Education Confronts Injustice

My family is in the middle of packing for our move, so I haven’t been blogging, but I do have a piece that went live on Master Teaching today. Master Teaching is a website run by LEAPAsia “for teachers who follow the Master Teacher” and is currently hosting a series on “Education as Justice.” Through my connections at World Relief, I was asked a couple months ago if I would like to contribute a piece to the series, and, as this is a subject near and dear to me, I said I would love to.

My piece is titled “Education Confronts Injustice” and is specifically about refugee education. Click on the title to read the piece. I also highly suggest another piece in the series titled “Education as a Wealth-building Strategy is Bankrupt.” It’s got great wisdom for everyone, not just those in the education field. Following each piece are questions for reflection and articles for further reading.

Thanks for reading!




A sermon and thoughts on Generosity

Two days after my sister sent me the Matthew 6 commentary on generosity and giving that I shared in my last post, I opened up my podcast library on my phone to listen to the latest Tim Keller Sermon and found that it is titled “Blessed Are the Poor.” It so closely relates to the Matthew 6 commentary that I am blown away. Clearly this is something the Lord wants me to meditate on and pray about more–and, of course, DO! Click on the link above to listen to this sermon via Podbay. Keller doesn’t pull any punches, but he ends by drawing our attention back to grace. He reminds us that “generosity” that is based on guilt is simply religion; it’s not founded in the Gospel.

One image from the Matthew 6 commentary that I keep thinking about is the “single eye.” Here’s a quote from that section: Jesus’ illustration about the “single” (NIV good) eye and the evil eye would immediately make sense to his hearers: a “good” eye was literally a healthy eye, but figuratively also an eye that looked on others generously (Sirach 32:8). In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye (Mt 6:23), one that cannot see properly. Jesus uses the “single” eye as a transition to his next point, for the “single” eye is literally undivided, having the whole picture: thus one is not divided between two masters, as the text goes on to explain (v. 24).

mads eye

I’ve posted this picture (shot by my older daughter [the subject is my younger daughter]) before, but I felt it was very appropriate for this post.

I want the generous, single eye Jesus speaks of. I want to see more and more clearly God’s great, incredible, beautiful love for me–until my eye is filled up with Love-Light so that my view of every other person is filtered with Love. This morning I was reminded that this not only applies to those in physical or social need when I realized I was viewing an interaction with a neighbor without a bit of Love in my gaze. There was no generosity in my view of her. I was thinking of her only in relation to myself, of how she had inconvenienced me. God had to remind me that the generosity He calls us to is a way of life that impacts how we see EVERYONE!

This prayer is adapted from the Message version of Matthew 6.

Lord, help us to open our eyes wide in wonder at your amazing love. Help us to believe and trust that you love us more than we can ever understand. Fill up our eyes with the light of your love so that we don’t squint our eyes in greed and distrust but look instead with generosity on others. May we deny and abandon the self-worship we are so drawn to and worship you alone. This single worship will fill our entire lives with Light!


Suggested Read

My sister just sent me a commentary on Matthew 6 that she found on Bible Gateway. She
called it “challenging.” She wasn’t kidding! It’s incredible–and, in my view, very, very necessary for American Christians. PLEASE read! It’s titled “Do Not Value Possessions Enough to Seek Them.”

max looking out to sea

I think the way of living described in the commentary might feel like a lonely choice AT FIRST. So I picked this picture to go with the post. But Max–the guy standing out on the rock while I stayed on the dry ground and took the picture–would have no regrets about his choice to venture out.


Annual Gifts-that-Give-Back post

Today is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.


You can use’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.


Check out, Bel Kai, and Belove.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 11, 15, 16, and 18) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!


Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project is an incredible ministry. Based in my area (Chicago’s western suburbs), it trains and employs refugee women to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home.


If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful. has t-shirts, jewelry, and totes/bags made from recycled materials. Many of their t-shirts express the heart of the women who run this website. One with a barcode also has the logo “People are not products” and several sport the logo “free.loved.radiant.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.


Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.


Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (, a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.


My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.


Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”


If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

The good work of refugee care

World Relief poster“(God) creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesian 2:9, The Message

I believe with all my heart that refugee care is good work. A few weeks ago I posted the news that the ESL classes at my local World Relief (WR) office are in jeopardy because they have not received federal funding. Last Tuesday I sat in a meeting with other WR volunteers and listened as the ESL director outlined a plan that will provide as many refugees and immigrants with regular classes while still cutting costs (and staff) dramatically. Despite the great stress she was under, Sue smiled at us and reminded us that God is at work. He will provide. He so clearly cares for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the oppressed, and the foreigner. She said something like this: The decreased government funding gives the church a chance to step up and in with their money and their time. It pushes us to be more generous and creative.

Hear, Hear!

poster backAt the bottom of this post, I have links to both the national and local (western suburbs of Chicago) World Relief websites as well as specific ways to support WR DuPage/Aurora.

But before I get to that, I have links to four articles: the first three specifically related to refugees, the third about cultivating a generous heart toward all those in need.

The first is a Q&A with World Relief DuPage’s Executive Director Emily Gray. PLEASE read this article. Emily is informed and wise and above all, seeking to be likeminded with Christ.

5 Objects to Fuel Your Prayers,” is a great article about concrete ways to remember those in need. It’s specifically about refugees, but you could use the same techniques to remind you to pray for the poor, the persecuted church, victims of sex trafficking, those suffering from mental illness, orphans, etc.)

WR fundraisingGrowing in generosity with the Believing Poor” is by Elizabeth Drury. It challenges our views of generosity that do not extend past our wallets, that don’t impact our comfort levels.

What Refugees in Your Neighborhood Need from You” gives a bit of an inside look at how difficult it is to be uprooted and transplanted (often several times) and how the body of Christ can step into that difficulty.


For those outside Chicago’s western suburbs: visit the international home page of World Relief and click on the “Get Involved” tab to see if WR has a location in your area.

For those IN Chicago’s western suburbs: The ESL arm of WR DuPage needs volunteers. If you have some morning hours free beginning in January or would like to tutor a refugee one-on-one, email me at and I can get you connected with the volunteer coordinator. You don’t need any experience or qualifications other than the ability to speak English, and it is truly a blessing.

If you’ll take a look at the poster I have pictured above, you’ll find information about items needed for Good Neighbor kits. The back side (with items needed) is the second picture. One of WR’s dropoff locations is at K’Tizo–my favorite tea/coffee shop. You can drop off items and get a yummy drink!

The third picture (sorry it’s so small) is a “Quick Guide to Fundraising for World Relief DuPage/Aurora.” If you live in another location but have a WR nearby, I’m sure you could use all the same techniques to fundraise for your area location.



World Relief ESL classes followup

This is just a simple followup to the entry I posted a couple days ago about World Relief’s ESL classes being in jeopardy. A few minutes ago I wrote a simple letter to the Illinois governor, Bruce Rauner, through the website. If you, too, are an Illinois citizen and would consider doing the same, click on the link above to go directly to the contact page. Then, after filling in your personal information, you can copy and paste all or a portion of the letter below into the comment section. It will take you all of 2 minutes, tops!

Dear Governor Rauner, I am writing on behalf of World Relief DuPage, an organization that serves refugees and immigrants in the DuPage county area. I am asking you to approve the release of federal funds that support Adult Education. I am also asking you to pass a compassionate state budget that keeps in focus the needs of the most vulnerable in our communities, including immigrants and refugees. Thank you for your consideration.

Thank you!


World Relief ESL classes

IMG_1263Two weeks ago I walked into the Job class of World Relief’s ESL program and was immediately asked a question. “Hi Jen, we’re listing all the different ways people in our class say good morning in their languages. Can you add one?” I looked at the board. “Good Morning” was written there in English, Arabic, Burmese, Nepali, and Massalit.

“Buenos dias!” I said, and the teacher added the Spanish greeting to the list.

Four mornings a week, refugees and immigrants from all over the world gather for ESL classes in the basement of College Church in Wheaton, IL. Their preschool-aged children attend language enrichment classes while their parents study.

During break times a beautiful mix of different languages can be heard in the hallways. Refugees from Asian countries converse in halting English with Africans and Middle Easterners. The older women often huddle together, their clothing carrying the wonderful scents of cooking spices. News of babies born and jobs found is shared. Individual rejoicings turn into communal celebrations. When someone grieves, the others say little but their eyes speak a language of shared suffering.

I LOVE this place. I love what it stands for–a church that is giving of its space to those who need it and an organization, World Relief, that serves the most vulnerable. The teachers at World Relief are some of my heroes.

The students are my heroes.

They face odds I cannot imagine, and they do it with quiet bravery.

These basement classrooms are a sanctuary for them. They find and form community here. They meet Americans who welcome them to their new country, who tell them, “This can be your home. You are safe here.” Their children are nurtured and cared for.

These ESL classes are in jeopardy. Because the state of Illinois has not passed a budget, World Relief has had to operate its ESL classes since July without the federal and state funds it should have received. World Relief cannot continue this indefinitely, and plans are being made to cut the semester short and scale down the classes offered in the future.

If you are a reader in the DuPage area, please visit this link to World Relief DuPage’s Advocacy page and read more about this issue and action steps you can take. Pass it along to anyone else you know who might be interested.

And please pray.

Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us to forget: the homeless and destitute, the old and the sick, and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.                                                                    from The Book of Common Prayer

Good works prepared: Faith Willard and Sarah Aulie

One of Hand and Cloth's beautiful blankets draped across a chair in my bedroom. They truly are lovely and would make great Christmas presents!

One of Hand and Cloth’s beautiful blankets draped across a chair in my bedroom. They truly are lovely and would make great Christmas presents!

This morning I had the opportunity to listen to Sarah Aulie (founder of Hand and Cloth, which I’ve written about before; click on the link to read about it) and Faith Willard speak at Wheaton Academy’s alumni recognition chapel. Both graduated from the Academy (50 years apart!), and Sarah, a 2000 grad, considers Faith, a 1950 grad, to be her mentor. It’s a beautiful story.

In 2007 Sarah was at a crossroads. She knew the Lord was calling her to do some sort of overseas work that would provide at-risk women with a livelihood, but she didn’t know any specifics. She asked her mother to pray for her, and her mother brought the request to the prayer group she led at Wheaton Academy. The prayer request spread to the administrative assistant of the Head of School, who maintained connections with WA alum all around the world, including Faith Willard, who’d been working in Bangladesh for more than 30 years by then. The admin assistant connected Sarah with Faith.

In 2007 Sarah flew to Bangladesh and saw firsthand the work of The Widow’s Friend, the organization Faith started in 1975 that now runs medical clinics, an orphanage, a high school, a mission/job skills training center for for widows, a school for the deaf, and a hostel for unmarried working women. Through Faith’s widespread work and connections, Sarah got a big-picture view of the needs in Bangladesh, and she became particularly interested in women who were unprotected by husbands or families. These women are often trafficked or forced to work in prostitution because they have no other options for supporting themselves and their children.

Sarah wanted to provide dignified work for these women, and when she discovered the kantha, a traditional blanket made from used sari cloth, she had an idea. She formed Hand and Cloth, a U.S.-based non-profit, to sell kantha blankets in the U.S., and partnered with House of Hope, a business in Bangladesh, to employ women to stitch the blankets.

I wrote a full article on these two women in the fall of 2012. Though I was able to interview Sarah Aulie in person, I had to talk on the phone with Faith Willard. It was a joy to meet her in person this morning and hear her words of wisdom to the students. She told them wonderful stories of God’s providence and how he has led her, time and time again, in the 65 years since she left high school. She, too, had many times when she didn’t know what she was supposed to do; she simply had an urge and a desire. She quoted Ephesians 2:10. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” NIV (the link has NIV, Amplified, and Message versions of it alongside each other).

“He’s already gone ahead and made preparation,” Faith reminded the students–and me. “If you just have a heart to honor the Lord, that’s all he needs. He’ll go before you and prepare the way. He’s always doing that. You’ll find He’s provided all you need.”

As I listened, I reflected on how that message has continued to be true for Sarah. Sarah is now married to a Greek man and is living in Athens, which–not coincidentally–is a real hotbed for trafficking. Sarah is already looking into ways Hand and Cloth can expand its scope and provide dignified work to some of the women trapped in Greece’s prostitution trade. Just as Faith said, God has once again gone before Sarah and prepared a good work for her to do.

Sometimes it’s a lot easier to see how God is making a way for others than it is to see how He’s going ahead of us in our own lives. Faith’s message was exactly what I needed to hear this morning, and I’m passing it along in case it’s what you need to hear, too.

Lyn Lusi

In research for an article today, I stumbled on the Heal Africa website and “met” Lyn Lusi, who left her native England to go to Congo in 1971 to teach. She married Congolese Dr. “Jo” Lusi, an orthopedic surgeon, and the two created HEAL Africa, a hospital which became famous for treating nearly 5,000 women with genital fistulas, the vast majority of which were caused by rape by militiamen.

The Economist ran a beautiful obituary on Lyn Lusi after she died in 2012 from cancer. It’s worth reading. I would also strongly suggest this video on the HEAL Africa site of Lyn accepting the Opus Prize in November 2011, just a few months before her death. She calls all listening to rise from “low living” and step into the calling God has for each of us.

odds and ends

In this post you will find 1. an addition to the 2014 “Gift that Gives Back” post; 2. a Guatemalan church using clothes to draw children and families to Christ and His Body; 3. a few pictures; 4. a couple funny Underwood kid stories, and 5. a link to a story I wrote for Wheaton Academy that is such an inspiring and beautiful story I wanted to share it here, too.

1. As an addition to the 2014 “Gifts that Gives Back” post, one reader suggested Trades of Hope, a business that empowers women out of poverty. They work with women from ten different countries, including the U.S., and produce jewelry, scarves, home decor, handbags, and stationery.

2. My sister-in-law also sent me a wonderful ministry I want to pass on. Both her older daughters have lived for extended periods in Guatemala, working with a fantastic church and ministry there. They have started a Christmas initiative called Una Noche Buena, which provides a full set of new clothes to underserved children in the community, and they do it in a way that fosters relationship not only with the child but with the child’s family. It’s a wonderful ministry, and I’d love for you to check it out. Visit the link above and then click on “English” in the top right corner (unless, of course, you’re fluent in Spanish). Great stories–and you can pray for the ministry–and contact the pastor if you would like more information.

3. It’s hard to believe on a day like today, when the temperature climbed out-0f-season to

first snowman 2014

nearly 50 degrees, but a few weeks ago we had two snowfalls. The first was really light, but enough snow fell for the kids to make their first snowman. I put a glove next to it so you can see how small it actually was–but it was cute!

Soon after, we had a little more snow–but still not that much, so I was quite impressed when I saw the snowman the kids made from it on the back deck.

Then, just a few days later, the snow all melted. I looked out the back window and
second snowman 2014noticed a pile of twigs and leaves. “Jake, Maddie, Patrick,” I called out, “who dumped that mess on the back deck?” Maddie came to the window and looked out. She seemed puzzled, but then said, “Oh, that was the center of our snowman!”

melted snowman

rosatis conga lineI took this last picture on a Friday night a few weeks ago. Exhausted from the week, when the inevitable “What’s for dinner?” question was posed, I wailed, “I don’t know!”

“We should get Rosati’s,” someone suggested, referring to our local pizza joint. Within a minute, they’d formed a line and wound their way through the main floor, chanting, “Rosati’s! Rosati’s!” It was effective. Forty minutes later we enjoyed pizza that I didn’t make. Yay!

4a. Jake was reading the nutritional information on the Corn Chex (or whatever the off-brand version we get is called). “Mom, does too much fiber make you poop?”

Me: “Not too much, just fiber.”

J: “Then how is it bad?”

M: “Fiber isn’t bad. You need it to poop. It’s good.”

Jake looked at the box again. “Awesome! This cereal has fiber and it’s glutton-free!” (He meant “gluten.”)

4b. PJ had to dress up as a book character for school. Jake was coming up with suggestions for him. Jake’s final one: “Too bad Mom’s not finished writing your adoption story. You could just go as yourself.”

4c. It was pajama day at school for Maddie and she was concerned with her clothes matching. “Mads,” I said, “it’s pajama day. Who cares if they match? Look at me.” I was wearing my very old threadbare blue sweats, one of Dave’s running shirts, and my late Pappaw’s rust-colored button-up fleece shirt–with the running shirt hanging out the bottom.

Maddie looked at me for a long moment. Then she looked at Dave. “Dad, when I grow up, do I have to be awkward like Mom?”

5. WA Boys Soccer Team Inspired by Eight-Year-Old Superfan–follow the link to read a story about an eight-year-old with an undiagnosed illness who befriends and is befriended by a high school boys soccer team. The relationship that develops is beautiful.