Saturday, December 12, 2015

My thoughts on Refugees and Immigration

(A couple quick points to clarify before we begin.

1. I have spent multiple hours rewording this in an effort to ensure that my written tone is respectful, and doesn't carry judgement, condemnation or a 'holier than thou' attitude towards those who do not share my opinions. If I have still failed at some point in this post, I am sorry! It's not my intention to appear divisive - I intend to try to provoke thought on a subject that is extremely important to me, perhaps more so given my international upbringing.

2. I have a large number of friends and relatives who have past or present served with the US military. Again, my intention is not to belittle this service or the nation being served. I fully support both the concept and act of protecting the freedom of one's nation, and am very thankful for those willing to risk their lives to do so! However, as a follower of Jesus, my primary allegiance is not to an earthly nation or establishment.  I deeply love each of the countries on the four continents I have gotten to call home - flawed though they each are in different ways.  But this world is not my home, and the Kingdom to which I owe my first allegiance crosses the boundaries of nations.  My countrymen and brothers and sisters are those across the face of the earth who follow the same King, and I feel about this Kingdom the way I would imagine a soldier feels towards the nation they love and fight for: willing to sacrifice what it takes to remain loyal to its ideals, its leader and its people.
With that said, onwards!)

I've refrained from blogging on the subjects of immigration, refugees or Islam until now (and as I write I'm not totally sure I'll even post this) ... but I am so disturbed and saddened by so much of what I read and hear that I want to add my voice to those in disagreement with the majority public opinion.  Opinion which often seems so strongly and desperately held that I don't really write in an attempt to change anybody's mind - simply express my own.

I think what disturbs me the most is the climate of fear that is growing in our culture.  It's being fostered by the media, by Presidential candidates, it's causing an increase in targeted attacks against Muslim Americans , and it's causing us to forget that as followers of Christ, we are called to more than just self-preservation. (In fact, that is the opposite of what Jesus came to earth for!) Even after the Paris attacks, France is remaining committed to its promise to accept 30,000 refugees  over the next two years, with President Hollande citing "humanitarian duty" and France's status as a "country of freedom" as his motivating factors.  But we, with the luxury of the Atlantic Ocean that Europe is not afforded as a buffer between us and the refugees, are increasingly afraid.

Yes, the underlying reason that we as a nation are wearing fear like a coat is that legitimately frightening things are taking place around us.  Maybe if Muslim Americans weren't shooting their own co-workers at the Department of Health, white Americans wouldn't feel the 'need' to attack Muslim Americans.  Maybe if we could say with certainty that it's only young Syrian males known to to the UN and USCIS to hold extremist ideals who would carry out terrorist attacks, we could continue letting in families who are fleeing for their lives.  Maybe then we could stop being afraid.

However, I cannot with good conscience take up a position that closes doors to those who are fleeing a brutal civil war in their own country, many of whom have lost friends and family members in the fighting, simply because the risk of missing a terrorist in the screening process is too great.  

The Bible uses the phrase "poor and needy" 30 times in the Old Testament, and every one of those is either God's instruction to care for those in need (this included both fellow Israelites and foreigners living among them), or warnings about God's judgement if they failed to do this - for "precious is their blood in His sight." (Ps 72) The word "stranger" is used even more times in both Old and New Testaments, often within the context of God's command to welcome and care for them when they reside within Israel's borders.  In the New Testament, this sentiment is reinforced when Jesus answers the expert in the law with the parable of the Good Samaritan.  The Jewish leader asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, Jesus replied to love God and love your neighbour, and then told the parable when the leader tried to justify himself by asking who is neighbour was.  Jesus' concluding statement was that the man who truly loved his neighbour was the Samaritan man who showed mercy to his enemy at great personal cost - and exhorts us to "Go and do likewise." (Luke 10)

I think it is too easy to forget, in our fear, that those attempting to escape death at the hands of ISIS in their country's civil war are running from the same enemy we are afraid of.  The same enemy!  Refugees are experiencing the fear that we feel when we see news headlines describing shootings, violence and suicide bombers in their own country - but for them, the stories are not headlines.  They are the realities of daily life. 

So what if we do let in that one innocent-looking Syrian refugee who has managed to conceal their ISIS ties, and we pay for our neighbourly compassion? What if we allow another 9/11 or worse by opening our doors?
First of all, let's remember that America is no haven of peace even without the question of potential refugee terrorists. White American Americans are doing a more-than-adequate job of turning on each other in violence, murdering innocent children and adults because of their own personally held extreme views towards society at large or their targets in particular.
Secondly (and please understand that I do not write this lightly or without some measure of fear myself), as followers of Jesus, we are not called to a life of safety.  Obeying God's commands is inherently risky; God Himself chose to act in ultimate love, on our behalf even while we were His enemies, and sent His Son knowing that we would kill Him!  Yes, I do think there is a risk that a Muslim terrorist willing to live and die for the destruction of America might possibly slip through the net (even though only 9% of refugee applicants from Syria are actually allowed into the US and it takes an average of two years for them to arrive). Or, as in the the case of Syed Farook in San Bernadino, they might already be here looking like any other American of Middle Eastern/South-East Asian descent.  Like I do.  However, does that risk justify my choice to ignore God's heart and commands towards the needy of the world simply to prioritise my own safety? I can't answer yes.

Mark and I moved our family to Papua New Guinea, an island in the Pacific, nearly two years ago.  While the culture and people are truly beautiful in many ways, there is a deep layer of violence below the surface.  My children know that when they hear gunshots while they're playing outside, they run into the house and can't play near the back fence to our yard until tribal tension is resolved.  They have heard the sounds of domestic violence at night coming from the village nearby.  They make friends with our (excellent) security guards who are present day and night on our missionary compound.  They know that much of what Mark deals with in the hospital is a direct result of unrestrained violence between individuals, sometimes members of the same family.  We don't have access to any kind of advanced specialist medical care in case of an emergency in our own family.  And while we are certainly not in the most dangerous place we could live, this is the reality of our family and our kids' childhoods.  It is risky.  It is not always safe.  And we sometimes feel afraid.  But it is where God has called us.

Is the answer to stop opposing refugee immigration from Syria?  Is giving towards aid organisations directly caring for refugees, like the Red Cross or Samaritan's Purse, sufficient?  Or perhaps being more targeted in giving, and sponsoring a refugee family living in a micro-camp whose purpose is to foster hope, provide trauma counselling and offer spiritual care and job training?  Honestly, I don't know.  I have a nagging feeling that the change required is such a drastic cultural and individual paradigm shift that it may never come about.  In which case, truly, Lord have mercy on us.  What I do know, though, is that as followers of Christ we are called to a higher standard than we are currently attaining on this subject.  As a group of Christian college students wrote in an excellent Op Ed piece, "Even when our neighbours are violent, we are called to love as Christ did, to the point of death, for Matthew 5:43 says, 'You have heard that it was said, "Love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I tell you the truth, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'"

Like the Jewish expert in the law in Luke 10, we seek to justify ourselves by asking, "But how do I define love? Must love mean letting Muslim refugees in??" I think Paul gives us the answer in I Corinthians 13:
"And now I will show you the most excellent way:
 ... Love is kind, it is not self-seeking, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." 

May we be known as people who protect, trust, hope and persevere for those in need - because we ourselves are loved in this way by the One who calls us to follow Him.

**A note to Mom and Dad, if you ever come across this post: thank you for my upbringing. I love you!

Saturday, November 7, 2015

The work of life and death

I have been reading II Corinthians recently, and I was sitting in the quiet of the morning today, just me and my coffee (and the sounds of kids waking up in their rooms! Help! My time-bomb is ticking!), I landed on chapter 4 verse 12.  Paul has been describing to the Corinthians the principle of carrying around Christ's death in his body in order that through death, the life of Christ may be revealed to those around him.  In other words, as Paul dies to the things Jesus died to set him free from, Christ's life becomes that much more evident in his own.

As I heard the morning sounds of the kids, it struck me that the same principle can be applied to parenting.  II Cor 4:12 says, "So then, death is at work in us but life is at work in you."  As I parent my kids, wonderful though they are, I am constantly in a place of choice.  I can react naturally to their childish ways and disobedience, and become impatient and frustrated when they interrupt my plans.  Or I can, as Paul writes, "... carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."  As I parent, I can also choose to react unnaturally (i.e against my instincts and human nature) when my children test me, choose to die to the things Jesus died to free me from, and thereby reveal the life of Christ in me.  Death is at work in me (and how painful and unpleasant it can be to die!), but as a result life is at work in my kids.

Surely this is a worthy reason to die to myself over and over again - my little deaths are sowing seeds of life in my children!  Galatians describes to us the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Because these fruits come not from our own hearts but from God's Spirit dwelling in us, they are unnatural and require a death to self.  But when I die to my impatience, or my un-gentle manner, or my lack of self-control, the Spirit of life is at work - not only in me, but also in my little stewards.  So then, death is at work in me, but life is at work in them.  And how I long to bring them life!

(On a side note, I was also reading from John Baillie's 'A Diary of Readings' this morning, in which he included the following by Lady Julian of Norwich. She describes the futility of Satan's attempts to derail the believer who takes to heart that living is Christ and dying is gain - who believes that difficulties in life are to be counted as joyful opportunities to grow more Christlike: "And however sore he [the Devil] travails, and however continually, yet he sees that all chosen souls escape him worshipfully; and that is all his sorrow. For all that God suffers him to do turns us to joy, and him to pain and shame." 
So, when I die to myself, whether in my dealings with my children or some other area of life, the result is two-fold. First, I am sowing life in my children. And second, I am rendering inert the attempts of the enemy to work in my heart, by choosing to live worshipfully and allowing the Spirit to be alive in my actions.  Though the dying itself is often almost prohibitively difficult, the good of the results, in my opinion, far outweighs the difficulty!)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

An overdue update on life

Well, it seems quite some time has passed since I last sat down to write a post here! Between turning 6 and finishing up the last couple months of Kindergarten, learning how to walk, taking a turn leading our monthly English church service on station, figuring out where our next overseas term should be, playing de facto photographer for various events and family photo shoots, diagnosing and treating about 40 patients every day, and planning our family vacation next month, we've all been keeping busy!

 Anna's Strawberry Shortcake birthday party in May

 With her 6th birthday came some new privileges (like reading instead of nap time and getting to watch certain movies), and also the added responsibility of helping me with laundry. Although it does make my heart twist just a little seeing her out there doing her chores like a big kid...!

A couple months ago, I was able to attend a church opening where Suzanna, one of the ladies who helps me in the house, is pastor.  To reach the church, we drove one of the land cruisers over this section of road, half of which washed down the mountain some time ago and was replaced by a quasi-bridge of tree trunks:

The church was brightly decorated to celebrate its inaugural service, and several members of the congregation performed some special music.

Myself with Suzanna after the service

Once a month, many ex-pats from the various missions organisations in this part of the country gather at Kudjip for 'English Lotu', or 'worship in English'.  June was our month to lead this service, and after Mark led worship I spoke on Hope.

 Our little helper collecting the offering

At the beginning of this year, I started teaching clinic outpatients once a week on three different topics – diabetes, asthma/ COPD, and chronic reflux disease. Staff at the hospital requested an additional nurse to be hired on to remedy the deficit in patient education, but the request was turned down for budgetary reasons. So myself and another missionary wife (also an RN) have begun volunteering weekly, she with inpatients and I am working with outpatients from the clinic. I love getting to spend time with patients each Friday morning, and I'm thankful to be able to leave the kids in their Aunt Kathy's very capable hands!

One of my asthmatic patients, a lady who remembers the construction of the original Kudjip hospital buildings over 50 years ago!

Additionally, I have started communicating with our travel agent about our flights home in the fall – which is difficult for me to believe even as I write it! We're looking at getting back to Tulsa either October or November, which means we're here in PNG for a maximum of 5 more months. It also means I'm finding myself in that place of reflecting on the bittersweet nature of our calling … but that is a blog post for another day!

This roly-poly little lady has finally found her feet, and enjoys toddling all over the house trying to keep up with her big brother and sister. Which is, of course, an impossible mission ... but she sure does look cute while she tries!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The trouble with honesty

Recently, Anna and Levi have both caused me to arrive at a point of conflict within myself.  They used different means, but my quandary was the same. 

What do you do when your child comes clean about disobedience?

I was cleaning the kitchen table, and happened to look out of the window in time to catch Anna doing something she knew she shouldn't be doing.  It posed potential health risks, and we have definitely lived here long enough that she knew that.  When she came inside later in the day, I asked her about it.  Crestfallen, she admitted that yes, she had done it.  We talked about the possible outcomes - that what she was doing could make her sick - and I asked her whether she knew that what she did was both unwise and disobedient. 

The gloomy "Yehhhss mommaaaa......"

Levi's version of the story was a little more amusing to me.  I glanced down the hallway to the kids' room yesterday, and saw a Levi-shaped blanket sitting upright on the bottom bunk.  I grinned and thought nothing of it; recently he's enjoyed playing hiding games, and I assumed he thought we couldn't see him, sitting there with his blanket over his head.  Later on, though, as I was putting him down for his nap, I found Anna's bag of Valentine's candy on his bed - empty.  We had a conversation that went something like this:

"Levi, how come Anna's candy bag is in your bed?"
"Umm ..... puhcause I putted it there."
"Well, I think she still had some candy left, bud. Do you know what happened to it?"
"Uhhh.... yeeaaaahhhh........"
"Where did it go?"
"........................ umm....................... I ated it."
"Is that why you were hiding under the blanket?"

We talked about taking things that aren't yours, and about how his actions would make Anna feel when she found out the candy she'd been saving was gone, and decided that Levi needed to give his dessert to Anna after dinner to make things right(ish!). 

Both kids knew they were disobeying, and thought that because Mark and I weren't around they wouldn't get caught.  But - both kids also told the truth when I asked for it.  Lately this has not always been the case with Levi; I think he's figured out that if we ask him a question, he can actually choose how he responds..! 

The consequence of Anna's poor choice was that she was grounded for the weekend: "If you aren't able to make good choices when you're outside playing, you'll have to stay inside where we can keep an eye on you and help you make better choices."
As I wrapped up our conversation, though, I started to wonder.  She disobeyed - granted - but then chose to tell me the truth instead of lying to cover up her actions.  I called her back over and told her that because she was honest about her disobedience, she could have Sunday back instead of losing her whole weekend, and that I was proud of her for choosing to tell the truth. 

These two incidents have left me with some uncertainty, though.  How do I teach our kids the importance of telling the truth, when often their confessions will lead to discipline?  Do I give them a 'reduced sentence' of sorts when they choose not to lie?  Will suspending their consequences teach them that it's ok to disobey as long as they come clean afterwards?  What happens when I don't know whether they're telling the truth or not?  And what about when they are older and the person meting out their 'discipline' isn't their mother who loves them, but rather a teacher or boss or (heaven forbid!) law enforcement officer?  Will they go easy on people who tell the truth? 

As these questions have bounced around my head during the last several days, I've searched through my mind and my Bible for a verse or passage that might spell it out for me.  So far I haven't found anything that says, "Do this when your kid disobeys but 'fesses up --".  But what I have found is this:

These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, and when you lie down and get up.

Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law.  I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.

Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous; who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.

It is better to obey than to offer a sacrifice.

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

The Bible is clear that God is truth, and desires that His children walk in truth and obedience.  And also that as one of His children, I teach MY children the importance of walking in truth.  However, David's writings are also filled with references to God's great mercy.  Countless times as we read through the history of Israel, we see that God acts with justice after his people sin but that in His graciousness He quickly turns from anger and shows His people mercy.  My favourite verse from the list above is the final one, from Micah 6: that we are to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. 

This has become my guiding verse as I try to parent our kids when they are honest about their disobedience.  God requires that I do act justly; when one of my children disobeys, they must endure the consequences of their choice.  However, my discipline is to be shaped by the mercy He has shown me, and the humility that comes when I face my own sin in the face of His perfect holiness.  This doesn't spell out what exactly I should do in scenarios like the ones I ran across recently ... but it certainly helps me with the how

(Obviously, my actual problem is how to discipline them at all when they're so stinkin' cute. Luckily they don't look like this all the time!)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Some changes

The last few months have been quiet for me on the blog front.  It's been a struggle to create time to write, and there always seems to be something more pressing that needs doing.  But tonight all of my people are asleep and I feel the writing bug, so ... here's to a new post, finally!

I'm not going to attempt to catch up on months of neglected posting, but I am excited about a couple of recent changes in our lives.  (Much of this is the result of a Christmas gift from one of the couples here on station - a date night! Our kids spent a very fun evening at their house while Mark and I enjoyed an entire afternoon and evening of uninterrupted conversation, and a dinner delivery so I didn't have to spend my 'free' evening cooking for us. It. Was. Amazing.)

The areas in which we're making some changes are - my approach to homeschooling, the amount of hired help we have in the house, and my involvement at the hospital. 

After a lot of deliberation and prayer, we are switching our school curriculum.  Our new school books arrived in the mail recently, and we started using them this week - and we're excited!  However, this curriculum doesn't come with DVDs so I am hands-on teaching for the entire school morning as well as preparing for Levi's preschool year (which I think will look much different than Anna's!).  In light of this change, we have decided to hire additional help for me at home.  Currently we have a lady come one half-day a week, so we'll be adding another half day or (hopefully!) two. 

A second reason for this is that beginning the last week of this month, I will be spending one morning a week at the hospital doing patient education.  I'm so excited about this!  Some members of staff recently suggested that patients need more teaching than the doctors are able to provide given the time constraints of a very busy hospital - both on the wards and in the outpatient department.  However, since the current budget doesn't allow for an additional nurse to be hired for this position, myself and another missionary RN will be beginning patient teaching during the week. 
I can't count the number of times Mark has come home from clinic with stories about patients who were truly trying to do the right thing to help themselves or a family member, but because of lack of information ended up doing more harm than good.  The young mother who came in with a malnourished baby after weaning too early, having been told by relatives that she would pass her asthma to her child through her breastmilk.  The man with high blood pressure who had stopped adding salt to his food in an effort to control his hypertension, but had no idea that the boullion-cube-esque seasoning that he'd switched to and is cheap to buy here is also loaded with salt.  The elderly man with COPD who dutifully brought his (unopened) inhaler back to his follow-up appointments but wasn't getting any better. 
It breaks my heart that in order for the doctors here to get through the line of patients who are waiting to be seen each day - some of whom have travelled for days just to get to the hospital - they simply don't have the time to sit and teach their patients how to manage their various illnesses.  And, as it happens, I learned in nursing school that this is something I love to do!  So, starting in a couple of weeks, I'll be working with a translator to provide education on two of the more common (and most commonly misunderstood) illnesses that bring people to the clinic: diabetes, and asthma. 
As I've been creating my teaching material, it has struck me that these are two diseases with which I am well acquainted: I have had some level of gestational diabetes in all my pregnancies, and my son has asthma for which daily medical management is required.  I can easily identify with the patients I'll be teaching. 
It has been challenging to put together teaching material that will be understood across the language and cultural differences. Most of the patients I'll be teaching do not have any concept of foods being made of carbohydrates or being broken down into sugars (so yes, I have come up with diabetes education material that doesn't reference carbs at all!).  And it's not as simple as reading food labels, counting carbs and looking for sugar-free or low-carb options.  When you subsistence farm and what you grow and eat is a very starchy root vegetable, transitioning to a low-carb diet can pose quite a challenge!  Also, there is a fairly prevalent idea here that sickness is brought on by either sin in your life, or the curse of someone with whom you have recently fallen out.  This is an idea I will have to challenge as I meet with patients.
My translator told me today as we went through some of my teaching material, that she was actually a patient of Mark's in the fall, when she'd been having some breathing difficulty.  Mark prescribed her an inhaler to use for the duration of her illness, and was actually able to sit and teach her how to use it.  However, when she went home she confided to her husband that she was nervous about this new kind of medicine.  It wasn't a 'drink-marisin' (a tablet or liquid medicine to drink) and it wasn't a 'shoot-maricin' (a shot), and she felt anxious about it.  Her husband had to remind her that Dr Mark wouldn't give her something dangerous, and that if he told her to use it she should use it. 

Knowledge is something we take for granted so easily in the west.  We can acquire any information we want within seconds online, and do many times a day - especially information pertaining to our health and well-being.  I love the idea of empowering people to take care of themselves and their families by providing them with the information to do so.  I'm a little nervous about it since I haven't done any type of nursing work in about a year and a half, but I'm excited to be able to hopefully make a small difference in the lives of some of the patients who come through our hospital.