Monday, January 30, 2017

When Jesus Knocks On Your Front Door


I came to live in Mobile, Alabama on July 9th, 1998 to help direct an international student ministry known as Friends of Internationals. My entire focus in life was to love and care for the large international student community attending the University of South Alabama. Our family has a home that sits on the doorstep of the USA campus. We were very busy and enjoyed every minute of the ministry. There were challenges of course....trying to balance our own family responsibilities while often hosting 100 students for weekly dinners in our too small home...but we knew we were doing what we were called to do in spite of our own challenges of trying to make it all work. Despite knowing we were doing God's will, I would like to share in this blog about how sometimes we can become so focused on what is directly in front of us, we might miss out on something new or different that God wants us to be aware of and even involved in.
  One evening more than a decade ago during our weekly international student Bible study group, I heard a loud knock on our front door. I went to answer the door to see a very tall young man I did not recognize. He began to ask me a question, "Are you Jim Mather?" I told him that I was and then he proceeded to ask me directly if I could help him! I asked him how he knew my name. It turns out that he had walked all the way from Providence hospital where he had a met an R.N. who knew me from a local church. His refugee family ( he was one of several children) from Sudan were refugees who had a lot of needs and he heard from this nurse that perhaps our family and ministry could help him. Honestly I had no idea how to help a refugee family but invited him to sit with our Bible study group.
  Abraham introduced himself to our group and proceeded to tell his story of escape, danger and trial in fleeing the civil war in Sudan. Over a several year journey of harrowing experiences, he now sat in my house to tell of God's faithfulness and help in allowing him and his family to survive. We all listened carefully and our own faith was challenged and stretched. Since that initial meeting with Abraham, I realized that at times God wants to stretch us and be his hands extended beyond our own 'box' of even the good things we do for him. In time I connected in an ongoing way along with my wife with Refugee Resettlement which is a division of Catholic Social Services in Mobile. I helped connect Abraham's family with a local church that 'adopted' his family. In the next few years we prayed and shifted our ministry for a time to include helping to start an international church known as All Nations Community Church. That in time led us to pray for and receive a full time missionary to refugees into Mobile. Jeri Stroade relocated from Manhattan, Kansas to work here in Mobile where she now leads Dwell Mobile a non profit committed to holistic and ongoing assistance that supplements what Catholic Social Services does in Mobile. (www.dwellmobile.org) On average Mobile receives around 150 new refugees into our area though the number does vary from year to year. Each refugee has a unique story and faces challenges in adapting to a new world--- language acquisition, cultural adjustment, job searches and for children the immersion into a school system often far different from their own. Refugee children often face long waits in refugee camps or temporary settings where schooling might be either limited or even forbidden. To put it frankly, the life of a refugee is hard and uncertain. The trauma of having suffered literal war wounds and or the death of relatives and friends is hard to fathom unless you have experienced it. Many refugees suffer from some form of post traumatic stress syndrome.
                                           Loving People in an Age of Terror
  Refugee resettlement in Mobile has always kept a 'low profile' in our city for various reasons. The need to maintain privacy for their clients is a requirement of the law and serves to protect the vulnerable. In 1975 in the aftermath of the Vietnamese war, there was an upsurge of refugees into our community that began the official work of Refugee resettlement in Mobile. Wars and traumatic events are a part of the age in which we live. Something shifted though on September 11th, 2001. War came home to our own nation and the impact of our own "Post traumatic Stress Syndrome" began to leave it's mark on our national psyche. How can we love people in an age of terror? It's never easy to balance security and compassion. Jesus followers are commanded to 'take up their crosses' and follow him. Where is Jesus in the midst of this age of terror? Where is Jesus commanding his people to go? Who is Jesus commanding us to be? When Abraham knocked on my front door so many years ago, I had a choice to make. Would I slam the door on his plea for help? Would I invite him into my home? Would I trust God to lead me into a pathway where his love is extended? I don't want to guilt anyone into doing anything other than encourage people to really depend on God's leading and guidance in this new reality of loving people in an age of terror.

                                     Responding to the President's executive order
  We have in the last few days heard of a new executive order issued by the new President of the United States. This has a direct bearing on who is admitted into our country and even now it is uncertain how this order will impact refugees coming to our nation longer term. Emotions are running high, as so many people in harm's way wait and see what will transpire. No matter what the government does, I would hope that Christ followers might look to the example of Jesus and the word of God to guide their own responses to this changing reality. The wisdom of Leviticus chapter 19 still speaks to us all, "Do not exploit the foreigners who live in your land. They should be treated like everyone else, and you must love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt, I, the Lord am your God." No matter how our government responds to the national security issues that are very real, we must ensure that our own hearts are not hardened by the challenge of terror and evil. Jesus warns us that when he returns many people's hearts will have turned from the way of love.....'sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love many will grow cold." ~ Matthew 24:12
  I implore you who are reading this to check your own hearts and minds regarding the reality of what the way of Jesus is calling us to. Pray for all those in authority.... and continue to live in such a way that reflects the reality of God's  love to those who are seeking a place of refuge from war and trauma. May God have his way in our fragile and broken world.
Sincerely in Christ love;
Jim Mather
Friends of Internationals
www.foimobile.org
                                       

Thursday, July 28, 2016



                                         The Judas Syndrome
When relationships falter and go bad we often are shocked and wonder what happened. Out of nowhere seemingly solid and close relationships often fail in what seem to be unknown causes. There are many reasons why relationships fizzle and fail, but today I would like to describe a serious and staggering collapse in relationship that I call the "Judas syndrome". Judas was one of Jesus twelve disciples who though selected to follow Jesus as one of the apostles eventually betrayed him for money. Judas heard and saw the amazing teaching and miracles that the other 11 apostles experienced and yet ultimately he chose to reject Jesus and betray him to death. Just what went wrong? When relationships collapse there is often a series of choices that lead to a progressive downward spiral toward separation and 'death' of the relationships.
A key word to look at and understand in the development and health of any relationship is expectation. At any point in relationship both parties have both spoken and unspoken expectations regarding what the other person should or should not do to maintain or even deepen that relationship. The ability to form reasonable and healthy expectations (and to be able to communicate them clearly) in relationships is a fundamental need in the development and growth of healthy relationships. When we can't communicate what we need or expect in our relationships, we set ourselves up for the certainty of disappointment.
Disappointment can be be defined as not getting what we want, when we want it. Healthy relationships have a balanced and understanding view of what others can supply in adding value to our lives. When we put people at the center of our lives and subtract the need for God, we ensure an eventual collapse of relationship. Healthy relationships demand we have both a vertical and horizontal flow of relationships. Jesus boldly spoke on this very issue in the 22nd chapter of the gospel of Matthew, "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important. Love your neighbor as yourself. All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments." When we put all of our expectations for love and intimacy on people alone, we create an imbalance. As a result of sin, we neglect our need for relationship with God and put people in a place they are doomed to disappoint. No one on this planet can supply all our need for love intimacy apart from God.
Judas Iscariot was called by Jesus to follow him and proclaim his message. But Judas expectation of Jesus was for a political deliverer and source of income. A turning point toward disappointment is unveiled in the gospel of John chapter 12 and verses 1-7. Here we see an amazing contrast in relationship. Mary in contrast to Judas, understands that Jesus is so worthy of adoration and devotion that she takes expensive perfume to wash and anoint Jesus feet. Mary knew who Jesus was and no expense or act of worship was too extravagant for him. Judas on the other hand who is described as a 'thief' laments the loss of potential material gain for himself. Judas was disappointed. Judas wanted Jesus to be something he could never be and this marked the turning point in his life...bitterness was at the door calling loudly to his soul.
When we don't get what we want in relationship, we often blame the other person or even God. Our expectations unexamined and tried by truth lead us down a slippery path of disappointment and hurt. When we don't examine our expectations and deal in a healthy way with our disappointments we are potentially on a highway toward bitterness.
Bitterness can be defined as a person marked by cynicism and deep contempt for others. A bitter person ceases to believe in the goodness of the other. There is nothing to believe for in relationship. There is an ongoing burning of disgust centered around the places of disappointment and unmet expectations. Unresolved bitterness is perhaps the most fatal form of 'soul cancer'. It eats away at our humanity and saps our ability to love one another. It bleeds over into other relationships like physical cancers and tumors spread to other organs and body systems. Unless bitterness is addressed and healed, it is always fatal leaving its victims alone in their pain. The end of unresolved bitterness is always 100 percent fatal. There is only one cure and the victim of bitterness is often resistant to swallow it-----forgiveness.
Jesus is God and he is under no obligation to be someone or something else. Our prayers cannot be used as leverage to get him to do what we want or become someone he is not. Judas wanted Jesus to deliver Israel and provide him with a position in a liberated nation. Jesus had no such intention and Judas was disappointed to the point of bitterness. It ate on him day and night and he was looking for a way to strike at the heart of Jesus. Our disappointments flow out of our corrupted desires. Desires can be pure when we walk in surrender to the will of God. Desires that are not surrendered to God become sources of tyranny and corruption. Finally in one horrendous act of betrayal, Judas revealed his ignorance of who Jesus was. Judas desire for money led him to betray the Son of God for 30 pieces of silver. In an unprecedented act of selfishness he was shouting for all the world to hear, "If I can't get what I want, Jesus won't get what he wants". Judas got his money but he didn't get what he wanted or needed. Judas hung himself and forfeited the love and relationship he so desperately needed. It's all about love and nothing else will ever satisfy.
Judas is not an aberration. The temptation to move in the direction of what I call the "Judas Syndrome" is present in all of us to some degree. All of us have expectations. All of us must deal with our disappointment. And unfortunately we might encounter the dangerous mine field of bitterness.
Wounds of the soul are difficult to overcome. The way out toward healing can seem insurmountable. It's difficult to walk out of darkness alone We need a community of people who will reflect healing and forgiveness toward us even when we stumble and fall into sin. We need God....and we need one another. It's all about love.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Intimacy Killer: A Spirit of Control


  To be loved for who you are is the most essential human need. The development and growth of intimacy in our relationships demands maturity and selflessness. It's difficult to find deeply satisfying relationships, but easy to have shallow and frustrating 'friendships'.
 Due to our own insecurities and fears we often resort to ineffective and fatal behaviors in our relationships. Perhaps one of the most fatal of all is the manifestation of a controlling spirit. True love inspires, enables and empowers freedom of choice. All true love is rooted and grounded around the ability to move forward and maintain the relationship based on freedom and trust.
When we try to take control of another persons choices in relationship, we ensure the death of any possibility of true intimacy. A spirit of control closes the human spirit and damages the soul. We were not born to be 'controlled' and manipulated....we were born for real love.
The worst form of counterfeit love and intimacy is rooted in a horrific mutation of love known as narcissism.... the pathologic love of self. The narcissist doesn't love the other... he or she seeks to smother...to suffocate....to shape the other into whatever brings the ego the greatest pleasure of the moment. The root cause of a controlling spirit is the worship of self. The controller must be satisfied above all else...above all others. The partner of a controller is a slave of whatever they want: sex, attention, adulation, conversation, money or someone to hurt deeply.
The tragic end of someone dominated by a controlling spirit is the destruction of all their relationships and ultimately themselves. When we don't allow others to be free to love or reject us.... to set up boundaries in relationships based on trust and the natural patterns of growth over time that intimacy demands... to that extent we enslave ourselves to faux relationships based on lies and deception.
The more we attempt to squeeze others to conform to what we want....the more we dishonor them. People are made in the image of their creator who describes himself for us with three simple words, "God is love". God's image in us is honored and respected when we allow others to choose in relationship. God's great love doesn't demand a response....it wins a response through proving his love. You can't love someone you don't trust. You can't be intimate with someone who seeks to use you for his or her own selfish desires.
Intimacy demands freedom. Do you seek for deeply satisfying relationships? Begin today to set others free in your life. Stop demanding what you want and start giving who you really are... no strings .... no chains. Real love is both a choice and a gift. You can't demand it...but you can give it and receive it from a God who is true love personified.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

When the World Comes Home

Recently I was invited to speak at a forum on diversity at the University of South Alabama. The University has a new President Dr. Tony Waldrop who sees the need to recognize the shifting demographics of both students and the United States as a whole. Though I am not an employee of the University, two international Professors recommended I serve on the panel which spoke to students, faculty and other employees. I thought it was a great opportunity to speak from a biblical perspective on diversity. I would like to share briefly some of the main points I shared on building healthy cross cultural relationships. If the world is indeed moving to our neighborhoods, we will have to equip ourselves and our churches and ministries to know how to build Christ honoring relationships with our diverse neighbors!
4 Attitudes that assist in building cross cultural relationships
  1. An Open Mind: When we close our minds, we become deeply ethnocentric--viewing others different than us as culturally inferior or of less value.
  2. A Humble Heart: Fallen and sinful humanity is basically prideful and cultural bigotry is one example of this reality. We simply reject others as being inferior to ourselves. It takes a humble heart to consistently be open to significant relationships with people unlike us!
  3. A Listening Ear: In order to be open to others we have to make every effort to listen carefully to people different from us. We need to listen for what is being said, what isn’t being said...and for what needs to be said!
  4. Faith in a loving God: The greatest enemy of healthy relationships is fear. The New Testament epistle of 1 John 4: 18, 19 is clear, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”
 Segregation is rooted in fear and pride. We seldom move in the direction of people different than us without the possession of some key character traits and behaviors that help us build the bridges that help us over the real chasm of cultural differences. We tend to choose to spend time with people similar to us. Proximity in our daily lives doesn’t necessarily lead to relationship. Someone will have to get uncomfortable before real relationships develop across cultures.
Creating a Culture of Honor
“Love one another with brotherly affection, Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)
One of the key ways that assist in building significant friendships is to foster trust and respect for one another in the area of culture...we seek to build bridges of honor. We do this by asking 4 key questions to allow our neighbor to reveal his or her heart to us.
  1. Show us who you are in the context of celebration--food, dress, music,dance, art and and cultural tradition that relates to a significant life passage such as a wedding.
  2. Tell us who you are in the midst of suffering and difficulty
  3. Tell us who you are in the area of belief, values and family
  4. Tell us who you are in  the area of your dreams and hopes for the future

Do you seek to build meaningful and healthy relationships across cultures? It will take time and effort… a willingness to sacrifice your ‘comfort zone’....but it will be worth it all. Life is all about relationships; the rest is just details!

Jim Mather
Friends of Internationals

Friday, April 15, 2016

Embracing Diversity in Relationships


Key attitudes to assist in embracing diversity as a lifestyle

  1. An Open Mind--when we close our minds, we become deeply ethnocentric---viewing others different than us culturally as inherently inferior or not as valuable.
  2. A Humble Heart--fallen and sinful humanity is defined as “prideful” and cultural bigotry is one example of this sinful reality---we simply reject others as inferior to ourselves. It takes a humble heart to consistently be open to significant relationship with people unlike us!
  3. A Listening Ear-- to be open to others we have to make every effort to listen carefully to people unlike ourselves--- listening for what is being said, what isn’t being said….and what needs to be said is a skill learned progressively by people who open the door to building new and purposefully challenging relationships.
  4. Faith in a loving God--- the greatest opponent of healthy relationships is fear. The New Testament letter 1 John chapter 4:18, 19  instructs us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.”

I’ve been blessed to be involved in the lives of international students attending the University of South Alabama. The vision of the ministry of Friends of Internationals is to “Make Friends around the World” by providing a family like atmosphere for students living in Mobile, Alabama. What a huge opportunity to build significant relationships with people from nearly 100 nations!

But opportunity to build relationship  and actually doing it are two different things. Proximity to people different different than us is not relationship until and unless we pursue diversity with all of our heart.

Segregation ---separation of races---is rooted in fear and pride. We seldom move in the direction of people different than us without some key character traits and behaviors that help us lay the building blocks and build the bridges over the very real chasm of cultural differences. We tend to spend our time with people similar to us. We back away from varying styles of dress, food, entertainment and other deeper issues of belief, values and ways of ordering family and society.

Building a culture of Honor in a diverse society
What you honor you get more of….”~ Charles Simpson

Honor; high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank

Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. ~Romans 12:10

One of the key ways that we seek to build significant friendships to build trust and respect for one another in the area of culture….we seek to build bridges of honor.

We seek to experience the food, music, dress and anything significant in a specific culture in presentations of celebration in a prepared home environment. We seek to allow others to define and tell us ‘who they are’ in an open and embracing atmosphere of honor. We believe that God has placed specific treasures within every defined people on the planet….and we believe that ultimately we are all enriched when we uncover, share and celebrate these ethnic specific treasures!

Tell us who you are so we can love you more fully and completely
What would you like us to know about you?

A. Show us who you are in the context of celebration--Food, Dress, Music/Dance, Art, Cultural Tradition related to weddings and other celebrations that are central to important life passages

B. Tell us who you are in midst of sorrow and difficulty

C. Tell us who you are in the area of belief, values and family

D. Tell us who you are in the area of dreams and hopes for the future

Friday, January 22, 2016

Loving People in an Age of Terror

Following the horrific terror attacks in Paris, France there was a strong political response within my home state of Alabama. From the Governor on down there was a lot of talk about restricting refugee settlement, especially of people coming from the war torn nation of Syria. When I initially heard of this response, I knew that I needed to learn more and get involved in the conversation. For over a decade my wife and I have been involved in serving the refugee community in the city of Mobile.  Beginning in the mid 1970's following the Vietnamese war, Mobile became a refuge for those displaced by years of war in S. E. Asia. Since our arrival to Mobile in 1998, we have connected with refugees from war torn nations around the globe and seen just how much help they need after relocating to a new country. Try to imagine leaving everything you own and know to begin life anew after experiencing the trauma of war! Just learning a new language and culture would be hard enough. But try to imagine starting all over not by choice but by the force of war! I felt it vital that I connect with Alabama congressman Bradley Byrne who made public his concern about Syrian refugees as a potential security threat. I contacted his office and after a few weeks, we arranged to have a luncheon meeting in his Mobile office. Prior to serving in political office Bradley had as a private attorney done some pro Bono work for refugees in Mobile. He assured me he was not against having refugees relocate to Mobile... his major concern was the fast tracking of Syrian refugees to the front of the line without proper vetting. We listened to one another and felt it was a good first start for us to both understand the needs from both a humanitarian and security perspective. I invited Jeri Stroade the director of "Dwell Mobile" and board member Salah Taher who came to Mobile as an Iraqi refugee to the meeting along with my wife Mary who volunteers frequently in the service of refugees. It's not always easy to love people in a world of serious conflict and danger. I do believe with God's help we can learn to live within the tension of competing interests. God asks us to trust him and he also gives us the wisdom and discernment to know how to make difficult choices. As for me and my house we will make every effort to serve people with God's love in these difficult and challenging days. Please join me in praying for governmental leaders to do their jobs with both excellence and wisdom. Also pray for the love of people not to wax cold in an age of terror.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Back to the Future

                                                                                                             
                                                     
Dear friends and family;
 What a joy it was to celebrate the graduation from college of our youngest child Gabriella on December 12th! Gabby finished her undergraduate degree in English and we were blessed to have both Mary’s mom and some great friends in attendance. As Gabby moves into a new phase in life, we are amazed at the brevity of life! Seventeen years ago I walked with Gabby onto the campus of the University of South Alabama and heard her ask me, “Daddy when will I get to go to college!” I assured her it would be a long time before that happened…..and now it’s over! The brevity of life assures us that living with humility and wisdom is so very important. When we arrived to Mobile in July of 1998, I had no idea that we would still be actively involved in doing what we initially came to do at that time--- loving and ministering to international students.
 We had a great meeting with Brenda Hinson the director of international student services at the University of South Alabama this past month. She is excited to have Mary and I working full time again with Friends of Internationals. The timing of the Lord is always correct as she informed us that USA is expecting a record enrollment for the spring semester. We are expecting 200 new students from Kuwait alone! We are being given a lot of favor from the University as we are planning on hosting our welcome dinner on campus. Due to the large numbers of new students, our use of the Wesley Center is now inadequate. In the past a hindrance from using on campus facilities has been the cost of catering but Brenda thinks she can get a food waiver and allow us to have a ‘potluck’ dinner. We will also request donations from local international restaurants who are in many cases owned by friends of ours! Please be praying for continued favor with the international students services staff on the campus. We are grateful for a good relationship with the university over our entire 17 years of ministry.
In order to help us build a new foundation for our involvement in the ministry of Friends of Internationals we called many who have been involved in the ministry over the years to a special Friday night prayer meeting. With so much going on in the world internationally including a recent terror attack on American soil, we felt it vital to seek the Lord together for wisdom and to hear His plans for us. We don’t want to do ministry based upon our own good ideas. Sometimes we just need to ‘wait on the Lord’ and let the Holy Spirit to speak to all of us in a special time of prayer. We would love to have you praying with us for wisdom and God’s strategy for reaching international students and refugees in 2016 and beyond!
Since we have stepped down from leadership of All Nations Community Church we are now partnering with a local missionary agency in Mobile to help with administrative and spiritual oversight. Jim has known the President of IGO for over a decade and has taught in their missions training school. It is with great excitement and anticipation that we begin a new partnership with this missions agency! Our financial support and newsletters will now be coming through this organization. You can give online at www.igoministries.org or by ordinary mail. Thank you for your continued support!


Love in Christ;

Jim and Mary

To Support the ministry of Jim and Mary Mather donations can be made to IGO with a memo for their support.
International Gospel Outreach
P.O. Box 1008
Semmes, Al 36575