For the immediate future, I’m going to remain here in Eugene with the kids, about five hours from Grandview, but will spend an ample amount of time there when I’m in the country. I’ve got some more work trips coming up, including a return to Haiti, but when the weather warms up, I’ve also got other important work to do at home, like finish the two-week porch remodeling project I started two years ago.
In April I’ll also begin planning my itineration this fall, when I’ll visit churches that have retained their covenant relationship with me. Some of you have already been in touch about this, and we should start talking specific dates by the end of April at the latest. I’ looking forward to that time with you.
Thanks for your continuing support of my ministry, and for all you do, everywhere, as part of God’s mission.