Walking Alongside Friends who Struggle/Spotlight on a New Blogger

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Mental health issues can be misunderstood by some who follow Jesus especially if they do not struggle with them. However, we are called to bear one another’s burdens in Galatians 6:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ”

Throwing out a quick cliche or a bible verse and expecting that to fix the problem can actually do more harm than good. Coming along side as a friend is most helpful, but that requires understanding and patience on our part.

I loved Hannah’s story–Vulnerability– in coping with social anxiety. Her blog is Grace to be Imperfect at gracetobeimperfect.com. Through sharing her story, she sheds light on what it is like for people with Social Anxiety. She is a new blogger and I highly recommend reading her post.

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A listening ear, a helpful hand, a prayer partner, and trusted friend are what can help a person who is struggling.

I have found that for my refugee friends who have experienced trauma listening to them is a gift to them. I can’t take away the trauma they have experienced. I wish I could.But by listening to them and helping them as they start their new lives here, they find they have a friend they can trust.

Because we read about miracles in the bible that happened suddenly, we can make the mistake of thinking God always works that way. Yes, God does still work miracles. But he also works through us to comfort others. Paul shared about it in 2 Corinthians 1:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God”

We can be of comfort for those who struggle with issues like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress by being a friend who walks alongside them as they seek help.

Please check out Hannah’s blog. Thank you for reading. God Bless

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Building A New Life

One thing I try to instill in new refugees is that whatever job they take is their first job in America. We talk about building a life here step by step. Their new lives are not going to happen overnight.

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Starting a new life takes time. It isn’t easy to be patient with the process. They need to learn survival English, get a first job, get their kids in school, get things over time for their apartments, and go to many appointments.

I explain to them the importance of continuing with their English learning, so they can improve their lives here in the future.

When I teach newcomer refugees about building their new lives here, I think about how God helps us to build a new life in Jesus. Paul wrote about it in Philippians 1:

“being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

When I think about who I was and what I was like 30 years ago when I rededicated my life to Jesus, I realize how much I have changed and grown because of God working patiently in my life. He works in our lives to prepare us and help us grow. He has a purpose in mind for us as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

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Some changes can happen quickly such as giving up old bad habits. But the realization of what he is calling us to and the changes in us that go along with that process takes times. I did not realize what he was calling me until 11 years after I rededicated my life to Jesus. It happened step by step, day by day, through being willing to try new things and most of all being led bu Jesus.

We are always under construction by the master builder Jesus. The good news is that the master builder loves us and wants the best for us.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Before We Ask, God Knows

I am substitute teaching a Newcomer Refugee Class for a few weeks. It is a blessing for me to welcome newcomers to America knowing the trauma they have been through, and the mixed emotions they are experiencing such as joy for being here, fear of the unknown, and sadness to leave behind their lives in the their home countries that are not safe for them.

Having taught refugees from places that are always warm, one of the little things I do is look at their feet to see what they are wearing. I want to find out if they have shoes or not because even though it is summer time now, in three months it will be late September and cooler weather soon after that. I know what they will need before they will. Sure enough my 6 students, five from Burma and 1 from Sudan, were all wearing flip flops

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Because I have lived in my city most of my life, I know what they will experience. I know what they will need before they will.

It makes me think about God our heavenly father and what Jesus taught about prayer in Matthew 6:

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him”.

God knows what we need before we ask. He knows because he is with us in the present and in our future at the same time. God does not have the boundaries of time. He created time for us to live in, but he is not bound by time. So he knows what is in our future because he is already there.

He knows before we ask.

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But he wants us to ask, so we can grow in our relationship with him,

As someone who lives with chronic illness and the anxiety sometimes caused by the chronic illnesses I have, I take comfort in knowing that God already knows. But he wants us to come to him.

Thank you for reading. God Bless. 🙂

World Refugee Day/Jesus Was A Refugee

There are so many aspects of Jesus’s life and ministry when he was on earth. One that I think gets overlooked is the fact that Jesus began his earthly life as a refugee. We read in Matthew 2:

“When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt to escape King Herod’s soldiers. The soldiers did come and killed all of the male children 2 years of age and under.

Fleeing to escape the threat of danger, oppression, and death is what a refugee does. Jesus began his earthly life as a refugee. So let me ask you, Do you think Jesus has a place in his heart for refugees? Also what should our attitude and response as Christians be to refugees living in our cities?

I feel blessed that Jesus called me to teach, help, and show his love to refugees living in my city. They have come here from literally all over the world.

I have met thousands of refugees over the years. Some faces and stories stay with me such as the 90 year old grandmother I met at her grandson’s wedding. They are refugees from Burma and part of The Karen People. .

When I join in cultural celebrations, I often think about the reality for my refugee friends in the countries they fled from such as joining my Yazidi friends to celebrate their New Year in April. They fled genocide to come here. They lived under oppression for centuries. Now they live here in freedom.

.I have come to appreciate what Mother Teresa meant when she said of the poorest of the poor she helped in India:

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise”

My hope is to be the hand of a hopeful stranger reaching out a hand to refugees in my city as one of my favorite songs, A Safe Place to Land.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Music Mondays- Fighting for Me by Riley Clemmons

You stand up for me
In the darkest night
When my faith is weak
You’re still by my side
You will never stop fighting for me
You will never stop fighting for me

I have been reflecting on one of the many things Jesus does for us. John wrote about it in 1 John 2:

“My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.”

Jesus is our advocate speaking up for us advocating for us before God the Father. When we have failed or just feel like we have failed, Jesus speaks on our behalf.

My ministry and work with refugees gives me an appreciation for Jesus’s role as our advocate. My refugee friends at times need someone who will speak up for them and be their advocate. One example is what happened to a Yazidi family that I know.

A woman who worked for the property management company the family rented a house through visited them each month collecting cash for rent. She gave them a receipt each time, but kept the money for herself. They received a letter letting them know that because they were several months behind on rent, they would be evicted. The husband showed me the letter and receipts. I had him come to the police station with me to file a report. The police investigated, the woman was arrested, the company fired her and a letter of apology was sent to the family,

When someone tries to take advantage of my refugee/immigrant friends, it makes me mad and I will do whatever I can to help them.

There are so many different pitfalls in life. It is encouraging to me to remember that Jesus advocates for us and fights for us. He is always by our side. He is our eternal big brother who will never let go of us.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

June Already?

It really seems time has gone fast this year. It is already June. June has been a month of adventures for me in the past. I have traveled internationally for ministry trips Romania, France, Mexico and Brazil in June. When June comes, I usually have a sense of anticipation wondering what adventure the Lord has in store for me.

This year I do not have any travel plans. It doesn’t have the feel of anticipation for adventure, but my hope is to still be useful in showing the love of Jesus.

It will start today as I visit a Mandean family from Iran. I love this family and it is a difficult time for them because the husband’s father passed away in Iran 45 days ago. We will eat their traditional food for such an occasion of fish and rice. This family is special to me. When I visited them with a young couple from my church, they told my friends from my church, “Matt is part of our family.” 🙂

My hope is that this month while I have more free time due to break time for all of my classes, I will have the opportunity to visit many families from other countries. But there is something that needs to come first. I love what Psalm 37 says:

“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart “

The desires of my heart have changed over the years. The more time I spend with Jesus, the more my heart desire is to share his love. So this month of break time my first priority is more time with Jesus in prayer, listening to worship music, and reading my bible.

Welcome June. It will be interesting to see what the Lord has in store for me. What are your plans for June?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Reflecting on Graduations

Last weekend I went to the high school graduation party for my youngest niece. I was happy to stop by and congratulate her. I also had the thought of how quickly the years went by because I still remember praying for her the day she was born.

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Yesterday I went to the graduation party for a daughter of friends from church. It was great to see friends from church there and a blessing to see a special family celebrate their daughter’s achievement. It was also the first time I went to a graduation party that had root beer floats. For my readers in other countries, root beer is a type of cola not beer and we put vanilla ice cream in it to make a float.

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Whenever I go to the graduation ceremony or party for refugee friends, it has an extra meaning. For that family, it represents hope rising from the distress they have been through. For a refugee graduating, it represents an accomplishment achieved while studying in a second, third, or fourth language.

Several years ago, I had a group of young people from Vietnam that I helped with English and preparing for college. Going to their high school graduation ceremonies was a tremendous blessing. Their parents worked hard in meat packing plants to support their children working towards their futures.

There has been an unspoken reason going to such celebrations has been a blessing for me. It goes back when I was in Junior High, That was when it began, There were no ceremonies for me, no birthday celebrations, and no family at my 9th grade promotion. So when it came time for things like university graduation, I didn’t tell anyone, I simply had my diploma mailed to me.

I don’t regret going through what I experienced because it has part of what has made me who I am today. It has given me much more empathy as I help my refugee friends. It is also part of my motivation to do whatever I can to help refugee and immigrant youth to realize their dreams of attaining higher education.

All of that makes me think about how the bible talks about God comforts us so we may in turn comfort others with the comfort we received from God in 2 Corinthians 1.

It also causes me to reflect on the truth of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

Even the negative experiences in our past Jesus will work for the good if we let him guide us through this life and ask him to be our Savior. Whatever our present circumstances are, if we give them to Jesus, he can work through them for a future blessing we have no idea of at the time.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

A Safe Place to Land

My life and ministry for the past 20 years has been all about helping refugees and immigrants to feel that my home city is a safe place to land in hopes that they can see Jesus as a safe place to land.

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I have listened as they shared their stories of terrible loss and tragedy. The suffering they have been through is unfathomable for those of us who live in western countries.

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My desire has been to be the hand of a stranger that reaches out to show them a safe place to land.

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I never found a song that expressed how my refugee friends feel and my desire to reach out to them until recently I listened to a secular song by Sara Bareilles and John Legend, A Safe Place to Land. The song captures so many things for me.

There are so many suffering people around us in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, if we would only reach out and be the hand of a hopeful stranger as the song says. Maybe it is the single mom, the person who struggles with depression.anxiety, the person who doesn’t know their father, the person living in poverty feeling trapped or the victim of abuse.. There are so many suffering people around us.

Do we want to be the hand of a hopeful stranger, a light in the dark, to show them a safe place to land until the sun comes up in their lives as the song says?

As I grow older and my body is racked with the effects of chronic illness, I pray for the strength to keep reaching out the hand of a hopeful stranger,

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

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, 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?

An Avocado Salad + A Refugee Family= Me Learning Something

I have the opportunity to spend time with friends from many different countries/cultures every week, actually every day. I teach them English, help them with issues related to living in America, and spend time with them as friends. What they may not realize is that I learn from them. Sometimes I learn life lessons from them. I always enjoy learning about their cultures. Sometimes it is something that seems minor, but I appreciate it so much.

One example of something that may sound trite or silly to you, but I appreciate learning, is that I like avocados.

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All my life I assumed I didn’t like avocados because they were used to make guacamole and well whenever I looked at guacamole, it made me think of something I won’t mention because I don’t want to gross you out. So for years, I didn’t eat avocados and avoided guacamole at parties.

Then one day I went to visit a refugee family from Iran that I had been helping. They wanted me to come for dinner as a way to thank me for helping them. I love Iranian food, so I was excited to join them for dinner.

I got there and the wife/mother told me their 15 year old daughter made salad for the first time because I was coming for dinner. So I knew that I had to “like” whatever she made and let her know how much I liked it because she had never made salad before and in her mind, I was an honored guest.

We sat down for dinner and I looked at the salad and saw it had avocado, tomato, onion, and bits of cheese. No problem I told myself because I had a glass of Pepsi as back up to wash down the taste of avocado and not let it show to the girl that I didn’t like the salad. So I took a bite of the salad as she watched not wanting to disappoint her.

Lo and behold, I took my first bite of the salad and discovered something. I LIKE AVOCADOS. That may not sound like much to you, but it opened up a new culinary world for me. Now I  enjoy guacamole too. Another benefit for me- Avocados are healthy. I eat them with other veggies a couple of times a week. They are good with eggs too. I even make my own version of guacamole sometimes.

So she was happy to see me eat three servings of her salad and I discovered I love avocados. It was a win/win situation 🙂

A slightly humorous story but one that illustrates my experience in life. As I seek to serve others, I learn and grow. My refugee friends add to my life in so many ways. My hope is that they also learn that God loves them as I help them and share life with them.