Pah, A Young Refugee, Meets Abraham in the Refugee Camp

Thank you for reading my story today. I would love to hear what you think via leave a comment. Today’s story introduces a bit more background for Pah who is in Billy’s Study Group.

Pah, A Young Refugee Meets Abraham in the Refugee Camp

by Matthew Kohrell

The refugee camp was all Pah knew in this life due to  his parents fleeing the genocide of his people in Burma when Pah was only 3 years old. He had no memory of Burma, so the camp in Thailand was the only home he knew. His parents tried the best they could to make life decent for him, but living in a hut with no running water or electricity made it hard. Medical care was poor which was why at the age of 18 Pah was by himself. His parents had died of sickness easily taken care of in a place with modern medical care. His eighteenth birthday had arrived and all Pah could think about was his parents were gone. It was hard to believe there could be a future for him even as he went to the community center in the camp for his appointment.

Pah entered and saw a woman sitting at the makeshift desk of a board on top of two chairs. The woman seemed nice enough introducing herself, “My name is Julia. Nice to meet you Pah. I am with Church World Services and am here to help you with the arrangements here to get you on your way to America.”

Pah sat silent for a moment. Thoughts of his parents raced through his mind as well as doubts about starting a new life in America. He shyly spoke up, “Thank you. I do not know what will happen when I arrive to where it is you are sending me. Please tell me more.”

Julia wanted to encourage Pah, “I can understand your feelings Pah. The city is a nice place and someone will be waiting at the airport for you when you arrive. They will take you to the home of your aunt and uncle. That person will also take care of everything for you to get your new life started like taking you to the doctor and getting you into a school. You will taken to the airport tomorrow to leave for your new home. I will be going now Pah, but perhaps we will meet again someday.”

With that Julia left the building and Pah did not see her again before he left. He looked around for her but couldn’t find her. The next morning, Pah was sitting in the community center waiting for his ride to the airport when a man came in and sat down next to him. The man was much older but seemed kind to Pah.

“Hello young man. So you are off to America today. Are you excited?” the man asked.

Pah was hesitant to speak, but forced out, “I am not sure sir.”

The man smiled and stuck out his hand to shake Pah’s hand, “Pah, you do not need to call me sir. My name is Abraham, but you can call me Abe if you like.”

That got Pah’s attention, “How do you know my name?” he asked.

“I know a lot of things about you Pah. You see I am here to talk with you because God loves you and wants you to know he has a reason for you to go to America.” Abe reassured him.

Pah was curious but also still startled by what Abe had just said, “Why would God care about me? I am only a refugee boy.”

Abe’s paternal instincts kicked in, “I understand son. Don’t say you are only a refugee boy. God knows you and sees you. God loves you Pah.  It must be hard for you to go by yourself. I know that your parents passed away. In fact I met them after they passed away.”

Pah was shocked, “How could you meet them after they passed away?”

“Because I was in heaven up until fifteen minutes ago. All I can tell you is they are both in a wonderful place. By the way, my name is Abraham. My son is Isaac. I am here to share something with you Pah.” Abe replied ever so calmly.

“I heard about an Abraham in the bible but……” Pah was unsure how to respond.

Abe shared, “I am that Abraham Pah. Pah I understand the feeling of being uncertain about following God when you don’t know anything about where he is leading you. There was a time long ago that God told me to leave the house of my father but God didn’t tell me where to go. He only said go to the land that I will show you. In some ways you have it easier than that. You know someone will take you to the airport and that someone will meet you at the airport where you are going and take you to your aunt and uncle’s home. I had no idea of where God was going to lead me to.”

Pah was really curious now wanting some reassurance God would work things out for him, “So did everything work out okay?”

“That depends on what you mean by okay. For anyone who follows God everything works out okay, better than okay eventually, if not in this life, then for sure in heaven. I made mistakes along the way but God never gave up on me. You can read about my life in a book in the bible, in fact the first one in the bible, Genesis. God was faithful even when I made some poor decisions. Living for Jesus on earth, there are ups and downs, but he is always faithful. It is a life-long journey. Your new life’s journey will begin when you get in the van that will take you to the airport. If you ask him, Jesus will be with you every step of the way and guide you.” Abe explained.

Pah’s spirit began to lighten as worry started to fade about his trip, “Maybe if Jesus wants me in America, my plane ride will be okay. I have never been on a plane before.”

Abe chuckled a bit, “Well it is a lot faster than how we traveled when I lived on earth, but yes, if Jesus wants someone to go somewhere, he will make sure it happens.”

A van pulled up in front of the community center and a friendly British man got out wearing a cap that had Church World Services on the front. He read the list of names for those going to the airport that day. When he saw Pah’s name on the list, he yelled out, “Pah we need to go.”

Pah walked to the van and quickly looked back and noticed Abraham wasn’t there, so he got in the van and quietly prayed to himself, “Jesus please help me get there safe.”

 

 

Refugee Brothers Meet Joseph at the Airport

For those of us who profess to be Christians, there is an undeniable truth regarding a part of the birth of our Lord Jesus. It is the fact that Jesus began his earthly life as a refugee along with Mary and Joseph after the angel warned Joseph to flee with Mary and Jesus because Herod’s soldiers were coming to kill the baby Jesus. Jesus spent his first years on earth as a refugee. In honor of that, today’s story is about Joseph the earthly stepfather of Jesus meeting some refugees in the airport on their way to their new city.

 Refugee Brothers Meet Joseph at the Airport by Matthew Kohrell

In the chaotic hustle of life God can reach us through divine appointments anywhere such as what happened for some refugees sitting in the Chicago airport. For most people airports represent vacation, trips home, or business trips. As the people rush from gate to gate, airports are not places one would expect to find a meaningful connection with another human being because the passengers are only looking for their connecting flights, trying to grab a quick bite of food, or busy on their smartphones or tablets frantically communicating online. Nevertheless, airports tend to be symbols of excitement for some, and homecomings for others, and just part of the routine for others. Sitting in an airport waiting for a flight to a place, language, and culture one has no familiarity with is an entirely different matter. Such was the case for Hamid and his brother Khudidah and their families waiting for their last flight to a completely unknown city. It was the last leg of their journey after fleeing from the killers that had chased them from their homes. The choice was simple. They could escape and flee to the mountain hoping they would be able to one day relocate or they could stay and face almost certain death. Now four years later, they were on their way to a city in America.

Fortunately Hamid and Khudidah could speak English which helped them as they traveled and they hoped would help them when they reached their final destination.. All they knew was it seemed their new city was in the middle of nowhere but at least it was far far away from the troubles they had fled. While their wives and children slept in the uncomfortable seats at their gate, Hamid and Khudidah talked about what they hoped for their families. They couldn’t sleep more from the stress they felt. Their wives and children could sleep but mostly from the exhaustion of the long journey.

As Hamid and Khudidah were talking, a man came and sat down in the seat across from them. Those hard plastic seats in the Chicago airport were not in a spacious area, so across from them was almost like sitting right in front of them. The man had a newspaper he pretended to read while waiting for a chance to chat with the two brothers.

After he sat down, Hamid continued sharing his concerns with his brother, “My big worry is for the kids and our wives. I have no idea of how things will be there. What are the schools like? Our wives don’t speak English. Will they be okay?”

Khudidah tried to reassure his brother, “Remember what Nasser told us? His kids love the school and the teachers where they go. There are free English classes our wives can go to. Nasser will be waiting for us at the airport there. He said that our housing is taken care of and our apartments will be in the same building his. I really think everything will be okay. And remember the most important thing…”

Hamid interrupted, “Yes, I know. Those evil people are not there.”

Suddenly, the man put his newspaper down, “Pardon my interruption, but if you don’t mind, I would like to chat with you a bit.”

The brothers were surprised that such a well dressed man would want to speak with them. Khudidah being the oldest spoke up, “What do you want to talk about?”

The man replied, “I realize this is a difficult time for you and I just want you to know that I understand what you are going through right now.”

Hamid jumped in, “How could you possibly understand what we have been through and what we have lost?”

The man didn’t hesitate, “I am glad you asked. You see a long time ago I had to flee my homeland with my wife and a new baby boy because men were coming to kill the boy. We had to go the Egypt, but we did not have the help you will receive when you arrive in Lincoln.”

Khudidah responded, “What do you mean the help we will receive? How do you know what the help is?”

The man shared with them, “I know because God has showed it to me. When you arrive at the airport there, your brother Nasser will be there, and so will some American friends of his. You will have apartments for your two families. The school will be ready for your children with wonderful English Language programs. Nasser has been busy to make sure you will have what you need in the apartments. I wish my family and I had had that kind of help when we fled.”

Hamid was curious, “What kind of help did you have?”

The man explained, “Not much really, I was awakened by an angel warning me to take my wife Mary and our infant son Jesus and run to get out of Bethlehem because the king had ordered all male children 2 years of age and under to be killed. We left right away on camels with only the clothes we had with us to go to Egypt not knowing anything except that God wanted us to go.”

Khudidah was curious too, “So who are you?”

The man finally introduced himself, “Oh yes, pardon me. My name is Joseph and I was the earthly stepfather of Jesus.”

Hamid had to know more, “So you are saying your the stepfather of Jesus? Wasn’t he supposed to have been born about like 2,000 years ago? How is it that you are here?”

Joseph look Hamid right in the eye, “God sent me here to talk with you Hamid. God loves you and your family. I am here only for this conversation and then I will return to heaven, but not until I have shared some things with you.”

Khudidah couldn’t believe it, “Did you just get out of the hospital or is this just a joke to have fun with us?”

Joseph reassured them, “This is no joke and I assure you I am quite well. If God had not sent me, how would I know your father and mother were killed by those evil men. How would I know your daughter hopes to see snow so she can make a snowman. There many things God has showed me.”

The two brothers sat for a moment in a stunned silence not knowing what to say or how to respond. The man seemed so kind to them but this all was so strange to them.

“Please let me continue my friends,” Joseph broke the silence, “I know your life has been a nightmare the past four years, and it wasn’t so easy before that either. I know you are from a minority religion and group where you come from. I also know that your people have a history of cooperating with those who call themselves Christians in your home country and that your people and Christians helped each other while being oppressed.”

Hamid spoke up, “So you are trying to make us Christians?’

Joseph replied, “I know you are not ready for that right now even though I wish you could experience the great love Jesus has for you. I shared what I did to let you know that God knows about you and your lives and your people. Also that because Jesus spent the first years of his earthly life as a refugee in Egypt, he understands what you have been through and are feeling.”

Khudidah pressed Joseph, “So that’s all you wanted?”

Joseph wanted to put their minds at ease, “No, I also want you to know that where you are going will be a good place for your families. You and your families will be safe there. I understand you have been through a lot and many changes already, but there will be more changes in the coming months. You will be okay. People will help you. I hope one day you will come to know my stepson Jesus.”

Hamid had to ask, “Why do you keep calling him your stepson?”

“Because God is his father. Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It was a miracle birth.” Joseph explained.

Khudidah asked, “So you took Mary and Jesus as your own?”

Joseph let him know, “Yes, I married Mary because I loved her and she had said yes to God’s plan. I accepted Jesus as my stepson to be the protector for both of them. There is much more to the story, but I see it is time for you to board your flight. You will meet others who can explain more for you my friends. Safe travels”

Joseph left and the two brothers looked at each other for a moment not knowing quite what to make of what just happened, but they quickly snapped to it to wake up their wives and children and board the plane. Once on the plane, Hamid looked at Khudidah and said, “I think everything will be okay after all, but maybe we have some things to think about now.”

So my dear reader, how will Hamid’s and Khudidah’s story be in their new country? Please share your ideas.

More importantly, in reality how what the real life stories of refugees be like in their new land? The answer to that question could very well be up to those of us in the places they come to.

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Love Justice International

Not a story today, just wanted to share that I am excited that my Love Justice Hat came in the mail Saturday.

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Why does a hat excite me? Because of the work Love Justice does. Love Justice intercepts children and young women who are victims of human trafficking/sex trafficking. Love Justice doesn’t just intercept and rescue the victims, Love Justice also has several group homes for the victims because many cannot go back to their families. The victims become not only survivors, but thrivers in a home where they are loved and cared for by Christian house parents who dedicate their lives to raising and caring for the ones who cannot go back ‘home’.

Sex trafficking/Human Trafficking is among the most hideous crimes. I think of what Jesus said when he said it is better for someone who has harmed a child to have a millstone tied around the neck and cast into the lake than to face him on judgement day.  I also think of how he told his disciples not to keep the children away from him because he cares for them and then he blessed them. Surely Jesus wants us to rise up against the trafficking of children.

On Saturday I wore my hat while I was writing my next story about a man meeting Peter while he was fishing. I will post the story tomorrow.

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I feel blessed to support Love Justice even in small ways like buying a hat. I am not rich, but gladly donate what I can.. If you would like to know more about Love Justice and the work they are doing, you can click on this link- https://www.lovejustice.ngo/

Thank you for reading my stories and THANK YOU for reading this posting about Love Justice. Please pray for them and their homes today.

Witnesses of The Passion Week of Jesus- A Grieving Single Mom Meets Mary The Mother of Jesus.

Mary has been an example of faith to me for a long time. I think her story can resonate with many people whatever their church affiliation is. I admire her courage to say yes to God’s plan and her devotion to our Savior Jesus.

Grieving Single Mom Meets Mary The Mother of Jesus by Matthew Kohrell

“Grieving is a process that differs for each person, so there is no one way to grieve that is the right way. You will find your way through the process.” Marlys tried to find reassurance in those words as she left her grieving support group, but she wondered if anyone could really understand the depths of her loss. She was weary of cliches she was hearing from acquaintances at church, people she only knew in passing. Emptiness was her constant companion and it was relentless in causing her agony. Still after group, for some reason she thought it might be helpful to stop for a caramel frappe at The Harbor, so she drove over after her support group.

Cindy and Jessica knew Marlys from church, so when they saw Marlys approach the door they looked at each other and nodded the mutually understood need. Jessica went to the backroom to pray while Cindy chatted with Marlys as she took her order.

“Marlys it is good to see you here,” Cindy sought to reassure her friend.

Marlys mustered a slight smile, “It is good to be here Cindy, How are you?”

Cindy didn’t want to press too hard, “I am good. I am glad you are here. Do you want your usual?”

Marlys nodded yes and then stepped back to wait for her frappe.

Cindy finished the frappe, turned around and handed it to Marlys, “Here you go sweetie.”

Marlys managed to whisper a simple thanks and went to sit down by the window. It seemed safer to just sit alone and stare out a window looking at many things but actually not focusing on anything at all. She was lost in her thoughts and memories of her late husband Dan and her son Joshua. Dan had died of cancer several years ago. She had moved on with her life as a single mom of two, her son Joshua and her daughter Anna. It is one thing to lose a spouse. Losing a child is a pain too terribly deep to handle at times especially for a mom. She could still vividly remember the night when her Joshua was born and holding him in her arms for the first time. She treasured the memories of his first steps, his first words, when he learned to ride a bike, his first day of school, graduating high school. He was just about to begin college when that drunk driver hit Joshua while he was riding his bicycle to work a few months ago. Marlys was deep in in her mind oblivious to all around her when there was a gentle voice trying to get her attention.

“May I join you Marlys?” the kind voice asked.

Marlys turned to see the woman. The woman had kind eyes and a gentle spirit about her. Marlys nodded yes as she looked down a bit.

The woman looked into Marlys’s sunken hollow eyes. Marlys’s spirit was broken and it showed through her eyes. “Marlys I know you just came from the support group. I am here to chat with you if that is okay.” The woman explained.

Marlys was confused, “How do you know I was at the group? How do you know my name? Who are you?” Marlys asked not in a demanding way but more from a sort of dazed curiosity.

“I know you were at the group and I know your name because God told me. My name is Mary. I wanted to talk with you because I can understand what you are going through,” Mary replied.

“How can anyone understand me?” Marlys was skeptical and  felt it wasn’t possible.

“I can understand because I have experienced the death of my husband and my son,” Mary confided.

“How did it happen?” Marlys asked. She was beginning to feel a slight glimmer of hope.

“My husband Joseph died of natural causes years before my son died. My son was executed as a criminal even though he was innocent.” Mary shared.

“A criminal? Who was your son?” Marlys wanted to know.

“My Son is Jesus the Son of God and I am Mary the Mother of Jesus. My son Jesus was crucified for our sins. The religious leaders conspired for it, The Roman governor agreed to it. But the charges were baseless.” Mary explained.

“So you are saying you are Mary the Mother of Jesus?” Marlys inquired more out of a desire to clarify.

“Yes, I am and I am here for you Marlys because my Son Jesus loves you. He knows you are hurting. He also knows you are his faithful daughter. I am here because as a mother I can understand what you are going through.” Mary elaborated.

“It’s just that I feel so empty, so hollow. I don’t want Jesus to think of me as a failure, but when I go to church, I feel nothing. The pastor is kind and his wife is too. I just feel numb.” Marlys was able to finally confide in someone.

“I understand Marlys. I felt so empty myself. More so when my son Jesus was crucified, My husband Joseph was a good man and took me as his wife even though I was pregnant with God’s son. He was older than me and had been sick for a while, so it was not a surprise when he died . Life was difficult but Jesus was old enough to take over his earthly step-dad’s carpentry business, so that made life somewhat easier.” Mary shared.

“My husband Dan had a great life insurance policy, so I could focus on my kids after he died. But my Joshua. He had so much life ahead of him. I can’t handle this.” Marlys was finally starting to feel she could express feelings for the first time.

Mary continued, “I know. The death of someone young is hard especially the death of one’s child. No matter how old they are, for us moms, they are always our children. My son died when he was in his early thirties and at what seemed to me to be the height of his ministry.”

Marlys was feeling a calmness in her spirit for the first time in months, so she expressed, “I don’t know why, but I feel I believe you when you say you are Mary the mother of Jesus. Can you tell me more?”

“Certainly,” Mary replied. “Jesus had been active in public ministry for about three years when his passion week happened. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Even when he was a baby a man named Simeon warned me that a sword would pierce my own soul too. I had seen the religious leaders of the day, the Pharisees, oppose Jesus. But when he was arrested, it surprised me. I was there at the cross and watched him die. He was barely recognizable because of the severe beating they inflicted on him. I wanted to comfort him but all I could do was stand there so he could see I was there. I wanted to hold him, to hug him like I did when he was a boy, but he was up on the cross and I couldn’t reach him. Even if I could reach him, I would not have been able to because of the soldiers standing there. Even in his suffering, he was such a good son. While he was dying he gave me over to the care of John his close friend and follower. In those days a widow needed to be cared for by someone because we did not have anything like life insurance. Even as he was dying he showed he was truly God’s son when he asked The Father to forgive the people who did it to him. When he took his last breath and died, a sword of suffering cut through my soul and spirit. I couldn’t believe that my beautiful son who healed people had just died. Strange things were happening all around us that afternoon, but my son Jesus was my only focus. When he died, all of us thought it was over. He was supposed to be the Messiah, the promised one. He was supposed to be the Savior of the world and there he was dead. The grief was so sudden and overwhelming that I could barely walk. John and my friend Mary Magdalene had to help me walk.”

Tears were flowing down Marlys’s face as her lips quivered, “You do understand how I feel. Death is so horrible. My beautiful boy is gone.”

“But not gone forever my friend,” Mary reassured. “Jesus was dead but not done. He died on a Friday before sundown. On the third day, Sunday morning, he arose from the dead. He defeated death. He was alive again and forever more. The good news is that he will share that eternal life with anyone who believes in, trusts in him. And I more have good news for you Marlys.”

Faith was bubbling up in Marlys. For the first time in what seemed like eternity, Marlys felt hope. She jumped at Mary’s comment, “What good news?”

“Your son is in heaven. He has no pain. He only knows the wonderful joy of being with Jesus in heaven. And because of your faith in Jesus, one day in the future, you will see your son again.” Mary encouraged Marlys.

“Oh yes, I can see my Joshua again.” Marlys responded. “I feel sorry for not remembering that. I am so sorry for being in such a fog. I am, I mean I don’t know how to tell Jesus.”

Mary stopped Marlys by tenderly taking Marlys’s hand. “Dear, Jesus understands you. Remember, he is our sympathetic high priest. He lived in this world. He was there when Joseph died and helped me through that experience. He understands you. There is one more thing my dear.”

“What is it?” Marlys asked.

“You still have a purpose in this life. Your daughter needs you. You have friends here. Let them in. God has more for you in this life and when the time comes, many years from now, you will see your son again and also your husband. I need to go now dear. I think your friend is coming over. Bye for now.” with that Mary was gone.

“Hi Marlys, Can I join you?” Cindy asked.

Marlys looked up to see Cindy’s soft brown eyes that reminded her of Mary’s eyes. “Yes, please.”

From the author- I hope you have a blessed Good Friday and Easter and I hope this story blesses you as a part of the observance of our Lord suffering, death, and resurrection.

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Witnesses of the Passion Week of Jesus- Joel Meets the Roman Centurion

This week I will post a few more times with each story relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus. This first story is about the Roman Centurion who said of Jesus, “Truly this was the son of God.”

Witnesses of the Passion Week of Jesus- Joel Meets the Roman Centurion by Matthew Kohrell

Wednesday afternoon, so Joel was following his usual routine of having coffee while reading and preparing for ministry that evening. As student ministries director at church, Wednesday evening kept him busy with the youth group on top of his work with college students. Trying to think about his message for the week of remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus, Joel wanted to convey the authentic experience, but was struggling with how do it.

“Do you need anything else Joel?” Joel looked up from his laptop to Jessica’s welcome interruption. He had come to appreciate her work volunteering for the group and her gentle spirit. “Maybe another espresso, I need some inspiration too. Prayers are always welcome.” Joel replied.

“Well espresso is on me. Inspiration can come from Jesus and prayers are free of charge.” Jessica grinned as she spoke with her trusted friend.

“Thanks little sister. Now I need to get back to work. I want to impress on the group this evening what it was really like when Jesus suffered.” Joel confided in his volunteer. As Jessica walked back to the counter, Joel prayed for insight.

Jessica returned with the espresso and teased her friend, “Any inspiration yet?”

“Not yet, but this will help, thanks.” Joel responded lightheartedly.

Joel bowed his head for a moment asking the Lord to help him with what he wanted to get across to his group tonight. As he was praying, a man came up to him. “Excuse, you are Joel the youth director, aren’t you?” Startled Joel looked up to see a man who looked like he could play any sport he wanted or perhaps be a federal agent of some kind and definitely not a man anyone would want to mess with.

“Uh, yes, why do you ask?” Joel hesitantly asked.

“I have never been one to mince words. My name is Marcus and I have come to share with you about the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus.” Marcus introducing himself.

Jessica walked over to greet the man knowing something important was about to happen for Joel. She had seen the encounters happen since her own one with Mary Magdalene. “Can I get you anything sir?” Jessica asked.

Marcus replied, “Same as Joel. Nothing like a shot of espresso to get going.”

“Sure thing. Joel, I think inspiration is about to happen.” Jessica giggled a little.

Marcus looked at Joel, “Let’s get right to the point Joel. My name is Marcus and I am here to share with you my first hand account of what happened to Jesus. In the bible I am referred to as The Roman Centurion and my only quote  was when I said, ‘Truly this was the son of God’ I wasn’t only there to see it. I was in charge of his crucifixion.”

Joel sat up in his chair. Marcus had his full attention. “Go on. I am listening.”

Marcus continued, “I never enjoyed crucifixions. There was no honor in executing people at least for me. I had fought in battles throughout the Roman Empire. At least in battle the opponents can try to defend themselves. With crucifixions it was taking a lamb to slaughter. First we were ordered to whip Jesus with something called the cat of nine tail. It was a gruesome way to be punished. Pilate was hoping that would be enough but it wasn’t. The calls were for Jesus to be crucified. After he was whipped, we forced a crown of thorns on his head. Jesus was beaten beyond recognition and blood was trickling down his face as we led him out to Golgatha.Because he was so weak after being badly beaten, he fell and could not carry his cross. We made prisoners carry their own crosses to their own executions, but he couldn’t, so we forced a man named Simon to carry it for him.”

Joel was transfixed by Marcus’s description and Marcus was intense about his memories, so they didn’t notice Jessica set the espresso down for Marcus until she started to walk away. “Oh, thank you.” Marcus quickly told her. Jessica returned to the counter.

Marcus went on, “The thing that caught my attention was that as my men drove the large nails into his wrists and feet, Jesus cried out in pain, but he never cursed at us or spit at us. Those were normal reactions of men we crucified. Even when my men hoisted up his cross and set it into place, he cried out in pain but didn’t swear at us. The things he said while he was hanging on the cross really got to me especially when he cried out go God saying, ‘Father forgive them, they know not what they do’. It was the first and only time I saw someone being crucified asking for God to forgive the people doing it to them. When Jesus died, I was so moved in my spirit that I risked it all by expressing, ‘Truly this was the son of God’  a risk because for any Roman soldier to say anyone else but Caesar was God could mean punishment, but that was exactly what I came to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. As he was dying and after he died, strange things happened. An eerie darkness came over the land. As soon as he died, an earthquake shook the land. There was definitely something way beyond normal about the man we had just put to death and I knew it. I also know for sure he was dead. Roman soldiers always made sure of it by breaking the legs of the ones being crucified, but when we came to Jesus, he was already dead, so we only pierced his side.”

Joel took a deep breath, “I can’t even imagine being there. Oh how he suffered for us.”

“But it doesn’t end there.” Marcus asserted. “We rolled a huge stone in front of his tomb. There is no way anyone could come take the body away because I posted guards there who if they failed in their duty, they could be put to death. Jesus was dead and buried forever in that tomb as far as I was concerned, but then on the 3rd day, early in the morning, something happened. That huge stone was rolled away. The tomb was empty. Jesus had come back from the dead, not a ghost, but alive again. The word is resurrected. I hope my first hand account helps you Joel. I need to go now. See you again.”

With that Marcus was gone and Joel sat there stunned by what had just transpired. Jessica walked over and kindly asked, “How is the inspiration?”

“It is strong now, but what just happened?” Joel was shaken up a bit.

“These kinds of things have been happening here lately Joel. Can I share with you about when I first came in here as a customer and met a woman named Mary?” Jessica gently asked.

Joel nodded yes and motioned for her to join him. Jessica continued, “I was so nervous the first day I came in here…………”

For Jessica’s Story of meeting Mary Magdalene here is the link- Jessica’s Encounter at The Harbor Coffee Shop

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Billy’s Study Group Discusses Discrimination with a Man Name Cornelius

This story was inspired by an actual real life encounter I had in a park one day many years ago when I told a little boy at an outreach event “Jesus loves you”. He looked down at the ground and said, “The kids at school call me brown boy.” We talked about the love Jesus has for all people. I will never forget that conversation.

Billy’s Study Group Discusses Discrimination with a Man Named Cornelius.

Billy had a spring his step as he walked to the door of The Harbor. The reason? It was Tuesday afternoon which meant it was time for his GED study group. What began as study time with Jessica had grown to a diverse study group of four students. Jose was an 18 year old Hispanic who loved music and could play several instruments his favorite being guitar. Justine was a 22 year old woman from Congo who was too old for high school but needed a high school diploma so she could go to Nursing School. Pah was a 21 year old refugee from Burma whose English was quite good but he did not have the opportunity for high school in the refugee camp. Of course, Jessica was there ready and eager to learn. They were all waiting for Billy as he walked in and even had his cup of coffee ready from him.

“Well good afternoon kiddos,” Billy greeted them.

Jessica, Jose, Justine and Pah all greeted Billy with bright smiles. He was more than a teacher for them. He was also a mentor for them as they were trying to build their lives. The connection Billy had with them was obvious from the smiles around the table and also in the questions they would ask during conversation time. The questions would range from help with important papers, advice on dating, and questions about life in general.

That day the conversation turned to why each of them had not graduated high school yet. Pah shared that there was no high school in his refugee camp. Justine confided that the high school was too far away for her to walk to in Congo. Jessica shared about how her family life made it impossible for her to finish school. Then it was Jose’s turn. Jose was still young enough to go to high school, but he in no way wanted to go. He simply shared, “I never want to go back there.”

Jessica did not want to let it go at that, so she pursued it further, “Why don’t you want to go back?”

Jose took a deep breath and out it came. He spilled it all. “I was bullied in high school. The kids called me brown boy because I was the only hispanic in school. I never want to go back to that place.”

Billy quickly jumped in, “Listen to me kiddo, you are a good young man. You are God’s creation. Don’t pay attention to what bullies were saying.”

Jose looked down, “I am not sure about this God’s creation stuff with the way I have been treated.”

A man was sitting next to them and had been listening to their conversation. He looked at them and politely interrupted the conversation, “I know for a fact that God loves diverse people and cultures. God loves everyone in the world.”

Jessica and Billy smiled at each other with that knowing look people give each other who share a secret. They both knew another encounter was in process.

Jose shrugged his shoulders and said to the man, “How would you know.” It was more of a statement than a question.

“Well, I know from first hand experience. You see, I was the first Gentile Peter visited when the church was first starting. My name is Cornelius. You don’t need to introduce yourselves. I already know your names, Jose, Justine, Jessica and Pah and of course your teacher Billy.”

Justine was surprised, “How do you know our names?”

“God has told me many things about the five of you and he has sent me here to share with you about how much he loves people from all cultures,” Cornelius explained.

Pah was curious, “Even refugees?”

“Especially refugees and anyone who has suffered” Cornelius reassured him.

“If he loves us so much, why do we have different skin colors that make others treat us badly?” Jose challenged.

“God loves variety. Just look at how many different flowers there are. They don’t look the same but they all add beauty to our world. God is an artist and he paints with diverse colors. But let’s get to the real issue. The issue of discrimination.” Cornelius responded.

Jose jumped on that, “Yes, why is there discrimination if God created us all?”

Cornelius saw the moment was right and leaned forward, “Excellent question my friend. It is because of sin in the hearts of people. Think about it. God created the diversity when he scattered human beings at the Tower of Babel. He wanted us to go out to all the world so he confused the languages to make people go to all of the world. So if diversity is from God, then discrimination cannot be from God because after all, Jesus himself said that God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son. So discrimination cannot be from God. It comes from the sinful hearts of people.”

Jose’s curiosity was peaked, “So you said you are a Gentile. What is that all about?”

Cornelius thanked Jose for the question, “Basically when the church first started, it started in Jerusalem and throughout Israel among the Jews. The Jews called anyone who was not Jewish a Gentile.”

“So why was that a thing back then?” Justine was into it now too.

“Jews viewed anyone who wasn’t Jewish as being unclean spiritually so they did not want to enter our homes or associate with us very much.” Cornelius explained.

Pah had to know, “So how did you hear about Jesus and how did the church grow throughout the world?”

Cornelius smiled knowing the time was now for his message, “I wanted to know about Jesus and know more about the faith. I prayed and asked God to send me someone. God wanted Peter to come to my house, but Peter hesitated because I was a Gentile and Peter did not want to be unclean spiritually so God spoke to him in a vision three times to not call unclean what God calls clean. Peter came to my house and explained about Jesus for me and my household. I faced discrimination in those days. Some Jews would even talk to me because I was a Gentile. Most of the time I would not be welcomed into their homes and they certainly did not want to come to my home. It was pervasive everyday everywhere I went. Because Jesus told Peter to come to my house, it broke the ice so to say and the church began to break out of the barriers.”

Cornelius paused to drink some of his cappuccino and let his words soak in a little and then continued as the study group was glued to his words, “Paul wrote in his letters that there is no Jew or Greek, meaning Gentile, no male or female, no master or slave, no rich or poor in the church. The only identity is Christian brothers and sisters. If someone professes to be a Christian then prejudice has no place in their hearts. That was a revolutionary concept back in those days. Think about this, about 2000 years before the Civil Rights Act in America, Paul wrote that in Jesus there is no dividing line”

Jessica had one final question for Cornelius, “So what did Jesus look like? Most pictures I see have him as white.”

Cornelius thoughtfully replied, “He looked like most men did that were from that part of the world. Don’t let artwork affect you.”

Jose had a pressing question, “So if I visit a church, it shouldn’t matter that I have brown skin? Kids at school called me brown boy.”

Billy asserted himself, “Let me jump in here. Jose you can come with me and we will sit together. I will be proud to have you sit with me. Everything Cornelius has said is true. There is no place for discrimination. If you come with me, you will see that the people will love having you there. As far as the kids at school, I am sorry that happened to you. They have a problem not you. But Jesus taught we should pray for those who harm us. We can start praying for God to change their hearts.”

Cornelius left with one last thought, “Before I leave, let me just encourage you that at the end when all of humanity is before Jesus, the bible says people from every tongue, every tribe will be there. Jesus wants people from every culture, language, race and ethnic group to be in his family. Back to your studies now.”

With that Cornelius was gone and Billy took it from there, “This has been a great conversation and in fact it leads to the social studies segment for this week. Let’s read about the Equal Rights or Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.”

If you see a name highlighted in blue it indicates the character was in a previous story. You can click on the name to see the previous story that introduced the character.

Next week all stories will deal with the Suffering, Death and Resurrection of Jesus as we experience Good Friday and Easter week.

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Retired, Billy Finds a New Purpose

(Note from the Matthew Kohrell the author- If you see a name highlighted in blue, it means that person is introduced in an earlier story. You can click on the name to bring up that story to know more about that character)

Early morning was Billy’s favorite time of the day because he could go have a cup of coffee and do his crossword puzzle. It got him out of his house and gave him a brief respite from feeling lonely in an empty house. It gave him time to not dwell on being retired and feeling like he had no purpose other than to look at everything in his house that reminded him of his beloved wife Claire. She had died the year before in an auto accident when that drunk driver hit them. Billy did his best to hide that emptiness from others with his quick wit, impish grin, and a look in his eyes that said, ‘I am up to something’.

As with any retired teacher, he thought about his former students and struggle with loss of identity. No one called him teacher anymore. Walking the halls of the high school interacting with students along the way seemed like a distant memory now. But it was time to go for coffee. He grabbed his newspaper muttering to himself, “everything is online now, but there is nothing like waking up to get my newspaper from the front porch, the good old days.”

Jessica had just finished setting out the coffee urns on the coffee counter when Cindy arrived. It might seem a small thing to others, but it meant the world to Jessica, with everything she had overcome, that Cindy trusted her to open the shop in the mornings and come in to get things ready. “Good morning Cindy. Coffee is ready for you if you need one,” Jessica greeted Cindy with a smile when she saw Cindy enter.

“Good morning kiddo. How are you this morning.” CIndy replied.

“I am okay…..” Jessica managed to half whisper.

Recognizing that look on her face and tone in her voice, Cindy knew something was on Jessica’s mind. “Okay kiddo, what’s up. I know something is bothering you.”

Jessica knowing she couldn’t hide things from Cindy admitted, “Well, it’s just,… well you know I have been helping with the youth group?”

Cindy stopped and looked Jessica in the eyes, “Yes, what about it? Is there a problem?”

“Well not with the group, but I feel like a phony.” Jessica confided.

“Why do you feel like a phony?” Cindy wasn’t going to let go of it.

“Well, you see, I don’t know how to say it.” Jessica was looking down at the floor as she spoke.

Her maternal feelings were coming out now so Cindy walked over and put her hand under Jessica’s chin lifting her head up, “Remember what we talked about Jessica. You are a child of God, a daughter of the most high God. Don’t look down and away. Tell me what it is.”

It was another time of trying to cope with her past, so with her eyes watering up, Jessica confessed, “Cindy with everything that happened to me, I never graduated from high school. I feel like a phony trying to help the kids in youth group.”

Cindy responded like she always did by giving her a hug and reassured her, “It is your faith in Jesus that is the example Jessica. We can figure out the high school thing later but for now we need to open up. Can you unlock the door?”

“Sure thing,” Jessica quickly went to the door and to no surprise there was Billy standing there waiting with his newspaper under his arm. Jessica unlocked the door.

“Good morning Billy. Cup of coffee again?” Jessica greeted Billy with a shy smile.

“Top of the morning to you Jess.” Billy replied. Being the grandson of Irish immigrants, he loved to try to sound Irish.  “Yes ma’am a cup of Joe. Best way to start the day.”

Feeling she could maybe speak with the older man, Jessica joked, “Hey Billy, you know there are a lot more crosswords online than in the newspaper.”

Billy quipped back with a laugh, “No ma’am. Don’t start on me like Megan. I don’t need online. There is nothing as good as waking up to the newspaper on my front porch. The smell of it, the feel of it in my hands, and the pleasant surprise the delivery boy got it on the porch and not in my bushes. Don’t try to get me online.” Billy laughed some more.

Billy got his cup of coffee and sat down. As soon as he sat down, another older man walked in and right over to Billy. “Mind if I join you? I see you have the paper too. Maybe we can help each other with the crossword.” he asked.

Billy looked up at the man, “I never need help, but you can have a seat and let me know if you get stuck my good fellow.”

They sat there for a while doing the crossword until the man cleared his throat in the way it lets people know one is about to speak, “So my name is Zech, what is your name?”

Billy stuck out his hand, “The name is Billy my good fellow. So are you from around here?”

“Just visiting for this morning. I have quite a ways to travel after our coffee,” Zech explained.

“So how do you spell your name? It is a little different sound than I am used to for Zach.” Billy was curious.

“Actually my name is Zechariah, but I use Zech, Z-E-C-H, for short.” Zech explained.

“Zechariah? Sounds like a name from the bible.” Billy mused.

“Exactly where I got the name. So what do you do for work?” Zech inquired.

“Don’t work anymore. Retired teacher and currently professional coffee drinker and crossword puzzler, but of course, not for pay.” Billy grinned as he answered.

“Do you think there is more to life than drinking coffee and doing crosswords?” Zech asked.

“Whoa now my good fellow. We barely just met. Don’t go trying to push me like others do.” Billy still grinning tried to put Zech in his place.

Zech quickly replied, “Billy there isn’t much time until the other regulars come, so I will get right to the point. The way you like it from what I understand. God sent me here to talk with you to tell you that you still have a purpose in life. It is time to start.”

That got Billy’s attention, “What do you mean God sent you? No tricks now. Talk straight.”

“I know a lot about you Billy. I know that you miss the school and the students. I know that you miss everything about being a teacher. I also know that you feel life has passed you by and you feel lonely. Oh, and one more thing, I know that you didn’t pay enough attention to Simon when he talked with you and Megan a few days ago.” Zech laid it on the line.

“You seem to know a lot about me..” Billy gruffly retorted.

“We both know the things I just shared, but there is one thing I know that you need to know.” Zech calmly replied.

“Okay, out with it then. That Simon fella told me someone else would come. Out with it fella.” Billy backed down.

‘Billy, Jesus loves you. He still has a plan for you. Life has not passed you by. Your late wife loves Jesus and is with Jesus now as we speak, but you need to let God help you get going again.” Zech encouraged him.

“Well now, that is quite a message. But listen now my good fella, I am no spring chicken. How is it that a 65 year old man is supposed to get going again?” Billy asked thinking that would stump this intruder on his morning coffee.

Zech not being thrown off was ready, “I speak from personal experience Billy and I was just as skeptical as you are now. When I was living on earth and was older, an angel once came to me to tell me my wife Elizabeth and I would have a baby. I didn’t believe him or course, but we did end up having a son. Maybe you heard of John the Baptist.”

Billy replied, “Oh, my. So God sent the father of John the Baptist to me. Now I have seen it all.” Billy laughed at that one.

“Don’t take this moment lightly Billy,” Zech admonished. “I scoffed and ended up not being to talk until the baby was born because of it. You have a purpose Billy. You will have a practical way to show the love of Jesus, but first you need to come back to Jesus. It isn’t too late Billy. If God could work through me and my wife for us to become parents for the first time at an age people can’t, then God can work through you.”

Billy eyes were wide open now, “I am sorry my friend. So tell me, what is this purpose?”

Zech looked Billy square in the eyes, “It is right under your nose here in the coffee shop. Someone needs your help, patience and understanding. It will start there. You will have the opportunity to help someone who will go on to have a wonderful future serving God, but she can’t see it yet. She needs someone who can believe in her until she can believe in herself. She has no father, no family. You will discover more about why. Will you help her?”

Billy was moved as he thought of young women in difficult circumstances. It made him think of his daughter living in Europe teaching. His paternal instincts were coming to the surface, “Of course I will. Who is she?”

Zech smiled recognizing the change in Billy, “She is about to come over here. Be gentle with her. To her this is one of the hardest things she has had to do since she came to this town. It is time for me to go, but remember, we love because Jesus first loved us. You need to come back to Jesus too.”

Billy was tearing up a bit now, “Of course. It is time for me to get back to church. It is just hard to go without Claire.” Billy wiped his eyes and then realized Zech was gone. He snapped to when Jessica came to his table.

“Billy, Cindy told me you were a high school teacher,” Jessica shyly tried to start a conversation.

“Oh, yes, I was. Why do you ask Jessica?” Billy gently responded.

“Well, you see. I am not sure how to say this. I never had a chance to go to high school. I don’t want to say why.” Jessica half in tears trying to be strong.

Billy knew this is what Zech was telling him about. “Jessica, I would be happy to help you. I’ll tell you what. I’ll come back here this afternoon and we can talk about his here. I can help you study when you are off work and we can study right here.”

“Thank you Billy, Thank you!!!” Jessica surprised both Billy and herself with the spontaneous hug she gave him.

 

Written by Matthew Kohrell

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Friends Struggling with PTSD Meet the Man Who Carried the Cross of Jesus.

Friday afternoons were the time a few people struggling with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder would stop in for coffee after their support group. This afternoon only Megan and Billy had time for a cup after their group. Megan suffered from flashbacks from her time in the war which at times caused her to have debilitating anxiety attacks. Billy was trying to emotionally recover from the terrible car accident his wife of thirty years died in when they were hit by a drunk driver. Billy being a retired teacher in his sixties was kind of a father figure for Megan, so they often had coffee after the group. Megan enjoyed playfully helping Billy get the hang of social media, and for Billy, well it was time away from the loneliness of an empty home. The Harbor had become Billy’s home away from home even though he had not shared much with the people working there. He usually would stop by in the mornings to do his crossword puzzle while enjoying a cup of coffee, so he was one of the regular gang, so much so, that everyone knew what he would order before he spoke. Megan loved to tease Billy about trying something different.

“Maybe next time you can try a mocha,” teased Megan.

“No, no, just a cup of joe is all I need.” Billy quickly asserted.

“How about a frappe?” Megan smiled as she was having a little fun with her friend.

“If God wanted us to have those fancy things, coffee beans would have grown flavored.” Billy retorted with an impish grin.

“Billy, I really appreciate you joining me after group on Fridays. I don’t know if I will ever get control of my anxiety, but the group helps me a lot.” Megan confided partly to share her heart and partly to encourage her friend. She knew Billy felt so alone since his wife died.

“Well anything to help a vet even if she is pushy about me changing my beverage of choice,” Billy replied in his usual playful banter. Megan liked the way the the old Irishman would joke with her.

“But seriously Megan, please don’t stop the group. I hope you can heal up from the anxiety. I just wish there was more I could do.” Billy tried to comfort the young woman he had grown to think of as a daughter.

“There is healing available,” interrupted the man sitting beside them.

Surprised, they turned to look at the man who seemed to rudely interrupt their personal time.

“Hey now, who are you?” Billy promptly responded. The protective papa bear was coming out of him.

The man sought to reassure them, “Let’s just say I am a person who once witnessed one of the most gruesome violent acts but that act led to my healing in all ways and I would love to share a little with you about it”

Megan jumped in, “Let’s start with who are you, what is your name and why are you imposing?”

The man apologized, “I am sorry. I don’t mean to cause any distress. My name is Simon. I originally came from a place called Cyrene. I am only visiting here for a brief time this afternoon and actually God sent me here to talk with the two of you, Billy and Megan.”

Startled, Billy inquired, “How do you know us? Were you at the hospital when we left the group? Have you been eavesdropping?’

“Oh my, no. My name is Simon. I just sat down, but I do know a little about both of you. Megan you are having troubles with post-traumatic stress from being in the war. Billy for you it is from being in the car accident your wife died in. I too once witnessed a terrible ordeal.” Simon reassured.

“Who told you all these things about us?” Billy insisted.

“As I told you, God sent me here to talk with you. Could I share a little about what I watched happen to an innocent man?” Simon asked.

Intrigued, Megan agreed. Billy did too but he was wary of the stranger.

Simon continued, “I left my home in Cyrene with my two sons Rufus and Alexander to go to Jerusalem for the Passover. That was the most important religious observance for Jews and being a Jew, I wanted my sons to experience one Passover in Jerusalem. We traveled with a caravan and I felt safe knowing Roman soldiers patrolled the roads. Then we arrived in Jerusalem and got a room. The next day we went out to get some food, but people were lined up in the streets shouting and shaking their fists in the air. I was concerned for the safety of my sons, so we got close to some Roman soldiers thinking we would be safe.”

Billy was growing impatient, “Nice little story, but what does that have to do with us?”

Simon calmly replied, “I understand. Let me get to that. The reason for the almost riot was a man was carrying a cross down the road for his own crucifixion. That was how Romans executed people. The man stumbled. The Roman soldiers all of the sudden grabbed me and ordered me to carry his cross. I heard his name yelled out, ‘Jesus’. I was shocked. I had heard about a Jesus who healed people and did miracles even back in Cyrene. So there I was carrying the cross of an innocent man, not able to understand why he was on his way to his death. The cross was heavy, so I was surprised he could have even carried it that far. He had been beaten badly. I was forced to carry his cross all the way to a place called Golgatha where prisoners were crucified. I stood there frozen in a dazed stunned fog. I couldn’t move. I was numb. I watched as the soldiers nailed him to the cross and then hoisted him up. It was the most horrific scene I ever observed.”

“So you are saying you saw Jesus killed? You were there?” Megan asked hesitatingly.

Simon wasn’t upset, “I realize this is hard to believe, but how else would I have known about you unless God had told me?”

Billy wanted to get to the point and let Simon know it.

“I think the main point is that I understand trauma whether it be experiencing it first hand or watching someone else go through it. That night after Jesus died, I couldn’t sleep. Images of Jesus and his beaten body hanging on the cross kept flashing through my mind. It was the longest night of my life. When sunrise came, I did the best I could to put the events out of my mind and focus on my sons, but emotionally I was still there at the cross and my heart was pounding in my chest,” Simon sought to share why he understood.

Megan was moved, fought back a tear, and asked, “So how did you get over that? What does all of that mean to us?”

Simon realized the moment was right, “What I was forced to do and what I saw done to Jesus was brutal to say the least, but my story doesn’t end there. I stayed in Jerusalem for a while because the journey was long back in those days. I needed to try to recover. I ran into some of his followers in the days after and they recognized me. They expressed their concern for me and wanted to know if I was okay. I heard rumors that Jesus was alive again, but that was unbelievable for me. Then one day some of his followers invited me and my sons to a gathering of about 500 people. While we were together, Jesus suddenly appeared. He was there. He was alive again. I realized that he was truly the one and only Son of God. I came to trust in him and when I did, I felt a rush of healing emotionally.”

Billy was close to bursting when he exclaimed, “So don’t leave us hanging. How does that apply to us?”

Simon gently looked at them and answered, “For anyone who receives Jesus, who trusts in him, Jesus will come into their lives. Jesus promised that anyone who believes in him that he and The Father will come live with them. We are also promised that anyone who believes in Jesus receives a spirit of adoption to be children of God and not slaves of fear. For some the inner healing happens quickly. For some it is step by step, but we can know he is always with us. There is healing in his name for our emotions and for our minds. That can be a process, but he will stay with us each and every step of the way. We can know that we will never be alone.”

Tears were running down Megan’s face as she asked Simon, “Does Jesus want to do that for me? I need help so badly. I need peace.”

Simon reassured her, “Yes, he wants to do that for you and he can give you peace for your soul.”

Billy ever the skeptic asserted, “I am almost there, but I am not sure about all of this.”

Simon smiled as he replied, “Yes, Billy, I was told you would need more. You will have another visitor in the future. Your life isn’t over. You still have things to do here”

Billy sighed, “oh great, another visitor.”

Megan laughed a little, “Papa bear, I think it will do you some good.”

Simon politely thanked them, “I appreciate you listening and letting me share about my experience. It is time for me to go. God Bless.”

With that Simon was gone. Megan looked at Billy and for the first time seemed lighter in her spirit, “You know Papa bear, I think it was supposed to be just us having coffee after group today. I feel like God might help me after all.”

Written by Matthew Kohrell

Note from the author- Thank you for reading my stories. If you have a person from the bible you want to see incorporated into a story or a story idea, let me know by sending me a comment.

Also if you want to share the story, click on one of the share buttons.

God Bless

Fatima Meets The Woman From The Well

Our eyes can be windows into our inner selves even if we try to hide what is going on in our secret inner world. Such was true for Fatima as she went through her every day life trying to conceal the pain she carried with her; pain from having been rejected by her husband and left to be a single mom, pain of being left by another man who claimed to love her,  pain of having to flee her homeland in the Middle East because of violence, and the pain of seeking to make a new life for her and her children in her new country the U.S. with all of the ups and downs. It seemed like mostly downs for her. Sure she would smile, but her smile was an outward mask to prevent others from seeing how vulnerable she felt.

Fatima stopped in at The Harbor for an espresso one day after dropping her kids off at school. As she approached the counter to order her espresso, she avoided eye contact with those sitting at the tables. She looked down at the floor as she walked to the counter and when she was finally first in line, Jessica smiled and let her know, “I will be right with you after I finish this latte.” Feeling shy about speaking English, Fatima forced a smile and nodded averting her eyes in hopes Jessica wouldn’t notice her. Jessica having survived ordeals herself, picked up on Fatima’s forced smile and knew something was wrong. There is a kind of intuition survivors have when it comes to recognizing others who have suffered.

Fatima got to the counter and Jessica asked what she could get her. Fatima avoided eye contact and quietly answered, “I only want an espresso.” Espresso reminded her of the good times in her life when she would drink an espresso with her parents even though the memories were of a distant time and place. Espresso was one of the few times she could feel connected to that far away land and memory.  While Fatima was lost in her thoughts about her parents, Jessica made her espresso. Then came the innocent intrusion on Fatima’s brief mental escape, Jessica returned with the espresso and asked, “Is there anything else you need?”

Fatima shook her head no and softly replied, “No Thank you.”

Jessica noticed Fatima’s accent and it reminded of the accent Mary Magdalene had when Jessica had her encounter  with Mary, so Jessica gently inquired, “Where are you from? You have a beautiful accent. It reminds me of a woman I met a while back.”

Trust is an issue for survivors and being a refugee only heightened that issue of wondering who she could trust. Fatima simply replied, “I am from the Middle East.” Then without saying another word, she went to a table in the corner of The Harbor Coffee Shop to be out of the way and unnoticed. Her desire was to have a brief respite from her struggles by mentally disappearing into her past before life fell apart.

Jessica sensed something was troubling Fatima, so she asked Ashley to cover the counter for a minute. Jessica quickly found Cindy in the back. Cindy had gotten to know Jessica quite well and could tell there was something pressing Jessica needed to ask. “What is it sweetie?” Cindy asked while reassuring Jessica with a pat on the shoulder. “There is a woman I think we need to pray for. She is sitting by herself and I am sure something is wrong,” Jessica confided. They joined hands and prayed for the welcome stranger.

Fatima was lost in her thoughts when another woman approached her and asked if she could sit with her, “Do you mind if I join you? All the tables are full.” Startled, Fatima looked up to see a woman who looked like she could of come from the same area of the world and also had an accent similar to hers. Fatima hesitated at first, but after looking around and realizing all the tables were full nodded yes and held her hand out to the empty chair at the table to motion for the stranger to have a seat.

Fatima surprised herself by talking with this woman. Feeling free to strike up a conversation was not something a survivor often experiences. Fatima asked the woman where she was from and the woman informed her, “I am from a place called Samaria.”

“Samaria?” Fatima pondered and then inquired further in her broken English, “I not know where Samaria is..”

“Oh, I understand. Samaria is not very well known, and least these days. It is in the part of the world around Israel,” the woman explained.

“So you are Jew?” Fatima asked.

The woman replied, “I used to be a kind of mix of Jewish and other things, but that wasn’t very acceptable in those days. By the way, you can call me Salome. What is your name?”

“My name is Fatima. What do you mean used to be?” Fatima asked.

“One day I met a man who changed my world, my life.” Salome explained.

“Men. I not like men. They only hurt.” Fatima looked down as she reacted to images flooding in her mind of her ex-husband, the boyfriend after him, and the thugs that attacked her village.

“Believe me, I understand. But this man is one we can all trust.” Salome confided.

Fatima was curious now “How do you know we can trust this man?”

Salome could see the moment was right so she went with it, “One day, many years ago, I went to the well. We used to get our water from a well back then. As I approached the well, I saw a man sitting by the well. I was surprised that he was sitting there because at in those days Jewish people would not come through my area of Samaria. They thought it would make them unclean, so they would walk around our whole area, But there he was just sitting there. I went up to the well to draw some water and then he spoke to me. I was startled because he was obviously a rabbi, a teacher, of some kind and he was speaking to me, a Samaritan woman. He asked me for a drink of water.”

Fatima interrupted, “Were you scared? Did you give him water?”

Salome smiled and continued with her story, “We never got to that. I was surprised he would ask me for a drink and told him so. I asked why he was even talking to me. He answered in what seemed a strange way. He told me that if I knew who he was that I would ask and he would give me living water so I would never thirst. I asked him to give me some of his living water but again he responded in a peculiar way that really got my attention. He told me to go get my husband.”

“That is men, only respect men.” Fatima interjected.

Salome wasn’t disturbed because she knew Fatima was following her story. “Actually, he was getting my attention. It didn’t feel like he was judging me. It felt more like like he had something important he wanted to share with me. I told him I didn’t have a husband and he proceeded to let me know that he knew I had been married five times and the man I was with was not my husband. He had my full attention at that point. I talked about  the Messiah, the promised one from God because I was wondering if he was the Messiah. He told me he was the Messiah. With that I ran to my village and told the people. We all came back to listen to him.”

“Did he ever give you living water?” Fatima wanted to know.

“Yes, he did, but it wasn’t physical water. He was talking about the Holy Spirit. God gives the Holy Spirit to all who believe in the man I met at the well.” Salome explained.

“Who is this man? Can I meet him? Can I have this living water?” Fatima asked abruptly.

“Yes you can. Anyone can meet him and he will give this living water to anyone who trusts in him. His name is Jesus.” Salome shared.

Fatima looked down at her espresso thoughts swirling around in her mind and then looked back up and into Salome’s eyes. “I think I need learn more about this Jesus.”

Salome touched Fatima’s hand to reassure her sharing, “My time here is about up. I need to go back to heaven now. God wanted me to come talk with you. But don’t worry. A woman named Cindy is going to come over here as soon as I leave. She will share a lot more about Jesus with you. We will meet again someday. If you ever want to read about me, you can read in the Book of John Chapter 4 in the bible. Bye for now my friend.” Salome was gone and Fatima sat there dazed by her chance meeting trying to take it all in.

Cindy came over to greet Fatima, “Hi, my name is Cindy. Welcome to my coffee shop.”

Fatima perked up, “Hi, my name is Fatima. I talked with a woman, Salome. She tell me to talk with you. Can you talk to me about Jesus?

Cindy sat down smiling, “Of course. I would love to talk”

 

Jessica’s Encounter at The Harbor Coffee Shop

As Cindy brought two cafe mochas to a few young men at a table near the door of her coffee shop, she noticed a young woman sitting in her car looking around. Cindy couldn’t see her clearly through the window realizing she needed to clean her glasses, but something in Cindy’s spirit prompted her that the young woman in the old Honda was in turmoil. Cindy returned  behind the counter. She loved being behind the counter where she could greet her customers personally. Before she helped Billy, an elderly man who always came in for a black coffee to drink while he did his crossword, Cindy said a quick quiet prayer for the troubled girl sitting outside. She asked the Lord to comfort the girl and then went on to chat with Billy. Cindy knew Billy came more for friendship than he did for the coffee, so they chatted for a few minutes. Billy was just one of the many customers Cindy thought of as her special friends to pray for. She may have looked like an ordinary American working mom, but there was nothing ordinary about her prayers or the encounters happening at The Harbor. As Billy went to sit down. Cindy glanced over at the door and saw the young woman approach the door, so Cindy again asked the Lord to help the girl.

Jessica paused at the door feeling reluctant to enter. She had sat for a while in her old Honda to do the breathing exercises her therapist had shown her to reduce anxiety, but she still felt the anxiety coming over her. New places and situations could cause her to have anxiety attacks. For some reason the name of the coffee shop made her think of peaceful images. When she saw The Harbor above the door, an image flashed in her mind of a scene in a movie on the beach. She felt a little more calm for some reason, but didn’t know why. She took a breath, reached out her hand, and opened the door. First step taken she told herself which was part of her self talk to cope with her anxiety. A trivial thing to most people, but for someone struggling with anxiety, this was a huge first step. Second step, she walked through the door.

She spotted the young men drinking their cafe mochas. They smiled at her, but Jessica quickly diverted her eyes to avoid eye contact with them. Men still made her uncomfortable until she got to know them, which in itself was a struggle. She walked past some soccer moms enjoying their pumpkin spice lattes on this cool November morning and heard them talking about some kind of women’s group. When Jessica saw the four young women her age studying together, she felt a bit more at ease, yet also sadly wondered why she couldn’t have had the life they did. Then she saw a few tables of older women playing cards. Memories of her grandmother flashed through her mind. The only times she remembered feeling safe in her life were the times she was with her Nanna Deb. Even though it was a brief few seconds to walk past them, images of Nanna Deb reading with her, baking her cookies, and tucking in her, flashed across Jessica’s mind. Seeing the older women calmed Jessica’s nerves a bit.

Then a display at the front of The Harbor caught her attention. She could see Love Justice shirts for sale along with handmade bags, bracelets among other items. The name Love Justice peaked her curiosity, so she quickly googled Love Justice on her phone and discovered it is a ministry that helps rescue children and women from sex trafficking. Her reaction was a mixture of relief for the ones Love Justice helps and regret for herself. She couldn’t help but feel the regret or the thought that surged up in her spirit, “I wish someone had loved justice for me.”

Jessica made her way to the counter where Cindy was waiting for the petite young woman. Jessica was all of five feet two, three if she wore heels, and barely tipped the scales at 110 pounds. Jessica’s small size only seemed to reinforce her feelings of powerlessness. Jessica got to the front of the line to order, but she didn’t make eye contact with Cindy who was waiting with a smile to welcome her. Eye contact wasn’t easy for one life had beaten down.

Cindy asked her, “What can I get for you?”

Jessica meekly replied, “I just want a cup of coffee.”

“Sure, is this your first time here?” Cindy inquired.

Jessica still couldn’t make eye contact, but quietly nodded yes.

“Welcome to The Harbor. My name is Cindy. I am the owner. If you need anything, just let me know.” Cindy was trying to reassure the fragile soul in front of her.

That brief interaction prompted feelings in Cindy. Her maternal instincts were kicking in for the poor child in front of her. At least that was the natural reaction for Cindy having children of her own, a few not much younger than Jessica. Jessica being twenty-one was no child, yet Cindy’s motherly instincts were in full gear. Cindy gently smiled and handed her a mug. “Here’s a mug for you. You can help yourself at that counter. I am glad you came in.”

Jessica muttered a soft thank you and went to fill her cup. Jessica walked away and Cindy again prayed for God to comfort the wounded soul she had just met along with one more request that Jessica would stay long enough for the slower time of the afternoon, so Cindy could talk with her.

Jessica filled her mug with some Guatemalan Dark Roast and stirred in two sugars to have something a little sweet. She would have liked one of the specialty drinks like some kind of a frappe, but starting life over in witness protection meant watching every penny. As she stirred the sugars into her coffee, she wondered if someday she would have a normal life whatever that is. She reminded herself that no one knew her in this new city for her, Lincoln Nebraska of all places. She had never heard of it before being rescued. Her contact person, Julia with the Justice Department, was friendly enough, but she longed for some real friends, but who could she trust. That was the issue pressing on her mind.

She looked over at the older women and noticed some big cushy chairs near them. The thought of sitting near some Nannas made her feel better, so she went to sit in one of the cushy black vinyl chairs. Jessica was small enough to sink into the chair with her feet in the chair and feel engulfed almost as if she disappeared from sight so no one would notice her. She got on youtube again to listen to that song she had stumbled upon a few days ago. She was trying to understand how the lyrics could be true, so this was perhaps the hundredth time she had listened to it in the past few days. The song was I Am No Victim by Kristene Dimarco. Jessica was trying to figure out how lines like ‘I am what he says I am’ could be true and what they meant. She had figured out Kristene Dimarco was a Christian singer, but Jessica’s only experience with a church was the one in her hometown that seemed harsh to her. Jessica softly whispered what she would learn later was the first prayer in her life. She whispered, “God if you are real, I need someone to explain this to me. How can I not be a victim?. My father abused me, the guy I thought would be my boyfriend after I ran away was even worse. How can I not be a victim?”

Jessica was listening to the song and looking down at her cup of coffee hoping Cindy wouldn’t come over from the tables she was clearing, so she hadn’t noticed the very Mediterranean looking woman who had walked over to the set of cushy chairs. When the woman asked Jessica if she could sit in one of the chairs, Jessica was startled at first and almost spilled her coffee. The woman apologized for surprising her, but when Jessica looked into the woman’s soft brown eyes, a feeling of peace came over her, so Jessica reassured the woman it was okay to join her. The woman sat down and smiled at Jessica. Jessica was trying to figure out why the woman made her feel calm and not anxious. She looked at the woman’s long dark curly hair, her olive complexion, but mostly it was the softness in the woman’s brown eyes that caught Jessica’s attention. The woman’s eyes were full of gentleness and understanding almost as if they were saying “tell me everything”.

Jessica noticed the anxiety she felt before coming in and the almost panic she felt when she saw the young men had faded. She no longer had the feeling of the world collapsing in upon her from all directions. She could breathe easily without that feeling of a weight bearing down on her chest. The rest of the coffee shop seemed to fade away as she looked at the woman who had just joined her.

The woman reached out her hand to introduce herself, “Hi, I am Mary.”

Jessica without thinking shook hands with Mary actually making eye contact and replied, “Hi Mary. I’m Jessica.” Then Jessica wondered to herself why she felt so free to talk with someone she didn’t know.

Mary held Jessica’s hand for a moment, looked into Jessica’s eyes, and shared, “Jessica, it is a privilege to meet you. I have a feeling we were supposed to meet today. What song are you listening to?”

Jessica opened up a bit more and let Mary know she was listening to I Am No Victim, but she added, “I don’t understand how I could ever say that.”

Mary put her cup of peppermint tea down and looked into Jessica’s eyes. Jessica was only twenty-one, but her eyes had a sullen look in them, the look of a person who feels no hope. Mary softly shared, “I understand how you feel.”

That response caught Jessica off guard. Here was a beautiful mature woman telling her she understood how she feels. How could this woman understand how Jessica felt? How could anyone understand? Jessica blurted out, “I don’t think anyone can understand how I feel.”

Mary stayed calm and gently replied, “My story might surprise you. Maybe we should start there. You don’t have to tell me anything that you don’t want to. You are safe here Jessica. How about I share my story with you. Would that be okay?”

Jessica nodded yes, but asked Mary, “Can I ask where you are from? You seem to have a bit of an accent.”

Mary laughed a bit and said, “Sure. I am from Israel originally, but now I reside elsewhere, far from here or Israel. I just popped in for a visit today.”

Jessica simply muttered an “Oh” while wondering what far from here meant.

Mary continued, “Jessica when I was young some things happened to me. Things no girl or young woman would want to have happen to them. Sometimes children are abused by their parents or others.. Sometimes there are things that happen that affect us too deeply and leave a wound. Abuse can be in many forms. I won’t go into too many details about what happened to me, but believe me when I say I understand how you feel. I know that knot in the stomach feeling of overwhelming anxiety. I know what it is to feel like an outcast with no hope wishing someone would love justice for me.”

Jessica’s sullen blue eyes began to water while at the same time she wondered how it was that Mary could be saying exactly what Jessica had mumbled to herself moments before about wishing someone would have loved justice for her. She knew Mary wasn’t in the coffee shop at the time because Jessica had learned to know her surroundings as a matter of survival.

Mary continued, “Jessica look in google for bible gateway.”

Jessica typed into search bible gateway wondering why she so easily followed Mary’s instructions.

Mary guided Jessica through using bible gateway and helped her find the passage in the bible that introduces Mary Magdalene as a woman Jesus had healed of seven demons.

Jessica glanced at Mary with a puzzled look and thought to herself it was crazy time.

Mary knew what must be going through Jessica’s mind and reassured Jessica with, “I know this must seem like crazy time to you, but please hear me out.”

Jessica wondered how it was that Mary again had spoken words that Jessica had not spoken to her, and yet Jessica wasn’t freaked out. For some reason, she felt compelled to listen.

Mary continued, “I know this will sound crazy to you, my name is Mary, but my whole name is Mary Magdalene and I have been sent her to talk with you today Jessica.”

Jessica was now transfixed in the moment. She was unaware of anyone or anything around her. Her full attention was on Mary. If was as if the whole world was only those chairs and the two women.

Mary went on, “No little girl has dreams of becoming an outcast with seven demons. Things happen and then we make wrong choices and we end up trapped in a situation we have no control over. When I was an outcast, I had no hope of ever being anything more, but then one day a man named Jesus came along. He rescued me. There was something about him that made me realize he would be the first man I could ever trust, but he didn’t stop there. Many times in the bible you see my name with the name of his mother Mary. Jesus welcomed me into his group, part of his family if you will. He was so gentle and kind. He never embarrassed me by telling my hurtful secret memories even though he knew them. He was my big brother, best friend, rescuer, and teacher all rolled into one.”

Jessica gulped a bit trying to take it all in and softly and shyly asked Mary, “Do you think he wants to become those things for me?”

Mary quickly replied, “I don’t just think, I know for sure he will. But that is not all of the story. I was with the group that followed him and I felt like finally I had a life when the unthinkable happened. The man who healed people, forgave people, and encouraged the broken-hearted, was arrested on phony charges. He was taken away to be tried, beaten and then was killed by crucifixion. I was devastated. It seemed like my whole world was coming to an end. I didn’t want to end up an outcast again. I saw him suffer terribly. I was there at the cross when he died”

Mary’s story touched Jessica to the point tears were running down her face. Jessica expressed resignation by telling Mary, “That is my life. Every time it seemed like something might help me, it was jerked away. Like I was never given a chance.”

Mary reached out, took Jessica’s hand, looked in her eyes, and gently replied, “But my story is not over yet dear. You see Jesus died on a Friday before sundown. At that time days were marked as sundown to sundown. On Sunday morning, the third day , I went to the tomb of Jesus. I know that a huge stone was rolled in front of it. It was also guarded by soldiers. But when I got there, the stone had been rolled away. The body of Jesus was gone and two men dressed in white asked me why I was looking for the living among the dead. I didn’t understand what they were talking about. I hadn’t slept much in days and my emotions were all over the place. Then a man I mistook for a gardener, because my eyes were so filled with tears that I could see straight, asked why I was crying and who I was looking for. I was blubbering and cried out they have taken my Lord away. Then Jesus said my name. That was all it took. He said one word, my name, Mary. I realized Jesus had defeated death just as he had promised he would.”

Jessica could only look at Mary with her mouth open and her eyes full of astonishment during this part of Mary’s story. She finally spoke up, “Wow. That is just so. I don’t know how to say it. But wow. But what does that have to do with me and this song I can’t stop listening to?”

Mary leaned back in her chair and smiled. She knew Jessica was close now, so she went on with her story and why she was sharing, “It was that morning that I really began to understand just what it meant that Jesus is my rescuer, or should I say Savior. You see Jessica, it was that morning I began to understand that Jesus wants to heal us spiritually, emotionally and psychologically, and also forgive us of our sins, the things we do that are wrong.” She took both of Jessica’s hands with love and gentleness flowing from her eyes and continued, “Jessica, Jesus wants to heal you spiritually and emotionally. He wants to forgive you for what you have done wrong and also to heal you from what others have done to you. The song you have been drawn to has that message. Basically, it means that even though we were victims in the past, we are no longer victims when we come to know Jesus. He will empower us beyond being victims, so the past has no power over us anymore. He wants to do that for you Jessica. He wants you to be his daughter. Look dear, my time is about up and I do need to return to my heavenly home, but I think someone else wants to meet you. Someone who can help you with your questions and with knowing more about Jesus. Someone who is about to become one of the best friends you could ever have. Bye for now sweetie. I know we will meet again.”

Mary got up and headed out but for some reason the door never opened. She just kind of vanished before Jessica’s eyes. Jessica sat there stunned and had her answer about what the song could mean for her. She began to feel a glimmer of hope for the first time in her life. She had begun to wonder how she could make sense of it all when she heard another woman speak to her. “Hi again. I am Cindy. Do you mind if I join you for a while?”

Jessica, still mesmerized by what had just transpired, looked up at Cindy and noticed she had soft brown eyes like Mary did but much shorter hair, looked at the door and then looked at Cindy again and nodded yes. Jessica felt she could ask Cindy a few things but stumbled a bit at first due to still being stunned by her encounter with Mary. She started off, “Sure. You know. I am. I don’t know. You see. Uhm. Do you know Jesus? Can you tell me more?”