One body in Christ

Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has the story of a Presbyterian mission trip to Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, and the women they met on Mexico’s southern and northern borders.

At Mexico’s border with Guatemala, they found Olga Sánchez Martínez, who 20 years ago built the Shelter of Jesus the Good Shepherd of the Poor and Migrant to help migrants with disabilities. She’s helped so many since then, the story says that in 2009, the Dalai Lama honored her with an Unsung Heroes of Compassion award. 

“God gives me orders, and I am obedient,” she told PCUSA. 

At Mexico’s border with the United States, they found Notre Dame Sr. Christine Garcia, who works at the Migrant Resource Center, which the Sisters of Notre Dame operate in partnership with Presbyterian border ministry Frontera de Cristo the PC(USA), in Agua Prieta, Mexico, near the Arizona-New Mexico border. The Migrant Resource Center provides respite to those traveling north to the United States border and ministers to those who have come south after being deported.

Those on the mission trip were not only deeply inspired by both women’s work, but by how much it clearly meant to them:

Both of these women are lit up with joy as they do the work of extending radical hospitality. When these women walk into a room, people are drawn to them. It’s an attraction that is difficult to explain, until you see them with the weary souls for whom they are a “home” along the way.

Why, yes, I will have some coffee . . .

In my caffeinated world, it doesn’t get much better than combining coffee with efforts to encourage sustainable development, fair trade practices and helping the poor, and Catholic Relief Services’ Coffeelands has managed to do just that.

CRS works with more than 35,000 smallholder coffee farmers in 12 countries in Central and South America, the Caribbean, East Africa and Southeast Asia, where they help farmers increase coffee productivity, quality and income. They also work to help coffee-farming families expand non-coffee livelihoods alternatives, reduce their vulnerability to hunger and adapt to climate change. 

They’re doing something many do not: Helping growers focus on quality, not just quantity, and finding coffee buyers who will pay a premium for better beans. The coffees are sold through Counter Culture Coffee, with most between $14.75 and $18 for a 12-ounce bag, though some single-lot coffees can be as much as $24.25.

How good are these coffees?

Barista Anna Utevsky used the La Florida coffee from Columbia in the U.S. Barista Championship in Long Beach, California. Utevsky didn’t win, but 33 growers had the amazing experience of gathering in Nariño, Columbia, to watch a live broadcast of her competing using their coffee. That’s a far cry from growing as much coffee as you can eke out of the land to sell for whatever the multi-national coffee industry is willing to pay that day.

As Jorge Alirio Cabrera put it, “For the first time in 40 years, I feel like I have been recognized for my work.” 

Heck, I could use a cup or three myself right now.

Heating with kindness

The Internet can be a cold, depressing place, filled with vitriol and snark, trolling and downright hatred.

But this incredible resource can also be used as a powerful source for good, as the sisters of Fraternite Notre Dame in Chicago found out recently when their boilers failed during one of the winter’s coldest weeks. It was so cold that Holy Water froze, the sisters had to huddle under blankets and sleep around portable space heaters. The temperature in the sanctuary dropped to 34 degrees Fahrenheit. Their living quarters were 32 degrees.

Then word got out, fundraising pages were set up and the donations poured in:

The once frozen holy water has thawed, and parishioners of the Fraternite Notre Dame in the Austin neighborhood no longer need to bundle under blankets during Mass after enough donations poured in this week to fix the heat.

Sister Marie Valerie said the sisters have more than just a warm building now.

"It warmed my whole heart to see how people respond, very, very helpful," she said.

The original goal of raising $40,000 to fix the boilers was reached in just a few hours. Then word spread that the boilers were in such bad shape the repairs couldn’t be expected to last very long, and $200,000 would be needed to replace them.

That amount – and more, to help insulate and repair the roof – was raised in just a couple of days.

“We do everything for the poor people, we have no salary, so it’s very helpful to see people answering like that, so fast, so quick,” Valerie said on Windy City Live, which first started the fundraising effort. “People we don’t even know, anybody, any belief.”

The eight sisters, who are missionaries from France, feed more than 200 homeless every day.

Remember, links, tips and accounts of the response to any crisis anywhere in the world are always welcome at

[Dan Stockman is national correspondent for Global Sisters Report. Follow him on Twitter @DanStockman or on Facebook.]