Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Take This Moment

Please join in today...wherever you are....and pray for those caught in the midst of a terrifying rebel takeover in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Not much news is making it out of the Congo, less is being reported, almost nothing here in Canada. I feel so ashamed and torn.

As it's getting dark again now in the Congo, the thought of our kids and care workers is right at the forefront of all I do today. I pray that children and their caregivers are not separated. I pray that there is food to be found and water as well, in a land that has already been ravaged and raped.

I pray for safety for grandmothers, mothers, and children alike. Safety from the brutality of rape that is used as a weapon to subdue them. I pray for the safety of our children as they hide and run on empty stomachs. I pray that there would be those that would look out for them and care for them while they are hiding.

I pray that the UN Peacekeepers would intervene.
I pray that the rebels would recede and begin talks to end this terror.
I pray that somehow, in all of this, that the children that Hands works with will find their way back to us in the coming days so that there can be efforts made to care for them and feed them and keep them safe.
I pray that the world will wake up and learn the lesson that we seemed to have missed in Rwanda, Bosnia, Burma and so many other conflicts. 5 million people killed in the Congo in these conflicts since 1997.
I pray this would end.
I pray that prayer combined with a call to action on the part of our media to cover this injustice, our governments to pressure the UN to act on behalf of the innocent, and donations to reputable agencies would ease the immensity of suffering that is only intensifying now as the sun goes down on yet another day of violence and terror.
May God be with us. All of us.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Running on Empty

As quickly as I get news posted around here, it changes. This week on the news, there have been snippets of information of rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo withdrawing from Goma, and I was so relieved. Unfortunately, the talks that they were hoping to instigate with the withdrawal haven't happened, and the rebels, once again, are on the move, into Goma. At the same time, the U.N. is preparing to withdraw troops. This is a horrific turn of events. At times I'm thankful that our news coverage here is so sporadic and shallow and yet, I know, regardless of who is watching, this is going on.

What this means is that the children and care workers in the DRC, along with so many others that live there, are on the run. Rebels come in and indiscriminately beat, rape, and kill anyone in their path. They steal anything of negligible value and burn whatever is left. In the village of Luhonga, the care workers have begun feeding children and caring for them. The children in these areas are traumatized, orphaned, and live in constant fear. Their darkest fears often become reality as is the case right now. Rebels come without warning and people literally flee. Families are separated, children are lost, parents are killed and grandmothers hide. Imagine your family running for their very lives with little warning, empty stomachs, bare feet and no safe place to run or return to.

My friend, Lynn, tells the story of arriving at the home of a gogo (grandmother) in Luhonga and when a small boy she had taken in, opened the door, he immediately began to run into the forest. Filled with fear and traumatized, he saw strangers and fled. One of the care workers chased him down and brought him back but the whole visit, he was unable to catch his breath and sat, ready to run again, at the slightest provacation. These children have lived with such horror and trauma that all they know is to run.

I'm attaching a link to the Hands at Work Flickr stream. 10 Photos. Please take a moment and scroll through these photos and remember these in the coming days. They're running from the rebels. And there's no safe place for them to run.


Here are a few organizations that are on the ground in Goma that you can send a donation to help. By some reports, even aid workers and agencies are either behind locked doors or have left the area in an effort to regroup safely.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Eavesdrop in the Coffee Shop

This morning, the office "fairies" are working in my office this morning, putting together the various pieces that are needed to make it workable. Like shelves. And bulletin boards. And pretty things.  So, instead of driving aimlessly around the city in search of inspiration, I headed to a local coffee shop that I know does not have wireless, in an effort to focus on the list of to do's, including the need to write.

When I walk in, there is only one other table near me. Two women talking about their staff Christmas party on the weekend. They are obviously mid-conversation because they are full throttle bashing their boss for not closing their workplace early and making some of the staff have to come straight from work. Halfway through my coffee and scone, they are still skewering said boss, right down to the choice of cutlery and drinks served. It sounds like a small business, from the way they are speaking, with the "boss" also being the owner that calls the shots.  One of the women begins to move from the skewering of the boss to her own way of dealing with it. She does her job. No more, no less. She doesn't give her boss any extra time or energy. She doesn't pay out of pocket for things that she used to because she is tired of being underappreciated.  Just as I am ready to scribble on my napkin some clever advice about getting the plank out of her own eye, I realize that I am working her over in my mind to the same extent. Sometimes, I'm so dull. I get to the point in my head where I've talked myself down off the ledge and extending her grace mentally…and they start in on church. And fellow church goers. And, I'm back in that place where my mental attack begins again. I have to begin to discipline my mind. I need to reign it in.

Thankfully, for my state of mind, in walks three old guys. They sit between me and the women and begin to compare their weekends, excema treatments and hip replacement progress. I kid you not. If only, I'm thankful for the fact that their conversations drown out that of the women, and the voices in my head as well.

And then it happens, one of the gentlemen, poses the question to his friends. "What can we do to ease the situation in Israel? It's intolerable." So begins a discussion that I am shamelessly eavesdropping on. It's such a beautiful thing. They know their stuff. Obviously, they are well educated on the subject, which is so inspiring. I'm holding back tears as they speak, thankful for the hat I wore today to cover my eyes. They know about the number of Israeli gunboats off the coast, the square mileage of land in the Gaza strip, the desperation of the people on both sides of the conflict. Their discussion is so gracious and well spoken, they are thoughtfully pointing out approaches that citizens here in Saskatoon can take to care for those overseas that are embroiled in the conflict. Then it drops into the conversation, an idea to get their respective churches involved. Oh my lanta. It does something to me to erase the voices in my head that say all is lost. That the generation before us or after us doesn't "get it". That the church is filled with pew warmers and those who walk out unchanged every Sunday morning.

Sometimes I wonder at the things God puts in front of us. The conversations we are able to hear.  The way that God speaks to us through those around us.  And how we can learn from those around us, for better or worse.

I'm sure it's inappropriate to hug a group of old guys in a coffee shop but I might.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Our friend, Grace.

The other night at hockey, I watched a friend of mine do something that rang of character. Given where we were, I wanted to ring a cowbell or shout or fist pump or something but I held back. Instead, I just sat quietly as the bleachers of a city hockey rink turned into a holy place for me. Life lessons can hit at anytime, sometimes the realization of what you've learned creeps up on you, sometimes it's as blatant as a flashing sign. This was neither, it was just a friend, being who she is when she thought no one was watching. 

A few years ago, our friends were hit hard by the "sucks to be in ministry" train that has hit most of us at one time or another. Jason and I were just reeling from our own ministry train wreck and subsequently moved north to work with these friends, knowing that we would find it a place where Jason could work his style of ministry and not be reprimanded for having kids in the office or for considering having lunch with kids as a valuable use of his time.  Sadly, it was a brief honeymoon period, in fact, all too short…for though we weren't targeted, our dear friends were.  (Insert disclaimer that this is just my rendition of the way it went down…blah blah blah…and that I won't name names as a means to protect the "not-so" innocent.) In the midst of some of their worst days, they experienced the heartache of friends that chose sides, chose to remain silent and just generally distanced themselves when needed the most. I remember crying through some of those days as if it were my own pain again. In many ways, it was. Sadly, our friends were forced to leave the church, they left the country and were able to serve others down in the USA where we all know, they need Jesus far more than we do in the Great White North. (again…just cut and paste that disclaimer any old time you wish.)

Fast forward, five years, and they are back in Canada. The other night, our boys played hockey against each other. Regardless, we decided we could share the bleachers without conflict so we sat together and watched our boys back on the same sheet of ice.  It seemed very Canadian and as if all had fallen back into place as it should be.  For the first period, we sat and cheered both teams, laughed and just enjoyed each others' company, with just the faintest hint of static in the arena. If you've ever been on the wrong end of a relationship meltdown, you know the static I speak of. That slightly heightened sensitivity that one of the ones who hurt you, whether intentionally or not, is around? It's that buzz or high pitched frequency that makes dogs run or cats hiss for seemingly no reason…the Spidey sense that tingles when something is just off.  I knew right away what it was but didn't bring it up. I'm cowardly like that. But, my friend, how her actions heal things in me that she'll probably never know…got up after the first period, walked down the bleachers out of sight and didn't return for the whole next period. At one point, once I had figured out her disappearance, leaned over and caught sight of her hugging a mutual acquaintance who is also the mom of one of the boys on our team. I wanted to cheer. Or ring the cowbell. Or fist pump. This is grace in action. The woman who is not much more than a casual acquaintance to me, was a dear friend of hers years ago. One who, for reasons I don't know, didn't stand up or comfort or demonstrate the level of friendship that many assumed they shared. And here was my friend, giving her grace, showing her love and forgiveness, on the sidelines of a bantam boys' hockey game. 

When you experience it, you know it. When you see it, you know it. When you give it, you really get it.

Good News

Just heard from our sweet Oumie:

Greetings to all,

Praise the Lord, O my soul.
I will praise the Lord all my life.
I will sing praises to my God
As long as I live.
                                Psalm 140:1

Thank you for all your prayers for Luhongo village in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.
We've received good news this week, all the children are back and safe and the feeding scheme is continuing.

We thank God for his faithfulness,
Blessings, Oumie.

Oumie is George Snyman's mother but more than if that weren't enough! She is the resident grandmother at the Hub where many volunteers and teams stay while doing orientation or making their way out into communities in South Africa. She charmed our family entirely while we were there and we all loved having a grandma on the property. Oumie is one of those people, much like my own Grandma B., that you somehow feel has the red phone kind of connection to God. As if their prayers, because of their faith, hold more when someone like Oumie says she's praying for you, you sleep better at night or walk with a little more confidence into a scary situation.

She is absolutely lovely and has such a gift making people feel at home. She lives at the top of a very steep hill on the grounds and I know that while we were in S. Africa,  Easton made his way up the hill more than once to sit on Oumie's porch and just have a chat or met up with her in the village and sat and talked with her.  They struck up a friendship that was very sweet and helped Easton feel very much at home at the Hub. I loved that for him. I watched Aidan get up and give her a chair and it brought tears to my eyes with love for both of them. Jason would engage her with his little bit of Dutch and she would respond in Afrikaans and they would share little moments of communicating in their own combination of language.

For me, it was just amazing to be around a grandma again. I miss my Grandma B. and my time with Oumie felt much the same. I was thankful to be involved with her in different circles, such as seeing her on Tuesday mornings at the village when all the ladies would gather together to just talk and pray through their week together. Most of all, I love, love, LOVED watching Oumie and Carolyn, her daughter in law, interact. For me, it was a reminder of the kind of relationship that my Grandma and I and mutual admiration of course, but humour and sarcasm and feistiness too. Watching Carolyn and Oumie together made me feel like I was completely at home. Sometimes the greatest gifts we give each other, are the ones we are least aware of. Oumie and Carolyn teasing each other, working alongside one another and just walking, talking, eating together...those are some of the moments that healed things in me that have been hurt and taught me things that I have forgotten to look for in my own life.  It's also reminded me to love deeply in my own relationships, for that in itself is its own reward, but you never know, it may also challenge someone else to do the same.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

In Remembrance

A portion of homage to the walking wounded: "A population both uncounted and unaccounted for. Those who fought for the convictions of their hearts and have no place to lay their heads. Those who found valour in their youth and disregard in their age. Those who sacrificed in combat boots and are sacrificed to second-hand shoes. Those who survived in the trenches and now brave the gutters. Those who
 lost friends on the front lines, limbs on the battlefield, and minds on the minefield. Those who believed in a just war and have been shown no justice. Let us be poised for even more than remembrance for the fallen, but imagining the dream of reconciliation for the living."

From Tim Huff... "Lest We Regret"... Tim works is an advocate for and a friend to street people, from his book, "Dancing with Dynamite".

For those of you who live in the USA (and indeed, in Canada as well) and maybe haven't had access to Tim Huff, I thought I'd repost part of his homage to veterans. It reminded me this week that some don't proudly wear medals or still have uniforms, or even a home to call their own. Some are bound to wheelchairs, poverty and life on the street. The reminder this week stirred me to attend a different type of service this morning. Instead of watching the Remembrance Day ceremonies from the comfort of my couch as I usually do...because let's face it, it's -19...I don't tend to want to venture far from the warmth of my home on days like this. This morning though, I attended a service at a local soup kitchen, where they served almost 300 people for lunch, after serving so many breakfast as well. At 11:00, we stopped and held a small ceremony for Remembrance Day. What moved me most, was the diversity of the men and women, not in military uniform, though they may have once worn them, that stood and saluted the veterans we were honouring. I thought of Tim's words as I looked into the eyes of the people around me, clear, cloudy, distant and distracted. I'm thankful for our veterans. I need to remember throughout the year that the uniform of a former soldier may well be layers of flannel and denim, dirtied by life on the street, gloveless hands reaching out for change, and well worn boots that don't just walk the streets but make their homes there.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The News - Great and Grim

It seems like for every achievement we celebrate in Africa, we also have to face the grim realities in other areas. This morning is no different.  We get email updates from our family in Africa and when we do, it's always with a little twinge of anxiety that I open them, knowing that there is so much that can be revealed in just a few short sentences. As Ecclesiastes says, there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn. Sometimes they come within minutes of one another.

This past week, we received the following requests to pray for the Democratic Republic of Congo, and particularly a community that we have been working in where rebels once again have begun to terrorize  the people there. There is no rhyme nor reason to the violence and terror that is inflicted by these rebel groups, there is often not even any way to differentiate factions of rebels that continue to just make misery worse for no obvious gains on their part. So, in its simplicity, here is the prayer request that we received:

Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
Urgent prayer is needed as rebels have entered Luhongo  Village
 where Hands at Work has begun care for very vulnerable children.
Pray for grannies and children fleeing to the woods to be protected.
Pray that Care Givers will be able to find these children.
Pray that feeding schemes to be restarted as everything has been disrupted due to rebel activities.

...if you wonder what they leave behind when they are fleeing? Nothing. They have nothing. Minimal shelter. Shattered families. Unusable land.  And yet? They flee and it scatters what has already been scattered and any sense of rebuilding or hope or commonality is destroyed, not to mention that the trauma to and vulnerability of children and grannies, already at an unimaginable level, is amplified by these raids and attacks. And those that have stepped up to bring comfort and food and help? They too must flee and with them, the hope that Luhongo may have been beginning to grasp for. 

And yet, elsewhere on the continent, in a small rural village called Oshoek, along the South African side of the Swaziland border, a group of committed beautiful care workers have begun to feed 50 children this week! Every day. How I love these stories! These are the women and men that we spent time with back in March and had our hearts broken for their community. Oshoek is beautiful, rural and difficult. It is a very cold place, and so very poor. You may remember the story of my breakdown in Oshoek when a grandmother asked us for food to feed her 7 grandchildren, high in the hills of Oshoek. Or of the amazing artist who drew amazing renditions of football stadiums and made his own guitar from cardboard and found items. Or the story of the young boy who, at age 6, cared for his dying aunty and nursed her back to health while taking care of the house they were living in and cooking meals. Or the young brother and sister, who orphaned in early childhood, built themselves a home out of mud and sticks that they still live in today. This is Oshoek. The care workers there walk distances we wouldn't attempt in their daily visits to orphaned and vulnerable children in their hilly, rural community. And now, with the support of Hands at Work, they have begun to feed 50 children in this community. It's such a beautiful beginning and so desperately needed. I literally cried at the news, knowing what this means for so many in Oshoek, that can't provide for themselves or their children.

There is much work to be done and re-done. There are forces at work that would see this work end. And yet, there is still so much to celebrate. I'm thinking of this boy today. And I hope he has reason to sing again.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy - Outside the United States

With all the coverage of the damage in the United States caused by Hurricane Sandy, it hit me that just a few days earlier, the same storm made landfall in the Caribbean. Cuba, Jamaica and Haiti...all faced the wrath of Sandy and yet, I haven't seen anything on the news here in Canada about the damages, death tolls and aftermath.  I'm just putting up a few newsfeed photos (not mine) to remind myself that this is not just an American news story. Haiti, particularly, is suffering and will continue to. 40 - 50% of their food crops have been destroyed meaning food security is once again diminished.
I'm just going to leave you with this: take a few minutes...look up your favourite charity and find out if they are working in Haiti and throw a little support behind them.  It doesn't diminish what is happening on the Eastern seaboard of the United States but the states that are affected have 40+ other states standing with them. Who is standing up for these?

If you don't have a trusted charity on the ground in Haiti, here are a few that are working there already and are in place to help:



 This is the link to a trusted orphanage in Haiti that continues to care for  the ever increasing number of kids that are orphaned and vulnerable in Haiti: