You Are Safe Here- My Message to a Young Yazidi Woman in Class

Each evening before my ESL classes, I walk around the small lobby area to greet students. My desire is to help them feel welcome because I know life here is not easy for them and especially because I know what many of them have come from.

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One of the students I met while greeting people was a young Yazidi woman. I met her while she was in a class to improve reading skills until she could start higher level ESL classes. The first time I greeted her with- Choinee Havaleemah- phoentic spelling- which means hi how are you my friend, she smiled in fact she was beaming. I learned how to greet my Yazidi friends because I want them to feel welcome and SAFE.

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She is a wonderful young woman. She has a beautiful smile even though she has witnessed and lived through the horrors of what ISIS did to Yazidis during the genocide. She is small and very gentle, so I want to make sure she feels safe and secure in class. I am proud of her for overcoming the terrible ordeal she went through.

This evening I proofread the essays for the final presentation as our class comes to an end. She wrote about her experience when ISIS came and she had to flee and then her experience coming here. As I proofread her rough draft, my heart was pierced. I thought about how Jesus would feel talking with her. I thought about how Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Then I thought about the reason Jesus gave to come to him. He said, “for I am gentle of heart.”

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I talked with her privately about her rough draft and reassured her the essay was good. She told me when she wrote it sad and scary thoughts came up. So I shared with her that if those thoughts came up when she gives her presentation next Monday, to look at me and remember she is safe.

This evening was another powerful reminder for me that my desire is to show the love of Jesus, the gentleness of Jesus, the compassion of Jesus, to my refugee friends. Even as I write this, I feel sorrow over what my Yazidi friends went through at the hands of evil men. I love my Yazidi friends so much. I just wish I could do more.

 

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Being Vigilant for Our Youth/The TV Series 13 Reasons Why

This is not my usual inspirational post or humorous post. In fact I don’t really have a category to place it in from my normal categories. Today’s post is hopefully a wake up call regarding something in our culture. It may not be a popular post for views, but I don’t care about stats for this except if people read this, perhaps they will take it to heart.

Over the weekend I watched a TV show on Netflix that normally I wouldn’t watch, but a tragedy seven years ago was my motivation for watching the show. The show was 13 Reasons Why 2nd season. The tragedy seven years ago was a 19 year old girl I knew completed suicide. I was alarmed after watching the first season last year. I was EVEN MORE alarmed after watching the 2nd season. It is concerning to me that the release of the 2nd season was right at a time most kids are heading into summer break from school and will have less support.

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There are experiences that never leave us, that get stuck in our memories. When I went to the funeral for the girl and saw how devastated her family and friends were, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. She had graduated high school in May that year and completed suicide in September only a few weeks before she was supposed to start college. I called the high school the next morning to express my concern for her friends who I knew from my weekend groups at my church and who were still in the high school. The high school had not heard yet because she was not a student at the time. I was on the phone several times that day with different people at the high school. Some of the young people were upset with me for doing that, but they were okay and others watched out for them, so it was all worth it.

Out of that group of young people that I mentored and helped with English, 1 is in Medical School, 4 are in Pharmacy School, 1 got her MBA and CPA, 1 got her Masters in Architecture, 3 are in Nursing School, and the others graduated from university, all except the girl who took her own life. That still bothers me to this day. She had stopped coming to my weekend groups, so I had lost contact with her the last 1 1/2 years of her life.

Prior to completing suicide she had been listening to a song several times, “If I Die Young.” When I heard about it, I watched the video and was alarmed the video for the song showed a beautiful young woman laying in a boat on flowers and surrounded by flowers portraying a dead person while singing the song. I informed people I knew about the song and to please be watchful for young people infatuated with the song.

I am deeply concerned that a series like 13 Reasons Why is on Netflix. Netflix is great for binge watching seasons at a time which I have done with Spanish shows to practice listening to Spanish. My concern is that teens will binge watch the show 13RW because the story is centered around a teen girl completing suicide..

As a Christian, I am mindful of what the bible says about spiritual battles when it says our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces. I think we can tend to think of the battle against darkness as being like the exorcist type movies when what it really comes in like are subtle forms. 13 Reasons Why is spiritually DARK. There is no other way to put it. The only reason I watched it is to know what young people I minister to might be watching.

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After my friend completed suicide in September 2011, I went through suicide prevention training. The concern over contagion, other kids being emboldened to try it, is very real. Teens do not have a concrete concept of the forever aspect of death. If your teen or a teen you know binge watches that show, please check on them. Listen to them and talk with them not at them.

If you are thinking of suicide, or have had thoughts that there is no hope and want to end it, please call- 1-800-273-8255. You have value. There is hope.

Unfortunately we live in a day and age that being vigilant is a necessity if we want to protect the young people in our lives. If you would like to know more about suicide prevention, here is a link –suicide prevention training   Since I went through the training, I have been able to intervene for two teens that were contemplating suicide and both are alive today and doing much better.

If you want to know more about the show 13RW and why it is dangerous for youth but do not have the time to watch it, a blog I follow did an excellent job in a post describing why it is concerning. Here is the link- beautybeyondbones

A final thought is that those of us who are follow Jesus are to be a light in the darkness. A practical way to be a light is to listen and talk with teens. Maybe a teen you know is doing well but perhaps concerned about a friend or classmate. Maybe a pre-teen has watched it. Even elementary teachers I interact with had concerns about the first season. Our youth today need to hear that there are loved, have value, and that we are on their side and that God loves them and cherishes them. There are so many voices pulling them in many directions and filling their spirits with darkness. Let’s love them, listen to them, and pray for them.

3 Day Quote Challenge- A Quote That Shows Life Is An Adventure

Quoting a hobbit for the 3 Day Quote challenge? Yes, I am going to quote Bilbo Baggins and his advice to Frodo because in a light hearted way it communicates how I view my life. Biblo advised Frodo, “It is a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

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Why am I quoting Bilbo Baggins in the 3rd day of a  3 Day Quote Challenge?

Because for me life is an adventure. I never know who the Lord will bring across my path and into my life. Some days I don’t know where I will go if need arises.

Bilbo had adventures, which according to the Tolkien books were quite unnatural for a hobbit. Yet as I read the book the Hobbit, it seems to me that despite his protests, Bilbo enjoys adventure even with the troubles, detours etc.

When I think back on my life following Jesus, I realize that after I stepped out the door, I was swept away into an adventure I will never regret. Yes there have been struggles, troubles, detours etc. There have been times I wondered if I would have been better off staying at the position I had before I left for school in Minneapolis to study for the ministry.

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But God causes all things to work together for those who are called according to his purposes. The adventure God has led me into has been one of meeting people from all over the world who have come to my city as refugees and immigrants. I have experienced their cultures, foods, celebrations and best of all their friendships.

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Another aspect of my adventure has been international travel with 7 trips to Romania, 1 trip to France, 1 trip to Mexico, and 2 trips to Brazil. It has been a huge blessing to serve Jesus in those places in different ways and of course to have side trips to places like Austria, Switzerland, Germany and England.

God knows how each of us is wired because he weaved us in our mother’s wombs. He knows us better than we know ourselves, so when he calls us onto the road of adventure, the adventure of following him, he knows what that adventure should be to match how we were created. For me it is international travel and ministry. That is how I am wired and is what fulfills me the most in serving Jesus.

There are other kinds of adventures serving Jesus. What kind gives you fulfillment?

Thank you to Amy of A New Life blog for nominating me for the 3 Day Quote Challenge,

To the challenge…The rules are as follows:

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Post a quote on 3 consecutive days.
  • Share why this quote appeals so much to you.
  • Nominate 3 different bloggers for each day.

I would like to nominate a blogger I have come to really admire recently, thevoiceofpeace

Please check out The Voice of Peace and be inspired by how she overcomes with the help of God 🙂

 

Another Typically Unique Saturday Filled Me Up :)

Yesterday was another one of my typically unique Saturdays and the kind of day that filled me up spiritually, mentally, emotionally and yes physically. It all started with teaching my ESL Reading group at my church and seeing my Haitian, Japanese, and Yazidi friends there.

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A huge blessing was visiting the home of a family from Iraq with a few friends from church. My friends from Iraq are going through a rough time and to know that a few women from church came to bless them by taking them shopping today was heart warming. The wife/mother was touched and I have to admit when she started to cry, it was hard not to myself. I definitely plan to keep in touch with this family. They sent me home with a bag of apples. Yeah apples 🙂 Love apples with cheese or peanut butter.

In the late afternoon and evening, it was quinceneara time. A quinceneara is a 15th birthday celebration for a girl in Mexican culture. The girl was treated like a princess wearing a gown and having her aunts, female cousins and mother putting various types of jewelry on her and also a tiara. She danced a father/daughter dance. She danced several dances. It was her time in the spotlight and to feel like a princess.

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I met her 85 year old grandmother who flew in from Acapulco to be there. I hope I can travel at 85. That is the love of an abuela, grandmother, to travel a long distance. We had fun with sunglasses.

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about a call for help in the evening from someone struggling. The party was for this person’s daughter. What a blessing to see the family together, her daughter beaming, and my new friend doing well.

I even had a divine appointment to share Jesus with someone at Walgreens. A woman pushed a cart in for someone else and said, maybe I won’t go to hell if I do things to help people. OPEN door to share about the love of Jesus. We talked about how she can know for sure she is going to heaven if she comes to faith in Jesus and that he died for us.

So spiritually yesterday was definitely encouraging. I have found when I share and show the love of Jesus, I feel close to God.

Yesterday was also mentally and emotionally encouraging getting a chance to see a family blessed by visitors, to see a mother be able to celebrate her daughter’s 15th birthday after a difficult time a few weeks ago, and making new friends.

Yesterday was also physically a blessing because there is A LOT of good food at a quinceneara. 🙂

Oh and by the way, I even won a prize during a game for each table at the quinceneara, 🙂

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Hope your weekend is blessed.

10 Different Homes in 10 Different Cities?

No, I am not wealthy and do not own 10 different homes in 10 different cities, I wish 🙂 But then where to have them? I love so many places I have visited and so many cultures I have interacted with. But this is not about where to have homes. It is about a comment someone made to me, an observation shared with me.

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Many years ago a chaplain at a treatment center told me, “Matt you are the kind of person who could have ten different homes in ten different cities and you would thrive not just be okay.” When he said that to me, I had the blank look of ‘I don’t get it’ on my face because at the time I was numb to life and only knew I was confused, but that comment from him stuck in my head.

Fast forward to now and I understand what he was getting at. God wires each of us uniquely for what he is calling us to do. Ephesians 2:10 says “For we are his craftsmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works….” It seems from birth, relating with diverse people has been an interest of mine.  People different from me have always been a fascination of learning for me. When the chaplain observed me at that treatment center, he observed me interacting with the various groups and being at ease with them all.

That has benefited me in my ministry and work with other cultures. My home city of Lincoln is now VERY diverse. Our public school system has children from over 100 different languages. A big reason for that is refugee resettlement. Lincoln is a designated refugee resettlement city. We also have international students and immigrants. Yes Lincoln, the city in the middle of nowhere, is very diverse. On any given day, I might interact with several different cultures.

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from my birthday 10 years ago with friends from Belgium, Brazil, Congo, Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, Ukraine, and Vietnam

For example, one Friday last fall, I taught my morning class for moms from Mexico, Guatemala, Burma, Iraq, and Syria. Then I went to have coffee with friends from South Korea. Then I had a ministry appointment with someone from Vietnam. In the evening I had dinner with friends from Brazil.

That is how God wired me. Each of us is given talents and abilities and is wired differently to express God’s love. For me when I reach out to refugees, I feel what Mother Teresa said about working with the poor when she said in them she sees the face of Jesus in distressing disguise. I feel a connection to what Jesus said when he said, For God so loved the world….”

So I guess what I am getting at is that for those of us who call ourselves Christian, let’s try to remember that we have been given abilities from God to reach out and show his love to those around us. God is the craftsman and we are his craftsmanship. God has gifted us to feel at home in what he has called us to do.

How has God gifted you?

 

Home? Where is it?

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So many songs heard about home, so many friends talked about home, where is home? Searching for home, tried different places, different groups, different people, searching for home.

Home as a child was a house with no comfort, no real sense of belonging, no feeling of fitting in. A house that was full of uncertainty, anxiety, dread.

Ran away from there as a teen, but did not think it was running away from home because there was a house not a home.

Bounced around from apartment to apartment but did not feel they were home even though had them to myself.

Home? Where is it?

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Learned about the one who loves us enough to die for us. Learned we can call God father. Then learned Jesus taught that if we follow him that he and the father will make their home with us. What? Why do they want to make a home with me? Don’t they know me? Of course they do and they want to be with me. Don’t completely understand but have peace for the first time.

Free at last to explore and find home wherever I went because Jesus and the Father are with me wherever I go. Home is in Brazil. Home is in Romania. Home is at church. Home is when I visit diverse people. Home is everywhere I go because everywhere I go Jesus and the Father are with me, but home is not a place. Home is belonging. Home is love, laughter, shared life, memories.

Homes are in many places and with many people for me until my journey here ends and then I will finally and forever be home. Home in heaven with Jesus and the Father. We journey in this life as pilgrims searching for what ultimately can only be found in heaven with Jesus and the Father- Our Eternal Home.

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WWJD- Many Yazidi Refugees in My City/What Would Jesus Do?

Reading through the gospels something that stands out to me is the Jesus met people where they were. Jesus sought out people by visiting them in their homes and being at celebrations. In fact the first miracle by Jesus that we read is when he turned water into wine at a wedding feast. Visiting people from other cultures in their homes or joining them in their celebrations is one of the most enjoyable parts of my ministry and work.

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Briyani a traditional Yazidi food

My home city Lincoln has the largest number of Yazidi people in North America. I love spending time with my Yazidi friends. I have found them to be friendly and very hospitable. They have suffered terribly not just in recent years, but for centuries. The Yazidi people and Christians in places like Iraq have helped each other over the centuries during times of oppression.

This past week was the Yazidi New Year. On Sunday I went to their celebration in a park. I also went last year and had a blast. Last year I also visited my friend Rojgar and his family in their home. The food was plentiful and delicious. The friendships are meaningful. There is a lot of laughter when I visit Rojgar and his family. The picture is from before I found out I have Celiacs so my vanity makes me want to say it is before my weight loss. 🙂

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with Rojgar in his home

This year their celebration was at a park, Holmes Lake, in the late afternoon/early evening. It was great to see my friends and many of my former and current students there. I joined their large circle dance for one time around. I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being graceful 🙂

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My desire is for my Yazidi friends to feel welcome because they have not felt welcome where they came from, and of course because I want to show the love of God. So I learned how to say hi, how are you in their language. In the evenings where I teach I walk around the small lobby area and greet my Yazidi friends in the their language.

Some years ago the WWJD, What Would Jesus Do, expression was popular. That has been my thought for a long time as I interact with other cultures. I am certain about what Jesus would do if he lived in my city, a place that has the most Yazidis in all of North America. He would spend time with them, eating with them, celebrating with them, and  loving them. I am grateful God has given me the opportunity to do just that, spend time with them, eat with them, and celebrate with them and love them. Sunday afternoon was another fun time to do all four. 🙂

 

Jesus-“Let The Little Children Come to Me”/Love Justice Helps Children

A famous passage in the gospels is when the disciples were trying to keep the children from ‘bothering‘ Jesus and Jesus corrected the disciples by saying-“Let the little children come to me…”

I teach moms English in the elementary school where their children go. I enjoy interacting with them and sometimes joke with the children that maybe they need more homework. The kids of my students often ask me how their moms are doing and are so proud of their moms. Seeing their joy makes me wonder how anyone could want to harm a child.

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One of the most hideous crimes in my thinking is the terrible plague of children being sex trafficked or human trafficked for slave labor. Jesus had strong words about anyone who would harm a child when he said that it would be better for that person to have a millstone around their neck and tossed into the lake than to meet him on judgement day. It is an undeniable truth that children are on the heart of Jesus and precious to him.

As Christians we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth and to speak out against and work against evils such as trafficking of children. Isaiah 1:17 says-“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” That is why  I feel it is a privilege to support Love Justice International. By doing so, in a small way, I am seeking justice, defending the oppressed……..

My one splurge last month was buying a Love Justice Hat.

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It is my privilege to donate even the small amount I can afford knowing the work that is being done to rescue children from the clutches of evil people who would traffick them.

The executive director, Doug Dworak, is a person I have known for many years. He and his wife have devoted themselves to the ministry of Love Justice. Love Justice is in various countries fighting the trafficking of children and young women.

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My friend Doug with rescued children

Love Justice doesn’t only rescue the children. There are group homes for the children who cannot return to their families. The children are raised by foster parents who have devoted their lives to the children in the homes. The children are shown and taught the love of Jesus and given a good education. Love Justice is giving them a future and a hope.

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Love the smile

I shudder to think of what would have happened to the children in not only the pictures shared here, but also the other ones in the group homes if they hadn’t been rescued. But what about the ones not intercepted and rescued?

That is why my prayers are with Love Justice and also for the Lord to raise up more people to join in this effort whether it be with Love Justice or another organization that combats trafficking of children.

If you would like more information about Love Justice, the website is- lovejustice.ngo 

 

Scars- His Scars to Heal Ours

 

12 scars on my body tell stories of my life. Some are from surgeries like the  scar from an appendectomy when I was 21. Some are small like the small scar next to my left eye from a freak accident while setting up an outdoor activity for kids at church. The tiny scars from arthroscopic surgery on my right shoulder in 1990. The scar on my stomach when I was attacked by a dog when I was 12 is symbolic of the upheaval in my youth. The two inch scar on my left hand from a surgery to repair damage when I had a hand injury in 1996 represents my health struggles of the 1990s.

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Scars represent our wounds that have healed. Some heal over correctly but some wounds that ‘heal’ over leave places that will never be the same and sometimes not work well.

But what of the scars from wounds no one can see? The scars from being abused. Scars left from struggling with addiction. Scars left from being victimized. Scars from broken relationships. Some wounds go so deep into our souls that we wonder if they will ever scar over the way physical wounds do when they heal.

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One day He told Thomas to reach out and touch His scars from the nails that pierced his wrists and the scar from the soldiers spear that pierced his side. His scars are still there to show us His love. Having all power, he could have stopped his crucifixion, but His love for us made Him lay down His life for us.

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He says to all of us, “Look at the scars on my wrists and feet. Look at the scar in my side. My scars are for your scars.”

His scars are there because he wants to bring healing to our souls and spirits. His scarred wrists reach out to us saying, “Come to me all who are weary and find rest for your souls”

One day I reached back to his hands extended. I reached back to find rest and healing from my past as the son of an alcoholic father and mother with mental illness. Rest, oh yes rest, from the anger, confusion, doubt caused by my own sinful reactions to life.

The hands on his scarred wrists long to hold our hand and walk in this life with us. Jesus is reaching out to you. Will we take the hand offered in love and friendship offering healing for our souls?

Dad Help Me Kill The Monster

Last Saturday I enjoyed a delicious lunch and good company when I visited the home of a Yazidi family here in Lincoln. They have three small children, so when I visit, I sit at the table to eat with the husband and after we finish, we sit with the kids while the wife eats. It’s a kind of divide and conquer strategy with the kids. 🙂

While I was eating with the husband, his six year old son was playing a video game and yelled out, “Dad help me kill the monster. I can’t do it.”

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So after we finished our lunch, we went to the living room and my friend helped his son with the video game and killed the monster in the video game, so his son could keep playing.

I thought about that moment of watching a father help his son and then I thought about how that moment reminds me of what God wants to and will do for us. Jesus constantly referred to God as, “Your father in heaven.” When Jesus taught his disciples to pray, it started with, “Our Father in heaven.”

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So when we come across those monsters in life whatever they are, do we call out to our heavenly father to ask him to come help us like my friend’s six year old boy? Why do I seem to try in my own power until such time as like my friend’s son, I realize I can’t and then I ask for help?

Another thought came to my mind as I watched my friend patiently help his son. I noted that my friend is a good father, but still we all have sin. Jesus talked about how even though we have sin we give our children bread and not a stone when they tell us we are hungry and how much more God will give good things to his children when we seek him.

For those who have strained relationships with their earthly fathers or have been victims of abuse at the hands of a father, it can be difficult to envision God as a loving heavenly father, but that is exactly who he is. For some, counseling may be needed to work through those issues perhaps with a counselor or a pastor. For me the biggest help was time in prayer and reading the bible as well as other books. I was so ready to accept that God was different than my father.

For my friend’s son, asking his father for help is his right as his father’s child. It is a birthright so to speak. God will grant anyone who comes to his son Jesus the birthright of being a child of God. John 1:12- “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” 

So next time a ‘monster’ comes into our lives, let’s try to remember we have a father in heaven that will come help us.