Feeding the Foreigners Among Us

Ken and I lived in the boys’ dormitory at Trevecca for three years, while we were both in graduate school. Those are definitely some of the most, well, um, interesting years of my life, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. There were so many of the guys who found their callings, their spouses, the careers, and it was great to be a part of their lives. Even though they are all graduated and long gone, I still keep in touch with many of them and love to see what God is doing in them and through them.

One of the things we soon realized after moving into the dorm nearly 9 years ago was that there were many students who never went home for breaks. Some chose to stay and work, some simply didn’t want to return home, but others had no choice — especially the international students.

Since Ken is not an American, we’ve always had a soft place in our hearts for immigrants. There are many restrictions placed on international students, especially in regard to where and how much they can work. Typically, they are restricted to only working on campus at student worker rates. While this is okay while school is in session, it becomes difficult over breaks like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring breaks when they cannot afford to go home, but the school’s cafeteria is closed. While we were in the dorm, we tried to watch out for (and feed!) international students. Now that we’ve moved off campus, I’ve tended to forget that we have students for whom breaks are very stressful because of a lack of financial, food, and kitchen resources.

Right now there are international Students from South Korea, The Philippines, Kenya, Madagascar, United Kingdom, Serbia, Canada, and The Bahamas at Trevecca in both the undergraduate and graduate programs. Trevecca is seeking to gather a food pantry together for next week’s spring break and for future needs of international students. They are collecting snacks, gift cards, and microwaveable items to include in break gift packs for these students. Suggested items are microwaveable rice and soup; non-refrigerated meals like Hormel; gift cards to Subway, Sonic, or New Life Café. Items can be dropped off at the Office of Admissions in the lower floor of the Library during business hours (or I can take them!).

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 NIV says, “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing.  And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

***This year during Lent, I’m going to highlight organizations and individuals that are giving to this community, and around the world. Most are faith-based, some are not. All are serving the poor. My focus is drawing nearer to the heart of God, by drawing nearer to those He cares for: the poor, the widows, the outcasts, the foreigner, the orphans.

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Because Being Homeless Is Not Just About Housing

Like it or not, Nashville is a pretty good place to be homeless. There are dozens of organizations who feed, shelter, clothe, and provide services for those facing unstable housing situations. And while homeless services are desperately needed, providing temporary housing cannot be the end of the story. One organization that I have come to greatly appreciate over the last four years is Urban Housing Solutions, who focuses on providing permanent and affordable housing for the homeless.

While being a great housing agency, Urban Housing Solutions also recognizes that homelessness is not just about having a roof over one’s head. There are often many financial, health, and social problems that contribute to homelessness as well. Urban Housing has put together a team of social service coordinators to help residents connect with government and nonprofit resources. What started in the early 1990’s with one property a block from Trevecca, has now grown to 26 different properties all over town. Many have a specialized housing focus: recently homeless, mentally ill, HIV positive, recovering addicts, deaf and hard of hearing, but all provide affordable housing and supportive services.

I began working with Urban Housing Solutions shortly after I began working at Trevecca in 2008. Together with Health Advocate, Traci Patton, we developed a plan to use physician assistant students to help with some of the health needs of the community. In 2008, it was not uncommon for residents to call for an ambulance because of a headache or toothache. Diabetic residents were being found unconscious in the parking lot from uncontrolled blood sugar because of lack of understanding of the disease. Too many residents were dying of preventable diseases, just a block from our campus.

So we started doing weekly workshops and semiannual health fairs with our friends of Mercury Courts, the closest Urban Housing Solutions property. We’ve worked on grants together. We’ve held food drives. We’ve tried to meet material needs for clothing, hygiene, and cleaning supplies. We’ve done life together. One of the great benefits of working with this group of people as they transition from homelessness back into society is the relationships I’ve built with so many of them. They are some of the most real people you’ll ever meet. No pretense. No unnecessary social niceties. Just real.

They are sellers of The Contributor, manual laborers, disabled due to fragile health,  HIV positive, writers, college graduates, grandparents, McDonald’s workers. And I see a glimpse of God Himself in each one of them. 

Though progress has been slow, residents are now making wiser decisions about their health and access to health resources. The ambulance calls have decreased. Health questions are answered on a weekly basis. Residents are connected with a primary care provider who knows them. But one of my greatest joys is that Urban Housing and Trevecca are partnering with the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing to bring a primary care clinic to Urban Housing Solutions, which is slated to open May 1st, 2012 at the Mercury Courts location.

Great work is being done to help people transition out of homelessness in Nashville at Urban Housing Solutions.

Because UHS helps people transition out of homelessness, there is a lot of material need. After all, if you’ve been homeless, you probably need things like sheets, blankets, dishes, etc. in addition to food, clothing, and medicine. Urban Housing Solutions published this list as their “wish list.”

Urban Housing Solutions

Wish List

 

Household Items for Formerly Homeless Residents:

  • full-size sheets, blankets, and comforters
  • pillows
  • towels and washcloths
  • pots, pans, dinnerware, and silverware
  • laundry baskets
  • hygiene products (soap, shampoo, razors, deodorant, etc.)
  • cleaning products (brooms, bathroom cleaner, toilet brushes, sponges, furniture polish, Windex, new vacuum cleaners)

Donations for Programs and Special Projects:

  • resident shuttle service—annual cost is about $30,000+—this service employs one of our formerly homeless residents as its driver and ensures that our residents are able to make it to medical and social service appointments, grocery stores, and employment.
  • resident education—annual cost varies with funding—we provide on-site classes in everything from healthy cooking to money management to basic computer skills.
  • resident assistance fund—this fund allows our case management staff to help our residents with basic needs—food, household items, medical costs, obtaining government identification, eyeglasses, dental care, bus passes, etc.

 Volunteers:

  • people to teach resume writing, job search, interviewing, job skills, etc.
  • groups to plant flowers, trim bushes, and improve the general appearance of a property

Want to Help? 

Please Call Brandi Ghergia at 726-2696, ext. 114. 

Donations may be dropped of at our main location:  411 Murfreesboro Pike; Nashville,TN 37210. 

Urban Housing Solutions, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and donations are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

***This year during Lent, I’m going to highlight organizations and individuals that are giving to this community, and around the world. Most are faith-based, some are not. All are serving the poor. My focus is drawing nearer to the heart of God, by drawing nearer to those He cares for: the poor, the widows, the outcasts, the orphans.

Defending the Needy by Speaking Through a Can

I’ve seen him walking the streets in our community for years. There was always something peculiar about his posture, his “swiftly and with purpose” walk, his skin that is weathered by the elements, but mostly the bags of cans in his hands. I didn’t know where he came from. Or if he had escaped from somewhere.

Until this week.

I found out the man in our community is “Donnie” and he’s been a fixture of the community for years. Mentally and verbally challenged but friendly and persistent, Donnie makes the rounds on the major roadways in our community, picking up aluminum cans. As unprofitable and laborious as this sounds, especially in a state with no deposit on aluminum cans, this is how Donnie supports himself. Faithfully making his rounds in the community, cheerfully converting our garbage into his livelihood, everyone who knows Donnie seems to love him.

So it must have been someone who didn’t know him who took 7 or 8 garbage bags of cans from his home here in Donelson.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story.

When word got out on Facebook about what happened to Donnie, our community began to rally. Individuals, churches, businesses began to empty their pockets and recycling bins for Donnie. Within 48 hours, hundreds of dollars had been raised (and is still continuing to be raised) and Donnie has even been featured on the local news.

For a man with a speech impediment who cannot speak for himself, I find it’s a beautiful thing when citizens of our community take to heart  Proverbs 31:8-9, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;  defend the rights of the poor and needy.” 

Sometimes we can speak with words.

Sometimes we can speak with dollars.

Sometimes it just takes a few cans.

Who are you speaking for?

Free Coffee! from Our Just Love Coffee Shop

Just Love Coffee reached 4000 Facebook fans (thanks to many of YOU!) and to celebrate, they are offering a “buy three bags, get one free” sale. For every bag purchased through our online store $5 goes toward our adoption! If you’re close to Murfreesboro, you can also buy directly at the store, tell them our names, and they’ll  also credit us with $5 per bag purchased.

Plus, you’ll be getting coffee that is second to none!

At Just Love Coffee Roasters, they carefully roast coffees without using automation or computers during the roast process, but instead carefully roast every batch to perfection using smell, sight, sound, touch, and taste. They are always searching for the best Fair Trade, organic, and shade-grown coffee beans available. To ensure that no slave practices were used in your select coffee blends, choose “Fair Trade” options. While the strict infrastructure is simply not available for every type of coffee they roast to be Fair Trade, the heart of Just Love Coffee is to help those in need, so fair labor practices are sought out, even if they cannot achieve the “Fair Trade” certification. Every delectable cup of Just Love Coffee you drink has a portion of its proceeds go to someone who could use a helping hand. In their first two years of business they have given over $200,000 to adopting families, non-profit organizations, and the arts. (Including us!)

This is the perfect weekend to give Just Love Coffee a try! Buy any three 13 oz bags of coffee and get a 4th bag free TODAY AND TOMORROW ONLY. The free bag will not show up on your order, but will be added to your box when they pack it for shipping.

That Sneaky Thing Called Lent

Is it just me, or did Lent suddenly sneak up on us this year? Last year, I had carefully planned out my six clothing items for my Lenten sacrifice of only wearing 6 items of clothing. This year, it was Fat Tuesday before I realized that I needed to consider what to give up for Lent.

While that sounds like a perfect setup for a rushed decision, truthfully, God had already laid it out for me in the book I’ve been reading by Jen Hatmaker, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess.” Jen felt challenged to identify seven areas of excess in her life and took radical steps to loosen the bonds of materialism that our culture shackles us with. She balances spiritual depth with laugh-out-loud hilarity as she writes things that most of us would say with our “inside the head” voice. Each month, she made radical sacrifices in the areas of food (choosing only seven items to eat for an entire month), clothes (wearing only seven items for a month), possessions (giving away seven items per day), waste, spending, media, stress.

Ken wasn’t as excited as I was to only eat seven foods for a month, and it really wouldn’t be fair for me to punish him with avocados and bread for a month. I’ve already done the clothing challenge. The next chapter was about giving away possessions.

Done.

I have far too much junk in my life, and especially in my basement. The “just in case” and “what if we” items are crowding out our dependence on God to provide in His timing. There’s also a whole lot that I just need to let go of.

So as I mentally prepared myself to load up the Jeep with 280 items headed to Goodwill, I began to delve into the chapter in “7” on possessions.

Bad idea.

Before she even started into the daily account of her sacrifices, she said this,

“Donating to Goodwill is fine, but I read the following quote three years ago, and it changed my life:

‘I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor. . . . I long for the Calcutta slums to meet the Chicago suburbs, for lepers to meet landowners and for each to see God’s image in the other. . . . I truly believe that when the poor meet the rich, riches will have no meaning. And when the rich meet the poor, we will see poverty come to an end.’ (Thank you, Shane Claiborne, for messing me up.)”

So God is challenging me. Rather than just purging my closets and basements and dumping them anonymously at Goodwill’s donation dumpster, to seek out organizations who do great work, but need specific items. They are commonly posted on their websites under “wish lists.” My goal is to find out about the organizations helping the poor, to visit them, to see how I can be a part of what God is doing, to make them a priority on my prayer list, and to take them at least seven items on their wish list.  280 items that are needed.

We’ll see how this goes.

Rather than focusing on writing about what I’m giving, I’m going to highlight here what each organization is giving to this community, and around the world. Most are faith-based, some are not. All are serving the poor. I’m already humbled by how many organizations do great work based out of Middle Tennessee. I’m also amazed at how much need each of them has.

If you’re local and would like to join the purge-a-thon, I’m sure we could bless the socks off of a lot of great people. But in reality, this isn’t about a crusade to gather supplies. My focus is drawing nearer to the heart of God, by drawing nearer to those He cares for: the poor, the widows, the outcasts, the orphans.

It’s probably a good thing Lent snuck up on me this year, so I wouldn’t think myself out of this!

The Answer Seems Pretty Clear

Thousands of dollars spent on a “birth mother” who wasn’t pregnant?  Buying a homeless newspaper from a someone who may use the money to buy cigarettes? A stolen coat?

Luke 6: 27-36 NIV

  ” 27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

   32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

 

Counting the Cost of a Coat

Two Thursday mornings ago, I pulled out my old embroidered suede coat out of the back of our coat closet. I had bought that coat my in PA school when I realized that I needed something that could be both warm, and semi-professional looking.  It had since been relegated to the back of the closet by newer coats. “I need to donate this to Goodwill,” I thought, and put it on for what was probably going to be the last time.

That afternoon, I wore the coat to Mercury Courts, where our students do weekly health workshops for people who are transitioning out of homelessness. We’ve been going there every fall and spring semesters for 3 1/2 years. I’ve learned a lot of names, hugged a lot of shoulders, answered a lot of questions, and learned more about poverty than any book could ever tell me. The most important lesson that I’ve learned is that poverty is not primarily economic, but lack of resources is often symptomatic of other problems– poor relationships, poor health, inability to delay gratification, and especially a lack of self-esteem.

As people start coming to our weekly workshops, it takes them a while to warm up to us, and this has been a difficult semester as we’ve had an influx of many new people scattered amongst the residents who have been with us for all three years.  So I work hard to learn their names, to know their stories, to hear their fears, and to love with no expectation of anything in return. I want to be the face in their life that lights up with joy when they enter the room, and over time, their faces light up right back at me. I may not be able to help them each financially, but I can offer my time, my respect, and be a conduit of God’s love. And I do love these residents dearly and consider them some of my favorite friends.

On that suede-coat-wearing Thursday, the room where we hold our workshops was especially warm, so I laid my coat on a side chair. After the workshop was over, I helped the students load out the room, and then I returned to retrieve my coat.

But it was gone.

Half of the people from the workshop were still in the room, so I asked them where my coat was.

Silence.

“Come on folks,” I thought, “I have been coming down here for almost 4 years and you know that I would give you anything just for asking. But don’t steal from me!” Threats from the administration of Mercury Courts went unanswered, and I went home without a coat.

More irritated at the loss of trust than the loss of a soon-to-be-donated coat, I drove home exasperated.

“I can’t believe they stole my coat!” I whined.

“Was it really YOUR coat?” the Lord whispered.

“No, it wasn’t. It’s your coat.  Everything I have is yours, Lord.”

“Sometimes I call you to places where your coat — and a whole lot more– will be stolen. But that doesn’t mean that you weren’t called to be there.”

God and I have been reminiscing about that old coat, and about lots of other areas of loss that I’ve experienced in the last year. Even the current yearning to get our kids out of the Congo reminds me that Kingdom work is dangerous work. 

In Matthew 5 in the NIV, Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount:

   3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
   for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
   for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
   for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
   for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
   for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
   for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Poor? Mourning? Persecution? Being insulted? Lied about? None of this should be unexpected in Kingdom work. In fact, if we’re not putting ourselves in positions of some sort of danger to our possessions, jobs, time management, pride, etc., perhaps we should question whether we’re really doing Kingdom work to begin with.  After all, if we’re not stretched beyond ourselves, do we really need God?

God calls me to the perilous path to bringing people to Himself, rather than safety and comfort found on my red microfiber couch, making a difference to no one, or even to bless the already-blessed. God has asked me to weekly plant myself in a community where I am the outsider. He’s asked me to pursue a less-profitable career than I could. He’s called us to adopt from the world’s poorest country. It’s not about me, it’s about helping others to hear the call and know the love of Jesus in their lives.

Jen Hatmaker in her book “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess” says,

“I don’t want to consume the redemption Jesus made possible then spur the methods by which He achieved it. Jesus’ kingdom continues in the same manner it was launched; through humility, subversion, love, sacrifice; through calling empty religion to reform and behaving like we believe the meek will indeed inherit the earth. We cannot carry the gospel to the poor and lowly while emulating the practices of the rich and powerful. We’ve been invited into a story that begins with humility and ends with glory; never the other way around.”

When I returned to Mercury Courts last week, one of the regulars whispered in my ear, “I heard your coat got stolen. I’m sorry. Please don’t stop coming ‘cuz someone stole from you.”

Stop coming? I’d never dream of it. The fact that someone stole my coat lets me know that there is more work to do. Someone at Mercury Courts doesn’t know that God and I love them so much, all they’d have to do is ask.

In fact, I may need to show up all the more.

Consider Yourself Warned!

The family that recently went to the Congo to get their daughter posted a video of the orphage this weekend. While just raw unedited footage, it was amazing to our eyes and ears. We got to see our kids in action!

Rose was pictured in much of the video, similar to how she managed to appear in many of the pictures we had already seen. She is definitely not shy in any way. She loved the camera and loved the candy that they brought. In fact, she loved it so much that I caught her steathfully stealing something from another child, who didn’t even seem to notice! All the facial expressions we’ve been seeing in each of the pictures have now been given context, and every once in a while, she flashed a gigantic double-dimpled smile. She is simply adorable! Her hair is getting longer, after having it shaved when she first came to the orphanage. Thick, dark, curly hair covers her head and I can’t wait to figure out what to do with it! She is fairly big for her age, but her motor skills look like a typical three year old, from what I could see. She especially enjoys jumping. A lot. She still has a pudgy toddler pot belly and baby fat in her cheeks. She loves to be where all the action and attention are.

Emmanuel is much more reserved, and we were able to confirm that he is who we thought he was in the pictures we had seen. In the video, he hovers over his sister at a distance. At one point, he realized he was being filmed, and he looked straight into the lens of the camera (which was being used by a man) pointed to it and shouted, “Maman! (French for “mommy”) I honestly have no idea what to make of it, but I am delighted nonetheless. He has the sweetest softest smile that reveals he has already lost his first baby tooth. It looks like the Tooth Fairy is going to have some catching up to do! He’s as tall as the other five year olds in the group, including the little girl who just came home. I feel like I can now estimate what size of clothing he wears. Since most of the kids his age were speaking some English, I’m hoping he’ll know a little bit too.

Our kids are so cute. In all seriousness, you all are going to fall in love the minute you see their smiling faces. You may not have the strength to resist them!   Consider yourself warned! 🙂

Where We Belong

 A guest post by Ken

Robin and I are looking forward to going and getting our children. We can’t wait. The waiting causes our spirits to ache. There is a deep longing that cannot be explained but tells us that the way things are now are simply not as they should be.

 

Our children, who we hope to adopt in the very near future, are not ours yet. And we know that the journey to go and get them will be a difficult one. We are going to a country that is very different from our own. It will not be safe for us – day or night. The basic living conditions will be challenging. The Democratic Republic of Congo is a dark place. An inhospitable place for us. Our goal is go there, get our children and return safely.

 

For our two children, they may not understand what is happening. I can’t imagine that three and five year olds will be able to grasp the changes no matter how hard we try to explain the process. They will be joining our family and going to a place that is so foreign from all that they know.

 

Kinshasa, their current home, is dangerous. As “rich foreigners”, it will be even more so for us. There is a lack of food and clean drinking water. Disease is common. Much of the living conditions are a mystery because it is illegal and unsafe for outsiders to take pictures. For the most part, the plight of those living there goes unnoticed by the outside world. It is a place that is forgotten and abandoned.

 

And we can’t wait to show our children what their new home will be like. We have come to love Nashville and all that it offers. It has become home for Robin and I.

We are so blessed.

 

If I were penniless today, I know where I could go to get a warm meal and a smile. And even if I didn’t, I believe strangers, STRANGERS, would take care of me. Clean drinking water is freely available. I have access to doctors, top notch hospitals and the latest medicines. And while there are dangerous places in Nashville, I also know that there are many places where I am safe and will be welcomed inside. I am so blessed.

 

Nashville is a beautiful city. We look forward to taking our children around the city and showing them the sights:  the Zoo (creatures big and small from the very cuddly to the very creepy), farmers market (with all its sights and smells), Centennial park (they may not care about the Parthenon, but will love feeding the ducks in the pond), the Adventure Science Center (with all its wonders to explore), and of course the lights at the Opryland Hotel at Christmas time. And in between, there are so many playgrounds and metro parks that must be explored. I think they will love the many trees, ponds, walkways, jungle gyms, swimming pools and ice cream shops. Nashville is a great place to be a kid.

 

We are so blessed and have so much to share with our children.

 

When we meet them our children will be afraid about the future, the transition and us. How can they not be? Everything about us will be different from what they know. It will be our job to build trust, to guide them through this transition, and to make them feel safe along the way.

 

We know that in many ways life will be better for them. We will give them food, clothes, a home where they can feel safe, education, friends, and a future where they can decide who they want to be and what they will do with their lives. If they allow us, we will be their forever family.

 

I can’t wait to tell them about their wonderful life and all the riches it has waiting for them. And yet I am reminded that this isn’t the BEST. Moving to America will be life changing for them, but the truth is there is nothing, NOTHING, on this earth that will compare to heaven.

 

We are so blessed to be living where and when we are, but this isn’t home. While we will be in Kinshasa, we will be looking forward to returning to Music City, yet there is a real danger for us if we get too comfortable with this life.

 

Nashville is a beautiful city. It has become home for Robin and I. But it is not home for us. We are both aliens and strangers who are on a journey to a better place. We look forward to our children joining us on this pilgrimage. When the writer of Hebrews penned the passage on the heroes of the faith, he described a people of faith who longed for a place where they would belong.

 

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 13:13-16, NIV)

 

More recently, Building 429 has written a song, Where I Belong, which sums up how Robin and I feel.

 

Sometimes it feels like im watching

from the outside

Sometimes it feels like

I’m breathing but am I alive

I will keep searching for answers

that aren’t here to find

 

All I know is

I’m not home yet

this is not where I belong

take this world and give me Jesus

this is not where I belong

 

So when the walls

come falling down on me

and when im lost

in the current of a raging sea

I have this blessed assurance holding me.

 

When the earth shakes

I wanna be found in you

when the lights fade

I wanna be found in you

 

We can’t wait to meet our children.

 

We long for the day when we can bring them back to the states and introduce them to our friends, family and the wonderful life that we now enjoy.

 

But we ache for the day when OUR heavenly Father comes to get us and take us HOME where we truly belong!