Friday, November 15, 2013

God is here. {part 1}

Friends. I am in love.

The last week has been intense, full of activity (sometimes planned, sometimes spontaneous) and exhausting in the best way. For about three weeks now, I've been learning from my friend Annette about this world of refugee resettlement. And in that time, we have been preparing for three families to arrive in the States to make their permanent home. (Three families that we were told would not be coming this year!)

I thought this happened frequently, that refugee families were resettled here in our town. As it turns out, it's not quite as frequent as I thought it was. However, Chicago and its suburbs are one of the two areas in the US that resettle the most refugees (Dallas being the other). And so when the government gave the refugees that were on hold the green light to come, things began to happen very quickly.

I'd love to paint a picture of what all has happened, from my perspective, for several reasons...

1. Until recently, I didn't understand how this process worked. Therefore, I didn't understand how I might be a part of it.
2. As I engage more and more with this ministry, I have seen how many opportunities there are for more of YOU to get involved in ways that work and are meaningful to you. Some of you have participated in the preparations over the last few weeks and I want to show you the bigger picture now.
3. I want to capture my thoughts and all that I am learning before it's hard to recall. I have fallen in love with people I could call strangers, which is part of the mystery of being a Christian and part of the Body of Christ.
4. God is bringing himself glory in 1,000 ways and that is worth shouting from the rooftops! You should know - He is an amazing God. I would like to explain just why I think this is true, in detail. :)

Annette is the one God used to help draw me into this ministry, in His perfect timing. I had been inquiring about getting more involved with others in the church who help with this ministry, but my personal connection with Annette is what really brought me understanding and a passion that would turn into a commitment. She sat down with me for a few hours one day, and explained how the process works. She helped me brainstorm ways that I could get involved as a young mother to small children. She poured her story out and shared her heart with me, and encouraged me to open the door to serving refugees by simply coming alongside me. She made time for me. She has allowed me to become more than a partner in ministry though, she has given me friendship. As she has put her trust in me with pieces of this process, I have had the opportunity to explore what God might do in my heart and through my service. All of it has returned nothing but sheer blessing.

The Bible study small group I help lead at church is made up of other young mothers like myself, and many of us were interested in getting more involved in this ministry after Annette came to our small group to speak and share her testimony. We all agreed that we could put together a Good Neighbor Kit - the basic items needed to furnish an empty apartment so that one refugee family is able to move in and live. This process of pulling the items together is actually really fun - and it ended up reaching beyond our small group. The Good Neighbor Kit includes categories like kitchen items, food items, bathroom items, bedroom items, cleaning supplies, and miscellaneous items. Some of the women in our small group took responsibility for a category and provided the items on the list, either very gently used and like-new donations or brand new purchased items. We decided that I would just collect all the items at my home, so they dropped off items as they gathered them and once the kit is complete, I will deliver it to our church. Once a refugee family is ready to come, and an apartment is secured for them, the church delivers the Good Neighbor Kit items to that apartment and volunteers set the apartment up and put away the items.

Once the families arrive here, World Relief partners with them to ensure that they have an opportunity to select clothing and other household goods that they might want from their donation center called Repeat Boutique. However, they mainly supply items for adults, and these three families coming this month all have a young child. This presented another opportunity for our small group. Annette and I put together a needs list for each child, based on his age, and our small group committed to either pulling from our own children's gently used clothing and items or purchasing what was needed. And this is where things got really fun. The list of ALL of the items we were gathering at this point (children's needs as well as Good Neighbor Kit items) was getting very long... and as I shared in excitement what we were doing with a few of my close friends, they expressed a strong desire to contribute to the list of items needed as well.

One dear friend who lives out of state began to shop for the children's items (both at her local resale shop as well as her own storage area), and would have me check items off our list as she found them. Then she notified me that her church plant team desired to contribute as well, and suddenly the list of needed items grew smaller. They committed to praying for the families in addition to giving generously.

I approached another local friend with the needs we had for one of the children in particular, to ask if I could purchase a few items from her business. Instead of assisting me, she insisted on taking the entire list for this individual child and is providing for all of his specific needs herself.

Others outside our small group - my mom and my Bible study coach, for example - are contributing to the physical needs on our lists as well. If you ever want to have your faith restored in the goodness and generosity of others, coordinate the gathering of donations for a ministry like this. My guess is that, like me, you will be blessed. You will be exposed to a beautiful side of people's hearts as they give, often sacrificially. And you will be privileged to witness what God does in their hearts AS they give - the ways He teaches us and changes us to be more like Him. You will feel more closely knit together with these givers. Your affection for them will grow and you will find that you have more to be thankful for than you ever realized.

We are nearly finished gathering items for our Good Neighbor Kit, we have finished gathering items for one of the little boys and have delivered the items to his apartment, and we are finishing the collection of items for the other children of families that are arriving in 1 1/2 weeks.

And this is where it gets good. And hard. And messy.

Annette has been preparing me for the shift that needs to happen after all of the necessary tangible items have been collected for each family. The largest part of this refugee resettlement ministry is coming alongside the families in very personal ways. Praying for them prior to their arrival. Greeting them at the airport once they arrive. Visiting them in their new home once they settle in. Befriending them. Committing to being a part of their lives in a long-term way.

This is the part I have not felt prepared for. I hadn't dipped my toes into this ministry until now, because I feared that I didn't have enough to give. I didn't think I had the space in my life to offer my time, to serve without really high boundary walls and restrictions. Mostly I was afraid of what I didn't know. How would I even communicate with a family that might speak very little broken english? How would I be able to schedule my 'help' with them if they treated time differently than I do, if their needs expanded and my capacity couldn't? How do you love a complete stranger?

Let's just call this what it is - I had very little faith. And I was really, really stingy-hearted. I wanted clean boundaries and tidy boxes for how I might volunteer myself and my time, and no one was offering that as a part of the process each time I would ask more about how this ministry worked. I have come to realize that I wanted to American-ize my service and if I couldn't, I didn't see how I could participate.

You guys. My heart, it has been so ugly and I haven't even realized it. It wasn't intentional but I see it now. I thought I was being generous as I would give - and in one capacity, I was (however, even relative to how we have been blessed, I have never really given sacrificially as I've given tangibly of our resources). I didn't see how I could expand my giving to be generous AS GOD CALLED ME TO GIVE MYSELF.

God has gently led me to a greater vision of giving. He used the beautiful, gentle package of friendship with Annette to literally come to me in a way that was kind and patient, full of love and overflowing with grace I certainly don't deserve. He invited me in. There was no guilt, no shame. No "I've been waiting and now it's time for you to get it in gear" pushing me out into His work. He beckoned me in so many small, quiet ways and it has been absolutely beautiful. As I took one step after another, as I gathered more information, prayed and sought what God's will for me and my family might be in this ministry, I was given peace to move forward and joy.

There has been a strange absence of fear in this process. If you know me at all, you know I struggle with fear. Fear of not taking my responsibilities as a parent or wife seriously. Fear of overextending myself. Fear of what I might open us all up to that could cause harm in a variety of ways. Fear of God calling me to more than I expected, more than I had planned to give.

I thought about the unknowns of this process - how much time would it take? how would I feel about caring for a complete stranger? how do I pray for someone who is a refugee-immigrant? how do I love them in ways that they need me to, and not hurt them because my instincts in this context are all wrong?  how do I get past a language barrier and communicate love? how do I manage my young children as I engage frequently with this ministry? how do I preserve our carefully-balanced schedule and still make room and time to include these families, this ministry?

The more questions I asked the Lord, the more peace He gave. The more I sensed Him saying, "just follow me here. I will help work all of this out as we go. And I might break some of it completely apart and rebuild it." It is a testament to God in me, that I have had any courage or ability to take a single step forward in this entire process, in the face of all those unanswered questions. It's been one step of faith after another.

I told a friend yesterday that the way God has come to me and led me this month has felt oddly like being on auto-pilot. I know that there is a combination of freewill choice that we have as believers, and yet as we live each day, His divine plan for us unfolds. His purpose for our lives and detailed plan for our days that was set in place before He created the world. This month, I feel as though He is answering prayers I've prayed for a long time (God... use me, stretch me, change my heart, expand my ministry for Your glory and the expansion of your kingdom). And He is doing it IN SPITE of my weakness, maybe THROUGH my weakness. I feel as if the Holy Spirit is taking control of my heart, my mind, my body (kind of like Gideon) and moving me forward. And with zero resistance from me! I feel as though the Lord Himself is right in front of me, showing me where to go, and it's as if I don't have a choice but to follow Him. But not because I'm being forced; because I want to. Because I can't say no. Because I love Him and trust Him and believe Him to be True. Because this adventure He is allowing me to be a part of is so beautiful, exciting, and life-giving.

I followed Him into the apartment where the first family will soon live. I followed Him as He led Annette and I to begin scrubbing that home clean. I followed Him every day as I prayed in faith for this first family. I followed Him as I committed to attending training sessions this next week. I followed Him to the airport on this past Wednesday afternoon (with 3 other women and my 4 year old daughter in tow) and helped welcome the first refugee family 'home' - into our country. I am committed to following Him for the rest of this process. What do I have now, anyways, but to follow Him!?

I realize how lost I am without Him. Without following him daily. I am utterly lost. This life I live in Christ, this greater life I am finding, it feels like home. It is like all the Truth I have believed is coming true right before my eyes in totally tangible ways. It wasn't any less true before, but it is more true now to me than it has ever been, if that makes any sense. My life is suddenly totally dependent upon this Truth.

I am not at liberty to share many details at all about the ministry from here on out. The identity of this precious family that now lives 5 minutes away from my home is a matter of privacy. Their home, their living conditions, their faces, the story of their lives... it is all theirs to share. I wish I could share images of them with you - I wish I could share specific parts of this story as our lives now overlap and my love for them grows into something so fierce they may as well be blood relatives.

I know you would fall in love, as I have. I know your heart would be tendered towards this ministry. I know the Lord would show you the path you could walk to participate in greater ways than you have, than you think you can, right now. I know you would feel like the curtain has finally been pulled back and you can see God's glory in this process, that your eyes would feel like scales have fallen off and you can really truly see others for who they are, see your life for what it is, see your future differently than you ever have before. I know the dreams you have for your kids would change. I know your schedule would get all screwed up, that you'd have days where you didn't know exactly how everything would get done, or how your kids would be covered while you needed to be somewhere else, or how you'd have the energy to keep moving until the sun goes down. I know your heart would get all busted up with every step forward you took, and that it would be broken into a million little pieces just like He wants it to be, over things that break His heart too. And I know He would tenderly pick each piece up and put it back together in a new way that feels so much better, so much more like the heart you were always meant to have.

I know it would feel like coming home.

I think you might find that the things you struggled against, wrestled with, fought for years for... that it would all suddenly be simplified with this new lens you view everything with. I think the things we value might change. I think we might be given more freedom, hope and peace than we ever thought we could possibly hold in this jar of clay we call ourselves. That these cold stingy hearts we like to think are OK enough actually have more potential than we could dream, if we give them to God and trust what He will do with them as we really let Him hold us in his hands. That we might realize how much God can actually do when we come together in His name, to serve Him together. We might get a glimpse of what He hoped we would be when He said together we are the Body of Christ.

Dying to myself has never felt better. Being the bread that is broken so that someone else might feast is the best part of being a Christ-follower. This is what I'm learning: being broken might be painful but it's not something to run from. We all need to be broken. The life that comes in the brokenness, and the blessing that comes in being pieced back together... it is beyond what you could dream. It's a taste of heaven.


jen said...

This is so exciting -- ALL of it!!!

Anonymous said...

This is stretching my heart! Thanks for sharing :)

Sarah D.

Rachel Jones said...

Ahhhh this is awesome - praise God!! Would love to help in anyway with this ministry if i can. What a blessing to this family