Tuesday, December 17, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

Christmas lights covering broken shingles and graffiti, make our neighborhood sparkle with beauty when the sun goes down. A little light in the darkness can make anything gleam with hope. 

Jesus did come. He was born in a broken neighborhood, in the midst of political turmoil. He brought hope to a world in desperate need of it. 

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

We rejoice because now our brokenness can be filled with his life giving light. 

This Christmas, let your light shine in the darkness. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Every Good Gift

Tis' the season for gifts! We are all busy about our plans and schemes, working out the best gifts for those we love!

 I love Christmas. In fact it doesn't take much to put me in the Christmas spirit. A couple classic Christmas songs and some hot cocoa fill me right up with Christmas cheer.

But the truth is, Christmas is a complicated time, even for me. My parents are divorced. We live in a neighborhood filled with needs, and homes without Christmas trees. We struggle, trying to figure out the best way to communicate love through the gifts we give. 

We are often approached by generous people who want to lavish the kids in our neighborhood with expensive gifts. We really have to think through what these gifts would mean for our community. Will they communicate Christ's love from a stranger or would they breed jealousy, unrest, and division for the families we love. These are not easy waters to navigate.

As tough and as complicated as that may seem, I have found that recognizing the gifts we already have is a much harder task.

God has given his children so many good gifts. It takes time and intentional contemplation to realize them all. In this advent season, I find it appropriate to make space in my busy Christmas scheming and planning to do just that.

Thomas Merton, a mentor to many activists in the Catholic peace movement said, "The monk does not come to the monastery to 'get' something which the ordinary Christian cannot have. On the contrary, he comes there to realize and to appreciate all that any good Christian already has. He comes to live his Christian life, and thus to appreciate to the full his heritage as a son of God. He comes in order to see and understand that he already posses everything." 

What if Oscar, Tito, Gabriella, Sammy, Jasmine, and all the kids in the after school program could recognize all they have as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father? 

I barely even recognize this is my own life, how then can I communicate it to them. As I write this I feel ashamed and convicted. But Gods gifts to us include forgiveness and mercy. So I am humbled by his gracious love for me even in my forgetfulness. 

God made it clear to us in scripture that our desire to give good gifts is a part of us that bares his image. He is the master giver of good gifts!

"If you, then, being evil, are able to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who make requests to him?" Matthew 7:11

I admit I often forget to ask him for good things. And yet, he is so ready and eager to give them to me.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17

What if this Christmas we took time to give God the credit for all the good things in our life. I know when I give someone I love a really good gift, my favorite part is watching them open it! You know when they look at you and say "thank you" like they really mean it?

I think for many of us, we haven't even opened up the gifts God has set before us, much less recognized them and given him credit!

I have come to realize that even the work God has given me to do is a gift! He has made and equipped me for a certain task and purpose in his kingdom. And although yours might be different then mine, he has done the same for you.

"There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work." 1 Corinthians 12-4-6

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 4:10-11

"Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." Colossians 3:23-24

For some, Christmas may be a time that brings up old wounds and new frustrations with religion and the church. You may be guilted into warming a pew or attending a service out of respect for family or loved ones. 

I recently had a conversation with Laura, a high school graduate and now college student, from our neighborhood, about religion. She believes in God and Jesus, and is eager to learn all she can from scripture, but the church and religion bring up many undesirable connections for her. I could relate.  But I don't want her to miss out on all the gifts God has for her through his church. So I explained that people throughout history and even today use religion and the church for both evil and good. But don't throw it out! It is good to think critically about the way in which our faith is worked out in community, to evaluate our motives and religious practices, but to abandon it completely would be to leave a valuable gift from God unopened.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,  to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,  so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather,speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Ephesians 4:11-16

God has given us each other, to use our gifts in a community of faith, to be the church. 

This Christmas, may we see the many unopened gifts God has lavished upon us, perfect gifts that bring life, hope and true joy. May we give him the credit, so others begin to see what they might not recognize for themselves.

May we accept God's gift of his son, Jesus Christ, and look to him and say "thank you" like we mean it. 

       Ian's soccer team from last Christmas. 

                 Picture from last years Christmas Party.

You can make a year-end donation or donate to this years Christmas Party fund by clicking the Donate button below. 

Merry Christmas,

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Five for Five

Ian wrote our first blog entry (read it here) about our move to Atlanta on April 11th 2009. We will use this date, April 11th 2014 to mark our 5th Anniversary in this work. We have a goal and maybe you would like to help us meet it! You can set-up monthly support or make a one time gift of $60 ($5x12) to help us get there!

I will keep you updated on our numbers here: Refugee Beads currently has 11 out of the 500.

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” 
Mother Teresa

We hear questions about "sacrifice" on a regular basis. People want to know how painful it is to do what we do. They want to know about the dramatic "calling" that drove us from our comfortable lives into the turmoil of ministry.

As our neighbors join us in the work of nurturing community, welcome us into their homes, and weave their own lives, we're finding it more difficult to follow that narrative.

The artisans of Refugee Beads offer us their stories, share recipes, and open their homes to us. La La, a player who has been with our soccer team for two years, has now taken responsibility for leading his fellow players. Miguel, who attended the afterschool program as a student, is now leading the afterschool program together with us.

We spend one evening a week visiting with Nico in jail. Wearing his orange jumpsuit and sitting across the thick glass with a black handset, he does his best to orient us with his world. At the end of each visit, he asks us how he can pray for us. There are no prayers I value more than those Nico offers on our behalf from his jail cell.

We moved into this neighborhood and began this work in hope of giving and receiving with neighbors from around the world, and the realization of that dream means a deep kind of joy to us.

We prefer the term "escape" to "sacrifice." We slipped the hold of a life ill-fitted to our hearts and entered a richer landscape of love for our neighbor.

We were certainly called by Christ to live as good neighbors, feeding, helping with homework, and visiting in jail, but that calling continues throughout the work, as we are drawn deeper into the work of living God's love for this neighborhood.

You can escape too, and pursue the Kingdom's constant call with us. How would you begin loving your neighbors? Would you take our neighborhood into your heart as well, and join us in praying and giving so that our work here could deepen? 

We are currently looking to pay stipends to our post-high-school student leaders to acknowledge the value of the work they're doing here. This takes consistent support.  We also need a vehicle, as the Refugee Beads-mobile died on us recently, and fixing it seems to outweigh the value of the car by a wide margin.

Please keep Nico in your prayers, as he's been sitting in jail for over seven months, with no sign of progress toward a hearing. His heart, however, is showing signs of God’s transforming love. He has been reading the New Testament and drawing pictures of God rescuing him from the clutches of evil.

Thanks for reading. Please let us know if we can offer any more information about what we're doing here and how you can get involved.

Grace and peace,

Ruthie and Ian

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Letter to the Church

A few Sundays ago,  as I sang out loud with my brothers and sisters in Christ, I thought about our voices together and how powerful they can be.

As I drove home, I felt this heavy weight, a sinking feeling. I thought about the kids from our neighborhood who weren't there. I felt pressure and anxiety from all that needed to be done for Refugee Beads and the After school Program. There are so many kids, so many problems, so many needs. There seems to be endless amounts of work to be done.  

The teenagers we work with have loud voices in their lives trying to pull them the wrong direction.

Poverty tells them that they aren't worth anything. Their place in society tells them that they have no options. The educational system tells them that they aren't worth investing in. Guys tell the girls, if they can just look pretty and play the part there is hope for happiness. The cholos tell the guys if they sell drugs, and steal, then they can finally earn some respect and money, because they aren't going to get it any other way.

These kinds of voices only lead to dead ends and dark places. 

I do believe my God is powerful! He can use one small voice to impact the life of a teenager. BUT! I believe the Church, the body of Christ at work, each person singing their part, should be a chorus in the lives of these kids, showing them, telling them, that they are loved, that hey are worth dying for, that they are welcomed in God's family and that they have purpose. 

I have discovered after a long hard season of this work that I have been shouting and screaming out of desperation for these kids I love so dearly, trying to be the voice of a crowd instead of just my own. I want them to know how much God loves them. I want them to know there is a different way! But if you have ever tried shouting anything at a teenager before, you know that doesn't work, and your energy doesn't last very long!

To be honest, I have made myself sick trying. I look around and listen and I don't hear many positive voices other then my own and sometimes none at all. So I feel responsible, and carry a burden that should not be only mine to carry. 

 I am learning that God does not expect my voice to make up for the lack of other voices. I am just asked to sing my part, and Ian his, and you yours. 

God desires for our work to be filled with joy not with worry or guilt. So I have to trust Him, trust that he sees all the needs, and all the problems, and that he cares. I must have faith that God is working through his Church to make broken people and places new again.

We just came back from an amazing trip to New Orleans with four student leaders from our neighborhood. They got to hear the voices of God's people sharing about the work they do in neighborhoods like ours around the country. We were all inspired and encouraged by the gospel and how it is taking root and changing lives because of their willingness to share their hope, time and resources with those in need. 

While I have been sick these past couple weeks, Miguel and Guzman (two of the teenagers we brought to New Orleans, 18 and 19 years old) have been running the After School Program. They have encouraged me to trust God more. I see their care for this neighborhood and the kids grow. Mrs. Pam, who has been faithfully teaching Bible stories to the kids for 4 years now, is coming today to tell and show God's love to 30 children who will enter our 2 bedroom apartment. My heart is warmed when I open the door and see her face and my my burden feels lighter. 

This morning I read some verses from Colossians 1 and was reminded of some very important and solid truths by the apostle Paul in his letter to the church.

Our message of hope in Christ is as true today as it has always been. And as that hope grows in us it will also grow stronger and bear fruit around us! 

So today, like Paul, I pray for you, for me and for the Church that God would give us wise minds and a spirit attuned to God's will, so that we can understand how God works, can live well, make God proud, and work hard for him. 

I pray that we have the strength to stick it out! Not the kind of strength that comes from our own ability to grind our teeth and get it done but by a strength only God can give, the kind of strength that endures and spills over into joy and thankfulness. 

God has rescued us from dead ends and dark places. He can do the same for the kids and families in our neighborhood. Through his son Jesus, he has brought us up out of the pit that we were in because of our sin, that we were doomed to keep repeating. And he can do the same for those we love so much. 

We can look at Jesus and see God's original purpose in everything created. Absolutely everything  was started in him and finds purpose in him. We can now see God's purpose for Guzman, Miguel and many others beginning to shine. 

It might be a mystery to us, but God holds it all together. 

We can find rest in him.  

It's in Jesus we find peace even in the mist of chaos. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Take This Cup

Hope is found somewhere in the middle of despair. We are now approaching 5 years of life with our neighbors in Huntington Creek apartments.

We have seen an empty pantry and empty fridge and felt love demonstrated to us in a grocery gift card, or the offer of a meal in the home of a friend.

We know what it feels like to be broke. We feel the weight of the world on our shoulders. And to then be offered the cup, the symbol of Christ's blood shed for us, in communion with our brothers and sisters, who help us bear that weight.

We have felt the sting of sin in our own hearts. We see it working itself out in violence, greed and hopelessness in our neighborhood. When forgiveness is given and received in the mist of this mess, it is tangible. Grace becomes a reality.

Ian and I hope to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this neighborhood. He asks us to do the things that bring out our weaknesses, so that he can be our strength. The work is impossible to do alone, so as we work we experience the joy of community.

He strips us of the things we think we need so that he can satisfy our soul.

He does this through his people. Through you. Over and over again our family, friends,  and church have extended love to us. You are all connected to the cup of lemonade we place in the hands of Dulce, Diego, and Sammy at after school program.

You are connected to the rides and encouraging words we speak to Juan, Georgie, and Alan on the soccer team.

You are connected to a Friday filled with dignity at Refugee Beads class where women receive work and can contribute to their families needs through the work of their own hands.

When we feel we have nothing left to give, God gives us the very resource that is needed for someone's specific need. Thank you for being so generous with us, so we may be generous with those in need in our neighborhood.

We can testify that it is a satisfying way to live. It will be risky, hard, and maybe even dangerous, but God is faithful! Pray that we stay faithful.

We pray that God fills your cup and that you know where to pour it out again.

"And Jesus said, "I earnestly desire to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

Luke 22:14-20

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Up, Up, With Education!

Human beings create laws at a certain time in history with a particular understanding of the world. As time passes we must re-evaluate our laws for OUR time with a new understanding. Laws are for the good of all people. So we must listen to the voices of the oppressed and they must motivate us to justice.

People should never be called illegal. Only our actions can be illegal according to the law. And sometimes laws are unjust.

Take for example Rosa Parks. She stood up against the law to say with her actions; No! I will no longer abide by an unjust law. I am valuable. I am worth seeing. You must recognize that I am present in your society. There is a better way. The law must change!

In our after-school program we see the effect education or lack of education has in our community.

Our children attend schools that are barely able to pass kids through the system. I would say 1 out of every 5 kids in our program have failed a grade level. Teenagers going into High-school are not confident enough to read out loud. Their schools are over crowded and underfunded. Many even have to stand up during their bus ride to school because there are not enough seats. Their journey of education begins at a disadvantage. In their homes, they may be the only fluent English speaker, navigating homework, projects and forms all alone.

This is where we hope to be a presence in the neighborhood that can help.

Many of their parents left Mexico for fear of their life. There was no food and no real way to live if they stayed and there was no legal way to come. So it was a choice between death or breaking the law. So they came illegally.

In the present system, many kids who where not born here and are undocumented see no future in education. So they simply give up. They drop out. They ask, "Why push myself in school if my only options are to be a construction worker, cleaner, landscaper, drug dealer or thief?"

As many of you know we visit Nico in jail every week. He just turned 17. He dropped out of school, got mixed up in the wrong crowd and now he is in the Dekalb County Jail.

Nico spent many days helping me sweep floors for the after school program. He enjoyed playing soccer on Ian's team. But all his life he has been labeled an "illegal". He has not been afforded the luxury of having dreams for a brighter future. He feels stuck.

Some kids, despite these odds, try hard anyway. Maybe they have a mom or dad who push them to be the best they can be. Maybe a teacher, mentor or church community encourages them in the right direction.

When society calls them "illegal" we hope to be that consistent voice calling them "valuable". We must show them that they have gifts and talents the world needs!

These kids make it through high school, often with honors. Yet they find themselves in the same situation. They aren't allowed to go to college. If they are accepted they are forced to pay out of state tuition, and are ineligible for financial aid. Basically, at this point, going farther is impossible.

So what can we do? We can stand up and speak out against unjust laws.

Our friend Tim Isaacson, who started Immigrant Hope ATL, invited us to a Rally at the Georgia State Capitol for the right to in-state tuition for those kids who graduate from high school in Georgia. It was inspiring to see the courage of these young men and women chanting "undocumented... unafraid!", and "no papers...no fear...students are marching here." and "Up up with education, down down with deportation!"

Through our leadership program at the the after-school program, we are able to offer the older kids a way to give back and invest in their community in a positive way, giving them a sense of purpose.

We can create jobs that give dignity and provide resources to help them do well in school. This week I was able to give the job of making beads out of recycled magazine paper to Evangelina. We will use them to make beautiful jewelry for Refugee Beads. She is 15 and going into her freshman year at Cross Keys High School. She hopes to get a school uniform and school supplies with what she earns.

Miguel, a high school graduate that took honors courses but is stuck in limbo as he waits for the opportunity to go the college helps run the after school program three days a week. He is trying to earn a car and an education.

We would love to give more kids opportunities like this, giving them tasks and valid roles to earn their own way!

It takes all kinds of people in all walks of life, working together, to make a difference our world. We live here in the neighborhood and can help in a unique way. You are also are in a unique position, where God has you to love people. We need good teachers. We need good lawyers. We need the church! We need those who have resources to give. We need the housebound to pray!

Elie Wiesel, a novelist, holocaust survivor and political activist said,

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference"