Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sewing with thanksgiving in our hearts

This rainy Monday morning of Thanksgiving week, my sewing class and I had lots to be thankful for. I've been passing out big new umbrellas donated by Tim Yarbrough of the North American Mission Board and World Changers. I'm guessing if you, our blog readers, drive through Clarkston on a rainy day, you'll see LOTS of these great umbrellas walking around. Thanks, NAMB, or as we say in Swahili, "Asante sana!"
We're also thankful for the accomplishments of my sewing class students. Most were out on Monday, getting vaccines for their green card requirements. That gave Kelly and me a great opportunity to work closely with the women who were able to come.You can see the pride and joy this lovely Bhutanese woman feels about the bag she made. She doesn't have much to smile about these days. Few of the new Bhutanese families arriving in Atlanta are able to find jobs. She and her husband are very worried about paying their rent. In Nepal, where they lived in a refugee camp, they were both teachers. Please pray for them.

I'm grateful to God that sewing class lifts her spirits. She's a Hindu, but she and many of the Bhutanese have been attending an area church. My friend will have a new doll and handmade doll clothes to give some special little girl this Christmas.
Some of my students are nearly fluent in English, but some can hardly speak a word. This friend struggles to communicate. She is expecting her third child. Please pray for her.
We're also grateful for the used clothing that is part of our sewing class. We tear up the fabric and use it to make bags and other items. Ripping old dresses and shirts gets pretty silly sometimes!
I'm so grateful for the sewing machines and other supplies donated to my class. We need more fabric, as well as beads, yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks, and other craft items. Why don't you raid your crafts drawer and see if there's something you might like to donate to refugee friends?
Kelly's smile expresses it all. We give thanks to God for each other, our students, and the many provisions and blessings He has bestowed on us.
Most of all, we are grateful that He gave His life as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Thank you, Jesus!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Books, books, and more books...

We were really "booked" up this Friday!

Tim and I recently learned that The Loved One, a novel I co-authored with my friend Peggy Stoks, would be available to us at a deep discount. Three years ago, we gave away 6,000 copies to our military men and women and their families. Tim felt God telling him to repeat this mission project. Tyndale House, the publisher of this and many of my novels, generously cut the price in half again. So we ordered 5,000 books. On Friday afternoon, the truck rolled into our apartment complex.
Tim and the driver unloaded countless cartons into a garage, donated free by the manager of our complex.I signed a book for the driver and his wife.
Then it was off to First Baptist Church, Covington. I spoke at their Christmas banquet -- so many beautifully decorated tables! Everyone wore their Christmas best, and we heard some glorious singing. My missions partner Terry Earl introduced our work with refugees. Then I gave a speech about God's work in my life through the years.

Afterward, I signed copies of my books. All proceeds go directly to ministry work. Lisa Conner put this great event together. Thanks, Lisa! I really enjoyed meeting one of Terry's good friends, Esther, who grew up in Kenya. She's from Thika, a town my parents lived in for several years. Esther is a strong Christian (and incredibly beautiful, too!), and I'm looking forward to getting to know her better.
This week, we'll celebrate Thanksgiving. Our hearts are full, and we're so thankful for our family, refugee friends, eager schoolchildren, ministry partners, and you -- our supporters! May God bless us, one and all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Tears on my pillow . . .

I love to share with you the fun and exciting side of missions among the refugee community in Atlanta. But sometimes it's not so joyous.
Last Tuesday, my missions partner, Kelly, and I dropped in on a home to relay a message to the mother. We found her sleeping on the floor after a night of drinking. Her four young children were trying to supervise themselves without success. The baby was wet and had a full diaper. She had no socks on her tiny frozen feet. The two boys got into a violent fistfight, so Kelly and I had to each grab one boy to pry them apart.

I finally got the mother awake, but she was not capable of managing the children. With the older family members away at work in the chicken factory, I knew I could not leave the children in this condition. I called the wonderful psychologist who runs the Attachment and Bonding Center. He has been working hard to help this family. He called the Department of Family and Children's Services. He also contacted a caseworker with Refugee Family Services.

About two hours into the ordeal, the police had arrived along with all the other support people. I was never so relieved to see anyone in my life! Soon papers were signed, reports were complete, photos had been taken, car seats had been brought, and the four children were taken to the DFACS office. Kelly and I went there, too, transporting some of the kids. Believe it or not, these children were thrilled to leave their mother. They had been in foster care once before and could hardly wait to get back. Eventually, the children hugged and kissed each other and us -- and they were driven away to safe, warm homes.

I haven't slept well since this event. Tomorrow, Kelly and I will go before a judge to give testimony about what we found in the home. Please pray for us.More important, pray for this family. They have all the problems of a severly dysfunctional home -- along with refugee post-traumatic stress, language barriers, illiteracy, and many other problems from their past.

Our ministry will continue in the home of this woman, her husband, and the older children. Pray that God will use us to accomplish His perfect will in this situation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Sewing fun!

I had a special treat this Monday. My editor from Tyndale House Publishers came to "the village" for a visit! Karen accompanied me from my sewing class to many homes. More new students arrived this week, so we were all busy teaching basic skills and fixing jammed sewing machines. I really appreciated Karen and Kelly helping out. I couldn't have done it alone!

Some of the women completed projects during the session.I'd say they're happy with their work!As class ended, I showed them a jacket I had made. It's tailored -- with a lining and other fancy stuff. We talked about improving skills so that eventually the women can make their own clothes, too. They are very eager to have more sewing sessions each week. Please pray with me as I seek God's provision for this need.

We ended class with lots of laughs. I love these ladies who are refugees from Bhutan. I think you can see why!
Later, Karen accompanied Kelly and me to many homes. She was especially impressed with Barry's diligent efforts to learn English in his refugee camp in Tanzania. I don't think any of us has ever met anyone quite as enthusiastic and determined as Barry!
These beautiful children represent the more than THIRTY children in families I serve each week. God has plans for every one of them. Each has great needs -- learning English, adapting to America, succeeding in school, and much more. I hope you'll pray for my families and their children. While you're at it, please pray for me, too! I need strength, patience and wisdom as I interact with my refugees. I also need focus and concentration on the days I return to writing.
Thank you . . . from all of us!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What's poppin'?

Lots and lots!

For example . . .

POPCORN! Today my Burundian family of ten got their first taste of popcorn. I wish you could have seen their faces when they heard all the popping inside their microwave! The taste-testing was tentative, but I'd call the popcorn a definite winner.
FRIENDS AND RELATIONS! Tim and I flew to Missouri last Wednesday. I gave a keynote address and he spoke to journalism classes at Southwest Baptist University, our alma mater. I was blessed to spend a little time with the professor who inspired me to write -- Dr. Tom Padgett -- and his sweet wife, Shirley. In celebration of my father's birthday, we enjoyed a family gathering at my sister's beautiful house. She filled us up on chips, dips, cheese balls, brownies and other goodies.
Dad got a lapful of presents! My sister gave him a wall sign that celebrates the essence of his life: FAITH. Tim and I brought big packets of Gujarati chevra. Check out your nearest Indian store if you want to try this delectable treat.I especially loved spending time with my sister. We shared so much while growing up together in Bangladesh and Kenya. I admire the work she does as a psychologist, and I'm so proud of the wonderful, talented children she has raised. We were sad to say goodbye and to think about missing our family during the holidays ahead. It will be very hard to spend those special days apart from our older son, Geoffrey. He's in college, so he gets a break at Christmas. Maybe he'll come for a visit. I hope so!Back home in Atlanta, it was time for . . .

SEWING CLASS! Last week, we had one student. This week, we had five. Next week, they all want to bring friends. This woman is a refugee from Somalia. She's a Muslim. She has grown children in Somalia, Kenya, and the U.S.These women are from Bhutan. They are Hindus. Their refugee camp was in Nepal.I wasn't able to convince them to take off their coats and hats. It gets cold in the Himalayan mountains where they lived. I guess indoor heating is a new concept!
GOVERNMENT RED TAPE! This poor mother from Burundi was sick when I visited -- and trying to babysit her three children plus several others. She handed me an envelope containing a lengthy form that will help her family receive aid in the form of Food Stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Refugee Cash Allowance (RCA), and Medicaid. We spent many hours hunting for documents and filling out forms. Her husband works all night at a chicken factory, then he attends English classes all morning until noon. They are both exhausted and barely making ends meet. But their sweet little daughter softens their hearts and makes all their labors worthwhile.THE REFUGEE BLUES . . . This is what I call the time period that starts about two weeks after a refugee's arrival in the United States. The elation of a new home and new friends is replaced by worries, fears, and doubts.

Questions abound -- How can I pay the rent? When will I get a job? Will my children be all right in school? Will I ever learn how to use public transportation? When will I be able to speak good English? And sadness -- I miss my friends in Africa. I'm all alone in this country. I don't know what is happening to me. My new family from Darfur is experiencing the refugee blues. But they have a lot of hope and a strong will to succeed. I have no doubt they'll be fine when life here looks a little better.

What else is poppin' these days?

PEOPLE! I love this family of ten. Today I arrived after school -- which meant everyone was home. Everyone . . . plus a whole lot more. That's me on the right, trying to direct traffic! The mother in this family is also babysitting extra children for parents who work in the chicken factory. Please pray for her. Can you imagine trying to do your homework in these conditions? That's exactly what several were doing.
Not only did I teach them how to make popcorn in the microwave, but i discovered problems galore. Their refrigerator had quit again. The maintenance man arrived and explained that they had stuffed too many things in the freezer and blocked the airflow. We reorganized the freezer and fridge and discussed how to care for food more effectively.

They brought out several items they had received in a church food basket. They didn't know what these were. How would you explain taco seasoning mix, salsa, peanut butter, instant oatmeal, and energy drinks?
It was dark when Kelly and I left this home today. We are tired but so full of joy and love. I'll end with photos of two of the young people in this family I have come to love so dearly. This beautiful young lady holds so much promise and hope in her heart. In the refugee camp in Tanzania, she taught the children Bible stories. She has emerged from genocide into a new life. Please pray for her!
And pray for her brother, too. He is so eager to embrace everything he sees and learns. Today he was in pain from a wound in his back that went untreated for many years in the refugee camp. Tomorrow, he'll go to a doctor who may begin to give him some relief.
Thank you for praying for all of us. Your support and generosity mean more than you can ever imagine. May God bless you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hands-on missions

Seventeen fourth-graders from Perimeter Christian School spent a recent morning doing a hands-on missions project at the Huntington Ridge apartment complex in Norcross, Georgia. The youngsters built and planted a flower garden, and they did a thorough cleanup of the “tutoring room.”

The first step in building the garden was to place a border of cinderblock pavers.

Then it was time for some “heavy lifting” – carrying 40-pound bags of topsoil to the garden site.Next task was to add and mix the topsoil with manure for a good growing environment.Then it was time to plant. Two hostas form the centerpiece of the new bed.The process of planting six dozen pansy plants consisted of digging a hole for each one, adding plant food and water, loosening the roots, and setting the plant. Students worked as a team to accomplish the job.As the work continued outside, half of the Perimeter students stayed busy cleaning the tutoring room. About two dozen Huntington Ridge children attend the weekly Tuesday afternoon “homework help” sessions, which include a snack and a Bible lesson.Have brush, will travel in the cause of missions.Every folding chair got a good cleaning.At the end of the morning, the Perimeter students posed by the new garden before heading back to school, knowing their efforts had made a difference at Huntington Ridge. The group will return twice more this school year for missions projects.