The Onward Journey

“All this,” David said, “I have in writing as a result of the Lord’s hand on me, and he enabled me to understand all the details of the plan.”

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Onward Journey May 24, 2014

The Onward Journey II

A week full of interesting experiences and awakening reflections. Sharing the experiences of last week with classmates in EFM, the challenges I enjoy resonated with one of my friends. He, thus, began volunteering this week using his engineering/math skills to help our young friends begin to grasp the concepts of geometry and algebra that are really way beyond my ability. At the end of day one Gary told me he didn’t get to do math work with the student as “she forgot her math book”, but that they were able to work on her vocabulary assignment. The joy Gary experienced will keep him coming back to tutor and he is hopeful that he will have the time to assist in the pickup and distribution of food, as well.

I had the pleasure to work with a young man with his reading assignment, Henry and Ribsy, a story about a boy and his dog. The story is a fishing adventure that was full of new words. The student needed help to grasp their meaning and to understand the story better. While the young man was reading his very old and tattered book, without a cover, a few of the pages came loose from the binding. The look of Sadness on his face nearly brought a tear to my eye. When I suggested to him that it was not his fault, he looked me square in the eye and said, “It is my responsibility to take care of the school’s book”. How many of our children and their children would have that level of concern? I excused myself, found tape, and the two of us repaired the tear and helped the book look better than it did before. This young man was so appreciative, it brought home that little things do mean a lot.

I’m not very comfortable with computers, some of you reading this know that oh too well, but when my new young friend completed his reading assignment he advised me that he had work to do on the computer. Yep, the anxiety grew and heightened when he could not get access to the Internet. Being resourceful, I located one of the other volunteers who had that gift and was willing to share. I did learn how to make THAT correction the next time. If, and only if, it is the same problem, I might add.

My young student, Peter, introduced me to “Moby Max”, a computer online vocabulary program that provides the students with the opportunity to work on definitions of new words, synonyms, antonyms and word use in sentences. Peter went on to explain that his class is having an ongoing competition and he is in the lead by a few points. This young man was so happy working on his language skills and was actually disappointed when it was time to go home.

When I walked Peter and the other students out to the van for their ride home I had the pleasure to run into a homeless man who was looking through a trash bin nearby. The man, Owen, and I had a lovely chat about where the children were from and what I was doing. He was very concerned about how difficult life is for people in other parts of the world. This man never mentioned the difficulty he is experiencing in his life, but rather the concerns for others. Loving and caring people cross our path all the time, and how great it is, when we recognize that God is at work in all of us, and sometimes we are open to it. May I always recognize and be open to the fact that God’s grace is all around and comes in many different packages. Owen headed down the road with a bottle of fresh water I had shared. I headed home with the light of Owen’s concern for others stamped on my brain.

The week proceeded with the opportunity to work with two Sudanese youngsters of the Dinka Tribe. We spent the first hour working on basic math, or I should say basic multiplication. I have found that schools do not teach the memorization of the multiplication tables the way I learned. This old dog will try to learn new tricks but I really think the multiplication table method has value.

I was then given the opportunity to work with two fourth-graders (female) and three fifth-graders (two female and one male) who had experienced an episode (or more) of bullying and wanted to write a play about the subject. Why do people treat others in ways they would never treat themselves??? These young people were hurt by what they had experienced, but were more interested in communicating through a play, and “teaching others how to respect one another and just get along”. I was able to capture a lot of their thoughts on paper and challenged them to think about how they want to demonstrate, in their play, a better way to solve problems and help one another learn to appreciate each of our uniqueness. As I reflect on the subject of bulling and the terrible effect it has, it is obvious that I and others must demonstrate and live, as best we can, the love that Christ taught us to have for our neighbor.

I’d like the reader to imagine a hall full of children, ranging in age from 7-11, being asked to give their shoe size, and pants size, address and phone number. We had some fun with this, or at least the kids did. Fortunately, someone had the foresight to bring a foot measuring device and I tell you the kids had a ball “putting the left foot on, then take the left foot off, then the right foot on and the right foot off” or maybe it was my attempt at singing the song that got them giggling. This activity was to gather information so proper planning can be done to provide new shoes and personal and school supplies for the next school year. My new little friends were not very interested in hearing about the upcoming school year, but were absolutely thrilled with the idea that they would get a new pair of shoes.

The time spent with the students has helped me appreciate that “the harvest is plentiful but the labor is few”. I am bound and determined to help the organization increase its volunteer resources to meet the needs of the current students and those on the waiting list. We will recruit more volunteers, maybe one or two with a pick-up truck, to allow the “Network” to increase their capacity to pick up and distribute more food for these beautiful people. School will be out soon and the program will continue during the summer months. The “Network” plans to provide regular tutoring with time devoted to FUN (walks in Balboa Park, soccer, art projects, etc.) mixed in. I promise I will share more on what that will look like as it unfolds and welcome your ideas and feedback!!!

As I close this post, I ask you to keep the people, who have not yet been placed in welcoming communities like San Diego, in your thoughts and prayers. We are thankful for the protection offered to them in the Refugee Camps where they are being protected from all kind of evil. May we, as a global society, give more attention and thought to those less fortunate then ourselves…



Learning and Growing in God’s Love

This week began the next phase of “Formation”, which is an exciting project that involves working with the Refugee Network, a program of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego. The Refugee Network has been supporting people who have relocated to San Diego from refugee camps in various parts of the world.

Most recently, various tribes of the Sudan and Burma, Bhutanese and Iraqi refugees, have received assistance via the Network. The program assists the new and recently arrived populations in their resettlement in our community. These beautiful people have been forced from their homelands due to racial, religious, and economic persecution.

At my first meeting with the Refugee Network’s Executive Director, it became clear that the organization needs assistance in areas of tutoring, social services support and physical labor, which is required to execute the pickup and distribution of food and household affects. I was perfectly comfortable listening during this initial meeting, as I carefully noted the business needs of the organization.

The next day, I reported to my first tutoring opportunity and felt growing anxiety.

What will it be like?
What value will I be able to provide??
     …and how will I relate to children???

My ministry experience has focused predominantly upon on bringing the Word of God to brothers, and occasionally sisters, incarcerated in state and county prisons. A new phase of my journey was to begin! I needed to center myself and find inner peace so that I could be truly present and not at all anxious. I prayed on the drive to the church and tried to relax.

On arrival, I met with the head “Tutor Coordinator” who gave me a quick tour of the study area, supplies available and an overview of how the next few hours would go. My prayers were answered: God gave me twin brothers from the Karen tribe of the Burma (Myanmar).  I’ll call them Peter and Paul.  Each weighing a lot less than a sack of potatoes and standing just a bit taller than my waistline, they were as cute as you could imagine.

My assignment was to help them with basic linguistics, letter forming, word pronunciation, colors, and math. We had a brief get to know one another chat, but it was obvious that the boys wanted to get at their work! It became apparent that they both needed help in forming their letters, staying within the lines and having some sense of proportion. We had some fun – or I should say the boys got a real tickle when they associated my name, Tom, with the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry. They decided that I was named after the cat in the cartoon, so I became Mr. Cat and we all had a laugh.

When I asked Peter how old he was he said, “I am 11”, and Paul jumped in saying, “I am 19”. Needless to say I was more confused than normal, so I asked the driver – who picks up the students from their school and takes them home after the session – “How old are they?” She in turn asked the boys, in their native language, and was told that they were five or seven.

Peter and Paul both tried hard on the assignments we were doing and they maybe even struggled a bit, but at snack time, when I passed out a packet of goldfish, a container of cheese and crackers, and two tangerines, their faces lit up like the North Star. They didn’t dig right into their treasure.  No, they both saved their packaged snacks and fruit and placed these items carefully in their backpacks.

I found out later that they always bring some of their snacks home for their families. God’s Love shone brightly in that small tutoring center with 42 children and 12 volunteers. The boys made progress with some of the letters and numbers. I realized that I had never spent that kind of time with my own children, so God is giving me another chance, just like He always does!

The next two days of tutoring were similar.  I spent time helping a young girl from the Dinka tribe of Sudan who is 10 years old and has been in San Diego a couple of years.  I’ll call her Mary.  Mary’s homework was to write a paper about a special thing she did in school that day, then to read for a half hour. Her penmanship, punctuation and ability to record her thoughts on paper were exceptional for her age. She read to me for over half an hour, and when I suggested that she had satisfied her requirement, she said, “Mr. Tom, I would like to finish the chapter”. I was so impressed and agreed. Once she was satisfied, she closed her book and returned her homework and proceeded to enjoy her snacks.

The following day, it was extremely hot and therefore, most schools were closed due to the heat and horrific wild fires burning in the North County of San Diego. We had nine students (aged 7th through 11th grade) who came to tutoring because they needed help with their homework (remember: no school). These students needed help with geometry, algebra, rocket science and writing a paper.  I was extremely thankful that there were volunteers with the ability to help them with the math and science. I worked at helping a 10th grader develop an outline for her paper. We were fortunate that the freezer had several trays of ice cubes, as we were able to give the children cold water with their snacks of goldfish, Oreos and strawberries that were the size of many of their small fists.

While tutoring was going on, a homeless woman came to the door looking for food. The facility we use for tutoring is also a food distribution center on certain days during the week, but this day was not one of them. The staff with the food distribution responsibility were not at the facility and the food pantry was locked. The woman was quite distraught and the other volunteers were trying to explain the “Rules” to her, advising that she could come back in two days…

I told the nice lady that we could help a bit because fortunately, I carry a “blessings in a bag” for just such occasions. The woman was disappointed that she could not get some groceries to take home but was nevertheless grateful for the food she received.

This week has been full of prayers, blessings and the ability to witness numerous volunteers sharing their gifts and talents with children and adults in need. God’s love continues to spread through this community and I am happy for the opportunity to learn and grow in that Love.