Category Archives: Guest Blogger

life-saving lemonade

Tom Berlin is the senior pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, Virginia. He is also a close friend who is one of the most mission-minded church leaders I know. This is a recent article on a new United Methodist Church iniative here in Virginia.

When life gives you lemons …

By the Rev. Tom Berlin

I never thought when I entered ministry that the Virginia Annual Conference would encourage us to start lemonade stands. Start new churches, yes. Start new ministries, okay. But lemonade stands?

But I think this plan from the folks who are leading the Imagine No Malaria initiative in Virginia is a great idea for many reasons. Let me share a few:

  • It involves kids and those who care for them. Kids like helping people, and they like the opportunity to run things that make a real difference in ways you can count. When their efforts give them an opportunity to be generous with the funds they have earned, they are truly empowered to bless others. At Floris UMC we have challenged the kids by telling them that the church will double every dollar that they raise. Their leadership will have twice the impact!
  • I like buying lemonade from kids. I think if you drive past a kid in at a lemonade stand and don’t stop, you are just a bad American. When you give a kid a dime or a quarter for a cup of lemonade, they get very excited and all official business on you. I just get a kick out of it.
  • It gives people who don’t go to our churches an opportunity to be generous, and generosity is good for the soul. Picture the smiling adult plunking down their quarter for the lemonade – the kid is smiling, the adult is smiling, the adult helping the kid is smiling. Now imagine that kid saying, thanks, all the proceeds from our lemonade stand go to fight malaria. You can read about it right here.The customer reads about Imagine No Malaria and realizes what a great thing this kid is doing selling lemonade for a good cause. That spurs generosity. It is not coerced or guilt-ridden. It is the kind of joyful generosity that helps people sleep better at night knowing they have been about good in the world. So often people want to do the right thing, and just need a good opportunity.
  • Kids at Floris are going to hand out invitations to attend our church along with information about malaria. I can’t think of a better advertisement for the UMC than children who know about the world beyond their community, serve those who suffer from a terrible disease and are a part of a church excited about their efforts. I hope we have kids in every neighborhood in our area offering lemonade and telling those who stop about what we are doing to relieve the suffering of malaria. Think of how that will change the way many people think about the church.

Finally, I am excited because I travel to Sierra Leone, Africa, on a fairly regular basis and know people who routinely suffer from malaria, which is debilitating and can lead to tragic deaths. The money raised in Virginia and shared with our church in Africa matters. These lemonade stands aren’t just some new gimmick. They are a means of grace to pay for bed nets, medications and training that will save lives. And that, friends, is one sweet deal.

Beginning a global movement

The article reprinted below is from a recent Stop Hunger Now blog post that describes how one person became a leader in the global movement to end hunger. What is your story?

Do What You Can

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One of the most exciting, if not overwhelming aspects of attending a school as large asAuburn University is that there is no shortage of interesting classes. As a Junior, I decided to take a chance by signing up for a class entitled Hunger Studies 101: Causes, Consequences, and Responses. I had no idea how this almost random class selection would change my life.

After the first 50-minute class, my entire worldview shifted, along with my life trajectory, personal and professional goals. In that short time, I learned just how big of a problem world hunger was. More importantly, I learned it was also a solvable problem, one that I could impact. In 21 years, that never occurred to me.

A couple of years later, in 2013, I received the great honor of Honorable Mention for thePresident William Jefferson Clinton Hunger Leadership Award. As I was developing the content of my submission video for the award, I was asked: “What would this award mean to you?” The video [embedded below] eventually became an artistic expression of my answer: it would give me a voice, a way of speaking for those whose voices are unheard or ignored. Receiving the award gave me that opportunity.

The countless on-campus interviews and speaking engagements that followed gave me the opportunity to speak to students about the issues and point to ways in which they could make a difference. An interview with a regional newspaper meant that anyone casually flipping through the Lifestyle section of the paper over their morning coffee was reading about global hunger and what was being done to stop it. I knew that it took one 50 minute lecture to change my life. What if simply being introduced to world hunger in this way was enough for someone else to begin their own personal campaign to end it?

The award also lead to some pretty amazing friendships. Those who I met at the 2013Universities Fighting World Hunger Summit, where the Clinton Award ceremony is held, are some of the most dedicated, passionate people who have continued to be a great source of inspiration and encouragement. These relationships and connections have helped prepare me to take my dedication to ending world hunger to the next level: off of the Auburn campus and into my career.

It’s my first full month on the job and I am still in disbelief that I am now the new Program Manager for the Stop Hunger Now warehouse in Indianapolis, Indiana! The skills, experience, and knowledge that I gained through my involvement in on-campus anti-hunger initiatives, I am now using as a member of one amazing organization that is truly making a difference in countries all over the world.

But what’s the take-away? One of the best pieces of advice, one that I have carried around with me since junior year, is this: “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Hunger is a big problem, but ending it in our lifetime starts with a decision to do just that.


To learn more about our expansion into Indianapolis, find out how you can fight global hunger without leaving Indiana, or simply welcome Devin to the Stop Hunger Now family, drop her a line at dwalker@stophungernow.org.

An Alabama native, Devin combined her degree in Nutrition and Food Science with a desire to make a difference. She received an Honorable Mention for the President William Jefferson Clinton Hunger Leadership Award in 2013 for her leadership in anti-hunger initiatives at Auburn University. Devin is currently enjoying the Hoosier State as the Program Manager for Stop Hunger Now in Indianapolis.

Learning about Getting Off Our Buts

The Rev. George Riggins, pastor of Monroe United Methodist Church and my good friend has graciously given me permission to use his latest post as a guest blog.

Getting Off Our Buts

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I am in Blackstone, Virginia with the clergy of the Lynchburg District and the clergy of the James River District at a training event that began yesterday morning and will conclude later this morning. The focus of this training is on making mission happen.

The keynote leader for the training is Ray Buchanan, author of “Getting Off Our Buts: Making Mission Happen.” Ray knows well how to make mission happen; he is the co-founder of Stop Hunger Now (1998) and founder of the Society of St. Andrew (1980). He has inspired us and entertained us with many personal stories of the miracles he has witnessed in mission.

He shared with us a blueprint that he has followed for decades to help congregations engage in mission, and this blueprint comes straight from Scripture! The blueprint has seven steps.

  1. Identify the Need – Mark 6:35-36
  2. Locate the Resources – Mark 6:37-38
  3. Get Organized – Mark 6:39-40
  4. Give Thanks – Mark 6:41a
  5. Just Do It! – Mark 6:41b-42
  6. Clean Up Your Mess – Mark 6:43
  7. Repeat Steps 1-6

What do you think of this Biblical blueprint for mission? For the readers from Monroe UMC, do you think this blueprint would work for us at Monroe UMC to engage in new mission opportunities? Please post your comments to this blog site.

Can you find me in the group picture of clergy taken yesterday in our “Imagine No Malaria” tee shirts?
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Grace Upon Grace,
Pastor George

a life worth living

Today’s post is written by Mike Giancola, a close friend and one of the finest leaders I know. He exlemplifies caring, compassion and commitment. And he doesn’t just talk about service above self. He lives it.  I encourage each of you to help him in any way possible. In his words, it is when we give the most that we receive the most.

I first traveled to the Dominican Republic in 2000 with my students from NC State University as part of a Habitat for Humanity service-learning trip.   During that trip, I met one of the Habitat beneficiary families including Lourdes Yanet Angeles Gomez and her four daughters:  Francisca, Prenda, Yanela and Franyelis – ranging from 9 years to 11 months old.   Their house is a very modest cinderblock structure about 300 sq ft – a vast improvement over the approximate 100 sq ft wood and tin shack they lived in before.

During the week when we weren’t on the worksite, we spent time teaching the girls how to speak English and they taught me how to speak Spanish.  It wasn’t all work – we laughed a lot and I taught them how to juggle with rocks.  Amazing how much you can communicate with another person even if you don’t (really) speak the same language.  I still remember sitting on their front porch holding  Franyelis when a man on a motorcycle pulled up to the house, introduced himself as the girls’ father and told me, “My casa es tu casa”  He went inside to grab his lunch and then proceeded to leave on his motorcycle as I was still sitting on the porch holding his daughter.

I have been fortunate to visit them several times over the years as part of service-learning trips, including a visit in 2007 in which my mom joined me.  Each time, we picked up where we left off since our last visit or letter.   Lots of laughs (mostly over our miscommunications caused by the language barrier) but also discussions about family, faith and food.  It warms my heart to see the girls doing well in school over the years and growing up to be wonderful young women.

Amazing how Facebook has further connected the world and over the past 2 years I have been able to stay in closer contact with Francisca.  She has completed her college degree (no small accomplishment given the lack of resources and opportunities).  She is now a special education teacher.  During my most recent visit, she was beaming as she told me about her work…I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell her, “La profesora es muy inteligente!”  She shared that I was her inspiration for becoming a teacher – very humbling given the relative short (but meaningful) amounts of time we have spent together over the years.

About a month ago, Francisca informed me that her mother, now 40, has been diagnosed with a tumor in her throat, most likely cancer.  During our next few chats, she expressed her faith in God but also worried that her mom would not be able to afford the life saving surgery she needs.  In  the Dominican Republic if you can’t afford to pay for surgery, your options are to delay the surgery until you can or as several people told us, “you die”.  This reality was hard to accept given the life saving procedure I had two years ago after my heart attack…while we are still paying the hospital bill and will be for several years to come, I never for a minute had to think about not having the procedure due to the cost.  (Ok, so I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, but you get the point).

Over the past 4 months, my mom and mother-in-law both have had life saving surgeries.  As they both are continuing to recover, we are very appreciative of the outstanding care they have received and are thankful to have health insurance that covered most of the cost.  I cannot accept that any of our lives are more important just because we were born with a zip code that has access to quality medical care or live in a country where there is a system of health insurance.   We are no more worthy of receiving health care than any other human being (This is not intended to be a political statement…just a statement of belief)

Francisca became more worried and recently asked for help.  I prayed for direction and thought about how to best answer her call for help.  After talking with Jenn (insert incredibly supportive wife here), we decided I should go to the DR and visit.

On December 9, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with my friend (and former student and staff member CJ Barnes).  He also has an extremely supportive wife (Thanks Veronica and CJ!)  During our visit, we reminisced about previous visits,  looked at pictures from over the years and got acquainted with the two new additions to the family (Lourdes’ grandchildren, Prendali and Alvin).   We talked about her diagnosis.  She showed us the x-rays, but you could also see the tumor on her neck.  She said she was feeling a little better, but you could tell she was tired and not her usual self.  I asked her to see the estimate for the surgery – $445,235 pesos ($10,600 USD).  Lourdes told us her family and friends are trying to save the money, but as you can imagine, there are limits to what they can raise on their own.  She said she tried not to think about it too much and knew that God would provide.  Talk about faith!

After our visit, we asked the girls if we could take them to buy Christmas presents.  They were excited and so we went to lunch and then to the clothing store.  The first two stores we entered, the girls were not really looking at the clothes.  I asked what the problem was and they said, “These clothes are too expensive” and they wanted to go to another store.  When we arrived at the third store, CJ and I were about “done” with shopping, but knowing this was a special occasion, we persevered.  I asked Lourdes to pick out an outfit for her granddaughter.    Prendali was so excited, she refused to take the outfit off so we could pay for it…needless to say, she wore the outfit home.  I asked Prenda if she found an outfit yet and she said, “No, I would rather buy diapers and milk for Prendali”  Another example of how well Lourdes has raised these girls and a wonderful act of selflessness from a 20 year old young women.  After a visit to the grocery store, Francisca asked me if I enjoyed shopping with her family to which I replied in Spanish, “My heart is very happy right now, but I don’t even enjoy shopping with my family!”  It was a special moment after a special day and a reminder that it is when we give, that we receive the most.  I enjoy observing the true joy this family experiences and their appreciation for what they have, instead of fretting on what they don’t.  They are truly a wealthy family indeed.

I am hopeful that Lourdes will have many more days to watch her girls grow up to be wonderful young women.  I pray that she has more grandchildren to love on.  And that she is able to have the life saving surgery she needs.  As I reflected on this list, I realized I was receiving the answer to my prayers for direction.

I serve on the board of directors for a non-profit called Together We Can.  Our vision is to work with individuals and groups committed to making significant and meaningful changes in their communities, both locally and internationally.  We have no paid staff so 100% of donations go to support the work we do.  You can learn more about TWC at http://togetherwecaninc.org/  As an organization, we are trying to raise the funds to help Lourdes.  You can make a tax deductible donation by sending a check made out to Together We Can (put DR-Lourdes on the memo line and send to me at Mike Giancola, 7416 Ladora Drive, Willow Spring, NC 27592)  All funds will go directly to the hospital so Lourdes can receive the care she needs.  Just like Stop Hunger Now, when people come together as a community, we move towards a more just world.  In fact, we become more human.  TOGETHER WE CAN!

Mike Giancola