Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Leslie and Ofelia live in the apartment building beside ours, and they spend a great deal of time on their porch. Every time we come or go, they call to us with some new question or announcement.


David prayed to become a Christian on Saturday. When we asked him on Tuesday what that meant, he seemed to have trouble remembering. I spend focused time with David at least one day a week. Without our regular presence, his prayer might quickly be forgotten.


Eric and I sat on the porch with cups of ginger tea at about 9:00 PM, and Leslie called to us that she now had three rats.


"Yes. A-a man gave them to me."

We hopped over the railing and walked over to the patio to get a closer look. Sure enough, she had three rats in a small cage. While Leslie handled a brown one, Ofelia asked Eric in Spanish where his shoes were.


Axel wore gang colors to school the other day. Apparently, his brother has gotten in some trouble, and Axel might follow the same path. Every week, we put a guitar in Axel's hand and talk with him about his life, and what he can do with his talents.

On Saturday, he prayed with David to become a Christian. On Monday, he wouldn't really talk about it. It's going to take some long-term work to help Axel understand the current course of his life, and that he has other options.


Our presence in the middle of this community is a necessary component to what we do. We partner with, and are thankful for, so many local churches willing to engage these kids.

Our job is to honor their investment. We are in the work of nurturing long-term, life-changing growth in the hearts of these children.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How Adorable

While Lesly tried to hack my brother's computer, I kept coming up with absurd passwords to type. After several failures, I suggested "chickenfeet."

She replied, "Chickenfeet? I may be a girl, but I'm not an idiot."

Ruthie and I are preparing our first newsletter. If you'd like to get a copy via post or e-mail, let me know. You can send your address to northpapers at gmail dot com.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Weekend Update

Well, my dear readers, it was a mad blitz of a weekend.

On Friday night, I ran from work over to a missions conference at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. We met an artist who might help my friend Aziz develop a graphic novel about his life story. My younger brother, Eric, and I were so pumped when this picture was taken:

We got up early on Saturday morning to meet the team from First Baptist Atlanta, who threw a top-notch block party for the kids at our apartment complex. While I schooled Eric and dazzled everyone with my soccer skills, the FBA team prayed with ten of the kids to receive Christ:

As soon as that block party ended, I ran over to Huntington Terraces to work with Foothills Baptist Church. They drove a long way to work with us, and the event was a grand slam (now that I'm a missionary, I feel bound to pepper my presentations with bad jokes. Hence the pun).

By the time it was over, I was dehydrated, severely sunburned, and totally exhausted. We went home and watched Blood Diamond, which is an okay movie, but was very moving to me considering its connection to what we do here.

Ruthie and I spent the day Sunday at Mount Zion Baptist Church. They are the first church to invite us to speak and the first church to support our work financially. I gave a presentation in the evening and they were extremely encouraging to us. We're looking forward to a long-term partnership with them.

This morning (Monday), I woke up before Ruthie and watched a movie called The Scar which consisted mostly of men in suits holding business meetings in Polish. I should have watched the special features to get a handle on what it was about, but I was too bored to take the time.

I spent a little time with our iguana, Rocket, before Ruthie and I went to take a walk around Stone Mountain. Thank God we have one day a week to rest. I needed it badly.

Friday, April 24, 2009


It was one of those days, man.  You know the type.  You get up all groggy and you have to run to work then you work all day and right after, you have to run to a missions conference.  So you get into your least comfortable shoes, get in the car, get stuck in traffic, show up 30 minutes late, and find out you're one of the first to arrive.  

So then you go back out to get a bite to eat.  Then after eating you shake hands with a few other missionaries, and head up for the service, which turns out to be incredible.

At this point somewhere after the opening prayer, although the rest of the day was a rush and you are still strung out on worries, God calms you down and speaks to you. Clearly.

Well, you know how the rest of the story goes.  You go back to your booth with a renewed sense of purpose, make all these great connections, and go home and eat an apple and update your blog.  Then you end it because you're so exhausted and have two churches coming to minister in your neighborhood tomorrow.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Our camera cord is currently MIA, so we'll have to continue with the dry-as-a-bone textbook-style blog posts until we can re-introduce the multimedia element.

Right now, I have an enjoyable side job to help us eat while the ministry and support raising stuff gets in gear.  So as I prepared for this job, Ruthie headed out to an incredible day of hanging out with our fellow missionaries (trust me, it's way more fun than it sounds), eating frozen yogurt, and watercolor painting with the kids at our activities center.  

I arrived home from said job, frazzled and exhausted, to an apartment (slash activities center) full of kids. I had to kick a few of them out of my massage chair so I could properly recoup.  After a few minutes of joking around and watching them interact, I was cheered by their shenanigans and goings-on.  

We have such a great bunch at this complex.  I see the hellions that my partners have to deal with at other locations, and I thank God that he's made this part of our ministry so enjoyable.

After a hearty meal with Tim, Jesse, and Ashley Cummins, I spent a few hours on logistical, paperwork-type stuff.  My brother Eric and I retired to the patio to watch the lightning, and now here I am, back at my computer, trying to create some electricity of my own with this dynamic blog entry.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Evil White Men

Last night, we went out to dinner and then had tea at our apartment with some new friends, Torey and Tutti. The fellowship was stimulating, but the tea kept me awake until 8 AM this morning.

To pass the time, I read the bulk of Barbara Kingsolver's novel The Poisonwood Bible.  The book came highly recommended by my fellow mk and college friend Kacie Mann, whose media reviews, idea explorations, and regular blog posts are well worth checking out. 

The writing is pretty powerful, but Kingsolver really doesn't like white men.  All of her narrators are women, and they are nuanced and relatable, but the white men (except for one) who plague them are hideous grotesques of typical male behavior.  They are beyond the reach of hope.

It got me thinking about our work here with refugees.  On some level, most of the genocides in their countries (Bhutan being maybe the only exception) can be traced back to misguided activities of white men. So there's good reason to hate us as a general group.  However- praise be to God- they seem more than willing to engage and befriend us on an individual level.

"It's all about one on one relationships," my mentor, Tim Cummins, frequently reminds me.  In this intimate space, seismic social forces give way to real engagement and the new life of love. It's the incarnation of the command to love our neighbor as ourself.

Please pray for my friendships, that they may grow into living testaments of the resurrection of the Lord of Love.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

NAMB (forever and ever, amen)

One of my favorite projects is interviewing and writing about one of our fellow missionaries, Bayo Otiti. He was raised in a very powerful Nigerian family, became one of the most influential Muslims in Africa, and studied fashion in New York. He's done it all.

The story of how he got from there to where he is now, working as an evangelist in Clarkston, is so literary that it seems contrived. Hymns he learned as a child stirred feelings which he did not understand until the gospel took root in his life. Dreams and prophecies of an Imam foreshadowed his relationship with Christ. The conviction that led to his redemption came from one of his most destructive friendships.
In short, it's stuff that I as a writer would like to be able to invent, but probably couldn't. I am honored to be able to transcribe it.

The big news of the day was that the North American Mission Board approved us as part of their Missions Service Corps. Several of our friends and co-workers and even one family member gathered over Mexican food for lunch. We celebrated Ruthie and my appointment to what we will abbreviate NAMB on this blog forever and ever amen.

After eating, we all went to our apartment for coffee and to work on several logistical concerns (speaking of which, does anyone have a cutting-edge mac laptop they want to donate to Refugee Arts? It would solve a ton of problems for our multimedia and marketing department [Ian].)

The kids from the complex gathered at 4:30, and we are always glad to see (most of) them. I taught Axel a few chords on the guitar, then the children gathered and demanded a concert, which was me playing three chords over and over until they lost interest. Apparently, I need to learn some Jonas Brothers and Taylor Swift songs.

- Ian

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Morning Preview

I know. You're understandably angry about last week. Although I meant to blog on Saturday, the evening slipped away from me, and now you're doubting if I even love you. You can't believe I wouldn't even check in and let you know what I was up to.

How can I make it up to you?

With a week of dazzling multimedia posts including giant robot spiders, edge-of-your-seat suspense, and a new twist on the ministry stuff? Okay. I'll see what I can do. But it's only because I love you.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A New Perspective

Q: I'm in the middle of foreclosure. How can God let this happen to me?

A: Talk to foreigners who have witnessed their houses burned, their families murdered, and their own lives nearly wiped out as they fled across desert without food or water. They can put your foreclosure in perspective.

Q: My friends think being a Christian is boring, and I'm starting to think they're right. What do I do?

A: Listen to the stories of aliens whose faith sustained them through years in hostile countries, crowded into camps with barely enough food to keep them alive. Ask them to describe what exactly God does for his children. I doubt you'll find anything they say boring.

Q: My church feels like it hasn't been in touch with God for years. How can we find him again?
A: Look for him among the children of war. The aliens and the widows and the orphans. He repeatedly guarantees us in scripture that we will find him there.

One of the main visions of Refugee Arts is to empower a new group of missionaries. They are not the elite or well-educated members of our communities. They do not minister from a position of power or prestige. They are barely scraping by, and they are ready to introduce a new diversity and vitality to the American Church.

These missionaries are the refugees that flood into Atlanta by the thousands. Ruthie and I feel that they are God's gift to his Church in America, to turn our hearts to a story larger than our own. Our goal is to find platforms and occassions to allow them to teach us about a divine narrative that transcends the world we know.

Lord willing, the remaining years of our lives will be spent with refugees and the churches they have been gifted to reach. We are here to start ministry flowing in a new direction.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Stone Mountian

I took five of the women from Refugee Beads to the top of Stone Mountain today. Three had never been before. It was a crisp and sunny morning. It could not have been better. We were bonded on a whole new level!


Thursday, April 16, 2009


When one registers a blog and declares this registered blog a reliable place to find day-to-day updates, this person takes a chance. As remote as this may seem to our intrepid blogger, after a short time, the well often runs dry.

For example, this very site, started under a week ago, might eventually lose its potency. Its readers, after being inundated with pictures of adorable children and heartwarming intercultural moments and dramatic international episodes, may eventually decide that they just aren't feeling it anymore.

To those readers, who think they have seen it all, this blogger says, "Turn off your computer, get over here, and see for yourself." However, since we are only five days in, you probably still feel a warm flutter in your heart when you see pictures like the following, taken today:

I thought so.
- Ian

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sudanese Songs



Rania and Randa are both refugees from Sudan who attend my beading classes. Rania had a cassette tape of her church choir singing Sudanese praise songs. As we worked today, the songs rang out of our old boom box, and both of them sang along in Arabic. I was touched as I heard their high, earnest voices, blending and dancing together to the glory of God.


Alien Tongues

I wrote an article on an international Bible study shortly after moving down to Atlanta.  It was published over on The Brew, and I thought a link might be appropriate. So here you go: Alien Tongues

- Ian

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Ruthie and Ian's Garbage Pick-up Bonanza 2009

We run an afterschool program at Huntington Creek Apartments, and we've been talking up this trash pick-up party with our kids.  We hit attendance and energy records as we divided into teams, handed out gloves, and raced out to clean up the property.  To illustrate:

Kevin Minh, our property manager and a great partner in improving the community, joined us for a celebration afterward. We took a few shots in front of our collected trash. 

The other white people in this picture with me are Patty, an incredible and long-term friend of many of the kids, and my long-haired brother, Eric.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Aziz is a Liberian refugee. He spent six years in his home country before arriving at a refugee camp in Ghana. At the age of eleven, after five years in the camp, he came over to America. I know very little about what he saw while in Liberia and then in the camps, which are often nearly as bad as the places left behind.

His pictures tell me stories, though. In an abstract series of sketched and decorated hearts, he repeatedly inserts stitches and drops of blood falling like rain. The more hopeful ones contain leaves, placed symmetrically over the white paper.

Aziz attends Freedom Middle School. Bennett, who runs an activities center in Clarkston and who introduced me to Aziz, tells me that it is one of the most troubled schools in a county rife with troubled schools. I visited Aziz's house today to talk about getting him into a better school and possibly displaying his drawings in a gallery. It's difficult to see kids like him with stunning stories, packed into troubled public schools without space or time to discover their gifts.

My vision for working in the community is to help kids like this, who show aptitude in the arts, to get the boost they need to tell stories and earn a living. As we work together to develop and market their voice, they will see the redemptive love of God at work in their own stories. It's an urgent task, since you can lose their interest to sex or drugs or gangs or despair in a matter of weeks.


Sunday, April 12, 2009


Easter is far and away the most important religious holiday to me. It was, in my most difficult years, a time to mark survival, to renew hope, and to rebuild a shattered faith.

Today, Ruthie and I took my brother Eric and took a trip down to Locust Grove (about an hour out of Atlanta), to spend the day with Adam and Kristi Fites. Adam and I used to follow metalcore bands up in Chicago during our days at Moody, and now he's a lay leader in the Presbyterian church while he studies to become a minister.

He led music at the church we attended this morning. It was a simple setup: Adam played acoustic guitar and sang, the pastor of the church played drums, and a very clean-cut guy in a button down shirt and tie played bass. We sang several hymns that were full of rich lines.

And now I will say what I want to say, which is that it's good to go back to the old songs and rituals of our faith. Not that we shouldn't be moving ahead, and not that the old guys did things much better, but there's something very moving about connecting yourself with the flow of the church through ages that ended before you were born. It's one way to remember that, while you do indeed need a personal encounter with the divine to be united with Christ, you're also part of something far, far greater than your own little walk of faith.

After church, we went over to Adam's place and lazed around as they labored to prepare for an easter gathering. Eric and I competed to find the laziest possible position one could sit in. I'd say it was a tie.

The evening yielded rich conversations with friends, as we sat on the back porch and ate all sorts of unusual dishes for Easter. Our Haitian friend Ed made some Snapper and Tilapia with rice and beans. It was a hit.

We ended the evening listening to my new Beirut CD and milling around the living room.

- Ian

Saturday, April 11, 2009


We, Ruthie and Ian North, have been caught in a whirlwind of events since moving down to Georgia. Until now, there has been no place for our friends, family, followers, and foes to keep tabs on our day-to-day activities.

I say "until now" to foreshadow the change heralded by the advent of this very blog. From this post on, there will be a location (digitally speaking) where you can view pictures, videos, and text that detail our lives, from sweeping divine gestures to minute twitches of the eyebrows that define our reactions to said gestures.


Now, perhaps some explanation is in order. First, the name. Refugee Arts is a broad and effective description for the thrust of our lives lately. We attend church with, live next to, write about, relay stories of, sing with, teach jewelry making to, and proclaim the redemption of refugees in the metro Atlanta area.

We live in Doraville in an apartment complex called Huntington Creek. It is almost entirely occupied by Latinos. I use the word "almost" only because of our presence, which makes the place about 1% Gringo. Ruthie and I partner with Whirlwind Missions to provide an afterschool program for the most beautiful bunch of kids on the planet (forthcoming pictures will validate this claim).

Ruthie also runs Refugee Beads, where she works with refugees to craft and market handmade goods to support their families. Ian is a dazzling wordsmith(editor's note: admittedly, he is the author of this sentence, so readers should be advised to assume that he is exaggerating, but then to consider that maybe he actually is as good as he says, which they will finally accept as the absolute truth), and is working with refugees to tell their stories through visual art, writing, and music.

Enough, you say? Fine. For now, we will end this post, and leave you eager for more.

Peace in Christ,

Ian and Ruthie