D.L. Mayfield

living in the upside-down kingdom

Filtering by Tag: refugees

dangerous territory

I had a dream last night. My family and I--including my sisters and my parents--were going on a cruise. We had been preparing for this, and we were excited. As we entered the large ship, things began to get strange. I saw piles of shoes everywhere. I saw people sleeping in cots stacked side by side. We were shown to our room and discovered it was a section of the dining hall, that the tables and chairs were to be our beds. I went onto the main deck and saw large shipping containers full of simple food items like bread and water, and people lining up to procure items. I saw people laying out blankets wherever they could find room. I looked around, and as the large ship started to sail I had a realization: this wasn't a luxury cruise ship, after all. As it turns out, we were all refugees, and we were all being sent to the middle of the sea, with no idea of what would come next.


What does this dream mean? Is it from God, or my anxiety, or my years of hearing stories from refugees, from recent weeks of absorbing the narrative of how no one wants to help the stateless wanderers of our earth? I don't know. All I know is that for all of my life I have yearned for comfort and safety and clear and correct answers, but I have been propelled into the very opposite waters.

I thought about this dream and I thought about a book that my friend just wrote. It is called Dangerous Territory. What is dangerous? The country that she got kicked out of due to her Christian faith? Or the place she came from, which gave her too many simple answers for the complexities of a world broken by colonialism, racism, misogyny, and inequality? The answer, of course, is both.

I think of the dangerous territories I always wanted to live in as a young and wildly self-assured woman. I never got to go to any of those places. I never smuggled Bibles or started an orphanage or led a resistance movement. I never got to be great. I never got to convert anyone. I never got an easy narrative of victory. 

Instead I have been crushed by defeat, bruised by proximity to the suffering, I have had despair of my own complicity in systems of sin dig deep wells into my heart and then--they were filled by a God who always was and only ever will be love. 

In her book, I think my friend was writing a love letter to her younger self, and to all of us who want to be world-changers. I wish I had been able to read it a few years ago. I wish growing up didn't always have to feel so hard. I wish I had been more aware of all the ways our world can be dangerous, especially if you find yourself at the top of an unequal system. 


I do not know where our ship of a country is currently going, and this feels very dangerous to me. But no matter what happens, I do know this: I am grateful for where God has brought me. I am grateful for my neighborhood, my life, my school, my community, my friends and family and neighbors. I am surrounded by those who will be the first to feel the effects of injustice. I am surrounded by people with very thin life vests. I am surrounded by people who have taught me how to be brave. I am surrounded by people who have survived more than I could ever even imagine. 

And together, I know, we will work to see God's kingdom established, on earth (and sea) as it is in heaven. 



(linking up with Amy and her blog. I encourage you to buy her beautiful and thoughtful book!)


The Time For Welcome is Now: Ten Ideas

My president and his administration are expected to sign an executive order on immigration and refugees that includes banning all Syrian refugees from entering our country, suspending the entire refugee program for 120 days, cutting the amount of refugees we do resettle by half, and halting all travel from 7 specific Muslim countries.

This directly affects my neighbors, and it indirectly affects me. I care for them. They are my brothers and sisters, even the ones who are waiting halfway around the world to join us in a quest for a peaceful, safe life. They have already suffered so much, and yet here again the people in power cruelly condemn them to even more suffering. When I allow my heart to fully absorb the news, I am in anguish. The only balm has been getting up off my couch and visiting with my neighbors and friends. They heal me with their love and care and attention, with their life stories and trajectory of resilience. But I know not everyone is as blessed as I am. 

Perhaps refugees and immigrants are not your literal neighbors. But perhaps your heart leaps when you think of Jesus, the refugee king, and his words of life and blessing for the sick and the sad and the oppressed. Perhaps you take the Bible seriously as a book that asks Christians to fling themselves into places of sacrificial and transformational love that transcends nationalism in beautiful and devastating ways.

Perhaps you want to know how to best welcome refugees, even as our nation's doors close to them. Here are a few ideas that I have:


*There are seven countries under the ban: Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. Find refugees from these countries (and others!) in your city. Locate your local refugee resettlement agency and ask how you can volunteer. Currently, places like Arrive Ministries in St. Paul has seen an uptick in both financial donations and volunteers due to the increased spotlight on refugees. The ways to help are endless—from sorting donated items to tutoring to family mentoring. Beyond the initial re-settlement period many refugees remain culturally isolated. Coming from communally-based Muslim cultures the busyness and individualism of America can be especially hard to adapt to. Jump in and share your life! My personal favorite agencies are World Relief, Catholic Charities, and Lutheran Family Services (but there are many more).   

*Go to restaurants from the 7 countries listed above in your area. Eat delicious food. Thank the owners and staff for being there. 

*Go visit your local mosque with a simple card that says they are welcome. Ask if they are in need of anything or if there is any way you can serve them and their community. 

*Organize a meeting in your local church to lament current policies that are unwelcoming to the stranger and immigrant. Spend time in prayer and reading the Scripture (here is a good starting point for verses) regarding God’s heart for the refugee and stateless wanderer.

*Ask your pastor/the head of your denomination to publicly address the Biblical call to Christians to welcome refugees from the pulpit. According to one study, only 35% of US churches have talked about the current global refugee crisis. Is your church part of the silent majority? Put pressure on to change this!

*Two of the sectors that disproportionately bear the brunt of refugee resettlement are public education and healthcare (specifically hospitals). Find people in your life (church, etc.) who work in these settings and ask how you can help support them as they encounter and love refugees. Ask about volunteering at your local school and tutoring English Language Learners (many of whom need help catching up to grade level).

*If you are a business owner, consider ways you can employ refugees and/or create positions that do not rely on English-only literacy.

*Donate your financial resources to places like World Relief, Preemptive Love, SARA, and other mission agencies and resettlement agencies that work with refugees both here and abroad. Ask that these organizations be vocal in their support of continuing the refugee resettlement program for everyone. If you currently donate to a missions organization, ask that they be public and vocal in their belief that welcoming refugees is a Biblical perspective. If they are not public about their support of refugee resettlement programs continuing on (without bias towards religion) then pull your support.

*Recognize that there is no grand symbolic gesture you can do. There is no Muslim registry you can sign up for. There is just rampant Islamophobia in your friends and community that you will have to push back against constantly, for the rest of your life. Have discussions about refugees (and Islam) with your people. Gently correct misinformation, every single time you see it. Be vigilant against hatred, specifically Islamophobia. Specifically ask Christians to live up to their beliefs when it comes to loving our neighbor (and our responsibility to them). 

*And lastly (but certainly not least): Pray for Christ to replace any fear in our hearts with love.





Refugees and Me

I met a refugee family last night, completely by accident. I was in the office helping out at a homework club, and they came over looking for the manager due to a plumbing emergency. Long story short, I ended up having to be the liaison to call the after-hours company, and then I had to be the one to tromp over to their apartment in the midst of a gigantic storm and tell them that no one could come fix it until the morning.

Knocking on the door, I deliver the bad news. Immediately, the family opens the door wider and invites me in for a cup of tea. If you know me, you know that these kind os experiences are a balm on my rough little soul, so I slipped in the door and sat down on the couch in the midst of a bare living room (two lamps the only other pieces of furniture that I saw, the lampshades put on upside-down) and I heard just a bit of their story. 

They have been in America two weeks, they know no-one, they are from a country which is primarily Muslim and which they had to flee, they are optimistic yet daunted, mentally calculating how they have $50 a month for a family of five to buy necessities, the young teenagers are nervous to start high school this week. They tell me amazing stories of survival. I stir sugar cubes into my tea. I am the bearer of bad news, yet they just want to sit and talk and talk and talk. The mother (through her oldest son) asks me how old I am, a strange question that I honestly have not been asked before in these situations. 31, I tell her, and she smiles at me. I am 34, she tells me, in English. I have to hide my surprise, because I thought she was in her 50s. Her son explains she was married at 15, which is why she is so young yet her children tower over her.

My gosh I could sit there all day and soak in the stories. My gosh I could stay up all the night long wondering how I can communicate to you, the reader, the people of my country, what an absolutely precious gift these lives are. How refugees, more than any people I have ever met, have extended the kindness of Christ to me. But also: how razor thin the margins of survival are. How lonely so many feel. How there are families like this everywhere, everywhere, who just want someone to talk with for a little while, they want to drink tea and share what they know. But we have to be close enough to knock on the doors. 


I wrote a little devotional of sorts for Off The Page, talking a bit about my own struggles with anxiety and how it is helping me have empathy for the deep wells of fear I keep hearing about. Last night and my accidental tea-time is just another confirmation that being in relationship with people is truly the best way to change our beliefs. I just feel so grateful for my life and experiences, even as they have brought pain and a closeness to suffering which can be hard to bear. Anyways, go on over to Off The Page and read about how I am trying myself not to be so afraid these days


Other random things I have written/been a part of:

A round-table discussion on The Hunger Games for CT (where I get to drop phrases like "prophetic imagination" and "I love Peeta" (except I didn't actually say that last one but I meant to.

A round-table reminiscence of the influence and importance of JESUS FREAK by dc Talk--which is 20 years old this month!!!!! There are a ton of famous and cool people in this round table, and then there is me talking about my bizarro dreams (and my own Jesus tattoo)


Thanks for reading, and let's keep our neighbors both near and far close to our hearts, and may we lift their burdens up to God, the only one who can shoulder them fully. 



re-entry shock

This is a picture of me in our new apartment, taken maybe a week after we moved in. Today on facebook I was asking people to weigh in on a few pictures I had taken to be my new real-life-author headshots. The one everyone liked best was the one where I was smiling, where I looked very cute and accessible (it should be noted that last week in a fit of emotions I went and got all of my hair cut off). They are pretty great pictures, and I am sure you will see the official one here soon enough.

But it made me think of this picture, which my husband took without me paying any attention. It is a picture of how I really am these days, nothing posed about it. My husband loves this picture but he was afraid that when I saw it I would find things to dislike about myself, that I would let the truth and beauty of it wash over me. He was nervous to show it to me but when I laid eyes on it I loved it immediately.  I love it, I love that chubby, squishy baby and his beautiful, sad mama. I feel such a tenderness for them both.


A few months before we moved back to Portland my husband and I were discussing how difficult it would be, the transitions and all of that. We were discussing all of the upcoming changes for us, what it would be like to return home after three years away. I was very stubborn. I am never going to re-enter Portland I told him. I just flat-out refuse. Whenever we came home to visit, to see family or support raise or whatever, people would always remark on how quickly the time had passed. It's been three years already? Wow!  And we would smile and nod because for us, those three years were as slow and rough as a stalagmite forming, the drip drip drips of us changing and hardening into new creations.

We've been changed, is the thing. Trauma has carved deep grooves in our foreheads and brain hemispheres and the blood vessels in our bodies. Love has stretched us wider than we thought possible. We are quicker to believe stories of oppression and injustice from people who look nothing like us. We are less knowledgeable than we were before, which sounds like a negative but it could have been the best thing to ever happen to us. 

We aren't humble but we have been made low. We picked a place to live in Portland where we could sit in proximity to the outer rim of the American Dream, the place where people get caught in the vortex of spinning after safety and security and a roof over their heads. The kids play soccer at night and I hear them laughing in so many different languages. They peer into my living room when I least expect it. Men in underwear lounge in doorways and smoke cigarettes, women push strollers and bags of groceries from the store many miles away. I am one hundred blocks away from the Bible College where I met my husband, where our journey started almost a decade ago. But I could be in another country for how different it is out here, in what always felt like it was a no-mans-land, when it turns out it will now be my land, too.

But what is new to me is the depression like a fever, clouding my future days with the sheen of gray. The anxiety whispering in my ear as my baby lays heavy in my arms yet he feels too light for this earth. The feelings of intensely missing who I used to be, that naive little darling do-gooder. What is new to me is the realization that I can never go back to the girl who used to live here. She is gone, and the one who has replaced her is so fragile. The e-mails and the texts have piled up, friends and church buddies and acquaintances wanting to connect, but I don't know what to say. Just trying to keep my two kids alive and fed while my husband works to to be able to pay rent next month have exhausted all of my energies. I have nothing left, but I sit inside my apartment and hear the possibilities outside. When, oh when, will I be able to go out and join?


It is only now, a month and change after we have been back, that I count the cost of us going to Minneapolis. The pearls we have cast aside in search of that one, great, big, luminous one. Coming back was just another step in that direction, in search of the kingdom, ears to the ground. It feels very costly. In terms of money, yeah, but also friendships and mental health. 

I still don't really know any of my neighbors. We smile shyly, sometimes. I feel comfortable just looking at the headscarves and the children playing soccer, but everyone pretty much keeps to themselves. I get it, I am tired too, although once a week or so I get the itch--I could easily teach an ESOL class once a week. Should I volunteer at the homework club? Should we organize a Thanksgiving meal? And my kind, sane husband is quick to gently tap me on the shoulder. You have a baby and you are writing a book and maybe you should see a counselor and besides none of our refugee friends have ever liked your turkey

It's true, they never did like it. But still, they would eat it, because they loved us. And this is the hope that we have. We need that love now. We are the ones in need. My hands and feet are as still as I have ever seen them, but my Spirit is alive, vibrant, quick to discern, confident in a love that I am not terribly good at earning at present. We are in shock, is all. We have gotten very bad at pretending these days. I hope you will forgive us. We are struggling to re-enter, but the truth is that we can't. 











One Very Small Thing, A Thousand Very Small Things

This week I wrote a little piece for my good friend Addie on one small change we can make in our lives in order to see justice come. For anyone that knows me, I don't do one small things very well. I want to talk about ALL THE THINGS, ALL THE TIME. I'm a teensy bit intense. But the more I thought about it and talked it over with a few friends, we all agreed that when it comes down to it, the only thing you have to do to turn your life upside-down is open wide the doors to whatever it is that God is calling you towards. It's really that simple, but trust me--it will get complicated and wonderful and terrible, fast.

So I wrote about opening wide our doors, and how for me that happened when I started volunteering with refugees.

As I wrote, I couldn't shake the image of Syria out of my mind. I couldn't escape the bits of rhetoric and argument I caught on social media sites, the words of the President shocking my ears. I couldn't quite figure out what I thought about the whole mess, because I was being told that bombing was loving and that not bombing was hateful. I thought about how perhaps the best way is the smallest way, the mustard seed way, the upside down kingdom way. How maybe instead of rushing into Syria with weapons, we can open wide the doors to our hearts, our homes, our cities, and our countries to other stateless wanderers, people whose lives have been stolen by the greedy and the powerful.

It's hard to type this out here and hit publish. I know already what people will say, how childish and foolish and micro it all sounds, knitting away while Detroit burns (or teaching ESL while gangs kill each other, or praying for people you have never met who are starving, or in danger of being gassed, or dying of preventable diseases). It is all those things, of course: small, weak, and seemingly naive. But I have placed my hope in places where Jesus told me to look for his kingdom: with the poor, the meek, the mourning, and the merciful.

And, of course, the peacemakers.

One of my favorite writers, Heather King, has been writing some excellent posts about war. In one, she quotes Pope Francis and his recent speech about Syria: "Never has the use of violence brought peace in its wake. War begets war, violence begets violence"..."War never again! Never again war!"

Those last lines rung in my ears like the song I had been searching through for days now. My spirit lifted, I felt it gasp and breathe deep at the possibilities of that sentence. War never again. Never again war. I had been daring to hope that this was a possibility, that this was indeed God's dream for the world.

One of my other favorite writers, Shane Claiborne, talks a lot about the idea that another world is possible. This, to me, is the essence of the teachings of Christ, the words found explicitly in the manifesto that is the Sermon on the Mount. It doesn't make sense, that the peacemakers will one day be upheld as the children of God. It doesn't make sense to turn the cheek, to eschew the violence-for-violence rhetoric of the powerful and the scared. It doesn't make sense until suddenly it does, when you realize that all along you have been dying for someone to tell you that it wasn't supposed to be like this. That we can stop demanding violence and war and death and payment, and we can start living like we believe that one day there will be no war.

Pope Francis is calling for a day of fasting and prayer for the Syrian refugees on Saturday, September 7th. I will be joining--will you? Are we ready to believe that our very small prayers matter? I am.

I believe that there is a God who loves all of us, and that he does not conform to the patterns of the world.

Nor should we.




You can read my One Small Change Piece here.

Sign up for beautiful and thought-provoking prayers for Syria to be e-mailed to you once a day.

Heather King's excellent blog.

Sweden leads the way in offering residency to all Syrian refugees.

Today is a really good day to read Jesus' manifesto on the ways of the kingdom of God.

Hill Country Hill Tribers Giveaway!

UPDATE! The winner of this giveaway (chosen by random.org) is comment #18--Suzanne @ the Smitten Word! Congrats Suzanne, and thanks to all for participating.

Today I am doing something new here: a guest post (by the amazing Jessica Goudeau, a real-life hero of mine) and a giveaway. The work that Jessica is doing in Texas through Hill Country Hill Tribers is nothing short of miraculous--everyone  involved is being changed by it. All this week some of my favorite people have been writing about this amazing organization (Read more--and enter the giveaways!--at Rachel Held Evans or Sarah Bessey's site). Today, read about a few of the amazing artisans, and get jazzed by the imaginations these women have. It is inspiring, beautiful, and encouraging. Enjoy. 

Edit: this giveaway is now closed!

In the neighborhood where I live in Austin, no one sits outside on their porch at night. Neighbors don’t pull up a chair while we’re sitting on our steps snapping beans. We don’t chat across the courtyard with each other or look out the window to see if we’ve gotten home to bring over a bowl of rice or just catch up on the day.

It’s one of the things I love best about visiting the refugee artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers. There are pockets of them, family clans or strangers brought together by the fact that they’re the only people in thousands of miles who speak their particular dialect. Our jewelry-makers are a little group like this: almost completely Kachin hill tribers, they live in the same courtyard of the same apartment building. They watch each other’s children. They finish each other’s sentences.They cook large meals for everyone to share.

They work together to create a necklace that is a testimony to their teamwork and their community.

Last year, we asked as many women as we could to show us what they do. We had been working exclusively with weavers, then found out many of the women could sew. Convinced there were more artistic gifts among these talented women, we brought a bunch of supplies and passed them around and asked the women to be creative.

Within a few weeks, we had some amazing results. Huang, who quickly became our lead jewelry designer, knew how to tat (crochet on a smaller scale, like jewelry). And Nang, one of her good friends, had an impeccable eye for jewelry. We already knew Nang was one of our best seamstresses, but after a couple of weeks of coaching by her friend Huang, she brought back an amazing assortment of wrapped hoops that had hung together as earrings, necklaces and bracelets.

With a little editing and a little inspiration, we settled together on this lovely long necklace as one of our main fall designs.

But here’s the best part: in order to speed up their processing time, each one wraps rubber hoops in just two colors. Nang’s been working on dark coral and gold thread. Huang wraps mint green and champagne. Christine makes jade and light coral. A couple of other women make the last neutral colors. And then at night, after dinner while the kids are splashing in the apartment pool or writing with chalk on the sidewalk, Nang and her friends trade colors. Each one ends up with the right amount of hoops to make several necklaces. It’s an amazing system of teamwork and efficiency that shows how beautifully these women work together.

Nang made this necklace while she was at home with her five daughters. The high-school-aged girls look after the little ones while she works. They also help her with designs; like any teenaged daughters, they have serious opinions about what looks cool. (We’re happy to report, this necklace was given the thumbs up by the girls.)

Earlier this summer, the Burmese group in this apartment complex invited some American friends over to eat together. They set up tables under the trees by the pool. It was hot, the kind of sticky heat that makes sweat run down the back of your legs. My two little girls played hide-and-seek and tag with their Burmese friends; they ran in flapping flip-flops until it was too dark to see. We stuffed ourselves on fried rice in banana leaves, chicken kabobs, fresh fruit, chicken feet and Doritos. I wore the first prototype of the first necklace our team made together proudly. We were excited to show it to their other American friends, teachers and tutors and nurses and co-workers. It felt like the perfect metaphor for this group of women: colorful, collaborative, creative.

To win this necklace made by Nang with the help of her friends, here are the options (pick one, or two, or do them all! Each one is a chance to win):

  • Follow Hill Country Hill Tribers (@hilltribers) on Twitter
  • Like Hill Country Hill Tribers on Facebook
  • Join our Facebook Flashmob and change your profile picture for one day on August 28
  • Tweet/share/email/call your sister about this giveaway (make sure to mention @d_l_mayfield who is so graciously sharing her corner of the internet with us)
  • Leave a comment on this blog post for each thing you do to be entered to win multiple times.

The giveaway ends Monday, August 27 at [5:00 pm EST]. If you don’t win, watch our website: August 28 at 8:00 am CST, the new products will go live and you’ll be able to buy the scarves and jewelry made by Nang and her friends.

So, enter away! And be sure and check out the Hill Tribers site. Tomorrow, the giveaways continue at Amy Lepine Peterson's site. Go get it!

baking cakes for teenage weddings

My new column at Mcsweeneys is up. It was a hard one to write, because it was a hard thing to experience.

What I didn't add in the piece is the fact that this was the last time I have seen her; Hali (not her real name, obviously) moved to the East Coast the next day. She was supposed to come visit here in June, but she is 8 months pregnant and won't be able to come out.

I don't write very much anymore about living where we live (low-income housing, refugees for neighbors) because it doesn't seem safe. But I will say that there are many, many sad things going on all the time. Some times I can shove it down, and other times I can't. I have been grateful for this column-writing-experience because it has forced me to look at the situation square in the eye. And, no surprise here, I have been found wanting.

The girls in the refugee community get it the worst. They come here, are educated up to their eyeballs both by the schools and the media that they should "follow their hearts" and "believe in themselves". They catch ahold of these ephemeral promises and hold on tight, until suddenly they can't. Their culture catches up when they turn a marrying age and demands they go back and live life the way it always was. Except this time, the girls know that there are different paths out there. Just not for them.

In many ways, it seems like the worst of both worlds. And there isn't anything I can do about it, really. Just stay a friend. Keep the channels of communication open. Try and be nice to the men in the community for once, and influence them for good.

And, of course: pray. Pray. Pray, without ceasing.

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