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Archive for the ‘faith’ Category

In my morning Newcomer Refugee class, I currently have a student from Burma, one of The Karen People, and some Yazidi students. They all came here as refugees seeking freedom and safety. Yesterday we talked about the 4th of July and what it means. They all understood the word Freedom.

For my Karen student, freedom means not worrying about the military dictatorship that took over Burma which caused her parents to flee to a refugee camp in Thailand. My student was born in the refugee camp and has never seen her native homeland.

For my Yazidi students, freedom means being safe from the murderous criminals who were committing genocide. It also means they are free to practice their religion without being oppressed or discriminated against.

Freedom is so precious and yet taken for granted by us Americans. We do not have to worry about government troops or police coming into our churches to arrest us, not yet anyway. We are free to practice our faith or to not practice any faith. We do not have people with weapons pointed at us telling us what we must be.

I appreciate my freedom here in America. There is another freedom I look forward to even more than the freedom I have here. It is the freedom from the effects of sin in this world. For now my citizenship is U.S. citizenship. The day will come that either I die or Jesus comes back for us that I will more fully realize what the bible says- “but our citizenship is in heaven.” Only by God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven. I do not deserve it.

As I help refugees and immigrants here in my hometown, I am constantly mindful that I have dual citizenship- U.S. and heavenly. My desire is to help my newcomer friends with their new lives here in America. My desire is to also show them the love of God, whether it be in ways such as joining them for a meal, listening to them, or teaching them English. I realize that each day I can help them in a much bigger way that is not seen. I can pray for them. I can pray for them because in God’s grace, I have been granted citizenship in heaven and with that comes the birth right to talk to God anytime.

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Tuesday evening I had the privilege of visiting a Yazidi family and having dinner with them in their home. I mostly talked with a brother and sister over dinner for about an hour. I have found the best way to get to know my refugee friends is to visit them in their homes and spend time with them listening, sharing, and letting them teach me about their cultures. Our conversation Tuesday evening meant a lot to me as we talked about them building their new lives here in America.

Building new lives can be a daunting task. My refugee friends leave behind their homes, their careers, their friends, and family. Basically they lose everything in their lives when they flee to a refugee camp and then they lose what little they have in the camp to come here. The emotions they experience is a mixed bag of excitement when they first come, happy to be safe, sad to leave behind those they love, grieving who and what they have lost, fear of their unknown future here and feeling lost here. They come to their new country and are faced with learning a new language, a new culture, and building new lives and careers.

As we talked Tuesday evening, the brother expressed his sadness over losing his dream of becoming a lawyer. He had to leave school behind when they fled the murderous thugs who came into their area. I shared with him that feeling sad is normal and that I would be concerned if he was not sad over what he had lost. Depression and sadness over losing so much is a normal response to an absolutely abnormal situation. He told me, “I lost my dream.”

When he said that, it caused me to think about when I left the university in Minneapolis in 1994, not even finishing the semester, to come back to Lincoln. At that time my dream of becoming a pastor seemed to end. It seemed that I would die soon due to my health being so bad. I went through over a year more of getting worse and then a year of recovering and relearning things as I recovered. I felt my dream had ended. It did not end however, it took a different path. Now I teach English and am in part-time ministry. It was from my life experience that I shared with him a thought in hopes it would help him.

Your Dream Did Not End. It Is On A Different Path.

It is at moments like these that I am reminded of how Jesus was made complete by his suffering. How could Jesus who has always been perfect be made complete? Because when he suffered in this life things such as the death of his earthly step-father Joseph, being hungry, being rejected, being falsely accused, and physical pain and death, he became our sympathetic high priest who is able to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, so we can come to him with confidence.

It may sound strange to you, but I am grateful I went through my own suffering because I can draw from that experience as I share and spend time with my refugee friends.

For my new friend, I shared with him about how I had to rebuild my life and that my dream went through a new and different path. We talked about some steps he can take for his dream  to take a different path here. We talked about many other aspects of his new life here in America. I hope to visit them again and join him and his sister on their new path to their dreams here in America.

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So my recent birthday had me getting a bit reflective about my life. I think it is because I have more birthdays behind me than I do in front of me. It was kind of a taking stock of my life moment.

As I reflected on my life, I kept having thoughts of- IF ONLY I HADN’T or IF ONLY I HAD. You know- MISTAKES. If only I hadn’t made that mistake. If only I hadn’t sinned in that way. If only I had made a different decision. If only I had gone a different way in life.

Those were accompanied by the I wishes. I wish I had kept that job and not gone to bible college in the 1990s. I wish I had had different parents. The I wishes kept flooding in.

Then as I prayed, I was reminded of Romans 8:28- For God causes all things to work together for good, for those who love God and are called according to his purposes. God can work everything together. That includes my mistakes, my sins, my struggles, and the disappointments in life. It does not only include my successes and abilities. Each step of the journey is included in the all things.

As I reflected on Romans 8:28, I had one answer to all of the if onlys and all of the I wishes. The answer was BUT THEN. It all came down to BUT THEN, I would not have met all of these wonderful refugees and immigrants. I would not have been able to share God’s love with people from literally all over the world. Example- If only I had kept my position as a sales rep selling office furniture, I would be much better off, BUT THEN I would not have met my friends from all over the world.

Basically, I realize that my life’s journey led me to the point of being able to help and be friends with people from Brazil, Burma, China, Mexico, Vietnam, Iraq and many other countries. I have had so many opportunities to share the love of Jesus with people from all over the world. I hope to have many more years of being able to share God’s love with refugees and immigrants.

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On Sunday I had the privilege of having dinner with some of my Yazidi friends. I always enjoy visiting them and getting to know them better. I have learned from them as much as they have learned from me. During this visit, it was an emotional time as we talked about some various things they have experienced. One of the sisters was crying and seemed to try to hide it, so I asked her to look me in the eyes as I shared with her, “You are a person. Your feelings are important because you are a person.” I had her repeat with me, I am a person. My feelings are important.

A sense of personhood and personal dignity are two important parts of our identity that are stripped away while living under oppression and trying to survive genocide. My Yazidi friends experienced something I have seen other refugees experience whether they are Burmese, Sudanese, Congolese, or any other refugee group. That is the experience of a government, terror group, or dictatorship denying fundamental human rights, killing loved ones and friends, stealing and or destroying property and personal belongings. Suffering through severe oppression leaves scars not only physically but also emotionally and psychologically.

I saw my friend again today and it was good to see her smiling, but I always want her to feel she can be open and honest about her feelings. I respect her and try to treat her with respect. My desire is for her to have a beautiful future full of love and meaning.

As a Christian, I am called upon by my Lord to bear the burdens of others. That means being a listening ear. That means showing care and concern. It also means speaking words of healing to those who have been oppressed. It makes me think of how in the bible it says of Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” For those who are bruised and battered from oppression, my desire is to be a healing influence in their lives.

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Last night I had the pleasure of having dinner with two new families from Iraq. They are Yazidi people who survived the genocide and lived in a refugee camp after suffering tremendous loss in their lives. For the purpose of this writing, I will refer to the group that perpetrated the genocide as the criminals not with the name they claim because criminals is a much better fit.

When the criminals came and perpetrated genocide against them, it included loss of their homes, loss of their livelihoods, and worst of all loss of loved ones and friends who were taken away and killed. The grief is unimaginable for us to comprehend. It is difficult for us Americans to wrap our brains around, to grasp, being targeted for genocide simply because of having a different religion.

Last night after we ate, they showed me pictures of their homes in Iraq and of friends and family.  As we looked at the pictures, they would pause at some of the pictures and share with me that the criminals took them. I understood right away what they meant. Their friend or loved one was taken away and killed. If the loved one was a woman or girl, it means facing the horrors of forced marriage and sexual abuse. Such grief and loss can be crippling emotionally and psychologically.

I shared with them a simple message I have shared many times over the years with refugees from many other countries. The message I shared was- Building Your New Life Here Will Honor Them. What I mean by that message is that my friends are safe here and they can build a new life. Their children can go to school here where their religion is not a factor. They and their children can have new lives and a future. By doing so, they can honor their lost loved ones and friends.

My desire is to show my friends the love of Jesus. Three simple words Jesus taught have profound meaning to me. Jesus said, “God is love.” Paul wrote in the in the bible in 1st Corinthians 13:13, “And now these three remains, faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” Being friends with my dear refugee friends has meant a lot to me over the years. My desire is to show them the love Jesus spoke of.

Showing such love many times starts with actually listening. Taking time to listen as they share their life stories. I do not have a magic wand that can erase the horrors they faced or the loss the have suffered. I wish I did. However, I can listen and be their friend. I can help them with understanding some of their new lives here in America. By helping them in small ways to build their new lives here, I help them to honor those they lost. We who are Christians are called upon by God to bear the burdens of others. I try to bear the burdens of my refugee friends.

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Recently I had a wonderful conversation with a Yazidi family over a meal. We talked about many things, but one comment from one of the sisters stuck with me and impressed me greatly. Her comment was in stark contrast to much discussion about refugees in the media and misconceptions by many Americans. There is a misconception that they are a drain to our economy and society and that they want to stay on government assistance.

My friend shared with me about how an American asked her if she liked America because of the assistance she and her family receives. She shared with that person a comment that resonated with me strongly. Her answer was, “We like Lincoln and America because- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE.”

Here we are people. I thought about how the Yazidis were labeled as less than human by those who were perpetrating genocide against them. I thought about the centuries of oppression and discrimination they have lived through. I have heard their stories about being oppressed. They like my home city of Lincoln because- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE.

Being treated with kindness and respect after years of oppression that left emotional and psychological scars made her feel human She has scars emotionally. But- HERE WE ARE PEOPLE. This caused me to reflect on that old saying-What Would Jesus Do?

What would Jesus do if he were living here in Lincoln? After all, he ate in the homes of those rejected by the self righteous hypocrites of that time. I am certain he would visit their homes, visit their community centers, and spend time with them. In Matthew 9 in the bible it says of Jesus as he looked on the crowds of people that, “He was filled with compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless…”

How will we who call ourselves Christians respond when we meet refugees? Will our hearts be filled with compassion or will we choose to remain ignorant and judge? It takes more effort to let ourselves be filled with compassion because that requires us to do something for those we have compassion for, but if we do choose compassion, we will grow closer to Jesus at the same time.

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My home city Lincoln Nebraska has the largest population of Yazidi people who have come as refugees in the United States. I have enjoyed teaching them and getting to know them the past several years. The numbers have grown since the genocide a few years ago. I can still remember seeing the video footage of Sinjar Mountain being full of people who fled from the dangers in various cities and towns in Iraq to escape the genocide.

I have felt a burden in my soul to try to spend more time with my Yazidi friends in Lincoln. They have been through terrible atrocities and are trying to make a new life here in America. I keep thinking of a John Michael Talbot song that has the lyrics of- “Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands no feet on earth but yours”. My desire is to show my Yazidi friends the love of God by helping when I can and through friendship.

Sharing a meal together and talking is a wonderful way to share friendship. I love to eat food from other countries and experience other cultures by sharing a meal. On Saturday I shared a meal of Biryani with my friend Khudaidah and Waheda. They were my students several years ago. We have kept in touch via Facebook off and on, but I wanted to catch up with them. The Biryani was delicious and the company was great.

I have to admit that our conversation was intense at times as we talked about the genocide, but I am grateful I could be there to listen and show I support them. There is no quick fix for what they are going through, but an understanding and empathetic ear can be a small piece in the puzzle of lives being pieced back together.

I hope to visit them again soon and also to check in with more of my Yazidi friends here in Lincoln as well as people from other countries and cultures and hope that in doing so I can be Christ’s hands here in my community.

 

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