Sunday, December 26, 2010

O Come Emmanuel!

"O Come Emmanuel" Video
These last few days, my daughter and I have watched an eclectic assortment of movies.  We started with Crash, since the library called to say my turn had finally come.  Then we enjoyed a Christmas Day viewing of The most excellent King's Speech, which reminded me of the other British historical movie, Amazing Grace, which I own, so we had to end the day watching that!  Tonight's pasttime was watching the newly released Darfur, most sobering of all.

As I reflected on what we'd seen, there was the common thread of horrid things that we human beings do to each other.  From the relatively harmless torture inflicted on a stutterer, to the senseless genocide taking place around our planet, even as I celebrate this Season of "Peace on Earth".  After seeing Darfur, I want to hate those who are attacking the African Sudanese people.  And, I want to be indignant at those who built their economy on slave labour.  Even worse, I want to imagine that somehow I am better or at least more tolerant, as a good Canadian should be.

I'm really glad I suffered through the sobering darkness of Crash first of all.  You see, the resounding message I heard was that none of us are above racism and intolerance.  So, along with captive, downtrodden, broken people all over the world, I join in crying, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel!" to set ALL His people free.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

No Frame of Reference!

Recently I realized I'd make a really, really lousy refugee!  I was privileged to participate in 4 days of  leader's meetings.  The food was incredible, the time away from my normal routine was refreshing, the worship was inspiring, the new friends were intriguing and I learned a LOT. However, I was very, very frustrated, at least initially.

I came with no frame of reference for the work we were trying to do together. You see, we were wrestling through a restructuring of how we would connect with each other and our organizations. I had no clue what had been, I hardly had a clue which organizations there were and how they worked! And, over-achiever that I am, I wasn’t content to while away all those hours checking Facebook on my Blackberry:)

After Day 2, I went home and had a good talk with God, asking for an attitude adjustment, and some help in finding my way into the conversation that was taking place. That was the turning point for me, and hopefully allowed me to make a meaningful contribution.

This week we took our friends from Welcome Home to Waterloo Park to see the Christmas lights- sharing some of our "Christmas spirit". It was during my attempt to help them value the beauty of the coloured lights, to recognize some of the characters in the displays, and understand why Canadians would decorate their park this way and why we would go see it- when it’s so COLD outside- that I realized that they didn’t have a frame of reference either!

Afterwards we warmed up over tasty treats and hot chocolate in a Canadian home beautifully decked out for the season. As we sat around munching, a Sudanese friend told us how “in my country, we sit down and have the food brought to us”. You see, we’d had a table loaded with goodies that they could choose from, and most of the group had stood there, awkwardly not knowing what to do. Ahhh!

I continue to pray for the ability to look at things through the lens of a newcomer, while helping my new friends understand enough to at least have the option to adapt to Canadian ways. One of my favourite verses lately is “With your help I can run through a barricade, with my God I can leap over a wall!” (2 Sam 22:30) How will we present the birth and deity of Jesus so that EVERY one at Welcome Home can receive this gift, no matter what their frame of reference? That is a God-sized miracle that we are praying for- please join us!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Anneke Kaai Ps 62
It’s now three years since I started sharing my life with refugees at Welcome Home, a good time to reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish. If I think in most basic terms, it’s providing a warm bed and a safe place to live. In addition, it’s creating a community around each refugee to share their settlement journey. This includes the staff at Welcome Home, but increasingly, it also includes you- the faith community in Waterloo Region and beyond, who pray, give, cook, clean, paint, organize a party, become a Canadian friend, etc.

If I look beyond mere survival, it’s learning English, finding a church home, and linking with volunteer opportunities to build a Canadian resume for that elusive job… which leads to self-sufficiency, educational opportunities and so on. That would be success. Many refugees call Canada Paradise, and we could mistakenly believe that living here in freedom and relative prosperity is the greatest gift we could offer a refugee.

There’s a monkey wrench or two which have recently been thrown into my drive to succeed! Many refugees are facing a very uncertain future due to Canada’s changing attitude toward refugees. In the past year, we’ve done “exit interviews” with 4 refugees and several dearly loved friends are even now facing impending deportation orders.

It’s this very uncertainty that has caused me to re-evaluate what success looks like, and come to a much better goal, I believe. You see, none of us is guaranteed a perfect, lovely life. And, in light of this uncertainty, we ALL need an anchor which doesn’t change.

Let me quote from a hymn, In Christ Alone, which has been one of MY mainstays in the past two years:

From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Could ever pluck me from His hand.
Til He returns or calls me home,
Here in the power of Christ I stand!

We’re so privileged to share Jesus, the greatest Treasure we could ever find with each and every refugee who comes to Welcome Home! No matter where life takes them, no matter what the future holds, Jesus will be with them. When we can prayerfully share this amazing truth, THAT spells success!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Fierce Conversations

I've been reading the story of Abraham, and it's interesting how a new perspective on my life gives me a different perspective on his!  I'm also surprised to see how much space in such a relatively short Book is used for some seemingly meaningless material... or is it?? 

So, today I recognized that Abraham's purchase of a grave for Sarah is similar to his agreement with Abimilech over the well.  That is, he goes to great pains to make clear agreements where no misunderstanding is possible (one can only hope) and where it's clear that he's purchased rather than received this property as a gift. 

So what?  Well, I began to think of relationships in my life where clear agreements would be of critical importance.  After the lessons I'm trying to learn in being assertive, I could recognize this quality in Abe, too. 

Obviously I want this type of clarity in all my family relationships, and it's a good safe place to practice it.  However, I recognized that perhaps Abe was so careful, partly because he was dealing with people from other cultures, where the quagmire of misunderstanding sucks the life right out of you! 

That's where I really woke up, because my relationships with refugees are always cross-cultural AND full of Spanglish, or Arabic-glish, or Mandarin-glish, or...   Now I'm beginning to take careful note of how Abe conducted himself (ignoring the repeat performances of passing his wife off as his sister). 

Lessons:  prayer, clarity, assertiveness, time and attention are all required to communicate effectively rather than creating stumbling blocks for the gospel.  Now you know how you can pray for me and my team!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

More than just a backpack?

When my youngest child was still shorter than me, I purchased a really good backpack for a ridiculously low price.  In no time at all it was too small for him, so I took it as mine.  It’s now twelve years later, and if anyone dared, I’m pretty sure they’d be telling me that it’s time to get rid of it!

Why is it hard to let this backpack go?? It’s traveled many wonderful places with me, a trusted companion through thick and thin.

I remember my mission trip to Venezuela, where I had to wear it in front for security while we jostled around on public transit.  It had room for my passport, my journal, my bartered-for purchases, and my silly “Canadian Flag” hat -when I could get away with not wearing it.

My backpack survived the salt spray of many scuba diving adventures, greeting me onboard with dry clothing and skittles to lubricate my mouth after sucking that very dry compressed air. 

On the way to my daughter’s wedding, I was held up at airport security because I’d absent-mindedly left my pocket knife in my backpack. It was the only flight I’ve ever taken where my trusty companion left me to travel as checked baggage!

I’ve communed with God and nature on trails right across this country- an instant retreat with my backpack carrying bottles of water and wads of Kleenex as well as my camera, Bible and journal.  It’s guarded my lawn chair while I walk (and sometimes storm) a beach- a bottle of sunscreen tucked in with my towel, snacks and book du jour.

To add to its résumé, it’s carried my portable office to and from Welcome Home- whether walking, busing, or biking.  Speaking of biking- it’s been perfect for biking to and from Harry Class pool everyday in summer, and riding in the Ride 4 Refugees for the past 4 years.There was always a bottle of water and a semblance of a granola bar somewhere in there!

So, perhaps you can understand why I’m reluctant to lay my ratty-looking companion and carrier of significant memories to rest!  I’ve let go of a lot in my life these last two years and I'm still surviving, so, courageously I’ll start using the new one I purchased from the MEC Store a few weeks ago.  I wonder… what new adventures and memories will this one collect?

Saturday, July 17, 2010


I'm still learning about how to be a missionary.  One question that I've wrestled with this spring is... to paint or not to paint my toenails.  Let me explain.

My previous career included pedicures as part of my wardrobe.  I also brought home a much higher salary.  This spring my daughter and I enjoyed a Mother's Day outing and got our toes painted in our usual flambouyant style.  When I returned from my time away, I noticed the refugee women facing yet another challenge- how to understand what I had done with my toes!  That got me thinking.

So, until yesterday I was quite content to accept that "missionaries just don't paint their toes".  What happened yesterday?? I was sitting in a circle with a group of North American peers who echo my passion for welcoming refugees in the Name of Jesus.  We were sharing communion and during our contemplation (yes, I confess, this is true) I noticed that my toes were the only unadorned ones around the circle- other than the men, that is! 

Now I'm forced to re-consider this question.  Will I or won't I paint my toes? Will it be merely a question of economics, or of trying to remove yet one more barrier to friendship with my refugee friends? 
Stay tuned as I continue to wrestle with becoming all things to all people, so that some might come to know my Best Friend!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What's in a name?

I've been thinking a lot about names recently- partly because my grandson Cole was dedicated today, and I wanted to present him with a gift which gave both the meaning and a scripture-prayer for his life.

The other reason, is that I received divorce papers this week.

When I got married 33 yrs ago, I took my husband's family name as a vow of "your people shall be my people". Ruth 1:16 Now, as I come to grips with his rejection of my vow, with his decision to re-marry and with the absolute void of any relationship with his family, I have been re-visiting the name question.

I've come to the conclusion that lineage and heritage is precisely what a name is about. That's kind of ironic, because I've always bristled at the so-called "Mennonite game" where your lineage is traced as soon as someone finds out your last name! I'd rather focus on the legacy that this lineage represents- and that I can happily embrace!

So, over the next few months, I'll be doing the incredibly time-consuming legwork of changing my name back to the family from whence I came, and to the family which continues to walk with me, pray for me and embrace me as one of their own. Don't worry, I'll still be the same person, because the godly heritage I was shaped by is my solid choice. My hope is that as I follow somewhat in the footsteps of Naomi, who acknowledged the difficult turns in her life by asking people to call her a different name, I will also see God's abundant blessing and redemption for the generations who will follow me, no matter what our last names are! 

Monday, May 10, 2010

I'm not Julia Childs!

Today I watched M, an Ethiopian man, teach L, the teenager, how to cook for her and her younger brother.

The generous families at Kitchener MB had given each refugee some groceries, including a package of frozen chicken, so first we talked about expiry dates and freezers- just in time to save the chicken from being thrown out!  Then they gathered round as he showed her how to cut the chicken and most importantly, how to use "a little of this, a little of that" and lots of taste-testing to come up with a sauce to bake the chicken in.  After everyone concurred that it was perfect, L popped the chicken in the oven.  Wow, did the whole house EVER smell good!
As I was about to leave for home, I commended L on her cooking skills and asked what she was going to do with two pans full of chicken.  I meant, "How will you store all this delicious food so you don't have to cook again this entire week?"  but she surprised me by saying, "I've made it for everyone here and now I will invite them to share it with me."   Who says generousity doesn't breed generousity?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Blessings or curses?

Three months ago I walked into my condo to find water everywhere! I’m still waiting for the laminate to NOT be back-ordered, but last week the insurance paid for tile to be installed in my laundry room.
At the end of the day, I walked into my condo and stepped into water! Needless to say, I was extremely disheartened, to the point that I wondered whether I was “cursed”- do I even believe in that?? Return of the noisy fans, the panicked neighbours below and the plumber- to fix the leak again.

It took almost a week to get perspective, but here’s what I discovered:
-it’s a good thing the laminate was back-ordered, not ruined AGAIN
-it’s a good thing my new hot water tank was on warranty and the “this never happens” was repaired
-it’s a good thing I put in tile which is resistant to water damage
-it’s a good thing I realized there was still a puzzling amount of water after 24 hrs and discovered the other leak
-it’s a good thing I have a portable washer so I could make this discovery
-it’s a good thing insurance repaired the washer with life-time hoses and shiny new taps, even though it wasn’t their fault that the couplings were separating from the hoses
-it’s a good thing leaks happened while the insurance-funded repair guys were here- no plumbing bills this time!

A good thing or a God-thing?
Cursed or Blessed?
I know I’m being watched out for, for sure!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Do you believe?

Two songs have captured the hearts of our nation in the past few months and no, it's not the national anthem, which the Conservatives briefly contemplated changing!
  • I Believe- Canada’s ‘other anthem’ for the 2010 Olympics 
  • What Faith Can Do- #1 single on Christian Radio- on the charts for 24 weeks in a row
It’s interesting that both these songs talk about believing.  There are subtle differences- who and what to we put our faith in?- that are to be noted.

Sometimes when I feel I’ve had enough
and I feel like giving up
…be all I can be
…together we’ll fly
I believe in the power of you and I

(I Believe)
Everybody falls sometimes
Gotta find the strength to rise
…Life is so much more than what your eyes are seeing
You will find your way if you keep believing
…dreams…hope… miracles…prayers
(What Faith Can Do)

What I can see and strongly identify with is our need to BELIEVE, against all odds.  I’m even more inspired to look up with eyes of faith, to the ONE who gave His life so I could have a future and a hope.  Music always lifts my spirits and these lyrics help me soar.
I’m also challenged to share “the hope that is in me” even more boldly.  
I believe!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Moments of Glory

It's been something to watch the Olympics and hear the stories behind the podium.  The athlete's ups and downs, and dogged perseverance towards a goal, have been inspiring.  Rarely does the media report on all the injuries, missed jumps, and failures when we recognize an athlete- but it's all part of the journey!  No wonder the Apostle Paul uses athletic metaphors to challenge us to keep our focus.

I've seen the same kind of realities for the refugees at Welcome Home.  There are days of depression and discouragement, of taking their frustration out on the others who share the house, of giving up hope, and consuming fear. However, what sticks in my memory and inspires me, is that despite seemingly insurmountable odds, there are moments of glory!

Hearing a joyful, resonant voice ring out the French version of  "Great is Thy Faithfulness"  from the men's shower room, while his brother is imprisoned in Rwanda and may never be released...
Watching the quiet, timid one stand courageous and tall as she decides to show sacrificial love to the one who aggressively bossed her around... and how God used meekness to win a friend!

I'm inspired and would love to go around giving out medals.  I can just imagine how heaven's medal ceremony will top the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, moving as they are!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Speed Dating?

As a newly single again person, I have no lack of well-meaning suggestions coming my way.  Among the options, I've been told to check out online dating and ... speed dating!  
Personal "earthquakes" aside, I can see that moving into Welcome Home is a lot like speed dating.  Sure, when a newly arrived refugee inquires about moving in, we try to tell them as clearly as we can about what this community living will be like.

But, imagine with me what their first days might feel like:
  • The first person I encounter comes from a culture that my entire family, for generations, has openly hated...
  • No one I meet speaks a word of my language- my head hurts just listening to them...
  • What kind of food is THAT??
  • I escape to the bathroom and wonder how to use that kind of toilet...
  • Back in my room, dazed, with my door locked, I'm left wondering if anyone here is like me at all.
Just before Christmas we had two new refugees move into Welcome Home, freshly arrived in Canada and struggling to take it all in.  Crammed into the kitchen, in the midst of the lovely chaos of a community meal and farewell party for our house supervisors , one of them exclaimed,
"I am SO happy to be part of Welcome Home!  In my country, we are like this all the time, but I thought that in Canada, everyone was just alone.  Thank you for letting me live here."

Now THAT's a God-thing:)