Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Gifts

What can I say, I'm a mom at heart!
This morning our Welcome Home staff made our annual Christmas breakfast for our unique family- pancakes, fruit cup, whipped cream, scrambled eggs- it certainly wowed the refugees as they walked in to the kitchen!

We haven't shared a "family only" meal all fall, and I remembered why it's so important as I watched our friends who meet each other in the hallways, bathroom, cooking together, sharing the computers and watching TV, but rarely sit down as a whole household to eat together in this way.

There were a number of things that warmed my mother's heart.

  • Having the whole family gathered around the table and willing to risk eating our Canadian breakfast.
  • The conversations that sprung up throughout the morning, some between refugee new arrivals who hadn't even met each other yet.
  • Scott shared some of our Canadian traditions, starting with the historic figure of St Nick (Baba Noel in Arabic), and ending with the gift of Jesus and why He came.  Was Scott wise enough to ask if some of our friends would translate for each other, or were their blank looks his biggest clue??  It couldn't have worked out better if we had planned it:  three level 5 English speakers translated for Level 1 learners in Tigrinia (Eritrean), Spanish and Arabic.  I felt like we got it right...this time, and the smiles of the entire staff team while a mishmash of translation was criss-crossing the table confirmed it!
  • A miracle had happened and today it was staring me in the face.  There had been some tensions between the oldest woman and the youngest one, to the extent that the older one refused to acknowledge or speak to the young one. It was very hard, especially for the young one.  However, she was raised to forgive, and had made a choice to do so.  Today I watched the animated conversation back and forth between these two women as the younger translated for the older.  I realized that the barriers had been broken, and though neither of these women are Christ-followers yet, His work was evident in their hearts.  What a great answer to prayer!
  • Our John Paterson not only cooks pancakes and keeps our books, he volunteers as Santa.  It was so fun to see everyone leap to their feet and start applauding as they clamoured for a picture with Santa! 
  • We got to give away gifts that our friends from Creekside collected through their Angel Tree.  Everyone acted like little kids as they tore open their gifts and explored the creative kindness they'd been shown.  
It's a hard season for many who have suffered much, and our houseful of refugees are missing the routine of school as they cope with long dark nights, loneliness and a bit of over-crowding, too.  It's wonderful to have moments like these to brighten the holidays and give all of us hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Christmas Dare

Christmas was coming, and the yearly challenge to be solved just could not be ignored any longer: 
What to buy for our family?

Something that said, “We love you, we value you, we’re glad we’re family!”  

Complicating Factor Number One:  Our loved ones were spread across the country, and we had no idea what special gift to give, that wouldn't already be sitting in their well-stocked home.  Was there really anything they might like, or need, or want that we could guess correctly and afford, too?

To buy something just to… buy something, seemed such a waste of our never-quite-enough resources and such a slap in the face of the One whose birthday this was, after all.  

In the mail came a catalogue full of inexpensive gifts  –simply rich in meaning and life potential for the recipients whose needs were too many to count. 

What to do? 
Complicating Factor Number Two: We were not on the same wavelength with regards to faith- would this convince them that we really were from another planet??  

A dare, a risky move because we couldn’t bring ourselves to do any less.  
Each family received a card saying,
 “Because we love you, we’ve given a gift of ____ in your honour.”  
The response? 
  • Tears.  
  • Gratitude. 
  • Wonder. 
  • A new tradition that was carried on with all sorts of twists and turns, creatively trying to outdo each other.  

This Christmas, don’t just give a gift.  
Give a gift that’s desperately needed and makes a difference.  
In case you need some help -
Welcome Home has an Online Christmas Catalogue, $10-$50 gifts that will mean the world to newly arrived refugees.
Go ahead, I dare you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

How Awesome Was Your Long Weekend?

For many Canadians, the long weekend begins a day early, so Welcome Home’s jaunt to Grand Bend last Thursday counts.  
Other than a nice reprieve for our staff team, there were two most awesome things about our beach day. 

The first is something I noticed with my children too: the beach is a great “equalizer”.  You see, we house men and women from many countries, with many different languages, religions and cultures. So, it’s not always a given that they love each other or even care to relate to each other (does any family??).  One of our goals is to prayerfully create a sense of family, and it sure happened on this day!  Like a doting mom, I smiled to myself as an Iraqi woman and an Eritrean woman chatted with each other during our trip there.  When everyone threw themselves into water fights, foot races, sand castle creations, and learning to swim, I knew our mission for the day was accomplished.  
New words for the day:  wave, sand dune, sand bar
New sights: a Great Lake – “it looks like the ocean!”
Eritrean way to make a sand castle- build a well-packed dome over your foot, slide your foot out and you have an instant cave!

When we arrived, M immediately plopped herself down in the surf at the shoreline with a great big grin on her face.  I asked, “Did you do this when you were a child?” and she responded, “No, I was afraid of water then.”

That’s the other most amazing thing about this day.  
When we were camping at Guelph Lake in the beginning of July, a number of our friends were afraid to get in the water, with stories of family members who drowned during their flight to safety.  I saw this same fear when we first arrived today, partly because the heavy fog didn’t give the lake a very friendly look.  By the end of the brilliantly sunny afternoon, everyone was floating around with noodles and surf boards, imitating each other by trying to kick their legs and even attempting the “noodle stroke”.  I ended up being the swimming instructor, sharing my goggles and using what I’d observed during my children’s swimming lessons to encourage comfort and mastery in the water.  

As I said to M, “But you’re not afraid now, because you’re a refugee.  You are full of courage!”  She agreed.

How awesome was your long weekend?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Camping surprises

It was a gorgeously sunny weekend for camping at Guelph Lake, full of many surprises of both kinds- the wonderful and the not-so-wonderful. 
  • EVERYONE from Welcome Home came- after weeks of inviting, attempting to explain what "camping" was (including one trip to the campground to let some of them see it in person) and right to the last minute, uncertainty over who would be coming.   Whew- we JUST had enough seatbelts for all 18 of us!
  • The brand-new, just around the corner from our site showers and flush toilets were NOT open yet.  That meant line-ups for the supremely smelly, always out of tp outhouse.
  • Maybe this should have been no surprise, but our guys caught NO FISH.  They certainly tried hard enough!
  • Speaking of fish, which usually makes me gag, the store-bought fried trout for supper was delicious!
  • Setting up and taking down 6 tents was a breeze, with all hands on deck, even though most of the group had never even slept in a North American style tent.  As one young woman insisted, "It would be shame for us not to help."
  • Speaking of tents, the NEST of newborn... rats, squirrels, chipmunk?  revealed when the tent was removed. The girls' maternal instincts sure showed up!
  • Sleeping Bags.  We all laughed (with relief?) when  the ladies discovered what a sleeping bag was and how neatly it turned a floor into a bed. 
  • Swimming.  I was sure that M, a middle-aged conservative Muslim, would not want to go swimming.  I mean, what would she WEAR?  And, many women from her culture have never been in a pool.  After discovering the miracle of pool noodles, she bobbed her way into "the sea" and hung out there for the next 4 hours.  I had to tow her into shallower water and try to explain that she should stay where she could touch the bottom.  My Arabic is not very good.  Check the photo for her wisely chosen swim costume.
  • Campfires- S'MORES were re-named "sugar sandwiches" and consumed in large quantities.  We sang whatever Scott or Marcee could strum.  Sam led us in a nightly game of guess the "Bible Characters", many of which are in the Qur'an, too.  Young Maja told loooong stories where ghosts look like white people.
  • Even camping is a RICH person's adventure.  I was asked many times how much a tent would cost, how much a night of camping costs, how far it is to Guelph Lake.  The wheels were turning, ideas and possibilities were being explored.  Even a day trip to the park for 4 is over $20 plus a car to get there...  I'm very rich. 
  • How REWARDING such a non-restful camping weekend could be!  Great memories, new experiences, deepening relationships.  A wife waiting to join her refugee husband wondered how he could be living so well and experiencing such amazing things.  As he wrestled with this, I reminded him that much of what he is dealing with right now is incredibly hard, even unjust.  And that he would need much strength and courage to keep going.  This weekend was about refreshing the soul along with fellow travelers.  He looked at me and nodded. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reasons to Celebrate

For the first time in three years, I made it to church on Father's Day!  Two years ago, my counsellor's advice was to be gentle with myself in my time of grief, so I participated in the worship online and when the message started, found something else to do.  Last year I tried to stick my head in the sand by going to the  Airshow with one of my sons.  Wouldn't you know it, EVERY pilot dedicated his flight to his dad!  Nevertheless, it was a great day of diversion.  But I was missing the community and worshipping online is nothing like being present when God's Spirit moves, so I was determined to attend this year's service, even though I knew it would be all about dads. 

I woke up angry and struggling, crying out to God for some means of escape from the onslaught of temptation to look back and be bitter.  As I was brushing my teeth, an invitation entered my muddled mind:  "Put off and Put on"  Put off anger, malice, bitterness, rage.  Put on forgiveness and love.  Immediately I knew which kind of choice I have been learning to make and my struggle lost its steam. 

I won't lie by saying that the Sunday service was a breeze.  It wasn't, but I'm still really glad I went.  The worship reminded me that God is a perfect Heavenly Father!  I cried through Lead Me  and heard Jesus affirm that this desire is good and right, and He wanted it too.   I realized that it was okay to learn how to be a godly dad, since that's a gap that I need to fill at this time.  Finally, I could see a bit of a smirk on God's face as Pastor Dave ended with a challenge,
 Forget the former things;
   do not dwell on the past.
 See, I am doing a new thing!
   Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
 He and I both know that next to forgiving, this is my chief assignment for now.  So, along with gratitude for a never-changing, never-failing Heavenly Father, I'm thankful for my dad who continues to be my greatest champion.  And, I'm anticipating more reasons to celebrate as I look up, look ahead and embrace His best for me.

Friday, May 6, 2011


I'm having an interesting change of pace these weeks- Marcee's in Bolivia for a few weeks and last week "Sharon tall" had travel to SK for a family emergency... diminishing our ranks greatly. We're in the home stretch, and I'm starting to breath easier.

What stressed me out?  We had three new women move into our wonderfully crammed house during the past month, the last arriving the very day Marcee flew away.  All  three had literally just entered Canada, and the needs can be really huge.  Coupled with the shock (and awe?) of just arriving in a new continent/country/city, is the trauma that each precious soul brings with them- It's quite something for a single refugee woman to survive and make it all the way here.  Language and cultural barriers can also seem insurmountable.  

I contemplated moving into Marcee's room, but with Scott's solid presence at night, decided to spend more time at the house through the late afternoon/early evenings.  Katie, Heather and Aimee are also spending some extra time at Welcome Home, bringing sunshine and friendship to the ladies. 

I've had to temporarily shift many "director-type" to-do's off my plate and am thoroughly enjoying the change of pace.  I suspect my years of a houseful of children and their friends... helped prepare me for these days. 

Here are a few of my experiences:
  • Teaching S that, "No, you don't have to throw a pail of water on the kitchen floor when it's your turn to wash it."  
  • Registering a beaming M for English school and orienting her to the downtown- I hope she doesn't get lost on her first day of school!
  • Helping M make her first deposit in a bank account and use her debit card for the first time.
  • Helping another M with her homework, while she mutters in Arabic, "I feel like a baby!"
  • Cleaning out the rank-smelling fridge and discovering unique finds 
  • Hearing about and tasting the fruits of E's experiences as a chef (I'd hire him to cook for me, but he dreams of being a heavy equipment operator here!). 
  • Brainstorming about how to get some milk products into newly pregnant and nauseated S, and finding out that although she hates milk (you should see the face she makes), in Egypt she loved chocolate milk.  I was off to buy chocolate syrup and pudding mix immediately!
  • Taking afternoon tea with the ladies and chatting about life.  They call me "teacher" because I love to use every moment and conversation to teach them what they'll need for life here in Canada.
  • Teaching M how to access her friends in Sudan using "chat" on the computer.
  • Hearing about each person's story, family left behind and hopes for the future.  S told me how God answered prayers from last week's Bible study night!
  • Prepping G, A and E for moving out this summer and sorting out all our emotions over this healthy, but painful next step.
  • Finding out that my fear was SO unfounded- the last woman to move in is such an amazing young woman, a real joyful addition to the family and speaks English fairly well! 
I'm thankful for this unique family and these days of trying to be everyone's mom, mentor and coach, but I won't deny- definitely relieved to see "daddy get home!"   My prayer is that each one will see Jesus in all I do and say.  And, we're looking forward to Marcee's return:)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Easter through her eyes

I’ve been attending Easter services since before I was born, but this time was different. I brought my new Muslim friend, an Iraqi refugee, with me. Her English was so limited that I’m not even sure she knew what she was getting herself into. It was her presence beside me that caused me to see everything through a new set of lenses.

As we walked into the church, I cringed and applauded her skilful manoeuvres that avoided the enthusiastic greeters’ touch. The church was already teeming with people- was it a fluke that the only space happened to be in the front row? As we waited for the drama to start, she asked questions about the instruments nearby, and pulled out a hymnbook, asking what kind of book that was. It didn’t seem the time to demonstrate how it was used, so I’m not sure she got my explanation.

I know she didn’t get the dialogue, or why people were laughing at Martha’s grouchiness, but she was engaged in the story. Jesus’ character freely touched the women on the arms or shoulders in the play, and I realized that perhaps He didn't. I could tell that she recognized what was going on with the woman caught in adultery- I really hope there’s a future opportunity to share that story of grace with her again, in her language.

We had bathed this season in a lot of prayer, and I continued to pray for my friend as the story unfolded. When Jesus’ character was beaten and crucified, I heard quiet weeping nearby and realized it was my friend. Is it odd that the Muslim woman is the one crying?

The exuberant, infectious joy of the entire cast at the resurrection of Jesus still rings in my own heart, and it must have bypassed all language barriers! As we exited, the cast lined the foyer to greet us and when my friend saw “Jesus”, she quickly asked if she could have her picture taken with him!

My prayer, oh my fervent prayer, is that this is a step towards being able to introduce her in a life-changing way to the Jesus who gave His life for her. And, isn’t the setting of Welcome Home a perfect place to make that possible?!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011


I've been trying NOT to make so many assumptions.  Sometimes I do well, other times I fail miserably.

I met with a small group of adults who contacted me about volunteering at Welcome Home.  After an introduction to our ministry, I launched into a series of opportunities that we had for them to choose from.  I was met with blank stares.  I stewed over it as I walked home that evening, and again as I walked back to work the next morning, and came to the realization that I'd made assumptions- that I was at least 6 steps ahead of this group!

I met with a colleague who was going to give me some constructive criticism for one of my projects, and was praying for an open mind.  Halfway through our respective cups of tea, I realized that we had different agendas for our conversation.  That I was talking to someone who was interested in volunteering!

I co-led an English Cafe last evening, and was delighted to meet 3 new participants.  I patted myself on the back as I asked what they hoped to gain from our time together (which surprisingly was as much about friendship as it was about learning English).  Not many minutes later, though, I asked the Japanese young man if he was a refugee.  He graciously corrected my assumption.  Maybe I've been working with refugees for so long that any newcomer learning English looks like a refugee to me?

Walking home afterwards, I could at least laugh at myself.  God and I will keep plugging away, with plenty of grace to go around.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Since When Did Used Clothing Become Lucrative?

I love to reduce, reuse and recycle, and repair...now there's "redistribute".  An article I read suggests that
redistribute may become the "5th R" and become a key form of sustainable commerce.  It's part of the new movement to collaborative consumption.
I like this trend.

However... I have noticed that whereas I used to have to drive all over town wondering "now where did I see that donation bin??" with my bag of treasures, there is now a donation bin on almost every street corner!  Since I love to read almost anything in print, I'm one of those potential donors who actually reads the signs on the bins.  Sure, there's the usual "don't dump your furniture here!" and "clothing only!" but the fine print reveals what I believe we should pay attention to.

Check out WHO is going to profit from your worn-out, stretched out and/or in good condition but just doesn't fit anymore clothing.  I've seen an interesting array of groups, from Diabetes and Cancer Society, to Hindu and even cultish-sounding groups.  Even more disconcerting, are the bins that purport that "a portion of what is raised will go to support a charity".  Which charity, what portion? That could be anywhere from .001% upwards.

So, join the collaborative consumption movement and redistribute your stuff.  Just be discreet.

By the way, Welcome Home is the recipient of many wonderful donations of slightly used linens, winter clothing and household items.  Check out our newly formed Furniture Redistribution Project- a result of your generosity, Apple Self-Storage's donation of a unit, and an emerging team of volunteers- to see what God is doing!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Caregiver Syndrome

Caregiver syndrome... is a condition of exhaustion, anger, rage, or guilt that results from unrelieved caring for a chronically ill dependent. Wikipedia
 I've been experiencing aspects of this syndrome, but for a very different reason. You see, last year I started looking around for peers to connect with.  As a director of a shelter for refugees, my world is very large and very small.  I'm delighted that I now connect with an Ontario Shelter Providers Network.  And, I am so enriched by the connections I've made with fellow Refugee Ministry leaders across the globe.  And, I'm so much more enlightened by the daily updates I get from the Canadian Council for Refugees.  But, I struggle with increasing cynicism and despair.

That's when I remembered that fighting political battles is actually NOT what I was created for! That while I need to be aware and intercede, and use my voice where God opens doors, politics actually kill my spirit.  That the Body of Christ includes those who ARE called to take on the powers that be.  God often speaks through me through songs, and the other night I went to sleep humming "He's got the whole world in His hands."  Hmmmm...

So, thanks for the updates from Athens- in the midst of a horribly unjust system, I'm excited about the miraculous ways God is bringing refugees to Himself!  And, thanks for keeping me up to date regarding the changing Canadian laws which negatively affect the refugees I love.  And, thanks for providing a community of peers that have clues about preventing bed bugs, etc.  I'm really glad to broaden my world.

But, I'm called to this little house on King St East, where a wonderfully diverse group of refugees are being welcomed into a family, with a committed staff team and volunteers that just plain love Jesus.  For the sake of my own well-being and those I'm called to lead- I'm going to start with the little patch I've been given and change the world one room and one precious soul at a time.

(Painting by Ron Dicianni)