Africa came to me
In the fall of 2006, after visiting Imago Dei, we heard about an event called Black and White to be held in northeast Portland the following Friday night. It was an evening to highlight refugees from Africa in the area who were trying to sell their art work as a way to earn a little extra money. It was a way to bring light to a situation that is hard for so many people in so many cities across this country.
I have had a heart for Africa since high school and I always have asked God what He would have me do for Africa. . . . years later, right now in my situation, I cannot just pack up and go to Africa.
But Africa came to me.
At the Black and White event that my daughter Rachel and her friend Chelsea and I attended we met Sue. Sue also has a heart to help others from Africa and she had started assisting at a weekly art class for Somalian refugee children in a low income apartment in Beaverton Oregon. She invited us to join her the following week.
We did. And Rachel and Chelsea started going back each week to help these children create art pieces that were beautiful.
And we heard their stories. Then Sue told us of a family in north Portland, a Sudan family of 9, that were living in a small apartment in northeast Portland with no beds for the children and no couches in the living room, very little food in the fridge. Would we want to help?
We said yes.
We visited the family and met Jima and Wang and Nyboni and William and Riek and Tifisu and Nykwa, Ziel and Koba the baby. Seven children and a mom and a dad. What a lovely family. Yes, the apartment was small and there was no couch in the living room and the rooms had no beds and there was only a little bit of food at the apartment, but there was sweet African style curtains, or what I imagine was African, very colorful-red- and they seemed so happy and content and they would never complain and they smiled and graciously let us into their home and into their lives.
They showed us the map of Africa, which was the featured decoration in their apartment. We asked questions about their story. William pointed to the village where his family was from in Sudan and where they went when they were first refugees before being allowed to come to America.
They were perseccuted in their own country for being Christians and they were persecuted for being a different shade as other Africans, as Jima, who was 15 at the time shared with us. Jima was the oldest son and he had trouble with his language pronunciation with a bit of stuttering and we are thinking it was from the trauma his family endured and he probably remembered the most of any of the children. They saw villages destroyed and family members killed.
Later, when we got home, we prayed. How can we help and make a difference with Jima’s family.
Start with essentials. We put out a call to church members in our community group and we put out a call to the youth group that my children are in and I was a leader with and we told friends and we were able to get beds for the family of nine and a couch for their living room and a larger table and chairs for their kitchen.
And, it was getting close to Christmas and we were able to come over with a Christmas tree and decorations and we were able to get members of our church community at Rolling Hills to wrap gifts for each family members and some people donated cash cards and others donated cash.
And we decided to invite Jima’s family over for Christmas that year. 2006.
So, my sister was over with her 9 children and my brother with his 3 and we have 5 and Jima’s family with 7 children. You do the math. We gathered up everyone around our Christmas tree for a family photograph and it was the most amazing Christmas of our lives.
Africa came to us.
And we have never been the same since.
We have adopted Jima’s family into our lives and they have adopted us. We are friends with them and we share one another’s lives. We have brought them a Christmas tree every year and helped them decorate it and we have taken some of the children with us to get the tree and our children have become friends with one another, right from the beginning which I so love.
We have tried to help the parents find jobs and I have taken the mom to stores to fill out applications and we have tried to make connections and though it is slow, it is progress,and we invite the children over for weekends and we take them on outings and we take them on adventures. We took the mom and the children to the Beach and the mom had never been to the
ocean before. We have done sports camps for the children, and invited all the neighborhood kids in the apartment complex in north Portland. We have brought our youth group from suburban Tualatin to north Portland for a sports camp and done others over the years
My small group high school Bible study group from Rolling Hills, which I co-led in 2007-2008 with Crystal, took the family out for fried chicken in north Portland.
Through the connections with Jima’s family we have met Oujulu who has a PhD in Education and he visited our church and he wants Rachel and me to help him start a Refugee community for the Sudanese community. Oujulu says that Sudan is the only community not represented in the Portland area.
We are praying about that right now. Oujulu needs a job first before he can move his family to the Portland area.
For now, we continue to try to encourage Jima’s family. Jima used to visit us every weekend and he would go to Saturday night Bible study with Rachel and Ryan and Sunday School and church with us on Sundays. Now he has stopped coming and we so wanted to help him live his dreams. 12 year old Riek has been coming to our home lately, taking the bus over here, and that means transferring downtown. And when we drop off Riek on Sunday nights after junior high youth group I have been able to talk to 14 year old Wang and I have tried to hear his heart and he prays a lot to God and he is holding on to hope and he is working hard at school and he is going to church, but he says it is hard sometimes and I tell him to never ever give up, that God is with him and He will honor Wang. Wang was able to get into Benson High School this year. He says in his neighborhood there are gangs, and I tell him to hang strong with the Lord. That God is going to use him in a mighty way. I tell him to never ever give up. To work hard. To pray. To read God’s word, to stay connected with his church. With God.