Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Miguel's Story (By Popular Demand)

Editor's note: We have heard the public outcry and decided to publish Miguel's original story. We wish to note that the views reflected herein are not neccessarily the views of Refugee Arts or its affiliates.

The Apple and the Pear

by Miguel

There was an apple named Ian, and this apple was always picking on a pear named Ruthy.

"You are long and wierd shaped hahaha."

"Stop making fun of me," said Ruthy.

"No, I won't, you freak," said Ian

The next day a big storm came with winds going at 200 mph, and the fruits started running like crazy. OH NO HIDE OR IT'S THE END!

But Ian was going for a hat trick and locked the tree house doors.

All the fruits banged and banged to no prevail. The wind came took all the fruits away. When he opened the door they were all gone.

"Like OMG this is so cool," said pear (Ruthy) and the rest they were being made into food while the apple Ian stayed alone and rotted without being eaten.

Oh yeah Ian had a twin bro named Ian and got married with Ruthy and started a bully awareness club. The end.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Afterschool Program

When we began our afterschool program, attendance hovered around 8 kids per day. This semester, we have been hosting between 25 and 30 kids each day. Each one has been a gift to our home.

Below are a few photos from today's program. Brian and his pre-K posse usually get out the blocks and claim a corner of our hallway:

The kids get a snack and drink to get them through homework time:
Those who have a pretty good idea of how to do their homework tend to start first and work the most quickly:
We encourage the young scholars to help each other (without giving away the answers). Today, Miguel felt more intelligent because of his new glasses, and tried to assist with homework despite the fact that he was younger than Eric:
If help is still needed, we and our team of volunteers look at the homework and offer our counsel:
When the homework is done, kids are free to read, color, draw or write. We gratefully accept any artwork the kids hand us, comment on it, and hang it on the wall:

Today, one of our student leaders wrote and delivered an original story for the "lesson time." It was a hilarious tale of an apple named "Ian" and a pear named "Ruthy" who fell in love during a storm. In the end, they started a bullying awareness club to teach others how bullying was bad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Kids Are Back!

There are few things I enjoy more than running the afterschool program. Yesterday, we re-opened our doors after the holidays and an ice storm. 28 kids showed up! We helped with homework, played games, ate spaghetti, and then cleaned up.

While the whole thing is challenging and rewarding, the highlight is at the end, where our leaders stay after the other kids leave and help us get the apartment back in order. Everyone grabs a cleaning implement (broom, sponge, vaccuum, spray bottle, rag) and gets to work.

Usually, we get about halfway through the cleanup before those with shorter attention spans start sparring, joking, and telling stories. The rest of us push through, and we usually take ten to fifteen minutes after cleanup to hang with the leaders. Sometimes we play games, and other times we talk about whatever comes up.

Yesterday, we addressed sports, the DREAM Act, and linear equations.

Every time the kids come back after some time away, it feels like our home takes on new meaning and our lives take on new and rich stories which are way bigger than we are.

Here's a picture from yesterday's clean-up time. I had to lean in at the last minute to make it into the frame:

Monday, January 17, 2011

Price Check (Hooking pt 3)

Years have passed since we moved here. The work we have done in this neighborhood has all but wiped out unkind sentiments. Now my neighbors tend to look at me with a confused sense of gratitude.

That is why the look from the drunk man catches me off guard. I can't describe it as hostile, but there's something unkind about it that I don't understand until he speaks.

Our apartment stands at the corner of the parking lot by the office. Karina and Vanessa's sits kitty-corner to ours.

Ruthie and I knock on their door on Sunday mornings to pick up Karina for church. But it is Saturday night, and we are speaking at another church tomorrow, so we are knocking to tell Karina that Jarrett will pick her up instead.

The man, stout, Latino, mustached, and obviously a bit drunk, sways slightly on the sidewalk as we pass him. We mount the steps to the kids' apartment, and he and his friend follow at a distance. We knock on the door and he hovers about ten feet from us in the hallway.

Vanessa answers. We tell her about the ride situation and she talks with us, but glances over our shoulders at him.

He gives me a wierd feeling. I look at him, making eye contact, not macho or aggressive so much as curious what he's doing. He chins the air in my direction. I turn and say goodbye to Vanessa abruptly, and she gets the cue, and says, OK, and closes the door.

-Hey, he says to me.

I turn to face him and respond, Yeah?

-How much?

Later, after it all plays out, it will seem strange to me how it takes a moment to interpret the question. But Ruthie has never been mistaken for a prostitute before, nor I a pimp. And beyond that, we have a great deal of love for these neighbors, which makes my mind spin a bit to find a better understanding than the obvious one, which is that this guy wants to pay me to have sex with my wife.

-No way, I tell him, She's my wife, I tell him.

I run a check to see if we did anything wrong aside from being here when we don't really naturally belong. Ruthie wears slacks and a modest, long-sleeved t-shirt. I wear jeans and a button-down cowboy shirt.Avoid the appearance of evil, the Bible says, but sometimes good things are so strange that evil gets assumed.

Several understandings roll through my head at once. The first is that I am not angry. Then, in the dream-time that thoughts travel, in the moment of contact between my eyes and his, I feel that a good thing has occurred, that a mystery has been offered between us and this man. That the strangeness of our presence here tells a story.

Here's a truth about our neighborhood that dawns on me as I turn from him and follow Ruthie out to our car: That we are in America, but that when a white person enters this neighborhood, it is usually to exploit or arrest or pimp out low-class hookers to these people.

But here is the final fact, and the reason I feel glad as Ruthie and I laugh together at what has just taken place: We are changing a dynamic. We are breaking an evil norm. The fact of the norm is dark, tragic, and unsettling. It is a division defined by fear and greed. But we are defying it in the name and Love of Jesus.

So the pimps will continue to move through the neighborhood. The police will have their roadblocks and arrest those who would risk all to feed and offer a hopeful future to their families. Churches and politicians with their pamphlets will canvas the neighborhood then leave.

Our own love is shallow. Our sacrifice is small. But God has taken our decision to live in his love seriously, and he uses it to speak to our neighborhood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Big Announcement

We are excited to announce a new partnership!

Focused Community Strategies, or FCS, is a collective of visionaries and social entrepreneurs dedicated to bringing God's shalom to bear in Atlanta. As of January 1, 2011, Refugee Beads is a member of this groundbreaking collective. Check out their website to see a snapshot of Refugee Beads and learn a little bit about our new team!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Cross Promotion

I read over 100 books last year, and I enjoyed most of them immensely. However, I wished I had done a better job of writing a few thoughtful notes after each one. That way, I could track and remember my reading a little better.

That said, it's a new year, and I'm going to do a better job of responding to stuff I read. If you have any interest in reading my reviews or just seeing what I'm reading, check out my other, less popular blog, BoMuMo.

I've already posted reviews of the first three books of 2011. They are Ravelstein by Saul Bellow, Rivers and Tides by Michael Chabon, and Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence.

And, to spice up the post a little bit, here is an action shot of me reading. My friend Jarrett Heatherly took it at Borders the other day:

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Set-up (Hooking pt 2)

Your average Latino day laborer lives packed into a small apartment with several others like him. Early in the morning, he walks to the gas station on Buford Highway or Chamblee-Tucker Road and waits. The white men come by in pickup trucks, and he clamors with the others to be picked for work that day.

His family lives back in Mexico or Honduras or El Salvador, or maybe even Texas, where they settled before the work dried up. He's a hard worker when the work is available, which seems to happen less and less these days.

At some point, noon approaching, if he has not been picked, he heads home to spend the day alone or with his roommates.

He keeps his cash in a freezer or mattress or a hole in the wall, since the banks will not work with him.

He hears a knock on the door, and he opens it. A young woman or man smiles at him and offers to sell him jewelry or flowers or chocolates for his girlfriend or wife.

Our laborer, lonely, bored, and unemployed, tells the vendor that he has no girlfriend or wife, which is true in the moment, if not in a larger sense. This is the answer the vendor is looking for.

"We have something to take care of that," says the vendor, changing tone, confiding, offering a helping hand, suddenly playing the pimp or prostitute. And, for a small amount of his buried cash, our laborer can buy a little company to pass the time.

The women the laborer can afford are generally washed-up, often eastern European, missing teeth, dressed in secondhand clothes. They come into the neighborhood when ordered, and do their work day and night, according to the demand.

This is the set-up, anyway. The real story, the arc, the shame, the outside lives, remain obscure for those not in the trade. Ruthie and I are not in the trade, so we only know what we are told, and we have no strong feelings about it until our neighbor, lonely and a bit drunk, misunderstands our purpose in the neighborhood and invites us in.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Newsletter

Below is a copy of our Christmas Newsletter, in case anyone isn't on our mailing list:

Two months ago, we stood outside of our apartment looking at the broken glass on our porch, wondering if we should move. We hadn't been living in the apartment due to mold problems, and word had spread through the neighborhood, resulting in a break-in.

We were at the apartment to assess the damage, and as we stood outside waiting for management to change the locks, a group of kids from the afterschool program gathered to encourage us and see if they could help.

"I'ma figure out who did it," Junior told us.

"Should we try to raise money to fix it?" Betzabe asked.

"I can't believe they did this to you," Vanessa said.

As the kids reacted to the event, and as we discussed our next steps, we realized that living in this neighborhood sends a message. No one could blame us for moving out, with mold problems, safety concerns, and now a break-in that resulted in the loss of over $5,000 worth of personal property.

However, in the weeks after the break-in, we made the decision that sharing the hardships of the people we work with is central to following Jesus' example.

Now, a few weeks before Christmas, we are back in the neighborhood, and the Church has rallied around us, contributing financially, working alongside us, and praying for us.

We are busier than we have ever been. We have been able to run two yard sales where we got much-needed clothes and goods into the neighborhood, we enjoyed a huge Christmas party where over 40 kids received gifts, and we have the privilege of feeding, teaching, and mentoring over 30 kids several days a week.

In the middle of all the demands of the holiday, it is important to remember that Christmas is about a God who "became flesh and dwelt among us." We have had opportunities to discuss, reflect on, and live out this truth during this season. In all its pain and glory, this truth is changing our lives and the lives we connect with.

We at Refugee Arts are so thankful that we have been put in a place where we can follow Jesus' example of moving into the neighborhood and living out God's love. To all our financial supporters, volunteers, and prayer warriors, we extend our heartfelt thanks. You have helped to make Christmas come alive in this neighborhood.