Monday, June 30, 2008

Two down and ? to go

We were so freaked out when we first moved to Huntington Ridge. The morning after our first full day here, I woke up thinking, “One down, 729 to go.”

I had gone into this endeavor with the mindset that it was a two-year hitch, same as if I had been drafted into the Army. At the end of the first week, I thought, “One down, 103 to go.” That made the end feel closer. Now we have completed two months in HR, but I’ve stopped calculating how much time we have left. Only God knows that anyway.

Though it isn’t productive to look at life on a mission field as if it were a jail sentence, I think it does make sense to reflect and evaluate as we go.

What am I doing that justifies calling myself a missionary?

When people look at me, do they know I’m here to represent Jesus Christ?

Do my actions and words reflect my Christian faith in a positive way?

Am I neglecting my family?

Whenever I catch myself wondering if I am accomplishing anything for God, He reminds me to rephrase the question: Am I asking God what He wants to accomplish through me? Am I listening carefully, prayerfully for His reply?

This Fourth of July, we plan to treat our neighbors at Huntington Ridge to Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in the picnic area, which we will decorate in a patriotic theme. We want to convey the pride and gratitude we feel about living in the United States of America, and we want everyone here to know that they are entitled to feel the same way, whatever some of my countrymen might think about the immigrants among them.

My prayer for the holiday and the event is an old one:

America! America!

God shed His grace on thee

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A hard day's night

After dropping Andrei off at his day program at the Gwinnett Enrichment Center, Tim drove me to Clarkston. Terry and I had planned to write curriculum in our office at Clarkston International Bible Church. But when a friend called to tell us her husband had been admitted to the hospital the night before, we wanted to help by babysitting so she and their daughter could visit him. This is a precious family whose hearts are so open to God's leading that they bought a house in the midst of the refugee community. A trip to Tanzania was a highlight in their lives, and their lovely home reflects their love for Africa . . . and her people.Terry and I loved watching our friends' son, and Terry managed to accomplish a miracle -- she was so calm that this bright and busy little two-year-old actually fell asleep in her arms!
Terry and I actually managed to write four weeks of curriculum. A major miracle in itself!

The Beatles...

On our way home, Tim suggested we head to nearby Norcross Park to watch a Beatles cover band called The Return.
Tim grew up in the US during the fifties and sixties, so the Beatles are a strong part of his memories. I grew up in Kenya, and I had barely heard of the Beatles when I arrived in the US to attend college. Hard to believe, but true.

I thought it would be fun to walk down memory lane (should I say Penny Lane?) with my husband. We arrived to find a huge crowd gathered around the natural amphitheater. Yeah -- mostly over-50, white folks. A big change from our usual friends and neighbors these days!Tim knows every word to all the Beatles songs. He was singing, clapping, and getting goosebumps. The Return does a great job of capturing the true Beatles experience -- or so I'm told.Tim got happier by the minute. And I was happy, too, especially when he fetched us some decidedly non-British hot dogs and pizza. As the sun set, we noticed the old church behind the park. Norcross is a quaint town, and we enjoyed getting to know it better.After the concert, we stopped at an ice cream stand and shared a hot fudge sundae with a cherry on top.
Thank you, Lord, for another wonderful day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A beautiful day in the neighborhood...

How's this for a face no one can resist? Today took me back to Clarkston where I joined my ministry partner, Terry Earl, in visiting several homes of refugee families.Children were everywhere -- in the stairwells, in the parking lots, on the sidewalks, in the open grassy areas.
We chatted in one home where the father of the family is blind. In another home we visited, the father suffered disfiguring burns on his hand. As if that weren't painful enough, last week he was hit by a car! He was still not feeling well today.

In both families, the disabled fathers are unemployed and the mothers have to work. They go to a chicken factory nearly two hours away by van. They work the night shift in a cold place where the labor is tedious. Then they return home, try to sleep a little, and at the same time make sure their children don't run wild in the streets. It's a difficult task.
The refugee family who lives in this home has been in the United States for many years. They've earned enough money to beautify their home with wall hangings and floor mats. The decorative piece on the ceiling was a gift from a friend.
This cutie pie has been in summer school. Refugee parents know how important education is to a successful life here. They make sure their kids know it, too.
After visiting in the homes, Terry and I drove over to a restaurant run by a family in which an Ethiopian is married to an Eritrean -- traditional enemies! Their beautiful daughter told us her parents escaped to a refugee camp during the war in which Eritrea split away from Ethiopia. In their restaurant, they serve many East African foods, including my beloved samosas, triangular pastry pockets stuffed with savory meat. Yum!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Last English class ...

After much turmoil in my heart, I finally decided it was time to call a halt to my English class. I'm in the midst of working on a book, the classroom is very hot, and the kids are out of school until August 8. Still, the students who have stayed with the class looked so sad about my announcement of "la ultima dia" that Tim is considering continuing in my place. I hope he does! Today, we reviewed everything we've learned. They did such a great job introducing themselves, talking about their families, remembering their alphabet and numbers, and discussing parts of the body. I'm so proud of my students!
We put together a book about God's creation of the world -- taken from Genesis in the Bible. I had the text in both Spanish and English, but I encouraged the parents to read to their children from the English version.
While moms and dads worked hard, the babies and other children played. Please pray with me that God will bless these sweet families.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Jambo, José! And other funny stuff...

"Jambo" is the Swahili word for "hello."

José is our maintenance man at Huntington Ridge. He's a Spanish speaker.

The other day, I was returning home from working with African refugees. I pulled into our 99% Latino apartment complex and spotted José. I rolled down my window, waved at him, and heard myself yell, "Jambo, José!"I laughed all the way home. Mixing Swahili and Spanish is very common for me. I start out in one language and when I run into a troublesome word, my brain automatically substitutes an easier one. Usually in the other language.

Laughter is a big part of coping on the mission field. Tim and I laugh all the time about funny things that happen. We laugh with our new friends and neighbors, too.

This helps when sobering things are constantly going on all around us. Like tonight -- a woman knocked on our door. She told us in Spanish that her son is in juvenile detention. He is in a gang and was using drugs and alcohol. When the police tried to arrest him last week, he resisted. Now he has lots of charges stacked up. This woman wanted to visit her son, but she wasn't sure about visiting hours. We called the detention center and translated everything for her. We also had the opportunity to encourage her to pray and read her Bible to find peace and hope. Giving her the name of Pastor Carlos of Iglesia Bautista Belen also provided a big open door, enabling her to find a church home where she can understand the language.

Another neighbor dropped by soon after. She told us that on this past Saturday night, she had heard a big fight going on in the downstairs apartment. She wanted to call the police, but she was too afraid.

Worry, fear, and sorrow fill people's hearts here. So when we can find a reason for joy, we do! One of my favorite things is holding babies. And laughing with friends. Here are some of the joys and funnies from our recent life ...
My Spanish speaking friend told me that one time she needed some keys made. She went up to the store clerk and said in broken English, "I need a kiss!" He stared at her, so she repeated it. "I need a kiss. I want kiss." Finally he understood that what she really wanted was keys.

I was telling my English class how much I love the ocean. I said, "Yo quiero la mer." They just about died laughing. I had said, "I love a lick" (lamer) -- which they demonstrated by licking pretend ice cream cones. The Spanish word for ocean is "el mar."
I was trying to tell my Latina friends about myself. I wanted them to know that I'm married. I said, "Yo estoy cansado." They all nodded in great sympathy. Then I realized I had said, "I'm tired." The word for married is casada! Well . . . tired, married . . . is there really much difference anyway?

My friend related a story about a time that she had wanted a money order for $130. She told the clerk, and he handed her a money order for $113. Thirteen and thirty sound the same when spoken in English by a Spanish speaker.
We've made all kinds of cultural mistakes and language mistakes. What can you do but giggle? And why not? It's a universal language, after all. Thank God for laughter!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Beer cans and geraniums

It was one of those mornings. A six-pack morning.

We stepped out our door and there they were -- all six cans scattered on the ground. While seated on the staircase of our apartment building, someone had polished off every drop of beer and tossed the containers around. This is a common sight for us, and it never stops hurting. Why does it hurt? For one thing, children live in every apartment in our building. When adults drink, kids suffer. Marriages suffer. Families suffer. There can be so many problems. Loss of money. Violence. Abuse. Chaos.
Also, it just trashes up the place. The owners have provided waste containers, and the maintenance men pick up litter on a regular basis. It doesn't matter. People still toss their trash on the ground. When you've lost respect for yourself, you're not likely to respect God's world. Please pray with us that people will come to a deep relationship with Christ -- and learn to care for themselves, their families and the earth.
I bought a cheap plastic geranium plant and set it by our front door. I expect it to disappear within a few days. But at least for now, those red flowers make me feel a little more cheerful!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Laundry day in Africa!

What a beautiful day to wash clothes, cook a tasty lunch and sing praises to the Lord! Today Cathy joined ministry partner Terry Earl in "the village" of Clarkston in Atlanta. We visited friends, hugged lots of children, and even wrote some curriculum.

This woman regularly strolls the village with her makeshift drum and sings praises to Jesus. On a day like this, it was easy to echo the Swahili expression, "Bwana asifiwe!" Praise the Lord!Terry and I had spent three weeks away from our ministry to refugees. She was busy preparing for a wedding, while I was beginning a new writing project. But today, we went home again -- and what fun it was to see our friends. The woman on the left has six children now, including a new baby I had never met. Such a cutie!
I had not seen her since my last visit to Atlanta, but she remembered me. She kept saying, "You got lost! You got lost!" I was proud to hear her confident English . . . and happy to tell her that I now live in Atlanta. I've been found!I won't deny it . . . I talked, talked, talked. I'm sure I threw in a few Spanish words while I was trying to communicate in Swahili and English. Please pray that I can sort these languages out in my head. They're all vying for attention.
Big smiles greeted us as children poured out the back doors of their apartments. It's fun for them to be home from summer school and have lots of time to play.
(photo removed by request)

One of my favorite friends was busy in her kitchen. She, too, has a new baby. Along with nursing the baby and caring for her other children, she had been washing clothes by hand. They were hanging outside to dry on chairs and a makeshift clothesline.
(photo removed by request)

Of course, she was cooking lunch, too. There's always so much for these mothers to do -- yet they're eager to practice English and learn as much as they can about America. (photo removed by request)

Please pray for Terry and me as we write curriculum. We'll be returning to the homes to begin teaching mothers and preschoolers when school starts in August. Until then, we will drop in on our friends in a more casual way. Try saying this, "Leo tunatembelea, tu!" (Today, we're just visiting!)
Thank you, God, for open doors and open hearts.