Refugees and Storytelling (Guest Post)

Jacob Mau has been part of our spiritual family here in Chicago for five years. I have asked him to be a guest writer because he is passionate about inviting people into the stories of refugee families he works with.  His benefit album Seven Years demonstrates the power of telling and hearing life stories, which is a key component of disciple-making.

Jacob shares about the project below:

Disciple-making means intentionally entering into another person’s story and receiving him or her as a means of the Lord’s grace in your own life. Lewie and the community he often writes of in Imitating Jesus modeled this life-posture for me beginning in 2008. They extended themselves in friendship, listened, asked questions, entered my vulnerability, and took the time to understand the details of my story.

This journey in discipleship ran parallel to my daily work of assisting former refugees in Chicago through an organization called World Relief. As I was being discipled, I also rubbed shoulders with people from all over the world whose stories contain hardship I can’t imagine and heroism I’ll never comprehend. Just as Lewie and others heard a call to enter into my story, I received continual invitations to enter into the stories of former refugee families from Iraq, Burma, Nepal, Sudan, Afghanistan, and other conflict areas around the globe.

Those divine invitations, when I heeded them well, became a means of transformation in my life, and the people behind them became a part of my story. Seven Years is the culmination of a long-standing desire to extend that invitation to as many others as possible. All proceeds from the album go to World Relief. 

It is an honor to share this project here, because outside of my friendship with Lewie and other Jesus-followers in Chicago who have welcomed me into their lives and their stories, I am not certain it would have ever come to fruition.

Please download, donate, share, and enjoy!

Pursuing Your Disciple

Love pursues.  Your first step with a disciple is to pursue him. Just as Jesus chose his 12 disciples and as Paul chose Timothy, it is important for you to take the initiative in pursuing your disciple. This first step is key because it establishes the tone of the relationship and sets a trajectory for discipling relationships for generations to come.  When others came to Jesus and reversed the initiative by asking to become his disciple he turned them away, which indicates the significance of the discipler pursuing the disciple.  (Matt 8:19-22; Luke 9:57-62)

The good news of the kingdom is that the Father pursued man and adopted him into the family of God.  As I pursue a disciple I am demonstrating to him and the world the pursuing love of God in the cross of Jesus.

Recently I was at a gathering where several disciples shared their stories.  A recurring theme was the life change as a result of being loved by their discipler.  Not only will your disciple never forget being pursued by you, but it will serve as a point of reference for the rest of his life.  Because he has experienced the love of being pursued, he will pursue others.

Some closing lessons from the pursuit:

  • Pursuing is hard work.
  • Pursuing is deliberate.
  • Begin the pursuit by having your disciple tell you his story.
  • The pursuit of your disciple will take months.  Depending on the individual it may take many initiatives before you see a response.  (The pursuit often causes a disciple to face his deepest fears which he has avoided for years.)
  • The experience of being pursued teaches your disciple how to pursue others.
  • Parents, pursue each of your children. Children, pursue your parents. Brothers and sisters, pursue one another.  Friends, pursue your friends.

Understanding Childhood and Making Disciples

Kyle was a bright and athletic college student who lived an hour and a half from me. Periodically we would get together to explore God’s purpose for his life. One day he told me a story from his childhood and a memory about his Little League baseball team. The bases were loaded, with 2 outs. Kyle was up to bat, and he struck out. He had let his team down. We discussed the story a little further, along with some other topics, and then I drove back home. On the trip back the Holy Spirit got in the passenger’s seat next to me (not literally) and said, “You missed it. A semi-truck drove through the room while Kyle shared his story, and you missed it.”

The next day I drove back the hour and a half trip to locate Kyle on campus-needless to say he was surprised to see me back again so soon. I asked him, “Kyle, that Little League story you shared was really significant, wasn’t it? And I missed it.” He said, “Yes, it was, and yes, you did.” Kyle went on to say, “As a matter of fact, my life has revolved around that one incident, and I can’t seem to shake it. Every day I ask the question ‘Do I have what it takes to make it?'”

One of the best books I revisited this year was the autobiography of C.S. Lewis, “Surprised by Joy.” Although he was 54 at the time of writing, most of the book is dedicated to his childhood. He felt that an individual’s world-view and personality is set by the age of fourteen. He writes: “. . .they are forgetting what boyhood felt like from within. Dates are not so important as people believe. I fancy that most of those who think at all have done a great deal of their thinking in the first fourteen years” [1].

God is at work fulfilling His purpose throughout the entire life of a disciple. He is no less present in a person’s childhood than He is in his adulthood. The Lord uses suffering in the life of a child to make him like Jesus and to fulfill God’s purpose through his life. The discipler/friend can see the working of God in a disciple’s life by exploring the suffering in his disciple’s childhood. C.S. Lewis believed that, “Children suffer not (I think) less than their elders, but differently. [2] He went on to say, “Why, by the way, do some writers talk as if care and worry were the special characteristics of adult life? It appears to me that there is more atra cura (dark, harsh care and concern) in an average schoolboy’s week than in a grown man’s average year” [3]. As a discipler/friend I need to be sensitive to the pain of these memories, but I must also point my disciple to the fact that the hand of a sovereign God was at work in those childhood events and relationships.

Here are a couple lessons I have learned about listening to childhood stories:

  1. Be Sensitive. Childhood memories can still carry with them the sting of fear, shame, and inadequacy. While listening to a successful, balanced individual, it is easy to pass over seemingly insignificant events (like a Little League strikeout), which in reality were defining (and sometimes painful) moments in the life of the disciple.
  2. Do not presume which events are significant or insignificant in the life of a disciple. For example, a parent’s divorce may not carry the same weight to a child as a Little League strikeout, as strange as that may seem.
  3. People will intentionally skip over painful childhood experiences until they know they can trust you. (Again, he may immediately tell you about his parent’s divorce but not bring up the Little League strikeout). Over the months as the trust between you and your disciple builds, they will have the courage to share with you some of their difficult experiences.
  4. Ask your disciple to indicate when they are telling you something from their childhood that is important. Some stories are just memories, others were life shaping.

[1] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 36.

[2] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 12.

[3] C.S. Lewis. “Surprised by Joy”, (New York: Inspirational Press, 1987), page 50.