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building a community to reach a community

Making Friends in Atlanta

After my wife and I read David Platt’s book Radical, we signed up for the Atlanta mission trip, convinced that we were just going through the motions and needed to do more for Jesus and be more involved in being his hands and feet. Immediately upon completion of reading Radical we went on line, sponsored another Compassion child and signed up for the Atlanta reaching trip. On Friday morning we embarked on our first, but hopefully not our last, mission trip together.

It was stressful and unnerving on the drive over to meet at the church. We were about to travel 5 hours with people we had never spent much time with, and talk with complete strangers about Jesus. The unknown and perceived expectations created anxious and tense moments for Michelle. I was praying that God would remove them. I was doing better than Michelle; I was anxious, but because I had been to one of the meetings in preparation for the trip I had heard Jeff Champlin's and Becca Fox’s advice to pray for the team and for the people God would place in our lives. Their reassurance and stories helped ease my anxieties, plus the prayers leading up to the trip also helped reassure in me that God’s got this.

Because Michelle was unable to attend any meetings she was full of questions which began days before the trip and continued on the drive to the church. Questions like: Where will we stay? Do we sleep together or in separate rooms? Are we going to be helping build something? What do you mean we have to knock on strangers' doors? I have to sleep on a cot? Do we have separate rooms and showers? Will we be safe? I did my best to answer the questions and reassure her. I prayed a lot for God to get us there and work things for his good.

beginning to relax and feel more comfortable as she listened and began to build relationships with the rest of the team. I too felt more relaxed the longer we were in the vehicle together. I didn’t know how God was going to use me but I felt sure my heart was in the right place. Past experiences serving God had shown me that this experience would be powerful and rewarding, so by the time we reached Atlanta I was at ease. Apprehensive about going door to door still, but I felt very good about the team God had assembled. Ellen, Becca, Benjamin, Rachel, Elise, Michelle and “Where’s Ernie” (inside joke) seemed up to the task.

Upon arriving we met some of the staff of GFM John Wheeler and Rory Bonte. They are very nice guys who showed us around and explained the weekend events and informed us about the schedule. The apartment we were in was in the basement of one of the apartment complexes and GFM had done some modifications to accommodate several missionaries at once. It was good for a former Marine, but I was worried about Michelle and whether or not she would be able to relax and sleep there. As it turned out she did. Michelle adapted very well to the surroundings. It has been a long time since I saw Michelle so happy. It is always such a joy to watch the Holy Spirit change hearts and make comfortable those who gather in his name.

The teachings by John and Rory were uplifting and insightful. I was pleased with the teachings and what knowledge I gained about the Bible and God's people. The purpose of the missions trip is to reach unreached people groups, and the teachings were geared toward explaining biblical principles in regard to taking God's word to the unreached people of the world. It was different than the traditional church teachings on Sundays. The perspectives made sense and the lineage was easy to follow and backed by scriptures. After reading the Bible I had unanswered questions about God’s choice to choose the Israelites and call them his chosen people. John's teaching and explanation made sense and answered my questions.

The first day out in the community Becca, Rachel, Michelle and I were teamed together and I first stop was with a Nepali family. The woman Juti who answered the door looked at us amused, but invited us in anyway. She spoke little English but was very hospitable. She promptly left the room and went to the kitchen and brought us back a drink and then soon after homemade bread. The bread was similar in texture and look to an Appalachian fair funnel cake but not in taste. After a short while her husband came in. His name was Beerik and he spoke English well. We conversed with him and he was inquisitive as to why were there. We were instructed only to say were friends of refugees here to help with their English and take any concerns back to our leaders. We stayed for over an hour and talked but no opportunity presented itself to minister or talk of Jesus. We did learn that his family was Buddhist but he had no belief. We took the information back to John at GFM and he said he will follow up.

The visit to the Hindu temple was interesting. It was sad to watch a culture participate in idol worship knowing how strongly God disapproves of it. I will always remember Ernie’s look of shock upon learning that after the daily ritual known as puja the statues of the god and his avatar are bathed and their clothing changed. The temple itself was beautiful with intricate detail in the columns and pillars. Every expense was made to ensure that the temple was stunning and pleasing to the eye. The floors and countertops were all made of marble and polished to a high gloss. The temple was a masterpiece and a true architectural feat of genius. It was explained to us by Rory that the temple was formed and carved in India then shipped to the United States and assembled on site. It is hard to fathom that such a thing would even be possible. What really stands out is how much money, time and effort was spent and given to house tiny statues.

After the temple we went back out into the community and John had given us a small list of apartments with refugees who had recently arrived, that we could go visit. We chose an apartment home to an Iraqi family who had been in the US for two months. We knocked on the door and a beautiful brown-eyed boy from above stuck his head out his bedroom window. A few moments later another smaller but equally handsome Iraq boy answered the door. After a moment or two of speaking Arabic back and forth, a very strong and dynamic man came to the door and welcomed us into his home. Like the family from Nepal the family was hospitable and welcoming in a way that many Americans are not. We were offered drinks and food immediately upon entering. Many times during the conversations they would offer more food and drink. It struck me with guilt how we who are believers in Christ are less hospitable than those who do not believe in Christ.

We learned that the father's name is Mazin and his wife’s name is Sassan, he had three children, a 16 year old daughter Dalal, at 15 year old son Ali, and an 11 year old son Hussein. Our visit went especially well and after hearing Mazin talk of his struggles in Iraq and the persecution he and his family had been through, it shrank my problems and my sufferings a great deal. His stories moved us all in the same way. All of sudden we saw our world as more of blessing than a struggle. I knew when we left their apartment that the Holy Spirit was making changes in our hearts and in our minds.

During our visit I felt moved and said things I wasn't supposed to say and went way off script. We told them about job availability in Tennessee for someone with his skill set and we invited them to our home, both apparent no-no’s when you are on a short term mission trips. However I couldn't stop the urge to reach out to the family. After our visit we were all excited to share our visit with the others. Becca explained her reservations about our conversation with Mazin and his family, all legitimate concerns with strong reasons for not conversing with refugees in this manner. She explained talking of jobs with them could lead them to believing you had a job waiting for them and an invitation to your home would most definitely be taken. Michelle and I agreed we did not care and hoped Mazin and his family would come visit. It is my hope that we might help Mazin find a job with one of our friends who are contractors. With his skill in welding and experience he who would be an asset to any one that hired him. I understand GFM's concerns but there was no way I was going to leave that house and never see Mazin and his family again.

He was such an inspiration to all of us and his attitude about America was one of gratefulness and hope. He actually said being held at gunpoint in the United States would not be a problem. He would gladly give all his money to a robber, because he knows after he gave the robber his money the threat to him would be over. He said in Iraq he always lived in fear of someone killing him or even worse someone in his family.

Mazin invited us back the following day to eat lunch with his family. Michelle, Rachel and returned the following day to a feast. It was the kindest display of hospitality and welcoming I had ever seen. Perfect strangers inviting us to eat with them and excited about us being there. Mazin said he and Sassan could not sleep the night before in excited anticipation of his new friends coming to eat lunch with him and his family. The food was plentiful and it was all delicious. The table was so full of food that we had to eat out of the serving dishes. Everything was delicious and we talked and we laughed and had the best time. I felt as if I had known them my whole life.

After the meal we watched a slide show of Mazin and his sons working together, family photos of his family in Iraq and his family here in the United States. He told us in detail the story of his persecution in Iraq. He and his family had moved 18 times in the last two years. He explained that for the last two years they were basically homeless living with relatives. He told a story of his brother and his brother’s best friend coming to visit him at his shop. He heard shots fired and ran out to see them both lying dead in the street. He said the circumstances here in the United States were easy. He looked at his wife and they shook hands and he began to cry openly recounting the struggles he and his family had escaped.

I left there knowing that I was the one God had blessed that day. I remember leaving the house being grateful for my circumstances. I look differently at the loss of my son and all my struggles. Walking out of the apartment I felt blessed and I marveled at how every time I have gone in the name of Jesus to help others or tell them of the love of Jesus I am the one that is blessed. Funny how that works, if you do something in the name of Jesus he blesses tenfold.

Michelle and I are looking forward to seeing Mazin and his family and introducing our family to him. I know that missions-based work is in mine and Michelle's future. We are more dedicated to making our home more hospitable and inviting to visitors as well as working to make Jesus the center of our lives and marriage.

Jeff Goebel

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