Moving Beyond Ableism: The Edinburgh Rain and the Issue of Homelessness

After the Rain (Edinburgh, Scotland) by Bozia

After the Rain (Edinburgh, Scotland) by Bozia

Editor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities.

By Deborah-Ruth Ferber

It’s another blustery autumn day in downtown Edinburgh. I zip up my coat prepared with a hoodie and sweater underneath and I brave the soon-to-be winter weather of rain, rain, and more rain. Since moving to Scotland I have discovered one thing: the weather can be cruel. It is no respecter of persons and it is not afraid to tease you with a hint of glimmering sunshine only to disappear for the rest of the day under a thick cloud of rain, hail, and wind. I have also discovered something deeper: in Edinburgh, just like in most major cities of the world, there is also no shortage of people who are homeless.

Everywhere I look I spot people living on the street, braving the rain. In the past two months since moving to this wondrous city voted as one of the best places in the world to live, I have begun to notice some of their faces. I have begun to enter into some of their stories. Across from the HMV store sporting the latest CDs and DVDs is a young woman from Bangladesh whose husband abused her and then abandoned her and her three children. A little further down the road is a retired war vet whose PTSD has driven him to the brink of delusion. Then there is the group of homeless street youth who flock together outside a local church with the thought that somehow their life will be better without their parents.

Since Edinburgh is a bustling city, it is often easy to ignore these people. To see them as a blur or to look the other way when they put out their tattered coffee cups to beg. Sometimes in smug indifference I tell myself that there is no way I can help all of them, so why bother.

I often am transported back to a time when I was living in Toronto (a major Canadian city) and was oftentimes approached by people seeking to take advantage of a naïve passerby. I am reminded of the times I have stopped to help one individual only to be bombarded by 10 more requests. These experiences have often left me at a place of conflicted motives – wanting to help, but being afraid of what the outcome could produce.

Yet, lately I have been thinking about the homelessness problem from a different perspective. It is no secret that many people who live on the street have mental health issues. For some issues of addiction, delusion, or what could be termed psychotic outbursts have driven them to the point of not being able to take care of themselves. For example, I think of a fine gentleman, a former professor at the local university who acquired a mental illness later in life which has since rendered him homeless on the streets shouting about who knows what. Yet deep inside he still harbours the awesome brilliance of a math genius. On the other hand, we also see people whose families were unable to take care of them sometimes and demanded their loved ones leave without properly safeguarding them for the dangers that lay ahead.

You see, mental illness, just like the Scottish rain, is no respecter of persons. According to a recent study put out by Sian Rees of the Public Health Resource Unit,[1] the United Kingdom has seen a direct correlation between mental illness and homelessness. Rees shows how issues such as psychosis, suicidal ideation and attempts, and substance abuse are more prevalent among the homeless population than in the general society. Rees also demonstrates that the most prevalent illness of those who find themselves homeless is schizophrenia, with anywhere from 20-35% holding this diagnosis.

While there is no simple formula for solving the homelessness crisis, there are a few practical ways in which we can all work towards a more equitable society. Firstly, we can acknowledge those on the street as we walk past them. Many people who are homeless miss out on the natural love and warmth we so often take for granted. Even a simple smile or “hello” will be sure to brighten up anyone’s day. If we have a moment we can even ask them about their story – some may be more than willing to have a listening and non-judgmental ear. This all comes from the core conviction that each person is a unique being created and loved by God.

Second, we can work towards a greater understanding of the issues of homelessness and poverty that surround our communities. We can take a moment to learn about mental illness and the various ways in which our society stigmatizes those who find themselves in this camp. We can also realize that although in many ways we have made great improvements, there is still much work to be done in terms of funding and resources. We should not automatically assume that someone who is homeless has chosen this lifestyle for themselves, has intentionally neglected getting a job, or is lazy and unmotivated. Rather we should aim to see each individual as God sees them and try to be empathetic and accepting.

Finally, we can help in practical ways. It definitely is impossible to help the thousands that line the streets of Edinburgh each day, at least on a practical level. Nevertheless, there are other ways in which we can acknowledge the distress many face on a daily basis. Whether it’s volunteering at a local halfway house, buying a soft fruit or chocolate bar and giving it to a street person on your way out of the local grocery store, or simply offering a few words of encouragement, we are showing that no one has to live life on their own. Furthermore, if you live in a community that has extreme weather such as rain or snow, learn how this affects the homeless population. Perhaps donating mittens, hats, or ponchos to a local shelter or giving a blanket or warm sleeping bag to someone on the street could make a huge difference for them.

Homelessness is not a problem that will be solved easily; however, with determination and the right attitude, we can at least begin to make an impact. Next time you are in a major city, I want to encourage you – don’t just walk past the blur of faces, take time to really think about who each person is. Understand that each person has a story. Understand that you also have a story. And understand that even in the wake of mental illness, that story of incredible resilience and strength does not change. Once we recognize this, we are well on our way to creating a fairer and safer world.

[1] Sian Rees, “Mental Ill Health in the Adult Single Homeless Population: A Review of the Literature,” Public Health Resource Unit (PHRU), March 2009,

Deborah-Ruth Ferber is a field associate with ADNet and currently living in a L’Arche Community in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Peace on the Hill: Let justice roll down like (clean) waters

czehr_photoBy Charissa Zehr

For I was…thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…I was sick and you took care of me…” –Matthew 25:35-36

Water is a source of life—an essential component of any community’s health and well-being. But what do people do when the water they rely on becomes a source of sickness and death?

In mid-October 2010, the worst cholera epidemic in the world erupted in Haiti. Numerous scientists, including a panel of experts appointed by the United Nations (U.N.), documented that U.N. peacekeepers in Haiti introduced cholera by improperly disposing of contaminated sewage into the country’s largest river. Before 2010, not a single life had been lost to cholera in Haiti. In the last five years, 8,847 people have died, and more than 746,000 have fallen ill.

cholera_ny displayWhile cases of cholera declined last year, trends reversed in 2015 and cases spiked early in the year. A stewing migration crisis at the border, precipitated by the Dominican Republic’s deportation of Haitian migrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent, has led to the formation of neglected tent camps across their shared border. Fears were confirmed this week when the first recorded cases of cholera were seen in these camps.

Despite the ongoing human toll, other pressing humanitarian crises in Haiti and abroad have diverted media attention and funding from cholera prevention, treatment and infrastructure investment. The U.N. has only been able to raise 18 percent of needed funds for its 10-year cholera elimination plan. Adding insult to injury, the U.N. has never publicly acknowledged its role in introducing cholera, offered an apology to victims, or been willing to hear their claims for rFB Five yearseparations.

In an effort to draw new attention to the plight of cholera victims, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) partnered with InsideOut and several other Haitian and U.S.-based organizations to create the FACE|JUSTICE campaign. FACE|JUSTICE brings cholera victims’ faces and stories before U.N. leaders to make them confront victims’ continued suffering and encourage a more just response. Stunning images of victims were printed on large posters and hung across from UN facilities in Port-au-Prince, New York, and Geneva.

olivia jean pierreAs Olivia Jean-Pierre, mother of two cholera survivors and one of the featured faces of the campaign, notes: “For four years I’ve been marching, seeking justice and reparations alongside other cholera victims. But these efforts haven’t yet succeeded.”

What exactly would a just response look like? Victims have stated clearly that it would mean the U.N. lives up to its promise to bring clean water and sanitation to Haiti and ensures that all have access to medical care; provides reparations for victims who have suffered from cholera and lost their loved ones; and publicly accepts responsibility for bringing cholera to Haiti, including a formal apology to victims.

In concert with U.N. responsibility, there is a need for the governments of Haiti and the United States to make cholera reduction and eradication a priority. The U.S. government has a strong influence in Haitian policy, and putting cholera back on the agenda would speak volumes to the Haitian population clamoring for justice. It is time the international community that purports to care deeply for Haiti’s well-being renew efforts to eliminate cholera and ensure access to clean water for all Haitians.

MCC is encouraging people to take action and sign a petition that calls for clean water in Haiti. We hope to reach 30,000 signatures for International Human Rights Day on December 10.


Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting domestic and international issues and detailing ways the church can be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy to elected leaders.

Balancing Acts – The Gift of the Magi

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

(Matthew 2:11, NIV)

As I write this, there are just 44 days until Christmas! Between American Thanksgiving and Christmas, the traditional Christmas shopping season, there are only 25 days this year as Thanksgiving falls relatively “late.” And, of course, Christmas displays have been popping up in retail stores for weeks. All of this raises the annual issue of gift-giving: good or bad, joyful or stressful, what, who, when?

There is much we could say about gift-giving, particularly in Western culture. It is true that often we spend too much on gifts, worry too much about what to give, and stress over getting the best “deals.” Some advocate doing away with gift-giving especially at Christmas and simply focusing on the true meaning of the holiday and on spending time with friends and loved ones.

But, this misses the point. Giving a gift is a chance to bring pleasure to another person; it is a chance to show that we care about and value someone. Ideally, thoughtful, appropriate gifts “carry with them a great deal of love.” (“Three Reasons to Engage in Gift Giving,” Forbes, Feb. 15, 2015) Psychologists have found that “giving gifts is a surprisingly complex and important part of human interaction, helping to define relationships and strengthen bonds with family and friends. (“The Gift that Gives Right Back? The Giving Itself,” NY Times, December 11, 2007.)

When we think about gift-giving at Christmas, we often think about the gifts of the Three Wise Men recorded in Matthew 2:11 – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. “These valuable items were standard gifts to honor a king or deity in the ancient world: gold as a precious metal, frankincense as perfume or incense, and myrrh as anointing oil.” (“Why Did the Magi Bring Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?” Bible History Daily, Oct 23, 2014). These gifts, like all good gifts, considered the one to whom they were given. It is important for us, too, to think about the person to whom a gift is to be given. This means that we have to know the person, and intentionally seek an appropriate gift.

If you have not read it for a while, the O. Henry short story, “The Gift of the Magi,” is not only touching, but a good reminder of what is good about gift-giving at its best. Perhaps your ideas about Christmas gift-giving will be changed or bolstered by this classic story. Of course there are other inspiring Christmas stories, all worth a read or re-read at this time of year. Doing so will not only provide enjoyment, but, hopefully, serve to bring some much-needed perspective to Christmas gift-giving. Here are just a couple of my favorites. I hope you enjoy them.

  • The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry, Project Gutenberg

  • The Seven Poor Travelers, Charles Dickens


A Lamentation of Peace

by Keith Lyndaker


Peace is a strange thing.
I have dedicated my life to it.
My life has been changed by it,
but somehow within I am still in conflict.

In my heart I can find no rest.

I feel so weak,
tossed by the wind of every little thing,
nervous before a hard conversation,
so quick to anger at any perceived slight
or injustice.

Where is this peace that passes all understanding?

It is a gift,
as close as a petition,
a prayer from a grateful soul.

It is the guardian
of my heart and my mind.
I am commanded to not
be anxious.

All I have to do is be present
to its blowing.
All I have to do is ask for the wind.

(reprinted from

Faith-Rooted Practice – Time for Churches to Organize Differently

johonna-mccants_portraitby Johonna Turner

In their book Faith-Rooted Organizing: Mobilizing the Church in Service to the World, Alexia Salvatierra and Peter Heltzel distinguish community organizing that is rooted in our faith from dominant faith-based organizing models. According to Salvatierra and Heltzel, faith-rooted organizing is “bringing people together to create systemic change in our communities and world in a way that is completely shaped and guided by our faith, taking seriously all the implications of the assumption that God is real and drawing on the deepest wells of our faith in order to enable people of faith to contribute our unique gifts to the broader movement for justice.” Salvatierra and Heltzel lift up the Civil Rights Movement as an example of faith-rooted organizing in which African-American Christian communities birthed the momentum and means of organizing for social and economic justice.

Whereas faith-based organizing is typically based on the same assumptions of secular organizing – such as Saul Alinsky’s primary notion that organizing begins with self-interest, faith-rooted organizing assumes that people of faith, namely Christians, are guided by Biblical values such as compassion and truth, and driven to work for justice in part because it is what God requires of us. In contrast to faith-based organizing that is often driven by an agenda shaped by its participants alone, faith-rooted organizers facilitate a vision that is co-created by participants’ dreams and critical engagement with the Word of God. For example, what is our vision for workers’ wages? What is God’s vision? What is our dream for our relationships with one another? What is God’s desire?

Whereas faith-based organizing networks see people of faith as “the base” (or membership) of organizing campaigns, faith-rooted organizing networks see our faith as the power or animus of our organizing. Whereas Alinskian models of community organizing frequently call for the identification and defeat of a common enemy through increasingly confrontational methods, faith-rooted organizing calls for love and compassion toward those standing in the way of justice. This approach also asks how we might use our moral authority as a resource for transformation.

What does it look like for the Sermon on the Mount to shape the means by which we change the society around us– not merely the ends we hope for? What does it look like to meaningfully employ spiritual resources such as prayer, worship, ritual and Scripture – in how we analyze the problems facing our communities and bring people together to take action? What happens when we honestly grapple with policies and structures as well as the reality of spiritual warfare? When we take seriously Paul’s admonitions that “we wrestle not with flesh and blood but against principalities and evil spirits” and that “the weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world, but have divine power to demolish strongholds.” How might our faith sustain us in this work? The book, Faith-Rooted Organizing offers us meaningful responses that can help us embrace this “Way” to justice.

(This article is the first in a series entitled, “Faith-Rooted Practice.” I explore the potential of churches to advance justice and peacebuilding within local communities through practices deeply grounded in Christian faith and engagement with the Bible).

Johonna Turner (née McCants) is an educator, cultural worker and scholar. She serves as Assistant Professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding where she teaches undergraduate, Masters’ level and training courses in conflict transformation and restorative justice. Johonna is animated by a passion to advance peace and justice within marginalized communities by building the capacity of neighborhood churches and investing in the leadership of young people. She resides in Harrisonburg, Virginia with the love of her life (aka her handsome husband).


How can this be true?!

By Cara EdigerCara Ediger


Let peace on earth multiply

And may Jesus thus delay

The rapture of the church might be justified

If love on earth is crucified


Crucified, laid buried in the tomb,

and three days later raised-

Yay, Nay, they say-

how can this be true?


That peace on earth has already been won

And glory to the Son, too!


If love on earth is crucified,

then let peace on earth multiply

And God said, be fruitful!

And then multiply!

What a glorious day will come,

When the church may welcome home

all the sinners to the earth,

And the dead will rise

who are now hidden with

the only crucified

up from the grave he arose,

and those with him shout in unison,’

He is risen!

He is risen Indeed’


Crucified, laid buried in the tomb,

and raised three days later-

Yay, Nay, they say-

How can this be true?!!







Balancing Acts – Fair Trade Month

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. Ezekiel 16:49 (NIV)

By the time Peace Signs comes out the month of October will be almost over. Nevertheless, it is worth while reminding ourselves that October – and ideally every month – is Fair Trade Month. Just as we remember birthdays, anniversaries and holidays each year, it is important to remind ourselves regularly about various issues that relate to peace and justice. Fair trade is one of these issues.

The idea of trade, or commerce, is that generally people are not able to produce all of the goods and services that they need for themselves. Some lack resources, others may lack skills; some things require the efforts of groups of people working together. Whatever the reason, it is necessary for people to exchange goods and services which they produce for the goods and services that others produce.

Given the necessity of exchanging goods and services, the problem arises as to the best way to do this. Over time the system of the free market has developed. The free market is characterized by producers and consumers exchanging goods, typically using a medium of exchange such as currency. The amount of currency, or price, paid for goods and services is set according to a “natural” law of supply and demand – this is, an agreement of sorts between the buyer and the seller as to a fair price. When there is a surplus of goods, consumers are not willing to pay a high price, so the price falls. When there is a surfeit of good, the producers are not willing to receive a lower price, so the price rises.

All of this seems logical and fair. But, there are a number of problems. A significant one is that most exchanges are carried out not between the producer and consumer directly, but through a chain of agents who package, promote, and distribute goods and services. The price that the consumer is willing to pay must be divided among the various agents. Because of this, the producer will likely receive less than if they were able to sell directly to the consumer, especially if the price is low due to a surplus of goods.

Another problem is that consumers may not be able or willing to pay the price that producers are asking. In this case a lower price is set and the producer, at the end of the supply chain, again may not receive adequate payment to cover their costs or to provide a sufficient income for family needs.

Fair trade is an alternative model of exchange, where distributors work directly with the producers eliminating some of the agents in the supply chain. In addition, these distributors make loans available, guarantee a minimum price, and help small producers form cooperatives to pool resources. The net result is that the producer receives an adequate price.

How the exchange of goods and services is carried out is a peace and justice issue. As the scripture verse at the start of the article suggests, God cares about how we live in relation to other humans, especially those who are poor. For fair trade to work, consumers – you and I – must be willing to pay a higher price to insure that producers, often poor farmers or artisans, receive sufficient income to meet their needs.

There are a number of fair trade programs. Fair trade coffee is one, as coffee is a highly traded commodity. But fair trade also includes chocolate, apparel and household goods. To learn more about fair trade and how you can become involved check out the following sites:

  • Fair Trade America: Celebrate Fair Trade Month this October – Learn about fair trade products and people.

  • Be Fair: What is Fair Trade – Learn about fair trade and how you can be involved.
  • Equal Exchange: Fair Trade – Learn about the fair trade model, threats to fair trade, and ways you can engage to help promote and preserve the fair trade initiative. Also, buy fair trade coffee, chocolate and more.

  • Novica: Buy Fair Trade products including jewelry, fashions, home decor and more.

Fair trade is one of those issues that everyone can be involved in. Whether you simply check labels at the local store and opt for fair trade alternatives, order fair trade products online, or advocate for fair trade practices, whatever you do helps insure a better life for farmers and artisans, particularly those who are poor.