This week’s teaching will be on Psalm 131—a song of hope in the midst of unmet expectations. As the teaching team met yesterday morning, we discussed how believers maintain hope in God’s truths. We have hope because of the things we’ve seen God do, the stories we’ve read in the Bible, and because of our growth in relationship with Him, which helps us better know His character.
The hard thing is, sometimes we may not see full justice or complete answers in our own lifetimes, and that’s hard to swallow. We want to have our stories close up nicely, but faith can be difficult that way.
I’ve been mulling a lot of things over the last few days. When people say, “It will all happen in God’s timing,” it reassures me that when things are going well for me, He’s in control and is working things out on His big-picture timeline.
God is good and creative to create us in His image, to have compassionate hearts that are spurred on to take care of each other.
But was it God’s timing that new friends of mine had to flee their homes with only the clothes on their backs and spend the next eight years in a refugee camp in Malawi without much opportunity and freedom, until it was just the right day for us to get national policies in place, pick them up at the airport, and take them to the elusive four-bedroom apartment that had just opened up a few days before?
Genesis 37 tells us that Joseph’s brothers were some mean-spirited, jealous dudes, and understandably so. Their dad had shown favoritism to this special son. The brothers sold him off and lied to their dad, leading him to think that Joseph was dead. Joseph spent many years away from his kin, but ultimately said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)
I asked my friend James, the biblical languages scholar, what the exact words uttered by Joseph mean. Do they mean that it was all in God’s plan that Joseph had to be displaced, imprisoned, and then put in a powerful place so that his people wouldn’t die in a famine years later? James always chuckles when I ask him these deep questions. I think after discussing it, we agreed that it’s more of a redemptive thought than a predestined concept. Plus, if all this hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have Joseph’s great story, James pointed out. Also, I wouldn’t have one of the high points in my life: seeing my tween heartthrob Donny Osmond, playing the lead role in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Here’s where I’m washing out on all of this: I don’t think it’s God’s will that some of His children on the planet are victims of violence and injustice. He is good and creative to create us in His image, however, to have compassionate hearts that are spurred on to take care of each other.
It was approximately two years ago that I was watching the horrible footage on the news of Syrian refugees’ bodies floating ashore, and I wondered what we could do about it. After some preliminary research, I found that the nearest refugee intake center was in Kansas City, about four hours away. I messaged our city’s mayor and asked if he knew what we could do to get an intake center in our vibrant and fast-growing town. He said he didn’t know, but to keep him abreast of anything I found out.
Within days, another friend said he’d eavesdropped on a conversation in a coffee shop and met someone who was also interested in setting up a local refugee program. After meeting and committing to be partners with Canopy NWA, about 22 of us at Grace went through training and started collecting items to set up homes to sponsor two refugee families. We were matched with a family, and then a travel ban was put in place. I saw a member of my team crying the next Sunday at worship, and my heart hurt as we had already been picking specific things for the family members we were expecting. Canopy hosted a town hall meeting a few days later that was really a therapeutic time for many of the disappointed and marginalized in our little community to gather together to mourn. We waited some more, and our donated items gathered dust against a wall in a ministry room.
On May 31, our team received an email asking if we were interested in sponsoring a family of eleven from the Congo. We immediately chimed in and said, “Yes! This is what we signed up for!”
The timeline was the shortest turnaround in Canopy NWA’s one-year history, with flight confirmation received on June 23, and a long hunt continuing for a landlord willing to accommodate a family of eight. On June 29, we received word that a four-bedroom apartment had opened suddenly. The renter had left early. There would not be time for the landlord to have it cleaned professionally, but miraculously, we found the apartment pristine and move-in ready.
Late on the blazing afternoon of July 1, a convoy of trucks arrived at 2828 to load up the furniture and goods donated by more than 50 kind people, causing our team leader Casey to exclaim, “Looks like a Central Arkansas church out there in the parking lot!”
Within 20 minutes, we were down the road and then carrying the furniture up two flights of stairs. On July 2, my friend Myra carried a five-gallon bottle of water up those flights of stairs, attached a pump to the top, and washed all the new dishes survivalist-style since the water was not yet turned on. We fluffed pillows, straightened comforters, arranged soccer balls lovingly on the boys’ shelves and prayed that this home would be a safe haven and place of hope. On July 5 at 10:14 a.m., the water was still not on, and Casey was on hold with the city utility department.
Is God providing again, when it finally gets turned on after 1 p.m.?!
We wrapped things up, worked out the last-minute details, and team member Elizabeth found out the flight was arriving twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Just as Alex and I came up the airport escalator about 4:25 p.m., we heard, “Here they are!”
We had been warned not to overwhelm the family, so we stood back, signs in hand, as a Canopy employee welcomed them. One by one, we slowly approached to introduce ourselves and then led them downstairs to baggage claim. We got some sodas and sat down to wait for the other three in their party to arrive on a different flight. They were exhausted, but eager. I wish everyone who donated things could have seen their excitement as they looked around their apartment. It didn’t seem appropriate to video the experience, or I would have!
Four days later, as we worshiped together, I could hear one of the sons joining in to sing, “Hallelujah! Glory be to our great God!” It’s only through years of learning to stuff my emotions and maintain control that I was able to stand and not throw myself on the floor, sobbing.
Another team member said, “We need to redeem our country’s narrative.” What does that mean for you? What things are in your realm of influence? I’d love to visit with you about this sometime over coffee or dinner.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger, and you invited me in ..." — Matthew 25:35
Teresa Cornett's favorite question from others is "what do you think about......?!" so she loves to write when she gets a chance to mouth off.