Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Nugget, July, 2006

“Just as you did it
to one of the least of these,
you did it to me.”
Matthew 25.40

It was a unique privilege for Cindy and me to be a part of a Heifer Study Tour to Albania and Kosovo in the early part of June. These two parts of the Balkans are not vacation spots like so many other Mediterranean locales. Albania and Kosovo both have been through tremendous hardships in recent years and are very deserving recipients of Heifer’s ministry.

Our trip consisted of daily visits to numerous Heifer sites where small farmers have been gifted with cows or goats or pigs, as a way of helping them avoid poverty and be self-sustaining. They not only receive an animal, they also learn to feed, protect and shelter it, and are also required to pass on the first born female to a neighbor.

One of the farms we visited is owned by a woman who lost both her son and husband in the Kosovo war of the late 1990s. (The “farms” are often small parcels barely large enough for the house, a few animals and maybe a garden.) Heifer had given this war widow a pregnant cow with the expectation that the first female offspring would be passed on to another family in need. Surprisingly the animal had twin female calves, although the vet warned that one of them was so small and weak that it would not survive. But this woman was resolute. “There has been enough dying in this village,” she said, and she tenderly nurtured the animal through bottle feeding and other special attention.

The animal in fact did survive. And when the time came to “pass on the gift,” her heart would not let her relinquish the smaller animal. Instead the stronger twin sister became the gift for her neighbor. The nurtured animal is still in her stable, a milk-producing testimony to this war widow’s determination and strength of spirit.

In Albania one of our many visits was to a poverty stricken, hillside community in the south of the country, where Heifer has given 150 goats in the last couple of years. The animals have provided the families with daily goat’s milk for increased nutrition, for sale in the local market, and for making cheese and butter. At one of the farms we viewed a “passing on the gift” ceremony after which we were invited to the local school for a community gathering.

Lining the entrance to the school grounds were dozens of cheering children who handed us flowers as we walked in. I felt like I was caught in a scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” The accolades were overwhelming. But then I realized the depth of this community’s appreciation, primarily for the work of the local Heifer staff, an outstanding group, and then secondarily for the donors from the U.S. and elsewhere who are contributing to the betterment of this community.

At this celebration there were children singing, live music playing, recitations passionately offered, food enjoyed, Raki (the national drink of Albania) toasts made, and dancing. Their traditional dance is a kind of line dancing to Albanian music. It includes everyone, in this instance even one old gentleman who tossed aside his cane to take a young lady’s hand and high step with such passion, I feared for his safety.

It was humbling to see the indomitable spirit of the many people we met and the quality of life that they share. But most of all it was enlightening to experience first hand this work that I, like many of us, have supported from a comfortable distance for many years. The poverty of so many places in this world is staggering, but there is hope. The support that our congregation has generously given to Heifer for many years really does make a significance difference.

Thanks to Rev Jo Siders for filling in for me the Sunday we were away. And special thanks to the Camp Tam Work group who accomplished so much, all without this pastor’s onsite support. It is good to be back with you and to swing into the summer season, with all the many activities that are detailed in the latest edition of our Church Newsletter, the Nugget.

Steve Shepard
Interim Pastor