Jesus For All

She sat across the table from me, her young sons flanking her, one on her left and one on her right. Seven days earlier they had given everything they had left to a man in Turkey to take them to Athens. The journey took them through the forest, along a muddy path by the river, evading fences, wild animals and border guards. They traveled at night and hid during the day. On the fourth day, they ran out of food. On the seventh day, they arrived in Athens, cold, wet, dirty, hungry and with no possessions. She had no one to turn to for help and no place to go. But then someone told her about a church, which was helping refugees, so she went there. They welcomed her and found her a place to stay in an old unheated building. Now she was sitting across from me to receive a free meal. I, along with a small team from

Seattle, had come to serve her and the nearly one hundred other refugees who were there that day. As she told me her story, her hands shook uncontrollably. She didn’t know if it was the cold weather or the trauma she had been through which caused the shaking.

Her story was that after a few years of marriage, her husband began to beat her regularly. Several times he made arrangements to loan her to his friends for a price. Finally, she had enough. She got brave and divorced him. At first, he didn’t want anything to do with her or the boys. So he gave them to her. But then he changed his mind and asked his friends to help him kill her. So she fled and left her country out of fear for her life. First, she went to Turkey. But when they told her they were going to send her back, she found the man who took her to Athens. “Today,” she said, “I am going to apply for my papers from the government.” These papers would allow her boys to go to school in Athens and permit her to work. But documents like this, she lamented, could take several months and sometimes up to a year to receive. After we ate, I gathered our group around her and prayed for her and her boys. Then she left.

The next day, we came again to serve meals. There she was, sitting at a different table, a big beautiful smile foretelling the announcement she was about to make. She had received her papers! But Jesus goodness and love was not unnoticed. Her oldest son explained that the reason why this happened was that we had prayed to our God! And like so many Muslims before them, who have fled their countries in the Middle East, this mother and her two boys eventually committed their lives to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Two months later, the pastor of the church we served in baptized them.

We are living in unprecedented times. We see the most significant turning of Muslims to faith in Christ since the birth of Islam. Coincidentally, Christians have been praying for Muslims to encounter the Risen Christ for over 30 years. Today’s movements are fueled by three decades of faithful prayers.

I am telling you this because May 6 marks the beginning of Ramadan for our Muslim neighbors and continues through June 4. Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims. I want to invite you to join with Christians all over the world in praying for them and using something called the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” to help you. The Prayer Guide will introduce you to specific Muslim people and places where they live, like Egypt, Malaysia, Turkey, and Sudan. You will read the stories of Muslims who have encountered Jesus and learn specific things to pray for during this holy month. You can pick up a copy of the “Muslim World Prayer Guide” in the lobby today or download a PDF version at www.30daysprayer.com. Join the movement.

Our Asylee Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear people of God,

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

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

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

Walter 

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

My First Encounter with Afghan Refugees

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

One Great Hour of Sharing

One Great Hour of Sharing

What does that phrase mean to you? One Great Hour of Sharing. Having grown up in the Presbyterian church, One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) makes me think of the little fish banks that we used to collect coins in for Sunday school on Palm Sunday. Some years it was a plastic bread loaf bank. Do you remember those?

As an adult, I came to understand that OGHS was an opportunity for giving, outside of our tithe, to the greater work of the church beyond our doors. This is still true today. The money we give to OGHS doesn’t stay at BelPres. Every bit of it gets divided three ways: Youth Impact Trips, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, and World Relief for Syrian Refugees.

Our youth have three trips planned this summer. The middle school kids will be going to Yakima, the incoming freshmen to Seattle’s Rainer Valley, and the high school are going to Nashville. Why Nashville? Here’s a bit from the information packet:

  • We will immerse ourselves in the city by experiencing firsthand the sights, sounds, smells, and textures of urban life. Our lodging will be located in the heart of Nashville.
  • We will educate ourselves about the city – the unique issues and problems that the people of Nashville face and what God is doing to foster and further His Kingdom there, through the indigenous organizations that operate on the front lines of urban ministry.
  • We will become part of the solutions for the city by offering our time, energy and talent as we support the Nashville ministries. CSM will provide a variety of hands-on ministry opportunities to ensure that our time in the city is spent supplying substantive help to God’s people in the city.

More about all of these trips is to be found at belpres.org/events, among the summer events.

One third of OGHS goes to the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. https://pda.pcusa.org/page/your-gifts-at-work/ Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has been the relief arm of the PCUSA, enabling “the church to share God’s love with our neighbors-in-need around the world by providing relief to those affected by natural disasters, provide food to the hungry, and helping to empower the poor and oppressed.” OGHS helps people as far away as Lebanon, Philippines, South Sudan, and Malawi.

Finally, one third of your OGHS gift goes to the work of World Relief Seattle with Syrian Refugees. The World Relief website shares: Our world is currently in the midst of the greatest refugee crisis in history. By the end of 2014, nearly 60 million people were forcibly displaced, with nearly a third—20 million—living outside of their countries as refugees. Desperate for protection and surrounded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcoming faces, refugees are truly some of the world’s most vulnerable people. Working in partnership with the local church, World Relief is committed to helping refugees and immigrants from all countries resettle and rebuild their lives.

So, you can see, whether your gifts are pennies in a fishy bank, or checks in the envelope from your bulletin, your giving to OGHS matters. It matters for the people who are served, and it matters for God’s kingdom work here on earth. See you Sunday!

Responding to the Refugee Crisis in Syria

As more and more people are requesting information about how they can respond to the refugee crisis in Syria, it seemed like a good idea to provide some sources.

First, it is good to know that BelPres was able to put 10,000 from the general fund to the work of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance both in the Syrian Refugee crisis, and to Forest Fire relief here in Washington.  Of course, the magnitude of the refugee crisis is staggering, so we wanted to provide resources for those who feel called to go beyond, to DO something.

BelPres Global Outreach, through Becky Gonzalez, has been working for the last two years with one of our mission partners (not named here, because of the sensitive nature of their work) specifically to be involved in the ongoing refugee crisis coming out of Syria. That work will continue. (ed. In first posting, this working relationship was incorrectly desribed as with World Relief.  We do work with World Relief, just not for the last two years to work with Syrian refugees. Our apologies for the error.)

World Relief Seattle has plans to bring refugees here to the Seattle area for resettlement. If you are looking to get involved in relief for Syrian refugees on a local level, click HERE.

Both Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and the World Relief sites are pointing people to this petition, which calls on the US President and government to resettle 65,000 Syrian refugees in the United States.  Several BelPres members have read and signed.

World Concern is also active in Syrian Refugee relief.  Their story and how you can get involved is HERE.

Mercy Corps has posted some interesting graphics as well as information about how they are working with Syrian Refugees HERE.

The church is alive and moving to help the people of Syria displaced by violence within their own country.  Go ahead and visit these sites.  Pray for all who have fled their home seeking safety in unfamiliar lands that they may find courage, strength, peace and welcome. And that those who provide shelter may find courage, strength and not be overwhelmed in their outreach.