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May 30, 2016

Lesvos Notes

Photo: Phil Mike Jones

By Caleb Zimmerman

From late January until the end of March 2016, I lived on the island of Lesvos, volunteering with a small Greek organization called Euro Relief. I gained exposure to refugee relief operations around the island, but worked primarily inside the former military compound that now houses refugees at Moria. This camp – the main camp on the island, where every refugee must register – has become a flashpoint of controversy, particularly in the days following the March 18, 2016 agreement between the European Union (EU) and Turkey. Under the terms of this agreement, Moria has become a 'detention center' where refugees are held until their asylum applications are processed. Depending on the results of their asylum applications, refugees are then either deported or allowed to proceed further into Europe.

Early in my time at Moria, I found myself twenty moves into a game of chess with an Iranian refugee who I realized was not only very bad at chess, but also genuinely suicidal. Recognizing this, I grew increasingly worried about what losing the game would do to his volatile psyche, and even more concerned that if I tried to let him win and he found out, the insult might put him over the edge. But before I had much time to think about what to do, I had won the game, and my friend soon disappeared. I felt a little anxious!

The next evening, my friend introduced me to another friend of his, and when our conversation turned to the previous night's chess game, his friend seemed to know all about it. 'How could you beat him?’ he laughed. 'He wants to kill himself!' I smiled sheepishly, not knowing what to say. Soon we had spread a UNHCR blanket over the concrete and sat down to talk, and over the next three hours, my friends spelled out in every deflating detail the utter impossibility of their situation.

As Iranians, my friends were near the bottom of the refugee totem pole. The war in Syria had led to the policies that gave Syrians a much better chance of moving north into Europe. My friends argued ceaselessly that the spotlight on Syria was leading journalists to miss significant political violence in Iran. But for the time being, at least, they were stuck at Moria. They were unable to move forward into Europe, but repulsed by the idea of turning back toward home.

As we talked, they spotted a fellow Iranian and confronted him angrily. He had lied to registration officials, so that his papers listed him as Syrian, and he seemed to mock them as he announced that he would be allowed onto the next ferry to Athens that evening. This left my friends even more discouraged. As the days passed, they paced the cramped confines of the camp, seething in captive frustration, feeling punished for their honesty.

During this time, my work at Moria's clothing tent exposed me to many more harsh realities. The passage from Turkey usually left refugees soaking wet, so our tent was one of their first stops upon arrival at Moria. Sometimes, the work had a beautiful simplicity to it, like when refugees showed up cold, wet, and infinitely grateful in the middle of the night. But during the day, when a camp that held as many as 4,000 refugees came to life, things quickly grew very complicated. It became nearly impossible to differentiate those who had just arrived from those who had already received clothing. Yet, due to our very scarce resources, this differentiation was extremely important: giving clothing to people who had already received could mean that there would be nothing left for the untold boatloads of wet and freezing families that might (or might not) arrive that night.

So we lived under the perpetual threat of clothing shortages and sudden onslaughts of dripping, freezing people. Initially, we had only one small supply tent, and no way of knowing if or when or how many boats would arrive, or whether a boat would sink and leave people in need of full sets of clothing. Whenever a refugee asked for clothing, this threat lurked in the back of our minds, and it led to strict triage policies dictating that we would meet only the most urgent needs. Clothing that was not wet or damaged would not be replaced.

Photo: Phil Mike Jones

The weight of deciding who could receive clothing and who could not — coupled with the fear of losing control of the tent or running out of clothing when it was needed most — made work at the clothing tent extremely difficult and endlessly emotionally taxing. There were days when, halfway through a shift, I would feel that I had no negativity left in my body and just could not turn another person away. The same people would come and try me five, ten, fifteen times throughout the day. The more they came, the more frustrated and insulted I felt, the more impressed I became with their persistence, the more I suspected that they might really need clothing, and the more important it became to maintain our standards and deny them again, since bystanders always watched to ascertain our weaknesses.

It felt like we could not win – like everyone disliked us. The refugees were usually upset that we didn’t have more clothing, and aid workers from other organizations regularly complained that we were not giving enough, not tracking donations thoroughly enough, or not organizing the refugees well enough. Even some volunteers working inside the tent were unhappy. Late one night, I overheard a conversation among some of the volunteers on my shift. One woman, a Christian, had come to Lesvos with genuine, commendable intentions to show Jesus' love to the refugees, and she no doubt had the support of a lot of likeminded Christians who she would later report to back in the U.S. But her expectations were just not matching reality. She had balked at my guidelines and training, clearly frustrated and conflicted about the need to say no. She confided to her teammates that our refusals to give just did not feel Christlike; Jesus had said to ‘clothe the naked,’ after all.

One of her teammates agreed. He was comfortable with Christians working in the tea tent, where everyone received tea no matter how often they asked. But the clothing tent was messy. It left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Maybe Christians should just stay away.

Several weeks later, I left a shift at Moria early on what seemed like a regular Saturday morning, but when I arrived home at the Euro Relief apartment in Molyvos, I learned that everything had changed. Volunteers told us that they had seen police suddenly clear the camp, loading everyone onto to buses and ferries without telling them where they were going. This was Saturday, March 19, the day before the new EU-Turkey agreement was to take effect. The government’s goal was that by the end of March 20, the camp would be entirely empty so that beginning at midnight on Monday, March 21, any new arrivals could be detained at Moria under the terms of the new agreement.

On Saturday evening, I again spent the night at Moria, expecting to sleep through the night uninterrupted on what we thought might be our last shift in the camp. We assumed that word of the exterminated camp would have spread to the Turkish coastline by then, and wondered if arrivals might completely cease, making our work, and Moria itself, obsolete.

But everyone was caught off-guard that night: an estimated 600 people arrived before dawn, many of them from Pakistan and even further east, and many more continued to make the passage as the week progressed. Although all the refugees who arrived before the agreement were successfully transferred to Kavala, Pireas, Athens, and other sites in mainland Greece by the end of March 20, the camp quickly filled back up with new arrivals, with some even arriving just after midnight that same night. After a week, the camp held 4000 people – more than a thousand over its capacity.

But on Monday morning, March 21, we awoke to find that nearly all of the aid organizations working inside Moria were withdrawing from the camp. These organizations did not want to support the ‘detention center’ that the camp was becoming. The disappearance of the majority of the aid organizations that had worked inside Moria left gaping holes in the camp’s infrastructure.

Confusion engulfed refugees and aid workers alike, and on the Thursday after the agreement took effect, an event occured that perfectly encapsulated how counterproductive and contradictory the situation had become. A protest gathered outside the camp involving local Greeks, aid workers from organizations that did not have access to Moria, members of organizations that had left Moria, and even a few members of Euro Relief. Journalists ate up the story, refugees inside watched and grew restive, and protesters no doubt felt very upright as they condemned the police and the government for what Moria had become.

On the other side of the fence, however, other aid workers, volunteers, policemen, and government officials continued to do what they could to make the situation as bearable as possible. The Greek government’s director of the camp cried as she took steps to recover from the aid organizations’ departure. And a Mennonite woman with plain dress and a covered head pressed against the inside of the fence, screaming at the protestors and begging them to stop. Later that night, she and another leader inside the family compounds drove an hour to the northern coast of Lesvos to speak with the head of Euro Relief. They feared that the protests had empowered the refugees to the point where their riots and demands were putting our volunteers at risk, and also voiced concerns that crucial functions inside the camp that had been abandoned by departed organizations could not be neglected any longer.

Later, we would describe this as the inevitable ‘are we going to stay or are we going to leave’ conversation, even though the possibility of leaving was never explicitly mentioned. In the days that followed, Euro Relief, with grateful support from the Greek government, consolidated its resources and developed a model whereby it could administer the whole camp.

Through the three events I’ve recounted — my suicidal chess partner, my shifts at a chaotic and understocked clothing tent, and Moria’s transition from open camp to detention center — run two common threads. The first is a relentless impression of sadness, disappointment, and impotence. My volunteer friends and I had gone to Lesvos with earnest intentions of ‘helping the refugees,’ but even with our help, the refugees’ new reality was really, really bad – far worse, I think, than even the refugees could have expected. The worst part, though, was that our volunteer positions made us look like administers and supporters of the refugees’ really bad reality. Rather than welcoming them into the promised land, we were bearers of bad news – the ones who were on the ground with the refugees as they came to recognize that getting to Europe was in no way the end of their problems.

I couldn’t tell my Iranian friends that everything would be okay and they would get fulfilling jobs in Germany that would fit their skill sets; they probably wouldn’t. I couldn’t tell the man who didn’t have shoes that we would have shoes tomorrow; men don’t usually donate their old shoes, so we probably wouldn’t. And I couldn’t tell my Syrian friend, father of four, that he might be allowed to go into town to buy food to supplement the government's meager rations; he probably wouldn’t. We saw all this and a layer of sadness developed beneath the ebb and flow of our surface-level emotions. Any savior complex I might have come with was crucified handily before I even knew it. And this was good.

But a second thread also runs through the three experiences: the thread of involvement. We were present, if nothing else, and this was good in the most basic possible way.

In the case of my Iranian chess mates, I didn’t really have anything to say to make them feel less suicidal. I thought about telling them about God, who has been an unparalleled source of clarity and meaning for me, but when I mentioned him in passing, they lashed out with an indignant ‘Where is God?’ God was probably right there with us, but it didn’t feel like mentioning that possibility would be very helpful then, so I dropped it. At one point, past 11 P.M., when they momentarily ran out of things to lament, I sat silently with nothing to say, and my chess mate grew worried. ‘He is tired,’ he warned his friend, but I shook my head. ’No,’ I smiled, ‘I’m just sad.’ I told them I was sorry. That didn’t sound very helpful. I said that I respected them big time for their honesty in telling registration officials they were Iranian and not Syrian. They just shook their heads. So I said almost nothing at all.

Ironically, I think that beating my Iranian friend demonstrated to him that I was genuine and that I considered us equals — I wasn't just condescending to fake a loss and make him feel good, like I might with a child. He would later show me an Iranian card game, and if I could have understood it, I would have done everything I could to lose. But every time he counted up the cards, we laughed, since somehow I always won. Yet, my obvious genuineness opened him up, and since I didn’t know what to say, I listened. After a breakup, when you pour out your sorrow to a friend who only hears and nods, nothing about your sad, broken-up reality really changes. But you walk away feeling a little lighter.

So while I never did anything to find solutions for all my Iranian friend’s needs, I remained involved, and it makes me happy to know that we are still friends. But then, what exactly were his needs? If you would ask him, he would say that he needs to go to Germany or New York, but I know better. I have five years of friends and establishment in New York City, and I still haven’t explored all its bars, cafés, parks, and towers. But like everyone there, I grow increasingly frustrated and restless, for one pretty basic reason: it’s boring to focus on yourself. My biggest struggle in New York is figuring out what I want. But what I really need — and what the refugees really need — is to orient ourselves outward and struggle against something for the sake of someone else. The refugees really need to do something like... work with refugees. One time I mentioned this paradox to some volunteer friends, and they all nodded knowingly.

The common thread of involvement also ran through our work at the clothing tent. I would sometimes enjoy getting caught up in the intoxicating urgency of the task and our tragic inability to meet all needs. But there was nothing more powerful and redeeming than the times when refugees would argue relentlessly that they needed something like new shoes, then return hours later in the same shoes without asking for anything, but just wanting to talk. Their shoes were often in better condition than ours all along, and shoes weren’t what they really needed anyway.

But when it came to the question of whether we should leave Moria or stay and assist with a detention center, the thread of involvement was precisely what was at stake. In the days following the agreement, each organization needed to decide for itself whether it would remain involved in Moria or withhold its involvement in protest. And it is here that I believe the majority of aid organizations that had been working inside Moria set a dangerous precedent and revealed a hasty, reactionary, and idealistic decision-making framework.

Three years ago, during my junior year of college, I spent six months working at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City as an unpaid, apprenticed program assistant for the UN Democracy Fund. It was a gigantic privilege: at 20 years of age, I was given a glimpse inside the UN and an opportunity to learn from some of the most hard-working and well-intentioned people I have ever met. But I left the UN with the impression that my friends there had little justification for what they were doing beyond the way it felt good on an intuitive level.

When I would ask my friends at the UN why they were doing what they were doing, the question usually either bemused or annoyed them, because no one had ever thought about it before. It wasn’t because of God: God didn’t exist. It wasn’t because of some particular philosophical justification: no one had time for philosophy. And it wasn’t for any partisan political purpose either: the UN was above all that. It was because democracy is democracy. Morality is morality. Don’t you want to be democratic? Don’t you want to be moral?

But this tautological reasoning had an ominous ring to it. It was the reasoning that religious and political fundamentalists in positions of authority use to justify literally anything. The fact that the UN mostly used such reasoning to support things that I liked wasn’t all that comforting. I imagined the UN meeting Batman’s Joker — or a suicidal person, or a terrorist — and trying to reason with him, and the thought was so funny that it wasn’t.

With my perplexing experience in the UN’s New York offices in the rearview mirror, the events that followed the March 18 agreement felt familiar. The mass withdrawal from Moria was marked by protest and righteous indignation on the one hand and a lot of ambivalence and confusion on the other. The EU’s agreement had made things so messy that everyone seemed to be looking at everyone else, not wanting to take responsibility for dictating how everyone was supposed to react. But after the UN led the way out of Moria, many organizations followed suit.

The response was a withdrawal that was dressed up in ethical defiance — a refusal to comply with an ‘inhumane’ agreement. This defiance gave off a momentary luster, but another moment of reflection revealed that it was ultimately not just unjustifiable, but also cold, calculating, cowardly, and capricious.

How was the withdrawal from Moria cold and calculating? On a basic level, it left refugees literally cold and blanket-less. One night, not long after the agreement, I entered the clothing tent to find a UNHCR logo lying on the ground; a volunteer told me that she had cut the logo from the corner of a blanket so that she could give the rest of the blanket to a refugee. But the withdrawal also treated refugees in the coldly, calculatingly impersonal way in which the UNHCR loved to accuse the government of treating them — as pawns in a political game. The hope seemed to be that the refugees would suffer so much that the government would be forced to respond.

How was the withdrawal cowardly? Because it used moral perfectionism as an excuse to flee a difficult situation, forcing others to clean up the resultant mess and then do the dirty work of providing for the detained refugees’ needs. The move was also cowardly in that it exposed a fear of the refugees themselves. The risk of being misunderstood — of having the refugees assume that we were members of the government, actively seeking to detain or deport them — was heavy and very real.

On my last day in the camp, a number of Pakistani men filmed me as I moved them from one tent to another. They made it clear that they thought I was deporting them, and that I was, by extension, a despicable person. I have no doubt that many refugees misunderstood me in similar ways in the days following the agreement. This sad reality forced those who stayed to dig deep and remember why they were there — not to make themselves feel good, but to help the refugees as best they could, even when the refugees couldn’t understand this.

In the first days following the agreement, I worried that by consolidating our resources and taking over the functions in Moria that others had abandoned, Euro Relief was ‘messing up' the other organizations' protests. But it didn’t take much thought to lay that concern to rest. The withdrawal only made life more difficult for everyone — for the refugees most of all – and I have yet to understand how a reasonable person could have foreseen any other result. Ironically, despite the defiant moral force of their withdrawal, the organizations that left never confronted Euro Relief for taking over the camp and effectively nullifying their protest. Ultimately, the paradoxical result was that the Christians, who are so annoying for always taking the high road, seemed to take the low road and do the dirty work of essentially supporting a prison, while a plethora of secular organizations supposedly took the high road and ... did nothing at all.

I have established that the withdrawal was not only unjustifiable, but also cold, calculating, cowardly, and capricious. But what was its root? If the withdrawal was a symptom, what is the disease that hides beneath it?

I believe that the disease is the same incoherent theoretical grounding that I encountered at the UN back in New York City. The absence of a reliable decision-making framework leads to an adamant political and moral idealism that is rooted in nothing but intuition and is unable to see beyond today’s emotions to tomorrow's harsh, concrete realities.

On one of the first days after the agreement, as another volunteer and I hurried to the family compounds to find baby milk, we met two UN monitors standing in the middle of the road, talking to each other. They recognized my volunteer friend and gave her a hug, trying to begin a conversation. “How are you doing?” they asked her, but she was too frustrated to care about being rude. “We’re doing everything,” she replied as we rushed on, “because you are doing nothing.”

In the weeks since my return, as I consider my strange blend of plans to both study graduate-level philosophy and return to situations like the one on Lesvos, I think often about those two lone UN monitors, standing passively on the hill while refugees and aid workers clamored around them. Were they thinking too much? Yes — the situation called for action, not ‘monitoring.’ Were they thinking too little? Yes — their rationale for inaction could not withstand critical scrutiny. Or were they thinking at all? Or were they only feeling — not for the refugees, but for their own perfectionistic ethical concerns?

My work in philosophy concerns how to talk about whether Christianity is true or not. For many, Christianity being true or not true is a foregone conclusion — something that they rarely wonder about. For others, Christianity’s truth or falsity is a live, open question, one to be hashed out systematically using evidence, arguments, and proofs. In Moria, however, Christianity was true on many days simply because it needed to be — because no philosophical maxim or abstract human rights declaration could have sustained us through all the frustration, disappointment, and sadness that every day produced.

Christianity was also true in the way that it made sense of what we saw — the grandeur and depravity that the camp so starkly juxtaposed. I thought often of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s line about his experience in Russian concentration camps, that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being, and who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” This distinctively Christian doctrine — that every person is fallen, with a capacity for great evil, yet every person also bears the image of God — bore itself out in every individual refugee, aid worker, and government official, so that no one was without beauty or blame. This Christian awareness of depravity provided a much-needed antidote to the rampant idealism that nearly pillaged Moria’s aid workers.

Yet, before we give up on it, there is something to be said for idealism. The idea that God is present with us in our suffering – that he didn’t just flee a warzone or endure a refugee camp or get deported, but he got nailed to a piece of wood because of love for refugees and aid workers alike – this is the most idealistic notion of all, and it might have been the only idea crazy and beautiful enough for Moria. When a good friend of mine explained all this in a sermon at a refugee camp in Khartoum, he left refugees dancing. And whether you think Christianity is truth or hot air, you can hardly blame them.

But if Christianity is really true, then it is hardly fair to call it idealism. For one thing, idealistic things are usually too good to be true, and for another, Christianity claims to be far more than an idea. Christianity, after all, is Christ, and ‘if Christ is not raised,’ says Paul, ‘then our teaching is useless and so is your faith.’ But if Christ is raised, then he is not an idea, but a personal force that nothing about Moria could hope to counter.

So the stakes are high, and we must find an answer. Was Christ really raised? For Moria’s sake, I certainly hope so.

This was written in late April, 2016. During the first half of May, riots and protests led to several evacuations of Euro Relief staff from Moria, and on May 22, Euro Relief withdrew from the camp indefinitely after plots were discovered to hold its volunteers hostage. But after the refugees themselves protested their withdrawal and police and government officials agreed to new terms and protection measures, Euro Relief volunteers reentered Moria. The camp is still a detention center, and Euro Relief continues to provide the majority of logistical support, though now with the support of Samaritan’s Purse.

May 26, 2016

A “Model” of Creative Giving

By Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer

RMM has recently received a unique gift from a big-hearted donor. It’s a wonderfully vibrant shade of green. For being almost 90 years old, it’s in amazing shape and can outrun us all. It weighs around 2,300 pounds, and if you press the right button, it will let out a boisterous AHOOOGA!

The generous gift is a 1928 Ford Model A Leatherback Fordor in excellent condition. Unlike most other vehicles donated to RMM, this classic ride will not be joining the fleet of cars and vans used for transporting REACH teams and staff. Instead, the vintage automobile will be sold, and the money it generates will go towards powering mission efforts around the world.

The donor, who would like to remain anonymous, originally became acquainted with the work of RMM many years ago through conversations with Levi Miller. When knee injuries made it extremely difficult to operate the clutch, he thought of donating the car instead of selling it for a profit. After 47 years of loving ownership, he rebuilt the engine and got everything in top working order, and then handed the keys to RMM. A generous offering that will grow the kingdom of God.

RMM is delighted and incredibly grateful for this gift, and others like it. In-kind donations of supplies, food, and practical items to use or sell have been an important asset to us over the years. One example of this is a hardware store in Ohio that donates tools and other supplies to RMM on a regular basis. The ability to give in this way is exciting for RMM because it allows for a wider range of people to give whatever they are uniquely able to—whether it is money or other assets.

RMM is auctioning off the Model A on eBay, if you or someone you know is interested in purchasing the vehicle, please visit: http://r.ebay.com/hQHmFz.

Other Creative Ways to Give

Many people do not realize all of the various ways that people can give to ministries. Along with gifts such as vehicles, equipment, etc., there are a number of methods to set up your finances so that churches or non-profit ministries can be blessed. The following are a few of those ways:
  • Bequest at your death. You can structure your will or living trust so that your estate includes a gift to a charity important to you.
  • Donor-advised fund. This fund is a unique, flexible way to give to a charity and receive the tax benefits that go with it.
  • Gift annuities. These are funds that will provide you with an income for life while giving the balance of funds to a charity at your death.
  • Gift of real estate, stock, or IRA. These are investments that can be donated to a charity and receive tax benefits in return.
If you want more information on all or any of these planned giving tools, talk to a financial advisor or visit www.everence.com/gift-planning/.

May 24, 2016

A Day in the Life

By Anna, RMM Worker in Thailand

Anna is sent by London Christian Fellowship of London, Ohio in partnership with RMM and our Thailand team as a covenant worker. She is employed as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in Bangkok. In addition to her work and ministry at the school, she is also working with the RMM team to disciple seekers and new believers through the formation of small, reproducing groups.

Hello and welcome to a day in my life! I have lived and served in Thailand as a teacher for three years. I am currently teaching ESL at International Community School in Bangkok, Thailand. I hope you enjoy this short trip with me.
It’s a new day! Each morning my friend and I walk down our little side street, or soi, to the main road where we catch a taxi. After a short taxi ride, we arrive at school.

I arrive at school around 6:45 a.m. each day. Once at school, I prepare materials for my lessons that day and attend staff devotions. We have a rotation of different devotional activities, including worship, prayer, and speakers, each week. Today is Tuesday, so I will be praying with the other elementary staff in small groups.
After devotions, we begin our day with Thailand’s national anthem and prayer. Then, I begin teaching. I teach kindergarten through fifth grade. A small group from each grade comes to meet with me for forty-five minutes every day. We focus on their English language skills, such as building vocabulary and grammar skills.
While my school day remains fairly consistent, my after school activities change depending on the day. On Tuesdays, I learn Thai from a fellow teacher at school. I also try to work out regularly. One of my favorite ways to stay fit is running with my running buddy. When the weather is cooler, we go to our favorite Nong Bon Sports Park. It has a four kilometer trail that encircles a lake.
Here we are at the end of another day. I feel so blessed to teach here in Thailand. God’s provision and love amaze me. Thank you to all whose prayers support me as I live each day here!

May 22, 2016

Saying Goodbye

By Lydia Gingerich, RMM staff writer

Last week, the REACH teams said goodbye to the countries, ministries, and people they have been working with for the past six months. They have now all returned to the RIC, but more goodbyes are just around the corner as they go their separate ways at the end of this week. Here are a few final thoughts that were written as the teams prepared to return from their outreach locations:

Team Spain

Though a year ago Granada was only a dot on a map, it has now become so much more to our team. Granada has become a home. We have walked the streets, smelled the orange blossoms and tasted the delicious foods. We have made friends here, and have grown accustomed to living in the Spanish culture.

Saying goodbye puts a heaviness in my heart. To be sure, we are excited to see family and friends in the States, but it will be hard to say goodbye to the people who have become our Spanish family. Although we are from different lands and cultures, God has sewn us together with seams of friendship. Let us praise God, our amazing creator who created cultures and languages so long ago, and is still working today!

Please continue to pray for our team, and our friends in Spain.


Team South Asia

Well, it looks like things are starting to wind down. As a whole, our team has mixed emotions about it all. Saying goodbye to what we have known for the last six months, while being filled with excitement to go back home.

A week ago, we said our goodbyes to all of the kids and staff at the orphanage and traveled the eight hours back to the city we started in. It was a little earlier than we had anticipated to be leaving and there were many faces soaked with tears. I can’t imagine what it must be like for kids to spend several months building relationships with people and then saying goodbye—most likely to never see many of our faces again in this life. They still are holding on to pictures from previous teams, and I can only imagine that in five years they will still have those faces tucked away in their books and still thinking of them.


Team South Africa

Well, this is my last blog entry ever. Because it’s our last week of outreach, and because I will probably never blog of my own will. It’s really a bittersweet time for our team right now. We really want to go home, but we will also really miss the life we have built here. We have almost been adopted into the “Door of Hope family.” The aunties are like our mothers, and the babies are like our children. How can we just say goodbye? It’s actually a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Team life is another thing we have to say goodbye to. This has been our life for nine months! I think it will be more of an adjustment than we think it will be.

So, we are all so happy to be coming home, yet very sad! But I know that I’m ready for the next step in life that God has planned for me. I think we all are. So the only thing I have left to say is – “Bring it on!”


Team Canada

As we pack our bags and prepare to leave, I know I will miss the people here and the memories we’ve made. At this time it seems tempting to see this as a collection of lasts: last time at youth center, last Bible study, last time to see a particular person, etc. But I prefer to see it as a time of opportunity. Sure I’ll miss the people here and even the city itself, but I think it is best to have an attitude of excitement for the future and what God has in store for each of us.

This of course opens up a whole new set of opportunities and questions we must take time to contemplate. There will be, in the next few weeks, a point at which we must all take time to think on our past and decide on our future. I pray that God will give us strength to go through this, and lead us to the conclusions that will best serve him.


May 18, 2016

Pressing On: An Update from the RMM Thailand Team

By Candice, RMM Worker in Thailand

Recently, our team gathered at a hotel in Kanchanaburi, near the home area of our teammate Dan. We met for worship, Bible Study, fun, to strengthen and encourage each other, and to talk about the future. At our first session together, it became clear just how much we’ve been struggling over the past months. As we listened to each other I made this list of troubles:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach problems
  • Loneliness
  • Dizziness
  • Discouragement
  • Exhaustion
  • Fear
  • Need for jobs
  • Lack of direction

It became clear as we shared many similar problems that we are walking through a dark time as a team. We talked about spiritual attack, about times of fruitfulness that can follow times of struggle, and about God’s faithful presence in it all. We talked about our own personal responsibility to feed ourselves spiritually and our responsibility to share in each other’s burdens. We believe that we can be content in any circumstance and that God can redeem anything negative that we are battling. We had some conversations that were not easy. We processed our sadness over losing our teammates Efrain and Sujen who are returning to Nicaragua in May. We enjoyed nature: listening to the bamboo clicking together, taking morning walks, enjoying trees and flowers. We swam in the wide, brown River Kwai. The guys and Naomi even made it across the strong current, swimming to the other side. Elephants bathed slightly upriver from us! Our Nicaraguan teammates made beans and rice, and the Americans made hot dogs and pasta salad. Our nights ended with games of Mafia, keep away in the pool after dark, and Midnight Madness.

We studied scripture and discussed topics like jobs and ministry, working with the poor, and patron and client relationships, in a mishmash of Spanish and English with some translation. Many of us shared our faith stories.

As usual, for our team, the darkness comes with a ray of light and although we talked about many discouraging things, we still have hope for Thai people coming to know Jesus, hope that we can work together productively as a team, and hope that things will get better for us emotionally and physically. We will be actively fighting the fear that we are feeling and truly trusting God with all things in our lives. When you pray for our team, please pray these verses for us all...

“Do not be anxious about anything but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:6-7

May 04, 2016

When “Jesus” Moves into the Neighborhood

By Jewel Showalter

Paula and Art Shore* are RMM workers among the immigrant community in the Waterloo region of Ontario. God is opening up many opportunities for them to live among, learn from, and love their neighbors from around the world.

“We’ve gotten involved in quite a tangled web of relationships here in this neighborhood,” laughed Paula* as she talked about their life in this diverse community.

“But God is building his church. Amazingly the woman with whom I could least communicate, has been the first one here to become a believer. Living among these dear people will bear fruit whether we can communicate in their languages or not. What a blessing it is to come alongside and be family for these displaced friends.”

Paula’s friendship with Fatma,* a Kurdish woman from Iran, began two years ago when they were introduced through mutual friends at a Community Center. Her husband, Ali,* had fled through the Middle East on his way to Canada, picking up a language that the Shores speak. The common knowledge of this language created a natural bridge. As they connected, Ali shared about his growing disillusionment with Islam.

But unlike her husband, Fatma didn’t speak that language and didn’t appear to be very interested in the seekers Bible studies they began to have. Her lack of any shared language created a huge communication barrier, but undaunted, Paula started visiting Fatma in her home.

Their friendship continued through a difficult pregnancy and delivery. When Paula visited Fatma in the hospital after the birth of her first child the nurse asked her, “Who are you? This woman has had a tough delivery, and shouldn’t be left alone.”

So Paula was with her almost constantly for the next two weeks, nursing her back to health, providing food and caring for the baby. One day, as her strength returned, Fatma flung her arms around Paula and blurted out, “You my sister, my friend, my mother. I love you.”

“Living among these dear people will bear fruit whether we can communicate in their languages or not. What a blessing it is to come alongside and be family for these displaced friends.”The young couple continued to struggle in their marriage and when Fatma planned a visit with the baby to her family back in Iran, she threatened to stay permanently. As she seesawed back and forth, Paula spent hours listening and crying with the distraught young mother. One day she told Paula, “I’m done with Islam. I’m going to Iran, but I’m coming back. I love Messiah, and I walk with Messiah.”

And after a three-month absence, Fatma did indeed return. On their second visit she told Paula, “Now I’m ready for Messiah!” The two women – who still had only a smattering of words in a common – prayed for Jesus to fill Fatma’s life with his forgiving, healing presence.

One day when Paula and Art were strolling through the neighborhood they noticed a young man staring intently at them. He yelled from across the street, “Is that you, Art Abi (Older Brother)?” They couldn’t believe their eyes. It was Moses,* an Iranian who had visited them in the Middle East while he was waiting for immigration status in Canada. During his years in the Middle East Moses had become a believer and led a fellowship of 50 other displaced Iranians. He had just moved into their Canadian neighborhood three days earlier – and quickly joined their little Middle Eastern Bible study group – discipling and teaching in fluent Farsi. Fatma and Ali are part of that regular Bible study for new believers in Farsi. The group also includes three other Iranians and one other North American couple.

But outside the formal times of worship and study Paula continues to walk closely with Fatma. “We are doing life together,” Paula said, “drinking lots of tea, praying and crying out to the Lord together and reading promises of the Word as we walk through her difficult marriage and my struggle of supporting my mother through her failing health.”

Art and Paula marvel at the receptivity of their Kurdish and Iranian friends and at what God is doing among their people, both in their home country and among the diaspora.

Besides the weekly Bible studies and informal visits, Art and Paula join other Christians in the community in inviting neighbors for special Harvest, Christmas, and Easter gatherings at the local Community Center. There are planned activities for the children, special music, and a short, season-appropriate message from the Bible along with a rich assortment of delicious foods and neighborly fellowship. Those evenings have been great opportunities to become acquainted with many people in the neighborhood, many of whom are lonely and traumatized.

Whenever she can, Paula attends a women’s gathering at the Community Center – a place where newcomers can connect with one another and learn about available social services. Several other Christian women also attend. The newcomers are surprised that “real Canadians” are befriending them and inviting them into their homes. Sadly this kind of friendship and interaction between refugees and “real Canadians” is all too rare.

Each summer the Shores and some of their believer friends of Muslim-background help to run a tent at the region’s Multicultural Festival, where Bibles in 75 different languages are available without cost. Last year they handed out Bibles in 25 languages along with hundreds of Scripture portions in English.

Recently they participated in a 24-hour prayer vigil, praying for God’s light and truth to shine forth from their lives, for the strongholds of the enemy to be destroyed, and for the Kingdom to be realized and known in their neighborhood.

As more and more Syrian refugees are being welcomed into Canada, Art and Paula are being asked to speak in a variety of churches – helping to educate and orient members about how to welcome and host Syrian refugees. On several occasions, immigrant friends have accompanied them to these presentations.

In addition to their outreaching friendships in the immigrant community, Art has taught English at the local college to newcomers to Canada, opening the door to interactions with immigrants and foreign students. When teaching jobs became scarce he picked up flooring work. Currently, he also serves as interim pastor for a small Mennonite church.

“We love what we’re doing,” Art and Paula said. “It seems unlikely that we will be able to return to the Middle Eastern country where we lived for many years, but it’s amazing to see how the “Middle East” is coming to us! God has given us a wonderful opportunity to become family for these displaced friends and invite them to our great big eternal family... the one that knows no language, race or color.

“Pray with us that God will use these people who have suffered so much -- to bring the Good News to their families and friends in the Middle East in ways that are far more effective than what we could have done.”

*Names changed for security reasons

May 02, 2016

Parting the Seas: Using the Arts to Reach the Middle East

By Esta Felder*

“Faith takes a vision, turns a dream into a mission.” – James Ward

I became a Christian when I was 12 years old. I grew up on a farm in Montana with my parents and four siblings. My father was a cowboy and made a living doing various jobs. My mother worked as a full-time secretary. I grew up attending church but accepted the Lord at a camp in the mountains. Of course it was a profound change in my life. It was the start of a journey that has taught me that one thing is necessary, only one. I’m eternally grateful to rely on God, every moment, one day at a time.

I knew exactly what I wanted to do early on in life—move to New York City and become an actor. But I also felt called to full-time Christian work. How would God bring these things together? I had no idea, but I was sure it would happen.

When it came time to apply to colleges I applied to a slew of them, all out of state. That included a small Mennonite college in Kansas, even though I had never heard of Mennonites. (My mother thought it was a cult.) Someone from the recruiting office at Tabor College called my parents at home one evening and convinced them that I could go to school there without putting them in a financial bind. Since I was determined to leave the state, they agreed. Kansas wasn’t New York, but it wasn’t Montana either.

During my two years at school I volunteered to be part of a prison ministry. We visited McPherson jail once a week and Hutchinson Reformatory once a month. At the end of the second year, I learned about MVS (Mennonite Voluntary Service). After listing my interests on a form I was offered a place with an organization that lobbied for alternatives to imprisonment for non-violent offenders in Washington D.C.

After my two-year MVS commitment was finished, I boarded a bus headed for New York City. I had enough money to pay for two weeks residence in a Quaker boarding house, which left me with about $100 dollars in my pocket. I was twenty-two.

It was sink or swim. I didn’t know anyone in the city, and I had to find a job, quick. It took two weeks to find a job and four weeks to get paid. In the meantime, I borrowed $100 from someone who barely knew me so I could buy food and transportation. My parents sent me a check for $100, but I couldn’t cash it because I didn’t have the necessary ID to open a bank account.

Esta's block in New York City

During all this, a relative there of someone I had known in D.C. contacted me and let me know about an apartment available in the Lower East Side. The building was known as the “white” building on the block in an otherwise predominately Puerto Rican neighborhood. It turned out that the residents of the building were mostly from Mennonite backgrounds who had moved in, got organized and bought the building from the city. The price was the total sum of the ex-landlord’s back taxes. The owner of one of the flats was looking for a sublettor. The rent, or in this case, maintenance fee (a whopping $85) was affordable to me. I lived without furniture for a long time but God had provided a place to live. A bank account came with the job so I was able to cash my parent’s check. It was a slow start but eventually I was able to go to acting classes and start auditioning. God had parted the Red Sea!

I was in New York a total of twenty years. While I was there the Lord made it possible for me to attend acting school and work in professional theater. Most of my work came from being part of an improvisational group and also a member of a repertory theater company. This included touring college towns in the States as well as going on tour in the Soviet Union, as it was called at the time.

Towards the end of my time in New York I was longing to do full-time Christian work. I wrote a full-length play in 1997 that was produced at the Ohio Theater in Soho. That was the first time God put it on my heart that I could write. He also put it in my mind that presenting the gospel in the form of theater could be an exciting and powerful way to spread the Word of God.

I took this vision to my home church in New York (Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian), but they didn’t have anything like a theater ministry at the time. I’d hear the same thing from all the other organizations I applied to over the next year. In the meantime, I moved back to Montana to help my sisters care for my mother who had multiple dementia.

Rosedale Mennonite Missions was among the many organizations I applied to. After a series of interviews they asked if I had ever thought of going to the Middle East. I had always assumed that I would return to Russia. I loved it there, and they love theater.

I went home to pray and fast about this offer from RMM. Amazingly, thanks to the generosity and faithfulness of the people at my home church, I was able to raise the funds I needed to be an RMM intern. Within three weeks I had moved to Columbus, Ohio, and joined a group of very young people doing a REACH discipleship training school. When the three months of training ended, I headed to a Middle Eastern country where RMM had workers. God parted the Red Sea again!

I was sent to join two RMM couples who were living in a remote Middle Eastern city. I poured countless glasses of tea and wrote the first version of a play—Homeless. Our small group of believers in that town performed my first Middle Eastern play in our dining room.

Homeless—Esta's first play in the Middle East

After a year studying language and living in this remote location, I suggested that if the theater ministry were to have any chance of succeeding I needed to be in a more urban setting. So I moved to the country’s largest city where I have lived and worked ever since.

Within a few months of moving to this sprawling city of more than 10 million, we performed our first play. It was at an international church that had 33 different countries represented in the congregation. The play reflected this. There were two Americans and eight other actors from eight different countries— Turkey, the Philippines, Iran, Germany, Russia and three different African countries.

The response from the congregation each time we performed the play was incredibly moving. I felt confirmation of this vision for the first time. Two of the actors in the play accepted the Lord as a result of playing their parts. Speaking God’s word repeatedly gives the Holy Spirit a real opportunity to work!

“Two of the actors in the play accepted the Lord as a result of playing their parts. Speaking God’s word repeatedly gives the Holy Spirit a real opportunity to work!"

I tried finding plays online, but they didn’t fit culturally. It was during this time that, of necessity, I became a playwright and really learned to write.

In 2005 Eleanor,* another RMM worker joined me. She painted murals, created props, and provided much needed moral support. We continued to do plays at the international church and at the same time tried to make the local churches aware of the drama ministry.

Early on we took a play called Waiting With a Promise on “tour” to several different churches. This meant transporting all the costumes, props, music, camera, and five actors around the sprawling metropolis without our own vehicle.

The local pastors were quick to say yes to a play being performed in their churches. None of them, amazingly, even asked to read the play ahead of time. They really loved and wanted drama. The feedback and support from the local congregations was nothing but encouraging.

Foreign co-workers, on the other hand, were quick to share all the reasons why a ministry like this would never work. They were right about the obstacles. It was extremely difficult!

One of the most memorable occurrences was when we did three evening performances of the Homeless play. The house was full, and the play was about to start, but we were still missing four performers.

As it happened, one of them had gone to the hospital with a nosebleed. Of course, the other three rushed to the hospital as well. Right up to the starting time I didn’t know whether to cancel the show or not. At the last second, the actress with the nosebleed arrived, carried in by one of her friends. Since it seemed she couldn’t even walk, I suggested we cancel the show. But she said, “The show must go on!” And so it did. I was ready to check myself into a hospital by the end of that run!

We struggled on for a few more years. Then seven years ago I was approached by a young man who is one of the founders of “Revival Youth for Christ.” RYFC is a monthly meeting of young people from all the churches in the city where I am living. (This movement has since spread to five other cities.)

Typically the young people meet, worship, hear a sermon and pray together. Somehow they learned of our fledgling theater ministry, and asked if I could write a play to perform at each meeting.

A performance at a Revival Youth for Christ meeting

Ever since then we’ve been doing a play once a month, for nine months of the year. During this season I’ve found young people who have a genuine interest in theater and a solid work ethic. They show up for rehearsals and do the work. With all the training and experience, they have become quite good!

It’s now been 13 years since this theater ministry began. Churches all over the country have access to a website that contains over sixty plays and dramatic readings in the local language. All of the plays have been performed at least once in various venues and cities—at Revival Youth for Christ gatherings, churches, special events, summer camps, and conferences.

Recently, the country’s only full-time Christian television station has started recording the plays to televise. This 24/7, seven-day-a-week station reaches not just people from our country, but spans to Germany, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Bulgaria. It has the potential to reach 30 million local-language speakers.

The station gets over 100 calls and messages a day from people wanting information about Christianity. We’ve taped four plays so far and plan to do a lot more. I’ve shared several ideas for programs using theater and other dramatic tools that they have said they’re interested in taping. I think the Lord is parting the Red Sea again!

*Names changed for security

Interested in Utilizing the Arts in Your Church?

Esta has written and compiled a book of thirty-four plays and dramatic readings from use in church services, summer camps, retreats, conferences and special events. Contact mosaic@rmmoffice.org for more information.