Stories of Hope: Day 23
by Samuel, as told to Katy Sabayrac
The life of a refugee is often filled with uncertainty. Without hope, it can be impossible to imagine what the future might hold.
Samuel is a young man full of hope and dreams for the future. His parents are from Congo, but the country was plagued by violence. His family knew they had to seek another life. “My parents realized we were either going to be killed or die there of hunger. We couldn’t survive in Congo,” Samuel said.
Samuel’s family settled in a small town in Rwanda. “That’s where we began our life. Our normal life,” he said.
It was not an easy existence.
The family lived in a two-room brick house. Money and food were scarce.
“Life was really hard, it was difficult,” Samuel said. “My mom did her best to get a job, feed the family, take care of everything, but there was nothing out there.”
Still in the midst of everything, Samuel was able to find hope.
“In a lot of ways life in Rwanda was hard. There were people there who had no hope. They had no hope for what the future would look like because there was very little there, no way to really make a life. But also in Rwanda we had a lot of friends. There were people everywhere that could help you. There were kids everywhere that we could play with. We used to make up these crazy games. I don’t even know how to describe them in English, but they were just little games that we played — that’s when I had the most hope in Rwanda.
I had hope because there were times we could be happy. We had hope because we knew that God was watching out for us. We knew that one day we would be able to come to America and that things would get better.”
When Samuel was 6 — almost 7 — he and his family were resettled in the United States. Now he is a sophomore at Westbury High School where he plays on the JV soccer team.
“Now life seems more easy,” Samuel said. “We eat pizza. I’m getting a good education. My mom has a job. We get to go to youth group at Westbury which means we do a lot of fun things, we see new places, and learn more about Jesus.”
Things aren’t always easy. Samuel’s family is still learning how to navigate new systems, a new language, and a whole new culture. In America, the work can be hard. Just being in high school comes with its own kind of stress.
Still, in the midst of everything Samuel finds hope.
“To me, the word hope means that God is here with us and good things will come. I hope that in the future, I can tell my mom that she can quit her job. She’s always working. I hope one day I can be the person who is working at a good job so that she can just rest and enjoy life.”
is a member of Westbury United Methodist Church in Houston TX and FAM Houston.
Stories of Hope: Day 22
by rev. Justin Coleman
The following is an excerpt from Pastor Justin Coleman’s book, Home for Christmas: Tales of Hope and Second Chances. To learn more about his book and related study resources, please visit: https://abingdonpress.lpages.co/home-for-christmas/
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoice
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn
Our souls long for hope. We are simply not made for hopelessness. Hope is an amazing gift to a world that is sometimes weary. Weariness sometimes leads to hopelessness. It is perfectly natural to feel sad sometimes. Sadness is a part of life, but hopelessness does not need to be.
My hope is grounded in new life. When I think of new life I cannot help but think of Scriptures that speak to newness of life in Christ like 2 Corinthians 5:17:
“So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived!”
Hope is grounded in the picture of new life that we see in Scripture. New things have arrived in our lives in Christ and this newness offers us a thrill of hope. There is a new genesis going on in each of our souls taking any weariness and the hopelessness that may be found there and transforming them into a refreshed hopefulness.
New things are also arriving in Christ now and more newness of life is yet to come. Think about the picture we see in Revelation 20:
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud voice from the throne say, “Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look! I’m making all things new.”
Life can be hard sometimes. The circumstances of our lives can make our souls weary, but don’t be discouraged. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, God is working in us and through us and around us to make things new. This work of God sometimes takes time. New life often grows in stages, but we can trust that God is with us every step along the journey.
Remember God’s word to us from the Prophet Isaiah:
Look! I’m doing a new thing;
now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?
I’m making a way in the desert,
paths in the wilderness.
(Isaiah 43:19, CEB)
Prayer: God of all creation, by your mercy, renew and restore us. Help us to be a people who are born anew in Christ. May the newness of life that we receive in Christ give us hope and may we be a sign of hope to the world. Amen.
Rev. Justin Coleman
is the Senior Pastor of University UMC in Chapel Hill, NC. He grew up in Texas, and attended Southern Methodist University, graduating in 2000 with a major in religious studies. He, too, was very active in SMU’s Wesley Foundation, and served as Associate Pastor at SMU’s Wesley Foundation from 2001 to 2003 as he began seminary studies at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Justin transferred to Duke Divinity School in 2003, and graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2005. Justin’s first clergy appointment was to University UMC, as an intern in 2004 and then as Associate Pastor from 2005 to 2007.
In 2007, Justin was called back to the Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, where he is an elder, and was appointed Associate Pastor at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. For six years from 2008 to 2014, Justin served as the Executive and Lead Pastor of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s Church and led it through a remarkable period of growth in ministry and service to its community.
From 2014 to June 2017 Justin served as the Chief Ministry Officer of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee. During this time he has also continued to frequently offer lectures, sermons, and lead worship.
Justin and his wife Chaka live in Chapel Hill with their three sons, Zan, Max, and Lawson.
Stories of Hope: Day 21
by rev. melissa maher
Hope. Everyone Needs Some.
No exceptions, everyone you’ve encountered today needs hope. The next door neighbor wrestling their toddler into the car seat, frantic to make it to school and work on time. The police officer in line ahead of you ordering a large coffee. The teen sitting all alone on the bench outside of school, gathering courage for the day ahead. The young woman bravely walking forward to collect a desire chip. The immigrant needing help but fearful of where to go. Faces known and unknown. Each person, deep inside longs for hope.
I serve within Mercy Street, a church community on the west side of Houston. (Check out the link for a few stories of Hope Dealers in our community.) Formed in 1997 as a counter-narrative to what some have experienced church to be, we’re a people who are imperfect and in process. We believe hope means the worst things are never the last things. We are Hope Dealers who have the “good stuff”—the radical grace of God given so undeservedly through another person whose journey inspires us to keep going. We joke about beingHope dealers as some in our community were dealers in the past of other things which promised hope at the first hit, but quickly evaporated into emptiness, isolation and fear.
This Advent we celebrate Love came down –embodied in a vulnerable child to fulfill prophecies of hope and surprise and disrupt traditional power structures. We give attention to the ways the Spirit of the Living God hovers us, creating new life. We gather on Saturday nights to remind one another of the power we hold in the vulnerability of our stories. Throughout the week we move through our beloved Houston in the “rooms,” jail cells, classrooms, coffee shops, treatment centers, halfway houses, gated communities, open-air living encampments to embody Hope to any who feel like a spiritual refugee.
I’m grateful for these blog posts by FAM and Rev. Hannah Terry which invite us to focus on hope while opening wide the aperture of who gives and receives hope. As the hymnist Philip Brooks wrote in “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” any who feel bent beneath life’s crushing load are invited to come swiftly and rest beside the weary road to hear the angels sing. And just maybe this Christmas, you’ll find your angel wings to speak hope to another who has forgotten love came down.
Rev. melissa Maher
is the Lead Pastor of Mercy Street — a worshiping community of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston TX. Her hope is that each person at Mercy Street would love and be loved, serve and be served, know and be known, celebrate and be celebrated. Melissa’s favorite hobbies are fishing, kayaking, playing golf, and spending time with family.
Stories of Hope: Day 20
by rev. Katie Eichler
This will be my 36th Christmas Eve to spend in church. I have a deep familiarity with and love for the Christmas story found in Luke 2 where the angels appear to the shepherds, an undoubtedly marginalized group due to their occupation. This year the story struck me in a new way, as scripture tends to do from time to time. Before now, I have only understood the shepherds abstractly, but a new friend has helped me know what “good news of great joy for all people” really means.
Her name is Anna Howard Shaw, and we met in the pages of her autobiography, The Story of a Pioneer, which was published in 1915 and tells of her trailblazing life as a pastor, doctor, and suffragette. There are many tales from her life that have stuck with me, and none more so than the story of an unusual but impactful childhood friendship.
Anna was born in England in 1847 and immigrated to the United States at six years old. Her family settled in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and after some time Anna took a great interest in the mysterious woman who lived next door. She rode a white horse and wore a blue velvet jacket and hat. Everyone in town knew who she was, but no one was her friend. The adults hardly ever spoke of her, and when they did it was in whispers. There were rumors among the children that a ghost lived in her home. Anna was captivated by her and didn’t have any understanding that this was the town prostitute.
One day, after weeks of being watched by this young child, the mysterious woman got off her horse to kiss the little girl on the cheek and hand her a note to take to her mother. The note was an invitation. The mysterious woman was inviting Anna into her home.
And here is the part that has blown the nice Christmas story about shepherds wide open in my mind. You see, I have a child. A five-year-old boy named Ben. Time freezes for me as I imagine Anna’s mother reading this note knowing whom it came from. I imagine all of her feelings and feel them with her as her child stands at her side waiting for a response to the generous invitation. Would I let him go? Would I be worried about his safety? Would I fear how the other folks in town might judge my parenting?
When I read Luke 2 for the first time this Advent season, I realized that if angels arrived today to trumpet the birth of the newborn savior it might not be to shepherds but could very well be to sex-workers. I realized that God couldn’t wait to send angels to share the best news ever with people I would think twice about letting my son be around.
Anna’s parents were abolitionists. This wasn’t just their political lens; they actively harbored runaway slaves in their home. So that night when they discussed the note, they came to a conclusion that surprised me. They felt that the woman who lived next door was no less a slave than those they were hiding in their home, and they decided to let their child visit the mysterious woman. They developed a beautiful friendship that brought joy to each other’s lives.
Anna said of her mysterious friend, “she constantly sent my mother secret gifts for the poor and the sick of the neighborhood, and she was always the first to offer help for those who were in trouble. Many years afterward mother told me she was the most generous woman she had ever known, and that she had a rarely beautiful nature.”
My prayer is that I don’t miss out on knowing someone so beautiful because my judgment keeps me from seeing their sacred worth. My prayer is that my son might have a friend like her. My prayer is that you might have a friend like her too.
Rev. Katie Eichler
is Pastor to Children, Youth, and Families at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church. She is also a student at Perkins School of Theology and has spent this Fall studying forgotten Methodist voices in the Progressive Era. If you want to learn more, check out her final project at forgotten-voices.com. It is a podcast she made with her students to have big conversations using the life of Anna Howard Shaw as a lens. She also has an awesome husband named Jon and a funny son named Ben who played an angel in this year’s church Christmas pageant.
Stories of Hope: Day 19
by Thomas McPhail Ubaldo
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).
Among the din of late evening, the soft twinkling of the stars attempts to break through the dull light and haze of the city, the acrid smell of the streets lingers with that of rich food, the slightest wift of which takes one home to their earliest memories when the world seemed to shine as if all things carried within them their own light.
A young woman wraps herself in a shawl, her infant nestled at her chest. She wraps herself up but not for warmth. Hers is a cloak of protection to ward off prying eyes and the pain to come. Her husband stands beside her with a small bag, carrying food, water, and their few remaining valuables to secure safe passage and a new life.
Together they pass the threshold of their home. They dare not wait until morning for fear of who may be waiting outside their door. Out of desperation, they set off in the hope of finding refuge, a safe and welcoming place where they can thrive and make a better life for themselves and their child. Despite many obstacles, known and unknown, they set out, clinging to one another in faith, hope, and love.
This is the story of millions of immigrants around the world who plunge into the darkness literally and metaphorically, holding dearly to their hope like a small light to illuminate the paths of their feet or a distant star to guide them to a place where their hope may no longer be hope but reality.
We await and prepare ourselves for this very story during Advent and we celebrate it during Christmas. Three magi follow a star to Bethlehem to find the promised king and present him with noble gifts. A mother and father flee with their child to save his life so he might save the lives of all people. Mary and Joseph sought asylum for themselves and Jesus in Egypt. Our Lord and Savior Jesus the Anointed One, the Son of Man, the Prince of Peace, the Balm of Gilead, the Hope of the Nations was a refugee. So, when Jesus says, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me,” he means it.
It's a family matter.
Thomas McPhail Ubaldo
is married to Ruth McPhail Ubaldo and together they aim to serve immigrant populations along the U.S.-Mexico border. Prior to moving to Texas, Thomas worked with a refugee resettlement agency in Atlanta while he attended Candler School of Theology. Before entering seminary, Thomas started and directed an immigration legal aid clinic at his church, Tree of Life, in Indiana.
Stories of Hope: Day 18
by rev. emily chapman
I’ve been reflecting this Advent on a one of Father Greg Boyle’s sayings about Homeboy Industries, the program he founded, is that there, hope has an address. Hope has an address. I wonder where hope lives for you? Can you think of place or a time in your life where hope had an address? In a world with so many on the move, and who have no address, how we can think about and create places where hope can come to stay? When I think about this, I think about Emmanuel Methodist Church in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
I went there for the first time in 2008 and went every year for the next 6 years after that, for various lengths of time. It's a place that is dear to my heart, but that’s not why hope lives there for me. The sanctuary is built on to an old Spanish colonial style villa. It has a courtyard with a grapefruit tree in the middle and rooms all around that are now used for preschool, after school learning, a dental clinic, a therapist office and medical clinic. It also has a workshop where women sew items to sell and earn money for their families, and a room where senior adults, which Bolivians refer to as “third age” gather almost daily. It’s a place of great love, a place of refuge and help, a place that is seeking to right the injustices of its past.
Because its past is a dark one- the home where they are now located was, when it was built a plantation where the Quechua people, who are indigenous Bolivians, were enslaved by their Spanish colonizers. It was a land of violence and oppression. It went on that way for many years until the house was sold and then sold again and eventually became part of the Methodist church. The church learned that many of the homes had domestic workers in what amounted to shacks behind the main houses, where the workers lived with their children, often left alone all day while their parents worked long hours in the main house for menial wages. The children were not being educated and were often not even being fed. The church decided they couldn’t stand for it. And so they made a way for those children through a school that provides three meals a day and full range of services, but mostly provides a loving home for children and their families.
There’s a painting in the school office there, done by Joel, a former student who actually lived and the school and was cared for by the Tias, or teachers, when he was abandoned by his family. Joel is now an artist, whose work I hang proudly in my home. He painted a picture of a special cross at Emmanuel on on the bottom, he drew the land’s past. It is all scenes of devastation, of poverty, of slaves being beaten and crying out toward heaven. But the top part is the land’s present- children laughing and playing, music and dancing going on, even his dog is in the corner.
It’s the perfect depiction of hope being located. That church decided that given their history, and the conditions around them if they wanted to love God’s people, they had better be in the business of setting people free. They taught me that love looks like liberation and that God is not concerned about imaginary lines humans draw to create borders and class systems and separate God’s people from each other. In Advent, we celebrate God coming to us to to be located, to have a place with us and to set us free. A thrill of hope, indeed.
Rev. Emily Chapman
is the Senior Pastor at St. Mark's United Methodist Church in the Woodland Heights neighborhood. A native Texan from the DFW area, she has resided in Houston for a decade and is glad to call it home. Her favorite things about Houston are its diversity, its vibrant arts scene and its amazing food. She is passionate about neighbors meeting each other, especially those whose paths might not naturally cross. A graduate of Duke Divinity School, she is also an avid basketball fan.
Stories of Hope: Day 17
by Annie & Mark Mulligan
This time of year inevitably brings up conversations about What To Get Our Kids For Christmas. We oscillate between what they like, what they want and hopefully a few of what they need. But what do we really hope to give our two boys? Reflecting on the past year, we realize that the answer is more experiences like the ones we've had with our church family and with FAM this year.
Westbury United Methodist is blessed to have a community of Congolese families. It is amazing to see them weave their culture into our services on Sunday mornings. Their children populate the youth group and serve as eager volunteers for VBS. In October, we were asked to accompany some of the teens to the retreat. They needed a ride and a cabin to share. Could we do it? My wife was hesitant to make them suffer through our bedtime routine with a three and five-year-old. But then we remembered who we were dealing with: Frank, Freddie, and Olivia. These were kids who treat our children like their own siblings. From shepherding them safely into a soccer game to making sure they can reach the snack table, Frank, Freddy and Olivia have always radiated grace and maturity in the time we've spent together.
The retreat was a joy. A mini road-trip. Soccer playing. Horseback riding. A night in a cabin. Watching our own kids lifted up by an extended family we are blessed to have.
What do we want to give our kids? More time spent like that. More chances to get outside the limited circles we often bounce around. More experiences for "our" kids to live and grow together in our time on this earth. This world is better the larger our family grows.
ANnie & Mark Mulligan
are members of Westbury United Methodist Church and the FAM Houston community. They’re photographers and parents to Zoomer and Hart.
Stories of Hope: Day 16
by Rev. Nathan Arledge
These faces have all come from places once called home. Space once safe and yet no longer. These faces aren’t nameless or void of dignity - despite the earnest efforts of many who too have faces.
These precious faces aren’t for voyeuristic pity or to be assigned a number of just another one on the list.
On their tongue esperanza, in their eyes miedo. Certainty and uncertainty, claridad and confusión are etched into the cheeks and wrinkles of everyone.
These caras represent the image of Dios.
Dear reader, your face, your kids, your family and your friends faces are images of God as well.
When disparaging remarks are made or insults are thrust to these faces, please remember whose they are.
Remember whose you are.
Remember these caras and your face and see how close you actually are to one another.
We are all made in God’s image and it’s not something to disregard.
Rev. Nathan Arledge
is the Pastor of Missions and Community Engagement at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC.
“One of ministry’s great joys is learning the names and stories of neighbors near and far. I rejoice in the relationships we will form as we care for the hungry and thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and journey with the imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46, my life verse).”
A native of Hendersonville, NC, Nathan enjoys all things outdoors, from fishing the streams, to hiking and camping. Though, his favorite place to be is at the beach, typically holding a fishing pole. He considers himself a big foodie and loves tasting and cooking great food. He’s a sports enthusiast specifically of the Atlanta Braves, Duke Blue Devils, and Georgia Bulldogs. Nathan has been a Green Bay Packers fan since childhood but Carolina Panthers definitely growing in his estimation. He also has a six year old English bulldog, who goes by the name of Pendleton, very regal.
Stories of Hope: Day 15
by dora shpati
When I began this new journey as an after-school teacher at the middle school, I was nervous and excited. I had worked with refugees in the past, but this was my first time in a tutoring role. The school has a high need with their refugee population. Not just an educational need, but a cultural orientation of sorts: someone to teach them what it’s like to be a student in the United States. Many of these students hadn’t been in school for years because it was not accessible in the overseas refugee camps in which they lived.
Imagine suddenly getting kicked out of your own country, living in a camp among thousands of others, usually with no running water or electricity, scarce food, and then just as suddenly flying in an airplane across an ocean, blindly trusting strangers, to start a whole new life in the United States. These kids had to be endlessly resilient to what was happening around them, without ever understanding why.
I had assumed that my job was going to be to simply tutor them and help them in their studies. Easy, right? 5+5=10. But it was so much more than that: it gave them a sense hope for their future. The most vital component was to just be there for them and truly be in the present moment. To connect with them and give them confidence in who they are. By paying a bit of attention to them, they felt that someone cared about them. This shines through them so clearly!
The most prevalent I have witnessed throughout my time at the school is how extremely grateful my students are. They enjoy just being able to stay after school, among their classmates. Anything and everything I introduce is immediately of interest to them; and through it all, they are so grateful.
They taught me how to be grateful.
is 22 years old and recently graduated from the University of Houston with a B.A. in Political Science. She works for a nonprofit organization named Catholic Charities. She is in the refugee resettlement sector of the organization, primarily dealing with the refugee youth as well as working with employment. She has a chocolate lab named Shiner and enjoys sitting in a hammock with great music.
Stories of Hope: Day 14
by Rev. David Horton
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. – Psalm 133, v.1
Sara and I could not be more different. She likes to Zumba. Me? Not so much. She’s a stay at home mom. I’m a pastor trying to be a dad. She’s from Pakistan. I’m from North Carolina. She’s Muslim. I’m Methodist. She wears a hijab. I occasionally wear a collar.
I first met Sara when she was taking a cooking class in our church’s kitchen. Our friends in the community put together a series of cooking classes that were as much a women’s small group as culinary education. Sara joined women from Iraq, Syria, Congo, and Mexico for a few weeks of recipe swapping. I understood I was to stay out of the kitchen, mostly so I wouldn’t get in the way and ruin their fun, and so I could enjoy the home-cooked delicacies they prepared.
Sara never looked apprehensive being in the church. That day she was all smiles as she handed me a Pakistani dish I can’t pronounce but I can still taste. To this day, when she takes Zumba classes in the church fellowship hall (again, no men allowed), I hear she feels comfortable and welcome enough to remove her hijab and just be one of the girls. She loves it here, and we love having her here.
I saw Sara a few days ago at Fall Fest, which is one giant community block party at the church where you can climb a rock wall and in ten steps register for ESL classes. Sara and a few of her friends were passing out free samples of Pakistani and Syrian cuisine because, let’s face it, who doesn’t love free samples?
Our biggest project at the church right now is starting a school for young children that immigrant and refugee families in our neighborhood can afford. Sara is all about this. Whenever I mention the school to her, her eyes start twinkling like I’ve just presented her with a puppy. She lives in the apartment complex directly behind the church and she and her children could easily walk to the school when it opens. She says she wants to be hired as a teacher. It could happen. She already meets the most important criteria: she’s human, and she loves kids.
Some staff from St. Luke’s came to Fall Fest to record footage for a video they’re putting together; the video will spread the news about the need for a school in our neighborhood, and they wanted to interview community residents who would benefit from the school. I asked Sara if she would like to be interviewed and her eyes started to twinkle again. She said, “Pastor, I do this for you.”
At Christmas we remember the words of the angel Gabriel: Glory to God in the highest heaven! And on earth, peace among those whom he favors (Luke 2:14). God favors us all, hijab and collar. We are all God’s favorite. Did you know that you are God’s favorite?
The birth of Christ begins a new day of togetherness among all God’s children where there is no us and them; there is only us. May the Christ child lead us into deeper kinship with one another. That boy is born for Sara as much as he is born for me. Sara and I could not be more loved.
rev. david horton
is husband to Brandi and dad to Caroline. He serves as the pastor of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston.
Stories of Hope: Day 13
we shall not be moved | by Shannon schaefer
I have watched the video a dozen times at least, my pastor from my time in North Carolina under arrest for blocking a deportation with his body.
He is not alone, but in the midst of other clergy members and activists, pleading for their friend’s release. With them, an American-born son clings to his Mexican-born father and won’t let go. Sanctuary has moved from a church building to a gathered social body surrounding an ICE van.
As I watch the footage on repeat, I am searching. I am trying to remember my blood, trying to reach back before my generic midwestern whiteness to the particulars of identity buried in my cells and sinews – identities I have mostly forgotten, stories I don’t know, traditions that don’t touch me, subsumed under the catch all assimilated category of “white American-born.”
My whole body is the forgotten history of border crossings and social transgression. I am the fruit of loves between unlikely lovers. There in my veins, among my English, French, German, Dutch, Danish, Scottish, and Welsh ancestries are also the Polish, the Irish, the Jewish. Right there with the “socially acceptable” immigrants of a century or two ago are unwanted immigrants, the ones that incited fear and rhetoric in the “true American” heart. The arguments about borders and what threats exist if we let the other in are nothing new. They don’t change; only the targets do.
My blood is the history of wars. Politics want to tell me who can be my neighbor, but in my veins a dozen countries intermingle.
What I remember is how we belong to one another, political rhetoric be damned.
They are all arrested from their place around the van and he is deported. In the county jail, he is in a cell across from them, separated by bars and distance, held there like that to show them once again that in the mind of the nationalist, geography is absolute truth and borders in some existential way divide the worthy from the unworthy.
His son follows him across the border. He embraces him there on the other side, because more absolute than national borders are the beautifully tangled veins of love.
A few days later, when I see the photo of their embrace and read the son’s words to not lose faith in God, I am undone by the truth on display their bodies, that love is subversive. Love is transgressive. Love is truer than any world politics, but we must embody it.
The hope of Advent is that love once again might be transgressive – that in the body of Jesus, the borders between heaven and earth, between the world made right and the world we live in now, would be dissolved with finality and we would gain access to our true heart’s home: a final hospitality into the Divine Embrace, the one territory free from borders.
In the video footage of the arrests, the camera cuts to a woman being carried by multiple officers. As they hold her shoulders and her feet, she is positioned face down, except her head is lifted, and as they walk, she sings, “We shall not be moved, we shall not be moved.” Though they literally move her body, they cannot move her from the determination to love.
Nor can they move us. We belong to one another. We are neighbors to one another, come what may. Love is in our blood.
is the Community Coordinator at Kindred, a dinner church in Houston's Montrose neighborhood, and a recent transplant from Durham, NC where she received her M.Div. from Duke in 2017. Working among those who are housing insecure, she is interested in how people experience a sense of being at home and belonging, both to a place and to a community.
Stories of Hope: Day 12
by Steven Fisher
It’s been a while I know. I think about you a lot but I probably don’t intentionally talk to you enough. It’s been over four years since you passed away. It was my birthday.
My immigration status at the time was in a nutshell “undocumented” but more specifically, I had overstayed a visa. I hadn’t meant to and when I realized I did, I didn’t realize the penalties were so harsh. For several months I thought all I had to do was fly home, go to the embassy, fill out a few forms and come back.
I still remember the day I realized leaving here would bar me from coming back for ten years.
Had I left the day I made that grim discovery, I still wouldn’t be eligible to return until next year. I can only imagine the sadness you felt knowing that I couldn’t go back to Liverpool any time soon and you could not come to visit me. They didn’t allow the oxygen tank you needed aboard the plane. Boats would take two weeks from Rotterdam, and you’d need a doctor. I know this because I researched it.
We’d still talk weekly on Skype (thank God for video calls) but I could tell your health was failing. I didn’t acknowledge it of course because I knew if you did die, I’d be over four thousand miles away and would have an impossible choice.
But then you did. July 13th, 2014. Your body weakened by COPD, you survived two heart attacks in one afternoon before the third one finally took you. I know you knew it was your time and that you did everything you could so that the death certificate would read July 14th but it was too much.
I didn’t get to go to the funeral. Though I had begun my waiver of inadmissibility process, had I left, I’d be set back years. I’d have lost my mum and been separated from my wife. You knew this. You told my dad before you slipped away that I was not to come back home if you died and jeopardize my status in America.
Selfless to the last. Loving not just across the world but to the end of it. Protecting a son you could not see from a process you didn’t understand. That’s who you were.
And now this is who I am. I have lots of news. I’m a Legal Permanent Resident now. I work for a church with children and youth and try to teach them that there is more love in the world than the hate we see on the nightly news. That there is a God who loves them, and I love them too. I drive now. I know you’re not worried about me driving – Michael on the other hand.
I kid of course. Michael is doing great too. He got married this summer and I got to go. It was in Prague. You’d have loved it. I’m not frozen in place anymore afraid to leave because I can’t come back. But you already knew these things didn’t you?
I’m who I am today because of you. I want so desperately for people to know that even when questions have no answers, situations don’t seem to have resolutions and fear is a constant companion. Hope wins. I didn’t see how my future could work out in America on the day you died. I worried I’d miss your funeral and STILL end up banned from America. But you knew better. You chose hope.
Oh, one other bit of news. You’re going to be a grandmother. Baby Fisher is coming in May, 2019.
But you knew that already too.
is the Family Ministries Director at St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. Steven moved to the United States in April 2017 and became a Legal Permanent Resident in February 2018. He has been married to his wife, Christie, since June 2011. They have one dog, Cooper, and their first child is on the way.
Stories of Hope: Day 11
by Rev. Brandi Tevebaugh Horton
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers.” – Acts 2:42
The first thing that the world really knew about Christians was that they ate together. We were first and foremost a table people – a people who shared as others had need and a people who remembered the story of our Lord in the breaking of bread. Being table people means that in our DNA as Christians, we are already equipped to break down barriers, live together well, and learn to love our neighbors. Sharing a meal, especially with someone different from you, creates the climate for conversation and the opportunity for friendship.
My husband David and I both serve churches that are classified as “diverse.” We worship regularly with people from across the globe, including Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan, Philippines, Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador to name just a few. Worshipping together paints a beautiful picture, but it is around tables before and after worship that the Kingdom of God is really built as we share stories and life with one another.
In April 2017, David and I were expecting our first child, and his church wanted to throw us a baby shower. The shower was planned and spearheaded by an older Anglo Sunday School class in the church. It was to be a luncheon directly following worship with finger sandwiches, cake, and punch. The ladies planning this event invited the whole church, whoever wanted to contribute, to bring chicken salad on the day of the shower. No one realized that “chicken salad” – the kind with mayo and pickle relish – was a distinctly American food.
On the day of the shower, I walked into the fellowship hall and was hit by a smell that definitely was not “chicken salad.” Our friends who were less than familiar with southern American shower cuisine still wanted to contribute and still wanted to follow the instructions. They brought their version of “chicken salad.” We had a chicken and vegetable noodle stir fry, some chicken empanadas, several dishes with chicken and rice that I could not even begin to describe, and of course, chicken salad.
As we loaded our plates and sat down, I couldn’t help but laugh. Learning to live with each other often means missteps and misunderstandings, but it also means that the food is much more interesting than you could have ever hoped. I looked at my plate, crowded with food that reflected people, and I was amazed. These were the people that wanted to love our little girl. Our little girl was being welcomed into a family that really looked like the family of God. Our little girl would get to taste a little bit of heaven because the people invested in her life cared enough to bring all kinds of “chicken salad.” Our little girl was being born into a community committed to breaking down barriers, welcoming the stranger and the immigrant, and learning to live together.
In a divided world, there is hope. We don’t have to maintain our distance just because your culture and mine are not the same. We don’t have to build walls just because your skin color and mine don’t look the same. We don’t have to exchange nervous glances just because your language and mine don’t sound the same. There is hope for mending the brokenness in our relationship with immigrants and refugees. There is hope that we might learn to live together. There is hope that we might find in each other generous friends.
For me, that hope is always found at a table. Because every meal shared is an invitation to be broken, to be poured out, and to be made whole and holy. My challenge to you this Advent is to find someone new to share a meal with and see what beautiful things come as a result.
serves First Methodist Houston as a Teaching Pastor. She and her husband David have been engaged with the immigrant and refugee population in Houston since 2014 and have a deep love for what God is doing in our city.
Stories of Hope: Day 10
by Rev. Paul Richards-Kuan
Hope is intangible. The work of God’s grace moving in the world. What the world needs desperately is the enfleshing of that hope. Incarnation of hope. That is the power of Christmas. Jesus is the sacrament, the outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. Jesus is our hope, because he is hope with flesh put on it.
My neighborhood is the East End of Houston. The East End has long been the place for Mexican American immigrants to find safe and affordable homes and find belonging. However, the last ten years has made people far more frightened about the state of the neighborhood. Land value is rising sharply, and more and more neighbors can no longer afford to live in this neighborhood. New neighbors are moving in who are white and wealthy. Neighbors are starting to ask the questions- is this still my neighborhood? Is there still a place for me? But there are lots of signs of hope that I see. There are neighbors who are started to get activated and advocating for their own needs. There are connections being made between organizations working of the common good of this neighborhood. But hope needs flesh on it. So when I need hope I go over to Finca Tres Robles.
Finca Tres Robles, named after the three large oaks that are in the front, is a farm in the East End with the mission to bring vegetables and community to a neighborhood that needs it. Three of the Garcia-Prats brothers who live in the East End started the farm four years ago with a passion for farming and for people. Living and working in the neighborhood, they already knew their neighbors and wanted it to be a place for them. Amazingly, they are able to keep ninety percent of the food they grow in the East End.
The power of the hope they bring is deeply rooted in the space as well. The farm is situated on an acre and change surrounded by a zinc factory, a coffee roaster, a county office building, and an abandoned lot. It is food rising out of desolation. For many long time East End residents, walking up for fresh veggies for the first time is scary, but as soon as they can encounter Tommy Garcia-Prats speaking to them in spanish, and feel the warmth with which they engage their neighbors, they quickly learn that this is a place for them. They see the vegetables being grown (where else can you get good cactus?!), the mission of the farm (a good amount of their food goes to a elementary school down the road), and they feel belonging.
For immigrants and residents of the East End, the challenge is finding where you belong. A place that gets you. Finca Tres Robles is that place. It is verdant, it is beautiful, and it is life rising in the midst of the death and decay all around it. If that isn’t hope with flesh on it, what else is?
Rev. Paul Richards-Kuan
is a United Methodist Pastor and a community builder in the East End. He prays regularly with a group of neighbors, hosts a couple different monthly block parties, cheers on a community garden, and is rebirthing a community organization called the East End Collaborative while advocating for affordable housing and food accessibility. In his free time he spends time with his wife Karyn (also a UM pastor) and cat Kiki (not YET a pastor). He also loves basketball and HipHop.
Stories of Hope: Day 9
by RUth McPhail-ubaldo
A few days ago we celebrated the One Year Anniversary of Fort Bend Hope, a non-profit that builds bridges and restores hope by empowering families through education. Fort Bend Hope lives out its mission by providing educational opportunities for K-5 students as well as adult students. Volunteers mentor elementary school students to complete homework assignments and build literacy skills. Our volunteers also teach adult classes on English as a Second Language, Citizenship, Computer Literacy and Stress Management, to name a few.
Many of our students are immigrants and have mixed status families. Some of our students did not have the opportunity to finish their primary or secondary education. Other parents have degrees in their home countries, but they are not recognized in the U.S. or they are limited by the language barrier. Though there are a variety of hurdles immigrants face in this country, I’m encouraged by the work we get to do at Fort Bend Hope. I try to remind students that we make strides little by little. One of the highlights of the past year has been witnessing three students prepare week after week for their Exam. When these students were summoned for their interview and Exam, they all passed.
The process of becoming a citizen in the U.S. is long and arduous. Our students who have applied to take the Citizenship Exam have waited at least a year to get an appointment. This time is used to prepare for the interview, to study 100 questions on civics and government and to wait to receive an appointment. The folks who apply for citizenship in the U.S. are familiar with those practices we associate with Advent. During the season of Advent, we enter a posture of waiting and anticipating the coming of Christ. We set our hearts on the expectation of the coming King and God’s reign.
Every time a student passes their Citizenship Exam we have cake during the weekly Citizenship Class to celebrate. The successful student shares about their experience and encourages the rest of the class to keep preparing, studying and waiting. During this Advent season may we remember our immigrant brothers and sisters whose season of waiting may be months or years as they go through the channels to become U.S. Citizens.
is the director of Fort Bend Hope community center in downtown Rosenberg, just outside of Houston. Before living in Texas, Ruth and her husband, Thomas, lived in Atlanta where they attended Candler School of Theology. Ruth and Thomas share a desire to serve immigrant communities near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Stories of Hope: Day 8
by Rev. Danny Yang
Imagine being in the middle of a caravan, walking miles day after day in hopes of finding a place of refuge. You cling to hope: that somewhere yonder you can escape the chains of slavery. Shackles of fear that the ruling forces will violently suppress every attempt for freedom. Burdens that narrow the possibilities of your future to simple survival.
And as you walk with others seeking hope, your whole body feels the journey. Every heavy step a prayer, every drop of sweat an offering, and every tear shed a plea. The road seems so long, the future uncertain, and the destination undefined. The questions and doubts begin to surface. Maybe we shouldn’t have left — was it really that bad? What known and unknown perils lay along this long road? What if we’re turned away at the border? What if the promised land has its own share of hostility and hate?
I imagine these thoughts and so many more crossed the minds of the Hebrews as they journeyed from Egypt toward Canaan. This was a journey of trust, that indeed God had rescued them and God had called them to bless the world. This was faith: that God’s people cannot be enslaved people. And this was promise: that God would always be with them.
And in the midst of Advent, let us recognize the caravan journeys around us. When Mary and Joseph journeyed to Bethlehem. When they subsequently fled to Egypt with a newborn child. When we ourselves wait in expectation and hope, clinging - even by the barest thread - to God’s goodness and love.
Rev. danny yang
grew up on the west side of Houston (Alief). He's worn a few different hats in life: semiconductor engineer, youth director, campus minister, pastor, husband, and dad. He loves learning and teaching the Bible so that all might discover the unique ways God has created each of us to serve in the world.
Stories of Hope: Day 7
by Kelsey Johnson
In the beginning…
We know the story, right? How God created the heavens and the earth. Formed humankind in the very image of the divine. Set forth order from chaos, a masterful design. This narrative frames the way we see ourselves and we see the world. It’s our origin story.
Have you noticed the word “good” repeated over and over? God creates something and declares it good. God creates another something and declares it good too.
Lisa Sharon Harper, who wrote a whole book inspired by the careful study of these first three chapters in Genesis, points out the Hebrew word tov. This tov, this goodness, is not just a characteristic of an object. In English, we might say, “that’s a good dog” (referring to the dog’s behavior) or “that’s a good car” (meaning it’s reliable). We mean the thing itself is good, and the thing can be good all by itself.
But in the original Hebrew, tov (good) is “located between things.” By God’s own design, this goodness is intrinsically interconnected. It is manifested in the context of relationships. It cannot be found in isolation or in homogeneity. God’s very good creation is an abundant, diverse, beautiful call to community––with each other, with God, and with the rest of creation.
Here is where I find hope. It’s in the places where God’s intention for “goodness” shows up. Hope is where people in community embody wholeness, peace, and well-being.
FAM Houston has been one of those “very good” places in my life. A place where immigrants, refugees and locals become friends. It’s not perfect, but it gets closer to that goodness. I see love bridging between cultures and languages. I see a leaning into rather than a leaning away from. I see children inhabiting the world with a greater certainty of their belonging.
Here’s another place I find hope. For communities where something like FAM Houston doesn’t exist, where a flourishing of friendships among people of different cultures hasn’t happened yet, it’s still possible. And sometimes, for something to take root, we must first plant the seeds of prayerful imagination.
For a long time, I’ve had a passion for children’s books. I believe stories shape us. Just like the story of creation, stories remind us who we are (we’re good!) and why we’re here (for goodness!). They help children dream of who they can become and even whom they can befriend. Stories can move us from imaginary worlds to actually reimagining the world.
Unfortunately, a mere fraction of children’s books published each year in the U.S. are created by or about people of color. Even fewer books offer windows into the experiences of children who are refugees and immigrants. Yet, research shows that children’s exposure to stories and images of diverse characters can reduce bias and promote cross-cultural friendships. To read diverse, we must commit to reading on purpose by intentionally selecting these “harder-to-find” stories at the library and at the bookstore.
As we lean into that “very goodness” in community, I commend these picture books to you. Read them with the young children in your life. Buy them as Christmas gifts. These are stories that speak to the goodness between us. And don’t we need more of that kind of goodness in our world today?
God's Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams ; illustrated by LeUyen Pham (ages 0–3)
You Hold Me Up written by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Danielle Daniel (ages 3–6)
I Am Enough written by Grace Byers and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (ages 4–8)
Dreamers written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales (ages 5–8)
I’m New Here written and illustrated by Anne Sibley O’Brien (ages 5–8)
My Two Blankets written by Irena Kobald and illustrated by Freya Blackwood (ages 6–10)
My Name Is Sangoel written by Karen Williams and Khadra Mohammed; illustrated by Catherine Stock (ages 6–10)
and her husband Rev. DeAndre Johnson moved to Houston with their two young children in 2011 to serve Westbury United Methodist Church. They have been a part of FAM Houston since its inception and have witnessed God’s shalom at work through this vital ministry in our city. Kelsey is a designer, photographer and writer and was honored to collaborate with Pastor Hannah in developing FAM’s brand identity and website. She is an advocate for diversity in children’s literature and cross-cultural conversations. She works as Director of Communication at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Houston and is a graduate student in the Communication Design program at Texas State University.
Stories of Hope: Day 6
by Rev. Nathan Lonsdale Bledsoe
I had the best Thanksgiving this year. I did something I’ve never done, and my wife and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house. And we had a really fantastic collection of people who I’m fairly confident will never share a meal together again.
There was my mom, who made and brought most of the non-turkey foodstuffs.
My dad, who brought a sweet potato soufflé that was a huge hit.
My uncle, who made a couple of quiches so that the vegetarians would have some good protein.
My wife, who allowed fifteen people to descend on our house and did a thousand dishes.
My aunt, who brought rolls, crackers, and showed us all pictures of the Super Guppy airplane (you should Google this thing if you don’t know what it looks like).
Her husband, who used to live in Amarillo, where there is an airfield that is involved in lots of training exercises, which is why he and my aunt knew about the Super Guppy.
My cousin, who had to juggle a full day of Thanksgiving obligations but joined us for lunch, helped with setup and cleanup, and delivered the quiche my uncle made.
My mom’s first cousin and his wife, who have been really faithful in supporting my grandparents since my grandfather’s stroke in 2010.
His son (my first...cousin...twice...removed?) and his wife, who brought an awesome panini press as a host gift that made for some EPIC leftover sandwiches.
My mother-in-law, who brought wine and salad, both very important for cutting the richness of all the other Thanksgiving food.
My grandfather, who ate much more dessert than actual food.
And, finally, my grandmother, who ate venison sausage for the first time and, after 60 years or so of hosting all the parties got to be a guest.
There were fifteen of us at the house.
Eight of us are immigrants.
Six of us are naturalized citizens.
Two of us were visiting from another country.
Four of us had never celebrated Thanksgiving before.
Two of us are vegetarians.
Some of us are Christian, some are Hindu, one is Jewish, and some would rather not say.
All of us ate pie.
All of us are beloved children of God.
Can you guess who is who?
Does it matter?
This is my family, and it gives me an awful lot of hope.
loves Jesus, his wife Sarah, their two dogs, cooking, hunting, the city of Houston, trying new restaurants, and a lot of things he cannot fit in a short bio.
Nathan grew up in Austin before moving to Houston to attend Rice University. After graduating, Nathan worked at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church before attending Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. While at Union, he served at the United Methodist Church of the Village, helped run a soup kitchen, and wrote a thesis project on theology and food. He believes when people gather to share a meal, Jesus Christ shows up (John 21).
Nathan served as the pastor of missions and evangelism at St. Peter’s UMC in Katy from 2013-2017. He currently serves as the Senior Pastor of St. Stephen’s UMC (Houston TX), the President of the National Board of U.M. ARMY and on the Texas Annual Conference Committee on Unity.
Stories of Hope: Day 5
by Katie white
I first met Ayda when she arrived in Houston in 2016 from Turkey. Her friendly face was frequent at the refugee resettlement office where I worked, and her high English skills allowed us to communicate without a translator. As I got to know her, she told me she used to work in finance and accounting, and held advanced degrees from Iran (her home country). My job at the time was to help refugees find higher educational opportunities here in the States; so, I plugged Ayda in to an entry-level bank teller training in order for her to get her foot in the door and garner work experience here. (It’s important to mention here that at this point, I never had asked Ayda to share her refugee experience with me; usually, my co-workers and I don’t ask unless it is necessary.)
Over the next 4 months, Ayda completed a bank teller program through SER Jobs for Progress, and invited me to her commencement ceremony at HCC. Ayda had been asked by her teacher to speak on behalf of her graduating class at the ceremony, also. She surprised me with this juicy tidbit when I arrived, so I took a seat close to the front in order to capture some quality photos and video to share with my co-workers. I assumed Ayda would give a typical “graduation” speech; what I heard instead was three minutes of the most heart-breaking details of her struggle to get to this very moment.
Ayda began her speech with the triple-whammy of reasons for fleeing her homeland: she was an ethnic minority in Iran, she was female, and she was gay. She explained that she never felt like she belonged: always keeping her head lowered, going through the motions of a double life, worrying about being murdered if someone found out the truth. Even in Turkey, a supposed secure place for refugees from neighboring countries, Ayda was not safe there because of her homosexuality; she had to flee for her life a second time when a co-worker there exposed her secret.
When Ayda arrived in Houston in 2016, she admitted that she was depressed, rejected, and alone. Slowly but steadily, these feelings faded as she started exploring her new home, visiting friends in other US cities who had fled Iran and Turkey before her. And now with her newly-earned bank training, she could begin a new career in the field she so loved.
After her graduation, Ayda and I kept in touch here and there with emails, phone calls, the occasional lunch. She had been on numerous interviews but still hadn’t landed a bank job; she had settled for a hotel concierge position in the meanwhile.
Months later, I took a new job at a different refugee resettlement agency, and I figured it would be a long while before Ayda and I crossed paths again. But just last week, I walked out of my office and there she was, her smile as broad as the Grand Canyon. We laughed and embraced, and then excitedly info-dumped the last year of our lives to each other. She explained that she was currently at our agency to sponsor her friend in Iran, as his US tie; she also shared that she was now working for a major bank as a Financial Analyst. I almost fell out of my chair. Not only did Ayda survive her refugee experience, this girl was THRIVING. So much so, that she is able to pay it forward to her Iranian friends still waiting on their ticket to freedom.
To me, Ayda’s journey is the perfect embodiment of hope.
was an educator for 14 years before what only can be described as a calling made her switch to social work in 2015. She is currently working at Catholic Charities’ Refugee Resettlement department, where she has met thousands of the most interesting people from all over the world who call Houston their new home.
I’m just a simple girl who loves tacos and thrift shops.
Stories of Hope: Day 4
by Daniel & Lindsey Heathcock
Hope is an important tool in our professions – as a doctor and social worker, Lindsey and I are frequently put in the position of holding space for hope for people in distress.
Sometimes when folks are in distress, hope is the last thing that they want to talk about. Bringing it up too early can be a painful and invalidating experience when they first want you to acknowledge their pain. But if you just stay in their pain, then your message doesn’t involve any hope at all.
So what do you do? You carve out a little spot on the bookshelf. Place a little hope in a canister, and put it in the spot on the shelf. You let them know you’re not giving up on hope, but you’re respecting their desire to not open the canister just yet.
We see in Jesus’s story that his family had to be in some pretty serious distress. Matthew 2:13 (NIV) reads:
When they had gone, an angel of the LORD appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."
Yikes. Newborn baby. Powerful ruler trying to kill your family. Sudden move to a new land. Newborn baby (yeah, it gets on the list twice cause that newborn stuff is super hard.)
With all that going on for this refugee family, I wonder how much hope they were able to hang onto throughout their journey. I’m curious about who helped hold space for hope? It was their community – people who had desired to be in relationship with them. The magi, the shepherds, people from their new homeland in Egypt.
It is the community that can hold space for hope in a troubled world. In fact, it is the responsibility and privilege of a community to hold that hope.
Holding space for hope can be intimidating. Most of us would like to take away our friends’ pain and offer solutions. In Jesus’ case, holding space for hope looked like celebrating the new baby with gifts, song, and rejoicing, even in the midst of danger and tragedy. It looked like showing up and being present. It can look similar for us — sharing a meal or just taking the time to listen.
Daniel & Lindsey Heathcock
were involved in FAM Houston since its early days. They have since moved to Hawaii and remain involved from across the ocean. Lindsey has begun her Pediatrics Residency at Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children and Daniel is a stay-at-home dad for their 6 month old daughter Naomi Ella Heathcock. Daniel is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and volunteer musician.
Stories of Hope: Day 3
Undefeated Hope: Jesus is With Us
By Saajidah Abdul-Hameem
If I can be honest, this year has been extremely challenging and I haven’t really had the motivation to write like I am accustomed to. With each passing day, the political climate worsens and the ways in which people choose to lash out against the least of these has heightened. The image I currently have in mind is one I saw earlier this week of a woman holding tightly to her children as she tries to flee from our border as U.S. soldiers who shot/shoot/were shooting tear gas at them (women, men and children). I often think about what would motivate someone to leave their home country and travel to an unknown land with unknown people groups. With the above image in mind, I’m sure those of you reading can understand why I have been struggling with being hopeful or optimistic.
With the season of Advent quickly approaching, I have been thinking a lot about Jesus’s birth story and how Jesus himself was born into chaos; how Mary and Joseph also had to flee with a young child to an unknown land with unknown people groups because their home was no longer safe. It’s no mistake that Jesus’s story lines up so well with the stories of several immigrants and refugees today. I believe these parallels are important to name because it often seems like we as a people have forgotten our roots and what our savior, our King of Kings, was born into. If we are to call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ, let us live this through our actions. Let us not miss this opportunity to serve the “least of these”.
Advent provides the invitation to unearth hope, not because we can currently see it in our midst, but because God has promised to restore justice and make all things new that have been broken. We are reminded of this reality in Amos 5:18-24 where it states,
“Woe to you who long for the day of the Lord! Why do you long for the day of the Lord? That day will be darkness, not light. It will be as though a man fled from a lion only to meet a bear, as though he entered his house and rested his hand on the wall only to have a snake bite him. Will not the day of the lord be darkness, not light -- pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness? ‘I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (NIV)
So, as we yearn for the coming of Jesus, let us embody the reality that Jesus is in fact with us. It is our responsibility to fight for justice in the now. In the waiting, we must recognize that justice will be restored and that we do not have to wait until the afterlife in order to experience heaven. The kingdom of God is also present today and breaking into our world even, and especially in the moments we least expect to find it. However, we must work together to cultivate such a reality. The embodiment of God through Jesus is a direct representation of justice for those on the margins. Thus, the reality is that we, the church, need Jesus now more than ever.
hails from many places (California, Indonesia, Houston), however the current place she calls home is Chicago. Saajidah is a poet, social justice advocate and ice cream enthusiast. In her spare time she enjoys attending poetry events, hanging out with friends and traveling to knew places.
Stories of Hope: Day 2
By Rev. Stephanie Evelyn Mckellar
Where is the hope when you feel deep, gut-wrenching heartbrokenness? For what do you hope when you’re a migrant on the trail, you’ve taken refuge on the sea, you’ve left all behind and set sail for what is unknown ahead? The stories you’ve likely heard are hopeful and harrowing; it seems like each turn and twist could lead to huge rewards of safety, abundance, a life for your children. But each could also lead to danger and potentially further loss. The road feels uncertain, but you must take it; it is the only choice you have left. You venture forward, try to steady your feet, and hope that in the midst of this universe there is indeed a trustworthy, faithful, awake and nearby Presence that will help you on your way.
As you walk you feel truly exposed and shaken to your core; the shields and protections you once thought would bolster you throughout all your days have cracked, crumbled, and finally, collapsed. You’re left bare, hoping for the kindness of others, resilience within yourself, and safe spaces to rest when you cannot take another step.
The people of God, the children of Abraham, the disciples of Jesus: we have always been pilgrim people, but we walk our uncertain paths for different reasons and in different seasons. We leave danger and oppression, journeying towards hoped-for safety. We leave home and warmth for the sake of greater life and wider growth than we could have in our comfort spaces. We depart familiarity for adventure, we flee violence for safety. We start walking because others have left us, we have experienced great loss, opportunities or dreams have crumbled and there’s nothing left for us here. We start walking for the spiritual practice of pilgrimage, hoping to leave behind the predictability of our lives for the experience of encountering the presence of God in a richer and deeper way. We start walking because someone has told us there’s a better life ahead, and we may even prepare ourselves for great and grave dangers in the hope that we might get to the destination of promise foretold.
Where is our hope when we are without temples or rubrics, without a clear map or even an estimated time of arrival? In what and whom do we hope when the road leaves us weary, heartbroken, and dismayed?
In the people of El Salvador, I have encountered hope in a Jesus who weeps, mourns, walks, and grieves, in a Jesus who defends and stands with the oppressed, bloodied, bruised, and broken.
In my Syrian friends, I have encountered through their Islamic faith the hope in Allah who provides for them every step of the way, who leads them onward towards a new sense and creation of home.
In my own heartbreak, I have encountered hope among community as they have held and shepherded me while I stumble along my own path towards healing, wholeness, and rebuilding.
The good news is that God is always here, and Jesus is coming. There is a light that shines in the darkness. While we walk in darkness pursuing light, the light found in the Christ has always and ever will be pursuing us. So may we continue to remind ourselves that hope is not pointless, faith is not fruitless, and that God ever has been and ever shall be on the way, along the way, ever and forevermore with us.
“Jesus asked the Twelve, ‘Do you also want to leave?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.’”
- John 6:67-68a
Rev. Stephanie Evelyn McKellar
is a writer and community pastor with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, and a provisional Deacon in the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church. Evey explores the intersections of improvised comedy and theology, especially as they inform the church’s work of nurturing communities of reconciliation. Her passion for hospitality, justice, creating safe (and brave) space, and cultivating hope inform her voice as a pilgrim guide, theologian, storyteller, and refugee and immigrant advocate. She serves on the board of the nonprofit, Safe Spaces Lebanon and plays in a local folk band, One Loud Suitcase. She loves travel, yoga, Cane Rosso pizza, and drinking coffee out of a mug without a lid on a slow and early morning. She and her dog Scout live in Dallas in intentional community through the Epworth Project.
Stories of Hope: Day 1
by Shane Sullivan
My name is Shane Sullivan. I’m an Associate Pastor at One River Vineyard Church (ORV). I’d like to tell you the story of my new family’s personal advent. This arrival (advent) took much of this year for God to bring together.
My wife Charise and I have been what you might call nomadic souls. We’ve been married for fifteen years and in that short time we’ve lived in four states; close to twenty homes and traveled to dozens of countries. We’ve never been able to have biological children. In hindsight I suspect all of this was God preparing us for our family. I should note that Charise and I also run our regions disaster response affiliate. Somedays that too feels like preparation for our new family.
In the summer of 2013 we moved to Houston, Texas to the suburb of Pearland. What we didn’t know at the time was that a Congolese family also moved into a small refugee community in the center of Houston.
Their story begins many years before in Africa. Mom and our two older kids, who were three months old and three years old at the time, fled the war-torn DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) and escaped to a Rwandan refugee camp. Their father was killed in war. The middle two were born in the camp. However, through great perseverance mom was able to apply and gain acceptance to the United States for herself and the four children. They moved to Houston the same month Charise and I did. A short time later mom gave birth to the baby, making a total of five children.
We met the family’s uncle, Lucio about three years ago when we helped plant ORV. He’s a great guy who runs a nonprofit for women and children who are victims of war in the Congo. He’s here on a student visa getting his degree. Lucio has lived with Charise and I most of his time here.
Now for the turn. Last Christmas Lucio called us on his way home from visiting a friend in Kansas for the holiday. His sister was killed in a car accident and the children were now orphans. No living family remained in the country, capable of taking the children. The family had a meeting and began to discuss how to divide up the family to take care of everyone. Some of the kids were to go to England and some to Colorado. No one had the facilities to take them all.
Charise and I upon hearing the news began the time-honored tradition of praying and asking God what to do, then promptly ignoring it and not talking about it. However, we began to look at what we would need to do to take the kids in with us. Once we started down this path God moved mountains. The family agreed that we should take in the children. We received endorsement from the Congolese church communities around the country and in Africa (which we didn’t know we needed). We sold a house and built a much bigger one, moved the kids in, got them transferred and enrolled in school all within about six months.
Now begins the real work of merging two diametrically opposed cultures. We now enter our first Advent season together and we’re looking at the cultural integration of Jesus in a manner none of us had considered last Christmas. What does the celebration of our coming savior look like in a house of two different continents and cultures. I have no idea, but He’s taken us this far. I can’t wait to see!
works as an Associate Pastor for One River Vineyard Church in Meyerland (Houston TX). He volunteers as a police chaplain and has a Masters of Theology from Fuller Seminary. He is now a fulltime dad.
His wife Charise is a Physician’s Assistant with surgical specialty. She has a Masters from St. Francis University and is a fulltime mom.