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On Shoe Boxes, Generosity, Kindness, and Being Helpful

Last year I wrote a post called 13 Things I Want American Christians to Know about Stuff You Give Poor Kids. I got a lot of feedback for that essay. I don’t regret posting it or reposting it.

I do regret that I didn’t provide a specific enough list of other ways to serve. Because I am not anti-service, or against giving! I’m not against gifts or generosity! I’m sorry that some have felt paralyzed or personally hurt.

I still have a lot of big feelings about things like the White Savior Complex and the American Christian emphasis on stuff, on consumerism, when we talk about generosity. No family is perfect. But I don’t want to shoot at the Church, who proves over and over to be kind, generous, and loving. I don’t want to take down people I love and care about and I want to be pushed back, to be challenged.

I have been.

I’ve specifically been asked if I could be more useful, which is ultimately the point – not to point fingers or complain, but to help us all grow and do these things better.

Some of these ideas take more time, relational energy, creativity and courage, others are strictly financial.

So…onward to some ideas for helping without hurting.

Send money to the place you want to bless with gifts. Funnel it through someone you know and trust. Don’t know or trust someone in a location you care about? Email me or leave a comment and I’ll try to connect you. Let the local church hire moms and dads to fill boxes with things they purchase locally. They can keep the income from that work to buy Christmas dinner for their families.

Is there a single mom (or dad) near you? In your church, family, neighborhood? She works so hard to care for her family. Call her up or stop by, even if you barely know her. Ask if you could do her laundry. Tell her what day you go to the grocery store and ask if she could give you her shopping list and cash. Pick up her groceries and just drop them off. Tell her that if her kids have a snow day or get sick, that you will babysit so she doesn’t have to miss a day of work.

Visit someone in the hospital, in a home for the elderly or disabled, in your local prison. Read Christmas stories, bring Christmas cookies, a stocking stuffed with goodies like warm socks, a new card game, gum. Bring your kids along. Ask the chaplain at the hospital or prison if there is someone who was recently released and who might need a care package or a home visit. Transitioning out of the hospital and especially out of prison can be really hard and lonely.

Check out Angel Tree Prison Ministry to get involved personally and practically, locally.

Do you live near kids with two working parents? Offer to take their kids sledding when you go with your own kids. Offer to make Christmas cookies with or for them, maybe their favorite recipe.

Is there someone at your child’s school who needs a Christmas tree or who can’t afford to bring treats to the school holiday party? Ask the teacher and ask if you can provide an anonymous gift so that child can participate with pride.

Write letters to people who live far away. You can do this as a family or with a Sunday School class or small group Bible study. Draw pictures, write silly poems. Remind people who were once part of your community that they are still remembered

Pregnant moms nearby? There might be a center near you that serves young, pregnant, or new moms. Sometimes there are homes for them if they need shelter (link to a great new one below), sometimes there are service centers they access for diapers and clothes, counsel, and medical care. Find one of these and see what they need.

Do you live near an area impacted by fire, flood, hurricane, or other natural disaster? Can you do something in this close-by community that is practical and useful? Maybe a family needs someone to play games with their kids in a shelter for the afternoon so the parents can return to their destroyed home and pick through the debris without traumatizing the kids. Maybe they need warm winter socks or new pots and pans.

Find out who in your town works with refugees, newly arrived immigrants, families with children who have special needs, someone recently diagnosed with a debilitating illness, a nursing home for the elderly…it takes some pre-planning, some initiative, and a lot of courage, but you never know where a willing heart might take you.

Specific local and international opportunities:

Support nurses in Kurdistan. This is run by a dear friend, Marilyn Gardner. Give the gift of life. Marilyn needs $10,000 more to reach her goal. It costs $9.00/per shoe box just for the box and shipping. Average $5-6 more/box for the items inside. That means she needs the equivalent of 667 boxes. Some groups do that in a night. For toys. I realize my frustration is evident, but here is a chance to invest in lives. “Nurses are foundational to health care systems. You can have the best doctors in the world, but without nurses both public health programs and hospital care suffer. Building a strong and accountable group of nurses a world away will have lasting impact.”

Elevate Hope House is run by a childhood friend and is a brand new project. Melinda has big dreams and a huge heart. “Elevate is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization established to empower young, single moms and their children in crisis, by providing a safe home and an empowering support system, while each mom learns self-sufficiency and renews, restores, and regains her self-worth through the love of Christ.”

Rowing Dangerously is fellow runner of the Somaliland Marathon, Jordan Wylie. He ‘ran dangerously’ through Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan to raise money to help children in need. This year he is rowing across the waters near Djibouti, to raise money for education in the refugee camps of Djibouti, clearly issues near and dear to my own heart.

International School of Djibouti, that’s us!

Resource Exchange International, that’s us, too!

Hidden Treasures Thrift Store. In St. Anthony, Minnesota: “We are a non-profit Christian workplace that partners with a large community of donors, shoppers, and volunteers to provide a place for meaningful employment, Christ-centered life development, and a loving community for those of us who have backgrounds that include addiction or a criminal record.”

The Angel Foundation is a Minnesota-based organization that provides practical, financial, and emotional support for people with cancer and their families. One of their activities is offering a camp for kids whose parents have or had cancer.

And here are two ideas I took from magazine articles I read recently but don’t personally know anything about:

Reader to reader, helping teachers supply their classrooms with books (note that our school in Djibouti is also always building our library, the largest accessible to all English-language library in the country and it fits on five shelves!)

Power My Learning, accepts used computers, laptops, and other technology for low-income families and students.

 

Rethinking, Rebuilding. Love in International Service, a book excerpt

Today I bring you an excerpt from Ryan Kuja’s new book: From the Inside Out. I resonated strongly with his words on wholeness. The world is broken and we are broken. I don’t even have to look outside my own mind and heart to recognize the need for healing and restoration and that reality is amplified as soon as I lift my eyes up to the broader world. What can promote and facilitate healing? Love. Unity. Integration belief and action. Peace.

If you enjoy this excerpt and would like to read more, you can find Ryan’s book here and his website with links to more of his published work here.

Book Excerpt- Chapter 5

Making All Things Whole through Love

“Those who follow Jesus,” wrote Franciscan sister and professor Ilia Delio, “are to become wholemakers, uniting what is scattered, creating a deeper unity in love.” The deepest call of Jesus followers is to be wholemakers— acting in ways that bring about the wholeness that underlies the fabric of the cosmos. We seem separate but in our roots we are part of an indivisible whole. There is an integral connectivity that links us. If this is how reality is construed—through a substrate of love, a fabric of connection and deep unity—than participating in mission as if this were true means looking at our task differently, through the lens of the hidden wholeness that exists in Christ prior to and beneath all things. Jesus followers are tasked with intentionally participating in completing the world; mission is nothing less than action toward the fulfillment of the cosmos itself.

The reconciliation of all things is not only a possibility, human flourishing is not only an idea, shalom not a mere word to be adopted, but realities ingrained in the fabric of creation itself.

Placing ourselves in alignment with the shape of God and thus the shape of the universe itself so that we may be conduits of shalom means bringing together the inner and the outer. It means reintegrating contemplation and action. Our logical Western-trained minds say prayer and work, spirituality and ministry are distinct, autonomous aspects of life, but that is a fairly new invention based on Western philosophy and Greek metaphysics, based on the thought of Descartes and Plato more than Paul and Jesus.

What would happen if we began to reimagine mission as relationship in which we recreate each other through a deep mutuality? Participating in the ongoing creation of the world through mending and being mended, healing and being healed, becoming wholemakers as we are being made whole?

This missional spirituality is radically grounded in materiality while simultaneously oriented toward a cosmological horizon that is coming to us from the future, a future in which “Christ is all, and is in all” (Col 3:11). We experience a foretaste of that eschatological future in the present. From the very heart of reality itself, from within the messes, the brokenness, and the tragedy, Christ redeems, restores, reanimates, and resurrects. The world is being reconstituted, day by day, moment by moment, breath by breath, to reflect the new reality which Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God. It is all heading into renewal.

Every act of peace, each move toward courage, every act of selfless love is an act of new creation, small and often unnoticed perhaps, but powerful nonetheless as it is a participation in God’s being. In this way we don’t merely believe in God, worship God, or work for God, but we participate in God’s life.

(I confess that I have not read the entire book yet, but after I read the excerpt Ryan sent me, the book jumped to the top of my list. If you have read it, share your thoughts in the comments or over on Facebook.)

A global citizen with a background in international mission, relief, and development, Ryan Kuja has lived in fifteen cities and rural villages on five continents. He holds an M.A. in Theology and Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology as well a Diploma in Humanitarian Assistance from Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. A spiritual director and writer, he has written for Sojourners, Missio Alliance and several theological journals. His first book, From the Inside Out: Reimagning Mission, Recreating the World, released in June 2018. Ryan is currently serving as the Field Director of Word Made Flesh in Medellin, Colombia. You can find him online at ryankuja.com and on twitter as @ryankuja.

*post contains affiliate links

What Mary Chose

The story of Mary and Martha is well known among Christians, Christian women in particular. Its a story that can be used to place women.

See? This a woman’s natural physical tendency, to be in the kitchen. And see? This is a woman’s natural emotional tendency, to be worried and anxious about many things. Whether Martha, or by extension all women, is worried and anxious simply because there is a lot of work to do for one person or because she is proud and her ego in hospitality is getting in her way, doesn’t ultimately matter. We just know, or think we know, or are told, that Martha is in her rightful place, the kitchen, and seized by her natural, sinful attitudes about the work before her.

And, we know, are told, or think we know, that Mary has summoned the spiritual character to eschew the kitchen, to set aside her sinful nature, and sit at Jesus’ feet.

One writer said the lesson here is that we should not be so distracted by good things, even serving and hospitality, that we neglect our own spiritual growth.

Another emphasized the value of listening to Jesus and spending time with him.

Another described the differences between the motivations of the two sisters. Mary, he claims, is motivated by love. Martha, by anxiety.

Another contrasts the Martha Spirit and the Mary Spirit, the busy busy buy spirit and the spirit of restful adoration.

The assumption in all these, (good and positive lessons) is that what Jesus is contrasting is Martha’s harried posture and Mary’s worshipful posture.

I think we have read this passage with far too small an idea of who Jesus is and what he came to accomplish. I wonder if there is something more at play, something that adds to the story and makes it powerfully relevant and not just to overworked women.

I imagine most meal times when a mixed group of guests was present as: women in the kitchen and men at the table. Possibly the guest of honor is speaking, or teaching, or leading a discussion. Probably, that’s what Jesus was doing. The text is not explicit, but I think we can conclude from the first sentence and from the amount of work put on Martha’s shoulders, that the disciples were also present for dinner.

Martha chose the expected position and role for women.

Mary insisted on her right to sit with the men.

Martha didn’t look outside the box of culture and took up her work.

Mary decided she belonged with Jesus, which is to say, where the men were. She had every right to be there, too. Jesus himself confirmed it.

When Martha complains to Jesus, everyone expects him to say, “You’re right! Mary, get up and go help her.”

We don’t, generally, expect Jesus to either:

+ Say, “Hey, Martha, I know you aren’t actually upset about the work. You are actually upset because your sister has just overturned the cultural norms and you are feeling anxious about that, and slightly confused.”

+ Summon fishes and bread from the heavens and wave his hand around to create a nice meal and clean it up, ala Mrs. Weasley?

+ Or, tell some of those lazy-bum disciples (somewhere between 12 and 72 of them), to get off their lazy bums and help? That would have been radical!

But no. Jesus says Mary chose what was best and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her. She chose to place herself right in the front, in the middle, in the center, near the Teacher, and she wasn’t going to be kicked out to the ‘women’s place.’

Mary probably had to elbow her way up there, or maybe she manipulated the situation by carrying a bowl of washing water and when she reached Jesus, instead of moving on after he washed his hands and feet, she simply plopped right down in front of him. Who knows how she got there. What we know is that she is, likely, the lone woman in this room.

Jesus does not say that Mary is so enthralled with him, or so deeply spiritual, or so eager to learn, that she is allowed to stay. He does not praise her for choosing learning over serving. That is what readers assume about this passage.

Neither does he say he is explicitly commending her for her courage in taking her rightful place as a woman among men. But I think we can equally assume that about this passage.

Maybe this is not a story about choosing love or service. Or about checking our motivations. Or about harried women versus worshipful women. Or a quaint tale to teach women the value of choosing Bible reading over dish washing.

Probably, its all that. Probably, it is so much more than all that.

This is a radical story about a woman courageously asserting herself, claiming the humanity that is her right by dint of being created and imbued with the image of God, and being dignified for that courage.

In sitting there, Mary is saying she belongs in the Kingdom, too. She demanded a place, edged her way in, neglected the opinions of men and women and the cultural norms. She saw that Jesus offered himself first to the lowly and the outcast, and said, “Me, too. I, also, belong in the presence of Jesus.”

Even more importantly, she is not saying she, only, belongs there, but that women belong there. The oppressed, the neglected, the overlooked, the discriminated against, those at the margins. We all belong in the presence of Jesus. We all have the right to claim our place at the table.

Mary chose to belong. That will not be taken away.

 

Luke 10:38-42, (NIV)

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

 

A Christmas Story about a Surprising Baby Named God (not that one)

Quick link: A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

 

This is a story close to my heart because it is about my first friend here, someone who was and remains exceedingly precious to me and my whole family. Someone who made me believe that this place, so different from Minnesota, could become home. Someone, without whom, I sincerely doubt we could have stayed so long.

When I needed someone to love my kids, she did. When I needed someone to make me laugh, she could. When I wanted to understand a cultural thing, she untangled it for me. When I need someone to hear my anger or my sorrow, she welcomed it.

This is a story of two women, coming from such different places, with such different faiths and such different ways of living, and finding each other, finding ourselves, together. It is about becoming mothers and about digging into our souls and finding beauty there.

When God and his mother were released from the maternity ward they came directly to my house to use the air conditioner. It was early May and the summer heat that melted lollipops and caused car tires to burst enveloped Djibouti like a wet blanket. Power outages could exceed ten hours a day. Temperatures hadn’t peaked yet, 120 degrees would come in August, but the spring humidity without functioning fans during power outages turned everyone into hapless puddles. I prepared a mattress for Amaal* and her newborn and prayed the electricity would stay on so she could use the air conditioner and rest, recover.

In 2004 when my family arrived in Djibouti, I needed help minimizing the constant layer of dust; Amaal needed a job. I needed a friend and Amaal, with her quick laugh and cultural insights became my lifeline. My husband worked at the University of Djibouti and was gone most mornings and afternoons, plus some evenings. We had 4-year-old twins and without Amaal I might have packed our bags and returned to Minnesota out of loneliness and culture shock.

I hired Amaal before she had any children. She wasn’t married yet and her phone often rang while she worked, boys calling to see what she was doing on Thursday evening. To see if she wanted to go for a walk down the streets without street lights where young people could clandestinely hold hands or drink beer from glass Coca-Cola bottles. She rarely said yes until Abdi Fatah* started calling. He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t pressure her into more physical contact than she was comfortable with in this Muslim country. She felt respected. She said yes.

Click here to read the rest of A Muslim, a Christian, and a Baby Named God

Parenting and Risk, Outside the Camp

Quick link: I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

This is an article published by Christianity Today Women. (I hope fathers as well as mothers read it, or are thinking about these topics as they parent!) The piece was commissioned in response to a recent post John Piper wrote about bringing kids abroad, to live in risky or dangerous places.

His piece focused on spiritual risks. I’ve written a lot about fear and danger, mostly in terms of physical aspects. I believe, as I wrote in the Proper Weight of Fear, that safety is an illusion, it can even be crafted into an idol. No matter where we live, our kids are never guaranteed any level of safety. What are we going to do with that sobering reality? My piece responds to Piper’s, with a personal take.

Fifteen years ago, my husband and I did the riskiest thing we could imagine and took a job in the Horn of Africa. People often responded by asking, “Are you bringing the kids?” We had two-year-old twins at the time.

…Yes, we were bringing the kids.

It still amazes me that people ask this question. But I heard from a friend who arrived in Africa about a year ago, she too, had been asked this. And several others have commented that people ask the same question.

Yes! We’re bringing our kids. And we don’t believe we are destroying them.

As I drafted this essay, I asked my kids if they thought they lived a dangerous or uncomfortable life. One responded, “I think its pretty comfortable. But from the outside, someone might not think that.”

One thing about risk and danger and pushing beyond our comfort zones, is that it is, partly, a matter of perspective. I look back at the US lately, and I feel a tingle of fear! I’m starting to understand my African friends who ask, “Aren’t you afraid to visit the United States?” and who assume I would have no fear about living where we do. Clearly, some places are more dangerous, physically, than others. I have never been to Mogadishu. Also, we do face unique risks regarding disease and healthcare. I am not ignoring those scary realities. But, the conversation about fear and risk is more than physical danger and more than simply thinking everywhere outside the US is less safe.

Anyway, head over to CT, and read the piece, about going outside the camp.

I’m Not Called to Keep My Kids from Danger

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