Thursday, October 30, 2008

Giggles from Darfur!

Tonight I got a phone call that made my heart sing. Two Sudanese women I had introduced for the first time on Tuesday were visiting each other on Thursday evening. And like happy girlfriends, they called a third girlfriend (me!) and started giggling over the phone.
(photo removed by request)

These women haven't had much to laugh about. They both escaped genocide in Darfur, and they have many scars from their suffering. But suffering wasn't the topic of conversation tonight!

The regal beauty, above, has been in America for several months. She works hard to learn English. She lives with her husband and is expecting their first child. When we talk about the baby's birth, I can tell she's nervous. Her mother is still in Sudan. Who will help her?
Her new friend, of course! I'll be there for her, too. But this sweet woman will be the perfect model. She is the mother of three little girls, she's from the same tribe, and she speaks the same language. She has a soft voice, and when she speaks, she sounds almost childlike.

I love the image of the two of them giggling together in the home of the woman who has been here longer. They decided to call me, they said, because "we wanted to greet you!"

Greetings to both of you, too. And welcome to America!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

How lovely are the feet . . .

My friends laughed when I took a photo of their feet. They don't know how much I love African feet! I love the feet of babies . . . old ladies . . . growing boys . . . old men . . . pretty mamas . . . (photo removed by request)

African feet go places. They tell stories. I wish the feet I meet could tell you all their tales.I have been trying to tell you the stories, and some of them are full of hope and joy.

But on Tuesday I heard a tale so sad I cried all the way home. It is a story too terrible for me to pass on to you right now. It is the story of a beautiful young woman whose tale of suffering broke my heart.

I have cared about these people as you probably do -- because they are God's children, physically and spiritually needy, and we want to help them. But now they are not just "people" to me. They have names, faces, and stories. And I love them.

When I'm able to tell you my friend's story, I will. Until then, join me in loving and praying for some of these real human beings who live in Atlanta, Georgia.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Just in from Africa!

This Wednesday I had the chance to do something I've dreamed of for a long time. I got to go to the airport and meet a new family arriving from Africa. As the daughter of missionaries, I remember when the newcomer from Africa was me! I joined Mike, the World Relief caseworker, in welcoming this lovely, soft-spoken woman and her three daughters. They are Muslims from the Darfur region of Sudan. When war came to their home, they fled to Ethiopia where they have lived for 3 years. The woman's parents and siblings also fled, but she does not know where they went. She has heard that many refugees from Darfur are living in Chad, and she plans to begin looking for her missing family members as soon as possible.My first sights of America always left me breathless. I saw that same sense of wonder, fear, anticipation, confusion, and joy in the faces of my new little family. Mike picked up a Chinese take-out lunch of rice and chicken -- exactly the foods this Sudanese family eats in Africa. How's that for a cultural melting pot?
While their mother signed important papers at World Relief headquarters, the three girls and I cleaned up the lunch and then drew pictures on the marker board. These two girls have been to school, and they knew how to draw many lovely things.
Little sister discovered a turkey that gobbled, a bunny, and several other toys. While most American children would be amused only for a moment or two, these girls were mesmerized and delighted with the stuffed animals.
Mike said they could take the toys to their new home. That's not all they'll be taking. African songs, traditions, beliefs, hopes, and dreams go with them . . . Slowly they will learn about America and begin to grow comfortable here. Pray with me that God's grace will abound and that their hearts will soften to the greatest Love of all.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Housewives and other funny things!

There's been a lot of laughter lately! What's so funny?

Finding armloads of dolls for $1 a piece at the dollar store. I will use these in the sewing class I'll be teaching at Clarkston Community Center in a couple of weeks. We will start by making blankets for these dolls. Tim and I got a big kick out of this unexpected blessing!Story problems? Not again! Kelly helps Ethan figure out what's being asked for -- addition or subtraction. Yikes, that's enough to make anyone laugh! Or cry!
Drawing a face for the first time in your entire life! This beautiful young woman put a lot of time -- and laughter -- into trying to sketch her little sister's face on my marker board.
"Housewife!" This word sent my friend into hoots of laughter. I was helping her learn how to fill out basic forms in English. I asked her what her job was. "Taking care of the children, cleaning the house, cooking food," she said in Swahili. I told her she is a "housewife." After laughing for several minutes at this new English word, she agreed that she is married to her house! "Yes," she said, "it's true, I am the wife of the house." A housewife! (photo removed by request)

New sewing machines! Thank you, Tim Cummins -- and Jesse and Ashley. What a great gift to start off my class. Another ministry partner is donating fabric and thread. Oh, boy! I can't wait to get started.
While we've had fun this week, I've spent a lot of time helping my refugee families deal with problems. We've had a little of everything . . . children getting bad grades, kids missing school buses, AT&T bills with astronomical charges, high fevers, unfaithful husbands, sorrow over missing loved ones, and yes, even some anger.

This child, who cuddles up next to me and begs me to take her home, is symbolic of the pain and suffering, confusion and fear refugees feel when they come to America. But she's a real little girl, too, and she needs your prayers. Karen is blind in one eye and has had a very difficult life. Please pray for her today . . . and for all of us.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Barry's books

I'd like to introduce you to "Barry." His nation of origin is Burundi, but he has lived most of his life in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Once, his family returned to Burundi for a short time. They had to flee again in fear of genocide. In all my years as a teacher and writer, I've never met anyone like Barry.

In the camp, he studied English with the enthusiasm of a graduate scholar in linguistics. He speaks with a thick accent, but his vocabulary and sentence structure are amazingly advanced.

Barry showed me the workbooks he used in Tanzania. They are worn, patched, and dirty. They smell heavily of kerosene -- no doubt from the lamp he lit in order to study at night. I can't imagine how they have not caught fire by now. But Barry loves and treasures these books with all his heart.
A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that Barry teach English to the other Burundian men in the complex while he waits for his classes to start at DeKalb Tech. The following week he told me that the teaching had not gone well. "They do not understand adjectives at all," he said sadly.

Barry loves to talk in English. He peppers his conversation with idioms and phrases he has picked up. Two favorites are "try your level best" and "according to . . ." Many of his sentences begin with, "According to . . . " but don't quite follow up as they should. Here are some of Barry's sentences. "According to how we go on the bus, we need to buy tickets." "According to this problem of the missing door, we should not look into the bedroom of our sisters while they sleep."

When I was visiting his family this week, Barry showed me the notebook he always carries. Page after page is filled with beautiful penmanship recording vocabulary words and their definitions. I asked Barry where he had found these words. He said he reads books and writes down every word he does not know. He owns a dictionary where he finds the definition.

Barry's dedication and zeal in the face of obstacles I can only imagine amazes me. He is soft-spoken, kind and loving to his brothers and sisters, a leader and protector in his large family, and eager to learn.

According to me, Barry will go a long way in his new country. He always tries his level best.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Head and shoulders, knees and toes...

I love this beautiful mother of three from Burundi. Her apartment -- in a complex with broken windows, empty vodka bottles, and scary people -- is always quiet and clean. She is a Christian whose fruit shows she's living the way Christ intended. Today, we were learning body parts. That's important for a mom who will take her children to the doctor. As always, we got a lot of help from Alice. Can you say "ear?"
Mom attempted to draw a face on my marker board. She spent so much time and effort on this assignment that I came to believe she has never tried to draw anything in her life.

Meanwhile Alice sat on my lap. We talked about hands...and feet...While I worked with mom, Alice decided those feet of hers needed to try on teacher's new white shoes.

When I got ready to put them on again, I noticed that Alice had kindly drawn all over them with a pencil. So what's wrong with that, huh? Don't you like the way I decorated your shoes?Yes, I do, Alice! Thank you very much indeed.

Refugees bring very few possessions to America, and I'm always interested to see what they chose to put in their bags. Some mothers bring the hand-carved wooden spoons they use to make their staple dish called posho. Others bring clothing crafted from banners proclaiming them to be under the protection of the United Nations. One young man has brought the English workbooks he used to study with in the refugee camp.

As always, this lovely mother brought out the hymnbook she carried from Burundi to America. She has a beautiful voice, and she sings hymns for me. Alice grows still, gazing raptly at her mother. It is a moment of peace and joy I treasure.
Thank you, Lord, for Alice and her mother. Bless and protect them always. Amen.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Guns and roses

I can hardly think how to describe today. I came home and cried . . . and laughed.

My new missions partner, Kelly -- a Mission Year volunteer (that's her in the middle) -- joined me this morning for a round of visiting, teaching, and mostly . . . listening. (photo removed by request)

In one family, the oldest daughter (not any of the young ladies pictured in this blog) is involved with a married man, a violent person who has threatened her and those who try to help her. I have been counseling her to break free of him and start her own happy life as an adult. She always says, "It's hard. It's hard." Today I saw why. He entered the house wearing a holstered pistol at his waist. Please pray for this refugee family from Burundi and their troubled daughter.

Another student was in pain this morning. She told me that she has had many problems since her circumcision. That's right . . . female circumcision. This crude operation is performed by a girl's relatives when she reaches puberty. It often results in death, uncontrolled bleeding, the spread of AIDS, and such terrible scarring that childbirth is very difficult.

Yet another had to go up and down the stairs to her apartment by holding onto the rail and crawling. She, too, has severe constant pain. Her pain is the result of a rape that left her permanently crippled when she was a 15 year old girl.

So . . . where are the roses promised in my headline?

Despite the horror stories above, today held a lot of fun and beauty. We went to the farmer's market to help a family shop for groceries. This market is unlike any I've ever seen. So much to see! Amazing fruit, vegetables, meats -- things I've never even heard of. There is a large florist with bundles of bright, gorgeous flowers. Yes, roses!

We smiled and laughed about a lot of things . . .

What's the difference between "carpet" and "garbage?" Sound the same to you? If you're from Sudan they do! (photo removed by request)

What's the difference between red, white, and yellow onions? I have no idea!

What is Labor Day and why do women go into labor when they have babies?

This is my new friend's husband. (Is that the smile of a smitten woman, or what?!) What a great looking guy! He's still in Africa, so we'll pray him to America as soon as possible.
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The sun was bright, the smiles were frequent, and the love . . . oh, yes, it was definitely there.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Faces of hope...

This was a hard day.

My students were all in crisis. One mother said accusingly, "You did not bring any answers for me."

She's right. I have few solutions to her multitude of problems. As I tried to help today, I often felt overwhelmed and discouraged. That's when I focused on the faces of these people who have become so precious to me. (photo removed by request)Walk with me through this day. I'll tell you each crisis I met, and then we'll look at the faces of hope. The people in the photos are not the ones described, but they are all my beloved students and their families.A mother was very sick -- high blood pressure, a headache, and seven children under age 11 running all over the house. Many of the youngest kids were without underwear. The older ones are failing in school. The oldest boy showed me the teacher's record of his daily behavior: two weeks of frowny faces. His mother instructed me to tell him that if he didn't do better, the police would put him in jail. He's in first grade. Sigh . . . (photo removed by request)

Another mother had talked to her oldest son in Tanzania. He is 21, too old to flee to America with his family. He has no food and no house. His brother told me that people are putting refugees into burlap sacks, dousing them with kerosene, and setting them on fire. The family is frantic with worry.A young woman sat silently on the sofa. She is always in pain from the brutal beating and rape she endured at age 16. Her body is disfigured and she walks with a limp. Today she could not muster a smile.In another home, a young woman confessed to a relationship with a married man. He gives her money and presents. But he is also abusive, and she is afraid to leave him. She has lost her legal paperwork -- all the documents she needs in order to find a job.An empty bottle of vodka lay on the landing near the apartment of another family. I asked the father about it. He told me he stopped drinking two years ago. I have seen his eyes red and his voice slurred. I am trying to believe him, but I will watch him closely in the coming months. (photo removed by request)

(photo removed by request)

I call these "my people." Far more important, they are God's people. He knows them intimately, each loss, each fear, each pain. He loves them more than they can ever imagine. Please pray that the love of Jesus will shine through me. On fun days . . . and on hard days, too.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Getting their kicks

Two churches teamed up to provide dozens of residents of Huntington Ridge Apartments a fun afternoon Sunday as part of the UNITE: Compassion in Action weekend. UNITE is an umbrella organization of missions-minded churches.
Volunteers from Perimeter Presbyterian Church and New Church of Atlanta, a Korean congregation, served “HR” residents hotdogs, chips, Gatorade, cookies and other treats. Perimeter even brought along its cotton candy machine, which was a popular attraction.

Two boys resemble Maori tribesmen with their brightly painted faces.
Andrei Palmer displays his face-painting skills on a young Huntington Ridge resident.
Raven hair was the order of the day as the predominantly Latino residents of Huntington Ridge partied with volunteers from the Korean New Church of Atlanta Sunday.
Irish eyes kept a wary watch on a balloon during Sunday afternoon’s party.
New Church members put on a martial arts demonstration and invited youngsters to try some of fighting moves.
A New Church member (right, below) shares his testimony through an interpreter, telling how God turned him from a misguided quest for money and material possessions to something far more valuable – a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.