Meet Becca McKinnon: Teacher, Photographer, Vigilante

Happy Cyber Monday, Vigilantes. I’m told today is the best day for shopping for Christmas presents online. In the land of teachers, today is known more as, Please-God-Let-My-Students-Have-Gone-To-Bed-At-A-Reasonable-Hour-Last-Night-Day.

I digress.

Since it is Cyber Monday, I wanted to let you know of some ways you can shop online while also supporting Vigilante Kindness. You can, of course, buy any of the remaining paper bead jewelry, paintings or poetry anthologies from our store. You can also buy Bravelets bracelets or shop at AmazonSmile.

But there’s one more way you can shop online while supporting the work we do at VK. We’re big on using our gifts to serve others and I love when you email, message, call, stop me in the grocery store and tell me about your gifts and talents and how you want to use them to partner with us. Seriously, few things make me happier than when the work we love to do collides with what your gifts and talents.

Enter Becca McKinnon.

You know her as half of the couple who shoved money in my hand before I left for Uganda the second time with the directions to “find a kid in need.” That money became a mattress for a kid in need.

Becca teaches with me, poor thing, but her passion is taking photographs. She takes photos that leave me awestruck. Seriously, just look at this one of Balanced Rock.

Balanced Rock by Becca McKinnon
Balanced Rock by Becca McKinnon

I can’t even talk about the photos she snapped of my favorite oak tree on Millville Plains Road.

So when Becca asked me if she could donate part of the proceeds of her photo sales to Vigilante Kindness, I was definitely on board. When she said she wanted to give Vigilante Kindness 50% of the proceeds, I nearly passed out. She actually asked if 50% would be enough and it was all I could do to sputter out, “Y-y-y-yes, fifty percent is more than enough.”

So on this Cyber Monday, while I’m wrangling sleep-deprived children, take a minute to pop over to Becca’s site. Even if you somehow have superhero willpower and don’t purchase anything, you’ll be glad to see the beauty Becca captures through the lens of her camera.

Thanks, Becca, and thanks to all of you Vigilantes who use your gifts and talents to partner with VK in doing the work we love.

But Even If He Does Not

I had a record scratch moment today, one of those pauses in time when my jaw drops, my head whips back for a double take, and the record playing in my mind comes to a needle-screeching halt along with everything around me.

Believe it or not, it happened while I was reading the Bible.

Can I let you in on a little secret? Those moments don’t happen often for me, certainly not as frequently as I’d like, most likely because I don’t read the Bible as often as I intend to. Maybe those moments don’t happen to you that often either. Maybe your Bible is a bit dusty or maybe you don’t even read the Bible. Would you hang here with me for a few minutes anyway?

So there I was poking around in Daniel, poking around half-heartedly because I’ve read Daniel a ton of times. I know the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I know the story of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and his giant gold statue that he wanted everyone to bow down to, or else be thrown into a furnace of fire. I know this story, I can even recall the felt figures of the characters stuck on the black Sunday School felt board, while I listened and chewed mouthfuls of graham crackers and tried to figure out just who the hell this king was, thinking he could make everyone bow down to his statue.

In case you weren’t indoctrinated with graham crackers and felt board Bible stories, the basic story is this. King Nebuchadnezzar is power-hungry and wants everyone to worship his gods and bow down to this particular hulking gold image he’s had made. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse because they’re Jews who love God. They’re summoned before the king who succinctly orders them to bow down and worship the statue.

We pick up the story in Daniel 3:16.

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from your majesty’s hand. 18 But even if He does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Did you catch that? They recognize God’s ability to save them from flames, but the record scratch moment for me comes in the next verse. “But even if He does not, we want you to know, your majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

image courtesy of reversingverses.com
image courtesy of reversingverses.com

But even if He does not.

I’m overcome by this phrase. I’m not sure how I’ve missed the magnitude of it all these years.

As we enter the Christmas season, my FaceBook feed isn’t filled with holiday cheer. I wish it were different, but right now my feed is stitched with posts from broken mothers who lost their children too soon, posts from friends who are helplessly watching their parents slip into the fog of dementia, posts from friends undergoing massive amounts of chemo and radiation treatments so intense that it’s all they can do to cross off another treatment appointment on their calendars.

I don’t struggle with knowing God is able to deliver us. I know that down to my bones, that God is able to deliver kids from death, to deliver parents from dementia and friends from cancer.

I know He is able.

But sometimes He doesn’t.

And that’s the part that tangles me up in my sheets at night and leaves me awake in the quiet company of only the low hum resonating from the refrigerator.

Sometimes He doesn’t deliver us.

And no crappy platitudes of “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” can stop the bleeding out from the knifing pain that sometimes He just doesn’t.

I don’t know why. People who pretend to know why God does or doesn’t sweep in for the rescue, well, those people make me want to say strings of bad words.

I will never know why God does or doesn’t step in. In the absence of that knowledge, I’m left with only one choice.

When I’m being scorched by life, I can determine my response. I ache to be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to stand with fire licking at my toes and still be able to say that I know God is able to save me, that I believe He will save me, but even if He does not, my heart will remain steadfast.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response infuriates the king, who demands that the furnace be cranked up seven times higher than usual and that the three men be bound before they’re burned to smithereens.

Once they’re tied up and thrown into the furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar has a record scratch moment of his own. He looks into the furnace and sees a fourth figure that looks like God in the fire with the three men. And the four of them are walking around in the fire, completely impervious to the flames. The king calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace and, get this, not a hair is singed. They don’t even smell like fire. The king changes his tune and recognizes that God is God and that it was God who saved the three men.

And while that part is great, the thing that always thrills my heart about this story is that these guys remained with each other their whole lives, including the worst moment. They stood together before the fire, in the fire, and back out of it again.

This season some of us will sit down to dinner and fight back tears looking at an empty chair. Some of us will lay with parents and grandparents and sing sweet lullabies into threads of their memories. Some of us will breathe in and out every day during treatment and breathing alone will be hard enough.

As we stand on the edges of furnaces that feel more than seven times too hot, could we stand together? Could I stand with you and you stand with me? I won’t have any sage words to say or words you might find in a Hallmark card.

I hope to God my words will sound more like these. God is able to deliver. I believe He will. But even if He does not, let us keep standing with truth in our hearts. And if you don’t mind I’ll stand here with you because I know that God is walking in this fire, too.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday for Vigilante Kindness

Happy day after Thanksgiving! Maybe you’re out and about in the bustle of the crowds today. Or maybe you’re like me, clinging tenaciously to my covers and refusing to acknowledge that Thanksgiving break is ending and it’s time for the dreaded Christmas shopping.

I love Christmas. I love humble Jesus born in a stable to heal our broken world. I love my mom’s Christmas baking. (Hi, Mom!) I love decorating our tree with ornaments The Hubs and I have collected from our travels. I love the way O Holy Night breaks my heart every year at our candlelight Christmas Eve service.

I do not love Christmas shopping. At all.

Thank goodness for online shopping. Recently I had a conversation with one of our Vigilantes, Hannah. (Hi, Hannah!) Hannah chooses to support Vigilante Kindness by purchasing paintings from our artists in Gulu, purchasing jewelry from our artisans in Bungatira and by shopping at AmazonSmile to benefit Vigilante Kindness. I’ve known Hannah since she was a teenager and she’s my kind of girl, not only because she once taught first grade in a foreign country, but because she also likes her money to do the most good possible.

With her permission, I’m sharing parts of our conversation because you might be wondering some of the same things Hannah was wondering.

Hannah: Hi there! Happy Thanksgiving! I’ve been donating to Vigilante Kindness throughout the year via Amazon smile. Just curious, is that program worthwhile?

Me: Aw, thank you for picking Vigilante Kindness, Hannah. It’s worth it to us. We get 0.5% of purchases from people who choose us via Amazon Smile. Last quarter we got a check for $30, which might not seem like much, but that’s the equivalent of 6 new Acholi fable books for kids or 4 new solar lights. Since we’re a really small organization, every penny counts. What’s nice on the administrative side of things is that AmazonSmile’s donation process is truly seamless so the quarterly donations don’t require any extra time on our end, meaning I continue spending my time on the kids and families our projects serve. Does that answer your question? Thanks again for donating to VK.

Hannah: Yes, that absolutely does! I’m happy that it’s seamless on your end. I would love to one day go to Uganda and volunteer.

Me: It’s fun having companies come alongside us. Amazon is great. And Uganda is a beautiful country. Winston Churchhill and Ernest Hemingway both called it the Pearl of Africa and I couldn’t agree more. The topography, the people and the wildlife are lovely. Keep me posted as to what you might be interested in doing and what your particular skill sets are. You never know what projects might come our way that you’d be the perfect fit for. There never seems to be a dull moment in this work and I love that part of it.

So if you’re shopping on AmazonSmile today or Monday or any other day of the year, you can help support Vigilante Vigilante Kindness by choosing us as your charity of choice on AmazonSmile.

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For those of you out braving the crowds today, I’ll be thinking of you as I shop while wearing my pajamas and some pretty fantastic bedhead.

-Alicia

Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving, to our American Vigilantes and happy Thursday to our other Vigilantes around the world. As our first year as an official non-profit comes to a close and as we prepare for more adventures in Vigilante Kindness in 2016, I wanted to take a moment to say thanks for partnering with Vigilante Kindness in this work we love to do.

Whether you volunteered your time and talents, hosted a fundraiser, donated to one of our projects, purchased paintings or art supplies for our artists, purchased paper bead jewelry from our artisans in Bungatira, prayed for us, used your grocery shopping or AmazonSmile shopping to support us, donated your recyclables, or simply followed along on our journey, I’m overcome with gratitude for you.

What began as giving shoes and mattresses to kids in need and buying a sackful of pigs became a way for students and their families to earn sustainable incomes to pay for basic needs like food, medicine, and education.

Who would’ve thought this adventure would unfold before us in such wild and wonderful ways? For sure not me, but that’s just like God to take my meager yes and run with it. And it’s just like God to give me wild at heart, desperate to serve, breaking the mold kind of Vigilantes like you to keep me company.

Words fail to express how much love and appreciation I have for you. Apwoyo matek! (Thank you so much!)

Fondly,

Alicia

Want to be a Vigilante?

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2015 is winding down and for Vigilante Kindness, that means we’re gearing up for a new year in wild adventures of Vigilante Kindness and we’d like you to join us. As we prepare for the new projects God is calling us to in Uganda, we’re looking to expand our Board of Directors to meet our growing needs and perhaps you’ve been looking for something more to do with your life, too.

Vigilante Kindness is currently looking for volunteers who possess talents in the areas of:

  • finance & accounting
  • personnel & human resources
  • administration, management & leadership
  • fundraising & grant writing
  • web design
  • non-profit experience
  • community service
  • project & policy development
  • public relations & communication
  • education & instruction
  • special events
  • outreach & advocacy
  • art instruction

If you’re interested in being on the Board of Directors, please email your completed Vigilante Kindness Board Application to Alicia at vigilantekindness@gmail.com.  Tell us a little bit about yourself, what your special gifts and talents are and why you’re interested in being on the board.

If you’re interested in becoming more involved in Vigilante Kindness, but becoming a director isn’t your thing,  or maybe you don’t see your skill set listed above, we want you, too.  Maybe you paint.  Or write.  Or take photographs.  Or ride your bike really far.  Or knit hats and scarves.  Or make jewelry.  Or make music.  Or make jam.  Or teach Zumba.  Or cut hair.  Whatever your gifts and talents are, we recognize them as something valuable, we recognize you as someone who is valued.  We see you.  We want you to join in our wild adventures of Vigilante Kindness.

Paper Beads & Paintings Now For Sale Online!

jewelry & paintings for VK website-8

Dearest, patient online Vigilantes, the long-awaited day for you to purchase paper bead jewelry online is finally here. In case you simply can’t wait another moment, pop on over to our store to shop. I’ll wait here.

Because of seed money donated by Vigilantes prior to my last trip to Uganda,  Vigilante Kindness was able to purchase 1,000ish gorgeous paper bead necklaces and bracelets. I bought up every bit the women of Bungatira created and I thought surely 1,000ish pieces would be enough to last us for sales for a year.

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

I brought them to one local speaking engagement and had 2 small jewelry parties and POOF! all but a few pieces were snatched up before I could even breathe, let alone get the pieces loaded vigilantekindness.com to sell.

Honestly, it was a great problem to have. Once again, Vigilantes, you completely knocked my socks off with your generosity and support for the people we’ve come to love in Uganda.

The good news is that there are a few lovely pieces remaining and the even better news is that this year’s jewelry sales have guaranteed that this project is now self-sustaining. It makes me want to jump up and down a teensy bit. Okay, more than a teensy bit.

Before you head over to buy some beautiful paper bead jewelry, please take 2 minutes to see how the paper bead jewelry is made.

Loving you with all my liver,

Alicia

P.S. While you’re there you can check out the three remaining painting we have for sale by Ugandan artists Calvin & Seddrick.