The American Welcome Mat Has Been Pulled

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Our country is deeply divided on many issues, the most recent concerning immigrants from Muslim countries. I find it disturbing that the wealthiest country in the world is shutting the door on those that are the most marginalized and in need of our grace and acceptance. Arguing with those who don’t believe as I do doesn’t work. But sometimes personal stories cause others to stop and consider how we may appear to the rest of the world.

I have felt more acceptance and a welcoming spirit during my travels abroad than I have felt from my own neighbors here in Minnesota. During a recent trip to China, our guide became lost during a 6 hour trek thru terraced rice fields. When asking directions of a young man on the path, he offered to show us the shortcut to our final destination. He saw that we were wet and cold and had us stop by his house so that his elderly grandmother could fix us hot tea and serve us oranges. Three hours later we arrived safely at our destination and he waved at us as he turned and walked back home.

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I have been welcomed into humble Haitian homes and served a Coke, knowing that the family may have skipped a meal in order to purchase the beverages.

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When we traveled to Kenya as part of a medical mission trip, my group was hosted and feted almost every night for hours at a stretch.

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Tapestry, a movement I co-founded to increase interfaith dialogue and acceptance, has been welcomed into Muslim, Jewish and Christian places of worship in the Mpls area. Unfortunately, it has been the Christian places of worship that have expressed more reservations when it comes to accepting the beliefs of another religion. In an attempt to spread the wonderful work that we are accomplishing, I have spoken to representatives of churches outside the metro area about hosting similar gatherings in their communities. I have not been successful in receiving a single invite. Those Christian communities who follow the same teachings of Jesus that I do – welcoming the poor, oppressed and marginalized – won’t let anyone cross their threshold who doesn’t “accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior”, to quote one person that I spoke with. And yet we Christians have been warmly welcomed and hosted by both a synagogue and a mosque.

Even Pope Francis has spoken out on the treatment of refugees by Christians. “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help,” he said. “If I say I am Christian, but do these things, I’m a hypocrite.”

One final story about why America is already great. This picture depicts a Chinese American girl born in China, a girl whose father was born in Ecuador and a girl whose mother has survived breast cancer twice due to medical research in the US. These girls used their time last weekend to help pack reusable menstrual pad kits for less fortunate girls in Haiti. What are you doing to keep this country great? Are you reaching out to those who are less fortunate with a helping hand? Or are you supporting the America First Agenda where those who have much refuse to share with others. img_1551

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Traveling to make the world a smaller place

Whenever I travel, whether it be internationally or domestic, there is one moment from each trip that seems to exemplify how small and interconnected the world really is. That moment on my recent trip to Kenya happened on my last night at the Imara Girls Home. Back home in Minnesota, I had recently started a Dining for Women chapter and the focus for February was the Kakenya Girls School in Kenya. Dining for Women is a nationwide organization that benefits girls and women in the developing world by helping them to help themselves. Each month women share a potluck dinner and donate the money that they would have spent dining out to the selected organization. I had downloaded a Ted Talk from the founder of the Kakenya school and was impressed with her mission to give back to the community from which she had come and to try to improve the life of young girls. This woman had suffered from some of the same plights that have been part of the Imara girls experiences. Who better to speak to them than a fellow Kenyan woman who had accomplished much despite overwhelming odds?

The girls crowded around the ipad mini to get a better view, interpreting for the girls who didn’t speak fluent English. Murmurs of approval were heard at the end and one girl softly asked if they could view it again. A women in Kenya was introduced to me thru a US organization and I was able to share her story with my new friends in Kenya. It is indeed an interconnected world!

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Teen Pregnancy in Africa

imageAs I have been traveling thru Kenya for the past 2 weeks, I have seen many boarding schools for both boys and girls and also many children’s homes for orphans.  But when a teen girl becomes pregnant, often against her will, there are few options.  If the father and his family are willing, she can marry.  Abortion is illegal. Becoming a single parent brings shame on your family and often cancels your chance of future marriage.  When the founder of Imara first thought of establishing a home for unwed mothers, she found no resources available.  No hits when she googled teen pregnancy and Kenya.  18 months later she has 8 girls and 7 babies, with one expected any day.  The future plan is for 50 moms and babies.  The need is great and the options for these women few.  I have been given permission to share some of their stories with names changed.

Christine was given to her husband in marriage at age 10 or 11.  Shortly thereafter, her parents died and she was not allowed to go to the funeral by her husband.  She gave birth to her first child at age 12, delivering at home with the help of her mother in law. By age 14 she was pregnant with her third child and suffering from daily beatings, inflicted by both her husband and her mother in law.  In the middle of the night she made the decision to run away, not knowing where she would go and having to leave her 2 young children.  She traveled for 3 days by foot, sleeping in a tree at night.  After arriving at a neighboring village, a kind older woman took her in and fed her.  This same woman had heard of Imara House and contacted them.  Christine delivered her child shortly thereafter and is a good mother to her third child, while she is only 15.  She does not know what has happened to her other children and worries that her husband is now abusing them.  She is slow to smile and one of the quietest girls at the home.  She is only know starting to feel safe enough to voice some displeaure with certain rules.  While I was visiting, we sat all the girls down and had a frank sex education course.  Most of them were too embarassed to ask questions so we met with each of them seperately.  With downcast eyes, she softly asked her question.  “Do I ever have to have more children or get married?”  At the age of 15 she wishes to be done with childbearing and cannot imagine a loving relationship with a man.  The goal of Imara House is to provide these girls with a high school education and a marketable skill so that they can provide for themselves and their child.  Future marriage and children can be their choice, not a decision that was forced on them at all too young of an age.  

 

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