Parents Evening TCK style

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Parents evening, the name (or whatever it is called locally) still strikes a fear in my heart.  It’s not that I doubt my children’s behaviour or ability – I know they are more than a school grade.  It’s memories of confusion, misunderstanding, frustration and sadness – and I’m the parent.

As the first teacher arrives he tells my son to sit in his chair and he joins me, the other side of the table and he tells him to begin.  My son is confused but also amused and so asks the teacher how he thinks he has done.  They swap back around and I hear reports of the ways my son helps hand out books in class, he gets distracted at times, generally works hard and is a good student.  Presentation is an issue, I explain it always has been and the teacher says he used to have the same problem and it’s okay, he’ll get there.  I ask my son if he has got anything to ask or say to the teacher?  “Thank you.”  My tears well up and the teacher is taken aback, humbled, amazed and appreciative – in all his years….

With that word – presentation, my son and I were both taken back to his overseas school where ‘parents evening’ was held with students and parents all together in a class.  The only foreigners the first barrier was that usual one of what happens here?  Trying to understand the fast speaking teacher whilst rushing through your head the search for the norms and expectations of this setting.  The teacher began picking out the best students and praising them, how wonderful they are, how beautiful their hair, how well they are doing (often they were paid to like this child).  They would then go around the class and pick out the faults of the others, not good at this, bad at that, not trying, no hope, waste of time.  The aim was humiliation – it worked.  As the only foreign child in the class he got no favours, he is disorganised, untidy, his writing is atrocious. There was no use trying to explain dyspraxia and it’s effects (I did once try) or explaining he was really left handed but not allowed to use that here (yep, tried that one too).  There was no mention of his friendships, the things he was good at or his kindness such as the time he took some paper and sticky tape from home and covered the broken window that had been blowing freezing winds and rain into the unheated classroom.  When he left the school after four years all his teacher could say was the general greeting of ‘safe roads’.

That was why his reaction was ‘thank you’, someone who had seen his messiness and untidiness but saw more and focused on that.  A teacher who first talked of his character and then discussed his academic life.  Every time we sit down I feel the need to explain to the teacher first that he isn’t really English, he hasn’t been through the system and has only been here for two years.  My son rolls his eyes at me but they see the funny blonde haired, blue eyed, gangly teen and don’t realise that he’s never learnt those grammatic rules or writing style – but he could do it in another language!  When they do they understand him a bit more and can take the time to explain, maybe it’s just the mum in me jumping to his defence.  But I see the miracle of his determination in sticking at school to become a student who is achieving and enjoying the experience which demonstrates the resilience of so many TCK’s.  Laughing about their history, which to others is a horror story but to them is part of who they are, and also the challenge of what sets them apart.  With his ‘thank you’ I again realise the richness of how he values and sees beauty in simple things that others would take for granted.  How easy it is to focus on the wrong things, to find criticism first or not see the full picture and yet how powerful when we touch a heart by seeing the fulness of who they are.

As a mum, I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the dread of parent’s evening,.  But just as I did as we walked down the dust road, we walk across the concrete play area and I tell my child how proud I am of them.   Each time I say it I see the fullness of their journey and it means just that bit more.  How grateful I am for a God who sits by me and listens as others declare things about me, who stands for me, who sees my mistakes and failures but also sings over me with delight.

(just to add we did also have an amazing teacher at the same school for my other son and both of them learnt well at the school – in the fullest sense).

Walking along the road and the most unexpected thing happened….

pexels-photo-343469.jpegThe story is so familiar, walking along the busy road, crowds of people, shouting, shoving, pushing.  There walks Jesus.  But He can’t manage it himself.  Imagine that, the Creator, the Word at the beginning, the Almighty, the one who said He is the Son of God and He can’t manage it alone.

Without in ANY WAY wanting to imagine that I have ever been in a situation anything like Jesus was experiencing, there are times when I have felt overwhelmed.  It feels for a long time as though I’ve been stumbling along, the weight getting heavier, the loads adding with every step.  Crowds shouting with opinions, jeers, what I can’t do, be or achieve, shoving at me to do this, do that, pushing me into being who I don’t want to be.

I’m stubborn though, independent, self-confident and so just keep going but feeling like I’m not sure if the next time I will be able to stand up for one more time.

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As I look at this image of Jesus, needing someone else I see the power of those people around who will walk behind, who will help carry the load and to walk onwards.  The ones who do believe in who I am and what I can do.  The ones who care about who I am.  Deity in one more example for me of humility – allowing a person to help Him carry out the act of redemption.

Luke tells us Simon was ‘compelled’ which the Persian and literal translation means “pressed into service of a king”.   A man from Libya, an immigrant, chosen to serve the King.  Was it an honour? Was it humiliation?  Was it God’s greatest unspoken message of allowing other people to be part of our journey, our story, to surrender ourselves and pride.

(image: Sieger Koder (1925-2015) German priest and painter, Simone di Cirene)

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Beyond the image, children.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5115441/Albanian-stowaways-sneaking-Britain.html

Migration, Daily Mail and Missing the Point

Beyond the sensationalised images of adults and aggression are some shocking statistics that are the true story.  Last year alone 407 children and young people were recognised, caught, registered, however you would like to say, as migrants seeking safety and support.  The highest number of lone children, not from war or conflict but from families dreaming of something more.

The Northern village is typical, it is true, there is no work, there is a lack of hope, there is despair and there are families who just want more for their children and give money they don’t have, to people they don’t know in the search of  a dream.  Most of these children won’t be thugs, thieves or delinquents but very well may end up that way because of the systems in place.  Disappearing into anonymity, without a place to settle and belong to, fleeing the authorities they hoped would help them.  These children know that their parents have paid thousands that they don’t have because the expectation is they will earn some money and support the family in the future.  They can’t return because they know their families have less than nothing.  They can’t stay because they are not at risk, until they have to put themselves at risk through illegal links and relationships.

Albania is a country with outstanding beauty, most people are friendly, hospitable, open their homes and welcome you.  The number of meals we have shared where as guests we are the only ones eating because the families can’t afford to serve us and eat as well.  As you sit realising this sacrifice, the impossible challenge of thanking and respecting their kindness but eating their suffering and trying to find ways of sharing whilst honouring.  Having worked with Albanian children and young people their dreams are so often crushed by the corruption but not by their own abilities.  They have pride in their wonderful country but no hope.  They have skills for their wonderful country but no opportunities.  They have belonging to their wonderful country but no future.  This is the truth behind the images.

The challenge doesn’t have a simple solution, as with most immigration issues.  But the answer most definitely isn’t labelling with violent, drug addicted, thugs.  Challenging corrupt systems, supporting those who have found their way here and understanding the search for a dream should not end in a nightmare.

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Being (A) Part

Two days ago marked 8 years since we left for Albania and 6 years since we opened Burime – the children & teen centre we set up on the Keneta.  When I shared this memory on Facebook I was almost instantly responded to by one of the ‘boys’ who came, saying

 I believe that not only my family but also for other children you 
will be like a special miss, you will always remain in our hearts and
minds as our people with love and we spent one of our most beautiful 
experiences... I wish to turn back time and you were with us

It was tough to leave, especially into unknown – what would happen to the kids we had invested our lives and hearts, what would happen to our little discipleship groups, what would happen to those children and families who had never felt noticed before we arrived.  Then for us what would we do, where would we live, how would we live?

Albania was God’s plan A for our family, its made life tough since we got back here (I don’t say home) and most people have no idea about the struggles each person faces, the tears that are cried and the hole in our hearts.  But we know too that this is God’s plan A for now, we have just bought our beautiful ‘home’, we have Lilijana, the kids are all doing well academically in school, Neil is on the degree course, I am loving my job tutoring and we work for our ‘sending’ church seeing the young people grow.

We have also really known that our link to Albania isn’t limited to facebook posts and instagram pictures but that God has given us an ongoing link, passion and opportunities to both support and accompany our friends and family there.

Rachel is one of those, she inspired us, worked with us, advised us and helped us in many ways and for the last two years Neil has been back at Kampi Aventura helping out.  Last year was incredible to take our kids to help, to see them having fun as kids but sharing God in their heart language.

So for this year, we dream to go again to Albania, to support the work there as well as what we feel is essential in maintaining our friendships with our neighbours.  We dream of being a part of the ongoing and developing work we see, to use what God has given us here to plant into there.  We would love for you to consider being a part too – can you sponsor a child or young person to go to camp (only £30)? Will you commit to praying for the camp or for a specific child at the camp?  Do you feel God calling you to join us as we go (financially, prayerfully or in person?) .

(At the moment we can’t afford to fly out and so are planning a road trip but can meet you at the airport and help with accommodation and details)

 

God is NOT faithful

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Eight years ago we left our lovely three storey Edwardian house with a car load of things and headed off with our three children to live and serve in Albania.  We arrived and settled into life in a nice house, once we got rid of the fleas.

People asked us why we would give up everything and go, it didn’t make any sense.  But it did to us.  Our belief in God and our desire to live our lives for Him meant we had said we would go wherever He thought best, do whatever He asked and trust.  WE were faithful.

 

After two years we knew we were to set up a centre for children and young people in this deprived settlement where hopelessness had made her home.  So we asked our church and they helped us with the finance and there were some rocky moments, some tough challenges, threats to us but we saw these children and young people grow in God, learn in their own lives, become more than they thought and realise that they mattered.  We saw in their smiles, in their chatter as they crowded round the gate waiting to get in that this was what God had wanted.  Our CHURCH was faithful, WE were faithful.

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When we felt we should move from our nicer house on the tarmac road to the mud lane swamp area we found a four room house.  It was ground floor, had an entry space that we could put a kitchen and a sofa in, we could use two other rooms for bedrooms and a bathroom.  Sure it also had mould covering the walls and it was TINY, but we knew this was to be our home and so we packed our stuff into a van and moved.  WE were faithful.

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bridge over troubled water

Two years ago we set off on a plane, accompanied by our suitcases and a van full of boxes (by the road) and returned to the UK.  We were due to have our fourth child, we knew that this time in Albania to live was at an end but we didn’t know what lay ahead.  WE were faithful.

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In the months ahead we discovered we had to prove our nationality that we had gained at birth but lost living overseas, we lost our entitlements to benefits and help.  We had some friends who continued to support us and the dwindling monthly income stretched miraculously.  Neil went for interview after interview to be told he was a close second, over qualified, too experienced.  But we kept going, we had our baby and placed her in a charity shop basket, in second hand clothes, we told the children they couldn’t go on school trips and we all learnt the walk of a land where your passport fits but your heart does not.  It was dark, it was tough, it seemed never ending.  But WE were faithful.

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Two years on and I have my dream job, it is incredible and beyond what I could have ever felt I would be offered – tutoring at the Centre for Youth Ministry on the degree course.  Neil is a university student – he never felt he could do academic work but continues to strive for his best and passes well each semester.  We both also have the incredible privilege of working in our home church who had supported us for so long and seeing another generation grow in passion and life for God.  We have our four amazing children, three at school who have faced challenges of bullying, fitting in, learning a new language and continue to fly high and smile and take each challenge.  Lilijana, chatters and sings and worships like I have never seen a child before, her heart just overflows.  Then after temporary accommodation for the past two years we bought and have moved into our new home.  A stunning three story, five bedroom, four bathroom, kitchen, diner, double garage, lovely garden, moments away from a nature park in one direction and the play park in the other.  Our two cars sit on the driveway when they aren’t going to our many activities.  Our life is full.  But God was NOT faithful.

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I don’t mean He hasn’t blessed us continually, incredibly, wonderfully and miraculously.  Oh my goodness He HAS!  But this was not because He was faithful in the sense it seems it is often used.  It is not a REWARD for what we have done, given, been.  He doesn’t need to pay us, He didn’t owe us for our time of ‘sacrifice’, He wasn’t in debt to us for asking us to do things.  That was our choice as our commitment and belief, that was more valuable to us than other people could ever understand and that was us, being us.  God is a God of incredible love, a ‘good, good father’ as we like to sing – He gives because He loves to, He loves us and He can.  He isn’t faithful in paying back something that was never a cost, beyond a Call.

 

When we think this is God’s faithfulness what do we do when the job interviews all failed, we had no income, we are living in that mouldy little house? Was God not being faithful then?  Oh, the stories of that precious home, the memories of that neighbourhood and the place it has in our hearts are more than the flash new build.  God’s faithfulness is not linked to payment or payback but linked to His never ending, never failing, never giving up love.  People say ‘God is Faithful’ in terms of a payback, a settling but how cheap that makes His love and His Call.  Faithful is His persistent love, faithful is His walking through the storms, faithful is His Call to adventure and life, Faithful.