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13 June 2018

161/365

The sojourners finished their sometimes long, often wandering, and nearly always dangerous journeys to the United States, only to wait. Some waited nearly two weeks, just yards from the door, seeking asylum in the United States. Once inside, they would be processed, and then most likely held in an immigration detention center, waiting on their application.

Until Sunday.

On Sunday, the people were gone. They left behind coolers and blankets and cushions, probably never theirs to begin with. A cleaning lady came behind, sweeping the walk and shining the trash cans. She told us that all of the items would be removed by the next day.
And when I looked over while crossing the bridge on Monday, nothing remained.

On Monday, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that those claiming to be victims of domestic or gang violence would no longer qualify for asylum status. Most likely those who were waiting and allowed in on Sunday were soon to be flat out denied.


And on Tuesday, Mary Giovagnoli, Executive Director of the Refugee Council USA, comments, “The right to seek asylum in the United States is enshrined in our law and is an international obligation. Since the passage of the Refugee Act of 1980, U.S. courts have recognized that persecution may occur for many reasons, not all of which fit into a neatly defined category, and that individuals can be persecuted when the government fails to protect particular groups of people. Many of the most compelling claims arising from Central America today involve the failure of the state to protect victims of domestic or gang violence.  Rather than address the complex nature of these claims, Attorney General Sessions has chosen to dismiss them out of hand, arguing that there is virtually no situation in which the victim of domestic violence or gang violence could make a plausible case for asylum."


But back on Sunday, we knew that people from all over the world, from Central America and beyond, had been waiting outside for a while. We know that it is hot and dust on the border in June. We just wanted to show some kindness to people who traveled a long way, with few comforts, without much immediate promise. We took cut up watermelon over to the bridge, not knowing who we might serve, or if we would even be allowed to serve it. As it turned out, no migrant people waited on the US side of the bridge, for Immigration and Customs officers stood at the exact halfway point, only allowing those with documents to move forward. On this day, the emigrants sat on the Mexican side, waiting on what to do next. 


By mid-afternoon on Sunday, the temperature was hot and the wind blew akin to something like a furnace. We crossed the traffic lanes on the bridge and paid our 4 pesos to cross and started down the sidewalk over the Rio Grande. Just before the border marker, we met a mom and daughter fleeing Honduras. A trio of Eritreans hoped to gain entry to the United States after a more than two year journey.  A man who said he was from Israel also waited. We looked them in the eye and heard a little of their stories and of their hopes. And that was pretty much all we could do, besides offer them a bowl of fresh watermelon. I think we all left sad, and frustrated that our efforts were so small. 


In The Way of the Heart Henri Nouwen writes, "Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to the place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering... we ignore our ability to enter into solidarity with those who suffer." I wish that more people, even and especially US officials, could, would, go to those places where the weak and vulnerable and lonely and broken wait and provide opportunity to those who suffer to tell their stories. 


(Interested in knowing more? "What You Need to Know About Families Separated at the Border" by Matthew Sorens of World Relief; "Attorney General's  Asylum Decision Undermines All People Seeking Protection" by Refugee Council USA; "When Deportation is a Death Sentence," by Sarah Stillman of The New Yorker)

09 June 2018

159/365

We started a new thing this spring- a Bible study for boys' in our neighborhood. It seemed like the logical thing to do when the boys who gathered to go to our mid-week cell group study could no longer fit in our car. So, using the same study on Jonah, we started a new group at our house. Not wanting to miss any aspect of the weekly event, we promised that yes, we would have coffee. And we would feed them. 
Guess what? They came, 6 or more boys each week. 

Who says the Bible is boring? Jonah could easily be a made-for-movie story. A disobedient prophet running from God. A hideaway at the bottom of a ship. A tremendous storm. A desperate crew. A confessing passenger reluctantly thrown into the sea. A dramatic rescue by... a Really Big Fish? A remorseful messenger vomited onto the shore. A reluctant missionary sent to a wicked people. A deeply apologetic and repentant city seeking forgiveness. A defiant prophet pouting against the sovereign God. The book of Jonah provides for a lot of conversation. 

For six weeks one after another, they came to the house, through our front gate, through our back gate, even sliding down the pole from the roof to our porch. One week they came still wet from swimming. We'd bring out the coffee and booklets and pens. We watched a short video commentary on the passage of the week and then we talked about what we learned. We talked about Jonas and about what God was doing in that time and place and people. We talked about running from God. We talked about hopes and fears. We talked about His mercy and justice and grace and steadfast lovingkindness. We talked about Jesus. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but it was a start.

Six weeks later we come to the end of the study, and of course, we must celebrate. We promise the boys that we'll make pizzas the next week. But not at our house- at our community center kitchen so we can use two ovens at once and not heat up the house when it's already 100 degrees outside. A couple days prior, I remind the boys when I see them, and ask them their favorite pizza toppings. Maybe that was a strategic error...

Imagine our surprise when we head to the community center on Friday afternoon to prepare for the group and find a mini-mob of more than a dozen kids that were rarely if ever at the study, all ready for a pizza party. Suddenly our Bible study has grown to include kids we've never met. It now includes a few girls? We laugh. Perhaps there is innocent confusion- because we do have activities including a bible lesson a couple times a week at the community center. Perhaps there is wishful thinking, because after all, there is pizza. We decide to include any boy who attended the study at least twice. I promise the girls we're working on a study for them, too. We turn the others away, this time at least. I wonder how Jesus might multiply pizza dough and pepperoni.

So 13 boys (and one little sister) end up making pies on Friday afternoon. Maybe the next two hours would be best be described as Organized Chaos. Each kid took a lump of dough to a table covered with flour, rolling it flat with a glass soda bottle. We ration out sauce. These Norteños are the original meat-lovers; everyone gets 5 pepperonis and 3 cucharas de salchichas. An adventurous few add mushrooms and black olives. A border pizza might not be complete without jalapeños. They cover their discs with cheese and add some identifying mark to the top and send it to the ovens.

While they wait, Pastor Mario goes over a review of the study, and sure enough, some bit of the previous 6 weeks has stuck. Boys shout out answers back at him. We remind them of starting again next week. We pray for the food, thanking our God for His goodness and provision to all of us. He is "gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster." (Jonah 4:2)
Then, we eat pizza.


08 June 2018

157/365

"Here comes the sun..."

I walk out of my little house, already sweaty in just the getting ready, already sweaty before stepping outside. The morning sun, though only a couple hours after beginning it's rise, already shines hot and bright, moving slowly and steady overhead. In the gleam of daylight, I see the dust covering the tile floor and tables on our front porch, covering the leaves of the flowers I'm trying to grow, covering the street in front of the house. The morning school day has just begun for my neighbors. Our deaf youth sit and do their lessons outside at the tables. At least the breeze provides a distraction from the heat.

I exit the black iron gate that guards my house and walk down the concrete street, kicking pebbles, along the way. Brilliant pink bouganvilla flowers color a puddle, limp tissue paper blooms shining bright in the water's reflection. A kitten lays in the shadow of a bench. From down the street, a dog watches me, unwilling to move except for the wag of his tail. A string of deflated balloons hangs from a neighbor's fence, sagging dejected after too much party the previous night.

I turn the corner and walk two blocks, sharing a "Buenos días" with those I pass. Birds crow and chirp in trees overhead. Somewhere nearby a rooster crows, again. A background chorus of cicadas leaves ears ringing with a their high whine song. A couple of ladies sit in the shade of the door of their corner store and fan themselves. I wave, and the little boy without a shirt, playing at their feet, rewards me with a smile.

I cross the pavement to my destination, the gordita stand open from sun up to whenever she runs out. I waited too long earlier in the week and promised to return, but next time, earlier in the day. The owner, chef and plate washer, a one woman operation start to finish, is the wife of a neighborhood tire guy, and sure enough, while he works on a car next door, the driver takes time to eat. I approach the open air stand, oilcloth with bright flowers on a blue background covering the counter. I take a seat on a tall red stool. The menu is written on posterboard, but really, it changes from day to day, moment to moment, depending on cook's choice and what others have eaten before you arrive.

A gordita de picadillo and a refresco set me back 20 pesos, about a dollar according to the official exchange rate this morning. For a dollar I get a pocket of masa pressed flat, cooked hot on a griddle, and filled with a chopped potato and ground beef filling in a spicy tomato sauce. It drips greasy red down my fingers, and leaves a just right amount of pico in my mouth. Between the sun and the heat of the food, I resist the temptation to press the cold Coke glass dripping with condensation against my cheek. While I eat, a taxi driver stops for his morning break. Two young moms watch their toddlers tease and chase each other around the car. And our cocinera continues to slap down balls of masa, rolled flat and flipped when toasted spotted brown.

I finish, fully content with my morning snack, and head to work, the to-do list full, tasks waiting, both known and still to be learned. The sun continues to make it's way above in the sky overhead. As the Beatles long ago crooned, "And I say, it's all right..."

(the photo is of sun mosaic collages created by our students in art class the previous evening)

10 March 2018

64/365

Daylight fades to evening dusk and lights create shadows in unexpected places. Dust covers nearly every surface, and so too do bright papers with letters. We play a seeking game, searching out letters in a mixed up pile, another step in learning to decipher the code. Upstairs, bigger kids begin to construct light circuits and another group sits around the table, ready to create images of light and dark. 

Eight students registered for my class, and tonight only one shows up. He's a bright one, and the two hours pass in a blink. We unscramble letters. We read tag-team style; he takes the letters and I take the text,
"A,"
"told,"
"B,"
"and,"
"B,"
"told,"
"C,"
"I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree."
We sing and jump and wiggle and write. Watching a kid learn, making the connections, that can be a thrilling process.

We're trying a new thing at the community center, registration-only classes one afternoon a week. In these couple of hours, we hope to go deeper with these kids, deeper in knowledge, deeper in time together, deeper in relationships. We know that there is opportunity for so much more than where we currently are. It's a learning process, on every side. For kids in this place, habits form slow. Days and hours don't mean as much in a place where calendars and watches rarely show themselves. We never know who will attend when the afternoon arrives. On this cool and rainy day, attendance was down. But the weather is only a guess as to why. We consider that all too many other reasons could be behind the absences.

And so, I'm ever aware that every time we have together with these kids is important. I'm ever aware that we have no time to waste, not in teaching, not in learning, not in our speech, not in our actions, not in how we love. Our prayer is always to show and speak of our Lord's goodness, that we would be His witnesses in this place. 

"Skit skat skoodle doot flip flop flee."

(Quotes from Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault)

07 March 2018

63/365

The good news is that finally, finally, I won a round of lotería. The bad news is that we were playing at the good-bye party for my buddy and office mate so I found my excitement a bit tempered.
And then my husband accidentally gave away my prize.
Alas. Some days are like that.

Does anyone else remember days as good news, bad news? I often wonder, am I the only one who perpetually wrestles with life's opposites? The only one who sees the sides and can't exactly be completely for one or the other? Does anyone else contend with those inner arguments while living very much in the out-there-right-now?

And then I found this essay, and realized, maybe others think on these sorts of ideas, too. Maybe I'm not the only one quite sure she doesn't have all the answers. Loree Ferguson Wilbert writes:
My desires must be for something higher, God himself and his kingdom.  
This is why I glad to not be a registered anything or pledge allegiance to anything on this earth. My allegiance is to God, to his order of things, and my optimism is rooted in the coming kingdom, not in the fruition of all my "disordered loves." The world is in disarray: children slaughtered in schools by people with guns made for slaughtering, mental gymnastics abound by barely clad women talking about objectification, wars and rumors of wars, and everyone thinks they're the real optimist, the ones with the real solutions. But God's kingdom gives us permission to grieve at what is while hoping for what is to come at the same time—to be true eternal optimists.  
It might be on the picket lines that our points are made, but it's at the tables where progress is made. It's there where we can be honest about what is terribly, terribly wrong, but also true about what is beautifully, achingly good. 

Tonight at the table we didn't make much progress. But we ate really well and we laughed a lot and we were together, minus a couple, for the last time for a while. And all of that was indeed "achingly good." I want to keep erring on the side of "true eternal optimist."


06 March 2018

62/365











Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. 
- John Muir, The Yosemite (1912)


(an afternoon spent walking through Bentsen State Park)

04 March 2018

59/365

"Thank you. Thank you all for your friendship and for your kindness to us."

A group of us took three of our neighborhood guys out for tacos the other night, to celebrate a birthday. Now all three are teenagers. And have no doubt, they eat like teen boys! When we left, we asked one of the boys how many tacos he ate.
"Cuatro. Y cinco mas."
Nine tacos!
He reported the other two also had nine each, but there was some dispute about that.
Let's just say, the boys out ate the rest of us.

Afterward, we continue on to bible study. We arrived with time to spare, so before starting, they played Sorry. They had not played before, but it must have been something of a hit, because when the study ended and the adults sat around talking, they got up and started a new game. (and completely unrelated, I recently learned my Enneagram number and now I understand why I've never enjoyed Sorry...)

These guys were barely reading a year ago, and now they will take their turn in reading out loud during the study. A couple of them were drawing while we talked, but kept track where we were along the way. At one point, our pastor, my teammate and friend, who each week spends multiple hours with these guys, asked them a question. The first boy answered super honestly, so much so we laughed at his response, because it was SO honest. The next guy answered differently, but I think, honestly also. The last, I'm pretty sure he was just trying to look good, but he did make us laugh, too. But these are the moments that we long for and that we pray for, real life and conversation beyond the surface of everyday comings and goings.

At the end of the evening, we drove the boys home, just like always. Sometimes that drive has been chaos. But not tonight. Tonight, they joke around and we half listen. Then we heard them call our names.
"Thank you. Thank you all for your friendship and for your kindness to us."
We're not in it for thanks, for certain, but it's pretty sweet when we hear it.
De nada.