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Posts Tagged ‘Tempe’

The Bible Project

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ESL teachers

ESL teachers

I can’t believe it has been three years since the Redemption church merger. Even though Redemption has never been a home church for me, I’ve been an off and on attendee since their early days. I love how God uses them to reach all areas of Arizona with the gospel with their multiple church plants. Tonight Pastor Riccardo shared many stories from the past three years of how God has been faithful and good to the church. I got to attend the service for a few reasons. Redemption likes to share God stories of how members of the congregation are being used in the community by God. Pastor Mullins interviewed my ESL director Stephanie on stage about how we are reaching the refugee community here locally in Tempe. Our students are mostly from Somalia and Redemption church oversees our teaching program. In fact, many of our volunteer teachers are members of Redemption.

Teaching ESL has been such a humbling and rewarding experience for me. My involvement came from when God called me to attend a Uzbekistan peace feast in November of 2011. Even though I had no idea why I was meant to go, God opened my eyes to the refugee community for the first time. Soon after I became an english teacher and now here I am two and half years later still teaching. Hearing the story of Redemption church tonight and my own personal story remind me of the Experiencing God study – Watch where God is working and join Him there. Trust me, do that and He will do the rest.

But my main reason I attended church tonight is because of the friend I brought. He was an old drinking buddy of mine from back in college. I haven’t seen him in 15 years, yet we are Facebook friends. He reach out to me earlier this week and mentioned life had become purposeless for him. He has been inspired by how I’ve been living my life and wanted to know what it is that kept me going these days. I laugh because I’m such a messy person, but I know it is Christ that He is seeing in me as the Spirit has really been working through my life these past couple years. He just moved to Tempe and I offered to introduce him to Redemption church because they are in the area. We had a great time catching up and I felt for him as I have been in that place of searching for significance many times in my life. I spent most of my night praying for him at church and was excited for him to hear the God-stories they were taking about from the stage. I pray that God grab a hold of him and that he becomes another God-story that will be shared to others someday.

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Three years ago a friend of mine invited me to Praxis church. I heard Justin Anderson speak for the first time from the book of Joshua. I loved the expository teaching and I loved the depth of how he spoke (plus his sarcasm). It became my second church on Sunday nights. Praxis church eventually merged with other churches to become Redemption church. Even after the merger, Justin still primarily taught at the Tempe campus. But he is now moving on to San Francisco to start Redemption SF with an amazing team. Tonight in Tempe he spoke his last message from 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. I thank God for this hero of mine and the impact his teaching had on me.

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For my assignment this week, I needed to spend some time in the Muslim community. The whole purpose of this assignment is to shed our prejudices and learn to love Muslims. I wasn’t ready yet to full on walk into a mosque, so I decided to hang around some middle eastern restaurants. My first stop was Haji-Baba in Tempe. I drive by it a lot and I had heard the food is really good. The part that I made a mistake is that I went at lunch time. It was so crowded that I couldn’t even get a word in with anyone. I spoke with the cashier and asked him how long the restaurant had been around. He said about 26 years and said he had been here about 5 years. He was young and there was a long line, so I ditched the conversation and let him work.

The next day I went to Cafe Istanbul. I had been here with a friend in the past and they are not as busy. I saw a couple of Muslims smoking a hookah on the patio and thought about joining them. But I wasn’t really down for smoking a hookah at that time. I ordered some food and chatted with the waitress. She was from Lebanon and mentioned she had been with the restaurant for about 20 years. I asked her if there was a community of Muslims nearby and she said a lot of them live close to the area. I then decided to disengage with the conversation after that just to observe my boundaries of chatting with a Muslim female. The food was good and I left.

I went to an Indian restaurant next to my place called the Bay Leaf cafe. India has a heavy Muslim population and I’d figured I give it a shot. The gentleman I talked to came to America because his wife got a job here. He has been here eight years and is from a city close to Chennai – the city I flew into when I went to India. We had a good talk, but once again he seemed a little busy with customers and I decided to let him be.

I was driving in Tempe and decided to pull over and pray about this assignment. I prayed that God would provide an opportunity that I would have a deeper conversation with a Muslim and that he would break down my fears of doing so. After I prayed, I looked up and saw the top of a mosque behind a building. Next to it was the Phoenicia cafe – a little middle eastern place with a marketplace. It was late and I decided to get some chai.

The gentleman that helped me was starting to clean and close shop. I told him I was expanding my interests and trying to learn about different cultures. He thought that was good and continued to listen to my questions. I think he got the clue that I was serious about wanting to know more about Muslims and he dropped his broom and sat with me. He said he loved being in America. He is from Morocco and he hated how the people in Spain and England treat Muslims. He said in America, we are nice to them and at least smile. I told him that I don’t like learning from media and television about his culture and that I wanted to learn from having relationships and conversations with them. He told me even though I’m a Christian and he is Islam, I am his brother. He mentioned that he would tell me all that I wanted to know about Islam and that he wouldn’t push it on me. He said it is the will of Allah that one becomes Muslim and that it is a choice. He shared his family life and how different his culture is from ours. He also mentioned all the tables are round there and that everyone shares the same cup and bread. Respect is always given to the father and then the mother who cooks the food. He then told me his faith comes from Allah and that he believes if you have good people around you, you will have a good life. He told me a story about how he needed $582 to pay all his bills last month. He prayed to Allah and he was offered some extra shifts to work that next weekend. He made exactly $582 that weekend and was able to pay all of his bills. We says he doesn’t worry anymore because Allah always provides if you believe. We had a wonderful time together drinking chai and talking about our different worldviews. Is name is Hakim and we are going to meet again next week.

This was a wonderful week and I am thankful God is breaking down my own fears and prejudices about Muslims. I had a lot of them after 9/11. There of course are some extreme groups out there (just like we have them here), but they really are a loving community of people. If you want to read about some of the food I ate, check my food blog entry at Food, Art and Culture.

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