How Deeply Can You Be Immersed?

Guest blogger Chelsea Travis, one of seven students in this summer’s Community Health Immersion, writes…

Living here in the Highlands Apartments, surrounded by a community of refugees and low-income neighbors, and being a part of an immersion-promoting program – I wonder are we truly immersed? Most would say yes, and I believe that would probably only be 60% right. In some ways, we are immersed. We are living in the same environment as the residents here which include: loud honking car noises at night, a “coins only” laundry mat, new and sometimes reckless drivers riding through the neighborhood, an always occupied soccer field, beautiful rose bushes, roaches, and very active ethnically diverse neighbors and children.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students' back door.

Neighbor children know that fun and attention await them just on the other side of the CHI students’ back door.

Although we live here, many of us have things that most of these refugees do not. These aren’t simply tangible material items like cars, laptops, smartphones, an installed washer and dryer, or nice business clothes – of which we so often take for granted – but it’s even more than that. It is intangibles like nearby family, education, the ability to speak English with an American accent, our western clothes, and an established, if not assumed, reputation.

Having family nearby, even if they are 600 miles away, is such a great asset especially when compared to family members of refugees who could be thousands of miles away. Since starting this program I have received 2 packages from close family and friends back home that have been so beneficial to me. I cannot imagine not being able to draw from that life line of support because my family is either still in my war-torn country or they are scattered in various places around the world.

We often take for granted our educational experience as well. In this country the expectation is that people, especially young adults, attend college and even some schooling beyond that. The refugees whom we come in contact with actually have an array of educational backgrounds. Some have learned in educational institutions, some were apprentices of their parents or grandparents, and some have simply learned from the school of life.

Overall, it is interesting how education affects a person’s ability to adapt to new situations. It seems that individuals who have been challenged academically or have been conditioned to exercise their intellectual skills (even if only up to the high school level) are more able to adapt and learn new languages and systems. We don’t realize how valuable our education is. If we understood that not everyone in the world is afforded the opportunity to obtain even a high school education, we would not complain and be lazy about classwork, reading assignments, papers, or skill-granting liberal arts classes because we think we “don’t need” that coursework. Foolishness.

Highlands Kids 2 (Chelsea Travis blog)

Chelsea Travis, a recent graduate from the University of North Carolina’s pre-medical program, poses with refugee children in the neighborhood.

Also the fact that we speak English fluently and with clear American accents and wear Western (American) clothing makes us less immersed when compared to the realities of our neighbors. Just the very fact that we possess these attributes causes us to obtain more respect, trust, or even assumed positive reputations. Without anyone really knowing us we probably could receive a loan, purchase a car, or get better job opportunities than our immigrant and refugee neighbors of comparable abilities. This is in part because when people do not adequately speak the dominant language of a society that person’s intellectual abilities are often assumed to be low. These judgments are too often made without even knowing the past professions and careers many of these refugees held in their former home countries – I’ve met former doctors, professors, and innovators.

One thing many of these refugees do have that I wish I could be further immersed in is their drive to survive and to thrive. They are so strong, enduring, humble, and passionate people. They want a better life for themselves, for their families, and for their home countries. I attended an English class being taught by and for Burmese people who wanted to take their U.S. citizenship exam. There were several young women present at this class – one had a baby tied on her back, another nursing a baby in her lap, and two with babies on the couch, and one child playing outside – and they were still so engaged in the class, flipping through their notes and answering questions. I was so inspired! They wanted this English lesson so badly they were not going to let anything distract them. Glory to God what a poignant lesson for my own life!

With everything that a refugee has endured throughout their lives including: wars, persecution, discrimination, and genocide, we will never be truly immersed enough to understand life in their shoes.

 

 

Glory

“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:36

Glory is going to be her name. She has and will bring glory to God.

‘Elaine’ is the wife of the pastor of the Burmese church we have been attending. I first noticed her soft-spoken nature and the elegance she naturally presents, but after talking to her I realized that the quality she possesses that stands out the most is her reverence of God.

Bethel Burmese congregation poses with CHI students: Jane, Madison and Elias.

Members of the Bethel Burmese congregation pose with CHI students: Jane, Madison and Elias.

Elaine grew up in a Christian home in Burma, where only 3% of the population followed the same faith as her family. Like most of the other congregation members she had to escape to Malaysia as a young refugee woman in hopes of one day coming to the United States.

She kept her faith strong even as refugee in a foreign country through fellowship with other believers. In Malaysia, she met her husband who would later convert from Buddhism to Christianity. As she told me this story, her husband showed me a photo of himself when he was a monk. Yet here in front of me, he sits as a pastor of a church who is spreading the good news. It is truly amazing to see the way that God works, sometimes in the most unexpected but powerful ways.

The couple has had one daughter together since arriving to the United States and Elaine is now pregnant with their second child. I asked her if she knew what she wanted to name her second child. She proceeded to tell me the story of how she decided to name her future daughter.

A while back when Elaine was a couple of months pregnant, she fell down the steps in front of the church. She was rushed to the hospital where the doctor told her she had a 50% chance of her baby living. A couple of days later, her prayers were answered when they found out that their baby was going to live and be perfectly fine. A few more months later into her pregnancy, she went in for a regular check-up and came out with some bad news. The doctor told her that her baby may be born with Down syndrome.

Elaine and her husband were in shock and she told me about how they prayed to God fervently and that they trusted in His will for them and their family. As more time progressed in her pregnancy, she went in for another check-up and both Elaine and her doctor were surprised to find out that the baby would be born healthy and normal.

She believed that everything that happened was to glorify God and thus she wanted to name her daughter Glory. For me, it was beautiful to sit and listen to Elaine’s story because through her I am able to see a bit more of God’s love for His children. Her faith and walk with Christ is what sustains her and should be what sustains all of us. She gave Him the control and had faith in Him in every struggle of her life. The life she lives is a light for the world and it’s absolutely beautiful, just like her.

Melissa Puntkattalee - CHI 2013 participant  Jane is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Curry and Questioning – Part 2 of 2

My Burmese family, the refugees and immigrants who are my neighbors, and of course, the staff at Siloam have stretched me, pushed me, and challenged me from all different directions.

Students have enjoyed the heartfelt worship of a local Burmese congregation.

Students have enjoyed the heartfelt worship of a local Burmese congregation.

I can only hope that the result is a transformed individual, armed with the means to enter the healthcare field to both serve my patients and my Lord. I have been exposed to so much this past month I don’t believe I can make a sound judgment yet on how I will be able to live out all I have learned or exactly how much I have changed – I may never truly know.

Right now, however, I am at a crisis stage.

Four weeks into the project, I have gotten too comfortable. Most of the “newness,” adventure, and uniqueness of Siloam has worn off. I am still excited to wake up every morning but it isn’t the same. In two weeks my life will be turned back upside down and I don’t know how to approach it. I am scared of leaving and going back to my old way of life.

After witnessing so many people invite God into the workplace as well as their heart and mind, how can I let go of myself and allow Him to work through me? And why is it that even though they were forced to flee the homes that they love, the faith of the Burmese has been unwavering and full of thanksgiving, while my life of blessings only yields further questions for the God I love?

Perhaps these questions – while frustrating in the moment – will produce a stronger faith. For now, there are many thoughts I have had which will influence how I intentionally approach not only my career but my life in a more humble and Christ-driven manner.

In her book, No Greater Love, Mother Teresa speaks of humility and how it is a way of drawing closer to God. After laying down most of my luxuries so far this summer and experiencing several aspects of poverty I have been able to reflect a lot on myself and what it means – as Jesus said – to “sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor and then follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

Mother Teresa says in her book, “Needs increase because one thing calls for another. This results in uncontrollable dissatisfaction. Let us remain as empty as possible so that God can fill us up.”

For me, this summer has severed the desire for more needs and placed me in a better position to empty myself and allow God to fill me up. So far He has filled me with a greater desire to pursue Him and to look for the presence of Jesus in other people. Witnessing this happen in the interactions between practitioners and patients at Siloam gives me an even greater desire to pursue medicine as a career.

Despite all of the questions I have accrued, I know that I will continue to gather more as my walk continues. Hopefully, these last few weeks will answer many of them. But in the likely case that they aren’t answered, I can find peace in the fact that searching for them will produce even greater knowledge and that my faith will be made stronger by surrendering it all to God.

Manzella, Elias - 2013  Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.

Curry and Questionings – Part 1 of 2

There have been very few frustrations in this immersion program so far.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

CHI participant, Jane, enjoys both food and friends in a Burmese house church.

In fact, the only one that I can think of right now is my total incompetence when it comes to learning words in a different language. We have spent three weeks with a Burmese congregation and the only word that I know is Jesu-be or “thank you.” Fortunately for me, I have plenty of opportunities to express my gratitude using this simple expression.

My time with the Burmese has been an amazing adventure and a wonderful experience. We attend the Sunday service every week, located in the Bethel World Outreach church. Here, the 2-3 dozen or so attendees worship, pray, read scripture, and share stories of God working in their daily lives – all of which is conducted in the Burmese language. Needless to say, I cannot understand anything that is being said, sung, or shared. What I can understand, however, are the smiles on their faces, the passion in their words, the tears in their eyes, and the love on their hearts. I find this to be true not only on Sundays but also Saturday nights at the house church. Actually, the relaxed setting makes the experience even more powerful because it is a much more informal and personal interaction.

Spending Saturday evenings at a church member’s apartment is what I look forward to most about the weekend. As Jane highlighted in her previous blog, (found here: http://siloaminstitute.org/2013/06/11/my-burmese-family/) the house church is “no ordinary experience.”

The large mat covering a majority of the floor serves as the only “furniture” in the room; we all sit around it and I am reminded of kindergarten during show and tell – except we are asked to share testimonies of the presence of God in our lives the past week. Listening to these stories is very encouraging; even the smallest blessings are spoken of with excitement and exhilaration. I am always taken aback when I look around the room and witness the pure, raw, unbridled emotion in their words and actions while sharing, praying, and singing. This is what true gratitude toward our Father is: always acknowledging His presence, seeking Him with our thoughts, mimicking Him through our actions, and allowing the Holy Spirit to flow from our being.

After we are done worshiping and sharing, we are met with a wave of food – noodle soup, egg-rolls, and curry to name a few. Simply put, it is delicious. Not only are we fed these cuisines, they find great delight in continually giving us more and more until I feel as if I am going to burst!

In addition to their generosity, we are showered with excellent conversation and stories about their lives and where they have come from. The more I hear the more intrigued I become and the more my own faith is challenged.

Many stories include fleeing their native state in Myanmar (Burma) to a refugee camp in Thailand or Malaysia. From these camps, they have been able to travel to America, finally ending up in Nashville. This pattern repeats itself from one person to another but each individual has a different take and a different experience through the process.

One constant that I have found in every story is their faith. Throughout all of their trials, turmoil, travel woes, and tribulation their faith remains. Everyone is so grateful not only for the blessings, new beginnings, and friends accumulated but for the hardships as well. Their faith hasn’t been shaken but strengthened; I long to experience this same abandonment of personal feelings in order to focus on our Heavenly Father.

With the opportunities and blessings I have been given why do I not always feel this confident in my faith? In my next blog, I will write about how this summer is affecting the way I approach my own “hardships” and personal wrestlings dealing with my faith in action.

Manzella, Elias - 2013  Elias is a participant in Siloam’s Community Health Immersion.