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

Back to School, Back to Whole

I recently posted an entry to my Facebook page: “Back to school task 1,573,826…hair braided…” Getting your kids, and let’s be honest ourselves, prepared to return to school after summer can be a monumental task. I am a mom of many, and several of my own cherubs have special needs. Already, in the month of August, I have been in perpetual meetings and conversations with talented school professionals, mental health professionals, and support teams. As a result, I have become all the more grateful for the ministry I get to be a part of at Eastside Academy.

Through my own parenting journey, I have recognized that accessing services for a child with special needs can be overwhelming and time consuming. For the courageous and beautiful families we serve at Eastside Academy, we have tried to eliminate some of that struggle. As a wholistic school, our goal is to address as many needs as possible in one place.  While we are a high school, we have recognized that challenges outside of the classroom can frequently interrupt progress IN the classroom. Thus, our students are provided with mental health care, recovery services, and a mentor, all in one location. In addition, we have eliminated what is notably one of the most frustrating tasks for parents/caregivers/guardians everywhere…school supply shopping. (I feel like there should be looming music playing every time those words are uttered. Ugh.) Every one of our students are provided with the school supplies needed to enter their classes; if a child needs one, we also supply backpacks. While this may seem insignificant, as a mom I can tell you, if I could eliminate this task in my own family, I would be singing the hallelujah chorus!

And honestly, that is how we try to approach everything at Eastside Academy: How would we want our own children to be treated? What support would I want or need walking through the situations our students and families face? While we are not perfect, this is definitely the heart to our approach.

I have shared with our team before that no one walks through the doors of Eastside Academy for the first time without having experienced some type of hurt or loss. Students and families come here because something didn’t work out the way they had hoped and dreamed. Our goal is to remind them, or sometimes tell them for the first time, they do not have to carry this heavy burden alone. We have a God who sees every need and has equipped His people to respond. By wrapping our arms around the educational, spiritual, emotional, and sometimes physical needs of our students, we desire to model the love we have each been shown through our Savior. A love that knows no boundaries. A love that makes sacrifices while speaking truth. A love that pursues, forgives, and seeks redemption and reconciliation for all.

I am amazed that even after 10 years of working here, that there are still so many times this ministry just takes my breath away. We are so grateful for the support and investment that this community puts into our students, families, and the work that God is accomplishing at Eastside Academy. Could we ask you to join us in prayer for the precious lives that will walk through our doors this year? Additionally, Eastside Academy’s Dinner and Live Auction is being held on October 22, at the Meydenbauer Center. We invite you to join us as we work to provide everything from backpacks to counseling to housing for our amazing students.

If you would like more information about enrolling a child, getting involved with this work, or attending our auction, please contact us at 425-452-9920 or visit our website at www.eastsideacademy.org

 

10th Annual Auto Angels Car Show-N-Shine!

Do you ever come up at a red light with some shiny, rumbly, vroom-vroom kind of car next to you? If you’re like me, you might roll the window down a bit to hear the purr of a fine engine. I’ve always been a classic car fan, since I was a kid, vacationing at my aunt & uncle’s place in Boise, where Uncle Ron always kept his Model A & Model T under dust covers, AutoAngels_Acebut was always driving some chromed-out, baby blue, metal-flaked piece of American muscle art. I will never forget tooling around Boise with my cousin Mary in Uncle Ron’s Model T, Hoyt Axton blaring on the Walkman in the seat next to us. How cool would it be to drive a Model T to your high school every day? But I digress.

The reason I’m talking about shiny hunks of metal today is because in just two weeks, the Auto Angels 10th Annual Car Show-N-Shine is on! September 17, 9am-3pm, right out in the BelPres Lower Parking Lot.

Everyone is welcome to attend and it’s free to the public! If you have a set of wheels you would like to shine up and show we invite you to participate. Registration is easy, and being an entrant brings a new level of fun.

Some of the highlights of our show include:

  • Unique & rare collector cars
  • Lunch grilled to perfection by Brief Encounter
  • Make ‘n Take model building fun for the kids
  • PPG coloring books
  • Door prizes and raffle items
  • Awards and dash plaques for entries

In addition there will be seminars on Lubricants and Car Detailing by the professionals from Chevron and Griot’s Garage.

If you have attended one of our car shows in the past, you won’t want to miss this one! Never attended before? Invite a neighbor and friend to come with you and of course bring the whole family for a day filled with fun. You may want to check out the 2015 award winners along with a link to their photo.

There’s even a parade of the winners at 2pm! Our family never misses the Auto Angels Car Show, and it’s going to be a special one this year, for the 10th Anniversary. See you there!

KidREACH: When Small Things Make a Big Difference

KIDReach tutor and student

Editor’s Note: The new director for KidREACH, Lisa Harold, shares her passion for education and the amazing work of volunteer tutors to students with significant educational needs. 

Small things can make a big difference, especially when it comes to education.

I was a corporate trainer for a call center. At the end of one training, a newly hired employee came to me and angrily told me he did not have time for homework. He said he was a single parent with two young children at home.

I was sympathetic and let him know that I understood that being a single parent is hard and has a lot of challenges. Then I asked if his children had homework. He looked suspicious as he cautiously said yes. Then I gave a small bit of encouragement that would ultimately make a big difference for generations:kidreach

I said, “Perhaps you could gather around the table after school and do your homework together. It would be a way of being a role model and showing your children that learning is a lifelong process. That learning doesn’t stop once you are out of school.”

And so it began. The family gathered around the table and did their homework. Once his new hire training ended, he modeled the notion that learning was a lifelong process by getting his GED. Then he received training to be a culinary chef.

Years later I was at 13 Coins, where he was a chef, and he came out to see me. He told me his oldest was graduating with a B average and going to college. He said his youngest was also getting B’s. I told him that was wonderful.

He proudly said, “You don’t understand. My son is the first person in my entire extended family that has ever so much as graduated from high school. And he’s getting B’s and going to college.”

Empowering people through education is the greatest opportunity to free people from the cycle of poverty that I am aware of. It’s why I’m humbled and honored to be the new KidREACH Director.

KidREACH provides free tutoring to children who not only struggle academically, but also often are dealing with the obstacles associated with poverty. However we do more than provide tutoring. We are present with the children and their families and show them the love of Jesus through our words and actions.

It’s not unusual for a student to feel overwhelmed and unmotivated when they begin with KidREACH. But they quickly realize they are loved and supported. Children become motivated to learn when they feel cared about. It makes a big difference.

Volunteer tutors develop deep, caring relationships with the students they work with. Most tutors do not have a teaching background. They take time out of their busy days week after week. Many start with a student when they are in kindergarten and stay with them for years.

Tutors delight in the “aha!” moments that take place when their students finally grasp concepts.  They have a passion for this ministry and wish they had more time with each child.  They wish there were more tutors because the need is so great.tutor compressed

Small things make a big difference. KidREACH tutors do millions of small things, week after week, year after year. It makes a big difference.

If you would like to learn more about this tutoring ministry or would like to be involved, please contact: belpres.org/getconnected

 

 

A Missionary’s Perspective: Family, Dating, and Courtship in Cambodia

Cambodian young adults

The following is a post written by long-term Cambodian missionary, Brian Maher. Read as he gently reminds us that family is a gift, and a family founded on love is a building block for a healthy society.

One evening while I was going to pick up my daughter from the University of Economics and Finance, I glanced at my watch and saw there was still a bit of time before she got out. So to kill time, I went to a nearby barber shop to have my hair shampooed. In the shop, there was a man in his mid-sixties getting his hair dyed, “Do you have a family?” he asked the female stylist. In Khmer culture sometimes people ask staff about their husbands or wives. “Family,” she said, “Yes, I used to have a family, but I divorced my husband.” The conversation went on and on, and I found out that young lady was twenty-four years old. I knew that this young lady had built her family on the foundation of arranged marriages.

Arranged marriages are still popular in the Khmer culture, especially in the provinces or in the countryside. However, in the city, most people are exposed to western cultural values and customs through globalization via various forms of media, so it seems that the younger generation prefers the practice of choosing their own partner for marriage.

Family is the cell of the society. If the cells have some problems, the whole society will also suffer. Before we talk about the happiness in a family, we should trace the Khmer word ‘family’ to the root word which means, “Father and Mother, I Love You.” Before starting a family, one has to decide to get married first. Before marriage one has to choose a partner. Before choosing a partner, one has to be in some kind of community. What criterion does one use in choosing someone to be their lifelong partner?  Based on what? Love, lust, social status (Hindu cast system), or economics? If we have wrong expectations or criteria, we will never be able to build a good and happy family at all. But rather, I tell you that love is a very important component for building a solid family unit.

During the civil war, which lasted from 1967-1975, Cambodia went through so many challenges and frustrations. The present society is the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge era. During this era, Cambodian couples were forced to get married in a common thatch cafeteria. They got married because of fear, not because of love. Most of the parents of young adults in today’s present society have gone through forced marriages.

“If I lived separately from my mother-in-law, I would not have divorced him at all,” the stylist continued. She let out a long sigh of despair before she continued to share her personal story. It is unusual to hear a young female stylist share her personal story to a customer in her shop like that. She must have really needed to share her grief with someone.

In Khmer culture, the groom has to come live at the bride’s house, and he has to put down a dowry for the bride’s parents. It implies that the groom must buy a wife. But in the Bible, God brought Eve to Adam as a gift. Adam did not pay anything, and his wife was a free gift from God.

The best gift that each parent can give to their children when they get married is independence from the cultural obligations of children to the parents. The best gift to them would be not interfering too much in their personal family business. Older Khmer people still want to live in an extended family situation, not so much in a nuclear family. When a son or daughter gets married, their priority is to their own family – parents have no business interfering in their decisions and choices. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Gen 2:24)  The husband has to cut any links of unhealthy parental influences from both sets of parents and give full attention to the needs and health of the newlywed couple.

As you know, the family is the cell of the society. In Khmer Rouge time, they tried to destroy the family component. I remembered a saying from Confucius.

 

If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.

If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.

If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.

If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

— Confucius

 

After Creation, God built the human race through a family. What is a family?  Family started with Adam and Eve. God brought Eve to Adam. That means Adam did not hunt down or choose a wife. He received a wife as a gift from God. But in the Khmer culture, the phrase ‘take a wife’ or ‘look for a wife’ can determine what happens in the future for the couple. Adam did not look for a wife. God knew he lived alone, and it was not easy, so He gave him a woman as his wife. If Adam looked for a wife on his own according to some faulty criteria, and she did not work out the way he liked, he might toss her out and look for another one. Believe it or not, in Khmer culture, because the man has to pay for his wife, he has the right to throw her away if she does not perform or do the job he paid for. A man will look for another one at a price he can afford.  When one buys a phone they like, it isn’t long before a better model comes out, and they toss the old one away and buy a new one. But a wife is not like buying a useful item – a wife is someone you are given as a gift.

In what ways have you placed a criteria on your family? How can you see the ways in which God placed your family in your life as a gift?

As you continue this week, please pray for the missionaries in Cambodia and the strengthening and healing needed within Cambodian families.

What I Did for Summer Vacation–Dissertation Work!

Over the past three years, I have been part of an eleven-person global cohort from Kenya, Nigeria, Greece, India, France, Korea, China, and the US. Together we are discovering how to further the Kingdom of God around the world through our individual research projects. We meet annually at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, CA, and are always amazed at what we learn from each other.

This summer I am faced with the daunting task of writing the rough draft of my doctoral dissertation on the results of my research project. After discussing it with Missions Pastor, Rich Leatherberry, and with the support of my amazing Missions+Serve Team, I scheduled an unpaid leave for July 5th– Aug 21st to focus on accomplishing this huge task. Halfway through this leave, I thought it would be a good time to share with everyone my research project.

My research project is the result of my long-term interest and work in walking alongside young Latinas in urban poverty contexts. These Latinas acquire significant strengths in survival and leadership skills; they have powerful hopes and dreams for a better life for themselves and their children. However, many have suffered abuse and abandonment and are on the margins in life experience and behavior. These wounds rob them of the ability to envision themselves as uniquely created by God, and as women of value with gifts and leadership skills that are essential for their personal lives, their communities, the church, and the greater missio Dei. Through many years of working in medical education and ministry with Latinas in urban poverty, I came to see Christian mentoring as a powerful tool in the work of bringing healing and restoration to Latinas struggling to find their way in a majority culture.

In my study, I address how urban poverty has marred Latinas’ identity, their understanding of being created in the image of God, and their value within the Kingdom of God. The study also looks at Christian women who desire to walk alongside Latinas in urban poverty through mentoring relationships. I found that mentors discover their own stories of marred identity and develop in their understanding of being created in the image of God and their own role.

What is “marred identity”? Jayakumar Christian, PhD, is the National Director and CEO of World Vision India. In God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power and the Kingdom of God, Christian writes, “Poverty mars the identity of the poor and hurts the soul of all” (Christian 1999, 139). Marred identity is not simply defined by, or the result of low income, lack of access to resources or inability to succeed in mainstream society. Rather it is a pervasive and all-inclusive robbing of the poor’s identity as created by God, in God’s image, with “intrinsic dignity and worth, a worth which belongs to all human beings” (Christian 1999, 67). Marring of the poor’s identity sets the groundwork for further exploitation through objectifying the poor and legitimizing using the poor to serve the structures of the powerful.

In my research, I have witnessed the formidable influence urban poverty holds in numerous aspects of Latinas’ lives and the results of such influence. Many of the Latinas I worked with did not believe that they were capable of breaking out of the cycle of poverty in which they lived. This belief impacted their present and their future; rather than act with a vision of the future, their decisions were frequently made with the immediacy of the present in mind.

Additionally, fundamental issues of shame and lack of self-confidence, brokenness of families, and broken systems of support appeared to overlay every aspect of their lives. Many Latinas experienced deep-seated prejudice and judgment of their ethnicity and poverty status. They also struggled to navigate generational differences and expectations of their “home” culture with the majority culture in which they now lived. All this interwove to create a profound sense of hopelessness in being able to recover from a marred identity and to break out of the cycle of urban poverty.

What became evident in this research was the importance of listening to Latinas’ stories of their experiences. Sharing with Christian mentors brought dignity to Latinas along with an understanding that, at the heart, marred identity is a spiritual issue. Christian mentoring became the avenue for Latinas to discover their inherent value as created in the image of God. Recovering from a marred identity enabled them to envision a good future for themselves and their children. This vision then led Latinas to begin breaking free from the constraints of urban poverty as they made daily positive choices with the future in mind.

Latinas in urban poverty and their Christian mentors are integral to God’s mission and to furthering the Kingdom of God. As well, the church benefits and grows when it reaches out to those in urban poverty by intentionally learning about their experiences and where God is at work in urban poverty contexts. I am so grateful for all the encouragement I have received from the BelPres staff and congregation to pursue this important work! I am excited to share with you how the stories of Latinas and of Christian mentors interweave to bring healing and restoration, furthering God’s Kingdom on earth.

What Would Jesus Say to a Muslim?

It seems a bit presumptuous to assume I could know what Jesus would say to a Muslim today.  After all, there are 3.3 million followers of Islam living in the U.S. today. That’s equivalent to 1% of our population. And, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. So how could I know what Jesus would say to a Muslim?

Many of us who read this blog don’t know much abouCross-in-the-foreground-the-Dome-of-the-Rock-shrine-in-the-Old-City-of-Jerusalem-in-the-background_larget who they are and what Muslims believe other than what we see on TV or read in the news. That’s why I am writing this series on Islam. I want to help us become better informed and better equipped for the world we live in as followers of Jesus.

That brings me back to this crucial question of what Jesus would say to a Muslim, because the answer to this question gives us strong guidance for how Jesus invites us to engage this world we live in.

What would Jesus say to a Muslim?

The responses to this question generally fall within one of three different categories. The first is characterized by the main idea that Muslims, Jews and Christians all believe in the same God. When a Muslim says ‘There is no God but Allah’, they are proclaiming loyalty to the same Unique, One and only true God that Jews and Christians proclaim. The term ‘Allah’ is the Aramaic equivalent to the word we use in English for ‘God’. So, people who think of Islam in this way would see Jesus saying the same thing to a Muslim, as He would say to the rest of us who follow him; “I no longer call you servants…instead I call you friends,” Jn 15:15. Thus, Islam is part of the one big family of faith and is fundamentally a religion of peace. It’s just another way of worshipping God. That’s one view.

There is a second category of responses, which swings to the complete opposite end of the spectrum. This view is characterized by the main idea that Muslims worship a false god whose ultimate agenda is to force the world into submission using whatever means possible, including war and acts of terror. The only way to safety and security for the rest of us is to either build a wall to keep them out or launch an all out war to wipe them out. So from this perspective, Jesus would tell Muslims they are children of the devil and that He has come to destroy the works of the devil; 1Jn 3:18. Islam is a religion of violence and all Muslims are terrorists. That’s the opposite end of the spectrum of perception regarding followers of Islam among Christians.

While the first group is more progressive and tolerant, the second group is more militant and oppositional. One tells us “we are all the same” and the other tells us to “keep ‘em out or wipe ‘em out.” It is interesting to me that the progressives in Jesus’ day were called Sadducees and the militants were called Zealots. Neither group could get behind the Kingdom of God way of life Jesus announced. Instead, they would ultimately join forces to crucify him. Think about that for a moment.

Jesus is Lord of the third way. When presented with a forced choice between two binary options, Jesus always chose something different. The third way in this Christian conversation is the view that Islam is an incomplete religion. Sadly, Muslims do not have a full understanding of the One true God they worship. There are over 90 names for ‘Allah’ in Islam, but none of them conveys the intimate relationship with Abba Father that is characteristic of God in the Christian faith. Muslims also do not have full assurance of salvation because their faith is based on obedience and good works rather than the ultimate work of Christ who paid the debt for all our sins on the cross. So what would Jesus say to a Muslim? We are called to look to scripture for our answers. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest… take my yoke on you and you will find rest for your souls,” Mt 10.28,29. “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,” Jn 14.6.

Jesus is the fullness of God incarnate in human form, Col. 1.15,19.  He is the Universal Lord of an uncompromising Gospel and the one and only cure to our sin problem, Col 1.13-14, Col 1.19-22, Mt 26.28, Acts 4.12, Eph 2.8   Those who place their trust in Him are made new and have a secure hope for eternity, Jn 3.16, 2 Cor 5.17; Ro, 6.23.

Understanding Islam as an incomplete religion gives us clear guidance as followers of Jesus. The One, Almighty, Compassionate, Gracious, and Loving God has revealed the fullness of His grace and truth in Jesus Christ. This wonderful good news is for everyone, including Muslims. Yes, some Muslims are extreme terrorists and have a warped, not incomplete, understanding of God. But they are a very small minority and are the reason many Muslims are abandoning Islam in the Middle East and here in the U.S..

Muslims are people: people we are called to love, not fear. People we are called to welcome and seek relationship with, not to exclude.  People who need a Savior and His name is Jesus. So what can you do today?  Begin praying for the salvation of your Muslim neighbors. Ask God to give you a Muslim friend. Pray that God will send followers of Jesus to show and tell the Good News of the Gospel to Muslims in places where they have no access to the Gospel. Find out more about one of the ministries Belpres supports to share Jesus with Muslims.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” Rom 10.13-14.

Racism is a Global Epidemic

This past March, I had the opportunity to visit one of our BelPres mission partners, Children of the Nations, COTNI, in the city of Baharona, Dominican Republic. The DR (Dominican Republic) is a Caribbean nation which lies on the eastern two-thirds island of Hispaniola. The nation of Haiti occupies the western side of the island. Much of what we know in social media and news about the island comes from Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake which killed over 46,000 people. The world’s nations responded by sending help to Haiti. Today, there is much skepticism about how much help the Haitian people actually received from the world’s governments and aid organizations. Many Haitians have fled to the DR in the hope of a better life.

The history between the countries goes back to colonial days when Spain and France sought control over the island. That political and cultural conflict eventually formed the two countries. In the early 20th century, both countries were relatively equal in economy and government. Today, however, it’s a different story: Haiti is considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Children of the Nations (COTNI) established itself in the DR specifically to address the spiritual and poverty issues for displaced Haitians that live in the DR. Haitians are not considered of equal status and are denied citizenship, health care and education. Racial (or ethnic) discrimination is an accepted part of the Dominican Republic culture. My visit in March gave me a look at the living conditions of Haitians living in the DR. Each day we had the opportunity to visit different Batays. I made THIS video there.

A Batay is a village that has its history back in the sugar plantation days where Haitians were brought into the DR to work the sugarcane fields. Today, the sugarcane industry has lost its influence while the Batays continue to exist. Because of the extreme poverty in Haiti, illegal immigration continues to occur into the DR. Without citizenship, education, basic social services, and health care, life in the bateys is very difficult. There is generational racial discrimination for the Haitians living in the DR. COTNI has adopted 5 Batays in DR. I had the opportunity to visit each one. While the extreme poverty continues in the bateys, COTNI has come in to establish schools, health care systems, food programs, and spiritual life pathways for the families and children.

In the 20 years of COTNI being in country and building a foundation of hope and love, the lives of Haitian-Dominican Republic children & families have been changed. I got to witness this firsthand when I met a young college student, Carolina. See her story HERE. Carolina grew up in a batay, but through COTNI, was given the opportunity to go to school, get health care, and  she received the hope she has now in Christ. I will never forget the moment she shared when she was a child living off the streets, eating trash and having her stomach bloated because of the parasitic worms that she had living inside her. She is living testimony that each person is a child of God with inherent, infinite worth. COTNI through its Child Sponsorship program has given girls like Carolina hope for the future and a new life that helps defeat the generational racial discrimination that exists in the DR.

On the same trip I also had the opportunity to visit a potential new site where COTNI is scouting for its next area to support. We went to the border of Haiti and DR, where we experienced the worst poverty in the world. Refugee camps made up of trash, cardboard, anything that can be taken. Haitians trying to escape the poverty in their own country but unable to enter into the DR are stuck at the border. It truly was a life changing experience walking around the refugee camps. I made a short video, HERE.

As I reflect on the current news of #AltonSterling  and #PhilandoCastile, I am reminded that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only hope we have in reconciliation, peace, and love. Whatever you believe or understand about these two most recent cases, it is clear that there is a sense of racial injustice in America that needs addressing, and who better than the church, with our hope in Christ, to bring his love, peace, and reconciliation to this pressing issue? Racism is a global epidemic, not just local. We as followers of Christ need to respond both here in the Eastside, to events in our nation, and–as global Christians–throughout the world. We have the power and presence of God in us and through us, and we can help change the world. Church, let’s do this together! Jesus Christ is the hope of the world!

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.   -Galatians 3.28

Freedom Schools: Reaching Kids Through Love and Education

As you probably know, the summer months are when many children, especially children in low-income communities, experience a significant loss in what they have learned throughout the school year due to inactivity.

However, beyond even the academic challenges, children in the community often lack the social, emotional and spiritual support that they need to deal with various challenges in their lives.

Here is a story that one of our interns shared with me recently about one of his Urban Impact Freedom School scholars:

One day I was told that one of my scholar’s mom had cancer and that it was getting progressively worse. The following day I expected him to stay at home and spend the day supporting his mother. But when I walked into the Harambee room where we all meet every morning, there he was. Although he showed up, his arms were crossed, his hood covered his face, and he would not say a word.

As we started the day, we were high-fiving, making jokes in the group, cheering and chanting, inspiring, and sharing love all around. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him murmuring and clapping his hands lightly to the Harambee rhythms. As the day passed, those murmurs turned to words and his clapping hands were now willingly receiving high-fives from his peers. The more love we showed him as a Freedom School community, the more he started to open up and share with the group.

The supportive community of Freedom School helped him to cope and process some of the hardship that he and his family were facing. By the end of the day, he had turned in the best work he had ever done in my class. His peers continued to be inviting, understanding, and supportive for anything he may have needed. I was inspired not only by the quality of his work, but by his perseverance and the way the Freedom School community supported him in his time of family hardship.
-Khyree Smith, Urban Impact Freedom School Servant Leader Intern 2015

Students shared some of the things they endure and encounter on a regular basis. What we found to be true is their desire to be in school had little to nothing to do with school itself, but everything to do with what was happening in their homes, their neighborhoods, their thoughts, and emotions.”

 As a BelPres mission partner, Urban Impact is doing incredible work for the kingdom of God in the Rainier Valley. Please pray for this year’s Freedom School, for their staff and for all the youth that are attending. If you are interested in learning more about the Freedom School and how you can help out, please visit www.urbanimpactseattle.org

Grieving with Orlando

The following letter was sent via email to the BelPres Family on June 14, 2016.

Dear BelPres family,

Like all of you, I was saddened and sickened when I got home from church on Sunday and saw the news about the shootings in Orlando. So many victims.  Each one made in the image of God. Each one loved by God. So I want to take a moment to say in this email what we would have said on Sunday had we known all the information we do now.

In times like these Jesus instructs us to grieve, pray, trust, and love as Jesus loved. Grieve with those who are grieving. Pray for the victims, their families, and their communities. And trust that he loves each one of the victims and their families, that he is at work in our world to bring healing, that terror cannot ultimately win because he is love and he is still Lord, which means he will triumph over prejudice and hate. In the words of one of my favorite hymns, “though the wrong seems oft so strong, he is ruler yet.”

It is easy to feel helpless and afraid, but one thing we can do for sure is pray.  So here are some of the prayers I’ve been praying:

Jesus, we mourn with those who are mourning.
Help us to experience their grief with them so they do not grieve alone.
Jesus, we pray for the victims, their families and friends, the LGBTQ community that was singled out in this attack, and for Muslims who will be unfairly associated with the actions of one man.
Please bring your comfort to all of them.
Help them know that you are there and grieving with them.
We also pray that you would protect them, and that you would transform the hatred in our world and in our hearts into your love.
We also ask for the healing of our country and of our world.
May your peace and justice be done here on earth as it is in heaven, and show us how we can help that happen.
Where there is hate, help us to sow love. In your name, amen.

Dr. Scott Dudley

Praying for Muslims in Ramadan

Dome of the Rock (1)The evening of June 5 will mark the beginning of Ramadan, a holy month for followers of Islam all around the world.

Each year Muslims look forward to Ramadan with great excitement.  It’s a time characterized by religious zeal and deeper community with other Muslims.

The word “Ramadan” comes from the Arabic root word for “parched thirst” and “sun-baked ground.” It is expressive of the hunger and thirst felt by those who will spend from dawn to sunset in a complete fast, abstaining from all food, drink and other physical desires such as smoking, physical intimacy, etc. It also expresses the spiritual thirst for God. Muslims view fasting as an act of faith in, and worship of, Allah. Fasting allows the reverent to atone for sins and prepare to receive holy visions.

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

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

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

For ten years, BelPres has joined with Christians world-wide in praying for Muslims during Ramadan using the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World Guide.  The guide has great information about what Muslims believe, shares testimonies from Muslims who have encountered Jesus during this holy month, introduces specific Muslim people groups and provides specific things to pray for. Each day has a different focus.

Paul Filidis, north American coordinator of 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World points out that praying, “expands our ability to love. As you pray for people, you can’t help but get God’s perspective, and His heart for them, which is very different from the fear, anger or even hate that is so easily incited when only focusing on the actions of extremists.”

Since 2001, there have been 72 movements of at least one thousand Muslims turning towards Christ, numbering in the hundreds of thousands. This great awakening among Muslims has occurred at the same time as another great movement that has been taking place–the movement among Christians to pray for the Muslim world.   This is what the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is all about.

God has given us a force that can call on all heaven and bring its power here on earth. It has been said that when we work, we work.  But when we pray, God works.  We will not impact Muslims through our arguments or by our shouting.  But we will impact them through our bold prayers in Jesus name.  Pick up a copy of the 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World (or download the .PDF) and join the great movement of Christians who are praying throughout Ramadan.

 

The Family Caretaker and Historian: Celebrating Arlene Darby

One of the first people I met when I started working at BelPres over 8 years ago was Arlene Darby. I originally thought she might have been a staff member. She was always around the building working on something: making copies, passing out articles, collecting prayers, dropping off notes, preparing things to mail and checking out everything in the narthex.

At that time we had those rolling cubes in the lobby where the departments put information and brochures for people to pick up or look over. Arlene made sure we had current information and enough available.  She would do her personalArlene Darby inventory and let departments or the front desk know what was needed.  She cared that we had what people may be looking for.

Add to that Arlene’s meticulous and faithful management and leadership of the monthly collection of food and funds for Local Food Relief, it’s easy to understand my confusion about Arlene’s role as part of the church staff.

The longer I was here, however, I realized that Arlene had a much greater role than her opportunities serving as LFR coordinator, prayer warrior, fact checker and copier. Arlene is our BelPres family care taker and historian.

More than those things she does around BelPres, Arlene knows and loves the people who make up and are connected to this church.  She scours the local papers—Bellevue, Seattle, Kirkland—daily to see how her church is part of what is happening outside of the church building. Maybe it’s one of the many articles about the Jubilee REACH Center and the way it is impacting lives of families on the Eastside. Or perhaps it is about how the Jubilee Service Day has changed the way churches and schools come together, or perhaps it is an article about the importance of our food banks and the need for providing food in a place and time where many families find it hard to put enough food on the table each day.

But most often, it is a photo, article or mention of someone—member, grandchild, pastor, child—who is part of BelPres that she cuts out, copies and hands out to various staff members.  Many of us have a very large ARLENE folder in our file drawers filled with these mementos. Like a proud aunt or grandmother, Arlene wants to share the news and brag about her family.

Such a gift for all of us; to have someone who sees the BelPres community as her family and gains joy from finding and sharing those snippets of life.  She knows us, too.  The names of our children, their activities and accomplishments.

She cares for us and about us. She cares about the things we do and she cares about who we are as a church.  Her care for that role as a church has helped her share the word for over 25 years about Local Food Relief, a BelPres partnership with Hopelink and the Emergency Feeding Program which has raised over half a million dollars and delivered many tons of food.  She cares that BelPres is making a difference in lives in her community by helping families put food on the table.

Arlene is beginning to step away from some of these things.  She is starting to hand over some of the Local Food Relief responsibility and she is finding some fellow prayer warriors to share those prayers, but she is still caring for her family—bringing in articles and stories about BelPres—the church and the people she loves.  I wonder who may be next to step in and follow some of the many footprints Arlene has left all over this church. And I hope that we all take a piece of that caring, loving and celebrating that Arlene encourages in our church community.

Wouldn’t that be awesome, awesome, awesome!

Getting to Know our Muslim Neighbors: 5 points where Islam and Christianity Diverge

God-fearing Muslims from many counties are moving to the U.S.  It is estimated that 3.3 million Muslims currently live in this country, which is equivalent to 1% of the population.  Many of us who read this blog don’t know much about Muslims or what they believe, outside of what we see on TV or read in the news.  So I am starting a monthly series on Islam to help us become better informed and learn how to engage in relationship with our Muslim neighbors.  Next month, Muslims will celebrate Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. That will be the topic of my blog post next month.  This month, I want to share 5 ways Christian beliefs are essentially different from what Muslims believe.

The most important driving principle to understand behind Islam, recited in the call to prayer, is La ilaha illa Allah—”There is no god but Allah.” This heavily influences all other Muslim confessions, and explains why many Muslims don’t “get” Christian faith.

1)  There is no category in Islam for the Trinity. Muslims believe that Jesus was the son of Mary and was a Messenger of God.  But since God is only One God, Muslims would never agree that Jesus was in very nature God; “I and the Father are One”; John 10:30.

2)  Muslims do not accept our primary source for faith, the Bible, as Divinely Inspired.  Christians bDome of the Rockelieve that the Bible is authoritative and inspired by the Holy Spirit.  God used real people at specific times to write in their own words, exactly what God wanted said.  Muslims find it unbelievable that God would speak through many human beings rather than dictate directly to one messenger of God, i.e. Muhammad. For Muslims, only Muhammad was the incorruptible conduit of God’s word.

3) Muslims understand ‘Isa—Jesus, very differently than Christians.  Muhammad viewed Jesus as an important prophet—along the lines of Noah, Abraham, and Moses—but not Immanuel, God with us.  Muslims do honor Jesus and affirm the miracles associated with him, but they would never consider worshiping him.  Muslims agree that Jesus was condemned to die on the cross, but they claim he was never crucified.  In Islam a prophet would never be executed as a criminal.  Even more inconceivable is the idea that a Son of God would be a slave or be publically executed as a criminal.  If Jesus died on the cross, enduring shame, then, from the Muslim perspective, Jesus was an utter failure.

4) Salvation by grace through faith makes no sense for a Muslim.  For a Muslim, the validating sign of faith is in what a person does. (James says something similar in James 2:14.)  But for a Muslim, the idea of an undeserved gift–like Jesus taking all our sins on Him so that we could take all His righteousness on ourselves–is incomprehensible.

5) In Islam, God is all merciful, all knowing, and all compassionate.  Muslims actually have 99 names for what God is, but none of them conveys the intimate relationship with Abba Father that is a major characteristic of God in the Christian faith.

So what’s the point?  Our media often portrays Islam as a violent religion.  Some Muslims are violent but most are not.  Islam is built around the core tenant that there is no God but Allah.  Muslims are deeply devoted religious people.  They are also very hospitable.

Christianity is essentially relational.  We love our neighbors, one another, and the God who has come to us in Jesus.  This love is unconditional and the relationships are intimate.  It is this latter reality that makes Christianity so attractive.  Muslims won’t become convinced about Jesus or the Bible or grace through a quick conversation or a debate.  But they will see the real Jesus when we show grace and the effects of an intimate relationship with Abba Father.  So who are the Muslims God has put in your life and how can you show them love, grace and Abba Father?

Want to Change the World? Sponsor a Child

In 2013, Christianity Today participated in a study of the effects of Child Sponsorship. The data gathered from that ground-breaking study was a powerful recommendation for sponsoring children as a way that we can truly have kingdom impact. I decided, this week, to share an article from that issue, that, three years later, still sticks in my mind. Please take the time to read Bruce Wydick’s excellent piece –Nan

A top economist shares the astounding news about that little picture hanging on our refrigerator:

“What can an ordinary person like me do to help the poor?” When people find out at parties and social gatherings that I am a development economist (and yes, we economists do attend such events), often they ask me this question. For a long time my response was the same: “Perhaps sponsor a child?”

I suppose I gave this answer because I myself sponsored a child, and if I was supposed to know something about helping the poor, I should encourage people to do what I was doing. After all, child sponsorship makes sense: By focusing on youth instead of adults, it aims to nip poverty in the bud, providing children in the developing world access to education, health services, and, in some programs, spiritual guidance. But over time my autopilot response started to annoy me. The truth was that I hadn’t the slightest clue about the effect child-sponsorship programs had on children.

Dissatisfaction with my pat answer began to inform conversations with my graduate students. “Have you considered researching the impact of child sponsorship?” I would ask. One student was interested, and she followed the topic long enough to find out that no one had ever investigated the topic, despite 9 million children sponsored worldwide, and the more than $5 billion per year being channeled into sponsorship programs from ordinary people wanting to help. But we were having trouble finding a sponsorship organization willing to work with us. What if the research discovered that sponsorship didn’t work? This was the risk that some organization out there had to take.

A couple years later, another graduate student, Joanna Chu, became interested in the topic, in part because she was sponsoring a child with Compassion International. Chu put out some feelers with Compassion’s research director, Joel Vanderhart, who decided to risk what no other child-sponsorship organization was willing to risk at that point: to allow its program to be scrutinized. We were able to carry out the study with one major condition: Compassion would remain anonymous. They would be referred to as “a leading child-sponsorship organization” in any academic publication.

In the course of talking with Vanderhart, we stumbled upon a vein of gold for any development economist: He casually mentioned that Compassion had used an arbitrary age-eligibility rule when they underwent a major worldwide expansion during the 1980s. When one of Compassion’s programs entered a new village, typically only children who were 12 and younger were eligible for sponsorship.

With that, our strategy for identifying the causal impacts of the program became clear. We would obtain early enrollment lists from different village projects introduced during the 1980s, and track down the families of those who were first sponsored in these projects. Then we would obtain information on the life outcomes of these formerly sponsored children—now adults—and compare them to their adult siblings who had been slightly too old to be sponsored when the program arrived in their village. In this way we would be able to control for genetics, family environment, and a host of other factors that the siblings held in common. The only difference that could affect adult life outcomes across the sample would be the fact that Providence had allowed some of these siblings and not others to be age-eligible for child sponsorship.

The Results

Chu found a partner for her research project: Laine Rutledge, now a doctoral student in economics at the University of Washington. The two graduate students spent the summer of 2008 in Uganda, where they obtained data on 809 individuals, including 188 who were sponsored as children. The students had a number of adventures in the field, including a run-in with a wild dog that took a bite out of Rutledge’s leg. A couple of months after they returned, Chu and Rutledge stopped by to share the results. A nervous excitement quickly filled my small office. MORE.

Celebrating Child Sponsorship–May 15!

It was 24 years ago that Ted and I first sponsored a child. We helped a young boy in Kenya get an education and the food that he and his family needed to keep him out of the workforce and in school. At the time, we were having fertility issues (we had our first kiddo 12 years after we were married), and it meant a lot to me to have Nzokia to care for, even from a distance.  We prayed for him, sent him birthday and Christmas gifts (cash, which the project leaders would use to give him gifts) and corresponded with him via snail mail.

Since then, we’ve sponsored a girl in India, and another Kenyan boy. We have sponsored new children as each of our biological kids have come along. Currently we sponsor Putu, a little Balinese guy, and Kelvin, who lives in the Dominican Republic. We’re not the best at sponsorship. I go months without writing my kids sometimes. And we’ve never visited any of our sponsored kids, either, though I sure would love to.

But it is so fun watching these kids grow and develop into healthy adulthood. The opportunity to pray and write to children outside of our own culture is so world-expanding for our kids, too. I love that they have a larger understanding of the kingdom of God through our sponsorship children. And now we can do it through email, though I still love getting Putu’s drawings a few times a year.

Last Sunday, some of our BelPres families who sponsor children shared stories of how sponsorship has impacted them. John Kim was there, and caught their testimonies on video. Hear from Laurel Fortin HERE, and from Brian Los HERE.

If you sponsor a child already, great! We want to celebrate you! Please stop by the giant map in the Lobby and put a pin in your child’s location. You DO NOT have to have sponsored through BelPres Partner ministries to put your pin on the map. We want to get an idea of how many BelPres families have Child Sponsorship as part of their family giving profile. We hope you’ll participate! We praise God for your gift of sponsorship.

Of course, we will also have many children available for sponsorship, as well. Kids from many of our ministry partners.  It is so fun to see the faces of all the kids who have been sponsored through past sponsorship Sundays, and pray over the faces of those in need of sponsors.

So come by, have a snack, pray for the children, put a pin in the map, and maybe pick out a new child for sponsorship. BelPres is a congregation that believes in children!

 

Racism and the Gospel, a visit with Dr. John Perkins

Racism: the belief that some races are inherently superior (physically, intellectually, or culturally) to others and therefore have a right to dominate them. Racism breeds fear and distrust, robbing everyone involved of their identity in Christ, created in God’s image, to know God, to love and bJohn-Perkinse loved. Racism is hateful and evil, pitting one human against another human, destroying relationships and ultimately bringing death. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! I bring you news of great joy which will be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).  All people. Racism steals away the good news of the gospel.

John Perkins began his life in 1930 in Mississippi as the son of a poor sharecropper. When he was seven months old his mother died and his father abandoned the family, leaving the children to be raised in poverty by their grandmother and extended family. John was seventeen when his older brother was murdered by a town marshal, and John’s family became afraid for his life. Vowing never to return to the place of his birth, John fled to California.

Fast forward to 1957 when John, through his son’s encouragement, attended a church service and encountered the Lord, giving his life to Christ. Though he had vowed never to return to his boyhood home, God had a bigger plan for John. In 1960, John moved their family to Mississippi to share the gospel of Christ with those still living in that area. John became a vocal supporter and leader in the civil rights movement, was beaten, arrested and tortured in jail, but never lost sight of the call on his life or the love of God in his heart. He came through this experience with a vision of a holistic ministry designed to remove the bondage of racism from all people, the oppressor and the oppressed.

Through the next four decades John wrote, spoke, taught, earned degrees and became an international leader in the church. He authored nine books, created non-profit ministries, joined boards at World Vision and Prison Fellowship, and became a leader in community development for impoverished people in urban and rural settings.  In 2004, Seattle Pacific joined with now Dr. John Perkins to launch the campus-based John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development.

Dr. Perkins was in town last week. On Monday, I had the privilege of joining a small gathering of urban leaders for lunch and teaching with by Dr. John. We met at Urban Impact and for two hours we sat at the feet of the master of reconciliation. At 85 years of age, he is an energetic man with a gentle demeanor and an incredible heart for God’s people. Moving around the room as he spoke, he made eye contact with each person. Words of scripture flowed effortlessly from him as spoke about the utter devastation racism had on our country, our communities and our churches.

He asked, “What is the time in which each of us is living? It is not the time to profile and hate, it is the time to start reading the word of God and believe what it says!” God has not designed us to be defined by race; we are all members of one race, the human race. We come from different ethnicities, cultures, lands, and we are all one race under God.

Dr. John spoke on God’s call on our lives to love. He said, “Love is the best chance…people get trapped in their own cultures…we have to love their eyes open…to look for ways to serve both sides.” The Gospel is the power to reconcile people together, and as the church we are called to reconcilers, to let the God of Reconciliation live in our hearts and walk out reconciliation in our lives. As Dr. John stated, “Let’s enjoy loving each other across all lines that divide us.” How do we do this? By coming together, working and learning together, and by staying together no matter what.

Have you experienced racism in your own life? If so, how did it impact your faith and your understanding of reconciliation?

Are you interested in further conversations on race and reconciliation? If so, BelPres has a Justice and Reconciliation team that meets twice a month. For more information contact me,  Mary McCracken, Director of Community Outreach at mmccracken@belpres.org.

 

 

Finding Hope Amidst Grief: Marvin Charles and the story of D.A.D.S.

For the past two months I have been walking a grieving road. Psalm 116:15 reads, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.” When my mom died suddenly in early February, the Lord reminded me of his care for, and love of, my mom. In the heartbreak of losing her, the Lord’s presence with me has been a comfort and a consolation.

Death is not the only time we grieve. As I have discovered on the grieving road, one loss taps into other losses that I have experienced. If I am not careful I can topple over from the strong winds of sorrow. I have had to purposefully slow down and be mindful of what God is speaking to me. I have had to plan extra time for quiet, for rest, for being with myself and others who have been affected by my mom’s death. Things seem to take longer to get done, and my energy is drained. Grieving well takes intentionality and hard work.

BelPres Community Outreach ministry partners care for people who have experienced multiple losses in their lives. The cascading effect of loss can bring people to paralysis, to feeling hopeless, to being without any anchor in their life. People make choices out of their heartache that are not always healthy, leading to a cascading effect on their stability and an altering of their future paths.

BelPres prison ministry partners provide safe spaces for about speaking about personal loss, for discovering the truths in what has happened in people’s stories, and for healing from devastating grief and loss.  One ministry partner, D.A.D.S (Divine Alternative for Dads), has a powerful ministry for fathers who have lost relationship with their children through addiction, incarceration, or broken rela74a6f9_db5678bd058646c3bd7ea7eaa97efbbftionships. D.A.D.S. website gives this picture:

“Marvin and Jeanett Charles started D.A.D.S. in their living room in 1998. They wanted to apply the lessons they had learned during their own recovery and the rough period when they put their family back together. They had been homeless, unemployed addicts with a ‘sketchy’ life of those who operated beyond the boundaries of the formal economy.

Marvin and Jeanett had lost several of their children to the foster care system, under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Child Protective Services (CPS). They were facing termination of parental rights when a CPS worker gave them a 90-day deadline to become sober, find housing and find employment. They took strength from their renewed religious beliefs in the saving power of Jesus and their commitment to each other.

Today, they live in their own home with three daughters and a son. One former CPS caseworker worked part-time in the office as administrative assistant to Jeanett. Many community leaders and volunteers support D.A.D.S. and the important work that D.A.D.S. does.

Much has changed since 1998, while so much has remained the same for fathers who are down and struggling.  Whether they are recovering from addiction, coming out of prison or just dealing with the difficulties of life, D.A.D.S. works with fathers, one dad at a time, to strengthen and support them and to help them build a better world for their children”.

Marvin and Jeanett are familiar with grief and loss, with the hard work of recovery, and the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ. They have walked the grieving road, and have turned dark times into pathways of light for themselves, their family and the community they serve. Psalm 34:18 says, “If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath” (the Message). Marvin and Jeanett chose the Lord and chose to recover from the grief and loss in their personal lives, and in turn, the Lord has used them to bring light and healing to countless fathers who are walking their own grieving road.

On the D.A.D.S. website there is a video of Marvin Charles’ personal story, which powerfully relates how God answered the prayers of his birth mother to find him after 44 years of separation. Again, while there was much grief and loss, God redeemed the lost years and has restored Marvin and his mother to each other. Watch the video HERE.

In the midst of walking the grieving road, I have been privileged to meet Marvin and Jeanett, to see the joy on their faces and their obvious love for each other. Their delight in bringing hope and healing to fathers and their children is evident in all they do. While they have known great struggle, their even greater joy in the Lord is a blessing to all around them. They have encouraged me by their redemptive story, and I look forward to getting to know them better in the months to come.

Are you walking your own grieving road? I pray for comfort, peace and patience for you in the season ahead. You are not alone. If you need someone to talk with, please call me or someone in the BelPres Prayer and Care department.

Have you walked a grieving road and have space now to offer encouragement to others? Consider contacting D.A.D.S. and finding out more about how you can volunteer with them to impact children and fathers for eternity. Or reach out to BelPres GetConnected for other ideas of where you can serve out of your healing and hope in the Lord.

Eastside Academy Student of the Month: Marcus’ Story

(Nan’s note: I just got this Student of the month update, and I thought it was worth sharing. Marcus (name changed) is a neat guy. Enjoy his story!)

Before EA I went to Juanita High School. I was doing ok, but most of my grades were C’s and D’s. I didn’t like the school. I was really quiet and no one talked to me because it was a gigantic school. Because of my lack of friends and lack of people to relate with, I became depressed.

I heard about EA through an older student who used to go here. I was planning on doing online school after my sophomore year but my friend told me about Eastside Academy. So, I came to the open house and right away decided to come. It felt different here.

The schedules at EA work much better for me. I like how the classes are led and broken down so that I can learn well. My favorite class right now is English. I love the book we are reading and what we are learning. I also like the field trips we take because I learn a lot.

Because of EA I have higher and better grades. I know when my grades drop because we have to go to Study Tables if they get lower than 85%. Having that extra help is great because you just can’t get an F. I have been here for almost two years and EA has helped me make friends and be social with people.

If it wasn’t for EA I don’t think I would have a job because EA friends have helped me find one. I think I would still be struggling and in more isolation and not doing well in school. After Eastside Academy I plan on graduating and going to an art school to study Fine Art.

Marcus asks for prayer that he make it through the end of senior year.

Young Life Bellevue–Helping Teens Connect with Jesus

Since 1941 Young Life has introduced millions of teenagers to Jesus Christ and helped them grow in their faith.   With an emphasis on showing kids that faith in God can be fun, exhilarating, and life-changing, Young Life has almost 80,000 volunteers reaching almost 2 million kids a year around the world.

Here in Bellevue, Young Life is on the move.  Our mission is to be wide and deep in the world of Bellevue teenagers.  We want to be wide….introducing kids to Jesus at every middle school and high school in the city….and deep….challenging and encouraging kids to becoming disciples.

We currently take over 250 middle school and high school kids from Bellevue to camp each summer where they hear the Gospel in a fresh way, while surrounded by some of the most incredible beauty of God’s creation.   After camp, we encourage kids to get involved in Young Life each week back home where they are encouraged to grow in their faith.

One of the kids who met Christ at a Young Life camp last year was Josh*.  Josh attends Bellevue HS and comes from a family where English is not spoken at home, and his parents made no mention of Christ while being raised.  Last spring, Josh found that he could make a lot of money by stealing alcohol from stores and then selling it to classmates.  But, while he was caught up in that lifestyle, Josh heard about Young Life camp from a friend.  He thought it sounded fun and signed up.

While at Malibu Josh heard about Jesus for the first time and felt deep conviction about his past life.  He confessed his old life to his leader one night under the stars, and decided to follow Christ.  In the months after returning home, Josh became a part of a local church, and joined it’s youth group.  He still comes to Young Life occasionally and is growing in his faith through the encouragement of both the church and Young Life.

We love Josh’s story for a lot of reasons, but in particular we love that it shows how Young Life and the church can work together.  We’re grateful for Bel Pres and it’s members for supporting our work with dis-interested teenagers who need to know about the God who loves them.   Lost teenagers are a difficult crowd to reach, but together Young Life and the local church can reach the thousands of teenagers in Bellevue who don’t know Christ.

Volunteer leaders who go to summer camp with kids, and then follow up with them throughout the year are what make Young Life work. We have plenty of kids involved and now need more leaders to mentor and disciple them.  We need adults willing to give just  a couple hours a week to invest in the lives of teenagers. The difference you can make is incredible and eternal. If you’d like to know more about becoming a volunteer leader, or think you know someone who would be a great fit, please contact GetConnected.