Tag Archives: MCC

Andres the refugee: Lessons in powerlessness from Honduras

Way back in the 90’s I took my first MCC immersion trip to El Salvador and Honduras. It was before cell phones worked well, so I had one scratchy phone call to Gwen in two weeks – that was a first. I remember the trip as my baptism by fire into the reality of white supremacy and empire thinking. This week that memory has seemed important.

When our group took off for San Salvador, I thought I was a rather “with it,” comparatively-activist kind of guy. I wanted to go to El Salvador before the war was over. I was already upset that the U.S. was complicit in all sorts of evil deeds and had hidden a titanic military base at Soto Cano. I felt a lot of love for people in Central America, especially since I came from Southern California where Spanish speakers were childhood friends. I soon found out I was less with it and loving than I thought, but that’s how I started.

We talked to Army officials, U.S. Embassy reps, church leaders, activists, and MCC workers. We met Jon Sobrino, were forced off our bus by eighteen-year-old soldiers with automatic weapons, and took a ride out into the far reaches of Honduras, almost to Nicaragua, where a village had waited up into the night under the one, public lightbulb to greet us. It was a very educational trip. But the most lasting memory has to be of Andres.

Mesa Grande Refugee Camp — Wikipedia/Linda Hess Miller

My upending memory of Andres

I admit that this incident is one of those that may have a lot more meaning than the facts deserve. I was having an “aha” moment, so who knows what really happened? We were in a refugee camp in Honduras for Salvadorans who had been driven out of their homes by the war. They expected to be gone until the soldiers passed on, but that never happened. Many years later they were still stuck in a strange limbo. Some had come as children, literally naked. One person who had fled with nothing but the clothes on his back was Andres. In his imprisonment, he had become a Christian and the catechist for the camp. We were meeting him because he was one of the leading people who should be seeing a group of well-dressed “dignitaries” from the United States.

He was very kind and very hospitable. We sat in his house made of cast-off scraps of wood. I still remember being fascinated as I watched chickens walking in and out of the walls. This sweet, godly, respectable man kept enlightening me as they pecked about. We might as well had come from the moon, as far as Andres was concerned. He had never been to San Salvador, the capital, from which we had just driven. I think I asked him if he ever wanted to own a car. He said he had not considered that, since he had never been in one. (That is one of my memories that makes me wonder if this really happened. Did he actually say that? You’ve never been in a car?). The longer I got to be with Andres, the more I loved him. My preconceptions about him began to fade into the background the more he talked – preconceptions like, “Surely he would want a car” and, “Surely he would like to go to the capitol city”). He was happy with his house and honored to be the catechist. Unlike all his visitors from the U.S. that day, he was content. He did not have big ideas about how to make everything better, and made me a bit ashamed of myself for cluttering up his honest, simple life with my expensive sandals.

Eventually, we were finished with our overwhelming two weeks and sitting in room in Tegucigalpa for the final debrief. At that point in my life I was especially not a crier. But when it came time for me to share, I uncharacteristically burst into tears. “I feel so helpless,” is what I remember saying. Maybe I was just feeling, “I can’t do anything.” I had come to Central America equipped with health, energy and assurance that I could be a part of something great. I would end the war, figure out rural poverty and go back to the U.S. equipped to organize great things to resettle refugees and effect reconciliation. Instead, I was sitting beside the road in Teguci-whatever crying out to Jesus. When He called to me, I told him I wanted to see. The scales of my “imperial gaze” were not removed, as of yet, but I certainly felt blind.

A few, certainly not all, of the lessons I need to learn

As we were in the middle of the always-overdue crisis over racism and police brutality in the United States last week (white supremacy, imperialism, militarism, inequality, etc. etc.), my mind turned to Andres and the things he began to teach me about being powerless and changing things, way back when.

1) People get along fine without western culture

I had never seen just how huge my list of assumptions about reality actually were until that trip. I thought I was a Christian – and I had been in trouble for how radical I was! But the Bible looked a lot more like Andres than like me. Whenever invisible people become visible to the rulers, it is always disturbing. Andres still disturbs me. I never really knew I was a ruler until I sat on a three-legged stool he made out of firewood in his house and realized he was getting along fine without me and my late-capitalist culture, or whatever it is that’s happening.

2) Not everyone wants to trade community for commodities

How in the world can one be so wise and content with a chicken walking through one’s walls? I could not keep my eyes off that chicken! Later that day another refugee family invited several of us to dinner. We shared a soup featuring their one potato as they happily watched us eat it. We investigated to see just how coerced they were to do this, but we were assured they really thought it would be a hoot to entertain us. Is it more amazing that we were flabbergasted or that they shared their potato? Even as a Christian, I am still tempted to have an economic answer for everything.

3) “Poor” people often have ways to get along in the shadow of the monsters that rule them just fine and don’t need instruction from the monsters when they finally deign to see them.

The world has always been full of monsters. Jesus announced their doom when he rose from the dead after they killed him. I was so full of power, I really wanted to fight those monsters. But after that debrief, I began to think that witnessing to their doom by embracing resurrection in their shadow was my best hope at having a life in a world where Bill Barr is Attorney General. Ever since, I keep trying to find a way to live an alternative in Christ in the shadow of the doomed monsters. They are passing away, after all, and what they thought was the Lord’s powerlessness will upend them forever. Plus, even they need a place to which to escape after they have killed and raped and despoiled the earth. I sat with Andres and felt like I deserved to die from my complicity with the monster from the north, but his gentle ignorance of my political plight and deep wisdom of our common spiritual future comforted and directed me.

4) Fighting it out for justice as if it amounted to percentages of a limited pie doesn’t make sense unless you want the pie.

We’ve been having the endless argument again this week after the looters smashed up corporate windows and messed up too many small businesspeople, too. “Thou shalt not steal” vs. “It’s not stealing; it’s just a bit of reparations for what was stolen.” Everyone is stealing, as usual, because in our society we live in a capitalist box. It seems to me that God is knocking on the box like (decidedly white, admittedly) Jesus in the famous painting, standing at the door. Behold, if there is not a better life than succeeding in the capitalist free-for-all, the vortex of injustice, that’s sad. Andres couldn’t have cared less about my car. How did he get so happy without a car? How did he seem so wise without knowing about my 401K? How could he know anything if he was not prepared to fight off the monster lurking in Soto Cano?

I take heart that the protests seemed to get free of the violence this weekend and turn into the morality that is uniting people around the world. But economic inequality is not going away any time soon, if ever. I’m glad I’ve met people all over the world, who don’t follow that inequality around, but follow Jesus instead.

5) There is an alternative that Anabaptists like to talk about but rarely find in North America.

I am happy we talk about the Third Way, and we (I mainly know about Circle of Hope) represent an alternative in a lot of ways. But we spend an awful lot of time sorting out the first and second ways, or whatever binary the media loves to amplify. I admit, I love to fire up my computer and read all the news every day. I might spend more time on that than time in meditation most days! I know an awful lot about the awful Trump, tromping across the street to run humanity-loving Episcopalians off their own porch. I suspect Andres never had a computer.  He missed the endless arguing; he missed the moralizing about moralizing, fury about fury and, exclusion over excluding. Maybe I am over-idealizing him, but I remember him as being strangely at peace. I not only want that peace, I want to make it.

I know I am making “points” as I go along telling these little stories. I’m not trying to tidy up my experience or yours – not really. It’s more of a confession. If you are a so-called white person, you probably have some of your own confession to make. So I am not trying to whitesplain anything, just trying to learn old lessons better. My lessons are not final and it would not be surprising if they aren’t the ones you want or need to hear. So let’s be friends. I just thought I’d tell you about a good man in the middle of nowhere who was driven out of his home and ended up in a refugee camp. He learned faith and it made him remarkable to me. Maybe he had an easier situation in which to learn faith at that point than we have in the belly of this beast – good for him. But maybe we can do it, too, instead of biting and devouring one another in reflection of the monster.

I think MCC made a decent investment by baptizing me. I certainly became better friends with the refugees of the world and with a lot of other people I probably would have continued to otherize. We are so preoccupied with stealing in the U.S., the country has ended up with a lot of stuff. When we ship it off to people with one potato periodically, I feel like some justice is done. Even better, when we get to know them and figure out our whole way of looking at things may not have much of a Jesus lens, love gets a chance to bloom. Then I feel we might be able to see a little bit.

Suffering on the southern border: Save us from MPP

January 29 marked the one-year anniversary of the Migrant Protection Protocols, otherwise known as the “Remain in Mexico” program. The policy prevents asylum seekers from waiting for their hearings in safety in the United States and forces them to wait in locations across the border in Mexico where they face violence and extortion.

So last Wednesday, Gwen offered us a vigil to mark the injustice and give us an opportunity to meet the impossible with prayer. I want to keep that prayer going with this post. I know I have readers from all over the world, so let’s wrap the world in prayer with and for people desperate enough to flee their homes — and hopeful enough to run up against the borders of an uncaring, violent world.

One picture of the country’s unkindness keeps getting replayed in Mexico when detainees are released from U.S. detention without shoelaces.  They appear on the doorsteps of shelters where caregivers maintain stockpiles. One refugee reported, “They took away our shoelaces because so many people tried to hang themselves with them.” But the prison keepers did not give them back when they were released, thereby preventing laceless people from becoming targets for gangs and kidnapers.

no shoelaces at the border

Save us from MPPs

“Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

The administration is using MPP (Ironically titled “migrant protection protocols”) in tandem with other illegal policies, including turn-backs and the third-country transit asylum ban, to subvert U.S. law. The result is effectively a near-ban on asylum. The Department of Homeland Security has forced more than 60,000 asylum seekers and other migrants to wait in Mexico under MPP.

We see you in the stranger, Lord

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)

There are now at least 636 public reports of rape, kidnapping, torture, and other violent attacks against asylum seekers and migrants returned to Mexico under MPP.

Give us big enough hearts

This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.  (Matthew 22:38-40)

A recent study by the U.S. Immigration Policy Center at UC San Diego found that one in four people affected by the MPP in Tijuana and Mexicali have been threatened with physical violence. The study did not include the extremely dangerous MPP return locations of Ciudad Juárez, Matamoros, or Nuevo Laredo.

May we love as you love us

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.”   (Galatians 5:14)

Asylum seekers who miss MPP court hearings because of kidnappings are being ordered deported. A pregnant Salvadoran woman in a Laredo court told an immigration judge that her husband had gone missing in Mexico and couldn’t attend his hearing. The judge ordered him deported. A 9-year-old disabled girl and her mother missed their immigration court hearing while being held captive and raped. They were ordered removed by an immigration judge in San Diego.

Give us courage to see and act

“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked.   The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”      (Luke 10:36-37)

Only 4% of individuals subjected to the Remain in Mexico policy have lawyers. Less than 1% have won their cases. This inhumane situation and practices of the DHS violate U.S. asylum and immigration law and U.S. Refugee Protocol obligations.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling
Director Beto Ramos said CAME provides shelter, meals, clothing and emergency care for families waiting to be called for processing for asylum in Agua Prieta AZ

Show us the way beyond the border

In a global village it is overwhelming to see everyone as one’s neighbor. Our minds have trouble embracing them all. We let ourselves be complacent because we are not on a road, like the good Samaritan,  where we encounter all these suffering outcasts. At best they are a passing headline or picture for many of us.

We have limitations and we are not the saviors of the world. But Jesus can help us suffer with him. We can pray, like we are doing now. We can share resources. We can support those who are on the front lines of love for us — we are already connected to people  through our own Solidarity Beyond Borders Team and through our MCC partners.

We can pay attention and learn to sympathize through people who lead us in compassion. Our friend, Ron Byler, executive director of MCCUS, was on the southern border all last week and reported what he experienced on his Facebook page. He not only reveals how wicked the situation is, but also how many wonderful people are giving their lives to be light in that darkness.

We can keep turning into love, even when it is daunting. Often that means not turning away from the suffering, just as Jesus never turns away from ours.

In Palestine: It is good to be a child caring for children

Image result for uncle bobbie's

Donovan and I shared a pleasant hour at Uncle Bobbie’s in Germantown last week. As we were winding down, he brought up how Marc Lamont Hill, the founder of the restaurant, had been fired from his commentator role at CNN for using an “anti-Semitic” phrase in a speech he gave to the United Nations. He called for equal rights for Palestinians “from the river to the Sea.”

When we were in Palestine, I met so many West Bank residents and Israelis who think such rights are crucial for the future health of both Jews and Palestinians, I thought it was a settled part of the ongoing argument about what is next. But in the polarized atmosphere of the United States, Hill’s remarks were immediately characterized as a call for the eradication of Israel! As you can hear in the Al Jazeera report on the incident, most people thought he was just talking about all Palestinians — those who live in Israel or the West Bank, achieving rights equal to Israelis. Others saw the phrase as a line straight from the Hamas playbook.

Donovan and I had wandered into the minefield of Israeli fragility and aggression in our own country, where 27 states have already enacted legislation that targets anti-Israeli boycotts designed to pressure Israel for justice, and where federal legislation against the boycotts is pending. What’s more, the Christians seem to have chosen the side of the Jews (who they identify with the state of Israel) for once. Pat Robertson summed up the radical Evangelical theology that produces super-supporters of Israel who think their support is a matter of Bible-following holiness. That’s as far as I will wander into that.

I just want to pay attention to Palestinian children

I bring up Marc Lamont Hill stepping on one of the landmines spread around the perimeter of public opinion to protect Israel because we were discussing the explosion he experienced right after I had outlined the following exhortation. I would like us to pay attention to Palestinian children and the ongoing injustice Israel perpetrates as they  protect their nation’s right to exist, violate international law, illegally settle the West Bank, operate a police state and divide up the territory they occupy with an apartheid-like system. I would be speaking hysterically if I had not briefly experienced everything on that list in person — a giant wall always in the background snaking along various borders.

I don’t think Jesus followers need to gain the world’s power in order to effect perfect justice. Jesus will bring everything to right in the end. Besides, striving to be on the top so we can help people at the bottom seems to be the exact opposite of the Lord’s strategy. Like Jesus, i think we should accompany those at the bottom, identify with them and see the world through their eyes. We work for peace and justice from that vantage point.

So that brings me to the children of Palestine. MCC distributed an infographic about their situation. Here is part of it.

They have trauma stories

Jarrah, an 18-year-old Palestinian man, was 15 when he was arrested by Israeli soldiers. He says, “I used to go out with my friends to parties, but now when I reach the end of the street I remember what happened. And I come back. There is no feeling of safety.” The children are traumatized by the occupation and the constant threat of random Israeli arrest. Many of the Palestinians live in territory under military control, which does not have the same civil law structure as other places.

Each year Israel detains and prosecutes 500-700 Palestinian youth in the West Bank. Human rights organizations have documented the systematic mistreatment and abuse of these children, including torture, blindfolding and lack of access to legal counsel. These practices run counter to basic norms and protections within juvenile justice systems. (Like the U.S. government emulates Israel’s wall, it also mistreats detained children).

Obaida Akram Jawabra was detained and is afraid he will end up in prison again. One reason he is afraid is because to get to school he needs to cross Route 60. That highway is controlled by the Israeli military. Here is his story.

Here is another story from Al Jazeera about a sixteen-year-old who’s arrest was caught on video and went viral.

It is good to be a child caring for children

On April 30, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) introduced a bill, H.R. 2407, to prohibit U.S. taxpayer funds from supporting the military detention of children in any country, including Israel. This important bill builds on similar legislation that was introduced in the last session of Congress. Do you know how to encourage your representative to sign on as a co-sponsor?

Jesus welcomed and blessed children, saying “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5). We are called to care for the most vulnerable among us, including children. I would add that we are to BE the most vulnerable, just like Jesus emptied himself to become one with us in our sin and brokenness. That may always seem like a counterintuitive strategy to us. But the road to transformation is always a step toward the “least of these” as one of the poor, in fact or in spirit.

First thoughts from Zimbabwe

I am hesitant to think that everyone cares about my travels, much less about Zimbabwe. But we are here with the BICC church members who make up our MCC workforce in the country, so it seems like there OUGHT to be some innate interest among my friends connected to the Brethren in Christ.  Now that I have my first taste, I REALLY think we should stay interested. So I have some questions:

1) Why are U.S. BIC churches so generally disengaged with MCC? Might be because we don’t know what is going on. We own an amazing relief, development and advocacy agency. I also know that some leaders  feel concerned it has “Mennonite” in the title (they could call it “mutual Christian compassion” and get over it), but in Zimbabwe it is all BIC people running things in the Matabele homeland.

2) Can we somehow get out some more info about what Circle of Hope gave $500K towards in the last five years? Just today I learned we built new schools and teachers quarters last year so kids would have a school closer than 20 miles away. We supported a transformation project that is not public knowledge that is totally inspiring. We taught people how to do conservation farming among the neediest people in one of the poorest nations on earth.  That’s just part of the first day.

The other Africa posts:

April 13
Circle of Hope travels to southern Africa.

ZIMBABWE

April 18
First thoughts from Zimbabwe

April 19
Being poor is tough

April 20
Going around doing good

April 22
Coming up against the powers

ZAMBIA

April 25
The food chain

April 25
The work of the Lord

April 26
Showing God’s love in practical ways

April 27
Will the northern hemisphere ever grow peace clubs?

April 30
Will we concede Southern Africa to Islam?

We have to keep helping the Syrians

syrian familiesGwen and I did not have to pay as much tax as we expected! (Happy dance occurs). We decided to pour some of what we had saved for the taxes into South Broad’s sharing gap. And we poured another portion into the cups of our poor Syrian loved ones via MCC.

Thank God for the fragile cease fire that is allowing some more aid to get deeper into Syria itself. We have been trying to help since the crisis began in 2011. Remember the dress sale?

Since then, our sharing with MCC through our thrift stores and Common Fund has also helped alleviate suffering.

This conflict brought on “compassion fatigue” rather quickly for most people, I think. It appears the 1% would rather spend its money on buying the government than helping refugees. The rest of the 99% feel squeezed so much that they have a tough time sharing even when they actually have a lot to share. In case you are interested (and I am seriously NOT trying to guilt you into being interested — giving is about gladness, not guilt), here are some facts from World Vision:

Syria crisis: Fast facts

Why are Syrians fleeing their homes?

  • Violence: Since the Syrian civil war began, 320,000 people have been killed, including nearly 12,000 children. About 1.5 million people have been wounded or permanently disabled, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.4 The war has become more deadly since foreign powers joined the conflict.
  • Collapsed infrastructure: Within Syria, healthcare, education systems, and other infrastructure have been destroyed; the economy is shattered.
  • Children’s safety: Syrian children — the nation’s hope for a better future — have lost loved ones, suffered injuries, missed years of schooling, and witnessed unspeakable violence and brutality. Warring parties forcibly recruit children to serve as fighters, human shields, and in support roles, according to the U.S. State Department. Read a story on our blog about how 3 refugee sisters are coping.

What are the refugees’ greatest needs?

  • Syrians fleeing conflict need all the basics to sustain their lives: food, clothing, health assistance, shelter, and household and hygiene items.
  • They need reliable supplies of clean water, as well as sanitation facilities.
  • Children need a safe environment and a chance to play and go to school.
  • Adults need employment options in case of long-term displacement.
  • Prayer: Learn how you can pray for Syrian refugees. Join with others as we #PrayForRefugees.
  • Compassion: Read this article in Christianity Today by World Vision President, Rich Stearns about treating refugees with the compassion of Christ.

syrian childrenHow does the war in Syria affect children?

Read about how the war is affecting Syria’s children in a special report from the World Vision magazine, “Syria Crisis and the Scars of War.”

  • Children are susceptible to malnutrition and diseases brought on by poor sanitation, including diarrheal diseases like cholera. Cold weather increases the risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
  • Many refugee children have to work to support their families. Often they labor in dangerous or demeaning circumstances for little pay.
  • Children are more vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in unfamiliar and overcrowded conditions. Without adequate income to support their families and fearful of their daughters being molested, parents — especially single mothers — may opt to arrange marriage for girls, some as young as 13.
  • Between 2 million and 3 million Syrian children are not attending school. The U.N. children’s agency says the war reversed 10 years of progress in education for Syrian children.

Parades at the MWC

As I acclimated to the sprawling Pennsylvania Farm Show complex in Harrisburg I ran into a parade of good memories of worldwide travel with the Mennonite Central Committee. I met Ron and Judy Zook with whom we traveled to Palestine. I saw Bonnie Klassen from Colombia who has impressed anyone who has met her since I did. A new Beachy Amish friend talked about visiting San Pedro Sula, in Honduras, like I had on my first learning tour with Ron Byler (and later I saw Steve Penner!). MCC has a big presence at the MWC /Mennonite World Conference, with which the Brethren in Christ are affiliated. I have been all over the world with our relief and advocacy mission, now I am experiencing the whole world coming to Harrisburg.

The first meeting started off with a dramatic parade. Native Americans representing those displaced by Mennonite immigrants in the 1700s came in to drums, singing and flutes. They reminded us of a recent ceremony of mutual understanding and forgiveness that took place. The ground was made clean for the meeting.

native

Then there “a parade of nations” reminiscent of the Olympics to begin the week. Brethren in Christ churches from Zambia and Zimbabwe were represented, banners and all.

Continue reading Parades at the MWC

Selling Dresses for Syrians Bought Comfort

The Syrian uprising was reportedly ignited by bored teenagers who spray-painted some graffiti on the wall of a school in Dara’a challenging President Assad, who is a trained ophthalmologist. Their message simply said, “It’s your turn doctor” (check out the NY Times). When the reaction of the authorities was harsh, neighbors came to the defense of their kids and protests soon spread around the country. Before long, defecting soldiers created militias, which have now formed a coalition, one that does not include radical Islamists who have flooded into the conflict from around the Middle East.

Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.
Walid snuggles under an MCC comforter in Zarqa, Jordan.

By the start of 2013, more than 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had died and tens of thousands of others had been arrested. More than 400,000 Syrian refugees had registered in neighboring countries, with tens of thousands not registered. In addition, about 2.5 million Syrians needed aid inside the country, with more than 1.2 million displaced domestically, according to the United Nations.

In December the Mennonite Central committee beefed up their aid to $1.3million dollars as the refugee crisis deepened (check out the MCC website). Thank God that we are part of MCC! We are supporters of MCC in a number of ways. A good portion of our common fund goes directly to the mission all over the world. Our thrift stores exist as part of the MCC network of stores. Last year, $87,000 of our profits went to many good works.

Sara and the dresses
Sara and the dresses

On top of those regular contributions was the special portion derived from selling wedding dresses. Remember those dresses? The story goes like this. The landlord was trying to rent one of his unrentable spaces so, of course, he contacted us. He is familiar with our mission to redeem unrentable spaces – or so it would seem. As part of the deal, he wanted us to buy the who-knows-how-many wedding dresses and formals he had in the space. We bit the hook, assuming that we could sell almost anything – but not completely sure.

Howard and Katie getting the word out.
Howard and Katie getting the word out.

We wanted to highlight our new store and the plight of Syrian refugees, so we had an October-long dress sale: Be a hero, Buy a dress! Some of us even got out on the street to advertise (thanks Howard and Katie). Some of us even dressed up in the dresses and went to the Halloween Gala for Syria (Zombie Optional). We started selling dresses and some people even bought them because Syrians needed help. We have paid back the purchase price and have given over $2500 directly to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan. Plus, we continue to sell dresses in both stores, and the money will continue to go to Syrians as long as we have dresses!

Apart from the joy of doing our part to help people in need, we have learned and gained a lot from this experience.

1)  We succeeded in making people aware of the trouble in Syria and making them aware that we care about it. We are world Christians. Jesus cares and so do we.

2) We forced ourselves out of our comfort zone and on to Broad St. and, as a result, met a lot of new people. We learned that we are actually quite capable of mixing it up on the street. Come to find out, we have a lot to offer people who need us. Jesus has gone before us and we are following.

3) The new, unrentable store space actually worked well! Circle Thrift profits (and contributions to our causes) have gone way up! Jesus has a lot of ways to get things done and we are trying to be creative, too.

It is a big world and it is such a mess! It is always tempting to hunker down and ignore as much as possible (FB, Twitter and this blog, notwithstanding!). It is hard to make choices about who to serve and how to give. But another thing I think we learned (again) from our four-month attention to Syrian refugees is that we get bigger when we try to do bigger things. Our hearts get bigger when we love beyond their normal confines. Our faith gets bigger when we exercise it, especially on behalf of those even poorer than ourselves.

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Why I Love the Dress Sale

So on a scale of one to ten, there are some things about the dress sale that Jesus and I rate VERY high.

What dress sale, you ask? It is the buy-a-dress-for-displaced-Syrians dress sale that culminates in the Hallowe’en “gala.” That dress sale.

Sara doing her first sorting of the goods.

OK, here is more. The landlord buys and sells things. When we procured the street-level space for Circle Thrift on Broad St., he had it filled with wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and what I call party dresses – probably because I am never invited to dress-up parties. He wanted us to buy the dresses as part of the deal. We made the deal and stand to make about $10,000 if we can sell all the dresses (even at our super-low prices). We decided to have a special sale and use all the profits to aid displaced Syrians, with whom MCC is already working and raising money to help.

After one week, we have only made about $500. But then, we just started and almost no one has heard about the sale or figured out what we are doing.

I think Jesus can get excited about this sale and rates certain aspects of it very high, as I do.

1. Weirdness. I think I give it a ten. Eventually we will get a bride from the bride of Christ out on Broad St. to advertise the sale. Thank God there are still people in our church who would do such a thing. They remind me of God getting into a human “dress.“  Plus, we’re doing it for displaced Syrians, which is rather weird. Mitt Romney wants to give heavy arms to the rebels. There are likely to be more refugees, soon. Most people don’t have a clue about Syria, in general. We do; that’s weird. The Syrians are being slaughtered by their government. We are weird enough to care about that.

2. Opportunity for mission. I think I can give it at least a 9. I am not sure we will take the opportunity, but we certainly have a good excuse to get out on the street and tell people about Circle Thrift and its commitment to MCC’s work of advocacy, relief and development all over the world. Plus we can raise people’s consciousness about Jesus and demonstrate that there are many Christians who are interested in more than “jobs” this election. Plus we can let people know about Circle of Hope, which is often one of the best-kept secrets in Philadelphia. Broad and Washington, in particular, needs to get out on the street and meet a few thousand of the new people in Center City, in South Philly and on campus.

3. Charity. I think I am at least at 8 in this category. The other day in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer, the “voice” led us to think about how giving makes us free. In the comments, Toni said: “By Christ I am freed to receive, in addition to giving. Giving helps me be connected to those around me, and to practice living in abundance. But receiving makes me feel less in control, and I have to trust those to whom I reach. It is scary, but good practice. What a privilege to receive the limitless love of Jesus, oftentimes by the hand of the generosity of His people.” The dress sale has so many levels of goodness to it! I think everyone in the church, at least, should buy a dress to support the new store and displaced Syrians, whether they need a dress or not! You could be donate it to Congreso’s prom cupboard. Or you could buy it for one-time fun when you wear it to the “gala.” That brings me to the last category.

inspiration from down south

4. Fun.For me it is a ten. But you’ll have to decide for yourself. I don’t like to do much of anything that is not good fun. Serving Jesus is a joy and I try not to let anyone or anything steal that joy. Selling the dresses, giving away money, advertising in new ways – all fun. Being at the “gala” where people wear the dresses, probably as zombies some of them, is even more fun. A couple of people have thought that associating zombies with distressed Syrians is insensitive – well, that’s probably true. Hallowe’en, in general, has real problems. We are redeeming it all, however. Or at least I hope we have fun trying. I love it when Circle of Hope dances together. Dancing in a dress bought to help displaced Syrians — even better. Making something nice out of Hallowe’en — even better. Praying in All Saints Day together at the end — even more fun.

Weirdness. Opportunity for mission. Charity. Fun. Some people might think that is my life in a nutshell. The dress sale might have been meant for me. But I think it is meant for Jesus, too. I’m not joking when I say he rates it highly. I suppose we could think of a few other things Jesus might do with hundreds of dresses. But don’t you think he is into this idea?

Jesus is the main reason I love the dress sale. Got any more reasons of your own? Stories to tell?

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