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.

Deafening Sounds of Silence

Silence so rarely happens round here… sometimes the afternoon siesta of grandparents snoozing gives a respite from noise but generally it is non stop.

But these sounds aren’t the sounds of cars going here and there, carrying children to school, colleagues to work.  They aren’t the rush to get the shopping and tick that off the list before moving down to the next “must do today” thing.  It isn’t the noise of heavy machinery or big factories manufacturing work and building for today and the future.  I don’t hear the drones of cellphones full of chattering demands or call centres requesting what you do not need.  No for all of this there is only silence.

The noises I hear are chickens (lots of them), croaks of frogs from the dirty canals, crickets chirping from the empty buildings.  I hear children kicking balls, chattering, playing.  I hear parents calling their children home, shouting across the neighbourhood to where ever they may be playing…. there is no fear here of distance and tracking.  I hear grandparents talking over the garden walls or rickety fences, the milk arriving and footsteps rushing to take their empty bottles to be refilled.  I hear cement mixers futilely creating more cement, for more walls of more unfinished or empty buildings that will never be called home.  I hear life.

In the desolation there is not the rushing, the racing, the fast paced life.  There is playing, family, community.

In the desolation there are not jobs, business, prosperity of wealth.  There is helping the neighbour, spinning wool and knitting needles and prosperity of skills we have long forgotten.

In the desolation there is not the noise of the outskirts of a busy town but the chirping, quacking, laughing, chattering of play, neighbours and freedom.

The problem is the sounds of desolation are deafening, we forget to hear the wonder of what is in this place and only listen to what we do not have.  Struggle shouts loud on these dust and mud filled roads.  Hardships peer from every draught filled, gaping window.  Dreams and desires have often been swept out the door and beaten like the rugs until not a speck of their dust remains.  But in all the broken, empty, desolation there are sounds more precious that many long for, days and times gone by where community was not just a theory or buzz word but was life.  That is the sound I hear.

sounds of playing

sounds of playing… how much fun elastic can be!

Flying high when the earth shakes

Flying high when the earth shakes

Yesterday I realised I made an error with a holiday booking, the accomodation was two days less than the flights. That is really not like me! I was glad I discovered it before we left our accomodation, got to the airport and had to camp out for two days but as I looked for an alternative every way seemed a dead end. The airline wanted more to change the flights than the cheap rate I got them for. The accomodation was now fully booked. Every other possibility was coming up at hundreds of pounds, which when you are a missionary family and have spent days trying to save every penny to make a holiday a possibility is VERY annoying! I came up with alternative accomodation but with the same firm but wasn’t what we wanted or what the kids had been asking for, but better than nothing or better than expensive right?
I emailed the firm my proposal.
We had been thinking about what to do for children’s day, but hadn’t really got far with plans. This morning at the kids club we ran out of chairs, table space, crafts because of the number of kids there…. not even all the ones registered! Two weeks before children’s day and I had to tell the kids to stop bringing their friends and relatives! Imagine!
This week we have to get our residency papers in, this in itself is the worst bit of being a missionary here… beyond not putting the paper in the toilet, way worse than the mosquito bites, more awful than being away from family and friends… yes that bad!
So in the early hours as the earthquake woke me up it was just another thing. I lay awake for a while, thinking, too hot, too worried about sticking my leg out because of the mosquitos, listening to the ridiculously loud frogs, the rooster crowing, the ducks quacking.
The earthquake didn’t bother me… I wasn’t afraid, wasn’t worried. The holiday situations didn’t bother me either… I wasn’t worried. When we were once again inundated with kids at kids club I wasn’t bothered….
Perspective… we will get to go on holiday, our forms will be submitted, the kids will all keep coming (and probably bring their friends!) and if it doesn’t? If the earth shakes and the skies crumble? Its all more than okay.

I got an email from the holiday place, they can extend where we are staying for no extra cost. We have an incredible possibility for children’s day which is beyond what we could have imagined and for more kids. The forms are all coming together and …. well we’ll wait and see.
Sometimes its good to remember that its just not worth stressing over, it won’t change because of worry, it won’t alter because of a sleepless night. I know that is easier to say sometimes, but for today I will say it, I will choose to fly and I will choose to trust.

Simple Blessings and Value

Simple Blessings and Value

Love this blog, today it was so exact… what do we say are our blessings or where are our blessings?

The problem with blessings in things is when they are gone we aren’t blessed or we don’t see other people being of the same value because they don’t have the blessings we have.  I know that is NOT TRUE!

I have friends who do bless me so much, whenever I get to spend time with them I come away encouraged, realising my value, realising how great God is.  Why?  Their house is simple, the mum is an amputee and the dad significantly disabled.  The dad tries to work fixing TV’s but he doesn’t have all the equipment, so he takes the TV’s to a shop to check them, but their car is so wrecked it is illegal to drive.  They don’t have money for holidays, they don’t have a savings account, they don’t have laptops or ipads, they were just able to buy beds for the girls who had been sleeping on the floor…  do you know what? When I go to their house I never see what they don’t have.  They have such an incredible life, happiness, peace, joy…. God flows out of them, touches everyone they meet.  They give, they live they trust and enjoy and are BLESSED!

Yesterday with the kids at Burime (we live in an illegal settlement built literally on swamp land) I asked what would make their life better, the answers…

a diamond

a house

health

family

Yes things, a diamond and a house, but the house is what most of us take forgranted, a basic.  With these they would feel blessed… they could have said anything but this was their answer.  Blessing is not in things, blessing is in the heart, seeing God in everything, in everyone.  Appreciating the basics of life, breath, being.  Knowing hope in the middle of a swamp, having faith in the worst prognosis, finding provision in the bottom of the flour sack.  My life has been blessed and I am definetly not against having things, having nice things, having good things and do believe God gives us and loves to give us these.  But they are not where my blessing is this morning, drink you coffee, have a think.  How blessed are you today?

Day Four In a Puzzling Place

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the slough of despondency

Day four found us in the Slough of Despondency… the what????  I had loved this book so far because as I read it I only changed very few words as we went along.  The title for this one had me from the start… the what of how to explain that.  Okay, that’s the title boys lets read on and see if we can make it make sense!

Pliable is accompanying us, but as we begin to head towards the gate we discover ourselves in the slough… we begin to sink and can’t find our way out (great time for acting this bit out, with some squelching and some slurping and some sploooshing) Pliable discovers he isn’t that pliable because he is stuck, just like us, stuck in the mud.  The further we walk, the deeper we go, our toes, our ankles, our feet and through to our knees.  Are we ever going to get out?

Well Pliable does but decides this is not a good idea, if its this tough already he’s out of there.  So he gets out and leaves, back to the kingdom.  Little Pilgrim is despondent (see, I can use that word in context too and it does describe that emotion so well).  No way forward, no way back, just feeling like we are sinking deeper and deeper.

Living in a swamp area with ‘roads’ made of mud we could understand the physcial aspect of this part of the journey easily.  I will not quickly forget the day my foot got stuck in the mud road, as I pulled it out my flipflop broke and there I was, in the middle of the road, in many ways free but still affected by my moment in the mud.  My freedom had come at a cost and now I was faced with a new problem, a flipflopless foot (okay that word probably didn’t exist!) and the next step was still in the mire.  So I took it, the filthy mud road squelching between my bright pink nailed toes, the cold goo sticking to my foot, and on I walked.  One foot flipflopped one foot free.  The dripping traitor of the other flip flop in my hand!  The rest of the road was walked hobbling over the sharp stones, embarrassed, amused, aggravated but moving towards my house, the goal in sight.

Its easy to give up as we get that sinking feeling, for my boys to think of the times they’ve chosen to give up as soon as they have to put some effort in.  To stop where we are because the only way forward means more mess before we find another kind of freedom.  Financial, dreams, hopes, health, job, school…. whatever, we’ve all been there and probably will be again. 

Do you know the best thing though, I made it home, how great that fresh clean water felt as I watched that filthy mire filled mud wash away.  I don’t know I learnt my lesson, its part of life here, there will be more mud and more flimsy flip flops…. but I won’t give up this pilgrimage.  I hope the boys remember it might be easier to run backwards, but it feels way better to be closer to the gate and heading towards your dreams and destination.

Has Anyone Thanked You?

Yesterday we needed to go to a supermarket.  So we went to one in a very small shopping mall.  It is in Durres but in the five years we have lived here we have never looked around it.  As we did Matilda discovered a small soft play area.  Of course came the question… Can I play?  To be honest it looked rather dirty, scruffy, dimly lit.  There was a man there with apparently his two young children a girl and a boy.  No one else.  She ran ahead not waiting for the answer.  She began to run up the slide and over the soft play area, bundling down into the ball pool, giggling and laughing.  The other little girl said something to her but Matilda did not respond.  Her dad tried to explain to her… she is English, she doesn’t speak Albanian, she speaks English.  I corrected him, “Yes, she is English but she speaks Albanian and English.” The dad was surprised and told the girl to carry on, this time with Matildas attention they began to chat, play and interact.  The dad asked where we were from and what we were doing here.  We explained about Burime, that we run a centre for children and teens on the Keneta.  “Has anyone ever thanked you?” he asked.

Now that was not a question I was expecting or fell into the normal run of questions and so I was taken aback for a moment.  Then I thought.  I didn’t really know how to respond.  In fact each morning at the end of the session the children want a hug before they go, no longer satisfied with just saying goodbye or shaking a hand, now one by one I have to hug them.  They line up waiting.  Almost every week at least one child will write a note or make a card to say how much they like Burime, what a difference it makes to them.  The teenagers come along, eyes sparkling, sometimes with mischief, but mainly with a sense of enjoyment.  We get twitters and sometimes emails telling us people are behind us, love what we do.  But thanks? Has anyone thanked you?

Not so often.  Was my reply and straight away he said “Well I am thanking you, thank you for coming here.”  That was nice.  It meant something.  But actually I don’t know it meant more than a hug, more than a note, more than a tweet or a prayer.  The word thanks is great to hear and goodness do I encourage my children to use it more.  But actually as I thought about it, thanks doesn’t feel necessary.  We aren’t doing something that requires thanks, that suggests a recognition of something noteworthy.  We are just being us, we are having an amazing time, having incredible experiences and learning so much. 

Thanks goes to those people who are slogging away to make this possible.  The little girls who make cakes to sell at church to raise money for some crafts.  The generous couple who paid for three weeks of summer activities.  The people facing unemployment who still give ten pounds.  The person who asks not for presents but gives their birthday money to pay for the rent on the centre.  The teen who gives up their Saturday wages to make a difference.  The family who say I can’t give any more because I am sponsoring a child.  The couple that read a newsletter and give money because they understand.  The church that takes an offering and raises the money for kids to go to camp.  Every single person who has given from 2p to thousands to change lives they may never even meet.  Thats where the thanks goes.  To all you heroes who are even reading this because you care enough. 

Thank you.Image

Boxing Day…. make it count

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Yesterday on the most special day, Christmas Day, from Amazon telling me about their Boxing Day offers on Christmas day.  It made me cross, in fact I love Amazon and because of living here have no choice but to use them for lots of things but at that point I was ready to boycott them I was so annoyed.  How can you have Boxing Day offers on Christmas Day?

Then advert after advert, every news broadcast, every internet page opens up to The Big Sale… come and buy, come and spend, offers, offers, save money, grab a bargain.

Living here makes you so aware of how greedy and materialistic we are in the UK.  We don’t have tv or toy shops so we don’t have adverts here in Albania and so my kids don’t say I want this I want that.  I don’t have the pressure of what their friends might have and having to buy to make sure they aren’t disappointed.  Their friends don’t have.  Really.  If they are lucky they have one small toy car or a stuffed animal. I’m not trying to make your heart bleed I’m trying to say these kids survive and are actually really happy and they don’t have.

So the whole boxing day buy buy buy makes me angry.  The idea behind Boxing Day was for landowners and the more affluent to give gift boxes to their servants or to take a box of food out to the poor.  It wasn’t about filling your house with more it was about saying thank you to someone who had done something for you or to help someone who needed it.  Now there are pictures as embarrassing as the US’s Black Friday sales, people fighting, arguing, stressed, queing up all night.  What for?  For a bargain, for something on offer.  Except I wonder if they really needed it, as far as I can see if you don’t need it and you could live with out it and so you wouldn’t buy it because you needed it you aren’t saving money you are spending money on more stuff.  I love a bargain so don’t get me wrong, when you get a discount on something you were hoping for or going to get that is awesome but we get tricked into needing what we want and then thinking we got a bargain buying something we didn’t really want in the first place.

There is such a huge pressure for people to spend more, put it on the plastic and for many people right now they don’t have it.  They don’t have enough for food for next week, they don’t know how they’ll pay off that credit card, that mortgage, the car payment, whatever.

I just thought it would be cool to get back to the real Boxing Day and go shopping grab yourself a bargain but whilst you are there what about getting something to give to a foodbank?  That jumper will look great on you but imagine the delight it would make to someone who is living without using their heating because they can’t afford it.  That toy will be such fun for your kids but remember what they got yesterday and imagine the delight on a child’s face if they got that as a gift after Christmas to make up for the fact they got nothing this year.  Oh yes a bargain on the food aisle, but as your stomach is still feeling stretched after yesterday imagine the delight for a family who have some food next week, a treat pack of biscuits, a tin of sweets that had been looked at in the store but out of their price range.

I believe that as good a feeling as a bargain is, a bargain bought and gifted to someone else will be way more exciting, thrilling and fulfilling.

(by the way I don’t work for these but I know http://www.kirkbystorehouse.co.uk/ for people in Kirkby in Ashfield and http://www.arenachurch.co.uk/community/arena-community-centre/foodbank/ for Ilkeston area are doing amazing work and would be so grateful for any donations)

Christmas Day Reflections

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This morning at breakfast Timmy said he had a passage to share with us… the first time he has ever done this.  He said he felt God wanted to share this passage, he had thought it was in Matthew but found it in Luke.  He could have stopped there, I was blessed.

He went on to read the Christmas story from Luke, in his slightly faltering reading style. he read about the promise of Jesus, the glory song of the angels and that for us had been born Christ the Lord.  He went on to pray for our day and thanked God that He had sent Jesus at just the right time, as Caesar Augustus had sent the decree at that very moment the prophecy of Isaiah was fulfilled.

Of course I was in tears, what a beautiful gift.  A child sharing his thoughts from his bible reading, sharing his heart in his prayers, the things he had learnt and the things he now held.  It felt like my Christmas was bubbling over.

But then, later on in the morning we went to an outreach the churches together were doing.  In lots of ways it does not feel like Christmas here at all, we are the only ones celebrating, to everyone else it is just another day in the lead up to their new year celebrations.  This miracle my son had shared about was being missed by what feels like the whole city.  So the outreach was a great opportunity to at least feel a little Christmasy!  There was a stable made and in the shadow of the main mosque in the city, in front of the cities council offices, the square was filled with worship of this Saviour.  Praise music blarred out competing with the mosque’s call to prayer, people gathered, came, asked, had drinks, were prayed for, were offered bibles and literature, children (and a fair few adults) watched the puppet show and children got their faces painted and had balloons made for them.  It was an amazing atmosphere, joy of Christmas was here with the hope of Salvation.

At one point I noticed coming into the square a little girl skipping with a huge smile on her face and carrying a balloon shaped like a flower, closely following her was a little boy laughing and excited to get over to the puppet show and behind them another child carrying a balloon and looking at the twists and shapes.  What got my attention was I knew these children, I’ve seen them before. Normally they aren’t smiley faces and skipping with joy they are street children, begging for money with big sad eyes practiced for the greatest effect.  With determination to get just a little money to take home with them or buy some food.  Their clothes don’t fit, they are dirty like their faces and their scruffy hair.  But today they were precious, excited, wondering children, not beggars, not the lowest, not ignored or shoved away but welcomed, invited, gifted, valued.

But it wasn’t just them, it was me too, through all my dirt and grime, through my daily failings and drudge, the times I feel pushed out, ignored, unworthy.  I was invited to come excited and hopeful to find this Saviour again, this newborn King, this Child born for me.

I hope you can join me skipping to see again the wonder of this Christmas.

the Shepherds

This week our focus in the Christmas story is the shepherds.  Coincidentally at home school this morning our reading was about the shepherds.  Reading extra from “Journey Through the Bible” it commented that these shepherds were not just dumb shepherds as I had always believed (no offence!) but they were from the temple… I was intrigued.

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As I’ve looked at this it seems these shepherds were guarding sacrificial lambs, set apart by the high priest to be used at passover.  The reason they were working at night was because this flock was huge and these lambs/sheep, chosen as undefiled needed to be kept that way.  These shepherds had the task of keeping an eye on these active little lambs, to make sure they did not become defiled, to keep them safe, to keep them pure, ready for them to be used in the sacrifice at Passover.   Wow!  God sent the angels with a message for THESE shepherds, the ones watching over the sacrificial lambs, they needed to go and find the Lamb of God.

The shepherds however were not “holy, holy”.  As shepherds they were considered unclean people, they did not meet the laws set out in Leviticus, they were constantly touching ‘dirty’ and dead things.  As defiled people they were not allowed into the temple, they could not bring a sacrifice, they could not come into the place of God. This in itself seems kind of ironic, the ones guarding the sheep couldn’t then offer a sacrifice.  Anyway, do you know what, God called them to Him.  They did not need to bring a sacrifice, they did not need to bring one of those lambs set apart as a Passover lamb because God chose them that night to come into His presence, with their dirt and defilement to see the lamb that would be the sacrifice for once and all.  How amazing is that?

I always likedthat the shepherds were normal people, doing simple work, not the fancy, educated wise men with their rich gifts. Nothing against you clever people.  But the shepherds always seemed friendlier, maybe it was the tea towels rather than crowns.  Perhaps it was just because  I liked singing they washed their socks by night much more than Ooooo star of Wonder, Star of Light…

Oh, but how much more I love his part of the story now.  God is so clever.  He announces to the ones who couldn’t come into the temple to come and meet with Him face to face, to the ones who guarded the Passover lambs to come and find the sheep that was not with the flock, but the Lamb who would one day die as a sacrifice for all of us.  

It doesn’t matter I don’t make the perfect grade, it doesn’t matter I walk in the muck and mess of life God is showing up to invite me to the manger.

Not so happy pumpkin face

I’ve never understood halloween, of course there is the fact that as a Christian it is a celebration of all the bad things and a total denial of a God who loves us.  But I am just so shocked today at how FULL facebook is of halloween things.  When we visited the UK at the start of the month my kids were not happy to walk down the aisles with decapitated heads, spider webs and devil stuff and my eyes were widened as I heard a few families picking out which horrible costume their tiny child would be wearing.  I just don’t get that.  Why would I ever want my beautiful little girl, my princess to look like a witch?

I know, blah-de-blah, kill joy Christian, bogus shmogus.  Its just harmless fun. Its just a laugh. Its just a fun thing for the kids to do to go and get some sweets or money from total strangers… yeah that’s what I don’t teach my children either.

You see I don’t believe it is harmless fun, yes sure the kids dressing up is not summoning the underworld but there are evil people this very moment sacrificing animals (at the least) having satanistic rituals that maybe they started off saying was just a laugh.  Ouija boards, tarot cards, clairvoyants, all just a bit of fun… but its not.  Last night Matilda woke up three times screaming, she was in a state because she was having horrible dreams.  She told me about one where she said there was just blood everywhere, there was bad and then all this blood and… I stopped her there and we talked about nice things, happy things, about how God was watching over her and His angels were with her.  I don’t believe that is co-incidence because living here we are so aware of many spiritual things happening to us and around us.  And every time it is worst in our children, the effects that spiritual things have on them, robbing their peace, upsetting them inside in a way they can’t explain and disrupting the true person they are.  We don’t watch horror films, in fact Matilda won’t watch a lot of the princess films because of the nasty ladies (witches) in them and so I know this dream is from somewhere else.

Yeah, maybe I am an overstressed, uptight missionary mum who’s been working too hard, sleeping too little and out of the fun zone.  Or maybe I am a mum, a friend, a teacher, a person who wants light in this world and peace for my children.