Mercy Mondays

Finding Mercy in a Cup of Coffee

By Bethany Collins | Monday, February 15, 2016

I grew up in the United States, but also lived in Mexico, Guatemala and Europe. These cross-cultural experiences have formed me, and I often find myself ‘homesick’ for the unique intercultural encounters I used to have every day. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) gives me the opportunity to encounter people from around the world every day, and carry them with me even though I’m not able to go overseas to meet them in person.

I often think about these people in the morning, when I make a cup of coffee to start my day. As the rich smell of coffee fills my kitchen, I think of the people whose hard work planted, cultivated, harvested, shipped and roasted the very beans that go into my coffee maker. One of these people is Maria, a young woman learning to grow coffee in Nariño, Colombia. I feel particularly connected to Maria because I, too, am a young woman at the beginning of my career.

Meet Maria:

As people of faith, we are a global family.  This pushes us to shed our lens of individuality. Increasing my global awareness has not always been as comforting as my morning coffee. Learning about the origin of my food brings to my attention the difficult reality that we live in and contribute to a very broken world. I discover that my coffee comes at a price—and a price often much higher than $8 per pound.

In many ways, our global economy has a devastating impact on people like Maria. Eight years ago, her family was forced to leave their home in Cumbitara, Colombia to escape violence. Much of Colombia’s poverty and violence is linked to years of internal political tensions, the devastating drug trade (that is now starting to dwindle) and Free Trade Agreements that create an open playground for corporations to treat workers and the land as a means for profit.

Seeking work and safe refuge, Maria’s family resettled in another part of Nariño, a region of Colombia that has been famous for its coffee. As strangers in their new home, Maria’s parents struggled to find work, and she was made fun of for being an outsider.

Changes that seem insignificant have a much larger impact on people in other parts of the world. The climate change that may cause a little more snow in Chicago is completely transforming the coffee industry, as rising temperatures in the ‘coffee belt’ around the Equator destroy thousands of acres of coffee plantations—leaving entire communities without their source of livelihood.

By learning about the coffee industry, I have discovered that my purchases and my votes both have an impact on Maria and so many others around the world. I now make sure that I buy certified Fair Trade, organic coffee so that I know the families who depend on it for their livelihood will receive fair compensation—and the environment will be protected in the way the coffee is grown. I also take the impact of U.S. policies and practices on the world’s most vulnerable into consideration when I vote. In each of these choices, I participate in building a better global economy, an economy that moves our global community into right relationship as God’s creation.

This Lent, CRS Rice Bowl provides a unique way for each of us to participate in the worldwide Jubilee of Mercy. The Jubilee of Mercy is a time to ask for forgiveness, to wholeheartedly offer forgiveness to others and to act collectively as a human family to heal the brokenness in our world.

Visit www.ChicagoPeaceAndJustice.org/CRSRiceBowl to learn more about CRS Rice Bowl and many other ways you can be an instrument of Mercy in our global society.

**CRS Borderlands Coffee from Colombia available through: Counter Culture, Intelligentsia, and Stumptown Coffee. Coffee sold by SERRV and JustCoffee (through the Office for Peace and Justice) also supports the Fair Trade work of CRS worldwide.

Mercy Challenge

Purchase a Fair Trade bag of coffee or tea and enjoy it with a friend this week. Find out where you can buy Fair Trade coffee and other goods by visiting: www.chicagofairtrade.org

Bethany Collins is Program Assistant and Communication Coordinator for the Office for Peace and Justice.