Malta Reflections

“The people here are as hard as the rock that they live on”, said one local expatriate who has lived and taught here for a number of years.

Light-hearted Upon Initial Arrival at Malta Airport

I disembarked on this European island and country on Friday, March 9th to become as exposed to the refugee crisis as one could effectively become during a short stint on European soil. Five weeks has passed and I have not truly engaged with a single, native Maltese person, with the exception of Father Mintoff, the resident Friar and founder of Peace Lab, the NGO I have been residing at.

From randomly-made friends to purposefully-met advocates, social workers, students, NGO staff, and ministers, nearly everyone I have connected with is the product of a different soil. And it appears we all hail this testimony: Malta is not an easy place. I have grasped a tiny bit of its history and culture to sort of begin to see why, but the reasons run deep and regardless of the “why”, this is simply how it is here. It appears, though saturated with working, resident expatriates, the island’s vibe is hard to change.

Given, five weeks simply is not adequate time, nor does it provide proper mindset, to build community, develop empathy, and put down roots. So as I give my observations, I ask you to please read them with such in mind. Honesty, not pointed negativity, is what I can offer.

The hardship of establishing connection or feeling welcomed was the first thing I noticed, and I am walking around in white skin and dark hair and eyes, maybe not looking Maltese, but generally like a Southern European. The vast majority of the migrants on this island are from Africa. The ground they stand on here has to be significantly harder than I have personally experienced, short-term.

Valleta’s Streets. Capital City and Major Tourist Destination

The more country-like and industrial area of Hal Far, where I lived.

There was one particular moment where the weight of external appearance became particularly evident to me. I met a prominent man, originally from Ghana, who lives and works here in many capacities: attorney, educator, founder of grassroots NGO, FSM (Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants). Dr. Ahmed Bugri is also a pastor and I met him at Sunday morning worship. As an illustration in his sermon, he shared a story from the past week of his treatment by a local man who cut him in line at the pharmacy. Ahmed addresses the man with an “excuse me sir, but I was here first” sort of line. The man turns and apparently says, “So what?”, to which Ahmed responds, “So I was waiting here and I will be served first”. Now, I ask you to imagine yourself in this space. Most of those gathered for worship are migrants from various countries in Africa or Asia. I am one of maybe three or four Europeans/North Americans in this modest-sized room.  Ahmed tells us, the congregation, the man’s response to him. He begins: “The man replied to me, ‘If you don’t like it..’”; Instantly, nearly everyone, without prompting, chimes in and speaks the rest of his sentence with him: “…go back to your country.”  If you don’t like it, go back to your country. The moment gripped me. Everyone in that room knew those words so well. External appearance, completely regardless of one’s status or contribution to the economy, society, or wellbeing of the country, trumps all else.

Ahmed continued on to tell of his response to the man in the native Maltese language saying that this was his country and he had lived here for thirty years. Quickly noting that his mild, verbal retribution was no way to ultimately bring about justice and seek peace. As a woman, in Malta, I have never felt so objectified. Not threatened or unsafe, per se, but I’ve never before experienced the feeling of being watched and the need to be on guard as I walk down the street. No matter where I went, men of all cultures have shamelessly pointed and stared. One dude even had the audacity to literally step right in front of me as I was briskly walking and say “ooh, sexy”. I got shocked, turned, and slugged the guy in the arm. I have never hit a human being out of angry reaction. He chuckled; my initial thought was I should have punched his face. But, like Ahmed, I also quickly remembered that retaliation could literally solve nothing.

Living in Malta has brought about some deeper sorrows and pains I’ve not experienced before, and, many times, I have felt sheer helplessness within them. This morning, I decided to sit outside and shove my bare feet into the dirt, in remembrance of how I am just a teeny tiny piece of this earth and my life is, all in all, so insignificant.

This song, Have Mercy on Me, was produced for a special project called The Porter’s Gate. The project’s songs resound of some less-than-glamorous truths. I couldn’t help but sing it out loud as I wiggled my toes in that dirt. To consistently respond actively and rightfully to injustice with a merciful posture, is the very paradox of who Jesus is and all he modeled in the flesh while on earth.

Let Your mercy flow through us, Your mercy, Your mercy. (2x)

The beauty of the Lord is the suff’ring of the Lord,
is Christ upon a tree, stripped of dignity.
The glory of the Lord is the mercy of the Lord, gives life for us to see a new humanity:

When they see us, may they see Your mercy, Your mercy.
When they know us, may they know Your mercy, Your mercy.

Listen and read all the lyrics here:

Many days, in this world, it feels like there is no mercy.

How It Feels Sometimes, Honestly..

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Since 2014, I have been working with, living amongst and building friends

hips with people who have been resettled in Sacramento, California through refugee resettlement programs. Over the years, I have gained some knowledge about the refugee crisis through different working and living capacities—some through reading, self-education and professional conferences, other knowledge gained through personal insights and stories that were eventually shared with me within the contexts of safe friendships with those who had been refugees.

While I taught about the crisis by way of numbers, narratives, and simulations, I now realize how very relative the impact of knowledge was for me, when I was not living in the land where the crisis itself is occurring.

Though I have not received the kind of exposure and connections I was anticipating during my short five weeks in Malta, I have managed to meet a handful of the very persons who left home on a whim, traveled desserts and over land borders by way of smugglers, and paid some fine fees to be piled into a boat with so many others who couldn’t even swim and knew their lives were greatly at stake. This is how they found themselves in Malta.

Some began their new lives in Europe by spending months in a detention centre. Most, here in Malta, can find manage to find work and some sort of shelter, but remain in survival mode. Their PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) is very evident, limiting their brain’s capacity to even grasp a new language. This was actually discussed openly by a few students who I met in the context of ESL class. As an exercise to practice conversation, one day, we focused on story-telling. While I had in mind a short story or recollection from one’s day, some insisted to tell the story of their lives since they left their home soil. With very, very limited English, they laid out the timeline with whatever they could recall. At the point of one student’s story where he, like the others, travled from North Africa across the Meditteranean Sea, another student turned and interrupted, asking:

“How many people died on your boat?”…

“Mmm… Uhh… ten I think?”…

“Oh, only one on mine”.

And that’s how casual and merciless the tragedy of the refugee crisis has been.

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Less than 1% of the world’s displaced peoples will ever be resettled in a third country. I had been interacting with that less than 1% for the past 3 and half years. Now, I was meeting a few individuals who represented the other 99%.

One young woman I met in person after watching a screening of her self-filmed journey from Syria to Austria.

Rania and accompanying journalist taking Q&A at the film screening at Sudan Club in Hamrun, Malta

Having eventually found asylum in Austria, She has the bravery to travel around Europe, re-watch her scary journey at film screenings everywhere, and answer to open Q&A sessions to any sort of audience. The content threw me for a shock. It is unnerving. I highly encourage you to expose yourself with this 22-minute documentary:

Escape from Syria: Rania’s Odyssey:

Malta will be what is is, but the general percentage of people who actually care and see the value in helping, loving, and befriending the world’s displaced, seems to be small no matter what country. The majority of the Western world appears is anti-immigrant or simply indifferent. After all, if we aren’t the ones at risk, why should we care?

Artwork in Valleta. Who is really listening?

Personally, I cannot say that this time here has been encouraging. I did not expect it to be, but I also did not expect it to be so hard—both to objectively observe and to feel on a personal level. It has only opened my eyes to why we use the word “crisis”.  As I prepare to shift to a TEFL-certification program in Greece and contemplate where I’ll find myself next in the world, I find endless humanitarian and education-related work opportunities nearly everywhere, because displacement is happening, and has been happening for centuries.

Last Saturday, April 7th, marked the 24 year anniversary of the beginning of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, where nearly one million people were killed within 100 days. That is one world-renown genocide that’s occurred within my life time and of which I’ve visited memorials in the country, many containing the stomach-turning site of the endless bones of those massacred.

Because of  world war, civil war, famine, political upheaval, genocide, etc., displacement has always been and will continue to be a crisis in our world. We must acknowledge it and do something about it. There is not instant resolution, but for goodness sake, let’s start with some additional mercy.

Saying goodbye to Peace Lab and Father Dionysius Mintoff.

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A Writer’s Commitment to Real & Raw

Five and half years ago, I started this thing called a blog. I was going abroad for the first time. White girl living and studying in Africa for four months– oh, wouldn’t there be things to write about!

And there were.

19 years old and learning a great many things about myself and the world, I processed externally on this blog. Kept it very raw and very real. I had been journaling since age 12, and so that’s what I continued to do here, only publicly.

25 years old and I’m about to go abroad again. Only now, I find the raw and real to be generally unacceptable. The voices of many have informed how it offends, how unprofessional it can sound. If I want to become a good writer, they say, I need filter and focus…and maybe a little less frankness. They may be right.

3 years of devotion to Sacramento soil and putting my roots down here. Trying to live with and around the many peoples arriving from around the world and re-planting their roots too. Wouldn’t there be things to write about!

And there were.

There was indeed much to write about as cultural & religious-based truths met Jesus truths head on.  I tried to be focused and filtered, but sometimes it was hard to draw these clean-cut and confident conclusions when my religion and worldview was being unraveled. Luckily, that didn’t leave me so much lost as much as it escorted me to fearlessly face that which I could KNOW to be true. Truths based on Jesus– who He is, what He taught, who He calls His followers to be– proved themselves true.


I began to discover and then, due to my inborn wiring, challenge others. That hasn’t been so liked. To keep it honest, mostly by other Christians.

3 weeks from now I leave the country again. I realize the learning journey that began 5 years and some months ago never did stop. As it was then, so it is now.

I’ll write and aim for a focus, but what worth is a filter. The Church of my homeland has a lot to learn about Jesus, His truths and a lifestyle that wholly follows Him. And I’m sure the Church everywhere does– but I can only speak to that which I’ve lived within.

I fail! Raw and real here… I am just now getting to really know our Jesus. Man! He is something else. Radically humble, most clever peacemaker, patient teacher and the utmost epitome of inhuman love and justice. I certainly am not these things, but wow, I would really love to be.

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The privilege to embark on a new adventure has so kindly brought with it a whole realm of internal transitions as well. I’ve been fundraising to do my work and live my life for the past couple years and so with that has brought about an implied obligation to report on the lessons learned and lives changed, right? Not a terribly bad thing. I like to write. Though it hasn’t been intentional, the realization is that I’ve been accidentally putting myself in the spotlight by reporting “God’s work”. A valued, but brutally honest friend so kindly told me that my writing (about the work of the ministry, updates, etc.)  often sounded “self-enamored”. Whether I was conscious of it or not, he’s probably right.

This season has set me up to make one last push in the fundraising life– 6 more months and then let me tell ya, I look forward to being done. It’s not asking for money that irks me. I don’t mind that element. It was those moments when it was time to write to my financial partners and the debriefing of recent

events are actually discoveries of this paradoxical, counterintuitive kingdom of God that I kept finding were m.i.a. in conventional Christianity. Taught frequently, conceived occasionally, lived out rarely. I was discovering Jesus in places where He said I would find Him, but religion didn’t lead me to. How could I be real and raw in that? Partners want progress. Unlearning doesn’t look very progressive to most.

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I read an insta-blog this morning. You know, those written bits published as instagram posts because our generation doesn’t have the attention-span for blogs anymore? Writer is talking about flow and rhythm when he says there’s one word that really helps him keep calm through the chaos:

“SERVE.  Serve at a high level. This doesn’t mean forget about you and  your goals. This means to use your gifts to impact others. Focus and strengthen them not only for your story but others. In a nutshell, stop making it about you. That’s how you become a prism. A vessel, a messenger, a teacher, a catalyst. When you don’t make it about you, you panic less. You have more courage. You flow. #awriterslife.” – @theangrytherapist

I am extending this adventure of mine by becoming a sojourning learner for at least a solid four months. I so desperately want to write, but not present a conclusive lesson. I wish to listen and then relay stories, letting any readers gather their own reflective thoughts. I want to process aloud, but not sound self-righteous. I want to be free to be without a filter, real and raw, yet still trusting that my words are serving someone else. I want to flow, courageously, for the sake of both myself and others and the learning we might possibly attain together. This is what I want. I hope one day I’ll better learn what it is others want. I’ll be so happy to give it, so long as it doesn’t require anything fake or filtered.

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The transplant was still fresh, only 5 months old, but Hamid and Asma had friends to introduce the new soil and slowly help them re-root in it. 

From the moment a family or individual must drop their lives and flee home, their identity sharply shifts from a rooted resident to a sojourning stranger. Many find refuge on an in-between soil and there they obtain the status of “refugee”. For many, that is when a waiting game begins. A grueling game, for there is no strategy for winning and no foreseeable end in site.

When resettled in a receiving country, the new soil is supposedly permanent. The uprooted plant is given a chance to place its roots back in the ground and slowly, steadily begin finding new roots.

This past Sunday, a small group of Sacramento locals prepared a “Friendsgiving” meal for their newly-arrived friends– a family of 7 from Afghanistan who were resettled in America this past July. My parents’ house served as a geographically convenient and hospitable location so everyone could gather and eat around family-size tables and feel the familial sentiments that only homes provide.

The small group had previously spent time with the family in varying capacities, most of those being assistance in getting to appointments and helping them with the bare basics required for survival in the first several months of resettlement– language learning, enrollment, applications for programs, etc.

Like dried out roots getting re-accustomed to the feeling of soil and potential nourishment, integrating in a new country is a long-haul process. Beyond filling concrete needs, emotional support is vital as well. People, no matter their country or culture, will always need friends. For three hours, this mixed group with mixed stories got to simply dine together, muse over pretty decorations or backyard plants, listen to each other play piano, shoot some basketball hoops, and observe each other’s social tendencies. And in joy, I got to simply absorb those bounties of friendship happening around me.

Friendship does not require common culture, common faith or even a common language, but it does require a little dedicated time to slow down and simply enjoy each other’s company. There’s respect in that, there’s longevity in that, and there must be patience and excited anticipation for growth in that.

The group leader said she saw break-through that afternoon. From what I’ve learned, a key part of

encouraging newly-arrived friends to put down new roots is to share life with them.

Show them your own soil. Tell the stories of how your roots started and grew there. Let those stories and your love itself prove how the soil can be good and hope-filled when you give it a chance, some time, and proper care.

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Will American Tragedies Grow its Empathy for Worldwide Atrocities?

I lulled myself to sleep last night with the fragrant words from Time Magazine’s The Pursuit of Happy-ish article. Words like “unfathomable magnitude of suffering” sunk in alongside external ponderings of whether or not our society has the empathy, not to mention the attention-span, to provide long-term help for these recent tragedies. Of course, the journalist is discussing solely American events.

Morning dawns, and I find myself soaking up an article I’ve put off long enough. One of my favorite authors, D.L. Mayfield, writes about Angelina Jolie’s recent film, First They Killed my Father. Her article not only highlights the anguish of watching the Cambodian genocide unfold through the eyes of a five year old in this netflix movie, but also exposes genocides of our generation and the one going on right now in Myanmar.

BBC New’s photo caption: “Rasida, who is nine months pregnant, is one of thousands of mothers-to-be who have fled – knowing they could give birth any day.”

I am taken back to five years ago when I and my study abroad cohort made a 10 day excursion through Rwanda and was educated through film, memorials and personal testimonies about the 1994 Rwanda genocide. I remember being shocked that this abhorrent crime against humanity happened within my short lifetime. I felt disdain and surprise toward Western governments that sat back and watched—but the reality was then and still is now: People had no clue.

I begin to read story after story on Myanmar. This genocidal state of “ethnic cleansing”, eliminating the Muslim Rohingya people group, has been happening for a couple years now. Myanmar’s main political leader is, ironically, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Billy Graham E.A.’s photo: Displaced Fire Victims from California Wildfires

The fires, shootings and hurricanes that have just struck America receive far more attention. Businesses and individuals have been moved to make a difference– contributing with awareness through media and money alike. BBC, CNN, Fox News, New York Times and countless other reporting platforms have written stories before and stories just last week about the Rohingya genocide. It’s old news; it’s public news…yet it’s not.

The photos say it all and will make your skin crawl and stomach churn. How can I possibly be living this life I have while, on the same earth, these horrific circumstances are the reality for others? Overwhelmed with anger, empathy, and helplessness, I walk away from my computer and take my morning shower. Clean, warm water freely showers down from my head to my toes- with no limit and at no particular cost to me.
What is this privileged, safe life I’ve been granted?

Mayfield says:  “…as I read the news and try to pay attention to current events, suddenly I start to find that my safe and secure existence is the anomaly. My lack of proximity to suffering is what marks me as different—the outlier in a world full of horror.”

I wonder if the tragedies here in America– the seemingly endless, merciless line of pain that kept adding on to itself one disaster at a time– will prompt anyone to turn their eyes to other corners of the world and see how normal disaster is and has been to many countries for decades. I wonder if those displaced by the wildfires and hurricanes will begin to fathom the experience of a refugee through their loss of everything and rocky endeavor to rebuild their lives. I wonder if those whose loved ones were caught in the shooting will ponder what it means to be in a country where life itself is a day-by-day gift and one is never fully safe.

“One wonders if it’s possible..”, “And where do we start?” , are those hearty questions asked by Time‘s journalist in regards to responding and rebuilding.

I cannot abandon the life I’ve been granted and despising my privileges will help no one. But truly, that lack of proximity to suffering keeps us jaded. We ought to be purposefully exposing ourselves to it more often. Nearly nothing is possible and there will be no good place to start without empathy.

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Accommodating Hate

Wanted: Suitable accommodations for hate, pride, and self-elevation. Complacent hearts preferred.

Capacity, capacity, capacity. I remember my first encounter with this word. About five years ago, I made my first venture off North America. I had become engrossed with  “culture” and simply had to find a complimenting word to come alongside it for the name of my first blog– the planned place to write about all the big bites of culture I had yet to take. As I dove into the dictionary, I eventually found it:

Capacity:  a:  the potential or suitability for holding, storing, or accommodating 

I knew that I had the storage space inside of me for new cultures and I longed to be suitable and accommodating for something dynamic and good… so thus birthed this blog’s name.

You could fit the word “capacity” into practically any sentence. But this week, I’ve been thinking about how each of our hearts and minds serve as space for holding, storing, or accommodating. The acts of hate, bigotry and racism— a product of stored hate. The words of disdain and shame— hate held and yelled.
But honestly, I believe that the vast majority of us opt out of speaking up, seeking peace and upholding justice and end up choosing complacency. The blind eye and zipped lips that unapologetically looks away– hate being accommodated.

Complacent: “pleased, especially with oneself, advantages or situation; often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; unconcerned.”

The one who is able be complacent must be in a satisfactory situation themselves. And out of this place of unconcern or lack of awareness for the evils going on around them, is carved out an accommodating space for hate. For if not intentionally escorted out, then it is automatically welcomed.

Is it possible, then, that those of us whose lives are generally pleasing, advantageous or at least satisfactory (yes, white, middle-class,  religious folk, that’s me and that’s you), are the ones who are most at risk of being complacent? And if so, with that lack of concern about the pains not directly targeting us, is it possible that we are bettering the accommodations for hate in the world around us?

One’s complacent heart is no better than an affirmation for hate acts itself. In fact, it may be worse… as the lack of acknowledgement pretends the issue itself does not even exist. For even Jesus said, “But what comes from the mouth proceeds from the heart.”

To acknowledge Barack Obama’s tweet earlier this week,

“…People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” -Nelson Mandela

One way people learn to hate is through ignorance and silence. One way people learn to love is through the loud voice of justice and peace being modeled.

Do we have more capacity for hate or for love? For peacemaking or rioting?
Is your city, your church, or your home a suitable storage space for complacency and self-righteousness
or for humility and moving past conditional love?

And as an individual, YOU have capacity. There’s no doubt about it. What sort of accommodations are you offering society?

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Replenish, Not Replace

It had been a year and a half since our friendship began. We had our bumps in the road and for a while there, a cultural misunderstanding estranged me from their family; but we eventually reunited. I sat on the living room floor with my hamshira jan– “my dear sister”, as we call each other. We watched her first born show off with his sassy antics, almost always speaking only English , even with his mama. Anoosha has another son on the way and was still refurnishing the better apartment they’d recently moved into.

As we rambled on about our lives, the natural culturally appropriate questions arose, only we chose to answer with care and honesty and not just the formal response.

“How is your family?”

I spoke of my sisters, my brother, my parents and each of their contexts. She spoke of hers.
My family is within driving distance. Hers is across the world. As I listened to her acute awareness of the familial situations afar– some victories, some injustices, what she loved and

missed and what she wishes she could fix, I was reminded that family, no matter its state o

rgeographical location, is irreplaceable.

I love being called “sister”. Many whom I am not related to call me by this name. Many of those who do have been forcibly removed from most, if not all, of their family members. I eagerly soak up the honor and appreciation that comes with this title. Sometimes I feel I’ve earned it; other times, I wonder if I deserve such a name.

It is my heart’s deepest desire to provide a new family, nurture the new home of many who have been given no choice but to restart their lives here in America. Gratefully, I am joined with hundreds of others who wish to do the same. But I am humbly reminded that even when we openly share our lives and treat refugee families the way we would our own flesh and blood, we may be able to help fill a gap, but we can never fully replace what they have lost that is their own.

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Written By: Emma McHenry

Home has its meaning in every culture and every people. It is a deeply intimate term, and one that often makes its way back to the earliest memories of childhood. Some days you may step through a familiar doorway into a house you know as home; other days you may think of a land or a culture or a face far away, and you will call them home. But walking into the warm light of apartment #46 on the second floor, I began to see this simple word in a very new light. That night I found a kind of home that went far beyond a house; I found communion.

Nader and Maryam were cordial hosts, to say the least. From the moment I stepped through that door, the family thought of nothing but making me feel welcome. All of them shook hands politely to honor my own culture, and the light in their eyes showed the joy that was theirs for having us all under their roof. They laid out food while we talked, they listened carefully as I slowly spoke about my family and life through translated words , and they cooked a magnificent, rich meal—fit for royalty. Cooking, cleaning, and making sure we were all given an abundance of delicious food was their way of showing the highest honor, and though we were yet strangers they treated us like old friends.  

That night I was left in awe. All I could think of was what a beautiful culture God had blessed these people with. What fear or prejudice has kept Christians from seeking out their new neighbors? What could possibly be at risk?

When engaging other cultures, American society tends to get hung up on the apprehension that they are going to offend someone or come off as a fool. Even though that was a possibility that night, there was a greater possibility of something far more significant: making a friend. And I am glad that was something I was willing to risk!

Even more so, I ran the risk of gaining a deeper view of this world. God has made every culture intrinsically unique, and as we engage with others from different nations, it makes us aware of our own perspectives. As the diversity and beauty of two different societies joined that night, I found a window into new viewpoints and insights into both their culture and mine.

The last thing “risked” as I entered into Nader and Maryam’s apartment was this: seeing them in God’s eyes–not as foreigners, refugees, Muslims or strangers, but as my beloved neighbors. God didn’t create culture to divide people, but to build strong and lasting relationships that embrace diversity and depend on love, surpassing any weak cultural links by doing so! And it was in this love that I found a new kind of home in apartment #46. The friendships that were formed, the communion that was shared; these were a marvelous reflection of the home and belonging that may be found in Jesus. And that is what I pray all of us may find in the presence of God, our true home.

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The first time I walked down the streets of the tenderloin in San Francisco, I felt significantly insecure. I was out of place and out of touch with the culture. I was supposedly there to serve and love, but only within the predefined contexts that the outreach trip had set in place. Walking down the street was a side escapade and I quickly concluded that the residents in this neighborhood and I shared no commonality. Out of underlying fear, my friendly, extroverted self bypassed them all. What if she didn’t speak English? What if they were high? What if he took my smile the wrong way? It was too risky. I was me and they were the “others”.

gerund or present participle: othering

  1. view or treat (a person or group of people) as intrinsically different from and alien to oneself.(Oxford Dictionary)

“Other”ing is something we often mindlessly do to each other. If I consider another human being as “other” because they don’t speak the same, think the same, live the same, dress the same, etc., then, likewise, I am certainly an “other” to this person.

Humanity in general seems to have a difficult time intersecting with the “other”.
And when it comes to Muslim-Christian relations, sadly, the “other”ing has often become elevated in churches out of fear of compromising doctrine or endorsing another faith system. It’s a reasonable concern, but it’s not biblical.

The world’s best example of a peace-maker and  bridge-builder was one who made himself an “other” as he lived in a time of great religious, political and interethnic conflict.

Multiple faiths. Multiple ethnicities. Multiple friends.

If you read the Bible, it is often easy to bypass the significance of the parables Jesus told and the ways He treated certain holidays and customs and interacted with people and people groups. It’s easy to assume that the specifics of these parables and stories aren’t applicable to our modern age and culture (e.g.,  the healing of the paralytic, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the repentant tax-collector, Jesus’ attitudes toward the Sabbath, his encounter with religious experts, his actions in the temple…). But were Jesus’ teaching and example limited to the age and place He lived? If no, then we must ask ourselves: who and what are these words and deeds of Jesus in relation to our lives and society today?

There were plenty of “others” then and there are plenty of “others” now. One of the “others”, I think, is our Middle-eastern Muslim community. In Sacramento, many are collaborating to do them justice. Organizations and county offices are being sure they are receiving all their benefits such as EBT cards, Social Security, ESL, and medical coverage. We have supported the establishment of their halal markets and necessary vendors. We have spoken out against segregation and unfair treatment by leasing managers, security services in department stores, and public services. That is all well, good and needed. But what if we are perpetuating them being an “other” as we go about creating space for them to naturally live amongst themselves within “our city” as we continue in our regular day to day life? What if, beyond conquering their cultural and practical needs, we chose to learn more about what it means to become engaged, loving neighbors to these who are the supposed “others?”  

When change occurs, we have two methods of handling it: keeping it at bay OR embracing it and adapting.  We must acknowledge how we are often afraid to invite “others” into our lives or be guests of them. Acknowledge the fear, the awkwardness, the discomfort or stigmas— whatever it is you feel. It’s there. It’s real. That’s alright. What you do with it will determine whether the “othering” boundaries remain firmly in place or start to come down naturally from connection over commonality.

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The Stranger Neighbor

“ ‘There are no strangers in this state, and that’s its genius’, he said in a quiet, engaging drawl. ‘People smile. You assume people have a common interest.’ ” In March 1980, National Geographic Magazine published an article called Home to North Carolina. This was North Carolina University president’s response when asked about the state’s “rare sense of community”.

No strangers. Common interest acknowledged. What if that was the life-giving air of Sacramento breathed by refugees who settle here?

Is This You?

A Caucasian, American woman was driving home from work one late afternoon when she blew a tire on the freeway and barely made it to the off ramp to pull over. With a dead phone battery, she was stranded. A Hispanic woman drove by on the off ramp; her mother’s heart felt sorry for the lady, but being fearful of the possible cultural stigmas, continued driving. A Caucasian pastor saw her desperation as he exited, but since he was running late for an important meeting, also chose to drive on. An Afghan man and devout Muslim, respected in his community, saw the woman as he drove by and had compassion. He pulled over and offered his help. Lending the lady his phone, they discovered the tow truck driver would not arrive for 2 hours. Knowing well the risk to his reputation if he was seen alone with a woman, he offered to drive her to a local coffee shop, buy her a drink and wait with her in comfort until assistance could arrive.
Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the woman in distress?

"One of my team-mates was taking a family portrait for a Syrian family in Sweden. During our time in Sweden we prayed for this family, that they would find a permanent place to live, and the very next day they got an apartment in Stockholm! They told us that our God answers prayers, and that all their friends living nearby wanted prayer that they could find homes too!

“One of my team-mates was taking a family portrait for a Syrian family in Sweden. During our time in Sweden we prayed for this family, that they would find a permanent place to live, and the very next day they got an apartment in Stockholm! They told us that our God answers prayers, and that all their friends living nearby wanted prayer that they could find homes too!” – Emma McHenry, photojournalist with YWAM, seeing the realities of displaced peoples all over the world.

Some of you may read this and recognize similarities to Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Followers of Jesus are told to love God and love their neighbor.

“Who is my neighbor?” was the question asked of Jesus that prompted his parable.
As he often did, Jesus answered a question with a question, turning the tables on his question asker to say, in effect, “Don’t try to justify yourself by who or who not is your neighbor. Rather, you go and be a neighbor to the stranger—the one who you doesn’t see eye to eye with you politically or religiously.” Today, Jesus calls us anew to be that same person, to be that neighbor.


Who Are “They”?

Evelyn Reisacher writes in her article  A Moratorium on Hospitality?:
 “Christians and Muslims may be living next to each other, but that does not mean they deeply know each other.”
A vital part of becoming a neighbor is Bridge-building. Bridge-building has a process. First comes knowledge. When the Easterner and Westerner recognize their different outlooks on hospitality, and the Muslim and Christian allow for their differing views on faith, they are collecting bricks and tools for the building project. Knowledge must be followed by action. When they spend time together in each other’s homes or in conversation, they are using their tools to lay down these bricks and begin to build a bridge.

Practically speaking, the gaps are not as wide as you may think. Relationship is not overly difficult to begin and then continue. The seemingly large walls are far weaker and easier to tear down than you anticipate. That is why Raft Amad exists- to pragmatically and relationally escort you toward a simple way of DEEPLY loving the stranger and TRULY knowing your neighbor.

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The Racism Rhythm

The amount of unfair treatment that happens on America soil is immeasurable, even in the most liberal and diverse cities. Though I have personally never been displaced, persecuted for my ethnicity or religion, or truly impoverished, I thought I knew what marginalization felt like by way of other avenues. My experiences may count as a mere thread of the ugly tapestry called discrimination.

I took a dear friend of mine, whom we will call Ameena, to morning coffee and to enjoy the long delayed rays of sunshine last Friday. We were long overdue for some one-on-one fellowship. Ameena is about the age of my own mom and is, like Mom, a mother of four. We met through my friendship with her outgoing,  youngest daughter right here in our apartment complex. We are neighbors. Ameena is an educated, swift, loving, resilient woman. She sought asylum here in America with her two daughters when conditions back home in Afghanistan became too dangerous to return to. Here she remained with no governmental support and, for a long time, no ability to apply for local identification, formal work, a driving permit, nothing. She managed life with her daughters until she was granted asylum and now works with an attorney to be reunited her husband and two sons who remain abroad. I knew she had endured much and was working hard for her rights to be respected in the community and at her on-call job as a translator. Nothing was being handed to her on a silver platter or any platter for that matter.

It hit me the other day that though I’ve heard many a story from my Muslim refugee friends about their lives since they’ve arrived here, there will never reach a point where it is time to stop asking for their stories. No, I racism_011bwill likely never be able to personally relate to what they’ve been through and are going through. Their stories from back home can be hard on the open ears and even more painful to the soft heart. Many of our refugee neighbors are willing to share their stories from a distant country, but not all are eagerly talking about the injustices facing them right here.

As Ameena and I talked, I told her that instead of speculating and speaking on behalf of much of the Afghan community in Sacramento, I wanted to hear from a first person perspective. I asked her what it was like to be in her skin, what trials and joys she experienced in this city, what it felt like to identify as a Muslim or an Afghan or both. She recounted many good experiences and expressed gratitude for several benefits of living in Sacramento, but it was the not-so-few and far between stories of racism that shocked me and hopefully shock you.

These stories will be  exposed in three parts in coming weeks.
Stay connected.

We will look at how racism sparks negative reactions– real life stories about hate, threats, & ignorance. And we will hear real stories about how it can spur on positive establishments like being educated in the matter, standing  in genuine solidarity and experiencing trusting community.
** Stories will specifically reference Muslim immigrant racism, but concepts will apply to and regard all forms of racism occurring across the country.

“From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Who are the ones regarded as “American” here?

Choose a Route

Whether you look upon the new presidency with support or disdain, there is a choice to be made.
Do you exist and live for the benefit of yourself? Timeless teachers, prophets, geniuses, social advocates, martyrs, neurological scientists and figures of all kind teach time and time again that selflessness is the essence of joy and putting self first is the quickest path to your own mental and emotional ruin.

racism_handsBeside considering the consequences of your choices for our own sake, perhaps we also ought to consider Jesus’ verdict on the matter. He said that our treatment of the widow, the orphan, the shelterless or the immigrant parallels our treatment of Him. What we do for them, we do for Him. When we neglect them, mistreat them, and ridicule them, we neglect Jesus, mistreat Jesus, and ridicule Jesus. (Matt. 25:27-46)

These stories are not about causing permanent division. But on some matters, knowing both perspectives, choosing a side and following it with utter conviction is the first step of action. Concern yourself with your own thoughts, beliefs and measures of action first.
Out of love, hear stories. Out of love, know the facts. Out of love, model your convictions.
Truth speaks for itself.

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A Year to Be Welcomed

As refugees have poured into United States by the thousands and into Sacramento by the hundreds each month, anyone with a voice of advocacy for the immigrant or refugee has begun to speak up and raise their voices, almost in a demanding manner: “Welcome them! Welcome them!”. Politically and sociologically, this could mean one thing, but “Welcome the stranger/sojourner” should mean something far beyond that for the follower of the Jesus.

“Welcome the stranger”, we’ve been saying repetitively for the past few years. And indeed we should and will continue to. But what if first the stranger welcomes us? What then?

Kay and Kevin and their three girls were anticipating delivering a Christmas tree and bringing Christmas gifts to a newly arrived refugee family coming from Turkey. The family img_9299already had a tree, but was so excited for the opportunity to host guests, that the two families came together anyway. Though the language barrier was evident, the families enjoyed tea and fruit together and asked simple questions of each other. Soon enough, the girls became friends with the family’s daughter and went off to play as Ramin, the host father, immediately asked Kay and Kevin if he could tell them his story with the help of a translating friend. Following Ramin’s heart-felt story of recovery from addiction and then journey to America, he and his wife Elika led a time of singing img_9307in their native tongue and playing guitar. Ramin and his son shared their wonderful skills of guitar playing with their new friends as if they had known each other for years. Kay and Kevin expressed their joy and gratitude with words and smiles and told Ramin and Elika how they will never forget this night. It was evident that they were so welcomed in the newer family’s home and that a very mutual blessing was taking place. Their fellowship lasted several hours as they eventually ate a meal together. Upon departure, Kay and Kevin invited Elika and Ramin’s family over to their home the following week. They wholeheartedly accepted.

In Western society, we have a tendency to assume the role of giver. When generosity is a factor, we would generally wish to be on the giving side rather than the receiving side, if given a choice in the matter. Sometimes there is even a sense of shame in receiving the generosity of others.

As a caseworker, transportation assistant, neighbor or just a friend, I’ve been in and out of the homes of local refugees, particularly Afghan refugees, for more than 2 years now and if there is one word that best describes their culture, it is HOSPITALITY.  Whether they arrived on American soil within the past 4 days or established themselves here 10 years ago, you can always anticipate being treated as an honored guest when entering the home of an Afghan.



This Christmas, Raft Amad and StudentReach asked American families to do more than just deliver a Christmas tree to some refugee families. Instead of the role of Santa Claus, with a jolly posture of giving and going, we asked people if they’d presume the role of recipient, preparing to be welcomed by the family and visit for a while. As we watched these fellowships take place, story after story came back to us about how easy of a connection was made and the gift it was to the American family to be so warmly welcomed in by their refugee neighbors. Seems reversed doesn’t it? Yet this is so very natural.

As we step into 2017, I want to challenge myself and challenge YOU to be willing to be welcomed first. Whether you are the one to initiate or not, regardless of your comparative assets, no matter whose home you are in, will you receive the blessing of hospitality and welcome from your refugee neighbor?
“Welcome! Make yourself at home in this new country” is the unspoken message you send by gratefully receiving their natural gift of hospitality to you. To receive is the best gift you can give anyway.


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One Step, Three Steps

Written by: Majid Keshavarz

The family of nine from Afghanistan came as refugees to Sacramento. Three months ago they arrived and we had the privilege of being hosted by them on a Saturday evening.

” You are so welcome. Please make yourself at home,” Massoud said, as the father of the home.
His youngest kid, Ali, welcomed us by the warm smile in his eyes. The family honoured us by standing when we got into their apartment. They offered the couches to us and some of the family sat on the floor; that was their way to pay respect to their honoured guests.

They were so ready to create a climate of understanding and tolerance. This was a kind of tolerance that wasn’t indifferent. Afghan, American, Iranian, Muslim and Christian——we were a diverse group, but this was a climate that was impartial, refusing to accept bigotry and racism.

Seven kids from age 3 to 18 enjoyed carving pumpkins. Some adults chattered over tea. Everyone ate a hearty and delicious meal together.
Having a sense of humour was a gateway to converse. The joy of the interacting could be heard by the sound of laughing. ” We haven’t had such a joyful time and uplifting moments since our arrival in America”, Masoud said.

The family was so focused on moving forward and seizing every opportunity they could to be more engaged with this society. This fellowship was kind of a way for them to spare themselves from some agonizing pains of their move to America. The interaction was a unique experience. In a way, the newly arrived was helping the established folks to be initiated into the hospitality of the Middle Eastern culture, right here on American soil. It was proof that families don’t have borders and loving one another could embrace diversity.

“Fellowship is like a bridge. It will provide a unique opportunity to practice the love for one another. If the other people take one step to cross the bridge, I will take three steps to get closer to them. I am so open to embracing the other side and ready to rejoice with them in the time of joy and  have sympathy in the time of suffering ” Masoud said.


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I live and breathe my current life around a variation of humans whose stories differ greatly. I grew up, spending high school and college, primarily in white, Christian, suburban life.
This present season of my young adult life, I work and live in a workplace and neighborhood that lets me meet and get to know fantastic people from other lifestyles, other religions, other parts of the world. Some of them have become dear, dear friends.

A season of external diversity, these past two years, has also ushered in some intern diversity–by that, I mean newfound discomforts stemming from challenged perspectives and discovery of frustrating health problems. Completely unrelated in their aligned timing, I often find myself struggling as I wonder why these two walk together.

—-Joy & Pain.  —-Desired learning & provoked research.
—-Stories of growth & reports of failure.  —-Dreams come true & fears coming to past.

Why must they hold hands?

As I wrestle with thoughts and fears, those at my side ask me to look beyond myself.

Those dear, dear friends of mine, and so many more, face similar struggles as they have asked their own “why’s”. Coming from different homes, sacrificing different things, leaving different family members, statuses, communities, jobs, or friends, finding new versions of all this here in this place I call home.
Their beauty and sorrow always walk hand in hand. I’m not alone. 

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I learned a new word the other day. Amidst all that life brings, we all seek it:

EASEMENT // “The state or feeling of comfort or peace”

It seems that many times we deem it necessary to go to great lengths or obtain huge achievements to find such a peace.IMG_4025

A good friend works directly with newly-arriving refugee families. He was telling me the other day of a small blessing. Being out at an appointment with a
refugee family through the lunch hour, he found himself rather hungry, but unable to go shopping. A simple prayer to God asked for no more than a banana to tide him over. Less than a minute later, the father of the family  my friend was helping appeared with a banana and offered it to him. After some refusal and reasoning, he graciously accepted this answer to his silent request. Later, as we talked, he found himself so satisfied and humbled by this gift and showcase that the Lord is near.

This friend of mine is here with his family, having arrived to the United States only ten months ago. He could easily be pleading for greater things, huge fixes to significant struggles, or life-changing provisions. Instead he has kept his faith and trust simple. Many days it seems comfort and peace– easement– are his.

I pondered to myself: how many of us who have the option to struggle and seek more, are first willing to silently ask for the banana?
Perhaps easement more often comes through simple faiths, small asks and ceasing to wrestle so hard. 



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Embrace Your Raw

One reason I think it’s so hard for humans in our society to embrace their own brokenness is because we are taught to evaluate each other’s lives through social display– Facebook posts, instagram, what you look and act like when you show up to work, a party, church, or the like.

Say, “I!” if you like to show off your struggle.

[insert crickets chirping]

It is far more convenient to mask our trials, our real and raw feelings and our flaws. Even as I began to post on Instagram, this photo screamed at me, pleading with me for a filter to smooth out my eye bags or uneven skin tones.

I realized at some point along the journey this past year that the way I was displaying myself led people I dared to be raw with to be rather shocked by the brokenness or hurt I was experiencing.

Because we are unwilling or perhaps disabled in this, we often live in fear of the judgment of others, of putting their comfort on the line, or of being seen as less than.

I may be generalizing in some ways. It’s not that we all need to begin a public pity party or be vulnerable in everything, but we also don’t need to be hiding the pain that’s a real part of life and thus training each other to not be incompatible with the raw wounds. We may even be harnessing shame to the situation by subtly asking people to cover their open sores. They’re ugly sores and we don’t want to see or smell them, much less feel them.
How could we possibly reflect Jesus if we only know how to rejoice with those who rejoice, but when someone mourns, we seek to fix their pain as quickly as possible because we just can’t handle it?

Such goes one of my favorite lines from a modern day Christian radio song: “Show your wounds. Show your flaws. Show them why you still need the cross.”


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Counter the Culture, Put God on display?

Moments of divine truth often stem from the oddest places or come forth from the mouths of unlikely persons. But interestingly enough, the odd or unlikely labels we default to often end up being a product of our culture. Society tells me who I should be hearing truth or receiving blessing from and it’s not necessarily reflective of God’s long standing style.
Yesterday brought me four unplanned meetings… Well, unplanned by me, but clearly set up by God. Sometimes people of the Word call these “divine appointments”.

One of four divine appointments  yesterday was with a sojourning brother named Henry. I saw him hanging outside Little Caesars across the street from my apartments and the Spirit of God wouldn’t let me take my focus off him, so I introduced myself. That divine appointment was for me. The Lord reinforced a lot of truth in my life through Henry’s story, his words, his resilience through his current house-less situation and I was blessed. I was with another brother at the time. He happened to be around when I caught site of Henry and walked away from our conversation to introduce myself. I watched my brother’s rush to pray for Henry, to the point where he couldn’t stop and just listen to Henry’s story. He quickly provoked the prayer time, but quickly tried to end with “goodnight”. I began to ponder how often in our culture we assume that sort of “do, fix, obligation to pray and move on” sort of posture and thus miss out on our blessing. 

What would happen if we stopped seeing ourselves as purely the ministers and started letting the Lord minister to us through those who we think need to hear and receive, but in fact are the givers and the speakers? What if we listened more than feeling the need to declare our knowledge? What if we were willing to be present with people in their pain instead of trying to find an instant solution to their problems? Could we possibly be more of the hands and feet of Jesus by assuming such a stance? Could we humble ourselves and receive blessing from unexpected avenues? Are we missing something when we don’t?

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