Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Amanda, Jonathan and John's Sierra Leone Thanksgiving

I have been friends with Fatu for several months now. I get to watch her little grandson while she goes to English classes, and we always laugh because he cries for her the whole time she is gone.

Fatu speaks very limited English, but I really wanted the chance to get to know her better. Several weeks ago I asked her if my friends and I could bring a Thanksgiving celebration to her family's house. She was so excited, and so was I!

Fatu lives with her son and daughter-in-law (and their children) who arrived in Saint Louis seven years ago. She came several years later to join them. They are all from Sierra Leone, a tiny country in Western Africa that has been recovering from a brutal civil war that lasted for over 10 years (1991-2002). A discontented revolutionary army, with the help of outside aid, attempted to overthrow the government in Sierra Leone and ignited a civil struggle that displaced over 2 million people and killed 50,000.

My friends Amanda, Jonathan, John came with us to spend the evening with this family last night. We were able to share some traditional American Thanksgiving food and try some traditional Sierra Leone Cuisine! Fatu explained to me that on holidays in Sierra Leone, everyone goes to the beach, shares food, dances and swims together in the ocean. Sounds like a perfect holiday to me!

Friends, as we give thanks this week please remember to extend the things you are thankful for, such as loving friendships, community, good food, and laughter with ALL of our neighbors :)

(The Refugee Connection program operates through Oasis International Ministries. If you are interested in getting involved, visit www.oasisinternational.info, or just let me know!)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Thomas and Stacie's Bhutanese Thanksgiving

Last night I was able to introduce my friends, Thomas and Stacie, to this wonderful family from Bhutan. The parents fled Bhutan over 16 years ago, and all of their children were born in refugee camps in Nepal, where they spent their entire lives prior to relocation in Saint Louis

Many people have never even heard of Bhutan, let alone the refugee situation there. Here at Oasis, we meet newly arrived Bhutanese families all the time.
The political situation that occurred in Bhutan has to do with ethnicity and culture. There was an ethnic group in Bhutan who were the descendants of Nepali migrants. These people still practiced Nepali culture in Bhutan even though they were Bhutanese citizens. In the 1990s, the government of Bhutan decided that the Nepali ethnic group was a threat to their country's ancient culture and identity, as they saw globalization occurring in other countries nearby and around the world. They stripped the Nepali ethnic group of their citizenship and told them they had to go "back" to Nepal or essentially face the possibility of being killed. Many fled to Nepal, but the Nepali government wouldn't grant them citizenship there either. Most of the Bhutanese refugees arriving inSt Louis have spent over 20 years living in refugee camps in Nepal.

This family welcomed us into their home, even though their English was limited and they weren't sure why we wanted to come and share food with them. We were able to share the American tradition of Thanksgiving with them as we learned about Nepali traditions and festivals. We were able to ask many questions about Bhutanese/Nepali culture with the help of their teenage daughters, who giggled through the process of trying to translate. They shared about religious traditions and shared Hindi and Nepali music videos with us. When we asked if they could teach us to dance like the people in the videos, they said we should just go take lessons. (Which I actually think would be pretty fun..)

Before we left, we all make a big sign with pictures of things that we are thankful for:

Friends, as we give thanks this week please remember to extend the things you are thankful for, such as loving friendships, community, good food, and laughter with ALL of our neighbors :)

(The Refugee Connection program operates through Oasis International Ministries. If you are interested in getting involved, visit www.oasisinternational.info, or just let me know!)

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


My days speed by so quickly that I have very little time to process what they really mean. I think and plan about how I will be able to get things done most efficiently and correctly. I battle stress way too often. I over-commit myself; I have to work and I have to keep working on my education, I intern to become qualified for future jobs. Then I make myself take time to invest in the lives of those around me, because that is what I really want to do.

Yesterday I spent the morning actually reflecting on the beauty that I see around me every day. I was thinking about possessions and how even the car I own is simply a tool that helps me to get to the places I need to be every day. I held a little girl from Iraq and saw the beauty in her big brown eyes. I watched the birds in the sky. I was driving and thinking about optimism; how joy is a choice, and I just haven't been remembering to choose it lately. I was thinking about joy.

It was raining.

Then as I slowed down to exit the highway, my car started hydroplaning on the wet road and slowly slid into the metal barrier on the side. The front side of my car was crushed. My thoughts switched from joy to irony. Then defeat.

I guess sometimes things happen in our lives that we can't control. But we still have a choice to make about ourselves. Whether or not the front of my car is smashed doesn't change who I am, unless I allow it to. Because at the end of the day, that Iraqi girl has the same beautiful eyes, the birds are still in the sky, and the car that I use as a tool still works. The choice that I was thinking about is still there. It's always there, now matter how much extreme irony fills my day. And I can let the cosmetic condition of a car define my perspectives today, or I can choose to transcend the discouragement I feel about that. I hope I can do the latter...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Worth Sharing

Over the past couple months, I have gradually become aware of something that I find to be strangely inspiring, slightly troubling, but altogether interesting and very much requiring response on my part.

Last month I had a wedding.

Through this event and the process that surrounded it, I became the recipient of innumerable messages, both verbal and nonverbal, that pointed to one common theme - That people are actually interested in my life. That they are curious about the things that I do, and why I do them. That people have formed perceptions of who I am based on what they see of my life.

The reason that I find this slightly troubling is that I know that for many people, I have only provided a small glimpse of my life, or who I am, for that matter. It troubles me that people may form perceptions of who I am based on the limited information I have shared, or perhaps more importantly, on the lack of my physical presence in their own lives. Now, this is not to say that I have not been overwhelmed with kindness and love and messages of inspiration in the past several months. Because I have indeed. But I feel that I have fallen short in  being deliberate about sharing the stories that come out of my days with anyone but those who I happen to come in contact with on a regular basis. I have realized that there are many people out there who wish to remain connected with my life, and I have not provided them with any avenue through which this might be possible. Because of the limitations of time that I'm sure we all feel pressing in on our lives, I cannot physically see and talk to all who I wish to be connected to on a regular basis. My life, like all of our lives, is so busy. But it is busy because it is bursting with stories that are in progress. And I am beginning to realize that there may be more people who are interested in hearing these stories than I thought. I tend to be very cynical and tell myself that my life doesn't really matter to many people. But I may actually be doing many people a disservice by not sharing the simple stories that come out of my days.

First, I am worried that there are many people who perceive me as solely tired and busy, as I often am. But the things that cause me to be tired and busy are where the beauty lies. And I'm realizing that they are worth sharing.

Secondly, stories have the power to connect and inspire. I've drawn inspiration from the stories of so many other peoples' lives. I'd be doing them a disservice to not share my own with those who happen to be interested.

So I will try to write often.

It is my hope that the stories and reflections shared here will be Kingdom stories, for my heart knows no greater allegiance than to the Kingdom of God.. Where the weak are strong and the last are first, war and oppression are no more, and all is made right. This is the driving force behind all that I hope for, and I pray that this Kingdom is being made manifest in my life. That, I suppose, is worth sharing as well.