Micah 6:8

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

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.