Four Days of Thanksgiving

On the first day of Thanksgiving, Jesus gave to me: a traditional celebration with my brother’s family.

My brother’s family lives about 50 miles away, and we typically host them for Thanksgiving. My three nephews are all in college now, so we don’t get to see them as often as in the past. Thanksgiving is a great time to have the whole family together.

On the second day of Thanksgiving, Jesus gave to me: pupusas and flan with Elmer in sanctuary.

The sanctuary church held a potluck Thanksgiving dinner/fourth birthday party for David on Thursday, but I was unable to attend because we were hosting family (see above). So I dropped off a piñata earlier in the week and visited on Friday, when Elmer was bored the day after the party. He was learning how to make pupusas—a Salvadoran staple—and had leftover flan that his wife had brought to the previous day’s party. We enjoyed the tasty food and sharing stories together.

On the third day of Thanksgiving, Jesus gave to me: lunch and play with my Congolese family.

The refugee family we most recently mentored joined us for lunch in our home on Saturday. After the meal, bubbles and sidewalk chalk were big hits with the children. We now have the prettiest driveway in the neighborhood.

On the fourth day of Thanksgiving, Jesus gave to me: words of blessing and shalom and a bell concert for free.

May your holiday season be filled with thanksgiving and joy; with family, friends, and foreigners; with food, fun, and good music.






Giving Thanks

Let’s face it, 2017 has been a difficult year. But as David Steindl-Rast reminds us:

“It is not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.”

Especially in times of despair, the spiritual discipline of gratitude is essential for maintaining our perspective and our joy. And so I offer my personal list of what I’m thankful for in 2017, in no particular order.

  1. I’m thankful for my refugee and immigrant friends, and for what they’ve taught me over the years. For our celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthdays, weddings, babies, driver’s licenses, and job interviews. For the lessons in dignity, perseverance, and gratitude.
  2. I’m thankful for the courage and trust my friends have shown in sharing their stories with me. What powerful, horrible stories they are.
  3. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to spend my days with people from other countries, backgrounds, religions, and cultures.
  4. I’m thankful for the new friends I’ve made this year, friends who understand and share my passion for justice in the name of Jesus, for walking with the most vulnerable. You listen and read and march and write and lament and cry and pray with me, and I don’t want to imagine what my life would be like without you. I’m especially grateful for you.
  5. I’m thankful for the old friends who may or may not understand me, but continue to love, encourage, and support me anyway.
  6. I’m thankful for artists such as Ai Weiwei, Helen Thorpe, and Joel Schoon-Tanis, who tell the truth about refugees with beauty and grace.
  7. I’m thankful for my colleagues at Lutheran Family Services, Catholic Charities, the Sanctuary Coalition, African Community Center, World Relief, Del Camino Connection, CARA, IAFR, Casa de Paz, and more. I’m thankful for the work you do every day welcoming strangers, for welcoming me into that work, and for teaching me along the way. I pray that God will sustain you for the long haul, and provide you with everything you need and more.
  8. I’m thankful for volunteers who faithfully show up to help refugees learn English and learn to sew. I’m thankful for the friendships and deep relationships that have grown out of simply showing up.
  9. I’m thankful that I can write about my experiences and read about others’. I’m grateful for the gift of literacy, a pleasure I do not take lightly.
  10. I’m thankful for Fair Trade dark chocolate. Because: this year.

I wish you and yours a blessed celebration of Thanksgiving. May the discipline of giving thanks bring you much joy.






This Is What Sanctuary Looks Like

Author’s note: Before reading this post, you may want to reread my earlier post on sanctuary, here:
The earlier post gives an overview of sanctuary that will be helpful to keep in mind while reading this post. This post is an intimate look at a specific case of sanctuary, based on my experiences.


This is what sanctuary looks like.

Sanctuary looks like a man who fled his home country because of death threats from the gangs—both the MS-13 and the Calle 18.

Sanctuary looks like a man who has lived and worked in this country for more than a decade, a man who has married and built a family and a home here.

Sanctuary looks like a man with no criminal record being separated from his family, living inside a church with his three-year-old US citizen son while his wife lives in a different city with their three school-aged children.

Sanctuary looks like a man who loves his family, who owns a home, pays his bills, pays taxes, and contributes to America’s economy.

Sanctuary looks like a man in his prime being denied the opportunity to work and to provide for his family.

Sanctuary looks like a man feeling incarcerated inside a church, because setting foot off the church property would leave him vulnerable to arrest and deportation.

Sanctuary looks like a man consumed with thoughts of his family in another city, wondering how they will continue to pay their mortgage and other bills, and if they will lose their home.

Sanctuary looks like a father who wants to learn English, but is too preoccupied with his legal case, his finances, and missing his family to concentrate on learning.

Sanctuary looks like watching the news and wondering which immigrant group will be targeted next by this administration.

Sanctuary looks like a man bored with television and children’s games, longing for adult company and conversation.

Sanctuary looks like a three-year-old boy trapped inside a church.

Sanctuary looks like a boy who plays ball indoors, always having to be careful for the light fixtures.

Sanctuary looks like paperwork caught up in office bureaucracies, simply to enroll a child in preschool.

Sanctuary looks like a boy who needs to run, but doesn’t have anyone who can play outside with him.

Sanctuary looks like lonely meals eaten alone in a makeshift bedroom, which doubles as the pastor’s office.

Sanctuary looks like a man who bathes with a couple of buckets because the church is still installing a shower.

Sanctuary looks like a strong man who doesn’t want to exercise more than light weightlifting, because he doesn’t want to sweat without access to a shower.

Sanctuary looks like a man who cuts his own hair because he can’t leave the church.

Sanctuary looks like a man who jokes about these things, because the only alternative is to cry.

Sanctuary looks like gratitude for those who visit and spend time with a father and his child.

Sanctuary looks like college students coming to play games, practice English, and cook empanadas together.

Sanctuary looks like thanks for meals shared around a table.

Sanctuary looks like intimate conversations about faith and hope.

Sanctuary looks like a man praying together with visitors.

Sanctuary looks like humanity, being treated inhumanely by an unjust system.

Sanctuary looks like the best of humanity coming together to challenge the worst of humanity.



An Unforgettable Visit

We spent five hours driving from the capital to the state where she lives. The next morning we drove another hour on roads that wound through the steep green hills. When I stepped into the concrete building, Maria jumped up from next to her mother and hugged me tightly as only an eight-year-old can. That was the first time I choked up that day, but certainly not the last. Maria is the girl I sponsor through Compassion International, and I was meeting her in her hometown in Guatemala, a quaint, peaceful town in the hills in the middle of nowhere.
Maria took my hand and led me through the hilly town, crowded because it was market day. Soon we turned onto a narrow path and continued our climb, winding up the lush hillside to Maria’s home. It’s a simple concrete block structure, but full of love.
Many gifts were exchanged, and Maria’s grandmother served everyone chicken and squash.
Then Maria showed me all the most important things in their home: a bulletin board covered with photos of relatives and loved ones; a long, smooth, wooden table in the kitchen, obviously a place of many shared meals and memories; a metate, the grinding stone where Maria’s mother grinds the maize by hand to make tortillas; the hammock/slings where the babies were sleeping, suspended from the ceiling; the bed Maria shares with her mother; the cat, the goose, the dogs, and the duck (the chickens were all washed away in a heavy rain); and the new toilet in the otherwise rustic bathroom!
Maria’s mother and grandmother both make their living—such as it is—weaving traditional clothing and housewares with backstrap looms. They proudly showed me their beautiful work, and even made an attempt at teaching me. Their work is exquisite and backbreaking and would drive me blind. I sat on a small stool with the loom in front of me, tied to a post that supported the corrugated metal roof. They showed me how to lean back into the leather strap attached around my back. It was comfortable for about two minutes, to have something to lean against. After five minutes I could tell that it would be backbreaking work. Maria’s relatives were very patient trying to teach me how to put everything in order and then make the stitches. I made about five stitches, all of which I’m sure they promptly removed, possibly even before I left their home. The tablecloth Maria’s mother is working on will sell for about $7 for four FULL days of work.
Around noon we walked back down the windy path and through the town to the Compassion center. Often a sponsor will treat the child to lunch at a fancy restaurant, but there isn’t anything in Maria’s town, so the Compassion staff prepared lunch just for us and Maria’s family, putting out their fanciest tablecloths. There was plenty of delicious food to go around, and the family got to take some home, too.
After school, around 2:00, many neighborhood children arrived at the center. This particular Compassion center serves 348 children, but they don’t all come at the same time. Most children come one, two, or three days per week, after school. I got to visit the three classrooms, play games with the children, hear them sing, and take silly photos. I also saw the center’s industrial baking oven, which they use with qualified instructors to teach older children how to bake. It’s valuable training in a community where there are few job prospects.
Finally, we went to the park. Maria and I shot baskets in our dress-up clothes while neighborhood children played soccer on the same court. The soccer goals were set up beneath the basketball hoops, and the neighborhood boys occasionally shot our basketball. It was a crazy, fun time of dodging balls and children and shooting goals in two different sports.
At the end of the afternoon, the Compassion cooks sent us off with several chuchitos—the Guatemalan version of tamalesto go. Their care for us was beautiful.
Maria seems tall and healthy and strong and loved and well cared for. Her mother is a strong, determined, committed woman, and her grandparents are delightful and loving. It was an incredible experience to meet Maria and her family, to see how and where they live, and to visit the town. Now the whole family, the Compassion center, and the town are so much more real to me.
It was a wonderful, blessed day, one I don’t think I will ever forget.

Guatemala Reflections

My mind has been whirling since I returned from Guatemala. It was an intense trip to a complicated place.

We met many people: young and not-so-young, indigenous and not, in urban and rural settings. All are passionate about and committed to doing holistic ministry within their own contexts, caring for the entirety of people, body and soul. We learned about how the church can and should be (and often is not) relevant within its community.

We witnessed the interconnectedness of creation care, racism, lack of educational and employment opportunities especially for young people, migration to cities, gang involvement, poverty, human trafficking, violence, small enterprise, politics, immigration north, broken families, role of the church, relationships, proximity to the poor and vulnerable, presence, process, vulnerability, and people’s need to be heard. In Guatemala, these things are all interrelated; each of these things affects each of the others.

We experienced things that no tourists would. A few highlights:

  • Meeting my Compassion girl and her family, in their home, their town, and at the Compassion center.P1220958
  • Accompanying Doña Tita, the Mother Teresa of one of the largest slums in Central America (La Limonada), on her rounds. Tita has founded four child development centers within the slum, in an effort to prevent children joining the gangs.IMG_3353
  • Accompanying Jomara on her rounds in one of the largest popular (flea) markets in Central America, and its associated dump. Jomara also founded a child development center, called Puertas de Esperanza (doors of hope), focusing on prevention.IMG_3654
  • A Guatemalan history lesson in the main, central cemetery of Guatemala City. Teddy challenged us to notice the symbols and to discover what lies behind them, then to do the same thing in our own context, our own city and country.P1230055
  • Meeting pastors and young adults who are reaching out holistically to their communities with water purification, hospitals, Compassion child centers, small enterprise creation, and more.IMG_3739
  • Visiting the border bridge between Guatemala and Mexico, and witnessing families and individuals crossing the river on rafts and ziplines.P1230257

As you can see, our team has a lot to process. We will continue to meet to discern from our experiences what our next steps will be. Please continue to keep us in your prayers.

DACA Call-In Day

Have you called your representatives yet, asking them to support DACA?

Representatives: 1-888-496-3502
Senators: 1-888-410-0619
*Please call your 1 Representative and then your 2 Senators

Sample Script to Representative/Senators: “Hi, my name is X and I’m calling from City, State and my zip code is X. I am a person of faith. I’m deeply concerned about the reports that President Trump could end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this week. I support the program and strongly oppose any attempt to terminate or alter it. I urge the Senator/Representative to do everything in his/her power to protect 800,000 DACA-recipients from deportation and support their right to work and study in this country. There are three things I’m hoping your office will do right now. Can the Senator/Representative (1) appeal directly to the President to keep this program in place, (2) issue a public statement of support for DACA recipients, and (3) support a clean passage of S.1615/H.R.3440, the Dream Act of 2017?

ON THURSDAY: CALL PRESIDENT TRUMP: (202) 456-1111 (please leave a message)

Sample Script for President Trump: “I’m from [City, State]. I am a person of faith and I support the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and strongly oppose any attempt to terminate it or phase it out. DACA has provided nearly 800,000 young people the opportunity to pursue their dreams. I urge you to defend the DACA program well beyond September 5, protect DACA recipients from deportation and detention, and work with Congress toward a permanent solution.

Please also tweet @realDonaldTrump and your Senators/Representatives: “.@[HANDLE], protect DACA! My community stands with immigrant youth! #DefendDACA #HeretoStay #Faith4DACA”

Both President Trump and Members of Congress must hear that communities of faith demand DACA remain in place until the Dream Act passes, and that there be be no gap between DACA ending and Dream passing! Also, DACA recipients should not be used a political bargaining chip to increase a deportation force and tear apart families and communities.

Thanks to Michelle Warren of CCDA and EIT for sharing these instructions!


The weather forecast looked sketchy the entire week before. Communication is always tricky with this family, as only the mom has a cell phone, and she works full-time. She’s also still learning English.

We hosted a picnic to celebrate the self-sufficiency of our most recent refugee family. Our official commitment to helping this family has ended, but going forward we remain friends. We decided to mark the transition with a picnic in a park with a fabulous playground and an accessible lake. If only the weather would cooperate, and we could communicate our plans.

It was a success! Despite afternoon showers, the sky cleared. We found covered picnic tables near the playground. And we drove grandmother and the three girls to their first visit at this park. The girls were overwhelmed by the possibilities of the new playground, and wanted to play on the swings more than they wanted to eat. Everyone was fascinated by the water, and after confirming that there were no crocodiles in the lake, they waded in as far as we allowed them in their clothes. Even Grandmother walked down to get a better look at the fishermen.

We had more than enough food at our potluck, a good variety, and it was delicious. Grandmother and the oldest daughter were observing Ramadan, so they did not eat with us. They abstained until sunset, and then happily indulged in the picnic food, even bringing home the leftovers.

Transitions like this can be tricky. As we root for this family to integrate into their new community, we want our friendships to continue. But we also pray that the lessons we’ve taught them about life in America stick, and that they successfully navigate their new life here.