When Neighbors Notice

August marked the beginning of Vacation Bible Study (VBS) on the street where my teammate Alison and I live. This year, we experimented with VBS to see if there was interest in starting art classes here. Our teammates, who live nearby, have been doing art classes with their kids for a number of years. Their art classes integrate Bible stories so kids have a safe space to create, play, learn more about God and form relationships of trust with other neighborhood adults committed to their long-term flourishing.

The art classes are a huge hit with the kids in my teammates’ building. As I began to form relationships with neighbors and a new group of “kiddos,” the team realized we could start art classes with the kids on our street too!   There was only one problem: Where to do it?

Unlike my teammates’ apartment complex, there was not a big, open space available where a large group could easily gather. The only place was across the street on a long patch of grass that hugs the backside of the police station. Neighbors often use this space for gatherings, parties and play as it is safe and conveniently close. We didn’t know how things would turn out gathering in a public space, but decided to give it a go.

As we progressed, our space “problem” became one of the biggest blessings. Being outside, neighbors and passers-by could observe what we were doing with the kids. Parents chose to watch and linger in lawn chairs on the grass (just out of the splash zone of our water games).

And then came the comments and questions:

“It’s so beautiful what you’re doing with the kids. Were you sharing the Word of God?”

“Watching you outside reminded me of when my boys were younger… they used to have time in the park like that, too. I loved it so much as they were growing up. Thank you for doing that for the kids now.”

“I came home from work and thought, ‘What kinds of shenanigans are happening over there?’ It was so much fun to watch the kids playing and having a good time. It’s really cool to see what you guys are doing.”

Having neighbors notice this work was amazing. It even sparked some long conversations with people who had always had questions about faith and now felt comfortable to ask.

Hope tangibly saturated the air. Ripples of excitement and joy spread throughout the community as neighbors volunteered and even brought homemade food so we would all have something to eat.

Our community came closer together in those few days and it was an absolute blessing. Our street was filled with art, love and joy, in a public testimony to the beauty of God’s kingdom. Kids are already excitedly asking about when art classes will start again. I can’t wait to see what happens this fall and how God will continue to work in beautiful, surprising and unexpected ways on our street, in our hearts and in our lives.

 

Annie Aeshbacher is a BelPres missionary serving the marginalized neighborhoods of Los Angeles through InnerCHANGE.  InnerCHANGE is a Christian ministry that works among the poor around the world.

Irma-It Could Have Been So Much Worse!

At one point, Hurricane Irma was projected to track exactly along the edge of the Haitian coastline where we live. At the time, the storm was at 185mph with gusts well past 200mph.

All of the reports aren’t in yet, but in Northwest Haiti, we know that all the crops are gone, blown away by the wind.  Many animals are also lost.  Now we are wondering for future storms how we need to shelter the animals.

In Passe Catabois where we live, we know of four roofs lost among the church community. Results from other neighborhoods are still drifting in. The damage at higher elevations was much worse. We are waiting for news from churches like Margo which is above 3000’ elevation. We know there is damage to many houses, but we don’t know how much, who was impacted, or more details yet.

In two places, we went ahead and took the tin roofs off knowing that if we didn’t remove them, the storm would. And I also lobbied for the men to take all the satellite internet dishes down. They wanted to leave two installed. In the end, they brought all the satellite dishes down…and were very thankful they did. Engineer Sadrack said that he had never seen the wind blow like that in before in his lifetime.

After Hurricane Matthew, we repaired some houses that had the mud walls washed away by horizontally driven rain. They were fine. But a lot more houses had the wall panels washed out this time.  It was a scary moment to be in your home in the darkness with rain blowing in through the holes in the walls and no place to get out of it. Or being in a house when, all of the sudden, the whole roof picked up and blows off to crash down outside in a big heap.

But, it could have been a whole lot worse! The final track of the storm took a turn 150-180 miles north of Haiti. At that distance, Hurricane Irma which was a powerful CAT 5 storm still lashed our part of Haiti with 100mph gusts. Judging by the damage that we have heard about so far, had it been any closer, the damage would have been more devastating.

Thankfully, we are talking about damages and not deaths. We don’t know of any fatalities in our area, praise God. However, for several months following the hurricanes, everyone is going to be hungry until we can replant and gardens have time to recover.

Last Monday, we got news that our boat would sail but wait until after the storm passed. It looked bleak with our ship (Slingshot-which holds our cargo for Haiti) at the dock in Miami in the direct path of the hurricane that was projected to make landfall as CAT 4.

People we know in Miami report that the city got beat up and they still have no power. But the storm went west of Miami, and it wasn’t near as bad as it could have been. We are very thankful and have appreciated your prayers. When I called to find out about the ships, I interrupted one friend who was using water from his swimming pool in the backyard to shower. The other ship we use is okay and getting ready to leave as soon as practically possible. We were advised today that the Slingshot seems to be okay. Personally, I can’t imagine that the tarp covering the boat is still there, but they are talking about sailing next week.

Please continue to pray for the people in Northwest Haiti as they are working hard to set up plans shelter and food for the next few days. Please pray for us as we have to determine where to help first and when the recovery work we were doing from the hurricane last October can start again. Please pray that the Slingshot will be ready to go and that they can really sail and get the cargo to us in Haiti soon.

And please remember our friends at First Presbyterian Church in Bonita Springs, FL near Naples. They have been very active in helping in Haiti. They were planning on the church being a shelter and recovery center for this hurricane. We don’t have any news yet but know they were in the crosshairs.

Thanks for your prayers and notes of encouragement.

In Christ,

Bruce and Deb Robinson

Northwest Haiti

 

Crossworld    10000 N Oak Trafficway   Kansas City, MO 64588

ODRINO US  20332 Hacienda Ct.  Boca Raton, FL  33498

 

 

 

 

Who is Your Neighbor?

We organized neighborhood potlucks for years when our kids were younger and then every year afterward, we would say, “We need to do this again.” Somehow, 10 years slipped by.  Last year, we promised this would change.

In the dark, cold winter of 2016 walking door-to-door to 25 neighbors with an invitation for a potluck dinner, we were met with surprise and delight.  Several neighbors had lived in the neighborhood for years but had yet to meet others.  Others had intended to organize such a gathering but never got around to it.  And one young child greeted us at the door with joy and excitement to receive an invitation.

The neighborhood potluck was a smashing success.  22 households brought a great variety of food and drink.  As the evening progressed, conversations bubbled.  We became aware our neighborhood had become more international over the years.  It was a delight to see the comradery among neighbors and a surprise by how easy it was to bring everyone together.  All that was really required of us was extending the invitation.

As this summer neared its end, we again reached out to neighbors by hosting a Saturday evening barbeque. Again, our neighbors greeted us with joy and excitement.  We have seen these gatherings bring neighbors closer together, helping all to feel like they belong and are a community.  We intend to find more opportunities to gather as a supportive community and to help all feel welcomed.

Join the Justice & Reconciliation Team and BelPres folks to reach out to their neighbors for Welcoming Week Sep 15-24, a nationwide celebration of immigrants and refugees’s contributions, and community’s role in helping them feel at home.Host a potluck, barbecue, coffee or brunch in your neighborhood to build understanding and support between long time residents and newcomers to our land.

Keeping Children in School is the Right Thing

Everyday Counts

Julio, a bright eyed, energetic, six-year old first-grader in a Bellevue elementary school is chronically tardy and frequently absent from school. When the school’s attendance secretary called his home one morning, Julio answered the phone.  “She’s sleeping” said Julio when the secretary asked for Mom. “She worked all night cleaning at the hospital.” His mom does custodial work on the “graveyard” shift.

Studies show unequivocally that children who fall behind in learning in early grades are rarely able to catch up and experience academic success. Educators often say, “By third grade, you must learn to read and from then on, you must read to learn.” Julio, through no fault of his own, is losing ground every day he’s tardy or misses school altogether. He is just six years old.

Video games are the passion of Jesse (a middle-schooler).  He’s connected online with a group of middle school peers who compete head-to-head and, sometimes as groups, in combat-style games. Often, the competition heats up in the late evening and Jesse stays engaged into the wee hours of the morning.  Since his parents leave by 6:30 a.m. for work, they count on Jesse to get himself to school. Even when he attends, Jesse misses the first two or three periods of the school day.

Successful transitions from 5th to 6th grade and from 8th to 9th are critical to a student’s continued progress toward high school graduation.  Jesse got distracted by the video games as he began the first year of middle school.  Just when his parents work schedule required him to assume more personal responsibility for attending school, he slipped through the transition gap and cannot realize that his future is at stake.  A high school diploma is typically the minimum credential for long-term employment and life success. In Bellevue, the five-year high school graduation rate for the class of 2016 was 94.5%. This means that more than 80 students did not attain this crucial credential within five years of starting ninth grade. The students who did not complete high school are not randomly distributed throughout the population. They are mostly male (71%), often Black or Hispanic (31%), and likely face an additional challenge such as low family income (39%), limited English proficiency (20%), a special education need (32%), and/or being homeless (6%).

Community Support Required

Julio and Jesse represent a segment of the local student population in dire need of community support.  When students need an extra dose of structure or support to get attendance habits back on track, they connect with the Community Truancy Board (CTB) at the Bellevue School District. The CTB combines the power of the court, the resources of the school district, community members and the involvement of the family to respond effectively to a student’s truancy.  CTB engagement is often an effective way to: start the conversation with a family about student attendance, reestablish a connection between school staff and a student, and identify what changes need to occur to help the student get back on track.

 Volunteers Staff the CTB

The Board meets weekly and is staffed with community volunteers, district employees, and city staff.  Typically, a community volunteer serves just one day per month.  At the CTB meetings, conversations with students and their families surface many potential solutions to improve attendance.  CTB serves over 50 chronically absent students per year – meeting with most multiple times.

The CTB builds a culture of service among Board members so that, when children have an unmet need impacting their attendance, the community will find a way to address it. Board members have secured outside services for students and families through numerous organizations such as Jubilee REACH, Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. The Kid REACH tutoring program at BelPres is also a factor in this culture of community support.

Community volunteers are trained before they hear cases at CTB. They learn skills of “mindful inquiry” and reflective listening.  Board members are non-judgmental, clear-spoken and interested in the safety and well-being of students and their families. They attend hearings on a regular basis, read background material on the cases, ask open-ended questions of students, parents/guardians and participate in creating recommendations for a plan to help students achieve regular school attendance.

 Student and Parent Testimonies

While the work of the CTB is a strategy for meeting the requirements of Washington State law mandating school attendance, the great benefits are those realized by the students who follow the Board’s recommendations and attend school. In the close of the past school year, the mother of a former chronically truant student expressed her gratitude to the CTB: “You helped very much in terms of motivation and support. Without you, we wouldn’t have known what to do… At the truancy board meetings, I learned the meaning of community:  it means our family and everyone coming together to help each other out. I am very grateful because, without them, my daughter would not have made a turn around and been recognized for it. She still has a ways to go but she graduated high school and is now taking classes at Bellevue College.”

The daughter rediscovered her potential and found the CTB to be a supportive community presence that held her accountable.  She said, “The Truancy Board was helpful because they kept me accountable to the plan. It was good to come to the meetings every month. Their encouragement helped me learn from my mistakes and I didn’t give up.”  Many students and families need the surrounding community to help them meet the challenges of daily life.  Children who experience academic success and graduate from high school with a post-secondary plan are better equipped for adult life, responsible citizenship and making a contribution to our community.

BelPres Involvement 

Multiple members of BelPres have served on the Community Truancy Board and attest to its value and results. In the words of Dave Cole, “The experience of being a part of the Truancy Board has been one of the most joyful experiences of my life.  Witnessing a vulnerable, young, male student – so deeply troubled from previous sexual abuse – successfully bond with a teacher who showed him unconditional love was truly amazing. Over time, the boy’s life was transformed.  I heard that teacher say, with tears rolling down her cheeks, ‘I love that child.’  The work of the CTB is remarkable.”

Approaching the new school year, the CTB has vacancies to be filled. Please contact Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer for further information about serving on the CTB.

A Greater Purpose

I was recently listening to a class on the Internet when the speaker told us he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

He had felt a sudden pain in his side, went to the doctor, underwent a battery of tests and discovered he had an incurable form of cancer.  So, he is undergoing a series of treatments to slow cancer’s growth.  But before any of us could respond, he directed us to Psalm 139 verses 13 through 15 where we read together: “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.  All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”  Then he repeated the last phrase: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

“Cancer,” he said, “is not going to shorten my life.  It’s not going to steal one extra day of my life away from me because God has already determined the number of days I will live before I get to go and see Jesus. So I am not afraid of cancer. In fact, my wife and I are kind of odd ducks because we are the only ones in this special cancer unit who are not afraid of it. We feel really blessed. This hospital is close by and it’s the only one in the country that specializes in researching and treating this form of cancer. Everyone has to fly here for treatment while we just drive, then go home and sleep in our own bed. God has sent us there because I don’t think any of the doctors have ever met a Christian. And now I get to show them the love and peace Jesus has given me. This is the mission God has given us right now.”

I had a hard time paying attention to the rest of his lecture because I was so deeply impacted by his testimony. Was he saying that God caused his cancer? No. But he was saying God had given him a mission purpose even in something like a cancer diagnosis.  The patients and medical staff in the cancer wing are his mission field and his purpose is to reflect the Jesus he would spend eternity with.

Jesus said (John 20:21), “As the Father has sent me; I am sending you.” This is such a significant statement.  Jesus is saying the mission God had given Him is now the very mission He is giving to us. Jesus’ mission was more than dying for sins.  Jesus started a movement called the “Kingdom of God.” It looks like heaven on earth. Healing, miracles, forgiveness, sharing the Good News about God, caring for the poor and oppressed, are all previews of what that Kingdom will finally and fully look like. His death and resurrection secured its eventual coming.  Then, before His ascension, He entrusted His mission to his followers: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  That’s you and me. Even life’s big surprises, like a cancer diagnosis, have a greater purpose. We get to bring heaven on earth with the remainder of the days ordained for us. We change the atmosphere around us by reflecting the hope, love, and peace of Jesus who lives in us. So what greater purpose can you find in the situation you are in right now? Who is Jesus sending you to for a time such as this?

New Horizons serving the young and homeless

Youth homelessness impacts nearly 1,500 youth in King County every day.

Increasing at an annual rate of 20% over the past three years, homelessness is an acknowledged state of emergency in King County. Youth make up a significant portion of these numbers.  However, services available to youth are notably fewer than those available to other demographics experiencing homelessness.

“Count Us In,” King County’s one-night count of homeless and unstably housed individuals, revealed that there was somewhere around 800-850 youth on the streets in King County, with at least 200-300 of them spending each night in alleyways, under bridges, in cars, or in tents.

“The root cause of youth homelessness is family disruption. We serve young people ages 18 to 24 – folks you would expect to be at home.  But the youth we serve don’t have that option,” says Mary Steele of New Horizons.

A common misconception is that youth on the streets are rebellious, headstrong runaways. The truth is that many youths leave home as a means of survival due to physical or sexual abuse. Others are forced out because of rifts between stepparents and children or parents who suffer from substance abuse problems. Many youth age out of foster care or leave juvenile corrections with no place to go. Left with little choice, these young people leave often dangerous homes for dangerous streets and must figure out how to survive with almost no resources or relationships. Nationwide studies reveal:

  • One in three youth on the streets has been involved in foster care, sometimes living in 20+ homes by age 18.
  • Nationally, over one in four youth who “come out” to their parents as LGBTQ are thrown out of their home.
  • Surveys show that between 50-60 percent of homeless youth have been physically or sexually abused in their own home.

 Effects of Youth Homelessness

Being homeless has repercussions that can last well beyond transition into sustainability. The more time a young person spends without a stable home, the more difficult success becomes in almost every area of life, even after leaving the streets.

  • Exploitation – The streets make youth more vulnerable to sexual exploitation, increasing the risk of disease, injury, and death.
  • Arrest – Homeless youth are 2.5X more likely to be arrested as adults when compared with stably housed peers.
  • Mental Illness – Homeless youth report higher rates of mental illness symptoms, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety, resulting in increased risk for suicide attempts.

New Horizons (NH) offers programs to facilitate youth’s transition off the streets. From a hot meal and shower to case management and job training, NH meets youth where they are and reconnects them to their God-given potential and empowers them toward success.

Because youth may arrive distraught, disconnected, or disillusioned, NH seeks to be a safe place where they will be accepted for who they are. Inspired by the love of Jesus, NH offers services and love to any and every youth who comes to them in need of assistance, because each person deserves to be loved, seen, known, and respected.

What New Horizons Offers

    • Outreach – Teams of staff and volunteers set out on foot to connect with youth around the city to let them know about our services and programs.
    • Day Program – Day programs offer the opportunity to explore new interests like writing or music, as well as connect with various community partners. Breakfast served from 8:15 – 9:00am, Monday-Thursday.
    • Drop-In – These two hours (Sunday – Thursday. 7:00 – 9:00pm) give youth access to services like a meal, showers, laundry, clothing, and sign-ups for case management & shelter.
    • Emergency Shelter – Opened February 2016 in a partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, 22 beds provide a safe place to rest for homeless youth five nights a week. Sunday – Thursday. 9:30pm – 7:30am.
    • The Nest – A transitional shelter providing a space for 12 youth to temporarily reside while they search for permanent housing.
    • Case Management – Case managers assist with housing placements, employment applications, government documents, and other barriers to exiting the streets.
    • Youth Employment Program – Nine-month apprenticeships providing youth a safe opportunity to earn a stipend, learn a hard skill, and develop relevant soft skills for long-term employment.
    • Street Bean – Since 2009 Street Bean Coffee Roasters has been New Horizons’ job training partner, training apprentices as baristas and teaching them the basics of roasting and coffee shop operation.

BelPres prayerfully supports the ministry of New Horizons with volunteers, funds, and advocacy.  Anyone interested in engaging with NH may contact BelPres’ Community Outreach Director, Tom Brewer

Serving Everyone with Respect

Every person walking into Renewal Food Bank has a story. No matter what first brings them to the food bank, what matters most is how they are first received. Making clients feel welcomed and respected goes a long way in easing their sensitivity entering into a food bank. Since 1998, Renewal has been building relationships with hungry families and the dedicated volunteers who donate time and resources to serve them.  Authentic caring relationships make Renewal Food Bank possible.  In the past year, we have continued to build relationships with clients and the dedicated volunteers who give their time to serve them.
Pat is one of Renewal Food Bank’s valued volunteers, working behind the scenes, sorting and bagging bulk food items. Pat says this support work is a great fit for her and uses her strengths. She describes volunteering with Renewal as “the most worthwhile thing” she has done. Pat’s favorite part about volunteering is “watching people come in to receive food assistance with no questions asked.” She says Renewal is set apart by how all people are served and none are turned away. When asked what she would say to someone considering volunteering at Renewal, Pat replied, “it would be very good to experience others getting their needs met without questions asked.” Pat encourages others to become involved.

Since 2013, James has been a member of Renewal Food Bank’s Board of Directors. He often takes the lead in Renewal Food Bank’s technical tasks, like managing the client database or changing burned out light bulbs. He began in 2008 to fulfill his community service desire and fell in love with Renewal’s sincerity and simplicity. He appreciates Renewal’s efficiency turning financial, food and time donations into direct support for the needy. James shares that he was honored to join the team when the director asked for his assistance in the work of this organization. As a teen, there were times when James was homeless. He keenly recalls how difficult it was to admit being out of control and needing assistance. He gets so much satisfaction from helping Renewal Food Bank feel welcoming to its clients. When asked why he volunteers he says, “because I’m selfish, and really like feeling I’m helping make the world just a bit better.”

Most often, we do not know the outcome of our work. While we have clients we see on a weekly basis, many families and individuals come and go. Our hope is to be a stepping stone for families who need temporary assistance on their life journey. We are honored to be able to play a part in these families’ lives in their time of need. With each client who walks through our door, we strive to live out our mission to feed the hungry in a caring environment with dignity and respect.

Prayer is Not a Waste of Time

A recent attendee at New Hope Revival Church is Muhizi, a young man with a wife and child, living in Tacoma. He had a job in Kent, but no car and no driver’s license. Alexis learned that Muhizi was taking the bus to work and his commute was about 4 hours each way. His wife is pregnant and this schedule was taking its toll on the family.

On a recent Sunday night, Alexis asked Muhizi to come up for prayer and the community prayed for this situation to be resolved somehow, trusting that God has many ways. Then, Alexis learned that member Olive was planning to sell her older car, which was still in good condition, to buy a newer one. He approached Olive and asked if she would be willing to sell her car to Muhizi, even though Muhizi couldn’t pay her all at once and not even right away. Olive immediately responded that she has found Alexis to be trustworthy and if he thought this would be a good thing to do, she was ready. She gave Alexis her car and keys.

Alexis called Muhizi, not telling him anything about the arrangement and asking if he could see him at his workplace. Muhizi agreed. Member Etienne and Alexis met with Muhizi, and Alexis gave Muhizi the keys to Olive’s car explaining that it was now his. Muhizi was overwhelmed and broke down in tears. When he told his wife, who is expecting their second child in August, she also cried.

You might wonder how having a car could help Muhizi since he didn’t have a driver’s license. Alexis had already been giving Muhizi driving lessons encouraging him to get his license, because “You never know when you are going to need it.”  The day before he received the car, Muhizi had passed his test and obtained his license. The prayers of the people were not a waste of time.

 

In Rwanda, there is a large evangelical church called Mt. Zion Temple. Many Rwandans have experience with that church and its many good works. Recently, it had been in the news because of serious divisions threatening the unity of that congregation. New Hope Revival meets every Sunday evening at BelPres for a two hour prayer service. A few weeks ago, Alexis brought up this serious impending split in Mt. Zion Temple, and shared, “We need to pray about this.”  They did. Within a couple of weeks, Alexis got news that the church was reconciling their differences. The prayers of the people were not a waste of time.

 

Perusi, an older woman in the New Hope Revival Church has four grown children (also members) of which two (Patrick and Etienne) are active worship team members. Perusi has been living with her children in a one-bedroom apartment. On a recent Sunday night, Alexis invited people to pray for Perusi’s housing needs. Within a week, a nonprofit housing organization provided a two-bedroom apartment with all new furnishings at no cost to Perusi and her children for as long as she needs it. Perusi was so overwhelmed when she arrived at her new home that she could only kneel beside the new bed and say, “This can’t be mine!”  In church the following Sunday, she was dancing joyfully before the Lord. The prayers of the people were not a waste of time.

These prayers were not a waste of time. Prayer is an investment of time.

Millennials on Mission in the Middle East

Did you know the median age of all people worldwide is 30 years old? 

That’s why so many mission groups are trying to mobilize young leaders into their field teams and mission networks. We have seen many mission groups wrestle with engaging millennials in their work and teams. Millennials (also known as Generation Y) are a group loosely defined as adults born after 1980. Every generation has unique traits and millennials are often characterized as passionate, educated, tech savvy and ready to take risks. Yet misunderstandings and/or miscommunication leads to millennials being under-utilized after arriving or leaving quickly or not coming to the mission field at all.

A few weeks ago, one of the networks took a significant step towards intentionally mobilizing younger leaders.  Phill Butler, visionSynergy’s founder, helped launch the Arabian Peninsula Network (APN) over 20 years ago and since then, the network has achieved many notable results. During 2016, the APN leadership increased the involvement of a new generation with the intent to both strengthen the network as well as more effectively reach a region growing demographically younger.

With the assistance of our senior advisor Dave Hackett, APN leadership intentionally focused on millennial workers at their recent biennial gathering, but not as just a workshop at the conference. The leadership team chose millennials to be the daily host, to lead worship, to feature millennial-filled panels and more. They also arranged for childcare, making it possible for more millennials to attend.

What a difference these carefully selected, practical choices made! One-fifth of the 220 attendees were millennials. As a result, the average attendee age was well below 50 for the first time. Most importantly, the APN community gained deep insights into the way Millennial workers do mission work among Muslims seeking Jesus.

Besides bringing valuable ministry perspectives, millennials can effectively reach their peers. Increasingly, this is a crucial issue because millennials are the biggest demographic in most countries yet unreached by the Gospel. The mission force should map to the mission field.

For example, about 60% of the Middle East is under 30 years old. In comparison, about 40% of the United States and only 16% of Japan are under this age. In fact, the median age of the Middle East is 24.8 while, in contrast, the U.S. is 37.9 and Japan is 46.9 years old. Around the world, businesses and nonprofits alike wrestle with how to engage millennials. A recommended book is Millennials and Mission which illuminates the challenges and opportunities for Christian ministry. The implications for networks, however, are rarely addressed.

We are eager to see the story of ““Millennials in Mission”  unfold. Our daily work is increasing the effectiveness of networks and partnerships while remaining focused on accelerating the Great Commission. We see a special role for millennials when they’re effectively engaged in mission to reach growing numbers of unreached millennials.

We are thankful for your prayers and support which allow us to play a key role in advising and equipping the leaders of ever-evolving mission networks.  May the Body of Christ around the world be encouraged to even greater collaboration!

Together for the Gospel,

Dave Hackett, visionSynergy Associate Director and Senior Advisor

 

Rethinking Change

What brings change?  How do we become different people?  Some say it’s the people we care about and the challenges we face that change us. I think that’s part of it.  As followers of Jesus, we are also shaped by the Holy Spirit and Scripture. Some of our most life-changing moments happen when there is a confluence of these elements. Influential people, wisdom from past experiences and our faith guide us through personal challenges and we emerge transformed.

I experienced deep change when I was a pastor in my previous church.  After eight years as Associate Pastor, the Human Resources Committee suggested I take a three-month Sabbatical.  I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret that.  On the one hand, it could’ve been a good thing and they may have wanted to invest in me – “Pastor, please go and be refreshed.”  On the other hand, it could’ve been a bad thing; they may have wanted to send a different message – “Pastor, please just go away.” I chose to believe the former.

I had three young kids at the time. Going away and leaving my wife alone for several months didn’t seem like a very good idea. My wife agreed.  So I broke the Sabbatical up into several shorter segments throughout the year. During that time, one of the best things I did was to take a class called “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement.”  Most of my friends warned me that it would wreck my life; meaning I would never be the same. They were right.  “Perspectives” opened my eyes and heart to the radical idea God is moving in the ordinary and the miraculous to reclaim, heal and restore every nation, tribe and tongue that was lost when sin wrecked our world.  The course showed this to be the central theme of Scripture; a narrative thread of human history and hidden truth embedded within every culture.  God has come to rescue all of us and His name is Jesus!

In the end, the course lived up to its reputation. I was deeply changed.  I finished with the deep conviction God was calling me to mobilize people to be part of this great global revival project. And to make sure I was paying attention, God gave me a sign I couldn’t miss.  Having taken the class in Pasadena, CA, I returned to my Washington home and sat down at my desk to read my mail.  There, on the top of the pile, was a letter from the Pastor Search Committee chair at BelPres.  The committee wanted me to apply for their Mission Pastor position. That was seventeen years ago.

What has brought change in your life?  What can you do to bring change now?  How can you know and connect with God’s call for your life?  “Perspectives” has been one of those transformational experiences for me. For that reason, I recommend it to those seeking change.  It is a big time commitment (15 weeks) and there is a lot to read.  It’s a challenge and challenge is nothing more than a catalyst for growth and an opportunity to be made different.

 

Perspectives is coming to BelPres September 5- December 19 .   

Children of the Desert

Many people in Turkmenistan living in the desert are often poor. Their souls, like the desert, are dry. There are 40,000 Turkmen living in this city completely surrounded by desert. The disparity is everywhere. Like their surroundings, the people are thirsty and living without hope.

One such man, named Myrat, lives with his 80-year old mother in a city that literally translates to “Desert Mountain.” Like the majority, Myrat and his mother had never heard the gospel. Day in and day out, they lived their lives in darkness; a darkness they didn’t even know they had. Despite their poverty, they were able to acquire a satellite dish and Myrat started watching Gospel Wave Media Ministry’s program. What started as curiosity turned into a longing to know and understand more. He continued watching the program, soaking up each and every word and eventually surrendering his life to Jesus Christ. It was after this that Myrat reached out to share his story with us.

There are three teams in Turkmenistan who travel and follow up with people like Myrat. One is a pastor, whom we will call Pastor “River.”  After hearing Myrat’s story, Pastor “River” traveled 700-800 km (420-480 miles) to meet him. On his first visit, he asked Myrat if he could pray for his mom. Immediately, Myrat answered “No.” She was a Muslim and would be quite angry. Later, when his mom found out that Pastor ”River” wanted to pray for her, she did indeed become angry. So angry that she did not get the opportunity for Pastor “River” to pray for her!

On Pastor ‘River’s” second visit, he did pray with Myrat’s mom and she accepted Christ as her Savior! They still live in the desert surrounded by darkness and disparity and they are two: two who are lights, two who spread hope and two who are watching and growing through Gospel Wave’s program!

 

Enejan came to Christ watching Gospel Wave’s program together with her son Esau. The more they watched, the more their hearts were opened and with the Holy Spirit’s work, they both accepted Christ as their Savior. Eventually, Esau moved to another town, leaving Enejan as the only believer in her town of 20,000. She continued to watch the TV program as her only source to grow in her faith. Last fall, she received her very own Bible allowing her to read it anytime along with watching the program.

Before coming to Christ, Enejan’s livelihood was sitting by a famous shrine in a cemetery. People visiting this shrine paid her to pray for them and invite spirits to come to them. When Enejan found Christ, she experienced Hope for the first time in her life. She still goes to that famous shrine and, instead of leading people in darkness, she tells people about the Light – Jesus Christ – and that they truly need Him. Daily she boldly shares the salvation that only comes through Christ.

It didn’t take long for her to be reported to the authorities and the KGB showed up. They interrogated her, yet she boldly shared the gospel with these officers. Seeing that interrogation was not working, the KGB threatened her, informing her they would arrest her, take away all that she has, everything she holds dear. Enejan boldly responded “You can take everything, you can crucify me. I will not give up my belief in Christ! Even if you kill me, I will live!”

 

Nearly three million Turkmen live in Turkmenistan, located in South Central Asia along the Caspian Sea. Their culture is influenced in the past by both the Turkic conquerors, who imposed their language on them and the Arabs, who forced them to convert to Islam. Years past, they developed a strong ethnic identity as “children of the desert” because they would plunder rich caravans of Persian traders.

Please pray for the Christian missionaries at Gospel Wave Media Ministry in Central Asia as they risk their lives daily to share the gospel of Christ, names have been changed to protect their identities. For more information go to gopeople.org  

Becoming Aware of Being Unaware

Brent Christie is the founder and former executive director of Jubilee REACH.

Race – a “hot button” issue and perhaps the most explosive issue in our society. Conversations about race and racism can be very uncomfortable, socially awkward, even a bit dangerous, as latent emotions, perceptions, and pain become unmasked.

I thought I was ready, even eager, to engage in the racial conversation when I was invited by friends and partners within the Bellevue School District to participate in a five-day conference on race: “Courageous Conversations.” That’s five days among 900 racially diverse “strangers” from school districts throughout the country.

The first prerequisite for participation in the conference was that I “stay engaged.” No matter how personal or perilous the dialogue on race, every participant was to stay engaged and committed to the conversation. The second related and requisite tenet was to “expect and experience discomfort.” I was about to discover (when unpacking my own and others’ perspectives and experiences about race) things were going to get uncomfortable. It didn’t take long.

In response to 26 statements of what I consider normal, everyday life and social experiences, each of us was asked to privately score “our truths” based upon our race or color. After totaling our scores, we silently lined up around the room, highest scores to lowest. Without a sound, 250 diversely mixed people became ranked according to their racial “truth experience score.” White males formed the front of the line and then clustered with white females. From there, the line extended from lighter to darker shades of brown to black at the very end of the line. The quiet was palpable; the visual, profound. Then our facilitator asked who had college degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s by a show of hands. Ultimately, more hands remained raised at the end of the line.

Discomfort – The conference called Courageous Conversations just got real. Voices began to speak. Voices of color spoke most: first from observations, then from inner thoughts and feelings, then from profound personal stories of real life experiences. Polite turned to painful. As the conversation became more personal, penetrating and risky, the more silent I and my white colleagues became. Retreating to my “white male comfort club” was no longer a choice. My gut was churning.

Face to face in public for the next few days, I was facilitated through a deeper dialogue. In smaller groups, we unpacked. Through a persistent process of awkward (often gut-wrenching) dialogue, I recognized how truly unconscious I was of my privilege. Being oblivious to my state of entitlement and white privilege, I can actually irritate another person.

I absorbed stories from black and brown people, professionals with Ph.D.’s, being pulled over by police being told, “you people take advantage of our rights…” I empathized with a highly educated black mother defending her children when a white school teacher insisted her 8-year-old son “didn’t belong” and demanded he be placed in special education classes. When that well-educated black mother became upset and persistent, she was dismissed as “irrational and angry,” asked to calm down or be removed from the school.

Using only eye contact, we were directed to select a person of a different race to engage in a direct one-on-one conversation. Earlier, I had observed a black woman speaking in our general session. I was drawn to her pleasant, thoughtful manner. Fortunately, we made eye contact at the same time and our gesture to one another sealed our mutual selection of each other to engage in a courageous conversation. I learned Bernadette was a Ph.D. and school board trustee for one of the largest school districts in the country. Learning I was from Seattle, Bernadette explained how she loved Nordstrom. Then she shared her truth, “When I shop at Nordstrom, I always dress well. I have learned that when I dress casually, I’m looked at differently and I don’t receive the same service or attention.”

Bernadette said that she would be leaving the conference early to tend to a civil unrest issue (a video that had gone viral) in her district. The video was of her! She had challenged the stance of her white male superintendent on a racial matter at her school board meeting. As she left the meeting, the superintendent arranged for the police to forcibly arrest her as she departed the building. I watched the YouTube video in disbelief.  Now knowing Bernadette, I was angry.

The third tenet of Courageous Conversations required I “speak my truth,” not passing off my own thoughts or assumptions as “some people.” I must own my own thoughts, feelings, and opinions without fear of offending, appearing angry or sounding ignorant.

The fourth and final tenet was to “expect and accept a lack of closure.” Conversations about race usually provide no resolution but can perpetuate a process of learning, understanding, even appreciation and perhaps empathy.

Intense – that is one way of describing “my truth” of five days of Courageous Conversation in New Orleans. I certainly became aware of how unaware I was. Unaware and unconscious of the liberties, privileges, even entitlements being a white male affords me in our society. Douglas Fitch, a Methodist pastor wrote, “We see things not as they are, but as we are.” I realize that many of my beliefs on race are based on misconceptions because I have never experienced being a person of color in school, living in a white culture, entering the workforce or pursuing a career,

For racial conditions to change, I also realized it is not my role to play “savior” or be the “big white fix.” Rather I must change – I must be the change. I must be culturally competent and conscious, and deconstruct the barriers and biases that assume there is something wrong with people based on their racial or ethnic makeup. I must be the change I want to see, stay engaged, experience discomfort, speak my truth, and expect and accept this is not going to be easy. I must get comfortable with discomfort.

And to Bernadette, on the chance that you may ever read this, I want to say “thanks.” “Thank you for speaking your truth to me, for connecting your eyes with mine, allowing me to hear your truth and see your heart as a mother, a courageous leader, and a friend during an intense week of personal discovery.”

 

 

June 28-29 at Odle Middle School: Beyond Diversity is a powerful, personal transforming 2-day seminar designed to help leaders, educators, students, parents, administrators and community participants understand the impact of race on students learning and investigate the role that racism plays in institutionalizing academic achievement disparities.
Get more information or register online at courageousconversations.com

Cambodia Chronicles

Dear friends and family,

This past year, my sabbatical was a time for listening more deeply to God’s voice. I learned more about trusting God as I let go of ministry roles and my community in Cambodia for 6 months and relied on God’s provision. God was gracious and provided comfortable places to stay in Seattle and a car to borrow through friends at BelPres. I also found someone to sublet my Cambodia apartment! Other sabbatical blessings were spending time in the church community (including singing with the choir), connecting with church partners and visiting Midwest friends and family.

I attended a prayer weekend and retreats facilitated by spiritual mentors in Seattle. The highlight was a week’s retreat on the Isle of Iona, Scotland (through the generosity of BelPres). Initially, finding solitude was difficult. However, God spoke to me of my need for community as well as for solitude and balancing the two. (E.g.: A group member provided a listening ear when a hymn reminded me of the loss I still felt over my father’s death two years ago. Exploring the beauty and history of the island, I finally found solitude.)

I also received confirmation that I’m still called on a journey to serve cross-culturally. As I sat in a quiet corner of the Abbey church, I glimpsed a sailboat in the harbor. St. Columba sailed from Ireland with a group of 12 in 563AD. Legend says they let the wind guide the boat. They landed on Iona where they established a Christian community, learned the local language, built relationships with the Picts* and Anglo-Saxons and shared the good news as far as Russia. I’m now certain that my call remains to walk alongside Cambodian young leaders.

Returning to Asia late July to attend our CRM staff Conference, I finalized my return to ministry with a 3-day DOVE retreat (a Cambodian organization). At the DOVE retreat, I was moved by the staff’s passion to develop young leaders to bring healing to Cambodia, and their willingness to make personal sacrifices for this vision. During the fall (2016), I continued to mentor staff and DOVE Onyx Leadership students.

The DOVE Onyx lessons draw young leaders into a deeper relationship with God, remove burdens and bring healing. As part of my call, I want to help develop more contextualized** spiritual formation resources in the Khmer language. The spiritual formation lessons were taught this year primarily by Cambodian staff and volunteers. Davy, a Kampong Cham Onyx student, is a divorced mother and a counselor for young women recovering from human trafficking. She said, “After the lessons, I found my personal spiritual character. We have our own way to come to the Lord, in a way that He created for us. Now I’ve unlocked myself from years of reluctant relationship with God and am feeling so free and joyful to go to Him.”

Pisey, a Phnom Penh Onyx student said, “It has healed my pain, hidden for a long time and gave me hope that God will never give up on me.”

Many young leaders have lived through traumatic experiences in the past. I’ve begun learning more about inner healing prayer. Starting in October, the Phnom Penh Onyx men and women met separately for 4 lessons about healing processes. I enjoyed revising and helping facilitate the Women’s lessons together with “F,” a Thai missionary, fluent in Khmer and gifted at inner healing prayer. One of the 2013 leadership alumni (an amazing, resilient Cambodian woman) volunteered to help with the final Women’s lesson in November. It was powerful as the young women received healing and saw themselves as beautiful and loved by God. I’ve also continued to learn from a former teammate, who moved to the US the summer of 2016.

This month (January), I continue to learn about peace building through an online course using reflection to determine how each person can use their talents advocating for justice and peace. I’m dismayed at the hatred and fear openly displayed in many countries. I’ve mourned at the violence in conflicts around the world. I am appalled that some have raised the unjust WWII internment of Japanese-Americans as a precedent for how to treat neighbors we mistrust.

In November, I went to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum with the Onyx students for a Khmer church history lesson. I felt a swirl of emotions: the weight of suffering by victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge; the hope of these young leaders wanting transformation in their society and a personal strong determination. I came away asking, “What more can I do so hate and fear don’t win?

In December, I was reminded that the birth of Jesus means there is light in the darkness. On Dec. 10th, I joined a few Onyx students for the International Human Rights Day celebration in Phnom Penh. After initial resistance, authorities allowed about 1,000 people to gather publicly in support of freedom of assembly and of speech. Riot shields were laid down. We met several young Cambodian Christian leaders serving as human rights observers and as a light in the darkness of injustice.

For 2017, I pray your burdens of the past are removed and you experience the light that dispels darkness.

With Love,

Lynn Ogata

*Picts-a tribal confederation of peoples, living in eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods, thought to have been ethnolinguistically Celtic

**Learning takes place when teachers present information in a way that students are able to construct meaning based on their own experiences.

Lynn Ogata will be at BelPres to speak about social issues in Cambodia on Sunday, June 4, 12:15 pm UC-105  .

Niños con Valor = Children with Value

Looking west of Cochabamba and standing watch over the city, is the world’s second largest statue of Christ. And honestly, it’s both comforting and disturbing.

Proverbs tells us that “the eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.” This great symbol (raised up on St. Peter’s hill, arms stretched wide, declarative and assured) provides a constant reminder of God’s presence. God holds vigil over his people.

At the same time, Cochabamba represents some of Bolivia’s darkest realities: 60% of Bolivia’s children live in poverty, 40% will never finish high school, 15% lack secure access to water, 1 in 4 are sexually abused, and 8 in 10 are victims of physical abuse. Over this darkness, God holds vigil.

My wife and I met at college and through our ministry on the streets engaging with new friends living such different lives than our own, (ours of privilege, theirs of suffering), we recognized the huge dissonance between our words, our beliefs, and our lives. Just a 30-minute drive from where we were immersed in studying the Scriptures, Church history, and theology, a very different world existed; one that was gritty, full of struggles paling our own, and more consistent with the overwhelming reality lived by the majority of humanity. We began to ask where God was in all of this. Was it okay that we were so disconnected from the suffering surrounding us when all we were learning about Jesus was that he was in the midst of it?

When we arrived in Bolivia 12 years ago with the Cristo overlooking our new home, these questions became constant. With Christ standing vigil over good and evil, poverty and broken homes in the news and on the streets daily, why didn’t God act?

I have spent a good deal of my life looking around, blaming God and blaming others for the injustice that has a relentless foothold on our world. I concluded that it is easier to point outward than inward. Yes, there is injustice, but recognizing this is only one step – a useless one at that if we don’t take the next step: to become a part of the solution. It is the difference between judgment and justice. It is the answer to my question about God acting. “We” are how God is doing something about the injustice. When nothing is being done, that’s on us, not God.

Since 2005, my family has had the opportunity to work alongside a team of incredible men and women with Niños con Valor. The name, which means “Children with Value,” speaks to our main focus: demonstrating the value God places on the life of each and every child in the world.

Children in Bolivia have it rough. They are 42% of the population. Despite the heavy emphasis placed on family here, as the statistics mentioned above demonstrate, there is something much more sinister at work beneath this surface value. Niños con Valor cares for children who are orphaned, abandoned or rescued from abusive family situations. We provide loving, family-style homes where they can experience God’s love in tangible ways.

Accompanying these kids as their lives are transformed (watching hope replace hopelessness, broken families reunited, adoptive families formed, and generational cycles of poverty and abuse shattered)has transformed our lives as well. Being a part of God’s compassion is something that you can’t learn a priori. Compassion is lived.

Niños con Valor provides opportunities for people to live compassionately, journeying alongside our staff and children. This has meant building a bridge between Cochabamba and our friends outside of Bolivia. So far, 45 individuals from BelPres have visited us, including Lizzy Blake who arrived in November 2016. We asked her to share a bit of her experience:

I have never felt as comfortable as I have here in Cochabamba. I have a wonderful host family (including a sister and mom) and a great group of friends! My favorite part is spending time with the kids at Niños con Valor. I have always loved working with children and the relationships I have with my NCV kids are extra special. Two years ago, I met a boy named Tomas and was so excited to see him again when I arrived. Now, while I’m still so in love with my bundle of joy, my heart has expanded and I’ve fallen in love with all 42 kids. I’m also building deeper relationships with the older girls. While they act very much like teenagers, they also make me laugh, help me love others more, are patient with me as I learn more Spanish, and are helping me “grow up” while sharing the joys of being young. The boys are younger and smaller, so most of my time is spent playing, running, and laughing. The kids all love to dance. They constantly ask me to play music and tell me what songs I should hear.

In my three months in Bolivia, I have experienced so many activities. There was a talent show where kids danced in different traditional costumes and others highlighted their talents on the piano. Christmas was a world of fun to celebrate the birth of Christ with 42 kids. Witnessing their faces as they opened their presents, I saw a beautiful sense of wonder. We also hosted our first mission group of the year from Canada. These amazing people had a spirit of flexibility, loved on the kids and painted rooms. We all celebrated Fabiola’s quinceañera (transition from childhood to young womanhood). She looked like a princess, and we celebrated her life as we danced and played games. We also celebrated ‘Moda Loca’ which is a fashion show where everyone dresses up in goofy outfits. It’s a time when no one cares how he or she looks and we all focus on having fun. It is sometimes exhausting volunteering at NCV and its one job I love with everything in me. I can’t wait to see how God grows the kids, the staff, and all the volunteers (including myself!) in 2017!”

Click here to learn more about Niños con Valor

30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World

Several months ago, an arsonist set fire to the Bellevue Islamic Center.  In response, several churches, agencies, and leaders in Bellevue reached out to express their sympathy and offered help.  BelPres and our leadership were among those.  Since then, a few pastors and a similar number of Eastside Muslim leaders have been meeting regularly for religious conversation and relationship building.    Recently, a fellow pastor asked our Muslim friends about the notion of forgiveness in Islam.  Do Muslims believe God forgives?  How does one know that they are forgiven enough to receive eternal life? And must a Muslim forgive someone who sins against them?  Stereotypical pastor conversation, right?

In Islam, God is transcendent, meaning that God is free to do as God wills and is not bound in any way by physical laws like time and space.  Christians believe the same thing.  So God can be Creator without being created, and God can continually work in and outside of specific situations and events to accomplish God’s ultimate purposes.

For a Muslim, transcendence also means God is free to forgive whatever and whenever God wants.  A Muslim must be sincerely sorry for their sin. When they express their sincere remorse, then God forgives. Muslims must also practice good deeds during their lifetime, which are saved up in a sort of bank account of good deeds.  Good deeds are deposited, and bad deeds result in withdrawals.  For a Muslim to receive Eternal Life, their good deeds must outnumber their bad deeds.  When a Muslim sins against another Muslim, not only should that person ask for forgiveness, but the one who was sinned against gets to take some of that person’s good deeds and deposit them in their own bank account.  It is like a money transfer, transferring good deeds from one bank account to another.  So a Muslim hopes they have done enough good deeds to receive Eternal Life.  But they can never be certain.  Ultimately, God is transcendent and can choose to forgive or not to forgive.  “In Sha Allah,” if God wills.

This is very different than what the Bible tells us as Christians.  The Bible shows us that God is rich in mercy (Psalm 51:1-2; Micah 7:18.)  God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 86:15, Psalm 145:8).    But God is also just (Isaiah 61:8, Psalm 9:7-8).  God holds us all accountable for the way we live our lives.  Justice, the idea that people should not get away with the bad things they do, comes from God.

Justice and mercy appear to put God in conflict with God’s self.  God is just and holds us accountable for the things we do to one another but God is also merciful and desires to treat us better than we deserve.  God’s answer to the apparent dilemma is grace.   Grace means God can be both just and merciful at the same time.  The most powerful demonstration of God’s grace is what Jesus did for us on the cross.  There, Jesus met the full requirements of justice and mercy.  By dying for us, Jesus served the sentence justice requires.  By stepping in our place, Jesus unleashes God’s rich mercy on each of us.  We didn’t earn it.  We didn’t deserve it.  But God did it anyway.  That’s grace.  Grace means, we get what we do not deserve.  We get forgiveness, freedom, new life now, and new life forever.  “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus,” Romans 3:23-24. “Because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph 2:4-5.

May 27th to June 25th marks the 30 days of Ramadan.  For a Muslim, Ramadan is a time for getting closer to God.  Muslims will pray daily for God to reveal Himself to them and they will do things like fast from sunrise to sunset and give financially to the poor as spiritual practices to help them get closer to God.  I encourage you to join Christians all across the world in praying for Muslims during Ramadan.  Pray that the transcendent God will become close, personal, and intimate for Muslims.  Pray they will discover Jesus, the one who ensures our forgiveness and secures our salvation.  God is doing amazing things throughout the Middle East and Europe among Muslims, and they are discovering the love and hope found in Jesus.  It is a unique time in history.  You can become part of it through prayer.

Pick up a copy of “30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World” at BelPres located at the info-walls in sanctuary lobby, walkway, and upper campus lobby.  Or go online to 30daysprayer.com to participate. 

What Breaks God’s Heart? Racial Injustice

God wants to heal His human family, and as long I can remember, I have yearned for that, too.  He places a very high priority on the relationships among those He has created. Jesus said, “If you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First, make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24 CEB

Since grade school, I have wondered what I could do about the painful issue of racial injustice. My parents set an excellent example. They actively protested the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War and during the Depression, my mother often cooked food for people who knocked on our door.

My father, a family doctor, served many people of color.  Some of his patients did not have the means to pay, so he specified that they not be billed. As a little girl, I remember attending some of his patients’ baby baptisms with him.  Our neighborhood and my school had little diversity. My first African American friend was Peggy Brooks, who came to help my mother once a week. As a young girl, I shadowed Peggy in her work, and she taught me to iron. This is still my best domestic skill, although not in high demand these days!

As college students, Steve and I married. We learned about a program for underprivileged minority children. If they lived with families within that district during the week, they could qualify to be considered eligible residents of a superior school district. We did not know if they would accept us – a young couple – as fill-in parents.  But they did, and we had two middle-school “daughters” for the next couple of years.

When Pastor Dick Leon established a sister church relationship with Mt. Calvary Christian Center in the Central District several years ago, it meant a lot to me to be part of the formation team. As we traveled in the evenings between churches, we all had to work through our fears of going into unfamiliar neighborhoods. We had challenging conversations as we compared notes about being black or white in our country.  As we began worshipping together and meeting in one another’s homes, we celebrated our oneness as Christians. Our shared love of Jesus dissolved the barriers of race, age, economics, gender and culture as nothing else can!

Our country seemed to be moving beyond racism, and as the news reminds us daily, racial tension and hate crimes are still very apparent.

I am thankful that BelPres has created a Justice and Reconciliation Team. Its efforts to engage our congregation in educational programs, service opportunities, and person-to-person ministries can help turn the tide. I am excited for this way God is inviting our church into His work of redemption!

 

BelPres offers several different options to learn more about diversity and racial injustice:

May 13, Saturday, 9:30am – 2pm:   Racial Reconciliation Workshop/Frames & Filters with Tali Hairston

May 24 or June 4: Racial Reconciliation Post Workshop Discussion

May 25-June 29, Thursdays, 7pm: Justice+Reconciliation Workshop/Facing Racism

Miracles Do Happen!

For more than a dozen years, we have sent teams to support Nicolás Fund for Education in La Esperanza, Guatemala. In that time, enduring relationships of love and trust have formed between team members and villagers. One such relationship emerged between team member, Tom and a widow in the village named Juana.

Juana is the adopted mother of Bernabé, a boy who’s life seemed destined for trouble. Juana has been doing her best to raise Bernabé as a single mom.   On each of Tom’s trips to the Ixil, he made a point to seek out Juana to give her a word of encouragement.

Bernabé’s negative attitude has been a source of pain for Juana. She has been praying for a solution for the past few years as he was frequently truant from school and eventually dropped out altogether. He fell in with a “bad crowd,” was both disrespectful, and physically and emotionally abusive to Juana.  Bernabé traveled to the fincas (plantation farms) to work, a fertile ground for gang recruitment.  This came at a particularly difficult time for Juana, as she developed a severe eye condition that causes pain when exposed to bright sunlight.  This eye condition made it impossible for Juana to plant or harvest crops.

Nicolás Fund for Education National Director, Ivan España, recognized Juana’s problem and devised a plan.  Nicolás Fund for Education began providing a village tutor for Bernabé to help him catch up in school.  Bernabé began to benefit from the tutoring. The progress was both slow and not without setbacks.  This year, Ivan came up with a new plan:  Tom would pay Bernabé to plant and harvest Juana’s snow peas; Bernabé would not have to travel to the fincas for work.  Bernabé agreed to this plan.

Lo and behold, the harvest came in.  Bernabé felt pride in what he accomplished for his family.  With his proceeds, Bernabé purchased a small transistor radio for Juana.  Juana has a deep faith. When she and Bernabé get up at 5:30 am, they immediately turn on the radio to listen to Christian music.  Bernabé has become respectful of Juana: helping with chores, asking how her day was and telling her about his day.  This was a tremendous change from last year!

Bernabé began attending Nicolás Christian School and has become a good student!  The Christian education he receives at school helps his personal relationship with God.  Bernabé has become part of the Christian community at Nicolás Christian School, where all the students come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds.  Bernabé seems so much happier now.  God is transforming Bernabé’s life through love and male role models such as Ivan España and the teachers at Nicolás Christian School, as well as the generosity of the Tom’s to support tutoring, field work, and school scholarship. God never gave up on Bernabé; neither did Juana, Tom or NFE.  God worked a miracle that is changing Bernabé’s life and answered Juana’s prayers. Thanks be to God!

 

Sunday, May 7th, BelPres is honored to welcome the Director of Nicolás Fund for Education (NFE),  Ivan España and his wife Janet along with NFE student, Ana Cordova, from Guatemala.  12:15pm UC-105 

Click here, if you would like to know more about Nicolás Fund for Education and upcoming Impact Team trips to Guatemala.

 

WHY DIAPERS?

When I first heard the idea for Baby Basics in January 2012, I asked the same question that many ask, “Why diapers?” It’s a fair question since diapers are not exciting or even interesting unless you need them and cannot afford them. One in three moms in America struggles to provide their babies with diapers.  Babies who aren’t changed frequently enough are at a greater risk for diaper rash and other health issues.  The need for diapers is a silent crisis in our community.

As much as diapers seem like a mundane item for families with young children, they are a significant budget item for low-income parents and a necessity for a baby’s hygiene and well-being. And crying and sick babies can cause extra stress in homes where there is already financial stress and potentially other stresses.

Baby Basics Bellevue was “born” out of learning about this diaper need and the toll it takes on babies and their families. Our goal is to help babies thrive and to support families stay above the poverty line.  Food stamps and WIC (Women Infant Children supplemental nutritional program) cannot be used to purchase diapers and that there are no government subsidies for diapers.  By providing the necessity of diapers and connecting families to other services in the community, Baby Basics also helps alleviate the stress of living on the edge for those in our program.

Even with two working parents, one of the families that Baby Basics Bellevue has had the opportunity to get to know and serve has experienced the stress of living on the edge financially. Here is their story:

Baby Basics has been such a blessing to my family. We moved to Bellevue in May 2015. We lost our home in the Spring due to the rising cost of rent in the Seattle area. My husband Robert and I have always had employment, but we could not keep up with the rent increases and the costs to support our family. We were placed in transitional housing in Bellevue through Attain Housing, a program based in Kirkland. While meeting our caseworker weekly, she informed us of Hopelink, our neighborhood resource center, and food bank. She also sent a referral to Baby Basics of Bellevue for us. Robert was working, and I was on maternity leave at the time.

Wow, what a blessing this program has been to us! Relying on diapers from a food bank is a hit or miss. You get a few diapers two times a week with whatever sizes they have available. I quickly switched career paths and started working for Hopelink in June. I am still able to utilize Hopelink’s services, as this is our neighborhood service center.

Even though we are a two-parent household with both of us are working, it is stressful struggling to pay for food and necessities because we make too much to qualify for benefits, yet not enough to be fully self-sufficient. We fall into the gap and that is where the struggle is. A program that provides enough diapers each month for your baby is completely and utterly amazing! This program not only encourages people to get employed and get off government assistance, but they help you beyond just providing diapers.  They are extremely kindhearted and loving individuals, you can tell they love what they are doing.

Thank you, Baby Basics, for all you do for us families that need it. You are such a blessing and inspiration! It has encouraged me to want to start a program like this in the future.”  Meghan P.

As we move forward in 2017, Baby Basics’ challenge and privilege is to continue to respond to the requests for assistance with diapers and with referrals to other agencies able to provide for other needs. Since 2012, Baby Basics Bellevue has distributed over 150,000 diapers to families in the program as well as families in crisis and homeless shelters.

The impact of diapers is far-reaching, helping babies and their families toward positive outcomes. Baby Basics literally needs caring, helping hands to carry on the work we are doing. As a 100% volunteer-run non-profit, we can only do what we do because volunteers give the gift of time, expertise, and kindness.

We are grateful for the support of our generous community!

 

To help meet this great need and raise awareness in our community, Baby Basics Bellevue is having their 5th annual Mother’s Day Diaper Drive. The gift of diapers is an ideal way to honor mothers and to show support for low-income working moms (and dads!) on the Eastside. Your gift of diapers this May will help to cover a little bottom and will make a big difference to a family. Diapers in sizes 3, 4, 5, and 6 are especially needed.

On Mother’s Day, May 14, Bellevue Presbyterian Church is collecting diaper donations for Baby Basics. Donation bins will be in the church’s main lobby and the Upper Campus.

 

FIRST Response Radio (FRR)-Far East Broadcasting (FEBC)

In December 2016, a small First Response Radio(FRR) team responded to an earthquake in SE Asia which displaced 90,000 people, by setting up a radio station in a local government office building. They broadcast information about tent distribution, what to do in case of aftershocks, stories from the affected community, trauma counseling, and they distributed radios. Listeners thanked them for being the only radio station to address their need for information. Save The Children also appreciated the radio programs allowing children to tell their stories, noting the vulnerability of children in trauma situations.

Pakistan
Mike has been waiting many years for doors to open allowing FIRST Response Radio (FRR) to train people to support Hazeen, the one-man FRR ‘team’ in Pakistan. It could be said that a good day in Pakistan is like a disaster anywhere else in the world, and Hazeen has single-handedly responded to earthquakes and floods there for many years. Last year Hazeen was given 5 minutes to talk to the Director General of Pakistan’s Radio Regulatory Authority (PEMRA), and as he prayed for wisdom how to use his 5 minutes, he decided to show the FRR promotional video ’72 Hours in 72 Seconds’ which had been translated into Urdu. One hour later they were still talking, and FRR was given permission to bring a radio-in-a-suitcase into Pakistan. In April, Mike and Hazeen demonstrated it to the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), and their head of Communications offered to work with FRR. 35 people from 10 agencies attended the one-day ‘taster’ event which explained the role of radio communications in disasters. FRR has been invited to hold a full training event in Pakistan. Unfortunately, the visas were not granted for this year, and FRR will continue to push for this training. Suffice it to say; God opened doors for FRR beyond what we asked or imagined.

Philippines
On October 17th, FRR Philippines did Early Warning messaging anticipating Typhoon Lawin passing through Northern Luzon, Philippines. This was the first time FRR served a role in Early Warning. They coordinated with the Humanitarian community and the Philippines Government Office. Broadcasting on the station DZMR in Santiago Isabela, they shared information from UNOCHA to the impacted community and FRR Philippines officially deployed their Alpha team to respond in the aftermath of Typhoon Lawin.

Cambodia
Letters and phone calls from listeners to FEB Cambodia are always encouraging. Research done recently by an independent agency confirms that FEB Cambodia broadcasts are having an impact in Cambodia.

Samith is a listener who lives alongside the train tracks. She makes her living selling flowers. She heard about Family FM from others and said, “When I return from selling flowers I turn the radio on, and it encourages me to renew my strength always. If I don’t listen to it, I feel like I’m missing something and I don’t felt satisfied that day. I very much like the different speakers in all the short programs. It helps me to continue living with hope

Doung Meng, married for 16 years with three children, responded that the marriage and family workshop organized by FEB Cambodia has helped him understand the values of family and its importance in God’s sight. He added that, when we call upon God’s mercy, we receive peace and joy.

To find out more about First Response Radio, go to their Facebook page here.

A Position of Grace

 

The scene plays out daily across the landscape of Japan. From the urban metropolis to the rural countryside, it always looks the same. When people meet for the first time on business, they begin with a greeting, and then bow to one another and exchange business cards. Greet, bow, exchange. Greet, bow, exchange.

The exchanging of business cards in Japan is not an afterthought at the end of the meeting, as in “here’s the way to reach me.” It comes at the beginning of every meeting because it presents one’s position in the relationship. Americans value a “we all are equals, flat” worldview, and society is structured horizontally. Japan is stacked vertically, and everything from the depth of a bow to the words used in conversation is based on a person’s rung on the ladder.

The exchange of business cards is less about exchanging contact information and more about determining the hierarchy of position. If the individual works for a prestigious company that commands respect because the best companies only hire the best employees. If they are a manager, then they must be a hard worker and well-connected, and their position will determine where we sit on the ladder in relation to one another.  Not knowing one’s position in relation to others brings communication to a standstill and makes it is virtually impossible to conduct business in Japan.

Living in Japan as a missionary has taught me so much. As Easter approaches, I’ve been thinking about what is on my business card. Not the one that I carry with me every day, but the one I use with God which includes a list of labels which establish my position. You don’t know what card I am talking about? Sure you do! It’s the card we pull out to measure our value and worth. It’s the card we use to present ourselves to God that says things such as, “God, I’m working hard to be more righteous.””God, I’m a failure at obeying you.” “God, I can never live up to the expectations of others.” “I am a loser. I am a winner. I am a missionary. I am a….”

There is usually a long list of titles on our card, labels we set ourselves and those ascribed to us by others. Each one determines our position and shapes our relationship with God. These labels influence how we love God and love others.  But is our position in Christ based on our accomplishments and performance, set in place by our own doing? I believe not.

We fall into a precarious place when we allow human standards to define us. We put our identity in the hands of humanity’s fickle heart and mind. We are stuck with a life of untrue observations of how good (or bad) we are, an endless pursuit of justification and acceptance based on performance, and a self-worth rooted in ourselves. So what should be on our cards?

Recently, our church in Japan has been looking to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for answers. The believers in Ephesus were holding cards that read ‘second class citizen of heaven,’ a label ascribed by some Jewish believers. They were feeling looked down upon as non-Jews.  Paul corrects their thinking by appealing to two crucial points. First, everything flows from who God is. To understand ourselves, we must start with a right understanding of God. Paul tells us that we have a loving Father that blesses us with every blessing (1:3), purposefully chooses us (1:4), lavishes grace on us (1:6), gives us access to himself (1:18), and is our foundation for living (2:20).  Second, what this God says about us is infinitely greater than what we might say about ourselves. The Father says that we are his ‘workmanship’ (2:10), we are his children (2:19), and have his seal of approval in us, in the form of the Holy Spirit (1:13).

Our loving, grace-giving, foundation-giving and accessible God states that we have value beyond comprehension as His children and we are worthy of His Holy Spirit living inside us. Paul urges the Ephesians to use these words when describing themselves and these words give them their position in the world. Remembering that everything flows from God’s grace (2:8), their position is not based on what they did, but solely on who God is and who God says they are, which brings us back to you and me. By grace, we have been given new life in Jesus through his miraculous death and resurrection. It is the full and complete work of a loving God. It is in no way dependent on us. So why are we trying to move from living in the position of grace to that of performance? Why are we trying to add more to our cards? Is there anything we can do to increase the love of God for us? Expand his grace? Alter how he defines us? No! Never!

We are invited to live in a position of grace because it is the only True Place in which to live. This Easter, let’s shred the cards that measure us by performance and instead, introduce ourselves to the world based on our position in grace. This is the Good News that we will be proclaiming here in Japan, to those of us already living as believers and to those still on the journey. As for me, I’m going to stop thinking that if I am a good enough missionary, the Father will love me more. Instead, I will accept that by his grace, my position as his beloved is secure for eternity.  Now that’s a business card I am glad to share with others.

To better understand Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Peter recommends spending two weeks reading the entire letter, start to finish, once a day. It’s short, and doing so will only take about 20 minutes. This is the way the letter was meant to be read; all at once and in one sitting. Take the two-week challenge and watch how Scripture will come to life!