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Vicki Courtney shares how one year, God dropped in her lap a challenging “resolve” to help refugees. She encourages listeners to consider what ways God might be leading them to be witnesses for the gospel.
Michelle: Vicki Courtney is an author and speaker; but in many ways, she’s just like you and me, wanting to serve God/wanting to be used of Him in other people’s lives. She prayed that prayer—you know, “God, just use me”; God answered that prayer and shook Vicki Courtney’s world in the form of an immigrant family. Here’s Vicki.
Vicki: I think back to a time in my life—it’s not anything that I’m proud of at all—where I would see situations like that and be annoyed that: “Why do we have to have options of Spanish/English?!” I’m ashamed to say that; but then, this is the new perspective it’s given me—is that: “Wait a minute! Who am I that I expect that everything is just the way that I want it to be that makes it comfortable for me?” and “What is it like to be in the shoes of someone who’s having to start all over?”
Michelle: We’re going to talk about the dangerous business of New Year’s resolutions, comfort, and being used by God on this edition of FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. We’ve hit that time of year in between Christmas and New Year’s. You know, after the Christmas sales are done, so maybe there are the after-Christmas sales—oh, yes, there is!—the after-Christmas sales! Some of us are busy un-Christmas-ing our houses; some are sleeping in because we have this week off; and others are writing in their journal, closing the books on 2019, and looking forward to 2020.
You know, it’s this time of year that we think about New Year’s resolutions. Millions of people make New Year’s resolutions, hoping to spark some positive change. It’s almost cliché; right? I mean, we want to diet and eat healthier, exercise more, lose weight, save more/spend less, read more books, quit smoking, learn a new skill or a new hobby; and we keep wanting to change for the better.
Well, I sat down with Vicki Courtney and asked her about making resolutions and breaking resolutions. It led us down the path of what made a very interesting story. Here’s Vicki Courtney.
Vicki: First of all, I should tell you that I am the person you described, who makes them and then breaks them; [Laughter] so there’s that! You know, I think, just like everybody else, you start the new year, like, “Hey! I’m going to start that workout plan!” And that lasts how long?
Vicki: Two weeks, maybe.
Michelle: Nine days!
Vicki: Yes, I’ve been that person. But the other thing that I think the older I get, the more I realize how we set ourselves up to fail; right?
Vicki: We have these grandiose sort of—this idea of what we can accomplish. We want to fix it all at the onset of the new year.
I like how you talked about just most of it is geared toward, I think, self-improvement; and yet, how our culture views self-improvement as physical beauty or body image. You know, some people may say, “Okay, my resolution is I’m going to get out of debt.”
Vicki: You know, there are things like that; and these are all worthwhile things—
Vicki: —especially if you’re going to eat better, and you’re going to exercise.
If I could go back and have a chat with my younger self, I would tell that gal to keep it simple and maybe focus on something outside yourself. You know, it doesn’t always have to be spiritual in nature—
Vicki: —but I think God gives us those opportunities to bring the gospel into everything we’re doing. To find ways—like, for me, last year, honestly, my resolution; I’m not sure I really formally made one—had been something that God had been nudging me, I felt like, for a couple/two to three years, to get outside of my Christian comfort zone. I realized that I was in a bubble, if you will, of hanging around—
Michelle: Did you call it an “echo chamber”?
Vicki: Yes, I did.
Michelle: Is that what I read?
Vicki: I blogged about this. I called it, yes, an echo chamber: where your thoughts are echoed back to you; your values are echoed back to you; everyone looks like you; everybody thinks like you. Especially for someone who’s in ministry, and came to Christ radically at the age of 21, I wanted that back!
I wanted that excitement that I used to feel when you would get outside your Christian comfort zone and trust God to work from that moment forward, and it wasn’t predictable. That became my goal, and I didn’t really act on it. It took me a month to act on it, but I signed up to volunteer with Refugee Services of Texas. They are an agency that, when asylum seekers and refugees apply to come to the US, which is usually a 5-7 year wait, even from the time they applied—
Michelle: That’s a long time.
Vicki: Right, it really is! So then they’re assigned where they go. And they don’t always know that they’re going to be able to go to the US. They can specify the US if they have family or connections here; but a lot of times, they’re waiting just to hear: “Are you going to Canada?” “Are you going…?” You know, “Where will you be assigned?”
And so they’re literally at the mercy of the system, deciding how many get to come in and where [they] go. There are so many uncertainties in their lives. I wanted to know more about what that looked like—to help refugees—just in the sense of God had really been nudging my heart that being pro-life should mean more than protecting the unborn.
I’ve heard the phrase used, “From the womb to the tomb.” That was one of the things that I really had not thought outside that box before—that being pro-life is protecting all life as being valuable, and everyone as being made in God’s image, and treating them with dignity and respect. I had grown more and more frustrated that I felt like we were only focusing on the unborn—not that that’s not worthy—
Vicki: —I whole-heartedly believe in that. But in seeing, you know, things in the news and just talking about the plight of refugees and immigrants and such, I just thought, “Okay, I don’t have any idea what that even looks like.” So it truly was like taking a jump.
Michelle: So you walk into this organization and you say, “I’m here to volunteer to help out.”
Vicki: I signed up for a training.
Michelle: You sign up for training.
Vicki: You do a background—they do a background check on you. And then every week, once you’re approved, they send you opportunities. The first real volunteer job that I did after the training was an airport pickup. I just saw it was on the list of things to do.
I prayed about it; there are many things to do—you could take a family to a medical appointment—a family that had already arrived. You know, they offer assistance for six months, generally; sometimes up to a year—helping them get Social Security cards and enroll their children in school. I mean, yes, they all need English as a second language training, and all sorts of things. [You can] work job fairs and just about everything you can imagine.
I was ignorant to all of that, because all of this has been done for me along the way. Yes, it’s just part of the privilege that some of us have that we grow comfortable in, so it was good for me to see that it is really hard for people to survive out there. “What does that feel like?”—the fear that they must have.
My first job was an airport pickup. It had, on the sign-up sheet, it was a family from Burma—of four. Burma—they call it Myanmar today.
Vicki: What’s going on, really, over there is the equivalent, to some degree, of ethnic cleansing; so the Christians and the Muslims are persecuted against. And each of those groups makes up, I think, 5-7 percent of the population; but they’re being really chased out—villages burned—things like that—just a horrible situation.
Michelle: That’s tough.
Vicki: So a lot of them—
Michelle: It’s traumatizing!—
Vicki: Yes, it’s absolutely—
Michelle: —to all of a sudden, be forced out and, then, to land in some place totally new—
Vicki: Right; right.
Michelle: —not knowing the language; not knowing anyone around, except for the four people that you came with.
Vicki: Right; to start all over.
Vicki: To completely start over in a place that is not home.
Michelle: To have a friendly face/somebody to meet you with a smile at the airport, is a lovely thing!
Vicki: It is, I would hope. They look like—it’s interesting you used the word, “traumatized”—because they look like, when we saw them—my husband and I went together—and we brought food. They have you pick up food, because the flight was coming in at like 10:00 or 10:30; and they’ve been traveling, probably, for 17 hours. I think they came out of Malaysia.
Vicki: So because they had not—you know, they had left Burma years ago; I don’t know how many years ago—they had been living in a refugee tent camp. They land and, you know, we don’t have the ability to really communicate; there was a translator there with us at the airport. They had one family connection that lived in Austin. They didn’t even want to go to their new apartment; they wanted to go with their family.
Vicki: So our job was just welcome them at the airport; and then, the next week, I took them to, I believe it was, a medical appointment for the whole family and then another appointment to the Social Security office.
Little by little, you begin to kind of break the ice with them; but it put me in a situation, where I didn’t know how to communicate with them. The dad knew very [few]English words; maybe, “Hello.” You know, he had no ability to understand me. The mom speaks a rare dialect that only about 40,000-plus people in the world speak. It wasn’t even the language of her husband, but she could understand that [his] in limited format.
I found an app—you get creative!—I found an app. I could speak into this app in English, and it would speak back to the father in Burmese; so that was fascinating to me.
Michelle: Yes! And probably to him, too!
Vicki: Yes, it was! It was; and then, he could speak back—I would hold my phone.
Vicki: So yes, just so many neat moments, where you see—at first, they’re shell-shocked for a little while.
Vicki: But then, as I would bring things over that were being donated by my Sunday school class—he was given a laptop; people would donate their used laptops; so I helped him get set up on the internet at the local library. We went by there—and I thought it was interesting—because the first thing he did was access Facebook®. [Laughter] I thought, “Well, I guess some things are just universal!”—right?
Michelle: Yes, that’s true.
Vicki: So that’s been probably about eight months, and it’s been just an incredible opportunity to get to know this sweet family. I started bringing my grandsons with me—
Vicki: —especially the four-year-old. My oldest grandson, who’s seven, was in school for some of that time. But this sweet family, whom I’ve grown close to, has a daughter the same age, who’s four, and then another daughter who’s about 15 months old. Just watching the two of them play has been absolutely priceless!
She [four-year-old] was painfully shy. The first few times, when I would pick them up without my grandson, she would just look down in her lap and wring her hands. I brought my grandson; and she still was very shy but, then, he handed her a tablet with some games on it. I was like, “Okay, I don’t always endorse tablets,” but she hadn’t seen anything like it.
Michelle: He knew it would break the ice with her!
Vicki: Yes, and he’s very outgoing. The cutest thing was that my grandson would talk to her in English, and then she would talk back to him in Burmese. Yet, they were just so cool with the whole thing, like: “Oh, yes, I know what you’re saying! You know what I’m saying.”
Michelle: Isn’t it neat!
Vicki: I really do believe that they knew what each other were saying. [Laughter]
Vicki: I thought, “So many lessons we can learn, as grown-ups.”
Michelle: We’re talking with Vicki Courtney today. Isn’t it so neat how, once we open our lives to God, how He takes what we thought we were going to be doing and changes our whole path? That’s what He did with Vicki Courtney. In fact, as she continued to minister and serve this Burmese family, her grandson would come along and play with the other child. It’s just a beautiful picture of God’s grace, and how he envelops all of us.
We need to take a break, but we’ll come back in two minutes and share the rest of the story. Stay tuned!
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. Some of you know that I work with hospice, or you’ve heard me mention that before. I enjoy my work with hospice, but sometimes communication can be difficult when you’re working with somebody who has Alzheimer’s or dementia, or they’re at the end of life. But I have seen a little four-year-old walk into the room and be able to talk and get more than two words out of the same person that I only got a grunt out of. Kids have that magic; don’t they?
Vicki Courtney had a similar story as she started to build that relationship with her Burmese friends.
Vicki: I have so many favorite moments. Their daughter turned four shortly after they got here. She arrived—she was, you know, on the cusp of four. I saw—I filled out their paperwork for so many appointments—I knew she had a birthday coming up. I had the translator call to see if they would mind if I came by with my grandson. She had met him, I think, one time before.
We showed up with helium balloons and some presents and a cake. The translator came, which I was relieved, because then we could have some level of a conversation. It was the first time we were able to talk, back and forth to each other, with the translator there. We sang “Happy Birthday,” and the translator prayed for this sweet little girl.
Then the mom and dad wanted the translator to tell me: “Thank you. Why?—we do not understand your kindness.” I was able, then—because you’re really not supposed to proselytize—this is not a Christian organization.
Vicki: But I was able to. I think they asked, “Why?”—why I was doing this. I thought, “Well, I need to be honest”; and they did share with us that, “If they asked us about our faith…”—I knew my faith was what was leading me to do this; so I was able to share, “God has greatly loved me, and I want to pass that on to you. I want you to know that He loves you as much as He loves me and anyone else in the world.”
The translator told me later that she prayed with them after I left.
Michelle: Oh, wow!
Vicki: It was just so very rewarding to even hear that. I think they identify with being Christians, and so it was hard for me to even understand what the translator—I don’t know if they were already believers, but, you know, she shared that they want a relationship with Jesus.
Vicki: That was just, again, incredibly—
Michelle: That God is using you—
Vicki: Well, I can’t—
Michelle: —in their lives.
Vicki: —but He’s using them in mine, too!
Michelle: That’s incredible.
Vicki: It has just taught me so much about perspective—
Vicki: —you know, things I used to grumble about. Then I think about my sweet friends, who are living in their small, 650-square foot apartment, and all sharing one bedroom. I‘m like, “What do I have to grumble about, really?”
It has caused me not to be as wasteful as I felt like I was before/to take things for granted when they work so hard. The father found a job within four months; works overtime. You know, they don’t hand you—they make you pay back the airfare, even to get here, which can be thousands of dollars. It can take them years to pay it back, especially for a family of four.
Vicki: Well, three—the baby was free—but you know, there are things like that that they have responsibility to do. They take it very, very seriously. Yes, it’s just been inspiring to me!
Michelle: What I’m hearing is the power of being. All you needed to do was show up.
Vicki: That’s right.
Michelle: God was bridging that gap and saying, “You know, these are two people, who need to meet; and I’m going to use this person in this person’s life, and this person in this person’s life.”
Vicki: And they don’t even speak the same language.
Vicki: I love how you worded that, though, because that really is, I think—going back to resolutions—if our resolution was just to show up—just to show up.
Michelle: That’s a good point!
Vicki: —any situation that God puts before you, be on the lookout for them. Maybe it’s someone in your neighborhood; maybe He’s calling someone, like what He did with you, to volunteer to help with hospice, or the elderly, or refugees. Whatever it is, there are so many needs out there.
It’s not just that we’re the ones coming in and helping. I feel like—and I know I’ve said this already—but they helped me as well. They helped remind me that this is really what God has called us to do—to go out and preach the gospel—but also to go out and be the gospel. Because if you have a language barrier, you have no choice but, “All I can do is show you.”
Michelle: But they saw something in you, and that something is the gospel.
I have a similar story, where I just was going to this hospital room every single day and spending 15-20 minutes, occasionally praying over this woman who could not speak. Then one day, she looks at me and she said, “Are you a Christian?”
Vicki: Oh, wow!
Michelle: It’s stories like that that you’re like, “People do see that God is in us!”
Michelle: And God is pushing us to love others.
Now, I’m just curious—you’ve been taking your four-year-old grandson.
Michelle: If you were to go back to your younger self and have a four-year-old, or a ten-year-old, or a fifteen-year-old, how would you be having those conversations?
Vicki: Ugh, this is where it’s so hard; because I’ve thought about this! I wished that I had involved my children more in service opportunities like that, where they could serve others and feel that joy that comes with focusing on something outside themselves, which I think is so important, you know, to teach our children that.
Yet, at the same time, you’re so busy with your own children. I mean, this is time-consuming! There was one day when I was just taking them to a regular appointment, and the baby was running a fever. We ended up having to detour to the children’s hospital, and I was there for seven hours. I thought: “You know, I couldn’t have done this if my kids were still in the nest. I just couldn’t have done this.”
I’m at a unique stage in life. And I didn’t have to stay; they have a service, where they’ll come/Uber or Lyft pick them up. But I thought: “My word! They’ve only been here a few weeks. “Let me try to explain to you the whole process of Uber!””—[Laughter]—you know?
Vicki: And the hospital staff wanted me there; because I was able to communicate, back and forth, through this app.
Michelle: And you were the trusted person.
Vicki: Right; right.
I do think that, maybe, I would take a look at my priorities back then. Maybe instead of having my kids in so many different activities, you don’t put them in as many; and you devote some of that time to being involved, as a family, where you’re serving others and feeling the joy of that.
I love that I’m able to expose my grandkids to the beauty of what it looks like to be the hands and feet. Now, my oldest grandson comes. He’s even teaching the four-year-old English words and helping with that. My two-and-a-half year-old granddaughter has come several times as well. I want them to interact over the years, as I do this, and just see that they’re equals. Before the cross, we’re all equal. This is not: “Oh, I’m here to help you,” but “We’re friends!” and “We’re equals at the foot of the cross.”
I do—often, I think, “I hope I’m still in touch with this family to where I can watch their daughter walk across that stage at graduation someday and have my grandsons there, who have gotten to know her, and even my family. It has offered me the opportunity to get to know other people in that particular community. I may be going to their church in a few weeks, which is exciting to me!
That’s the other thing—I’m the one that doesn’t know the language. When I’m with them—and they’re speaking, back and forth, to each other—it also allows me to put myself in the shoes of other people, who are coming here.
Vicki: They are the minority that doesn’t know our language.
I think back to a time in my life—it’s not anything that I’m proud of at all—where I would see situations like that and be annoyed that: “Why do we have to have options of Spanish/English?!” I’m ashamed to say that; but then, this is the new perspective it’s given me—is that: “Wait a minute! Who am I that I expect that everything is just the way that I want it to be that makes it comfortable for me?” and “What is it like to be in the shoes of someone who’s having to start all over?”
Michelle: Well, it goes all the way back to how our conversation started; and that is, looking outside yourself—
Michelle: —thinking about resolutions that might challenge you and might better you because you’re looking outside yourself and you’re asking God, “Where would You rather have me on top of what I’m already doing?”
Vicki: Right. The reward is the blessing—it really is—of just knowing that you played a very small, small part in being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Michelle: That’s my conversation with Vicki Courtney and just the amazing journey that God had her on, starting with a simple resolution that she made. I know she wouldn’t say that a resolution to diet, or watch TV less, or to journal more, or to be more content in life is a bad thing! What I’m trying to say, and what I’m trying to get you to think of—maybe even challenge you with as we close out this year—is to maybe look for ways to love others differently, see people through the eyes of Christ, act out in kindness, talk to the cashier at the grocery store—and look for ways to boldly share the gospel of Christ.
As you do that, if you run into people who do not speak your language, the Jesus film has an app that shares short films in multiple languages. You could watch the entire film with this person, or you could have a conversation starter. It’s a really neat evangelistic tool that the Jesus film has created. We have a link on our website: FamilyLifeThisWeek.com; that’s FamilyLifeThisWeek.com.
Hey! Coming up this week, some of us are going to be staying up all night long to watch 2019 turn into 2020. We’re going to be saying goodbye to the holidays. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have to deal with some after-Christmas baggage. We’re going to talk about emotions next week, and how the Psalms can inform our emotions and actually help us work through that. Courtney Reissig’s going to be here, and it will be a great show. I hope you can join us for that.
Thanks for listening! I want to thank the president of FamilyLife®, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. And a big “Thank you!” today to our engineer, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff. Justin Adams is our mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our production coordinator.
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