Monday, December 31, 2007
I am afraid for my friends in Kibera. The slum is on fire. Not just the shacks that pass for houses, but the the people themselves. They burn with anger over long years of neglect. Their cries for justice have become violent, and the world may just be content to let them destroy themselves. If there can be no fair election in a relatively stable place like Kenya, then where does that leave the rest of Africa? Does anyone care? Everything is different when you know someone. When Africa isn't just faraway chaos.
Joseph, are you okay? Will there still be a KISCODEP when this is over? Will Judith and Teresa still sell medicines from the windows of their small pharmacies? Will Alice still sew dresses? Will the bone shop still be making bracelets? What will we find when we come back to you in June?
PRAY FOR PEACE IN KIBERA
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
BRYAN HOUSE PURCHASED ON DECEMBER 18, 2007!!!
One year and one week after we lost our beloved Bryan, a house that will help hundreds of refugees from around the world bears his name and carries on his spirit of reaching out and giving to others. Thanks to the generous support of so many of you, we were able to make a sizeable down-payment and we are able to cover the mortgage and insurance through your monthly sponsorships. But one of the units is unsponsored, which means we need 30 more days sponsored in order to have the buffer in operating expenses that we will need for the eventual & inevitable repairs. Please consider sponsoring a day or more of rent. Sponsorship levels start at just $13/mo. & have a huge impact on helping families build financial stability & move out of the class of the working poor in a responsible & dignified way.
Click here to find out how to sponsor a day of rent.
Monday, December 17, 2007
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Watched this forty year old cartoon for the millionth time last night. I still love it. Somehow Linus' voice has become what I hear in my head every time I read this passage from Luke. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
"A SONG FOR BRYAN HOUSE" to Raise Funds/Awareness
Download this beautiful version of, "Hallelujah," (you may recognize it from the Shrek movie, soundtrack) at www.myspace.com/theyoungsea
All proceeds from the downloads go to Bryan House!
Thanks to artists Kevin Pichal (The Young Sea), Adam Krier (Lucky Boys Confusion, American Taxi), Genevieve Shatz (Company of Thieves), Ryan O'neil (Sleeping at Last), Mikey Russell (Wax on Radio), and Dan Monahan (Last Fast Action) for recording the song, which is a wonderful tribute to Bryan who we've missed so much this past year.
Also please come to the December 22nd Benefit Show at the Metro in Chicago where the song will be performed & ticket proceeds for the concert & after party going to Bryan House. Concert details at www.myspace.com/theyoungsea
Monday, December 10, 2007
It has been a long, tiring year of devastating sorrow and tremendous joy co-existing together. A full year and an empty year. On Saturday we moved out of our house into the upstairs apartment in a brick two-flat with Rick's Mom. For a lot of reasons this move has the potential to be good all around. For us, for Alice, and for the refugees we will be able to help with the money we're saving. Sunday after church we spent time just being together with Alice and Daniel. It was good to have a long slow day together. It seems like we haven't had one in awhile. And there are no slow days ahead. Rick has finals this week. We have to finish moving and unpacking. And sometime between this Friday and next Tuesday we will be closing on a five unit apartment building that will become BRYAN HOUSE, a living memorial to Bryan that will help countless refugee families move into homeownership and break the cycle of poverty. Refugees are people who know sorrow and loss. And in the midst of that they have this uncanny ability to teach us about joy.
I continue to be amazed at what happens and changes in one year. We miss you, Bryan. I pray that remembering you will push us to be better people, more generous and more aware of the value of each day.
BRYAN HOUSE COMING SOON!
Sunday, December 2, 2007
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered. Proverbs 21:13
He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done. Proverbs 19:17
Friday, November 30, 2007
The whole experience is beginning to feel a little bit like a dream. Like something I saw in a movie theatre or on a picture postcard. The distance of time and space have made it dangerously possible for me to doubt Kibera's existence. It's a coping mechanism. A strategy. Because when I remember Kibera, really remember it, things begin to fall apart again. My view of myself. My church. My government. My world. And maybe even my God.
Yesterday I started packing our things into boxes to get ready for our coming move. As I emptied our shelves this wave of panic swept over me. I don't really know where it came from. I've been looking forward to this downsize for a long time, but suddenly I was feeling really, really sad about giving up my house. I had this sense of loss that I wasn't expecting. I guess material things have tighter grip on me than I realized. That realization was uncomfortable and embarrassing. It made me want to get rid of my things. The thought of how many boxes it would take to hold all our possessions was making me sick. All I wanted to do was get rid of some of that weight -- some of that burden. So I could breath again.
I'm not sure exactly what Jesus imagined when he dreamed up the Church, but the easy tolerance we have for this kind of ridiculous disparity cannot be part of it. I feel like something inside me is screaming, but when I open my mouth there is only silence. Maybe because I'm not brave enough to ever really say something that would make people mad. Or more more likely because I'm not brave enough to ever really do something to that would really make my own life uncomfortable. Maybe if I saw Kibera everyday it would be harder for me to ignore. Maybe if it was my own children sniffing glue to avoid feeling hungry.
I listened to a clip of a Jim Wallis speech at Wheaton College today. He talked about Jesus' first public preaching as recorded in the book of Luke. Jesus said, (quoting the prophecy) "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. . ." Wallis said, "A Gospel that is not good news to the poor, no matter what else it does to change our lives and help our families, is just not the Gospel of Jesus." To speak frankly, I don't care how relevant one church or another is to my life, if they're not preaching the full Gospel of Jesus (good news to the poor) I'm just not interested. In fact I can't stomach it anymore. It leaves me hungry and makes me sick. And it keeps the kids in Kibera hungry and sick. It makes goats of us all.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Rick and I have spent the last five days getting this brick two-flat in Aurora move-in ready by pulling up old carpets and refinishing the hardwood floors ourselves. My head still hurts from the varnish stripping fumes and the sound of the industrial floor sander, but soon we hope that our efforts will pay off in multiple ways. The bottom floor apartment will be for Rick's Mom and the top floor will be for us. The idea is downsizing. Shared space means shared expenses and shared expenses means that we need less to meet our bills, so we can give away more to help other people meet their bills. Redistribution just as Paul envisioned it in 2 Corinthians 8. "He who gathered much did not have to much and he who gathered little did not have too little." Downsizing is good stewardship and that's the direction we'd like to go. Moving in the right direction -- for those of us who have gathered too much -- means moving on down. There are definitely some things I will miss about my three bedroom house with the nice big kitchen, finished basement, and great backyard, but it's much more than we need. And there is something really freeing about letting go of it. Don't get me wrong, we're no where near where we'd like to be in terms of simple living, but it feels good to be taking some steps in the right direction. I pray that this move will only be the first step in our journey of figuring out what practicing redistribution really looks like. Even as I'm writing this I recognize in myself a kind of arrogance in announcing this to the world -- or at least the handful of people who read this blog. Taking the Gospel seriously is so hard! A person definitely needs some good partners to even attempt it.
Monday, November 19, 2007
In two weeks Rick and I are moving out of our house and into a brick two-flat with Rick's Mom. The goal is to downsize and to be able to put more money into helping refugee families. Some friends will be renting our house for a year or so, and then we are hoping to be able to help Yasmin's family to sell the very small house they have and to help them buy our house, which has plenty of room for everyone and even a separate living space for Yasmin's older sister Kadiata who got married this past summer. I like the idea of keeping our house in the family, and the Diallos are definitely our family. Please pray for Yasmin's Dad, Yero who fell at work a few weeks ago and broke his hip.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
2 Corinthians 8
Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in the churches in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor. The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could—far more than they could afford!—pleading for the privilege of helping out in the relief of poor Christians.
This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us. The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. That's what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up. You do so well in so many things—you trust God, you're articulate, you're insightful, you're passionate, you love us—now, do your best in this, too.
I'm not trying to order you around against your will. But by bringing in the Macedonians' enthusiasm as a stimulus to your love, I am hoping to bring the best out of you. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us—in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.So here's what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your heart's been in the right place all along. You've got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you can't. The heart regulates the hands. This isn't so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, you're shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written,
Nothing left over to the one with the most,
Nothing lacking to the one with the least.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
I'm not writing this blog to start any kind of argument for or against George Ryan, or for or against the verdict, or for or against his work on the death penalty. I'm not really interested in that. What I am interested in is how we all tend to see shades of the truth, but how difficult it is for us to get a grip around whole truth. Whole truth is prickly. It's messy. It doesn't fit together neatly. Somehow the full truth has to include statements like these side by side:
1. White collar crime and blue collar crime should have equal consequences. Money and privilege should not earn you a "Get out of Jail Free" card. Public officials should be held accountable for their crimes like everybody else.
2. It's sad when anyone's husband, father, grandfather goes to jail. Since George Ryan holds no public office and is seeking no public office, it's hard to see what locking him up will accomplish in terms of protecting the public. Seventy-three is old for going to jail.
Today I'm trying to hold both of these things in my mind at the same time. Today I'm trying to at least brush up against a fuller expression of the truth. Newspaper editorials always have to take a side, but sometimes we don't. Sometimes we can feel two things at once and actually be closer to the truth.
George Ryan was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. George Ryan was convicted on federal fraud charges. George Ryan had the moral courage to do the unpopular thing by showing mercy to the most hated criminals in our state. George Ryan probably had mixed motivations for his actions around the death penalty. George Ryan is a husband, a father, a grandfather. George Ryan is a convicted criminal. George Ryan has a mixed legacy. George Ryan is not a saint. George Ryan is not the devil. George Ryan is human. Flawed. Like all of us.
My heart goes out to Lura Lynn and family today. And to those who have suffered from our corrupt government.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
Monday, November 5, 2007
The other day my Somali Bantu friend, Jahora, asked me yet again when we were going to have babies. And I explained for the millionth time that Rick is a full time law student and that I have to work to pay our bills, so we can't have any babies until he finishes school, which won't be until the spring of 2009. She said to me, quite seriously, "You don't love babies. You love money." She wasn't teasing me. She wasn't laughing or clicking her tongue. She was just looking at me. She was making a cultural observation about me as an American. And she was as bothered about my decisions as I sometimes am about hers. In her culture babies and family are the most important thing, so she could not imagine waiting to have a baby for any reason. (Which is why she is 23 and has five kids.) After all these years of asking me when I was going to have a baby and getting no where, she had finally come to a conclusion about me and the conclusion was that I love money more than I love babies.
Now, I don't think that's a fair characterization of me, but on some level she's right. Probably not about money exactly, but more about freedom and accomplishments. So far we have put our freedom to travel, to pursue education, and to accomplish our goals over and above having our own babies. And looking through her cultural lense there is something terribly wrong about that.
Right now it seems like everyone I know has just had or is having a baby. Here is my list of refugee women in that category: Jahora, Halima, Rukia, Didacienne. I'm trying hard to get my young friend, Lulay, to graduate from high school before she gets married and has a baby. I have offered her my wedding dress for her wedding if she waits. We will see if the lure of the dress will be enough to help her resist all the cultural forces shoving her towards early marriage and early motherhood. Culture is a funny thing. It impacts how we see and experience everything. It is deep, deep inside us in ways we don't even realize.
I have often told refugees when they asked me why I didn't have babies, "If I had babies of my own right now I wouldn't have anytime to be with you and your babies." I do want to be a mother one day. And I'm starting to feel my age and the ticking of the clock. But I don't think I regret the life that I have had without babies so far. The places I've seen. The things I've studied. The refugee babies that I've held and loved and watched come into the world. Still, I think the time is coming for us to answer the question differently. But before that happens I wish that Jahora could understand that we do already love babies more than money. It's just that the babies we've loved haven't been our own. And in some ways I think that love has required something even deeper in us than just the regular race to the coveted suburban life with a two car garage and 2.5 kids. As the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." As many of our refugee friends have lost their villages, we've tried to build a new ones with them. And I am so grateful to all of them for letting me love their babies so, so much more than money.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
"He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." -- Micah 6:8
If Christ followers in America really acted justly:
- The quality of a child's education wouldn't depend on their neighborhood or their race.
- Access to good medical care wouldn't be reserved for the privileged.
- We wouldn't trade the life and health of workers for low prices.
- There wouldn't be such enormous and growing gaps between the rich and the poor.
- Our churches wouldn't have better buildings than our homeless shelters & orphanages.
- We wouldn't consider American lives more valuable than others.
- We wouldn't incarcerate the highest percentage of our people of any nation in the world.
- The Department of Corrections would actually be about correction, not just punishment.
- We would join most of the rest of the developed world and get rid of the death penalty.
- We'd love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
- We'd return good for evil.
This is what the Lord requires of me: To act justly and love mercy and walk humbly with my God. -- Micah 6:8
Monday, October 29, 2007
Check out this sweet music video of little Rick at Musa's Birthday Party. He was entertaining the fish at Rick's Dad's house. If you look closely, you can see his improvised Superman cape when he turns around. (We gave him a bumble bee costume to wear for Halloween, but he threw it on the ground. He wanted Superman like his big brother.) I'm not sure what the lyrics for his rap mean. He might be speaking his native language, Mai Mai, or he might be just making up nonsense words. In any case he sure is cute! Man I love this little guy.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Friday, October 26, 2007
This is my husband Rick and a sweet little boy named Musa Jabril Musa. Musa's family came to the US in July of 2003. They are Somali Bantu people who spent twelve years living in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. The only English words Musa knew when we first met him were: "Chicago" and "America." (I guess his family had been saying those words a lot around that time.) He was three years old. Rick has a short video clip on our camera of the first time Musa visited a grocery store in America. It was a pretty overwhelming experience. Food had not been all that easily excessable in Kenya. Certainly not in that quality or abundance. When Musa first came here his belly was round and swollen from malnutrition. It took a really long time for that visable symbol of his suffering to go away.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
I heard a great message this morning at my church. It was all about the materialism and greed of the 1980's and how the legacy of that decade lives on in us. (Yes, the service did include a performance of Madonna's "Material Girl.") The basic punch line was that even if we don't see ourselves as greedy, given the choice, we all tend to put our own comfort over and above even the most basic needs of others. I know that's been true about me. I don't like to admit it. I like to think of myself as a generous person. In fact, I'm making a list in my head right now of some of the ways I've been generous recently. See I have this little trick. When I want to feel generous I just compare myself to people who have more things than I do, or to people who I think give less away than me. But the truth is I don't really ever feel good when I do that. It just ends up making me feel worse, because I know better.
Christ followers are supposed to imitate Christ, not compare themselves to other people. So I've got a very long way to go. The challenge in church today was to choose an item of value to sell on EBay to help people in need. I think this is a great challenge -- though I have to admit that my first thought was: "I don't really have to do this challenge because I already sold my engagement ring this year to help refugee families." Which is ridiculous, because I know that real generosity is not about one time gifts, it's about a whole life committment. So now I'm trying to think about what I can sell. ( I thought of alot of my husbands things I want to sell, but that doesn't count.) I'm not sure what I'll sell yet, but I do want to sell something. I know that it's good for my soul to give up my "comfort" items in order to meet the needs of others who are drowning in their discomfort.
So here's my question: Is what's true for individuals true for a church?
I think it is. Even though we might not think of ourselves as a greedy church, given the choice, we will usually put the comfort of our own church over and above even the most basic needs of other churches. The picture at the top of this blog is of a church in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The picture below is of the "sewage" system they have in the slums. We know that churches exist in places like this, but we generally choose to put the "needs" of our own congregations above the needs of the people who worship in places like this. And just like I have my individual tricks to convince myself that I am generous enough, our churches have these tricks too. We compare ourselves to other congregations who have more, or who we think give less than we do. We create a list in our heads of all the ways we have already been generous this year. But in the end we know that we are really just trying to wiggle out of the challenge.
My Pastor left me with three great questions to ask myself as I think about generosity, and I think they are good questions for us to ask ourselves as a church too.
1. Do we think we are generous as a church?
2. Do others think we are generous as a church?
3. Does God think we are generous as a church?
--Maybe each one of our campuses should put something up for sale on EBAY to help a church like the one in this picture. Just food for thought. I'd love to hear your comments. Do you think what's true for individuals is true for churches?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Monday, October 15, 2007
And though I understand the anger of the person who posted a comment on my last post, the reality is that Gareng was born in hell. The hell of war-torn, poverty stricken Sudan. And he has spent most of his life rotting from what happened to him there. That's certainly no excuse for murder. I'm not saying that at all. I'm just mourning the loss of the little boy, Gareng, who died somewhere along the way too.
I'm so very sorry for all who loved and cherished Marilyn. I pray God's comfort, peace, and healing.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Thursday, October 4, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
Thursday, September 20, 2007
This sunday it will be seven years since my first date with my husband, and I owe a big thank you to my original CCC small group for making that possible. And an especially big thank you to Julie Girdwood (Youngs at the time) for inviting Rick to the group. You never know what one invitation might lead to. I don't mean to boast, but I'd say that some pretty cool things have happened for God's kingdom because of that invitation.
(Sorry for the quality. Nobody had digital cameras in 2000)
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Monday, September 10, 2007
Sunday, September 9, 2007
Saturday, September 8, 2007
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Kibera is the largest slum in Africa. The second largest in the world. Nearly one million people live there on a plot of land the size of Central Park in New York. One square mile. No running water. No sewer system. Piles of burning garbage. Barefoot children jumping sludgey puddles just to get through the doors of their mud and corregated steel houses. If you've seen the film, "The Constant Gardener," then you've had a glimpse of Kibera.
There are churches in Kibera. Little tumbly shacks where people squeeze together and sing the most amazing accapella music while young boys slap out drum beats on cow skins and women and children dance. Churches with people like Judith. Judith who held my hand tightly as we walked the streets, protecting me from suspcious on lookers. Judith who kissed my checks and urged me not to forget them -- not to forget Kibera. But we have. It's as if the body of Christ has forgotten it has a left leg.
In 2 Corinthians Chapter Eight, Paul urges local churches to share their wealth with the goal of equality, so that "those who have gathered much do not have too much and those who have gathered little do not have too little." We have gathered much. Kibera has gathered little. But I'm not sure we're willing to share. I'm not even sure we believe it's required of us. Or that Kibera is worth sacrificing our own comfort. But what good is the Church or the tithe if it offers nothing to the poor?
Sometimes I've heard people in church say things like: If American Christians actually tithed, there would be enough money to meet the UN's estimates for what it would take to provide baisc food, water, education, and healthcare for the world's poor. But I don't believe it. I don't believe it because I don't think that money given to the Church would actually end up in the hands of the poor. I think it would probably just buy nicer buildings and better media equipment and cooler furniture for the coffee shops and cyber cafes. So how much is too much?
I love my church. But I think I could love it a lot more if I could be certain that it's existence mattered to places like Kibera.