Immanuel, God with us!

Posted on July 18, 2019 by VMMissions Staff

Raleigh offers tender reflections on the gift of God’s presence to their family as they offer a ministry of presence among their Muslim neighbors.

By Raleigh (Sensitive location; names changed)

Opal and daughters Gem (left), Anna, and Beth on a family outing to enjoy a view of the mountains near their home. (It is not as dangerous as it appears!) Photo by Raleigh
Opal and daughters Gem (left), Anna, and Beth on a family outing to enjoy a view of the mountains near their home. (It is not as dangerous as it appears!) Photo by Raleigh

Imagine if you were a child and each of your days was filled with questions like: What is going on around me? What are my friends saying right now? What is the teacher saying? What am I supposed to do now? Did I do something wrong? What if I don’t understand? Why is everyone angry? What is everyone laughing about? Or, even worse, why is everyone laughing—or angry—at me?

Since coming to this North African country nearly four years ago, the name Immanuel (God with us) has been a constant comfort and strength to our family.

Immanuel: God is with us, giving us courage when we’re afraid.

Life for our children who are trying to answer many of these questions can be scary, not to mention exhausting. It is, honestly, frightening for us parents some days as well (when I need to go talk with the police; or when someone is inviting us to something and we are struggling to understand what, etc). But we are comforted when we remember that we are friends with a God who is with us in all of this!

Each night as we put our four children to bed, we whisper to them, “Immanuel, God is with you!” I began saying this soon after we arrived here so that my daughter would not be afraid to be alone in the dark, but it quickly took on other meanings. The act of reminding ourselves and our children that this is who God is (with us!) in his essence—this is a powerful reality!

Our eldest daughter, Anna, has learned on her own that our bedtime liturgy is powerful; she responds by giving the blessings back to us.

Baba (Arabic for “Daddy”): “Anna, you are my daughter whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
Anna: “Baba, you are my baba whom I love. With you I am well pleased.”
Baba: “Immanuel, God is with you.”
Anna: “God is with you; Immanuel, God is with us.”
“Sleep well; sleep well.”

Immanuel: God is with us, softening hearts to receive the good news.

Robbie, our oldest, is a wonderful treasure. His many gifts include a sensitive heart for worship in music, autism, and an extra chromosome in every cell of his body. Immanuel is very near our boy, using him powerfully to soften hearts for the kingdom.

In fact, here in our new town, the first time we got to read the Bible with someone in the local language, Robbie led the way. He had crawled right into the young man’s lap—and heart—prompting the young man to accompany us home for the afternoon. He carried Robbie to our front gate, but neither was ready to be separated, so into our house they came together. When the young man asked what our nativity scene was about, I pulled out the good book with the answers, and he read the story of Jesus’ birth for the first time in his own language, explaining to me what was going on. He wants to come back and finish the story sometime.
Raleigh and his daughters Anna and Beth help to pick out little bits of stubble from the wheat of their neighbor.  Photo by Opal
Raleigh and his daughters Anna and Beth help to pick out little bits of stubble from the wheat of their neighbor. Photo by Opal
Immanuel: God is with us, giving us hope for our friends.

When I was a child, my dad would often remind me and my siblings to take time to care for kids who didn’t have it as good as us. I think this is why I befriended many people at school who were on the fringes.

Recently I had a conversation with Anna where she was beginning to realize what it meant that her friends didn’t believe in, or even really know about, Jesus. She began to be very sad at the implications of this, so I told her she would have many chances to share the good news with her friends over the years. We pray for this often.

She also told me one day that her teachers were yelling at the other students and hitting them. When I asked Anna why the teachers hit or scream at the children, her answer was quite profound. With a deeply thoughtful, faraway look, she said slowly, “Maybe…it’s because the teachers came from a country where they were hit and yelled at by their teachers.” Surprised by her answer (deeper than my intended question), it took me a moment before I responded, “Yes, Anna, I think you’re right.”

When we are overwhelmed by the need—for all of our teachers, friends, classmates, neighbors, colleagues, and basketball teammates to know Jesus—we are thankful for our good Immanuel, who can soften their hearts and make the way for them to believe.

Please join with our family in praying for the millions of people in this country and around the world who desperately need to know the love of “God with us!”

Dirty Tears
By Opal (Spring 2018 and 2019)

We went out weeping dirty tears until the rains would come again.
This foreign land, this droughted desert – wait –
and thunder runs far, far away in a cloudless sky
above the olive groves, the waiting flocks of sheep and seeds still in the sand.
Our cheeks are mud. Our pillows starch from all the sun.
The years will never cease to rumble, children never cease to grow.

But soften.
Years soften like the meadows after rain returns, and waiting,
waiting on the children, bigger, running to the field
because it floods with golden green. The rains have come.

Our sheets drip, hanging; we are looking over rooftops towards the mosque –
“Peace” we say with other lips. “Look, our neighbors!” says our little girl;
girl grown by this land’s light and oil, couscous, citrus, tea, and grace.
Tonight the kisses we receive will be from every woman that we meet,
and “Peace” will be on every brief hello.
The rain will be on every breath; the patted rounds of life, called bread, can grow.

We have come home (although we do not call it that, there is another word).
but we are home and every day will choose to be
at home where darkness often veils the way, and light so often brights our stay.

Raleigh serves with his wife Opal and four children in North Africa. They serve with Rosedale Mennonite Missions, in partnership with VMMissions.

Filed in: All posts, Transforming


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