Friday, June 24, 2011

Purple People!

It seems like my Sabbath is always the day I’m guaranteed to have time to update! This week has been a little crazy just working out all of the ESL stuff, but I’ve really enjoyed the household that I am teaching. I and another short-termer worked with three women from Somalia. They were incredibly sweet, funny, and enthusiastic about learning English, but they knew nothing before my partner and I walked through the door. This week, we were able to get through the basic greeting of:
Hello, how are you?
I am ______.
What is your name?
Where are you from?
along with starting in on colors, numbers, and a few pieces of clothing. We did a lot of acting and pointing because there was nobody in the house who could even translate what we were teaching into Somali.

Still, it was an amazing experience to be able to teach them. They had a lot of humor about the situation. Several times all five of us burst out in laughter at a mispronounced word or my inability to say a phrase in Somali. Who ever knew that the word “purple” could be so difficult to pronounce? I think we spent ten minutes alone on that word, and they still are saying “people” instead of “purple”. If you have any ideas for how to help these women remember English words I would really appreciate it. I’m excited to build a relationship with them over the course of several weeks. Thanks so much for all your prayers!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

What is a Refugee?

So I’m down here in Clarkston working with refugees this summer, but I haven’t really explained yet what a refugee actually is. Refugees are people who have fled their home country to a second country and then have been resettled into a third country aka, the US. Refugees CANNOT return to their home country for fear of persecution because of race, religion, group, or political opinion.

There are about 15 million refugees in the world (not to mention the millions of people displaced inside their countries) but only 1% of them get resettled every year. When they flee their home country into the second country, most refugees have to live in a refugee camp, as they are in the second country illegally. For example, refugees from Burma flee over the border into Thailand. Because they have a legitimate reason to fear for their lives, usually Thailand doesn’t send them back to Burma; still, Thailand cannot logistically or economically handle the massive flow of refugees into their country. So the refugees are rounded up and put into enclosed camps, which have terrible living conditions. Most refugees die within the camps; because so few are resettled, they live and die there, especially as starvation and disease are prevalent.

The lucky few who are resettled by the UNHCR are put on a plane to the third country (the US), and given a case worker for the first 3 months. They get $900 per person to pay for everything during this time, rent, furniture, food, clothing, utilities, public transportation, everything. Not only this, but after 3 months, the refugees have to pay back the government for their plane ticket to the US. Then after the first 3 months, their case worker moves on to the new refugees and they are one their own; this is extremely overwhelming for them, especially for those who cannot speak English.

Imagine having to learn absolutely everything about life in the US in 3 months without speaking a word of English. Many of the refugees who come in from the camps have never seen running water, an air conditioner, or even a door that locks. They have to learn how to get around, how to get a job, how to pay rent. Frequently, refugees start fires on their kitchen floor in an attempt to cook their food; they have never seen a stove or oven before. This is the kind of environment you find in Clarkston; there is incredible need here relationally, spiritually, and financially. Still, there is also incredible opportunity to show these people the love of Jesus by meeting their needs and simply being their friend. So that’s a little taste of what it would be like to be a refugee. If you all could just pray for the people of Clarkston with us, that would be awesome!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

ESL = English as a Stressful Language

Whew! Summer Camp took it out of me today! The kids were all acting up throughout the day, especially as it was the last day of camp for the week, and I feel pretty drained. Still it’s been awesome to see some of the kids getting to know each other across ethnic and language barriers. There’s a lot of racism and division in Clarkston between the different refugees because they speak different languages and because of conflicts in their home countries. Summer Camp can be difficult because these divisions often operate below the surface and aren’t always obvious to outsiders. Today, though, the story was about how God loves peace among his people, something that the campers really needed to hear after all the fighting with each other. The kids that I drive home all come from different parts of the world, but I love to see them bond with each other and even play together at their apartment complexes outside of camp.

There have been two short-term teams here helping us with Summer Camp and other programs this week, which has been great. They’re all pretty excited about what’s happening here in Clarkston. Another exciting thing is the ESL (English as a Second Language) classes that will be starting up next week in my apartment complex. Another intern and I are in charge of running an ESL program this summer, so with the short-term team, we surveyed different apartments here in Clarkston Oaks and found about 13 households interested in free English classes. They will be taught inside of the apartments with groups of family or friends, and the short-term teams will go out in groups of two or three as teachers.

I’m really excited to be heading up this program. English is a huge need in Clarkston. Refugees need to learn English to get good jobs, to make friends, and even to function in daily tasks like going to the store or talking with an apartment manager. Still, I’m feeling a little overwhelmed by the task. Are students are anywhere from being basically conversational to knowing only a handful of words, so the task is huge. We need to make lesson plans and prepare materials for all the teachers as well as figure out where each family is in their English ability. I would definitely appreciate your prayers for this to go well next week, and that the short-term volunteers would be just as excited about teaching English as we are.

Friday, June 10, 2011

One Crazy Week

Well, I’ve been in Clarkston for just about two weeks. It feels like I’ve been here forever, and yet the time has flown. We have been preparing our programs for the rest of the summer during our time this week. Next week, short term missions teams will begin to come into Clarkston for week long missions trips, which we will lead as a group of interns. I’m on the Summer Camp team, which means that we’ve been running a summer camp for refugee children. Here is what a typical day is like for me:
6:15 = Prayer for the Nations (a time to pray for unreached people groups)
7-7:30 = personal devotions
7:30-8 = breakfast
8:00 = load up for summer camp
8:30-9 = I drive to pick up my campers from the different apartment complexes
9-10 = academic time with 3rd and 4th graders; we do reading and math
10-11:30 = I run game time for the three different age groups (lots of tag games)
11:30-12 = story time
12-12:30 = drop kids off back at the apartment complexes
1:00 = lunch
2-3 = break time
4-6 = Community Development (I and another intern will be running an ESL program during this time, though we’re still in the process of developing it)
6 = dinner
free time/ministry time after this

I’ll be doing Summer Camp every day for the entire summer, Monday-Thursday, so I could really use your prayers for energy. I love the kids but they take a lot out of me every day. The Summer Camp is a great way to get to know refugee families, and to show them that we want to help, not take advantage of them. Just within my 3rd-4th grade class, there are children from Eritrea, Nepal, Iraq, Korea, and even Kansas City
: )

We will run 5 day short term missions trips and seven day trips almost every week, beginning with a group coming this next Sunday night. That means that we have responsibilities even on the weekends. Thankfully, every Friday, all the interns take a Sabbath. We get the entire day off just to relax and rest up for the next team. This last Friday for our Sabbath, several girls and I drove around Clarkston and went to a great Ethiopian restaurant. It was delicious and spicy! We ate goat meat and rice with this spongy, pancake-like bread called ingira. Today for our Sabbath we went to an Indian restaurant, which was good, though I think the Ethiopian restaurant was my favorite.

We also moved today into our official apartments within Clarkston Oaks (our complex). For the last two weeks we’ve been living in the basement of one of the apartment buildings and sleeping on cots. I’m so excited to sleep in a real bed tonight! Still, the apartment we moved into belonged to a Somali family before we moved in today, so it reeks of fish. The fish smell is in the carpet, in the walls, everywhere. So if you all could just pray that we would either be able to get rid of it or live with it that would be great. Kind of a silly prayer request, but the pungent smell of old fish wafting out the door every time I walk in is just not pleasant. Thanks so much! I should be able to update more regularly after this because the apartments have internet!