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.”
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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.
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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
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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.

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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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Easement

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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The Questioning Reflection

This prayer or spoken word is meant to bring forth the ongoing struggle many of us face when we feel pulled between selfless work of advocacy and servitude and being consumed with one’s own problems. It is meant to reflect the trends of our generation that speak vigorously, truly inspired, but don’t always know in their heart of hearts if they mean and would live out what they claim with their tongues.

Jesus,

Give me the heart of a refugee.
Their resilience and positivity.

But honestly, do I truly mean and want this
When I ask it from thee?

Some days I am convinced
It is my route to your glory.

Words I write in vain,
Not all,
But some
I’ve definitely spoken with passion,
Then let them be slain,

By my personal ambition
Or condition,
Of focusing more on my mirror
And less on your heart-filled mission, whole mission.

Amen.

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Why Staying in the Grind is Key

Bring to the table whatever you have to give and receive from the generosity of others when their desire is to help you.

I have been meaning to write this blog for the past two weeks, because this title rung in my ears as a mantra of my current season.

Confession: I have been holding off on writing because I have not felt sufficient time, sufficient mental capacity, sufficient adequacy to be able to compose a worth-reading post. In other words, I wanted perfection.

I often desire perfection. It’s in my nature. Perhaps it’s exacerbated when it comes to writing because I consider myself a quality writer and I don’t wish to publish anything less than prestigious. But how ironic, especially for this particular written expression , that I would be prone to await the perfect words to describe the importance of pulling through the rougher patches in life with whatever capacity you have.

If you’re a reader of The Bible, perhaps you have read through Psalm 89. The writer of these poetic words begins with “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever. I will make His faithfulness known through all the generations.” Interestingly enough, the writer later ends up bringing to God’s attention some of his current grief. It’s almost as if he is saying “Oh hey, God, by the way, your servant has been sort of beat up and mocked and isn’t feeling so swell”. On and on he goes. It’s obviously important to be present with the pain and darn it, you should be able to SAY SO… even to God.
The key part here is that the writer ends his grieving expressions with what seems like a 180 degree turn. “Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.”

I was sort of surprised by this. For who could relay their immense troubles in a way that appears they feel forgotten by God and then instantly say, “I bless you, Lord”?

The renown Henri Nouwen says this in this exert “Stand Erect in Your Sorrows”.

“As long as you remain standing, you can speak freely to others, reach out to them, and receive from them. Thus you speak and act from your center [your place of true genuity and rawness] and invite others to speak and act from theirs.”
(Nouwen 62,  The Inner Voice of Love)

The longer I trek through life (and yes, I know it hasn’t been that long),  the more I recognize the confusion from others and even from myself when I worship the Lord, seek Him out, and simultaneously communicate openly the painful struggles right in front of me, some of which have been pretty harsh!

Moments on top of moments have passed when I wanted to throw in the towel and give up. For goodness sake, where could God be the seemingly unending trials anyway? And yet time and time again I find the rewards from staying in the rough, walking through the trials as opposed to around them, and standing erect in my sorrows. Believe it or not, struggling does not isolate you from community, it doesn’t remove your influence on the lives of others, and it does not put your relationships on hold… at least it shouldn’t. If it has, then I’d dare to say you have thrown in your towel.

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Joy is present in the pain, especially when you walk it out with Jesus. One might never know that this picture was taken on one of my mentally and physically weakest days a couple weeks back. The photographed moment with this little guy followed a transparent talk about what was going on in my life with his mother, Fatemeh. I did not want to be transparent. I did not want to show my pain to others. But what would ya know… speaking from my center invited Fatemeh to be present with hers. And being there with her family actually brought some rest and authentic smiles.

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Hearing Their Narrative

With every face you see, hand you shake or voice you hear comes a story.

I consider myself sort of spoiled in the story-receiving world. I hear about so many tragedies and victories, faiths and follies, cultures and worldviews.

Everyone has a story– it’s their life and the ongoing journey they must be on.
Upon swapping stories with so many people of all ages, faiths, and cultures, I’ve realized that the specific stories we choose to speak aloud are exactly what define the ongoing narrative we tell about our own lives. Do I continuously share stories of pain, hope, wondering, learning moments? You can learn a lot about someone’s life and perspective on the world simply through listening well to their ongoing narrative.

Let me tell you a few stories I hear.

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Middle-school girl friends– one from Iraq and the other from Afghanistan– have become afternoon hang out buddies and friends of mine. I recently invited them into a card-making session with me, asking for their artistic assistance in my efforts. They showed up at my door on a Thursday afternoon, informing me that they were ready. Upon coming in and settling down to a table around some iced tea and pistachios, they each began to switch off telling me stories of family members they had tragically lost in their home country years ago and how they perceived those happenings as young children. I listened. We shifted from the murder of an uncle to two older cousins committing suicide. They were treating the stories as light, factual statements. My question to them was. “Do you think its okay to commit suicide?”. “No!”, they responded. “Why not?”, I inquired. “Because we are all on a journey that we must live out.” Thus says a 12 year old. Stories continued and eventually they asked out loud, “Why are we talking about these sad things?”. I shrugged my shoulders to give them the space to answer their own question…and they did. “I guess everyone just needs to talk out loud about these things some times and be listened to.” Smart girls. 

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A single Afghan gentleman whom I met through World Relief approximately one year ago has a profile picture on his messaging account that says “Worship the Creator, not the Creation.” This photo sparked a conversation between us that allowed for spontaneous contact until finally we got to invite him to a June fellowship dinner held in my apartment. The young man graciously bent against the Afghani way of being treated as a guest and brought some food and donated a sufra (an eating mat for the floor) to my household items. He lives with a few other Afghan Muslim men, but expresses a desire to have intentional conversation with those of other cultures and faiths than just his own. His request after the iftar dinner was that I send him a digital picture of our group so he could send it to his family back in Afghanistan. I later inquired how his family responded. He told me how happy they were to see him looking so at ease and content. He also told me he felt like he was at  home at our iftar fellowship dinner that night. 

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A story recently shared with me all the way from Southeast Asia: A Muslim man who has come to faith in Jesus told a friend of mine, “There is a saying that during Ramadan demons are chained, the door to hell is closed and the door to heaven opened.” Then he said, “So what about the other 11 months? Ah, that is what Jesus means to me. For with Jesus all through the year the demons are bound, the door to heaven is opened and the door to hell closed.” 

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These are just a couple. Are you listening to the narratives of people God has placed in your life? Are you wondering about their relationship with the God of the universe or trying to better understand how they see the world you both live in?

How enriching it truly could be if we paused to listen to the stories being told (or wanting to be told) and then subsequently let our hearts, minds and discerning spirits interpret the narrative flowing out of each human we know–each human that God created and loves so, so deeply.

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In a Spirit of Peace

It was yet another day in apartment land. Post-school hours and mild weather brings every last kid out into the open to enjoy their roller blades, watching their siblings and kicking around soccer balls. By now, my fender-bent gray Mazda has been established in the minds of my young friends, so they can easily identify my pulling into the complex. I may have been parked 5 seconds before I was overwhelmed with greetings.

I always find my spirit and mind pretty tired by the 5 o’clock hour, but the presence of the kids seem to rejuvenate me. We let my car doors hang open, my trunk serving as a sitting and talking space.

There’s one young guy, we’ll call him Buddy, who seems to have a playful yet rough personality and not the best grasp on his anger and his tongue. He spotted by pink volleyball and asked to play with it.
“Sorry, it’s flat”, I said. “I have a pump!”, he blurted and ran to grab it so he could fix my problem.
My payment for this service? 10 minutes of volleyball with the boys in the lot.

I went in, but found myself back outside in a flash as my dog needed to be walked, once again. My friend Dida came running up to me, advocating for another young friend, Zella.

“Emily! Emily! Can you help us? Zella is upset because Buddy said mean things to her, about her family.”
“What do you want me to do?”, I inquired.
“I don’t know; go talk to him or something. Will you solve the problem?”

Life around my refugee neighbors has its unique moments, but you might be surprised to hear that most occurrences, skirmishes, rejoicing, or pain is close to and familiar to that which penetrates everyone’s life– the mundane day to day events.

I wasn’t sure what they expected of me, but I meandered in their direction. Buddy ended up letting me talk to him and agreed he should say sorry to Zella. We walked over to Zella together and forgiveness was humbly exchanged. It was the oddest of moments as Zella’s parents were standing right there and I was being asked to orchestrate the peace. My conversation to follow was sweet. It was good to finally meet the Iraqi parents of my young lady friend as they sincerely thanked me for handling the situation and asked about my life.

Jesus often found Himself handling disputes. People knew Him as wise, knowledgeable, bold, and peaceful. Because of this, they sought Him out when issues arose.

Pursuing a spirit of peace on a daily basis looks something being neutral in a situation where your Afghan friend is explaining her struggles at home to you and you choose not to take sides. It looks like suggesting to my middle-school friends that we say encouraging words to each other instead of insults. It looks like simply maintaining patience and gentleness when irritation is knocking at the door. It looks like asking what positives exist in someone’s life when they’ve expressed hopelessness.

And somehow, someway this speaks to others that at your core, you are a peace-maker.

Yet again was I invited into a situation when I wasn’t seeking integration.
Blessed to be living amongst and alongside this community. Thankful that a spirit of peace goes before me.

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Through the Eyes of a Kid.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. It is so easy to make friends with kids.

One day I returned from a bridal shower and without changing out of my nicer clothes, took a walk with my  6-pound dog named Mia. No matter the age of the kid, this tiny dog seems to captivate the eyes and hands of almost every kid in the apartment complex- girls and boys alike. As I headed back to my apartment after the walk, each eye that spotted the puppy drew right toward her.

“It’s Mia! Awww, hi Mia!” ….. [stroke, pet, drool,]… “Oh, hi Amelia!”
Though I must be at least twenty times taller than this cute creature, I tend to be the second one noticed. It’s alright; I’m the one who ends up in conversation.

That particular day, the boys were playing soccer (better known as futbol) in the alley way. An abandoned roller blade boot and razor scooter serving as one set of goal posts and the red painted curb serving as the other. Mia eventually went back in the apartment and a few of my young girl friends helped me make some fresh popcorn. We sat on the curb, stuffed our faces, I listened to the latest school drama and we watched the boys whip around with their fresh futbol skills. I wanted to play, but needed an opportunity to prove myself. The ball rolled through one goal and straight to my toes. Now was my chance. I hopped up, scooped up the ball and drop kicked it back into play.

“Whooaaaaaa”…and then a few glances back in my direction, as if the boys didn’t know girls could kick a futbol correctly. I eventually invited myself into the game. We formed teams and played to 5 goals. I may or not have shown off my skills.  That day the boys learned my name and haven’t forgotten it since.
Futbol and food makes friends and the acceptance I received from those kids that day filled my heart right up.

Most of the kids that hang outside in my apartment complex are the children of refugee or immigrant parents. Most of their families have come from Iraq, Afghanistan, or Mexico.

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This past week had been a rough one and not just for me. As if trying to process two deaths in my circle of relationships wasn’t enough, I was also battling some minor seizure activity that flares up from time to time. Sometimes it takes me a while to regain all my speaking and listening abilities after an episode. I had just experienced some activity but let myself out for an evening walk with Mia. Some of my favorite girlies in the complex found Mia (and me) as we walked. I wasn’t feeling too great, so I dismissed us, promising to loop back around on our way in.

My friend, Dida, found me again. She had been having a hard time (6th grade and refugee life isn’t all sunshine and butterflies, you see) and needed to enter into a venting session. I tried to explain to her why I was struggling in my communication and listened to the best of my ability as we sat on the curb and talked a bit through her latest struggles. I didn’t know how much my explanation of seizures had really made sense to her or how helpful my words or advice about life really were.

Next week came around and I saw the girls again. Dida came up to me, reunited with her best friend in the complex, and they both gave me hugs. She asked me how I was doing and if my brain was okay by now.
Sweet girl. She had remembered.

Dida and her family are from Iraq. Her Dad is living in Arizona and working a job there, visiting the family only once every couple months, according to her. Her family of 7 is living in a two bedroom apartment. I don’t write this to provoke pity. But seriously, take a glance. Refugee life and youth life mixed? It’s not easy.

Some of my favorite moments in the week come from 5-15 minute moments spent with the kids. It’s times like these–stealing their soccer ball, greeting them by their names and asking them about their day or seeing them put a water bottle on their head and challenging them to a more impressive balancing job– that allow me to be a very real human who isn’t too busy to stop and have a little fun or listen to whatever they deem most important in the moment.

In the midst of a week filled with pain, struggles and not enough energy or time to feel very capable of hardly anything, what I could do was be present with my neighbors.

The kids in my complex are some of the best at paving a way for neighborly relationships.

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Community in Practice

It was Saturday afternoon. My apartment had been given the royal treatment. Candles were burning to create the aura I desired, though I knew that appetite-stirring aromas would soon dominate the room as valued guests found themselves in my home, bearing dinner dishes that properly represented their country of origin.
It is an honor to open up my apartment and my arms.

There are a handful of varying activities or places that bring me sweet joy. Those include everything from hiking mountains to attain glorious views to tasting the intricate flavors in a vast array of coffee beans. But no matter the experience, it is almost always enjoyed more when shared with a friend.

On a broad scale, there are few things I enjoy more in life than COMMUNITY.

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Here is a perfect representation of just that!

This past Saturday night, I had the privilege of co-hosting a group of Intervarsity college students who opted to spend their weekend away from Sonoma State and in Sacramento. They wanted to try out the flavors of our domain here , particularly the ever-growing refugee community.

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Food + Folks = Fellowship

So we collaborated…my refugee friends and I. Sometimes I forget how recent their transition to the states took place because it feels like we’ve been friends for years.  Fatemeh, Rustam and their son Arsalan are from Afghanistan. Bahram, Arezoo and their son David are from Iran.

I’ll admit.. collaboration was a stretch. It’s not within the cultural/societal norms in Afghanistan nor Iran to ask a friend to help you host other guests in your own home. You are either a guest or a host and culturally-speaking, you would never ask a guest to share in the work load. But I was brave enough to ask and they were brave enough to give it a shot. Together, we all understood our unified purpose of representing our city and community to the students through an enthusiastic presence and some authentic food!

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Learning from each other.

The evening was lovely. There were 14 of us in total, gathering around a suffra (An Afghan-style mat for eating on) on my living room floor, dishing out delicious dinner onto each other’s plates with little to no self-control. We each told where we were born, our names, and if we could travel anywhere in the world where we would go. I loved the diversity, but I particularly loved the bravery of my sweet friend, Dida. She is 12 years old and her family is from Iraq. We made friends here in my apartment complex a few weeks back. She heard about my dinner and wanted to come; I invited her and so she came! Sweet girl was the only one her age in the room and while Fatemeh and Arezoo could converse in their mutual language of Farsi (Dari in Afghanistan), Dida could only participate in English. She was ecstatic to share with the group where she would love to travel when she is older.

I was especially proud of the ladies.
Arezoo and Fatemeh made such a grand effort to engage the women students, even while they are still improving their own knowledge of the English language.
The men engaged swiftly as well, swapping stories of their favorites philosophers and theological teachers.

Differing culture, different faiths, differing paradigms, philosophies, and perspectives.
Isn’t this what the Honorable Jesus did while He dwelled on earth?

I had many reasons this night to be proud of the community I am surrounded by. We were accomplishing exactly what I know I’m commissioned by God to do here… connection, stories, community.
We were creating Raft Amad.

 


 

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Raft-Amad

There is something sweet that we often overlook within a tight-knit family, and that is the way that they commune under one roof and freely come and go from their fortress, their place of refuge. This is particularly seen when adult children live with their parents or when teenagers become licensed to drive.
There is an unspoken permission to come and go as they please.

In Middle-Eastern culture, this freedom to come and go oh so regularly spreads beyond the family and into dear friendships. In Afghan culture, it has a specific name– RAFT-AMAD. If you and I have Raft-Amad, then I will come to your home and expect that you come visit my digs as well. We are participating in mutual friendship, hosting each other, welcome each other into our lives and homes.

It’s the going and the coming. It’s personal relationship.

“I wish your family and I can have this Raft-Amad”, I said recently to some friends of mine.
“Yes, we will keep the raft amad”, they said, blessing me in the process.

They are a family of three from Afghanistan: two well-educated parents and their sweet 3 year old boy. I’m still getting to know their story, but the bits and pieces I’ve heard so far have been amazing. We enjoy swapping information about American and Afghan ways and increasing our cultural-intelligence on both ends. This is the way we all grow relationships, build trust and invest in people, is it not? I love to intentionally invest into my Afghan and Arab brothers and sisters here in Sacramento because by doing so, I learn so much about them but also about myself and my own culture.

Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.”
“Who is my neighbor?”, asked an inquisitive religious leader of Jesus’ day.
The Good Samaritan. You know the story. There was no hero or “better” man. There was a random act of kindness that completely sidestepped a huge cultural gap. There was a neighbor. Apparently loving your neighbor doesn’t actually look like tolerance or small favors, but investments that, like any other relationship, come with vulnerability and risk.

What are the chances you have opportunities for a going and coming sort of relationship with a neighbor of yours (And who is your neighbor, again?) and you’re missing out on its benefits?

If you’re a visually-oriented human being, growing Raft-Amad looks like this:

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Sharing personal life after it’s clearly been a long day.

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Sharing Personal relationship with the whole family.

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Sharing Personal Life by intentionally communing

Sharing Personal Life over Food.

Sharing Personal Life over a lovingly-prepared meal.

 

 

 

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Shift

As I stepped out late with my dog into the brisk night air, I was overtaken by a feeling of mystery and change. The wind blew with great strength and the coldness of the atmosphere barely bit my skin. I looked upward to lay my eyes on great clarity as the constellations shown in clear view. The contrast to the previously cloudy sky was indefinite. Something was shifting. The unknown bewitched me as I could not yet put my finger on what change was about to take place. 

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