Micah 6:8

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

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.