Pop theologians and the real meaning of Christmas

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It’s the Christmas season again, the time for pop-theologians to take to their computers and churn out articles that at best distort the biblical meaning of Christmas. These good-hearted but often uninformed people latch on to a spurious interpretation of the meaning of the holiday and purport to know the theological significance whether they have ever studied it or not.

Take the recent column in an out-of-town newspaper. After skewering those who wish her a “Merry Christmas” or whistle a piece of (secular or not) Christmas music on their way to the water cooler, she offers what she calls “this little…girl’s recommendations on how to really promote the true message of Christmas, ‘Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.’” (The ellipse is the name of her faith, the underlined emphasis is mine.)

Let’s take another look at this from the biblical view—a good starting point. When we do, we can more easily ascertain the “true message of Christmas.”

Yes, the story in Luke 2 does contain the line “Peace on earth, goodwill to those on whom his favor rests.”

But, that phrase provides a deeper understanding of the central point of this passage–that the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, the savior of the world has been born. It means that the focus of the Christmas story is on the birth of the baby Jesus. Peace and goodwill flow out of that act and, as a footnote in the New King James Version Study Bible comments, “the promise of peace and goodwill would come to those who welcome God’s only Son.” (My emphasis)

Here is the complete passage:  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 Do you see the focus of this narrative and the message of the angels? It is on the Savior “who has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord”

 The long-anticipated Messiah, forecast throughout what we Christians call the Old Testament, has, at last, been born. That is what is celebrated by the messengers from God, what is proclaimed in their message, that is what has been celebrated by believers in Him throughout the past two-centuries.

As one statement of faith puts it:

In Jesus Christ, the man of Nazareth, our crucified and risen Lord,
he has come to us
and shared our common lot,
conquering sin and death
and reconciling the world to himself.

And, as it later confirms

     He promises to all who trust him
forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace,
courage in the struggle for justice and peace,
his presence in trial and rejoicing,
and eternal life in his kingdom which has no end.

There it is…the affirmation that for those who trust in Christ, there is peace and goodwill.

Professional theologians and every-day readers of God’s Word, the Bible, will see that all of it is in God’s promise, but the exact message of Christmas is the birth of His son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

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Serving in retirement; how to stay active later in life

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

Much attention has been given in recent years to the idea of living abroad in retirement. Americans by the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, have chosen such countries as Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and the Dominican Republic as their new residence.

According to numerous newspaper and on-line reports, expat seniors find those locales to offer good health care, low costs of living, warm weather year-round and a strong social community for friendship and support.

(While figures vary from one report to another, Mexico is reported to house at least one million Americans with second homes or retirement property while Costa Rica hosts upwards of 70,000, Ecuador around 10,000, Panama 25,000 and the Dominican Republic 200,000).

While that prospect is inviting it isn’t for everyone. Issues ranging from health concerns (including insurance) to family ties and property in the home country discourage many from selling all and making a permanent move.

My wife and I considered retiring abroad after having lived in three Latin American countries during our work career. However with two grown children and three grandchildren in the United States we decided that settling in our home country was preferable.

But, still, we craved the expat life and the benefits of living in another culture, being immersed in an expat community and the desire to keep working on at least a part-time basis.

Enter the exciting and fulfilling world of temporary, international, volunteer work. It turns out that there is a wealth of international service opportunities in various countries that offer the lure of meaningful work combined with getting to know more about the culture, politics and daily life of another land.

Living abroad for a portion of the first decade of retirement allowed us to experience shopping in local grocery stores and open street markets or ferias. It led us to concerts of all sorts in Central Asia, Latin America and some of the grand concert halls of Europe. It provided summer-long berries in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, tasty Pupusas in Honduras and Gallo Pinto in Costa Rica.

We were also able to learn culture (and a little language) as we volunteered to teach English, worked in a woman’s craft center and visited inmates at local prisons.

And, we learned about day-to-day shopping, entertainment and living in a variety of cultures.

Finding such opportunities isn’t as hard as one might think. First, consider your own career, training and experience. I’m a retired pastor/missionary and there are over 2,000 international, English-language protestant churches serving expatriates and third-culture people worldwide with at least one in almost every country. At any given moment several dozen are without a pastor and need someone to come for a limited, interim term, either full or part-time.

Thus, in the first nine years after our official retirement my wife and I served for a portion of almost every year in such churches. The average length of service was from four to six months, though one was for a year and another invited us for portions of three years adding up to 14 months total in that country.

While many Christian missionary organizations recruit retired people for limited terms from six months to two years, one need not be an ordained pastor or commissioned missionary to serve outside of their home country.

Volunteer positions exist in a host of other fields as well including teaching in expat, English-language schools or universities, working on environmental projects or archeological digs, serving with relief and development agencies (including the Peace Corps), assisting in orphanages, teaching English—the list is endless.

Some such positions are fulltime; others offer flex-time opportunities according to the desire or capability of the volunteer.

Hundreds of English-language schools dot the landscape in international capital cities. While some are privately hire only full-time teachers, others are not-for-profit institutions that are more than happy to receive volunteer teachers for a semester or the entire school year.

Dozens of such opportunities can be found here, here and here

Speaking of languages, there must be hundreds if not thousands of opportunities for teaching English as a second language around the world. Ranging from mom and pop storefront institutions, to accredited schools and universities, one can find a myriad of opportunities on line or, conversely, walk into any one of these schools in major cities and start teaching the next morning. The pay isn’t always the best (and the quality of teaching is often hit and miss), but these are opportunities for service abroad and the meeting of local people. A web search for “teach English abroad” will point to numerous opportunities.

Environmental and archeological organizations seem to relish the help of volunteers in their various projects around the world. Whether testing water and air purity or cataloging bones and other artifacts, these types of positions can take a retired volunteer or employee to places where the lifestyle is different, the food exotic and the expat colleagues are fascinating.

Then there is the Peace Corps which now offers volunteers more of a say as to where they will live and what they will do. Check out their page for those over 50  and their list of available opportunities.

A word of caution: While many places offer a lower cost of living compared to a home country, there are costs which must be considered. Some organizations may pay your out-of-pocket expenses, but most will not. So you need to factor in airfare, housing, expat medical insurance and other expenses during your time abroad.

In addition, some voluntary organizations may actually charge you to work for them. While that may sound odd, one must remember that they have expenses  including administration, housing, transportation, insurance and other fees.

Be aware also of visa requirements. While most countries offer an initial visa for thirty to ninety days, getting one to stay longer can be a bit more complicated and costly. Also, getting one for volunteer work will most likely be easier than requesting a visa for a paying job. 

So, if your heart flutters at the idea of living overseas during retirement but circumstances are working against it, consider the short-term work or volunteer openings that are available. There is a world of opportunities available for the asking.

 

Sidebar

Some additional resources for working or volunteering abroad in retirement

Mission Next (formerly Finishers) is a source for those seeking a second career in Christian service or retirement volunteer opportunities. 

Projects Abroad provides links and guidelines to voluntary assignments around the world. 

Go Overseas provides guidance and links to senior volunteer opportunities.  

Action Without Borders, offers an interactive site where people and organizations can locate opportunities and supporters.

Samaritan’s Purse, related to the Billy Graham organization, offers numerous volunteer and paid positions around the world, especially for medical personnel. 

Religious Opportunities Your religious tradition may offer paid or volunteer opportunities for seniors beyond the traditional ten day mission trip. One of the largest programs is offered by the Southern Baptist denomination. . Opportunities with Roman Catholic organizations can be accessed here

Relief and Development opportunities   Check out this website for information and guidance in helping out with disaster and development issues. . A listing of volunteer and paid opportunities through Reliefweb is here: 

www.volunteerforever.com offers links to a wide variety of opportunities.

(A version of this article with the links in the text may be acquired by writing to missionaryjournalist@gmail.com.) 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

A Word to the Amish: Be Careful

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room recently reading that morning’s newspaper when a woman suddenly spoke up.

“You know,” she said. “I haven’t seen someone reading an actual, printed newspaper in years.”

She sure knows how to make a guy feel old.

Then there was the article in The Wall Street Journal about the dilemma of young adults in Australia. 

It seems that the country is holding a national mail-in referendum. The dynamic is that while 80% of millennial-age voters support the proposal, they don’t know how to mail a letter.

“Australians don’t do postal votes,” according to Tiernan Brady who runs the Equality campaign. “The last one was in 1917, so we can safely say no one alive remembers it.”

The reality is that most people don’t mail much these days. Australia Post says that business and government mail account for 95% of all letters.

One head of an advocacy group said “There’s a whole younger demographic who don’t know what those big red (mail) boxes on the street are.”

“No one really checks the mail at our share house,” said one 29 year old. “It winds up piled up somewhere in the house. It’s an object of curiosity.”

He said he would do a google search to find a mailbox where he can mail in his ballot. Meanwhile, he reported that he prefers communicating over WhatsApp and other instant-messaging platforms.

He doesn’t text much he told the Wall Street Journal, “unless it’s for my parents.”

Ouch!

Then there was the New York Times article about the slow drift of the nation’s Amish communities to the use of computers and cellphones for business purposes while continuing to shun the entrance of electricity and communication devices into their homes.

“A young woman, wearing a traditional full-length Amish dress and white bonnet, stepped away from a farmer’s market, opened her palm and revealed a smartphone,” the newspaper reported. “She began to scroll through screens, seemingly oblivious to the activity around her.

“Not far away, a man in his late 60s with a silvery beard, wide-brimmed straw hat and suspenders adjusted the settings on a computer-driven crosscut saw. He was soon cutting pieces for gazebos that are sold online and delivered around the country.

“The Amish have not given up on horse-drawn buggies. Their rigid abstinence from many kinds of technology has left parts of their lifestyle frozen since the 19th century: no cars, TVs or connections to electric utilities, for example.

“But computers and cellphones are making their way into some Amish communities, pushing them — sometimes willingly, often not — into the 21st century.”

There are limits, however, and some disagreement about these trends, even in the workplace.

“If you can just look it up on the internet, you’re not thinking,” said Levi, another woodworker. “The more people rely on technology, the more we want to sit behind a desk. But you can’t build a house sitting behind a desk.”

“My concern for our future, for our own children,” he said, “is that they lose their work ethic.”

Some young people do not agree.

Marylin, 18, said that when she and her friends gather for church activities, their youth leaders ask them to respect that they’re together and not use the phones, “so we only check our messages and the time and stuff.”

But she insisted that some changes are necessary.

“We can’t live like we did 50 years ago because so much has changed,” she said. “You can’t expect us to stay the same way. We love our way of life, but a bit of change is good.”

While using some modern equipment for work, some Amish are concerned about how far to go with changes.

John said he has his worries about where technology is taking the Amish community.

“We’re not supposed to have computers; we’re not supposed to have cellphones,” he said. “We’re allowed to have a phone, but not in the house. But to do business, you need a computer, or access to one, and that phone moves into the house. So how do you balance that?”

Lizzie said she was upset by how people had become so attached to their phones.

“People are treating those phones like they are gods,” she said. “They’re bowing down to it at the table, bowing down to it when they’re walking. Here we say we don’t bow down to idols, and that’s getting dangerously close, I think.”

Contrast, then, that changing social pattern with some strong caution in a recent special “Cybersecurity” section of The Wall Street Journal.

“As vehicles fill up with more digital controls and internet-connected devices, they’re becoming more vulnerable to cybercriminals, who can hack into those systems just like they can attack computers. Almost any digitally connected device in a car could become an entry point to the vehicle’s central communications network, opening a door for hackers to potentially take control by, for instance, disabling the engine or brakes.”

“Security experts paint a grim picture of what might lie ahead. They see a growing threat from malicious hackers who access cars remotely and keep their doors locked until a ransom is paid. Cybercriminals also could steal personal and financial data that cars are starting to collect about owners.”

And the problem isn’t limited just to automobiles. Another WSJ article reported, “A growing number of devices in our homes, such as refrigerators, vacuum cleaners and toasters, are connected to the internet….They also pose security challengers for consumers.

“Last year, thousands of internet-connected devices such as cameras and digital video recorders were infected with malware.”

It’s all very thought-provoking and concerning.

Perhaps we and the Amish should be careful before we dive too much deeper into total dependency on our technological society.

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

 

The last one standing? Can it be that Howard Johnson’s will disappear completely?

A BBC feature on the last Howard Johnson’s restaurant still standing drew my attention. After all, my generation grew up with those restaurants (and hotels) and, most importantly, with their fantastic ice cream.

Which reminds me of a story….

Back in 1974, around the time of our first Christmas in the Panama Canal Zone (where I was the pastor of the Margarita Union Church) I discovered that I had a problem. For almost every year of our marriage to that point I bought Polly some Howard Johnson’s Peppermint Stick ice cream. In those days that brand was about the best you could buy.

When we went to Panama I realized that there were no HJ’s there and getting the ice cream would be difficult if not impossible.

So, I wrote to an HJ restaurant in New Orleans and asked if they could arrange to ship me some on the Panama Canal ship, the SS Cristobal sailing from New Orleans on the last sailing before Christmas. I assured them that I would send them a check for the ice cream and for their trouble.

Imagine my surprise when I received a letter from them saying that they had never been asked to send ice cream anywhere before, let alone to the CZ, but they were happy to tell me (and I was happy to hear) that not only would they send me two containers with three gallons each of the ice cream but they would not charge.

What excitement. On the day that the ship arrived, our son Brian and I went down to the docks at Cristobal to obtain our shipment.

Upon inquiring at the front office I was told that there was nothing on the manifest for me. However, they suggested that I go on board the ship to inquire with the purser about it. Brian and I went up the ramp on to the ship and talked to the purser. No, she knew nothing about it.

Just then a sailor sitting at a nearby table spoke up and asked if this had anything to do with ice cream for some preacher!

It turns out that the hotel had shipped the ice cream through the ship’s kitchen and that’s why it wasn’t on the manifest. It also meant that it was shipped to us for free.

Brian and I walked out to our car, in the heat and humidity, and prepared to take the ice cream home.

Our next challenge was at the gate to the docks. I had no papers to show that the ice cream was mine or that I was authorized to have it. Since it had been shipped for free I also had nothing to prove that I hadn’t stolen it.

So, we sat in the hot car with the melting ice cream. The guard looked at me, at my IP (Panama Canal Identification Privilege) card and asked, “Are you sure there isn’t anything in there except ice cream?” When we assured him that there was nothing else, he waved us through. Imagine getting away with that in this day and age of security!

We took it home, but the story didn’t end there.

Word got around, as it will in such a small community. You see, ice cream in Panama in those days was terrible. It was reconstituted from some sort of powder and the texture and flavor weren’t good.

So people learned that we had real ice cream. And, as soon as Christmas was over, they started dropping by. First a trickle of people we knew, and then folks we hardly knew or had never met.

Soon the conversation turned to the purpose of their trip. “I hear you have some ice cream from the United States.”

“Indeed we do. Would you like some?” Of course they would, so we got out some dishes and happily shared our good bounty with our guests.

I decided another year that I couldn’t pull that trick again, so we went without the ice cream for those remaining Christmases in Panama.

Oh, yes, one more thing. In about February our good friend, Greg Seeber, who was the pastor at the nearby Gatun Union Church, called one day and said, “I’m going to read you something. Don’t interrupt me, just listen.”

Then he proceeded to read an article from the New Orleans newspaper about how some pastor in the Canal Zone had ordered Howard Johnson’s Ice Cream for his wife for Christmas. A neat ending to the story and a good PR piece for Howard Johnson’s!

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

“This Religion Thing;” An opportunity to be seized

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

The image of Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, has been tarnished in the last decade or so, primarily through the divisive culture wars.

Not that those issues aren’t important–they need to be addressed. But, they have been approached by violence on the street, hate mail and articles and a general ambience of fighting an issue while forgetting the cause—Jesus Christ.

The result is that many in our society and around the world have disowned Christianity or just plain been turned off from any consideration of the claims of Jesus Christ.

Meanwhile, all of the heat generated by these battles has distorted and damaged the message of the Good News and the ministry of those who reach out to the hurting in Christ’s name.

In the midst of all this, there has been some hopeful news and a renewed focus on the healing and serving nature of Christians (and people of other faiths) in a world of such pain.

I was greatly encouraged to read this fascinating article from IPS News about a new openness by development officials and relief groups to the great contribution that religions in general (and, by implication Christians in specific) can make to alleviate human suffering, violence and abuse.

In it Dr. Azza Karam, Senior Advisor for The United Nations Population Fund and Coordinator of the UN Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development says, “The arguments used… to generate positive interest in the role of religious NGOs in international multilateral fora were relatively straightforward. Today they are almost a cliché: religious institutions are the oldest social service providers known to humankind, and several basic health and educational institutions of today are administered or influenced to some extent by religious entities.”

Recognizing that some secular and government agencies have been reluctant to partner with or recognize religious activity, she affirms that now many recognize this work as a valid segment of international developments efforts.

However, she suggests that this recognition is late coming. She writes, “It was only when migrants appeared to ‘flood’ European shores (albeit in numbers which are only a fraction of those ending up in developing countries), that there was a noticeable surge of keen interest by several western governments in ‘this religion thing’.”

Christian efforts to serve others in relief and development work, in hospitals and health care, in the nurture of orphans, the rescue of slaves along with assisting the homeless, caring for the widows and victims of violence were, in fact, part of the reason that the early church grew so quickly and widely.

In his book The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion, Dr. Rodney Stark, the distinguished professor of sociology at Southern Baptist-related Baylor University, described the living conditions where early Christian communities developed as a “remarkably filthy existence.”

Stark notes that “the smell of urine, feces, and decay permeated everything.” He added, “A recent analysis of decayed human fecal remains in an ancient Jerusalem cesspool found an abundance of tapeworm and whipworm eggs, indicating that almost everyone had them.”

Stark noted that the followers of Jesus initially appeared to be just another cult emerging in the society. But, it soon became evident in the midst of abject poverty, filth and illness, that Christians became a blessing to their communities not only spiritually but also physically. The simple provision of food and water to severely weakened people often allowed them to recover. Nursing by Christians may have cut mortality by two-thirds.

Stark indicates that the low mortality rates among Christians combined with the influence of Christians on non-believers, (i.e. their social work) attracted many of the early converts to the church.

Or as Marvin Olasky, the editor-in-chief of World magazine wrote: “Christianity grew both numerically and proportionately through the plagues that swept the empire in the first few centuries after Christ. There was martyrdom here as well: for while many were heading for the hills for safety…Christians stayed to care for the sick, exposing themselves and sometimes succumbing to the danger. Through their care many survived, for in many cases what was required was simple nutrition, water, and shelter. This, too, led many to follow Christ. Christianity’s proportion of the population increased also in that they cared for each other, meaning that their relative survival rate was higher than the pagans.”

There have been other recent indications that Christian ministries are having an impact on addressing many of society’s ills and are being recognized for that.

The excellent book Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade–and How We Can Fight It, by Dr. David Batstone, a professor of ethics at the University of San Francisco highlights many organizations that fight slavery worldwide. Most of those that he cites have strong Christian roots.

Then, in a recent article by award-winning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof,  we find a reference to Cure, a Christian organization working in 29 developing countries to alleviate the problems of children born with clubfeet. 

While we cannot and should not become too self-congratulatory, we must be encouraged by a wider, secular recognition that Christians, as well as those of other faiths, are ministering to those with debilitating needs around the world.

Dr. Karam summarizes her recent article by saying, “…(I)f we are serious about strengthening health systems and universal access to healthcare, enhancing educational institutions, content and accessibility, protecting our environment, safeguarding the rights of marginlised and vulnerable populations, countering social exclusion and ensuring human dignity, then – the argument is – we have to work with those who influence minds, hearts, and continue to provide and manage significant amounts of social services in most countries.”

                                                                           #

Another article by Dr. Karam on a similar topic can be found here:

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

In other news…. Covering the world in the age of “All Trump all the time!”

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

If I could produce one television or radio news program, it would be titled In Other News.

Not that we don’t have plenty of quality broadcast news now. Several major all-news cable channels, network newscasts each morning and evening, NPR news and public affairs all day. Sometimes we seem to be saturated with news.

Yet, I would suggest that what we hear and especially what we watch on television is the same half-dozen news stories repeated hour after hour ad nauseam.

U.S. politics, tornados and floods (with an occasional hurricane thrown in for good measure), police-related shootings, celebrity news, sports, entertainment, and, oh yes, did I mention U.S. politics?

With all of the news on television and radio as well as in print or online, one would think that we would be better informed.

In fact, there are numerous important and fascinating things going on around the world that we miss because they are bumped by the same news stories day after day. (Click on the color shading to access the original news story).

Take for example the horrendous death toll in Congo. Certainly over 3,000 deaths in the past six months and more than a million people displaced would warrant a report on the evening news.  If it was carried there, I missed it. But the story is worth taking a few minutes to read.

Congolese security forces and a militia fighting them have killed at least 3,383 people in the central Kasai region since October, the Catholic church said on Tuesday, in the most detailed report to date on the violence.

The United Nations says more than 1.3 million people have fled the fighting.

Or what about the wave of persecution of Christians in Eritrea? With a long history of Roman Catholic and Lutheran congregations, that country has recently turned against freedom of religion—in an area that ought to be of concern for all of us.                                

Eritrea has stepped up its crackdown on Christians in the country, according to a Christian charity which has now launched a campaign opposing the persecution.

Release International said Eritrean security forces have recently arrested 200 Christians in house-to-house raids, ripping children apart from their parents.

Next, I might have missed them, but I have not seen any reports about the horrible outbreak of cholera in Yemen where over 1,000 people, mostly children, have died and the number of cases is skyrocketing.

Seized by violence and teetering on the edge of famine, Yemen is grappling with another danger that threatens to outpace them both: cholera.

“We are now facing the worst cholera outbreak in the world,” international health authorities said in a statement Saturday.

Anthony Lake, executive director of UNICEF, and Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, say that “more than 1,300 people have died — one quarter of them children — and the death toll is expected to rise.”

They suspect that is because Yemen now has upwards of 200,000 cases to grapple with, and that number is growing quickly — by a rate of roughly 5,000 cases a day.

On a more positive side, check out this story about how a program to supply bicycles to refugees in England is helping those recent arrivals to get an education or a job.

On a balmy, breezy afternoon in south London, dozens of people tinker on secondhand bicycles inside a small workshop, preparing to give them to the several refugees waiting nearby.

As the evening sun lingers, the growing crowd spills onto the quiet leafy street, where asylum seekers eagerly don high visibility vests and helmets to test ride their new gifts.

“I will use this bike to go to college where I can learn English so I can move forward with my life,” said Syrian refugee Khalib, 44, at The Bike Project, a charity that donates bicycles to refugees, along with helmets, vests, lights and basic cycling training.

On the lighter side, here’s a story about Golf in China, and the growing opposition to golf courses on the part of the government—bad news if you are a golfer.

Thirty years after Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong labeled golf a sport for the bourgeois and banned it from his worker’s paradise, his successor gave the sport another try.

It was January 1979, and President Jimmy Carter welcomed Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping on a historic trip to the United States. Deng came seeking U.S. help to open China’s economy, which had been ravaged by decades of Mao’s violent political campaigns. But if American executives were to invest in China, they would need to travel there. And if they were to travel there, they would need a golf course.

Finally, here’s an interesting peek into the future of cities. Which cities do you think will be among the world’s largest in ten years?

New York City is still in the top 10 ranking, with its nearly 8.5 million people. But in the next three decades, that’s going to change.

While population growth in the US and Europe stagnates, the number of people living in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa is going to skyrocket.

Today, Tokyo is the most populous city in the world, with about 38 million residents.

So, that’s just a peek at all of the news stories that you probably missed in the last week or two. They would be most interesting to see on a program like In Other News.

 

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. Also please forward this link to others who might be interested in this blog. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com. If you no longer wish to receive these announcements, please let me know at that same email address.

“That’s my mother. I haven’t seen her in ten years.” Deep memories of helping the homeless, the refugee, the foreigner

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

I remember the phone call as if it happened yesterday, even though it actually took place 36 years ago.

I had called a member of Louisville’s Laotian Hmong community to seek his help translating for an arriving Hmong refugee woman.

After agreeing to assist, he asked me for the person’s name. When I told him he broke down crying. “That’s my mother,” he told me. “I haven’t seen her in ten years.”

What a joyful reunion at the airport that day. Tears, laughter, joy and a new future in a new but unknown land.

No stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler (Job, discussing his devotion to God) (Job 31:32)

I was reminded of that day when I recently read an excellent article in the Louisville Courier-Journal that allowed several refugees who have settled in the Derby City to tell their own, personal stories.

While none of those people came under my watch, their stories reminded me of one of the most meaningful things I have ever done.

In the 1980s I was the executive director of a multi-denominational agency which facilitated the placement of displaced people from a dozen or more countries.

We received refugees who fled from Southeast Asia after the war—Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and other nations in the region.

In time, the massive Mariel boat lift from Cuba began and we were among the first to accept men, women, children, singles and families from that island nation. There were others as well, including several from Haiti and Romania.

As I read the C-J articles, various pictures came into my head. I remember a Vietnamese man who came to my office shortly after it was announced we had received a grant to help with refugee resettlement.

He carried a photo of his mother. Following the end of the war, he had communicated with officials in every refugee holding camp in Southeast Asia. Finally, he located his mother and wanted to know if we could help reunite the family in Louisville.

It took a while, but mother and son were eventually brought back together.

He never could say thank you enough. Every Christmas for the following decade he would show up at our house with a gift. One year it was Vietnamese candy, another year a briefcase. Each time he gave us an update on how his family was doing, and thanked me profusely for bringing her to the United States

Remember to welcome strangers in your homes. There were some who did that and welcomed angels without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2)

Then there was the Cuban community which gave clothes out of closets, blankets off of beds and food from refrigerators to help strangers, Cuban brothers and sisters, resettle. One doctor told me of his struggle when he came to the U.S. earlier. Until he could establish himself, he walked the streets of Miami picking up furniture, broken tools and toys and expired food to feed his family. He and his fellow Cubans were not going to let that happen to the newcomers, and therefore, they resettled many.

He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

Another image was one of those flash pictures—happening in an instant but making a life-long impression. I was at the Fort Chaffee Army Base in Fort Smith, Arkansas where many Cuban refugees were being housed pending placement.

I walked down the fence line that separated me from those in the holding area. All along the fence people were waving and shouting, “Choose me, choose me.” It reminded me of those horrible photographs of concentration camps in World War II where people were pictured lining the fences begging for a scrap of food or a piece of warm clothing.

I wanted to choose many more, but that selection was not mine to make and I could only take what our capacity to resettle would allow.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:35-36)

Haiti

Another memory is the little girl who is pictured over my shoulder at the Louisville airport. She and her family had just come from Haiti and were being welcomed into the new city. For her, it was bewildering, frightening, and scary. As people hugged and kissed the adults, she let me pick her up and hold her in my arms. (The photo appeared in either the Courier-Journal or Louisville Times in 1980 or 1981.)

The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

Were there those who opposed having those refugees come? Of course, we heard from some, but not as many as I feared.

In the long run, we found the congregations of Louisville welcoming, with a compassion to help those who came resettle and become functioning members of society.

Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners. (Exodus 23:9)

Why was this ministry so meaningful and fulfilling? Because I was able… to participate in reuniting a mother and a son separated for so many years; to see people who, themselves, had come to the U.S. as refugees reach out to others in a similar situation; to hold a frightened little girl in my arms and tell her that God loves her and had given her a new home where she would be safe and healthy and well-fed; see that God gave me the opportunity to feed the hungry, house the homeless and love the foreigner in our midst.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40)

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