Monthly Archives: February 2014

Which of us is teaching?

The look was something between concentration and panic.  The first day I saw her in my English course, one among forty women, I would remember her look.

She was petite, shorter than the other university freshmen in the course, with wide eyes and a childlike face emerging from a white headscarf.  In my experience teaching and leading a group in worship, I have seen many expressions: nervous, eager, frustrated, engaged, vacant, hoping… But this look was different.  It did not change through the whole first lecture.  “Tell me your name, and one thing about yourself,” I asked, and 37 young women answered.

Three could not find words for anything other than names.  When it was her turn, she said shortly, “Nani,” and let the other question fall.

I kept this in mind and prepared a language assessment for the students.  If they don’t speak ANY English, they should not be in this class, I thought.  Nani’s look intensified during the second class, as she joined her classmates in answering questions and filling in blanks.

“Kevin has a headache.  He should take some _________.”  Most students filled that blank with some form of the word “medicine.”  Two wrote that Kevin should take some “coffee.”  Geniuses.

Three students struggled to answer even the question, “How are you doing?”  Nani was one of these.  She desperately tried to drink in everything, but was unable to, and therefore had the look of someone who was drowning in a downpour of English.

Third class: a new student named Mohammad, one of the few men in the English department, walked in–saw that the whole class was female– and walked out again.  His loss, I thought.   One of the three struggling students had dropped also, but it wasn’t Nani.

I separated the students into small groups, and asked them to describe a picture from their textbooks.  Nani struggled to come up with the English words, her look of concentration creating furrows in her forehead.  So when each group picked one person to report their discussion to the class, I was surprised to see Nani stand up.

She held her notes close to her face and read as quickly as she could, clipped words delivered in a childlike voice.  I held back applause as I saw this young, brave woman diving into the difficult language, boldly attempting to form its strange sounds.   As she stood, she rose above the knowledge of her peers, and showed something far more fundamental for success in college, in life…

After class she lingered.  “Nani,” I got her attention.  “You did a great job reading today.  Well done.”  Her brow un-furrowed, the fearfulness left those wide eyes, and a generous smile took over her face.

…On another day, we worked alongside local ladies from the fitness program at the community center,  organizing clothes and household goods to give to refugees.  As we were working, one of my Arab mommas, who works in an income-generating business also at the center, came up to me.

She handed me something, and I wondered if it was for the refugees.  “No, for you!” she smiled, and I opened the black plastic bag to find a purse and hand-knit slippers.  Her generosity leaves me speechless.  I learn what love and courage look like when I see them in the quiet choices of these women.

Advertisements

The Cupboard’s Full

We sat at a table in the sunshine.

Sandwiches were for lunch, as we collaborated on a Bible study and plans for a weekly meeting with our international colleagues.  My friend suggested an age-old method that guides people in listening to God through a passage, asking Him what He’s saying for ourselves, and then asking what He’s saying we should do with it (a process called Lexio Divina.)

The brownies had just come out of the oven, at that meeting with our fellow workers.  We read, slowly, the ancient words of Isaiah 55: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! …Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”  We listened for words from God and prayed them into everyone who asked.

Sweet juice, two cups of it, sat on the table in front of my Arabic teacher and me.  “I have no friends,” she said; and an ever-so-slight tremor in her voice undercut the stoicism in her face.  The hunger for relationship remained.  The tension between resignation to the situation being faced, and resistance of the circumstances– this tension I would see on dozens of other faces in the next few weeks.

Cheaply packaged chocolate wafers were handed out to all the students– and to us volunteers– at the afterschool program for young refugee women.  A social worker from Syria asked me how I was doing since the last time we had met.  After the pleasantries had been properly conveyed, she made one more statement, leaving me with no Arabic or English reply: “My house in Syria was burned in a fire.  It is gone.”

I was eating a late-night bowl of Raisin Bran while we chatted on Skype.  She caught me up on discoveries and dreams developing in Jersey, and asked how things were for me in the Middle East.   Have you ever seen a little girl try to lift her father?  I asked.  She can’t move him a bit, no matter how determined she is, how hard she tugs.  But he swings her into the air….

That’s how I feel when I read Isaiah 55.  I can stay hungry and thirsty, regretting my deficits, and scraping to find something to serve to others.  I can spend my labor, without moving the circumstances around me; and instead of satisfaction, I’ll get dissatisfaction and disillusionment.

Or I can let my Father carry both the weight of the world and of this little child.  A physical need, a method of connecting as human beings, a requirement for growth and replenishing, a gift to make celebrations more fun– food and drink are rich metaphors.  And I hear Him inviting me to sit down, drink and eat, and trust He’s got covered both my and my neighbors’ hungry souls.

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. –Isaiah 55:2

P.S.– Currently on my “moving songs for this journey” list, and stay for the powerful lyrics: The Cupboard’s Full

The Great Stone Face

Sixty teenage girls, a handful of Arab teachers, and one American (with very limited language ability) piled into three buses this past Saturday, headed to the beach.

Another car with a family from the U.S. followed, bringing our group total 2014-02-08 15.20.28close to 70. These young women, along with sixty young men who will hit the beach next week, are part of a program that offers leadership development, English study, and cultural experiences to students from limited-income backgrounds.

Sixty teenage girls collected sea glass, so that other women can make their living by turning it into jewelery.

Sixty teenage girls played team-building games with sand, saltwater, and a couple of hula hoops as the main props.

Sixty teenaged girls laughed in the sunshine and ate shawarma.

Educators, anthropologists, and politicians have discovered that small things like these can influence a person’s perspective.  They challenge us to think outside our own needs, to work as a team, to be a community of life– that laughs much.

IMG_0286From my neighborhood I can see these barren, rocky mountains.  While they lack the chaotic fun of sixty Arab teens on a beach day, the mountains serve as a testimony in my mind to one of my very favorite stories.  They remind me that as I seek to help others gain perspective– to be an influencer– I am also being influenced by whatever I hold closest.

The story tells of a boy from another time and place, who loved to study the mountain from his valley home.  A formation of rocks on the mountain looked like a face, full of wisdom, grace, and strength.  The people of the valley had a prophecy: one day a person from their valley would emerge who would both resemble that Great Stone Face, and embody its nobility and virtue.

The boy spent each day gazing at the Stone Face in the mountain, contemplating the goodness he saw there, eager for the day that the prophecy would be fulfilled.  As he grew up, he would still slip away to study the Face, drawing strength from its depths.

Different citizens of the valley emerged who were thought to be fulfillments of the prophecy: a wealthy business owner, a war hero, a politician.  Each one promised something but could not match the virtue of the Great Stone Face, and fell short of the prophecy.  Finally, the boy who had grown up studying the Great Stone Face– now an old man, and still meditating on that Face each day– met one last candidate.

He was a poet, born in the valley but absent for a long time.  After meeting with the old man, the poet acknowledged quickly that despite his gifted pen, he lacked the depth fulfill the prophecy…  The old man had begun a custom of going into a field at sunset, where the people of the valley gathered to hear him speak simple words of truth and encouragement, and the poet followed.

As the poet listened, and saw behind the old man’s shoulder the mountainside with the Great Stone Face, he called out something that everyone in the valley– except the old man himself– could see plainly: the old man was the fulfillment to the prophecy.  He had gazed so hard at the Great Stone Face that he had become like it.

(read the full story, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, here: http://www.classicreader.com/book/726/1/ )

So what are you looking at?

Everything is new

“Vision: 1) the faculty or state of being able to see.  2) the ability to think or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” (source: Google)

Just before I left the U.S., this word took root in my soul. I didn’t fully know why, but since I arrived here one month ago, it has continued to grow.  Hungry for vision, hungry to help others get it, hungry for supernatural revelation from God…

Thursday I sat in a circle of young women from this area.  They had come to practice their English.  We talked about dreams; at first, they listed jobs they wanted (doctor, professor).  Then we moved into discussing what kinds of people we want to be, no matter what our occupations.

Their answers were powerful and insightful.  They want to help people learn new things, to be compassionate to the poor, to bring laughter to those they meet.  One of the last said she planned to change the world.  The girl sitting next to her interrupted: “You can’t change the whole world!”

“No,” she replied.  She was searching for the words, gesturing with her hands.  “But, if I change it for one person, and they change it for one person…”

Since coming to the Middle East, I’ve been praying– and asking others to pray– for vision.  I tend to think in specific terms: I want vision for the Syrian refugee project, or for my English students, or for my Arab moms at the center.  Yesterday, my prayer shifted, because in order to live fully in the present that I’ve been given, I hunger after promise for the future.

I asked God for a broad vision.  What does He want for this place, for these people, for me and for my life?  Speaking through music seems to be God’s thing for me; this song played as I threw up my questions:

My eyes have seen the glory

Of the coming Lord

And it looks like streets restored after the vicious war.

It looks like lonely souls being alone no more.

My God, You rule, and everything is new

The world is changed, never the same

The light has come bearing Your name

The dawn that’s breaking in the East

Shines upon the least of these

Soon, everything is new

— Tim Coons, “Everything is New”

I want to think and plan for the future with wisdom and imagination, as reads that definition.  I want to see God’s perspective, to see people and this place through His eyes. And I want the same thing for you :).

May there be a still small voice that whispers in your ear God’s vision for your community, for your area, for you.  You see brokenness around you now, but God, when He moves, makes everything new– lonely souls alone no more, streets restored. May it be so… Amen.