The View from the Front

This article yesterday in the Seattle times tells about the struggle refugees are having making ends meet in the recession economy and how the budget cuts are impacting them here in Washington State.  I took some time to read the comments that followed the article, and was made aware of how great some of the hostility is that people hold towards not just illegal immigrants, but also towards those our government has invited to be here.  While I understand their financial frustration, and fear that their piece of an ever-shrinking pie will somehow disappear, I am also aware that my friends who are refugees have faced things beyond my comprehension.  The link here is to an article from the Bangkok Post, written by a friend of a friend, highlighting the situation these folks needed a refuge from.

Wandering between worlds….(poem)

(working in a job that helps connect people with semi-affordable dental care…..)

Each day is a study in contrasts….
The poor coming seeking treatment,
The rich come seeking a deal.
Under the different designer labels
(Or lack thereof)
The human thing still goes on….
Each person in need of love,
Of being seen and listened to.
Each person wanting to not be turned away.
A study in contrasts-
Money not making you a better person-
Just giving you better choices.
Those who offensively demand their own way
Thrown in with those who just hope someone will make a way….
Each of them, in Mother Teresa’s word “Jesus in disguise”
Can I see Him in them? Can they see Him in me?
God, give me your eyes, and your kindness
To meet the day, and be a bearer of light….

Good Life in the Midst of Bad Circumstances

At first glance it might seem a little incongruous to have a “Good Life Club” in the middle of a war zone, but the name comes from John 10:10 where Jesus promises abundant life. This project, started by our friend, Karen, gives those of us living in safety and prosperity something practical we can do to contribute to the lives of internally displaced mothers and children on the run from the Burma Army. For details of how you can help, click here

For more pictures of the Good Life Club in action….click here.  (This is  a project of Partners Relief & Development and their friends at Free Burma Rangers).  The Good Life Club packs are carried in by the relief teams going into Burma and delivered to the moms and kids who need them.

Uncle Ralph….and the politics of nothing new

Amazing what you can find out about your family (and politics) when you start sorting and shredding the collected documents of the last 50 years….

When I was a kid, I knew Uncle Ralph had died in a logging accident. When I was a teenager, I found out he had had the audacity to run for governor. I also knew this was not looked at as a good thing in the 1950’s-people from our side of the tracks weren’t supposed to dream that big or do anything that noticeable. I was very surprised when my brother told me Uncle Ralph had actually gotten 3000 votes. (Judging by the level of family embarassment, I had expected it to be 3 or 30 votes-not 3000). But it wasn’t until today (stumbling across a couple of articles from the Seattle Times) that I found out why he ran, what he was about, and why there really is, like Ecclesiastes says “nothing new under the sun.”

Uncle Ralph had concluded elections were mainly popularity contests and that the party who wants to get elected makes extragant promises to get elected, then when they’re in office, finds they can’t deliver what they promised without raising taxes, even if they meant to. Then, according to him, the party who’s not currently in power does the same thing and this goes on, and on and on and now it’s 60 years later and it still goes on……

My uncle had some unique ideas….having been really really poor, he was sympathetic to poor people. He thought there should be surplus stores (food banks?) where poor people who needed food could get food and pay whatever they could afford (even if that was nothing) and that they should also be able to get help heating their homes. He thought some of the things being wasted should be turned into other things (recycled?) so people who needed them could use them ….. he thought there should be a limit on campaign expenditures ($1000 tops) so rich guys couldn’t just buy the office.

Uncle Ralph paid his whole life savings ($200) to file as a candidate because he thought doing something was better than just complaining about what wasn’t being done….

Not sure what Uncle Ralph would say about today’s political insanity-my guess is he would probably say taking care of the poor is important and remind me of the words in James 1:27 “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” God, please help us be the change we want to see!

Poverty’s Stereotypes

The healthcare debate opens up all kinds of cans of worms.  It challenges our politics, our pocketbooks, our stereotypes of those people on public assistance or those who are “choosing to go naked” (not buying health insurance, which of course they could afford).  It challenges our view of poverty American style.

Poverty comes with many names and faces.  I have the privilege of seeing some of them each day at work, as people seek “affordable” dental care.  As I screen calls and try to steer people towards the most effective solution to their need, I hear all kinds of stories, and get all kinds of responses.  Some people thank me for the information or the connection, and others occasionally cuss me out for not having an easier path to point them towards.  Sometimes in mutual frustration, I acknowledge that the system is imperfect and broken, and if they want to fix it, suggest talking to their Congressperson.

This opinion piece from the New York Times talks about the power and limitations of community during personal or national economic downturns…all too true!  And we are all elgible.  It’s not just those other people who can get in a bad spot.  Many of us may not be that many steps from the wrong dominos lining up and flattening us.

Welcoming Strangers

…A newly arrived local refugee’s 16 year old  friend used her less than perfect English skills and took him to school herself  and registered him after he had waited a month for the caseworker to do it…. there are many of these stories across the country. 
Resettlement agencies have a government contract to do a checklist of things for a limited time (90 days) for the people they resettle.  That’s their job.  They get a contract (and money) to do these things.  Some of those things include:
  1. Meet people at the airport
  2. Finding appropriate housing
  3. Provide furniture
  4. Sign up for Medicaid  & food stamps 
  5. Refer to ESL classes
  6. Obtain Social Security cards
  7. Registering kids for school
  8. Health screenings
  9. Employment referral

 If, due to caseworker overload, complexity of some cases, how long even making a medical appointment at a public clinic can take, or some other reason, it doesn’t get done, people suffer.  I see two approaches to take to this problem-for someone to hold agencies accountable to do what they contract to do, or, maybe, for the rest of us to accept the fact that it doesn’t ALWAYS get done, won’t get done if something doesn’t change and move on to How Can It Get Done and What Can We Do To Help?!  

Churches are the great untapped resource here.  We are called and commanded to love people.  This doesn’t require a great mind or a theological education.  It requires investing some time, patience, energy and creativity.  (Sometimes it’s easier to just give money).  But it’s a long-term investment that pays off no matter what the economy does or doesn’t do:) .

I found an article in the Covenant Companion this morning on creative ways for churches to welcome newcomers to their lives, their churches, and their communities (see the link). Some of her great ideas included: 

  1. Visit a refugee church (you may not understand the language, but you may recognize some of the melodies and sing along)
  2. Ask them how you can help.  Listen for answers
  3. Read to young kids in a refugee family as English practice
  4. Invite their congregation to join you for a potluck meals together
  5. Invite kids to your youth group
  6. Invite women to your women’s group
  7. Pair families by ages of children and make friends in spite of language barriers (kids will figure it out first!)
  8. Take an ESL tutoring class and tutor a family or help with homework
  9. Practice English speaking with people who don’t speak English
  10. Volunteer to take people to doctors and dentists and agency appointments (make the appointments, help with transportation-someone else may have to interpret)
  11. Help fill out forms for jobs
  12. Invite them to your holiday gatherings, go to theirs
  13. Teach computer skills (donate your used computers)
  14. Help people learn to drive and pass the driving test
  15. Help them understand budgeting in the US
  16. Host a refugee congregation in your building (thanks to Kent Covenant Church for renting space to the Karen Community and several other refugee communities!)

In summary: treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were the newcomer.

Jesus said….”I was a stranger and you took Me in….” (Mt. 25)