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Advent 2017: Our Stories of Waiting

FAM Advent 2018.png
 

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.

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Rev. Brandi

Tevebaugh horton

Brandi Tevebaugh Horton 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.

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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?

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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.

  Image: Fort Bend Hope

Image: Fort Bend Hope

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.

  Image: Fort Bend Hope

Image: Fort Bend Hope

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.

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Ruth McPhail-Ubaldo

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?

  Image: John Moore | Getty Images

Image: John Moore | Getty Images

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.

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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. 

  Image: @andiwhiskey

Image: @andiwhiskey

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)

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kelsey johnson

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. 

  Image: @hannahbusing

Image: @hannahbusing

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. 

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Rev. Nathan

Lonsdale Bledsoe

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.

  Image: @davidmonje

Image: @davidmonje

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.

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Katie white

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.

  Image: @christopher_burns

Image: @christopher_burns

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.   

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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

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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.

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Saajidah Abdul-Hameem

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

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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!

Shane Sullivan 2018.jpg

Shane sullivan

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.