Tag Archives: refugees

Art bridges social, cultural, generational gaps

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

In East Central Spokane I’m discovering how art has the power to bring different cultures, generations, backgrounds and social classes together.

Over the last six years working in this neighborhood my church has hosted numerous artistic events designed to celebrate, educate and nurture artistry and beauty here in this community.

Poverty can often produce a chronic underlying depression, a subconscious drain on motivation, the  great “whatever” of disempowerment and hopelessness.

One of the dead fruits of such debilitating vision is ugliness.

Ugliness manifests itself in many ways around my neighborhood. Graffiti, trash accumulation and careless distribution, overgrown or uncared for vacant houses decaying from years of absent out-of-state landlords, over worked single parent homes, fear based need for guard dogs that result in destroyed yards, a tapestry of tarps draped on countless roofs, cars and buildings — cheap fixes for welfare budgets. Boarded, barred, fenced, and darkened drug dens, broken down Jalopy land are the results of little cash, no repairs and purchasing habits that reflect low-income realities and predatory auto sellers.

Then there’s ‘Pajama Pant Syndrome;’ one of the ills of welfare, unemployment and neighborhood violence. Many people live ‘inside lives’ and hardly come out into public. When they do it’s from necessity, not pleasure. Many folks around here  live isolated, lonely, nervous and secluded lives all because of poverty’s power.

On and on I could go. Lack produces an environment and mentality of disbelief and despair.

Group works on community art project/contributed by Eric Blauer

Art is one way to awaken hope and joy in communities where seeing beauty is often an act and practice of faith.

We do a lot of work with refugees, who in struggling economies and with limited education and english skills, are often living in the center or the margins of poverty.

We’ve found that creating art together is one way to develop friendship, teach conversational English, tell life stories and give back the gift of beauty to one another.

Creating art becomes a potent weapon in the fight against poverty. Teaching and learning to see goodness worth retelling in different artistic mediums is an empowering skill for those who often feel like they are imprisoned.

Last night I attended our “English Language Experience Group” for refugee kids run by three awesome women volunteers. During this quarter they are focusing on art. I was invited to come and share my art, answer prepared questions from the kids and join them in creating something together.

I talked about the ins and outs of ‘Impressionism‘, explained its impact on me and the freedom I think it gives budding artists. We viewed work from various famous and then  created our own masterpieces.

A group of refugees work on art project together/contributed by Eric Blauer

I’m reminded of the artist Robert Henri‘s scathing, but often true, critique of religious leaning souls as I think about sitting there talking, laughing, making messes, exploring new skills, practicing communicating and nurturing creative minds and hearts.

“I am always sorry for the Puritan, for he has guided his life against desire and against nature, he found what he thought was comfort, for he believed the spirit’s safety was in negation, but he has never given the world one minute’s joy or produced one symbol of the beautiful order of nature. He sought peace in bondage and his spirit became a prisoner,” he wrote in his book, “The Art Spirit.”

Last night, and through our the last six years we’ve been proving Henri wrong. Faith and purity are powerful sources of transformation.

In East Central Spokane, I’m seeing art change lives picture after picture, painting after painting, poem upon poem and song upon song.

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Dehumanizing the outsiders, elderly, disabled and poor

By Contributor Pastor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

I have been working with refugees since October of 2006, when our family agreed to host a family of five Karen refugees from Burma through World Relief, an  international refugee resettlement organization with a great office in Spokane. These were the first Karen people to come to Spokane and because of that we worked to move them right around the corner from our house. We hosted the next two families as well and then began partnering with World Relief in building a small community of Karen people here in East Central. That first year I was exposed to the opportunities and challenges refugees face.

Through my friendships with these people I began to see my faith, church and city in a new light. Some of that was so encouraging, and a lot was discouraging. I quickly became aware of the underlying racism that was present in our community, something I hadn’t experienced since most of my relationships were with fellow middle-class white people. I saw discrimination and witnessed the powerlessness of the poor and marginalized. I’ve seen the vulnerability and the victimization of those who do not understand our American life. I’ve helped them deal with shady employers who work them overtime without pay, salesmen trying to scam them, navigating schools systems, medical providers, an unsympathetic legal system and countless other challenges these new arrivals face in Spokane.

But, I think one of the most frustrating spheres of life we deal with is the medical system. The poor, elderly, disabled and refugee community face discrimination and lack of access and service in ways that often infuriate me and break my heart. Lack of information for low-English speaking people is part of the problem. The culture of liability, paper overload, disconnected systems, for-profit business and a sprawled out city that places access to medical services out of reach of many people are at the root of a lot of needless suffering. I know people who have done their own dental work, suffered with chronic health problems from lack of quality care, been denied treatment and died because of the way our systems dehumanize, isolate and put profit before people.

Photo contributed by Eric Blauer

Last week I received a call from an Iraqi refugee friend. He’s an elderly man with heart problems and high blood pressure, poor English skills and suffers partial paralysis from a stroke. He came to America as the only other option than returning to bombed-out Baghdad where he faced danger due to the political and ethnic changes in Iraq. He went from a good and prosperous life, with a beautiful home and extended family and friends to a refugee camp and then to a two-bedroom apartment in Spokane. The changes and challenges he has faced in hopes of providing a better future for his two teenage children has been both heartbreaking and inspiring to me.

He called me in a panic because his nose had been bleeding for two hours and it wasn’t stopping. He asked if I would come and help him. When I got to his house, he was dressed in sweats and had blood down the front of his shirt, on his head and was clutching a blood-soaked rag to his face. He was visibly scared and asked me to take him to the urgency care center where he had taken his daughter when she was sick. I took him there and was turned away because he didn’t have the type of insurance that covered their services. The woman at the desk advised us to go up to 57th and Regal to another urgent care she said took his state insurance.

At the next office I started filling out forms and then I was told that they wouldn’t see him either because he had to have a referral from his primary doctor. I argued with the staff with him on my arm, still bleeding and confused as to why I couldn’t seem to get him help. I was informed that I could just call 911 if I had a problem with the situation.

We left.

My friend’s nose had stopped bleeding, so as I drove him to the emergency room and called his primary doctor’s office. I had to argue a bit with someone to get a nurse on the phone to discuss what I should do. Finally I got some advice on the situation. She gave us some guidance and said if he continued to have any episodes of bleeding that day to take him across town to their urgent care.

I took him home and helped him take his blood pressure and then we prayed together.

As I reflect on this situation, which isn’t an uncommon type of experience in this town, I was deeply frustrated about how the care of people in our communities has become such a politicized issue. While people argue and debate about profits and policies, people suffer.

One nurse told me about the policies and the fear of being fined by the state if they provided services. But not once did any staff or nurse offer a clean and sanitary rag. All we got was cold, clinical care. No compassion; or action, just dead-end procedures. I was ashamed of our system.

We can argue about the debt, freedoms, liability and host of other reasons why things are as they are, but when you are standing there in an office with an old bleeding man in sweats clutching your arm and you are denied service, the problem becomes personal; more than political.

The dehumanization of the individual in our culture is chronic and at the root of much of it is the love of money. I hope young and emerging medical professionals will catch a vision for returning to urban centers to practice medicine among the poor, the elderly, the marginalized and the disabled. Our neighborhoods need doctors and access to medical services. Until we rethink the way we are living life as a community these types of ridiculous experiences will increase.

Nativity story an invitation to examine immigration issues

By Blogger Mark Kadel

Blogger Mark Kadel

As Christians around the world celebrate the birth Jesus Christ, we are reminded that his family also suffered persecution and oppression at the hands of those who were misinformed about their circumstances.  As those of us who work with immigration issues and refugees know, Jesus and his family were refugees, fleeing to Egypt for a number of years before the threat of King Herod passed.  When they returned to Israel, the angel directed them to resettle to the primitive village of Nazareth, out of the spotlight, perhaps to not draw attention to themselves.   The same is true for many immigrants who resettle in our country today.

As we think of how this affects us during the Advent season, we are reminded that the United States is a country mostly made up of immigrants from around the world.  Our forefathers, who sought freedom and opportunity, have for years resettled in this country to capture a part of the American dream.  We are a country with a rich cultural diversity that together makes a beautiful mosaic.

However, regardless of our heritage, some in our society see immigration as an invasion. Many see immigrants—especially immigrants who are present in our country unlawfully—as a threat to our economy, our security, and our national identity.

As Christians, I personally hope we see things differently. I believe that immigrants are a blessing and an opportunity.  Immigrants, including refugees and undocumented immigrants, bring a great deal to our country and present a wonderful, missional opportunity for the Church.  Through immigration, the nations of the world show up right at our doorstep.  While many immigrants arrive in this country with a vibrant faith, others encounter the hope of a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ for the first time in this country.  God has given his Church an enormous opportunity in the arrival of immigrants to our country.  But we have the option of ignoring this opportunity, of allowing our response to be one of fear, rather than by the liberating truth and love of Scripture.

“Why is immigration policy important to Christians? Certainly because we believe what the Bible teaches about treatment of ‘aliens in the land.’ It is also because so many Hispanic, African and Asian immigrants are evangelical Christians who are in our denominations and churches by the millions. They are us,” said
Leith Anderson president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

I will be sharing a four-part series on a Christian perspective on immigration and will be using some information on World Relief’s website, http://welcomingthestranger.com

Let’s start by answering a few common questions:

What is the immigration “crisis,” and why does it matter to the church?
There are an estimated 32 million immigrants presently living in the United States, with about 10.8 million living here without legal status. All sides agree that this is a problem—with some viewing the situation as an “invasion” of “illegal” immigrants threatening the culture, safety, and economy of the United States, while others lament that “undocumented” immigrants are kept in the shadows, with families divided by unjust laws. Christians often feel stuck in the middle of these two views—recognizing the tension between the biblical commands to respect the law and to welcome, love, and minister to our new immigrant neighbors.

Who are these undocumented immigrants?
A lot of what we hear and read about undocumented immigrants is inaccurate.  Of the approximately 10.8 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, about 40 percent entered lawfully with a visa, but overstayed, while the rest entered illegally.  While about 56 percent of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico or other Latin American countries, there are also millions of undocumented Asian, African, and European immigrants—so this is certainly not just a Hispanic issue. Most immigrants without legal status, like those with legal status, come to improve their economic situation (which is often very perilous in their country of origin), to reunite families, or fleeing persecution in their country of origin.

Next week we will explore answers to questions like:
Why don’t these people come the legal way, the way that my ancestors did?
And Aren’t undocumented immigrants a drain on the economy?