“Because I can set up some cots in the sanctuary…” Part 3: Reflections and Next Steps

Continuing in our 3-part series on our family’s recent road trip to Las Cruces, NM, where we spent a couple of days working with the El Calvario UMC “Resiliency” justice mission, supporting migrant and refugee families.

Reflections

1 – First, during this trip, we all received confirmation of what we’d already known – that following the call to serve the “least of these” in any society almost always requires a confrontation with, and often even a stance of defiance against, the systems of hierarchy and power that structure that society.

Those who hold the power – those who are “in charge” of the system – generally won’t be sympathetic towards efforts to empower and promote the integrity of those designated to the “lower” social levels.

To be clear, “hand-outs” from the superior levels of benevolence will be generally applauded. But any support from the “upper ranks” of the system will consistently stop short of any engagement that may enfranchise or empower those “least of these” in any authentic manner.

2 – Additionally, if those who come to serve in these sacred spaces actually inhabit the upper ranks within the system – as our family does – then “confrontation” of that system will require authentic, face-to-the-floor repentance.

It’s been necessary to reflect again on Paul’s vivid description of the “system” as it functions and supports the Church, the “Body of Jesus Christ,” in 1 Corinthians 12: 20-26:

As it is, there are many parts, but one Body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the Body that seem by the world to be “weaker” are recognized in the Body as indispensable, and the parts that the world sees as less honorable, we in the Body treat with special honor. And the parts that are “unpresentable” in the world are treated in the Body with special care and modesty, while those most “honored and presentable” parts need no special treatment in the Body. 

But it is God Who has put the Body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it in the world, so that there should be no division in the Body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers in the world, every part of the Body of Christ suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

In our short time with the humble, courageous, sacrificial brothers and sisters we met who are serving and sharing the gospel at El Calvario UMC, we were compelled and convicted to ask ourselves some hard questions: 

Do our congregations at home actually reflect the Body of Jesus Christ?

Or are we simply calling ourselves “the Body,” while still ceding to the rancid, corroded systems of the world?

3 – Finally, we’ve seen “working” churches before while traveling and living abroad. In Torino, Italy, the space the migrant congregation that we were a part of used for their Sunday service was actually a common room in the basement of the church. That room was used throughout the week for various events. So, each Sunday morning, a few folks in the congregation would come in early to make sure chairs were set out and straight. After the service everyone would help put the congregation’s service items away in a shared closet, in order to clear the space for other groups that would use the room during the week. 

In Tallinn, Estonia, the Salvation Army used their sanctuary space during the week for clothing drives, soup kitchens, and other gatherings. It was the responsibility of the last service team of the week to be sure the room was set up for the Sunday morning worship service when they finished up. 

But truthfully, El Calvario UMC is one of the very few “working” churches that I’ve ever encountered in the U.S. United Methodist Church (and really in any denomination, but I should clean out my own house first).

When I consider Jesus’ parable of the talents – when I consider what it means to “invest” and not “bury” the gifts that we have in our wonderful buildings and grounds and facilities around the UMC – then I believe that El Calvario UMC may be an example of what “investing” and “multiplying” looks like in a community (as opposed to the countless UMC buildings that sit empty – or “buried” – most Mondays-Saturdays). 

The map used by Resiliency to show asylum-seeking families where they will be going to be reunited with family in other part of the U.S.

Next Steps?

Now comes the hard part – prayerfully asking that crucial question, “Ok, Father, so what do we do with this?” Of course, we understand that the systems in which we live and function aren’t going to be naturally inclined towards the sort of service and engagement that we saw at El Calvario UMC and Resiliency. We also understand that this type of service makes many folks – even folks in a lot of our congregations – very uncomfortable.

Finally, we have learned that a journey of any real significance can only be navigated one step at a time, and is often much more meaningful when we’re able to walk alongside brothers and sisters who find themselves moving in the same direction. So as we’re praying about next steps that we can take in the place where God has us settled in this season – next steps towards connecting and serving in those communities which we see to be the most vulnerable among us – we appreciate very much your praying with us.

Clearly, there are connecting points with our ongoing work abroad in border zones and refugee camps. While COVID has limited our ability to travel and engage as we have before, we are thankful for God’s directing our steps to engage “locally” in this time of travel restriction. We see it as further revelation to be able to meet these precious souls while “on the move” and now see the possibilities of where they may end up on the other side of asylum.

And if in your time of prayer and discernment, you find that a small part of you feels so inclined, then please reach out to us. Let’s make a plan to connect for a time of prayer and conversation together around these issues, around these precious sons and daughters of our heavenly Father, and towards practical, meaningful ways that we may see God calling us to move forward together, in His name, and to His glory.

Thank you so much for checking in! Blessings and peace.

Miki and Charlie

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“Because I can set up some cots in the sanctuary…” Part 2: A Working Church

Continuing in our 3-part series on our family’s recent road trip to Las Cruces, NM, where we spent a couple of days working with the El Calvario UMC “Resiliency” justice mission, supporting migrant and refugee families.

A “Working” Church

On our first evening in Las Cruces, just a few minutes after leaving the church to head to our hotel, one of the shelter coordinators called me apologizing: 

“I’m sorry I didn’t ask when you were here earlier – does your family have somewhere to stay tonight? Because I can set up some cots in the sanctuary and you all would be very welcome to stay here at the church.” 

Honestly, as a pastor who has worked with a number of congregations in various sanctuary spaces, I was a little stunned. 

“Y’all put the cots in the sanctuary?” I asked when I was at the church again the next day. The coordinator took me into the sanctuary to show me, “Yes, you see we can easily slide the pews all back against the back wall and that gives us space to set up 14-16 cots here towards the front.”

I’m not sure why I was so confused. I’d seen “working” churches like this in Europe, but never before had I seen one in the U.S. “So, you guys do have worship services in here, right?” I asked.

“Oh, yes,” she answered. “Our pastor leads us in a worship service every week. We just set the pews back in place for Sunday mornings.”

The El Calvario UMC “Working” Sanctuary.

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The Resiliency justice mission was established by El Calvario UMC in Las Cruces, NM for the purpose of receiving and supporting migrant/asylum-seeking families on a short-term (generally 3-4 days) basis. The services Resiliency generally provides these migrating families include temporary shelter in the church, meals, “new” clothes from their 2nd hand clothing closet, shower and laundry facilities, assistance connecting with family members located in other parts of the U.S., local transportation, and if needed, consultation with a local nurse and an immigration attorney.

In the early years, the vast majority of Resiliency’s clients were Mexican and Central American, migrating into the U.S. to find safety and work. But as circumstances have become consistently more difficult and dangerous in so many international regions, the makeup of Resiliency’s clientele has shifted as they have begun to receive folks from South America, the Caribbean Islands, Western Africa, and Asia.

Additionally, the services that Resiliency offers have also expanded through the years, as they have started offering long-term assistance and support for asylum-seeking families who choose to settle in the Las Cruces area (most recently opening their services to families evacuated from Afghanistan in 2021). Resiliency also provides long-term support programs to assist local families in English-language and culture learning, and also engages in justice-oriented, systemic-level advocacy to see these issues addressed at the roots. The Resiliency team is supported both by El Calvario UMC donations as well as some grant funds from the organization, “Save the Children.” 

The Facilities

The El Calvario UMC church building is a fairly typical, small to medium size UMC space. It has a sanctuary (approx 80-100 person capacity), a fellowship hall (approx. 50 person capacity), a kitchen, 4 “classrooms,” and an office space. They have also brought in 2 small pre-fab buildings, one of which houses supplies and a clothing closet, while the other contains 2 shower stalls (they are working on plans to build a laundry room and a few more shower stalls).

The offices and storage space for Resiliency is in a building about a block away from the church, but the church building itself acts as a makeshift shelter and community center for migrants/asylum seekers and others who are among the most vulnerable in the community. 

Along with hosting their Sunday worship service, the church building serves multiple purposes through the week. One of the class rooms is often used as a makeshift “clinic” when migrant families are present. Another smaller class room has been converted into a walk-in cooler, which is used not only by the El Calvario and Resiliency staff, but is also used by local clients of the “commercial kitchen incubator.”

The “incubator” provides local entrepreneurs a 24/7 accessible, free/low cost commercial kitchen in which they can develop and expand their food business. When we were there, 2 local families were using the church’s commercial kitchen a few hours a week to prepare dishes and preserves, which they sell locally to support their families.

Resiliency is also making plans for the development of a community garden on the corner of their lot, in order to provide a space for local, low-income families to begin to grow their own produce.

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The Team

Under the support of the El Calvario pastor (acting director) and staff, the Resiliency team includes:

  • A program director for incoming families,
  • A shelter director,
  • A person committed to serving the children of incoming migrant families, 
  • A kitchen coordinator committed to making meals for the families, 
  • A volunteer coordinator (includes ensuring all volunteers have completed a background check as well as safety (ie “safe sanctuary”) training around serving with vulnerable people), 
  • A donations/supplies coordinator,
  • A “commercial kitchen incubator” coordinator.

There is also both a local nurse and immigration lawyer who are available to come to the church/shelter to provide assistance as needed.

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Of course, we know that this program wasn’t built overnight. At some point, there was a first step. Maybe it was the first time a member of the congregation offered a cup of coffee to a group of migrant men resting near the church building. Maybe it was a meal, or a bag of groceries, offered to an asylum-seeking family that one of the members saw stranded in a local grocery story parking lot.

In fact, it is very likely that there were several “first” steps forward in this mission, and that there have also been several discouraging steps backwards. I can only imagine the battles that likely ensued when someone in the church first rose the idea of allowing migrant families to sleep in the sanctuary: “We have no room in the sanctuary…” “We can’t let them sleep on our pews!” “What if they take something?” “We don’t have showers or facilities to support people sleeping here…”

In truth, we don’t know the precise details around when and where each step was taken through this community towards the development of the Resiliency mission, which is serving and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ so well there today. But what we do know, without a doubt, is that at some point, somebody in that church allowed the Holy Spirit to soften their heart, to open their eyes, and to let go of their idols in the church building and its resources, so that they could begin again to see people. The least of these. Children of the living God.

Our Lord never told us to go out and build Him a bunch of beautiful buildings. But:

Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me; and whoever welcomes Me welcomes the One who sent Me,” He said.

Come, you who are blessed by My Father… for I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me,” He said.

Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head,” He said.

More underlying questions to ponder:

  • “How many days each week does my church sit empty?”
  • “Am I so focused on preserving the facilities and the structures of the church building that I do not see the hunger and thirst and nakedness of God’s own children, all around me?”
  • “What does a “first step” look like at a my church?

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“Because I can set up some cots in the sanctuary…” Part 1: The Families

We knew it would be squeezing a lot in, but when we realized that the kids’ Christmas holidays had been extended by 3 extra days (thank you Clarke County!), we decided to pack them into the Jetta and to make a quick road trip out to New Mexico. The connection we were able to make before our trip with El Calvario UMC and their “Resiliency” justice mission for migrants and asylum seekers in Las Cruces was God’s hand, and in the couple of days that we were able to spend with them serving Afghan families recently settled in the U.S., we saw and learned a lot. In this 3-part series, we’d like to share a little bit about our time there.

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The Families

In the years since beginning this sort of work with the most vulnerable of our society, we’ve tended to share fewer and fewer details about either the migrant and refugee families, or the refugee workers whom we’ve had the great privilege to know. These are people who are giving everything – whether to search for some place of refuge for their children, or to go and serve other migrating families. It has become very clear that any time we are given to share space and community with these folks is sacred, and should be handled with great care.

On our first evening there, a couple of the Afghan families who had been in Las Cruces already a few weeks were at the church receiving English and culture lessons – a part of the support Resiliency offers. We helped to serve them snacks after their lesson, and while they were naturally a bit timid with us – preferring to stay close to their own family – everyone was very warm and gracious. A few of the children even practiced with us a few words of English they had already learned.

We could see that some of the shock of the nightmare they had experienced in the weeks before landing in Las Cruces was beginning to wear off. But each of us also clearly recognized the weights of culture shock, intense grief, and trauma that the parents and children in these families were navigating, each coping in their own way, as human beings do. Our family has definitely experienced the ache of some of these things ourselves, but we couldn’t imagine having been forced so traumatically from our home and family under such intense threats of violence, only to land in a completely foreign culture and language, not knowing whether we’d ever see our home again.

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The children playing a game together in the El Calvario UMC fellowship hall.

The next day we met another family, which had arrived in Las Cruces only 2 days prior. This family was still staying in a nearby hotel while the Resiliency staff searched for any available long-term housing in the very scarce Las Cruces housing market. Their team has struggled through this season to find housing options that are both affordable and that have an owner willing to rent to Afghans. (“We’ve experienced more prejudice than we expected from owners unwilling to rent to these families,” one of the Resiliency coordinators told me.)

As there was no kitchen in the hotel, this family of 7 was welcomed to spend their day at the church where they would have access to El Calvario UMC’s industrial kitchen and the space around the church grounds. We were asked if we would be willing to spend the day playing with the children and going with them to the nearby park while the father – who’d been a successful chef back in Afghanistan – and mother used the kitchen to prepare a meal for their family’s dinner that evening.

On our way into the church that morning, we stopped and picked up some soccer balls, bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and a couple of simple card games. It was a wonderful gift to spend those few hours watching our kids connect with these Afghan children, watching as the initial shyness slowly began to wear off and to hear real laughter and connection begin to emerge. We’ve seen language and culture barriers broken many times through the grace of children, including our own, and each time it is nothing short of a miracle.

As this family was still so fresh to Las Cruces, however, some of the common issues that crop up when coping mechanisms fail under shock and trauma – such as unexpected, emotional outpourings, emotional detachment (ie suddenly “spacing out” during a conversation), and exhaustion – were a bit more evident than they had been with the other families. While the mother and father both worked hard to engage with us, it was clear by the red, swollen eyes, the quiet tears shed during lunch, and the forced laughter during our conversations with them that they were both exhausted and only beginning to process their experience since being forced to leave their home with their children in Afghanistan just a few weeks earlier.

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Along with the families at the church, we also met a young Afghan father who had served in the Afghanistan military for a number of years, alongside the U.S. and other allies in defense against radical, militant terrorist groups in that area. He spoke fluent English as a consequence of his military service, and so acted as a translator for the other families.

This young man showed us photos of the day that he and others serving with him had been evacuated under emergency due to threats being made against their lives. He happened to be on duty on that particular day, and the call for evacuation was so fast that he had not even been allowed to go to his home before being flown out. He was told that going into the city at that time would be too dangerous for all of them.

There’s much more to his evacuation story, but for the safety of his loved ones still in Afghanistan we are reluctant to offer more details here.

During the weeks of processing after his evacuation, when asked where he would prefer to be settled in the U.S., he told us that he’d actually requested the Atlanta area. He said that he has some relatives living in that area, and that he understood that there was a large, international community of migrants there, especially in the Clarkston area.

However, he learned from the visa processing agent assisting him that in the past few years, the Atlanta area has become a place which is no longer considered supportive or welcoming to migrants, as so many of the non-profits, resources, and support structures that once were available for migrant and refugee families in the area have been defunded and dismantled. So smaller communities and organizations – such as the Resiliency program at El Calvario UMC in Las Cruces – were likely going to be better options for meaningful, long-term support.

This has been both humbling and heart-breaking to process, especially as we have known so many who’ve lived and worked in the vibrant migrant communities around the Atlanta area over the years. In the context of the massive support structures that were once so much more accessible for these extremely vulnerable families in our communities, this little congregation in Las Cruces, New Mexico honestly seems like barely a speck in the expansive vacuum, which still sits mostly void.

But then we realized – yeah, it’s barely a speck. But at least it’s not nothing.

As we were able to see and learn and process during and since our time with El Calvario UMC and Resiliency, the underlying questions have remained:

  • “Why does it feel like this sort of sacrificial service and intimacy is so difficult to find in so much of the Western Church?”
  • “With this sort of need and brokenness so present in our own communities, why do so many of our church buildings sit mostly empty during the week?”
  • And finally, “Is my church showing up as another “speck” working to fill the expanse? Or are we just a continuum of the empty, barren vacuum?”

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Chastain Newsletter, September 2020

Many greetings, dear brothers and sisters,
We hope this finds everyone well, especially since it has been a while since we have been able to connect with several of you. We are very blessed, especially in this difficult season, to be able to check-in with you all this week. 

Early this morning, just after our alarm went off, Charlie’s phone started ringing. It was Karam*, a Syrian refugee calling from the island of Lesvos, Greece. He was calling on FaceTime to show Charlie the food stations that EuroRelief has gotten set up in the dirt lot outside of Kara Tepe refugee camp, a few miles from where Moria camp had stood before last week’s fires leveled it. Our youngest had come and gotten into bed with us before getting ready for school. So, the three of us stared quietly at the grainy images coming from Karam’s phone – images of aid workers, people of all ages sitting in groups around the lot, aid trucks, and a lot of dust. 

These sorts of calls and messages come many times through a typical the week, and especially so since the Moria fire. For those who have not yet heard, for the past several days the community of the Greek island of Lesvos has been reeling after the destruction of the Moria refugee camp, which left more than 13 thousand men, women, and child refugees displaced, once again. Humanitarian aid groups, like Remar SOS, have been scrambling to string together new ways to provide basic needs for the thousands of families who were displaced from their tents/shelters as a result of this tragedy. We’ve seen images of parents and grandparents running from the fires holding the hands of their young children, young folks sleeping in cemeteries, and small children lying under large cardboard boxes with their hands over their ears to keep out the noise of traffic and upheaval while they try to sleep by the road. 

This is a community of people who had already experienced significant trauma before arriving in boats on the shores of Lesvos. We can only imagine the long-term effects that this fire and destruction will have in their lives.

We are writing to share some of these recent developments with you all, because we know that we haven’t been in touch very well for some months now, and we realized that we need to catch up and to try and describe what’s been happening in these places. The images that have come out of the Moria fire in recent days are actually similar to those we have being seeing of displaced families in places like Southern Europe and Northern Latin America for a few years now. We’ve continued through these years to struggle to find adequate resources to appropriately process and respond to these situations.



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Our Recent Journey – A Brief Recount
As most of you know, by the time we decided to leave Tallinn, Estonia in early 2018 and to move to Northern Italy, we were already dealing with significant stress as a family, mostly as a result of the work we had been doing with refugees in places like Greece, Serbia, and Northern France. By that time, we had learned that Charlie was struggling with what was called “vicarious PTSD” as a result of some violence and suffering he’d witnessed in refugee squats and camps, and all of us were unsure how to navigate the sense of crisis that the work had brought into our lives.

Unfortunately, one of the things that we did not realize at that time was that the counseling resources upon which we’d relied serving as missionaries up until then were not well-equipped to handle the severity of the stress that we were under in our new work with refugees. Our eyes were being opened to deeper levels of trauma and crisis in these communities, and we did not yet understand that this work required a level of counseling expertise and support that our central network could not provide. As a result of this misunderstanding, as our work with refugees continued to develop, our family received a significant amount of counseling that was generally misguided and even, at times, caused us more injury. 

By the time we landed back in the U.S. early last year, we were exhausted, broken, and genuinely afraid to make any sudden moves. For about 4 months we moved back and forth between our parents’ homes, who were very gracious to let our family “crash” until we felt like we could start to get some footing again. 

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Where We Are Now
These past several months have been a time of putting our feet back down “on the ground” a bit.

First, we are very blessed to continue to serve in partnership with TMS Global as members of the CoServe team. As we have shared before, the two international moves – first to Italy and then to the U.S. – left our account at TMS Global deeply in the hole. We understood that if we wanted to begin to crawl up out of that hole then we needed to find stable work in the U.S. as quickly as we could. Thankfully, the part-time/temp work that Charlie was able to find in Atlanta and Miki’s appointment to Acworth UMC helped us to begin making that transition.

In April, Charlie was offered a full-time position as an audio engineering instructor with Tweed Recording Studios in Athens, GA. The leadership there has been following our work with refugees, and wants to support our work with TMS Global and these communities by allowing Charlie opportunities to travel to visit camps and aid workers in the future. In June, Miki received her new UMC appointment as part-time pastor-in-charge at New Prospect UMC in Buford, GA. So in July, our family made one more move, this time just a couple of hours down the road, to Athens, GA. 

Finally, through some guidance from some of Miki’s Asbury professors of counseling and UMC connections, through 2019 we were able to connect with well-trained counselors and group-therapy sessions. These resources have helped us walk through some deep struggles we’d been having with crisis and trauma, which had overflowed into our personal health and into our marriage. Some of these connections continue to be regular resources of counseling and support for us today.

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Status of the Mission Work
After a year spent regaining our footing back in the U.S., as we began to see this past Spring that the Lord was settling us in the Athens area and that we were indeed going to be able to continue serving and supporting refugee communities regularly, the devastation of COVID-19 hit the world. All international travel became tightly restricted. At this time, U.S. citizens are still not allowed to travel into the European Union at all, significantly impeding our primary means of working with these camps and organizations on the ground.

We wish that we were able to provide more specific upcoming travel/mission plans, but making long-term, concrete plans for international travel at this time just isn’t feasible. Charlie is working on a possible option to get special approval for travel in partnership with a local aid organization on the ground in Greece, so we appreciate your prayers in that effort.

As you can imagine, COVID has not just impacted our ability to connect with the folks with whom we serve in these camps, but it has had a major impact on almost every missionary we know serving with TMS Global and with other organizations. We are all struggling and praying for the Lord to show us new ways for serving and connecting through this season – especially as many of these communities where we serve are the very ones getting the most severely hit by the effects of this virus. 

In our work with refugees, we have seen communities that were already restricted in their movement experience even greater restrictions as local authorities attempt to keep some control over the spread of COVID. We have seen refugee families who had begun to find new means for earning some income to feed their families lose those opportunities for work, as businesses have closed and risk of infection has remained very high. Then, of course most recently, we’ve seen families who’d at least found a tent – some form of shelter for themselves and their children – even within the dangers of Moria, once again displaced and sleeping on the streets in a foreign country as a result of fire. The details of the fire are slowly forthcoming, but most agree that the tensions around COVID amongst the small Lesvos community likely fed the anxiety that led some folks to set multiple fires to the tent community of more than 13,000 men, women, and children.

At this time, we are talking with workers and refugees we know on the ground as frequently as we can. We are watching and waiting for the doors to reopen for us to be able to go to Lesvos and other refugee communities to work. We are continuing to financially support the work on the ground as the Lord provides those funds. And we are praying – not only for provision and protection for the families around the world who will sleep on the street tonight, but for hearts – including our own – to continue to be softened and moved to compassion and to action so that real transformation can come in these communities, according to God’s will and to the glory of His name. 

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Our Support Status
We want to especially thank so many who have continued to support us with prayers and financial support through this difficult season. As members of TMS Global’s CoServe team, we have been able to direct the majority of support funds we receive straight to projects/specific mission needs on the ground. We have continued through these months to send out project-based funds to organizations we know working with refugees in Lesvos and in Northern Bosnia. Additionally, as we have found full-time work in Georgia, our account balance at TMS has been able to recover more quickly. But we still have a way to go.  

Before the COVID travel restrictions, we were making plans to go into Southern Europe to visit these groups and to work on new opportunities for serving in refugee squats and camps that have been developing in Northern Mexico. Our hope is that we will continue to see our balance improve to a healthy level at TMS Global, so that when doors open for travel again we will be able to make plans to visit folks who have been faithfully serving on the ground in these places and to continue to support and encourage them with personal visits.

Thank you again so much for your faithfulness and love for us and our family through these days! We’d love to hear from you and to know how you are and how we may be praying for you.

With love in Him,
Charlie and Miki

Ways to donate to this ministry:By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:TMS Global
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559By Credit/Debit Card: Go to:  https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting:  “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”

To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”

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Preparations for a visit to Moria Refugee Camp

Hello All,

Check out this video where I talk about my upcoming visit to Greece.  Also, look at the links below for more details about the situation along the Aegean now.

As always, thanks so much for your support!


Ways to donate to this ministry:

By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:

TMS Global
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559

By Credit/Debit Card: Go to:  https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting:  “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”

To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”


 

https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5179

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2019/11/greeces-moria-refugee-camp-a-european-failure/601132/

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/20068/greece-struggles-with-new-migrant-influx-an-overview

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The Chastains December 2019 Newsletter

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together.”
(Lilla Watson)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year’s from the Chastain’s! We are praying that everyone is enjoying a joyful and peaceful Christmas week.

A lot has happened since our June Newsletter:
 

  • Miki has graduated from Asbury Seminary and, in July, started her appointment as Associate Pastor at Acworth UMC.
  • Isabel, Jasper, and Celia started American school in August. This transition has been tough, but we feel like they have recently turned a corner.
  • I (Charlie) have been slowly moving into new spheres concerning global migration, along the way gaining new glimpses into the incredibly vast expanse of this issue.

 

Making Connections

In September, I spoke at the “Immigrants In Our Backyard” seminar hosted by Trinity UMC in Dalton, GA on supporting migrants and refugees and their families. I was asked to present the “global perspective” on the refugee crisis for the gathering. During that time, Miki and I met with colleagues working within the refugee crisis from UMC local churches, regional educational institutions, immigration law firms, and UMCOR (The United Methodist Committee on Relief).

In October, I attended the Red Letter Revival in Goldsboro, NC, where I had valuable meetings with pastors, aid workers, and activists addressing the issues of refugees and migrants from various perspectives. While there, I connected with folks working directly in “red zones” along the U.S./Mexico border and with others who are committed to addressing the more systemic issues feeding the crisis, including U.S. spending/consumption habits, political scapegoating and white supremacy.  I found it so important to be there surrounded by like-minded believers with experiences and convictions similar to our own. 


Trips to “hot spots”

 

Morton, Mississippi

In August, I had the opportunity to spend some time working alongside local churches tasked with aiding the families affected by the ICE (US Immigration Customs and Enforcement) raids that took place in multiple sites in central Mississippi. To this day, it is considered the largest raid of its kind, and it affected hundreds of families. I was glad to be there for some of the long-term planning and to offer encouragement and advice from my migration aid experiences in Europe. The effort there is still ongoing:  children (who are US citizens) are still without their parents. Deportation litigations are pending. These churches are providing food, shelter, and love for those still affected.  
Guatemala and Mexico

In October, I joined a task force from the United Methodist Church on a trip covering 180 miles of the famous “caravan” through South America to the US border.  I began my journey in Guatemala City, Guatemala and took the same route that nearly a million refugees have taken into Tapachula, Mexico. I was shocked to see so many similarities in the camps and squats there like the ones in which Miki and I have worked in Europe. The conditions were similar:  lots of women and children sleeping in the rough- many fleeing violence, famine, and war.  All in all, we met migrants from 22 different nations along the southern Mexican border.  Many told of the heartbreaking losses they had experienced along their journey coming through the jungles of Panama into Columbia (considered one of the most dangerous stretches of land in the world). Sadly, these stories will increase as this caravan becomes one of the most popular refugee highways in the world. This first visit was for fact-finding, and I am planning some ways to assist these communities in the near future.
Upcoming trip to Lesvos, Greece

One of the hardest challenges of moving to the USA has been the increased difficulty in responding to the needs of our partners in Europe. With that in mind, I am making plans for a trip back to Moria Camp in Lesvos, Greece in February. In the past year, the population of that camp has doubled, and is currently sitting close to 17,000 people. At the same time, rules around the number of volunteers allowed in the camp have tightened so that only a handful are able to serve each day. For this reason, the conditions for those who we know who have continued to work in this camp have become more challenging with each passing season. I’m looking forward to my visit.  


 

Hard Realities

I was recently talking with someone who is a licensed counselor about the very real difficulties that a lot of folks seem to have in looking at this issue directly. I said to her, “When we begin to talk about the issues that we’ve seen with refugees and refugee work, what we’ve found is that many people really do not want to know about these things, and it’s hard for us to understand that.” 

She answered without hesitation, “People don’t want to know about these things because people don’t want to hurt. They don’t want to feel pain, and looking at these suffering families and suffering children causes pain.”

As I’ve thought more about her words, I’ve had to acknowledge the weight of her point – this work does cause pain. It causes deep grief, and heartache, and even rage. Especially as we’ve been walking through “reverse culture shock” these past several months, trying to find our footing living again in the U.S., on more than one occasion I’ve been tempted with the question, “What if we’d never gotten involved in work with refugees? What if we never made that first stop at that tent city near the train station in Belgrade, but just kept on driving that day, down to our next hotel on the way to a missions conference?”

Oh the pain we could have avoided. 

The long trips away from one another and our children. The weeks spent in filthy apartments and hostels with our kids in border zones, including that one Christmas we spent in a hotel in Thessaloniki with our little plastic tree and the stockings Miki had brought from home so we could serve meals in refugee squats. The months and months of working on marriage issues as Miki and I spiraled with undiagnosed issues stemming from PTSD and depression. The recurring nightmares and insomnia, which persist today. 

And the guilt. The pounding, unrelenting guilt that begins to pervade every single part of every day, so that even the taste of the first sip of warm coffee in the morning brings with it this unrelenting conviction deep within our bones that even as we serve meals to moms and dads and children in these squats and camps – somehow, through systems and injustices that we may not even see, we ourselves are responsible for their being displaced from their homes at all. 

But then I think about the aid organizations and volunteers who we’ve met through this work, who’ve become such dear friends and colleagues. I think about the rich memories made with our children, which have worked to shape their views and lives in ways that I can not even imagine. I think about the depth of the conversations I now have on a regular basis with Miki as we have seen healing and growth in our marriage through an ongoing commitment to counseling and prayer. I think about the renewed sense of gratitude that the Lord has given me through this work for the gifts He gives us every day – every day anew the gift of life. 

And of course, we know that the battles and struggles will keep coming as we continue to navigate my new role with TMS Global consulting on Refugee/Migrant affairs. But I just wanted to let you all know as we’re approaching a new year and a new season that even with all of its challenges and trials, I am so grateful to be able to serve you all and the incredible families who are experiencing displacement from their homes around the world. It Is a privilege for me to be able to continue to serve as the Lord leads and provides in coming seasons.

Finally, an additional point of ongoing stress through this season has been on catching up financially from a hard 2 years of international moves: not just the unexpected move to the U.S. from Italy, but also the move from Estonia to Italy.  This has left us with a lower than normal account balance at TMS Global, which limits our ability to respond when new migrant crises arise. If you recall from the last newsletter, I had plans on visiting Jordan and Brazil in 2019. However, we decided it just couldn’t happen yet until we were able to get our account balance back to a healthy level.

With this in mind, If you would like me to come visit you or your congregation, please let me know. I would be very happy to come and talk about the needs we are seeing worldwide and how you can help.  

Also, please consider us for your end-of-year giving and 2020 charitable plans.  We would love to get back into a healthy position that allows me to give more “yesses” when our partners send out needs requests.  

You may also continue to lift up our family in your prayers for: 

  • Guidance for travels/connections in the coming season
  • Continued support and grace as we and our children navigate “reverse culture shock” and try to find our community in the U.S.

Thank you so much for your years of encouragement and support.

With love and blessings,

Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper, and Celia.

 

Ways to donate to this ministry:

By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:

TMS Global
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559

By Credit/Debit Card: Go to:  https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting:  “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”

To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”

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The Chastains June 2019 Newsletter: 10 Years and Changing Seasons

Hello dear brothers and sisters!

Please forgive us for the long gap in newsletters. We know that many of you follow our efforts online via Facebook, but for those who don’t please accept our apologies for not being more in touch. This last year has been quite eventful, and every time we would begin to give an update the situation would once again change – making the newsletter we were about to send out no longer accurate!

With every unexpected turn, we have at times had difficulty knowing exactly where we were heading. Finally, we feel like we have some sense of God’s direction for our family, and so we wanted to give you a long-overdue update.

 
What’s Happened (A Brief Recap)

It’s been more than a year since we left Estonia for Torino, Italy in the hope of expanding our work with refugees coming into Southern Europe, and finally, it seems that we are settling down again. However, instead of settling in Northern Italy as we’d anticipated, we are officially back in the U.S., just north of Atlanta, GA.

We have been technically “unsettled” for more than a year. During that period, we have navigated Italian visa laws and their public school system for our kids – all the while continuing to travel throughout Europe for refugee work as well as back and forth to the US for ordination, seminary and visa documents. The various steps through this past year have been many and we have learned a great deal.

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For several months, Miki was able to serve in a pastoral role with a local, Waldensian Methodist church in Torino. The local congregation and leaders (many of whom are migrants and refugees) of that church expressed a desire to formally invite Miki to work with them, with the hope that this would also assist us in gaining residency visas in Italy.

The decision to come back to the U.S., however, became clear some months later, after a meeting in November with a board member for the Waldensian Church of Italy. He told us that due to the very strong feelings that had developed among nationals against the support of refugees and migrants, that visa laws in Italy had recently become very strict. Particularly given our family’s intensive work with refugees in the past few years, he said the Waldensian Church of Italy could not offer us visas at that time.

So, in December our family packed as many of our belongings as we could carry on the plane and we headed to Georgia. At that point, we were all a bit stunned and completely exhausted.

Through the work of these past few years, including the extensive travel, our attempted move to Italy, our work supporting intensely traumatized people groups, and the consistent and often unexpected battles with folks who either don’t support or don’t understand the work that we have been doing, every member of our family had taken some emotional hits. We’d hoped to find a bit of stability in Italy. So this turn of events really left us spinning.

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Since coming to Georgia in December, Charlie has returned to Europe twice. First, he led a team from the US to visit and support a refugee ministry partner working in Greece and to record a new album in Italy with a close Brazilian brother in Christ. Then, after a month back in the US, he returned to Italy to finally pack up our home into a container to ship to the US and to transfer our van to partners in Germany for our future use during European visits.

Since arriving, we have been so blessed with gracious family members and friends who have taken us in and who have patiently allowed us time and space to heal a bit and to find our new footing.

 
Where We are Now

First, while our “home base” has now shifted to North Atlanta, we will be continuing our work in support of refugees with TMS Global. Our role will actually expand from maintaining a central focus in Europe to taking on a more international perspective. Charlie will continue connecting with, building, and supporting the network of refugee aid workers who are serving in various parts of the globe. Some of the locations he hopes to visit by the end of this year include Northern Brazil, where groups are supporting refugees from Venezuela, and Jordan, where he has been invited to visit a local school for unaccompanied refugee minors. There are currently migrant caravans occurring on every continent but Antarctica – and we hope to learn about each one.

As we have said before, we strongly believe that this global movement of displaced people is only going to grow. Of the currently 65 million displaced peoples walking the earth today, one-half of them are children.

Further, we believe that the Church is uniquely qualified to engage this crisis and to serve and support these families, many of whom are fleeing violence, poverty, and natural disaster. So another important aspect of our role will be to help engage and assist those in the U.S. Church who feel a call to serve in the growing refugee crisis, but who may not be sure how to get involved. To this end, we will be reaching out to connect with you all so that we can set a date to come to visit and discuss possibilities for your congregation to continue supporting this expanding work and to connect with refugee families and aid workers on the ground in these hot spots worldwide.

As a part of Miki’s work with the Waldensian Church of Torino, she was encouraged to begin the ordination process with the United Methodist Church of our home conference in North Georgia.

Consequently, through this past year, Miki has had a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the local United Methodist Church in Georgia and has fulfilled several steps towards ordination. Some of these steps have included a 6-month mentoring process, meeting with the Atlanta-Marietta District Committee on Ministry, and a full psychological profile. Through this process of transition into the U.S., she expressed to our District Superintendent a desire to take on a part-time position, if and where one became available in the Conference.

We are very blessed to report that Miki has been appointed associate pastor in the Atlanta-Marietta District at Acworth UMC in Acworth, GA. She will officially enter into this new role on July 1.

Throughout this period, Miki has also continued to work full-time on the Masters of Divinity degree at Asbury Seminary. This week she began her two remaining courses for fulfillment of the degree. She intends to receive her diploma this August.

You may remember that Miki has been able to participate in the Ministry Partner’s Scholarship Program at Asbury, through which about 70% (or almost $50,000) of her tuition has been covered by the scholarship, with Miki required to raise from Ministry Partners the remaining 30%. Unfortunately, one result of this intensive period of transition we have experienced these past several months is that she has been unable to raise the full amount of this final year’s required contribution. If you feel that you would like to contribute to Miki’s required funding for her final year of seminary, please let us know and we will provide the contact directly at Asbury Seminary where all donations can be sent.

Charlie will also be continuing his work in music – both as a crucial part of our ministry and for the occasional financial boost it provides for our family. He will continue to support and mentor artists in finding their voice and serving their communities in authentic ways. Now he has the luxury of a deep pool of musician friends here in the U.S.A. who can help bring these artistic endeavors to another level. We’re praying for more multi-cultural collaborations!

If any of you have ever wanted to seek out collaboration with Charlie in the past, but felt the distance made that a challenge, please reach out – He’s now “in the neighborhood.”

 

Changing Seasons

On May 10, we purchased a home in Dallas, GA. At the closing, we realized that on this same date exactly 10 years ago, on May 10, 2009, we landed in St. Petersburg, Russia with our then 2-year old Isabel and all of our belongings. The date of the purchase of our home in Dallas marked exactly 10 years since our move to Russia as full-time missionaries.

10 years ago, the global economy was reeling from the economic crisis that had begun in 2008. That same crisis slowed our fundraising down – pushing our move date into 2009. Charlie was working freelance music and audio jobs, and Miki had a temporary accounting position up to the last week before we got on the plane for Russia. We weren’t sure at that time if our fundraising would sustain us for one year, let alone ten.

10 years ago, on the weekend before our departure, we found out that Miki was pregnant with our son, Jasper. All of a sudden, our first year in Russia would be a completely different experience.

Time and time again over those ten years we found that our expectations would need to be refined. Time and time again, through every blessing and trial, God has had us firmly in His grip.

God got us through a very challenging pregnancy with Jasper. He got us through culture shock and language school and the grief that comes when some of the orphans and street kids you serve just don’t survive.

God got us through every stressful Russian visa process to stay in the country, up until it was clear in late 2011 that we would need to leave to try and minimize the scrutiny by the Russian government on our good friends in the Russian Church, with whom we worked supporting at-risk kids.

God was with us when we tearfully crossed the Russian/Estonian border with all of our belongings in a packed station wagon to embark on a new life in Tallinn, Estonia.
He was there when Charlie was feeling adrift and lost in ministry, eventually pointing him to start producing music again as part of our work to help churches in Russia and Europe with their music ministries. God pointed Miki to more opportunities to learn about the power of prayer, about how it could offer healing and wholeness to people in our region still reeling from decades of oppression. God gave us new partners throughout Europe (and yes, even new partners in Russia).

God opened doors for Miki to teach at multiple conferences and seminaries – eventually leading to her starting her own seminary journey.

God was with us when our Celia joined our family in Tallinn. He was with us as our family began making long, whirlwind journeys across Europe to serve and gather with partners all across the continent.

He was with us in 2015, when while planning a trip to Albania, Miki said, “I think that instead of flying, we need to drive and to see this European refugee crisis for ourselves.” He was there when our eyes were opened to the unimaginable realities of the refugee families, and was with us when we knew that we had to take part in serving these souls.

God was present with us and these refugees on Greek beaches, Macedonian hillsides, Serbian train stations, Hungarian squats, French dunes, recommissioned German airports, you name it.

Throughout these ten years, God has consistently made His presence known to us in many ways. But the clearest example has been through friends, family and loved ones like you who have supported us along the way.

During these past 6 months, we have had some precious and sometimes unexpected opportunities to re-connect with several of you who have loved us and supported us since Day 1 (some even longer than that), and we can’t express how much having your authentic and gracious company has meant to all of us in these days.

We believe it will just take time for us to continue to process the past several seasons, and all of the miracles and losses and triumphs and bruises that have come. We have come to mostly accept that these are just the sorts of things that happen when we try to walk according to our conviction on following Christ as we perceive it. But the blessing of the company of dear brothers and sisters at various points along the path has become one of the most precious gifts of God’s grace in our lives.

We pray for your continued friendship, encouragement and support for this new season. This expanding opportunity to invest in refugee aid worldwide is a tremendous blessing, but our needs will grow. In fact, in many ways, we will need you all now in our lives more than ever.

Living in the US is a whole new challenge for us, and the added expense will present hurdles. Also, when migrant crises arise, there may be times when Charlie will be away and Miki will have the kids and Acworth UMC on her own. We will be reaching out when the load gets heavy.
If you find yourself in the North Atlanta area, please let us know. We would love to see you. We truly thank God for each of you and pray God’s continued peace and grace carry you in these days.

Onward.

Miki, Charlie, Isabel, Jasper and Celia

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Ways to donate to this ministry:

By Check: Send a check to the following address, noting “Chastain/0322” in the memo:

TMS Global
P.O. Box 936559
Atlanta, GA 31193-6559

By Credit/Debit Card: Go to: https://www.tms-global.org/give
In the box noting: “Give to a Missionary”, fill in the amount and 0322 for the “Four-digit Missionary ID#”

To give to the special projects account, please specify “Chastain Special Projects”


To give towards Miki’s seminary account please send a check designated “Miki Chastain – MPP” to:

Asbury Theological Seminary
204 N. Lexington Avenue
Wilmore, KY 40390

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His “Calling”

“Let no one deceive you with empty words… Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light.”Ephesians 5:6-13

Piercing. There is no other term for these words from Paul. 

I’m still searching for an adequate expression to describe the experience of having your entire worldview, your concept of self and of the world and of God, upon which every decision and expression of your life has been founded, held up in front of you as you begin to see it fall apart as ashes. To lie in bed wide awake at 4:13 in the morning, heart racing, sweat glistening on your forehead, unable to catch your breath, trying not to wake up the kids as you weep, night after night – unable to really articulate the source of the fear and guilt that grip you. 

Now that we are a few more steps on down the path, I can see that my Heavenly Father had been warning me. “Ok, Miki. Are you ready? Because I’m about to let you see a new level of your sin. I’m going to open your eyes a bit more to the role you have played in the suffering you see around you, and in the suffering that My beloved Son experienced on the cross. I’m going to allow you to see a bit more of your broken theology, to see how much of what you believe to be true is rooted in the soil of dead ash, of empty words.

“The severely malnourished, heavily sedated 8-year old girl who reaches out to touch your hand while lying in her own urine in a crib in the middle of a room of 15 other children, also lying in their own urine, also sedated out of their minds, all locked in a huge, gray building filled with rooms holding literally hundreds of other children in similar conditions, all “hidden” behind a huge, rusting iron gate in the middle of nowhere… Miki, you have played a role in putting her there.

“The terrified 7-year old boy searching through a dumpster with his grandfather for some sort of blanket that they might use during the night, who closes his eyes and leans into your hand so that you have to hold him up while you attempt to wash away a bit of the dried blood and mud plastered on the side of his face… Miki, your lifestyle choices and privileges have contributed to his losing his mother in violence, and in his being forced to flee from his home through the nightmare of the refugee experience.

“The young girls disappearing from that town in Northern Mexico, just south of the Texan border… Miki, your excessive lifestyle and demand for cheap consumption directly feed into the poverty and desperation from which these heinous acts arise.

“Miki, you are not better than them. You have done nothing to earn your life of security and ease while they suffer under such terror and grief. In fact, it is precisely the opposite. 

“For your own good I must show you, my daughter, that in reality, you are the oppressor. You are the arrogant Pharisee. You are the hypocrite. You are the rich, young ruler, desiring eternal life, but refusing to give up your wealth. You are the money changer in the temple, using the name of Christ for your own profit. You are Saul, persecuting the righteous. 

“My dear daughter, you must know the truth. You are not the righteous disciple of Christ, but you are Judas Iscariot. You have taken a few coins in exchange for the life of my Son, in exchange for the life of my precious children. 

“And so out of My deep, unfailing love for you, I plead with you, my daughter. In all of your striving to discern and fulfill some great ‘calling’ in your life, do not forget the most critical calling that I give you…

“Repentance, my beloved. This is both the first and final calling of your life, from which every breath you take, every word you utter, and every decision you make must proceed. Unadulterated, life-altering confession and repentance. This, my precious girl, is My greatest calling for your life.”

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The Chastains March 2018 Newsletter: A pivot point

Greetings!  The following are excerpts from Charlie’s recent visit to Moria Refugee Camp in Lesvos, Greece.

January 26:  “I saw an Afghan man get beat up pretty bad this morning by the police.

The police needed to be here as the crowd was quite desperate and unruly. You could feel the situation ramping up through the breakfast distribution.

As a dozen (out of a thousand) were trying to exploit the situation and causing havoc in a very tight space, the Afghan man was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was doing what he was told, following orders and waiting his turn. He wasn’t part of the problem.

When it was over, the police officer was sobbing with regret. When the shoving got out of hand, (the Afghan man) was caught in the middle and bore the brunt of the police frustration. The aid group was in shock, some of us in tears.

The rest of the distribution I walked the line and begged the refugees not to argue with the amounts of food given or to do anything to make a scene.

At the end of breakfast I stood with the beaten Afghan man who was standing by the gate sobbing. All I could do was put my hand on his shoulder and say I’m sorry and tell him it will be ok.

But no one really knows if it will be ok. This is a scene that plays out daily here.

Pray for the refugees. Pray for the police. Both are enduring this crisis from different sides of the same goal. Pray that patience, gratitude, grace and peace will win the rest of the day.”


January 25:  “With temperatures hovering around 40F (5C) during the day and dipping to freezing at night, a quarter of the kids I’m seeing are walking around without socks…”  


 

There are many other stories and reflections to tell.  We encourage you to check out this video page to see all of the video updates Charlie made leading up to and while working in the camp during his trip in January:   https://vimeo.com/album/4426931

TMS-Global also reported on Charlie’s time in Moria, which can be found here:  https://www.tms-global.org/story-details/inside-moria-refugee-camp

We want you all to see these videos and read these stories because while the refugee crisis is no longer front page news, it is still ongoing.  And in many ways, because of the minimal attention conditions are getting much worse.  

For example, an experienced representative from Doctors Without Borders recently stated that the harmful conditions in Moria Refugee Camp had now surpassed those of refugee camps in Mosul, Iraq.  (http://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2018/01/08/monika-gattinger-how-can-europe-be-more-traumatising-than-mosul/)

One is in a war zone.  The other is in Europe.  It is a hard situation to fathom.  But we have witnessed the European reality ourselves.  

In the past few months, it feels like things have changed.  Miki and I believe that we in the Church are at a pivotal point.  It is clearer now than ever that we are witnessing a generational crisis resulting from this mass migration, and that the global impact of this situation will not go away anytime soon.

We can feel the Spirit moving.  Friends of ours from all over the world are in transition.  Some are moving on from one location and expanding into others.  Some of them are transitioning to refugee aid as we have.  Slowly the focus is shifting towards this massive movement of people wandering the earth without a home.  Change is upon us as well.    

On Tuesday, Charlie will travel to Torino, Italy where he hopes to finalize plans to move our family there by the end of March. 

Miki talked a bit about this in a recent Facebook post:  

“This may not come as a big surprise to most folks, but after almost a year of discussion and prayer on this, our family has decided to make another international move. We will be leaving Estonia in March, and will head down to Northwestern Italy. Many refugees have died attempting to walk through the mountains along the northwestern border of Italy into France, and many continue to reside in that region, including many unaccompanied youth. We also feel this move will allow us to be better positioned to support the ongoing work in camps and with partners in Greece and Serbia. 

This was not originally a part of our long-term plan in Europe. For a few years there we had imagined that we would raise our kids in Estonia. And we have enough experience with international moves into new cultures and languages and visa processes to know how much of a toll they can take. So this is not a decision we have made lightly. But there just comes a point at which the convictions and guidance of our own meager conceptions of God’s work of grace and faithfulness in our own lives can no longer be ignored. We know very well the risks of failure in this move. But our fears and worries are no longer able to drown out the small, unrelenting little whisper that has been building inside of our gut: “We have to at least try.” 

We are hoping to gain residency in Italy by moving Charlie’s studio down and starting a business. Of course, we will have a lot of expenses through this process and are only beginning to learn of the new struggles we will face in this new place. We know that we are not able – nor are we meant – to do this on our own. We hope that some folks might be willing to come and see us once we get established to learn more about the work there. We hope others will decide to become more directly engaged in helping us develop and implement resources and support for the refugees and workers there. (And for those who are wondering, I have a quiet hope on the ways this move is going to play into the work God has been continuing to do in the development of a place for prayer and retreat with Him, in Estonia and throughout Europe.) Thank you very much for your continued prayers and support, and for your love for us and our kids. We are looking forward to what God is doing in this next season of our lives together. With love in Him…”


 

Because of your faithfulness, we have been pretty secure with funding for a few years now.  But as our work has expanded, the financial needs have been ramping up as we have tried to do more and more in these difficult situations.  We believe that we will need to raise a bit more monthly support to offset the higher living expenses in Italy and as we begin to focus more on fundraising specifically for our special projects account. 

It is hard to describe how often our special projects account has been able to make a difference in the last few years.  Even with this recent visit to Moria:  when we saw that kids had no socks, the special projects account gave us the ability to buy the needed socks.  Additionally, the floor inside Moria’s food distribution tent was rotting and moldy from years of harsh weather and foot traffic. With special project funds, we were able to replace the floor with a more sanitary material that will last longer and give the refugees a healthier place to eat.        

So if you have ever been on the fence about financially supporting this work, we would love for you to join us now.  If you’re already a supporter, we’d love for you to help us by telling others about these needs.  Tell family members, pastors, co-workers, and friends.  Tell your Sunday School Classes and Civic Clubs.  As this work expands, so should the number of partners.  And as our posts and newsletters have attested, these problems are too big for just a few of us to take on.  We’d love your help in the spreading the word.  

Finally, during the months of March and April, would you please pray for us?  Pray for this move and for the transition for our family.  Pray for connections to be made and for smooth movement through unfamiliar bureaucracies as we move our residency from Estonia to Italy.  Pray for an abundance of resources, patience and rest while we grieve leaving one home and celebrate learning about a new one.  We promise you, we covet each and every prayer.  

We love you and thank you for all that you do for us and for the Kingdom.  Hopefully, our next update will be coming from our new flat in Italy.

Every Blessing to you and yours,

Charlie, Miki, Isabel, Jasper, and Celia

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Seeking God’s Will…

In recent months, there has been a lot of discussion around the sort of work that Charlie and I have been doing here in Europe. That discussion has involved a great deal of consideration of what we believe is “God’s will” for our family in this season, and whether we are maintaining an appropriate “focus” in our efforts to serve within the local communities here. For the sake of transparency within these discussions, I think I should begin by offering some disclaimer:

First, I am not a particularly wise person. Of course, I very much desire to know the ways and the will of God, but my “discernment” of His will is at best tainted with my own sinful nature and desires. At it’s worst my discernment of God’s will is just flat wrong. 

I am not a righteous person. Even on my very best day I deserve nothing more than the darkest depths of hell. I constantly struggle with the deceptions of self and entitlement. I often trip myself up, mired in some strange perception of my own “rights” – my right to be respected, even honored by people. My right to speak. My right to be heard. And I continue to seek my own sense of worth not by who I am in substance, but by what I can do, by what man sees me do. If I’ve apparently accomplished something “noble,” then I swell up with pride. If I fail to accomplish that “good thing” or meet that expectation, then I sink deeply into shame and condemnation. Even at my best, any real influence of a knowledge of or faith in God’s unfailing Word and love in my life is barely noticeable.

One of the common complaints against those of us working within the Western Church is that we do not know how to form or maintain authentic community with others. We always seem to approach new relationships with an agenda. I have been on both sides of this issue. That is, I have at times treated others as little more than a means for me to accomplish my own goals (or worse, as little more than a hinderance to those goals). On the other hand, other relationships that I believed to be genuine friendships have turned out to be no more than attempts to gain something through me. This sort of thing has happened enough times that I now struggle more with issues of trust and honesty in relationships, and often approach new relationships with a greater degree of skepticism and defense than I used to. (This is true even as I recognize that it is precisely with this same type of agenda that I almost always approach God.)

I know that when I speak this way about my weaknesses and struggles – particularly in the context of ministry – it makes people uncomfortable. But I think that it is so important, particularly as we attempt to serve others through our faith, that we recognize our own desperate need for the grace of God. The bottom line is that any service that I attempt to provide for others is going to be poor service, particularly as it is measured against the example of the life of service offered by Christ Himself. I know that everything I do in the name of Christ will be marred by my own pride, my own prejudice, my own sense of self-righteousness and entitlement. The revelation of this can be enough some days to make me want to give up all together, whatever that means.

I also am recognizing more clearly the blinding effects of some of my personal struggles – such as distorted perceptions of benevolence and spiritual superiority – in determining God’s calling in my life. For example, through the years I have become more aware of the devastating effects of pride in my life – which is not so unlike a spiritual cancer of the soul, seeking to consume and snuff out the good and sacred things, things like faith, and hope, and love. The fact is that much of the calling of God in my life is designed primarily to save me from the temptation of my own pride, the danger of my own spiritual death. Whenever opportunities for “ministry” or “service” make my own soul more vulnerable to the deceptions of self-righteousness or pride, it is by His grace and mercy that God often pulls me back and closes my mouth. 

Yet somehow, even through the thick film of my own sin and brokenness, consistently the grace and authority of God prevails, often abundantly and overwhelmingly. I really don’t know what to do with this reality – the reality of His unmoving love for me, and for the people I hurt, and the people who hurt me. The tendency for measuring my worth – the measure of how much I deserve to be loved – by my successes and failures is so deeply engrained in me. The notion that I don’t have to do anything – that nothing I can do will change the way God feels about me – leaves me sort of dumbfounded, and in awe, and a little frightened. 

There is nothing I can do. I can’t draw God nearer to me, and neither can I push Him away. My efforts to influence Him are not unlike attempting to stand on a beach and stop a towering tidal wave with my outstretched arms. He cannot be conquered. He cannot be moved. Even if I choose to ignore His presence, avoid meeting His gaze, He isn’t going anywhere. Whether I am ever willing to accept it through Christ or not, He loves me dearly, no matter what I do.

This revelation really changes the perspective of our discussions on “God’s will.” I have begun to recognize how strictly I have limited the movement and purposes of God in and through our lives. When I first began to get of sense of His calling years ago, I put very narrow parameters on that calling. I received His calling to seek humility in service to others, and to seek real understanding of what it means to love Him and to love my neighbor. However, I assumed that this was a calling only to a specific group of people, from a very specific region of the globe, in a very specific time, and through a very specific means.

My distorted assumptions about God’s will have been based on a ridiculous notion that I might exert some control over His purposes and ways in my life. One impact of recognizing this deception has been a shift in the conversation of “God’s will” away from trying to sort out specific details – such as where we should serve, or which sort of ministry we should undertake – towards one, fundamental truth: that God’s will for each one of us, the reason that He Himself came to die for us, is so that we may each begin to comprehend the depth and authority of His love for us. Everything that He directs in our lives will be aimed towards that crucial purpose, and it is against the standard of God’s love that we must measure our perceptions of His will and calling in our lives. Without this, no other criteria we may use will be of any worth at all.

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