Everywhere…


“later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt? it answered: Everywhere everywhere everywhere.” Warsan Shire    globe

My wife, Patricia, and I have lived overseas for 37 of our 57 years. During those years we have seen humanity at its most loving and perhaps at its least. We have held babies decimated by AIDS. We have walked the raunchy red light districts to meet women longing to turn their lives around. We have been robbed. And we have been treated so generously by many of the locals. For 22 years our home was Thailand, a land where more people were involved in the industry of sexual exploitation than there were born-again believers.

Just nine months after our arrival  in 1991, we experienced the first of two military coups. Scenes of  angry protests, the burning of cars, and more tragically, the shooting of live ammunition against unarmed student protestors filled the nightly news. The second coup d’etat, occurred in 2006, and was more divisive. The following years were filled with accusations and violence between the red (pro-democracy) and yellow (pro monarchy) shirts.  One morning in 2008 we woke up to the news that the yellow shirts with bats and clubs had seized the International Airport in Bangkok.  It became a prison and a dump for a week as they held  control for what they believed would lead to a final showdown.  The real turning point came in 2010 when the the red shirts decided to  blockade the downtown core for several weeks. The army was called in to disperse them once and for all.  I remember too well the panic in my wife’s voice as she exclaimed over the phone, “They are sending tanks into the streets, Peter!” The red shirts fled, but not after torching dozens of important government and commercial buildings in their wake. 

We moved to France in 2014, thinking life would be calmer. But anti-semitic riots broke out less than a month after we arrived. This time we encountered riot police, smelling the tear gas and burning tires as we zigzagged our way to join our two teenage daughters in the apartment. Six months later we heard never ending sirens signaling a deadly terror attack at the offices of Charlie Hebdo.  A dozen were left dead and others injured. Nine months later came another well-coordinated attack, this time on the famed Bataclan theatre and a few bars. It happened just as Parisians were settling down for a calm evening with friends. The death toll was over a hundred.  And then, six months later, after a short vacation, we left Nice only to find out upon our return that a man drove a large truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day crushing to death over 80 pedestrians! Add to these horrendous events the brazen attack on an 85 year old Catholic priest who’s throat was slit while performing his duties in front of his Catholic congregation. Understandably the country of France lived in paranoia believing the enemy lurked everywhere and the easiest group to identify came from those seeking refuge from all the wars in the mideast.

The Somali poet repeated the same word thrice, “Everywhere, everywhere, everywhere.” My work required me to travel from time to time. I personally became aware of a divided world, everywhere its systems broken and lacking. This reality sunk deepest when in 2017 I travelled to Iraq to be with some of my American friends who worked for Preemptive Love Coalition. They were struggling with daily death and violence they had witnessed. I went to be a friend for them, but deep down I wanted to see, smell and be moved by the brokenness. 

When Matt sent me a possible itinerary of where we would visit I was most excited and afraid of a planned trip to Mosul. He asked if I would be up for that, to take part in a food delivery? Of course, I was. However, when I got there I breathed a simultaneous sigh of disappointment and relief when the team was told by American Intelligence that it was unsafe to go in. Instead we spent hours in a large camp called Arbat where thousands of displaced people lived in non-descript cement block rooms. There workers with arbatPreemptive Love Coalition had made many friends and created opportunities for self-sustaining.  It was there I was reminded of the need to show up and do something. This group lived out generously their slogan: 

“We are the first to show up and the last to leave…”

I returned to France where I was introduced to a young Syrian named Khaled. He had been largely depressed and rarely liked to leave the tiny one room apartment he lived in. The first time I met him was over a coffee. After the formalities, he blurted something that surprised me, “I hate all religion!” That was pretty well his opening line. I think I might have said, “Ya, me too!” And then he told me his story, how he loved his country and how  he joined the peaceful student revolution with high hopes to bring about needed change and freedoms. And then the government turned on them. Soon after the country imploded into sectarian and religious violence. Now I’ve known Khaled for over a year now. We have become friends. He has helped me get insight as to why people in that part of the world and in any part of the world would hate religion, one word, hypocrisy. 

Everywhere. War, violence, persecution, hatred and poverty continue to wreak havoc on our globe. Since World War 2  there has never been a time on our earth when so many people have been forcibly displaced.  The UNHCR reports that at present 68.5 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced. That’s an astronomical amount. Syria, now in its eighth year of a civil war, accounts for the greatest number of people fleeing. Almost 65 percent of its population is either internally displaced or have fled elsewhere in search of safety and a new future. Other countries like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, Venezuela, or even Colombia have broken down. The famines in the reclusive country of North Korea are starving it’s most vulnerable. While the genocide in Myanmar that dominated the headlines for weeks is sadly forgotten by most. Thank God for the many relief organisations worldwide that provide relief to the weary and broken. But the never-ending need has stretched most them to their limits.

Of course solutions never come easy. Until our politicians and leaders are stirred by the present crisis, our weary world will continue half-heartedly to use hit and miss strategies. In the meantime the need for resilience on the part of refugees has never been greater. After treacherous journeys over mountains, deserts and seas they find Families-who-have-fled-th-009themselves in strange places where language, money and boredom are their daily grind. They battle on with a lack of belonging and no neighbour to call when they need help. Their futures point to a bleak life on the streets and not much better in overcrowded refugee camps.  The demanding solution requires all of us, just like the various organisations and associations, to show up and do something.

Perhaps the most virtuous thing we all could do is to provide hospitality to those who no longer have a home, a culture or a sense of belonging. I love a new program dubbed 100 Nights of Warmth that one of the churches in Paris is creating. Nightly, twenty men, all refugees, will have a warm space to spend the cold winter’s night. They too need more volunteers to show up. And that is the lifeblood of our world, caring people who volunteer their resources, energy and time so our world will thrive into the future.

And so, here we are, now 37 years of living in countries not our own.  My wife and I are in some small way displaced people, but by choice, and with a roof over our head, a salary and comfortable with the local language. But we understand, to a degree, the culture shock, the adapting and the feelings of being lost. Perhaps this is why our hearts are being turned towards the despair of the Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, and other migrants of poverty and war. We want to show up by living out a story of generosity. If we could, and it’s in our heart to do so, we’d create a space here in Paris where those who were chased by bombs and bullets, those who don’t belong, the broken and afraid,  could sit and be safe and find ‘home.’ It will be a beautiful place where Hope is resurrected and Dignity gets restored. Travelers from a far-off country will come and be embraced with the a message of sonship and daughtership. It will be for many a happy place and maybe of new beginnings.

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And So the Moment Happened!


History talks. She reminds us and shows us things. “I am not here just so you can recount stuff,” she said to me out of the blue!

And the conversation began.

“Do you remember when you used to think your path would never end,” she asked?

“I do, all that walking and all I could think of was my sore back and feet,” I replied.

“You were always in a hurry back then,” she scolded.

And I didn’t learn much either, I thought. “I just wanted to get over there as fast as I could,” I said meekly. “Now it seems I want to slow ‘er down a bit.”

These days I’ve been living and walking in the older version of me, in what now seems as though weeks are like days and the minutes have shrunk to seconds. I no longer want to hurry. I want to smell the air, hear the rustling leaves, even taste the earth.

“Well, you look much better, connected to the moment when you walk a little slower, don’t you?” History chided. I thought she was making fun of my gait. It’s true I am 57 years and I am not prepared to believe that I am that old either.

“Too bad time slowly washes us wrinkly white and we come out looking perpetually tired like a piece of driftwood,” I laughed.

“Why? It’s not all that bad. I like it when I see you stopping more,” History added with kindness. “Yes, that’s looks better on you.”

“Well, I guess I am letting things happen more. I don’t have to judge each moment like before. It’s like I can  relax,  stop and take it all in, the good parts and the boring bits.”

“Like the seals and whales,” History asked?

I remembered  this history, to how I heard my traveling partner, Patricia, shrill with joy, “Seals!”

“Seals, really?” I stopped the car quickly.

And I glanced and I saw them too, those silvery grey wonders dancing on the waters of the Baie des Chaleurs. The doors opened as two humans crossed the road. I was running with my iPad in hand, and I jumped the fence and started filming those bopping seals. There I was, happy, all the while giving a running commentary.

“Ha! Seals!” I said confidently, “Look at them!” I continued while squinting my eyes against the bright sun, “See how lucky am I! God thank you, thank you! You knew how much this would mean to me.”

My traveling partner had her phone out recording too. Was she recording me? We had both watched long and hard for this, hours of travel along the coastline. It was either whales or seals we longed to see. And then after a few minutes, yes that long, I noticed the seals were not seals. I laughed to myself now knowing they were some sea birds bobbing for fish. I deleted my video, not in the least disappointed. It was the moment that counted.

And I have to admit that this story was repeated twice. Yep, it was actually the second silly moment of that day. This was the trip we saw seals and whales. And both times I deleted both videos and my commentary with it.  It was really kind of funny.

History spoke up while chuckling at me, “You won’t forget this trip, will you? Those bird-seals and the rock-whales. However, the thing you should always remember is how you let the moments happen.”

I promised History to try and remember the lesson.

When I turned back towards the car and saw the happy eyes of my beloved traveling partner, they too reminded my heart. We were both learning to let things happen, no disappointment and without judgment. “It was not to be,” she said, “You always find what you look for, right?”

“Right,” I answered! “Let’s keep letting the moment happen.”

“And finding the seals and whales and the beauty of the moment,” she added.

Heaven surely must have laughed out loud as she looked down on us that day and wondered where we got our wisdom. You could say hearing History start up a conversation with me played a role in slowing us down. gaspe

Performance.


Medals-with-red-ribbon-on-white-backgroundI think many of us males get lost in our need for significance and success. We measure our lives against the expectations of culture and our closest peer group. In doing so we forget the crucial identity piece: Who are we? My closest peer group has been leaders in Pentecostal circles. Our conversations so often centered around what we did and how well we did it. I’ve  most of my working life the pressure to perform well and be successful. The compulsion to impress any given audience was my only way to show how worthy I was of support. It came to a head while being a missionary in Thailand. I left for Thailand under a central funding model, but  years later it was transitioned to a shared funding model where every missionary was responsible to find his own support, every penny! That’s when I did myself an injustice and began to worry too much about my performance. That’s when competition crept in too.

The Bible says the love of money is the root of all evil. Which is true. But so is the fear of not having enough, it can have detrimental effects on your life. I remember a seasoned Dollarsveteran teaching me how to raise money.  Since my wife at the time didn’t get a salary, but was very involved in what I did, he told me to tell congregations, “See, here you get two missionaries for the price of one!” And I would follow-up that statement with: “There’s no better deal than that, right?” Not only that, I would add that I was no newbie, and had sacrificed a lot to learn languages, cultures, and live in extreme weather! That’s how I presented. I actually don’t know if my new kind of talk helped or hindered the raising of funds. I think now it sounded ‘entitled.’ But in the moment I tried to impress.  I became reduced to how one dictionary described performance:  “the continual performance of a single task reduces a man to the level of a machine.” I felt machine-like wherever I went to ask, ask and ask again for support.

Now performance in itself is not evil and we all should do our very best with the hand God has given to us. However I had to come to my own conclusion as a ‘preacher’ and spiritual catalyst of sorts that I am not my performance on Sunday (or any other day when I am in front of some group speaking for that matter.) If you are a spiritual leader reading this, I encourage you to get this right; you and I are not ‘the great holy man of God’ that some want to label us with. We are not Moses, Billy G, or John Maxwell! And most of us are glad that we aren’t Bill Hybels right about now. But oh how we wanted, at one time or another, to be known as a successful world-shaker, right? But better watch out if you make that your identity! Here is a better more accurate picture of our identity, we are servants, we are lovers, and we are God’s children. That takes off some of the silly pressure that we put on ourselves to be something. Our roles and gifts are not our identity. They are simply the way we express our love to God and His world.

Since my brain surgery in 2012 I’ve tried to be more me, more authentic. Well, ‘try’ is maybe the wrong word, I’ve determined to be more me. That means not worrying so much about the expectations of others. It also has led me to being more open to the struggles of others. I’ve become more sensitive to the pain of others, more forgiving, more inclusive and hopefully more like Jesus. I now am also less afraid, too, of who I hang out with. I like people of all kinds from those who like to eat non-fat yogurt to those who smoke a pipe! And I’ve noticed people like to be around that kind of me, too.  It is kindness, not judgement, that slowly changes people’s attitudes and lives.

But it is not easy walking this path. Many people in church leadership structures want performance reports with numbers about all aspects of ministry. The stress on uniformity and speaking the same language (doctrine) and the need to be successful and more successful than the guy down the street is real. In many circles uniformity is next TheSoldierPeteto godliness. And this is where I return to my main point, if you don’t know your identity, you’ll confuse your self-worth with what you do and how well you do it. Performance.  Yes, it is a good feeling to be able to show big numbers. However I believe the epiphany we need in life happens when we realize I am not my big numbered performance. There’s more to me than that.  I am loved for who I am. And my life is about being true and faithful and generous and caring and not caring who sees me.

So stand up confidently and be different. Be quirky if it is you. Be engagingly outgoing if it is you. But please be unabashedly you.

 

Sorry sir, We Overbooked You!


It was the first time since I started to travel internationally that I was not allowed to board. I was landed in Lisbon heading to Alicante to speak to Thai young people living in Europe. But when I asked TAP Air about getting a boarding pass I was given the spiel of an overbooked plane and that I could fly the next day, same flight. I’d also get a hotel room and meal vouchers and a credit card with 250 euros for my troubles. Just go to any ATM and get your cash. She was a good saleswoman and so I was mildly okay with the plan, besides I would lose only one day with the young people.
 
However, the reality of the situation became clearer when I, along with seven others, began a long conversation with the TAP agent making the arrangements. The next day’s flight was already full. No way to get on it. So I was given a new TAP Air flight 2.5 hours north to Amsterdam and there to transfer to a KLM 2 hour flight to Alicante. I wasn’t too happy. He wasn’t budging. I didn’t even know I was given a 50 minute window to catch my next flight. I doubted their wisdom.
 

Next morning I was on time to the Lisbon airport wondering how my day would unfold. I boarded on time. The pilot then announced a delay of twenty minutes.  Not looking good already! While in the air I kept looking at my watch to gauge my chances of making my connection. It wasn’t looking good and I know my Swiss-made Seiko was not lying. I heard, at last, the landing announcement, I quickly calculated ten more minutes to touch the black tarmac. We descended through the fluffy clouds, passengers obediently belted to their chairs. I continued my calculations, hmmm, next flight now leaving in ten minutes. Hmmm, well, no matter how fast and long my spindly legs could carry me I knew I wouldn’t be on time. I look out my oval window to see highways dotted with cars and trucks, the dutch rooftops are visible and some big deciduous trees are at eye level. We hit the ground too hard and lurch from left to fright! My bag of unopened candies dance down the aisle. I now have two minutes to get my body on KLM flight.

It got me thinking, I wonder if we have tried to make living by faith too much like the way we travel. Ideally in travel there are no delays, no over-bookings, no technical problems and the weather is bright and sunny. Plan B’s are always the right plan too. So  up above those clouds I wondered if my next plane would wait for me. Was I important enough? Would there be ground staff waiting to whisk me to the where I need to go quickly. I found myself wishing again I could better control my future.

As it was there was no one waiting for me. I find the first boarding pass machine. After pounding my flight info, it decisively informed me that I missed my flight. “Due to delay…. You are too late, Peter DeWit, so sorry!” It gave me the option to rebook a flight. I clicked continue. The only flights were next day. I’d miss a second day of a three-day retreat. And where do I stay another night away? I didn’t how to decide. In the end, after talking to ground staff about options I made the decision to go home. Three days of travel to get to Alicante? No way jose!late.jpg

Some people live by the “nothing ever goes to plan” mantra. It’s really not true. Nonetheless sometimes things don’t go our way. That’s when you need to learn to let go and let be. I could have yelled like some of the others not permitted to board at Lisbon. I could have let the situation ruin my days and other people’s day too. I made an effort to let go and live lightly. I am sad of course to not be with my Thai friends in Spain. I am disappointed with TAP Air Portugal and it’s failures too. And the bank card they gave me that didn’t work, maddening!!! But what a reminder to self that I am not in control of the decisions and events that seem to go against me.

I am learning over and over to let go of the illusion that I am in control and trust the journey and the God of my journey. I guess that is what faith is all about, if everything was according to my plan I wouldn’t even need faith!

Goodness is Contagious


Just last week I experienced a beautiful human moment. As I was looking down from our Parisian balcony, five floors above, I saw an old man walking with a cane. I could tell he was begging as he took his little steps forward. He motioned to people with his hand that he was hungry. I continued to watch. But sadly no one wanted to even lift their heads! For some reason I dug into my pockets for a coin. It wasn’t much of a coin. And I dropped it from the fifth floor hoping he’d hear the ping. He did not and kept limping forward. But other heads below lifted and looked above to see where the coin descended from. One lady even grabbed the bronze coin and looked up at me questioning on her face. I motioned with my hand pointing sheepishly at the beggar that just passed her by. She understood. And she walked to the beggar and gave him my coin. I waited to see if she’d look up. She didn’t, but was looking down into her own purse by then. She caught up to the beggar a second time and gave him another coin, most likely worth more than mine! Then she looked up at me. I waved. She waved back. A beautiful human moment between strangers took place.

 

small-acts

Suicide


“He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this!” Gladys Bourdain.

Suicide is like that, a shock, a sad surprise. When I read what Anthony’s mother said above, I wanted to invite you to grapple with this sensitive subject, suicide. Anthony Bourdain’s death comes sadly on the heels of designer Kate Spade who also took her life a few days before. Her husband, too, expressed great shock and surprise. There were no red flags. Suicide rates continue to rise alarmingly in North America. Someone said if it was classified as a new virus suicide would be called an epidemic. In the States, statistically, you are three more times to be killed by your hand than by someone else! Japan, one of the richest ABcountries in the world, is also known for having one of the highest rates of suicide in the world.

But really, it comes closer to home when a friend or family member attempts and maybe succeeds in leaving this world. That is why I write today, I have friends both young and old who have taken their lives. When something like that happens to a close friend, family member or associate we don’t really like to talk about it. Perhaps we feel too ashamed? Deep despair is never easy to talk about. I read today of a caller to a radio show that lambasted the selfishness of Anthony Bourdain, “How could he do this to us all?” That question: How come? It keeps being asked over and over by those who have to come to terms with a loved one’s death.

Not only are the young prone to suicide, in 2012 the highest suicide rate occurred with those aged between 45-59. Males are four times more likely to die by suicide than females! And if I may interject here, there’s another group, the LGBTQ community whose rates of suicide attempts among are significantly higher, maybe up to three times higher! But what may have surprised us most about this past week’s news is that suicide strikes even the most successful. These two celebrities both enjoyed wonderful careers that would be the envy for most of us.

I don’t have the definitive answers to the question, “How come?” But I have read enough and lived long enough to tell you that one of the greatest stressors today is the pressure to always be strong and successful. So much so we find it nearly impossible to admit our darknesses and flaws. We hate being in the furnace of self-doubt, even though, if we let it do it’s work in our lives, it can refine us and make us stronger. It takes the same grace to carry our less than perfect self as it does to live joyfully.

I believe we should teach acceptance of the fact that we all struggle with the darkness or the ‘dark side’ of who we are. All of us have an ‘achilles heel.’ The question then becomes can we carry this personal struggle honourably and with grace? Grace not shame. If society or a religious community or the workplace or our families attempt to shame us into change, rarely do we change. We merely hide. And that especially is lonely and painful.

I wish there were more answers. Being aware and connecting with those struggling with sadness or loneliness is a good start. And it is not easy to know who is struggling in a ‘social media’ culture of putting forth our best face, literally! We must allow others, ourselves included, to show up with our less than smiley faces. Creating safety allows our friends and family members to be vulnerable with us without the shame. Conversations now become safe.

Some other ides that come quickly to mind to help those in the throes of depression:

Let them know personally that their lives have meaning and bring real meaning to us.

Let them know that their struggle is not an anomaly. Others too, many others, have been through times like this.

And continue to communicate that things WILL get better. Time has a way to bring good things, better times, laughter even, to our lives. Weeping lasts a night, yes, maybe many nights. But there will be a morning when joy fills our hearts again.

Finally, telling the stories, your survivor stories, can only bring about more courage in the soul of the one who is ready to give up.

“Joy is an Act of Resistance.”


“Joy is an act of resistance.” This stirring phrase is a revelation to me on how to live in troubled times, and anytime!  It is a call for an inner revolution that transforms our response to our outer realities. As a realist and one who is susceptible to seeing the negative side of everything, it is a summons to choose joy no matter what I perceive to be happening on the ground! Joy insists on resisting the negativism and self-doubt and lean into the positive possibilities come what may!

Last Friday I went to an event that brought refugees and the rest of us together. I saw the event on Facebook and was intrigued by the idea of playing sports and eating food with refugees. I clicked I would go. Since it was Ramadan and many refugees come from Muslim countries, the food would wait till after sundown. Okay, I can do that!

So that evening I trekked the 30 minutes  underground on Metro line 8 to Ecole Militaire station and then walked the rest of the way. When I came to the sprawling ‘Champs de Mars’ next to Gustave’s marvel, the Eiffel,  I searched for what might look like a group of refugees  ready to play games. But I just couldn’t find the group among the myriad of picnickers. I walked and walked some more. No luck. When I asked some guys selling beer to tourists if there was a playing field somewhere they gave some dubious directions and walked some more in the wrong direction! Of course the joke was on me!

So I pretty well gave up and sent a few ‘woe is me’ texts to my wife and making the last full circle of the ‘champs’ I had decided to leave. “Oh well, at least I got to see the Eiffel Tower” I sighed. Then in the corner of my eye I saw a makeshift volleyball net being erected. That’s them, I was sure of it. So I made my way to join. Time to forget my tired legs, my feelings of frustration, and my empty belly. Time to hang out, and play sports! Right?

raineiffelWrong! The skies decided otherwise, and opened up and dropped rain drops. The lightning eventually partnered with the increasingly heavier rain drops and I found myself huddled under a tree with complete strangers. Some hard-core sports types tried to play volleyball but soon gave up too. The event was over in a flash. Then I noticed an unused mini umbrella at the foot of the tree still wrapped tightly in its bindings. Seeing no one else go for it, I did. And holding it up I was joined by two others, refugees wanting to stay dry like me. The conversation began to flow and what seemed like a waste of time for the realist, became a moment of joy to live into. We said our goodbyes and ran at once under the wet heavens and earth to our metro and bus stops. The rain really did wipe out our night!

The next morning listening to a podcast with my wife I heard the phrase, “Joy is an act of resistance.” I had to write it down. Afterwards the podcast was done Patricia asked me how have I seen this act of resistance, this joy at play in my life? She knows my natural tendency to negativism. So I had to think hard. And then I realized how precious my rain filled adventure actually was. She said, “You were present. You made an effort. ” I saw it, just as she said, I realised that even though I was cold, I was present in the moment and surrounded by people from countries none of us would choose to live in. No, this wasn’t a waste of time. I knew then and there I needed to resist more. Joy was calling my name!

So I will pray and invite you to pray these words with me even if you aren’t a prayer kind of person: “Help me, God of creation, to resist all negativity in my life. Don’t let my thoughts go there. Make me know your joy. Let it be in me today. Let me feel it all day long. No matter the responses around me or circumstances I find myself in. I resist all negativism and complaining. Amen”

 Hebrews 12: 2, 3  Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!