Micah 6:8

"...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Monday, December 31, 2007

Kibera on Fire

A resident of Kibera runs with a sack past a burning shack. Kenya has plunged further into chaos as fresh violence triggered by President Mwai Kibaki's disputed re-election left more than 140 dead and Washington withdrew US endorsement of the result. (AFP/Roberto Schmidt)

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?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bryan House At Last!

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

Charlie Brown Christmas

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

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

Joy and Sorrow

Yesterday marked one year since Rick's youngest brother, Bryan drowned in Lake Michigan. One full year without our family feeling whole. One full year without hearing Daniel and Bryan play music together. One full year of eerie disbelief. The day came like other days. And though we've been sensing it's approach for months, it still seemed to sneak up on us somehow. And the ordinariness of the day-- the regular rising of the sun and moving hands of the clock was somehow offensive and comforting at the same time.

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.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

African Proverbs & Biblical Proverbs

He who asks questions cannot avoid the answers.

The man who has bread to eat does not appreciate the severity of a famine.

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

Christmas in Kibera

Tomorrow it will be December. Four months have passed since we walked the muddy streets of Kibera with the members of KISCODEP (Kibera Slums Community Development Project) Christmas is coming now. I wonder what Christmas in Kibera is like. It makes me feel ashamed to think about the comparison. There. Here. It's obscene. Like Lazarus dying at the doorstep of the rich man.

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

Moving in the right direction.

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

Yasmin's Eyes

The little girl who belongs to these beautiful eyes is Yasmin Diallo. She was born in the US, but her family came as refugees from Mauritania, Africa in 2000. They were the first refugee family we ever met and they changed everything!

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

African Proverb

Until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best parts of the story.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A fence between us and them...

I think affluent churches in America should tithe their budgets to care for the poor. Ten percent that goes directly to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the alien. Sometimes people ask me to show them where in the Bible such a step is required. But I say, "Tell me why Jesus wouldn't want us to do it." There is a fence between the rich and the poor. The poor peer in at our luxury and excess, while they starve. The job of the church should be tearing down that fence. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Are we living like true citizens of the Kingdom?

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

The Legacy of Governor Ryan

No matter what you think about former Governor George Ryan, today is a sad day. Your reasons for sorrow might be very different from mine, but sorrow is in order none-the-less. Time has run out. Today the former Governor must report to Oxford Federal Prison in Wisconsin before 5PM. He must say goodbye to his wife and his children and grandchildren for the next six years. The only legal recourse left to him is the US Supreme Court, and that is probably a long shot. Whether you think Ryan is guilty or not guilty -- whether you think he is a saint or the devil incarnate, today is a sad day. It is either a day to mourn the brokenness of our corrupt system of government that cannot seem to succeed at producing any politicians with truly clean hands or a day to mourn with the Ryan family for their heart breaking and devastating loss. And if we can dare to be people who recognize that real truth usually lies somewhere in the midst of paradox, then perhaps we can manage to be sad for both reasons.

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

African Proverb

When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Babies or Money?

Almost from the very day that we got married our refugee friends (particularly our friends from Africa) have been asking us when we would have babies. It started as light teasing and prodding in the beginning. Rick would always say, "In five years." He never changed the answer even though years were passing by. Many African women clicked their tongues at him and scolded him as they laughed. I think they just regarded us as "those odd" Americans who do things differently. But I'm starting to think that the laughing has stopped. I feel like we may be teetering on the edge of "odd Americans" into the pit of "down right wrong" in their eyes.

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

Micah 6:8

"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.
If Christ followers in America really loved mercy:
  • 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.
And if I walked humbly with my God, I'd stop blaming everyone else for all these problems. I'd stop complaining about the speck in my neighbor's eye, and start dealing with the plank in my own.

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

Little Rick Music Video

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

Welcome Baby Essa!

On friday evening while Rick and I were enjoying the Derek Webb concert at The Union, we got a call from one of our Somali friends, Aweis Majeni. He was calling to say that his wife was in labor and that they were at the hospital waiting for the baby to come. I asked Aweis if they needed anything. He said that they were hungry and needed chicken. So we dashed through the Popeyes drive-thru and headed to the hospital. By the time we got to the room, the nurses were already prepping Jahora for delivery. Aweis grabbed the chicken and started eating. The nurse was glaring at us, so we stepped outside to wait. Jahora and Aweis seemed pretty calm. (This is baby number five) About thirty minutes later we heard crying and Baby Essa Aweis Juma was born. Essa (sometimes spelled with an "I") is the Arabic name for Jesus. Mom and baby are doing well. Essa shares his birthday with his big cousin, Musa. Welcome to our world little Essa!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Happy Birthday Musa

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.
We love Musa. Today is his 8th birthday. He is in 2nd grade. He loves pizza and batman. He's gentle with his little siblings. He likes writing his name and spelling simple words. He's getting enough to eat and learning to read and has access to medical care. I'm not sure how much he remembers about his time in the refugee camp, but when Musa grows up I hope he won't forget about the millions of other kids just like him. I hope he'll find a way to remember Kenya.
Happy Birthday Musa!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

What Labyrinth taught me about stuff.

Labyrinth was one of my very favorite movies as a child. It still ranks pretty high on my list. The film has a haunting sort of quality that grabs you and doesn't let go. If you've seen it, you know what I mean. The first time I saw it I was babysitting alone at my Aunt Mary & Uncle Rick's house. I was probably twelve or thirteen. If I close my eyes now I can conjuer up that moment and remember how I felt. Scared. A little creeped out by the David Bowie character. But connected to the film in way that I had never experienced before. I felt like some of the lessons that the main character, Sarah, was learning along the way were lessons for me. Lessons about not trying to escape life by pretending and hiding inside books. Lessons about unlikely friendship. Lessons about valuing people over stuff.

There is a moment toward the end of the movie that replays in my mind whenever I'm going through the things I own and trying to decide what to keep and what to give away -- what to value and what to discard. Sarah has come most of the way through the Labyrinth towards the Goblin King's castle to rescue her baby brother, and she finds herself suddenly back in her own room with all the toys of her childhood. All the toys and things that she has never been willing to part with, never even been willing to share with her brother. These are the things that Sarah thinks define her. The things she hangs onto for comfort. For a moment you really believe that she's back home, but then a little old goblin woman comes in the room and starts piling Sarah's favorite things on her lap. She says something like this: "Oh, here are all your pretty things. Here's your horsey, you need your horsey don't you?" She goes on and on, bringing Sarah all the things that the young girl (so far) has loved most in her life. She piles them on her and for awhile, Sarah looks happy. It seems like the trick is about to work. It seems like Sarah will forget about her brother as she sits there clutching her growing pile of things. But suddenly it's like someone has thrown a switch and Sarah wakes up. She dumps the pile on the ground and starts yelling. "It's all just junk!" she says. The walls of the room crumble away to reveal that she isn't home at all. She's in the middle of a junk yard. In that moment Sarah learns what's really important to her. And she runs off to save her brother.
The image of those crumbling walls giving way to the lanscape of a junkyard have stayed with me. Just the thought of collecting more stuff makes me clostraphobic. I am constantly combing through and trying to get rid of more things. I long for a simplified life without stuff piling up around me. Stuff is a burden. And when you collect enough of it, it becomes a burden on other people too. (Have you ever helped move someone who can't let go of their stuff?)
It's not just about money. Many of the things people collect are not expensive. My beef with stuff is not just about wasting money. It's about losing freedom. It's about the hoarding mentality. It's about focus, time, and energy that stuff steals from us. Managing stuff takes a lot of work. And finding the one thing you need in the pile of things you don't can suck up your day. It's about excess. And about letting go of that which you cannot keep in order to find what you cannot loose.
There are definitely things I like, things I want to save. But I also know that if I lost everything in a fire or a flood today I could go forward and still be the person I am without all those things. In fact, I might even turn into someone better. I have the sense that, in some ways, the things I own tend to pile up between me and God. And everytime I make the pile a little smaller, I feel a little closer to him.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Is what's true for individuals true for a church?

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

Proud of these Young Women

I'm so proud of the young women in this picture. Amy, Kate, Dorothy and Becca were all a part of the team from North Central that we took to Kenya last summer. And they are a powerhouse of imagination and committment. Amy's studying in Ireland right now, so we're all anxious for her to get back to us. I know she'll finish out her senior year strong, and I can't wait to see what she does next. Kate has been volunteering as a friendship partner for a Turkish refugee family for the past year and a half. After her experience in Kenya she changed her major to sociology and is pursuing a volunteer opportunity in Kenya again this summer. Becca also changed her major to sociology and is interested in doing physical therapy Internationally and training others in poor communities to be able to offer therapy to those in need. She and her boyfriend are also starting to volunteer with World Relief as friendship partners for a Congolese family. Dorothy is on a path toward medicine. She'd make a great doctor. She also volunteers as a tutor for refugee kids every thursday and gives rides to anyone on campus who wants to help. And she's going to be a friendship partner too for a Burmese family. Look out world. These women understand that their committment to Jesus is made evident by their committment to the poor. I love these girls. BRAVO!

Monday, October 15, 2007

Follow-up on last post

After reading a comment on my last post, I felt the need to clarify something. Though I didn't know Marilyn Bethell personally, I have heard from others what a great lady she was. I know the terrible circumstances of her death has caused untold pain in the lives of so many people who loved her. She was an attender at Community Christian Church where I also attend, and so many people there are heartbroken. If my post about Gareng has caused anyone extra heartache I sincerely apologize for that. It was never my intention to suggest in any way that Gareng should not be held acccountable for any and all crimes he has committed. I'm glad he is off the streets. I'm just so sad for everyone -- for Marilyn's friends and family, and for Gareng and his friends and family. I wish we had done something to stop it. I wish Gareng was still the smiling boy in the picture. I wish Marilyn was still here with her friends and family.

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

What happened to Gareng?

In the summer of 2001, Community Christian Church sponsored a picnic for refugee families at Victory Court Apartments in Aurora. This is a picture of some of the kids looking up at a pinata and waiting for candy to spill out. The boy in the green shirt with the big smile is Gareng. He's from Sudan. His parents are Yusuf and Teriza. They used to come to a refugee Bible study and prayer group that my husband and I lead for a couple years. Gareng was always a tough kid. He got in trouble a lot. Bothered the neighbors. Was rough on volunteers. We figured he probably had a pretty rough past in Sudan. But at least he got out. At least he was in America now where he would get a good education and the help he needed to succeed. That's what we thought. But this morning my husband opened the newspaper and discovered that Gareng is being tried as an adult for the murder of a 47 year old substance abuse counselor named Marilyn Bethell. What happend to the smiling boy from the picture? What happened to Gareng?
The newspaper says that Gareng grew up seeing government agents in Sudan chopping people's arms off and strapping men to an electrified bed frame. It also says that he was sexually abused at the age of five. That he had been nothing but trouble in America. Arrested by the time he was eleven for burglary. Suspended from school. He told a school counselor that he had participated in drive-by shootings.
I feel stunned. Like someone has knocked the wind out of me. I wasn't that close to Gareng. He was hard to to get close to. It was more fun to hang out with the kids who were easy to play with. Who didn't swear at you. But if I knew then what I know now... I might have done something different. Now this broken, victimized little boy is in a prison cell somewhere dealing with the darkness of his past and his actions alone. And there are millions of Garengs. I just happen to know this one. When will we start to take the Gospel seriously enough to keep this stuff from happening? I'm so sorry, Gareng. So, so sorry.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Baby Rick

This is Baby Rick. He's not really a baby anymore, but we can't quite get it out of our system and stop calling him that. In fact, he answers more to just plain "baby" than he does to "Rick." That will have to change before he goes to school. He's three now. Big Rick and I were there at the hospital the day baby Rick's Mom, Halima, gave birth. I was with her all through the delivery and Rick was waiting right outside the door, so we've known Baby Rick since the moment of his arrival. The first American in his family. The only child in more than a decade to be born outside a refugee camp.

I love Baby Rick and his brother, Musa, and sister, Dollar, in a way I didn't know you could love a child that wasn't your own. I feel like there's an invisible string connecting my heart to them. And if they needed me, I would do anything for them. I would turn my life upside down to make sure they were okay. When I visited Africa this past summer, I saw Rick, Dollar, and Musa in the faces of every child on the street. Every child without shoes or clean clothes. Every child that was hungry. And I was reminded over and over again that it is only by the grace of God that they are not still living in the sqalid camp in Kenya where their family lived for twelve years before they got out. A camp where children regularly don't make it to their fifth birthday. And the thought of those beautiful kids living like that shakes me. It's what wakes me up again when I start to push thoughts of Africa away. Nobody should live like the kids in Kibera are living. Or the kids in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. I am ashamed as I sit in comfort writing his blog while kids just like Baby Rick are suffering and dying for no reason except greed an the failure of the body of Christ to make good on our own declared beliefs and promises.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Good but not Safe

This is a picture of an adolescent male lion that I saw in Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. He was with a pride of about ten lions who had just taken down a zebra by the side of the road. We watched through the open windows of our safari bus, until he nocticed us and moved in close. Then we got quiet, backed away and closed the windows. Just like C.S. Lewis' Aslan, this lion was good, but not safe. I love that line! Last year my Mom gave me an Aslan necklace for Christmas. (The Narnia movie produced a lot of commercial merchandise, but I like this necklace.) I've been wearing it almost everyday this past year. I was wearing it in Kenya when we saw the lions. It's been a good reminder to me: God is good, but not safe. People who follow Jesus closely will always find themselves in places that don't feel safe. (That's the kind of thing that makes my Mom worry. But she's the one who gave me the necklace. Sorry Mom.) Just like Nicole Nordeman, Jesus makes me want to be brave.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Missing my Sisters

This is Anita Home for girls. It's located near Karen in the Ngong hills. One of the most beautiful places in Kenya. It's where the marathon runners train. And where Karen Blixen, the author of Out of Africa, had her coffee farm. We spent a couple of afternoons here. The first time we came, we helped the girls roll out soft circles of dough, coated them with oil, and roasted them over small fires. This simple food is called chipotti and it's delicious. My husband just bought a cast iron pan so we can try to make it here at home. I remember thinking at the time that if I had been in my regular life in the US, rolling out dough would have felt like a chore, but the afternoon I spent making chipotti with these girls was one of the most enjoyable of my life. The simplicity of the day was like a rare gift. We chatted together as we worked. There was no big press for time, no to do list, no next thing on the schedule. Just the laughter of the girls, music coming from their radio, birds and breeze and a cow in the background. The colors were purple and gray and green. The girls danced and chattered. They asked us questions and we asked them back. They teased each other like sisters and welcomed us into their family. And I had a strong feeling of being home. I remember thinking that I'd like to spend a lot more afternoons there with Purity and Janet. Lucy & Zapporah. Josefine and Angel. Esther ...there was something really inviting about a simple life alongside them. Maybe I am just being romantic. But today I'm missing those Anita girls and longing to go home to them. Nothing I have to do today feels as valuable as that chipotti we made together.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thank you to my small group

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.

This small group is also how Rick and I first got connected with World Relief and refugee issues. Our group put a welcome kit together for a new refugee family back in December of 2000. Rick and I, along with Bill & Rachel Carroll , went to the airport to meet this new family. Anyone who knows us well knows that this family, The Diallos from Mauritania, Africa, literally changed the whole course of our future. Seven years later we have our own small non-profit organization working to make the lives of refugee families better. I never could have imagined all this back in the summer of 2000 when our small group was starting. I am so thankful for all the people who were a part of that original small group. Thanks guys!

(Sorry for the quality. Nobody had digital cameras in 2000)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Home Sweet Home

This is a picture of my house and my wonderful backyard. When I walked into this house two years ago I knew this was the one. It had everything I love in a house: history, character, great places to read books, and green space in the back. But now I'm praying that God will give me the opportunity to give it up.
One of the reasons we bought this house was because it had livable space in the basement that we could use to help refugee families. For the last year we've shared our home with a terrific family from Cuba so that they could save a downpayment on a house. Home ownership is one of the most effective ways to lift families out of the cycle of poverty. And I am happy to say that my friends are now homeowners. Which is great, except that my house is a little too quiet and a little too lonely and a little too big for just us. But there is something even bigger on the horizon.
In the next couple of weeks the little non-profit agency my husband and I run will be making an offer on a five unit apartment building that will become BRYAN HOUSE. This building will allow us to to help move multiple refugee families into home ownership every year -- fulfilling a long time dream of ours and honoring Rick's brother who passed away last December.
But that is only the first step. We're dreaming of multiple houses and multiple people groups. In order to make the dream of homeownership possible for more people, we need to sell our house. We have the option of moving to a two-flat with Rick's Mom, which would free up half of our current mortagage payments to go directly to this project. And I can't wait for that to happen!
Though I love my house, I'm praying that God will give me the chance to give it up in order to help my friends have a reasonable future for their children. The house is on the market now. It's a tough time to sell, but we're hopeful. If you know anyone looking for a great house on the West side of Aurora with lots of history, lots of character, great places to read books, and a beautiful green backyard, please let me know. Without costing them any extra money, the person who buys this house will actually be helping countless families move into homeownership. Now that's bang for your buck!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gifts at Korogocho

This picture was taken at a Catholic church in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi, Kenya. The people up front have come forward to pray over the tithes and offerings. If you look closely, you might be able to see heads of lettuce, mangos, avocados, eggs, and other agricultural items. The people give what they have, and often what they have is not money. Most families in the slums get by on one modest meal a day, so giving up food is a real sacrifice felt in their bellies. Watching these devoted followers come forward with their offerings was humbling. I give to my church too, but what I give doesn't come off my dinner plate. I don't feel the sacrifice in my stomach when I lay down to sleep.
So why do they do it? I think it's because they know the poor. Intimately. Food offerings given to the church are distributed to the poorest of the poor, but who isn't poor in Korogocho? Why is it that people in poverty often have an ability to be generous that far surpasses those of us who live comfortably? Maybe because they have a more realistic sense of the suffering of their neighbors. because they too are suffering. Comfort keeps us safe and separated in a way that makes poverty seem like something you watch on television. Even in our churches we rarely encounter poverty. The lives of our suburban American churches are not typically lived out along side those in poverty. We tend to save poverty mostly for special events. It's easier to cope with that way.
Derek Webb in his song, "Rich Young Ruler," says it this way:
We're all living so good.
We've moved out of Jesus' neighborhood.
Where he's hungry and not feeling so good, from going through our trash.
I think Derek is right. I think many of us have carefully picked neighborhoods where we don't have to meet Jesus (as Mother Teresa said) "In his most distressing disguises. " And the cost of living in our neighborhoods guarentees that the "least of these" will not be able to get in. But Korogocho is Jesus' neighborhood. And it's definitely distressing. I'm amazed and humbled by the faithful who live there and care for Jesus with every last egg and mango they have. Now those are Christ-followers. Nobody can argue with a faith like that.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Offering Shade

Twelve years ago a small group of committed Catholics in Nairobi who called themselves, "Koinonia Community" decided to try taking the gospel seriously. They moved into a small house together, began sharing all their possessions, and asked Jesus to show them what to do next. It didn't take Jesus long to show them the "Parking Boys." Parking boys was the name for the street kids who hung out on the corners with nothing much to do but cause trouble. The folks at Koinonia starting talking to these boys, bringing them food, giving them a place to shower, and praying for them. That's how the dream of Kivuli Centre began. Kivuli means shade. A place to find rest from the heat of the day. Kivuli is a rehabilitation centre that houses sixty former street boys. They are given shelter, regular meals, counseling, education, sports activities, Spiritual formation, and a real chance at life. Many of the boys come to Kivuli addicted to glue or other drugs, hardened by the streets, and forgotten by everyone. But when you enter the gate at Kivuli you will find more than just shade. You will find joy. You will find family. You will find irresistible community. And you will find Jesus. Kivuli also offers other gifts to residents in the area: low cost clean water, computer classes and a cyber cafe, vocational trainning, programs for refugees, a health clinic, and a place for local artisians to market their products at living wage prices. Tangible hope.

In the last ten years Koinonia has become a movement in Kenya. They have opened multiple rehabiliation centers for street kids, including Anita Home for girls and Tone La Maji, which means, "drop of water." Nearly 300 children are currently in their care, and many others have already graduated from the program. This has been the result of one small group of people who decided to take the gospel seriously. Their guiding principle comes from a quote by Mother Teresa, "Peace begins when we remember that we belong to each other." Who wouldn't want to belong to a family like this? I long for the Koinonia I experienced in Kenya. I miss them everyday. To find out more visit www.shalomhousekenya.org

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Goodbye to Madeleine

Yesterday my husband was reading the paper when he came across an obituary for Madeleine L'Engle. I sobbed when he brought the paper to me. Madeleine L'Engle is the author I love dearest and most want to be like. Though I was not surprised to hear the news of her death, I was heartbroken. I had dreamed that one day I might meet her and thank her. Now I mourn the loss of a friend I have never met. I weep over the cold, hard certainty that she will create no more books. And I cry for the loss of my own writing life which has essentially been killed by the other demands of life.

Ms. L'Engle's books have been my constant companions since childhod. They have gotten me through many lonely and difficult times. They have shaped who I am as a person and what I value. She is best known for her Newberry Award winning book, "A Wrinkle in Time," but my favorite has always been, "A Wind in the Door."

I have read dozens of her books more than ten times each. They speak to the child and the adult in me. They remind me of my ache for Jesus and the miraculous and real love. And they remind me to be merciful, patient, forgiving, and to believe in myself and other people. Thank God for Madeliene and her books. My life would have been very different without them. But I am grateful that she is now with the God that all her writing points to. And I thank God for the friends she gave me in her books. Friends like Meg & Charles Wallace Murry, Vicki Austin, and Poly O'Keefe.

We had a reading from Madeleine L'Engle's work at our wedding. One of her poems from a book called, "The Irrational Season." Here's a bit of it:
You have just given me the univese,
put it in my hands, held it to my lips,
oh, here on my knees I have been fed
the entire sum of all created matter,
the everything that came from nothing.
Who can doubt its power?
Did not this crumb of bread
this sip of wine
burst into life
that thundered across nothing
and became the cause of all our celebrations?
...old people remembering
babies laughing
mothers singing
fathers celebrating
around the table
hold hands
all around
like a ring circling a finger
placed there as a promise
holding the universe together
nothing into something
into joy and love
Goodbye Sweet Madeleine. I'm sure the angels are enjoying your company.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Shaken & Unsettled

I've been back from Kenya for a little over a month and I can't seem to shake it. I can't seem to settle in again to my regular American life. I feel a little bit broken. I feel home sick. Home sick for Africa. And home sick for Jesus. I felt him there in Kibera in a way I haven't before. And something about coming back to my comfortable life makes me feel like I am betraying all the friends I met there. But being emotional about Africa now sometimes makes me feel like I'm bothering the friends I have here. So what do I do?
The little girl in the picture with me is Winnie. Winnie is two. She lives with a hundred other kids at an orphanage in Kenya called, "Nyumbani." Nyumbani means home in Swahili. All of the kids at this place have lost their parents to AIDS. And the kids themselves are also HIV positive. I only spent a few hours with Winnie on one afternoon, but I cannot get her out of my head. I'm still thinking about the way she wrinkled up her face when we asked her to smile for pictures. I'm still thinking about the feel of her sticky hand curled around my finger as we walked around the little playground together. And I'm thinking about how Winnie has no mother and I have no child and that seems like a waste.
I could do something about that. It's not impossible. But it's really inconvenient. I'd have to find a way to go back and live in Kenya for six months if I wanted to try to adopt her. I'd have to learn how to deal with the medical needs of a little girl with a life threatening virus. I'd have to prepare myself for the fear that friends and family would have about exposing their own children to Winnie. I'd have to be ready to loose her if the disease got out of control. And I'd have to figure out how to finance everything. So I will probably do nothing about Winnie. She's just not very convenient for my life. I wonder what says about me as a follower of Jesus?
I know my friends and family will say I shouldn't beat myself up. That I can only do what I can do. But the truth is that I could do something. And if Winnie was important enough to me, I would.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

A Church that matters to Kibera

Dr. King said, "There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love." Recently that's how I've been feeling about my church. I have an overwhelming sense of loving disappointment. It's sort of always been there, tucked away in a corner of my heart that I try to keep private. But it's been growing stronger since my visit to Kibera this summer.

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.