Monday, November 23, 2009

It could have been his last day

When my husband George was leaving for work this morning, I said an extra prayer for his safety on the road. He covers so many miles driving to his clients’ homes and schools to tune pianos or do home renovation. Today he was to tune four pianos in a school 50 miles from home. That's a long drive. Then 50 miles back.

I didn't realize that Jacob had said good-bye to George twice, and asked for extra prayer. Jacob had a dream last night that George died. He kept dreaming it over and over last night, but we didn't find out until later.

At 8:30 AM the phone rang. I saw George's cell phone number on the caller ID, but George didn’t respond right away when I said, “Hello?”

“Hello?” I said again. “Hello...?” Larissa came closer, trying to listen in and figure out who was calling.

Finally, George’s voice came on the line.

“Hi, how are you?” Hm, this wasn’t a typical before-work conversation. And he didn’t normally call me at this time.

“Uh, I’m OK. I’m getting ready for work…”

“I, um, I had an accident. I totaled the van. A woman pulled out in front of me and I honked and tried to avoid her, but I hit her kind of head on.”

I could feel my face drain. “Are you OK?”

“I have some pain in my stomach.”

“And the woman?”

“She’s OK. We’re both outside waiting for the police to come.”

“Well, you won’t be able to get to work today, not unless I come and get you, then you drive back 50 miles and drop me off at the office, then you drive back again…”

“Come and get me and we’ll sort it out. Take exit 7 from the highway and then just follow the road south. You can’t miss me. It’ll take you about 40 minutes to get here.”

Not exactly the way I hoped to start my work week with deadlines that I can't possibly meet looming this week and, of course, homeschooling to do while in my spare time I prepare for the Dallas mission trip. But thoughts of deadlines and mission trips faded from my thoughts as I wondered what shape George was really in. Would I find him by the road waiting for me – or in a hospital? Could the pain in his stomach be from internal bleeding?

"What's going on?" the kids wanted to know as soon as I hung up. My end of the conversation hinted that things weren't quite right, so I filled them in on the details. Then I called my boss and left a message that I would be in late, and why.

When I was ready to leave, I gathered the kids for prayer – for George's well-being and for my safety. We couldn't find Jacob at first, and when Alexandra finally located him in the basement storage room, he told us he'd been praying. It was obvious that he'd been crying as well.

The drive south was beautiful this sunny, late fall morning – over hills, past corn fields with yellowed stalks, by farms, horses, cows. I kept wondering just how far south I needed to go. I hadn't thought to ask. Is it possible that I passed the accident site? Could the cars have been towed and victims in the hospital, and I would just drive by and not know where to find them? After all, I'm one of very few people I know who does not have a cell phone, so I couldn't even call my husband from the road unless I stopped in a store or a house.

Worry gnawed at me, and I kept driving until, at last, I came upon a tan sedan whose front end was demolished. Our green van was nowhere to be seen, but there was my husband, pacing, cell phone in hand, beret on his head, talking apparently to the insurance agent. I parked on the side of the road in front of a large, white rural home. I got out of the van and got some information about the accident from Don, the father of the 16-year-old girl who had pulled out from her driveway right in front of George's van. She'd had her license three months and was rushing off to school. She was late and didn't look.

Later, on the drive to see the van in its final resting place where it had been towed, George filled me in. "I was driving along about 55 miles per hour when I saw this car pulling out of the driveway. I thought it would stop. I honked the horn, slammed on my brakes and kept honking, then I pulled into the left lane to try to avoid it, but she kept going right into that left lane. I hit her almost head on. Fortunately, I was going only about 35 at the time. If I hadn't gone into the left lane, I would have crushed the driver's door – and the girl. I don't think that she would have lived.

"Before I hit, I knew I was going to hit and I wasn't sure if I was going to live. There was smoke and smell of plastic and a terrible odor. All the engine fluids leaked. The airbags went off. And then I just walked out. I walked out of the van like nothing happened. And she walked out."

She got a cut on her lip. George is bruised from the seat belt cutting into his chest. But, oh, it could have been so much worse!

This evening at dinner and afterward, we surrounded George with extra hugs, and I shed a few tears of joy. Praise God that we still have George with us today!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Visit to a city mission

A few days ago I left a message for Lily, the head of one of the city mission agencies that I visited two weeks ago on the tour of outreaches to the poor, the immigrants, the drug addicts, the homeless, and the ex-convicts.

Lily and I used to work together more than 20 years ago, she as an engineer designing spectrophotometers, I as a technical writer writing the documentation. I worked freelance at the time, so I eventually moved on, but we stayed in touch through lunches and Christmas newsletters. But I never expected that we'd get back together in the basement of a church as we did yesterday.

Several years ago in her Christmas newsletter, Lily announced that she'd quit her job – retired she put it – and started an after-school program for city children where she worked for $1 per year. Wow, I thought, my curiosity piqued, I should visit her. But I didn't follow through for many years, not until yesterday.

I brought along Alexandra and Larissa so they, too, could get the detailed tour and to hear the story of how the mission began.

We walked into this large, brick church built in 1907. In the basement, the smell of food and the sight of dozens of rather bedraggled-looking people sitting at tables greeted us. I scurried around the building looking for Lily, peeking into the kitchen, the medical office, and the thrift store before I found her.

Lily's soft-spoken voice was sometimes had to hear above the ruckus as we toured the facilities for over an hour.

"You started all this?" I asked her, incredulous.

We saw over 100 people in the fellowship hall eating breakfast and dozens of volunteers cooking and distributing the meal. We observed a wheel chair bound woman coming to visit a social worker. We chatted with a medical technologist, who described how she serves the area's children with virtual medical visits via a computer and cameras, and a link to the local hospital where a doctor communicates with her. "He sees all I see via the cameras and equipment I have connected to the computer." We walked through the store in the church building that sold used clothing for a pittance. And we glimpsed into the food pantry supplied by the local food bank. We saw children darting through the halls, on their way to be picked up and driven on a day trip to an area park or museum, or apple picking. "We take them places every other Saturday that they'd never have the chance to visit with their families," said Lily.

Upstairs Lily showed us the rooms for the after-school day care program for grades 1 though 6. The videography classes for teens. Sewing classes. Bible studies. Men's Bible studies. My head swam with the details.

"How on earth did you start all this?"

"I didn't know what I was getting into," Lily laughed. "I first started the store that sells used clothing. I did that in 1998 while still working. In 2002, I quit my job and first started the after-school program for kids to keep them off the streets and away from the drug dealers. Many of these kids come from homes where the parents work and they would be coming home to an empty house – or to the street."

One thing had led to another as more and more people suggested additional ministries. In fact, we talked with the woman who suggested – and now heads – the weekly Saturday morning breakfasts. "And we also serve dinner once a month," she added. "By the way, Lily, I want to talk to you about an idea…"

"Oh, no," smiled Lily. "Another idea? Later."

Just then a stocky black woman insisted on getting food from the food pantry even though she didn't have the proper documentation. "I don't have any food at home," she claimed. She was kind of belligerent, not meek or polite as if asking a favor, but as if she were demanding a right. She did get her food, but frankly, I'd have a hard time working with people like that.

Still, you could tell by looking around that these people had been beaten down by life. We heard many stories, but the ones that touched Alexandra's heart most were about the Nepali immigrants. Bill, a tall, paunchy man with graying hair, had interrupted Lily's description of some ministry to tell us about these new immigrants.

"These kids get really picked on in the city schools. I would call them assaults. The first day in one of the city high schools, one Nepali was eating lunch in the cafeteria when someone threw a condom in his lunch! Hardly a day goes by when one of these kids isn't thrown up against a wall and frisked for money. One kid had a trashcan emptied over his head in the men's room! Welcome to America. The thing is, these boys come from refugee camps and they've had a life that is way rougher than any of the kids in school ever experienced. They're time bombs waiting to go off. Push one of them too far and they're bound to explode."

What a way to be treated in an unfamiliar culture. My heart broke for them.

Back home, Alexandra couldn't get this conversation out of her head. What school did this happen in? How old were the victims? How could this occur? This kind of thing never happened in their suburban public high school…

My main question was: How can we get involved with Lily's ministry?

The best option I saw was to come to the after-school program and give special presentations. "Show them something from Ukraine – dress in the traditional outfits, talk about the food, anything," Lily had suggested.

Although I've done many such presentations in the past for my kids' classrooms when they were young, my challenge will be to get the girls to do the presentations. We have to take it one step at a time. Perhaps it will be the beginning of something.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Giving hope for Christmas

The kids still remember their presents from last year. It's not because they received fancy gifts, but because each of them had the chance to choose a gift for someone in need. And each of them remembers just what they picked.

Praise God, this year we are still employed and not struggling financially like so many others. So once again, I'm not going to rain needless gifts upon my children, but I will once more give each a wrapped catalog and a check made out to Partners International. They can read and reread the catalog, ponder the needs of others, and select a gift from their hearts. What better way to celebrate the birth of Christ? Would He really want my son to get a video game in honor of His birth - or for him to choose education for three kids in Sudan, feed four poor families, and more...

Harvest of Hope™ - Gifts That Change Lives from Partners International.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I want to come with you

For years I've wanted to inspire others to go on mission trips to foreign lands, step out of their comfort zones, and develop compassion towards others who are unlike them.

During a missions conference last month in the community church I used to attend, one woman told me that my photographs of Senegal, which I had shared with the church, have spurred many to join the church's annual mission trip to that West African country. Each person who has gone represents another life that's been changed.

In the church that we now attend, I organized a mission trip to Mexico last spring. I hope to organize another trip to Mexico in the future, but for now, I'm slowly getting ready to go to Dallas with my daughters on a mission trip to the inner city, organized by Global Expeditions. I've mentioned this upcoming trip to a few friends.

After the church service today, the wife of the assistant youth group leader (who came to Mexico with us) approached me.

"My husband is encouraging me to go to Dallas with you," said Olga.

My heart sank. I was both happy that she had this desire and sad because it was unrealistic. It would be such a big leap for this woman to leave her two toddlers in the care of her parents, who recently came to live with her. But she's an immigrant from Ukraine and doesn't speak English. She wouldn't get much from the trip without knowing the language; she'd need an interpreter (like one of my daughters) with her at all times. Besides, I'm not organizing the trip; Global Expeditions is. So even though I was thrilled with her desire to go, I advised against it.

"When I return from Dallas, I hope to apply what I learn there to some mission opportunity right here in our own city. Perhaps you can get involved with that," I said hopefully.

For years I'd prayed about missions and influencing others to serve or give. I've had my heart broken in Kenya over the suffering of the Sudanese refugees, many of them widows, who, for a daily bowl of food for their starving children, are willing to give up their Christian faith and attend a mosque. Why aren't we Christians in the West supporting our sisters in their time of need? I've shed tears over severely malnourished and dying children, whom I personally met. I've played with the AIDS orphans and listened to stories of rescued street children in Ethiopia. And I've been disturbed by our overabundance in the West, our propensity to buy the latest gadgets for our own amusement, to waste our money on coloring our hair or doing our nails while so many in the world struggle just to feed their families.

I've wanted to share and speak and stir my American sisters and brothers out of their complacency, touch their hearts, stir their souls. And I've wanted to do this full-time. Our brothers and sisters in Africa and all over the world work so hard to help the destitute and reach the lost, but they have so little funds – and we have so much. But most Americans are unaware of the needs. I'm convinced that many would help if they only knew.

Olga wanting to come with me encouraged me. Someday I hope to stir more hearts to action. I keep this dream alive while I homeschool and work full-time writing instructions for equipment.

But perhaps, despite how busy I am and how little I feel I'm doing for God, He really is using me.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Are there really people like that here?

Ever since I read Growing Up Empty over a year ago, its contents have haunted me.

I grew up as the daughter of immigrants who came to Canada following WWII after being displaced from their homeland by war. I always felt the pinch of my father’s slim salary, but I never went hungry. Still, I grew up with stories of my own parents’ times of hunger – of drinking the water that the potatoes were cooked in, of wanting a stick of gum that the soldiers had so as to have something to chew, of surviving on bread alone.

But I never dreamt that there we such people in America.

Like the author, who adopted and fed an elderly woman, I’ve wanted to adopt and help feed some family. But where do you start? How do you find the hungry? I can’t just go into the inner city and knock on doors – can I?

For over a year, I’ve wanted to help and get the kids involved in aiding this city’s destitute, but I didn’t know where to start. But last Saturday, I made my first step: I took a tour, organized by a local aid organization, of several churches and other charities helping the poor. They feed and clothe and take children off the streets after school to keep them away from drugs and danger. They rehabilitate the drug addicts and teach job skills to the uneducated. They have a heart for the poor. And among those working with the inner city children is a former coworker, an engineer who retired and now works even harder, but at something that God called her to do.

I felt energized after that tour. At last, I took a baby step towards volunteering. Signing up for the Dallas mission trip was another step. A third step was giving Alexandra Growing Up Empty as a reading assignment.

“Are there really people like that here?” she asked me after reading the first chapter. “Can’t we find them and help? The Bible says to invite in and feed those who can never repay you, like the homeless. Can’t we do that?”

“That’s why I went on that tour last Saturday,” I told her. “I want to find out how to help. We can’t just drive around and pick up a homeless man and take him home, but maybe through one of these organizations, we can befriend someone. Then we can bring them home – or bring them food to their home.”

“Like we brought dinner to grandma last week?” she asked. The girls had cooked corned beef and cabbage with potatoes, and we’d brought that over and eaten with her.

“Yes, just like that.”

Isn’t homeschooling wonderful? I gave Alexandra a book that touched my heart, and now it touched hers. I get to mold her heart the way that I want – the way I feel God calling me to do.

And God willing, we will find someone to help. I know that they’re out there.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A writing assignment unlike the others

Fridays are creative writing days at our house. It's not always easy to come up with an assignment, and last year I used up most of my own ideas. So this year I often search the Internet for more.

I found the assignment below on some link and let the kids have free reign. What Alexandra came up with wasn't at all what I was expecting. It seems that she was affected by reading A Child Called It and her story took a twist I didn't expect at all. But the rewarding part is not only is her writing style rather engaging, but she has also absorbed some of the sensitivity to the downtrodden that I've been trying to impart to my children ever since they were in preschool.

In your composition book, write a story that starts with this situation:

It’s a regular school day, boring classes, same old things. At last you hear the lunch bell ring. You sit down with your friends and open your lunch bag. There is no sandwich, no chips, no cookies. A mystery package has replaced all of that! Slowly and incredulously, you take the package from your lunch bag. Not only did it appear in your lunch, but it has your name on it! What is inside? Who sent it and why?

Alexandra's composition:
Andrew sat in class with all the rest of his classmates, listening to the drone of his teacher's voice. He couldn't understand what the teacher was trying to say. Whatever it was, it didn't seem to be penetrating his head. Instead, he'd been counting down the seconds to lunchtime since five minutes ago. There were 39 seconds left.

As soon as the lunch bell rang, the teacher announced, "Line up, students!" Andrew raced to the coatroom, grabbed his lunch, and dashed to the door. He was third in line. He shuffled his feet impatiently, fighting the urge to grab his string cheese that he'd seen his mother pack this morning, and start eating it right then and there.

Finally everyone was in a straight line, and they marched off to the cafeteria.

Andrew sat down with his friends, Tom and Steven, at their usual table. Each boy pulled out his typical lunch: a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. Andrew reached into his, anticipating the usual bologna sandwich, banana, juice, string cheese, and cookies. Instead, he felt a crumpled bag in his lunch box. He pulled it out and peered inside. He reached in and pulled out a lined piece of paper. It read:


I'm sorry, but I couldn't resist the temptation to take your lunch today. I was very hungry and I knew you'd have some cookies in there; you always do. I told myself I'd only take one cookie, but when I saw you had my favorite bologna sandwich, I couldn't resist. I'm sorry I ate all your lunch. It won't happen again.


P.S. It's just that I haven't eaten since Friday.

Andrew glanced into his lunch box. Indeed, it was empty. Buy who could've eaten it? They hadn't eaten since Friday? Today was Monday!

"Hey guys," Andrew asked, "Do any of you have two bucks?"

"Sure, buddy," Tom replied, reaching into his pocket, "but what do ya need 'em for?"

"There's no lunch in my lunch box," Andrew replied. His friends gave him puzzled looks as they looked at his empty lunch box.

"That's interesting," they commented as Andrew took Tom's money and went to buy himself some lunch.

Andrew looked despairingly at the long line as he got into the last place. Today there were chicken nuggets, so lots of people would be buying.

As he stood in line looking about, Andrew noticed a kid sitting at the end of a table by himself. His name was David, and he was quite shy. For some reason many children didn't like him. He was poor and it showed: his clothes had patches and he looked as if he needed a shower. He was also flesh and bones, seemed to have no meat on him.

David glanced at Andrew, saw him watching and quickly glanced away. Suddenly it hit Andrew that this might be the person who'd taken his lunch. Should he ask?

Once out of line, Andrew hurried to his table. He ate four of his chicken nuggets, leaving 2 for David and some tator tots. As soon as both his friends looked away, he hurried off with the rest of his lunch to David's table.

"I noticed you have no lunch today," Andrew said to David. "Want the rest of mine? I'm not hungry anymore."

David didn't glance up, but mumbled "Sure." Andrew hurried away, feeling as embarrassed as David had looked.

"Where'd you go?" Tom and Steven asked as soon as he'd returned.

"I was done with my lunch," Andrew replied. "Wanna play kickball during recess?" he asked, changing the subject.

"Sure," his friends agreed.


The next day, when Davy came in to sit at his desk, he found a granola bar waiting for him. Who could've put it there? he wondered. He glanced at Andrew, sitting at his desk, busily writing something. Then he grabbed the granola bar and went to the bathroom to eat it.


That same day as the lunch bell rang, David hurried with the rest of his class to line up. He didn't bother going to the coatroom, since he knew he had no lunch. But as Andrew passed by with his lunch box, he shoved a paper bag with "David" written on it into Davy's hands. Davy glanced about; no one had noticed. He peered into the bag. He could see a bag of cookies, a banana and a sandwich. Embarrassed, but thankful, he made his way out of the classroom with the rest of the class.

After school that afternoon, near the buses, David stopped Andrew and asked, "Where'd you get the lunch?"

"I brought it," Andrew replied. "Why don't you come over to my house today?"

David looked at him skeptically, then agreed.

From that day on, Andrew and David became fast friends. Andrew always brought him lunch or money to buy some if there was something they like being sold.

Andrew learned from David that his mother and father were divorced, that his mother didn't care what he did, as long as he was out of her sight, and that she used to throw him out of the house if he'd ask for food or was caught taking some out of the fridge. She believed him a nuisance and said he reminded her of his father. If he wanted food, he should earn it.

So David came to live at Andrew's house. Since he'd be at his house all the time anyway, and in the end, Andrew's family adopted him. They always went around together and were quite proud to say they were twins.

The end.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)