Sunday, November 24, 2013

Women of Faith- Breaking the stained glass ceiling Katie Tong- South West Village News

Everyone knows a dollar doesn’t go far in today’s world, but that didn’t stop Pastor Diane McGehee, who spent the last month limiting her daily food budget to just that amount in support of 1000 Filipino Points of Light, a fundraiser for McGehee’s non-profit group, Together in Hope. McGehee co-founded Together in Hope with her husband in 2007 following a trip to Rwanda and Uganda where the poverty and devastation from the recent civil war left McGehee with strong impressions and overwhelming questions.“My husband and I, we have been very blessed, but we realized even if we gave everything we have, it wouldn’t make a dent.” From this realization, Together in Hope was born. According to McGehee, Together in Hope is about participating in “a conversation with the community”, letting them identify not only their needs, but their solutions.“We wait to be invited,” McGehee says “We don’t go in and try to fix people. They don’t need to be fixed. We want to find out how to empower the resources that you have.”

The organization focuses on developing programs specific to the needs of individual communities. These include Jessica’s Table, a nutritional program in Malis, three preschools and two sewing centers in Rizal and Bicol in the Philippines, a community center in El Salvador and a youth center for at-risk children in Ethiopia. McGehee calls the construction of the sewing center a “typical model.” Rather than build the center themselves, Hope brought only a single engineer and contractor from the outside, using the fruits of their fundraising to train and hire local labor. We don’t want to do for people what they can do for themselves,” McGehee explains. “That takes away their dignity. We want to help them do for themselves what they didn’t have the opportunity to that they can determine their own future.” 

Dignity and self-empowerment are critical issues to McGehee, who was exposed early to the realities of inequality and the underprivileged. “My father was a pastor in Georgia during the Civil Rights movement, “she relates. “He marched on Selma. We had a cross burned on our lawn one time... it really served to form my fundamental understanding of faith and justice.” Following in her father’s footsteps, McGehee enrolled in Princeton’s School of Divinity, leaving one year short of graduation to pursue a different career path with the same goal. “At that time, there weren’t many programs at Princeton Seminary,” says McGehee of her desire to find an active outlet for her ideals. On the advice of mentors at Princeton, McGehee applied to Harvard where she earned her law degree. As a lawyer, McGehee says, “I was able to pursue faith and justice in a practical way.” She credits her move to Houston in the early 90’s to the city’s “extremely progressive legal market,” which allowed the then single-mother to support herself while raising her four boys. These days, while McGehee is still a licensed attorney, she has since returned to a role in the ministry. In addition to working as Hope’s executive director, McGehee served as pastor of Bellaire’s United Methodist until recently accepting a position as the church’s Director of Missions for the Houston area. The 1000 Filipino Points of Light campaign is her latest project, with a goal of raising $50,000.00 by the end of September. According to McGehee, that amount will fund Hope’s educational, nutritional, and job training programs in the Philippines for an entire year. “Half the world’s population lives on less than a dollar a day,” McGehee points out. As for her attempt to relate to that experience, living on a dollar a day with a diet primarily made up of rice and beans, McGehee says “This was a chance to enter that space.” Although, she is quick to add, “I knew I could quit at any time. I knew I had a choice. I can’t ever fully enter that space of knowing what it is to be hungry.” Still, McGehee says, it allowed her to raise the question of what it would be like. “I have a new appreciation of what it must mean to eat out of a garbage can,” she says, recalling one day last month as she watched a diner throw half a meal into the trash can. “I thought, I could have eaten that. At one time that would have been repulsive to me. But if that’s repulsive for us, why do we think it is acceptable for someone else?” 

One of the hardest aspects of her dollar days, she says, was not having enough calories to function well when both body and brain were lacking the necessary fuel. “It was mentally exhausting,” she says. “In order make the money go, you go for what fills you up, what will give you the most calories. Very often, that is not what is nutritious. My body craved nutrients.”She describes the day she spent 69 cents of her daily quota on a banana as an “extravagance,” going on to describe how crucial proper nutrition is to brain development in children. “You know the expression, teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for life...” McGehee says. “I believe in that, for the most part. But while people are learning to fish, they still have to eat. And they have to have access to the pond. That is a lot of what Together in Hope is about, helping provide access to the pond.” McGehee describes her dollar -a- day experiment as “a faith journey, “her personal means of deepening her understanding and fueling her desire to fight for justice. But if McGehee’s efforts do spread awareness and encourage empowerment in others, traveling from deep inside a heart and all the way to the Philippines, then perhaps a dollar a day can go pretty far after all. bDonations for 1000 Filipino Points of Light can be made online at Points-Of-Light-Campaign or by mail to: Together in Hope, 1250 Wood Branch Park Drive, Suite 625, Houston, TX 77079 (Memo line: “1000 Points Campaign”).

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