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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A World Ends!


by Patricia DeWitPatinSwiss

 

Every once in a while the world ends. Resistance is usually futile. Oh, people have tried to resist, mourning the good ol’ days, crying over the loss of the way it was, stubbornly remaining phone-less, car-less, facebook-less. But in the end, they couldn’t prevail against what had become a new normal.

 

On August 17th we celebrate 25 years as PAOC Global Workers. We may have seen the end of the world a few times, having to adapt to many new normals. Some of these were just in our own world; some were shared universally. Each has formed us. Looking back it’s easy to see them as road markers, yet at the time, they were huge steps of faith, where we found ourselves in unfamiliar places, leaning desperately on God, squinting to see His face, shushing all other voices in order to hear His voice.

 

So from… twenty-two years in Bangkok with our first military coup in 1992, numerous states of emergency, the Tsunami, 9-11, strict curfews, adopting a daughter, giving birth to a second daughter, the world wide web, the creation of social media, national floods in Thailand, to… a transition to Europe that started with brain surgery, a year in Germany, then a move to France, Charlie Hebdo, The November 13 terrorism, Bastille Day terror, there have been many times where we woke up to a new normal.

 

The thing about new normals is that they can create a powerful space for the Gospel to emerge. That’s the crux of Global Work; not so much to create new normals, but to recognize and not be afraid of the new, to navigate the hard parts and create space where others can follow and cross over on dry land, always prayerfully in response to God’s love and reflecting God’s Kingdom.

 

In 2008, something that looked a lot like civil war started to divide Thailand. As a church we found ourselves caught between the Redshirts and the Yellow-shirts. Each side believed they had a right to hate the other. These colours seeped into the church, and where we would have hoped for orange, we just found Christian Red-shirts against Christian Yellow-shirts, each so determined to ‘have things our way no matter what’, each praying ‘Oh God, let us win!’ So while killings and protests hit the news headlines, our Newsong Bangkok church family knew we couldn’t rejoice in those ‘victories’, and set out to navigate this new normal so that once it was all over, Red-shirts and Yellow-shirts could come home to community and communion.

 

When the world ends we are forced to trust. Or die from worry. Seriously. It shows us that God is God and I am not. I remember a day in June 1995, and we were living in Nong Khai. We had guests, but I was starting to get a headache and stayed home while everyone went out. The headache had become so bad, and no amount of Tylenol helped. There was a fever, and out of body hallucinations. Peter took me to the hospital and the doctors told me I was suffering from full-blown HIV, and to put on a mask, go home, that there was nothing they could do for me.

 

Trust.

 

We had to get to Bangkok. FAST. So once our friends arrived to stay with the boys, another friend drove us to the airport an hour away, then a quick flight, and then a zigzag taxi ride to the most advanced private hospital in the city at that time. I was extremely ill.

 

“They told us she has final stage HIV, but that can’t be true.” Said Peter upon meeting the doctor. Peter was correct. A battery of tests proved this. But they could not find the cause of this illness. Not until the next month when we returned to Toronto for our first ‘furlough’ and Doctor Gamble at the missionary health institute discovered that I had suffered from Japanese encephalitis.

 

Most of all, what I have learned is that the end of the world does not kill us. Go back and read that again. The end of one world and the ensuing new normal does require us to take on this vulnerable posture of laying down our lives, dying to our idea of what things ‘should be’ but then there is that glorious coming out of the restrictive deathtomb and walking through the garden in a resurrection body. The new normal! God is there.

 

In every new normal GOD IS THERE. We may not recognize him in that foreign place, and we become frightened, like that time we were 5 and lost sight of Mom at the Kmart. Just as Jesus’ friends didn’t recognize him in the garden, it’s hard to recognize God after the tsunami, after the suicide of a child, after the diagnosis, after the terrorism. It’s hard.

 

But

God

Is

There.

 

As we celebrate this milestone anniversary, I can’t help but express gratitude for dear friends along the way who have been by our side faithfully through all the times we came to the end of the world, and who prayed us through our new normals.

 

Thank-you friend

For crying with us without judgment

Bangkok2009For celebrating with us generously

For putting wise words into our hands, words that have nudged us into a better Gospel story, a better trust, a better recognising.

 

Thank-you God

For Your great always-ness

For Your solid rock-ness

For waiting for us at the end of the world

And for meeting us in the new normal. Amen.

Les Premiers Pas de Pierre and Patricia à Paris


These days we are adjusting to life in Paris.That’s right, Paris! It’s been a long time coming, but we made it! We are living in temporary Airbnb quarters in the area called “Little Africa” which has stretched us. The noise level is high, there are lots of street arguments, garbage fills the streets until the garbage guys come and clean up, police presence is common and a crazy lady comes everyday to yell at the other vendors and passers-by! One of the surprising gifts to us are a group of Thai workers just below us. Each day we chat in Thai as we go out and about into the city. They say we are living in the Khlong Toei of Paris. That means the ‘poor’ section of Paris.

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Patricia paints our street.

So far we have walked a lot and been on the metro everyday. It is strange to not own a car. It is strange to go underground everyday. It is strange to smell urine so often! Funny too how my wife Patricia loves the challenge. She goes around with her nose in the map book and revels in the fact she can navigate us. Maybe she’s got her nose in the map book to keep away from other smells!

I miss a car! I mean driving a car. The exercise is good I know! Now we shop each day for groceries a few blocks away at the Carrefour Market and then take them home in our little cart and bags. Its great exercise, like I said, especially the five floor climb up the spiral stairs. There is no elevator in this old building. Three weeks of this and we still are puffing by the time we get to our door.

And then there were the protests in the streets by Palestinian sympathizers. Not once but twice. They shouted loudly in unison, “Let’s resist and Jihad.” So much craziness, The second time the planned protest was banned but it was not heeded and so the police shot tear gas next to our neighborhood as we were returning home. It was crazy! Today a third protest is planned and again it was banned here.

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Our stairwell, a natural exercise machine.

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Paris has beaches! But no swimming here!

Our hope these days is to find some permanent place to hang our hat real soon!!! We have visited some places already and we have some more to visit this coming week. These apartments are smaller, much smaller than anything we have ever lived in! Think ‘shoe box’ was what one french friend advised. Then at the end of the coming week we need to look closely at our options and budget! The budget decides the size of the shoe box! Pray for some special happenings this coming week

We’ve been blessed by four visits already. Simon Brewer from the UK,  Michael and Erin Hoyt from Morocco, Michael Lew from Huntington Beach and Sonya Ourlin fro everywhere! And we were able to get to Chantilly, not far from here, to hang out with our friends there Marie-Caroline de Felices-Jaouenand Will! We’ve had a chance to hang out with Daniel Roach and Cassidy Roach who are sadly leaving France after about two years here. So, though we don’t have a team yet, we are blessed to have friends along the way. And I am sure there will be more to come.

Thanks for following our posts and praying too.

Prayer points

1. Trip to Frankfurt to pick up our one-year visa.
2. A conclusion to the apartment hunt.
3. Our girls return to school in Germany at the end of August.
4. My mother’s health. She begins chemo on Monday.
5. Wisdom and peace!