Sunday, February 10, 2013

Jehovah Jireh

There are so many questions in my life right now. Where will I live after college? Will God continue to open doors for Lindsey and I to return to Helping Hands? Should I be a teacher? All those questions that seniors have when they are starting down the slide into the "real world."

However, I am being reminded of God's steadfastness. I was reading in a book the other day about the names of God. One was Jehovah Jireh, or "he will provide." That is something that I need to remember. There may be all these questions about the future, but my Father will provide. Where I fail, he will be my strength. 

Please pray that God will continue to provide direction and discernment and for our basic needs. Not only for my life or yours, but for the Helping Hands ministry. HH is still short-staffed, and it will be a long year for them, the way things are looking. God is still working there. If you remember me talking about some of my refugee friends, please continue praying for them as well. Since last fall, a few have been  jail, some have moved on to other parts of Europe, and some are still seemingly stuck in Athens. I have been able to Skype with a family of children, and it warmed my heart to see their faces, hear their voices, and catch up with their lives a little bit. Thank you for your prayers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Love, from Iowa

Every day that I have been home, I have missed the hugs of the kids at the ARC, the greetings with the women, and the fellowship of the Helping Hands crew. But God keeps reassuring me that he has perfect timing, and that I am in Iowa for a reason. 

As I return to my "normal" life and start reflecting on the six weeks I spent with Afghans and Persians, I realize that I didn't know much about these people's lives before they got to Greece. A few of them showed me pictures, I asked a couple of the English speakers, and I heard a few from the team. The people I worked with knew very little about me, besides the couple of family pictures I would bring with me. Yet, we were still able to meet each other and learn to love each other for who we are now, not for our pasts or despite of our pasts. What a beautiful thing! 

I've been reading through my journals from Greece, and I am reminded of the encouragement I found in notes from friends, Bible verses, and in the chaos of Saturday Tea Houses at the ARC. Here is an entry from my first experience with the Tea House. I hope you can get a taste of the craziness that happens at the ARC, yet still sense that Christ is moving in this place.

Between being dragged out into the main room to sit with some girls from camp and trying to fulfill my duties in the kid's room, I felt very loved and in awe of the kingdom work done here. We may just be doing crafts, serving tea, offering a place to hang out, and a Jesus movie, but it's a safe place for these humans (once oppressed, now displaced- in a sense "homeless") to find freedom in Christ. Or at least notice the freedom others have in Christ. I was confused to see a friend leave with her brother and mother, but not her father. Then I was overjoyed to see him come out of the seeker's class! He can learn about Christ here because this is a safe place.

In church yesterday, Pastor Bob read several passages to show that without Christ, any ministry we do on earth is futile. He said (in a nutshell) that "there should be a change, a presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. All the activity in our lives is because of Christ and should be centered around Christ." One of the passages that he read was 1 Peter 4:8-11.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another with out grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.

As I listened to this passage, I immediately thought of the Helping Hands ministry and the love that is shared there. I thought of the hospitality shown to me by the M family in their one room home. I thought of the way people spoke so boldly about Christ to those who could and would reject them. Please continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will be very present in the lives of our friends in Greece, refugee or not. I thank you for your prayers throughout the summer; truly, each  thought and prayer turned into a blessing!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The adventure continues...

The week of "lasts" has arrived. And not with much welcome, too. But God has a perfect plan, and for me it only calls for one more week in Athens, at least in this time of my life.

The goodbyes have started already. In the last week, I've had to say goodbye to four coworkers, four people that I miss already. Today I said goodbye to some friends we have made in this time. But truly, the worst goodbyes are to come.

This past week has been challenging and life-giving and I am reminded of my need for reflection. The challenges have been mainly within myself-- finding that I fear leaving this place, that I fall short in my patience and willingness to truly put others before myself, that I still choose fear over faith sometimes. The time for reflection will come. But how can I possibly process the life I've been living and the life that I want to continue living in a week, when I'm back at home? I cannot believe that there is only one week left.

In this post, however, I want to focus on the life-giving. Friday, Christy, one of the staff members here, asked if I would like to visit a family whose daughters I have gotten close to. This is something I've been looking forward to; the oldest daughter asked me weeks ago, "You, me, house." Finally I could make her wish come true!

Having visitors in the Persian culture is a thing of honor. Especially for new visitors, the family will go out of their way to make sure you are comfortable and enjoying your time. This family (the "M" family) shares an apartment with another refugee family, as is typical here. When I say their home, I am referring to one room that should feel like a very efficient room. It serves as the dining room, living room, and about four bedrooms. I remember being grateful for the worn yellow and blue Persian rug in the room; it made it feel lighter and a little larger. They share a bathroom and refrigerator-less kitchen with the other family. The lack of refrigerator makes it hard to keep food, especially leftovers if/when they are able to cook. It also means no ice or cold drinks in this unrelenting heat. The Ms do have a sort of foyer/storage room that is defined by a few shelves that hold precious few belongings, a broken fridge that serves as the only place to keep clothes, and a hanging blanket that defines the M's space from the other family's.

Christy and I were given seats on the thicker of the two mattresses, and pillow for our backs. The one fan was always pointed in our directions, also. A Hindi movie was put in for our enjoyment, although we didn't watch much of it. The family members sat around us (the girls) or on the floor (the parents and older son). Christy and I had brought some Barbies that the ARC had in storage, and I was confused as to why the girls didn't rip into the boxes to start playing with them. After seeing them placed on one of their few shelves, I realized these would become prized possessions, one of the few toys they have.

We were served cold juice and cookies right away. Our glasses were the only ones to have ice. After an hour or so, we were served lunch. We were asked to sit in the most honorable seats-- those far from the door. Our plates of rice had considerably more raisins and carrots than the others, and we were given a whole plate of chicken and fries to share among the two of us, while the six family members shared the same amount. They kept serving us food, even after we were full, and then tea, candy, and watermelon afterwards!

The whole visit I was honored by their hospitality and the clear lengths that N, the mother, went to for my comfort. The children and I played cards together, tossed a ball around, played games, and I spent the last part of the visit drawing them. They are very willing to sit for five minutes while I drew really really rough sketches of them! (I made sure to label which drawing was whom because otherwise, they wouldn't be able to tell!)

Through Christy's translating, I was able to learn more about their lives. They came from Iran about a year ago, the children not fully understanding why they had to leave the perfectly okay life they were leading there. It is clear from the photos they showed us that they lived comfortably there and the kids were able to go to school. Here the children take Greek and English lessons and don't have reasonable space to play. Throughout the hours that we spent there, I knew that I was digging myself deeper. This family is trying to leave Athens, I'm sure (most refugees don't divulge details of plans), so I know that even if I come back to Athens someday that this family may not be here. Who knows if and how they will leave? It is scary to think about what may happen.

The four daughters are so spirited, strong-willed, and full of life. They insist on painting your nails and then playing volleyball. They love being tickled and dancing together and sitting in my lap. They shower my cheeks with kisses and my neck with their embraces for several minutes before we ever actually depart. And they have officially made this last week harder because of their love and loyalty and life.

Please pray for the M family. For God's providence in their lives, for their hearts to be opened to the Spirit, for their love for others and each other to stay strong. Please pray that the relationships they are making with believers will grow stronger and deeper and are filled with trust. Please pray for their safety and health. And again I ask you to pray for their hearts to be opened to Christ. I pray that when I get to heaven, I will see their faces and will feel their kisses and embraces once more.

As this week rounds out, please keep Lindsey and I in mind and prayers as we start the process of goodbye. Other prayer requests:
-Team visas-- visas to Greece are becoming increasingly difficult. Please pray that paperwork will go through and that God's will will be acknowledged one way or the other.
- Love, patience, and hospitality in each person that works with Helping Hands-- may others see Christ in us.
- For Greece, and the increasing amount of stress here
- For the ability to think through the dwindling time here and for our re-entry into the States
- For other SOSers who are facing the same emotions in settings all over the globe

This week I thank God for my friends, as you can read in a previous post. I thank God for his grace when I choose fear over faith. Mostly, though, I thank God for the Trinity. His Son and the Spirit which bring hope, peace, love, strength, and goodness. I hope that you may feel overwhelmed by his love and that you may find peace and rest this week. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Romans 12:10

I know I just posted a couple of days ago, but I have been feeling so dog-gone blessed by the friendships and the love that I have been experiencing lately. This love comes from many avenues: the letter from an old friend, a message or two from loved ones back home, the strong hugs and friendly kisses from Persian children, the hospitality from the Morleys, the guidance from teammates, the laughter with new friends... 

How can I hold this in? Take a moment today to pray for the blessings in your life that we call "friends" or "loved ones." (Or "kindred spirits.") Thank God for them, ask him to send them love in mighty ways today. If you don't like to pray, then take a moment to be intentionally grateful for the love in your life. 

Now I challenge you to reciprocate those blessings. Go out of your way to encourage someone, even if it is a stranger. Don't ignore those whispers from God (trust me, you don't feel great when you do!) and be bold. Here's a piece of advice from a team member here: If you are feeling God whisper for you to do something and you are afraid, ask yourself this: What am I losing if I do this act? If you are only going to possibly embarrass yourself, then you really have nothing to lose. Isn't it worth the possible embarrassment to go out of your way to show someone love? 

My heart feels full when I reflect on the love that I have in my life. Thank you for that love, and thank you for showing it to others. I pray that God will send you love in mighty ways.

Saturday, July 7, 2012


It has been a while since posting... I feel like Lindsey and I have been so busy they past couple of weeks! Lately we have been invited to several staff members' homes for a meal and fellowship, and I am so grateful for the hospitality shown to us.

This past Monday, a team member took us to ancient Corinth to see the ruins and hear about the history (this man is like an encyclopedia!). That night I became really convicted about how much I don't know about my own faith and its history. Working with people from the Islamic culture and learning a little about the Jewish culture, I realize how Christianity in general doesn't permeate our lifestyles in ways that truly make us uncommon for Christ.

At Corinth we hiked up the old citadel to an old temple-- it was a temple that housed many prostitutes and now stands as old stones overtaken by grass. The journey, though, was very similar to one that Jesus would take up a mountainside when he spent time in solitude.  Here is an excerpt from my journal that evening:

Hearing of all the persecution Paul went through, one realizes that this man was crazy for Christ: he was in love, devoted (set apart) because he followed his Rabbi's footsteps so closely, fulfilling the Rabbi's two main purposes. Learn and become like Jesus (our teacher), and go out to make more disciples.

Isn't that what I should be doing? ...following Christ's teachings so closely that it would be a challenge to NOT follow his footsteps...I eagerly expect and hope and pray that Christ will give me sufficient courage to exalt him. Isn't it odd that I have to ask for his help to do his work? Yet it is a trade I want to learn... I should be tripping on the heels of Jesus, yearning to see as he sees, think as he thinks, feel as he does, to act and speak like Jesus. 

As I hear and learn more about the boldness of some of the refugees, especially the women, I realize that I am witnessing the transformations that the Helping Hands staff works towards. It is amazing to see the crazy ways that the Spirit has been providing for people. For example, today I was thankful for smart phones and Skype. Working in the children's room, I noticed a gruff-looking man with a headset holding a phone up to one of the children (who lives in a park). During investigation, I learned that this man was using Skype on his phone to show the child's mother what her son was doing, to see his face, and to hear his voice. She lives in Germany now.

This next week I am looking forward to some great fellowship- with teammates and with friends we have made along the way here! Lindsey and I have been able to get a bit of the Greek culture thanks to a Greek couple on the team. We may be able to spend a day at the beach with some of the women and children from the ministry. Also, I think we are going to see the Acropolis with a fellow intern, Kelsey.

Here are some things to keep in your prayers:
- For humility, peace, and reconciliation
- For boldness to not run from God's voice
- For Greece
- For continued boldness and strength for our Persian friends who are seeking or are believers
- For the team's Sabbath- may it be all that God intended!
- For "R"-- please pray for this young boy!

Here are a couple of praises that are too good to keep inside:
- A young mother who just became a believer was getting evicted because of her curiosity with Christianity- another refugee woman has opened up her very small living space to this young mom and her family.
- We have seen a few quick answers to prayer-- including a few days of cooler weather!

I really hope that you feel the love of Christ today. Thank you for reading, for caring, and most of all: for your prayers. I don't know if I can express to you how much those mean to me! Goodnight. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Shoes

When you get new shoes, it generally goes something like this: you find a pair that seems interesting to you, maybe try them on, learn about them. After buying and wearing the shoes you may be excited about them- people notice them, you look cool, and it's always refreshing to show some love to your feet. However, after a while the shoes may start giving you blisters or wearing down. The new-ness fades and the shoes become just another pair, no longer classified as your "new" shoes. But still, most favorite shoes look worn and may be past their prime. They've been donned many times and have been many places and have withstood the things that we don't want our feet to touch. Have you been grateful for your shoes lately? (I have... I've stepped in some non-water puddles, if you know what I mean.)

I have been in Greece for almost three weeks now. My time here is almost half finished. This "shoe's" new-ness is starting to fade as I get the feel for the routine. On Tuesday, Lindsey and I finished discovering the daily routine at the ARC. We have experienced the Thursday shower day, Saturday tea day, and Tuesday meal day. Up until this week, everything has been novel to me. 

Please pray for Lindsey and I as the work here begins to wear on us more without the protection of everything being new and exciting. I am not saying that I don't like the work-- no, I really enjoy it. But it takes a lot of energy to entertain and translating (or finding a translator). I hope you do not view this as complaining, because it isn't. As I learn more about the cultures, about the things that happen behind-the-scenes, about some of the stresses that the Helping Hands staff faces almost constantly... I learn more about listening to God and being a servant. A hard lesson, but a good one. And I'm pretty sure this will turn out to be a favorite pair of shoes, if you know what I mean. 

In Philippians, Paul writes about his persecution, saying that he knows he will be delivered through the prayers of fellow believers and the help of the spirit of Jesus. Join me in praying for Christians who are being persecuted. Many of the refugees who are Christians or are even seeking to know more about Christ are being persecuted. Some are just threats, some are threats that could possibly turn into realities, but they all hurt. Even children are whispering things to believers their ages. Pray for strength in these situations and pray for protection against evil. Pray for "sufficient courage so that now, as always, Christ will be exalted." (Ph. 1:20). 

On a lighter note, Lindsey and I were able to join some friends ("the Harding Interns") for a journey through the Plaka yesterday. It's a touristy part of Athens that has a flea market and some great restaurants. Being able to walk around, laugh, and get to know people better was a relaxing way to spend the afternoon. (By the way, European women must have smaller feet than American women because I can find a nice variety of shoes in my size here!) While we're at work, we don't get to see much of the Greek culture, so Lindsey and I try to get into the city every now and then. We've been able to visit the Akropoli Museum and will be visiting Corinth with a couple of our teammates on Monday, which will be an adventure of its own!

Here's to all the adventures!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

This is... Greece?

Lindsey and I just finished our first week with the refugees. We worked at a refugee camp that is put on by the three main refugee ministries here (Oasis, Hellenic Ministries, and Helping Hands-which we are working with). Overall, the week was absolutely exhausting, comical, interesting and confusing, and rewarding. I was able to spend time with a lot of children, getting to know their personalities despite the fact that I couldn't understand what they were saying. The staff we worked with was also very hard-working, good-natured, and fun to be around.

I may be in Greece, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I am getting the feel of Greece. When I am at work, I am getting a completely different culture! Here are some things that I have learned about the Muslim/ Persian culture that Lindsey and I are getting to know:

- The men and women are often separated. Many of the women are afraid to learn too much about Christianity or to even become Christians because they do not know how their husbands will respond. The women won't swim or dance in front of the men, and even at meal times it is mostly separated. Lindsey and I were told that it is best to just not have physical contact or eye contact with a man because we do not want to send "the wrong message." To be a woman in this culture kind of means walking a tightrope of rules.
-  It is a honorable thing to be able to get the best of someone. For instance, children would often indicate that they need another piece of candy for their little sister or brother who is sleeping or sick. Often times, if you give in, they will keep that for themselves. Part of this is also due to the fact that these children do not have many possessions and often go without, so whenever they can stock up on things, they do!

The language that is the most common among the refugees is Farsi. It is the modern/more widely used version of Dari. I have been busy trying to learn words and phrases, as well as the new sounds (yes, a sound that they use is that throaty sound you make while hacking a loogie-- hard to get used to!). Many times this week I have recalled that learning a language as an adult means learning a handful of words per day. Learning a language as a child is a lot easier-- which explains why many of the children know more English than their parents. It isn't uncommon for the children to know several languages-- their home language, Greek, English, and maybe another.

Throughout my life, I have gotten used to people wanting to know what race I am (Korean) and if I know about the culture/language/my birth parents. I did not really expect that when I came to Greece. However, there are four different distinct looks of Middle Easterners. Caucasian (from Alexander the Great's conquer), the darker color of the more tribal regions, the typical picture of a Middle Easterner, and Asian-looking (from some long-ago Chinese invasion, I think). I was surprised to see the range of races represented at the camp!

It took a few days for the campers to get comfortable and to feel like they could ask me questions. Then it was as if, one day, they all decided they had to know where I was from! I would say America, but then they got really confused. They are used to seeing Caucasian Americans. They would continue to ask me where I was from until I said Korea. Then they wanted to know north or south? Trying to explain that I was adopted and am an American was difficult-- especially with the language barrier. I would often ask one of the translators to help me, but they didn't know the word for adopted. I was once described as an orphan who was found by and taken in by a family in America. (Thanks, Ma and Pa!) The mother who was told this felt really sorry for me!

Eventually some of my refugee friends realized what I was trying to say. They told me the word was "farzandee." These girls have been so good to help me learn Farsi!

I am so grateful to have gone to this camp. The grounds are beautiful and it is right next to the sea. I have been able to make several friends among the refugees-- many of whom I will be seeing over the next few weeks! There are the three older girls who help teach me Farsi and who painted my nails one day.  There is the family of four girls who were unsure of me at first, but who would play games with me and joke with me by the end of camp. There are the pre-teen girls that I worked with during the children's ministry time. 

There is the little boy who is not very accepted among the other children-- he attached himself to me very early on in the camp. His older sister, who was in my pre-teen group, has also become a good friend. The parents of these siblings thanked me for befriending their children. The father spoke in front of the camp; he spoke of what they had fled from and how they have really experienced a different, more full love in Athens and at camp. They have two older sons who have been able to move on into Germany. "F," the daughter, showed me pictures of their life in Afghanistan. The children looked healthier and less worn by life, they were in their own home and their faces were fuller. They were surrounded by family, and in one photo F pointed to several people. She would say what country they have been able to flee to-- Germany, Australia, Canada... Imagine being separated from your loved ones, not sure if they would survive the trek or if you would ever see them again. I feel honored to be trusted enough to see those photos. 

The language barrier may be frustrating and it does make getting to know people more difficult, but through the barrier we are able to see each others' characters more and are able to teach and learn from each other. It was something that I was nervous about. Thank you for your prayers. I can now put the language barrier in the "hallelujah!" column! Other blessings are the staff at camp and Helping Hands (really, I wish I could tell you about them, but this post is already a long one!), the opportunity that Linds and I have to see two cultures in Greece, and the friendships that have been made the past week. 

Prayer requests:
- for continued energy, strength, and wisdom
- Greece as they start to build a stronger gov't and economy
- for the Helping Hands, Oasis, Hellenic Ministries staff and the work they do
- for the lives of the campers/refugees-- that they may see a difference in the lives of the Christians they encounter, that they feel the love of Christ, and that their fears of turning from the Muslim faith can be overcome by they power of God

Thanks again for your love and support. Please send me updates on your lives and prayer requests!

Much love. Ho-wa-da-fes! (Goodbye in Farsi)