Sunday, December 19, 2010

Orphans & Trafficking

Back in October, I attended the "Together for Adoption Conference" here in Austin. One of the break out sessions I had registered for was on the topic of "Orphans & Trafficking". I assumed the session was going to be an explanation of why the international adoption process is so full of paperwork, red tape, etc... because countries are trying to protect orphans from being "adopted" by people with mal-intent. But once the session got rolling, I realized that it was about orphans who "age-out" of the system and are highly vulnerable to trafficking because of a complete lack of options to survive.

The simple version of a common story with Russian orphans is that...
  • * they "graduate" from the orphanage at age 15...
  • * they are released from the orphanage in May of that year with papers enrolling them (room & board included) in a technical school in the nearest big town...
  • * they are driven to this nearest big town and dropped off at the school...
  • school doesn't start until fall, and the facilities are closed for the summer...
  • the kids have no where to live, no way to feed themselves...
  • the result: many-- within weeks, if not days-- have been tricked into meeting up with "well-intentioned Good Samaritans" who will "help them", but in fact are wolves in sheep's clothing who then forcefully traffic the kids into slave or sex-slave industry...
  • the end.
How painful is that? And how frustrating... because it could otherwise have such a simple solution: how bout releasing the children in the fall, instead of May. Geez!

The breakout session was led by Tom Davis, the CEO of Children's Hope Chest. One of the hardest things I heard during that session was, "When you go to your orphanage to pick up your kid, all the other faces you leave behind will likely end up as prostitutes because the transition out of the orphanage leaves them vulnerable." OUCH. According to Davis, in countries like Russia, traffickers target kids coming out of orphanages as their #1 supply chain.

At the conference, I purchased a novel Davis wrote called "PRICELESS". The book is a fictional account of the common story of Russian orphans who age out of the system. It takes a deep look at the dark underworld of the trafficking industry in Russia. It was a page-turner. I could not put the book down. In an interview with the author, published as an appendix to the book, Davis was asked "How much of what you wrote in Priceless is based on true events?" His response: 80%. Wow. This story is painful and frustrating-- a thriller that SHOULD be pure fiction. Instead, it is reality for thousands & thousands of girls in our world today. (I highly recommend reading this book.)

Children's Hope Chest is involved in the prevention, rescue, and restoration of trafficked orphans in places like Russia, Moldova, and India. This is only one branch of what the organization does... the main umbrella being orphan care & intervention... but it is a moving & valuable cause. One that is close to Andy's & my heart.

If you want to get involved in this tragic global issue, you can partner with Children's Hope Chest in the following ways:
  • In Russia, Children's Hope Chest provides over 1,000 orphans with protective services through our Ministry Centers, Family Centers, Independent Living Center Programs, and the Young Mothers Program. Girls and boys in these programs are not only safe, but loved and cared for by our dedicated staff.
  • In India, you can sponsor a classroom of orphaned & vulnerable children to help educate them to in vocational & life-skills to prepare them for independent living when they grow up.

All Children's Hope Chest programs are designed to help these children beat the odds, to become productive citizens and mature Christian adults with healthy families of their own.

Don't you want to be a part of their story too??

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Unlikely (or Unexpected) God-Story

Back in January, I was having my quiet time after New Year's and reflecting back on how incredibly different my life is in 2010 versus 2000. Lots of praising God for the immense work He's done in completely 180-ing my life in that decade. I mean, my life was ridiculous in 2000. Didn't know the Lord (for SURE!), didn't live in Austin, wasn't married, was running around with boys, a drunk, materialistic, anti-religious athiest, mom was alive, sister was alive, you name it... Anyway, I was truly marveling and how He can redeem and purify my life.

Then I started forward praying... wondering how He might change my life even more over the NEXT 10 years. What would I be celebrating after New Year's in 2020?! How could He possibly do MORE than He has already done?! (Not that I think I am "complete", but just thinking He's taken care of so many "majors".) So, as I was praying and wondering, I literally wrote: "I guess if You're gonna MAKE us have kids, that would happen sometime in the next decade cuz I am getting 'old'."

As soon as I wrote that in my prayer journal, I felt the Holy Spirit whisper... "How bout you talk to Me (God) about that?" Uhhhh, what?! I was shocked. And a little freaked out. So, I immediately started prayer-journaling (for 7pgs) about all the reasons why I didn't want kids, had never wanted kids (as in, never in my entire life), was scared to have to kids, felt called to not have kids, etc. Page after page, I poured out my heart to God with every rational and irrational excuse I could think of.

When I got the end of my pleading and talking, again I felt the Holy Spirit whisper... "Is that all? Cuz I am bigger than all of that." With eyes bulging, lump in throat, I closed my Bible & journal and went to find Andy in the other room. "Uhhh, Andy, we need to talk."

I started to tell him everything that had just happened-- the whole blow by blow-- and the entire time he's listening, he has this strange smile/smirk on his face. His response was so strange to me that I finally asked: "What's the deal?! Have you been praying for God to change my heart about all this or something?!" He adamantly denied it, saying "NO! I swear!!! ... but God started to talking to me about the same thing just a few days ago in my quiet time." I started bawling (the freak-out kind of crying). What does all this mean?!!?

So we both talked through (really, I cried through) the 100s of reasons why kids weren't for us. All our fears. All our selfishness. All our desires for how we envisioned our life together. But we ultimately couldn't deny God was speaking to us about it with a new agenda for the first time. Andy suggested we both take a week to separately explore it in prayer and the Word and talk to a few people about the potential shift. At the end of the 7 days we'd reconvene on the subject and see what we thought God was saying.

It was a strange and scary 7 days. But ultimately at its close, neither of us could deny what God was saying... He was asking us to have kids. Ouch. This was a total paradigm shift for me and completely foreign to even THINK about! But I couldn't ignore what was plain and clear, His call was real. And I (oddly) had a great peace about it... despite all my fears. If God was calling us to it, then I felt sure I could trust Him, even if it made no sense to me.

I immediately asked Andy if I could "have" 6 months to let the shift sink in before we did anything about it. But in his wisdom, Andy said if God has made His call clear, we shouldn't delay in responding. But in God's great mercy, He gave me 7 months before we actually conceived. In that time, He did a lot of work in me, helping me come to terms with a new game plan.

Now, I'm more than half way through my pregnancy. We are having a little girl in March. I still needed all the time I've gotten so far during pregnancy to continue to process. There is a LOT I am having to mourn & let go of. And there are plenty of dreams I am having to pray about assimilating our kids into. We don't feel a game change in our unique ministry calls. We certainly don't feel kids change our focus on serving the Lord FIRST. But I recognize there is a lot I am gonna have to learn as we go...

So, that's our unlikely story. But isn't it just like God?! I can only find comfort & peace when I trust & lean into Him about the whole thing.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Spanish Bibles for Kids

Esmerelda is a precious friend of ours. She cleans houses for a living, but above even that, she is a fierce prayer warrior and inspiring follower of Christ. Two Christmas' ago, she and her family decided to drive to interior Mexico to share the gospel. They took $500 and clothed hundreds of people, fed even more, told everyone they met about the hope they have in Christ, and ministered to the poor, the least, and the lost. Even their young son was eager to witness to the children he met.
This coming Christmas break, they are going back. They are aware of the current safety issues in Mexico, but are determined to yield to God's call and trust Him for their protection. They will be driving across the border, kids in tow, and will spend 2 weeks reaching out to those who do not know Christ. They are taking boxes of gently-used clothes to hand out to those in need. And they have made a goal to collect 100 toys for 100 kids. They have almost met their goal, through God's provision.

Andy & I asked if they had thought about giving out Spanish-language Bibles to those they meet. Esmerelda thought that sounded like a great idea. So, Andy & I are committing to get 50 Spanish-language Jesus Storybook Bibles if we can get our friends/readers to match that with another 50... that way they can pass out 100 Bibles with their 100 toys for 100 kids! Anyone interested, please connect with me and I'll let you know where to have the Bibles shipped.

Our hope is that God's word will not return void. That as these children & their families begin to read God's word (after hearing the Good News from Esmerelda & her family) they will develop rich, lasting relationships with the author & perfecter of their faith!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

3 Cooking Classes, 3 Countries

Our Women's International Cooking Collective has continued this fall (even with my lax blogging about it). And in 3 months, we've "visited" 3 unique countries, thanks to some wonderful guest chefs!


Guest Chef Adele, who I thought was a nurse-- but turns out she is a nurse while going to school at a culinary academy-- represented her country well. Adele, who originally comes from Florence, took on the challenge of teaching us to make an exquisite Mushroom Risotto and homemade Tiramisu. She gave me many great tips on how to improve my kitchen tools for optimal cooking ease (thank you!). Adele hopes to one day open her own Italian restaurant & wine import store here in the US. I'll be there opening night!!
(Fabs eager to start our sampling of risotto)
(Adele shows us how to sprinkle cocoa on top of our tiramisu.)
(Adele puts the finishing touch on the mushroom risotto.)
(Adele with Anita, co-workers, now co-cookers.)
UGANDA Guest Chef Rehema was our first Olympic chef... that's right, in passing conversation we somehow got out of her that she was in the Olympics ("just once"), representing her country as a runner! She is here in the US studying for a Masters in Public Health Education in hopes of returning home one day to help combat the AIDS crisis affecting her country (and claimed the life of her twin brother). We learned to cook Cassava, Sim-Sim Balls, Posho, Peanut Butter Black Beans, and 3 main dishes (a chicken, a fish, & a veg) that I still never learned the name for. Needless to say, Rehema was ambitious to teach us all she could.
(Our "nameless" fish dish.)
(Nicole listens to see if the sesame seeds are crackling- the indicator they are cooked.)
(After a first bite, the sim sim balls grew long strings of sugar "hair".)
(A few of us pose with Rehema at the end of class.)
Guest Chef Pari taught us how to utilize about a dozen different spices... and turn any dish into a flavor wonderland! Pari, who comes from my hometown, Fort Worth, is the first person in her family born in the US. Her family fled Afghanistan during the Soviet take-over, lived as refugees in Pakistan for a while, and eventually ended their flight in Texas. She serves on the board of a local mosque (even at her youthful university sophomore age) and was eager to tell us much about her religion as she cooked. She taught us to make Aloo Chole (Aloo means garbanzo bean, Chole means potato- so guess what the dish was?), Samosas, and a milky-sweet dessert called Seviya. Mmmm.
(Fabs tries her hand as stuffing the samosa pouch with filling.)
(Pari pours the finished seviya, steaming hot, into a serving dish.)
(A beautiful spread of Aloo Chole & Samosas.)
(New friends, me & Pari take one final pic.)

Starting this Women's International Cooking Collective has been such an adventure. I've learned so much from the women who have agreed to teach us. Not just about food, but about culture, and about "being a woman" in today's world. I love spending time with both the students and chefs. And I am so thankful that God has given me this unique way to use my house to create friendships and be a place of welcome & love!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Women's Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival

I follow a great blog called "Muslimah Media Watch" which tracks and comments on current events/news/issues related to Muslim women worldwide. Today, I saw this short post on their blog...
Women's Voices Now is a non-profit organization that was founded in January 2010 and is based in New York City. Their mission is to “empower women and give voice to the struggle for civil, economic and political rights.”

Currently, they’re accepting submissions for a film festival, "Women's Voices from the Muslim World: A Short-Film Festival." They are taking submissions up until Nov 1, 2010, but they are already posting some films on their website. Go and watch them... great storytelling!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Isaiah's Story: A Beautiful Rescue

Isaiah's Story from 31Films on Vimeo.

I saw this video this weekend at a conference I attended about adoption & orphan care. It is a moving story!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Global Faith Forum

After hearing Carl Medearis speak in Austin this past May, I decided to read his book: "Muslims, Christians, & Jesus." The book was such a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stale conversation (within some Christian circles) on Muslim-Christian relations. I truly appreciated both his insights and shared experiences from a life trying to live out every day not as a Christian... but simply as a follower of Jesus. I learned a lot from the book and hope that his perspective on Truth assimilates itself more and more into my life.

At the end of his book, I read that he had a blog, which I started to follow. Last week, Medearis posted about the GLOBAL FAITH FORUM (of which I'd never heard). Here is his blog post about the event:

Global Faith Forum

November 11-13, 2010

NorthWood Church, Keller, TX


HRH Prince Turki Al Faisal, HE Vietnamese Ambassador Le Cong Phung, Os Guinness, Eboo Patel, Ray Bakke, Bob Roberts, Jr., Ed Stetzer and others

Why the Global Faith Forum?

In case you haven’t noticed, the world around us is getting smaller. What used to be “on the other side of the world” is now in our own backyard.

As a result, we are rubbing shoulders with people of different cultures and religions who hold different values and beliefs.

In the midst of this shrinking world, we have three basic choices:

1. Live in fear of what we don’t understand threatening to burn, hate and denigrate.

2. Bury our head in the sand and play like none of this is happening (but you’d better turn off the evening news and try to not act too surprised when the globalized world lands on your front porch.)

3. Seek to engage in conversation, learning to respect and understand others while not compromising our core beliefs.

We believe option #3 is the best choice.
Join us at the Global Faith Forum as we learn how to join the conversation.

I am intrigued and eager to learn from this event. So, tonight I registered and am encouraging all you out there to go and sign up too!!!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All in 2 Weeks Time

Last night I attended a training on volunteering with incoming refugees. The more I learn about the process they go through, the more my heart hurts for them. I've known on principle that the move & transition itself has to be incredibly difficult. How could it not be? You leave all you've ever known, you are afraid for your life, and now you're thrown into a completely foreign culture and given 6 months to adapt until you are on your own. WOW.

During this training, I learned for the first time a basic time-line of the incoming refugees first week in the States. It is a WHIRLWIND! The stress must be fierce.
(Image above of an incoming Burmese family being greeted at the airport)
  • 3 days out-- The agency receives an arrival date, including flight arrival details
  • 1 day out-- The agency sets up an apartment for the family using donated furniture & some purchased items... including culturally appropriate groceries & supplies
  • ARRIVAL DAY-- The agency greets the family at the airport & (in the same day, or night-- even if they arrive at midnight) provides a housing safety orientation at the new home
  • Day 1-- The next day (jet-lag & all), the agency accompanies new refugees to social security office to apply for new social security cards for the family (because they cannot begin receiving food stamps or other government aid until their have a receipt for their social security application), then they return to the agency offices for a general orientation & to complete social services referral forms
  • Days 2 - 5-- The family receives health screenings and are connected to city clinics (they have to give stool samples to ensure they don't have parasites, they have to get vaccines, and get a general "all clear" on their incoming health issues)
  • Week 1-- Within the first week, the adults are enrolled in ESL classes (free for 4 months) and begin job training & their job search... children are immediately enrolled in AISD schools
Can you even imagine having to race through all of that in the midst of a major cultural upheaval. Its sounds exhausting. :(

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Missed Opportunities

Once upon a time, I went to UT. At the time, I was an athiest, a complete "b", and also a sorority girl (laugh all you want, I am laughing right along side you). While I was at UT studying journalism my entire life was consumed with class, studying, and partying. I had no idea of all that campus life had to offer. Never heard of a single student organization. Never noticed any other ethnicity while I was in class. Never paid attention to ways I could get involved in serving my local community. What a loss!
This fall, I have had reason to be back on UT's campus several times since the semester kicked off, and my perspective is soooo different. I look at everything, and everyone, so differently. And I am lamenting all the missed opportunities that passed me by when I was a student.

Tonight, I went to a volunteer orientation for Refugee Services of Texas that was held on campus. 90% of the attendees were students who learned about the opportunity through various campus emails & groups. These students had a heart to serve refugees from some of the most war-devastated regions on the world. They were passionate and empathetic... anxious to get involved and make a difference!

Monday night, I went to a facilitator orientation for the International Office's Language Circle program. 99% of the attendees were students who were excited to take advantage of the opportunity to meet international students and help them practice English. There were also Language Circles for American students to learn/practice a second language-- like Turkish, Portuguese, Arabic, Korean-- led by native speakers from those places. I had no idea this was ever an option when I was in school. But what an creative avenue for culture & language sharing right there on campus!

Last week, I heard about a group that serves lunch, for free, every Wednesday to international students just to show them hospitality and be available to help them navigate Austin, UT, and life. Over the semester, they build relationships and encourage (often times) lonely, homesick students.

And this coming weekend, I am attending a "Backyard Barbecue" held on campus by one of the schools there to welcome international students. It is hosted by a program where local Austinites & UT students can be paired up with an international student (or student & their family) to be their "friend" for the semester... helping them to learn about Austin, America, and local family life. Its a chance to give them a feeling of home away from home just by having someone they can call or reach out to when they have questions, need to talk, and just want to have some fun.

My personal tilt (now, as opposed to back when I was a student) is that I LOVE internationals! I love learning about other cultures, I love traveling to other cultures, and I love welcoming other cultures to my hometown Austin. I am so impressed by all the chances current UT students have to meet & befriend & learn from other students who are here from foreign lands... what truly broad opportunities UT offers now. They probably offered all this back when I was a student too-- but I was to self-absorbed to notice, much less get involved. What a shame!

Tonight, I am sad to have missed all this back then... but I am praising God and thanking Him profusely for opening my eyes to these things now (and for letting me still be involved, even though I haven't been a student in more than a decade!).

Friday, July 23, 2010

Figs for a Cause

My friend Skipper and her husband are leading a trip to Egypt this November to work with Habitat for Humanity. The traveling group is all married couples, going to help improve some of the substandard housing in the Nile Valley region. Skipper and I went to work with Habitat in Egypt in 2009 and when she got home, her husband loved her stories so much he began to pray that they could go back one day together.

That time is near. Skipper & Preston are doing a bunch of creative things to help fundraise for their trip overseas. It costs about $2700 a person (but part of that money goes towards actually donating to Habitat to make the loans for the houses they will help build). One brainstorm Skipper had last week, as we were picking figs from my tree, was to make fig preserves to sell.

After an hour of picking we had one giant bucket of fresh figs. That night, Skipper worked her kitchen magic and made jar after jar fresh fig preserves. She came back to my house 4 days later and picked 3 more buckets full of figs to work with. Wendy & her climbed our tree to pluck every last ripe fig in 100 degree heat.

Skipper has so far cooked around 30 jars of the goods, and is selling it for $10 a jar. All the money is going towards her trip fundraising. I bought a jar and it is to die for... so yummy!!!!!

So, if you are reading this and want to purchase some, you can email her at

(pictured here, Skipper and our team standing on the roof we just built for a family in a small village in Upper Egypt.)

I Rolled My Own Dolmas

This past weekend was our monthly Women's International Cooking Collective. Anita & Cara invited a refugee friend they met last summer (Leen) to serve as this month's guest chef. Anita actually met Leen & her family the very first day after they arrived in the U.S.-- straight in from Bahgdad. Leen's husband was a translator for the U.S. army and she said his job was very dangerous. So, when the army offered to relocate him & his family to the U.S. to better protect them from harm, they agreed. Leen has been in Austin for just over a year and her husband found a job again as a translator... this time for a refugee resettlement agency where he works with the Arabic speaking resettled refugees.
(below, Leen with Cara & Anita)
On the agenda for our cooking class was learning to make Iraqi food. Technically though, I think we just learned to make Arabic food--but I do think each dish likely had some local twists to it. For instance, we learned to make Tabbouleh, but in a way I'd never eaten before... the parsley was not finely diced, but more salad like, and we added olives. Plus Leen was aghast that we would eat it with pita... it was for eating with a spoon.
(below, tabbouleh salad)

We learned to make homemade hummus. Leen schooled us on why homemade hummus was so much yummier than store-bought... because usually store bought hummus doesn't include tahini in their recipe. Plus she taught us how to "plate" our hummus to have a great presentation, on top of tasting delish!

And finally, the big sha-bang was that we all learned to make dolmas! Dolmas are those stuffed grape leaves that you find in a lot of middle eastern restaurants. Usually stuffed with rice and spices, sometimes also with some ground beef in the mix too.

My history with dolmas was a love-hate relationship. I always hated them (even though I'd never tried them-- I was too scared), until I was in the home of Turkish Muslim mother in Izmir who had slaved all day making them for me and insisted I try them. I was backed into a corner. I had to oblige. My first nervous bite was a milestone. I fell in love with dolmas. Now, anytime I can get them I will.
(pictured left, Skipper taking her dolma rolling seriously, and me being an excited goof)

As a group, we learned to make the stuffing for the dolmas, even hand mixing it-- literally with our hands! And then we prepared the vegetables to stuff. I learned that you can make dolmas out of most any vegetable-- because essentially it just means to stuff something. So we stuffed onions, we stuffed zucchini, we stuffed tomatoes, we stuffed bell peppers... and then, we started stuffing the grape leaves. It was so fun, all of us learned to lay our grape leaves just so on the counter, placing the stuffing just so on the open leaf, and then folding up the sides and rolling the leaf closed, like a burrito (because we're from Texas this was our natural go-to parallel when trying to help each other roll a dolma: "you know, roll it like you would a burrito").
(below, Nicole showing off our pot full of dolmas)

We finally rolled every last bit of our stuffing and piled all the dolmas into a giant pot to stew for an hour. It was a feast! After cooking the dolmas on the stove, we flipped the pot onto a giant platter and began to dig in. Girls who had never particularly cared for dolmas before were loving them. And all of us who tried the vegetable versions for the first time were in love.

We ate, and ate, and ate... and then each filled up giant ziploc baggies with leftovers to take home. Leen was such a great teacher and chef!

(pictured below, our platter of completed dolmas)

Throughout our cooking time, we also learned a lot about her family, and Iraq. She misses her home country a lot. When we asked her what she missed most about home, she said "everything!" It was such a poignant reminder that refugees don't necessarily want to move to America. They love their homelands. They just don't feel safe there. So, to protect their kids, their wives, their families, the flee. But they love their land, their people... and they always hold out hope that things will get better, and one day they could return to what they know.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Women's International Cooking Collective

This past weekend, I hosted my first ever "Women's International Cooking Collective" at our house. When Andy & I moved in January to our new place, the kitchen-- which is huge & gourmet-esque-- begged for me to combine it with some of my passions... namely, hanging out with international women & learning about foreign cultures. Through much brainstorming with Andy & friends, I decided to start this group.
The idea: Once a month, I invite a different international friend in Austin to come and teach me (and a crowd of other internationally-interested Austinites) how to cook their local foods and tell me about their home-country. Not only do I get to learn how to cook awesome global cuisine & hear about foreign countries from natives, but I also get to make or enhance friendships with internationals right here in my city! Win, win!

Our inaugural month was June. Destination: INDIA! My friend Skipper invited her neighbor, Sharda, to serve as our "guest chef". About 12 other Austin gals who I'm friends with joined in the fun. We spent 3 hours watching Sharda cook Spinach Paneer (but we made it with tofu), Indian Fried Rice, and Indian Chai Tea. We all wore aprons and wrote down the recipes on matching index cards. During lulls in the cooking process, we had a short list of questions to ask Sharda about India, Indian culture (both at home & here in Austin), her family, her life, her religion, and even down to her favorite Bollywood movie!

Then came the taste-test. Mmmmmmmm! We all fixed test plates with a generous spoonful of each dish and our own cup of tea. To be honest, my experience IN India was not that great with the local foods, so I was somewhat nervous that our first month's dishes wouldn't be my fav. But, I admit, they were soooo yummy! Sharda was an excellent chef! I even got 2nd & 3rd helpings of the Spinach Paneer. Plus, she left me with the remaining Chai Tea packets so I can make my own cardamon tea any time I want!

I had sooooo much fun! And I am pretty sure all the other girls did too-- including Sharda! I already have countries lined up for the rest of the year... what a FUN way to spend time with ladies I love getting to know!

(**Something I learned from Sharda was that Southern Indians have a traditional spice can-- hers is pictured below-- and they keep their top 5-8 favorite spices in it... always ready to go. Her mother gave her this one before she moved to America so she could always have the flavors at home right at her fingertip!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Holy Cow! (An Indian Adventure)

In 2005, Andy & I traveled to India 3 months after the tsunami hit. We had already planned the trip to go and work with 2 orphanages in the state of Orissa through Austin non-profit, The Miracle Foundation (TMF) before the big wave. But after the tragedy, we asked to extend our trip to be able to go down to the tsunami affected region and see how TMF was meeting the needs of the devastated community.

During the first leg of our travels we were with a team of a dozen Americans who were serving alongside us. And someone brought HOLY COW: An Indian Adventure to read. The book was passed around to multiple readers, read aloud over dinner and break times, and the whole group was constantly finding release in the laughter that this book provoked. I cannot tell you if this book is as funny to someone who has never traveled to India, but to us it was affirmation that our thoughts about how crazy this country was were not, well, crazy.
The author (a native Aussie) recounted her tales of living in India for 2 years (following a fiance who was on work assignment in the country) and her constant confrontation with the diversity and chaos that makes this country so wonderful & terrible all at the same time. When we were there, I cried almost every night in our hotel room talking to Andy about the difficulty of this land. I hated it. Yet it still drew me in. By the time we were on the airplane returning to the States, I turned to Andy and confessed: "I hope God never calls me back to this country, but if He did, I would go." Andy was dumbfounded. And here I am, 5 years later, and I feel the stir to return nudging me.

In the opening pages of Holy Cow, the author shares a similar story. She had traveled around India 10 years prior with a girlfriend, and in the preface she describes her final moments at the airport as she left: "I break into a run, push onto the plane and sink into my seat. As we take off I give smog-swirled New Delhi the finger. 'Good-bye and good-riddance, India. I hate you and I'm never, never ever coming back.'" (p.3) And yet she did.

Some passages I found myself near tears with laughter as she paints the "colorful" picture of locals in the midst of everyday Indian life (including burping, drawn-out calls for chaaaaaaaaai, and the uniquely Indian head-wobble which says yes, no, and maybe all wrapped into one). Some passages I was near tears from the pain and inner conflict I felt at her portrait of the poor, the beggars, the sick that pepper every roadside in every city (including modern day lepers, burying the dead by placing them in the river, and passing never-ending slums in the heart of every city).

She explains it well when she writes, that its pointless to try and "figure out" India. "India is beyond statement, for anything you say, the opposite is also true. It's rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid. It's all the extremes. India defies understanding... My confinement here is different-- I'm trapped by heat and by a never-ending series of juxtapositions... What's more, India's extremes are endlessly confronting." (p. 107). This is so true!

If you (a Westerner) have ever been to India, this book will make you feel normal for all the frustrations and love affairs you had in your mind while there. If you've never been to India-- but want to go-- this book will help you capture a glimpse of the wonderful, terrible confusion that lies ahead. No matter how hard I try, India will not leave my heart. And I would whole-heartedly tell anyone to travel there. Go. See it. Experience it. Love it. Hate it. And go back.

Oh ya, and read this book! It's a perfect travelogue to be your companion to a foreign land.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Giving Made Easy!

If you frequent my blog, then you probably are aware that we are big fans and supporters of a non-profit called Seed Effect, Sudan. The quick "scoop" about what they do, in my own words, is: they give small loans (like $50-250ish) to locals in Southern Sudan who are struggling to survive. The loans are to help a Sudanese business owner start or expand their business, hopefully increasing profitability. The big picture goal is to help these entrepreneurs to put food in the tummies of their family members and pay for their children's school fees.

Seed Effect recently partnered with Capitol One credit cards to create a program through which you can give money to Seed Effect just by shopping!!!! For every dollar you spend, Capitol One contributes 1-10% of that dollar straight to Seed Effect. How stinkin' cool is that?!?!?! So, without costing you money, you can help fight poverty in Southern Sudan by donating to such a great non-profit!

I applied for my card and YOU SHOULD TOO!!!

West Texas Vacation

In The Beginning... from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

We just returned home from a Texas-sized road trip to Marfa, Texas. Its near Big Bend country and we did a lot of scenic drives to drink up the nature. There were so much jaw-dropping beauty we were pulling over ever few bends in the road to take pics.

Anyway, it reminded me of this awesome video our church did to kick off our current Genesis sermon series. The video was filmed in the same area we vacationed in, so it's all the gorgeous views we kept enjoying... so happy vacation on your computer from watching this video!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali & "Nomad"

I am usually nervous to post when I am reading a book by Hirsi Ali (I just finished her latest memoir, Nomad). Yet I can see the great irony of my fear to speak out when that is one of the things I admire most about her. Truth be told, she has profoundly influenced my love for Muslim women. When I read her first memoir, Infidel, in 2007, it broke my heart with a heavy compassion for women world-wide, as- to me- she was a snapshot, a single portrait of a reality lived out by millions of women. (Let me clarify, though, that I fully recognize her story is one story and I do not pretend to apply it to every Muslim woman in the world.)

Hirsi Ali is fiercely vilified by many, and she certainly causes much controversy over her stated opinions. But her message is so important to voice, at the very least, because it is not the majority point of view. We live in a land where diverse thought can be debated. Freedom of speech is a treasured gem. Yet that means we have to endure people we fundamentally disagree with just the same as we have the right to passionately agree with others. I am grateful for Hirsi Ali because of some of the things she says. But I am also plain grateful for her because she says them.

My nervousness to post about her usually reflects the greater desire I have within me to demonstrate LOVE for Muslims living in this country. I believe, as a follower of Jesus, that Christ cares for all people. Jesus loved poor people & rich people. He loved women & men. He loved children. He cared about sick people, people in prison, people who were oppressed or outcast. Jesus had a heart for people who were "strangers in a foreign land" or were a persecuted minority. And because I want to imitate Jesus, I want to love all those people too. Within me, Jesus compels me to care about what & who He cares about. And so, I love Muslims living in this country. In the deepest parts of my heart, I literally ache with an affection for them that only Christ could instill within me.

Which I hope explains why I hesitate to tell my readers things like: I read Hirsi Ali's book. But the truth is I did. And it makes me love Muslims even more. She does not make me afraid of them. She does not convince me that all Muslim's have evil motives (in fact, I don't think even she believes that). She does, however, move me. She causes me to think, she spurs me to question, she entices me to evaluate. She paints a vivid picture of real people she has met, real situations they've experienced. Often those stories are painful or feel extreme... but they are real to those involved. And I share in their pain as I read about them.

I haven't been convinced (as she is) to reject God and embrace atheism (which was at one point in my past my "religious" allegiance too). But I have been convinced (and not solely through her arguments) to fight women's oppression both here in the U.S. and abroad. I don't want to live in a world where some of the modern travesties against girls exist. I want to speak up and say "enough!" Even Hirsi Ali doesn't try to argue that the Muslim World has a monopoly on the perpetration of these crimes against women. So I stand in solidarity with her in my opinion that women the world over are neglected, abused, or under-valued.

I am drawn to read Hirsi Ali's books because of her experience as a woman, her experience as a refugee, her experience as a thinker, and her experience as a participant in both Eastern & Western worldviews. She has a unique insight into a large portion of the issues facing modern society. To listen to her reason & grapple with reality is fascinating. I stand by that. To read Hirsi Ali's book is to engage in thought-provoking discussion over today's powerful social dichotomies.

To Ayaan, thank you for your bravery, my literary friend. You inspire me, challenge me, and encourage me to engage even further in loving those who are forgotten, overlooked, abused, oppressed, discounted, and unloved...

Monday, May 24, 2010

3 Books, 1 Week

In light of some down time, I've found myself reading lots this last week... and consequently have 3 books to review.

First, In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. This book was just what I was looking for in my (previously blogged about) effort to shake up my food patterns. I learned a lot of undesirable information about the modern food industry. And I am letting all the bad news simmer in my mind and hopefully redirect some of my choices. Things like... the way we commercially grow plants now has even affected the end product by taking out "nutrients" that have things the food industry doesn't want and injecting "nutrients" they want to increase. All in all, it affects the overall product, even of something you think is unchangeable-- like produce. "...You now have to eat three apples to get the same amount of iron as you have gotten from a single 1940 apple." (p. 118) Although really technical and prone to over-informing, this book was super helpful for me to learn how to navigate the modern food industry and the choices we now have in our supermarket.

Next, Under the Overpass, by Mike Yankoski. I randomly stumbled onto this book when looking for resources to learn about homelessness and social support systems affecting the poor. It just popped up in a Barnes & Noble search and caught my eye. What drew my attention was that it was written by a Christian man who set out to live on the streets, (with the homeless as one of their own) in 6 different American cities to see not only what life was like but also what social services (and churches in particular) were doing (or not doing) to impact the homeless community. The author wanted to experience it all while looking through the lens of his faith. It was certainly an interesting perspective and premise. As his journey unfolded, I was both moved by & found myself mourning for the church & its people-- at its triumphs & failings in loving the poor and treating people with compassion.

Finally, Tea with Hezbollah, by Carl Medearis & Ted Dekker. I recently heard Carl speak at a conference in Austin and he mentioned this latest book. His verbal description was so normal-person-thought-process-spoken-out-loud that is just caught my attention. He said something like: you know how the Bible says we are to love our neighbor? and goes further even to say, we should love our enemies? that that's Jesus' commands for his followers? well, I thought- in order to love our enemies we need to go and actually meet them, get to know them. so we set out to do just that. we traveled to the Middle East and sat down with some of the "bad guys" (from America's perspective) and just wanted to see what would happen... wanted to learn about them as people. in hopes that we could tell all you, and that it would help you love them as Christ loves them. That's all he said. And I bought it... and the book... and have really enjoyed just reading their travelogue of what it was like to visit some of my absolute favorite places in the world (the Middle East) and sit down with some of the most intimidating men of power and ask: "when was the last time you cried?" and "what makes you laugh?" The authors humanized these men for their readers. And that goes a long way in softening our hard hearts toward the call to love our enemies.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

10 Things the Internet Has Killed or Ruined (and 5 Things It Hasn't)

A few weeks ago, the Jeff Ward show on 590AM had a discussion about an article put out by PC World called: "10 Things the Internet Has Killed or Ruined (and 5 Things It Hasn't)". He kept his listeners hanging, only revealing one thing from the list every 20 minutes or so while he opened the floor for discussion. He asked his audience: 1) can you guess what's on this list? and/or 2) what would you put on this list?

So, I pose the same questions to you... What would your top 10 list/5 list include? Here is what I would say:

ANNA's 10 things the internet has killed or ruined? (I made my lists before reading PC World's)
  1. snail mail (you know with stamps and a postman) and the art of writing letters.
  2. the technical quality of songs (because the computer speakers and the downloadable sizes-- totally an answer influenced by being married to a musician).
  3. albums (along the same lines as above, but now you can just buy 1 song and not an entire artist's album-- kinda ruins the art of it all).
  4. innocence of children (because such young kids can easily access stuff like porn or ganster rap, etc-- as witnessed by my own 5th grade nephew).
  5. attention spans.
  6. morality (can you say: overabundance of porn?).
  7. patience (we can get instant info online at any time).
  8. privacy (I realize the argument could be made that you don't have to put all your info out there-- and you don't-- but there is still an abundance of info that YOU don't put out there that gets out there-- think tax assessments, think family trees, think photos your friends put of you online that you'd never have posted yourself, think registrations/affiliations...).
  9. trust in your research resources (you can find info that supports almost any claim and there is seemingly no way to tell if its bogus or legit).
  10. productivity at work (think about the amount of time you waste, at work, checking emails, shopping online, Facebooking, etc).
ANNA's 5 things (the internet) hasn't killed or ruined?
  1. "The Man" (who now simply tracks with more accuracy and depth your likes/dislikes based on what you surf online and through searching key words you type online or in emails).
  2. garage sales (I thought this would have gone-- but nope, we've just added extra mini-garage sales through craigslist/ebay).
  3. shopping (especially in niche products, which apart from the internet would have been more hard to come by).
  4. competitive pricing (now that you can cross-reference, say, flights from every airline all on one site, you truly can get great deals).
  5. celebrity (in fact the internet has broadened the definition of who could be "famous"-- think followers, # of site hits, # of downloads, youtube, etc)
To read PC World's opinion of the Top 10/Top 5 List, CLICK HERE. But try to make your own list first and see how well you do. :)

And I'd love to hear your lists-- post em in my comments. Or comment on my lists...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Book Review: Son of Hamas

Up until a few years ago, I didn't know much at all about the conflict that exists between Israel and Palestine. When I ever heard a news story about the "Middle East Crisis" or "Middle East Peace Process" (and usually in reference to the peace process being unsuccessful), its not that I'd tune out, but I just didn't understand it. In 2007, Andy & I traveled to Israel to tour the Biblical sites in the area and it was at that time that I actually started to grasp it all.

In our hotel there was a map of what I'd always known as "Israel", but it was divided in to sections and color coded. When I asked the front desk what did that all mean, I got my first real understanding of the Palestinian "Occupied Territories". And as I wandered the streets of Jerusalem, I noticed military personnel everywhere-- all carrying giant guns-- but from two distinct groups. A blue uniform for Palestinian military, and the traditional army green for Israeli forces. They coexisted on the streets, with their guns. It was strange to say the least.

One of our travel agendas was to pass into Bethlehem to tour the church built on top of the site where (supposedly) Mary gave birth to Christ. Our tour bus drove through the streets and eventually pulled up to a giant cement wall. We had to get off the bus and load onto another bus, trade in our Israeli tour guide & driver for Palestinian ones, and then drive through some heavy security to get to the other side of the wall. Once inside, the guide announced "Welcome to Palestine!" We has crossed into the Palestinian "West Bank."

Since that time, I have increasingly learned about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from my Arab friends. It is a very important issue to them-- Palestinian or not. And in their minds eye, all Americans and Westerners side with Israel. So, I have tried hard to learn as much as I can-- in an effort to understand my Arab friends, and to grow in compassion for all those affected (on both sides) by the suffering this "conflict" has caused.

So when my friend Angela heard about this new book, Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef, she recommended it to me. I gobbled up this book. It is a fast read, chalk full of information from a unique perspective. Yousef is the son of one of the leaders of Hamas (a Palestinian "party" for lack of a better word) who was, at one point, a revenge-seeking wannabe terrorist who survived Israeli prison and came out the other side to become one of the most valuable spies for Israel into the network of Hamas and other Palestinian parties. His account details his work for both sides of the conflict. It is gripping!

After finishing the book, I feel I have a better understanding of both sides. I have an increased compassion for those caught in the cross-fires of what I think is a impossible-to-win (for either side) war. And I heard a beautiful testimony of learning from the teachings of Jesus-- to love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. This is a fabulous book that I'd recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about one of our generations most heated, and ongoing conflicts.

Click here to buy the book on Amazon.

Before & After: Haiti Kids

I got to see some updated photos of the kids I fell in love with while in Haiti. It is so good to see the transformation, and I thought yall would like to see the progress too!
KATIANA before...
KATIANA now...
Here is Katiana, who lost her parents and her arm and had a broken leg. So beautiful and full of love. So sweet! Such joy!

EMANI before...
EMANI now...
This is Emani, who was in a full body cast while we were there. She is from Port au Prince, found abandoned in the street, and didn't know anyone when she first came to the orphanage. While we were there, we saw her surrounded by new friends, lots of smiles, and we watched the healing begin...

JOHNNY before...
and JOCELYN before...
Here is Jocelyn, who was caught in the rubble in his house when he went back to save his mom. He has been fit for a new leg and started walking. And Johnny next to him is the boy with a broken femur that wandered the streets of Port au Prince for 11 days until he was finally rescued and helped.

LONIQUE before...
LONIQUE now...
Here is Lonique, who had a full body cast and amputated arm. Now he can run and play, and there is life and joy in his eyes.