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Posts Tagged ‘Somali Bantu Refugees’

Advent – Day 11

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We had a Christmas party for both the teachers and students of our ESL classes. It was a fun night of fellowship and getting to know each other outside of the classroom. We played bingo and exchanged gifts. Some of the Somalian ladies brought samosas and one of our Chinese students brought some wraps. I have really enjoyed being a part of this and thankful to the Lord for the opportunity to teach.

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In 2006, I saw this video at a David Crowder concert that was going around online on youtube from three guys that traveled to Uganda. I had just surrendered my life to Christ and was exposed to injustice in other parts of the world for the first time. I was blown away by what I saw and I bought a copy of this video (Invisible Children’s Rough Cut) and watched it over and over again at home. The part where the little boy is describing how he and his brother were abducted by the LRA and how his brother never made it back just sat with me. He kept saying over and over again “my heart is beeping…”. I began supporting the war in Gulu through World Vision for many years after that.

Months later I would go to Belize and Passion ’07 and God opens my heart to cross-cultural missions. Then two really good friends of mine would leave AZ to live in Kenya to intern at Huruma Children’s Home and I would spend time following their journey and supporting them. In 2009, I would also travel to Kenya and visit the same orphanage on behalf of my church. It was not a good experience for me as I see firsthand how western churches have hurt other countries and ministries. I had just read When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and spent time learning about missions strategy with the Pathways/Perspectives course. While there, I saw tons of money being misused by both the orphanage and the church that sent me and some other things that I won’t discuss. People back home were being deceived and I had it out with God one night there in the middle of my trip because I was so disgusted. But God did something cool, He opened my heart up to the people of Kenya. I was able to put aside my frustrations and spend time building relationships with the people of Africa. I really developed a heart for them and even today I chat with my friends in Kenya and at the orphanage almost every week.

Me with one of the children at Huruma

Chris Tomlin releases “Love” with the Watoto children’s choir and the song really touches my heart. He would sing it in Kampala with the Passion World Tour to thousands of Africans in their language. Watoto is a holistic care ministry that helps orphans in Uganda that are victims of AIDS and war. Then the choir makes a surprise stop at my church and God once again opens up my heart to Africa. I started to learn about what these kids have gone through in Uganda and what we can do as Americans to effectively help them. The movie “Blood Diamond” comes out as well and really impacts me. It’s a movie about child soldiers in South Africa.

Watoto Children’s Choir at Cornerstone

In 2010, I attended a Passion conference with my girlfriend at the time in Atlanta. During the conference, we walked through the World Vision Experience – it is an interactive exhibit that combines audio and amazing photography and transports you to the heart of Africa. You get to experience stories of tragedy and triumph lived out by real children in AIDS-affected communities. It totally blew us both away. In the exhibit, you also have a chance to go to an AIDS clinic in Africa and feel what that is like as well as visit a truck stop on Kenya’s infamous AIDS highway (a road I actually got to drive on). I remember I couldn’t stop thinking about this exhibit for months and even tried to get my church at the time to do something very similar with Huruma.

Map of the AIDS highway in Kenya – Passion 2010

 

So where am I at today with all of this? I’m an ESL instructor for Somalian refugees here in Phoenix working alongside Peace Catalyst International and Redemption church. It’s a really awesome ministry God has brought to me right here in my own backyard and I am blessed to be a part of it and to be working with people from Africa. I spend a lot of time as well watching and reading about different ministries in Africa and how they are helping the situations over there. I am currently corresponding with a few ministries in three different countries in Africa.

 

For the past year I have felt a tugging in my heart to return to Africa. I watch several of these videos and I pray over all these wonderful ministries all over the world. I took a big chunk of time off work next summer and basically told God to use me for whatever He wants during that time. I have always believed that when you go through hard times, God is preparing you for something big and I can’t ignore the calling He has put in me. After much prayer, I will be spending some time in Africa next summer. I don’t what this looks like, but I have already started the process of raising funds and preparing my heart. I am excited and at the same time thankful to God for giving me an obedient heart to serve. This is who God made me to be. God’s doing a lot in the world and I just want to play my small role in the Kingdom.

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The Somali Bantu community is a smaller sect of people from Somalia that reside around the Juba and Shabelle rivers in the south. After to feeling to Somalia and Tanzania, many of these refugees were located to the United States. Tucson is one of the cities that many of these refugees are now starting over in. Phoenix also has a growing Somalian Bantu community and this year I started volunteering at the Somali Bantu United Association of Greater Phoenix as an ESL instructor. The Somali people and the Somali Bantu don’t get along too well. Many have carried their years of conflict here to the U.S. as they are a large honor culture. But with the efforts of Peace Catalyst International, there has been a huge answer to prayer recently. Both cultures have decided to put aside their differences and work together. We don’t know what this looks like, but God is definitely working. We held a meeting today at a Somalian coffee shop over tea and sambosas to discuss what the future lies for the community and us instructors. Praise God!

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Even though we usually have the summer off, this week we are having a special english camp at the Somali center. Kaylee has done an awesome job of putting this week together. We are practicing filing out applications for jobs and going through the interviewing process, ordering food at a restaurant, going to the store – everyday life situations. Us teachers get to role play and walk the students through these scenarios. It feels almost like a Vacation Bible School week. Peace Catalyst International is taking some time with us in the mornings to share some of their vision for this community and how we can better engage with other cultures. It really is a great place and I’m thankful to be here.

Wanting a cross-cultural experience? You don’t have to travel to find it… there are communities from all different cultures right in our backyard. Find about refugee communities in your city and what God is doing in them. I love these clips from the movie The Visitor that gives a great picture of cross-cultural interaction.

 

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Today was the last day of class at the Somali Bantu Refugee Center. I have enjoyed teaching here the past few months. It really is an amazing God story how He brought this place into my life for me to serve at. I have had the itching to teach for some time, but I never thought I would be teaching refugees how to speak english and be prepared for citizen classes. God is doing amazing things in this community and Peace Catalyst International is doing awesome stuff in promoting peace and unity amongst them. I am thankful for Josh Prather from Redemption church for directing me here and the director Sally for believing in me. Rachel, Emily and Kaylee have been awesome trainers and I look forward to helping run english camp this summer. Today we had our last day of class celebration and the ladies cooked us samosas (a fried or baked pastry filled with potatoes, onions, peas, lentils, and ground meat) and hot Kenyan tea. I was offered my own class to teach in the Fall and I look forward to further being a part of this community.

The women in their traditional hijab headscarfs

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Our awesome teachers!

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This documentary has helped me get to know a little bit of what our Somalian students have been through.

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Today I started my first day at the Somali Bantu Center of Phoenix. It is such a God story of how this place came to me. I had attended a peace festival at a Uzbekistan restaurant back in November and was blown away by the number of refugees living here in Phoenix. Just hearing their stories really moved me. I signed up to help volunteer and Josh Prather from Redemption church contacted me a couple of months later. He got me in contact with Sally Harr (the lady in the video above) and she offered me an a choice of an admin or a teaching position. I was really having an itching to teach and wasn’t the admin type, but I never taught english before. She encouraged me to come down and check out the place and I fell in love with it. Peace Catalyst International is a big part of helping bring unity to the people in this community. Tim Ballard gave me a rundown on them and he also happens to attend my church Missio Dei. Even though overseas missions is my heart, I had been praying for something local to do here in the valley that is cultural based. This place was perfect and I began to pray if God wanted me here. I knew God would provide me with the skills to teach english, so I accepted the offer to be a teaching assistant for the remainder of the spring. Wow.. isn’t God amazing in how he works!

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