Monday, December 17, 2012

Ready for Christmas?

As the 25th of December draws near, the frequency of the question, "Are you ready for Christmas?" also increases.  I never know quite how to answer what I'm sure is a well-intended question.

First, the demand on my readiness quotient has diminished greatly due to an exodus from my home- I'm a single-again woman with an empty nest.

  •  If it's shopping that's meant, then there are my married children and two grandsons who make the season amply fun by giving me a chance to once again peruse the store's toy section. That doesn't take much time.  
  • If it's baking that's being referred to, I'd eat what I make and have only myself to blame, so that's not going to happen:).  
  • If it's being charitable, I've found some really fun places to share what I have
  • If it's decorating, I surprised myself by really liking the little tree that I put up this weekend.  It's the first one since I moved into my current home.  My lights went up during that warm spell in Nov, so I can check that off my list too. 
Maybe I've missed the point and something else is meant?

I'm grateful that I've been repeatedly asked this question, because it's gotten me thinking.  Am I ready for Christmas?  In my re-shaped life, what would that mean?  What do I want it to mean?  What would "The Reason for the Season" want it to mean?

When I was a preteen, my father was a church planter, which meant that his family got to be the star of the show whether capable or not.  Thus, I was a soloist at our church's Christmas program.  It was memorable partly due to the fact that mere days before the program I had wiped out on the trampoline in gym class and skinned the top of my nose quite thoroughly.  There was no way to cover that large scab!

I've never forgotten the song I sang, "Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne"  (yes, that ages me!).  As I reflected on being ready for Christmas this year, the chorus, "O come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for Thee," began to wind it's way through my spirit again, and I realized that this was it!  Making "room in my heart for Him" is my heart's desire this Christmas.  This desire was confirmed as I pedalled away on an exercise bike to Casting Crown's Peace on Earth:  "Will we go down in history as a nation with no room for its King?"

Next time I'm asked if I'm ready for Christmas, I'll smile and give a resounding, "Yes!" as I gladly carve out  space in my schedule, day, life and heart for Him who is my life.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Let My People Go!

I've been reading the exciting, real, dramatic, history-making saga of Moses and the Exodus.

At the same time, I've been listening to the news updates of refugees drowning as they try to cross bodies of water in unreliable, overloaded boats.  And grieving over the Canadian deportation of a dearly loved family after four years of very successful integration and assimilation into the hearts and lives of our community.  And watching the Syrian government drop bombs on its own citizens and the DRC conflict heat up again.

It occurred to me that I'd like to be a modern-day Moses, marching in to the powers that be and declaring, "Let my people go!"
Leading those who are trapped and bound and are crying out for help, to safety and a Promised Land -a future.  Sure, I'd be just as hesitant and awkward as Moses (definitely more so!), but if there was something I could do, I'd be game.

Can't you just see me, all grey-haired five feet of me, marching into the refugee camp atop a mountain in Rwanda and leading 20,000 refugees who've spent 16 yrs in waiting, streaming around the curves down the muddy mountain to freedom?

Or entering the slums in Nairobi, so dangerous that our hosts wouldn't even drive us into them, and declaring a future for all the Somali refugees? I'd like to lead out a river of women and children in the DRC who are fleeing the rebels and being shot down as they run.

I'd like to Pied-Piper-ish gather up all those waiting with faint hope for their claim to be approved in Canada and lead them to a YES.  Sounds rather glorious, doesn't it?  Honestly, I really do think it's more about those crying out for freedom than making a name for myself (I hope!).

I'll most likely never have a burning bush call to stand in front of Pharaohs, Kings or Prime Ministers, but there are two things I can do.  They sound so small, and even so... pat, but how I dare I diminish God's means of changing the world!

1.  Pray, plead, wrestle
The Exodus story in the Bible begins with:
The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.  So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

Hab 3:2 
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Renew them in our day,
    in our time make them known;
    in wrath remember mercy.

2.  Love the refugees God brings to Welcome Home, and join Him, inviting each one to a future and a Him.

Join me?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Déjà vu

Instant friends!

I was invited to dinner the other evening, (we had home-made cabbage rolls!) and one of the questions these long-time friends asked was, “What difference did your trip to Africa in spring make for the work you’re doing with refugees?”

It was good to pause and remember.  I remembered my flight over lands I’d only heard of and the thrill of recognizing landmarks as I sat transfixed, staring out my airplane window.  It didn't take long, though, for me to go from, “Wow, those are waves of sand down there- that’s Sudan!” to the sobering reality that one of our young women living at Welcome Home fled this place and right now, too many others are still suffering what I cannot see from my birds-eye view.  

It’s this connection between refugees I share my life with here in Canada, to the stories and images broadcast through all sorts of media, that is one of the most impactful results of my Learning Trip.  I see an ad to sponsor a child and see their counterpart in the children we’ve sheltered here in Kitchener.  I see a news story of a destitute mom struggling to survive and realize it’s the story of the moms and babies who have become my friends at Welcome Home.  I watch the news of Cairo and Syria and make the connection to the refugees who initially fled to these very places to wait for safe transit to Canada and are now living at Welcome Home.  I see victims of violence in Latin America flashed across my screen and my mind goes to my courageous friends who’ve risked everything with the hope of safety in Canada.

You know what I mean- you see your friend's adopted children in those photos, or your newly arrived neighbours or classmates in the news broadcasts.  Or, something as simple as seeing daddy in your  precious newborn son's face.  What we see calls to mind what we have seen.

Oh, and there are many beautiful images I see, too.  When one of our refugee friends tells me she sang in a choir, I remember the exuberance of the choirs I heard in the refugee camp.  When  a young mom expresses how much she misses her family, I remember that “family” means the community and the love that I saw demonstrated in the communities I visited.  When a parent will do anything to help their child succeed in school here, I call to mind the sacrifices made in the slums of Nairobi to pay for uniforms and school fees.

We have a word for this:  Glocal.  Global and Local all at the same time.   I can no longer plead ignorance or apathy. When we receive a child or a mom or a teenager or a single man, I now see more of the context from which they came.  I remember my time in a refugee camp and the day spent with desperate refugees lined up to make their claim at the UNHCR in Nairobi- the images, the stories, the smells, the feelings- and limited though my experiences were, they give me more of a “Before” as I give my life to affect the “After”.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

It depends on your perspective

I read the Book of Ruth (all four chapters!) while on vacation last month, and recognized it as a refugee story.  (It's amazing how differently the Bible reads after working with refugees for almost five years.)
You may be familiar with the story.  Naomi's Jewish family flees to Moab because of severe famine (think of the Somali famine and scores of starving refugees we've heard about in the past year).  Naomi's boys marry local girls, and it looks like they'll stay in this new homeland, until all the men in the family die before any of the next generation are born.  Bitterly defeated, Naomi takes stock of her future and, hearing that there is food again in Israel, decides to return home.  Here's where the story gets interesting, because Ruth, a Moabite, refuses to stay behind.  Her famous plea, "Entreat me not to leave thee... for your people shall be my people..." has been used in many a wedding.
I've been paying close attention to our federal government's decisions with regard to refugees in the last few years, and have noticed the rather dramatic shifts in language, which reveal a depressingly seismic shift in values and negative attitudes toward refugees.  As I read the story of Ruth, whom we've often seen as a hero and a courageously committed daughter-in-law, I realized that if we approached her story with the currently propagated Canadian attitude of suspicion, it would read very differently.
The key players the way I usually see them:
Naomi- terrible sorrow, bitter circumstances, hopelessness
Ruth- loyalty, strong choice of family and Yahweh, courageous
Boaz- honourable, just, generous, kind

Here's my re-reading of the Book of Ruth aka Jason Kenney:
Ruth grew up in _______ and deviously schemed to marry a Canadian, hoping he'd someday move home and she'd thereby be able to become a Canadian citizen.
Ruth's husband died and she refused to leave Naomi, seeing her opportunity, finally, to get into Canada.
Arriving in Canada with her mother-in-law, Ruth discovered that a rich relative owned land nearby, and strategically placed herself in his fields, hoping he'd notice her.
She even went so far as to sleep at his feet during harvest, seducing him.
Boaz fell for her wiles and married her, giving her the future she wanted.
Voila!  Bogus refugee scheming to get married and have access to citizenship in Canada, taking advantage of the generosity of Canadians like you and me, accomplished!

My point in this potentially controversial blog is to help us be aware of how we're being influenced to view refugees as bogus, with suspicion and a resulting miserliness, rather than compassion.  Yes, we should deal with the 2%* who are trying to take advantage of Canada's open borders.  I'd like to challenge us to check our attitudes, however, and listen to refugee's stories with open hearts, reaching out with Jesus' love as He exhorts us to.  No one gets to legislate compassion out of our lives if we don't let them!

*Percentage quoted to me by a Canadian Border Services official, Ft Erie, Ontario

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Personal 95 Theses

The Wittenburg Door

It's been four years since my personal life changed immeasurably, and after many years of therapy, I feel like I'm turning a corner and want to plant a flag, so to speak, as I move forward.  Please join me by interacting with some of the lessons I have learned (and will probably never be done learning).

Like Martin Luther, I've realized that it's how we think that shapes how we live.  His 95 Theses are often seen as the catalyst that launched the Protestant Reformation.  A similar, explosively new way of thinking came to the Apostle Peter through a vision in Acts 10-11.

 "10:28 God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean." 
If you think about the entire foundation of Jewish law and practice until then, this was a revolutionary insight!   God went to extraordinary measures to make sure Peter and the early church got it.  I can identify with Peter in wrestling through and accepting new, life-altering ways of thinking.

So here are my personal game changers. By implication, you can see some of the lies I've been entangled in.  Maybe you have a few of these thought patterns too?

  • God's love is a gift that I cannot earn by being better than I am or destroy by being worse than I am. I am worthy to receive it because HE created me, chose me, redeemed me and lives in me.
  • I don't need to be right or perfect.  I'm okay.  I'm human.  I'm still worth a lot to God.
  • My ex's rejection of me, betrayal of his vows, etc, etc has more to do with him and his choices than my deficiencies.  (Help thou my unbelief!)
  • I am not responsible for anyone else's choices, but will be held accountable for mine.
  • I need security and significance, not everyone else's approval.  (Larry Crabb) 
    • Therefore, I need to move the locus of my identity from outside myself, to inside of me. 
    • And, act out of my God-given values, not out of fear of what others think.
  • Do it afraid- do not ever make life-limiting choices based on fear (except to wisely heed everything my parents taught me:).
  • Suffering is often more about people's poor choices (including mine) than punishment because I've messed up.
  • When things go wrong, it's not necessarily God punishing me.  Looking at many Bible heroes’ lives, when things go wrong, it's probably the RIGHT direction.
  • Bad things happen in life- it's perfectly normal. When I long for it to be different, it's obviously heaven that I'm eager for.  
    • "In this world you will have trouble, but fear not, for I have overcome the world!"  Jn 16:33
  • Speak up, stay present in relationships.  By not talking about what needs to be talked about, I don't win (peace at any cost, costs too much!).  I lose, we all lose.
  • Don't be angry at God for not keeping promises He never made. (Check it out, you might have a few too!)  "I will never change, I will be with you" are promises I can count on.
  • Thinking differently than someone else doesn't need to threaten or diminish either of us, if we can respect each other's individuality. 
  • Stop giving more than God wants to give through me, than what He has given me to give away. After all, I am NOT the Messiah.
  • Add up all the stresses, fears, opportunities and joys of the day to come.  Then put God in the equation first- He makes ALL the difference!

One last note:  Yes, many of these lessons learned came about through a failed marriage, but every one of them has application to my daily life, and to my relationship with myself, God, family, refugees, co-workers and friends.  For that I'm immeasurably grateful. 
So, what do you think?  Any you'd add?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Shock and Dismay

I always take a book along to read on the airplane, and found myself surprisingly ready to digest something meaty on our flight to Rwanda.  So, I read (and possibly annoyed my seatmates with frequent excerpts from) Mirror to the Church by a Rwandan priest.  I was shocked by many insights from this book, but one I continue to  chew on has to do with colonialism.  The author traced the roots of the Rwandan genocide to the interference and political manipulation of the people by colonizers, a really damning view of Rwandan history which at first left me relieved that I wasn't a descendant of those particular colonizers.

Feeling a bit like the Pied Piper:)
Where was I when this was taught in history class?  It seems inconceivable to my 21st Century mind that any nation would have the gall to "civilize" another.  And yet, it was often legitimized "as a way to facilitate religious conversion and salvation of indigenous peoples".  As a modern day missionary, and someone of European descent, I'm starting to feel more and more implicated in what happened...  A series of disquieting emotions erupt, not unlike those I feel whenever I watch The Mission.

I'm still troubled by what I learned, but even more, I'm troubled by the ongoing ramifications of our history.  As a European background Christian, where am I (where are we?) continuing the legacy of the colonizers?    I lead a non-profit that serves newly arrived refugees from countries like Rwanda.  How do these refugees view me, considering their nation's experience with colonizers?  How do I treat them differently than my forbears did?   (Thankfully, missions around the world has radically changed and I can see how the orientation I received has prepared me for these hard questions.)  How do we create a level playing field, show respect, and honour what each person embodies- the richness of their history, the uniqueness of their culture and the fact that each one bears the image of God?  Our refugee friends are ready, eager and grateful, with SO much to contribute to our communities and our country!
I love it when God brings to light that which I've been blissfully ignorant of, and am energized by the challenge to learn, to love better and to let Him refine me from the inside out.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Conversion Experience

In Africa, I discovered that I needed to repent.

We started our learning experience with a visit to a Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda.  What a disturbing, heart-rending afternoon that was!  It also laid the foundation for almost everything else we saw in the rest of our trip.  Because of the genocide, there were refugees in the camp we visited for two days.
We visited men, women and children who had AIDS as a result of the genocide.  And street kids, many of whom were homeless (either directly or indirectly) because of the genocide.
Visiting one of the "homes' for street kids

Our hosts, Jen and Serge, are missionaries with International Teams, developing ministries that give practical support for each of these groups of courageous people.  I am a very focused person, with a mere two week "Refugee Highway Learning Team" trip to cram in as much learning as possible, so at first I struggled with the idea of spending time with these non-refugees.  But their stories grabbed my heart, their resiliency and faith inspired me, and as I reflected on our encounters, I realized I needed to repent.

As a missionary to refugees, I've narrowed my focus to the extent that I've not allowed myself to also be moved by the needs of the homeless and hungry people in my community, even though they have much in common with our refugee friends.  Just as the impact of the genocide wove its way through much of Rwandan society, the brokenness in our community cannot be segmented.   I received a very special gift in Rwanda- a gift given by women with AIDS and boys who'd grown up on the street, and I plan to treasure it as I open my eyes to the greater needs in my neighbourhood.