Thursday, July 6, 2017

Friends of Internationals July Newsletter


  For international students attending the University of South Alabama summertime is a mixed bag of classes, study and work. We still have a good number of students here in Mobile, so we choose to continue to minister through the summer terms and even begin preparation for the fall. This week we took a number of students to the beautiful scenery of the Pier in Fairhope, Alabama. We had a great turnout on a very hot and humid evening! God has made us of us we deep relational needs. Try to imagine being separated from family and friends for years at a time....what would that feel like emotionally? Loneliness is very tough to deal with over time. Our ministry seeks to communicate and meet various needs that will help people experience God's love and more fully embrace the gospel.Over the course of a few hours of hanging out together sharing food, conversation and great scenery we saw relationships forming, deepening and granting opportunity of overcoming loneliness and isolation for so many. Christian writer Dallas Willard said it so well, The aim of God in history is the creation of an all-inclusive community of loving persons, with Himself included in that community as its prime sustainer and most glorious inhabitant.”
 Our vision at Friends of Internationals is to help create opportunities for God's people to use the ordinary rhythms of life to welcome and love international students, refugees and others struggling to connect relationally with God and people. We need your prayers to be sensitive to how to do that in ever more challenging environment of fear and anxiety. Satan seeks to separate, isolate and destroy people. God seeks to place the lonely in families! (Psalm 68:6)

                                     Special Prayer Focus 
  As we continue to experience global terror and political upheaval I think it would be wise for Christians to really pray about the conditions of our own hearts and minds. The change in our lives can almost be imperceptible and not easily discerned...perhaps a change in our commitment to a certain ministry or relationship. We often react to stress and perceived danger or uncertainty with some version of what is known as the 'fight or flight' response. Here are Jesus words of warning from Matthew 24:12, "Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold."

  As we prepare for a special outreach later in July we are calling, "Christmas in July" we are asking you to pray for our team for God's ideas on how to minister through our various activities and relationships. When I was a child, our cousins in Connecticut would invite us to their home in the summer to help us celebrate Christmas together since they could not visit us in December. We loved the idea of celebrating the joy of Christmas twice a year and the warm weather and swimming in their pool didn't hurt at all!  In seeking to communicate the message of Jesus across cultures, we have to be creative and often 'out of the box'. Pray for God's grace to be revealed as we have some fun and also share the true meaning of Christ in this outreach to international students!

                              Fall Semester Welcome Dinner
    On July 9th, 1998 our family drove into Mobile, Alabama to begin ministering as directors of Friends of Internationals. Almost immediately, we faced immense challenges that would test our faith. Mary developed a kidney stone requiring an emergency procedure. Mary's mom came to help us and collapsed from an allergic reaction  that almost caused her to stop breathing. A few weeks later we were to host our first welcome dinner without the money we needed and very little idea of how to do the ministry. We needed God desperately and we knew it....and now all these years later we have not moved far from that realization. We need God desperately to help us to minister to these wonderful students in need of God's love. Make no mistake.....we still realize that apart from God's sustaining grace and power, we cannot do the ministry of Friends of Internationals. On August 26th we will host our annual welcome dinner and we are asking for your continued generosity in both prayer and financial gifts to enable us to continue to serve the nations represented. Who knows who God will bring to our doorstep? We wait with expectancy and great faith. God will do marvelous things! Thank you for standing with us all these years! We are so deeply grateful!
In Christ love;
Jim and Mary
  

Monday, June 26, 2017

Let's Reelect Sandy Stimpson Mayor of Mobile!


  On August 22nd, Mobile citizens will go to the polls to choose their Mayor for the next 4 years. It doesn't seem that long ago that Sandy Stimpson upset incumbent Mayor Sam Jones who had been in power for 8 years (two terms). It came in the aftermath of a realization that fiscally Mobile was on shaky ground and in need of a more accountable and better managed city. Sam had struggled to communicate a clear and hopeful vision for the city in his second term. Sandy with his strong business background elevated the hopes of many in Mobile with his campaign theme of "One Mobile". Campaign slogans don't often instantly solve problems but they do offer a direction and a vision of what could be....what should be in public life. Now 4 years after his election, we can see some significant improvements in our cities trajectory and climate. Here are just a few key significant fiscal markers to illustrate progress:

  1. Reduced city debt by 45 million dollars
  2. Built a 'rainy day' reserve fund of 20 million dollars.
  3. Rating increases by both Moody and S &P
  4. A burgeoning Aerospace industry that continues to expand.
  5. New tech corridor launched on St. Louis Street
  6. Improved salaries of both Fire and Police forces
  7. 63 million dollars invested in our broken infrastructure which had been sorely neglected by Sam and previous administrations.
  Much of public service is neither glamorous or headline grabbing. But paying bills on time and caring for streets and parks and providing decent salaries for public servants is vital to the well being of any city. I believe that Sandy Stimpson has offered a clear vision and has acted upon that vision with integrity and hard work. He deserves another 4 years to continue the progress that he and his administration have provided to city hall. In his own words Sandy summarizes what I deeply believe, "Mobile is undergoing an incredible transformation. The changes we've made stand to have a lasting impact and we aren't done yet." I urge my friends and fellow Mobilians to come out to the polls on August 22nd and vote to reelect Sandy Stimpson as our Mayor!


Monday, June 5, 2017

Spotlight on Japan

       
                                                    
 This month I would like to focus on a special unexpected opportunity to reach out to Japan. Japan is a nation of 127 million people. This past January we had 4 new students arrive from a University based in Osaka, Japan as one year exchange students. They came from Kansai Gaidai University. One of the students,Haruna Inoue has become especially close to us during the last few months. Due to an unforeseen change in her volunteer work position in California, she is now working with Friends of Internationals for this month! I asked her today if I could interview her so that people would know about her life in Japan and America and what is happening through our ministry.
 Haruna told me that she has studied English for 8 years and has desired for many years to live and work in America in some form of international business. She applied for a scholarship to study abroad at the University of South Alabama. She describes life in Japan as much more formal than life here in Mobile, Alabama.  She also enjoys the slower pace of life compared to Osaka which is a mega city in Asia with a population of nearly 9 million people!
 I asked Haruna what was the best thing of her experience so far in America. I was pleasantly surprised when she said this, “I think that the best experience I’ve had is my interaction with Friends of Internationals. I have gotten to meet people from many nations and also learned more about the local community in Mobile.” Haruna mentioned that initially she was a bit cautious about coming to Bible study but the welcome dinner helped her feel happy and loved. Japanese society is traditionally Buddhist but they are not very religious in everyday life. Christianity is viewed as foreign and is equated with some cults that have been viewed very negatively in the media and society of Japan.  
                                            Friendship Makes All the Difference
 You can imagine that someone from a non religious background might find it difficult to understand the value of a weekly Bible study. It was the friendship of an American student, Ragan Ferguson that has made all the difference for Haruna. Though Haruna did attend a Christian Junior High and High school she was only vaguely familiar with the message of the Bible. She describes Ragan’s love and example as a big factor in her now finding the Bible study as something she enjoys very much. Her favorite part has been being prayed for and seeing answers to those prayers. I asked her directly if she thinks that she could come to the place where she herself would believe in and follow Jesus. Her answer was insightful and hopeful, “In Japan when we are in trouble, we have nowhere to turn but ourselves. Perhaps that’s why so many commit suicide. In Christianity you can pray and ask God for help and you have a community of friends that reach out and love you. You’re not alone.” God is using Friends of Internationals to touch the hearts of many who otherwise would not know His love. Pray for Haruna to be deeply impacted by her experience and involvement with Friends of Internationals;
In Christ love;

Jim and Mary

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