Mogadishu On Fire

 

This is a song my sister wrote a while ago. It is incredibly relevant. “Dogfight” by Stephanie Tamasweet.

I had another post planned for this morning but how I can write or post about anything after what happened in Mogadishu this weekend?

276 dead. And rising.

300 wounded. At the very least. Severely wounded.

The worst terrorist bomb in Somalia’s history.

That’s saying something, in Somalia.

Turkey sent an airplane full of medical supplies and staff. Djibouti sent an airplane full of medical supplies and staff, including the Minister for Health. Somali rescue workers are doing an incredible job, they pulled a young man from the rubble, alive, after he was buried more than 40 hours. And yet. For a nation already ravaged by violence, this seems especially devastating. There had been so many signs of Somalia coming back to life. And now what?

To see some of the work being done in Mogadishu, check out these Instagram accounts:

vintage_somalia

aarmaanta

But it isn’t just Somalia. It is among the Rohinga. Where a young woman’s baby is ripped from her arms, tossed into a fire, and while her child burns, she is gang raped. It is Las Vegas. Where couples out for a night on the town are slaughtered from above. Where we are forced to reckon with what we have collectively done to our planet when water comes where it shouldn’t and fires rage without end.

Dear God have mercy. Mercy. Its all I can think. People want to go to school, buy spinach in the market, watch movies, eat watermelon, play football, have access to a hospital, stay in hotels, eat pizza, swim in the ocean. People want to fall in love and give birth and dance at graduation parties and pray in community. People want to go on long runs and gaze up at a starry sky and listen to their grandchildren giggle.

When did we start hating ourselves so much that we decided killing other people could cure our brokenness?

When did someone’s peaceful day become an opportunity for carnage? Someone’s shop/ice cream parlor/bookstore/concert hall/hotel/movie theater/elementary school/dance club a place for horror?

When did fearlessly wielding death become a facade of power and strength?

When did men become gods?

How long must the world remain on fire before the God of mercy hears?

When I first heard the song Dogfight, I sat down on the floor in my bedroom and wept. When I heard what happened in Mogadishu, I listened to it at least five times on repeat. I asked my sister for permission to share it and she bravely said yes.

That’s how we move forward. Bravely. Together. Sharing our gifts and our brokenness and refusing to let hatred have the final word.

Have a listen, if you didn’t already, or maybe again. Have a cry. Pray for mercy.

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13 Things I Want American Christians to Know about the Stuff You Give Poor Kids

This post was inspired by an article (link at the bottom) about Operation Christmas Child, by Samaritan’s Purse. I decided to expand it beyond OCC to a look at general gift donations. This is a ‘sorry, not sorry’ post. I mean, I know this is hard to hear. It is hard for me to write. I’m honestly kind of nervous to post it because I’m often afraid of American Christians. So, I’m sorry. Then again, I wrote it and I’m posting it, so I guess I’m not sorry.

When you give a gift to a child and his mother or father can’t afford to, you steal that parent’s dignity. What about, if you really must give a gift, provide a way for the actual parents to purchase that gift and give it themselves? You could subsidize local toys or candies. You could send money to another family (local or expat) in an area stricken by poverty so they could hire a poorer person and pay them well so that they could purchase gifts for their own children.

Stop making it about you. If your objection to the above suggestions is that this doesn’t expose the child receiving the gift to your generosity, you need to examine your heart. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (in 2017 we could say, don’t hashtag on Instagram what your right hand is doing). Why do you need to receive any acknowledgement, any glory, any honor? If it is truly about the poor, then make it truly about the poor and step aside. This could also be: stop making it about your kids…

There are other ways to teach your own children about generosity. I am tired of this excuse from American Christians when they are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that their charity might be damaging those they intend to serve. If you can’t think of any other way to teach your children to be generous, let me gently suggest a little creative thinking. How about being generous with a less well-off child in your child’s classroom? How about being generous with a newly arrived refugee family? And I don’t mean by simply giving them toys. I mean by inviting them into your home for dinner. Or driving them to the doctor’s office. How about being generous with siblings? How about being generous with wisdom and nuance? (Please go read Using Your Poor Kids to Teach My Rich Kids a Lesson)

Your gift might put undue future pressure on the family. One woman who received a box took the toothpaste out and didn’t want her son to have it. She said he would want it all the time, then, if he knew what it was and she couldn’t afford that. There are locally acceptable (and effective) methods for brushing teeth. How are poor families supposed to keep up this level of gifting year after year or for child after child?

Your box is not preaching the gospel message. If Jesus were Santa Claus, okay. But Jesus is not Santa Claus and his message is one of humility, poverty, sacrifice, and the cross. Not yo-yos and slinkies and candy. Do you really want the message to be: Have some M and M’s, have a pencil, have a t-shirt, have a side helping of religion? I know the argument that such and such a pastor used the boxes in this or that way. Yup, I’ve heard the stories and they are good stories, probably mostly true. But maybe the pastor could have used locally sourced toys that the parents were empowered to give with their own means.

Of course there are moving stories, I just don’t really believe them. I’m not saying the people telling the stories are lying. I’m just saying I’ve seen way too much context and have heard far too many stories shared without sufficient context, to take these stories at face value. I’ve heard stories spun and respun and re-respun, depending on who is listening and what the teller thinks they want to hear.

Kids love the gifts and ignore the message. As one person commented on my Facebook feed, kids suffer through the Jesus talk because they want the toys. What happens when someone else tries to tell them beautiful things about God, but has no toys to offer? To quote this person, “What we win them with is what we win them to.” If you want to project the idea that faith means getting toys, shoe boxes are a great way to do that. Making a kid happy is fine, just don’t pretend it is more than that. Otherwise, this is borderline scary manipulation.

Generosity is not about stuff. American Christians tend to act like what people need is more things. More toys, more shoes, more t-shirts. We limit our thinking about giving to a monetary thing, stemming from our consumer values and culture. But generosity needs to run so much deeper. Generosity is also about giving time, giving friendship, giving presence (not presents), giving dignity, giving emotional freedom, giving welcome, giving a lack of judgment, giving hope, giving trust, giving an experience, giving space.

People who aren’t in positions of power are not going to refuse you. Leaders in their communities, forward-thinkers, mightily effective people in their local context. These people are still not going to come to the behemoth that is American Christianity and say ‘no.’ It is almost impossible for those in a position of power, like Americans, to understand this. As one woman commented on my FB thread, “And although the pastor who facilitated the program (receiving shoeboxes) was one of the most forward thinking, well-educated and articulate pastors I’ve met – (ever!), he would not go to the organisation sending them, and say, “you know what, this isn’t really serving us.’ People who are not in a position of power rarely will refuse what is given to them, even it if doesn’t actually meet a need.”

Gifts can be damaging. You don’t want to hear this. Please hear it. Running team practices I’ve coached have dissolved into fist fights because American contractors passed out Gatorade, but not enough and too quickly for me to stop it. Also, they gave soccer balls to the running team. I had to confiscate the balls, pull kids off each other, cancel practice, and figure out an appropriate response to threats to rape the girls on the team because they were given something other kids weren’t. The contractors drove away just before the chaos ensued, with their iPhones full of photos and their hearts satisfied with the knowledge that they had been ‘generous.’ Thank you, thank you very much.

The things you give aren’t used for what you think they are used for. (This is not a story Samaritan’s Purse will post on their website, and it isn’t the only one of its kind): When Saddam Hussein was terrorizing the Kurds and pretty much anyone who didn’t agree with him, an American was in Baghdad meeting with the Minister of Health. The minister abruptly said “I have to go – do you want to come with me? I have to do something for our leader’s birthday.” The American goes with him. They go to a warehouse in Baghdad, and there sit piles and piles of Samaritan’s purse Christmas Shoe Boxes. The Minister of Health is supervising minions to deliver all of them to the Children’s Hospital as gifts from Uncle Saddam for his birthday….a bunch of Iraqi kids got wonderful gifts from Saddam by way of Franklin Graham at Samaritan’s Purse.

I’m asking you to be humble and teachable, I’m not asking for repentance. Sometimes when humans do something and love doing it and do it for years and later find out it might not be the best thing to have done, we are plagued by guilt. So plagued, in fact, that we refuse to admit it. The fear of being wrong or of having made a mistake, even with good intentions, is unbearable. So we press on. But let me be clear, I don’t believe it is ‘sin’ to pack a shoe box. Good grief. Everything isn’t so black and white. I just think we can do better. We all, I hope, are on a journey that will continue until we die, a journey of growth and change and learning. One of the awesome things about grace is that it exists! It is abundant and never-ending. May we never stagnate.

Please listen. Please, please, pretty please with a cherry on top, listen. I know the article criticizing Samaritan’s Purse (link below) comes off quite strong and isn’t perfect but to jump on the author’s use of the term ‘toxic charity’ as an excuse to ignore the argument is not okay. People who have experience are trying to talk about these things. People who live in areas where helping hurts are trying to talk about these things. I know it goes against the grain. We are a do-something people. People with bravado and gusto. Please listen to people who are saying something, even when it is uncomfortable for you or might suggest you change your behavior.

(a 14th thing, bonus, after reading other’s thoughts): How would you feel? Imagine someone from a different country comes into your neighborhood or your child’s school, you might not even be present. They hand out toys and cookies, nicer things than you have given your own children. Maybe iPads or video games or gift cards to Dairy Queen. Then they tell them about a different religion. Just think about how you would react.

People of faith are incredibly generous people and I am so thankful for the many ways we have been blessed by generosity, the many ways we have been challenged to be more generous ourselves – the kind of generosity that hurts, that costs something. Let’s press on together, being generous and being wise and growing in love and creativity.

Resources:

Stuffing Shoe Boxes for the World’s Poor? Maybe You Should Reconsider

Ten Alternatives to Christmas Shoe Boxes (this is a really good list)

Please, for the love, please, read this book: When Helping Hurts

 

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Dear Expat Friends

Quick link: To My Expat Friends

Yesterday I wrote what is essentially a love letter to my expatriate friends for A Life Overseas (and this totally includes online expatriate friends I have yet to meet face to face). They have scattered all over the world, some I am still in touch with and others, not so much. But all of them hold a special place in my heart and my memory. Some carried me through childbirth abroad, others through loss. Some trusted me to care for their children or pets. We rely on each other in unique ways that leave us vulnerable.

I don’t want to close myself off to all that these new, sometimes too short, friendships bring. That’s hard. With all the hello’s and the goodbye’s, it is tempting to be cold and distant. But I need these friends and I hope I can be the kind of friend I need, as well.

When I say my husband and I are arguing about packing suitcases and that my back hurts, you know what I mean. You’ve also slammed doors and said things you regret because peanut butter weighs a lot and tennis rackets don’t quite fit. Thanks for letting me vent.

You aren’t afraid of dengue fever, typhoid, or malaria. You’ve been vaccinated and have that little yellow card and your kids have the BCG scar on their upper arms. You aren’t grossed out when I mention that we deworm our entire family twice a year. Thanks for helping me feel normal, healthy even.

When I’m broken about the poverty I see and conflicted about how to respond to beggars and barely able to hold all my spiritual questions, you’ve carried it with me, and helped me process. Thank you for sharing your own messy insides…

Click here to read the rest: To My Expat Friends

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Strong in the Broken: Home Is Where He Is

Today’s post is the first in the Strong in the Broken series. Melissa shares how she found home and healing after a traumatizing experience in east Africa.

 

Home is a town that rarely sees rain and faces daily highs often over 90 degrees. Home is a city where few speak our native language, English. Home is a medium-sized town in the heart of Africa. Dust collects in every crack, crevice, and makes itself known on every surface. It’s so dusty at times your skin collects a film, like beach sand that won’t wash off.

 

We’ve found Home to be difficult, but also it is Home. After 5 years of making this our base camp it’s just that now, our place to rest, work and live. I’ve learned one of the most important ways to make a place a home is to go through tough experiences. You get through it, come out thankful, and then, only then, the place where you endured attains this magical quality. It feels right and good. It becomes home.

 

In order to get to that point of calling Home “home,” I went through the most challenging things I’ve ever faced (even over childbirth, which I’ve done 4 times without pain killers!). Here’s one:

 

August 2013, I went on a hike. It was a climb many foreigners had done. Though cacti laces the edges of the path, it is decent and easy to follow. Here, it’s common as a foreigner to collect a posse of children, begging. Most beg not out of need, but out of boredom. They have a roof over their head, families, and food, though I wouldn’t say their life is comfortable or plush. They ask without a strong expectation that you would give. Some kids try to make a few birr this way, but they aren’t pushy.

 

I went up the mountain with my American friend visiting from India. We brought a water bottle, my phone, and I had a 50 birr bill (2 USD) in my skirt to cover our bajaj (auto-rickshaw) ride home. The afternoon was beautiful. We hiked past mud huts, old rock formations, and quickly neared the top where the mountain had a flat surface like a football field and a breathtaking view of the city.

 

The call to prayer, “Allah Akbar…” echoed. The crowd around us swelled from girls and boys ages 2-10 years old to a predominantly male crowd ages 10-15. The boys just as small, naive and childish as the children. I thought nothing of it. After inhaling the sights from the look-out point, we smiled at the kids and turned to make our way down the mountain. They urged us to walk further.

 

“No, no, this way, there is a fort you must see. It’s not far.” They spoke in broken English.

 

We agreed, it seemed just another 100 yards ahead. Near the fort, my friend grabbed my arm and whispered in my ear, “They keep trying to touch me inappropriately.”

 

Every once in a while, like a game, they slipped a feel. I got angry and told them to stop. As soon as I started feeling uncomfortable I took my surroundings seriously: Friday, call to prayer, no adults within earshot (they were at the mosque), not a single girl stood on the mountain except us. The small group of boys was now a larger group scattered all around and higher up on the peaks.

 

A boy asked for my phone. I refused. He tried to take it while another boy attempted to take off my clothes. I stepped back and screamed for them to stop. My phone wasn’t what they wanted. I scrambled to find my 50 birr bill in my pocket, only to find it had already been taken. I fought to keep my clothes on. What would the local people do? I picked up a rock to let them know I was serious. As soon as they saw I had picked up a rock, the gang of boys above us hurled rocks. We tried to run but had no hope of escape. They had us in their arms. We were unable to move or break free.

 

I looked past the mountain. In the distance a group of dark storm clouds formed above the valley between the peaks. My heart sank. My spirit of hope, love, courage, and grace, and the expectation of God delivering, dropped like an anchor, causing my body to lie paralyzed. I’m going to die. Or I’m going to get raped. I don’t know which I prefer. I wished so badly I was home, holding my four-month old son, my 2-year old bouncing at my feet. Anywhere but here.

 

Through the grabbing and struggle, my friend and I were separated.

 

I screamed in the foreign language I knew, “Help me!” The boys mocked me.

 

What felt like an hour was minutes. Finally my friend hit a boy hard and broke free, startling my captors enough for me to escape their grip.

 

She screamed, “Run!” We sprinted, not caring that cactus needles marred our skin. We struggled down the mountain, scraping our hands on the rocks to outpace the boys.

 

Screaming, crying, and making a spectacle so someone would hear us, we made our way to a hut in hopes to stop the pursuit. It didn’t. The women in the huts had little control of the village children.

 

Finally down the mountain, not sure if we were in the clear, we found an adult man and I insisted, in tears, that he take us further.

 

“Stop crying,” he said. “No, no, you don’t need me.”

 

We insisted. I held his arm and my friend’s tightly. We finally found an auto rickshaw to take us home.

 

I’ve never felt more relief and more sadness as I did riding home. I was startled by what had happened; in pure disbelief that the quaint town I was raising my children in harbored such disgusting evil, cruelty, and malice.

 

Where was God? Never had I felt so strongly I might die. Why would a good, gracious, loving God put me through that? Yes, He delivered me (and now four years later, I see how apparent His presence was), but in that moment I felt so strongly, like never before, has my God has abandoned me?

 

Have you ever felt like you were about to die? The literal unfolding of your death taking place.

 

Have you ever felt like God had abandoned you? As if you were in the depths of Hell, evil around you?

 

I was quickly led to Psalm 23:

 

“Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil for you are with me.”

 

I hadn’t known what this scripture truly meant, until that day. It was the darkest moment and even in it, I saw an actual valley with dark clouds above. My heart mirrored the environment. But, here’s the important part: God was with me. I could fear no evil, He was there. He didn’t abandon me. He provided a miracle, and we escaped. Though our bodies were touched in deplorable ways, our hearts, minds, and spirits were unscathed. Hope came to us. We made it out alive and are better for it.

 

Jesus didn’t promise the men who followed him that they would not experience tragedy, pain or would be untouched by evil. He said “I will be with you always.” This is the hope the Psalmist had, “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for you are with me.”

 

When I think of my awful experience that day, and the city it happened in, I’m okay with calling it home. It is where I’ve encountered the worst and survived. It’s where my first two (and now my 3rd and 4th) children took their first steps, said their first words. It’s where I’ve welcomed five anniversaries and celebrated five birthdays. It’s where my children have celebrated birthdays, gone to their 1st day of school, and where I learned to speak a language I thought I’d never learn.

 

Home is where Jesus felt so near. Home is where I found what true community means, and what a grace it is to see it. It’s where my husband cradled our kids in the middle of the night when I was too tired to hold them. It’s where I’ve felt extreme joy and extreme sadness.

 

Home is where Jesus is, and He’s everywhere. So I’m always (even in the midst of despair) in a good place, because He’s there. I’m Home.

 

Melissa Rowe Smith lives on the edge of the desert in Eastern Ethiopia with her husband, four children and three tortoises. When she isn’t busy homeschooling and offering support for her husband’s company, Ayaana Publishing & Media, she likes to create in its various forms—writing, singing, playing guitar and piano, attempting to watercolor—and teaching aerobics and nutrition classes to her neighbors. Find her at: dustyfeetinbeautifulplaces.wordpress.com

Instagram: @melrowesmith

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Arrive, Survive, and Thrive in Djibouti

I get emails nearly every day from people coming to Djibouti either as tourists or to live and work. They need to know how to find a house, where are decent hotels, what should they do in a medical emergency? Are there playgrounds? What are the best school options?

I’ve compiled answers to these questions and so much more, in this e-book Welcome to Djibouti.

Phone numbers, websites, email addresses, tips and suggestions…you’ll find what you need here.