Friday, December 2, 2016


I have spent a good chunk of my time here entering data. Now you might think that sounds boring and I'll admit it's not the first thing a long to do at work but it has to be done. I enter in data about the guests who come to the food bank. Name, address, DOB, country of origin, number and age of children, asylum or refugee status, etc.

I see them when I work at the food bank too. I usually greet them and then check their names in our system to see if they've been before. We muddle through the questions needed for my database even though I only speak English fluently and perhaps they only speak Arabic, or Farsi, or French, or Lingala, or Swahili, or Pashto, or Dari, or Kurdish, oh but not the Kurdish that our volunteer speaks another type of Kurdish. I could learn 15 different languages and I would still have problems communicating with some. 

I try to show something to a guest in her language, she mutters to Akbar. "No good." says, Akbar. "Why?" I ask. "She from the country area, ya know? She never learned to read." 

You might think the face to face interactions like that would be the hardest but they're not. There is a person in front of you, they do not have time for you to become emotionally overwhelmed by their position in life. They need you to get on with it. It's inputting data that I feel the weight of them. Perhaps because I can consider them more in that space. 

The woman from earlier: 28, 1 adult 3 children under 10, Afghanistan.

When I enter in people with my birth year I think about them the most. I volunteered to leave my homeland, family, and friends to come here. Someday I will get to go home. She must have been driven out. Why else would you leave with 3 children under 10 and travel over 8,000 km? Partly on foot but maybe they were smuggled at certain points. She will probably never be able to go back.

 I think a lot about how different our lives are and I wonder if I would be able to live her life.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Thanksgiving Is The New Bonfire

"Remember Remember!
The Fifth of November.
The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!"
Ah, Bonfire Night, Guy Fawkes Night, Firework Night, or Pope Night, whatever you want to call it, did not resurface in the U.S. imagining in any great number until the infamous movie V for Vendetta. If you haven't seen V for Vendetta or don't remember it, it's a good film about a dystopian England where a masked man, who some call a terrorist and others call a hero, works to blow up Parliament on the fifth of November fulfilling what is earlier predecessor Guy Fawkes failed to do in 1605. From the movie we (Americans) now have Guy Fawkes masks that the hacker group Anonymous and others protesting governments commonly wear. And lots of people post the above quote to Facebook to remind you of the day.

But Beyond "the Gunpowder plot and treason"  how much do you know about Bonfire Night? What about how it is commonly celebrated?  I ask because an American friend of mine in Liverpool recently made a comment about how uneasy she felt about celebrating Thanksgiving because of the genocide of the First Nation peoples by European Settlers, but was all about going to all the celebrations in town for Bonfire Night.

In case you are actually unfamiliar with the Gunpowder plot it was a failed attempt by Catholics to blow up the House of Lords, and with it King James the VI of Scottland and I of England. King James was a Protestant and the conspirators sought to replace him with a Catholic. Guy Fawkes was the guy caught guarding the gunpowder and was apprehended and tortured. To escape his state, hurled himself out of a window instead of enduring any longer at the hands of his captures and be hanged like the rest of his co-conspirators.

The following January, after the plot failed and right before the rest of the conspirators were killed, Parliament issued the Observance of the 5th of November Act, more commonly know as the "Thanksgiving Act." The "Thanksgiving Act" was proposed by Edward Montagu who was a Puritan. Puritans for a time sought to replace all liturgical holidays with either, days of fasting (humiliation) or days of thanksgiving. 

The observance of Bonfire Night is historically really troubling because it's...well...really anti-Catholic. The Puritans and others wrote sermons all about the dangers of Catholic belief. And besides burning effigies of Guy Fawkes himself, most included the burning of a Pope effigy as well. It was historically a day to intimidate Catholics and ridicule the Catholic faith. Some Catholics today find the celebration of Bonfire Night to be not only offensive but very hurtful given The Troubles and other conflicts between Catholics and Protestants.

So where is the connection to the United States? 
"As the Commander in Cheif has been apprized of a design form'd for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the Pope-He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soliders in this army so void of common sense, as to not see the imporiety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are sociciting, and have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we consider Brethern embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the Liberty of America: at such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethern, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common enemy in Canada." Nov. 5th, 1775 The Writings of George Washington from Original Manuscript Scources 1745-1799
So I suggest the possibility, that Washington and the other founding fathers may have needed to create a new national holiday for the country to be celebrated in November as a replacement for the long-standing tradition of Guy Fawkes Day. This new holiday would unite the nation and not be offensive to the new French Catholic allies of the nation. And they may have looked to the history of the pilgrims and puritans as the means of developing a holiday. In fact, many Thanksgivings (on various days) were celebrated during the Revolutionary War for matters besides the Plymouth Rock story. Only since FDR's presidency has the last Thursday in November been "Thanksgiving Day" until then various states and groups had Thanksgiving on different days. So perhaps a bigger problem of Thanksgiving as a national holiday is the erasure of the entire history of Thanksgiving, like the erasure of Black history and First Nations history. Maybe in reclaiming some of the history of Thanksgiving(s) we can work to create a celebration that is more to the spirit of inclusiveness that George Washington wanted in suppressing Bonfire Night in 1775.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Me Heads Chocka, La

I have been spending a lot of time recently talking, or talking about talking. Which may seem odd to you but there is that saying, "England and America are two nations divided by a common language." In another post, I may return to how much truth is in this quote, but for now, let's stick to language. 

Scouse to English dictionary is helpful

In Liverpool, there is a unique dialect/accent/slang that is found only in Merseyside region of England, mostly in Liverpool but found as far as Flintshire in Wales, Runcorn in Cheshire, and Skelmersdale in Lancashire called "scouse" and you may have heard of Liverpudlians referred to as "scousers." The term is derived from a type of delicious lamb or beef stew that was commonly eaten by sailors in Northern Europe, which became popular in seaports like Liverpool, called scouse (please click here for more information on scouse stew.

Scouse developed from the influence of Welsh and Irish speakers along with traders in the port from various countries. (Liverpool is home to the earliest Chinese and Black populations in the country.) 
To say scouse, the language, is a distinct accent is an extreme understatement, There are some scousers that I find impossible to understand and not just from the accent but from the number of slang terms used in scouse.

And that is where my friend, Korean Billy, has been a wonderful help to me.

ASDA, as you might have guessed, is British Wal-Mart

She's a good example, definitely, a scouser but not so thick you can't understand her

Scouse and scousers take an awful lot of flack for their dialect and growing up in Oklahoma and living in Texas I feel a connection to this. People who had a twang were and are still often thought to be less intelligent than others. And, because I grew up with so much southern slang, I really like learning scouse terms. So, I have started exchanging words with a few people, I try to teach them one new southern word or phrase like, "catawampus," and they teach me a scouse word or phrase, like, Me head's chocka" (I can't think straight, my head's busy) Which, in trying to understand scouse, is sometimes true.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

On Hospitality

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2

It has been almost four weeks since I got to England and settled into the Tsedaqah House, a three story victorian style, next to the Liverpool Cathedral. The views are immense. Out my front door I can see the great cathedral building that I feel in awe of every day and to the back, I can see down to Albert Dock and the Mersey River.  The house itself is very cozy and Emily Bethany (a Canadian housemate) and I have done well to make it feel more like home.

You may have been caught off guard by that funny name for my house, Tsedaqah. A more common transliteration is "Tzedakah" (ze-DAH-ka) but nevertheless, its literal translation is "to do justice" but is more commonly associated with the Jewish concept of charity. Since I am neither a Jew or a scholar of the Jewish faith I don't think I can accurately explain what this concept means in Jewish faith but if you are interested I think this might be a safe place to start.But back to the story of my house, the house has four bedrooms and one room that is very small and more like an office? or maybe just a really large closet that will soon have a twin (or single as they say here) bed in it. Emily and I both sleep on the second floor with fairly large sized rooms. Bethany is on the third in a smaller room but it has an epic view of the docks and most importantly there is a large bedroom with an ensuite bathroom which serves as a guest room for various guests of the Liverpool Cathedral or Liverpool Diocese. (The small office/closet room will be available as well but so that if we have friends visit there is a room for them.

Being an innkeeper extraordinaire has been a cool experience so far. I have learned new skills like towel origami. I have so far mastered dogs and swans as pictured below:

But aside from my goofy and cheesy towel art, I have been considering what being hospitable means and how to engage in hospitality with those I do not know. How often have I invited someone to stay with me or eat with me who I did not know much about? These are scary things and in part, they are scary because as a society we are continually reminded of people who wish to do others harm in every true murder show (Dateline, First 48, Investigation Discovery) and local news report. While surely there are people like that in the world today, there were also people like that in the days of Jesus. I mean the Good Samaritan story is pretty graphic and yet the call is not to be hospitable to those you know. No, it's "do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers" or Romans 12:13 "Contribute to the needs of the Saints, extend hospitality to strangers." There are others but these are my favorite because they seem the most direct. 

If we, as Christians, hold to the idea that living our faith is what we are called to do, then we must also acknowledge that sometimes it will have to be a vulnerable and courageous thing to do. It will have to involve some personal risk, discomfort, and perhaps even rejection. I wish to see in myself and also in others more last minute invites to dinner, regardless of the "state of one's home." More "crappy dinner parties" but with a mix of those strong hold friends and those people, you wouldn't normally invite. Or maybe you just put out an invite on social media that you'll be having dinner and if people are interested in coming they should feel free. (There is a man studying to be a priest here who does this every week, oh and he has a family of 3 children. They fed 28 people last Monday) Find some goal of hospitality that works for you but work towards being more hospitable because there is so much joy in that.

I have not mastered the art of hospitality, I often think I have just begun even understand what it is but what a joy to learn something new. What a joy to experience all sorts of people God has sent and what a joy to be someone invited to the table.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Your Life in Two Suitcases

I'm leaving for Liverpool in 7 days. That is a sentence that is both wonderfully exciting to me and terrifying. I am excited to finally be going and to stop talking about going but there are also many things I will miss about home. Many of my friends will have big life events that will happen without me and I would be lying if I said that I wasn't sad about missing them. But this is not a post about that.

This is a post about how difficult it is to pack you life in 2 suitcases. Because y'all it's challenging.

How are you suppose to take your books? Everything I have read about living out of a suitcase or moving to Europe says to leave them and buy new ones. But that seems very impractical and I have done my best to pare down my books to only a select few but as a recovering academic that is a very hard task. I am struggling with this tremendously.
Image result for packing books gif
Life would be easier if I was Merlin

The major point of my trouble, however, is that like many others I often feel very attached to my possessions and letting go of them has been more challenging than I originally anticipated. I keep thinking of myself as the rich man from chapter 19 of Matthew The man who struggles to give away those things which bring him joy in order to perfect his following of Christ. Or perhaps a more accurate interpretation for myself is that I struggle to leave or give away things that have at one point brought me joy but which no longer do. I look at these items and reminisce about my experiences with them and then want to keep them or bring them with me, even though I know I will not touch in England.

Because my parents may move while I am abroad they have encouraged me not to use their house as storage for very many things. So it really does feel like I am attempting to pare my entire life down to 2 suitcases. My parents will store some things but when I come home what I do own won't even fill half a small u-haul trailer, let alone a truck. The experience has had many rewarding moments, and not only because I am selling many of my things. Getting rid of stuff feels very freeing to me. It reminds me of just how much I do not need and in a world where we are continually told about the impact our consumption has on the world (i.e. global warming, and the impact on the poor both in and outside our country) riding yourself of excess is kinda radical. Especially, when you are not just throwing things out but by finding ways to reuse, upscale or recycle.

But there are hard decisions to be made too. Things you debate about getting rid of because what if the person who gave it to you asks about it? What if that person is no longer around and while you don't really use the item (or even like it) that person will never get you something new? My relationship with stuff, and I would assume at least one other person is with me, is often a delicate negotiation of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame about the amount of things I own that I attempt to alleviate by getting rid of things I don't use and my attempt to avoid the guilt and shame that comes from being labeled ungrateful by getting rid of things that others may have given us.

I want to have a great conclusion about how to overcome this but the truth is I don't have one. It's a negotiation with every item I own. Some take longer than others but ultimately you make a judgement call. Let's just hope I can fit everything in.

nope huh chillin suitcase And that I don't end up with stowaways

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Update from the Holy Cross Monastery

Greetings from the Holy Cross Monastery in New York where I have been for the past week for YASC orientation. If you have never been out to the monastery I would put on the top 10 places in the United States for Episcopalians to visit. Lots of history and beauty, the monastery is on the Hudson river almost directly across from the Vanderbilt mansion and only a little ways down from the home of FDR and Elanor Roosevelt. The brothers are very friendly, hospitable, and funny. The food is prepared by a Culinary Institute of America chef and suffice it to say it's better than the meals I get at home.

Orientation has been a wonderful time to get to know my fellow YASCers and learn more about our placements, cross-cultural education, the Anglican Communion and to spend some time in prayer with the brothers of Holy Cross. We have also spent time with a variety of staff from the national church including two of the Canons to the presiding bishop, The Rev. Canon Stephanie Spellers and The Rev. Canon Chuck Roberston who were lovely to get to know. (Although I'll admit Canon Spellers and I have danced to Beyonce before in a small town in Oklahoma at a wedding we were attending in October. The fact that she remembered my face was impressive I thought.) My time in New York is only half way through, as we will go to Manhattan for the next couple of days and then return to the monestary till we say goodbye on Sunday. During  the rest of our time here I would ask for your continued prayers, thoughts, well wishes, whatever you have for myself and my fellow YASCers here with me as we continue to learn, grow, and discern what we are about to embark on.

The time spent here has been a wonderful time to reflect, connect and become even more comitted (if theat's possible) to the work I am about to do. That being said recent events have tugged deep at me, I cannot help but admit that the UK's refrendum decision, otherwise known as the brexit, has weighed heavy on my heart as well as some of the backlash from the attack at Pulse in Orlando. It's unclear how the brexit will affect the UK, Europe, or the rest of the world in the future. All we have right now from the media is speculation but fear is a powerful emotion. Acting out of fear often causes the most vulnerable among us to be the ones who bear the load. It is important to remember patience, kindness, and most importantly humanity when we are dealing with our own fear and the fear of others. I hope you will continue to pray for peace and unity in our world and for bravery to do what is best in the face of fear.

And lastly, I have been blessed to recieve two donations while here at the monastary which has pushed me to almost 25% of my goal raised. I am so grateful to those who have donated but I still have a long way to go. If you can please make your donation either through go fund me or by check or credit card forms on the "How to Help" page of this blog. When you donate offline send me an email letting me know you donated or if you need assistance. Thanks again for all your support through this and I hope to have another update with some pictures soon.



Thursday, June 2, 2016

A Placement

I met Mohammad and Hussein in their living room in the summer of 2015. Mohammad was obviously older not just in size but in mannerism. He scolded Hussein for being fidgety and loud while I talked to their father. "They don't know English," he said sternly, "and they don't trust the police, the police are not useful where we come from. If they get separated from you, they will not know what to do." "I understand" I replied as reassuringly as I could, "I won't let them get lost." Then he rose and called to his daughters. The boys came with me and the girls went in another car and off we went.

The family consisted of the boys, their sisters, their mother, and father. Six in total living in a three bedroom apartment in Dallas. They had come from Iraq, where the Father had been an interpreter for the military during the Iraq War. His work had made him a target for violence 
and the family was allowed to come to the United States with SIVs or Special Immigrant Visas. Other SIVs I've talked with have similar stories. They don't let the kids play outside and tell them never to answer the door because they are afraid that someone will use the kids as an easy target.  

In the past six months after moving to Texas, the children had barely left the house because they not only lacked language skills but so did their mother. Their father's language skills had helped him get a job as a taxi driver but he had become the sole provider for the six of them and he worked as often as he could. Today, however, was different. Today we were off to a baseball game.

Hussein did a better job containing himself as we set out on the road but between the limited English the kids spoke and my nonexistent Arabic skills the short half hour car ride started out uncomfortable. I wanted very badly to ask them if they were excited to see a new sport. To know what their favorite sports or games were and if they had ever been to a professional sports event at all. All of this was profoundly out of reach for me. So I turned on the radio to see if they would dance or knew any of the songs on the radio. If they did they didn’t let on and sat politely staring out their windows at the traffic. As we’re driving I checked my rear view mirror and saw twelve motorcycles coming up to pass me. I quickly pointed to the kids to look out the windows and as I did the bikers split off from one another and passed on either side and then reformed the group in front of me. The brothers were so excited they started talking to one another and pointing and all I could think was, whether in Iraq or the U.S. some things, like Harleys, are always cool.

We met up with many other children from other families from different countries Some spoke the same language some didn't. The thing they shared the most was that they were all attempting to start over, to go back to being carefree children. Many had never been inside a sports arena, they were wide-eyed and fascinated with every aspect of the stadium. Popcorn was purchased which caused great laughter because many had never had it and little to no baseball was actually watched. We all left happier and more silly than we had started out.

We often think of mission work as being work that takes place in what we might call developing or third world countries. Rarely do we consider that mission work will need to take place in a Western city like Liverpool, England but the truth is the European Union is just beginning to understand the enormity of the number of asylum seekers and refugees coming from Syria and north Africa. I've been working for the past year to help raise money and awareness for the refugee community here in Texas and as my one year position at Refugee Services of Texas came to an end I knew that I wanted to continue that work. 

Welcoming strangers can be a scary thing but God often asks us to lean into what is scary. On this issue, He does so repeatedly in Deuteronomy 10:19, Leviticus 19:34, Matthew 25:34-40, Hebrews 13:1 & Romans 12:13. In my efforts to imitate the life Christ has shown us, I cannot help but think how blessed I am that He has given me the opportunity and ability to extend hospitality to those we might call strangers. That is why I am so happy to share that I will be working with the Anglican Diocese of Liverpool and the British Red Cross to help with the European crisis. I can't tell you how blessed I am to be going and how excited I am to share it with you.



Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Welcome

Welcome to the first of what I hope to be many entries about my life as a missionary in the Episcopal Church as part of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC). The program is available to church members ages 21-30 and is a year-long commitment to serve in another country through partnerships with the Anglican Communion. YASC members live in a variety of situations from monasteries, family stays, to apartments. Likewise, members do a variety of work from teaching, farming, and NGO work serving the poor, migrants, seafarers and many others. It gives the church an opportunity to strengthen ties across the communion to reach mutual goals of healing a broken world.

I have thought about joining YASC since I was about 21 but when I graduated college I took an opportunity to attend graduate school first. That venture ended in 2014 rather suddenly with the understanding that I was not going to be a college professor after all. That winter I was left with a part-time minimum wage job with distribution factory in Denton, Texas and no idea what to do next. I had no "real" job experience, I mean not even an internship. I had just been in school since I was in kindergarten.

Pretty much my whole life till age 26

But I was also left with a strange amount of peace and knowledge that now we could finally get to what I should be doing. I kept circling back to the other two options I had considered before graduate school the Americorps VISTA program and YASC. Finally, one day I just committed to applying for the VISTA program for 2015 and to YASC for 2016-2017. With a lot of sass and sarcasm I said, "Fine, Here I am Lord!."

Here I am

It has been the most rewarding year of my life and I have been truly blessed to have been partnered with Refugee Services of Texas for my VISTA year. I have talked with the YASC mission personnel and it is my hope that I can continue my work with refugees in the next year but I know no matter who I am serving I will be blessed to share life with them far more than I can even imagine.

Now if you're still with me, here is the part about how you can help me in my journey. We are all called to heal the world and some of us, like me, can give up everything and take off for a year to do it. Others cannot, whether that's for health, financial, or simply because that is not how you are called to serve. But that doesn't mean you can't be a part of this work. It cost a lot of money to send a missionary to another country for a year. YASC estimates the cost is $25,000 for one missionary and the national church generously covers $15,000 of that, leaving YASC members to raise $10,000 before we leave. I need your help in order to go a serve those who need it the most.

$10,000 dollars seems like a lot but if you divide it up by a year that's only $27 a day. So please take an opportunity to partake in the work God has given us all to do. You can find my Go Fund Me page on the side-bar of my blog or here

I hope to write soon with an update about my placement.