Friday, January 28, 2011

I am a woman. And that's okay.

In October, I began volunteering with a Christian program for youth.
It was sort of a fluke, that I even became interested.
I was working at the one horrible group home that treated the children/youths in the home terribly and, in my opinion, did not sufficiently satisfy their basic needs. After one particularly horrible day (I had given my notice, but agreed to stay on for another week while they found a replacement), I came home and began looking for jobs. In a frenzy, powered by AWOL youths and patronizing supervisors I began looking for another job. I had heard of this program before, I knew that they were Christian and that they worked with youth. I sent an email with my contact information.

The next morning, I received a phone call. They were interested in me.
I left feeling a little bombarded; too much information, too much excitement for me to 'come on board'. I needed time. Which was awarded me; I was set-up to meet with the local staff member and given the option to pursue volunteering.
Which ended up being a better fit, as I couldn't see myself fitting in as staff with this organization. They do great things, but it's not my passion for a career. However, working with youth is important to me, and for the mean time, while I cannot work, I can at least volunteer, and this is an outlet in which to do so.

What I like about the program I am volunteering with is the focus on positive relationships for youth. It's not a program with a big agenda or professional boundaries; those are already available to kids. They need something more.
I think that focus is incredibly important and the other leaders are very passionate about the kids they know. I'm still in the process of meeting kids, which brought us to a unique discussion at the last meeting.
There are some approaches that I don't agree with, such as limiting the outreach to youth in a specific radius from one's home, or same-gender ministry/mentoring.

It's not surprising to me, as many ministries take the stance of female to female relationships in ministry, I just don't agree. I understand about avoiding controversial situations, but I also think that Jesus had his feet washed by a prostitute and right there, at the dinner table, although it was in a group and there were witnesses, people still thought poorly of Jesus- because how dare he let such a terrible woman touch him. Jesus's response was that for the rest of time, wherever the Gospel was preached, people would hear this story and know how she had honored Jesus.
I struggled with this when I worked in Winnipeg. I felt called to love and serve young men and old boys who were in a local gang, or in at-risk activities. How could I, as a white person speak into the lives of these African immigrants? Some of the theories of ministry say that someone who has something more immediately in common with them should fill that role, as being more likely to quickly gain their trust based on something visibly uniting. How could I show God's love through befriending them? I'm a female, and women aren't supposed to minister to males.
And God's response was that he knew what he was doing. He knew I was a female, he knew I was a white, American woman and he was doing this on purpose.

Someone asked me once; another woman who is called love this same group, she asked me how it was, being a younger woman with these guys. She's older and can jump to an 'aunt' or 'mother' role, but she wondered what I faced, being almost the same age as many of the guys. I never noticed it as an issue.

I remember once, sitting in the park, having someone help me with my World Religions homework. And this guy; a complete stranger, walked up and asked the young man I was with some question in reference to me as a prostitute (not a ridiculous query for the area). My tutor-of-sorts jumped up, said a string of curses and chased the random man out of the park, threatening to hit him all the way. It makes me laugh every time the image flips back through my mind.

Another time, I was sitting with S----, who is now a type of brother to me, and we were talking (in the same park) and a random man introduced himself to the two of us and then tried to rub my leg. Before I could order him to stop, 'my brother' jumped in and verbally decapitated the man.

I don't remember feeling objectified, preyed on, or that any relationship was turning romantic. I do, however, remember feeling protected and cared for, even by men who in other ways might have been seen as heartless. I had lots of big brothers.

God told me to love these men, and so, I just kept listening, and kept offering apples and home-cooked meals, hugs and jail visits. I'm so glad that I did. I still talk to so many of those men- and they surprise me all the time by popping back up and calling me or sending me letters. I wouldn't say that I changed their life, but I wonder what would be different if I had listened to all those other voices, instead of listening to God. I definitely would miss out on a blessing of knowing them and seeing God move in their lives, and that is only based on my own small field of vision.

I still feel called to serve at-risk youth, or young adults in urban settings. Including, almost especially, young men, with a criminal justice aspect.
It's different than many of the other people I volunteer with. And sometimes my comments are alone in a category, but it's alright.
I can love and serve kids in that context, with that program. But if I'm led to some kids, who are boys and don't go to the local school in the right amount of mileage from my home, I'm still going to hug them and care for them. I'll just do so separately from this program.

But first, I need to meet the kids.
In Winnipeg, it was through soccer in the summer, it will be interesting to see what it is here in Edmonton.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

The Horizon

Mombasa, Kenya

Elk Island Park, Alberta, Canada

Phi Phi Island, Thailand

Varadero, Cuba


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Outside the cigar factory, Havana, Cuba

Lira, Uganda

Somewhere in France

Gondor, Ethiopia

Varadero, Cuba

Spring Arbor, Michigan

The Arches

St. Peter's Square, Venice, Italy

The Old City, Havana Cuba

The castle at Gondor, Ethiopia

Somewhere in Prague, Czech Republic

Fountains and Falls

T'is Abay Falls, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia

At the Legislative Building, Winnipeg, Canada

In front of a mall in Bangkok, Thailand

The Old City Havana, Cuba


An Island near Venice, Italy with no cars (anyone remember the name?)

Lake T'ana / the Nile, Bahar Dar, Ethiopia

Living Bible Explorers Boys' camp, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Canoeing in Bloomington, Indiana, USA

Looking down somewhere in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Sunday, January 02, 2011

please read with caution

I have several strategies I use to deal with stress:
I work out regularly, including frequent jogging. It's a wonderful stress-reliever and I always feel better after.
I ride the bus, letting the rhythm of the forward motion calm me and the silent company of other riders put me at ease. While I look out the window my thoughts can drift.
I journal with complete honesty and let my emotions pour out onto the page. I always feel better after I've crowded pages and my hand is sore from writing.
Yesterday, I took a hot bath and prayed for a long time. Today, I made a cup of tea and lit some candles.
I called and talked with several friends- some of the best conversations of my life.

2010 was a hard year. There were good parts, of course: getting married, going to Cuba.
But it was the hardest year of my entire life.
I had high hopes for 2011. Everything was going to be better, brighter. Just that change of a minute, the fireworks, the kisses and everything should magically be better. Of course it's ridiculous, but it's a belief we all share as we watch that dropping ball, in screaming out the final seconds with a crowd full of people- it's a new year and anything is possible.

On the morning of December 31, Biruk asked me not to come to the restaurant to help. There was going to be a party for the New Year and Biruk feels uncomfortable when I am working while there are so many people there. I would even go so far as to say he is afraid for my safety, which I would attribute to his assault and loss of control and an inability to protect himself, therefore he is afraid for me to be working late at night, even if it is close to him at the restaurant.
We've had lots of talks about it, me trying to understand Biruk's cautions, but also wanting him to move forward and understanding that the world is not always a terrifying place.

He was very insistent that I not even come at all for the party. So I consented. It was strange, as usually I would be so set on going and I'm pretty stubborn, so I can get Biruk to back down a little.
But I didn't go. Thanks to God.

I called Biruk just after 3 am, when the restaurant would be closed for the night, to see if he was on his way back home. I could hardly hear Biruk talking, he said that there was a problem. He said the police were there. He said someone had been shot.

The news never gets things accurately, but I've added a news story anyway.
According to Biruk, he was closing for the night and getting people to leave. A man came into the restaurant and Biruk told him that he could not stay, that they were closing. Biruk then turned away and turned on all the lights. It was at that moment that Biruk heard four gun shots.
The man he had just spoken to- told to leave, was shot in the head four times.
Biruk never saw any other person enter, (it was at closing time, so a lot of people were exiting out the doors), and then there was chaos as people rushed around or dropped to the floor.

He said the police arrived within seconds, but the man had died immedately.

There is so much; the immediate fear for our own safety, the pain we feel for this man's family and the sadness that a man was murdered, my fright that Biruk was so near, and the horror that it happened hours after the new year had begun.
There isn't a word big enough to capture all the emotions associated with this man's murder at the front entrance to our restaurant. Even I, myself feel too small to hold all the mixed emotions I'm feeling and I feel stretched for all the people I hold concern for.

We need your prayers.
Last year was stressful. But this is a whole new level that I can't describe or fathom. I don't even know how to move forward, how to force my feet to move barely inches.
Please pray for us.
Please call every once in a while to see how we are doing.
Please just listen, even if we have to talk about this twenty times.

I know that if I had been there that night, I would not have been at the back, like Biruk's mother and brother, I would have been cleaning up and getting people to leave.
Biruk turned away to turn on the lights- if he had been standing any longer talking with the man, he might have been shot, too.

We both know and realize that there isn't anything we could have done to stop this. We talked about adding more safety measures- having security at the next party and putting up surveillance cameras (at the request of the police, so they might have been able to identify the shooter, but it would not have prevented the homicide, only found the culprit more quickly). But, we know that if it didn't happen just within the front doors, it might have happened just outside of them.
While reading the news, I read that the ten blocks along 107 Avenue, where our restaurant is located in the middle of, there have been around 26 homicides in the last 10 years. That's more than 2 deaths a year along that stretch.
Knowing we are not directly at fault is relieving, but it doesn't change what happened.
And it doesn't take the image from Biruk's mind.

Some immediate responses I felt were that we should just move away from this city.
I talked with a friend of mine from Winnipeg who was shot in the leg a few years ago. He said that for Biruk, it might be important to stay in the city. Because such terrible things have happened to us, rising above them and succeeding in the same streets can be empowering and motivate us even further.
He was wonderful to talk to. We cried on the phone together. Thanks, buddy!
We don't want to close the restaurant, that is Biruk's dream and I can understand why, even more than ever, he wants to work and be busy and move forward in life. However, stepping across the front entrance might be hard and the first weeks might be challenging.

I am sure that some part of me cares for our business to be successful and for this catastrophe to not ruin our business. But I don't feel that at all right now. I just ache that someone was murdered there, that his family is mourning for him. I feel for my husband, who was so close to all of it and want to do anything that could help him.
Re-opening after the police tape is moved and the blood is cleared isn't about our greed. It's facing the fears, its trying to deal with the stress, it's wanting something to clean and sweep; to do something physical instead of just thinking and talking. It's Biruk remembering his goals and dreams and pushing forward despite all the earthquakes.
Until then, we realize we need to take a few days- for Biruk to feel through his fear and emotions, out of respect and because we all just need to breathe.

Again, please pray for us and support us.
If anyone knows the cultural traditions that Somalis follow for dealing with death, please share, as Biruk and I want to offer our condolences, but we are unsure of how to do so.

Also, I would like to note that the news article was wrong in saying that Edmonton had the first homicide of the year: on January 1, 2011 around 1 am someone was murdered in Calgary, and sometime around 2:30 someone was fatally stabbed in Toronto. So Edmonton does not have claim to Canada's first homicide.