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These are a few of my favorite things

Last night, I asked my ESL students to create a drawing of their favorite things to share with our class.  Many students in my class are refugees, that is, they have been resettled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees because conditions in their countries of origin are simply too dangerous.  War, ethnic strife, starvation and persecution are common reasons.

Not only do their stories remind me that to be born into the United States is an unmerited blessing, but also that these new neighbors carry with them experiences of life and loss that I am privileged to hear and to learn from.  Several of my students hold Master’s Degrees – yet they are now looking for janitorial or fast food employment. Others waited for more than two decades to find a country willing to resettle them – and in the meantime, made their lives in refugee camps.

Today, a photo gallery of a few of my favorite people – brave men and women, through the providence of God, starting life over in Richmond, Virginia.

Hong from Vietnam

Hong from Vietnam

Madi from Nepal

Madi from Nepal

Ariel from Argentina

Ariel from Argentina

Methna from Iraq

Methal from Iraq

Tram from Vietnam

Tram from Vietnam - Tram was a driver for the US Army in the 1970's. Punished by the Communists after the collapse of Vietnam, he was unable to work. Tram waited until 2004 for the US to grant him a visa. Last fall, he became a citizen of the United States. On his drawing of favorite things, he painstakingly drew a map of his new country.

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Book Recommendation: THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH

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Lest anyone be concerned that my reading list only consists of books featuring pain & suffering, allow me to dispel that notion with a MUST NOT MISS recommendation.  I cannot believe I am 37 years old and am only now reading this amazing story.  If you’ve never read The Phantom Tollbooth, close your computer right now and get to the library.  Truly a book for the whole family to enjoy.

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Book Recommendation: SOLD by Patricia McCormick

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“You can’t unknow what you now know.”

A friend reminds me of this truth regularly.  When my dear friend Rachel began ministering to women trapped in prostitution in China, she began a journey into a world I knew nothing about.  “Blissful ignorance” is the phrase that best describes. Today, Rachel is gearing up to move to Cambodia to work full time with women and children exploited by human trafficking and sex tourism.  Along the way, she and her colleagues are traveling the US, sharing the story of the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 women and children trapped in the sex trade in the city of Phnom Penh — and the good news of Jesus Christ to redeem even the deepest wounds with His healing and love.

Rachel recently sent me the Patricia McCormick book SOLD, which follows the story of a twelve year old Nepali girl sold to a brothel in India.  The book was written for a young adult reader — the content is quite a bit milder than you might find in an adult book on the topic.  I read it in one day, hoping against hope that the next page would be better than last.  The story is heart-breaking and terrifyingly real.  According to the US State Department, nearly a half million children are trafficked into the sex trade annually.  SOLD opens an unforgettable window into that world.

Unlike any time before in human history, we can know for sure about grim realities faced in other parts of our world.  Wilberforce and his abolitionists had eye-witness accounts passed from one person to another, Europeans heard rumors about the Nazi death camps, Americans saw footage of the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide — but today, human trafficking is as easy to witness as a google search on the internet.  Blissful ignorance is no longer an option.

Read SOLD.  Follow Rachel’s journey at http://graceandpeacegals.blogspot.com/.  If you are in Richmond, come to hear Rachel and her colleagues speak at Stony Point Presbyterian Church the morning of September 18.  Pray.  Ask God to reveal the part He wants you to play in serving as His hands and feet on behalf of the half million women and children trafficked this year.

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Seek the Peace of the City

And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace. Jeremiah 29:7 (NKJV)

Ah, Richmond.  My hometown.  The city that loomed large when homesickness hit hardest.

I’ve recently joined the Board of the Richmond Christian Leadership Institute (http://www.rcliweb.org/), whose “goal is to empower a network of young Christian leaders to serve and influence Metro Richmond across racial, denominational, geographic and socioeconomic lines by aiding people in social and spiritual need, healing community divisions and extending the Church’s influence on the culture.”  In pursuit of this goal, we strive to understand and appreciate the rich history, both glorious and broken, of our city.

Hannah reaches out to the embracing figures at the Reconciliation Memorial

Hannah reaches out to the embracing figures at the Reconciliation Memorial

This morning, the kids and I set out to work on that vision, by following the infamous Slave Trail of Richmond, from the slave ship docks to the notorious prison nicknamed the “Devil’s Half Acre” to the new Reconciliation Statue, one of three duplicate memorials at the vertices of the triangular slave trade.

Zach discovers an old iron hook used for tying slave ships to the dock

Zach discovers an old iron hook used for tying slave ships to the dock

Thankful for educational historical markers along the way

Thankful for educational historical markers along the way

Down the slave trail - captive Africans were taken down this path only at night to protect the sensitivities of local residents

Down the slave trail - captive Africans were taken down this path only at night to protect the sensitivities of local residents

The infamous slave jail, currently under excavation

The infamous slave jail, currently under excavation

Mom, trying to hold it together at the site of the Lumpkin Slave Jail

Mom, trying to hold it together at the site of the Lumpkin Slave Jail

Engraving on the Reconciliation Statue

Engraving on the Reconciliation Statue - the inscription reads: Acknowledge and Forgive the Past/Embrace the Present/Shape a Future of Reconciliation and Justice.

Zach contemplates the triangular trade route at the Reconciliation Memorial

Zach contemplates the triangular trade route at the Reconciliation Memorial

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So Much to Do, So Little Time

Zach at State Capitol - Civil Rights

A few photos from the last few weeks of homeschooling … a trip the Virginia State Capitol with a particular emphasis on the grounds and statues, a visit to the newly re-opened and magnificent Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the discovery of a very special creek in a local park.

Kids at Forest Hill Park Stream Bed

We’ve also finished all the required reading on our book list, so thought we’d try to read aloud the entire Chronicles of Narnia in the next four weeks.  Not sure if we’ll find time for algebra and Latin declensions between the talking animals and meaning-laden battle sequences.

For those of you in Richmond, the re-opened art museum is simply stunning (and FREE!).  The exhibit shown below is a must see.  The “wrinkles” in the bill were actually made by ants tunneling through the colored sand.  Really an astonishing piece of art.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - don't miss this incredible exhibit.  The 'wrinkles' you see were actually made by ants.  Each picture is actually colored SAND,  Amazing art.

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Book Recommendation: Outcasts United

Book Cover

If you liked Three Cups of Tea, you will love this new book.  A friend in Colorado sent it to me after reading about the remarkable soccer game my ESL class (made up of refugees and immigrants) played a few weeks ago.  Thanks, Erika for the introduction to this great story!

Summary from the Outcasts United Website:

Outcasts United is the story of a refugee soccer team, a remarkable woman coach and a small southern town turned upside down by the process of refugee resettlement.

In the 1990s, that town, Clarkston, Georgia, became a resettlement center for refugees from war zones in Liberia, Congo, Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan. The town also became home to Luma Mufleh, an American-educated Jordanian woman who founded a youth soccer team to help keep Clarkston’s boys off the streets. These boys named themselves the Fugees — short for refugees.

Outcasts United follows a pivotal season in the life of the Fugees, their families and their charismatic coach as they struggle to build new lives in a fading town overwhelmed by change. Theirs is a story about resilience, the power of one person to make a difference and the daunting challenge of creating community in a place where people seem to have little in common.

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Yet another fieldtrip for the homeschooling duo

Where to this week?

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In all my years in Richmond, I never knew we had a zoo until this week.  Called upon to be the official photographer for Mia’s class fieldtrip to the Richmond Metro Zoo, Zach and I enjoyed taking pictures of the class – then dashed off on our own adventure.  The Zoo is beautifully laid out, with many animals to enjoy at surprisingly  close range.  Having just finished a study of the Lewis & Clark journey, we were particularly fascinated with the prairie dogs, elk, bison & buffalo; the peacocks and giraffes were also magnificent.

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If you live in the area, check out this hidden treasure off Rt 360 near the Chesterfield/Amelia line.

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Places of Quiet Rest

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The beautiful 1845 Belmead* mansion, site of St. Emma’s military academy for boys of African descent from 1895 – 1972.

*Formerly a plantation owned by Philip St. George Cocke, son of General John Hartwell Cocke of Bremo, Belmead was purchased by Colonel and Mrs. Edward de Vaux Morrell of Philadelphia to establish a school for African American youth. Emphasizing practical skills, Colonel Morrell’s approach to education was similar to that of Booker T. Washington. The St. Emma’s Industrial and Agricultural School opened in 1895 and admitted only boys of African decent from the South. The first graduate, John Paul Scott, received his diploma in 1899. In its seventy-seven years, the school re-established itself as the St. Emma Military School and graduated 10,000 men. Due to school desegregation, interest in school lessened and the academy closed in 1972. The campus was demolished except the Belmead mansion.

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As you may have heard through the grapevine (Dan’s Facebook), I’m working on a book project about women, how we nourish our souls, how to stay whole and healthy during even the most intense years of life with young children.  Ironically, since I live in the midst of those years, finding time and space to work on the book can prove incredibly challenging.  BUT, I am convinced that to stay emotionally healthy, I can order my life in ways that allow a few minutes each day, and a few hours each week for soul care.  I usually head to a favorite local park, but of late have begun to explore other nourishing haunts.  A friend recommended the grounds of Belmead a few months back; yesterday was my first visit.  Oh, the wonder of such a place of quiet rest.

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For four hours, I did not see or hear another human being.  It was quiet enough to hear moles burrowing, spiders scurrying and the gentle current of the James River.

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Even the old manse itself spoke of contemplation, with multi colored glass windows overlooking the lawn, the rooms within places of prayer and contemplation for over 150 years.

My book project may take years to complete, but the joy of lying quietly in a meadow, waiting for the Muse, or waiting for nothing at all – only being still in the presence of God and His natural chorus of trees, deer, river – is reward enough.

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Treasure Island

Zach's chain on islands - But where's the buried treasure?

Zach's chain of islands - But where's the buried treasure?

In literature, Zach and I just finished Robert Lewis Stevenson’s magnificent Treasure Island.  If you’ve only seen the old Disney version, make sure to pick up the book sometime. The original story is richer and more complex, and is great fun to read aloud (Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum!).  We celebrated finishing the novel in several ways: eating at Long John Silver’s (which was wildly disappointing, having not great food and NOTHING to do with the book), learning to make hardtack, watching the DVD and creating our own set of islands with buried treasure (quarters, pennies and decoys) in the salt map style. Zach even drew a corresponding treasure map.

We’ve moved onto Seaman, a story which follows Meriweather Clark’s newfoundland dog along the Corps of Discovery’s historic adventure.  Ken Burns’ DVD series about Lewis & Clark is on reserve at the library and we look forward to boiling some roots and berries for our celebration lunch.

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The Belle Island Adventure by Zach & Mom

The rising James River made a great spot for homeschooling yesterday.  We crossed from historic Trafalgar Street in Richmond on a fascinating foot bridge suspended under the Lee Bridge.

Belle Isle Footbridge

Belle Isle Footbridge

The walk across the flooded, muddy river was windy and cold – we felt we might blow off!  Reaching the other side, we explored Belle Isle, home to one of the most notorious POW camps for Union Soldiers during the Civil War.  The camp was not enclosed, as prisoners could not get off the island without boats.  The open air, lack of food and sanitation, caused most of the prisoners to die on the island.

Remains of an iron works are scattered around the 54 acre island.

Iron Works

Iron Works

A map of the island helped us understand not only the historical importance of Belle Isle, but also appreciate the unusual proximity of this park to the city of Richmond.

Richmond from Belle Isle

Richmond from Belle Isle

Belle Isle Map

Belle Isle Map

The island is frequently used by runner and bikers, enjoying the natural trails through the woods.  Zach also found a great perch!

Wooded Trail (January)

Wooded Trail (January)

Zach's favorite tree - completely horizontal, but alive and healthy

Zach's favorite tree - completely horizontal, but alive and healthy

The James River is expected to pass flood stage today.  The muddy waters were very impressive and cold.

Steps to nowhere

Steps to nowhere

Roaring white water around the island

Roaring white water around the island

We have to admit, its hard to stick to math and Latin when Richmond is full of such wonderful history and adventure!

Zach with artistically decorated Belle Isle sign

Zach with artistically decorated Belle Isle sign

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