EXCERPT FROM MY BOOK: Bulgaria

Bulgaria.

I planned to stay a week longer than my team and go to Bulgaria by train. A couple on the team asked to join me and so we went to Plovdiv, Bulgaria. The train took around ten hours. And it was adventurous, quirky, and indisputably lovely. While on the train I talked to God about wanting to know more Middle Easterners, especially ones I could remain connected with back in the states. I pondered my backpacking trip throughout Europe after college and how I had not kept in touch with anyone I’d met in the hostels. I began to think it would be splendid to meet a new friend in the hostel in Plovdiv. As is usually the case, Jesus and I were on parallel trains of thought.

After our middle of the night screeching visa stop – in which we had to exit the train and get in line outside a metal fence surrounding a military barracks (I had never felt more like a Soviet living behind the Iron Curtain (large furry hat to keep the heat in, please?)) – we arrived in Plovdiv, the second largest city in Bulgaria with a population of about 400,000. And we headed to the hostel we reserved online. Upon entering the hostel we were taken on a tour of the place. The young woman directing us led us into the communal restroom: toilets in stalls, showers in stalls, and a plastic curtain separating the toilet area from the showers and sinks. We stood in the entrance area and she ripped back the curtain – a man with merely a hostel-issued white towel wrapped around his waist spun toward us, razor in hand and shaving cream on half of his face, like an unfinished cake. His eyes locked with mine. I gasped. He was nominally embarrassed, and primarily very surprised. And he was dark-skinned, like Middle Eastern dark-skinned. I felt like I prayed him into existence! I asked God for a Middle Eastern friend at this hostel, and there he was! He had not spoken yet either so, I didn’t know where in the Middle East he was from.

Later my friends went to find an ATM and I went back to our room. There was that man seated on what must have been his bed! (It was a co-ed room with about 7 bunk beds.) He looked up at me silently. I assumed he didn’t speak English so I just said, “Hi” and smiled back. He gathered his things and left. The next morning I awoke before the others and so did my non-friend friend. I smiled. He smiled back. I got my Bible from underneath my bed and began to drink it.

It wasn’t until my friends got up and went out to shower and have breakfast that he spoke, “What is that book underneath your bed?” It was perfect English with a very American accent! I laughed internally. (Could it be that not only was this guy Middle-Eastern, but American? It was precisely what I asked God for!) I explained it was my Bible and explained a bit about different versions. Then I handed him my Bible so he could look at it for himself. And then he asked where I was from. I explained that I was from California, but living near Boston. “Me too!” he exclaimed, “I’m from near San Francisco, but right now I am in graduate school in Cambridge!” “What?!” I said, “I am in seminary thirty minutes north of Boston!” He laughed, “I go to Harvard’s JFK School of Government!” We laughed, stunned. He mentioned his family was Iranian-American and he went on to explain how he just finished some kind of internship in Serbia. He spent so many months overseas he was really thinking about what it would be like to live overseas long-term. I chuckled, “Yeah, I’m going through that very same process. I just spent seven weeks in Turkey and I expect to spend years of my life living overseas.” We talked for a little while, never exchanging names and ended with, “Well, I’ll see you some time later today or tomorrow.” Oddly, we didn’t – see each other, that is. I left Bulgaria the following day perplexed that I did not know his name. Then I realized it was a perfect opportunity for God to amaze me by causing me to run into him somewhere in America.

When I returned to America I began to pray almost every time I entered Boston: “God, cause me to run into that guy somewhere. I bless Him with encounters right now – that he would know you.” That fall I took a class at Harvard Divinity School, subsequently I was in Boston/Cambridge weekly. And since it was a 45 minute journey each way, I would find a coffee shop after class and get some schoolwork done. One ordinary afternoon after class I headed over to one of my favorite cafes: 1369 Coffeehouse in Inman Square. There I was, fully student-ized: my Hebrew textbook and workbook wide-open, my sharpened pencil hard-at-work, creating the architecture of Hebrew words, characters nailed up like support beams, verb conjugations spackled in place. I looked up at one point and noticed a starkly familiar man diagonal from me. I couldn’t place him. “Holy Spirit, where do I know this guy from?” I thought. I dropped the Hebrew hammer on my foot: Bulgaria. I got up and put myself in the empty seat at his table. I spoke one word, “Bulgaria.” He stared at me. Then the hammer hit him. “Oh my gosh!!!! Yeah! How are you?!” Soon our sentences rushed on top of each other like water over river rocks. Connor. Dawn. Our names finally came up and with that our cel phone numbers. We talked for a couple hours, but he was borrowing a book from the library with a three hour limit so, he had to get back to return it, but, “We should hang out sometime.” So, we did. He joined some friends and I for a night out in Cambridge weeks later and one day while I was in Boston I swung by a Starbucks where he was studying. The last time I saw him he was planning to move back to California and the next time I texted him, it was no longer his number. He must have moved and changed it. And that was that. Hopefully, we’ll again run into each other somewhere in the world sometime. I love divine appointments.

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A Look Back at the War in Iraq

The video linked below is an informative overview of the war in Iraq. It would be great to have a more positive overview to pair with this one: stories of hope, testimonies of healing, demonstrations of God’s Presence, and so on. I know those stories exist, but the media has yet to re-train itself to report good things and to stir hope rather than fear. That as it is, you are cordially invited to ask the Holy Spirit what IS going on behind the scenes in Iraq and how to pray and believe for Iraq’s flourishing. God loves Iraq. She’s beautiful and important. The dreams of Iraqis matter to God. They should matter to us too.

A Look Back at the War in Iraq

 

9/11

I remember that day as if it was right now, as if I am still 21, and still in shock from the waves of newscasts, phone calls, questions, and tears. It was a day that shattered the glass between my present and my future. “It happened. It finally happened.” That was the sentence I most heard my internal voice say that bizarre fall day.

I was asleep initially, in the peace of Pacific Standard Time. Then awakened by my friend Sheri pounding on first my front door and next my bedroom door. My roommate had already left for work. Sheri blurted out something like, “A plane hit the World Trade Center! I came to tell you! Get up!” Despite the urgency in her voice, I assumed it was an ordinary plane crash. I thanked her for letting me know and went back to sleep.

It was shortly before 7am.

Within a few minutes my roommate Becky called me from work, “Dawn, terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. They think this is part of a bigger terrorist plot. It’s really severe. You need to turn on the news.”

With this new bit of information, I felt my soul shake. I thanked Becky, said goodbye, and went to the TV. What I saw held an eerie resonance. I had been passionate about the Middle East for five years. I’d spent hours upon hours on my floor weeping and praying for terrorists to be set free from their darkness and to meet Jesus. I knew there was an angry plot beyond anything we’d thought of, hatching somewhere in a group of Muslim extremists. I’d known that for years. And suddenly, in a painful onslaught of hate and deception, those plans struck America: sweet, beautiful, where-I’m-from, America.

The anguish inside me burned. I cried for America and  I cried for the Middle East. The pain of seeing precious Middle Easterners believe lies to such a degree they killed thousands of people, was horrendous. The pain of seeing beloved Americans and non-Americans, fleeing the horror-stricken towers, was excruciating. I felt I was in the middle of a see-saw, between the emotional ups-and-downs of two peoples.

I didn’t know what to do except sit on our black-sheet draped loveseat and watch the same news footage over and over; and pray. When I saw the second tower fall, my heart crumbled with it. It hurt so much to see the awful ramification of wrong belief gone horribly amuck. It hurt to think there were people so captive to lies they were somewhere celebrating all this death and loss. It hurt to think of families in America with gaping holes in them. It hurt to think of the ways that one day would likely add more chaos to America’s relationship with the Middle East. It hurt to hear talk of revenge. It hurt to hear talk of grief already tumbling from broken hearts.

September 11, 2001 was one of the most pivotal days of my life.

As I waited, prayed, and talked to God that day – all while watching the news – friends streamed in and out of my apartment. Some pounced in with, “Okay, Dawn, I know I haven’t cared about Muslims before, and maybe I should have, but could you explain Islam to me now?” Others said, “What do you think?” in a manner so loaded, I understood how Muslims in America would very soon be answering this same question. I squinted my answers. Between head knowledge and heart resolve was suddenly a vast expanse of painful separation. The Middle East and America already were at odds, this would drive them both to polarization and aggression.

I wished I was in the Middle East. I prayed for God to lead me or other Christians to Osama Bin Laden to share with him the acceptance and love Father God longed for him to experience. I wondered if I might have had an opportunity, or if another Christian had an opportunity, to really love those hijackers before they were “those hijackers.” I imagined people who knew the hijackers, perhaps noticing their darkened outlook; and I wondered if their own fears kept them from reaching out to those men. I thought about the hijackers’ families, neighborhoods, and friends. I wondered about the power of even a single love-filled hug from a Jesus-oozing person to each of these men.

I also thought about the years to come – as my friends and I prayed together on 9/11/01, over the arched eyebrows and anxious words of news broadcasters, we prayed for newness and for salvation for the Middle East. We prayed in spurts all the way until 11:30 that night. We could not and we can not pretend there is ultimately any other answer than Jesus. He is incarnate hope. He is incarnate peace. We prayed for people to love America to life and for people to love the Middle East to life.

Now, ten years later I have seen the ricochet fulfillment of much of the prayers we prayed in my little family room in my petite one bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa, California. Saddam Hussein’s regime fell. Osama Bin Laden was found. I got to live in the Middle East for three years and witness firsthand Muslims falling in love with Jesus and choosing him above vengeance.

There is a large chunk of progress and hope to be immensely grateful for. And I am.

Yet, over this last week, looking toward today, I’ve found myself crying in deep grief. I am sad with all who were traumatized and/or lost loved ones on 9/11 and in its effects. Today, that is the direction of my heart: prayer and hope for all those who have suffered, to all who are still in healing from the pain of that day.

As we must actively love those in the Middle East needing wholeness, we must also actively love those in America who are needing wholeness. Today, as we ponder life, let’s have our deepest resolve be deeper love.

In the words of Francois du Toit,

‎”If relationships can be rescued, wars will cease.”  

Let’s go forth from this day courageously, with new commitments to peace and love. Ultimately, this will be what victory looks like both personally and nationally. Love will win.

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Interactive Timeline:

http://timeline.national911memorial.org/#/Explore/2

The September 11 Project, one woman blogs for one year until 09/11/11:

http://septembereleventh.wordpress.com/

Taking Saddam’s heads and telling a new story

Posted Image

THE STATUE

This statue currently stands outside an Iraqi palace, now home to the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq . It will eventually be shipped home and put in the memorial museum in Fort Hood , Texas .

The statue was created by an Iraqi artist named Kalat, who for years was forced by Saddam Hussein to make the many hundreds of bronze busts of Saddam that dotted Baghdad and many other Iraq cities.

Kalat was so grateful for American’s liberation of his country; he melted 3 of the heads of the fallen Saddam and made the statue as a memorial to the American soldiers and their fallen comrade warriors.

Kalat worked on this memorial night and day for several months.

To the left of the kneeling soldier is a small Iraqi girl giving the soldier comfort as he mourns the loss of his comrade in arms.

After they saw the statue, many soldiers of the 4th Infantry Division donated money to pay Kalat for his labor. Kalat refused to take any money, instead he asked for the collected money to go to the widows of fallen 4th Infantry Division soldiers.

the gift of a peace treaty

Eight years ago I was joyfully gliding down a hill in Massachusetts. I’d wrapped up another long day at my carrel in the basement of my seminary’s library and I was talking to God about what I would do after finishing seminary the following May. Then I heard Him say, “another Master’s degree.” I politely suggested God think of other options. He seemed determined. I asked, “In what?” He said, “Counseling.” I laughed. There beneath a lampost’s rays on light snow, I laughed out loud. I listed a couple other subjects. God gave His list, which wasn’t a list at all, only “Counseling.” “Okay,” I responded, “I’m not going to tell anyone about that, confirm it while I am in Turkey this summer.” True to Who He is, He did. I spent seven weeks in Turkey that summer, with about a dozen people, only two of whom I knew previously.

Day after day, different people would come up to me and ask me questions about psychology or an interpersonal dilemma. When there were disagreements on the team, I found myself tugged into them with the simple solicitation, “Could you help us?” In these interactions I also heard, “Oh, ask Dawn about that, she’s studying counseling” or “Talk to Dawn, she does mediation.”  I found myself squinting back, “I’m not studying counseling. Why did you think that?” The response was classically, “Oh, I don’t know why I thought that. I guess because your obviously good at it.” I was a bit annoyed at God for this persistent understanding, cloaked as misunderstanding. By the end of the trip I’d succumbed: I told God I’d do a Master’s degree in Counseling, even though I didn’t know why I was doing it. In May of 2005 I graduated from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with a Master’s in Religion and a Master’s in Counseling.

These days I know my innate design, topped with acquired skills, is, in part, to counsel leaders. Now it makes sense why, even in university, I found myself walking into heated arguments and then quickly recruited to mediate conversations. I was learning how to be a peacemaker. I was learning the power of reconciliation, the “repairing of the breach” Isaiah writes about in chapter 58:12. As I look forward in time to my journey back to the Middle East, and specifically to Iraq, I am really thankful God told me to get that degree. He’s so smart.

Well, fittingly, I was given a postcard this week of one of the world’s first peace treaties. A friend of mine recently returned from Iraq, Turkey, and Israel. While in Turkey she visited the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. Ironically, I also visited the museum during my summer in Turkey in 2003. She brought back a postcard for me. The image is of the Kadesh Treaty from BC 1269. She said, “This is for you because you are a peacemaker.”

I think my eyes must have widened. Sometimes the thought of being a peacemaker in the Middle East is so immense, it’s like someone asking you to walk their dogs and then showing up at your house with 17 rottweilers. It’s a bit more than one might think feasible. It sometimes feels daunting, but the truth is, in all of this, I know quite clearly the vision God has put inside me; and in the words of Joan of Arc, “I am not afraid… I was born to do this.”

My favorite peacemaker, Jesus, once said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5)

Yes. I believe there’s a new unit of God’s dream team: radical peacemakers who will confidently go into any place, knowing the answers to the unrest, war, hatred, and fear are inside them. As Daniel served Nebuchadnezzar with some of the results being peace, these people will serve nations in such a HOPEFUL manner, peace will be the natural end. These leaders will be called sons and daughters of God because they illuminate the same restorative heart He has.

It will be beautiful, as nations light up with love – knowing who they are and who He designed them to be.

They will come into contact with the One who is Peace, the universe’s ultimate peace treaty.

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility”

(Ephesians 2:14)

I’m not only sharing this story to speak of peace, though I love it. I’m sharing this story to draw attention to the profound reality that God is preparing YOU for a specific purpose – maybe you are already in it, but it is growing; maybe you have no idea what it is, but your heart is magnetized to certain topics; and maybe you know what it is, but it seems far away. Take heart. You have a niche in the universe no one else can fill. God has a plan and a purpose for your life; and it’s infinitely more wonderful than anything you’ve imagined. It’s fun. It’s life-giving. It’s powerful.

Repeat after me, and the book “Dream Culture”:

God is good ALL the time. I have a purpose. Nothing is impossible. I am responsible for me. Greatness comes through serving.

(Dream Culture, p72)

Thanks for being YOU.

Military Homecoming Surprises – video

This is absolutely one of the most tear-jerking things I’ve ever seen. I look forward to the day when peace comes from a non-military source, but today I am thankful for those willing to serve overseas.

Let the series of clips play all the way through. Enjoy. Let gratitude arise.

http://www.mylifetime.com/shows/coming-home/video

Baghdad, THERE I come!!! (hee hee hee!)

Sometimes I feel I’ve been pregnant for 15 years. Other times I am sure of it.

The child is a vision, a passion, a calling. The vision is for the Middle East: to thrive, to be at peace, to be madly in love with the Savior.

Much of that vision centers on Iraq.

In 2001 I had a dream I was in one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces in Iraq. I was leading a secret church meeting. I knew Saddam’s regime had fallen and he was dead. I knew it was a prophetic picture of a scene which would be fulfilled.

In 2003 Saddam’s regime fell. In 2006 he was killed. In 2008 I was told about a man named Canon Andrew White who was leading church meetings in one of Saddam’s former palaces, a mutual friend told him about me. We began emailing. On March 23, 2011 Andrew was in Redding and we had dinner. He invited me to work with him in Baghdad.

In 2012 I plan to semi-move to Baghdad to be part of rebuilding and transforming the nation.

For preparation and vision-casting, I’m going to visit Baghdad this November. I’ll spend 2 weeks in England and visit FRRME’s home office; then 2 weeks in Baghdad where I will get to know the land, the people at St George’s Church, the folks at FRRME’s medical clinic, the Tigris River. I will also deliver paintings to high-profile leaders in Iraq. 

To say I am excited would be to say the sun is handy or shoes are helpful for hiking; it is decidedly an understatement. Setting my feet upon Iraq is a moment I’ve burned for, lived for, prayed for with a zeal and a compassion that still electrifies my heart and beckons my soul. Iraq and I are a match made in heaven.

For my trip this fall I need $4,000.

If you’d like to contribute toward transforming this nation, do so here:

http://dawnrichardson.chipin.com/dawns-trip-to-baghdad                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

THANK YOU! / ! شكر