Today we want to share two stories of how we've seen our UPN family show love in action recently - the kind of love that we think Jesus is talking about in John 13. The kind of love that is a choice you make to seek the well-being of others rather than yourself. The kind of love that shows a different way, that sits with you in your pain, that offers hope, and ultimately points the world to Jesus. First, I want to tell you about a 15-year-old named Brishna. In August, Brishna's entire family was supposed to get on a plane out of Kabul. As they were fighting the crowds and chaos outside Hamid Karzai airport, in a matter of moments, the large family was separated, and Brishna, her 24-year-old sister, and her five and six-year-old nieces were the only ones who made it out of Afghanistan before the Taliban take over. The rest of her family is currently safe but has little to no hope of getting out of Afghanistan and reuniting with her, her sister, and nieces that are now living here in Nashville. I can't even begin to touch on the layers of loss that they've experienced and the shock of their new reality that is setting in. Jonathan and I met this family while delivering food to new Afghan families in December. What struck us immediately was their incredibly gracious hospitality, (as we have found with almost every Afghan family that we've met so far). Our weekly food deliveries quickly turned into several long visits with tea, dates, pistachios, and lots of photos and stories of the many family members that they left behind. It became clear very quickly that what these girls needed most was family, community, and to be shown radical love and welcome. So by the grace of God, that's what we've been able to do the last eight weeks. We've welcomed them, loved them, ate with them, celebrated with them, prayed with them, cried with them, and pointed them to Jesus.
(Brishna is on the left, hugging one of our students. Nilab and Somaia are in the center photo and on the right.)
Brishna immediately wanted to be involved as soon as she heard about UPN. She has become a junior StreetLeader, coming to the after school program when she can (as long as she is not feeling overwhelmed by her school assignments), and joining in with our StreetLeader training, family dinner, and Bible study every Thursday night. She loves being there even though she is so tired from waking up at 4 am every day to do her morning prayers, talk to her family back home, fix breakfast, and get ready for school, where she is just trying to learn English, figure out where her classes are, and survive in a large American high school. Her adorable nieces, Nilab and Somaia, are coming to the program most days and having so much fun. From StreetLeaders to volunteers to teachers and staff, they are being loved on by so many. (Which is not hard to do! 😍) Every time one of us drops them off at home, the girls want whoever it is to come inside and visit more. Brishna and her older sister always tell us how grateful they are for everything we have done for them. But honestly, we haven't done that much. We've just been putting the kind of love that Jesus showed us into action for these precious girls, and it's such an honor to do so. Next I want to tell you about a 10-year-old named *Lian. Lian started with us in the summer, consistently coming to our summer camp. It was apparent after getting to know her over the summer, that Lian had significant struggles due to trauma she and her family have experienced. We were excited to have her back when we started back in the Fall, but as time went on, we were at the point where she was struggling so much in really significant ways and taking up so many of our resources most days that it was becoming apparent that we may not be able to serve her much longer. We reached out to her school administration to make sure she was getting support there and reached out to a local pastor that knows her family to make sure her family was aware and offered support. It wasn't that we didn't want to help her ourselves, we desperately wanted to help and continue to have her at UPN, but we are not trained in the kind of help that she needs. What we do know to do (by learning the ways of Jesus) is how to lean in with the hurting and show love. So that's what we've done for the last eight months. More days than not, she was not in a good place and either one of our staff, our StreetLeaders, or our volunteers would sit with her (sometimes more than one of us) face to face, listen to her, and speak love over her. If all we knew how to do with her was to show her what Jesus's love looks like, we knew that was the most important thing we could do for her. Then just recently, we witnessed something amazing happen. Another student in our program had come in off the bus and was obviously upset. She wasn't dramatic about it, but her head was down and she had the dried-up streams on her cheeks that left the evidence of tears. Lian noticed right away that *Zahara was upset and went over to a nearby table, pulled up two chairs, turned them to face each other, and motioned for Zahara to come sit down. It was a beautiful moment where Lian asked intentional questions, listened, and sat with Zahara in her pain. Afterward, Lian beamed with pride and wanted to immediately tell me what she had just done for this younger student. I told her how proud I was of her and how I saw Jesus in her. She could not contain her joy and has brought it up every day since then. What we witnessed was Lian modeling what so many individuals in our UPN family have done for her - sat with her in the hard, listened to her, spoke love and truth over her. It was beautiful to see what the consistent love that's been shown to her was doing inside of her and how she wanted to share that with someone else. 💗
(Lian leaning in and listening to Zahara.) Stories like these are why we consider this work to be hugely important. There are so many more Lians and Zaharas and Brishnas and Nilabs and Somaias out there that need to be shown love in action and pointed to Jesus. Not just so they will know, but so the world will know that we are His disciples.