Micah 6:8

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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Peace Not War

Check out this beautiful peace anthem by my friend Kevin Prchal. The picture in the background was taken at a school we visited on our trip to Uganda this summer.

http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.channel&ChannelID=162653497

Friday, December 12, 2008

Today

It's quiet in the office today. I'm thankful for a handful of quiet days in December to collect my thoughts. To slow down. To breathe in Advent. It's been a long, full year. I'm grateful to all the people who have helped us get through it. Who have helped us fill it with promise. I have a lot on my mind, but today feels calm and peaceful. Today I will try to hang on to peace.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Rough Times for Refugees & Immigrants

Last month four refugee families applied to our foundation for help paying their rent so they wouldn't get evicted. Another refugee man we know lost his job and thus lost health care for his family, inlcuding his seven year old daughter and his wife who is 8 months pregnant. We used our assistance fund to make a Cobra payment of $964 which bought them another month of coverage. That extra month has now run out. A family living at Bryan House came to us asking for extra help because their kids were growing out of their clothes and had nothing warm for winter and they didn't have the money to buy them anything. Tonight I will take them shopping. Last night I got word from a friend that a little girl we met through Community 4:12 is moving to Mexico this weekend because her father got deported. The little girl was born in the US and has never lived in Mexico before. I don't know what we could do to help her. And today I received an email from a refugee friend in Kampala, Uganda asking us for help for his family as they cannot find work and they have been waiting for several years to be reunited with their family here in the US. Sometimes when you make friends with refugees and immigrants, sharing the burden of their problems can be overwhelming. But even as we wrestle with feelings of helplessness and frustration, I wouldn't trade my friendships with these families for anything. They teach me about perserverance and faith and joy beyond circumstances. I need them as much as they need me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

O Christmas Tree

Last night Rick and I decorated our Christmas tree. I know, I know. Pre-Thanksgiving is kind of early for decorating the tree, but I just couldn't wait any longer. For some reason I have an extra helping of Christmas longing this year. Anyway, the tree looks great in our front sun room and at night you can see it from a long way down the street. I love looking at the lights and it makes the darkness that comes so early now not seem so gloomy. Plus the house will look nice for my parents when they come for Thanksgiving. This year we will celebrate with our Iraqi friends: Yayha, Samira & Mirhan, and also our Mauritanian friend, Sada. My parents might also be able to bring my nephew, Royce, which would be really fun. I miss that little guy and I love listening to all his antics in the background when I talk to my parents or my brother on the phone. After this year, I don't want to go through another Christmas without a little family of my own. Hopefully I won't have to, but if I do I'm going to have to borrow some other people's children. Today Rick gets his 3L picture taken at law school. All that's left now is this round of finals, one more semester and then the bar exam. Then we'll get our lives back. Next year during the holidays there will be no studying or papers or tests. That is something to look forward to.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Three siblings, three problems: dropped out, falsely accused, and a reputation for trouble.

Let me tell you a story about three refugee kids in one family who have had a rough time in school and see if you can figure out the root cause of their problems.

1. The kids came to the US with their Mom, (but without their Dad) in 2000 after fleeing violence, persecution and death in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They were seven, eight, & ten.

2. After a year and a half in the US, their father (who they had not seen in four years) rejoined their family, which required them not only to readjust to having him around, but also to move from their two bedroom apartment to a larger one and to switch schools.

3. In order to afford the bigger apartment, they moved into a more dangerous neighborhood. After a year a man got shot right outside their window, so they moved again and switched schools again.

4. The next apartment was in a safer place, but the family lived upstairs and the ground floor of the building was full of seniors citizens who didn't like the noise of adolescent feet on the stairs or too many other kids coming to visit, so their lease was not renewed. The family moved again.

5. The new place was an old townhouse with an inefficient furnace and high gas bills, but the kids could have their friends over to visit and not worry about complaints. At least they could until a bullet came through their front window. The family started looking for a house to buy.

6. The family managed to get a mortgage for a small slab house in a quiet neighborhood and things seemed to be getting better. But when family members who were still in Africa got really sick and couldn't work, the kids' parents took out a second line of credit against their house to help. They wired thousands of dollars over seas and then the father started losing hours at work and eventually they lost the house. They moved again and changed schools again.

7. Now the oldest boy has dropped out of high school and refuses to do a GED program. The middle boy has been falsely accused of things at school and is on a watch list because of the friends he hangs out with. And the young girl has a reputation as a trouble maker with multiple suspensions.

We've been friends with this family every step of the way. I understand how all these steps have led up to these problems, but somehow I still can't believe that this is where we are. I keep wondering if there was something I could have done to stop it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Feeling Christmasy


The flurries outside are making me feel Christmasy. I admit that I have already started listening to Christmas music and I am eager to start decorating. I am usually not like this. Not sure what's gotten into me. Here is a great picture of my friends: Dollar, Musa, & Yasmin from Christmas 2005. They all slept over at our house on Christmas Eve. This is the time of year that I especially wish I had kids. Maybe next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sacrifice At Bryan House


Bryan House (www.bryanhouse.org) needs a lot of things, including a new back parking lot. The old one is all broken-up and probably won't survive another winter. We had the budget to fix it, but it's going to have to wait. Why? Because we have made a commitment to tithe from our budget to support international refugee crisis and prevention programs through World Relief. This year our tithe will buy 35 Family Survival Kits for parents and children displaced by the escalating violence in Congo. Maybe you've read about about this conflict or heard it on the news. Check out this link to learn more: http://community.wr.org/Page.aspx?pid=1274


YOU MIGHT BE ASKING YOURSELF, "WHY WOULD BRYAN HOUSE TITHE WHEN ALL THEIR MONEY ALREADY GOES TO A GOOD CAUSE?" GOOD QUESTION. HERE'S OUR ANSWER:

Bryan House Community Development Corporation believes in and practices the Biblical tithe for three main reasons. First, it is an ordained Spiritual discipline designed to increase our generosity and strengthen our faith and trust in God. Malachi 3:10 says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse… Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” By giving away ten percent of our annual budget, we, along with the refugees we serve, become a community strengthened and blessed by intentional sacrifice.

Second, we practice the tithe because it is part of God’s plan to care for the poor and suffering, and because Jesus taught us that our neighbor isn’t just the person who lives next door. Deuteronomy 26:12 says, “When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied.”

Thirdly we tithe as a witness and encouragement to the Church. We have heard many church leaders lamenting that there isn’t enough in their budgets to make it possible to tithe to the poor, or making excuses that since everything they do is the work of God, there is no need to dedicate ten percent to the poor. All of the work we do is with refugees in our community who are trapped in the cycle of poverty, and yet we choose to tithe because we recognize that there are even greater needs outside our own community. We tithe as a challenge encouragement to churches to do the same. The Church has always been called to make these kinds of sacrifices. In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul says this to the church at Corinth, “And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability…Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little."

WE ARE GLAD TO SHARE WITH OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN NEED IN EASTERN CONGO. PLEASE CONSIDER JOINING US BY GIVING TO WORLD RELIEF.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Celebrating with Iraqi Refugee Friends & Emails from Kenya


From our friend, Vincent in Nairobi:

Hi,Siz n Bro,


What a wonderful moment not only to the people of America but to the whole world,i respect the election of your people you are truly the world model,because the people themselves shape the future they want only that the leaders lets us down....

I hope one day you will get one of my paintings to Mr.President Barack Obama to Congratulate him.

On 6th/11/08 has been officially been announced that it will be a public holiday here in Kenya.We will celebrate the new president of America in this historic moment.
May God bless you all for everything you are doing.

Happy regards,
Vincent.

From Kevin Otieno at Kivuli Centre Nairobi:

Finally, the dream of Martin Luther King has been fulfiled in America.We in Kenya wished Obama all the best and we new as it was the rest of the world`s wish to see change come to America .We hope this change would work towards restoring any broken relationship between America and the rest of the world.

I hope that the relation ship between Kivuli boys (Koinonia Community ) and your family together with your husband and friends shall remain intact.Kivuli boys this year are going to perform in Ital during December holidays.
I`m also a proud person as i have joined Catholic University this year and i m studying Social sciences. I also would like to thank your husband for Obama T-shirt that he gave to me and stickers.We really miss you all! Otherwise Thanks in advance.

Monday, November 3, 2008

An Election Message from the Kibera Slum


Below is an email I received from my friend Joseph who lives and works in the largest slum in Africa, Kibera - Nairobi Kenya. They have high hopes for the American election day tomorrow, and still higher hopes for the example America can set in the world. I don't think that America is the "last great hope for the world" as many people (including Obama) have said, however, I do hope that we Americans can start a new chapter beginning tomorrow and move toward greater equality, love for our neighbors, respect for differences, an end to war, and care for the poor and neglected. It is time for a new day.

And I can't wait to call my friends in Kenya and to talk to all the African refugees I know here in the US after the final results come in tomorrow. I don't place my hope in politics, but I can't help feeling that something good is on the rise. I hope we can live up to our own ideals.

Hi Desiree, Here in Kenya it's exactly ten minutes to one. This means by East African Standard time, your polling day is measurable in hours now. We thank you because your country is a great nation with a people endowed with wonderful visions. Yours is the manager of the global economies, politics and etc. You had told us what you believe in, and we were very thankful; not because Obama has got its root in our country, but because of a real change both you and him "believe in". Africa and Kenya in general , and western part of Kenya in particular praises American people for showing the world maturity in politics. This is a good precedent for the people of this world; they have proved that Americans regard this world as godly and the people living in it are ONE irrespective of color, creed, religion, background, tribe etc. provided he or she can articulate the sentiments of the majority. On behalf of all KISCODEP members, I wish you a happy voting day. Thank you! Thank you very much!!! Joseph

Friday, October 31, 2008

Christophrenia

I am a self diagnosed Christophrenic. It's kind of like being schizophrenic, except that the source (or maybe just the subject matter) of my confusion and delusion is the Christian Church. Specifically the American Christian Church. Somehow this powerful institution has managed to convince me to hold two opposing beliefs and cling to them simultaneously as truth, even though one seems to negate the other. So I walk around everyday unsure of what is real and what is imagined. Or maybe I just lack the courage to decide. In any case, my condition has left me tired, confused, and wondering who I really am and what Jesus really wants from us. Here are the two opposing beliefs:


Belief One
1. Because the church's mission is to bring as many people as possible into relationship with Christ, we must use every technique available to attract people to the church. If cool spaces, high quality video, great music, professional marketing etc. is what gets people to come, then we should unapologetically spend money on those things and do whatever it takes to attract people to Jesus. And it makes sense that tastes in more affluent areas are more expensive, so that means that doing church will cost more in those areas and that's okay. Eventually the people who come to church will be transformed by the message of Jesus and we will teach them to help the poor, but if they are not attracted to the church in the first place, then they will never hear the message, so there's no reason to give up part of what we're doing in our church in order to help the poor, because we are already missional and in the long run we will get more people to help the poor this way. The highest call of the Church is to help people with personal salvation, not to do social gospel work.


Belief Two

2. The church is primarily about calling people to follow Jesus and join a community of believers in a new way of life that expands their definition of family and shatters their ideas of ownership. What Jesus asked his followers to do is to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth, which looks totally different from the prevailing culture of greed, selfishness, and ambition. Christ-followers are the ones courageous enough to stand up for the poor, the neglected, and the hated. They are a community of sacrifice who share in a way that eliminates poverty among them and works with the logic of the upside-down kingdom. They are a peculiar people who seek to give up everything in order to find what is really valuable. It is a narrow road and not everyone will choose it, but there is no option to make the road wider and more comfortable. The highest call of the Church is to ask people to join "the Way" -- this way of life that is an expression of God's Will being done of earth as it is in heaven.


HOW CAN BOTH OF THESE BELIEFS BE TRUE AT THE SAME TIME? NOW YOU UNDERSTAND WHY I AM A CHRISTOPHRENIC.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I love My Kids! And I want great things for them.


Rick and I don't have any children of our own yet, but the three kids in this picture: Musa, Little Rick, and Dollar (pronounced Doe - la) are just like family to us. I love these guys! Last night we celebrated Musa's 9th birthday. I can't believe it's been five and a half years since we first met them. Back then Dollar was in diapers and little Rick wasn't even born.

On Monday I stopped at their house to visit and Dollar asked me, "Who are you going to vote for President? Obama or THE John McCain." I told her to guess. She said, "I know, THE John McCain." (I'm not sure why she added "THE" to his name.)

"Nope," I said. "I'm voting for Obama." She frowned at me. "Hey, but you're white!" she said. I laughed a little bit at her response, but it made me sad. Dollar and I have been like family for five and a half years, white and black together. I love her like my own daughter, and yet somehow she has still managed to learn that white and black don't mix. That white people have reservations about choosing a black candidate. Dollar lives in Wheaton in a low income housing complex, but I'm sure that many of the kids in her Wheaton school come from affluent, white, evangelical homes. They are having a mock election at her school, so maybe she just noticed that most of the white kids (reflecting their parent's values) are voting for THE John McCain, and assumed that's what all white people will do. I tried to explain to Dollar that I was voting for Obama because I like his ideas, and that I would never vote for someone just because of the color of his or her skin. And I told her that I like and love lots of black people, her included. And I gave her a big squeeze and a kiss before she wiggled away to go play. I'm not sure she understood what I was saying. She's only in second grade. (Though old enough to pick up on racial divides that this election is bringing to the surface.)

For so many reasons, but especially for Dollar's sake, (and kids like her) I really hope that Obama wins next week. I hope that black kids all across this country have the opportunity to learn something new about what is possible for them. I hope they have the chance to hear white people saying how proud they are of our new President, who happens to be black. I hope we get the chance to change Dollar's mind about white people and how they behave. That we get a chance to repent of our broken history and start a new chapter.

Dollar is from a people group in Somalia that has been mistreated, put down, labeled, and abused for centuries. She came to the US with her family to find refuge from that kind of treatment. I desperately want her to find REAL equality here. I want her to know her own worth and value. I want her to know, not only that this white woman loves her like crazy and thinks she is totally amazing, but that white people in general respect and admire our black brothers and sisters.

Dollar also comes from a Muslim household and knows that "Muslim" has been used like an insult against Obama (though he is, in fact, a Christian.) I also want her to know, not only that this Christian woman loves that spunky, joyful, Muslim little girl, but that Christians in general love and respect our Muslim brothers and sisters.

I dream of the day when that's what Dollar experiences at school and in her neighborhood. It's time we started a new story in America, so that ALL our kids can have an equal chance at greatness.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hurt Feelings

Today I hurt someone's feelings by speaking out. I can't share all the details but it involved challenging an organization this person was inviting me to get involved with -- an organization that portends to be an interfaith peace group, but was started by a very controversial "church" which has a leader who has written his own version of scripture, claims to be the Messiah and also claims to be able to communicate with the dead and to have produced sinless children. Their main goal is to create one world religion and one world government under the leadership of their leader. (Hmm, that sounds familiar from an earlier post.) I also had to warn some of my colleagues about the organization because they had been contacted by the same person with the same invitation.

The person who invited me is very sweet and soft spoken and seems very innocent. I know that I embarrassed her by revealing the information. I tried to be firm, but gentle. But there wasn't any way that I could have said nothing. I know that now she thinks I am just judgemental and intolerant of her religion. I know that she deeply and sincerely believes in the goodness of the organization and it's mission. She says there is no agenda of conversion, but I find that very difficult to believe. I felt the need to protect those around me from what many people consider a cult. She said, "Couldn't people just come and see and decide for themselves?" It's a very rational question, I suppose...if it wasn't for the context.

I still feel shakey from the experience. I don't know if she will ever come and talk to me again. I hope she will. I don't like the feeling of someone thinking that I might be against religious freedom or interfaith movements. I am certainly not. But I am against any church that concentrates authority in one powerful leader who rewrites scripture and claims to be the Messiah. Religions are so crazy. And people are so hungry for some kind of meaning and some kind of answer. That's why churches have to be so careful about how they lead and teach. The vulnerable are easily swayed, for good or for bad. People in churches need to think for themselves, no matter how good the Pastor is. I hope the little lamb I met today can listen for the voice of the Shepherd rising above the sound of wolves. I hope I can too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bible tells me so.


Our Bible doesn't say, "God Bless America." Our Bible says, "God so loved the WORLD."

Friday, October 10, 2008

Christians make me so mad!

If one more Christian declares, hints, or wonders out loud or over email to me about how Obama may in fact be the antichrist, I think my head will explode or I will tatoo the words "Christian No More" on my forehead or I will move to Kenya and never come back. Just in case you have been the recipient of these ridiculous rumors (as I have many times now), here is a good response my husband wrote recently to help a friend know how to answer:

Hey Kevin, yeah, on behalf of christendom I sincerely apologize that you had to be subjected to that level of ignorance. It's not necessarily that persons fault... they just aren't well informed and have fallen prey to some pretty radical people who have gone to great lengths to try to prop up this level of extremism. There's a good website that defends rumors against Obama from Christian Perspective called "Put Away Falsehood" based on a verse in Ephesians that warns against this very type of false teaching or rumor mongering (www.putawayfalsehood.com)

Unfortunately they haven't articulated a direct response to this most extreme, yet surprisingly common rumor about Obama (I've heard it many times). My first response to anyone who says this would be to ask them not only WHY they think Obama is the antichrist, but what they think the antichrist actually is and whether they even know what the bible says about the anti-christ.

The Bible only contains four direct references to the "antichrist" (in the most common translations) and NONE of them have anything whatsoever to do with why this rumor is being spread around (though, as previously mentioned, the Bible has plenty to say about how wrong it is to pass judgment on others and spread rumors/gossip). All four of the references to the antichrist in the Bible simply talk about someone who denies Christ, preaches against him or says that he is not the son of God. That's it. Period.

Chances are that this person either read one or more of the radical, right-wing, christian propaganda books in the "Left Behind" series or heard this rumor from someone who had. Unfortunately these books have been read by millions of Christians. They're terribly judgmental, divisive and exclusionary books that the world would be far better without. In those books, they develop a character who is the anti-christ which is loosely based on the allegorical "Beast" in Revelations. Without any real biblical basis, the "Left Behind" books create an antichrist character that is a charasmatic political leader trying to consolodate his power by uniting the world into a single community under a single leader & single radical religion. A pretty far stretch from the 10-headed "beast" in Revelations who marks people w/ 666. Along the way, the Obama/antichrist rumor has picked up some stuff about him being a muslim and in my mind the rumor would simply have NEVER gotten to the point that it has if Obama were white. This antichrist rumor has strong, strong racial overtones to it.

So BOTTOM LINE is that there is nothing in the Bible WHATSOEVER to point to any similarities between Obama and what the Bible says is the anti-christ. The concept of the anti-christ in the bible is specifically aimed at false prophets/preachers who deny the incarnation or divinity of Jesus. Obama has NEVER done any such thing--In fact he has explicitly, repeatedly and consistently done the opposite. In both of his books, he directly acknowledges that he believes Jesus is Lord. In fact he has acknowledged this belief far more often and more directly than John McCain has. It is an undisputed fact that until very recently many christians were unhappy with and did not support John McCain precisely because he has typically refused to talk about his Faith and most believe that he (McCain) is not a very spiritual person... which is to say that he does not appear to know much of anything about the Bible when asked, has not cited examples of prayer being a meaningful part of his life since he was in a POW camp, and appears to know very little about the tenants of the denomination that he identifies himself with...

Anyway, I obviously could go on and on, but as you already knew when you texted me, this rumor is nothing short of crazy talk. But it is worth pointing out to anyone who espouses such views or shares a concern about it, that it is simply IMPOSSIBLE to support such a view from a Biblical standpoint. So if Christians want to argue against the Bible and why the only author to ever mention the antichrist (John) was wrong in his description of the anti-christ... or how Obama corresponds with the 10-horned/7-headed beast/dragon/leapord/bear with ten crowns who has "called down fire from heaven to earth in full view of men" (from Revelations)... then I suppose they're entitled to try to connect such disparate dots.

I know that's A LOT of stuff. But unfortunately, while there's little or nothing to support this rumor, it'd take ages to point out all of the many ways in which those who believe this rumor have been misled or fooled into believing this non-sense.

Hope this helps a little.

--rick.




Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Negative Campaign Attacks are Hurting All of Us.


As each day gets us closer to the election I find myself feeling angrier and angrier and sometimes I don't even know how to feel about my friends and family members and fellow church goers who plan to vote differently than I do. The intensity of the rhetoric on television and in the newspapers and ridiculous email fowards has me in a constant state of agitation. I feel so strongly about my choice for President that I find myself thinking that the outcome of the election could change the way I feel about the friends I have who disagree with me. I realize this is not healthy or appropriate. But in my mind the choice is so crystal clear, so black and white, so right guy/wrong guy, that I find it difficult to imagine how people who seem to have similar values as I do could come to such different conclusions. And I'm sure people on the other side feel the same way about me. I am trying hard to control my emotions and to be reasonable, but the recent negative attack ads are making it very difficult. And of course we all say we don't want that kind of campaign, but even so we pay attention to those ads and they sway us. Politicians know they work and so they use every weapon at their disposal. If the negative ads didn't work on us, they wouldn't use them. If being kind and respectful and honest was what won votes, then all politicians would do that. But the divide and conquer method seems to work best as a strategy, and so here we are divided, angry, and hating those who disagree with us more than ever. Not exactly a great way to run a country. If we feel that way across political lines in our own country, how are we supposed to handle foreign relations across cultural lines. This is dangerous stuff. In my mind the negative stuff has been a lot heavier on one side than the other. But if you're voting on the other side, you probably think your guy has the cleaner hands. I'm not talking about SNL skits and stuff like that, I'm talking about stuff coming straight out of the campaigns themselves. Stuff like Palin accusing Obama of "paling around with terrorists" and trying to drag Jeremiah Wright back into the picture because they know how much that angry black pastor scares old white people. I think it's kind of funny how people can claim that Obama is a secret Muslim and at the same time tie him to a controversial Christian Pastor. Which is it? You can only pick one. Okay, so now I have revealed my view (if you didn't know already.) Maybe you're on the other side and have gotten your own earful of false negative stuff about your candidate too. The other day I saw an email forward from a friend that said she wouldn't vote for Obama because he's a secret Muslim and possibly the anti-christ. When I see stuff like that I feel like my head is going to explode. It makes me so angry! I don't think the negative stuff about McCain has been quite that insane, but maybe I'm wrong. If you want to read about some Christians who have responded to the falsehoods spoken about Obama check out http://www.matthew25.org/


If you have anything you think is helpful in despelling false rumors about McCain, let me know.



Monday, October 6, 2008

Fall Reflections


It's chilly this morning and the change in temperature makes my joints ache. Makes me feel older than I am. It's cloudy and the lack of sunlight coming through my bedroom windows made it harder to get out of bed. Today I feel like hibernating. Staying inside under the covers with a good book and a cup of cocoa. There is something about fall that makes me start to reflect on life in a different way. Maybe because another Thanksgiving and Christmas is coming and I still don't have any babies of my own to share the season with, and I still don't have a book of my own on any shelf. Or maybe because I always get this urge in the fall to re-read all my Madeleine L'Engle books. Especially the books about family: the Austins and O'Keefes.


More and more I have a longing for family. And more and more a longing to write. But somehow I don't quite believe that either of those things will ever really be possible for me now. I'm not sure why I have this dread feeling. I just do. There is a heaviness in my chest that won't go away. Maybe I am just impatient. But life is passing by so quickly and there is part of me that is afraid that we've already put things off too long. Maybe it's just because my birthday is coming next month and I just never imagined reaching this number and not having a baby and a book and I don't have either. Or maybe it's because it seems like all the people we know who got married around the time we did already have babies (some have two or three) and I feel a little left out of the club.

Don't get me wrong, I have a great life. I have a fulfilling, meaningful job and a terrific marriage. I have significant relationships in my church and my community. I have had amazing opportunities to travel and to participate fully in life. I am healthy. Nothing is really wrong. It's just that fall has this pull on me and reminds me where the empty places are and makes them harder to forget. Fall makes it harder for me to leave the house, harder to push forward, harder to be okay with things as they are. It's strange, because I love fall. I might even say it's my favorite season. I like cool weather and contemplation. I like cocoa and the leaves. But I really wish I had a child to take to the apple orchard, to get a halloween costume for, to snuggle up and read to. Fall esepcially feels like family time. And I feel left out.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Big Two: Why Jesus could never win a presidential election.

His platform on the Economy would be considered naive and impractical:

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also....No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?
-Matthew 6:19-21 & 24-25

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." - Mark 10:21

His platform on national security would be considered dangerous:

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Matthew 6:43-44

"Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High."- Luke 6:35

"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
-Matthew 5:38-39

WOULD YOU VOTE FOR A CANIDATE WITH A PLATFORM LIKE THAT?





Monday, September 29, 2008

A Great Day At Bryan House














A special thank you to everyone who made the Bryan House auction a big success! Our prelimary total was $14,000 but there are still a few more donations trickling in, so we anticipate that the final total from the night will go up. An extra special thank you to our friend, Mark Lie, who made the incredible Bryan House cake pictured above. The cake was an exact replica of the house; complete with mailbox, wheel chair ramp, and even the fence around the dumpster. The cake was on display during the auction and then we took it over to the house to share it with the refugee families who are already living there. They were totally amazed! The kids were laughing and choosing which part of the house they wanted to eat. The little girl pictured above is a fifth grader from Congo named Nyota. She is eating her bedroom. She also did a lot of nibbling on the fence. Her Aunt Ketsia said, "Tell your friend he did a great job on the cake, but now that we have eaten our house, where will we live?" The cake brought a lot of joy and laughter to the families at Bryan House. Thanks, Mark!




Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Eight years ago today....


Today is the eight year anniversary of my first date with Rick. On this day eight years ago Rick gave me a compilation CD of music (he was inspired to do this by the movie, "High Fidelity"). And each year since then he has given me a new CD with songs that reflect another year together. Romantic, huh?

Our first date was to the Art Institute in Chicago and then out for dinner at Indian Harvest in Naperville. It was a great day and I'm having fun remembering it. Thanks Julie Girdwood (Julie Youngs at the time) for introducing us! A lot of matches came out of that long ago small group/group of CCC friends: (David & Julie Girdwood, Mike & Karen Brown, Rick & Desiree Guzman, Jeff & Tanya DeGraff.) Good work everybody! I miss hanging out with you guys. (Bill & Rachel Carroll too, but they were already married way back then : )

Monday, September 22, 2008

Bryan House Auction


This week is too busy for blogging. Don't miss the 2nd Annual Bryan House Silent Auction this Friday 7 PM at Community Christian Church in Naperville. Over three hundred items and all the proceeds go to help refugee families in Aurora work and save their way out of poverty in a responsible and dignified way.

For more info go to www.bryanhouse.org

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A walk through Kibera

This is just a glimpse of life in Kibera. Take a walk with me through the streets of the largest slum in Africa. People live like this every single day. Even though I know people who live here and correspond with them regularly, sometimes it's hard for me to remember and believe that a place like this exists.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

News from Kibera

The reason I initially started this blog a little more than a year ago was to write about and process my experiences in Africa, and particularly my experiences in Kibera, the largest slum on the continent. We have some dear friends in Kibera who run an organization called: Kibera Slums Community Development Project. They provide micro-financing for small businesses, offer help to victims of HIV/AIDS, care for orphans and vulnerable children, and seek to grow their community Spiritually. And not only that, they have a vision to reproduce and offer these services across other parts of the country and even other parts of Africa. They are people of big faith and big dreams. And their example of perseverance through hardship and struggle has encouraged and challenged me greatly in my own faith. Joseph, Evelynn, Judith, Teresa, Gabriel, and everyone at KISCODEP are my heroes! Check out their brand new website at www.kiscodep.org
Special thanks to Josh Bonifas for the donation of a digital camera that we were able to bring them this summer, making photos on their website possible!

Kibera is an unfortgetable place. It's what Bono was talking about when he said, "Africa makes a mockery of our sense of justice." Thank God for the KISCOPDEP members who are doing all they can to make a difference. They share what little they have to make life better for their neighbors. They are my ideal of what a real Christ-follower looks like.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Why the Republican National Convention Scared me.


1. Because they were trying to scare me. Lots of video images of the Oklahoma City bombing, Embassy bombings in Kenya & Tanzania, and Sept. 11th, and the insinuation that with a Republican in the White House we are assured complete safety and no attack on US soil, but with a Democrat in office more attacks are inevitable. Fear is one of their political strategies, so if you weren't afraid you weren't listening closely enough.

2. Using Biblical language about God's People to refer to America alone. Continuing a tradition started by Reagan and used again by George W. Bush, they call America "the City on a Hill." This Biblical term comes from Matthew chapter five. Jesus is talking to his followers. The followers of Jesus (no matter what country they come from) are meant to be the "City on a Hill" pointing toward God. America has no claim on this title. Christians should know better. Jesus teaches us that our identity as children of God comes before national identity. "In Christ there is no Jew nor Greek. . ."

3. Hyper Patriotism that leads to blindness and arrogance. How many times did we hear "America is the greatest country in the world"? What does that mean? That we are better than everyone else? Being grateful for the blessings that come with being American is one thing, but using the language of superiority is something very different. Not a great position from which to start foreign relations. I wonder what other people watching around the world feel when they hear our leaders say things like that? How would we feel if we heard another nation's leaders say it?
"I have never not been proud to be an American" Really? Never? You're actually proud of everything America has ever done in the world? Maybe you aren't paying close enough attention. Native Americans. Slavery. Japanese internment camps. Inventing and using the atom bomb. Torture. The deaths of countless innocents. Responding with war in Iraq, but ignoring Genocide in Rwanda & Sudan...
"We don't want a President who will apologize for America." I disagree. I think a person who refuses to apologize even when we are wrong is not the right person to lead us. I think apologizing when you are wrong takes character and courage. That's what we teach our children. Why is it suddenly not true for the leader of our country?

Proverbs 11:2 "When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom." Proverbs 16:18 "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall."

4.
Embracing the Myth of Redemptive Violence. So many signs that said "Peace through strength." In other words "war and violence is the means by which we will attempt to achieve peace." And how many times did you hear words like fight, battle, war, victory? Vocabulary full of war metaphors tells you something about a person's world view. But Jesus taught us, "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." And he asked Peter to put the sword away. The vision of the means of settling disputes in the Kingdom of God is very different. "Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Beat your swords into plowshares. Study war no more." War begets war, not peace.

5. Calling anyone who opposes America "evil." I think we are confusing America and God. Those who oppose God are the evil ones.

6. Not just disagreeing about policies, but belittling your opponent. "I guess being mayor of a small town is kind of like community organizing, except I had real responsibilities." -Sarah Palin. There is nothing shameful about the top law student from the top law school in the country choosing a low paying community organizing job over all the other offers he could have had. Criticizing policies is to be expected, but don't stoop to devaluing a person's work. That's just bitter and mean and not very respectable.

7. Misplaced priorities and the religion of Patriotism. "Country First." What does that mean exactly? That I should put my country above God? Above my family? Above anybody from any other country in the world? And how does giving tax breaks to the rich equal "Country first, not me first." That doesn't even make sense. The Bible says, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and mind and your neighbor as yourself." And who does Jesus say our neighbor is? Everyone. There is no national boundary that keeps someone from being our neighbor. "God First, and the needs of ALL my brothers and sisters first." I refuse to worship America.

"My first allegiance is not to a flag, a country or a man. My first allegiance is not to democracy or blood. It's to a King and a Kingdom." -- Derek Web

This Republican Convention really scared me. I'm sure the Democrats are using some of this language as well, but it seemed louder and more pronounced in St. Paul. There are some things more dangerous and more terrifying than terrorism.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Rick to the Rescue


For the last several weeks I've been feeling like I've hit a brick wall. I'm worn out from trying to do too much for too long and it's catching up with me. I've been dropping out of life a little bit, but Rick has been taking everything on himself. Despite starting back to law school a couple weeks ago he is also doing almost everything that we need to get done for the Bryan House Auction and for coordinating the renovation of an apartment that needs to be handicapped accesible by Monday. Plus he is still working on East Aurora project stuff with Kirsten and doing his homework. I don't know how he does it. I think he kind of likes our life like this. I'd prefer it to be a little more managable, but that is not likely to happen anytime soon. There will be no fun for us this weekend. Hopefuly we get it all the renovation done by Monday. Where did the summer go?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Comfort Food


Whenever I find myself in a place of doubt and fear, I reach for my favorite comfort food, the writings of Madeleine L'Engle. Yesterday I read her Newberry Honor book, "A Ring of Endless Light" for probably the twentieth time or so. Maybe more. Something about her books help me reach out for God again when I feel myself shrinking back into fear and self pity and doubt. Her books have been a great source of hope and strength for me as long as I can remember. I don't know which teacher first put "A Wrinkle in Time" in my hands, but I am so grateful. I long to write books like this. Books that help restore and refresh readers. Books that remind us how big and how small the universe is. Books that comfort and challenge at the same time. She is definitely my hero and my role model. A Spiritual giant. A mentor. And though we've never met, she feels like a friend. Thank God for Madeleine L'Engle. Here is the poem by Henry Vaughan from which she derives the title of the book:
I saw Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time, hours, days, years
Driven by spheres
Like a vast shadow moved, in which the world
And all her train were hurled.
There is in God, some say,
A deep but dazzling darkness: as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
See not all clear.
O for that Night, where I in him
Might live invisible and dim!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Music in Pader

I'm missing the music of Africa and the day we spent in a little transit camp for displaced people in Pader Northern Uganda enjoying music and friendship. This is just a sample.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Third grade journal

I found my third grade journal in the basement today. Here is my entry for December 10th, 1984 with the title: If you Could Rule the World, What Would You Do?

I would lower taxes and help the poor. I would stop any wars or battles. I would move some things in the White House.

Here's Janauary 23rd, 1985 with the title: If I Were President.

If I were president of the US I'd help the poor and start programs for sick people.

I think these are still be my answers to those questions : ) I didn't realize that God had this stuff on my heart at such a young age.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to School

Today is the first day of Rick's last year of law school. I have been dreading this day a little bit. It's been nice having so much time together this summer, but that is about to end for awhile. Even though the last year of law school is supposed to be the easiest, I have a feeling that this year will actually be the hardest one we've faced so far. Bryan House will soon be in full swing with a thousand details that need our attention, and Rick is becoming more and more engaged in the Lighthouse project for East Aurora, which is great, but will also take time. I thought last year was tough, but this year we have even more to manage. Not to mention that some of our closest refugee friends are moving away and we're feeling kind of lonely just thinking about it. This year will be a test of our endurance and patience. Today marks the start of the marathon. I hope I have what it takes to finish.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Obama Moments in Kenya


It came as no surprise to us that every where we went in Africa this summer, people were talking about Barack Obama. The t-shirts and stickers and buttons we brought to give out as gifts to our friends ran out quickly. There is something very powerful and intoxicating in the idea that a man whose father grew-up herding sheep in Kenya is now a canidate for President of the United States. But behind all the public cheering and hoopla, in private our friends kept asking us if we really thought Americans would elect a black man for President. Their joy and hope seemed mixed with a kind of careful skepticism, as if they were trying to protect themselves from the danger of believing in this amazing leap toward equality only to find that things have not really changed much at all. I hope the skepticism of my Kenyan friends will prove to be unfounded in November. One day I want to tell my grand children about the day the US elected it's first black President and I want them to grow-up in an America where they will find it surprising that there ever was a time in history when that possibility was in question.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Are We Going to Have Barbeque on the Lawn of the White House?


What would you do if this happened to you:

Today in the parking lot of the North Aurora Target, Rick was putting his bags in the car when an older woman sitting in a car near him noticed the OBAMA bumper sticker on our Saturn. As Rick was returning his cart to the cart coral the woman yelled after him, "Are we going to have barbeque on the lawn of the White House?"

The woman's tone was a little strange, but Rick assumed that she was an Obama supporter talking about how we would celebrate if he wins the election in November. Rick said, "I sure hope so," and kept pushing his cart, but the woman yelled after him again. This time her tone was even more strange and intense. "No, think about it," she said. "Are we going to have barbeque at the White House."

Rick stopped, not quite believing what the woman was insinuating. "Is that a racial comment?" he asked. The woman raised her eyebrows as if to affirm what she wouldn't quite say out loud. Rick shot her a disapprovingly look and walked away knowing there would probably be no reasonable conversation if he continued.

I know I shouldn't be shocked, but I feel a little shocked. Quiet, subtle racism is everywhere. We see it all the time, but it isn't often that we bump up against the blatant and overt kind in our daily lives. The scars of racial division are deep and wide and ugly in America. This is just one of the reasons I long for diverse neighborhoods, schools, and especially churches. I feel sorry for a woman like this who has obviously never had a loving friendship with a black person. (Anyone who had would never say something like that.)

I don't know if we'll have Barbeque on the lawn of the White House. Maybe we'll have arugula salad instead. In any case I hope we have a fair and decent election free from ugliness and ignorance of racism.

Monday, August 11, 2008

What love looks like in public.


"Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public." -- Cornel West

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Writing on the Wall







These are just a few examples of the words we saw written on the walls of schools we visited in Northern Uganda. We literally saw "the writing on the wall." I hope we never forget it.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Happy Discovery




Last weekend Rick and I took five Somali kids (Lulay, Yusuf, Dollar, Musa, & Baby Rick) to Minnesota to visit my family and go swimming in the lake. It was pretty obvious from the first minute we walked into the house that my one and half year old nephew, Royce, had never really been around black kids before. It was really fun to watch him discover them. These pictures don't do the moment justice at all, but Royce spent the evening running back and forth between the kids touching their skin and hair and hugging and kissing them. And just sitting close. There was pure joy on his face as he discovered the differences in his new friends. It was such a privlege to see a child who has not been tainted with anyone's prejudice or the images on tv or years of living separated, just have a beautiful and natural first encounter with difference. I hope that as Royce grows up in a fairly homogenous place, that he will get the opportunity to have some authentic friendships with kids from different ethnic backgrounds. His heart is ready for it.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Beautiful Faces

These are the faces of children in Northern Uganda. Aren't they beautiful? Stunning, really. It's hard to imagine how the European colonialists could have seen anything but bright shining beauty and potential when they "discovered" Africa. But instead their blind eyes saw inferior people groups to be parented and controlled for their own economic advantage. They left their mark, not only on the land, but on the heart and soul of Africa and her people. But of course they are not the only ones. Over and over again the continent has been raped by men lusting after power and money and prestige. And as the proverb says, "When the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers."

When will Africa find some rest? Rest from war. Rest from the abduction of her children. Rest from poverty. Rest from disease. Rest from broken hearts and broken promises.

There are moments walking in Africa when you have to wonder if what you are seeing is even real. When you wonder how such incredible suffering could be possible. You wonder how anyone there finds the strength to smile, move, breathe, eat, love. And you feel ashamed. Ashamed of the obscene number of things you own. Ashamed of the invisible cloud of privilege that follows you around where ever you go. And at the same time there is a part of you that feels jealous of what they have. Jealous of the deep well of joy that simplicity has made accessible to them...a well that you cannot seem to reach at home. Jealous of the movement of the Spirit among them that makes Jesus more present than you have ever felt him before.

It's hard to move back into life again here. The only way to do it successfully is to forget Africa exists, and I don't want to ever do that. So I guess I'm in for more days of struggle and confusion. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

World Refugee Day in Gulu, Uganda




If you lived in Gulu in Northern Uganda you'd get this excited about a little shoe box of pencils, paper and small toys too. This is the area of Uganda where a rebel group called the Lord's Resistance Army has been burning villages, killing, raping, and abducting thousands of children in order make them soliders. Gulu is also one of the cities that housed thousands of night commuting children who left their villages each night and walked hours and hours in order to find a safer place to sleep: under verandas and in the bus parks. Two year ago we would not have been able to visit this place. But for now there is tenuous peace agreement.


We were in Gulu to celebrate World Refugee Day (if you can really celebrate such a thing.) These kids received shoe boxes packed by families in Europe and the US as little tokens of encouragement. The young woman in this photo was looking for something a little more encouraging. She told me how her parents were gone and she was living with an Aunt and Uncle. She had finished secondary school, which is almost a miracle in place where she lives, and she really wants to study at the University. She was hoping I would sponsor her studies so she could have a future. What do you say to that? "I can't, but here have a shoe box?" We both walked away from the conversation feeling disappointed.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Write some letters to us.

The children who are singing in this video are from Faith Homes Primary School in Kapchorwa, Uganda -- one of the most beautiful and most desparate places in the world. A large percentage of the children who attend school here are orphans. Some beacause of HIV/AIDS and other diseases, and some because of war. Everywhere we traveled in Uganda the plea was the same, "Don't forget us. We need you to remember that we are here and we are suffering."

Leaving Africa is always a terrible mixture of sorrow and relief. Sorrow to leave the friends I've made there, and relief to not have to look poverty in the face every moment of every day. But leaving is dangerous because it makes forgetting easier. I started this blog a year ago as a way to keep my promise to remember my friends who are suffering in Africa. I didn't have any time during the trip to write about my experiences, but maybe that's okay because writing it down now when I'm back home is one way to keep me from forgetting. Each time I sit down to write in the next few weeks, I will take some time to remember.

"Our visitors who are leaving, will you write some letters to us?"

Monday, July 7, 2008

At Home in Kenya

I haven't had much access to the internet, and I have no time to write anything good right now. (I'm okay, Mom : ) I just want to say that it so good to be back home with my good friends in Kenya and I'm so grateful for every day we have here. More later...

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

African Skies


Just two days more and we'll be back under African skies. I am more than eager. It is time for me to wrestle with God, and Africa is definitely a place for wrestling. Every American Christ-follower should face the beauty and tragedy of Africa. We all should spend some mornings worshipping in a mud and tin church in a slum and then go home and remember the obscenity of our own wealth. I think it's good for our souls and good for our churches, if we can be brave enough not to ignore it.
This year we will be visiting a displaced persons camp for the first time. IDP camps are basicaly refugee camps for people who have not crossed an International boundary. They are refugees in their own land. An entire ethnic group, the Acholi, have become homeless in Uganda. They are not safe anywhere. If they stay in their villages their children are abducted as soliders in the Lord's Resistance Army. And if they go to the camps they loose their dignity, become dependent on foreign aid, and die by the thousands due to disease and lack of clean water and sanitation. There are no great choices for the Acholi. Choice is a luxury reserved for the privleged and the elite. Choice is a rare thing in Africa.
I will look for Jesus in the camp. He will not be hard to spot. The cries of the Acholi people must be loud in heaven. Jesus will be there crying with them. Join the Acholi in their suffering and you will find yourself in the company of the living God. It's a surer guarantee of ushering in the presence of Christ than even the best Chris Tomlin or David Crowder song.
Meet you under under African skies soon, Jesus. Back to the genesis, to the place where you began everything. The cradle of life. Word into flesh. Darkness into light. To the place where the earth feels young, as if creation was just back behind the last hill and Eden seems to linger around every corner. I can't wait.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Better Together

I've always known that Rick and I are better together, greater than the sum of our parts; but more and more lately I have the sense that we could do so much more if we could just streamline our energies in one united direction. If there weren't so many side projects we had to do separately...if we could find a way to make our life together and our work one seamless identity, one fluid motion.

Bryan House is becoming too big to be a side project for us, and if we're going to really make an impact on Aurora together, then we will eventually need to spend most of our time in Aurora together. I don't know exactly what the future holds, but I'm convinced that we won't see our full potential until we can focus our energy and we can work together every day towards one common goal. We're starting to think about some possible ways to make that happen. I like the idea of walking to work together, taking a lunch break together, fighting for justice and equality together, and coming home together. I know that sounds like a lot of together. You might even think it's kind of sappy. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to go through life tied together every moment like a three-legged race team, but I do need Rick to do my best and he needs me. Of that I am sure. We're a package deal.



Unlike a lot of people, I think we could be pretty successful at working together every day and being productive without driving each other completely insane. (Not that we don't have our moments.) I feel like God wired us for a together kind of work life. So I'm looking forward to the day when law school is over and when our individual vocations can finally converge and become one. Only then will we really begin to see what we can accomplish together.









Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Celebrating in Kibera

I heard on CNN this morning that there has been celebrating in Kibera (and all over Kenya) about Obama's official status as the democratic nominee. I can't wait to be in Kenya again in a couple weeks and celebrate with them. The impossible just became possible. Even if you don't plan to vote for Obama, you have to agree that he has a pretty compelling story. The running joke in Kenya is that is easier for a Luo to get elected in America than in Kenya. (Luo is the tribe of Obama's father and of Odinga who ran for president in Kenya and was denied victory with some fishy methods.)

Can you imagine? We might just have ourselves the first black president. I've known a lot of African refugees who have given birth to children in America and I always tell them, "This child is a natural born US citizen. He or she could be president." Now, finally, I can almost believe that what I tell them is true.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Congratulations Haby!


Last night my friend Haby Diallo graduated from West Aurora High School. Haby came to the US as a refugee from Mauritania, Africa in December of 2000. When she came she didn't speak any English and starting school in America was kind of rough on her. I remember spending lots of time together working on homework. Rick and I are SO proud of this beautiful and accomplished young woman. She worked very hard to get here. Two other refugees kids we know graduated last night too: Teko from Togo and Nazira from Russia. And Haby's dear friend Isha from Pakistan who started learning English with Haby in 5th grade. Congratulations ladies! I have no doubt that West was a better and more interesting place because you were there. Can't wait to see what you do next! Love you, Haby.

One more picture

Me with my niece Kyley and my nephew Royce enjoying a rare day all together in Chicago.
LOVE THESE GUYS!

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.












Musa & Rick in the car on the way to Rick's 4th birthday party.



Fun with Richard's hammock.





Grandma Marian plays bean bags.


All beef hotdogs for everyone.




HAPPY BIRTHDAY NOT SO "BABY" RICK!



Thursday, May 29, 2008

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BABY RICK!

Today is "Baby Rick's" (we need to drop the "baby" now, but it's a hard habit to break) fourth birthday. His family has been in America almost five years now. This picture was actually taken at his second birthday party. (I will post pictures from his most recent party soon.) In case you didn't figure it out, Rick is named after my husband. I was in the delivery room when he was born and Rick was waiting right outside.

Baby Rick and his siblings: Musa, Dollar, Ali, & Isha, along with his Mom and Step Dad live at a subsidized housing complex in Wheaton. His Step Dad works hard at a near minimum wage factory job and his Mom stays home to take care of the three children who are not yet school age. Baby Isha was born five months ago and the addition of another little one has made Rick's family too big to legally fit in the apartment they are living in. The housing complex has told them they once Isha is one year, they won't be able to stay there any longer. Rick's mother is very worried about what they will do. She thinks they might move to Wisconsin because they have heard rumors that public aid is better there. I have seen many families move based on those kinds of rumors. Sometimes it works out okay, but often times they find themselves in even worse situations.

It is very difficult for me to think about these guys moving far away. I love these kids like they are my own. In fact, the thought occurred to me that if we took in one or two or three of the kids, they wouldn't have to move. It's probably not the best idea. I wouldn't want to separate the kids from each other or to give some of them a great leap in opportunity while the others are still stuck. I also wouldn't want to divide them from their family and culture and language. And I fear that when they grew up they might resent us for it. I know that Baby Rick's Mom would let us take him if we asked her. She's talked about it before. But this is an idea of desperation, not rationality. And it might even be an idea that's more about what I want than what's best for the kids. But I'm afraid that if they move to Wisconsin and separate themselves from the support system they have here, things will be even harder. I even worry they could end up homeless, and that the kids will get caught in a downward spiral and never get out. They are already behind verbally and academically. Even here it's going to be hard for them.
What would you do? Would you separate a child or children from daily life with their family in order to give them greater opportunity? What's the right answer?

In any case, I can't quite imagine my life without them. So I really, really hope they don't have to move.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bryan House Family Reunion

After four long years of waiting, these three orphaned kids (Tumusifu, Nhota, & Maoneo) will finally be joining their only living relatives in the world. This picture was taken in the summer of 2006 when Rick and I had a chance to visit them outside the refugee camp where they live in Kibuye, Rwanda. On June 12th they will be leaving the camp forever and joining their Aunt Ketsia & Uncle Christophe (now their adoptive parents) who have been living at Bryan House since March. I can't wait for the welcome party at the airport! Even when you aren't part of the biological family, nothing beats being at the airport for these family reunions. It is pure joy!

The reality of what these kids have already faced in their short lives is something most of us could never imagine. And the challenges are far from over. They will leave the hunger and disease of the camp behind, but they will still have to learn a new language and a new culture. They will have to catch-up in school and adjust to having parents in charge of them again. Maoneo will experience what it's like to black and male in the United States, and they will all eventually be disillusioned by the reality of how many obstacles they will find in the land of the free. But they will have food and shelter and family again; and that is a lot compared to what they've had.

Bryan House will be helping their Aunt Ketsia & Uncle Christophe save for the down payment on a house, so that eventually they will have a place of their own. A place to build stability and opportunity for these children and for their children after them. Welcome Home children! We've been waiting for you. It's long past time for your family reunion.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Drawing Near to God

God is near. I believe that everyday. But there have been some particularly important times in my life when God's nearness has been more than just a belief. Times when that nearness became an undeniable reality that no doubt could penetrate or even approach. Times when every inch of my being seemed to be singing God's name. When I remember those moments, I always find myself longing for more of them. And if I am honest, I know they are available to me if I will just draw near again.


"Come near to God and he will come near to you." James 4:8

The summer after I graduated from college everything felt like moving sand. I was back under my parent's roof again and renegotiating my relationship with them after living away for four years. I didn't have a "real job" lined up. I was disconnected from the friends I had made at school and from my church community. And the two Christians role models I admired most wanted nothing to do with me because they disapproved of the guy I was dating -- who admittedly was not kind or good, but started to feel like the only friend I had in the world. During that time I was enrolled in a nine week intensive youth ministry and leadership training program through Tentmakers. Every morning before my classes started I would go into the sanctuary of the church that was hosting us and sit down on the floor in a pool of sunlight coming in through one of the stained glass windows to spend some time with God. Sometimes I sang. Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I sat quietly just feeling the sun on my face. And sometimes I laid down and cried. Even though everything else in my life felt broken and out of control, those moments alone in the sanctuary with God are still some of my sweetest memories. And though I have no desire to ever go back to that time in my life, I do long for that kind of communion with God again. I need to draw near again.

The last year of my life has been so busy with the work of ministry that I haven't always taken the time I need to draw near to God. More and more I feel myself longing to slow down, longing for a life that isn't quite so scheduled and full. I know that I am not at my best when life is like this, without any real time to reflect and think and draw near. But I can't see any way out for at least the next year. Somehow I still need to find ways to be quiet with God. I need some sanctuary moments. Even if it means neglecting other things. Even if it means disappointing people who want even more of my time.

I'm really looking forward to the day when Rick is done with law school. I am dreaming of the freedom that will come with day, but if I am honest I know that life for us will probably always be busy and over-full. So if I don't figure out how to get back to sanctuary now, it probably won't ever happen.

"Come near to God and he will come near to you." James 4:8