Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Great Hidden Light

Let me warn you that I will be writing about some difficult things in this post. My intent is not to darken anyone's mood, but I think there are some things we must look at and feel if our statements of hope and joy and faith and love are to hold any weight in a broken world.

I feel that God's call to me lately has been to behold a suffering world, and to expand my capacity for compassion.

There are the immediate pains in my neighborhood. A middle schooler we work with cares so gently for his younger siblings, two of whom are mentally disabled. The weight of responsibility on his shoulders keeps him from really being a kid. As a result, he is violently tempermental, resistant to any kind of correction, and subject to dark moods. He wants to be loved, but he can't open himself up to it. As a result, we see him regularly and share in his suffering, but our efforts at reaching into his life are resisted.

Few of the kids in the neighborhood have stable families. We hear stories of imprisoned or deported parents, divorces, affairs, estranged siblings, and all forms of abuse.

My friend and hero Ernesto, who helped guide my early explorations in film and literature, moved from his home in Michigan to work for the Church in India. He and his wife recently lost a child that was about to be born. His wife teetered on the edge of death herself due to related complications, and as soon as she was on the mend, the Indian government drove them out of the country, cutting them off from the work they had given the last few years of their lives to.

Haiti is in chaos, and my friend Ed, a Haitian immigrant is in Locust Grove, GA, trying to keep everyone in the loop, mourning friends and family, eagerly searching for opportunities to reach out to his homeland and to the wealthy suburban community around him.

Then there are the global things which I somehow feel very personally. The worldwide carnage perpetuated and incited by the companies that fuel my car. The tribal wars, the rapes, the massacres by tribesmen armed with American weapons. The people groups being squeezed out.

We're born into a collapsing world. We're born into nations ruled by corruption, hatred, and lust. This is a truth that comes at me hard these days, that knocks me off my comfortable cushion, that makes it difficult to talk, to listen, to write.

I felt as a younger person that I was called to be a prophet of pain. Maybe I was the voice to challenge the Church to stare suffering in the face, to understand the skin split and the blood shed, the stolen childhoods, the dark clouds of despair. I don't understand how Jesus' message means anything to us if we don't see the misery he came to address, the suffering he spoke into.

But I don't think that's the end of what I'm meant to say. Speaking to pain is only half the call.

I consider myself an optimist at heart. I'm not a "let's pretend the empty glass is half-full" type optimist, though. I believe that we must look the shadow in the face, that it must overwhelm us, that it must take us beyond what we can understand, and that under its cover we will dig for the truth of things, which I believe is held in the heart of God, which I believe is a great hidden light, which you can't see unless you recognize the shadow it penetrates.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

For Further Reading

Yesterday, I finished reading a deeply challenging book called Emma's War by Deborah Scroggins. I wrote about it and how it impacts the work of Refugee Arts on my media blog, BoMuMo.

A Dramatic Change

It's amazing what happens when the doors open and the kids return.

Over the Christmas break, during our two week hiatus, I found my thoughts and emotions turning dark, imploding. Old doubts about God and his love revisited me. I worried about money. I faced a mixup with my writing getting published, and I felt like the whole venture of writing and publishing short stories might be doomed.

Ruthie and I both felt sick and stressed out when the kids came back. But during that first week, as we interacted, encouraged, listened, and disciplined, I felt my heart softening. I was reminded (again- how many times must I forget?) that my concerns are minor, and that we are here to serve these kids.

On Saturday, we took Jennifer, Leslie, and Melvin out to McDonald's, then to a play at a church in Suwanee. Melvin called me a biscuit head. Leslie got a talking chipmunk toy. Jennifer rolled her eyes at her two younger siblings. We couldn't stop cracking jokes and laughing.

This Sunday, I was asked to say a few things about generosity in a local church. The questions were oriented toward sacrificial giving, which isn't really something I feel that I do. Sacrificial sounds so self-pitying. I'd say that the work here is often painful, but when I think about any other lifestyle we could have chosen, I'm so thankful.

Our sacrifices are pretty small compared to the blessing of working with these kids. And when it gets rough, we learn about Love as it works through us. I don't see how anyone would call what we do sacrificial- we feel richer here than we have at any other time in our lives.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tough News

Yesterday, several of the kids came back with bad news.

Tito and Diana recently lost an uncle who they were quite close with. They told us about eating lasagna with him a few days before it happened.

Another of the kids we work with had a family member attempt suicide. This person is in the hospital for the next few days. I'm going to follow up and see if I can offer any kind of support or help. Maybe something good will come of my own struggle with suicidal urges.

Pray for us as we try to connect with these kids amid the demands of running a busy afterschool program. We heard these bits of news while trying to keep 25 kids focused on their homework. We didn't get the time we wanted to talk with these hurting kids.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Break Over

Ruthie and I took time off from running the activities center over the holidays, but it was hardly a break.

When dealing with needs of the kids tapered off just a few days before Christmas, we turned our focus to managing time with family. My brother and his friend Ken came down to stay with us, and Ruthie's aunt and mom also crashed at our apartment for a few days. We had to make sure everyone could come and go when they needed to, plan meals, and arrange different celebrations for different people.

We had to deal with several crises, we shed several tears, and I pulled a few shifts at my day job, and by the time everyone left, Ruthie and I both got sick. We feel a little better today, which is good, because the kids are coming for the afterschool program.

Some good things happened as well. I learned that one of my short stories was picked for publication in a literary journal, and Ruthie was able to complete and ship off a large order for Refugee Beads.

As our work ramps up again, we're trying to manage the workload and get the rest we need, because we're feeling the fatigue, and we want to do our ministry work well.