Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What the pictures don't tell you...

An image of gaunt children wearing rags always tugs at my heart strings to the extent that I simply cannot watch those TV specials.  The need is so obvious, the cry of outrage against such injustice bubbles up, ready to explode!

In contrast, the pictures we have of Welcome Home residents look like any other multicultural Canadian - drinking coke in the park, camping in the wilderness, eating meals around a crowded table. I struggle with this, because I wish a picture could portray what I see at Welcome Home.

  • I see refugees doing laundry every day because the clothes they’re wearing are all they have. (Did you know our African marathoner has proudly worn his Ride 4 Refugees shirt daily since he got it?)
  • I see the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces when they first arrive, and how a safe place to sleep and a community to share life with changes that so quickly.
  • I see the depression and anxiety that many struggle with- the weather, the separation from family and culture and home, financial woes, wrestling with the English language and waiting for resident status, work permits…
  • I see the long journey to emotional and physical wholeness, often with 2 steps forward and 1 step back, which many have to take. Lack of medical and dental care, prison, extortion, rape, kidnapping, torture, fleeing for their lives, betrayals, watching their family be killed, bombings- all these traumas are hidden behind the "smile for the camera!" faces of the courageous refugees who live at Welcome Home.
Last week we celebrated one woman’s birthday and the next morning she looked so glum. Trying to cheer her up, I asked her about her party and she sadly said, “No uncles to come and wish me happy birthday.” We may try, but we can never replace what each one has lost along the refugee highway. She often practices her English with some hilarious memorized “Fortunately/Unfortunately” dialogues.

Let me try one:

Unfortunately, no one can restore what a refugee has lost personally, culturally and relationally as they begin their new life in Canada. 
Fortunately, we can invite 15 refugees at a time to live in safety and community, sharing the love of Jesus who Himself promises to make all things new!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Only a God like You!!

I'm still flush with post-Ride 4 Refugees exhilaration and just HAVE to share some of my thoughts! The Ride intersects with my life in several wonderful ways:

  1. Physically- this year I wasn't actually able to ride my bike until late August. To be able to complete 25 km today and smoke my son and nephew in the last km is a real gift. Wonder if we'll do 50 km again next year??
  2. Family- my youngest son joined me for the first time this year and was able to experience the challenge and elation of finding sponsors who have sacrificial generousity imbedded in their spirit. My sister and all 3 of her boys were right there, too, as always riding shoulder to shoulder while the rest of our family prayed and sponsored and...
  3. Welcome Home- it's always my dream to have refugees ride with us, because they're free and safe and they can! They ride in solidarity with their family and friends who are still making their torturous way to freedom. Today we had 6 Welcome Home refugees join us and I was most impressed with our Ethiopian marathon runner who's rarely ridden a bike. He hopped on a bike that was much too small for him and proceeded to leave us in his dust- Like a walk in the park:)
  4. Funds- we were awestruck to have 13 teams register as Ride Partners for Welcome Home, which means that all or part of what they raised will be forwarded to us. As of last count, we have more than $30,000 for which these valiant heroes asked, cajoled and prodded. I can't say how much this means as we affirm that GOD is our Provider, all the time!
  5. Weather- yesterday's frigid winds and drenching deluge did much to fill me with anxiety and dread. However, we began the day with the sun peeking through the clouds. I peeled off extra layers for the first 5 km, put on my sunglasses and skimmed the hills singing, "Only a God like You, only a God like You!" True, some of the riders who ventured 50 and 100 km experienced rainshowers, hail and even lightening, but the vast majority of the riders made it off the course before the weather turned and all were in high spirits, even if they returned somewhat soaked.
  6. So, together with the 1000+ riders who ate up the pavement in North Waterloo with me today, let's give God the recognition He deserves!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Winds of change?

It's 2 years since I began to share my life and God's love with refugees right here in KW. As I've seen so clearly, "the ends of the earth" are right next door- what will we do about this Great Commission? I digress...

I'm experiencing some firsts:
  • Never before have I seen such a large turn-over of residents in such a compressed time. No, we haven't made everyone mad; they realized that sharing an apartment was necesssary financially and it was better with someone they already knew, even if they were annoying:).
  • Never before have I seen such an intriguing and challenging mix of refugees all move in within one week - Vietnam, Guatemala, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Columbia, Japan. I'm pretty sure I'll be breaking cultural rules ALL the time!
  • Never before have we had such a glorious mix of religious backgrounds. Muslim, Christian, Eastern Orthodox, Buddhist... Go God!
  • Never before have we had so many new, newly arrived refugees literally moving in off the streets with nothing but the clothing on their backs. They're so eager to come that they don't care that we don't even have a bed (YET) for them to sleep on. We need beds, linens, towels, food NOW! Please help.
  • Never before have we been so in need of prayer and so optimistic that God is doing something wonderful among us.
"Sanctify yourselves. Tomorrow God will work miracle-wonders among you"

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

out of the mouths of...

It's her first month in this country and she's the only one fasting from sun-up to sundown for Ramadan. As we talked about her day, she asked why I looked so sad. Surprised by her perceptiveness, I told her a bit of my journey this past year. She murmured her sympathies and asked if I had any children living with me. When I told her of my first grandchild and a daughter's wedding and my youngest son now living on his own, she expressed even deeper sympathy- she is no stranger to loneliness- unmarried, with all her siblings killed in the Iraqi war. Her final response- "Allah... is ...errr...how do you say it?"
"Yes! God is with you"

Thank you, God, for reminding me of your unfailing love and presence in this most surprising way. I hear you.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

That's reminds me of...

27 years ago I was pregnant with my first child and shopping in a corner grocery store that carried many Mexican foods. Makes sense, since I was living in California. The smell of corn tortillas still makes me nauseous... Funny how smells evoke such strong memories!

I was chatting with a man who looks my age, but is over 10 years younger than me. It was his birthday and I asked if he was going to celebrate it in any way (with the inherent desire to help celebrate, if it seemed suitable). He said no, he never celebrates his birthday anymore, because the day his mother died was just before his birthday. Then he proceeded to tell me his story of 10+ years of imprisonment, beatings, torture, being moved around from one prison to another to keep him hidden, and most traumatic of all, not being able to be there when his mother died. I humbly thanked him for entrusting me with his story and acknowledged that he had good reasons for not wanting to remember his birthday.

Another friend shared the coping strategy he has to get through our frequent thunder storms. He cranks his music up as loud as he can to try to drown out the disturbing, unpredictable crashes and booms. What an easy life I've lived.

I want to do something to eradicate their past, but quickly realize that I have only been given the opportunity to impact their now and their future. By the grace of God, I commit myself to prayerfully do just that and let Him bring the healing for their past!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Everyone needs a father

I've been reading Lawrence's The Book of Negroes during my move- grabbing a moment here and there. The story of Aminata, a young girl taken captive and transported to the USA as a slave is captivating, heartbreaking and inspiring.
To avoid beatings, I hurried to do the work quickly and kept myself company by imagining encouraging words from my father.
What a difference a father would make
. A father to speak to me in my own language, to show me how to avoid being hit, to show me how to be in this new land. I ached for someone who knew everything about me and knew exactly how to guide me. Inside my head, I tried to hear the sound of my father's voice while his fingers lit gently on my arm.
"This is what they want, Animate, and this is how to survive...You are in a new land now. Do what it takes to stay alive. I am watching over you, Daughter. I see you in this new land. You crossed the big river and you must keep on living." p. 132, 133.
Animata's story propels me forward in my own "new land". I DO have such a Father and if I'm listening, will hear the kind of loving guidance we both long for.

It also helps me understand the courageous refugees I share life with- the horrific experiences they've endured, the mountains they must scale in order to learn how to be in a new land, the role family and community can play as they forge ahead.

I think I'll introduce them to my Father!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daffodils in the Dark

I was riding my bike home tonight and came upon these valiant sentinels, proudly displaying their colours in the dark! I had never realized that unlike tulips which close up when it's raining or the day is coming to an end, the daffodil defiantly shouts its glories rain or shine!
I want to be like those daffodils. Too often I'm a fair-weather flower, crumbling under adversity and hiding out the storms. I see this resilience every day at Welcome Home - my spirit is becoming well-acquainted which such an attitude. Victor Frankl, in Man's Search for Meaning, reminds us that the last of human freedoms is the ability to "choose one's attitude".
That's what I'm learning from my friends at Welcome Home. What an awesome place to serve! Want to join me?
I'm more than half-way there in reaching full support for my ministry. If you'd like to join me, standing defiantly against the wave of despair and fear during these rough economic times, drop me a line!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

60/60 experiment

I began an experiment today- every 60 minutes my Blackberry chimes to remind me that God is in control, He's with me, and He's at work in my world! It's something that I'm doing with some fellow travelers, based on Soul Revolution by John Burke.
It began as a rather non-descript day, with no clear, demanding agenda to give focus to my time. So, I prayed this prayer,
"Good morning, Christ. I love you! What are you up to today? I want to be part of it. Thank you."

I power-walked to catch the bus. "ding!!" Coming towards me on the sidewalk was a neighbour. Neither of us speaks each other's language, so our communications are always a bit comical... Today she asked about the sold sign on my house and I was blessed to have her suggest that she could come visit me once I move into my new digs downtown!

My lunch appt forgot:). "ding!!" I got to chat with one of the refugees I love to share life with at Welcome Home. He was laid off over a month ago and I've been asking God to help him find a job as well as keep him from being discouraged. What a resilient man. Though he still cannot understand this Canada, where someone could be laid off with no notice, he decided to use this time wisely and enrolled back in ESL until he gets a job. Anyone know of someone that's hiring??

Oops, I forgot that I've got a phone conference in half an hour- better hurry and catch the bus... why was I so forgetful?? "ding!!" Look who's standing at the bus stop! A former resident of Welcome Home greets me with a big hug. I catch up on his life and encourage him. (We haven't finished praying for his spiritual search, either.)

"ding!!" Now I'm not sure if I should apologize for being a bit late or not; after all, was that a God-thing at the bus stop? I enter into the phone conference with a fresh awareness that my day has already been filled with God's direction, provision and blessing. I can surely expect the help He wants to provide as I invite some new insights and perspective from a co-worker!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Moments in Time

Well, it's 18 years since we made the move from the rolling prairies to this wonderfully hilly ("Can we stop so I can run down that hill, mom?") country.

Today I took a hike up Mt Trashmore, as it was then known. It's an amazing spot where the beauty of the surrounding region can be clearly seen, especially on such a brisk day. I remembered rolling into town full of anticipation and also a bit of trepidation. The last of our preschoolers heading off to school, a church ready and eager to welcome us with open arms...

Over the years I took many hikes to this windy vantage point. It is a good place to pray over the city, a lousy place to try to fly a kite! Often the prayers were for the neighbourhood, now they zero in on a 2nd story rooming house downtown where seekers from around the world are coming to us.

Today I stopped to thank God for the paths He's led me down and process the far-reaching impact of choices made. My family has grown up and flown the coop, the house sold this week and it's time to embark on some new trails. Who'd a thought... but then, I am reminded that "all our days are written in His book" and gratitude, confidence return.

I read a wake-me-up quote last week in Brother Andrew's Secret Believers:
The purpose of the church cannot be to survive or even to thrive, but to serve. How do you serve?
...sometimes servants die in the serving...

You and I ARE the church. We don't know much about the "die in serving part", but believers around the world do. I receive this challenge and am setting my course towards serving.
Will you join me?

By the way, I'm trusting God to help me buy a place in downtown Kitchener so that I have somewhere to "lay my head" come the end of May :).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Back-Seat Drivers

One of the great things about taking the bus in the winter is that "who cares what the weather and driving conditions are", they're not MY problem! No worries over my car not starting, the driveway or roads not being plowed, the pending ice storm... As long as I'm willing to wait and dressed warmly (thanks for the new parka, mom and dad) it's a carefree time.

However, there's always a down side. I have absolutely no say, no control in where the bus goes, when it might roar past me a mere 10 seconds in its wake, when it can't make the icy hill or when the service is threatened by strike. I realized that riding in a bus is the only time when I'm NOT tempted to be somewhat of a back seat driver, precisely because there's no one on the bus who cares one whit about my opinion!

A refugee's experience is painfully similar. While such dependency means that there are some elements of being carefree, there's so little control over the process of being accepted as a resident, or finding any space in an ESL class, or having their workplace credentials recognized or even moving the hearts of decision-makers so there's a place to live once they arrive in the country. In most ways, no one cares one whit about their opinion, either!

That's where I am leading a team of committed, compassionate servants who are making it our agenda to care, to listen and to offer some measure of control over their lives for the refugees who make Welcome Home their home. Although it can be annoying at times, back-seat drivers are indeed welcome here!

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's the point?

Yesterday I was grateful to hop on a toasty warm bus after doing the "bus stop shuffle" to keep my toes from freezing. Icy roads and frigid conditions meant that the bus wasn't all that successful in starting and stopping. Now I may be mis-reading the bus driver's actions, but it seemed to me that when he found a stretch of open road, he sped up and enjoyed the chance to just go! So much so that when someone rang the bell, he almost forgot to stop and let them off.

Made me think of how much easier it would be if people weren't getting on and off all the time. The bus would always be on time, and complete its run with ease. But that's not the point of transit. It's about getting people to and from where they need to be.

THAT made me think of Welcome Home. If we were just a rooming house, life would be relatively easy. However, we believe God has called us to create a community where newly arrived refugees of all sorts can experience safety, support, encouragement and family... where each one can hear about and encounter Jesus. That means that there are a lot of stops and starts, and we're not always on time or sailing smoothly through our days with ease. With a lot of prayer, though, and a determination to stay focused on what we're about, we expect to see results... eventually.
Please pray that God would keep us focused and joyful as we depend on Him to do the greater work among us.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Transit Time

I’ve chosen to become a transit user and as I’ve logged some hours on the bus, I’ve had a few insights about transit time.

  1. Life is slower and requires more margin. I can’t hop on my bike 20 minutes before an appointment and arrive there sweaty, but on time! While I may chafe, this in-transit time has given me space to think, to pray and/or use my “Crackberry”. I get to choose my attitude and how I’ll use this “free time”.

  2. I do best when I accept the time restrictions and even plan for them. I’ve learned to do the 100 yd dash for the bus, sometimes making it and other times not. Sometimes the bus is early or late, and I’m the one who must adjust.

I was thinking about how my new experiences are helping me identify a bit more with my refugee friends. Their lives, now that they’ve arrived in Canada, are about waiting.

  • Waiting for work permits and interim support

  • waiting to learn English

  • waiting to be accredited to work in their profession

  • waiting to see their families again

  • waiting for us to provide closets for their rooms...

And, their claim process is about someone else telling them what they need to do, how it has to be done, where it must be submitted and when it’s due.

I’m grateful for a chance to invest in their lives. There’s nothing like a lively conversation with an unexpected friend on the bus to make the time fly! My prayer is that we can be friends for the journey who bring godly encouragement during the process.

I’ve also noticed that on longer bus trips I get so lulled into complacency that I stop looking for my stop and almost forget to get off! Welcome Home’s goal-setting process aims at helping each refugee identify what they’d like to accomplish, how we can help them get there and then celebrate when they do. I believe that’s what Jesus would have us do.

Please pray for our friends who are in “Transit Time” that they would come to know Jesus while they wait. And, pray that we would be good travel companions.