Thankful My Students Kept Me Going Last Summer

Yesterday evening was a blessing for me. I was able to talk with a young woman who was my student in a Newcomer Refugee class last summer. She is one of my Yazidi friends. Her English level has improved a lot since she was a new refugee learning words for money, shopping, and other survival English she needed to know.

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The reason last night was a blessing was because I could let her know how much she and the other students helped me last summer due to her English level having improved. It wasn’t only me helping her and the other students, her sister, her cousin, two women from Ukraine, and a young woman from Burma. Last summer was one of my more difficult ones because it was a long process of seeing doctors to find out what was wrong.

It was also a summer of being in pain, having foggy brain, and not wanting to get out of bed most days. What kept me going and getting out of bed in the morning was knowing my newcomer refugee friends needed me in class, so each morning I would go through the slow process of getting ready to go teach. Each morning I would also pray for my refugee friends and listen to worship music to prepare for my day. After class it was off to physical therapy or appointments.

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Fortunately after all of the testing and appointments what they found out was I have Celiacs Disease which is just another autoimmune issue added to my life. My students could tell something was wrong, but I never let on how serious it might have been or how may tests I was having done etc.

So last night was a blessing because as I talked with my friend, my former student, she understood what I was saying when I told her, “You, your sister and cousin, and the other students helped me keep going last summer. Last summer was difficult for me, but you and the others were the reason I got out of bed in the mornings. Thank you.”

When we go through hard times, keeping our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith is a daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes minute by minute deal. My mornings last summer consisted of me thanking Jesus for my students, praying for them, and praying for strength for the day.

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God answered my prayers by putting people in my life that he knew I would fight for by praying for them because there have been times in my life I might have given up on me, but not on people in need like my refugee friends. Refugees are so vulnerable when they first arrive and need people in their lives who will look out for them. God knows I won’t give up on them.

 

 

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“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

As Gandalf talked with Frodo in the mountain, he shared this advice with the young hobbit who was despairing the situation they were in, and even though it is from a book/movie, such advice is so valuable for us, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”

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This picture is from a flower clock that I saw when I visited Geneva Switzerland in June 2004. Clocks are reminders that time continues to tick away. When I was young, I felt like I had all kinds of time. Now that I have more yesterdays than I will have tomorrows in this world, I realize how short the time we are given actually is.

I have been given time to live in this life at this specific time in human history. I do not want to waste my time wondering why I am living now as opposed to some other time in history. My time in this life has been appointed to me now. I have been given time to live out what was written in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His craftsmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”

Each day I try to remind myself not to waste a day. I have today and that is all that is certain. My desire is to make each day count. As a teacher, it means looking for opportunities to encourage my students and instill a sense of hope for the future as they try to learn English. By doing so I can show them the love of Christ.

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As a servant of Jesus, it means taking time to pray, sending that message of encouragement, sharing God’s love with others, and being ready to share about the eternal hope we can have in Jesus. More and more for me it means valuing the little things as well as the big things.

Opportunities are not found only on a ministry trip to another country, they are waiting for us each day as we go about our daily lives. We never know where, when, or how the small things for us can lead to something much bigger.

Last December I had a new Yazidi student start my class. She had only arrived in America a few weeks before she came to my class. I had learned how to greet my Yazidi students in their language. I greeted her with choyneh havalemah, phonetic spelling, which means hello my friend. It was a small thing to me but a huge thing for her to have a teacher say hello my friend in her language after what the Yazidis have been through. It opened the door to a wonderful friendship with her and her husband and yes I have had opportunities to share Jesus with them.

But even if it is only a small thing that does not seem to lead much, I try to remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat……….. I tell you whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it for Me.” As I try to show His love, Jesus considers it as being done to Him. That alone should be sufficient motivation to make each day count by showing the love of God to others whether in little ways or big ways.

You Are Safe Here Part 2- My Yazidi Student Did Great :)

There is someone that will read this who needs to know something. The person I am writing about will see it and I want her to know how PROUD I am of her. This is a message for her to know I respect and appreciate her and maybe my followers and readers will appreciate it and be inspired by her

Last week I wrote about my student who wrote about her experience as a young Yazidi woman when ISIS invaded her area of Iraq. The Yazidi people were victims of genocide and terrible atrocities at the hands of criminals.

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For me it is important to give my refugee friends a voice. I want them to know that I respect them. I want them to feel they are valued and important to me. It is SO SAD for me to think that ISIS labeled my Yazidi friends as less then human to try to “excuse” the terrible crimes committed that there is NO EXCUSE for.

I try to let my Yazidi friends know I am their friend by helping them, teaching them, and joining in on their celebrations like I did in April when I danced with them at their holiday celebration.

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Last night My student gave her presentation about what her family and people endured when ISIS came. She is such a gentle soul. She is all of, maybe, 5 feet tall. She still has a beautiful smile even though she went through an ordeal we cannot imagine. Her family lost their home. People she knew were killed.

Having experienced the love of Jesus, my desire is to show his love to people from all over the world. Jesus has blessed me with the opportunity to meet people from all over the world and the experience has left me with a strong appreciation for the value of each person, regardless of where they came from, their culture, their religion, their ethnic group etc. Each person I meet is FULLY a human being that God loves. Each person I meet is someone that Jesus loved so much that he died for them.

I was SO PROUD of my student last night. She shared the reality of what her people suffered and how it affected her. She kept her poise while presenting about something that affected her so personally. She is a remarkable young woman. I am confident she will have a good future here in America. 🙂

Respecting the dignity of each person is something that seems imperative for us. It is as simple as this- Jesus loves all people, so we should too.

 

 

 

 

Music Mondays- Scars to Your Beautiful By Alessia Cara and I Am No Victim by Kristene DiMarco

Last September I went to a Harvest Moon Festival at Antelope Park here in my home city Lincoln. It was put on by the Asian Community Center. In the past it would have been only groups from East Asia, but much to the Center’s credit they have included people from other parts of Asia such as the Yazidis from Iraq and Syria. There was a performance by some Yazidi girls that grabbed my attention and made me think.

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The girls, high school age, danced a routine to the song Scars to Your Beautiful by Alessia Cara. I had not heard the song before that but as I watched the girls dance and listened to the lyrics, I thought about Yazidi girls and women. When ISIS came into their area, they kidnapped girls and young women and forced them into horrors I won’t go into in this posting. The thought that these Yazidi girls were free to perform in public with no fear of being targeted hit me, so I searched for the song on youtube. So yes, I am sharing a secular song in this post because there is an important message in it.

With so much focus on outer appearance in our culture, sadly the people who struggle most are girls and women. Yet God sees beauty in all girls and women and desires for them to be his daughters.

Physical scars can also leave emotional scars. But there are also scars we cannot see that are spiritual and emotional scars from being victims of abuse, rejection, struggles with addiction etc.

There are women whose blogs I follow that I respect for how they have been willing to share about how God has brought emotional and spiritual healing into their lives.

I think of the young woman who bravely shares about how Jesus helped her overcome anorexia in her blog Beauty Beyond Bones at beautybeyondbones.com.

I think of the young woman who shares about ho God helped her overcome violence against women and speaks up for women in her blog The Voice of Peace at thevoiceofpeace18.wordpress.com.

I think of the woman who shares how God helped her overcome depression in her blog Called to Be A Writer at calledtobeawriter.wordpress.com.

I think of the woman who shares how God has helped her overcome addiction in the family in her blog A New Life at anewlife256599767.wordpress.com.

These are excellent blogs to read. I hope you check them out. I think this is on my mind because of my courageous student who will share this evening about escaping with her family before ISIS came.

Being a victim can leave scars. Jesus still has the scars in his wrists, feet and side from when he was crucified on the cross. His scars are there for our healing. He does not want to leave us as victims though. He wants to give us freedom over the abuse, addiction, or anything else that would keep us down as victims.

I wrote about scars and how his scars can heal ours in a previous post- scars.

That brings me to the second song I would like to share, I Am No Victim by Kristene DiMarco. She sings about how we are what God says we are, so we are not victims. It is a powerful song that can bless and minister to our souls.

Hope your Monday is blessed.

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.

 

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. 🙂

 

The 3rd Anniversary of the Yazidi Genocide- My Heart is Filled with Compassion and Sadness

In my work with refugees, I hear their stories and listen to them share about the horrendous things they endured. They survive atrocities that most of us cannot imagine. Hearing their stories evokes emotions such as anger at the perpetrators, but the two emotions that are predominant are compassion and sadness. Sadness comes from empathy as I listen to their stories of loss and grief. Compassion comes from God filling my heart with love for them.

Today, August 3rd, marks the 3rd anniversary of the most recent genocide against the Yazidi people. A band of thugs forced their way into Iraq and targeted those who were from different religions for genocide. The two main targets were the Yazidi people and the Christians. Today is a sad day in that it commemorates the death and suffering of thousands of people.

In June 2016, I read a book They Say We Are Infidels by Mindy Belz. In the book she documents the atrocities Christians faced through the years including when the band of thugs came in 2014. She also shared about the Yazidi people. When I read the book, I thought about my Yazidi friends here in Lincoln and began to pray for them. As I prayed one morning, I felt a wave of compassion flood my heart and soul for the Yazidi people. It was as if Jesus was asking me to love them for him. The person who loved us so much that he gave his life for us, Jesus, was asking me to love the victims of the genocide.

In July 2016, in one of my evening classes, I had three Yazidi students. I had had Yazidi students before in my classes and enjoyed teaching them and enjoyed their friendship. But something changed for me in the summer of 2016. Since that time, I have been in their homes, I have listened to them, I have prayed for them, I have felt the love Jesus has for them. Now it is seems as if my savior Jesus, has me showing his love to they who suffered so much loss.

Visiting them in their homes, sharing with them, eating with them, and trying to help them with their new lives in America, have been wonderful experiences for me, profound and yet at times so terribly sad. I have found the Yazidi people to be fun, peace loving, family oriented, and friendly people. It is hard for me to understand why someone would seek to harm them. Such atrocities speak to the evil that can come from the hearts of people. The only response I can think of is to love my Yazidi friends and try to help them with their new lives in America.

It makes me think of Jesus in Matthew 9 where it records,  “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus was filled with overwhelming compassion when he saw the people suffering. How can I not also be filled with compassion for my Yazidi friends who suffered so much. Compassion is the response that floods every fiber of my being when I spend time with my Yazidi friends.

Celebrating Freedom- A Karen Refugee and Yazidi Refugees- Their First 4th of July

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.

Your dream did not end. It is on a different path. A Conversation with a Yazidi refugee.

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.

You Are A Person. Your Feelings Are Important.- A message I have shared with Yazidi Refugees and Refugees from other countries.

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.