Clarkston, Georgia is the epitome of diversity. If you ask me, it’s comparable to being at the airport, the Olympics, or a United Nations meeting. There are people from literally all across the globe. But the thing about Clarkston is that here you find people of all ages from all different countries living in the same CITY. In the same apartment complex, even. When I step outside of my apartment, I can run into a Nepali man in a colorful wrap skirt, an Iraqi woman wearing her burqa, a Somalian family piling into a worn-down sedan, and a swarm of barefoot Eritrean kids within just a few yards. This is Clarkston life.
Clarkston is this way because it was chosen a while ago to be the relocation center for millions of refugees coming into America. These refugees come from lives of chaos, danger, persecution, and rough conditions in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, Nepal, Burma, Thailand, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Uganda. And they’re squeezed together into this one square mile south of Atlanta.
A lot of the refugees here aren’t fluent in English or even know the alphabet. They struggle to find jobs and pay rent. Homesickness is the least of their worries. They come here with nothing and are expected to thrive when the most they can do under this pressure and in their situation is simply SURVIVE.
I’m spending my summer in Clarkston (for the second time) because 1) these refugees need love, and 2) these refugees need Jesus. I’m working with an organization that strives to provide those two things in the form of ESL classes, summer camps for kids, gardening, prayer, and day-to-day conversations.
But not until today did it occur to me that they have something to offer me, as well.
This morning, my roommate Hannah and I stumbled across a scene we had never seen: an Iraqi woman with her young daughter, an Eritrean woman with her special needs son, and a Nepali woman with her infant… sitting on the same bench and conversing. We approached the three women and joined in on their conversation to the best of our ability. Do you know what they were talking about? How much our apartment complex stinks. They’re unhappy with the complex manager and how they’re treated. With kids in lap, through broken English and thick accents, they were engaging in a dialogue about these irritating and discouraging experiences.
And there was something beautiful about the way these three very different women were taking turns shaking their heads in disbelief, nodding in agreement, and sharing these burdens. Never mind the fact they come from various war-torn countries and different faiths and backgrounds. They just wanted to sit together and bond as next-door neighbors, as mothers.
In that moment I felt like I knew nothing.
I’m a not-even-twenty-year-old who has much to learn about independence, financial burdens, marriage, and raising a family. If I were to sit with two women of my choosing, it’d be women my own age who have no children, no real responsibility. Our greatest burdens would be choosing a major or dealing with our protective parents. And I don’t say that to talk down those burdens. I say that to show how much I have left to experience and learn.
Who am I to think that I’m here in Clarkston to solely teach and to change lives? No. I’m also here to have MY life changed by these refugees.
I don’t want to let my pride prevent real friendships from forming while I’m in Clarkston.
I want what those three women had: common ground forged in even the mundane trials of life.
I want to knock on that Iraqi woman’s door and ask her to show me the way of motherhood. How do you raise three children? How do you carve time for your marriage? When you’re a stay-at-home mom, do you struggle to find purpose?
I want to sit down with that Eritrean mom and hear her experience of having a special needs son. Were you scared? Are you still? How does it change you?
And then I want to spend time with the Nepali woman and her infant son and see how a love for a newborn grows from the start. What was it like when you first took him home from the hospital? What are your dreams for his life?
And then I’d ask them all about living. Not just living as a refugee, but day-to-day living. Is it hard to pray and pursue God in the busyness of life? Do you have unrealized dreams and how do you cope with that? How do you get stains out of clothing?
I know nothing. And these women know something. Instead of trying to teach, I think it’s time to learn.
And while doing that, perhaps I’ll be opening up doors for giving them the two things I still want to offer: love and Jesus.
I’ll keep you updated on how this goes. I’m nervous, but excited. Maybe I’m on the right track here.
I don’t think I could leave Clarkston right now even if I tried.
It’s not because this place is better than home. It’s not because I enjoy my roommates’ company more than my family, boyfriend, and hometown friends. It’s not even because the food is better here (which it is).
I don’t think I could leave Clarkston because it feels like God has me here. Not in a forceful, “thou-shalt-forever-remain-stuck-under-my-command” kind of way, but in a loving, powerful “hey-you-know-that-I-have-you-here-for-a-reason” kind of way.
While reading Psalm 139 this afternoon, I was drawn to verse 5:
You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.
Guys, God has hemmed me in. And it’s one of the most relieving feelings to know that in this moment I’m in the right place. I can’t speak for tomorrow or the day after that, but I can certainly speak for today.
His hand is upon me here. I can tell because I’ve been struggling against it. Some might take that as a sign that it is NOT God’s will for me to remain in Clarkston, but I know myself well enough to realize that the times I’ve fought the hardest against where I am are the times I’ve belonged the most in those places.
I think back to how badly I wanted to run away before starting my freshman year of college. I imagined hopping on a plane and spending the rest of my life sipping Arabian coffee with my new Henna-adorned Muslim friends in a land far away from suburbia.
And then I recall how much it hurt to be turned down from my dream internship a year later, the internship that would’ve taken me away from the most painful and eye-opening experience I have had in my almost-twenty years of living. The last thing I wanted was to spend a summer in my friend-forsaken town, but I did and it changed me.
And most overwhelming of all is the constant nostalgia-like longing for the future, to the days where I am no longer just an “I”, but a “we”– someone’s wife and mother. Never do I feel more of a calling on my life than when I think of the baby-nursing, diaper-changing, marriage-protecting days I believe are coming.
Time and time again, I have felt stuck, just longing, DYING, to leave my home and the life I’m currently living. God, please just let me fast-forward to a different time, a different place. I’d give anything.
But looking back, I can see now that God had purposefully hemmed me in. His hand had been upon me in the places I had felt forsaken. And though I wrestled against these many circumstances, I eventually found a way to surrender. Surrender doesn’t come easily to me, but freeing things in life rarely do.
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been wrestling against being in Clarkston. For reasons I’m not even sure I understand fully, I often think of leaving. I picture myself spending these summer days at home, sipping coffee and writing meaningful blog posts as I rest against my pillow-filled chaise, my dog resting against me. That’s where I belong, I think.
But God thinks otherwise.
I know this because He’s been opening my eyes to Him and to beautiful things while I’ve been here. I’ve been so busy wrestling for the past month that I’m sure I’ve missed some of what He’s been trying to show me. But I’m starting to see more clearly.
His presence asks me to remain present, so I will dutifully stay.
There is a beauty in being hemmed in. It feels like maybe the place I am in is covered in grace. Even I am covered in grace. And I don’t want to miss these beautiful, grace-filled moments anymore.
These are my thoughts for right now on why I am here. It’s still going to be difficult to make this place my home, but where God leads I have committed to go. And right here is where I’ve been led.
I’m hemmed in.
P.S. I know I’ve been so vague on what exactly is going on here in Clarkston. I promise I am working on sharing more testimonies and stories with you. I have plans on writing more informative pieces in the next couple of weeks so perhaps the pieces will fall into place for my curious readers on what is happening here. To tell you the truth, I’m still a little lost myself.
But here’s some information I can offer for now: people are falling more in love with Jesus in Clarkston– missionaries and refugees alike. There’s still a lot of work to be done among these unreached people groups, but we’re witnessing how small moments of faith can result in great opportunities.
Keep an eye out for blog posts to come.
I’ve been in Clarkston (see previous post for details) for almost a month now, and it’s been hard.
Not so hard that I want to leave or I’m not enjoying my stay. It’s just the kind of hard where you know you could curl up on a bed and sleep for days if somebody would let you.
I miss my family. I miss having Tuesday night dinners with my grandparents. I miss watching Glee with my mom. I miss being able to talk to my boyfriend every day. I miss phone dates, television marathons, and ice cream outings with friends. I miss sleeping next to my dog every night. I miss my church and the middle schoolers I work with.
But I know I’m supposed to be here.
Well, I haven’t figured that part out yet.
And I have to keep telling myself that it’s okay to not know.
I’ve been beating myself up for being so clueless. Sometimes I have a lot to do; sometimes I’m free all day and just wander around aimlessly. Setting out lunches, making copies, and running errands are my specialty, but there are days when it feels like that’s not enough.
I keep trying and trying to not waste time, but sometimes that’s how time feels: wasted.
Like I could be doing something more, but I’m not sure what.
Here’s what I’m starting to think: God, in His sovereignty and by His grace, uses His people… even when they don’t feel like they’re being used.
I think about the people in my life who have impacted me, encouraged me, and challenged me in ordinary, non-exciting times. Many revelations have been had over coffee at Starbucks. Warm feelings have been exchanged over brief smiles.
An impactful, godly life sometimes looks a lot like an ordinary life.
Could it be that God is found in my own ordinary moments? That the things I am finding mundane are godly and important?
I pray that this is true.
Maybe as I set out lunch each day I am showing these interns I care. Maybe my offers to pray for the girls I live with will be received with more gratitude than I could ever know. Maybe the way I do the little things shows that I can be trusted with the bigger things.
The truth is, anyone could do a lot of the tasks I take care of. But for this summer, these tasks have been entrusted to me.
And no matter how ordinary or seemingly unimportant they are, I want to treat these things like they’re special.
I don’t HAVE to spend my summer serving here in Clarkston. I didn’t HAVE to commit to this and leave my family, friends, and home.
But I GET to.
What a privilege to be a part of something bigger than myself. I might just feel like a useless pinky right now in the grand scheme of the body working together, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be times I can be a helping hand, listening ear, and loving heart.
I hold on to the belief that God uses His people for His glory— in the highs, lows, and in-betweens of life.
When I’m wondering why I’m here, I’ll tell myself this.
I still don’t have answers, but I have faith.
I was reading through Isaiah 58, which is a fairly popular passage on “true fasting” that I’ve been hearing a lot about lately in terms of making a difference in this world and standing up for those who are in need and have no voice. In particular, I think of the 27 million people in slavery today, which is the highest number of slaves there has ever been in all of history. There are men, women, and children who are forced to labor as slaves, often in debt to those keeping them captive, and also brought into sex trafficking against their will with no option of escape. It’s a worthy cause to fight for and I know so many people are striving to make a difference, especially college students who are becoming increasingly more aware of this issue in the world. If you want to know more about what this generation is doing to fight slavery, check out the news clip from CNN I included in this post.
6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The couple of verses I’ve always read in Isaiah 58 but never really contemplated on are verses 8-10, which say that after we do all of these things, such as “loose the chains of injustice”, “set the oppressed free”, and “not to turn away from your own flesh”, we will then have our light “break forth like the dawn”, our “healing will quickly appear”, his righteousness will go before us, and the glory of the Lord will be our “rear guard”. Also, we are told that after those things are done, “then you will call, and the Lord will answer”.
Wow, look at those awesome things He offers to us! Healing and righteousness, as well as the glory of God that will be our rear guard, which is simply another way of saying He will protect us from attack. When we call out to Him, He will hear us and respond. We are told our light will rise in the darkness, and our “night will become like the noonday”, which sounds like darkness will not touch us; we will instead produce a light for others to see.
I don’t know about you, but I think those things sound like awesome rewards for whatever God asks of us. The thing is, I realize that I’ve been forgetting those blessings and rewards are directly explained as something we receive after we accomplish those tasks and participate in that “true fasting”.
Please hear me out: I am NOT saying that setting captives free and providing for the needy are absolute prerequisites for God’s light or healing in our life. God certainly hears us always and gives us grace and blessings out of love for us.
What I’m asking for you to reflect on is this one question: Why would we expect blessings from God if we fail to do the things He requires of us?
I know what it’s like to wait on healing. I have cried out many times, waiting for rescue and response from the Lord. Yet in my own longing for healing, I have been guilty of neglecting others whose need for healing is certainly greater than my own. I have all-sufficient Jesus, whereas so many people do not.
I also have cried out for freedom in my own life from sin, from hurt, from anger, and many other things, yet when faced with the opportunities to set other people free, I have hesitated and shrunk back. I use the excuse, “God cannot use me to help this person because I am going through the same thing.” That, my friends, is a straight-up lie that the enemy often uses to keep us from accomplishing the mighty things God has planned for us to do through His power. After all, it is believed that this passage on true fasting was said to the Israelites shortly after they returned from exile and were freed from their captivity, yet their mindset and hearts were certainly not completely free. If you read the verses before verse 6 in Isaiah 58, we are told that they are exploiting others, causing quarrels and hurting people out of anger. God still expected the Israelites to set others free and fight on their behalf even though they were living in sin.
The reality I am now faced with is this: while God has healed me, protected me, poured his righteousness over me, and set me free, I had and still have no reason to expect these things from God if I have failed to be obedient to Him, which I certainly have many times. He is gracious to me and forgives me of my wrongdoings, but the fact remains that God does not have to do anything for me.
I am in desperate need of humility if I begin to believe that having my needs met is more important than having other people’s needs met. How could I not strive to serve other people when God offers such amazing things to me that I will surely receive someday in return? And something so awesome is that in serving others, I am also serving Him. Jesus does say to us that “whatever you did for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
We must stop turning away from others. We must take our eyes off of our own lives and begin being Jesus’ hands and feet to those around us. I firmly believe that when we meet other people’s needs, the Lord rewards us because He sees our hearts and our love for Him. We must obey out of love and expect nothing in return.
But the most beautiful part is that we do receive so much more than we can ever imagine in return.
We receive Him.
This morning’s sermon in church was on serving others and to illustrate that, we took the example of Jesus in Matthew 20:29-34 where he healed two blind men.
“As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!’ Jesus stopped and called them. ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. ‘Lord,’ they answered, ‘we want our sight.’ Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.”
There were a couple of things that really stood out to me in this passage that I think we can all learn from as servants of the Lord.
Jesus put himself out there. In verse 32, he stopped for these two men. In the middle of a crowd on a hot day as he was walking with his closest friends, he stopped for these two men who had no sight and were not exactly popular among the crowd. The crowd “rebuked them and told them to be quiet”, as if their pleas were not worth much to anyone. But when Jesus came along, their worth was recognized as he asked them in the plainest form, “What do you want me to do for you?”
In our lives, we will come across people in need who we can serve. The question is, will you be ready to serve them when you cross their path? Will you, like Jesus, put yourself out there?
Jesus truly cared. He gave them more than pity or a meaningless donation. In verse 34, it says Jesus had compassion on them. The word “compassion” has been defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” That day, Jesus had compassion and acted with pure love towards those two men.
Do we have compassion on others around us or do we see them as merely inconveniences, a sight to pity, or even just not worth helping? Are we like the crowd, ignoring and looking down on others who don’t have much or anything at all?
Jesus didn’t have to. The Son of God, who was and is King, came down to earth to humble himself when he could have continued sitting on his throne in heaven. But the good news that we all preach is that he came down as man and died for us. He didn’t have to, but he wanted to. He truly cares for us, just like he cared for those blind men. Many of us are spiritually blind and Jesus put himself out there for us so that we may receive sight through him. It’s a love story, a story of compassion.
The verse before this passage says, “whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (20:27-28) We, like Jesus, are not here to be served. We are here to serve, in respect of the two greatest commandments, love God above all things and love others as you love yourself.
When we humble ourselves to help others in need and show God’s love, we are not only loving people, but we are showing our love for Him. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, “whatever you did for the one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” We should live humbly, recognizing that we are nothing without Christ and responding to the cross with love for Him and love for others. Placing others above yourself is what brings blessings and honor.
My church’s mission statement is something that I try to live by and I believe it sums up this passage perfectly:
We exist to show God’s love in such a way that people exchange ordinary living for an extraordinary life through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow’s the dreaded Monday, the day that the majority of students go back to school and the majority of adults go back to work. For some, Monday is just another day spent at the office working on the computer and dealing with difficult people. For some, this week is just going to be like any other, spent slaving away for another paycheck. For some, life has become nothing more than a chore. If only time could be paused, if only it was possible to rewind and relive those days when everything wasn’t so… boring, right?
I don’t know about you but I don’t want to become one of those people. I don’t want to be stuck behind a desk five days a week then spend my two days off cleaning and running errands to get ready for yet another week at the office. To me, that sound’s absolutely dreadful. I understand that there are some people who do this and actually enjoy it. I applaud those who find meaning in their work and everyday lives.
What saddens me, though, is that some people do this and do NOT enjoy it.
When do people go from living to just simply existing? Maybe it’s when they stop trying. For some, ambitions are slowly fading away. All hope they had in doing something meaningful with their lives now seems almost completely lost. I feel sorry for the people who choose to drift through life and not take hold of the vibrant future they could have if they only stopped caring about maintaining their “comfortable lifestyle.” Why do people spend so much time working at a job they don’ t even like just to see another paycheck they can spend on things they convince themselves they need?
I’m not meaning to rant or make people feel bad for working hard. There is nothing wrong with trying to make a living. Instead, my point is this: I believe that life is truly worth living when we strive for something that isn’t about ourselves.
Long hours spent behind a desk typing on a computer are not pointless, but if that is all you are ever doing with the gift of life God has given you, can you even consider yourself to be living?
There are people around the world at this very moment that are hungry and scared. They may not know the love and forgiveness that God has to offer. Why are we not helping? Why are we trying to make a living for ourselves and our families, but not make a difference for others who don’t even have two percent of the things we have that we so willingly waste- things like money, our belongings, our time, and our abilities. If we say we really love God and we want to follow Him, then we’ve got to live outside of the office and make His name and glory known, not for our sake, but for others’.
For some, this may mean donating money or volunteering for a worthy cause. For others, this may mean selling belongings, even houses, and venturing out into the land of the brokenhearted just to show that love truly does exist.
We shouldn’t spend our lives in endless cycles. We should never stop trying to make a difference in this world.
“Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10-11)
“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20: 35)
This week I’m participating in a summer youth camp at my church where we worship and listen to a speaker in the morning, and then go out into our communities to do service projects. Several things happened today, both good and somewhat not-so-good.
First, the worship band this morning was AH-MAZING! The song that definitely opened my eyes was “Send Me Out” by Fee, one of my favorite Christian bands.
“Jesus, Lord of my salvation, Savior of my soul, send me out to the world to make You known. Jesus, King of every nation, this world’s only hope, send me out to the world to make You known. Send me out to the world
I wanna be Your hands and feet. I wanna be Your voice every time I speak. I wanna run to the ones in need, in thename of Jesus. I wanna give my life away, all for Your kingdoms sake. Shine a light in the darkest place, in the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus
Carry to the broken hearted mercy You have shown. Send me out to the world to make You known. And to the ones in need of rescue, lead me I will go. Send me out to the world to make You known. Send me out to the world
I wanna be Your hands and feet. I wanna be Your voice every time I speak. I wanna run to the ones in need, in the name of Jesus. I wanna give my life away, all for Your kingdoms sake. Shine a light in the darkest place, in the name of Jesus. In the name of Jesus
Here am I, I will go. Send me out to make You known. There is hope for every soul, send me out, send me out. Here am, I will go. Send me out to make You known. There is hope for every soul, so send me out.
I wanna be Your hands and feet. Be Your voice every time I speak. I wanna run to the ones in need, in the name of Jesus. I wanna give my life away, all for Your kingdoms sake. Shine a light in the darkest place, in the name of Jesus.”
After hearing this song, my motivation was just spiked, and I was super excited about serving others today. BUT when we arrived in an impoverished community to have fun and play games with little kids, I just wasn’t feeling it. Let me just come right out and say this: I’m not a kid person. I literally have no experience with little children, so I’m just a very awkward person around them. Ask me to clean, I got your back. Tell me to make cards for the elderly, I’ll spend hours. But expect me to do something with children, and I’ll disappoint you.
It’s not that I didn’t want to show God’s love and participate in the activities, it’s just that I didn’t know how. I don’t have enough experience serving yet, and I was just diving too fast into it by having to hang out with these children I know nothing about. I don’t think my group or leaders were disappointed in me, but I was deeply disappointed in myself. I want to be a good example to others and do everything I can for God’s glory, but my fears and insecurities got the best of me.
Maybe this is what Moses felt in the book of Exodus. I just finished reading about him last week, and I’m surprised I’m able to make such a quick parallel to my life. You see, Moses had fears and insecurities just like me. Hey, we all do. And when God told him he was going to free the Israelites and become a leader of the nation, his fears and insecurities crept into his mind, telling him he wasn’t worthy of the job. He didn’t think anyone would listen to him, and he used his disabilities (speech impediment) and shortcomings (murder and past sins) as excuses.
Moses and I were both put in situations where we weren’t exactly sure of ourselves. He made excuses using his disabilities, and I made excuses using my lack of experience. Moses and I both felt insecure about the job we were faced with, afraid of not being worthy or doing things right. The difference between us, however, is that Moses ultimately allowed God to use him, while I didn’t do nearly anything today.
I want to be like Moses. He was a leader with full devotion and faith in God. He trusted Him with his LIFE. The miracles he performed and the amazing things he did just make me want to gape and say, “Wow, I wish God could do things through me like he did for Moses.”
The reality is, HE CAN. God can work through each and every one of us to fulfill our ultimate purpose here on earth. The one thing he requires from us, though, is trust. The key to a relationship with Jesus and living out a miraculous life for God’s glory is trust. It’s only a five-letter word yet it’s something we all have trouble with from time to time, some more than others.
This morning, the verse and reading in my devotional book really related to the events that happened today. I was in a hurry, I wasn’t really thinking and diving deep into it at the time, but looking back on it, I realize what it really meant.
“Therefore, we may boldly say: The Lord is my Helper, I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6)
This verse just struck a chord after realizing the internal struggles that occurred within me today. It goes on to say:
“…Today, summon the courage to follow God. Even if the path seems difficult, even if your heart is fearful, trust your Heavenly Father and follow Him. Trust Him with your day and your life. Do His work, care for His children, and share His Good News. Let Him guide your steps. He will not lead you astray.”
Isn’t this just amazing? It’s like God is speaking directly to me through this. I wish I had remembered this earlier today, but at least I took the time to reread it now. If I hadn’t, I could’ve missed out on an important lesson God is trying to show me.
Realizing this, I’m actually ready to go back to camp tomorrow. I’m not sure what tasks I’ll be faced with, but I’m willing to trust that God will guide me through the day and use me for His glory. If I had just trusted in Him today and pushed aside my fears and insecurities, I could’ve done so much more with those kids who may not know or see God’s love or forgiveness yet. Realizing this now makes me a bit sad and disappointed, I’ll admit, but I think God may have planted those fears inside me for a reason. Maybe He just wanted me to realize how much I need Him.