Hope’s Campers Make Summer Memories

Thierry Bahati sits proudly upon a horse led by Kelsey McHenry at Stone Creek Camp.

Fourteen-year-old Thierry Bahati flashes a grin in the direction of his friends as his horse, Ebony, saunters around the pen.  Well, it’s not his horse, exactly.  The horse he is riding technically belongs to Stone Creek Camp, but for a bit, it’s easy to imagine he’s on an adventure of his own.

Bahati grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, before coming to America as a refugee.   “We used to live in the middle of nowhere and take care of cows and goats and corn. [Going to the farm] felt like going back to my house.”  Bahati now lives in an apartment complex off of a busy street in Louisville with his parents and two younger sisters. “Riding horses was really cool.  It was my first time ever riding one,” he adds, his familiar smile rising with the memory.

Kenzie Young and Hope Place Director Kristy Robison began planning this outing last summer when Robison learned that Young operated a handful of summer camp sessions each year.  Robison was excited to begin figuring out the logistics for funding and the transportation required to carry over fifty Hope Place kids, plus parents and volunteers across Louisville for the two-day experience.

Kenzie Young, Stone Creek Camp

During camp, the kids also swam in a pond, zip-lined, and tie-dyed t-shirts.   Many of them had never before hiked a wooded trail or mounted a horse. Some bought their first-ever bathing suits for this event.

“It is just a little bit easier to breathe when you’re in the country.  There is something about being outside and being with animals that helps to counteract the stresses of life,” explains Young.  “It is therapeutic to stand in the summer sun and brush a horse or hold a kitten as it falls asleep.”

Hope Place has hosted ten camps in all this summer, growing significantly from the single four-day camp last year.  Camp options this year included cooking, music, construction, dance, gardening, basketball, a reprisal of last year’s Wacky Wednesdays, the Stone Creek Camp, and two cultural camps, one run by the Karen people and the other by the Chin people of Myanmar.  A total of nearly 250 children were served by these camps and the countless volunteers that worked them.

College student Eh Htoo served for two weeks at Karen Bible Camp.  Darting from classroom to classroom and from basement to office, Htoo taught, translated, and made copies for the sixty or so Karen kids in attendance each day.  Htoo, a refugee herself, arrived in America twelve years ago.

Eh Htoo, Karen Bible Camp

During Karen Camp, children learned Bible stories and songs in their native language.  “We don’t want them to forget about their culture or their language because one day, when they grow up, our people will need help with our language and it’s important for them to know about our culture,” says Htoo.

Last year, Beechland Karen Baptist Church’s pastor Saw Gay ran this camp out of his own family’s apartment.  Originally, he planned to continue to use his home again this year, when space was offered at Hope Place. Hope Place partnered with the church by supplying them with some materials and copies, providing lunch, and arranging for a visiting team to lead a few mini-camps under Gay’s oversight.

With summer coming to an end, Hope Place is gearing up for fall after-school programming.  Hope Place kids, however, have accumulated a variety of new skills and memories of their adventures.  Kids like Thierry Bahati and his sister Sophie Mwanzagaza, who explains what she will remember most about the summer: “At basketball camp, I finally learned how to play basketball.  But I also learned about being respectful and kind, and I made a lot of new friends.”

By | 2019-07-27T21:54:59+00:00 July 27th, 2019|Uncategorized|0 Comments

Year One: A Virtual Tour of Hope Place

Hope Place recently celebrated its first birthday!  Our “Out of School Block Party” event was the official kickoff in June 2018.  This past year has been a blur of activity; the building is full of life and hope.  The following is a brief description of a typical week at Hope Place.

 

On a Friday morning, the rooms at Hope Place are beginning to fill with people.  

In the Learning Center, teachers with the C.O.F.F.E.E. English as a Second Language Program assist students from places like Iraq, Somalia, and Cuba.  

In the now-vibrant Hope Cafe, refugee women from the MAYA Collection piece together handmade boutique-quality items like handbags and earrings to sell at market.  The income they receive will benefit their families. Volunteers assist with their young children.

On the third floor, the Women’s Fitness Center is gearing up for the arrival of mainly African and Middle-Eastern women who will, within the hour, be working out with REFIT instructor Christie.  

The weekend brings streams of people in through various doors:  a Somali wedding, an East African choir practice, a Myanmar church service.  Speakers, microphones, and podiums are set up and broken down, chairs arranged and rearranged.  Voices are raised in song in languages unfamiliar to the uninitiated.

When the new week begins, the Hope Place Kids programs pick back up.  Volunteers who have been trained to take a trauma-informed approach lead classes in music, mindfulness, art, dance, and recreation.  The children, from diverse backgrounds and religions, learn constructive ways to express their emotions through strokes of a paintbrush, the cadence of words, the beat of a drum, physical movement, and teamwork.

In a large, bright, basement room, Elevate Hope dance teacher Rachel instructs a group of tiny ballerinas with their arms outstretched to the side, to run across a tape line on the floor, leaping over a sandal laid on the path.

A few parents wait for their children in the cafe.   A couple of Arabic speakers are engaged in intense conversation over the coffee table.  They break into laughter occasionally. A mom with a messy bun reads a book with a highlighter in hand, soaking in this momentary calm in her day. 

Amy, Jessica, Carla, or another building hostess unlocks the storage cabinet and distributes snacks and supplies to mentors who have arrived for their weekly meeting with students.  In the cape cod-style cottage next door, Jo Rae removes her sheet pan of blueberry pancakes from her oven at Hope House in preparation for the teen girl mentor group which is coming over for dinner and conversation tonight.

His job training through the P.A.C.T. program finished for the day, a young twenty-something guy from Somalia meets up with a mentor.  He discusses the future of his job and his family. His life in transition, the world is more uncertain to him than to anyone else in the building.

As the sun sinks low, Congolese, Burundian, and Rwandan women in African-print dresses with the ministry Gate of Hope stand in silhouette against the sky, grasping hoses that water the vegetables they will soon harvest.  Their flip-flops sink into the cool soil. The garden will produce good fruit. It always does.

By | 2019-06-21T18:20:13+00:00 June 21st, 2019|HopePlace, Uncategorized|0 Comments

Moms Carry A World of Hope

At Hope Place, we recognize how important relationships are, for connection, growth, and overcoming traumatic experiences. For this piece, in honor of Mother’s Day, I interviewed six moms and their daughters who are part of the Hope Place community and are from a variety of cultural backgrounds.

Amy, is American-born and mom to Hannah, 24, and Maggie, 11.  Iman, from Iraq, is a single mom to Mariam, 10. American mom Beth adopted her twin daughters, Ella and Elline, 11, from Haiti.  Arwe, who immigrated from Yemen, is the mother of Asmaa, 19. Somali refugee Habiba, gave birth to triplets just after arriving in Chicago and her daughters are Najma and Nasteho, 13.  Farida, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, gave birth to her daughter Beatrice, 11, while living as a refugee in Tanzania.

After the first couple of interviews, I found myself questioning the mothers and daughters at the same time, mostly because the daughters were translating for their moms.   It was fun to see them react to one another’s answers and hear the side conversations that were spawned, particularly when the daughters sat, mouths agape at a story they’d never heard.  “You never told me about that!” they would exclaim. The mother would nod knowingly, as if to say, “There are many things you don’t know about me yet.”

As one would expect, each of the moms expressed joy when they first met their daughters.  Both Amy and Iman experienced difficult labors. “I was very sick and had a fever when she was first born so the doctors were worried about her, too.  I had to have surgery. I was so worried about Mariam. I just needed the doctor to say that she was ok. I forgot about everything else. To say I was happy is so not enough.  Mariam is my life,” explains Iman. Mariam smiles at this and snuggles into Iman’s shoulder.

Says Amy, “I was grateful to God that Maggie was alive because she almost died when she was born.  I realized God’s authority over life and death and saw him breathe the breath of life into her.”

Habiba tells of her surprise when she learned she was carrying triplets.  “I was pregnant when I came to Chicago in 2005. When I went to the doctor he said, ‘Habiba!  You have three babies!’ I was so very happy.” She gives orders for her daughters to bring out a photo album filled with images of newborns in a hospital. She shares them proudly.

The ladies praise their own mothers for setting their example. Says Habiba, “My mom was always right, never wrong.”

Beth adds, “My mom taught me to not make a big deal out of the small stuff and that relationships are more important than anything else.  You can never say that you love your daughters enough.”

“My mom just had a sense of peace about her and a lot of wisdom.  I think I can be so anxious and always striving. I have to be always doing something.  She used to say to me, ‘you can’t burn the candle at both ends,’” says Amy. “She’s right.”

While the mothers were conscientious about their own weaknesses, their daughters praised them highly, as well.  They specifically note their moms’ wisdom and willingness to listen, their service of others, their domestic and professional work, and their endurance through difficulties.

“My mom is brave because she went through cancer,” says Elline.  Adds sister Ella, “She’s really kind. She’s gone through a lot of things in life and she’s lived in two different countries.”

Najma, at her mother’s command, pours me a glass of juice, “My mom is brave because she stands up for what’s right.  I just found out right now–right this minute–that she went to Kenya because there was a war going on in Somalia!”

“My mom is very supportive because when I make wrong decisions she gives me advice to make it right.  She is very wise through stuff.” (Nasteho)

“I admire really just how selfless my mom is.  She is always there to care for people, to listen, to serve people, first and foremost for our family, but for other people, too.  She’s always there to listen no matter what time morning or night and even just to be with me and say nothing.” (Hannah)

“I want to be like my mom by loving and taking care of my future kids and being smart in school.  I want to be a teacher when I grow up like my mom was before,” says Mariam.  Ella and Elline both want to be teachers like their mom, and Maggie expresses a desire to follow her mom into cross-cultural work.

“I want to help people like she does.  When my uncle came here from Africa, my mom got ready for everything that we needed to do to prepare.  She did all the cooking and cleaning to welcome him.” (Beatrice)

“When we were in Yemen she couldn’t work, but when we came here she made her own house.  She works hard for us. I want to have a big heart like hers and be a good mother for my kids.” (Asmaa)

All the moms wish only the best for their daughters’ lives.  “I want Beatrice to be a lawyer or a doctor,” says Farida. (The look on Beatrice’s face doesn’t seem so sure about this.)

“I hope for her to follow Jesus,” explains Iman.  “I also hope she’ll become a doctor and have a happy life.” (Mariam interrupts, “But I actually want to be a teacher like you.”)

Beth hopes, “that they serve the Lord in whatever way he asks of them and that we always remain connected and close.”

The takeaways from the interviews with these women and girls from around the world are several.  First, the feelings experienced by moms when they first met their babies is universal. Whether the child’s addition occurred through an uneventful pregnancy, a long labor, or was facilitated by an adoption agency, everyone interviewed experienced the same joy. Second, while all of the moms seem to doubt their abilities in one way or another, every one of their children highly praises their work for the family. Third, all moms have a secret life story that their children may never fully know or appreciate.  But it’s those stories that have contributed to the brave, wise, women their daughters adore.

Finally, all of these moms have high hopes for their kids’ success in life, however that may translate culturally.

“My number one hope would be that my daughter finds her identity in Christ and does not fall into the trap of comparing herself with others,” summarizes Amy, “I hope that she would see her unique gifts and personality as something that can be used for him.”

By | 2019-05-06T18:45:49+00:00 May 6th, 2019|HopePlace|0 Comments

Five Tips for Your Youth Mission Trip

Shhh.  Listen.  Do you hear that?  If you really concentrate, you can just make out the sound of throngs of enthusiastic teenagers loading onto vans and buses and heading toward your friendly neighborhood ministry center, armed with sack lunches and paint rollers.  Even if their skill sets aren’t yet fully developed, their energy and zeal can make up for what is lacking, as they kick soccer balls with the kids and ladle one hot meal after another onto waiting plates.

Of course, if you’ve ever worked with a youth missions team, you know that things can either go very well, or, well, very, very, wrong.  The last thing any good youth minister wants is to head across the state or country with an ill-prepared group of students who contribute to more problems than they alleviate.  

Hope Place recently hosted a team through our partnership with ServeLouisville, that contributed beautifully to our ministry goals.  The team consisted of nine high school students, an additional local teen who joined with them during their trip, and three adult chaperones.  Throughout their service at Hope Place, which included an ice cream sundae party during the Explorer Clubs on Wednesday night and a full Thursday of cleaning up trash littering the streets surrounding our building, these teens were fully present, open-minded, and worked hard without complaint.  We asked Youth and Family Minister Ethan Davis, of Center Christian Church in Knightstown, Indiana, to share a bit about their strategy and preparation.

1. Prayerful Preparation

“For this trip, we prayed, opened up the registration link, and prayed more.  We didn’t advertise heavily, but trusted that those who wanted to go and were engaged enough would self-select.  We do ask some questions on the registration to get more info about their relationship with Christ, but we don’t make it laborious.”  In the time leading up to their departure, during their weekly meetings, Davis says they worked on “our choices and allowing God to be the focus and honoring him in all things. . . [Before we left], we were brought up and prayed over by the elders.  We were sent as an extension of Center Christian Church, as a whole, and not just the youth.”  

2.  Looking for God in Each Moment

“Besides the weekly meetings, we all attended Sunday school together the day we left.  They were pestering me about the details of the trip. I shared with them the Greek has two words for time:  Kairos and Chronos. . . We as Western Americans live in Chronos time–clock time. I was asking them to step into Kairos time–‘living in the moment’ time.”  Davis and his leadership team encouraged the teens to look for what God was doing in each moment, and participate with the Holy Spirit in that work, rather than simply filling the hours with empty activity.  To minimize distractions, the students were not allowed to carry their cell phones. Davis attributes the team’s success in Louisville to, “the grace of God, no cell phones, and having leaders committed to being present with no distractions.”

3.  A Biblical Approach to Discipline

Davis cites Matthew chapter 18 frequently when he discusses discipline.  This passage discusses how believers should confront one another when one has sinned.  “Before we left for the trip, we only had one real rule: Matthew 18. We knew conflict would come, we just wanted to handle it biblically.  We really strive to create a “follow me” approach to leading these kids. Our leaders have high trust and high accountability for and with each other.  This modeling is evident in how the kids approach each other. We are present, we are engaged, and other than that, we try to elevate relationship and unity above rules.  When we live out “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” it shows. This means that it’s not the leaders rule, but Jesus who gets to rule. Our leaders know that they are not perfect, we are just accountable to a higher authority.”

4.  Emphasizing Grace

Davis notes that while the team didn’t have any major disciplinary issues, “we did have some joking around that was a bit on the line.  We [the leaders] walked alongside both students by asking questions, not demanding behaviors. We try to allow them to discover for themselves the reasons behind a God-given ‘rule.’  After all, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. The struggle is to make sure all of our actions are in Christ. That [has been] our mega theme for this past year.”

5. Creating Margin for the Team

When asked how the leaders dealt with the inevitable bad attitudes that emerge after many hours of togetherness, particularly when the students are outside of their own local culture and learning so much new information each day, Davis responds, “Honestly, we didn’t have a lot of grumbling at all.  We tried to create relational white space in our calendar to allow them to be as a group rather than just do.  We really wanted to get to know them, but not push.  On the way down, we played . . . a collaborative card game [called Oregon Trail].  They had to overcome challenges and take on responsibilities of pioneers settling the old American West.  It really doesn’t seem spiritual, but it was a good chance for us to see how their personalities presented and who we can partner together for future assignments.”  

Davis’ notes offer encouragement to other student groups who may be heading out to serve in the coming weeks and months.  As we serve together for Kingdom purposes, may we use our gifts–along with our soccer balls and paint rollers–to build one another up and bring God glory in all that we do.  

If you would like to bring your team to serve at Hope Place, contact kristy@hopeccd.org.

By | 2019-04-02T03:01:26+00:00 April 2nd, 2019|HopePlace|0 Comments

Get Fit and Fit In: Hope Place’s Women-Only Gym Opens in South Louisville

Getting in shape is a common New Year’s Resolution for many.  Kristy Robison and Hadeel Mahdi’s resolution was slightly bigger than that:  they wanted to see an inclusive, women-only gym open in their South Louisville neighborhood.  

A trained therapist, Robison recognizes the benefits of fitness.  Through her education and experience with clients who have experienced trauma, she notes, “I’ve had to learn the hard way that taking care of myself has to be a priority, so I’m excited to help others take care of themselves, their families, and their mental and physical health.”

For Mahdi, a 31-year-old Iraqi immigrant and mother of four young children, the need was more personal.  “After I gained weight, I started to change my diet and wanted to work out. I can’t take off my hijab [when I’m with men], but here I feel safe to do that.  A women-only gym is my dream!”

Robison, who has been the Director of Hope Place since it opened last year, remembers the initial conversation with her friend well.  “We were walking to get popsicles with her kids and Hadeel mentioned she needed a place to work out that was only for women, so we started praying about that.”  God’s answer came through former women’s gym owner Kim Caples. “One day, [she] just called and said that she had been praying about what to do with all the equipment she no longer needed and she was wondering if we wanted it at Hope Place.  She donated it all.”

The cheery new workout area is located on the third floor of Hope Place’s spacious building.  It features a children’s playroom, a large sitting area, dressing rooms, private restrooms, ellipticals, treadmills, weights, and, of course, the centerpiece:  all of the fitness machines required for a complete circuit workout. While the circuit takes only thirty minutes to complete, it is equivalent to a ninety-minute workout at a traditional gym.

Inspirational quotes pop off the bright pink and gray walls, while a dance mix of high energy music floods the room.  Every thirty seconds, a chime announces that it’s time to switch machines. After two full circuits, the workout is complete.

“[This gym is] very important because when we opened Hope Place, our mission and priority has been to meet the needs of the community.  It was Hadeel who kind of started the conversation that a women’s only gym was important for Muslim women who can’t work out with men,” explains Robison.  And while they may have been essential to its design, the gym is not designated for Muslim women alone. All women are welcome to join. Currently, Robison notes, “we have 60-70 people who are interested.”

Women curious about the Hope Place Women’s Fitness Center, may come out and try the gym the first time for free.  Monday through Friday from 9:30am-1:00pm and Monday through Thursday from 5:00-7:00 pm, someone will be here to help them use the equipment.  Members may join online or when they arrive on site. The fees are $15 a month or $150 a year. The month-to-month option can be canceled at any time.

By | 2019-01-28T19:54:46+00:00 January 28th, 2019|HopePlace, Uncategorized|4 Comments

Funmi Aderinokun: Loving People through Tasty Food

Tucked away unassumingly in the Gardiner Lane Shopping Center, Funmi’s Nigerian Restaurant is empty when the group of girls enter.  The restaurant typically closes between 2:30 and 5:30 while Funmi Aderinokun prepares for dinner, so the regular lunch crowd has already dispersed.  Today, however, the place is reserved for a special event. Within moments, it is once again bustling with activity.

“So how many languages do you speak?” one girl asks another. The answer is three. Another young lady at the other end of the table chats about school problems.  A few dare to stand up and dance to the West African music that is playing, showing off ornate African dresses that represent their individual cultures.

The “Black Girls Bloom” group first began at Hope Place when several African refugees and adoptees began gathering together on Saturday mornings.  They talk mainly about identity, specifically as it pertains to embracing who God created them to be, counteracting the unkind words that many have heard about their accents, cultural practices, or appearances.

Conversations at Funmi’s continue as each girl is served a plate of tomato-tinted chicken, jollof rice, and fried plantains.  The real treat, however, is that Aderinokun herself takes a seat and begins to share her experiences as a Nigerian immigrant and a successful chef and business owner.  

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Aderinokun came to America when she was 33.  She worked in a bank until she decided to step out and open her own restaurant in 2010.  In the midst of raising a family with her husband Yomi, through hard work, struggle, and the grace of God, Funmi’s Nigerian Restaurant has become a gem in the local restaurant scene.  “I’ve never had a sous chef,” she explains to her guests. “For the past eight years, I’ve been the only one cooking. Phil 4:13–’I can do all things through him who strengthens me’–is my watchword.”

Along with her personal success story, Aderinokun encourages the girls surrounding her to have confidence. “I don’t mean an arrogant confidence like, ‘Who does she think she is?”  No, it’s, ‘Who does she know she belongs to?’  She adds, “And when you face challenges in life, realize it’s because you have God’s calling on your life.”

The girls are attentive as she combines wisdom with her personal stories of overcoming, generously folding in Scripture throughout.  Both Aderinokun’s cooking and her hope shine through and warm her guests on this chilly November day.

By | 2018-12-05T23:32:16+00:00 December 5th, 2018|HopePlace|0 Comments

Meant to Make a Difference

Every Tuesday evening, Jean Thomas catches a city bus outside his downtown office and heads to Louisville’s South End, where several energetic little boys wait to meet with him.  

Thomas is one of Hope Place’s EMPOWER coaches in their youth mentoring program that began last month in the Beechmont community.  Although Hope Place is a recent addition to the neighborhood, deepening relationships through family and student coaching has been a goal since its inception.  

“Mentors are so important for our youth because they focus on supporting the growth and development of their mentee through relationship and connection,”  explains Director Kristy Robison. EMPOWER mentors meet for an hour or two at a set time each week with the same small group of students. Mentors assist with homework, play games, and help the youth set and reach goals, encouraging them along the way.

The day before Thomas was approached and asked to join EMPOWER, he had started contemplating the idea of partnering with a mentoring program.  He had begun to feel that mentoring youth was something in which God was leading him to become involved.  The timing seemed perfect, so he readily agreed.  A background check and training session later, Thomas found himself face-to-face with a small group of elementary school-aged boys, assisting with math problems, teaching lessons on character, and playing table football with carefully folded triangles of paper.  

As a Haitian-American and a graduate of Hunter College in New York, with degrees in both economics and political science, Thomas is a strong role model for the kids in his EMPOWER group.  A husband and father of three, including his middle son who has special needs and “requires constant and energetic supervision to remain safe,” Thomas serves his mentees with the patience and faithfulness he has developed over a lifetime.  

Although any child may apply for a mentor at Hope Place, many of the children come from backgrounds in which they have experienced some type of trauma in their lives: upheaval in their native country, the death of a parent, adoption, etc.  Robison’s vision has always included the use of trauma-informed care to serve Hope Place’s population and the EMPOWER groups are central in this.

“Research has shown that connection can actually help rewire a traumatized brain,” she explains.  “This is amazing to me because God wired us all for connection. In fact, he sent his son to die for us so we can have connection with him and he created human connection to be healing.”

Thomas agrees.  “The reason I have prioritized mentoring in the midst of my own life’s busyness is that I consider smaller, intimate groups to have the greatest potential to influence young people to manage themselves and to treat others with justice.”

The boys in Thomas’ mentoring group don’t understand all of the logic undergirding the EMPOWER program’s foundation just yet.  For them, the time each week is simply fun and games with someone who cares about the things that matter most to them.

By | 2018-10-31T01:54:34+00:00 October 31st, 2018|HopePlace|0 Comments

Kairos Moments

In the Bible, there are two main words for time. The first is chronos – something we see appear in English words like “chronology.” Chronos is clock time; it’s minutes and hours and days. Chronos happens like clockwork (literally), for it is the regular passing of seasons and times. 

The other word for time that we see in scripture is kairos. Unlike chronos, kairos isn’t that interested in the clock; it’s focused on the content. Kairos doesn’t so much measure time, as it makes use of time. Kairos is finding meaning in the minutes; it’s seeing (and making) purpose in this time, this moment, this now.

Why the Greek lesson? It’s because our mentors make use of chronos AND kairos. Mentoring begins this week at schools throughout Oldham County, and each week our mentors have a chronos moment on the calendar. If they have committed to be at the school on Wednesday at 1:00, well, then that’s the chronos moment when their mentees and the schools expect them to show up. And, of course, it’s really important for our mentors to be there; showing up is the first half of the commitment they have made.

However, it’s possible to keep the chronos commitment, but miss the kairos moments. For mentoring isn’t just about taking the time, it’s about making use of the time. It’s about being there, yes; but, even more, it’s about being fully there, ready to love, listen, and encourage. Chronos is about being there, but kairos is about being ready to engage the students, right where they are. 

So, remember our mentors as they connect this week with their students. Pray that in the midst of chronos time, they will experience kairos moments, too.

By | 2018-09-10T19:01:18+00:00 September 10th, 2018|Public School Outreach|0 Comments

Freddie’s Story

It’s no longer surprising to see drug addicts on city streets, in alleys, or around public buildings.  Beechmont is just one Louisville neighborhood that has been particularly hard-hit by this trend. In 2017 alone, 292 doses of Narcan were administered in the area. Studies have shown that early trauma combined with the individual’s own poor choices can lead to substance addiction.  The result of this toxic combination can be seen around the borders of the Hope Place facility, as homeless men and women sleep under stairwells, shoot up, and make deals. When Hope Place opened, this activity was already well-established on the grounds.  We’ve found no easy solution to a problem that has taken root throughout the city. Like all of life’s hard things, it seems that God is leading the Hope Place staff through this struggle, rather than around it. When I met Freddie Woods*, he was thin and sickly, sitting on a stair in a recessed area of the building, talking to a female friend, Kathy, who presumably shared the same addiction.  I cautiously approached and they each relayed to me the tragic life situations and decisions they had made that eventually led to Hope Place’s side porch, where they currently shared an aging apple they’d rescued from a dumpster. Hope Place Director Kristy Robison asked her husband Matt to come over and talk to Freddie later that evening.  Lit by a streetlight, Matt leaned against the brick wall and offered Freddie, who remained shadowed on the porch, a bit of hope:  if he was interested, Matt would try to find Freddie a place in rehab. “I’ll check around and see what I can do. If you want to go and you’re still here in the morning,  I’ll drive you there,” Matt offered. “I’ll be here,” Freddie responded.  “I’m not going to leave this spot because I know if I go back out there, I won’t come back.” None of us was sure whether Freddie would still be on the porch the next morning.  In fact, he waited over 48 hours while Matt found him a spot in a rehab program, which is where he is now, voluntarily trying to get clean. After making it through his initial week of detoxing, Freddie has been transferred to a 60 day rehab facility.  Matt continues to follow up with him and reports that he is doing well and is appreciative of the support. Matt even became his emergency contact, when Freddie revealed he has no one left in his life willing to fill that role. The streets abound with others who are struggling with addiction like Freddie, but who are not yet ready to enter rehab.  Many have lost all hope that their lives could be any better than they presently are. Beneath the needle marks, the pale complexions, the hopelessness, lies not only someone’s son or daughter, born bearing the image of God, but a potential brother or sister, a future pastor, women’s ministry leader, or prayer warrior. Seeing the dignity in others can be difficult when it has been covered over by a haze of struggle and failure.  It is our job to help others dig down below the surface to find treasure.
By | 2018-11-07T23:47:27+00:00 August 31st, 2018|HopePlace|0 Comments

Amina’s Story

As a child, Amina Saidi* was just one of many young girls who herded their family’s goats around the countryside of Somalia, at least until she was sent to Mogadishu to live in her uncle’s home and attend school.  Amina worked hard at her education and was in the seventh grade when she learned that her father had died. Her step-mother quickly remarried, leaving Amina and her four teenage siblings to care for themselves. By this time, her father had left his nomadic lifestyle and settled in a village near the Shebelle River to farm.  Before his death, he had been a wealthy man and the children were able to continue working the farm and providing for their needs. “We didn’t have a father or mother, but we were happy and we did a good job cooking, cleaning, gathering wood…,” she explains.

Abdi Mohammed* was 21 years older than Amina when they married.  She knew that she needed a husband to provide for her, and Abdi Mohammed, an Army General, seemed advantageous.  He was also well-connected, as his brother was married into the notorious Somali President Siad Barre’s family in a nation where family is everything.  Amina moved back to Mogadishu, this time into a home of her own and the two lived an affluent life together. Still, she felt like an outsider, and when the sound of gunfire signaling Somalia’s civil war reached her neighborhood, her husband ran away in fear, leaving his pregnant wife with their seven children and an adolescent nephew.  

For fourteen days, Amina and the children remained huddled in the house while gunfire exploded around them.  “Once, we were eating our meal and a bullet came in and landed in our food. I said, ‘God, help me!’” Every day, she would feed an increasing number of people one meal of “a little meat and a lot of rice,” she says.  Tanks would come by and fire on houses, but their home and the inhabitants remained, so she would say, “Today, praise God, life.”

One day, she and the children decided to escape to her childhood farm and for miles they walked.  Her thirteen-year-old daughter carried the two-year-old along, as expectant-mother Amina navigated the way.   They paid a tractor pulling a flatbed trailer to carry them the rest of the way. Eventually, the family made their way to Kenya.

When Amina’s sister in America decided to sponsor the family’s immigration, they traveled across the Atlantic to Virginia.  Her early days here were hard. Only eleven days after arriving, her husband, who had reunited with them, died from lung cancer and pneumonia in a hospital. Overwhelmed, she would often go into the bathroom, weep for a while, and then come out determined to be strong for her children.  “I didn’t know the language, didn’t have money, didn’t know where to go to get help. No one was helping then. I didn’t even know where the food stamps place was. But it was the church that helped me.” The family stayed in a Volunteers of America family shelter when they had difficulty paying their rent and then moved to Columbus, Ohio when they heard that rent there was more affordable.  

Churches in Columbus kindly invited them to stay for a week at a time and fed them dinner each day.  “The church people were a . . .,” she pauses as she searches for the perfect word before finally exclaiming, “. . . a community!  If they sponsored four families for one week, I thought, the money is not just coming from the [institutional] church, it is coming from the community of the church!  They really helped us. They were the nicest people I’ve ever met.” For the first time, Amina was seeing the church not as a lifeless structure, but as a group of living, breathing, sacrificing people.  “They even helped the kids read stories and played with them. They just kept them company while the parents rested.”

Over the years, Amina was certified to work as a nursing home aid, which she enjoyed doing for many years, and she became an American citizen.  She now a grandmother living in Louisville and her grandson is attending Camp Hope’s Wacky Wednesdays at Hope Place. She is very passionate about education and is hopeful for the youth mentoring and tutoring sessions that are being planned. “The reason I came here is for a better life.  I came here for two things: safety and a better education for my children,” she states. Hope Place wants to help make both of those things a reality.

 

*Names changed

 

By | 2018-11-07T23:48:36+00:00 August 13th, 2018|HopePlace|0 Comments
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