Fruit of a Welcoming Week Brunch

 “Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:1-2

 

I don’t know if a 12-year-old girl and her Persian father are truly angels, but it felt like that to me when they came to our rescue a few weeks after meeting them! It began with Welcoming Week last year.

My husband, Steve and I were excited by the thought of setting aside some days to honor our community’s immigrants and their contributions to our culture and commerce. We knew that many of our neighbors came here from other countries, but we hadn’t had a chance to meet them. Welcoming Week seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We live on West Lake Sammamish Parkway, a hilly street with fast-moving traffic and steep driveways. There are no sidewalks or gathering places where neighbors might get acquainted, so often people only know whoever lives next door.

We decided to walk to six or seven houses in each direction and invite the people we met to brunch on Sunday of our set-aside week.  We printed an invitation to hand out and included the following note along with our names and email address:

Dear Neighbors

Because of the long driveways on our busy street, this isn’t an easy place to meet the people who live nearby. Please join us for Sunday brunch on the 24th, so we can get to know each other. Families welcome. Please let us know if you can come. We look forward to seeing you!

It was fun meeting neighbors and discovering homes we’d never seen before tucked into the hillside. Everyone seemed surprised and pleased to be invited. Some people said they would arrive a little late because of their worship service and we learned about their faith.

On the appointed day, about 24 people came and there was great fellowship. There were neighbors from Taiwan, France, and Iran, as well as many parts of this country. We had learned that one girl would be coming on her birthday, so we had cake and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and “Hip, Hip, Hooray!”

We hadn’t asked anyone to bring food, but several people did. One man brought fresh eggs from the hens he proudly showed us when we met on our invitations walk! People exchanged email addresses and business cards and when we asked if they’d like to gather again to map the neighborhood for emergency preparedness, they all said, “Yes!” The day turned out better than we could have imagined!

The people we met told us how much they appreciated the personal invitation and the chance to connect with the families around them. They wanted a more personal sense of community and many commented that it’s a rare pleasure to be invited into someone’s home for a meal.

Because we live on a lake, in the weeks that followed, a family collected donations for their school fund-raiser, traveling from house-to-house by paddleboard and canoe to canvas their now-familiar neighbors.

Steve and I were invited to dinner with three families: our Muslim hosts, a Jewish couple, and the two of us. We had a wonderful sharing experience. And it was the host father and his daughter, our brunch birthday girl, who came to our aid a few weeks later when we needed an emergency babysitter for our granddaughters!

It’s been almost a year since we followed the impulse to reach out to our neighbors. We’re looking forward to doing it again soon. Welcoming Week is a great way to further the BelPres mission to be a warm and welcoming multi-ethnic community and bring peace and healing to the places we live, work and play.

 

Welcoming Week

September 14-23, 2018

Ways You Can Participate:

  • Read and discuss: Welcoming the Stranger
  • Watch the documentary screening of 8 Borders 8 Days
  • Join the Facing Racism Bible Study
  • Volunteer at Talk Time to converse with new English speakers.
  • Look online for community events in your local cities.
  • Invite your neighbors to a neighborhood potluck or barbecue.
  • Plan a meal with friends, each inviting someone who’s new to our community.
  • Worship with New Hope Revival Church at 11 a.m. in the BelPres Upper Campus Building.
  • Reach out to people you don’t know after church services.
  • Pray about ways you can bring healing and peace in the places you live, work and play.
  • Share your ideas with others; then, act on one of them.

Message from Dr. Scott Dudley on Family Separation

Like many of you, I have been saddened by the reports of families being separated at the border, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting news accounts and social media comments. It can be paralyzing, and it can be hard to know what to do.

Many public figures from conservatives like Franklin Graham, to a variety of politicians from all parties, have stated that separating children from parents is wrong and is not biblical. I agree with that and I’m encouraged by reports this morning that the President will sign an order to end the practice. I hope that happens.

At BelPres we have taught that there are legitimate differences of opinion about what US Immigration law should be, and there are people of good will on all sides of this issue. We have also taught that the Bible is clear that we are to treat the immigrant and foreigner in our midst with justice, mercy, and compassion (Exodus 12:49, Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:33-34, Leviticus 24:22; Deuteronomy 10:18-19; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Jeremiah 22:3-5; Ezekiel 47:21-22; Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:1-2, to name a few).

Therefore, I’d invite us all to pray for families that have been separated, and pray for wisdom, mercy, and justice for all elected leaders to find a fair and just permanent resolution to the problem. We can also continue to hold politicians from both parties accountable to argue less and work together to find permanent solutions. For further information from a non-partisan Christian source, we can also go to worldrelief.org.

Lord Jesus, we pray that you give all of us and our leaders wisdom to find a solution that reflects your heart for all people, and we pray for your strength for separated families.

-Scott Dudley

The Final Project

From various churches and denominations, 17-35 year-old Christian leaders study together weekly for the yearlong DOVE’s Onyx leadership program. In December, the Phnom Penh Onyx students presented what they learned in their final graduation requirement from the program using skits and games.
To celebrate their accomplishment, the students from Phnom Penh and Kampong Chhang campuses went on year-end retreat. The retreat was an opportunity for students to reflect on their spiritual and emotional growth, and apply what they learned. The Onyx students faced a real-life “final project” challenge during the retreat.
Ms. Khantey was one of a Phnom Penh student who shared her testimony. Her difficult relationship with her mom made her believe she didn’t love her. The Onyx Five Love Languages program helped her see her mom’s love and care for her. Khantey also learned much from the leadership lessons. Khantey’s teacher who had originally told her she had no ability to lead, later praised her for the great job leading worship music and saw God work through her.

Khantey didn’t get enough sleep so she was tired the next day when we visited a scenic campground 12 miles from the city. We continued to On Long Khiav and hiked the ¾ mile uphill to a waterfall. The others told Khantey that she should rest but she wanted to go with the group. With the help of another Phnom Penh student, she was able to reach the waterfall but felt too weak to swim. Khantey headed back down the trail first with some of the Kampong Chhnang students. She fainted halfway down but they couldn’t revive her. A student and two DOVE staff carried her down as there is no ambulance service in rural Cambodia. They took a motorcycle taxi while a student held her to the nearest doctor 2 miles away. That doctor wasn’t equipped to help her, so we took her to a private hospital 10 miles further where an Onyx student, Mrs. Houng had a relative.

When everyone else got back to the bus, they were worried so they prayed for her. On the way, we stopped at a government health center, where the doctor gave her oxygen, reviving her somewhat and confirmed the need to take her to the hospital. DOVE Kampong Chhnang Coordinator borrowed a truck from the campground owner to take Khantey from the health center to the hospital. Several students also wanted to accompany her. Since it was 5pm on a Saturday, staff had already left the hospital. Fortunately, Mrs. Houng’s relative and two other doctors were still there. We thought Khantey might have to stay overnight. But after we prayed and she received IV electrolytes, she was alert and talking. She rejoined the students at the campground for the evening BBQ.

Through this experience, the students applied the Onyx lessons of love and sacrificial leadership. We were touched by the Kampong Chhnang students’ willingness to serve since they had only met Khantey once before. We praised God for Khantey’s recovery and for the people who helped along the way. In our leadership journey, regardless of good or bad things, we thank God in all circumstances and have learned this is part of God’s reshaping process.

Praying for Muslims during Ramadan

The evening of May 15 marks the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month for all Muslims.  Every year, Muslims look forward to Ramadan with great excitement.  It’s a time characterized by religious zeal and deeper community with other Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” comes from the Arabic root word for “parched thirst”.  It is expressive of the hunger and thirst Muslims feel while they fast from all food, drink and other physical desires from dawn to sunset for 30 days.  Muslims consider fasting as an act of faith and worship towards Allah and as atonement for sins.

A typical day starts with getting up early and sharing a meal together before the fast begins at dawn. Prayers are offered throughout the day until the fast is finally broken at sunset.  Then, participants will eat together and go to the Mosque, where a part of the Qur’an will be read and a final prayer offered.

The last ten days of Ramadan are particularly significant, especially the 27th night called the ‘Night of Power’ or the ‘Night of Destiny.’ This is when Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Qur’an.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to purify the soul, refocus attention on God and practice self-discipline and sacrifice. Through fasting, a Muslim sympathizes with those who are hungry and have very little to eat every day. Through increased devotion, Muslims seek to draw closer to their Creator.  Through increased charity, Muslims foster generosity toward others.

For 12 years, Belpres has joined with Christians around the world in praying for Muslims during Ramadan using the “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” guide.  Each day, the guide introduces you to specific Muslim people and places where they live, like Cairo, Egypt.  You’ll read the stories of Muslims who have encountered Jesus during this holy month and learn specific things to pray.

“We are in the midst of the greatest turning of Muslims to Christ in 14 centuries of Muslim-Christian interaction.  More than 80% of all the Muslim movements to Christ in history have occurred in the past two to three decades, a time period that coincides with the modern prayer movement for Muslims.  At the heart of this modern prayer movement is 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World.” David Garrison, author of ‘A Wind in the House of Islam.’

 

Feel free to pick up a copy of the “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” on the info-walls around BelPres today or download a PDF version at www.30daysprayer.com.   Join the great movement of Christians who are praying throughout Ramadan. 

Our Asylee Friends

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

Twenty-two members of the BelPres community have partnered as a “Good Neighbor Team” (GNT) with World Relief Seattle, a non-profit organization working with local churches to provide refugee resettlement services.  The GNT’s purpose is to come alongside immigrants granted asylum or refugee status to help with their start in the United States. (Asylee: a person who is seeking or has been granted political asylum)

A little over a month ago, we met Walter from Cameroon (a country in Central Africa), Abdulmanan and Teddy, both from Ethiopia (a country in the horn of Africa). All three men were recently granted asylum in our country.  We have come to know each of them as very friendly, compassionate individuals simply looking for a new beginning. The GNT has committed to assist our new friends for up to 6 months, at which time, we are hopeful each man will be on his way to self-sufficiency.  We can already tell that these will be life-long friendships.

Our commitment is to assist “our guys” with the day-to-day activities like finding housing and employment, establishing a bank account, managing a budget, learning bus routes, transportation to and from medical appointments and helping them enroll in ESL classes.

God has already answered our prayers in so many ways: at first, we were able to assist each to secure a job. Walter and Abdulmanan work at the Northwest University campus in food service. Teddy began learning new skills for a local general contractor.  Each man works very hard and is extremely happy to be living in our country. We often tell people that there is no one that wants to be in our country more than our three guys.

We were blessed to find a reasonably priced apartment in Kirkland. The apartment is next to a major bus line and a few blocks from a local supermarket. Through the generous support and donations from many BelPres people, the GNT was able to completely furnish the apartment in one Saturday afternoon. As Walter told us later that day, “this place really feels like home.”

Our guys enjoy living in our beautiful Seattle area and the GNT has enjoyed taking them on several weekend outings to show them more about our culture and why we love this place we call home.  Some members of the GNT first took Walter up to the mountains to experience snow for the first time.  It was his first time throwing snowballs, snowshoeing and making snow angels. A few weeks later, we toured the Theo Chocolate factory in Seattle and discovered that cocoa beans from Africa are the main ingredient in their chocolate.  We witnessed how the beans are processed to make tasty treats. Another outing was a day trip to Pike Place Market to see the city’s historical center for fresh local produce, specialty foods and the diverse small independent businesses. Most recently, we walked Seattle’s Gas Works Park showing the guys beautiful Lake Union and unobstructed views of the city skyline.  We saw many families enjoying the park and flying colorful kites in the gentle breeze.

The main refrain we hear from all three men, now that they have settled into our neighborhood, is that they are trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Their courage and determination are evident to all of us, as they have risked everything to get into this country. At one of our recent GNT gatherings, we watched a CBS documentary on the “Darien Gap;” a remote, roadless, 60-mile swath of jungle between Panama and Colombia. We learned that tens of thousands of migrants each year risk their lives to cross the gap by foot from South to Central America including our own Walter and Teddy. The dangers include torrential rains, crossing chest-high swift rivers, steep terrain, poisonous snakes, jaguars, malaria, and confrontations with violent paramilitary groups, controlling the drug smuggling corridor in the jungle. When the film concluded, Walter, with tears in his eyes, told us all how much we have helped each man and how grateful they are. We are all deeply moved by their stories.

We continue to pray for Abdulmanan, Teddy, and Walter as we know that God has a purpose for their life here in America. Walter’s hope is bringing his wife and four children from Cameroon to live with him here in his new country. We continue to ask the BelPres community if they have knowledge of affordable long-term housing as this is our biggest challenge.

Please read Walter’s letter to the Bellevue Presbyterian Church:

Dear people of God,

My name is Walter and I am writing to say thank you for what you, through the “Good Neighbors” has done to my life. 

I came to this country; mid last year and spend four months nine days in the detention center in Tacoma seeking political asylum. God being on my side, my request was granted on the 9th of January 2018. DHLS open the doors of the detention center and I was released.

When I came out, I was desperate and confused not knowing how I could survive but because of you THE BELLEVUE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, through your wonderful people of the ‘GOOD NEIGHBOR TEAM’ I now have an apartment which I share with my two Ethiopian friends (Adulmanan and Teddy) who are also refugees. Because of you, I am now working and able to send money to my trapped family back home. What else can I say than to say thank you!       

Walter 

If you know of housing opportunities, or if you have questions related to BelPres GNT, please contact Kristen Chesmore at 425-761-8583.

Stars in Her Eyes

Estrella means “star” in Spanish and her eyes reflect that as they sparkle with joy. But this wasn’t always the case for the young Dominican girl. I would get teased a lot, says Estrella of her life before Children of the Nations (COTN). “People would tell my mom not to let me look at them because they didn’t like the way I looked.” Estrella’s esotropia (condition of which one or both eyes turns inward) made it difficult for her to see. Her poor eyesight caused her to struggle in school and she was teased for her appearance. Her family struggled to afford food and clothing so paying expensive medical bills was out of the question.

Fortunately, visiting medical Venture teams from COTN treated Estrella and subsequently, she was able to have eye surgery.  “It has changed my life forever!” Estrella declares. “My total disposition changed after my surgeries. I have self-confidence and I am happy.”

Today, through COTN, Estrella attends school and enjoys nutritious meals. She receives important follow-up care through their medical clinic including prescription glasses that continue to correct her vision. Her surgery and continued care have helped her grow up a happy and confident young woman. None of this would have been possible without the generosity of medical Venture teams, the clinic staff, and partners who supported the clinic and children like Estrella.

The COTN clinic plays a crucial role in keeping children healthy and by offering lower cost medical care to the community of Barahona in pediatrics, gynecology, surgical procedures, and dentistry. Last year, thanks to the generosity and tireless work of COTN partners and volunteers, the clinic doubled in size.

Barb Kjose, a nurse and Venture team member, recalls the early days of the clinic: “We would come in the morning and there would be a line out way past the clinic. And we’d feel bad because we could not see all those who came.”  And now a second story has been added to the building, creating more space for surgery, dental care, and processing patients. The expansion has also moved the clinic’s laundry room and kitchen from an old shack to a more hygienic space within the building.

Estrella wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up. To everyone who supported the clinic, she says, “Thank you. . . Without the clinic, we would not have medical help. More people would suffer and have bad health, and I would still be suffering physically and emotionally with my crossed eyes.”

Thank you for helping children like Estrella ‘see’ their way to a healthier future.

 

If you would like to find out how you can go on a Medical Mission with COTN or other organizations, please come to the Global Outreach Talk on Medical Missions, Sunday, April 8, 12:15pm in S-140.

Shalom: The BelPres Vision for Revival

We all want to feel that we’re doing the best we can in our faith, but what should we be doing in our faith walk with Jesus?

Thankfully, the path is much clearer now that Dr. Scott Dudley has unveiled the BelPres vision of “Revival for the Eastside” for the coming years.

For more than a year, our BelPres elders and ministers have asked the hard questions and prayed for God’s answers to reveal, “what’s next?” for BelPres.

This condensed version of Dr. Dudley’s powerful January 7 sermon explains the importance and magnitude of the challenges and opportunities to come.

You can watch (or listen) to his entire January 7 sermon, “Where Are We Going?” on the BelPres website at: https://belpres.sermon.net/sermon_video/sermonvideo/21083128

– Cliff Sevakis

For more than a year, our BelPres elders and pastors have discerned that God is calling us is to partner with Jesus to seek the spiritual, relational, and economic flourishing of the cities to which God has called us and beyond. The old-fashioned word for that is “revival.”

“Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you,” Jeremiah 29:7. That verse is addressed to Jewish exiles in Babylon, and the word there for “peace and prosperity” in Hebrew is “shalom.”

We don’t have an English equivalent for “shalom.” It means so much more than “peace” or “prosperity.” It means the complete, total healing of all things. It means the complete, total, relational, emotional, spiritual, social flourishing of those around us.

That’s what shalom means. That’s what God was calling the Jews to bring to the city where they were exiled. We feel called from that verse to bring God’s shalom.

The old-fashioned word is “revival,” but revival broadly defined. The revival of marriages that are in trouble; revival of hope in families that are fractured, and putting those families back together again; revival of people coming out of poverty; and revival of people and racism, being healed.

Revival of people coming to know Jesus, because Jesus helps us know that there is a God who loves us so much that he would rather die than lose us. And when you know that you are loved, everything changes. Jesus helps us know that we are loved. Jesus, who cancels our debt of sin.

We want folks to know Jesus, but beyond that, the fullness of revival. That’s where we feel God calling this church to partner with him to bring Shalom to the Eastside and beyond. And it’s happening.

It’s happened before in history, where cultures have been transformed. It’s happening now in Africa and Asia and Latin America; which is one of the reasons that we need to stay connected globally, because they can teach us how to do revival.

Bring

How are we going to do that? By bringing Jesus’ healing wherever we live, work, play, or learn. We’ve been doing this corporately as a church for a long time through Jubilee Reach, the Service Day and Eastside Academy, but what if each one of us did this in our regular lives?

As you’re going to work, as you’re going to school. As you’re about your business, look for ways to partner with Jesus to bring his healing. That’s where we feel God calling us to go. We’re going to individually and corporately bring his healing wherever we are.

So, what if we weren’t the only church that had this as our vision? We’ve discovered that, independent of each other, there are a couple of churches in King County, where this is their vision, too. We didn’t talk to each other about this. We just arrived at this same vision, and now we’re finding each other. It’s as if God has been inspiring a movement here in King County.

 Belong

First, we need to belong to a warm, multi-ethnic, all-generations community that supports us, gets beyond the usual news, weather, and sports, and serves together.

Why multi-ethnic and all generational? Because we want to represent the entire family of God and reflect the Eastside that we’re a part of. But we’re not all here yet.

More than that, we want to be part of a community that supports us when something goes wrong, when we lose our job, when our marriage is in trouble. We need a support group when we try to bring Jesus’ healing.

We all need support and to be healed ourselves in order to do that. If we’re going to partner with Jesus to bring relational, economic, spiritual flourishing, then we need to experience and be healed here first.

Become

The second thing we need is to become like Jesus – willing to sacrifice our time and comfort and reputation to see his healing flourish in our lives and beyond. Do you know the Great Commission? “Go forth into all the world and make churchgoers of all nations.” Or was that “disciples?”

A disciple is different than a churchgoer. A disciple is someone so transformed by the will of Jesus that they are willing to endure a little bit of sacrifice to see his flourishing come to themselves and others.

This church has to help us all be disciples and not just consumer Christians. We’ve got to become disciples, not just churchgoers and we need that community to help bring Jesus’ healing that leads to flourishing.

Build

We need to build toward a third way to create racial justice and healing in pursuit of God’s heart. Why racial justice and healing? Some may think that this is the church getting political. Not if we do it right.

If we do this right, it will look like neither Democrats nor Republicans, liberal nor conservative. It will just look like Jesus. If we’re talking about bringing healing, and the complete flourishing of the culture around us on the Eastside, one of the biggest areas where our culture is hurting and needs healing is in racial relations, as it has been for the last 400 years.

Jesus’ people are called to do something about this. It’s everywhere in the Bible. It’s all over the Old Testament. Almost every book of the New Testament, with one or two possible exceptions, features racial healing as a theme.

The church didn’t start the day Jesus rose from the dead. It started 50 days later on what was known as the Feast of Pentecost, a Jewish holiday. Why? Because it was during that holiday that Jews from Africa (black people); Middle-Easterners (brown people); Europeans (white people) – were all assembled when the Holy Spirit came and they all began to understand each other’s languages.

If racial healing is so important to God that he delayed the start of his church 50 days so that the first church could be multi-ethnic, what does that say about the heart of our God?

This is powerfully biblical, and something Christians historically have always taken the lead on. For 2,000 years we opposed slavery. Every Pope opposed slavery. Abolition: that was Christians. Civil rights: it was Christians that got the ball rolling.

This is an area where we have historically been strong. It’s everywhere in Scripture and our country desperately needs it. What if people who don’t know Jesus can look at us and say, “You Christians, you’re figuring it out and it transcends politics. It just looks different, so why is that?” And we can say, “It’s Jesus.” And then Jesus gets a hearing in the marketplace of ideas.

Be

Lastly, we need to be a community that equips and empowers and releases all of us to do this. So we’ve got to figure out how we equip and empower each of us to do this, with an emphasis on youth and young adults.

Why young people? Let me tell you what that does not mean. It does not mean that if you’re over 35, we don’t care about you. But there a couple of reasons to focus on youth and young adults. If you look at the numbers, the greatest percentage of people with no relationship with Jesus are 35 and under.

In fact, virtually nobody 35 and under knows Jesus. So if we’re talking revival, in mission terms that’s called an “unreached group,” and we want them to know Jesus – because Jesus makes life better.

The other reason is, young people want you. If you are an older person, say 40 and older, they want to know you. They want to be with you. They’re different from my generation, the baby boomers.

We said, “Oh, I’ll never trust anyone over 30,” and we thought that was really awesome, until we turned 29, and then realized just how trustworthy we were.

But these days, the number one request I get from young people in this church is, “Please connect me with someone older. I don’t know how to find someone to marry. I’m starting my career and I don’t know how to do that. We just had our first kid and I don’t know how to handle that.

The great thing is, this church is to older people what Saudi Arabia is to oil. We have tons of them. So we should absolutely be the church of destination for young people.

You’ve got a wealth of experience to share. You’ve had a wealth of successes, and they can learn from them. You’ve experienced failure, and they need to hear that too, because they’re going to fail and they need to know how Jesus works in that.

Why?

Why do we do this? We act because we believe that Jesus is Lord, because we believe that Jesus has conquered death, and that means he can conquer anything.

We act because we believe Jesus can heal marriages, families, people in poverty, because we believe Jesus makes all things new. And we love because we’ve experienced God’s love. This is the foundation for it all, because without this, all we are doing is a bunch of good deeds, and that will wear out.

But that foundation means we’ve got to experience God’s love as our first order of businesses. Because when you know you’re loved, everything changes. So this church has to help us experience God’s love, and then out of that overflow, we begin to give that love away.

That’s where we’re going, the complete flourishing, economic, spiritual, relational revival, broadly defined. This is what we do to bring Jesus’ healing wherever we are. And the community, discipleship and racial healing, those are the pillars.

Now there are some things we’ll need to do to accomplish those pillars, and we’re calling them experiments. We expect, in fact we intend to fail at some of these experiments and if we don’t fail, it’s because we played it too safe. For instance, the “Brunch and Burgers” thing we do once a month after church to help us build community.

Maybe we launch six-to-eight week groups that really focus on helping us become disciples. For racial healing, there’s the Frames and Filters Workshop we’ve been doing. Those are some things that will support the roof and help us get to the big vision.

And then there’s a floor. We all need to be equipped. That’s what we’re going to stand on – with an emphasis on youth and young adults. And the foundation for it all is that we’ve got to experience God’s love. That’s where we are headed as a church.

In summary, our BelPres vision is: the spiritual, economic and relational flourishing of the cities we’re called to, and beyond. Remember these B-words. We’re going to:

  • Bring Jesus’ healing
  • Belong to a community
  • Become like Jesus
  • Build toward racial healing
  • Be an equipped community

This new vision embraces a bunch of areas that all work together, and we’ve prayed over this a long time. I thoroughly believe this is where God is calling us to go as a church, and I believe it is possible. Christians have changed the culture before and we can do it again.

Over the course of the next several years, we’ll invite you in to various parts of this vision, and encourage you to listen prayerfully for God’s nudge toward where he might want you to step in and get involved.

There are only two places in the United States that have never experienced revival: the Bay Area and the Seattle area. This church aims to remove the Seattle area from the list. I believe it can happen. This isn’t just pastor talk. What else are we here for if not this?

You are part of a church that’s going to want a piece of this action. Why can’t we be one of the churches that starts this movement? As house-by-house, school-by-school, office-by-office, God’s will gets done, his kingdom comes, here on the Eastside as it is in heaven.

Jesus meant that literally. Until that day, when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God and of our Christ, and the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

 

Becoming Multi-Ethnic

I grew up in a sleepy suburban town, nestled along the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains in Southern California.  The city of Arcadia began as a community of chicken ranches and fruit orchards.  But as Los Angeles grew, people began moving away from the urban center to places like Arcadia.  Increased property values incentivized local ranchers and farmers to sell to housing developers.  Arcadia transformed into a city of small shops and suburban neighborhoods.   Socio-economically and ethnically monogamous, the schools I attended, city leadership, police force and business sectors all served a largely middle class, religious and 95% white population.  My family fit that demographic.  We were “Creasters” -Christmas and Easter churchgoers.  The church we attended was similar to the way BelPres is now; multiple staff, multiple programs, 2,500+ member church.

That was the Arcadia I grew up in.  But by my Senior Year in High School, my city began to transform again.   Families, who had the financial means to do so, were buying homes, tearing them down and building larger, 6000 square foot homes.  These families fit the financial profile of the average Arcadian but were ethnically different.  The new Arcadians spoke a different language, raised their children differently, and were not interested in giving up their culture or ethnic heritage in order to become like the majority demographic who already lived there.   Businesses, restaurants, financial institutions and schools adapted and made changes in order to serve the new non-white demographic.  But my Creaster church didn’t.  It remained focused on the 95%.  That was 40 years ago.

Today, Arcadia is a different city than the one I grew up in.  It is bigger, multi-ethnic, and vibrant.  The church of my childhood is different too; down to 200 members and a few staff.  The church never figured out how to engage its community and be a church for all people, all nations, all ethnic groups.

We, at BelPres, are partnering with Jesus to revive the Eastside and beyond.  We believe that revival will look like lots of things; i.e. not old-time tent meetings and altar calls, but healed relationships, breaking down the forces which create and sustain poverty, schools thriving, people experiencing Jesus love and making decisions to love Him back, etc.  We all have a part in that wherever we live, work, learn and play.  But our context is changing.  The number of languages spoken on the Eastside is approaching 100!

There are lots of reasons why we want to become a multi-ethnic church; 3 reasons specifically.  First, Jesus calls us to make disciples of all nations, all people, all ethnic groups; (Matthew 28:18-21, Mark 15:15-16; Luke 24:46-49, John 20:21-23; Acts 1:8).    Second, the first church at Antioch was multi-ethnic and reflected the fact that God’s Kingdom is multi-ethnic too.  Third, our worship and the quality of our life together is fuller, richer, better as a multi-ethnic community than it is when we are not.  It is just more fun, more meaningful, more vibrant and life-giving.  We don’t know what we are missing until we are with people who are ethnically different than us.  We need them.  We can’t experience the fullness of community and worship without them.

So what can you do?  If you heard the sermon by Sergio Chavez earlier this year, you can PUFYTB- Put your feet under the table.   Share a meal.  Invite someone to coffee, or lunch or to your home who is ethnically different than you.  Pray for them.  Begin reading about or learning about the culture of one of the 100 language groups on the Eastside.  What can they teach you?  Do you have other ideas or a story to tell?  Share it.

 

If you have a story you would like to share with us, please email it to missionstories@belpres.org

 

REVIEW OF JOSEPH CASTLEBERRY’S “THE NEW PILGRIMS”

Immigration is at the center of our national debate.  While almost all would agree that the current system isn’t working, people of faith have varying opinions on what our country’s immigration laws should be.  Debates on immigration often focus on economics, national security, or our responsibility to the vulnerable.  Castleberry has a very different perspective – evangelism.  He quotes a friend’s saying of immigrants, “They either came here to evangelize or to be evangelized.”  This book challenged me to consider how God is at work in the movement of people around the world, especially to the United States.

In the first half of the book, Castleberry lays out the decline of faith and moral values in the US and argues the decline has been held at bay and is reversing due to immigrants.  Unlike the US, Christianity is expanding rapidly around the world, especially in Africa, South America, and China.  Our missionary efforts in the past are bearing fruit. Those who have found Jesus around the world are looking at the US as a fertile mission field.  Christian immigrants are coming to the US, revitalizing existing congregations and planting new churches.  On the flipside, Castleberry argues that non-Christian immigrants (whose family and close friends are far away) feel a great need for a relationship that “leaves them [seeking] renewal or conversion.”  This is an opportunity for Christians to “good-news” those God has brought to our communities.

In the second half of the book, Castleberry addresses our legal and political system.  He sets out an evangelical case for comprehensive immigration reform that includes compromise from both political parties.  He urges the reader to seek “the Lamb’s Agenda” rather than the Elephant’s or the Donkey’s.  I found much to agree with in this book, but also much to challenge me.  I think readers from all parts of the political spectrum will agree.  Mostly, Castleberry made me think and inspired me with new ideas.

The Justice & Reconciliation Team invites you to read this book and join us for a lively discussion at our next Justice & Reconciliation Book club on Monday, 2/5, at 7pm in S-223.

Power in the Name of Jesus

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” Matthew 1:21

‘Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, There is something about that name.

As I write, my heart is somewhat sad because it is difficult to understand why so many people hate the name, Jesus. This came out of a letter I received from a friend.  A letter in which he stated that he was preparing to speak at a very large convention sharing his testimony and in that context, the impact made on his life after a visit to our Campus in Guatemala.

As I read his letter, he mentioned my name and the school but did not mention the Mission, ‘The Arms of Jesus Children’s Mission.’ I sent him a note saying I would be praying for him and his witness.  Then I received a response that saddened my heart. He said, “Thanks…it is very frustrating. They censored it to the point where I couldn’t even mention ‘The Arms of Jesus Children’s Mission’ because it has ‘Jesus’ in the name. I was (hot) under the collar.”

Can you understand that? In today’s political correctness, you cannot mention the name ‘Jesus.’ My mind went back a few years when a dear friend and member of the Government of Canada helped us get funding for a project in Haiti. He came up against this same issue and heard Government Officials say, “Get them to change their name.” In simple terms, “Have them remove the name ‘Jesus.’”

We are not ashamed of the name of Jesus and will never ever change our name just to get funding. God Himself and His people will provide the resources we need to fulfill His mandate! Let me share a few scriptures with you:

“Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philip 2:9-11

“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesusname and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.” Acts 3:16

“And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”  John 16:23-24

Yes, there is something about that name and the song writer put it so well:

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s just something about that name.

Master, Savior, Jesus, like the fragrance after the rain

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, let all heaven and earth proclaim

Kings and kingdoms will pass away

But there’s something about that Name!

 

 

Children Pray for Daily Bread

Hunger stalks many families on the Eastside – an alarming statement to be sure, but all too true. In Bellevue alone, more than 200 students are known to be homeless; these children have no pantry or refrigerator to open in search of a snack. In the Bellevue School District, over 4,000 students qualify for free or reduced-price meals served at school. For some, the breakfast and lunch they get at school will be the only food they eat all day. For these students and their families, having enough to eat is always in question. Their prayers “for daily bread” are quite literal.

The hunger pangs are there, hidden below the surface appearance of many low-income people for whom shelter, safety, and sufficient food can never be taken for granted. Parents struggle to sustain their families and provide the basic necessities of life, often working two or more minimum wage jobs, just to pay rent and keep the lights on. Weekends can be especially difficult because the children lack access to meals provided at school on Saturdays and Sundays.

Since 1998, Renewal Food Bank (RFB) has been filling the gap for many Eastside families. An independent, non-profit agency and a member of Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline hunger relief network, RFB serves 250 families every week. Over the years, RFB has provided food security for over 350,000 people.

With a very modest operating budget (less than $100,000 a year), RFB continues to serve 250 families each week, or 13,000 family visits annually. This is possible because of the generosity of community members and faith-based organizations donating food and household sundries consistently. It literally takes a community of caring volunteers, businesses, churches and service organizations to keep the food bank going. Every donation is welcomed and sincerely appreciated.

RFB Executive Director, Rich Bowen says, “Here at Renewal Food Bank, our desire is to strengthen our community by meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people in East King County. We partner with City of Bellevue and other local social services, businesses, schools, churches, and individuals who have the heart to feed the hungry in our community. We need your help!”

Here are some ways you can partner with Renewal Food Bank:

• Tell those in need about us and help them get the groceries they need!
• Volunteer at Renewal Food Bank — one time, bi-monthly, every week
• Support RFB at work through your company’s United Way campaign (once our IRS filing for 501(c)3 status is approved)
• Organize a neighborhood food drive — they can help you get started
• Set up a food donation bin at your school, church, or place of business
• Bring your family or child’s scout troop to Renewal Food Bank to volunteer
• Head up a food drive at your child’s school
• Bring weekly food collections from local business partners to the food bank
• Deliver food to housebound individuals
• Help pay the monthly bills with a monetary donation to Renewal Food Bank
Together we can build a strong community and care for the most vulnerable members of our Eastside community.

Meal Packing

What does this mean for our family? It used to mean working hard with other BelPres families on Saturday morning packing bulk foods. We enjoyed the energy, the fellowship, the constant smiles among co-workers and the sense of accomplishment when we bagged the raw materials.

This year, it is infinitely more meaningful because we’ve learned where the food goes. We knew the meals were going to people who really needed them. We tried to find the tiny village online. It took three of us confirming the spelling and checking each other’s data to locate Mokpangumba. We learned many villages are similarly named and that there are many waterways on the western side of Sierra Leone. We have pictures of the children in the village and wondered why some wear school uniforms and others don’t. We’ve mispronounced and repronounced and laughed over our English tongues not able to stand up to the Mokpangumba syllables. All of this makes us feel closer to the village we help.

Can you believe the food our gloved hands process makes its way around the world?  Yes, around-the-world to a village of 300 families in Sierra Leone. The journey will not be easy. It will take plenty of logistics with planes, trucks, boats and more human hands distributing it in Mokpangumba.

What the families harvest from the fields and rivers nearby is not enough, so the food we packed will provide additional nutrition. This food means survival for the children. It may mean they can concentrate better at school and learn what will help them change the way their food is grown or how their village works.

We’ve had conversations around this very fact: It is a long way from how we live. As we prepare for this year’s meal packing, we are curious about what the children will think of the food, what they do in school and what they do for fun. It has become personal and so much more important to pack this food for them.

Please come and join our dedicated community of meal-packing marathoners on Saturday, January 27!  To find out more or sign up, click here: belpres.org/events/meal-packing-2018

 

Learn more about Children of the Nation’s work in Mokpangumba or watch this video from COTN.

Thank You

It has been one year since I started working at BelPres. It was exciting to go back to work after a 14-year hiatus to raise kids. However, I was afraid I would be a failure and not be up to the task since this is my home church. And I was also worried that I would find the guts of the church to be messy and not be as pretty as what I see on Sunday mornings.

Like any other workplace, there is a mix of personalities and working styles. I was happy to find people with incredible talents and genuine hearts to serve our God and community at BelPres. Our Prayer+Care team visit and pray for our congregants in hospitals when their family cannot come. Our Belong+Grow team helps families build community through mealpacking and eating burgers. Our Worship team sings heartwarming songs to fill our souls with hope and peace through the tragedies of this year. Our Facilities team provides jobs for new immigrants and homeless to get them on their feet. Our pastors share stories of our congregants that inspire all of us to love others because we were loved first.  Each department and person doing their part to make BelPres a church community.

And then there is Mission+Serve department, which has become my home this past year. I’m biased, but I feel like Mission+Serve is the heart of BelPres; serving, teaching, sharing, and growing our BelPres family. We provide food to hungry neighbors; we donate diapers for babies, we send people to help after the devastating hurricanes in Texas, we give much-needed supplies and gifts through AGM. We offer tutoring services for kids needing extra help through KidREACH; we come together to let go of racial prejudices and become compassion neighbors, we bring presents for homeless and children with a parent in prison, and so much more.

And “we” is not exclusive of the staff at the Mission+Serve. “We” is not “we” without our dedicated volunteers who support, lead, pray and give of their time, money and gifts. So much of the work in Mission+Serve is done by our tireless volunteers.  I learned that there are many programs that serve our community that were founded right here at BelPres because our volunteers saw a need that needed to be met.

I am learning from all of you what it means to serve with all your heart.  So thank you for serving along with us in Mission+Serve. Thank you for being God’s hands and feet.  Thank you for giving to God and His children.  May God’s blessings overflow in you in 2018 so that you may share your blessing with others!

Happy New Year!

Bright and Hopeful

“K” came to the U.S. as a strong but defensive Muslim. A stellar university student from a remote part of Central Asia (C.A), he received a scholarship to study in a major university and was also accepted into our leadership program from among 400 applicants. He was further selected for a one-year internship in the United States. “K” excelled in his internship, so he was recently invited to a worldwide young leaders meeting at a major U.S. university. He will be a very important young leader in his country at many levels. He tells his story.
“I spent 12 months in Seattle as part of a facility resource company’s financial teams. Looking back, taking a year off (from university) and doing an internship were the smartest decisions of my student life. My internship allowed me to use my theoretical knowledge in practice and jump into the business world.”
“By participating in leadership meetings at my company and executive meetings with other Seattle-based CEOs, I learned about strategic leadership and becoming an influential business leader. Moreover, I became a student member of CFA-Seattle Society where I met financial professionals who shared expertise with me, improving my communication and networking abilities.”
He and his family are devout Muslims. In one of our first conversations, he told me why the Koran was right and the Bible was wrong. One of the first events he attended in the U.S., was BelPres’ Christmas Eve Service. He was more than a little amazed and culturally disoriented. The warmth, light, and friendliness were not what he expected. After a year of being loved and served, and after several conversations, his attitude toward Christ and the Bible softened. Though not yet a believer in Jesus, he has moved to a more open, middle ground. “K” continues in our alumni group and our conversations about Jesus continue.
Pray for “K”, our other C.A. friends and for us; that we are faithful to love, serve and share the wonder of the Gospel with our C.A. friends.
“My Father is working until now and I am working.” Jesus, in John 5:17
Although we readily identify with Jesus in Central Asia, E2 is not a mission organization.  It’s a charitable, educational organization developing leaders to renew their nations.  

 

All We Want For Christmas…..

I’d like some metal roofing for Christmas this year, so the children at Raymond Jean Bois don’t have to go to school under a tarp. It was a pretty easy decision as decisions go – either take the roofing off the old school before Hurricane Irma arrived or have it blown away. In the last several years, every storm has taken a few sheets, but none were like Hurricane Irma.

We are building a new building around the old building. The guys have the floors, the walls and the trusses done for the new church and school building – except for the roofing. Roofing Plan A is on a boat in Miami, loaded since April but has not sailed yet. Roofing Plan B is purchased in Port-au-Prince but, with so much rain right now, we can’t even go home in a 4-wheel drive Landcruiser.

For my Christmas beverages, I’d like a couple of glasses of water. Not just any water, mind you. I’d like one glass out of the pipeline we are repairing with the Lacoma church and community. The other glass of water (that will taste really good) is out of one of the seven new fountains to be installed in Moustiques … until the pipe got delayed on that same boat in Miami.

Oh, I guess I am going to need more than two glasses of water. I was over at the Lacoma job site. The church folks were loading sand onto donkeys, mules, and horses to carry down to the men making the concrete conduit to protect the pipe. A lady was smiling when she said I owed her for transporting the sand. I said, “OK, I’ll pay … in water.” She said, “It will cost 10,000 gallons!” “No problem,” I said. That is less than two hours of water flowing through the pipe once it’s fixed. So what I am really looking for is 10,000 gallons plus two glasses of water. Did I mention we have a lot of 4” PVC pipe sitting on the ship in Miami?

When I was a kid, doing major construction projects under the backyard apple tree, I wanted Tonka trucks and construction equipment for Christmas. Amazing things have happened since then. God has blessed us with real construction equipment. This year, I’d like to have the parts to fix the grader and some new grader tires. It has been raining for a week. We are stranded outside of Port-au-Prince at friends because the roads and mud are so bad; like unusually-once-every-ten-or-fifteen-years bad. The roads were barely passable before the rain and now I can’t imagine. The old tires aren’t done yet and the paint that is on the way will make this grader look new, but for now, we could get by with just the parts to fix the drive train. As soon as it dries out, we need to get on the road with the grader and fix it. Did I mention the parts, paint, and tires are all loaded on the same ship that hasn’t left Miami yet?

I know I am asking for a lot. I didn’t ask for much last Christmas, so I feel I have some ground to make up. There are several irrigation pumps on my list too. I know that sounds crazy asking for pumps with all this rain, but I am fascinated with diesel engines and pumps. After it rains too much in Northwest Haiti, there is always a time when it doesn’t rain. These are really special hydraulically powered pumps powered by trailer-mounted, air-cooled diesel engines made especially for us by friends. You guessed it … these two irrigation pumps are on the same ship with everything else waiting until all the problems are figured out so they can sail.

We haven’t sent out an update for a while because we have been waiting for good news. It is always “next week; something is going to happen.” But it hasn’t yet. They are talking about getting the last part, and the manifest straightened out and have just told us “next week,” again! The bottom line is the ship hasn’t sailed yet. And we are talking about Christmas coming up … all I want for Christmas is for our ‘ship to come in.’

Wearing a Helmet

Develop Our Village Economy (DOVE)

I went with a team to visit Tong Neak, my home village in Prey Veng last year. I usually suggest we take a short-cut: a bumpy road that is now much improved. We crossed the longest bridge in Cambodia, the 2.2 km Tsubasa on the Mekong River funded by the Japanese government. No need to take the ferry as in the past!

“Where is my bumpy road?” Ray Durr asked. We all laughed. Cambodia has two problems: there are not enough good roads and now, with some good roads, we face another problem – road accidents.

Nineteen students are in Onyx Phnom Penh program this year, including Ms. Chhun Thida. 24-year-old Thida is a dorm leader and an English teacher with a Cambodian Christian organization that empowers garment workers. One Saturday in May, students were heading home after Onyx class. On Street 271 near the Phnom Penh Sports Club, there was a crowd of people stopped on the street.

Mr. Ren Trea, 25 years old and another Onyx student, spotted a scooter lying in the middle of the street. “What happened?” he asked the bystanders. They replied, “There was an accident. The owner of the scooter is in severe condition and she was taken to a hospital already.” It looked similar to Thida’s scooter he thought, so he called her, but no one answered. He kept calling, and at last, it was answered. It was her sister, who said, “My sister forgot her phone at home.” He told her, “I saw an accident and the scooter looks like Thida’s scooter.”

If Thida had not forgotten her phone at home that day, there would have been no answer. She was unconscious after the accident. Her family confirmed the scooter was hers. Then they checked into the nearby hospital and found her there. The hospital hadn’t started treating her yet because there was no one to authorize treatment. If Thida hadn’t been wearing a helmet, she could have died.

In Ephesians 6:16–17: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

In Thida’s case, the helmet saved her life. If Trea hadn’t seen the scooter and Thida hadn’t left her phone at home, nobody would have known where she was.

Ruth, the Moabite, came to glean in Boaz’s field. Ruth was a newcomer to the land and did not know which field to glean and God brought her to Boaz. God takes care of us: every breath and step we take, he is there with us.

Praise God that Thida rejoined the Onyx class in mid-June after being unconscious for 3 days and spending 3 weeks in the hospital.

The Age-Old Christmas Stocking with a Brand-New Tradition

SHOP THE AGM at AGM.BELPRES.ORG from Thanksgiving to Dec 31.

I have always loved the decorations and gift-giving that comes with Christmas. As a small child, I loved going through my Christmas stocking first thing in the morning. When I became a parent, our children’s Christmas stockings were a highlight of our morning festivities. And then when I became a grandmother, I continued the tradition at my own home for my seven grandchildren – each with their own custom name-embroidered stocking.

But what goes inside those stockings now is different than what went in them when I was a child and young mother. What’s in there now?  A gift card from the BelPres Alternative Gift Market!

Around Thanksgiving, I provide the opportunity to each of my grandchildren to purchase a $50 gift from the catalog for someone in need. They each select their own, based on their preferences, and tell me what to buy. On Christmas morning, we take turns opening their stockings. When it is their turn, they each pull out the card and tell their cousins, aunts, uncles, parents and me what they purchased, and more importantly, why they selected it.

Sometimes it is a chicken or a goat to produce food or a living for a family in a foreign land. Other times it is a soccer ball so other kids can have a ball to play with (something they can’t imagine living without). Sometimes it is equipment for wells to get clean drinking water, and other times it has gone toward an education so girls in Africa can create better futures (this one from a grandson). The youngest, enamored with starting school a couple years ago, wanted to purchase school supplies and books for children who couldn’t afford their own. Another time it was a wheelchair to help another person get around more easily (perhaps from observing his own grandfather use one.)

I love that they can review the catalog with all the needs, that they make informed decisions based on their interests and opinions, and that they can share their reasons for their choice with the rest of the family. In the midst of the “getting,” we are reminded of the importance of “giving” too.

For me, the BelPres Alternative Gift Catalog is more than a donation during the holidays, and it is more than a personal contribution to the less fortunate. For me, it is one of my favorite ways to pass on a lesson of love to my grandchildren about Christian giving and sharing, along with the age-old Christmas stocking tradition.

 

SHOP THE ALTERNATIVE GIFT MARKET!  Open online Nov 21-Dec 31

agm.belpres.org

 

There but for grace . . .

Life is not always fair.  Many people bear more than their share of misfortune.  Life events such as the death of a loved one, loss of employment, divorce, abuse, addiction and physical or mental illness can result in loss of self-worth, depression and sometimes homelessness. Christmas can be a lonely time for those who are homeless, struggling with a self-destructive lifestyle or even transitioning to a stable living environment.

In the mid-1970s, two BelPres volunteers made Christmas just a little brighter at Seattle’s First Avenue Service Center for homeless men.  They shopped the sales, filled and wrapped 50 gift boxes with warm winter clothes and toiletries.  In the early 1980s, the need became greater than this generous and compassionate mother and daughter could provide alone.  BelPres’ Community Outreach Committee turned to the congregation and 200 boxes were packed for the Service Center. Seattle women’s shelters were added to the list of recipients and the project continued for twenty years.

In 2000, Seattle churches took over and BelPres focused on increasing needs of the homeless on the Eastside by preparing 50 gift boxes.   Chuck and Marie Olmstead have chaired this growing labor of love and generosity since 2001.  Last year, Karen Clark and Chuck Zuber began sharing the responsibility with them.

This year, the goal is to prepare 245 Christmas boxes:  180 boxes for men served by Congregations for the Homeless (CFH) in the Winter Shelter, the Rotating Shelter at churches – including BelPres and Transitional Housing for those approaching stability and independence; 25 boxes for Real Escape from the Sex Trade (REST) – a residential program for women; 40 boxes for Homeless Youth (New Horizons) for males and females, ages 13-24.

Boxes and gift lists are available in the Lobby after all services on November 12, 19 and 26.  Filled and wrapped boxes should be returned to the church on December 3 or 10.

If you have questions or need more information, call:

Chuck or Marie Olmstead                 425-223-9373 (cell)       425-947-7917 (home)

Chuck Zuber or Karen Clark             425-765-4763 (cell)        425-823-9057 (home)

My First Encounter with Afghan Refugees

It was a Sunday morning and I was invited to speak at a gathering of Afghan refugees in Athens, Greece. As I entered the room on the third floor of a commercial building in Omonia Square, I was surprised to see over 100 Muslim refugees – standing room only – waiting to hear a message that would bring comfort and hope to their troubled hearts. Most of these strangers had risked their lives to navigate cold, volatile waters from Turkey to reach the Greek Island of Lesvos – the first port of entry into Europe. Now, safely in Athens, they were at the mercy of the Greek people, who are enduring hardship from their own financial crisis.

As I stepped to the front of the room, I was warmly greeted by Farshid, a new Afghan believer, who speaks excellent English and was ready to translate my message into the Dari language (official Persian language of Afghanistan). Looking at the sea of faces, l felt an overwhelming sense of God’s compassion for these strangers who were like sheep without a shepherd.  They were eagerly awaiting some good news from this woman from the U.S.  My first words were to reassure them that they are not forgotten and that the American people deeply care and are praying for the plight of all the refugees.

It was now story-telling time and time to say something of substance. From experience, I’ve learned that revenge is a strong cultural value of the Afghan people. My story began about an Afghan man named Masoud who accidentally stumbled onto a Christian Conference of Iranians in Turkey. Surprised by their warm reception, he quickly felt at home among these Iranians. As Masoud sat listening to their strange message, a deep peace comforted his troubled heart. During training, he learned about the power of forgiveness, and that before Jesus’ death, He cried out, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing!” Deeply touched by Jesus’ life and sacrifice, Masoud surrendered his life to Jesus.

To my surprise, at this point in the story, the audience broke out into loud applause. Their eager faces spoke volumes. They too were open to know the reality of Jesus. It was all I could do to continue speaking.

The story had an interesting twist. Masoud entered into a dispute with another man that turned into a bitter feud. Taking pride in revenge, they vowed that one or both of them would die if they ever met again. Now it was time for Masoud to make peace with his enemy. When the doorbell rang, the enemy’s wife saw who was standing at the door.  She quickly notified her husband. Walking into their home, Masoud was confronted by his enemy who was armed with a knife ready to strike. Masoud gently approached him and said, “You have every reason to kill me but before you do I have something very important I need to tell you.”  In trembling speech, Masoud shared about Jesus and knelt asking for forgiveness. At that moment, God’s loving presence flooded the room and both men were reconciled.  Soon the man and his wife also became Jesus’ followers.

As my story came to an end, the applause grew louder and people began to stand.  God’s presence filled the room. Jesus was there to save and to heal and He did!  To Him, be all glory.

 

My Eyes Were Opened

I attended the “Frames & Filters Workshop” – an excellent presentation and time well spent!  In the past few months, I’ve also read several of the Justice resources we ordered for the BelPres Library, such as “Tears We Cannot Stop” by M. Dyson and “Between the World and Me” by T. Coates. Even though I spent many of my teenage years being a minority white among black American students and having some black friends, as well as my father participating in the Selma, Alabama march with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the late ‘60s, I only recently became more fully aware of the privileges my “whiteness” affords in our society, and also a deeper understanding of the realities faced by people of color.

This particularly became more personal as I reflected on a recent phone call from our “son”, George.  My husband and I “sponsored” George 20 years ago through an organization called Metro Ministries in Brooklyn, NY.  George was a darling little 6 year old black kid with a big smile who stole my heart when I saw his photo at a Children’s pastor conference.  George’s father, a drug dealer, was murdered when George was 2 and he grew up in the dangerous inner city of NY.  He says without Metro Ministries and the power of Jesus, he would either be in jail or dead.

George is now married with two children and lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, and is a man filled with the love of Jesus.    We usually call or text about once a month, but this time the call came on a weekday evening – a rather unusual time.  He told me he was returning home from work and was on the side of the highway with a flat tire. He was getting it fixed but his wife was worried and there was concern in his voice.  We talked for a few minutes, he said he was about ready to be on his way, and we said our goodbyes and I didn’t think much more about it.  Only later as I was reading Coates book, did this conversation with George come to mind.  My “eyes were opened”, so to speak.   It was what George DIDN’T say that I finally understood – that he was a black man, along the side of the road, and vulnerable to potential harassment by a passing motorist, or a policeman just because of his color.  It saddens my heart to know that George, and now his bi-racial son, and people of color face such concerns each and every day they step outside their homes.

I’m so grateful for the work of the Justice Team to bring the “Frames & Filters” workshop to BelPres, as well as keeping us informed of other opportunities in our community to increase our understanding of each other’s realities and how to live together the 3rd WAY – the JESUS WAY, loving our neighbor as ourselves, and looking for opportunities to bring justice and healing in our own walk in life.

May God richly bless and guide you and your team,

Kandis Losh

BelPres Libraries Ministry Coordinator