Neighboring

"Ding-dong"

It's 8:50 am on Saturday morning. I murmur to Amber, "Not getting out of bed yet."

The doorbell had just rung and I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids looking for a ride or one of our other neighbors whose phone has been out of operation.

I was committed to sleeping in. And when I have my mind set on getting sleep, there is little to deter me from that mission...(Perhaps, I should "pray about that.")

About two hours later, I was sitting at my desk and Amber calls out, "Hey hun...There's food on our porch."

Nothing like free food to jolt me out of my chair and to the front door.

Sure enough. A large fresh baguette from "La Baguette" (imagine that) and a container full of freshly cooked and apparently deliciously prepared chicken wings. On the container, we read:

"Neighboring

Hao"

With his limited vocabulary, our kind and smiley neighbor, Hao, didn't realize how true the message of his broken english was. Neighboring.

By the way. The wings were absolutely delicious.

Question of the week

Can I really do life with the poor? I mean, really do life with the poor? Not just...hey, let's have our token poor friend over for dinner this month. But can we share our lives, our stories, our burdens, our resources, our precious time? Can we let them give to us? To give them the blessing of giving to us? Or, am I too hooked on life with people just like me? Yes, I can spend the occasional moment with a refugee family or an elderly social-security check holding neighbor. But to live incarnationally and sacrificially among the downtrodden, left over, marginalized people? ...

Theirs is the Kingdom


For our SOS Academy year, we will be studying several books on the topics of world missions, poverty, urban ministry, discipleship, etc. Today, I am posting a reflection paper from one of our first books, Theirs is the Kingdom by Robert Lupton of Atlanta.

“I want to stop reading this book!”

I scribbled those words in the margins after only thirty pages, my flesh bristling against the growing conviction that resulted from Lupton’s honest testimonials about 30 years of ministry in the neglected inner city of Atlanta. His short stories were serving as a mirror for my spirit, revealing the shallowness of mercy and love that I share with others. Reading his words, I heard the echo of some of Jesus’ most poignant words for any who would follow him: “No greater love has any man than this than to lay down his life for his friend.”

The brand of sacrificial love that Lupton describes in this book is painfully beautiful—painful in its sacrifice and discomfort, beautiful in its subversion to the world and submission to Christ. I deeply appreciate Lupton’s candor about the difficulty of such love, in particular among the poor. He doesn’t pull the wool over the readers’ eyes that true sacrificial love does not come natural to him or anyone.

Yes, Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light, but his call to discipleship is radical. While viewing Lupton’s portrait of what sacrificially loving the marginalized can look like, my heart grew sad and perplexed. Why had I not previously encountered a portrait of this breed of discipleship? If loving Jesus and consequently loving my neighbors can look like this, why haven’t I witnessed it more often? Where did we veer off track?

There were countless thoughts of revolutionary simplicity that gripped me in this book. Lupton’s tells us about an evicted family moving into an overcrowded and nearly unemployed family member’s home, after he rejected them, and he states, “It is a haunting reminder of the energy I spend avoiding the cost of loving others.” I then wonder: How often do I give faith a chance? How often do I seek comfort and familiarity over the love and surprise outpouring of blessing that could be born in an uncomfortable arrangement like he describes? I am such a comfort-seeker.

I have suffered an addiction to efficiency for quite some time, so Lupton’s chapter entitled “Kingdom Efficiency” immediately reeled me in. Before reading his story, I could almost imagine what would challenge the natural lean of my heart: relationships rather than efficiency and productivity. Lupton takes it one step further and says that the building blocks of the kingdom are “inconvenient, time-consuming, intrusive relationships.” Oh, boy. I want to want that, but it’s so unnatural.

The wealth of Lupton’s experience and wisdom will largely be lost on me until I come face to face with situations like those he describes and I am forced to depend on God for strength as Lupton did. But if I take one nugget with me and treasure it, it might be the imagery that Lupton paints early on in his chapter “Please Sit In My Chair.” In it, he states, “To invite Mrs. Smith into our home…there will be stubborn offensive odors in our living room.”

Will I humble myself and open up the intimate places of my life, both in our home and metaphorically, to the uncomfortable stench of hurting people? Will I follow Christ in loving the unlovable and laying down my life for the least of these?

The Parable of the Chick-fil-A Campers

For the kingdom of heaven is like Chick-fil-A which went out early in the morning at 6am to open its doors to men and women to camp in its parking lot. They agreed to pay the first 100 campers 52 value meal coupons for the day and assigned them camping spots in the parking lot.

About the third hour, they went out and saw others who had arrived to get free coupons. They told them, 'You also go and camp in my parking lot, and I will pay you.' So they set up their tents.

He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. Chick-fil-A asked them, 'Why have you come?'

" 'Because there are still spots remaining; one hundred people have not arrived yet,' they answered.
"They said to them, 'You also go and camp in my parking lot.'

"When the next morning came, the Chick-fil-A said to Mama Sue, 'Call the campers and pay them their wages'

"The campers who arrived about the eleventh hour came and each received 52 meal coupons. So when those came who arrived first at 6am, thinking they would have to compete for earliest arrival, they thought they should receive more. But each one of them also received a 52 meal coupons. When they received it, they began to grumble amongst themselves. 'These men endured this parking lot for fewer hours,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the heavy rain and long hours in this parking lot.'

"But Mama Sue said, 'Friends, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to camp to be one of the first 100 and so receive 52 meal coupons? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was arrived last the same as I gave you. Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Warning

This video contains some graphic images. While doing some research today on the history of Somalia, the current civil war and the refugee crisis, we came across this video. I am sure there are many others that share different stories, but this video gives us a window into the lives of those we are working with here in Memphis, who have also come from the refugee camps in Kenya.

Free Food for a Year (or more)

When you move South you learn all kinds of things. Like how to get free fried food.

Apparently, every time a new Chick-fil-a opens, they allow eager patrons to camp out for 24 hours on site for a chance to win 52 free value meals good at any Chic-fil-a location.

A few friends down here in Memphis have done this previously and there is a big momentum to take advantage of this opportunity once again. This Wednesday there is a new location opening up nearby and we have organized a large crew to camp out for 24 hours in order to obtain loads of free food, in addition to the three free meals they feed you while you are camping out.

I'm not one to normally jump at fast fried food, but hey, we're young and all of us Academy interns have bosses who are giving us poor interns the day off so that we can get a chance at $350 of free food. They lavish a minimum of 100 people with such rewards, so the odds are good.

Hope everyone on my Christmas list wanted Chic-fil-a vouchers!

The Stop Sign

While driving a new Iraqi family home from the clinic yesterday, I slowed the car at a stop sign near their apartment. As I brought the car to a stop, the father looked over at me, smiled and said in broken English, "In Baghdad, no stop. Too dangerous."

Stop signs. Always taken for granted. Now a reminder of chaos and tragedy in our world.

Four Visitors

I experienced something new on Saturday. To frame it in, this house is the first house Amber and I have lived in, the first time we've had a front porch, and basically the first time I have had "neighbors" having grown up in rural Sparta.

While sitting on the front porch, working on Amber's bike, four boys approached the house, looking for Coach. Coach is John Geiger, who lived here before us. He helped coach some football in the neighborhood. The boys quickly realized he doesn't live there anymore, but I invited them up on the porch.

These kids are between 9 and 13 years old and have grown up here in Binghampton. They weren't shy about making themselves at home on our porch, staking out on the porch swing. We tossed a football around and one of 'em worked on fixing the bike with me. After a bit, they expressed interest in going to the Library, so I drove them over and picked them up later in the afternoon.

The two older kids came by again yesterday, ringing the doorbell only minutes after we woke up from a Sunday afternoon snooze.

I'm not sure yet what influence God is calling us to have on these young neighborhood kids, but I see great things in them - future leaders in Memphis and in God's kingdom. After only two weeks, Amber and I are already learning many lessons about what a "neighbor" is.

Do you speak Somali?

On Friday, I had my first real taste of working with refugees.

Wow. This is going to be harder than I thought, but also more rewarding than I imagined.

Yesterday I was paired up with John Geiger and we spent the day solely with three Somali families who have been here in America for about three months now. They all came here direct from the Somali refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya, where they lived for an average of 15 years before being granted a release. You can read some updates about this camp here.

Somalia has been in civil war for 18 years and the Nairobi camp currently holds about 280,000 Somali refugees. We are learning bits and pieces from our friends here about their past. These families have lived through unimaginable circumstances.

Soon, I will take time to explain more of the refugee resettlement process, but for now, a window into yesterday...

John and I picked up a father and his 11 year old son to drive them to Christ Community Clinic. We weren't sure if they'd be ready to go, but we were greeted at the door by the father and son and they said "Sit. Sit. Sit." Very friendly people. The son has been having breathing and vision problems. John and I both sat in the doctor's office with them and we eventually had to dial a translator service to communicate more effectively. The son took four shots in his arms without a flinch.

Then we drove the son to Lester Middle School in Binghampton and spoke with the office about tracking down his immunization records. Our conversation with the teacher, from Berundi I believe, didn't bear much fruit and we walked away with only a copy of the record. We'll have to stop by the case worker's office to see if they have the family's records.

The clouds opened up at this point and we ran to our car in a torrential downpour to drive over with the father to Walgreen's to fill the son's prescription. After a long wait, we drove him back to his apartment.

John and I took a lunch break apart from the Somalis, who are in the middle of Ramadan and don't eat or drink anything during daylight hours.

We returned to the Hollywood Apartments to pick up a different Somali man at 1 o'clock, not really sure where we needed to take him, the words lost in translation on the phone. We arrived and found out he needed to go to the DMV to take the computer test for his driver's permit. We brought another Somali woman along - our Woman of Peace (Luke 10) for the Somali community at this point - who helped do some translating. So, we got to do some more waiting with them at the DMV. Unfortunately, he and another Somali man who met us there both failed their tests and will need to return this coming week to try again.

After dropping them off back home, we met up with our friends Catherine and Peter who were taking another Somali woman out to eat at a Ethiopian restaurant in the neighborhood. Eating?! We learned that she is a nursing mother and is exempt from Ramadan fasting. So, the five of us went to the Abyssinian and had an incredible meal together, communal Ethiopian style.

Our day wrapped up around 5pm. God granted us opportunities to serve these families in tangible ways and share simple words with them of love and thanks. As I look at these three families and the 13 children represented between them, I am filled with hope about the work that Christ will do in their lives over this coming year. We have much to pray for.

(I think I'm going to have to come up with a naming system for our refugees...these posts will get confusing)

New Running Trails and More

Over the weekend, Amber and I took advantage of some of our free time to explore new places around Memphis. One such place was Shelby Farms and it became quickly apparent that we will do some of our half marathon training there. They have lots of great trails, kayaking and fishing lakes, dog parks, athletic fields and more. It's just a 10 minute drive from our house (we can't do as much biking here as we'd like...or are brave enough to try yet rather).

From there we wandered around in our car and found the Agricenter where they were hosting "India Fest." Even though we had our running clothes on and every person exiting India Fest was dressed in saris and other colorful Indian garb, we decided to wander in check it out. It turned out to be a city wide gathering of Indians promoting Indian culture through food, arts and entertainment. We got a heaping plateful of tasty, authentic Indian cuisine for $2! Thank you very much, India.

As we moved on from there we bumped into a local Farmer's Market that was closing shop for the day, but we squeezed in for just a few minutes to pick up some fresh veggies, which were very cheap compared to other farmer's markets we've been to.

Oh, and we saw a herd of bison, too. Random.

Amber's 2nd Day on the Job

From Amber:


It's my second day of work and I almost started crying. My desk is in the front of the office, so I act as somewhat of a receptionist. A few days ago, BDC did a television promotion of it's job training program. The program hires around 4 folks to work in construction four days a week and on the fifth day the trainees do book work, financial training, and Bible study. The program lasts 6-9 months. Upon graduation the trainees are typically hired by a local construction company to continue their education and continue their income. In the past 2 days I have been working around 10 people have filled out applications that I added to the stack of 15. A few have even stopped by the office to check on the status of their application or bring pictures in of their work and construction experience. Did I mention the program only takes 4 people? Every 6-9 months..
And that is why I almost started crying as I handed out yet another application. People are desperate for work. I don't have the heart to tell these gentlemen that the odds are not in their favor to get accepted into the program. How do we get jobs for people? What's to keep them off the streets and away from drugs if there is no alternative for them? I hate sitting here feeling helpless and overwhelmed. I'm learning the lesson many have learned before me: I can give a man a fish and feed him for today, or teach a man how to fish and feed him for life.
Lord, would you provide jobs? Would you show us how we can help?