Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fun with Friends

On Christmas day, we visited our friends the Yarbroughs.

Tim (Palmer) and Tim (Yarbrough) have been buddies since they both worked for the Missouri Baptist Convention many years ago.

All our children were little then. Now the two Tims boast a fine collection of sons -- (left to right) Andrei Palmer, Caleb Yarbrough, and Geoffrey Palmer.
Tim and Pamm also have a beautiful daughter, Hannah. She shared her American Girls doll with me. The Refugee Sewing Society will be making doll clothes in the near future!
Thanks, Yarbroughs, one and all!

Monday, December 29, 2008

These precious moments . . . hold them very dear

No matter how old our sons get, they are always our baby boys. Even when they're 6' 4" tall!

All his life, Geoffrey has loved sitting on my lap for a mommy-snuggle. Nowadays when he plops down, my legs fall asleep pretty fast. But I wouldn't trade these precious moments for anything.Christmas is a special time in our home, as it is in so many. We enjoy the fun of gift-giving even as we express our reverence for God's gift to us of salvation.

Christmas morning begins with opening presents. This year, Tim played Santa and handed out the gifts.Tessie took up her usual spot -- guarding the tree from any who might try to gain access. She's a Border Collie, so she positions herself where she can corral the flock. Or Christmas presents, as the case may be!Andrei was thrilled with the stuffed penguin and the DVD of "March of the Penguins," gifts from his two birth sisters in Nashville.Geoffrey snacked on his annual Christmas stocking stuffer -- beef jerky.Tim was happy to get a new pair of jeans. His old ones were shot.Later, Tim made a huge breakfast, another Palmer Christmas tradition. Yum.The following Saturday we braved the crowds and went to the High Museum to see the terracotta warriors from China and the "masterpieces" display from the Louvre. My three boys joined this somber guard outside the museum.
The time finally came for us to say goodbye to Geoffrey. He's heading back to Missouri State University for his last semester. God willing, he'll graduate next spring with a BA in film .We love our sons so much and we're grateful God gave us this precious time to be together. We're going to do as the song says, and we hope you'll do the same --"Keep Christmas with you . . . all through the year."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

We three kings . . . and other family silliness!

The Palmer family is together again! Geoffrey arrived on Tuesday afternoon.

Andrei and I rode the MARTA to the airport to pick him up. Then we all came home the same way.That evening, we took our boys (men -- how can it be?!) to Medieval Times. We heard some groaning when they learned our plans, but five minutes into the show everyone was having a jolly good time. Today the boys lazed around watching TV, eating the refrigerator bare, and dropping socks, shoes, coats, backpacks around the living room. Sure felt like the good old days again!After the candlelight Christmas Eve service at Intown Community Church, we drove Andrei back to his apartment. He wanted to show us some of the cars he's been making.Back at home, Tim and Geoffrey took Tessie for a walk. They were at the far end of the complex when rain began pouring down in sheets.
I'd say Tessie's expression sums up that experience. "Bah, humbug!"But we know if she could talk, she'd join us in saying, "We wish you all a very merry Christmas!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas tea with Sudanese friends

Our friends from Darfur in Sudan had told us they'd like to visit our home. I visit them once a week or more, and I was very eager to invite them to tea in our little apartment.

We served Kenyan tea and a cake Tim had baked. Though they love tea with lots of spices, they enjoyed our plain version, too.

Tim brought out photo albums, and the adults all looked at the pictures with great interest. I've learned that refugees are always fascinated with photographs of our lives. I plan to incorporate my scrapbooks into my ESL teaching in the new year.

This handsome couple has been married for eight years, but they have only spent a few months of that time together. In Sudan, he was jailed twice for refusing to fight against his southern Sudanese countrymen even though most of them are Christians and he is a devout Muslim.

I always enjoy hearing him explain the political and religious situation in Darfur. They both have family members still living in Sudan. Please pray for the safety of those who remain in this wartorn nation.

We were glad we had a chance to explain that the secular traditions of Christmas -- trees and Santas -- have nothing to do with our true celebration of this blessed season when God humbled Himself and came to earth, offering the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin.

As we say in Swahili -- "Heri ya siku kuu!" Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas joys for girls and boys!

What a fun day Kelly and I had! Wow -- it's been a long time since I could say every single minute of a day was a total delight.We began our sewing class with a bunch of extra guests. Bhutanese refugees crowded into our room to watch what we were doing and sign up for the start of the new January class. You can see the concentration on their faces as they tried to understand our English instructions.With our six regular class members, we finally got down to the business of sewing our brand new project -- fabric grocery bags! I sewed a bag while the ladies gathered around and listened intently.Then everyone got busy pinning . . .and sewing . . . and ironing . . .This precious lady worked in the most comfortable position for her -- cross-legged on the floor -- even though she is seven months pregnant! Could you do this?Toward the end of class, we passed out Christmas presents. At each place where we gave gifts, we had the blessing of sharing the reason why we give -- because God first loved us and gave us the gift of Jesus Christ who was born to show us His love, died to show us His sacrifice, and lives again to show us His promise of eternity in His presence.

These warm scarf and glove sets were given by two Missouri churches -- First Baptist Camdenton and Grace Evangelical Free church in Jefferson City. Thank you very much!
After sewing class, Kelly and I met with two staff from the Women's Refugee Network. They are going to partner with us as we work to create a well-rounded micro-enterprise for our women.

Then we set off to visit one of our Muslim friends from Sudan. After sharing gifts for her and her husband, we drove to the home of another Sudanese woman. She and her three children are from Darfur. We gave more gifts from both Missouri churches as well as from Vineyard Church in Atlanta. How pretty she looks in her new scarf. And she'll enjoy her cherry blossom scented bath soaps and lotions, too!

I don't think I've ever heard quite as many squeals of joy as the moment we set out these pretty pink toys for our friend's three daughters!

Having missed out on the joy of having daughters myself, I just loved watching these girls exclaim with delight as they opened a Barbie kitchen and car, a crown with little clip on earrings, and several other dolls and toys. Kelly and I confessed we were both Barbie lovers, and we haven't quite gotten over it even to this day!
At our final home of the day, we visited our family of 10 Burundians. As always, the house was crowded with extra guests of all ages. The big red firetruck was a hit . . . So were the two soccer balls . . .
and a set of soft farm animals for the littlest member of the family.You would think the "extra" children visiting might feel jealous. Nope! They had fun looking at the toys with their friends and anticipating the playtime they would all share.

In case you're wondering why we love working with refugees . . .
Here are a few shining reasons for our joy!
Bye-bye, and Merry Christmas to one and all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A child soldier's life . . .

This Sunday, God opened my eyes to a story that is amazing, troubling, and soul-stirring.I had previously met John (above) in church, and I knew he came from Sudan. Today he greeted me in Swahili. I expressed surprise because few Sudanese people speak Swahili. John told me that he had lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for many years.

After the service, I asked John to tell me more about his life. His story came pouring out -- as though he had been holding it inside until someone finally asked.

John, agreed to let me share his story. Though the pictures that follow are not John's, they are of boys just like him.

When John was a very little boy in Sudan, his father got sick and died. Later his mother died, too, leaving John with an older sister and a younger brother. John had no food and no protection, so when rebel soldiers captured him, he had no option but to join. He went through a period of training. Then he was handed a gun.John doesn't know how old he is, but he estimates he was about 10 when he became a soldier. He spent many years fighting. His body is peppered with scars from bullets. Many of the bullets are still inside him. He has one in his neck and several others that he showed me.After John had been fighting for several years, he was walking one day with 2 other boy soldiers. They set off a land mine. John was severely wounded. No one thought he would live. John felt sure he was going to die.The Red Cross took him to a hospital. While John was recovering, he met a Sudanese woman named Suzana. She was married to an important man and they had three children. Suzana loved John and told him not to return to Sudan when he was well. She wanted him to join her family as a son.

When he recovered, John moved into Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya. He stayed with Suzana's family until time came for him to be resettled. Suzana cried many tears when she said goodbye to John.John has lived in Atlanta for more than 2 years. He has a job at a meat factory. Everyone told him to save money to buy a car. John said he did not want to buy a car. He saved his money so he could go back to Africa and visit Suzana.

This fall, John finally got his green card, his travel documents, and his ticket. Suzana now lives in Kampala, Uganda. John will fly there in January and return in March. Suzana will take him back into Sudan so he can try to find his sister. John's brother was killed, and his sister is mentally disturbed from the trauma and suffering she experienced. John wants to see her again, along with his uncle and other extended family members.

While I listened to my new friend, I could hear the pain in his voice and see the tears filling his eyes. Please pray for John -- for safety as he travels on yet another long journey, for healing in his heart and body, and for all the boy soldiers in Africa.So, one of the "Lost Boys of Sudan" has found a home. Not only does John have friends in Africa and America, but he is a Christian who holds his faith in God close to his heart. Those of us who follow Christ know that this world is not our home. We are just passing through -- sometimes with unimaginable suffering -- to our true home in the arms of Jesus.

Surprised by Joy!

Two Missouri churches provided joyous Christmas blessings for our refugee friends. Under the leadership of pastor Mark Kiekhaefer, Grace Evangelical Free Church of Jefferson City informed their small groups about our needs. Pastor Bob Aubuchon of First Baptist Church Camdenton put out the word to the Women on Missions group led by Dori Swenson. And did these groups step up to the plate!

C.S. Lewis wrote a book called Surprised by Joy. That's how we felt as we opened envelopes from the two churches and then set off to shop for our refugee families from Somalia, Sudan (Darfur), Burundi, and Bhutan.

Thanks to these loving churches, 6 refugee women, 5 men, and 25 children will not only receive gifts from Christians, but they will hear the reason we celebrate -- the gift of Jesus Christ our sacrifice and our savior.

Mungu asifiwe! Praise God!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Faces of the day . . .

Some days, the faces of my people move me beyond words. I am captured, delighted, bemused, and amused by these beautiful children of God. (photo removed by request)

My Somali friend asked me to take her to the farmer's market today. She was out of food, she said. Not surprising in a home with a husband, wife, seven children, and usually a few guests. Kelly agreed to stay with the four preschool children while we shopped. (photo removed by request)

Here's baby boy . . .
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Big brother . . .
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Bigger brother . . .
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Biggest brother . . .
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Thanks to Atlanta Vineyard Church in Norcross, we brought clothing for each member of this big family. We also gave the boys this bead toy. It was a hit!
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This young man -- just in from the refugee camp in Kenya -- helps my friend watch her children. He has special needs, and I'm hoping that here in America he can make good progress toward a fulfilling future.
We stopped at our next home to find the mom away at her English class. We visited with her husband for a while, and then she returned to the house. How do you like the way she carries her book bag?
We also gave clothing to this family of 10. Mom desperately needed a warm coat, and we were so grateful to be able to provide one for her.

At this house, we had clothes for mom, dad, and four children. Dad was especially pleased with his new leather jacket. He looked very handsome -- and he knew it! Our families are all struggling to survive. They don't have enough money for rent and other basic needs. The fear and stress is palpable. Please pray for refugees . . . they have survived genocide but they still face fear and worry each day.