Barbecue and Deep Conversation with a Yazidi Family

Tuesday afternoon I visited a Yazidi family. The father is my student in my online class. He invited me to join his family for a barbecue.

It was a blessing to meet his family. I discovered his wife was in my Zoom summer school for Family Literacy. His daughter in 3rd grade was fun to talk with. She told that she likes eggs for breakfast, so I asked her a series of questions like- Do you like ice cream on your eggs.

As we were eating, I found out his oldest daughter is in high school. We talked about applications for college, scholarships and financial aid. I will be visiting the family in the future to help her with the process.

Sharing a meal is a great way to get to know my refugee/immigrant friends. It gives me the opportunity to discover how I can be of help. Being genuinely interested in helping them with their lives opens doors to share the love of Jesus.

That was the one social time in my hectic week and it was a wonderful time. The weekend is here and I have a feeling my bed will make me take a few naps. 🙂 I do have a birthday barbecue this evening and church tomorrow, but my bed is letting me know naps will be required.

What are your weekend plans?

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Steak and Deep Conversation

Yesterday I met with a Yazidi friend who is applying to Pharmacy School to go over his essays for the applications. We spent a few hours on them and then we went for lunch at Texas Roadhouse-his choice. Texas Roadhouse is a steak restaurant.

I ordered a 15 ounce NY Strip smothered in mushrooms. It felt like heaven on earth after a long summer of watching the food budget. Summers are normally that way for me. But my friend wanted to thank me so off for steaks we went.

As we talked, I learned more about my friend such as his refugee experience, how he fled to Kurdistan, and building his new life in America. We also talked about COVID. The shocker is that his wife found out she was pregnant the same month as the shutdown started where I live. Can you imagine?

He asked about what we do in church. He has never been in a church worship service. It was a blessing to share my faith with him.

It is a honor for me to be able to help my friends from other countries with their educational and career goals. The food is just an added bonus. 🙂

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Story Time- Heat Waves and Airports

It is going to be a HOT day today where I live, which is just a normal part of life here. It will be 104 F, 40 C. Yesterday was a hot one too. The recent heat wave reminds me of two different experiences walking out of airports.

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In June 2010, I went to Ensenada Mexico for a ministry trip. We had a rough heat wave where live the days before we left. We landed in San Diego California where it was a 72 F, 22C, day. When I walked out of the airport there, it was so nice that I wondered if they needed ESL teachers there. I even looked up things like cost of living in San Diego, which after doing so I realized I could not afford to live there. 🙂

In July 2015, I returned from Brazil after five weeks of teaching English at a university in a small city in the mountains of Southern Brazil. With Brazil being in the Southern Hemisphere, it is winter there when it is summer in the USA. The ‘winter’ in Brazil meant it was about 65 F, 18C, each day. It was so comfortable for me. I love cooler weather. When I returned to my city in the USA, it was a hot and humid day here. When I walked out of the airport the heat was too much, I wanted to go back in the airport and catch a flight back to Brazil, but I had to start teaching a few days later, so I stayed.

Both experiences illustrate something about me. I don’t like hot weather, So why I do continue living in a place that is unbearably hot in the summers you might ask? Good question, Thanks for asking. 🙂

God has called me to share the love of Jesus with the refugees and immigrants living in my city. That has been what has kept me here. God has called me to be here.

So on days like today, I am grateful for that wonderful invention called air-conditioning. I will hang out at a coffee shop for a while after my morning and afternoon class and then relax at home in the air-conditioning.

What about you? Do like extremely hot days?

Thank you for reading. God Bless,

Story Time- My New Teaching Toy

You know the saying, “the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys?” This past week that has certainly been true of me for my U.S. Citizenship classes. The Community Center I teach them for rents space from a larger Community Agency. That agency had something new installed in the conference rooms I teach in.

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The new set up has a large screen TV which is connected to the internet, a cool sound system, and has a cordless keyboard and mouse. It has been so much fun this past week trying out my new toy. 🙂

The classes are blended classes with some students joining in Zoom and some students in person. We can see the Zoom students on the large 64 inch screen. They can see the whole classroom. I have been having fun exploring what I can do with this wonderful new toy. 🙂

Even with the fun new technology, the most fun for me is the diverse group of students. My students come from Burma, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iraq, Libya, Mexico and Sudan. As I teach them, I think about how they can all become Americans. We are all studying together because they each share the same goal.

Yet as wonderful as it will be when they each become citizens, it pales in comparison to the ultimate realization of diverse people coming together as one with the same purpose which will be to rejoice over being in the presence of Jesus. People from every tribe, tongue/language, nation will be there.

Another thought- no electronics, tech, toys etc in this life can compare to what we will see in heaven. 🙂

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Wellness Wednesday- 2nd Dose of Vaccine Today

It has been one year since I have been able to visit my refugee and immigrant friends in their homes. That has been a huge part of my ministry for 20 years. I have missed that so much this past year.

In two more weeks, I will be able to resume visiting my refugee and immigrant friends in their homes. That is because I had my second dose of the Moderna COVID Vaccine this afternoon.

In my city we are doing them at the Arena where concerts are held and the university men’s and women’s basketball teams play. So now I can say I was on the floor of the arena and leave it to the imagination of my friends. 🙂

The first dose did not cause me any problems, though I secretly hoped to gain some mutant powers like super strength, so here is hoping no side effects with the second dose either.

If I have any side effects, I will share them in a future post. Please research and decide for yourself about having the vaccine.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Hamburgers and Deep Conversation- The Sequel

Last Saturday I shared about a Friday lunch of hamburgers with my friend from Bosnia and our discussion about what we wished we knew before the pandemic hit.

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Yesterday it was back to the same restaurant to meet with one of the pastors from my church for lunch. I ate the same burger, but side note he paid. That always makes lunch taste better. 🙂

As we talked, it dawned on me that due to receiving the first dose of the vaccine Thursday, and scheduled for the second dose in four weeks, it is time to think about restarting aspects of my ministry that have been shut down for a year. The light is on at the end of the tunnel it seems.

When I first met this pastor, he was in elementary school. His father is one of the pastors at my church. I began going to my church in 1994. He has grown to become a wonderful Christian leader and pastor. He is married and has a baby girl. It was great to reconnect after a year of not seeing each other in person.

My ministry is reaching out to and sharing the love of Jesus with refugees and immigrants living in my city. There are also international aspects of it due to my travels in the past and people I have known moving elsewhere such as Brazilian livings in Winnipeg.

I confided in my friend that I have felt guilty at times for receiving my monthly support check without actually fulfilling my ministry due to the shutdown. He reminded me that the same is true of all missionaries. There are some who cannot return to the countries where they have ministry because of COVID.

So the boy I met 26 years ago is now a pastor who ministered to me over burgers. Life changes 🙂

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

Her Reward in Class Is What???

Yesterday we finally had class after three snow days due to the third largest snow in my city’s history. My friends Chuck and Betsy in Upstate New York will think it is not that much, but 16 inches, 40cm, is a huge snow where I live.

Monday was the day it snowed, so no school. Tuesday everything was a snow packed mess, so no school. Wednesday the residential streets were still bad, so no school. Yesterday we finally had school.

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I normally have 7 or 8 students in the classroom and 6 or 7 in Zoom. Yesterday I only had one brave soul in the classroom. What makes this interesting is that she is from Sudan. Yes, Sudan as in a country in Africa that never has cold weather.

We often have people donate things for the moms in my class. Someone had donated a small purse. My colleague who coordinates the program for the school keeps everything in her closet. She told me about the bag and suggested we draw a name of those in attendance to reward someone. I mean just because some designer guy named Vuitton doesn’t make sense to me it is worth that much. lol

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My student from Sudan was the only there, so we decided to give the small purse to her. After class, my colleague let me know she had looked up the value of the small designer purse. It is worth about $1,000.00. I could not believe it. How can a small purse be worth that much.

I am glad my student from Sudan received it. I will tell her next week how much it is worth in case she wants to sell it.

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Becoming A Pastor- Part 8- 2 Sides of Me Interwoven

This is the second to the last post in this series. Part 1 is A Decision and A Book. Part 2 is A Discover and Downfall Begins. Part 3 is The Valley of Death. Part 4 is Recovering and Remembering That Book. Part 5 is Romania. Part 6 is Many Cultures and Beginning to Teach English. Part 7 is Ministry Begins and Grows.

In 2007, I found out that my denomination was shifting focus from whole countries to cities in Europe. That meant Romania would not have the same focus as it did before. As I wrestled with what Jesus was calling me to do, I read a book by a Catholic woman from Rwanda, Let to Tell, sharing her experience of surviving the Rwandan genocide. As I read her book, I thought about the refugees I had encountered in my city and God gave me peace to stay in my home city and to continue my ministry and work.

Not long after that on a Saturday afternoon I went into a library and saw one of my former students from Vietnam in an ELL study room with three teenage boys. I asked what they were doing. She told me they were her cousins and she was trying to help them with some English before they started school in the fall. The three boys were new to America.

I offered to come the next day and be a native English speaker, but with the idea she would do the lesson. They quickly agreed with the idea. The next day I went to the library and found the boys were there waiting for me but she was not there. I quickly prayed in my spirit and Jesus let me know they were my students now.

Those lessons grew to over 20 young people from Vietnam with an average attendance of 14 to 15 for a while. We had to change to my church to have a room big enough. They were either high school students or had just aged out of high school without graduating but had a diploma from Vietnam. I helped them with English, ACT Test prep, TOEFL Test prep, scholarship applications and more. I got used to being called Mr. Matt.

Our group met in my church. When there were special events in my church such as a Christmas program, they came with me. My church helped me put on a Lunar New Year lunch for them and some friends from church participated in it.

When it was time for the first ones to go to New Student Enrollment at the university in my city, their parents lack of English caused them to not go and some had to work as well. My young Vietnamese friends asked me to go with them as their parent.

My experience with my young Vietnamese friends shifted my paradigm of thought from only focusing on teaching adults to wanting to find a way to help families. The thought that parents did not go with their children to something as important as New Student Enrollment due to language barriers really bothered me.

So when a program called Family Literacy began in my city, I jumped on the chance to teach one of the classes. Family Literacy is a program that empowers parents to help their children. The classes meet in the school where the children go and meets in the morning or afternoon while the children are in school. We connect the English the parents are learning with their child’s education.

Ministry and Education have seemed to be interwoven for me for years. When I reflect on it, I remember a puzzled counselor looking at the results of my personality test during career counseling years before my journey began. The results were 98% match for ministry, 97% match for teacher, and 97% match for Jet Fighter Pilot which was the one she couldn’t figure out. It makes sense to me. I love traveling to other countries, the excitement of meeting a people group new to my city no one knows much about, being in the classroom and sharing the love of Jesus.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Becoming A Pastor. Part 7- Ministry Begins and Grows.

This series is about what happened in my life after stepping out to the call to become a pastor. Part 1 is A Decision and A Book. Part 2 is A Discovery and Downfall Begins. Part 3 is The Valley of Death. Part 4 is Recovering and Remembering That Book. Part 5 is Romania. Part 6 is Many Cultures and Beginning to Teach.

In May of 2002, my Saturday morning ESL Conversation Group began at my church. It was something no one had tried before at my church let alone in most churches in my city at the time. Jesus was calling me to pioneer something at my church. Many of the people had seen me when I was sick and had watched my struggles as I tried to get life started again. There were those who doubted my idea, but I knew Jesus wanted me to do it.

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The first morning of group, I stood outside so people could see me. A friend from the church who was on the missions committee was there to join in. The group was supposed to start at 10am. At 9:55 she began to try to encourage me with comments like, “the important thing is you were willing.” She had already started to think it would not happen. 10am no one there yet. 10:15 no one there yet. She was about ready to leave at 10:20 when the first car pulled in. By 10:30 we had 12 people there for the group.

Then I felt Jesus leading me to start a Sunday morning group, so I emailed asking about a room. Asking for a room on a Sunday morning in a church is kind of like showing up at a popular restaurant on a Saturday night with no reservation. I was told there were no rooms available. So I emailed people who prayed for me which included the husband and wife who headed up the missions committee. Yes, it was manipulative a bit, but I knew if the wife got an idea she would be relentless. A few days later I had a phone call letting me know I had a room.

People in my church were skeptical. Again they remembered me and how I was not too many years before when I was sick and when I was recovering. But I knew something or I should say someone- Jesus. If Jesus wants something done, he will make it happen.

A classic example for me was a married couple. The husband was American and the wife from South Korea. They met with the Senior Pastor in his office. He asked them how they came to the church and the husband told him, “My wife comes to the Sunday morning conversation group here.”

The next Sunday the pastor sought me out, shook my hand, and said, “Matt that class is awesome.”

The ministry part of my calling mushroomed after that. We had people from numerous different countries come. But it went beyond my church building.

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Jesus led me to befriend pastors and leaders of churches for various cultures. He connected me with a Ukrainian church, a Vietnamese church. Hispanic churches, and a Karen People from Burma church. I became their confidant, cultural mentor, and advisor.

Jesus led me from the the starting point of people at my church being skeptical to my ministry growing to the point that conflict arose between myself and a few people about me not leaving. All along in my mind the purpose behind everything I was doing was to go back to Romania.

One Sunday morning one of the assistant pastors and I had an argument about it between worship services. He was convinced God wanted me to stay with what I was doing. I was convinced I should return to Romania full-time.

What decision was reached? More on that next post.

Thank you for reading. God Bless.

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to Becoming A Pastor- Part 6-Many Cultures and Beginning to Teach English

This is a short series about my journey and what happened in my journey to become a pastor. Part 1 is about A Decision and A Book. Part 2 is about A Discovery and Downfall. Part 3 is about The Valley of Death. Part 4 is about Recovering and Remembering That Book. Part 5 is about Romania.

Today’s post is about Many Cultures and Beginning to Teach ESL.

As I shared in Part 5, during my third trip to Romania I felt Jesus prodding me to get more experience with teaching English Second Language.

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I went through a training to become a volunteer ESL tutor in March 2000. I told the organization that my mornings were free and to fill up my mornings. After one month, I had 10 students I was meeting with for one on one lessons in the mornings.

One of those students was a man from Iraq who was shy about speaking English in public. After several months with me, he began talking in public in stores and other places. His wife worked for a non-profit agency and knew the Director of ESL for the Community College I currently teach for. She kept telling her that she should hire me as a teacher because her husband had made so much progress. She then told me I should call the Director. I called and we talked on the phone for about 15 minutes. I went in for what I thought would be an interview, but it was for filling out paperwork to be hired.

As I taught over the following years, my home city was not boring for me anymore. I had always wanted to move away because it was a boring place for me. But spending time with so many different cultures became kind of like my own personal Disneyland. My home city became so interesting to me.

I loved spending time with cultures no one knew much about and information was hard to find on the internet about them such as the Yazidi people, The Karen people of Burma, and more. I learned about them by spending time with them in their homes and at cultural celebrations.

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To give you an idea of how diverse the refugee/immigrant population of my city is, the Public School System here has children from over 100 different languages enrolled. Of those, I have only learned greetings and phrases in 30 of them.

The first few years, I was just focused on my fun personal Disneyland. But then in May 2002 while praying, I felt the impression of a question in my spirit-“Why did I want you to do this?” Jesus was reminding me of the reason for getting experience with teaching ESL.

So in may of 2002, the ministry application began….

Thank you for reading. God Bless.