Joseph Nyamutera brings reconciliation and healing in Rwanda

Joseph Nyamutera is a large man with an equally large heart for the Lord who has used his gifts to bring fellow Rwandans out of an unthinkably dark time, leading them to reconciliation into healing and forgiveness; his greatest challenge! What has made this mission and ministry uniquely insurmountable is the fact of who Joseph is: a Hutu among an evangelical team of Tutsis in the Kigali offices of African Evangelical Enterprises (AEE) that was re-established after the Genocide of 1994 when over a million Rwandans were killed.

The genocide began when the then Rwandan President, a moderate Hutu, and the Burundi President’s plane was shot down over Kigali with no survivors. The Rwandan President was returning after signing an agreement for the creation of a transitional government. This angered the Hutu extremists so within hours of downing the airplane, they set up roadblocks and went out on foot to begin killing Tutsis. The killings lasted 100 days and over one million Rwandans were killed. In April 1994, the AEE team leader, Israel Havugimana, was killed along with most of his team. In July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) liberated the country. The AEE was inactive until August 1994 when the new team Leader Antione Rutayisire (a Tutsis survivor) and a new team were installed.  Following God’s nudge, Antione courageously chose Joseph to head up the reconciliation and healing, a bold and risky move considering the deep wounds at that time.

The required ethnic identity cards of the genocide are now abolished and it is important to understand and appreciate the depth of the work involved. Joseph led the AEE Healing and Reconciliation team to help a country and its people heal from the untold carnage. Often, the perpetrators killed people that they knew.  Joseph brought the perpetrators in front of the families of the victims they killed to walk through three days of reconciliation, healing and ultimately to forgiveness. My husband Frank and I had the honor of witnessing his work while in Rwanda in 2006 and 2008.

After leaving AEE in 2010, Joseph along with his wife Esther founded Mercy Ministries, continuing the work of healing and reconciliation. They work in the Great Lakes region of Rwanda and in the greater Kigali area serving the entire community, both young and old.   They have added education and vocational training to the ministry helping Rwandans to find forgiveness and a hope for the future. Mercy Ministries has been and continues to be supported by BelPres.

In January of this year, Joseph and Esther’s attentions turned fully to Education. Rabagirana Bible College has now opened and registered its first class of students. With this school, they are raising up Rwandans, providing degree programs in Reconciliation, Applied Technology, Bible Courses, General Composition, English, and Computers.

Imana Inguhe Umugieshu! (May God Bless You!)

Life in the Dominican Republic

The first time that my husband Kyle and I went to the Dominican Republic, the country captured our hearts. After that Impact Trip, we spent a summer at the Children of the Nations (COTN) base working with their I Love Baseball (ILB) ministry and producing media for their marketing team. Children of the Nations is an organization that believes in taking care of people with food and education while sharing the joy of Christ. I Love Baseball is a branch of COTN that provides baseball training for kids and an opportunity to stay in school in their communities. This helps end the cycle of poverty in the Dominican Republic because the boys have something to fall back on if they don’t make it in the big leagues. At the end of that summer, we left with rich friendships and everyone’s last question was “when are you coming back?” That question was answered when we returned this past fall.

It was such a joy to see the COTN staff members again and catch up. On our previous trip, we built some strong mentoring relationships with the boys in the ILB program. When we pulled up to the practice field, I had butterflies of excitement in my stomach.  It was incredible to experience picking up right where we left off.   However, we immediately saw how much they had grown in character as well as in height.

In the prior summer spent in the Dominican Republic, we gave the ILB kids opportunities to teach the younger kids how to play baseball. Many acted like they were too cool for school at first, but eventually more and more joined us to teach. When we returned in fall, they had created an afternoon practice that was fully run by the older boys. They invited the younger boys to join and the older ILB boys to be volunteer coaches. This was a rare moment where we got to plant something and watch it grow at the same time.

One of the things that Kyle and I are drawn to in the Dominican Republic is how they do community. America can be a very individualistic culture and the Dominican Republic is all about taking care of the group. For instance, when Dominicans make dinner, they make an extra plate of food because they know someone will stop by and join them. One of the most eye-opening conversations Kyle and I had with the ILB boys was when we realized that they didn’t know what a homeless person was. Their response was, “so Americans just let people live on the streets rather than invite them into their homes?” After a pause, we sadly answered “yes.” The Dominican Republic is a very different culture than we live in, but it made us ask the question, “What can we take back with us to the States?”

The community we have in the Dominican Republic is special and we are very grateful for those friendships.  Maybe we can’t bring everything back, but we can bring how much they value community. Until the next time we go back, we’ll continue to work on making that kind of community a reality here.

Find out more about Children of the Nation’s I Love Baseball program.

Eastside Academy Student of the Month- Jason’s Story

Imagine the helplessness of teens who have found themselves in situations they cannot fix alone: abuse, neglect, addiction, homelessness, spiraling grades, and truancy. We have heard the youth describe their teenage years as a “dark pit of despair.” These youth, who God holds so dear, are in crisis, and we believe that we are called to help.

Eastside Academy is the Christian alternative high school with campuses located at BelPres Church and Overlake Christian Church. We offer teens a chance to turn their lives around through education, treatment, counseling, housing, mentors, and the love of Christ.

We realize – and deeply appreciate – that the blessing of providing for these youth is a partnership. This past Sunday, you heard from a brave student who is only able to attend Eastside Academy because he is offered a scholarship and safe housing at our Re:New Housing Program. Eastside Academy is able to bear this cost for all of our students because of the investment you make in these young lives.

Below is the story of another student, Jason (name changed), whose learning needs were not a fit with public school. We were able to provide him with an academic plan and small classes, which has made all the difference. Please take a moment to read about Jason:

“When I was in kindergarten, I came home crying because my teacher told me that I was stupid. I never wanted to go to school again. At a very young age, I started skipping school. I felt like I did not fit in and because of my attendance, I was expelled.

In middle school, I switched to another school and that was the worst experience of my life. I did not know anyone. No one was very nice. I just could not make any friends because I thought they would think I was weird. No one talked to me in all the years that I spent in that school. Of course, I started skipping again and got horrible grades. There were times when I would feel so bad about myself, that if I could, I would have ended my life.

At the end of middle school, the principal recommended that I attend Eastside Academy. After a few tours of the campus, I could not believe that this was a real thing! I knew instantly that this is where I would be for all four years of high school.

I had skipped school my whole life, so I got back into the bad habit even at EA. The teachers helped me get out of that habit. I cannot think of one thing that has not improved in my life because of this school. My attendance is now the best it has ever been. My teachers help me finish things in class and I get to stay after school to finish my homework with my teachers.

I just want to say that, if it were not for this school, my life would be a mess. Every penny that goes to this school makes my life better. I really appreciate this place from the bottom of my heart.”

We just completed our second quarter and Jason received the award for Perfect Attendance. THANK YOU for walking alongside Jason and other students like him. Our doors are always open, so please stop by and visit any time.

If you feel called to mentor an Eastside Academy student, please contact Get Connected.
For more information on Eastside Academy events or programs you can go to EA’s website or you may contact Elyse Nicholson, director of Development for Eastside Academy.

 

Jesus and Muhammad

It has been nearly two weeks since an arsonist destroyed the Bellevue Islamic Center. The person who did it has been apprehended. The specific reason behind the arsonist’s actions is not known but appears to be something other than a hate-crime. In many ways, this has been a catalyzing event for our community. It has brought many of us together in a stand of sympathy and support for our Muslim neighbors. It has also opened our eyes to the changing demographics of our neighborhoods.

This is the fifth blog in a series on Islam. I am writing this because more and more Muslims are moving to the Eastside. Some are moving here because of jobs they have received with high-tech businesses like Microsoft. Others have come because they are fleeing traumatic places in the world like Iran, Egypt, Sudan and Somalia. Some Muslims are not immigrants. They are natural born citizens of the United States who have converted to Islam.

The point of this series is to help us understand our Muslim neighbors better. The subject of today’s blog is the main figures of each religion, Muhammad for Muslims and Jesus for Christians.

The Arabic world, prior to the rise of Islam, was primarily tribal, nomadic and polytheistic. Mecca served as a crossroads for the region and featured a shrine, called the “Ka’aba”, which recognized some 360 gods. Muhammad was born into this context in AD 570. He grew up questioning why Arabs worshiped so many idols rather than one God like the Christians and Jews. Muhammad became a successful businessman and married a wealthy widow. Her wealth enabled him to spend much of his time thinking, reflecting and meditating. It was during one of these times, that Muhammad received his first revelation and understood from that moment on that he was the final messenger of God. Muhammad soon felt compelled to warn Arabs of the coming judgment day and to bring them to complete obedience and submission to the one God so they could escape his anger. The religious group that formed around him became known as ‘Islam’, meaning surrender, i.e. those surrendered to Allah.

Although Muhammad was just a man; Muslims believe his love for all humankind and revelations from God, which are recorded in the Quran word for word, make him unique and unlike any other man who ever lived. Muslims believe in the same prophets as Christians, most notably, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus. They believe each prophet was sent by God to speak to a specific people at a specific time but Muhammad is the last and greatest prophet. He has spoken to all humankind for all time.

By contrast, the Bible tells us Jesus is much more than the Quran or Islam recognizes. John starts his gospel with these words; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1. The beginning John is speaking about here is the antecedent to all time and space. It is the beginning of all beginnings. The point in time where there was nothing else and no one else but God. Then John says something so scandalous and unthinkable that its blasphemy to a Muslim. “The Word became flesh and lived among us.” John 1:14.

God became one of us and assumed all the frailty that comes with being human. Jesus got hurt, stubbed his toe, bled, laughed, cried, went hungry, and became thirsty. Jesus experienced everything we will experience in this life. Since he has experienced it all, he knows what we need when we go through those times too. Hebrews 5:15 says “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…”

Jesus perfectly identifies with us. That means so much more than that he can relate with us. The Bible tells us he took all the sin and brokenness of every human being and placed it on Himself. He became our substitute. By his death on the cross, Jesus paid the price and served the sentence justice requires.

The claim of the Old Testament is that God is One. Muslims can agree with that. The claim of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior over heaven and earth. “Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11. That is the great dividing line between Jesus and Muhammad, Christianity and Islam.

Jesus shows us the radical, unrelenting, fierce love of God for you and for me. His love is like no other. His love pursues us, never gives up on us, seeks us until we are found, changes us and makes us radical lovers ourselves. It is not the mountains, or the oceans or the stars or all of creation that so spectacularly reveals our Heavenly Father. It is the incarnation. God became one of us and lived among us.

Without Jesus, it is possible to know who God is but it is impossible to know God personally.

Olive Branch After the Flood

BY Uon Seila, Director of Develop Our Village Economy(DOVE), BelPres Mission Partner in Cambodia

This time of year in Cambodia is harvest time for the rice crop. In the past, Cambodians took turns helping one another to the harvest crop. My family had only three people to harvest our crop so it took two months before we could finish. If we joined with another family of three, then it would take only one month. If we joined with three families with three people each, it would take just 15 days. This practice is called “provas dai,” which means lending hands to help harvest. I like this practice and I miss it. While working in the fields, each family shared food and ate together. The time under the Khmer Rouge spoiled this sharing practice. Now people hate to work together.

We had friends and supporters from overseas come and celebrate harvest time with us at the Onyx year-end retreat. At the beginning of 2016, some satellite sites suffered from insufficient funding, which was stressful. However, staff remained committed to developing our young leaders and we were reminded of Psalm 126:5-6, which says,” those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.” Praise God! We now feel joy because friends joined us to harvest our crop. Please report back to people at home how we enjoyed the fruit of this year’s harvest and to please join us to see more fruit and sharing in the years to come.

The church growth rate in Cambodia reached a plateau in 2015. If we do not do anything, it will decline soon. Cambodia is not alone, because churches in Europe and North America face declining congregations as well. This is a global issue that we need to work together to solve. After the flood Noah and his family wanted to get out of the ark but he want to make sure the water really subsided from the earth.

He sent forth a dove from him, to see if the waters had subsided from the face of the ground. The dove found no place to set her foot. She returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. He put out his hand, took her, and brought her into the ark with him. He waited another seven days and again he sent forth the dove out of the ark. The dove came back to him in the evening. Behold, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf, so Noah knew that the waters had subsided from the earth. Then he waited another seven days and sent forth the dove, and she did not return to him anymore. (Gen 8:8-12)

We have updated the organization’s vision, mission and core values. We believe that discipleship of emerging leaders is strategic ways to strengthen and grow the Church in Cambodia and bring transformation to the nation. We are excited that this vision encompasses all of DOVE’s programs. Our staff continues to seek ways that our programs can synergize more with each other.

Watch Seila’s Story

All We Need is Love…Jesus’ Love

Lord, I am not ready to serve. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have the time. I can’t afford it. What if I fail? Just like Jeremiah, I have given God excuse after excuse as to why I am not cut out to be a missionary and why I can’t serve him. There are so many better people out there to do his job.

But God doesn’t see it that way. We are his plan to share his love. He uses everyday people every day. He wants us to serve him just the way we are, in the place that we are, with the people that we are with because that is why we are there. He chose to share his love and good news through us, knowing that we could not even follow one simple direction in the Garden of Eden. He already knows we are not perfect, we are horrible at following directions, and we will make mistakes.

As crazy as it sounds, he still believes in us, has faith in us, and tells us to share his love. He is the creator of heaven and earth, so if he wanted perfect people who knew of his presence from the moment we came into this world, he could have made that happen, but that was not his plan. I think word “mission” or “missionary” can scare people. It sounds like it comes with big expectations. That is why I feel like I cannot do it. I like the word “plan.” It’s simple and something I can be a part of and do.

We are his plan to share his love. We get caught up worrying that we don’t know enough theology to share the gospel, what if someone asks me a question and I don’t have the answer? You are not God so you won’t have all the answers. And the reality is, most people do not become Christians because someone shared a Bible verse with them. Most people come to know Christ because someone showed Jesus’s love. The first step is to not do all the talking but listen to their story and love them for who they are right at that moment. Your act of kindness is what they need. Jesus’s acts of love throughout his time on earth was what brought the throngs of followers to him. When you consider how many pages there are in the Bible, we can see that even Jesus was a man of a few words.

We are his plan to share his love. In 2 John 1:6, the Message says, “Love means living the way God commanded us to live. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is this: Live a life of love.” Look around you, everywhere you look, you will see people who are dying to be listened to and loved. Here is our mission field: in the cars driving by you, in the malls walking past you, in the office buildings working near you, on the streets begging by you; there are people feeling alone, helpless, broken, and lost. It can be anyone: the CEO, the teacher, the mother, the homeless, the barista, the brother, the technician, and the children.

As we begin this New Year thinking about new resolutions, stop your excuses and challenge yourself to a new mindset, to see the world through God’s eyes. His mission for you may be big or small, global or local, but ultimately the plan is the same, to share God’s love. John 13:34-35 say, “A new commandment I give you: Love another. As I have loved you, so you must love another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We act because we believe, we love because we are loved. Can you do at least one act of love every day? Can you share Jesus’s love because he shared with you first? All we need is love…Jesus’ love.

Watch Dr Scott Dudley’s Jan 8 Sermon about Jeremiah’s excuses to God.

Families Reunited with D.A.D.S.

William was raised from an early age to survive “on the street” though criminal activity. This resulted in him living with 17 aliases, multiple children, multiple women, multiple incarcerations and the accumulation of over $100,000 in unpaid child support. William found Divine Alternatives for Dads Services (D.A.D.S.) based on his mistaken belief, from “word on the street,” that D.A.D.S. would help him avoid the obligation to pay child support. Marvin and Jeanett Charles welcomed him with open arms as they do every new D.A.D.S. client.

As time went on, William found that instead of avoiding his child support responsibility, the D.A.D.S. experience helped him learn the importance of living in community and assuming responsibility, not just for child support, but also for his entire life. William received assistance to establish a parenting plan that allowed him to make regular child support payments and establish regular visitation with his three children. William discovered hope for a new future. Like so many others, the love William had for his children became a profound motivation to break the generational cycle of incarceration and destructive behavior.

During this period, William demonstrated an aptitude for fixing computer hardware and software applications. He applied those skills in a small business as a computer service handyman. He began attending community college and studied Information Technology(IT). At the same time, William was helping other D.A.D.S. clients go through the same process he did. He became a driving force behind a group of D.A.D.S. former clients who run a mentor program called Connie’s Urban Brothers (C.U.B.S.) at a city alternative school for youth who are at high risk of drug abuse, street violence, teen pregnancy, dropping out of school and incarceration.

Almost all of the men involved in C.U.B.S. have been incarcerated for extended periods of time and all of them have children. These men speak with authority, they know the dangers involved in taking the at-risk path – they have lived it. The school principal says that these men are the best thing that’s ever happened for the kids. She reports that school attendance has risen and attributes the rise in attendance to the regular presence of the C.U.B.S.mentors. William went on to graduate from community college with a degree in IT. Upon graduation, he applied for a job with a corporate executive he met through his work at D.A.D.S. He is now a highly respected IT professional at one of Seattle’s most recognized companies. He is married, in relationship with his children, is a homeowner and pays taxes.

William’s story is typical for many D.A.D.S. clients walking through the doors for the first time. Without D.A.D.S., William would have continued to search for ways to avoid his unpaid child support, continuing to live his life on the perimeter of society and ultimately returning to incarceration, self-destructive behavior and separation from his children. Now instead of being supported by society, he supports others. In January of 2015, William Hughes was elected the President of the Board of Directors of D.A.D.S.

Click here to go to D.A.D.S. website

New Hope at New Hope Revival Church

God is doing many things in my life. He is keeping me strong and teaching me to trust him every day. My family has great hope every day. We have many blessings and have made many friends. We already have a big family in the US. People have come from Texas, Maine, and Utah—for various reasons like climate or the need to connect with other East Africans. And then, they connect with me and have started coming to New Hope Revival Church. Others have come because they know the earlier arrivals. Often when such people come, they stay in my home until we can connect them with others in same situations, or find them places to stay. I am problem solving, helping new people find jobs, places to live—this is an everyday ministry, to do whatever people need. So my East Africa “family” is becoming connected in the Seattle area through New Hope Revival Church.

At New Hope Revival Church, God is doing many things. People are more regular in their attendance. People used to come at 11:30 for an 11am start, but now they have learned that it is important to be on time. The church is the connection point for people as far apart as Tukwila, Shoreline, Auburn, Kent, and Everett. We have been blessed with a van from Auto Angels. One of our members keeps the car for her use unless it is needed for transport for the New Hope Revival Church. On Sundays, our new driver Guillaume picks up members to bring them to church. We are so thankful to BelPres and Auto Angels for this gift!

When we started the church, we were in one small room. While the worship team practiced, I kept the children in our new space and we had problems with children behaving poorly.  Our children had discipline issues because they were not used to the Sunday School schedule. With the help of BelPres Family Life Ministry team, this problem is solved. Now we have been given a beautiful new space for our services, UC 106, and we got really good advice and help from teachers Lisa and Laura, so the children now go to Sunday school happy every week.

New Hope Revival Church is a “baby church” within BelPres church. So we are blessed to have encouragement and participation our “parents”. They have welcomed us from the beginning, and they are watching over us to see what God is doing to grow our ministry. We have our own executive committee which helps plan and guide the church’s activities, we have a strong worship team, and we have involved many members with special responsibilities, so they feel they are a part of the church.

Since our beginning, every week we see new changes. We have a gifted team leader, Edgard, who came from Texas to help us with our music program. We were blessed by Seattle Presbytery to buy instruments. And, most importantly, the team has moved from a performance attitude to a worship attitude. They are taking time to practice, before and after services, even with many family commitments.

The people who attend NHRC include not only Rwandese, but some from Kenya, Congo, and Burundi. Also, we often welcome people from BelPres. Our Executive Pastor, Annie Duncan, blessed us last month with a good retelling of the story of the two births from the Gospel of Luke. Several people came to ask me afterward to invite her to come again.

In November, our preaching focused on the importance of giving, and not on money as a goal in itself. People are beginning to look around to see how they can help meet each other’s needs. Also, people are bringing their used items to donate to Jubilee Reach.

I am still involved with Hope for Children Ministries in Rwanda, and have developed a US-based advisory team which can accept donations now through Joy to the World Foundation (http//:joytotheworldfoundation.org) We changed the name for this project in the US to Rwanda Faith Academy(RFA). All funds we collect through RFA will be wired directly to Hope for Children in Rwanda, to help build necessary classrooms and pay teachers’ salaries. I have put in place a strong board to oversee the work there.  They are in regular contact with me and report on everything the ministry is doing.

I am so blessed to have Mom Jean in my life. She helps in different ways, for many things:  in ministry, church, and my life each and every day. She explains, gives me clarity, and I am glad to be with her.

 

King County Youth Chaplaincy: I Have Hope Now

Gangbangers. Growing up, they were all around me and all I knew. All my “role models” were gangsters. There was no one who was positive. I love my parents, but they weren’t really there for me. So I followed the only people that I looked up to, right into gang life. I was 14 when I got jumped in. It was all bad from there, and I eventually got locked up.

In juvy, I felt like I lost everything. I had nothing—no money, no possessions, no homies. Nobody had my back. I didn’t even have hope… or God.

I went to church in juvy, just to check it out. I was surprised that I liked it. The speakers had good things to say, and it made me think more about my life and future. Some of the guys in my hall said good things about seeing the chaplains, but I thought that wasn’t for me. I’m not gonna share my life with a complete stranger.

One of the guys kept telling me about talking to a chaplain, so I decided to talk to Chaplain Jon. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was cool. At first, I didn’t really want to open up too much. But after a while, I felt God was in it, and it was real talk. It was good to have someone to talk to and help keep my mind positive. In juvy, you’re surrounded by so much negativity, guys always talking about their gangs, beefs with rivals, alcohol, weed, hitting licks, and other negative things. So it was really good to have someone positive around.

I felt myself starting to change. My faith was growing. I always believed in God, but I was distracted by other things. I felt closer to God. I started to help the other guys in my hall. When one of my guys was about to fight one of his rivals, I helped talk him out of it. Chaplain Jon said I was a peacemaker and showed me a verse from the Bible (Matthew 5:9). So I tried helping the other guys more and more. I tried to keep the peace whenever I could.

I was then sent to Naselle to serve out the rest of my sentence. There were ups and downs there, but I still saw myself as a peacemaker. It was helpful when Chaplain Jon came to visit me. It was good to see him again. As my release date got closer, we stayed in touch because I wanted to stay in a positive direction when I got out. I knew I had to stay in touch with him.

When I was released, it was really hard to stay away from the streets and gang life. It was a huge temptation, and I sometimes went back to the homies and my old ways. One day, I asked myself, “What am I doing?” I realized that I was only hurting myself and others, and I couldn’t do this anymore. I knew that God was speaking to me. I knew I couldn’t keep going in that direction.

Now, I don’t go to the block, and I don’t hang out with the homies. I work and earn my money the right way. I get together with Chaplain Jon at least once a week, and I’ve been speaking at different churches, sharing my story. I like this because I want to help people. This is what I want to do in my future. I don’t know exactly what kind of job I want, but I know I want to help people. I don’t want others to go through what I’ve been through. I want people to know there’s hope.

I have hope now and I have hope for my future. God has blessed me.

If you would like more information on how to get involved with King County Youth Chaplaincy, contact Chaplain Jon Abe at: jabe@urbanimpactseattle.org

Meal Packing for All Ages

rsz_2img_4921I was so excited when my mom told me that the Meal Packing Marathon is back in January 2017!  I had been doing it for two years, and I had had so much fun!  Helping at the Meal Packing Marathon makes me happy, because even though I am young, I could help the children in Africa who don’t have enough food to eat. I remember God says in the Bible: “If you have food, share it with those who are hungry.” (Luke 3:11).

During the event, kids can help in many ways. They can pour the ingredients into the bags, weigh them on the scale, and seal them. I learned so much from the Meal Packing Marathon. I even shared my experience at school as part of my school project.

I am so looking forward and ready to help again in the next Meal Packing Marathon!

 

Register starting December 1 for the 2017 Meal Packing Event!

 

Matt Talbot Center: How We Approach Addiction

Twice a week, BelPres member Rich Morse drives across Lake Washington to volunteer at the Matt Talbot Center (MTC) in Seattle’s Belltown.“It’s a sweet Jesus place,” he says, “a place where people who are homeless, addicted, or mentally ill can get help on the spot. If you make a mistake and leave, you can always come back. It doesn’t enable, but gives grace. It offers know-how and gives people a new way of living.”

Rich exemplifies the ministry of presence that MTC offers for the healing and restoration of individuals and families. Its programs include Christ-inspired counseling; drug and alcohol treatment services; Bible study and prayer; housing and employment assistance, and literacy training.

As the November 18th edition of “The Seattle Times” reports, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy estimates that “one out of seven Americans will develop a substance-use disorder at some time in their lives, but at the present rate, only one in 10 will receive treatment;” and there aren’t sufficient programs.

“It’s time to change how we view addiction,” Dr. Murthy says, “Not as a moral failing, but as a chronic illness that must be treated with skill, urgency and compassion. The way we address this crisis is a test for America.”

Rich Morse feels this is a significant question for Christians, as well: “What can we do as a church to help with the addiction problem in America?”

“I came to a relationship with Jesus 32 years ago at the age of 37 because I just knew I needed something way bigger than me. I come from a wonderful family, but one with lots of addiction. A compulsive, addictive, coping approach to living came naturally. I could do many things well, but not live very well.”

The love and healing Rich found through his faith has sustained him through more than 15 years of recovery and empowered his service to others.

Through work with black leaders in the community, Rich and his wife, Corky, came to know Greg Alex, founder and CEO of the Seattle Matt Talbot Center, and Terrence Lewis, MTC’s Operations Manager.

Rich’s heart for the underdog and his success in recovery prompted Greg and Terrence to invite Rich to visit MTC and see what they were doing.

“Soon I was facilitating a class on how we move from dependence on substances and behaviors that are destructive to our lives and relationships,” Rich says. “We discuss positive things we can use to replace our addictions and move into wholehearted living.”

Rich now leads three classes a week that offer hope, healing and a new way of living: “The work reminds me of who my ultimate hope is, who my Savior, Jesus, is!”

Next month, MTC will continue another of its traditions: providing a Christmas celebration and gifts for children in the community who would otherwise have none. Corporate funding for this event has dropped off, so BelPres members Steve and Kris Bennett are gathering funds to help.

“Each person on that staff is wrapped in so much compassion and love,” Kris says. “They’re real cheerleaders for the people they’re serving.”

If you’d like to get involved with the Matt Talbot Center, there is an upcoming opportunity to serve with the Justice & Reconciliation Team who will be putting on a Christmas mid-day meal. Email for more details.

A Community in Partnership: Bellevue Police Prayer Partners

This past spring, when the Bellevue Police Prayer Partners ministry needed a new leader, Deneen Blake felt called to step into the position, having prayed for a couple of BPD officers for many years and serving in many other roles at BelPres. Soon into her new role, Deneen, along with our mission partner Mike Ryan, Public Safety Support Services Chaplain, recognized that there were many officers without a current prayer partner. They decided to team up to further showcase this very valuable ministry. As the ordained minister and chaplain to all first responders in Bellevue, Mike read scripture in Sunday services while Deneen and Officer Jim Lindquist manned the kiosk in the lobby. At the end of the morning, over fifty Bellevue officers were matched with a BelPres prayer partner!

rsz_img_3327The importance of praying for our Bellevue PD and first responders cannot be understated. In a recent update, Mike very poignantly shared about the role he plays within our community:

“Thank you for continuing to be ‘the church the Eastside can’t live without.’ I see BelPres’ influence through my area of ministry. I’ve been busy this month: over the past two weeks alone I’ve been with a mother who lost her young adult son to suicide; and a second mother whose young adult child died from a drug overdose. I was also with two families who each lost a sibling to medical issues, as well as caring for a number of impacted first responders.”

Mike’s role in providing spiritual care for families in shock and grief gives him a front seat in mission and outreach to our community. Not only that, he also provides care and a listening ear to first responders, including police officers as they too are impacted by loss and grief. This places Mike on the front lines every day. Chaplain Mike is such a gift to our Bellevue community; and having BelPres members daily praying for police officers is such an encouragement to him and to Officer Lindquist.

Thank you to all who have signed up to be a prayer partner. You are bringing to the Throne of Grace those who care for us when emergencies arise. If you would like more information about the Bellevue Police Prayer Partner ministry at BelPres, please contact GetConnected or call 425-454-3082 and ask to speak with someone in missions.

Checking My List Against His: Alternative Gift Market

 

I am someone who enjoys getting caught up in the busyness of wrapping, decorating, and shopping for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Advent: going to church, singing hymns, and celebrating the birth of Jesus. My daughter laughs at my tears each Christmas Eve as we sing “Silent Night” by candlelight in the sanctuary. However, I am guilty of finding joy in the season by making lists of my wants so that my family knows what to get me each year. I am guilty of the selfishness of making sure that Christmas is perfect for me, the way I want it. Though I tell myself that I am just trying to make shopping easier for everyone. But the responsibility I have as a mom glares in my face when I see how that has started to make its way into my own children’s thinking and celebrating. It is up to me to reconsider, refocus, and model where the attention goes during the holidays.

And that’s when I find myself thankful for the work I get to do with the Alternative Gift Market.

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Each year one of the highlights of Advent is the start of the Alternative Gift Market (AGM). I work with an amazing group of people for a good six months leading up to Advent; collecting, editing, organizing, designing, and finally putting together all the pieces for the catalog and online store. It is a joy to see all our hard work come together. The hope of AGM is to raise funds to support the work of our partners in local and global ministries. A secondary hope is for our BelPres congregation to see just how far outward we are reaching and the many varied ministries we are working with. My own personal hope is that perhaps a particular ministry will grab a heart and pull at someone to not only buy a meaningful gift, but also to go deeper and seek a way to engage with that ministry.

I love how this catalog always refocuses my attention on what it means to give at Christmas and find joy in the season. I look at the pictures and the items offered through the catalog, and I realize just how blessed I am and how much I have been given. And I remember Luke 12:48 “…From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” So, at Christmas I have an opportunity to give a gift I will never see—clean water, malaria treatment, blankets, or chickens—to someone I have never met.

I am thankful that I can experience gift giving at Christmas in a different way and reflect on what truly matters to me and my family. It’s about a birthday for someone else. I am a guest at this wonderful celebration. It’s not about me, but about the King and the gifts he continues to give to the world. Through our Alternative Gift Market, I am able to be a part of giving for the glory of the Kingdom.

Looking at God through Muslim and Christian Lenses

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts I have been writing on Islam. There are 3.3 million Muslims living in the U.S., and that number is steadily increasing which is welcome news for Christians who have been praying for Muslims. My hope for this series is that it will help us be more confident and comfortable as we build relationships with our Muslim neighbors.

 

So let’s look at three big ideas Christians and Muslims share about God and how our perspectives differ.

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Christians and Muslims believe there is only One God.

Muhammad, who is the prophet of Islam, grew up in Mecca where the people worshipped many different gods. This deeply troubled Muhammad and prompted him to devote his life to finding spiritual truth. Islam emerged from that context with the message that there is only One God. Today, many Muslims daily recite a phrase called the ‘Shahada’ which is “There is no God but ‘Allah’ and Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

But the God described in the holy book of Islam, called the ‘Quran’, is different than the God described in the Bible. One of the biggest differences is that the God of the Bible is Triune. This means that there is One God, but this God consists of three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each Person has a unique role. God the Father created this world. God the Son redeemed it through the cross. God the Holy Spirit guides and empowers followers of Jesus in this world. Christians call this ‘The Trinity’, and there are several places in the Bible that show the Trinity of God at work: Genesis 1:26-28; Matthew 3:16-17 and Matthew 28:18-21.  Muslims reject this doctrine. For a Muslim, there is only One God, so Jesus was only a prophet.

Christians and Muslims believe that God is Transcendent.

God exceeds the barriers of physical space and time limitations. This means God is Supreme, All-Powerful, and All-Knowing. God is the necessary and unique Creator of all things. There is no one and no thing like God. Christians and Muslims both agree on this.

For a Muslim though, God is so unique and so far removed from our lives that a Muslim cannot know God personally. The term Muslim means ‘to submit’ and the human-God relationship in Islam (which means ‘the submission’) is best described as servant-master. A Muslim submits to God’s laws and lives a life of obedience characterized by the five pillars of Islam (saying the Shahada, prayer, fasting, alms, and pilgrimage to Mecca.) A Muslim can know God’s attributes, and this knowledge gives a Muslim comfort and encouragement, but there is no personal relationship with this God.

Christians believe that the transcendent God burst into this world in the person of Jesus. Matthew 1:23 records for us that the angel Gabriel, in announcing Jesus’ birth, said; “they will call Him Immanuel, which means God with us.” Later, Jesus would tell His disciples “Anyone who has seen me has seen my Father,” John 14:7

Jesus came so that we could know the Father personally and relate to Him as His children, Galatians 3:26, 1 John 3:1.

Christians and Muslims believe that God provides guidance through this life.

We live in a world that does not know God or follow Him. So God has given us prophets and His Holy Word to show us His will and guide us. This is another idea we agree on.

Muslims have a very high view of the Torah (The Jewish Scriptures) and the Bible, in addition to the Quran. But Muslims also believe that the Torah and the Bible became corrupted over the years. So God gave Muhammad the exact words which are written in the Quran.  These words came directly from heaven and were spoken to Muhammad in Arabic, which is why the Quran is only read and spoken in Arabic. All other translations are imperfect versions or translations. The purpose of the Quran is to make people aware of God’s creation plan and to earn God’s pleasure. The Quran describes human beings as good, created with the capability of being good. Adam and Eve sinned simply because they forgot or became distracted from obeying God’s law. The Quran reminds a Muslim about God’s law and provides the guidance a Muslim needs to obey it. By doing so, a Muslim shows their devotion to God and hopes in return to inherit paradise.

Christians believe the complete opposite. The Bible teaches us that God’s law, summed up in the commandments, is good, but it does not have the power to make us good, Romans 7:7-25. Rather, the law shows us how corrupt we are and how unable we are to live righteous and obedient lives. This is because we have a sin nature that makes it impossible for us to be good on our own. We need a Savior. Someone who can make us righteous and heal our sin nature. We need Jesus because that’s exactly what He does for us.

The heart of the Christian message is “God loves you!”

“God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son that whoever believes in Him will have everlasting life”, John 3:16. God is personal, relational, and wildly in love with you. God goes to the most radical extreme to demonstrate His love. Romans 5:8 tells us “while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” By placing all our brokenness and sin on Himself when He died on that cross, God received the Judgment that was coming for us all. Now we are totally free. That is really different from the God of the Quran.

So what can you do today? Begin praying for God to give you a Muslim friend. Have fun with the relationship. Love them. Serve them. Ask questions about their faith. And when the time comes, share your own personal experience with God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Prayer:  “Jesus, light the fire of your love in me for the sake of the world.”

Mission Update from Baja Family Impact Trip

Hola! We had an eventful trip! Thursday night we landed safely in San Diego, easily found our luggage and rental vans, then set off for In-N-Out Burger.

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We woke up Friday morning and met for breakfast at the Pancake Republic. We were met by our building crews from Home to Home and Baja Christian Ministries (some employees and some volunteers from the states who come down for the whole month.) There were a lot of giant pancakes consumed and fresh squeezed orange juice. We then headed out in a caravan for the 15 minute drive up into the hills. The two families we were building houses for had small lots with beautiful views across the city and ocean. We were surprised to find out that lots all cost the same, whether they were down in the valley or had a view.

After praying for our day, we started to build!

Sean, Ros, and Rhett were on the Taco team, while Oliver and I were on the Burrito team. The foundations were poured and framing work began right away. We spent the morning nail-gunning, painting, hauling drywall, and generally working really hard. It was very hot (90’s) and no shade until the roof went on. After lunch, we went right back to work. Ros and Sean painted, Rhett played soccer with the neighbor kids, and Oliver and I hung drywall. We also sent Oliver up to the roof where he hauled and nailed shingles. We worked hard all afternoon, racing the sun to get everything done before it got too dark. We finally started taping and mudding at 5:45 pm! Finish work was done by cell phone light. The mom of our house, Karin, worked alongside me with a drill all afternoon. She and her husband, Noe, have two boys, Axel (8 yrs) and Max (2.5 yrs) who were around the job site all day.
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It was a pretty awesome experience to gather in their newly completed house (after we got the lights on!), hand them the keys, and pray for their family and house. Karin hugged me for a long time as we both cried! We all went over to Sean’s build site and prayed for that family as well, ending our long day of building at 7:30 pm. Both families now have brand new houses with three rooms downstairs, a loft, lights, fan, and a first coat of mud/tape! The outside walls were painted and trimmed (both families chose shades of pink; our family’s house was Pepto-Bismol pink and Karin called it her Barbie house).

The next morning, we split into four groups, with a Spanish-speaker in each group, and went door-to-door and invited the neighbors to a gathering in the park. It was a very different experience in Mexico than it would be in the US. No skepticism or ‘no soliciting’ signs, just friendly faces and most people showed up at the park! Five from our group (including myself and Rhett) shared our testimonies in front of a group of about 200 people, then Pastor Bob from Baja Christian Ministries gave a message and an invitation to pray to accept Christ. 93 people did so! They each received a Bible and Purple Book and will have a pastor follow-up with them. One prayer request is for a church for this neighborhood as there are many people who need a shepherd! We prayed for smaller groups of people, including two ladies who needed healing, and others who we just prayed a blessing over. The kids in our group handed out candy and The Action Bible comics. Plus we made human pyramids! All in all, a VERY cool and surprisingly non-nerve-racking experience.

Buenos dias!

A Shining Star from Jubilee REACH

Helen first came to Jubilee REACH in 2008 when she was in 8th grade at Tillicum Middle School.

Her name, “Helen” derives from ancient Greek and has the meaning “shining light.” From a single parent, immigrant family and the eldest of four children, Helen carried a lot of responsibility at home and still applied herself to academics at school. At first, she was somewhat reserved, but over time she connected to other students and volunteers at Jubilee REACH. Helen developed more confidence, became a student leader, and soon embraced life as a grand adventure. She gained the courage to let her light shine! A bit of Helen’s story in her own words:

“From eighth grade and all throughout high school, I was an active participant in the Jubilee REACH after school program. JR helped me thrive and reach my potential as a student and leader.  It gave me a safe place to do my homework, provided snacks, and encouraged me to get help from friends and volunteers. I went to JR daily for five years and along the way my younger siblings attended as well.

 

I especially enjoyed the Art Studio, led by Ms. Julie, which gave me the opportunity to develop leadership skills by becoming President of the Art Club. Then I went to the JR summer internship program which provided me with initial career experience. It was a place where I developed long-lasting friendships.  

 

Being a part of JR boosted my self-confidence because I was around people who believed in me and my potential – they supported my academic goals. Eventually, I achieved a 3.97 GPA and several college scholarships. These achievements wouldn’t have been possible without going to JR every day and taking advantage of its resources, such as tutoring. When I was in the tenth grade, JR matched me with a volunteer tutor, Brenda Thompson, and she continues to help me to this day. 

 

I also continue to benefit every day from my time at JR because they helped me acquire a car through the Auto Angels at BelPres Church. This transportation makes it possible for me to live at home and assist my family daily even while I’m in school.

 

I’ve recently returned from two months studying in Morocco, and I’m now entering my senior year at UW Bothell where I’m carrying a 3.93 GPA. My major is Society, Ethics & Human Behavior, and I’m minoring in Human Rights. At JR, I realized the importance of elevating socio-economically marginalized groups in order to help build a stronger and healthier community. That has inspired my goal to eventually work in a non-profit community organization after graduation. JR has had a tremendous impact on my life and on my family. I hope to reciprocate for all the support.”

Helen’s story illuminates the impact of Jubilee REACH over nine years. Our work is enduring rather than episodic. Committed volunteers serve by coming alongside students and families to invest the time and resources to lift others up. After ten years, we’re beginning to see the work mature and there is a bright future ahead.

The Basics: Family, Friends, and Diapers!

If you’ve been to a baby shower recently, been a parent, or have new parents in your circle, you know that diapers are always a very welcome gift, but especially for these families in need. Baby Basics of Bellevue and its volunteers are pouring out love to parents beyond the baby shower. It is recognizing parents’ most basic needs and helping to provide for them so that they can focus on their children and their goals for the future.

We’d like to share two portraits of families we have been able to serve through Baby Basics of Bellevue:

“When they first started coming to distributions almost a year ago, the family’s new baby daughter, Baby Q, was usually asleep. Now she is an active, happy baby and enjoys any snacks that are available when she attends distributions. Baby Q’s family has struggled with homelessness and underemployment. Her father works nights in Seattle, and her mother works at a human services agency in Bellevue.”

“Baby S has been in the program for just over a year. He is a smiley, bright, and active little boy. Baby S and his mom do not have a car, and they ride the bus to get to Tuesday night distributions. Afterward, they often wait for an hour or more for Baby S’s dad to pick them up after work. Volunteers have offered to give Baby S and his mom a ride, but she wants to be as self-sufficient as possible. She is determined and resourceful. She is learning English so that she can start working once Baby S is in preschool. Recently she asked for help in locating places where she could access free or low-cost English classes, and clothing and toys. We tapped our referral network and gave her information for Jubilee Reach and Bellevue College.” 

Beyond serving the families enrolled in the Baby Basics program we feel compelled to help parents who ask for our help. Often we refer them to other agencies that are equipped to help families in crisis, and sometimes we become more involved. Recently we were asked for help from a homeless mother with a toddler son. We provided diapers, food, and transportation to a night shelter and, the next day, to a day shelter. Other times we have delivered emergency diapers to families in crisis or to volunteers helping those families. We also regift diapers we cannot use to Jubilee Reach and other organizations that serve homeless families and low-income families on the Eastside.

As homelessness on the Eastside grows, Baby Basics is experiencing more requests for diapers for homeless families taking refuge in Eastside shelters. It is heartbreaking to see families shuffled between shelters at night and living out of cars during the day, some with no car or any possessions beyond a suitcase, backpack, and stroller.

Baby Basics: National Development Corporation provides diapers to working families living on the edge of poverty across the United States. Volunteers at the distribution centers offer encouragement and assistance by connecting parents with a network that helps them cope with life’s challenges. Currently, Baby Basics of Bellevue, WA has twenty-six babies in the program. Distribution nights are casual and fun with many little ones either being carried or running about.

Bellevue Presbyterian hosts Baby Basics of Bellevue diaper distribution nights on the 1st & 3rd Tuesdays of the month. Contact GetConnected to get involved.

Step By Step Justice: El Camino del Inmigrante

I am a mother and a grandmother. I was raised at BelPres church as my parents were founding (charter) members.  My husband and I were married by Dick Leon in 1989, and are longtime members. I have lived most of my adult life raising our three children and working on and off. Through this time, I have held a heart for those without a voice in the dominant culture but have found it challenging to pursue active advocacy work. I feel as though I have been wandering in a desert for thirty-five years, and the time has come for me to be more present and active in the pursuit of justice.

I was adopted at two-and-a-half years old. I was raised in a Christian home by parents who had a heart for mission. As was common then, my parents opened their home to many of the missionaries they supported who were traveling from around the globe.

In the early 1980s, after I completed college, I was heart-struck and overwhelmed by the struggles of unrest in Central America. I wanted to join the Sojourners internship group but was anxious that I needed to focus on my work life first. I also wanted to go to the Nicaragua-Honduras border as a part of the Witness for Peace group at the time, but was too afraid.

During a short time living in San Francisco, I encountered young El Salvadorian men at the deli where I worked who were looking for someone to marry in order to stay in the US. It was then that I realized how desperate they were to stay in this country and was awakened to the hardships they faced in finding safety and refuge here in the US.

When I returned to the Seattle area, I volunteered with a Friends Church providing sanctuary to refugees from Central America. I sat with them as part of the vigilant companionship required to keep them safe and at ease. During that time, I became overwhelmed with the immensity of the political situation in Latin America and felt ill-equipped to do anything of substance, so I retreated into a safe suburban life.

I believe that my adoption story often has led me to seek personal and emotional safety, sometimes at the expense of stepping out into areas of the heart. But I have always had a yearning to reconnect with the passion I feel toward those who are in the shadows and without any power or voice in their communities. I am getting older and have been a sloimg_2326-k-chesmorew learner, but, gradually, I am becoming less afraid and more willing to step actively into areas of witness, empathy, and heart.

The problems in our world can be paralyzing, but I have decided I will do what I can.

Over the past several months, I have been volunteering with World Relief in Seattle (Kent), visiting detainees at the NW Detention Center. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like I am doing much, but I have enjoyed getting to know the women, and I believe it has been an encouragement to them as well as to me. I have signed up to be a host family for refugees and look forward to when we will be able to have our first family come stay with us.

Additionally, this past August, I joined a group of over 170 walkers for the El Camino del Inmigrante, a 150 mile pilgrimage from Tijuana to LA. We walked to stand in solidarity with the immigrants in our country and to raise awareness about our broken immigration system.

I believe God is moving His people to action, and I want to follow God’s leading in my life. Step by step, I have gained respect for people in our community regardless of their status and a stronger desire to advocate for those who struggle for a better life. Slowly, I am stepping out of the comfort of fear and into the renewal of hearts.

For more information about the walk and the issues it raised, you can visit http://www.ccda.org/events/el-camino

Transformation Stories–King County Youth Chaplaincy

Editor’s note: Here are two stories recently shared by the King County Youth Chaplaincy folks, who have their annual benefit on Sept 29. Both are really powerful, but I wanted to call your attention to the second: From Gang Member to Peacemaker, because we’ve been sharing prayer requests for Victor in the ENews, and I thought it would be fun for us to have a fuller picture of the young man we’re praying for. May these stories encourage and challenge you today. –Nan

From the Streets to the Path of Righteousness

DeSean was known as “Hot Boy” because of his quick temper and his notorious street activity. When I met him in the detention center a few years ago when he was a 15-year-old boy, he wore an angry look on his face. His reputation and behavior from the block followed him into juvie as he got into fights and other trouble, letting his inner rage get the best of him.

DeSean shared much of his upbringing with me: his move from Chicago to Seattle, his unstable home life, and his undertakings as a gang member. He often expressed thanks to still have breath as he recalled times when death got very close. I remember asking him, “Why do you think God still wants you alive?”

“Hmmm. I’ll have to think about that.” Even at 15, DeSean was a deep thinker.

In subsequent conversations, he expressed a desire to change. “I don’t want to be ‘Hot Boy’ no more,” DeSean stated. He then began to transform. Just before he was sent to a long-term prison, he achieved honor level, the highest tier in juvie that allows for privileges, such as extra snacks and going to bed later.

I eventually lost touch with DeSean, but never forgot about him. I put a daily reminder in my phone to help me remember to pray for him.

A few months ago, I reconnected with DeSean at a group home while I was visiting another young man. I didn’t know if it was DeSean at first–it had been over two years since I last saw him. But we soon recognized each other and got to catch up.

As I visited him over the following months, I saw no signs of “Hot Boy”. Conversely, I saw and still see one of the kindest and most generous people I know. One afternoon, when he brought some pizza back to the group home, he made sure all the other youth got a slice, even though it meant fewer slices for himself.

A few weeks ago, DeSean saw a distraught youth with a broken CD player. DeSean approached him, put his hand on his shoulder, and said with genuine compassion, “Don’t worry, I’ll buy you a new one.”

When I asked DeSean if he would want to perform a rap at our fundraiser, without hesitation, he replied, “Yeah.” Because he had to work that night, we shot a video of him and played it at our event.

It feels good knowing God loves all
cuz all the stuff I done I shouldn’t have love at all.
Thank God that I found you . . .
my life ain’t perfect,
but one thing I know for certain,
is that I’m worth it.
Don’t be a follower,
be a leader . . .
guide yourself into the path of righteousness.

As I watched the video, I was reminded of God’s power to transform. I praise God for transforming DeSean from “Hot Boy” into the man he is destined to be.

 

From Gang Member to Peacemaker

As chaplains, we get to witness God do some significant, transformative work in our youth. One such youth is Victor, an intelligent, friendly, and very humorous 17-year-old. Though he has been incarcerated for over ten months now, he generally maintains a positive disposition. Victor is a completely different person now than the one who was wreaking havoc as a gang member.

In his words: “I used to think I was God. I thought I had it all. I thought I was invincible.”

“But when I came into juvie, I lost it all, I was broken. I had to put my pride aside and ask for help. I turned to God. I read the Bible, specifically the story of Job, and it moved me. I really appreciate talking with the chaplains and really like the church services; I look forward to it every week.”

“Now I have faith and hope. Me and God, we’re rockin’.”

Additionally, Victor now sees himself as a peacemaker and has taken to heart Matthew 5:9, where Jesus states:

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

He often stands up for youth who get picked on and also prevents guys from getting in trouble by helping them keep their cool. Victor recently recounted how after talking another youth out of fighting, the other youth said, “Because of you, I won’t fight that dude.” Victor recalled, “I was so happy and proud when he said that.”

God has transformed Victor. “I wasn’t even thinking about Jesus before this. Now, I know he is here for me, and I’m putting all my faith in him.annualbenefitdinner

Broadcasting Hope: First Response Radio

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Following the catastrophic 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami in Indonesia, people were desperate for information to rebuild their lives: “Just tell us what is happening!” they urged.

We felt it was important to get a radio station on the air, but had never done this before in disaster conditions. First Response Radio (FRR) got its start in the aftermath of the tsunami. It took a month to get the radio station up and running in Banda Aceh, Indonesia. While that was a great achievement in difficult conditions, we didn’t think it was fast enough as we missed the whole Emergency Phase of the disaster. We subsequently made it our goal to set up a radio station within 72 hours of a disaster striking and start broadcasting critical information to the affected community.

FRR is not a company or an organization. It is a network of networks made up of radio broadcasters, NGOs, and government partners. In each country, it is also a network of responders.

Our strategy has improved dramatically since the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, and the approach of FRR now is to buy equipment, train teams, and practice in disaster prone countries such as the Philippines, India, and Indonesia before disaster strikes. The equipment is then left in the country, and the local team responds to the next disaster.

We refer to the equipment we leave as the “Suitcase Radio,” which is really three suitcases or bags that include: a complete studio, FM transmitter, and an antenna. Each case is less than 45 lbs and can be checked as luggage on any airline. If set up properly, this station can reach a radius of 12 mi or more. However, the real secret to our success is not the equipment, but rather the training we provide.

We combine radio, NGOs, and government staff into a team and lead a five-day training workshop where they learn to run a radio station in a disaster zone. The NGOs learn from the radio announcers and vice versa. While the training we have given to people has been important, the “magic” really happens in the three-day field trials that we conduct. This enables us to put things into practice in a disaster-prone area under realistic field conditions. Sometimes the next disaster even strikes during the training event! FRR spends more time and resources on capacity building as that is the key to a good response.

An independent research paper (1) showed how FRR broadcasts in 2013 helped members of the community to recover following Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) in the Philippines. In summary, the disaster radio (FRR) provided reliable information that decreased fears. Through an understanding of what was happening, community members developed a sense of control and the ability to adapt:

“If you know what is going on . . . it is much easier to do right.”

“You could get information on what was going on, how I could rebuild my house.”

“They told us . . . to get food . . . and they told us about roads . . . and so on.”

Hearing voices and music played over the radio reminded the survivors of normality and offered moments of rest from the fight for survival and recovery. Some participants expressed that the joyful music played influenced them so much that they could feel happiness, and endure:

“I think that the music also . . . it made me feel . . . like normal . . . for a while. To rest my brain.”

 “It was a kind of silence that is deafening. And the radio broke through it, someway. The music and to hear another voice, in the middle of the night, that made me able to hang in there for one night more.”

Also following Typhoon Haiyan, Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque, at the time the Advocacy and Communications Specialist for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said:

“Well done to First Response Radio! We have been going around radio (stations) in Tacloban talking about our (mobile) medical missions for pregnant & breastfeeding women . . . every day in a new barangay – we identify these women in advance in each community, but it’s not possible to identify everyone of course . . . so radio really helps. When our nurses went on First Response Radio the turnout was incredible – 250+ women showed up in one morning (compared to only 40 the previous day).”

Since 2004, our FRR teams have responded to 20 disasters with the most recent being the 2015 Nepal earthquake, Typhoon Koppu (Lando) in the Philippines, the South India floods, and the Afghan-Pakistan earthquake.

Out of catastrophe in Indonesia, we developed this network to empower victims of natural disasters. We hope to continue our field trainings and provision of equipment, which allow these countries to not only protect the safety of their citizens through the dispersal of critical information but also to provide comfort and hope in the midst of disaster.

(1) Karin Hugelius, Mervyn Gifford, Per Ortenwall, Annsofie Adolfsson, “To silence the deafening silence”: Survivor’s needs and experiences of the impact of disaster radio for their recovery after a natural disaster, International Emergency Nursing (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.ienj.2015.11.009