Posts Tagged With: sacramento

Communion

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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“Other”ing

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”.

oth·er
ˈəT͟Hər/
verb
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 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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Capacity for Culture

I believe we all have more capacity for culture than we dare to believe.

…or dare to notice.

It’s that moment that we want to greet a stranger in their native tongue just because we know how to say “hello” in what we’re guessing is their language.

It’s those wandering thoughts that imagine what it’d be like to belong to a different ethnic community other than your own.

It’s the normalcy of seeing various skin colors, hearing multilingual conversations, smelling identifying fragrances and odors all around us and being used to it because the state of your city is diverse.

These are all proofs of the capacity we have, but don’t these observations and thoughts get kept to ourselves most of the time? What if one day you actually boldly greeted a stranger in a different language… What if you intentionally moved to another neighborhood where you were the minority…What if you asked someone what language they were speaking, complimented their clothes or asked them what they were cooking. What if…

Have you ever thought about the benefit that boldness, that intentional move would entail? A new friend? New knowledge? Grown empathy? New questions to wrestle with in your mind?

Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the natural capacity you have for culture.20141020_185736

God did not design humans to cling to their definitions of normal, nor their self-created boundaries, nor their own personal theology, but to cling to each other. And “each other” stretches far beyond your own religious community, your own race, your own political party, your own economic status. Dismiss your social stigmas by first asking yourself what your stigmas are. Who, what, or where are you subconsciously sidestepping with the excuse that you don’t have the gifting, the desire, or the capacity to embrace other cultures.

Ask someone this week what they believe about God, how they feel about the immigration issue, what their story is. And maybe, in return, they will have the opportunity to reach back out and ask you the same thing. What a blessing.
Or maybe, in return, you will begin to learn more about another human being, another culture, and perhaps become an advocate for them or their community in some way shape or form. Jesus stepped off His throne in Heaven and embraced humans here on earth, becoming an advocate for us to God. Why shouldn’t we humbly do the same?

Shaw Bakhir,

Amelia MaySun

 

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