Sunday, September 28, 2008

Brothers and sisters

Our church family was excited to welcome a young man (center) who had finally arrived from Africa to join his siblings. He had been living all alone in a refugee camp in Tanzania.On Sundays, brothers and sisters are everywhere. They stand in support of each other, like the happy family above. They cuddle up next to their mother.
They sort through toys and learn to share.
They cluster around their father. This dad from Sudan has nine children!
Does his family look anything like yours?
If you are a Christian, they are your brothers and sisters. We praise God that all these people from many nations and many tribes are one family in Jesus Christ.
We get to enjoy our friends now . . . and for all eternity. Bwana asifiwe! Praise the Lord!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Friday's fun for everyone...

I've never seen anyone enjoy life quite as much as little Alice.

When I started ministering to refugees, I wanted to work only with women. I'd had no preschool training and not much experience (other than raising a couple of boys) with babies and toddlers. Wow -- have I ever changed! I love these little children more than I can express, and I can't wait to see them when I visit. Fun, fun, fun!

These two cute girls are cousins. Little Faith, a petite three-year-old, runs around in shoes that are way too big for her tiny feet. Cousin Ellie is younger but bigger. She always sports a cool hairstyle.
Alfred had missed the school bus today. Oops. Somehow his big brother had made it without him. He enjoyed joining in on the lesson with baby sister and mom. The mothers have fun, too. I gave basic ESL tests to several of my students on Friday. Afterward, I had them draw a face, a house, and a tree. Their giggles told me they had never drawn anything in their lives before! Can you imagine?

I don't often get smiles out of this tired mother, a widow who works the night shift in a chicken factory. But she enjoyed writing out her alphabet for me. I could tell she was proud of her effort.
Take a look at this tree she drew. Stylized, creative, beautiful. I think I have a budding artist!This mom had been washing clothes by hand in the bathtub when I arrived. She was hanging them on her balcony, but she wanted to sit down and get to work on her English right away. I'm so proud of her. She's been in the United States only 4 months, but she is learning English well. She has the cleanest refugee home I've ever seen. I always compliment her.
She and her husband posted on the wall the few photos they have. These are pictures of their life in Africa and precious portraits of loved ones. My friends have hung the pictures as high as possible -- right up against the ceiling. They're terribly proud of their collection, and I know they miss the family they left behind.
I ended my day with a Bible study in a friend's home. She is reaching out to refugee women from Burundi. It cheered my heart to see these women studying God's word.

In case you're not smiling and having fun yet, I'll post another picture of Alice. Who can keep from giggling now?

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Teaching everyone!

"Missions is messy." The phrase is more accurate than the mind can imagine.

Today I set out to teach six people. I taught seven -- but not the ones I'd planned! I came home with melted chocolate all over my jeans, an invitation to celebrate the end of Ramadan, a tired body and a heart overflowing with joy.

At one home, my Somali friend -- I'll call her Anna -- was worn out. It's Ramadan for Muslims, which means Anna can't eat until sunset. Her baby is running a fever. Yesterday she took him to the doctor. "Injection!" she exclaimed, pointing to his chubby little leg. Her three school-aged children were home by the time I arrived. That makes seven kids in all. Anna wanted to take pictures, and I decided to go with the flow. Eventually, I wound up teaching the whole group -- mom, kids, even baby.

Here's the result of a rather messy afternoon . . .

Anna and daughter, "May," discuss proper headwear. They share clothes, like most mothers and daughters May's age.

(photo removed by request)Anna wants to pose for a portrait. I try to get her to smile. She won't. I eventually shoot. She pronounces this one, "GOOD!"
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May attempts to teach her mother how to smile.
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Cathy and Anna attempt a self-portrait. I'm holding the camera. Not so great, but at least Anna's beginning to see the humor.
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"Faith" and her big sister May, age 11.
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Anna wanted to take this photo of her children and me after our lesson. We (including mom) worked on colors, shapes, letter sounds, and vocabulary for basic kitchen items.
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May looking lovely in yet another scarf. Can you tell she's hovering on the edge of her teenage years? It won't be long before her physical appearance becomes vitally important to her.
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Anna staged a photo of me with the baby. Oldest son "Oliver" hopped into the frame just as the camera clicked.
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Anna's self portrait. Yes, she declared it, "GOOD!"
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More photos . . . May and the baby
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Oliver, the oldest boy in the family. A very important role.
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The photos tell only a short version of a long day.

My young pregnant student from the Darfur area of Sudan enjoyed looking through a photo album of my son's birth. She wrote important information about childbirth and babies as I dictated. Say, "The cord will fall off." "Change the diaper." "Burp the baby."

My Burundian friend -- a young widow with three children -- was getting ready for work at a chicken factory. Her apartment was abuzz with people gathering to ride in a van all the way to Gainsville. I'll visit her again tomorrow.

I dropped by the home of my Rwandan friends, but they were out. Last week, I helped the youngest boy at the pharmacy. He needed pain medication for a bad tooth.

That's my story and I'm stickin' to it. Missions is messy . . . and how I love it!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Special Forces cleaning mission!

Not for the faint of heart!

When you want something done right, call in the troops. Today I assembled a "Special Forces" team to take up arms (otherwise known as Ajax, bleach and Pine-Sol) and conquer an out-of-control apartment.

One of my favorite refugee students is a very young widow. Her husband died in Tanzania, leaving her with 3 children. Here in Atlanta, she works the night shift at a chicken factory, takes English classes, and looks after her kids. She's a regular at our church. Over time, her apartment got the better of her. I sensed her defeated spirit, and I wanted to help. Why not start with a clean slate . . . er, apartment?

I knew I could count on some faithful Kingdom laborers. Tim Cummins helped assess the situation, talk to the apartment manager, and make plans. He also provided the financial help to purchase supplies.This beautiful lady came prepared to work! Shirley volunteered several hours of hard labor.
Bill Hickey, our fellow missionary with Whirlwind Missions, offered his expertise. I really appreciated their good humor, interesting conversation, and words of wisdom as we worked.
Get ready for the "ewww" factor. This was what we encountered on arrival. A major bug problem ...

A food sanitation problem ...
Yes, that's a fish head. Notice his tail nearby?
A clutter problem ...A general lack of cleanliness problem ...
Got problems? Put the team to work!

We decided we would tackle the kitchen today. Bill took the stove apart and cleaned it. He worked on the vent hood, too. We found a teeming city under the stove, and Bill made it disappear. Cockroaches lined the refrigerator door gasket and had met their demise inside the freezer. The fridge was filthy. Shirley took care of all that nastiness in short order. I scrubbed the microwave, upper cabinets, and wall.
Everything needed a good scouring ... and got one!
When we finished, the kitchen smelled good. The appliances, cabinets, walls, and floor were clean. You heard me right -- smelled good and looked clean!
We talked about wishing we had done more on the rest of the house, but I want my student to put some "sweat equity" into her home. I plan to work alongside her in the months to come -- teaching English along with the important life skills that will keep her children healthy and make her home a welcoming place.
Thanks, Tim, for supporting us. Thanks, Shirley and Bill, for many hours of hard, yucky work. Next time I need to call on the Special Forces, I know exactly where to turn!

Monday, September 15, 2008

New shoes for new Americans

Seven members of our new Burundian family needed new shoes. We put ministry money into this project. Many thanks to those of you who support us financially! Take a look at what God did today with your gift.
First, we buckled the three youngest boys into the back seat of our car and set off for the shoe shop. The store manager helped Tim measure each boy's foot.
Worn plastic sandals were soon exchanged for bright new shoes. This necessitated a fair amount of clowning around by the youngest boy. Not particularly appreciated by his big brother.
No amount of cajoling would bring a smile to the faces of the two older boys. We weren't surprised. Refugees have a hard time learning how to set aside a painful past and embrace a better future. One of these sweet children is an orphan. When both parents died, he was taken in by his uncle. We see the sorrow written on his face.
After returning these three children to their apartment, we squeezed the four older ones into the car. This time, we went to a different store.Everyone found sturdy shoes that will get them through the winter. The older boys will find jobs, and these make good work shoes. Sister wasn't exactly crazy about them, but she will appreciate them more when cold weather sets in.Much conferring and giggling accompanied this trek. We discovered that teenage girls find reasons to giggle -- no matter where they're from.
We arrived back at the complex to find a crowd of Burundian children playing in the parking lot. This tiny girl was carrying her even tinier baby sister in typical African fashion. Her joy and pride made our hearts sing.
Thank you, Lord, for new shoes . . . for giggles . . . for baby sisters . . . and for hope.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Tea for Ten

Tea in the village is always a delight. Terry Earl and I were blessed to welcome eight women from Genesis Bible Church for an orientation about our missions program, Overflow Ministries. We met in a conference room at Clarkston International Bible Church. Afterward, our guests also enjoyed teatime in the home of a young refugee woman from Burundi.As the orientation began, we chatted with the women about why they were interested in refugee ministry and which special gifts the Holy Spirit had given them. Many had questions, and we offered answers as well as an array of opportunities in which they can serve.Following the meeting, a young refugee wife and mother welcomed us -- yes, all ten of us! -- into her apartment. She enjoyed her visitors, and we all appreciated her generous gift of hospitality and service. Terry had helped her plan for the group's arrival. Tea and mandazis were the menu for the event. Mandazis are a type of fried bread eaten in eastern and central Africa. I grew up eating mandazis. Yum!But our sweet hostess had gone the extra mile by preparing another special dish from her homeland. We all relished the delicious mix of stewed plantains, onions, and tomatoes. The women from Genesis wanted to meet our friend's son. He enjoyed seeing pictures of himself in a digital camera. His mother is pregnant and soon he'll welcome a baby brother or sister. A new American to add to the family!
Outside, we met several other African friends who were eager to greet our guests. A young man who loves the Lord and is a regular soloist at our church enjoyed meeting the women.
He introduced his friends, a mother with several children. Afterward, one of the women from Genesis accompanied me to the apartment of one of my neediest students, a single mother from Burundi. I am deeply distressed by this young woman's situation. I find it hard to sleep at night because I cannot stop thinking about her. I'm praying that the women from Genesis will step in and help support my student and other refugees in the village. They need a lot of love in order to heal from the past and look forward to a brighter future.
This time of chatting, sipping tea, sharing about our families, and discussing the past and the future laid a strong foundation upon which God can build a ministry. I can't wait to see what He will do!