Viewing entries in
Guest Blog

Views from the Farm: First Time Down the Thistle Road

thistle-176201__180.jpg

This was written by Brooke Byers, my new Executive Assistant and the National Travel Coordinator. Her generous spirit and talent are such a gift.

---Becca

...

There was a day in the not so distant past (I can still see it in the rear view mirro, lthough it's fading) that fear would've kept me from this work. I grew-up as a sheltered preacher's kid in the Deep South. Diversity wasn't a word I knew or really understood. I didn't have a clue about my privilege in the world until a veil slowly started to lift while living in the great Pacific Northwest a few years back. Self-awareness can be life-changing.

Fast forward to mid-April when I found myself boarding a plane headed to Kansas City. I had the opportunity to travel with Becca and two Thistle Farms survivor leader (Regina & Tiffany) to Kansas and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Becca travels globally spreading the message that love is the most powerful force for change in the world, and she typically travels with to 2-3 of the Thistle Farms women and a road assistant. I was anxious to get to know Regina, so I plopped down in the seat next to her. She is Director of our Thistle Farms Residential program, Magdalene. For 20 years she has extended her heart and hand to women still on the streets so they can find their way home. She is one of the most courageous women I've ever met. We talked about what it's like to find our own freedom and we shared stories about our kids. It was such an honor to hear some of her story. We laughed, cried and had fun cutting up on the plane.

As the road assistant, I had a few tasks for the weekend: keep us on time, drive the oh-so-hot mini-van and sell products on a POS system I'd never used. No big deal, right? Usually pressure like this would give me a migraine and put me under, but I had a great sense of pride and was overwhelmed by gratitude. This is my life-work now (I'm still pinching myself!). Tiffany is such a rock star and patiently helped me with the POS. She knows so much about our products and is great with customers. I really enjoyed getting to know her. She is a strong, courageous woman and has overcome so much. I truly admire her great strength and consider her my sister for life!

The weekend was full of messages about the "good news of healing", "daily practices and rituals to keep the spirit moving," and contemplative practices. It was awesome to see Becca in action. I’m such a geek and even took notes while Becca spoke. I was hanging on every word! These beautiful quotes by Dr. Rev. Becca Stevens particularly impacted my heart and are still resonating with me.

“We need to be reminded about the good news of healing.”

“Love is the end of the story.”

“How do I speak my truth in love?”

“Good news is not oppressive.”

“We need to have space and a moment to dream about what healing looks like in our own lives."

We enjoyed a feast of some of the finest BBQ in KC with Becca's friends, met some amazing folks in Mission and Fort Smith, devoured some of the best guacamole at an Ecuadorian restaurant in Fort Smith, sold over $10k of Thistle Farms products and traveled through 6 different states in 4 days. We had a fairly quiet and (thankfully) uneventful 4.5 hour drive to Ft. Smith, but I’ll never forget how the lyrics hit me when Becca ooked up her phone to the sound system in the van and playe the song "Make it Love." I remember feeling a great sense of joy and was reminded that I’m not alone by the line “let’s just make it love and take each other’s hands.” I was in a van with three amazing women who make it love EVERY DAY! Check it out here!

It's easy for me to sit behind a computer, type up the travel itineraries and coordinate all of the logistics from afar but to be on "ground zero" with the heroes from Thistle Farms is truly a great gift.

blog image credit: pixabay.com

Views from the Farm: CNN Shoot with Becca

wildflowers-817179_960_720.jpg

Continuing with our guest blog series, here's an update on some great news from our community. Thanks so much to the CNN crew and Ryan Camp for being such a faithful thistle farmer. This was written by one of my assistants, Jordan.

Love, Becca

--

“Now, to me ‘love heals’ means that you take all these lofty ideas and actually do something. It also means to love without judgement.” --Becca, CNN Interview, April 2016

Whether you’re new to the Circle at Thistle Farms or have heard the story of how this community came to be a million times over, it just takes one new detail, one nuanced slant of light falling as the words come forth, or even just one fresh breath of laughter blessing the stories of trauma, healing, and recovery to provoke fresh tears over all that love can do. Trust me, I speak from experience.

A crew from CNN recently came to film a segment about Thistle Farms and Becca, and they were with us for two days. They interviewed survivor leaders, got footage of our products being made and shipped, and of course, heard from The Boss about how the dream she had of creating a home--“not a rehab center, not a halfway house, a home”--for women who have survived violence, addiction and prostitution grew into a 2 million dollar social enterprise, cafe, global shared trade network, and the largest survivor-led organization of its kind in the nation.

I was fortunate enough to be part of the logistics crew on the Thistle side of things and spent the better part of those days listening once more to all the narratives that are woven together in the tapestry of our community. I was able to take pictures, live tweet Becca’s interview, meet our Whole Foods media contact in Nashville, and see these amazing women sharing the truth that love is the most powerful force for social change, as their journeys attest to like nothing else.

This all came together for me as I sat in on the crew’s interview with Becca the last day of the shoot. I spent most of the time they were filming her sniffling, both from the recent onset of allergies that only the South can cause and from tears that began to stream as she took us back to the one of the most powerful spiritual principles that guide our community: “Remember You Have Been in the Ditch.” This call to humility in times of personal growth and reflection has always stopped me in my tracks. More than anything I find it arresting because it’s a reminder that we must all check our egos and suspend judgement if earnestly intend to pick up the plough that is required of all Thistle Farmers. None of us our saints, but none of us are lost causes either. By remembering our ditches we are able to see both our mistakes and our redemption.

With this, in the ever evolving scrapbook of experiences I am collecting as a servant to this community and assistant to Becca, I am blown away by such opportunities as these--to really see what this justice work can look like and how big our dreams can get if we are willing to accept help and to “lean into our faith more than our doubts” as Becca says in her poem, “I am not more faithful.” So, thank you to CNN for helping us spread the word, and thank you to Becca and the women of Thistle Farms for continuing to make space for all of us who gain more in being of service to you than you will ever know.

Original image credit: pixabay.com

Views from the Farm: A Photoshoot with Becca at Radnor Lake

butterfly-1206372_960_720.jpg

as part of a new series i want to feature on here, this is the first entry in a set of reflections from some thistle farmers that work, travel and love the world with me. i'm so grateful for all of the people that help make this work possible, and i'm glad to share part of their story here with you, too. this was written by one of my assistants, jordan.

love, becca ---

"What we are feeling and experiencing is not a sense of being lost but the wonder of discovering something new..."

The gift of being a Thistle Farmer to me has always been that once we start down the path we never know where it will take us on any given day. A few weeks ago, such an expected turn came my way when The Boss, otherwise known as The Reverend Becca Stevens, asked me if I wanted to go to Radnor Lake with her for a photoshoot we’d arranged as part of some upcoming projects Thistle Farms is about to roll out for our Beloved Community. Becca was literally heading out the door, and while my fresh Hummus Helping from the Cafe was just calling to me, the promise of new Spring air and the chance to experience flowers blooming with one of their biggest fans was too great an opportunity to turn down.

On the drive over, The Boss and I discussed a little of everything. (If you ever get the chance to chat with her about life at large, I highly recommend that you take it.) Of particular note to me was the way that she interwove all the details of not only her life and work as a Thistle Farmer, but also as a priest who still feels called to light incense while praying, visit the ailing, and spread the kindness of her vocation whenever she can.

While I realize that it’s not good to make heroes out of people, I can say in clear conscience that Becca has become a possibility model for me in terms of how she’s shown me that it’s possible to love the world and love how you do it at the same time. That’s been a huge gift to me as an emerging professional.

After we arrived and greeted the rest of our party, Peggy and Kren, we took a luxurious walk around the lake, scouting the perfect location for Becca to do something she does very well: be photogenic. During our wandering, The Boss pointed out flowers left and right, detailing their name, medicinal properties, and the way they grow out of the ground. If there were any question about the depth of love she has for the earth from which we harvest our thistles, spending time with her outside will clear that up in heartbeat. Several steps and funny stories later, a location was chosen.

Becca removed her signature Ugg boots, and then sat amongst the earth that was blooming before us. I had the privilege of holding the reflector as Peggy worked her magic. You’ll see the full fruits of her labor shortly, but I can assure you that the combination of her artistic eye, the sunlight, Radnor, and Becca made for some gorgeous results.

All too soon, we had to pack up and head back to the cars. But the sweet experiences of that day still remain vivid in my mind. It’s not too many folks my age who can say that they’ve had the vast variety of professional development experiences my time with Thistle Farms continues to offer me. Just when I think that we’re settled into a week of the good work of proving to the world that is the most powerful force for social change, something new will crop up and allow me to experience our mission in ways I had not yet imagined.

This has made for a very grateful Thistle Farmer who thanks you for spending some time reading about his great day with his great Boss.

Love heals, Jordan

blog image credit: pixabay.com

Guest Blog: "The Noose of a Single Narrative: Holy Week 2016" by David Hutchens

sling-1222466_960_720.jpg

i've heard before that a writer is only as good as the material she reads. in light of this, i want to start sharing some writings with you that inform my journey. this is a piece written in reflection of holy week this year by my friend david hutchens. i pray his words are just as convicting for you as they are for me.

love, becca

---

My eyes kept being drawn back to the image of the silver coins being dropped into Judas’ hands, which disappointed me because I didn't want to write about it. The Passion narrative is so rich in pathos, in beauty, in archetype, why even bring up money? It seems tacky. But this image kept calling, so I should listen to what it has to say.

I stay with the picture, and I feel my breath deepen, and now I see images of glass meeting rooms in big organizations where my career in leadership development keeps putting me in these flawed and compromised places so that my friends ask me questions: How can you support a national food brand when they are depleting ground water in India? By supporting a national beauty retailer, aren't you contributing to the objectification of women?

It’s not that I see myself as a Judas. I believe in my work. But I’ve been sensitive to my role in systems that are deeply fractured (which I think may be all systems). I sometimes feel in my gut the tension between positioning myself as one of the good guys who is there to make it better, while at some level enabling the dysfunction simply by showing up without a picket sign.

I just came back from a program -- with the national beauty retailer, as a matter of fact -- and it was a room filled with young leaders which is my favorite scenrio because they still have some fire flickering in their eyes, before 20 years in supply chain management can turn them into zombies who believe that all they are doing is moving numbers around on an Excel spreadsheet. They have not yet abandoned the possibility that they might bring their whole hearts to the work. I told them the thing I always tell leaders which is that they are creating their world through the stories they choose to tell, and if you want to change the world start by changing the metaphor. The young business leaders are hungry to embrace this calling, I see the light burn a little brighter, and I feel a moment of hope for the organizational world.

My eyes focus on the painting again. I like that it is an action image. We see the coins falling from the hand of a Sanhedrin priest into Judas’ hand. Money is one of those topics like sex that is always a metaphor, so that when we are talking about it we are probably really talking about something else. What the money represents to the priest is different than the meaning that Judas assigns to it, and so something has shifted in that short journey as it falls from one hand to another.

So what meaning does Judas assign to the money? I sense desperation. I think it’s plausible that he was hungry, or that he was worried about his house payment, or a family member had growing medical debt, or maybe his teenager needed braces. When you’re scrambling at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for basic survival, it’s amazing how quickly you can rationalize away all of the higher-order self-actualization stuff. I know because I’ve done it.

But what is sad about this story is that Judas never gets to make the choice that my L’Oreal leaders made. There’s a special form of discourse that I like to call The Art of Talking About What Things Mean. In the scripture Jesus was especially good at this but it seems like almost no one else was, and that includes Judas who found himself isolated on his last day on earth, unable to change the metaphor.

It’s tough work, this Art of Talking About What Things Mean. It has to happen in community, and I think the final agony of this text is that Judas was up for the task but at the crucial moment community failed him. Listen to how the story goes in Matthew chapter 27, which to me now sounds like a modern parable for Wall Street:

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” the leaders replied. “That’s your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

And as I take one last look at the image, I notice that the hands are close enough to touch, a possibility of human connection that for Judas never happened. And so maybe this painting, which I resisted, has for me not a rebuke but a call. A call to new stories and to building something beautiful as a community. Otherwise, all we are left with is a handful of coins… and the noose of a single narrative.

image credit: pixabay.com

Guest Post Feature: "Nashville Light" by Sarah Hillesheim

becca-isabel-anika-e1455736740858.jpg

this post was originally featured on the blog My Invented Isabel We just got back from our love fest in Nashville with Thistle Farms and the women of Magdalene, the social enterprise and residential rehab center founded by the Rev. Becca Stevens to serve and support women who are recovering from addiction and who have been victims of prostitution and trafficking.

Calling our visit a love fest is an understatement. It was a light-filled full-blown love carnival, complete with Irish singers and a candle lit for every woman at Thistle Farms—and countless more for those still out in the night. I’ll write more on our trip later, but here’s a quick overview: we hiked the Tennessee hills, went to church to hear Becca preach, enjoyed a tea party at the Thistle Stop Cafe and visited the Magdalene residences, homes where women can stay for up to two years and are bathed in love as they receive therapy, medical care, eduction and employment. Thistle Farms sent some love our way as well, honoring Isabel at its Light Bearers event.

It’s all about the love.

thank you so much to Isabel Allende and The Isabel Allende Foundation. we love you!

Guest Blog: Barefoot Tribe Gathering in October

barefoottribe-image.png

The following is a guest blog post by Palmer Chinchen of www.BarefootTribe.com, announcing their upcoming conference in Arizona.  I (Becca) will be speaking during the opening main session Thursday evening, October 16.  See the full schedule here. Take off Your Shoes and Walk the Holy Ground of a Broken World

Join us Oct. 16-18 at The Grove in Phoenix (Chandler), Arizona.

ABOUT THE GATHERING: We are on the crest of an epic shift in humanity, The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy. This next generation of innovative Christ-followers are not waiting for governments, institutions, or large denominations to change what is not right in our world. They are acting on their own passion and empathy. They are taking action, taking risks, and remaking the world.

The purpose of the BAREFOOT TRIBE GATHERING is to promote conversation, collaboration, and inspire this next generation church to give their best thinking and passion, and pool their recourses and abilities to finally turn the tide on injustice, oppression and extreme poverty locally and globally.

A Tribal Response to Ebola by Dr. Palmer Chinchen

Stephen Fomba, is right when he says, “The [Ebola] outbreak reminds me that the lack of shoes in my home of Sierra Leone could be contributing to the spread of the virus” (Time, August 16, 2014).

I grew up among the Sapo people, the barefoot tribe of Liberia. As a kid, my home was a bamboo-mat house in the Sinoe jungle, the world's thickest rain forest. A single-engine Cessna dropped my family off when I was six. The bush roads did not reach our remote mission. We had no running water or flushing toilets. Our drinking water from the creek was boiled in the large black pot out back, and kerosene lanterns lit our home at night. I shared my bed with our pet chimpanzee, Tarzan... and my friends ran barefoot.

In the jungle, shoes are the exception. That's why most of my friends in the bush had infected toes, swollen stomachs, or orange-colored hair… and today contract Ebola.

When the children of Liberia walk barefoot the parasites and viruses, left behind from animal waste or human urine, enter thorough the micro-lacerations in their feet. They multiply with a vengeance in their small bodies. The worry used to be bilharzia or filaria or hook worm, but now the worry has turned deadly – Ebola.

It’s a disturbing fate.

That's why my blood boiled recently when a student at a large Christian university found me after I finished speaking and suggested I stop taking shoes to Africa, "Because," he said, "Africans' feet grow tough, and they don't need the shoes."

His ignorance was astonishing . . . and offensive.

Shoes are not the complete answer to stopping the spread of Ebola, but they are certainly a significant part of the solution. The barefoot poor constantly suffer puncture wounds from glass, nails, rocks, or thorns, as well as abrasions. The punctured flesh and microscopic cuts leave an open door to the parasites, bacteria, and viruses like Ebola, that thrive in the tropics of West Africa. The warm, damp climate keeps the parasites alive in the mud and groundwater contaminated by feces, and when it comes in contact with human skin, the parasites burrow through a bare human foot.

Shoes don't just provide some negligible degree of protection; they provide life-giving protection.

. . .

In Barefoot Tribe (Howard Books, 2014), I write about how shoes are a rare and valued treasure in the jungle. So I was surprised when a young Sapo girl gave hers away.

On a stifling, dry-season afternoon, our bamboo house in the bush caught fire. Out of breath after running from the burning house, I stood on the grass next to my sister, Lisa, watching our home burn with violent intensity. Lisa cried deep sobs. Then I noticed she had no shoes. Lisa had run out in such a hurry that she’d left her shoes in the burning house.

Her best friend, a Sapo girl named Sophie, was standing next to her. She, too, saw that Lisa had no shoes. So she knelt down, pulled the shoes off her feet, and gently slipped them onto Lisa’s.

I was surprised by the act of generous love, but I shouldn't have been, because this is the way of the Sapo tribe.

. . .

Today, another kind of tribe is forming. I saw it begin to take shape a few years ago on a day we called “Barefoot Sunday.”

It could have been the memory of generous love by the Sapo girl years ago that made me start carrying shoes back to Africa. Maybe it was the thought of all my friends in the bush whose feet festered from walking barefoot. Or it could have been from watching high school boys share their shoes on the soccer field so a friend could play with at least one shoe on. I think it was the pool of all these memories that made me begin taking suitcases of shoes to Africa each time I returned. I never seemed to have enough. That's why I finally told the people of The Grove (the church I help lead in Chandler, Arizona), "I need your help—I need your shoes."

On Barefoot Sunday we asked everyone to come to church wearing their best and favorite shoes, then take them off and go home barefoot. Our team heading to Liberia would pack their shoes up and give them away.

That first Barefoot Sunday more than two thousand pairs of shoes were left on our stage, and the next year, five thousand pairs!

The shoes are desperately needed today in places like Liberia to help curb the spread of diseases like Ebola, but when you take off your shoes to share with the barefoot poor something also happens in you:

When you take off your shoes you acknowledge excess Most of us in the developed world live with more than enough. The average American owns 19 pairs of shoes. That’s more than enough shoes. The truth is we live with excess; let’s begin to live with less. And if we begin by simply sharing our excess clothes, cars, money, and shoes . . . we can turn the tide on the world’s most vexing troubles – like Ebola.

When you take off your shoes you walk with the poor… literally On Barefoot Sunday we invite every person who takes off their shoes to walk the rest of the day barefoot, in order to experience in a small way how one-fifth of the world’s population lives every day. If they go shopping or to a restaurant, they go barefoot. It’s a bit shaming (they sometimes get kicked out of restaurants), and a bit painful, with the hot asphalt and the gravel. But people empathize with the poor in a new way, and they never forget the Sunday they walked barefoot.

Every day 1.3 billion people walk barefoot in underdeveloped countries, yet most in the developed world live completely unaware of—let alone bothered by—extreme poverty.

When you take off your shoes you make change Never miss that your one life matters. It does. The world may be a broken place, but with your one and very important life you can change what is not right in this world—if we will care less about things like shoes and care more about people sick with Ebola.

You may not have enough shoes to put on 1.3 billion feet, but your one contribution matters in the life of one person. And when the tribe of Christ-followers pools its resources and piles up its shoes, we have more than enough to turn the tide.

When you take off your shoes you follow Jesus My friend Leeland has written a song with the line that sings, "I will follow you into the homes of the broken." I think most Christians are willing to follow Jesus into an air-conditioned church or a living room small group, but how many will actually follow him into the shantytowns, and the blighted neighborhoods, and the inner-city slums, and the villages, and into the homes of the broken?

In Matthew Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, give clean water to the thirsty, share your clothes (and shoes) with the poor, and care for the sick… like the ones with Ebola.

If Christ calls you to be one with the least and the last, are you willing to take off your shoes and follow him and live that life? You cannot separate your spirituality from what you do, or do not do, about the sick in places like Sierra Leone and Guinea and Liberia.

So join the tribe, and take off your shoes and walk the holy ground of a broken world.

About the Author: A rising voice in the social justice movement, Palmer Chinchen is a popular speaker and author of BAREFOOT TRIBE (Howard Books, 2014) and TRUE RELIGION: Taking pieces of heaven to places of hell on earth (David C. Cook, June 2010) and founder of the national Barefoot Tribe Gathering.

Palmer was raised in the jungles of Liberia and later returned to Africa, where he taught spiritual development and practical theology at African Bible College in Malawi and Liberia. Today he leads The Grove in Chandler, Arizona, a young, dynamic, and rapidly growing congregation. Palmer and his church are committed to working tirelessly together to eliminate extreme poverty, eradicate malaria, and end injustice everywhere.